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FREE TO CHOOSE

HOME COMING TALK

IntroductionIt is good to be with everyone today. I am Michael Harris, and I just got home from my mission this last week. I served in the Texas Houston Mission. A little about Houston is that it is fourth largest city in America, with over two million people in the city. It is hot, humid, flat and filled with all sorts of bugs. Houston is also filled with kind people, where the southern hospitality is strong. I was blessed with people almost always being polite, even if they didnt want to hear the message, and it was usually followed by an offer to give us water. Houston itself has three different missions. It has the Houston mission, which I was in. It also has the Houston East, and Houston South Missions. The church is a fairly big presence there and is growing. We even have our own temple. Most of my mission I had a great mission president named President Hansen, but as some of you may know, our former Stake President, President Pingree and his family, were called to serve as mission president for my last 6 weeks. That was such a great experience for me, not everyone can say that the same priesthood leader sent them into the mission field, and home from the mission field. The Pingrees wanted me to tell everyone hello for them and that they are doing well. They quickly won over the hearts of all the missionaries when they came, they have earned already a great amount of trust with everyone they have come in contact with. A few weeks ago President Pingree went out to teach with my companion and me. Our appointment was with a part member family, the two youngest kids are not baptized and the parents work every Sunday. What a privilege it was to watch as President Pingree taught, and testified about the gospel to this sweet sister. The spirit he brought into the room brought her to tears. Our next appointment after that canceled so he went with us to go tracking. His enthusiasm was helpful to me. I could tell of his conviction as he invited people to hear about the restored gospel, in fact, as we were walking back to the car he approached a 10 or 11 year old boy and asked if his family was religious. The boy answered no, and yhen President Pingree then asked if they wanted to be religious the boy turned around, yelled no and ran away. The Pingrees are called of God, and they have an amazing vision for the work. As part of his vision, he has received, in his own words, an impression so strong he has only felt it that strong once before of how the Lord has prepared tens of thousands for the gospel message. I would like to apologies now if my talk is as filled with missionary experiences and stories as some are, but it is not my primary purpose to tell stories, but to inspire and give good insight. I felt I ought to stick more to my topic, but hopefully you can get a feel of some of my feelings for my mission, and for this gospel. I am not the same person I was when I left for my mission, and I thank God for that. I am so grateful I went on a mission, grateful in ways I suppose only God knows.

The Meat Freedom is the power and ability to choose for oneself the course one will follow in all fields of activity. It is an inalienable right with which man has been endowed by his Creator ((D&C 98:4-8) Bruce R. McConkie, Mormon Doctrine - Freedom) Choice is defined as The voluntary act of selecting or separating from two or more things that

which is preferred; or the determination of the mind in preferring one thing to another. When we combine these two thoughts, being free to choose, this is agency, a right that everyone has, a principle that is essential in our eternal progression. It is my purpose here to define 1- where it comes from, 2 what it is, 3 how do we obtain it and 4 why do we want it. 1 Agency is a gift from God, freely given to all. It was given to us in the pre-existence when we lived as the offspring of God in his presence. It was there that God held a council and presented to us a plan where we could progress to become like him. This would require us to gain a body, for we didnt have one before this life, and we would need to have a probationary period to prove ourselves. Probation is a period of testing, where we are left to choose good from evil. If we choose good we are rewarded and can eventually live in the presence of God, enjoying the same benefits that he enjoys. In fact the word choice comes from an old French word that means to test. In this council Satan opposed Gods plan and sought to take away the agency of man. God allowed all to choose between His plan and Satan. Those who chose Gods plan were, are or will be here, living on earth. Those who rejected Gods plan are miserable, without progression, in the presence of Satan. Satan and his hosts were cast out of the presence of God and are left here to tempt us, which gives us opposition. Opposition is essential in giving us agency, if there was no opposition there would be nothing to choose from. This is stated in the Doctrine and Covenants, the devil rebelled against meand also a third part of the hosts of heaven turned he away from me because of their agency. And they were thrust down And it must needs be that the devil should tempt the children of men, or they could not be agents unto themselves (D&C 29:36-39) 2 Agency is mans right to choose between one thing or another. In the gospel of Jesus Christ there is a major focus on mans moral agency, which is the choice to choose between good and evil. Agency allows us to make choices independently and freely without any coercion. This is illustrated in an old saying that says, Where there is force, there can be no choice. Of these alternatives we have our own choice.(Noah Websters 1828 Dictionary, Choice) Joseph Fielding Smith Jr. said The Lord has said that no man should be compelled against his will... God
will persuade and direct but never force man to do right. (see D&C 58:26-28) ( Joseph Fielding Smith Jr., Religious Truths Defined pg.94) The Lord so emphatically stated this that if he were to take away our

