Thursday, September 21, 2017

Elder James E. Talmage on being purified to feel the powers of God

Elder James E. Talmage (1862-1933) was born in England. He was a brilliant scholar, trained as a geologist and mathematician. But he's perhaps best known today among Church members for his classic writings, including "Jesus the Christ," "The Articles of Faith," and "The Holy Temple." He was called as an apostle in 1911 and served until his death in 1933 at age 70.
"Subtler, mightier, and more mysterious than any or all of the physical forces of nature are the powers that operate upon conscious organisms, the means by which the mind, the heart, the soul of man may be energized by spiritual forces. In our ignorance of the true nature of electricity we may speak of it as a fluid; and so by analogy the forces through which the mind is governed have been called spiritual fluids. The true nature of these manifestations of energy is unknown to us, for the elements of comparison and analogy, so necessary to our human reasoning, are wanting; nevertheless the effects are experienced by all.
"As the conducting medium in an electric circuit is capable of conveying but a limited current, the maximum capacity depending upon the resistance offered by the conductor, and, as separate circuits of different degrees of conductivity may carry currents of widely varying intensity, so human souls are of varied capacity with respect to the higher powers. But as the medium is purified, as obstructions are removed, so resistance to the energy decreases, and the forces manifest themselves with greater intensity. By analogous processes of purification our spirits may be made more susceptible to the forces of life, which are emanations from the Holy Spirit. Therefore are we taught to pray by word and action for a constantly increasing portion of the Spirit, that is, the power of the Spirit, which is a measure of this gift of God unto us."
- James E. Talmage, "Personality and Powers of the Holy Ghost," Articles of Faith, pp. 142-154
Click here to read the full chapter

Elder Talmage's scientific training and background are evident in this excerpt. In discussing the flower of electric current through a conductor, he recognizes that the "purity" of the conducting material can enhance the electrical flow. When there are impurities or filled with "obstructions" the resistance increases and the flow of current declines. But for maximum efficiency and optimized current flow, the more pure the conveying substance, the better; and the analogy of the flow of the Spirit through a purified human being makes sense:

An how do we make the "conducting substance" of our beings more pure? I like Moroni's description:  "Yea, come unto Christ, and be perfected in him, and deny yourselves of all ungodliness..." (Moroni 10:32). The process of purifying ourselves to maximize our ability to be conductors of the spirit, so that the spiritual forces might "manifest themselves with greater intensity," involves removing all the "ungodly" impurities from our lives. This is the process of repentance.

(Compilation and commentary by David Kenison, Orem, Utah, 2017)

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Elder Bruce R. McConkie on the celestial laws of sacrifice and consecration

Elder Bruce R. McConkie (July 29, 1915–April 19, 1985) served as a Seventy from 1946-1972 when he was called to the Quorum of Twelve.  He served in that assignment until his death from cancer at age 69.
"It is written: 'He who is not able to abide the law of a celestial kingdom cannot abide a celestial glory.' (D&C 88:22.) The law of sacrifice is a celestial law; so also is the law of consecration. Thus to gain that celestial reward which we so devoutly desire, we must be able to live these two laws.
"Sacrifice and consecration are inseparably intertwined. The law of consecration is that we consecrate our time, our talents, and our money and property to the cause of the Church: such are to be available to the extent they are needed to further the Lord’s interests on earth.
"The law of sacrifice is that we are willing to sacrifice all that we have for the truth’s sake—our character and reputation; our honor and applause; our good name among men; our houses, lands, and families: all things, even our very lives if need be.
"Joseph Smith said, 'A religion that does not require the sacrifice of all things never has power sufficient to produce the faith necessary [to lead] unto life and salvation.' (Lectures on Faith, p. 58.)
"We are not always called upon to live the whole law of consecration and give all of our time, talents, and means to the building up of the Lord’s earthly kingdom. Few of us are called upon to sacrifice much of what we possess, and at the moment there is only an occasional martyr in the cause of revealed religion.
"But what the scriptural account means is that to gain celestial salvation we must be able to live these laws to the full if we are called upon to do so. Implicit in this is the reality that we must in fact live them to the extent we are called upon so to do.
"How, for instance, can we establish our ability to live the full law of consecration if we do not in fact pay an honest tithing? Or how can we prove our willingness to sacrifice all things, if need be, if we do not make the small sacrifices of time and toil, or of money and means, that we are now asked to make?"
- Bruce R. McConkie, "Obedience, Consecration, and Sacrifice," General Conference, April 1975
Click here to read or listen to the full talk

Elder McConkie describes what he calls "celestial laws" as including the principles of sacrifice and consecration. His implication is that we do not fully live those laws in our current state; but that we must be willing to do so, and demonstrate our ability to live those laws by the ways in which we demonstrate obedience to partial aspects of the law.

