Wednesday, January 23, 2019

Elder Neal A. Maxwell On the process of personal progression

Elder Neal A. Maxwell (1926-2004) served as a Seventy from 1976-1981, then as a member of the Quorum of Twelve until his death from cancer in 2004.
"Since we have been told clearly by Jesus what manner of men and women we ought to become—even as He is (see 3 Ne. 27:27)—how can we do so, except each of us employs repentance as the regular means of personal progression? Personal repentance is part of taking up the cross daily. (See Luke 9:23.) Without it, clearly there could be no 'perfecting of the Saints.' (Eph. 4:12.)
"Besides, there is more individuality in those who are more holy.
"Sin, on the other hand, brings sameness; it shrinks us to addictive appetites and insubordinate impulses. For a brief surging, selfish moment, sin may create the illusion of individuality, but only as in the grunting, galloping Gadarene swine! (See Matt. 8:28–32.)
"Repentance is a rescuing, not a dour doctrine. It is available to the gross sinner as well as to the already-good individual striving for incremental improvement.
"Repentance requires both turning away from evil and turning to God. (See Deut. 4:30; see also Bible Dictionary, s.v. 'Repentance.') When 'a mighty change' is required, full repentance involves a 180-degree turn, and without looking back! (Alma 5:12–13.) Initially, this turning reflects progress from telestial to terrestrial behavior, and later on to celestial behavior. As the sins of the telestial world are left behind, the focus falls ever more steadily upon the sins of omission, which often keep us from full consecration."
- Neal A. Maxwell, "Repentance," General Conference October 1991
Click here to read or listen to the full talk

Elder Maxwell points out clearly that in order to find a "regular means of personal progression" and work towards our image of eventual perfection, we require regular and consistent repentance. Rather than being a "dour doctrine" (relentlessly severe, stern, or gloomy in manner or appearance), we should find repentance to be a joyful rescue and a means of increasing light, hope, and joy. The effects are profound:

This is a fascinating thought. The more we repent, the more holiness comes to us; and the more unique and individual we become in the process, as our personal gifts and traits are allowed to expand and thrive. On the other hand, one who is bound by sin loses that ability to shine; he or she just tends to blend into the crowd of similarly-limited people struggling to survive.

The additional insight offered here is that repentance initially can require "a 180-degree turn" as we replace a false or harmful behavior with one that is in line with God's wishes for us. But as we progress and expand, we find that repentance focuses more on small course corrections, refining and honing our path (overcoming the "sins of omission", adding more of the elevated behaviors) so that we are ever-more focused on Him.

(Compilation and commentary by David Kenison, Orem, Utah, 2019)

Tuesday, January 22, 2019

Elder Ulisses Soares on not allowing Satan's power in our lives

Elder Ulisses Soares (born October 2, 1958 in Brazil) has served as a Seventy since April 2005, and as a member of the Presidency of the Seventy since January 2013. He was sustained to the Quorum of Twelve Apostles on April 1, 2018.
"The war of good against evil will continue throughout our lives since the adversary’s purpose is to make all people as miserable as he is. Satan and his angels will try to shroud our thoughts and assert control by tempting us to sin. If they can, they will corrupt all that is good. Nevertheless, it is essential to understand that they will have power over us only if we allow it.
"The scriptures also contain several examples of those who gave that permission to the adversary and ended up becoming confused and even destroyed, like Nehor, Korihor, and Sherem. We need to be alert to this danger. We cannot allow ourselves to be confused by popular messages that are easily accepted by the world and that contradict the doctrine and true principles of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Many of these worldly messages represent nothing more than an attempt of our society to justify sin. We need to remember that, at the end, all will stand before Christ to be judged of our works, whether they are good or whether they are evil (see 3 Nephi 27:14). As we encounter these worldly messages, great courage and a solid knowledge of the plan of our Heavenly Father will be required to choose the right.
"All of us can receive the strength to choose the right if we seek the Lord and place all our trust and faith in Him. But, as the scriptures teach, we need to have 'a sincere heart' and 'real intent.' Then the Lord, in His infinite mercy, 'will manifest the truth unto [us], by the power of the Holy Ghost. And by the power of the Holy Ghost [we] may know the truth of all things.' (Moroni 10:4-5.)"
- Ulisses Soares, "Yes, We Can and Will Win!", General Conference April 2015
Click here to read or listen to the full talk

In some of father Lehi's final counsel to his sons, he warned them that Satan "seeketh that all men might be miserable like unto himself" (2 Ne 2:27). Elder Soares counseled that Satan is very active in that ongoing endeavor in our time.

