Sunday, April 23, 2017

Elder Ronald A. Rasband on the sacred gift of the Holy Ghost

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 Father in Heaven knew that in mortality we would face challenges, tribulation, and turmoil; He knew we would wrestle with questions, disappointments, temptations, and weaknesses. To give us mortal strength and divine guidance, He provided the Holy Spirit, another name for the Holy Ghost.
"The Holy Ghost binds us to the Lord. By divine assignment, He inspires, testifies, teaches, and prompts us to walk in the light of the Lord. We have the sacred responsibility to learn to recognize His influence in our lives and respond.
"Remember the Lord’s promise: 'I will impart unto you of my Spirit, which shall enlighten your mind, which shall fill your soul with joy.' (D&C 11:13) I love that assurance. Joy that fills our souls brings with it an eternal perspective in contrast to day-to-day living. That joy comes as peace amidst hardship or heartache. It provides comfort and courage, unfolds the truths of the gospel, and expands our love for the Lord and all God’s children. Although the need for such blessings is so great, in many ways the world has forgotten and forsaken them."
- Ronald A. Rasband, "Let the Holy Spirit Guide," General Conference, April 2017
Click here to watch or read the full talk

The role of Comforter as one of the assignments of the Holy Ghost is a precious one to me. As Elder Rasband explains, we are all confronted with "challenges, tribulation, and turmoil" in this life and we often fact "questions, disappointments, temptations, and weaknesses." Through the gift of the Holy Spirit, we are able to find "mortal strength and divine guidance" to help confront and endure.

The simple statement that the Holy Ghost "binds us to the Lord" implies so much about our covenant life and the blessings that accompany discipleship. When we consider the sacred role of the Holy Ghost, how blessed we are to have the understanding of His role!

The rest of Elder Rasband's address keys on the phrase from the sacramental prayers, that we "may always have His spirit to be with [us]." He suggests ways we can help facilitate that goal: living worthy of the Spirit, being willing to receive the Spirit when it comes to us, recognizing its promptings, and acting on the first promptings.

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Elder Neil L. Andersen on the blessings of overcoming the world

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.
"The blessings that the Lord has promised to those who overcome the world are breathtaking. They will be 'clothed in white... and [named in] the book of life.' The Lord 'will confess [their names] before [the] Father, and before his angels' (Revelation 3:5). Each shall have 'part in the first resurrection' (D&C 76:64), receive eternal life (see Revelation 2, chapter heading), and 'go no more out' (Revelation 3:12) from the presence of God.
"Is it possible to overcome the world and receive these blessings? Yes, it is....
"Those who overcome the world develop an all-encompassing love for our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ....
"Overcoming the world is not one defining moment in a lifetime, but a lifetime of moments that define an eternity....
"Overcoming the world is not a global invasion but a private, personal battle, requiring hand-to-hand combat with our own internal foes....
"Overcoming the world is keeping our promises to God—our baptismal and temple covenants and our oath of faithfulness to our eternal companion....
"Overcoming the world does not mean we live a cloistered life, protected from the unfairness and difficulties of mortality. Rather, it opens the more expansive view of faith, drawing us to the Savior and His promises.
"While perfection is not complete in this life, overcoming the world keeps our hope aflame that one day we 'shall stand before [our Redeemer]; [and] see his face with pleasure' (Enos 1:27), and hear His voice: 'Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you.' (Matthew 25:34)"
- Neil L. Andersen, "Overcoming the World," General Conference, April 2017
Click here to watch or read the full talk

Elder Andersen's message was based on a phrase from a visionary experience of President David O. McKay, describing heavenly beings as those who have "overcome the world." In analyzing that phrase, he described aspects of what it would mean for a person in this life to achieve that state. While emphasizing that it's a lifelong process, "a lifetime of moments" leading to the point where "perfection is... complete" only after this life, he also describes many of the aspects of discipleship and obedience that demonstrate progress towards the goal.

I think one of the blessings of the process is that our efforts to overcome the world help to "keep our hope aflame" that the process can eventually be completed, and the joy and blessings that accompany that eventual state will be profound.

