Sunday, April 30, 2017

President Ezra Taft Benson on the fellowship of true friends

President Ezra Taft Benson (1899-1994) was called to the Quorum of Twelve Apostles in 1943, and served as the 13th President of the Church from 1985 until his death in 1994 at age 94.
"The fellowship of true friends who can hear you out, share your joys, help carry your burdens, and correctly counsel you is priceless. For one who has been in the prison of depression, the words of the Prophet Joseph Smith have special meaning when he said, 'How sweet the voice of a friend is; one token of friendship from any source whatever awakens and calls into action every sympathetic feeling' (TPJS 134).
"Ideally, your family ought to be your closest friends. Most important, we should seek to become the friend of our Father in heaven and our brother Jesus the Christ. What a boon to be in the company of those who edify you. To have friends, one should be friendly. Friendship should begin at home and then be extended to encompass the home teacher, quorum leader, bishop, and other Church teachers and leaders. To meet often with the Saints and enjoy their companionship can buoy up the heart."
- Ezra Taft Benson, "Do Not Despair," Ensign, November 1974, p. 65
Click here to read or listen to the full article

We come to appreciate the gift of "true friends" often only when we face a time of challenge or need, when that friendship is expressed in a variety of ways, such as carrying a burden or correcting a mistake. A true friend will rescue, sustain, and encourage. But a true friend also shares our joys in special ways too. They are there, willing and eager to help and bless, regardless of the time and need:

Joseph Smith knew the difference between a true friend and a pretend friend, a partial friend, an occasional friend. He saw many leave or turn against him when challenges came.

I liked President Benson's insights into the sources of our closest friends: Deity, family, church associates. Friendship in those settings is strengthened as we "meet often with the Saints and enjoy their companionship" as well as by our own attitudes at friendliness.

Saturday, April 29, 2017

Elder Neal A. Maxwell on the eternal perspective of life's challenges

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.
"One's life, therefore, cannot be both faith-filled and stress-free. President Wilford Woodruff counseled us all about the mercy that is inherent in some adversity: 'The chastisements we have had from time to time have been for our good, and are essential to learn wisdom, and carry us through a school of experience we never could have passed through without.' (In Journal of Discourses, 2:198.)
"Therefore, how can you and I really expect to glide naively through life, as if to say, 'Lord, give me experience, but not grief, not sorrow, not pain, not opposition, not betrayal, and certainly not to be forsaken. Keep from me, Lord, all those experiences which made Thee what Thou art! Then let me come and dwell with Thee and fully share Thy joy!'
"Serving, studying, praying, and worshiping are four fundamentals in perfecting 'that which is lacking in [our] faith.' (1 Thes. 3:10.) If we cease nurturing our faith in any of these four specific ways, we are vulnerable."
- Neal A. Maxwell, "Lest Ye Be Wearied and Faint in Your Minds," Ensign, May 1991, p. 88
Click here to read or listen to the full talk

This was one of the many masterful messages from one of the most gifted orators of our dispensation, full of nuggets of insight and inspiration.  Elder Maxwell certainly had a wise perspective on eternity, that enabled him to interpret the mortal experience in light of so much more than the short-term frustrations and concerns. Without the "chastisements" of mortality, in the words of President Woodruff, we would not be gaining the wisdom and experience necessary for our growth. That understanding helps us see how unwise we would be to avoid the intermittent pain and opposition of life: Truly, our life "cannot be both faith-filled and stress-free."

Elder Maxwell shares "four fundamentals in perfecting" our faith:
  • serving
  • studying
  • praying
  • worshiping
We must not stop nurturing faith in any of these areas! That would be an excellent area for self-examination.

Friday, April 28, 2017

President Dieter F. Uchtdorf on the blessing and power of serving in Church callings

President Dieter F. Uchtdorf (born November 6, 1940) served as a Seventy from 1994-2004, when he was called as a member of the Quorum of Twelve.  He has served as second counselor in the First Presidency since 2008.
"As Saints of the Most High God, we are to 'remember in all things the poor and the needy, the sick and the afflicted, for he that doeth not these things, the same is not my disciple' (D&C 52:40). Opportunities to go about doing good and to serve others are limitless. We can find them in our communities, in our wards and branches, and certainly in our homes.
"In addition, every member of the Church is given specific formal opportunities to serve. We refer to these opportunities as 'callings'—a term that should remind us of who it is that calls us to serve. If we approach our callings as opportunities to serve God and minister to others with faith and humility, every act of service will be a step on the path of discipleship. In this way, God not only builds up His Church but also builds up His servants. The Church is designed to help us become true and faithful disciples of Christ, good and noble sons and daughters of God. This happens not just when we go to meetings and listen to talks but also when we get outside ourselves and serve. This is how we become 'great' in the kingdom of God.
"We accept callings with grace, humility, and gratitude. When we are released from these callings, we accept the change with the same grace, humility, and gratitude.
"In the eyes of God, there is no calling in the kingdom that is more important than another. Our service—whether great or small—refines our spirits, opens the windows of heaven, and releases God’s blessings not only upon those we serve but upon us as well. When we reach out to others, we can know with humble confidence that God acknowledges our service with approval and approbation. He smiles upon us as we offer these heartfelt acts of compassion, especially acts that are unseen and unnoticed by others. (See Matthew 6:1-2.)
"Each time we give of ourselves to others, we take a step closer to becoming good and true disciples of the One who gave His all for us: our Savior."
- Dieter F. Uchtdorf, "The Greatest among You," General Conference, April 2017
Click here to watch or read the full talk