The broader context of Lehi's counsel also includes that caveat stated by Elder Soares—Satan has "power over us only if we allow it":
"Wherefore, men are free according to the flesh; and all things are given them which are expedient unto man. And they are free to choose liberty and eternal life, through the great Mediator of all men, or to choose captivity and death, according to the captivity and power of the devil; for he seeketh that all men might be miserable like unto himself." (2 Ne 2:27)
When we exercise our agency to follow the Adversary's temptations, we find ourselves "becoming confused" and losing our power to choose. The eventual result result will be that we choose "captivity and death." It becomes critical that we not be misled by the messages of the world, but that we stay focused on the foundation of the Gospel message and the Savior.

(Compilation and commentary by David Kenison, Orem, Utah, 2019)

Monday, January 21, 2019

Elder Gerrit W. Gong on following the Savior's example of compassion and kindness

Elder Gerrit W. Gong (born December 23, 1953) was called as a Seventy in April 2010, then to the Presidency of the Seventy in October 2015. He was sustained to the Quorum of Twelve Apostles in April 2018.
"Many of our Savior’s miracles begin with His understanding and compassion. He knows our hearts and circumstances. He is filled with compassion for our hopes and our hurts, our desires and our needs....
"Through His ministry our Savior is moved by compassion—compassion for the leper (Mark 1:41), compassion for the man’s son possessed with a foul spirit (Mark 9:22), compassion for a widowed mother whose only son has died (Luke 7:13). Our Savior teaches us to be like the good Samaritan who had compassion on the man wounded and left for dead (Luke 10:33).
"Likewise, the father of the prodigal son had compassion and ran to his son when his son 'was yet a great way off' (Luke 15:20). Interestingly, speaking of bread, when the prodigal son 'came to himself,' his realization is 'How many hired servants of my father have bread enough and to spare' (Luke 15:17).
"Our Savior begins with compassion. He concludes with gracious kindness.
"The gospel accounts say that after Jesus fed the multitude, He 'sent them away.' But the footnote in Mark clarifies. Instead of He 'sent them away,' the footnote says He 'bid the people farewell' (Mark 6:45; see Mark 6:46, footnote a). Can’t you hear Jesus compassionately bidding the people farewell as they leave after He has fed them?"
- Gerrit W. Gong, "And Jesus Said unto Them: I Am the Bread of Life," address to CES Religious Educators, Feb. 17, 2017
Click here to read or listen to the full talk

There is so much to be learned by studying the attributes and personality of the Savior. Elder Gong focuses on His understanding, compassion, and gracious kindness. As our hearts are filled with compassion, our very lives are changed and our behavior is deeply influenced.

Compassion results in gracious kindness. How desperately we need those gifts in our world today!

(Compilation and commentary by David Kenison, Orem, Utah, 2019)

Sunday, January 20, 2019

President Russell M. Nelson on the symbolism of the temple

President Russell M. Nelson (born Sept 9, 1924) was an internationally-renowned heart surgeon when he was called to serve as a member of the Quorum of Twelve Apostles in 1984. He became president of that quorum on July 15, 2015. Following the death of President Monson, he was set apart as president of the Church on January 14, 2018.
"In the temples, symbols are utilized to teach us spiritual things. For example, we admire that beautiful chandelier in the celestial room.... Look at the many innumerable pieces in that chandelier, each one made beautiful as it reflects the light behind it. Can you see that each piece in that chandelier could represent some of the lineage of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob illuminated by the light of the Lord?
"Elsewhere in the temple we admire the altars. They become more important to us when they symbolize the importance of prayer. The sculptured carpets on the floor signify the sure foundation of truth, below which we do not descend, as devoted Latter-day Saints....
"The whiteness of temple clothing suggests purity, and the similarity of our dress symbolizes the fact that we are all sons and daughters of God. In the temple there is no segregation according to position held, color, wealth, or the lack of it.
"In this temple there is a symbolic pathway of progression. The baptismal font is located in the lowest part of the temple, symbolizing the fact that Jesus was baptized in the lowest body of fresh water on planet earth. There He descended below all things to rise above all things. In Solomon’s temple, the baptismal font was supported by twelve oxen that symbolized the twelve tribes of Israel.... From the baptismal font of the temple, we progress upward through the telestial and terrestrial realms to the room that represents the celestial home of God."
- Russell M. Nelson, "Symbols and the Temple," St. Louis Missouri Temple Dedication, session eighteen, June 5, 1997; see Teachings of Russell M. Nelson pp. 371-372