Friday, April 21, 2017

Elder D. Todd Christofferson on the invitation to warn based on love

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.
"Far from being anxious to condemn, our Heavenly Father and our Savior seek our happiness and plead with us to repent, knowing full well that 'wickedness never was [and never will be] happiness' (Alma 41:10). So Ezekiel and every prophet before and since, speaking the word of God out of a full heart, have warned all who will to turn away from Satan, the enemy of their souls, and 'choose liberty and eternal life, through the great Mediator of all men' (2 Nephi 2:27).
"While the duty to warn is felt especially keenly by prophets, it is a duty shared by others as well. In fact, 'it becometh every man who hath been warned to warn his neighbor' (D&C 88:81). We who have received a knowledge of the great plan of happiness—and its implementing commandments—should feel a desire to share that knowledge since it makes all the difference here and in eternity....
"The motivation for raising the warning voice is love—love of God and love of fellowman. To warn is to care. The Lord instructs that it is to be done 'in mildness and in meekness' (D&C 38:41) and 'by persuasion, by long-suffering, by gentleness..., and by love unfeigned' (D&C 121:41). It can be urgent, as when we warn a child not to put his or her hand in a fire. It must be clear and sometimes firm. On occasion, warning may take the form of reproof 'when moved upon by the Holy Ghost' (D&C 121:43), but always it is rooted in love."
- D. Todd Christofferson, "The Voice of Warning," General Conference, April 2017
Click here to watch or read the full talk

Elder Christofferson offers an invitation to all that we raise a "warning voice" to those around us. But he clarifies what that means; it focuses on invitations based on love and concern for others, including those close to us. At times the warning voice needs to be urgent and even reproving, but usually it is kind and gentle, showing a desire to share knowledge that is precious and valuable. When we feel the motivation of caring and concern for our neighbors, the warning voice is a natural result.

"To warn is to care." That's a beautiful summary of Elder Christofferson's message.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Elder Quentin L. Cook on the importance of consistent efforts in spiritual growth

Elder Quentin L. Cook (b. September 8, 1940) was called as a Seventy in 1996, then as a member of the Quorum of Twelve Apostles in 2007.
"Personal foundations, like many worthwhile pursuits, are usually built slowly—one layer, one experience, one challenge, one setback, and one success at a time....
"Unfortunately, in an increasingly secular world, less emphasis is placed on the amount of spiritual growth necessary to become more Christlike and establish the foundations that lead to enduring faith. We tend to emphasize moments of sublime spiritual understanding. These are precious instances when we know the Holy Ghost has witnessed special spiritual insights to our hearts and minds. We rejoice in these events; they should not be diminished in any way. But for enduring faith and to have the constant companionship of the Spirit, there is no substitute for the individual religious observance that is comparable to physical and mental development. We should build on these experiences, which sometimes resemble initial baby steps. We do this by consecrated commitment to sacred sacrament meetings, scripture study, prayer, and serving as called....
"Just as repetition and consistent effort are required to gain physical or mental capacity, the same is true in spiritual matters. Remember that the Prophet Joseph received the same visitor, Moroni, with exactly the same message four times in preparation for receiving the plates. I believe that weekly participation in sacred sacrament meetings has spiritual implications we do not fully understand. Pondering the scriptures regularly—rather than reading them occasionally—can substitute a superficial understanding for a sublime, life-changing enhancement of our faith."
- Quentin L. Cook, "Foundations of Faith," General Conference, April 2017
Click here to watch or read the full talk

Many things that matter in our lives take significant time to develop. This applies to intellectual learning, physical abilities, proficiency in a talent, etc. Elder Cook's point is that the same persistent effort is required in spiritual development. We grow "line upon line, precept on precept" and need to recognize the power there is in consistent, persistent efforts over a long period.

I thought this point was particularly important: the "moments of sublime spiritual understanding" are critical to us—those spiritual high-points when we have revelatory experiences or profound spiritual experiences. But they are not the things that build "enduring faith" and "constant companionship of the Spirit" in our lives. Those things come from our steady, repeated, personal "individual religious observance."