And so, our current financial contributions to the Lord's Kingdom demonstrate an ability and willingness to eventually live a celestial law of consecration. Our current contributions of time and efforts in participating in building the kingdom are evidence of our willingness to sacrifice whatever the Lord requires.

The great key to our obedience is the heart. When we are willing and eager to do all we can in our current state, it is evidence that we have the proper attitude that will enable us to eventually comply with a full celestial law.

(Compilation and commentary by David Kenison, Orem, Utah, 2017)

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

President Marion G. Romney on celestial service and self-reliance

President Marion G. Romney (1897-1988) was born in the Mormon Colonies in Mexico. He was ordained an apostle in 1951 and served as a counselor in the First Presidency from 1972 to 1985. After the death of President Spencer W. Kimball, President Romney was released and returned to serve in the Quorum of Twelve until his death in 1988.
"We lose our life by serving and lifting others. By so doing we experience the only true and lasting happiness. Service is not something we endure on this earth so we can earn the right to live in the celestial kingdom. Service is the very fiber of which an exalted life in the celestial kingdom is made.
"Knowing that service is what gives our Father in Heaven fulfillment, and knowing that we want to be where He is and as He is, why must we be commanded to serve one another? Oh, for the glorious day when these things all come naturally because of the purity of our hearts. In that day there will be no need for a commandment because we will have experienced for ourselves that we are truly happy only when we are engaged in unselfish service. Let us use the freedom which comes from self-reliance in giving and serving."
- Marion G. Romney, "The Celestial Nature of Self-reliance," General Conference, October 1982
Click here to read or listen to the full talk

In past general conferences, a "welfare session" was sometimes held in addition to the regular conference sessions, during which instruction and encouragement were given related to principles of the welfare system. These remarks from President Romney were the keynote from one such session. He was one of the great teachers of these principles, and gave many addresses during his ministry on topics related to welfare.

But this one stands out in my mind. I think it's a masterful discourse, examining some of the underlying principles and doctrines of the welfare program, as they relate to our personal spiritual development. After teaching about self-reliance and its eternal significance, President Romney expanded the principle to the concept of service to others. When we become self-reliant, we are capable of blessing those around us.

This is a remarkable phrase: "Service is the very fiber of which an exalted life in the celestial kingdom is made." It's not just a program, guideline, or recommendation. The Savior's admonition to love one another, and the baptismal covenant obligation of bearing one another's burdens, give keys to President Romney's insight. Some day, he suggests, we will discover that the only source of true happiness comes from pure, Christlike, unselfish service.

(Compilation and commentary by David Kenison, Orem, Utah, 2017)

Monday, September 18, 2017

President Harold B. Lee on light shining in darkness

President Harold B. Lee (1899-1973) was called to the Quorum of Twelve Apostles in 1941. He served as a counselor in the First Presidency from 1970-1972, then as Church president from July 1972 until his passing less than 18 months later in December 1973.
"I was at Manti, Utah, some years ago. As we came out of the Saturday night leadership meeting, there was a heavy snowstorm. As we drove to the home of the stake president, he stopped his car and turned back to the temple hill. There the lighted temple was standing majestically. We sat there in silence for a few moments, inspired by the sight of that beautiful, sacred place. He said, 'You know, Brother Lee, that temple is never more beautiful than in times of a dense fog or in times of a heavy, severe storm.'
"Just so, never is the gospel of Jesus Christ more beautiful than in times of intense need, or in times of a severe storm within us as individuals, or in times of confusion and turmoil."
- Harold B. Lee, "A Blessing for the Saints," General Conference, October 1972
Click here to read or listen to the full talk

I love lessons taught with powerful analogies and imagery. President Lee's story of seeing the Manti temple shining through a snowstorm is a great example. The temple is the perfect focus for this analogy, since it's the source of so much that we find meaningful and important. Storms that would attempt to obscure it or hide its beauty only emphasize the inherent power of the structure, and all that it represents.

