Wednesday, October 18, 2017

President Gordon B. Hinckley on service as an antidote for worry and despair

President Gordon B. Hinckley (1910-2008) was called to the Quorum of Twelve in 1961. He served as a counselor in the First Presidency from 1981-1995, then as Church President until his death in 2008.
"Said the Lord, 'Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.' (Matt. 25:40.)
"I am not suggesting that you become a Florence Nightingale or a Clara Barton. But you can help. There are so many out there whose burdens you can lift. There are the homeless, there are the hungry, there are the destitute all around us. There are the aged who are alone in rest homes. There are handicapped children, and youth on drugs, and the sick and the homebound who cry out for a kind word. If you do not do it, who will?
"The best antidote I know for worry is work. The best medicine for despair is service. The best cure for weariness is the challenge of helping someone who is even more tired."
- Gordon B. Hinckley, "To Single Adults," talk given 26 February 1989 at a Single Adults fireside satellite broadcast; see Ensign June 1989, p. 72
Click here to read the full article

So often, our leaders remind us of the blessing of "getting outside ourselves"—being aware of the needs around us and doing something to help with the many opportunities that exist. President Hinckley even provides a list of the kinds of needs that we often overlook. This is truly the essence of the Christian life: doing good to others, as a symbol of our love for God.

President Hinckley helps us see the blessings that come to us as we love and serve. It can help us overcome worry, despair, and weariness. When we learn to care about others, we worry less about ourselves.

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

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Elder Neal A. Maxwell on trials, challenges, and growth

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.
"Trying to comprehend the trials and meaning of this life without understanding Heavenly Father’s marvelously encompassing plan of salvation is like trying to understand a three-act play while seeing only the second act. Fortunately, our knowledge of the Savior, Jesus Christ, and His Atonement helps us to endure our trials and to see purpose in suffering and to trust God for what we cannot comprehend....
"So often in life a deserved blessing is quickly followed by a needed stretching. Spiritual exhilaration may be quickly followed by a vexation or temptation. Were it otherwise, extended spiritual reveries or immunities from adversity might induce in us a regrettable forgetfulness of others in deep need. The sharp, side-by-side contrast of the sweet and the bitter is essential until the very end of this brief, mortal experience. Meanwhile, even routine, daily life provides sufficient sandpaper to smooth our crustiness and polish our rough edges, if we are meek....
"Part of enduring well consists of being meek enough, amid our suffering, to learn from our relevant experiences. Rather than simply passing through these things, they must pass through us and do so in ways which sanctify these experiences for our good (see D&C 122:7). 
"Life is carefully designed to produce for us, if we are willing, a harvest of relevant and portable experience. But there is such a short growing season! The fields must be worked intensively amid droughts, late springs, and early frosts. For the disobedient and despairing who refuse to plant, plow, or harvest, theirs is not simply a 'winter of discontent' but a despair for all seasons. The indifferent and lackluster who work only on the surface of life will harvest little. Only for the perspiring and 'anxiously engaged' faithful will the harvest be manyfold (see Matt. 19:29)."
- Neal A. Maxwell, "Enduring Well," Ensign, April 1997, p. 7
Click here to read the full article

It's always thrilling to me to read Elder Maxwell's beautiful and thought-provoking writing. These four related segments from one of his talks speak of trials and suffering, and of the ways we can respond so those things are a blessing to us.

First of all, it's critical to view our mortal challenges in the broad expanse of eternity. This is only the short middle segment of a much broader and grander eternal existence. We are here to learn to "trust God for what we cannot comprehend" in our restricted vision.

The relationships between times of blessing or comfort, and times of trial and struggle, is good to contemplate. It's important to recognize the interplay of those events in our lives and understand the purpose for each. That will allow us to not just pass through trials, but have the trials pass through us to cleanse and purify in the process.

What a beautiful and profound analogy. A harvest is only reaped when great effort is invested. We must do our part to earn the bountiful harvest or "relevant and portable experience." I'm especially impressed by the portability of experience and knowledge; the ability to apply lessons from one challenge or trial to other situations is a great blessing.