This message should encourage in each of us an examination of our "steadiness" to ensure that we are continuing to do the things that will bring that ongoing strength.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Elder David A. Bednar on growth and preparation of young men

Elder David A. Bednar (born June 15, 1952) was serving as the president of BYU–Idaho when he was called and sustained as a member of the Quorum of Twelve Apostles in October 2004.
"Three interrelated words define a pattern of preparation and progression for sons of God: priesthood, temple, mission. Sometimes as parents, friends, and Church members, we focus so extensively upon missionary preparation for young men that we may neglect to a degree the other vital steps along the covenant pathway that must be fulfilled before beginning full-time missionary service. Working as a missionary certainly is one but not the only important building block in the process of creating a strong foundation for a lifetime of spiritual growth and service. Priesthood and temple blessings, both of which precede arriving in an assigned field of labor, also are necessary to fortify and strengthen us spiritually throughout our entire lives....
"As priesthood, temple, and mission blessings are gathered 'together in one... in Christ' (Ephesians 1:10) and synergistically interact in the heart, mind, and soul of a young missionary, he can qualify for the work (see D&C 4:5). His capacity is increased to fulfill the responsibility to represent authoritatively the Lord Jesus Christ. The spiritually potent combination of honoring priesthood and temple covenants, receiving 'the power of godliness' (D&C 84:20) through priesthood ordinances (D&C 84:19–21), serving selflessly, and proclaiming the everlasting gospel to God’s children enables a young man to become 'firm and steadfast in the faith' (Helaman 15:8) and 'rooted and built up in [Christ]' (Colossians 2:7).
"In our homes and at church, we should give balanced emphasis to all three elements of the Lord’s pattern of preparation and progression for faithful sons of God: priesthood, temple, mission. All three require us to love being and remaining worthy. Be worthy. Stay worthy."
- David A. Bednar, "Called to the Work," General Conference, April 2017
Click here to watch or read the full talk

Elder Bednar spoke during the Priesthood Session of the recent general conference. He was primarily addressing the young men in issues relating to their preparation for future service and growth; but many of the principles apply to young women as well. Elder Bednar discussed the efforts we make to help youth prepare, which are often focused on mission preparation; but he encouraged additional focus on the other important aspects of the young man's development:  priesthood, temple, mission.

When all three of those areas receive attention in a young man's preparation, or in an adult life, then it becomes a "spiritually potent combination" of growth and development.

Elder Bednar also had a subtheme, repeated three times in the talk: "Please learn to love being and remaining worthy. Be worthy. Stay worthy." How critical that is for our happiness in life!

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Elder Jeffrey R. Holland on an invitation for all to participate in the blessings of the Gospel

Elder Jeffrey R. Holland (born December 3, 1940) served as Church Commissioner of Education from 1976-1980, as the president of BYU from 1980-1989, as a Seventy from 1989-1994, and as a member of the Quorum of Twelve Apostles since 1994.
"Brothers and sisters, we live in a mortal world with many songs we cannot or do not yet sing. But I plead with each one of us to stay permanently and faithfully in the choir, where we will be able to savor forever that most precious anthem of all—'the song of redeeming love' (Alma 5:26; see also Alma 26:13).
"Fortunately, the seats for this particular number are limitless. There is room for those who speak different languages, celebrate diverse cultures, and live in a host of locations. There is room for the single, for the married, for large families, and for the childless. There is room for those who once had questions regarding their faith and room for those who still do. There is room for those with differing sexual attractions. In short, there is a place for everyone who loves God and honors His commandments as the inviolable measuring rod for personal behavior, for if love of God is the melody of our shared song, surely our common quest to obey Him is the indispensable harmony in it.
"With divine imperatives of love and faith, repentance and compassion, honesty and forgiveness, there is room in this choir for all who wish to be there. (See 2 Nephi 26:33.) 'Come as you are,' a loving Father says to each of us, but He adds, 'Don’t plan to stay as you are.' We smile and remember that God is determined to make of us more than we thought we could be.
"In this great oratorio that is His plan for our exaltation, may we humbly follow His baton and keep working on the songs we cannot sing, until we can offer those 'carol[s] to [our] King.' (Hymns, no. 227.)"
- Jeffrey R. Holland, "Songs Sung and Unsung," General Conference, April 2017
Click here to watch or read the full talk

In this sermon, Elder Holland spoke beautifully based on the lyrics of the hymn "There is Sunshine in my Soul Today" (Hymns, no. 227). He drew a number of comparisons and analogies that were helpful in thinking about how we confront the challenges of this life.

I thought this section, near the end of his talk, was particularly interesting. He points out the importance for "each one of us to stay permanently and faithfully in the choir" (the symbolic description of faithful discipleship) as we deal with our various situations. And he points out that diversity of needs and backgrounds, of personal situations, is not only acceptable in that "choir," but also very desirable in the formation of the choir. "There is a place for everyone who loves God and honors His commandments as the inviolable measuring rod for personal behavior."