agency he would cease to be God. Out of his love He lets us keep our agency even if we misuse it. Neal A. Maxwell points this out, saying God gives us breath to blaspheme as well as to praise him. Because he is a loving Father, he gives us muscles to smile or to sneer. (Neal A. Maxwell, Deposition, pg. 96) It is also important to point out that initially Satan has no power over us, he cannot tempt us. In The History of The Church Joseph Smith observed that Satan was generally blamed for the evils which we did, but if he was the cause of all our wickedness, men could not be condemned. The devil could not compel mankind to do evil; all was voluntary. He goes on to say Those who resisted the Spirit of God, would be liable to be led into temptation, and then the association of heaven would be withdrawn from those who refused to be made partakers of such great glory (HC 4:358) No one else can take away our agency or force us to do anything we dont wish to do. One of my companions, Elder Curtis, said it the best when he once told me Elder Harris, its my choice to get mad at you, but you sure can make an environment which makes it easy to get mad at you.

There are always consequences that follow our choices though. That is the audginal parts of agency is we can choose our consequences, or what happens to us. D&C 130: 20-21 explains this: There is a law, irrevocably decreed in heaven before the foundations of this world, upon which all blessings are predicated- And when we obtain any blessing from God, it is by obedience to that law upon which it is predicated. It is through our choices we choose our blessings. Brigham Young said, Our Father controls the results of our acts at his own pleasure, and
we cannot prevent it. Man can produce and control his own acts, but he has no control over their results. (Brigham Young, Discourses of Brigham Young, pg. 96)

This is seen when there is that opposition in choices. An obvious example would be if we were driving down a street heading to a friends house and there came a fork in the road. If we take a left, it will take us in an opposite direction and we will not get to our friends house. If we will take a right we will get to our friends house soon and enjoy their company. So it is with agency, we can make choices that take us away from living with God again. The nice thing about these spiritual roads we are on is that we have been given both a road map and warning signs on the sides of the road. That guidance is only enhanced when one receives the gift of the Holy Ghost. A more subtle example would be if you were watching T.V., going through the list of programs running. You have lots of different choices. You might watch something educational on the History Channel, something spiritual on BYU T.V., a fruitless cartoon or something from the many filthy and degrading television stations and shows. Some choices could greatly uplift, inspire and bless us. Some could waste time and others could lead [us] carefully down to hell.(2 Nephi 28:21) Agency is not a passive thing, it is not something that we can put off either. To go back to our example of driving to our friends house, if we just parked the car and sat still at the fork in the

road we would not make it to our destination. I love Neal A. Maxwells remark, Joshua didnt say
choose you next year whom you will serve; he spoke of this day, while there is still daylight and before the darkness becomes more and more normal. (See Joshua 24:15) (Neal A. Maxwell, Ensign, November 1974, pg. 13)

3 We use agency to either grow, or decrease. When we properly use agency we gain agency. This is made obvious when we take an eternal perspective of things. If one keeps all the commandments, repents of his sins and relies wholly upon the merits of Jesus Christ, they will be heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ (Romans 8:17), we will have received all that the father has. With that will come great power and influence, it will put us in a position to be able to make many choices, our freedoms will be infinite. Those, on the other hand, who have only known sin, and have not repented, will only have the glory of the stars. They will have little, if any, domain and will be greatly restricted because of poor use of their agency. I reecho Elder Maxwells words, We choose not to follow Lucifer once: Let us not go back on that now! (Neal A Maxwell, As I Am, pg.35) A more temporal example might help some too. I tracked into this lady on my mission, her name is Jill. She is a sweet lady, but was very depressed because of a death of one in her family that took place over 5 years ago. She was not able to move on and subsequently drank herself to sleep every night, waking up just as depressed as she was before. I think of others when they are put into such a position, some in their trials tighten their grasp on the iron rod and look forward, having a hope through the atonement of Christ and the power of his resurrection. (Moroni 7:41) They go forward with the rock of faith, being assured that they will one day be united with their loved ones. They understand the temporary separation is just that: temporary. They go on to be an influence for good. We can also gain more freedom when we know and understand truth. John 8:32 says Ye shall know the truth and the truth shall make you free. Bruce R. McConkie also stated Freedom is
based on truth, and no man is perfectly free unless he has knowledge of and abides in the truth As long as mans beliefs, or any part of them, are based on error, he is not completely free, for the chains of error bind his mind. (Bruce R. McConkie, Mormon Doctrine - Freedom) Imagine someone stranded in a desert and they dont have any water. If they dont know that all they have to do is turn left and walk a few miles they will find a spring of water, they will die. There is no freedom in that. Similarly, if one doesnt know or accept the basic ordinances and commandments of the gospel they will not be free to enjoy eternal life. Michael Watson is a man I taught on my mission. We had little time so we decided to knock 3 or 4 doors, he was one of them. Because of the spiritual and emotional situation he was in he claimed it was not a coincidence, but a miracle. We set up an appointment to go back. When we went back we taught him about the restoration of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. We taught him about the miracle of the Book of Mormon and how it can bless his life. He had a desire to know if it was true so we asked him to kneel