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

Monday, October 16, 2017

Elder Dale G. Renlund on the Priesthood and the Atonement of Jesus Christ

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.
"Because of His atoning sacrifice, Jesus Christ has the power and authority to redeem all mankind. To make His atoning power accessible, He has delegated a portion of His power and authority to men on earth. This delegated power and authority is called priesthood. It permits priesthood holders to help Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ in Their work—to bring about the salvation and exaltation of God’s children. It does so because it provides His children the opportunity to receive the blessings of the Savior’s atoning power.
"The atoning power of Jesus Christ is essential because none of us can return to our heavenly home without help. In mortality, we invariably make mistakes and violate God’s laws. We become stained by sin and cannot be allowed back to live in God’s presence. We need the Savior’s atoning power so that we can be reconciled to Heavenly Father. Jesus Christ broke the bands of physical death, allowing resurrection for all. He offers forgiveness of sins, conditioned on obedience to the laws and ordinances of His gospel. Through Him, exaltation is offered. The opportunity to benefit from the Savior’s atoning power is creation’s most important payload.
"For Heavenly Father’s purposes to be accomplished, Christ’s atoning power needs to be made available to God’s children. The priesthood delivers these opportunities. It is the rocket. Priesthood is essential because necessary ordinances and covenants on earth are administered only by its authority. If the priesthood fails to deliver the opportunity to benefit from the Savior’s atoning power, what would be its purpose? Would it just be a complex, attention-grabbing firecracker? God intends priesthood to be used for more than just a class on Sunday or as a service opportunity. He intends for it to deliver the payload."
- Dale G. Renlund, "The Priesthood and the Savior’s Atoning Power," General Conference October 2017
Click here to read or listen to the full talk

Elder Renlund used the analogy of a rocket delivering a satellite payload into space; the satellite is completely useless on earth, and only becomes a powerful influence when it has been delivered to its appropriate destination. In his analogy, the atonement of Jesus Christ becomes useful and powerful in our lives only when "delivered" by priesthood actions including ordinances and sacred covenants.

We should all be grateful for this divine blessing and seek continually to receive blessings and power from God through the priesthood on earth. Those who are called and ordained to administer those blessings, to "deliver the payload," must never forget what a sacred trust they have that must be exercised in faithfulness.

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

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Elder Gary E. Stevenson on preventing spiritual eclipses in life

Elder Gary E. Stevenson (b. 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.
"In the same manner that the very small moon can block the magnificent sun, extinguishing its light and warmth, a spiritual eclipse can occur when we allow minor and troublesome obstructions—those we face in our daily lives—to get so close that they block out the magnitude, brightness, and warmth of the light of Jesus Christ and His gospel....
"Clearly, none of us wants to purposefully obscure our vision of heaven or allow a spiritual eclipse to occur in our lives....
"Looking at a spiritual eclipse through the protecting and softening lens of the Spirit provides a gospel perspective, thus protecting us from spiritual blindness....
"When you put on gospel glasses, you find enhanced perspective, focus, and vision in the way you think about your priorities, your problems, your temptations, and even your mistakes. You will see brighter light that you could not see without them."
- Gary E. Stevenson, "Spiritual Eclipse," General Conference October 2017
Click here to read or listen to the full talk

I had the privilege of being in the area of totality for the recent solar eclipse described by Elder Stevenson in his article. So I understand the "sense of awe, astonishment, and even anxiety" that such an occurrence creates. We pondered on the phenomenon of nature that makes this possible, and on the overwhelming power of the sun: if even a tiny portion of the sun is not eclipsed (just outside the area of totality), it's still not possible to look directly at it, and the related phenomena of temperature drop and darkness are not nearly as pronounced.

Elder Stevenson's analogy of things that might block the source of our spiritual light is a good one. We need to be very careful not to ever allow obstructions of any kind to come between us and God's light:

The use of "gospel glasses" that enable us to see more clearly as we strive to avoid obstructions becomes critical. We need the "enhanced perspective, focus, and vision" that gospel living provides in order to stay safe. Our acts of obedience and faithful discipleship will keep us safe and on the right path..

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

Saturday, October 14, 2017

Elder Ronald A. Rasband on seeing the Lord's hand in our lives

Elder Ronald A. Rasband (b. February 6, 1951) served as a Seventy beginning in 2000.  He was the senior president of the Seventy when he was called to the Quorum of Twelve Apostles in October 2015.
"Our lives are like a chessboard, and the Lord moves us from one place to another—if we are responsive to spiritual promptings. Looking back, we can see His hand in our lives....
"Significant events unfold in the gospel and in the Church that further the kingdom of God on earth. They are not by accident but by God’s plan. He who fashioned this world can calm the seas with His word and can steer both Alma and Amulek and Nephi and Laban to be at the right place at precisely the right time.
"Likewise, events and associations unfold in each of our lives that further God’s work on earth....
"What should you be looking for in your own life? What are God’s miracles that remind you that He is close, saying, 'I am right here'? Think of those times, some daily, when the Lord has acted in your life—and then acted again. Treasure them as moments the Lord has shown confidence in you and in your choices. But allow Him to make more of you than you can make of yourself on your own. Treasure His involvement. Sometimes we consider changes in our plans as missteps on our journey. Think of them more as first steps to being 'on the Lord’s errand' (D&C 64:29)."
- Ronald A. Rasband, "By Divine Design," General Conference October 2017
Click here to read or listen to the full talk

I suspect in the two years since Elder Rasband was called to the Quorum of Twelve, his experiences with God's hand working in his life have increased significantly; and he has had the opportunity to witness that blessing in the lives of so many members around the world. When I had the chance to serve in a stake leadership calling, I was often overwhelmed to witness that occurring as I had contact with many stake members. It was a blessing to my faith and testimony.