So all who love God and desire to follow Him are invited and welcome:

I hope all members of the Church can feel the power of this message, knowing that not only are we personally needed and wanted in that choir, but also we should be open, welcoming, and loving to all those who likewise come to receive the blessings and benefits of singing together with us.

Monday, April 17, 2017

Elder Robert D. Hales on being true disciples of Christ

Elder Robert D. Hales (b. August 24, 1932) served as a Seventy from 1976 to 1985, when he was called as a member of the Quorum of Twelve Apostles.
"What does it mean to be a disciple of our Lord Jesus Christ? A disciple is one who has been baptized and is willing to take upon him or her the name of the Savior and follow Him. A disciple strives to become as He is by keeping His commandments in mortality, much the same as an apprentice seeks to become like his or her master.
"Many people hear the word disciple and think it means only 'follower.' But genuine discipleship is a state of being. This suggests more than studying and applying a list of individual attributes. Disciples live so that the characteristics of Christ are woven into the fiber of their beings, as into a spiritual tapestry....
"The attributes of the Savior, as we perceive them, are not a script to be followed or list to be checked off. They are interwoven characteristics, added one to another, which develop in us in interactive ways. In other words, we cannot obtain one Christlike characteristic without also obtaining and influencing others. As one characteristic becomes strong, so do many more....
"Brothers and sisters, now more than ever, we cannot be a 'part-time disciple'! We cannot be a disciple on just one point of doctrine or another. The constellation of characteristics that result from faith in Christ—including the ones we have talked about today—are all necessary to our standing strong in these last days.
"As we earnestly strive to be true disciples of Jesus Christ, these characteristics will be interwoven, added upon, and interactively strengthened in us. There will be no disparity between the kindness we show our enemies and the kindness we bestow on our friends. We will be as honest when no one is looking as when others are watching. We will be as devoted to God in the public square as we are in our private closet."
- Robert D. Hales, "Becoming a Disciple of Our Lord Jesus Christ," General Conference, April 2017
Click here to watch or read the full talk

Becoming a true disciple of Jesus Christ requires more than just a superficial acceptance of a code of beliefs, or joining an organization. Elder Hales teaches that "genuine discipleship is a state of being"—it means that there has been a change of nature in the individual as he or she adopts the way of life in deep and profound ways. The invitation for us, as prospective disciples of Jesus Christ, is to learn about his attributes in order that they can be "woven into the fiber of [our] beings."

And Elder Hales emphasizes that you can't just pick some of the attributes that look most desirable, or choose occasions in which to demonstrate the characteristics. We need to be full-time disciples; we need to adopt all of the characteristics of the Savior, all of the time:

I am grateful for Elder Hales' description of the growing, iterative process of this transition: "As we earnestly strive to be true disciples of Jesus Christ, these characteristics will be interwoven, added upon, and interactively strengthened in us." A miraculous transition can and will occur when the heart is willing and the commitment is sincere and deep.

Sunday, April 16, 2017

President Gordon B. Hinckley on the miracle of the Savior's Resurrection

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.
“Then dawned the first day of the week, the Sabbath of the Lord as we have come to know it. To those who came to the tomb, heavy with sorrow, the attending angel declared, ‘Why seek ye the living among the dead?’ (Luke 24:5).
“‘He is not here: … he is risen, as he said’ (Matt. 28:6).
“Here was the greatest miracle of human history. Earlier He had told them, ‘I am the resurrection, and the life’ (John 11:25). But they had not understood. Now they knew. He had died in misery and pain and loneliness. Now, on the third day, He arose in power and beauty and life, the firstfruits of all who slept, the assurance for men of all ages that ‘as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive’ (1 Cor. 15:22).
“On Calvary He was the dying Jesus. From the tomb He emerged the Living Christ. The cross had been the bitter fruit of Judas’s betrayal, the summary of Peter’s denial. The empty tomb now became the testimony of His divinity, the assurance of eternal life, the answer to Job’s unanswered question: ‘If a man die, shall he live again?’ (Job 14:14). …
“And so, because our Savior lives, we do not use the symbol of His death as the symbol of our faith. But what shall we use? No sign, no work of art, no representation of form is adequate to express the glory and the wonder of the Living Christ. He told us what that symbol should be when He said, ‘If ye love me, keep my commandments’ (John 14:15).
“As His followers, we cannot do a mean or shoddy or ungracious thing without tarnishing His image. Nor can we do a good and gracious and generous act without burnishing more brightly the symbol of Him whose name we have taken upon ourselves. And so our lives must become a meaningful expression, the symbol of our declaration of our testimony of the Living Christ, the Eternal Son of the Living God.”
- Gordon B. Hinckley, “The Symbol of Our Faith,” Ensign, Apr. 2005 4–6
Click here to read the full article

