This past Sunday was our annual Ward Conference. The stake presidency had decided that the theme of the conferences this year would be from Mosiah 18:21. I think the day went very well. The Primary children sang a couple of songs as prelude music, and did a great job. For the meeting, I was the first speaker, the counselor in the stake presidency over our ward was the second speaker, and the stake president was the concluding speaker. We had 173 people attend, including several non-members, and one couple that hadn’t been to church in years. This is 25-30 more than our average, so we were quite pleased. The combined MP/RS meeting was about bringing the Church out of obscurity. I spoke about missionary work, the stake RS president spoke about services, and the stake Public Affairs person spoke about being involved in the community, and the stake president summarized everything. After Church, we went and visited (prearranged) some members. I havne’t received all reports back yet, but they went also went well. It was a long day, but a good one!
In case you are interested, here is my 10-minute talk from sacrament meeting about contention…
Good morning Brothers and Sisters. It is great to see so many of you out this morning for our ward conference. I, like all of you, look forward to the messages that will be shared with us today.
I thank the Primary for their beautiful singing this morning. My kids love the song Holding hands Around the World. The words of the chorus are:
We are children holding hands around the world,
Like an army with the gospel flag unfurled.
We are led by His light,
And we love truth and right.
We are building the kingdom of God.
What a beautiful message. You can imagine the strength these children will have if they keep that inspiration with them as they grow?!
When I last spoke, I mentioned that the theme of the ward conferences and of the stake this year was taken from Mosiah 18: 21.
And he commanded them that there should be no contention one with another, but that they should look forward with one eye, having one faith and one baptism, having their hearts knit together in unity and in love one towards another.
My remarks this morning will focus on the first part of that verse: contention. To contend is to argue or compete over a point; to fight about something. In boxing, the person ranked just below the champion is called the #1 contender. In sports, being in contention is a good thing. It means you are trying your best and you are close to the top. Fans in those cities where teams are in contention are excited and look forward to going to the games. Fans in those cities where teams are not in contention often can’t be bothered to even go to the games. Unfortunately, in most other parts of life, the results of contention are quite the opposite. Christ plainly taught us that:
…he that hath the spirit of contention is not of me, but is of the devil, who is the father of contention, and he stirreth up the hearts of men to contend with anger, one with another.
With that as a definition, it seems impossible to come up with a situation where contention would be a good thing. Contention is associated with pride. We contend with people because we are certain we are right and they are wrong. It is also associated with selfishness. We may know we are wrong, but don’t want others to be right. Sometimes we develop a sense of entitlement. Perhaps we have done something for others and feel that they now owe us, and we treat them poorly because of it. This lack of humility can damage our homes, our places of employment, and the Church. The fruits of contention are anger, hatred, yelling, and even violence. Of course, on the other hand, the fruit of the Spirit are
…love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith…
When I was a missionary in Taiwan, we’d often hear about a Confucius saying. It was kind of a long thought, but basically it said that if we wanted to improve the country, we have to improve our states (or provinces). If we want to improve our states (or provinces), we have to improve our cities. If we want to improve our cities, we have to improve our families. And if we want to improve our families, we have to improve ourselves.
So, how do we improve ourselves, so that there is less contention in and around us? I like how it is explained in Helaman. Nephi and Lehi were teaching the people of Zarahemla. They had been cast into prison and protected in a variety of ways. The people saw the hand of God, and eventually the people responded. It says that 300 souls were influenced that day. As Nephi and Lehi continued to preach to them, it says of the people of Zarahemla, that:
… as many as were convinced did lay down their weapons of war, and also their hatred and the tradition of their fathers.
Reading it just a little differently, it says we need to lay down our weapons, lay down our hatred, and lay down the traditions of our fathers (obviously the unrighteous ones). I think it is pretty easy to visualize someone physically taking their weapons and laying them on the ground. You can imagine the hesitation… that weapon might have saved their life or the lives of their loved ones. It protected them in one way or another, but with courage and faith they put their weapons down. However, as that verse says, we also need to lay down our hatred. Imagine that the hatred and anger you have in you is something that you could actually touch or grasp. Perhaps it has become part of you, and it may hurt physically and emotionally to tear it out. It may be more difficult to rid yourself of this, than of your physical weapons. Just as with physical weapons, our anger and bitterness may have been used as a weapon, as well. We may have used it to cover our weaknesses. It doesn’t really matter how the anger and contention started, we have to take whatever steps necessary to end it. Only then can we truly come unto Christ and partake of his goodness. This may take time, but you will be successful.
