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Come and Partake of the Fruit of the Tree of Life, Brother Rob Gibson, January 21, 2024

Good morning brothers and sisters. I was asked to speak on the four different groups of people that Lehi saw in his dream. There are 4 distinct groups of people discussed in Lehi’s dream. Three of the groups pressed forward along the straight and narrow path to get to the tree of life and to obtain its fruit. The fourth group did not seek after the tree, but instead desired to go to the great and spacious building as their ultimate destination. The first of the other three groups pressed forward and commenced in the path that led to the tree of life. This group however, encountered the mist of darkness, which represents “the temptations of the devil”, and they lost their way, wandered off, and were lost. When Nephi was discussing this first group, no mention was made of the iron rod. The iron rod, which we are taught, is the word of God, or the scriptures. Elder Bednar said that “those who ignore or treat lightly the word of God do not have access to that divine compass which points the way to the Savior”. This first group obtained the path initially and pressed forward with faith and conviction but they were easily diverted by the temptation of the devil and they lost their way and were lost. The second group also obtained the straight and narrow path, but they also found and clung to the iron rod. With the help of the iron rod they were able to press through the mists of darkness, until they made it to the tree and they did partake of the fruit. After they partook of the fruit however, they cast their eyes about and they saw that the people in the great and spacious building were mocking them and they felt ashamed and fell away into forbidden paths and were lost. This second group pressed forward with faith and commitment and they clung to the iron rod but as they were confronted with persecution and adversity they fell away. Even with faith, commitment, and the word of God, this group eventually was lost. Perhaps because they only periodically read or studied or searched the scriptures. Nephi said that this group of people “clung to the iron rod”. The use of the verb clinging is interesting because the intensity of a cling is so tight that it can’t be perpetuated. If you are clinging to something, you can only hang on for so long before your hands get tired and you are going to be forced to ease up on your grip. Elder Bednar says that “perhaps clinging to the rod of iron suggests only occasional bursts of study rather than consistent and ongoing immersion in the work of God”. The third group of people who made their way towards the tree also pressed forward with faith and conviction. Nephi said that this group held fast to the iron rod rather than clung to it like the second group. What is the difference? Elder Benar said that the difference is that “holding fast to the rod entails, in large measure, the prayerful, consistent, and earnest use of the holy scriptures as a sure source of revealed truth and a reliable guide for the journey along the straight and narrow path to the tree of life- even the Lord Jesus Christ”. This third group never wandered off, fell into forbidden paths, and were never lost. Perhaps this third group of people consistently read, studied, and searched the scriptures. Perhaps it was diligence and devotion to a seemingly small and simple thing that saved them from perishing. Perhaps it was the knowledge of the Lord and knowledge of the truth obtained through faithful study of the scriptures that yielded the spiritual gift of humility, such that this group “fell down and partook of the fruit of the tree”. Perhaps it was the spiritual nourishment of continually feasting upon the word of Christ that enabled them to not heed the scorning and mocking of the people in the great and spacious building. This is the group that we should all aspire to be a part of. The major difference between the first group that never made it to the tree and the second and third groups was the iron rod. When Nephi’s brothers asked “what meaneth the rod of iron that led to the tree?”, Nephi said “that it was the word of God; and whoso would hearken unto the word of God, and would hold fast unto it, they would never parish, neither could the temptations and fiery darts of the adversary overpower them unto blindness, to lead them away to destruction”. It is by faith and conviction that we start down the straight and narrow path and it is by holding fast to the iron rod or the word of God or the scriptures that we are able to make it to the tree and partake of the fruit. Once we make it to the tree and partake of the fruit, what must we do to not be like the second group who eventually cast their eyes about and became influenced by the people in the great and spacious building and then fell away? Unfortunately this is a reality for a lot of people. We all have friends and family members who were at one time faithful in the Gospel but ended up falling away. Elder Pearson of the Seventy gave a talk in General Conference in 2015 and he related a story where before President Heber J. Grant passed away, one of the Brethren visited his home. Before he left, President Grant offered a prayer and said, “O God, bless me that I shall not lose my testimony and keep faithful to the end!”. After nearly 27 years as President of the church, this was still his fervent prayer. His example is a striking reminder that no one, at any age, or with any amount of experience in the Gospel is immune from Satan’s influence. Elder Pearson goes on to say that “two of Satan's most powerful tools are distraction and deception”. I would expect that in this day and age, this is more true than ever. Practically all of us in this room carry in our pockets or in our purses a very convenient and compact tool that makes it easier than ever to access information and entertainment that do nothing for us other than to distract and deceive. We are taught by Lehi’s dream that just partaking of the fruit is not enough. We must be like the third group and endure to the end in order to achieve eternal life. In the same General Conference talk, Elder Pearson said “when trials and challenges come our way, we are often told to simply hang in there. Let me be clear: to “hang in there” is not a principle of the Gospel. Enduring to the end means constantly coming unto Christ and being perfected in Him”. So hanging in there sounds to me like being passive, just waiting for hardships and trials to pass us by, and enduring to the end is an active process of continually striving and working towards Christ. Elder Pearson continues in his talk using Lehi’s dream as a parable on how to endure to the end. He gives us 6 important principles that, if followed, we will be numbered among the third group and we will receive