President Nelson helps us ponder some of the symbols we might be missing in the external aspects of temples. It's interesting to consider why they are built the way they are, and to learn from these aspects of their construction, layout, and appointments.

Light is a particularly powerful symbol, and I appreciated this insight into beautiful chandeliers and their ability to reflect and enhance light. We must all learn to be light-reflectors and light-transmitters, helping those around us to be blessed by His true light!

(Compilation and commentary by David Kenison, Orem, Utah, 2019)

Saturday, January 19, 2019

Elder Dale G. Renlund on allowing for personalized rates of progress

Elder Dale G. Renlund (born November 13, 1952) served in the First Quorum of Seventy starting in 2009, until his call to the Quorum of Twelve in October 2015.
"As God encourages us to keep on trying, He expects us to also allow others the space to do the same, at their own pace. The Atonement will come into our lives in even greater measure. We will then recognize that regardless of perceived differences, all of us are in need of the same infinite Atonement.
"Some years ago a wonderful young man named Curtis was called to serve a mission. He was the kind of missionary every mission president prays for. He was focused and worked hard. At one point he was assigned a missionary companion who was immature, socially awkward, and not particularly enthusiastic about getting the work done.
"One day, while they were riding their bicycles, Curtis looked back and saw that his companion had inexplicably gotten off his bike and was walking. Silently, Curtis expressed his frustration to God; what a chore it was to be saddled with a companion he had to drag around in order to accomplish anything. Moments later, Curtis had a profound impression, as if God were saying to him, 'You know, Curtis, compared to me, the two of you aren’t all that different.' Curtis learned that he needed to be patient with an imperfect companion who nonetheless was trying in his own way.
"My invitation to all of us is to evaluate our lives, repent, and keep on trying. If we don’t try, we’re just latter-day sinners; if we don’t persevere, we’re latter-day quitters; and if we don’t allow others to try, we’re just latter-day hypocrites. As we try, persevere, and help others to do the same, we are true Latter-day Saints. As we change, we will find that God indeed cares a lot more about who we are and about who we are becoming than about who we once were."
- Dale G. Renlund, "Latter-day Saints Keep on Trying," General Conference April 2015
Click here to read or listen to the full talk

It's an important observation to realize that we each progress at different rates or paces in this life. Elder Renlund points out the benefits of allowing those around us to establish their own rate; not only does that allow each of us the freedom to do our best, based on our situation and circumstances, but as Elder Renlund suggests. each of us is blessed as we allow (and facilitate) the blessings of the Atonement of the Savior to enter the lives of those around us.

The missionary in the story learned the important lesson of allowing others to do the best they can. He recognized that even though he thought he was far ahead of his companion, given someone else's standards, he was not doing so well either. We all need to learn to keep that broader perspective!

This is a clever way of expressing the challenges we face as we continue to strive to move forward and upward in our lives.

Elder Renlund included this interesting footnote related to the word "hypocrite":
"Hypocrite as used in the New Testament may be translated from the Greek as “pretender”; “the Greek word means ‘a play actor,’ or ‘one who feigns, represents dramatically, or exaggerates a part’” (Matthew 6:2, footnote a). If we do not give others the opportunity to change at their own pace, we are simply pretending to be Latter-day Saints."
Surely we should all aspire to be "true Latter-day Saints" in every way.