down right there and ask God if it were true. We knelt down and then prayed. He thanked God for sending us to his house, and then asked God about the truthfulness of the Book. Silence has hardly ever been so loud as I knelt there waiting for his next words. After a while he closed his prayer and stayed in silence again. The spirit was flooding into that small apartment and when he lifted his head and looked at us he knew that God wanted him to read that Book. When we had returned for our next appointment, to our dismay, we had learned he had been looking into anti-Mormon literature and thought that we didnt accept Christ as principle point of our salvation. Not that this act was necessarily bad, but what was was how he hadnt listened to that overwhelming witness he received from God that day we knelt with him just days before and read the Book of Mormon. Just think of if he had read, he would have known. There is no doubt in my mind if he would have accepted the message of the restored gospel his spiritual ills would have been healed.

Another way our agency can be limited and destroyed is through addiction. It is a way Satan can grasp [us] with his awful chains (2 Nephi 28:22), while being free from addiction opens opportunities. If one is bound to an addiction, from something as serious as drugs to a discreet inclination of texting, they are being pulled further and further into a gravitational pit that Satan has dug for them. Think of the freedom of choice that comes when one is not bound by addiction! I often think of a convert that I taught, Nancy Garza. She was a great example of using her agency wisely. She decided to stop drinking and going to clubs to live the gospel of Jesus Christ. Because of her choice to be baptized she was able to be a more dedicated mother with far greater influence on her kids. Nancys example highlights the next important step of agency I wanted to cover, which is rooted in Jesus Christs atonement. We learn from Samuel the Lamanite that Christs atonement [brings] to pass the condition of repentance. (Helaman 14:18) From Alma we learn that our sins and mistakes can be blotted out. (Alma 7:13) The atonement of Jesus Christ has within it the power to correct every wrong choice, and will give power to make right choices in the future. If we have figuratively planted weeds in our garden of agency, Christ not only will root up those weeds, but he will plant flowers in their place. So it is with our lives. Nancy was a living testament how Christ has healing in his wings (Mal. 4:2), how he can succor (Alma 7:12), and how he can forgive. (D&C 58:42) 4 We want agency because it lets us grow. Agency, or the ability to choose, is one of Gods greatest
gifts to his children. Our eternal progression depends on how we use this gift. We must choose whether to follow Jesus Christ of follow Satan. (Preach My Gospel, pg.48) It is only through agency that we can progress and become like God, there is no other way. As Ive said before, this life is a time of probation, a time of testing and learning. We cannot be tested if we do not

have opposition. When there is opposition we are left to choose, to exercise our agency. Without this agency we cannot learn. Sometimes agency leads to a process of trial and error, which is a great teaching moment. It is like the often referred to analogy of a child being told not to touch a hot stove by a loving parent, but he does anyways. Some do not think that drunk driving is destructive until after they have taken lives. Some do not think that gossiping or telling lies will harm anyone until they see reputations ruined. Most dont think immorality is bad until families have fallen apart. Sometimes we are the victim of someone using their agency poorly. Sometimes we are the victim of slander and feel firsthand how damaging it is. We might see how infidelity does, as Jacob says, places daggers in familys hearts, and wounds their souls. (Jacob 2:9) There is a better way to learn however: it is by faith and by seeing the fruit of our faith. In Alma 32, Alma teaches the Zoramites about how with faith we do not know at first. It will take trust in God and his prophets. But after patience, diligence in nurturing that faith we can come to feast upon the fruit of our labors. One can see quickly the power of virtue has when they are committed to live virtuously. All one has to do is make a serious study of the Book of Mormon to know that its origin is of God. There is a better way to experiment upon truths than give way to temptation. One of the greatest things we could ever do with our agency is giving it back to our Father. Once we have given our will without restraint he will grant us with the gift of all he has, where we will be limitless and endless. We will enjoy a gift only a God could enjoy. Agency comes from God, it is a gift that is freely given out of love. It is the ability to choose for ourselves what will happen to us through our choices that we make. We gain it more and more through keeping the commandments of God until one day we will be clothed in his glory. We loose it when we make poor decisions and set aside the counsel of God. Without it there would be no progression, and with it comes the chance to experience happiness and joy.

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