In his address to the Priesthood session of the recent general conference, President Uchtdorf gave some wonderful reminders of the importance of service to others, including Priesthood service but also more broadly, the blessings that come as we serve in a variety of ways. Noting that there are so many ways for us "to go about doing good" in our lives, he encouraged us to seek for them more actively.

This section on callings in the Church was insightful. President Eyring promises that "every act of service will be a step on the path of discipleship." As we are invited to serve in specific assignments, God not only builds up the kingdom, but also His servants, helping us each to "become true and faithful disciples of Christ, good and noble sons and daughters of God" as we follow the Savior's example of humble service to others.

The scriptural injunction to "magnify" our callings in the Priesthood (D&C 84:33) applies in all cases. To magnify is to enlarge or increase. As we are invited to participate and contribute, blessings come to others when we seek to increase the good we do at any level of service; and in the process, we become better disciples as God's favor is given to the humble servant.

Thursday, April 27, 2017

President Henry B. Eyring on the sacred role of families

President Henry B. Eyring (born May 31, 1933) served in the Presiding Bishopric from 1985-1992, as a Seventy from 1992-1995, then was called to the Quorum of Twelve Apostles. He has served in the First Presidency since 2007.
"You see, the names 'brother' and 'sister' are not just friendly greetings or terms of endearment for us. They are an expression of an eternal truth: God is the literal Father of all mankind; we are each part of His eternal family. Because He loves us with the love of a perfect Father, He wants us to progress and advance and become like Him. He ordained a plan by which we would come to earth, in families, and have experiences that would prepare us to return to Him and live as He lives....
"Our sense of right and wrong seems especially keen when we are raising our children. Innate in almost every parent is the desire to teach his or her children moral virtues. This is part of the miracle of Heavenly Father’s plan. He wants His children to come to earth, following the eternal pattern of families that exists in heaven. Families are the basic organizational unit of the eternal realms, and so He intends for them also to be the basic unit on earth. Though earthly families are far from perfect, they give God’s children the best chance to be welcomed to the world with the only love on earth that comes close to what we felt in heaven—parental love. Families are also the best way to preserve and pass on moral virtues and true principles that are most likely to lead us back to God’s presence."
- Henry B. Eyring, "Gathering the Family of God," General Conference, April 2017
Click here to watch or read the full talk

This was the opening address at the Saturday morning general session of the recent conference. President Eyring talked about the family of God, which we are all part of as brothers and sisters together. There was much encouragement to help us in family history research. But I appreciated his thoughts, shown here, about the eternal importance of our mortal families in God's plan.

The role of parents is so critical; the gifts and helps that come to them are divine and can be a real blessing. I think the enhanced "sense of right and wrong" that comes to parents as they are striving to teach children moral values is a great example of that divine endowment. God's great desire is for "His children to come to earth, following the eternal pattern of families that exists in heaven."

The love of parents for their children is "the only love on earth that comes close to what we felt in heaven." What a beautiful, inspiring thought!

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

President Thomas S. Monson on showing kindness in our interactions

President Thomas S. Monson (b. August 21, 1927) 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 until becoming Church president in 2008.
"Brethren, we do not honor the priesthood of God if we are not kind to others....
"The scriptures teach us that the righteous exercise of the priesthood is dependent upon our living the principles of kindness, charity, and love.  In the Doctrine and Covenants we read:
"'No power or influence can or ought to be maintained by virtue of the priesthood, only by persuasion, … by gentleness and meekness, and by love unfeigned;
"'By kindness, and pure knowledge, which shall greatly enlarge the soul without hypocrisy, and without guile.' (D&C 121:41-42.)
"Brethren, let us examine our lives and determine to follow the Savior’s example by being kind, loving, and charitable. And as we do so, we will be in a better position to call down the powers of heaven for ourselves, for our families, and for our fellow travelers in this sometimes difficult journey back to our heavenly home."
- Thomas S. Monson, "Kindness, Charity, and Love," General Conference, April 2017
Click here to watch or read the full talk

President Monson spoke only two times, and very briefly, during the most recent conference. On Sunday morning he issued a testimony and a challenge to all focusing on daily reading of the Book of Mormon. In this Priesthood session address, he spoke of the importance of kindness to one another. It's interesting to ponder his choices of topics, the things that he considered the most important and valuable to share with us now. Particularly for this address, it's sobering to recognize that a lack of kindness is a serious enough problem to merit his (and our) attention.