eternal life. Principle One: Don’t forget to pray. We need to follow President Grant's example and pray continually for strength to endure to the end. No matter where we are in life or how strong we feel we are in our faith, we still need strength to continue to carry on. After asking for strength, Elder Pearson says we should then ask our Heavenly Father what more would you have me do? By asking this question we are being active in our faith rather than just being passive. Principle Two: Come unto Christ and be perfected in Him. Just like Kaya said in her talk, The tree of life is the central focus in Lehi’s dream and the tree represents Christ who is the clear manifestation of the love of God. The fruit is his infinite atonement. Eternal life with our loved ones is our ultimate goal. To realize this gift, we must come unto Christ and be perfected in Him. Elder Pearson said, “We can fill our lives with accomplishment and well-doing, but in the end, if we do not enter into sacred covenants to follow Christ and faithfully keep them, we will have utterly and completely missed the mark. Principle Three: Press forward with faith. The path that leads to the tree of life, to Christ, is straight and narrow. It is strict and exact. God’s commandments are strict, but contrary to what Satan and the world would have us believe, they are not restrictive. God’s commandments are what protect us from spiritual and physical danger and prevent us from getting lost. If we remain obedient and stay on the straight and narrow path our faith in Christ will continue to grow. President Ezra Taft Benson said “when obedience ceases to be an irritant and becomes our quest, in that moment God will endow us with power”. Principle Four: The Book of Mormon is key to spiritual survival. Every one of us is experiencing a unique life journey. Our journeys will all be challenging at times. It is easy with our challenges to become distracted and wander off the path, and some of us will become lost. Trials and tribulations are inevitable and in fact are essential to our eternal progression. Elder Pearson says, “when adversity comes, don’t let something you don’t fully understand unravel everything you do know”. If we are patient and hold fast to truth, understanding will follow. Studying the Book of Mormon and the words of the living prophets is the key to spiritual survival and avoiding deception. Without it, we will be spiritually lost. Principle Five: Don’t be distracted and deceived. To heed is to give careful attention. Heeding those who do not believe in Christ will not help you find him. Elder Pearson says “searching #spaciousbuilding for knowledge will not lead you to the truth. It’s not posted there. Only the Savior has the words of eternal life”. The great and spacious building represents the “vain imaginations and the pride” of the world. It is filled with well dressed people who seem to have everything, who are ever learning, but are never able to come to the knowledge of the truth. They may be politically correct, but they are spiritually lost. There is a podcast that I listen to called Come Follow Me- Daily dose. In one of the episodes this week she talks about the great and spacious building and makes a great comparison between it and social media. Lehi said in his dream that the great and spacious building was high in the air, meaning that it had no foundation and it is a place where these people are gathering to mock and make fun of others. I don’t know if there is any better description of social media than the description of the great and spacious building. Up in the air, no foundation, people gathered to mock and make fun. Social media is full of well dressed people who make it seem like they have everything. And unfortunately there are many good and faithful people who can be made to feel less than or feel ashamed or walk away from truth because of mocking or half truths or untruths that they read or see on social media. We have access to more media and information now than any other time in history. The ease of access and availability of so much information can be a blessing and a curse. It is easy for Satan to use this information as a powerful distraction and a tool to deceive. Elder M. Russell Ballard was speaking at a stake conference in the 1990’s and was addressing anti-lds literature when he said, “I’d never tell you what not to read. I just ask that you give the Lord equal time.” I have known several people who went down the road of reading and researching anti-lds information. Eventually a lot of these people ended up falling away from the church. They all had differing reasons for leaving but the one thing they all had in common was that during all of their time spent researching and studying, they didn’t devote the same amount of time and dedication to searching for truth in the scriptures and the words of the living prophets. If they had, they wouldn’t have been so easily distracted and deceived and would not have been blinded by the mists of darkness. Principle 6: Stay by the tree. Lehi’s message is to make your way to the tree and once you are there, you are to stay by the tree. We stay by the tree when we are converted to the Lord. As we give our hearts to God and yield our desires to His, the Holy Ghost will change our very nature and a true conversion will take place. Achieving that conversion is not the final step though. I’ve learned as I get older that in most aspects of our lives it is impossible for us to stay static. Either we are progressing and moving forward or we are regressing and going backwards. There is no staying in one spot. This is true for our relationships, careers, education, as well as our spiritual well being. If we stop doing those things that bring about deepening conversion we will regress spiritually. To maintain our conversion Elder Pearson says that we must “awaken unto God each day in meaningful personal prayer, earnest scripture study, personal obedience, and selfless service”. Elder Pearson ended his talk with the promise that the Book of Mormon holds the power to change our lives and strengthen our resolve to follow Christ. The Holy Ghost will help change our hearts and help us see things as they really are, then, since we can’t just stop there, the Holy Ghost will show us what we need to do next. Brothers and sisters, I testify that just as in Lehi’s dream, if we press forward with faith and conviction and hold fast to the word of God we will be able to come unto Christ and we will be able to partake of his fruit. If we remain faithful with our daily prayers and prioritize studying the Book of Mormon and the other words of the prophets, then Satan will not have any power to distract or deceive us and we will forever be able to stay by the tree and we will achieve eternal life. I say these things in Jesus’ name, Amen.

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