Let’s all work to build bridges instead of walls with our fellow man
by Richard Keys
Does anybody here have young kids? (show of hands) In your zeal to be a good parent, did you ever try to “make them” do the right thing? What happened? (responses from class) How about teenagers—Ever try to “make them” obey? What usually happens? (responses from class) How about people our own age, both in and out of the church—Do we ever get caught up in trying to “make them” see it our way? What usually happens? (responses from class)
Abraham and his younger nephew Lot had traveled a long journey due to a major drought, and they finally returned to Canaan. They were planning to dwell together, but why did they separate and live apart? (Discuss: 1. There wasn’t enough land in one place for all their herds, herdsmen, and all their possessions; 2. Abraham’s herdsmen couldn’t get along with Lot’s herdsmen. Even 5000 years ago, arguments were splitting up families.) When the time came to decide who would live where, what did Abraham do? (He asked Lot where he would like to live and gave him first choice.) What did Lot choose? (Sodom.) Why? (Because it had water.) It had so much water, he compared it to the Garden of Eden. Remember, he’d traveled all the way to Egypt and back because of a drought, so here in Sodom he finds an oasis. Abraham saw it too, but he gave Lot first choice. How does this demonstrate the love we should have for our family members and our fellow man? (Discuss—pure and unconditional, no strings attached, no “I love you, but…,” or “I’d love you if only…,” or “If you really loved me, you’d…,” just “I love you, period.”) Sometimes we might think, “I can’t love my teenager like that, I can’t love my enemy like that, or the member who thinks she’s ‘holier than thou,’ or the neighbor who always argues with me.” Yet, if anyone has a reason not to love us, it’s the Savior—look what we put Him through—but He still loves us unconditionally, and He asks us to do the same with each other. That’s why it’s called Christlike love.
Over a period of time, Sodom and Gomorrah turned from a physical oasis into a spiritual drought. Much like today, wickedness seems to be taking over, and it’s becoming more and more challenging to endure it all.
But consider this question as we proceed today: Is there too much Sodom and Gomorrah in the world today, or not enough love?
Today’s lesson is about Sodom and Gomorrah and comparing it to today’s world, but, thankfully, we haven’t reached the depths of Sodom and Gomorrah yet. That doesn’t mean all is well in the world or in Zion. It isn’t. The world’s full of wickedness, and we, too, have a ways to go before we’re a Zion people. Yet, a merciful God has given us more time to purge and purify ourselves.
So let’s change the story slightly and “liken the scriptures” to make it more interesting. The Lord tells Abraham He’s going to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah because of their wickedness. Abraham asks, “If I can find 50 righteous people there, will you spare the cities?” The Lord says, “Yeah, I’ll do that.” “How about 45 righteous people? If I can find 45 righteous people, will you spare the cities?” The Lord says, “Sure, I’ll go with 45.” “Well, how about 40? “Okay.” (We’ve been told we’re not supposed to negotiate with the Lord, but it sure sounds like that’s what’s going on here between the Lord and His prophet.) Anyway, so Abraham says, “If you’ll do it for 40, how about 30?” “Fine.” “20?” “Okay.” He bargains the Lord down to 10 people. “If there are just 10 righteous people, will you spare the cities?” The Lord says, “My grace is sufficient. If you can find 10 righteous people, I’ll spare the cities.” He didn’t ask for perfect people, or even people as righteous as Abraham, just 10 people who met the minimum standard of righteousness for a loving, merciful God—and lo and behold, Abraham finds 10. Now, they’re far less righteous than Abraham—One smokes, another drinks, one has tattoos and an earring, another has a different sexual orientation, still another is from an enemy tribe, but they’re all good, honorable people and meet the minimum requirements set by the Lord for Him to call them righteous…and the Lord spares Sodom and Gomorrah. Could we love those ten people in the middle of Sodom and Gomorrah, those people who aren’t nearly as righteous as we are, but who the Lord still spared? And in today’s world, could we love them—not just tolerate them, but really show a genuine Christlike love towards those people?
(Discuss: Call on people with the following quotes handed out before class to read them. Ask how this applies to us showing Christlike love to others. Be flexible—If the Spirit takes over and class members get caught up in the Spirit’s guidance, stand back and let them teach each other. Then resume the lesson outline as appropriate.)
- Elder Bruce R. McConkie was once asked whether the world is getting better or worse. He thought for a moment and then said, “Yes. The wheat is getting wheatier, and the tares are getting tarrier.” —Fairfield CA Stake Conference, 1978
- As the gospel has become worldwide, so has wickedness. The antidote for this is not to make people behave, but to love them. Whether it concerns our children or our neighbor, it’s not in our job description to “save them by sundown,” or to think, “If I don’t save ‘em, who will?” If you don’t know how to reach out to people beyond your comfort zone, ask your children for help. They are a royal generation and are leading the way in that regard.
- Trust in the Lord. Trust in the pure and perfect love that He has for you and for all His other children. Trust in His timetable—He really does have the whole world in His hands.