We should each ponder President Monson's words very seriously and humbly, and consider if perhaps there are ways we could express greater kindness in our interactions with those around us.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Elder Dale G. Renlund on following the example of the Good Shepherd

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.
"We get a glimpse into our Heavenly Father’s character as we recognize the immense compassion He has for sinners and appreciate the distinction He makes between sin and those who sin. This glimpse helps us have a more 'correct [understanding of] his character, perfections, and attributes' (Lectures on Faith, 38) and is foundational to exercising faith in Him and in His Son, Jesus Christ. The Savior’s compassion in the face of our imperfections draws us toward Him and motivates us in our repeated struggles to repent and emulate Him. As we become more like Him, we learn to treat others as He does, regardless of any outward characteristic or behavior....
"[T]he Savior said that He 'cannot look upon sin with the least degree of allowance' (D&C 1:31); so how can He look at us, imperfect as we are, without recoiling in horror and disgust?
"The answer is simple and clear. As the Good Shepherd (see John 10:11, 14), Jesus Christ views disease in His sheep as a condition that needs treatment, care, and compassion. This shepherd, our Good Shepherd, finds joy in seeing His diseased sheep progress toward healing....
"We, who are sinners, must, like the Savior, reach out to others with compassion and love. Our role is also to help and bless, lift and edify, and replace fear and despair with hope and joy....
"Our Good Shepherd is unchanging and feels the same way today about sin and sinners as He did when He walked the earth. He does not recoil from us because we sin, even if He on occasion must think, 'But what a sheep!' He loves us so much that He provided the way for us to repent and become clean so we can return to Him and our Heavenly Father (see Articles of Faith 1:3). In doing so, Jesus Christ also set the example for us to follow—to show respect to all and hatred toward none.
"As His disciples, let us fully mirror His love and love one another so openly and completely that no one feels abandoned, alone, or hopeless."
- Dale G. Renlund, "Our Good Shepherd," General Conference, April 2017
Click here to watch or read the full talk

I very much enjoyed Elder Renlund's considerations of the imagery of the Good Shepherd. I think he asked some interesting questions and looked at the story in unusual ways. A shepherd doesn't despise his sheep when they are ill or injured; quite the contrary, he loves and nurtures them with loving caring until they are well again. Why should we feel any lack of God's love for us when we have made mistakes in life? The "immense compassion" felt for us by both the Father and the Son should inspire us with confidence and hope as we deal with our own "disease" conditions.

In addition, they are models about how we should treat others in our sphere who are different or especially who are struggling.

Reaching out to others is not an option in Elder Renlund's view. "Our role is also to help and bless, lift and edify, and replace fear and despair with hope and joy." A true disciple will live and act like his Master as we strive to "fully mirror His love and love one another so openly and completely that no one feels abandoned, alone, or hopeless."

Monday, April 24, 2017

Elder Gary E. Stevenson on the roles and blessings of the Holy Ghost

Elder Gary E. Stevenson (b. 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.
"The Holy Ghost Warns
"...the Holy Ghost can help you by warning you in advance of physical and spiritual dangers....
"As you heed promptings from the Holy Ghost—impressions most often quiet and still—you may be removed, without ever knowing, from spiritual and temporal danger....
"The Holy Ghost Comforts
"To continue answering the question 'How does the Holy Ghost help you?' let’s now explore His role as Comforter. Unexpected events in all our lives cause sadness, pain, and disappointment. Yet, amid these trials, the Holy Ghost serves us in one of His important roles—as Comforter, which is actually one of His names. These peaceful, reassuring words from Jesus Christ describe this sacred role: 'I will pray the Father, and he shall give you another Comforter, that he may abide with you for ever' (John 14:16)....
"The Holy Ghost Testifies
"The Holy Ghost also testifies and bears witness of the Father and the Son and of all truth. The Lord, speaking to His disciples, said, 'But when the Comforter is come, whom I will send unto you from the Father, ... he shall testify of me' (John 15:26)."
- Gary E. Stevenson, "How Does the Holy Ghost Help You?," General Conference, April 2017
Click here to watch or read the full talk

Using personal experiences and insights, Elder Stevenson taught about the roles and blessings of the Holy Ghost in our lives. He emphasized three roles: The Holy Ghost warns, comforts, and testifies. For each of these three areas, he shared personal insight and experience from his life.

In concluding his remarks, Elder Stevenson reminded all listeners, whether newly baptized or long-time experienced in the Gospel, how crucial it is to retain the gift of the Holy Ghost as an active part of our lives, to both physical and spiritual safety. Keys to doing that include:

  • striving to keep the commandments
  • having individual and family prayer
  • reading the scriptures
  • seeking loving and forgiving relationships with family and loved ones
  • keep our thoughts, actions, and language virtuous
  • worship our Heavenly Father in our homes, at church, and, whenever possible, in the holy temple
  • stay close to the Spirit, and the Spirit will stay close to you
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