The extension of the analogy to the rest of the gospel provides food for thought. When we feel those times of need or challenge, especially the "intense" ones, and are surrounded by "confusion and turmoil" by the circumstances of mortality, we know we have somewhere to turn that will give us light and hope. Having a solid foundation of understanding before the "severe storm" comes makes all the difference in how we are able to draw on the power of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

(Compilation and commentary by David Kenison, Orem, Utah, 2017)

Sunday, September 17, 2017

President James E. Faust on being disciples of Jesus Christ

President James E. Faust (1920-2007) was called as a Seventy in 1976, then as a member of the Quorum of Twelve in 1978. He served as a counselor to President Hinckley from 1995 until his death in 2007 at age 87.
"The word for disciple and the word for discipline both come from the same Latin root—discipulus, which means pupil. It emphasizes practice or exercise. Self-discipline and self-control are consistent and permanent characteristics of the followers of Jesus, as exemplified by Peter, James, and John, who indeed 'forsook all, and followed him' (Luke 5:1–11).
"What is discipleship? It is primarily obedience to the Savior. Discipleship includes many things. It is chastity. It is tithing. It is family home evening. It is keeping all the commandments. It is forsaking anything that is not good for us. Everything in life has a price. Considering the Savior’s great promise for peace in this life and eternal life in the life to come, discipleship is a price worth paying. It is a price we cannot afford not to pay. By measure, the requirements of discipleship are much, much less than the promised blessings....
"Discipleship does not come from positions of prominence, wealth, or advanced learning. The disciples of Jesus came from all walks of life. However, discipleship does require us to forsake evil transgression and enjoy what President Spencer W. Kimball has called 'the miracle of forgiveness.' This can come only through repentance, which means that we forsake sin and resolve each day to be followers of truth and righteousness. As Jesus taught, 'What manner of men ought ye to be? Verily I say unto you, even as I am' (3 Nephi 27:27).
"Many think that the price of discipleship is too costly and too burdensome. For some, it involves giving up too much. But the cross is not as heavy as it appears to be. Through obedience we acquire much greater strength to carry it....
"Our true claim as disciples comes when we can say with certainty that His ways have become our ways.
"The blessings of discipleship are readily available to all who are willing to pay the price. Discipleship brings purpose to our lives so that rather than wandering aimlessly, we walk steadily on that strait and narrow way that leads us back to our Heavenly Father. Discipleship brings us comfort in times of sorrow, peace of conscience, and joy in service—all of which help us to be more like Jesus."
- James E. Faust, "Discipleship," General Conference, October 2006
Click here to read or listen to the full talk

This was a wonderful address by President Faust, whose life exemplified the principles he is describing. Discipleship, he teaches, is a form of discipline; it is self-control, obedience, the wise use of agency, and choosing to follow the precepts taught by the Savior. It is forsaking much that is in the world. but gaining much more that the Savior has promised to his faithful followers:

Is the cost of discipleship too great? Is the burden too much to bear? President Faust reminds us that among the blessings of discipleship, those who choose to "bear the cross" are given divine strength to enable them on that journey. But perhaps even greater blessings come as we continue in the path:
  • purpose to our lives
  • comfort in times of sorrow
  • peace of conscience
  • joy in service
  • becoming more like Jesus.

Perhaps only one who has begun to taste these blessings can fully understand that the price is truly a small one to pay!

(Compilation and commentary by David Kenison, Orem, Utah, 2017)