One thing that may help is to replace the contention with positive things. Just as “no unclean thing can dwell with God”, I’d say that no clean thing can dwell with Satan. Look for the good in others. The other day I heard a report on the radio about a couple of college students who go to a street corner near their school every Wednesday for a couple of hours and give compliments. “Nice shoes. You’ve got great curly hair. I like your sweatpants. I like your smile.” One of the students said,
Days when it’s raining, and days when it’s absolutely frigid out, and people are like, man, thank you for coming out here. We’re not necessarily enjoying our time in the cold, we’re enjoying the responses we get and the interaction we receive with people.
For whatever reason, these young men are trying to bring brighten the day for others. There are those that are still rude to them, but they keep doing it. Remember, just as dealing with someone who is in a bad mood can push us to be in a bad mood, dealing with someone with a bright and optimistic outlet can push us to be the same. It’s contagious!
Once we have taken these steps to improve ourselves, the next step is to improve our families. On our way to the temple on Thursday, Caroline, Marilyn, Lisa and I briefly discussed how it seems to be easier to be nice to strangers and friends than it is to our own families. The amount of time we spend together can be such a blessing, but we also see so many weaknesses and differences. The natural man let’s those differences eat away at us. Don’t let that happen.
Let me share with you one thing that we have done in our family recently. A little more than a month ago we returned from a family vacation in Florida. It was the first time that we had gone away as a family for an extended period of time. It was awesome. Our Family Home Evening lesson on the Monday following our return was about the importance of family and spending time together. We talked about the cost of the trip, and so we made a Family Fun Jar. On pay day and allowance day, we all have a chance to put some money in the jar for our next family vacation. We also discussed the type of relationship we need to have in order to have fun. Our family already had some standard rules about not hitting and listening to others, but we added a rule about not yelling. This rule even applied to Mommy and Daddy. We rarely yelled in true anger, but it definitely would get the kids attention and they would then listen. Of course, when the adults yell, the children yell as well, and we didn’t want. To encourage us to follow this new rule, we decided that our Family Fun Jar would also be a Yelling Jar. Some people have a swearing jar, and whenever they swear, they have to put money in the jar. We don’t swear, but we all would occasionally yell. At first Andrew said he was going to yell so that we could go on vacation again, but when he actually had to put money in the jar as a consequence, he quickly understood that was not what he wanted to do. I’m happy to report that in the 5 weeks we’ve been back, it is working well. We’ve all had to put in a few dollars, but overall, the contention in our home has reduced considerably. We are indeed being blessed.
If yelling isn’t a problem in your home, then you don’t have to do this. Identify where you and your family have issues, and come up with a plan to change.
It is apparent from the scriptures that there are many attributes that we should be striving to develop, but we cannot forget our responsibility to rid our lives of undesirable attributes. It is no coincidence that after Christ visited the Nephites, one of their defining characteristics was that they did not have any contention. 4 Nephi has many references to this:
…there were no contentions and disputations among them, and every man did deal justly one with another
…And it came to pass that there was no contention among all the people, in all the land;
…And it came to pass that there was no contention in the land, because of the love of God which did dwell in the hearts of the people.
…And how blessed were they! For the Lord did bless them in all their doings; yea, even they were blessed and prospered until an hundred and ten years had passed away; and the first generation from Christ had passed away, and there was no contention in all the land.
I do not claim to be an expert in living in peace and harmony with everyone, but I’m trying. I know although it may be hard, treating everyone with love and respect is the only way to live. As the Apostle Paul wrote to Timothy, we need:
…supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks… that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty.
This is my prayer, in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.
 Copyright © 2001 by Janice Kapp Perry. All rights reserved.
 Mosiah 18: 21
 3 Nephi 11:29
 Galatians 5: 22
 Helaman 5:51
 2 Nephi 26:32-33
 1 Nephi 10: 21
 “At Purdue, Compliments Are Complimentary” from All Things Considered, March 20, 2009, http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=102128212 accessed 20090321
 4 Nephi 1: 2, 13, 15, 18
 1 Timothy 2: 1-2