- Finally, a closing thought: Each year in the days leading up to Christmas Eve, calls to 1-877-Hi-NORAD are answered by one of more than 1,200 volunteers who crowd into the call center at Peterson Air Force Base in Colorado Springs to monitor the whereabouts of Santa Claus on his worldwide journey and alert the callers from around the world. Last year, the volunteers logged 80,000 calls. The calls have been coming in since 1955. The local Sears store ran an ad that year in Colorado Springs telling local children they could call a number to hear where Santa was. But the number listed in the ad was one digit off and instead, the red hotline phone rang off the hook at the Continental Air Defense Command. It was kids calling looking to talk to Santa. In the spirit of Christmas, instead of just hanging up or telling them they had the wrong number, they told them where Santa was, and that’s how the tradition started.—(USA Today, December 23, 2011, page 1A)
- In that spirit, I pray that we will all work to build bridges instead of walls with our fellow man, to love them more and fear them less, to answer a problem with kindness, to go beyond mere tolerance to a Christlike love, to have faith that our testimonies will be strengthened, not weakened, by doing this, and that we will all come closer to being a Zion people for it, in the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.
Supplemental Quotes and Comments
Old Testament Lesson 8 “Living Righteously in a Wicked World”
- “Our faith will never be strong enough to force others to use their agency the way we want them to. The Father has perfect faith, and yet a third of His children rejected Him completely. Likewise, His Only Begotten in the flesh has perfect faith, and yet while He was in mortality, His message was rejected by most who heard it.” The Holy Ghost has perfect faith, and how often do we ignore his promptings. “Our faith can only be strong enough to affect the way we exercise our own agency.”—Ty Mansfield,In Quiet Desperation, p. 188.
- “Success should never be measured by the exercise of someone else’s agency. If you do, you will be tempted to infringe upon that agency in one way or another, and that is not appropriate.”—Elder Dallin H. Oaks, MTC Devotional, 9/21/1999
- “Don’t judge others. We don’t know where they aimed. We only know where they hit, and people don’t usually hit where they aim.”—Hartman Rector, Fireside, 11-8-09, Sacramento, CA
- “God never leaves us alone, never leaves us unaided in the challenges that we face. ‘Nor will he, so long as time shall last, or the earth shall stand, or there shall be one man (or woman or child) upon the face thereof to be saved.’ On occasions, global or personal, we may feel we are distanced from God, shut out from heaven, lost, alone in dark and dreary places. Often enough that distress can be of our own making, but even then the Father of us all is watching and assisting. And always there are those angels who come and go all around us, seen and unseen, known and unknown, mortal and immortal.” —Elder Jeffrey R. Holland, The Ministry of Angels, Ensign, Nov 2008, pp. 29-31
- Our Father’s plan is to love one another, even our enemies, and every one of us sustained that plan before we came to earth. He did not teach us to treat our neighbors as enemies, nor did He advise us to pressure them until they give up and give in, because trying to control another’s agency will never lead to a unity of the faith…or the family, or the neighbors, or the nation, or the world. It will only drive us further apart. If the second great commandment is like unto the first, then we should also love our neighbor with all our heart, might, mind, and strength. Trying to prove we’re right by convincing others they’re wrong will sustain our pride but not our testimonies. —Richard Keys
- “Since life in the Church illustrates, painfully at times, our own defects, as well as the defects of others, we are bound to be periodically disappointed thereby in ourselves and in others. We cannot expect it to be otherwise in a kingdom where, initially, not only does the net gather ‘of every kind,’ but those of ‘every kind’ are also at every stage of spiritual development (see Matthew 13:47). When people ‘leave their nets straightway’ (see Matthew 4:20 and Mark 1:18), they come as they are—though in the initial process of changing, their luggage reflects their past. Hence, discipleship is a developmental journey that requires shared patience, understanding, and meekness on the part of all who join the caravan. Together we are disengaging from one world and preparing ourselves for another and far better world.” —Elder Neal A. Maxwell, “Meek and Lowly,” BYU Devotional, 10/21/1986
- “A fanatic is a man who does what he thinks the Lord would do if He knew all the facts” (The Third—And Possibly the Best—637 Best Things Anybody Every Said, 1986, no. 549)
- “A forward operating base near Tal Afar, Iraq. November 2003. Nobody’s in a good mood. A patrol was ambushed the night before. A popular staff sergeant lost his leg to an RPG and may die.
- “The next night, the battalion commander leads a raid against a suspected insurgent leader. His soldiers swarm a multi-house compound in the pre-dawn chill. Doors are kicked in. The family is roused. In one bedroom a specialist peels back a pile of blankets, revealing two boys. The way they’re curled around each other, they look like puppies. The soldiers force the head of the house to his stomach on the concrete. One man puts a boot between his shoulder blades, another clips his wrists behind his back. They point a machine gun at his chest. His wife and children huddle under blankets while the house is searched.
- “Bad intel. Nothing found. A knife slices the cuffs, releasing the man as the sun begins to rise. This is the holy month of Ramadan. Neither the head of the house nor his family will eat or drink anything until sundown. Apologies are made, and the soldiers load up to head back to the base. The man who moments before had been held at gunpoint approaches the commander. He places his hand on his heart and asks the officer to bring his men back to his home so his family may prepare them breakfast before they go.” —Kevin Sites, “You’re Heartened by Humanity,” Men’s Health, May 2013, p. 151.
- “All the religious world is boasting of righteousness: it is the doctrine of the devil to retard the human mind, and hinder our progress, by filling us with self-righteousness. The nearer we get to our heavenly Father, the more we are disposed to look with compassion on perishing souls; we feel that we want to take them upon our shoulders, and cast their sins behind our backs. My talk is intended for all this society; if you would have God have mercy on you, have mercy on one another.” —Joseph Smith, Minutes of Meeting of the Female Relief Society, at the Grove, Nauvoo, June 9 1842, as noted in the journal of Eliza R. Snow) — History of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Volume 5, Chapter 2, pp.22-23