Saturday, September 16, 2017

President Spencer W. Kimball on God's plan for our destiny

President Spencer W. Kimball (1895-1985) was ordained an apostle in 1943 and served as President of the Church from 1973 to 1985.
"God controls our lives, guides and blesses us, but gives us our agency. We may live our lives in accordance with his plan for us or we may foolishly shorten or terminate them.
"I am positive in my mind that the Lord has planned our destiny. Sometime we’ll understand fully, and when we see back from the vantage point of the future, we shall be satisfied with many of the happenings of this life that are so difficult for us to comprehend.
"We sometimes think we would like to know what lies ahead, but sober thought brings us back to accepting life a day at a time and magnifying and glorifying that day....
"We knew before we were born that we were coming to the earth for bodies and experience and that we would have joys and sorrows, ease and pain, comforts and hardships, health and sickness, successes and disappointments, and we knew also that after a period of life we would die. We accepted all these eventualities with a glad heart, eager to accept both the favorable and unfavorable. We eagerly accepted the chance to come earthward even though it might be for only a day or a year. Perhaps we were not so much concerned whether we should die of disease, of accident, or of senility. We were willing to take life as it came and as we might organize and control it, and this without murmur, complaint, or unreasonable demands.
"In the face of apparent tragedy we must put our trust in God, knowing that despite our limited view his purposes will not fail. With all its troubles life offers us the tremendous privilege to grow in knowledge and wisdom, faith and works, preparing to return and share God’s glory."
- Spencer W. Kimball, "Tragedy or Destiny," in Faith Precedes the Miracle, 102–3, 105–6. Adapted from a BYU devotional address, December 6, 1955
Click here to read the full article
Click here to listen to an audio recording of the original BYU devotional talk
In this wonderful, memorable address, President Kimball considered the classic problem of evil in the world. Why does a loving God allow so much suffering and sorrow to exist? The deeply thoughtful answers President Kimball offers give a powerful perspective on our mortal experience that can bless us as we struggle through times of challenge, disappointment, or pain.

While we do have the ability to exercise our own agency in dealing with the challenges and difficulties of this life, President Kimball urges us to remember that it is in the context of God's eternal plan for our benefit and welfare, the "destiny" that He has in mind for each of us individually. We must be ever willing and eager for His efforts to guide and bless us in the journey, knowing that He has a vision of our potential and what is needed to reach it. We may not fully grasp the details of His plan, with our temporal and limited understanding; but with faith and trust in Him, we can know that we will understand eventually:

The key to President Kimball's message is our need to have faith in God's plan, even when we don't see and understand its details. Once we develop the trust in Him and the hope of His eternal promises for us, we are equipped to confront whatever challenges life presents. Faith rings loudly in President Kimball's declaration "With all its troubles life offers us the tremendous privilege to grow in knowledge and wisdom, faith and works, preparing to return and share God’s glory."

Incidentally, it's wonderful to listen to the recording linked above (at the end of the quote), and hear President Kimball's beautiful, strong voice share the remarks. Within 2 years of giving this address, cancer of the throat would require the removal of most of President Kimball's vocal cords, leaving him with the harsh, gravelly, whispered voice that the Saints would come to love as a sign of his own patient endurance of trials and suffering.

(Compilation and commentary by David Kenison, Orem, Utah, 2017)

Friday, September 15, 2017

President Howard W. Hunter on following the Savior

President Howard W. Hunter (1907-1995) was called to the Quorum of Twelve in 1959.  He served as Church President for only nine months, from June 5, 1994 to his death on March 3, 1995.
"The world in which we live, whether close to home or far away, needs the gospel of Jesus Christ. It provides the only way the world will ever know peace. We need to be kinder with one another, more gentle and forgiving. We need to be slower to anger and more prompt to help. We need to extend the hand of friendship and resist the hand of retribution. In short, we need to love one another with the pure love of Christ, with genuine charity and compassion and, if necessary, shared suffering, for that is the way God loves us.
"In our worship services, we often sing a lovely hymn with text written by Susan Evans McCloud. May I recall a few lines of that hymn for you?
'Savior, may I learn to love thee,
Walk the path that thou hast shown,
Pause to help and lift another,
Finding strength beyond my own....

'Who am I to judge another
When I walk imperfectly?
In the quiet heart is hidden
Sorrow that the eye can’t see....

'I would be my brother’s keeper;
I would learn the healer’s art.
To the wounded and the weary
I would show a gentle heart.
I would be my brother’s keeper—
Lord, I would follow thee.'
(Hymns, 1985, no. 220.)
"We need to walk more resolutely and more charitably the path that Jesus has shown. We need to 'pause to help and lift another' and surely we will find 'strength beyond [our] own.' If we would do more to learn 'the healer’s art,' there would be untold chances to use it, to touch the 'wounded and the weary' and show to all 'a gentle[r] heart.' Yes, Lord, we should follow thee."
- Howard W. Hunter, "A More Excellent Way," General Conference April 1992
Click here to read or listen to the full talk

When we truly follow the Gospel of Jesus Christ, we find the peace that President Hunter refers to. This path of discipleship brings us His peace as we follow His example:

The words of the hymn President Hunter quotes, "Savior, May I Learn to Love Thee," describe that path of discipleship. As we learn to love Him, we will walk His path and find the promised joy and peace.

(Compilation and commentary by David Kenison, Orem, Utah, 2017)
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