(Compilation and commentary by David Kenison, Orem, Utah, 2019)

Friday, January 18, 2019

Elder Gary E. Stevenson on the power of the Book of Mormon

Elder Gary E. Stevenson (born August 5, 1955) was called as a Seventy in 2008, then as Presiding Bishop in 2012. He was called as a member of the Quorum of Twelve Apostles in October 2015.
"When you read the Book of Mormon and pray with a desire to know it is true, you too can receive the same impression in your heart that [others have] received. You may also find that as you stand and bear witness of the Book of Mormon, you will feel the same spirit of confirmation. The Holy Ghost will speak to your heart. You can also feel this same spirit of confirmation when you hear others share their testimonies of the Book of Mormon. Each of these spiritual witnesses can lead to the Book of Mormon becoming the keystone of your testimony.
"Let me explain. The Prophet Joseph Smith, who translated the Book of Mormon through 'the gift and power of God,' described the Book of Mormon as 'the most correct of any book on earth, and the keystone of our religion.' (Introduction to the Book of Mormon.)
"Since the Book of Mormon’s first printing in 1830, more than 174 million copies have been published in 110 different languages, demonstrating that the Book of Mormon is still the keystone of our religion. But what does this mean for each of you?
"In architectural terms a keystone is a main element in an arched gateway. It is the wedge-shaped stone in the very center and at the highest point of an arch. It is the most important of the stones because it keeps the sides of the arch in place, preventing collapse. And it is the structural element that ensures the gate, or opening below, is passable.
"In gospel terms it is a gift and blessing from the Lord that the keystone of our religion is something as tangible and graspable as the Book of Mormon and that you can hold it and read it. Can you see the Book of Mormon as your keystone, your spiritual center of strength?"
- Gary E. Stevenson, "Look to the Book, Look to the Lord," General Conference, October 2016
Click here to read or listen to the complete talk

Elder Stevenson teaches that a personal witness of the validity of the Book of Mormon can come differently—as we read, as we hear others teach and testify, or even as we ourselves share our feelings about the book. Gaining and strengthening our personal testimony will lead to that book taking its place as the keystone of our testimony:

It truly is a blessing to have something so "tangible and graspable" to cling to. The more we learn from the power of the Book of Mormon, the more powerfully we will know of its validity and the better equipped we will be to deal with life's challenges. It truly can be the "spiritual center of strength" for any who take advantage of its gifts.

(Compilation and commentary by David Kenison, Orem, Utah, 2019)

Thursday, January 17, 2019

President Thomas S. Monson on the path of faithfulness

President Thomas S. Monson (1927–2018) was sustained to the Quorum of Twelve Apostles in 1963. He served as a counselor in the First Presidency with Presidents Benson, Hunter, and Hinckley and then became Church president in 2008. He led the Church for almost a decade until his passing in January 2018.
"There is no resting place along the path called faithfulness. The trek is constant, and no lingering is allowed. It must not be expected that the road of life spreads itself in an unobstructed view before the person starting his journey. He must anticipate coming upon forks and turnings in the road. But he cannot hope to reach his desired journey's end if he thinks aimlessly about whether to go east or west. He must make decisions purposefully.
"As Lewis Carroll tells us, Alice was following a path through a forest in Wonderland when it divided in two directions. Standing irresolute, she inquired of the Cheshire Cat, which had suddenly appeared in a nearby tree, which path she should take. 'Where do you want to go?' asked the cat. 'I don't know,' said Alice. 'Then,' said the cat, 'it really doesn't matter, does it?' (See Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, p. 89.)
"We know where we want to go! Do we have the resolution, even the faithfulness, to get there? President N. Eldon Tanner answered this question in his own mind when he declared: 'I would rather walk barefoot from here to the celestial kingdom... than to let the things of this world keep me out.' (Conference Report, Sept.-Oct. 1966, pp. 98-99.)"
- Thomas S. Monson, "Happiness—The Universal Quest," Ensign, October 1993, pp. 2-4
Click here to read the full article

What does it mean to be faithful? President Monson suggests that it involves constant, steady focus in our journey of life. More importantly, it's critical that we know where we want to go, and make clear and informed decisions at every point along the way. We must not waver and wander!

Having a sure knowledge of our destination becomes a crucial factor in making directional decisions along the way. We gain that knowledge through inspired words that we read in the scriptures and the teachings of living prophets, and through our own pondering and inspiration. We will be blessed as we pursue a steady and clear course!

(Compilation and commentary by David Kenison, Orem, Utah, 2019)
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