But the key is to recognize and respond to those influences in our personal lives. As we are obedient in the path of discipleship and as we are humble and prayerful, we will start to notice more and more that "events and associations unfold in each of our lives that further God’s work on earth."

It truly is important to seek for the evidence of God's hand, to notice and identify it. That enables us not only to express gratitude for the blessing, but as we "treasure His involvement" in our hearts, we will be strengthened and lifted up in our faith, knowing that He is aware of us and will continue to guide and bless.

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

Friday, October 13, 2017

Elder Neil L. Andersen on claiming the blessings of general conference

Elder Neil L. Andersen (born August 9, 1951) served as a Seventy beginning in 1993, and was called to the Quorum of Twelve Apostles in 2009.
"We should not be alarmed when the words of the Lord’s servants run counter to the thinking of the world and, at times, our own thinking. It has always been this way. I am on my knees in the temple with my Brethren. I attest to the goodness of their souls. Their greatest desire is to please the Lord and help God’s children return to His presence.
"The Seventy; the Bishopric; the General Presidencies of the Relief Society, the Young Women, and the Primary; and other auxiliary leaders have added tremendous inspiration to this conference, as have the beautiful music and the thoughtful prayers.
"There is a treasure chest of heavenly direction awaiting your discovery in the messages of general conference. The test for each of us is how we respond to what we hear, what we read, and what we feel....
"I promise that as you hear the voice of the Lord to you in the teachings of this general conference, and then act on those promptings, you will feel heaven’s hand upon you, and your life and the lives of those around you will be blessed."
- Neil L. Andersen, "The Voice of the Lord," General Conference October 2017
Click here to read or listen to the full talk

Elder Andersen was the final speaker in the last session of conference, and he used that setting to discuss the sacred blessing of general conference, and to challenge listeners to take advantage of the opportunity to learn and grow from the messages.

It's interesting to consider ways in which the teachings of Church leaders might "run counter to the thinking of the world." When that happens, it's often a test of our faith and commitment, our testimony of the calling of leaders. Along those lines, I've always loved this counsel from President Harold B. Lee:
"You may not like what comes from the authority of the Church. It may contradict your political views. It may contradict your social views. It may interfere with some of your social life. But if you listen to these things, as if from the mouth of the Lord himself, with patience and faith, the promise is that 'the gates of hell shall not prevail against you; yea, and the Lord God will disperse the powers of darkness from before you, and cause the heavens to shake for your good, and his name's glory.' (D&C 21:6.)
"...Your safety and ours depends upon whether or not we follow the ones whom the Lord has placed to preside over his church. He knows whom he wants to preside over this church, and he will make no mistake....
"Let's keep our eye on the President of the Church."
- Harold B. Lee, in Conference Report, Oct. 1970, 152-53; see Improvement Era, Dec. 1970, p. 126

So the real question for Church members is how well we listen and heed, how we act upon the counsel given during the conference:

We have a "treasure chest" awaiting us, if only we choose to access it! And continue to draw from it in the weeks and months to come.

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

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Elder D. Todd Christofferson on the sacred symbolism of the sacrament

Elder D. Todd Christofferson (b. January 24, 1945) was called to the Seventy in 1993, and as a member of the Quorum of Twelve Apostles in 2008.
"To eat His flesh and drink His blood is a striking way of expressing how completely we must bring the Savior into our life—into our very being—that we may be one. How does this happen?
"First, we understand that in sacrificing His flesh and blood, Jesus atoned for our sins and overcame death, both physical and spiritual. Clearly, then, we partake of His flesh and drink His blood when we receive from Him the power and blessings of His Atonement....
"I have spoken of receiving the Savior’s atoning grace to take away our sins and the stain of those sins in us. But figuratively eating His flesh and drinking His blood has a further meaning, and that is to internalize the qualities and character of Christ, putting off the natural man and becoming Saints 'through the atonement of Christ the Lord' (Mosiah 3:19). As we partake of the sacramental bread and water each week, we would do well to consider how fully and completely we must incorporate His character and the pattern of His sinless life into our life and being....
"This suggests the need for a mighty striving on our part. We cannot be content to remain as we are but must be moving constantly toward 'the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ' (Ephesians 4:13). Like King Lamoni’s father in the Book of Mormon, we must be willing to give away all our sins (see Alma 22:18) and focus on what the Lord expects of us, individually and together."
- D. Todd Christofferson, "The Living Bread Which Came Down from Heaven," General Conference October 2017
Click here to read or listen to the full talk

The sacramental language of eating the body and drinking the blood of Christ is symbolic only, but as Elder Christofferson points out, teaches a powerful lesson. First, it links us powerfully to His stoning sacrifice on our behalf; but second, it teaches how profoundly our commitment to Him must be as we attempt to fully "internalize" His message and teachings.

It's the "mighty striving" that we must focus on, in which we "internalize the qualities and character of Christ, putting off the natural man and becoming Saints." That is the great quest of this life!

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