In this message, President Hinckley shared the experience of being asked why the Church of Jesus Christ doesn't use the cross as a symbol like other Christian churches. He explained that while the Savior's voluntary giving up of His life is a crucial part of the Atonement in our theology, the other aspects of His sacrifice and particularly the Resurrection provide so much power and understanding. It was "the greatest miracle of human history."

President Hinckley's main point is that there is no symbol that can adequately represent the depth of our love and appreciation for what took place on the cross and in the tomb. Instead, the best representation is the lives of his followers. Their actions, deeds, and Christlike charity become the symbol of the Living Christ.

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Elder Bruce R. McConkie on the doctrine of the Atonement of Christ

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.
"I feel, and the Spirit seems to accord, that the most important doctrine I can declare, and the most powerful testimony I can bear, is of the atoning sacrifice of the Lord Jesus Christ.
"His atonement is the most transcendent event that ever has or ever will occur from Creation’s dawn through all the ages of a never-ending eternity.
"It is the supreme act of goodness and grace that only a god could perform. Through it, all of the terms and conditions of the Father’s eternal plan of salvation became operative.
"Through it are brought to pass the immortality and eternal life of man. Through it, all men are saved from death, hell, the devil, and endless torment.
"And through it, all who believe and obey the glorious gospel of God, all who are true and faithful and overcome the world, all who suffer for Christ and his word, all who are chastened and scourged in the Cause of him whose we are—all shall become as their Maker and sit with him on his throne and reign with him forever in everlasting glory....
"Now, the atonement of Christ is the most basic and fundamental doctrine of the gospel, and it is the least understood of all our revealed truths.
"Many of us have a superficial knowledge and rely upon the Lord and his goodness to see us through the trials and perils of life.
"But if we are to have faith like Enoch and Elijah we must believe what they believed, know what they knew, and live as they lived.
"May I invite you to join with me in gaining a sound and sure knowledge of the Atonement.
"We must cast aside the philosophies of men and the wisdom of the wise and hearken to that Spirit which is given to us to guide us into all truth.
"We must search the scriptures, accepting them as the mind and will and voice of the Lord and the very power of God unto salvation....
"And now, as pertaining to this perfect atonement, wrought by the shedding of the blood of God—I testify that it took place in Gethsemane and at Golgotha, and as pertaining to Jesus Christ, I testify that he is the Son of the Living God and was crucified for the sins of the world. He is our Lord, our God, and our King. This I know of myself independent of any other person.
"I am one of his witnesses, and in a coming day I shall feel the nail marks in his hands and in his feet and shall wet his feet with my tears.
"But I shall not know any better then than I know now that he is God’s Almighty Son, that he is our Savior and Redeemer, and that salvation comes in and through his atoning blood and in no other way.
"God grant that all of us may walk in the light as God our Father is in the light so that, according to the promises, the blood of Jesus Christ his Son will cleanse us from all sin."
- Bruce R. McConkie, "The Purifying Power of Gethsemane," General Conference, April 1985
Click here to read or listen to the full talk

This remarkable message from Elder McConkie was given only about two weeks before he passed away—his "final witness" to the Church in mortality. Elder Russell M. Nelson followed Elder McConkie in the conference, and offered an expression of testimony and gratitude that Elder McConkie's life had been prolonged to deliver such a powerful sermon.

Elder McConkie taught so powerfully in this message, as only he could, about the eternally significant and sacred nature of what transpired in the Garden of Gethsemane and on the cross of Calvary. The sermon is so full of truth and pure doctrine that it was hard for me to excerpt portions.

I was moved again by Elder McConkie's bold statement: "The atonement of Christ is the most basic and fundamental doctrine of the gospel, and it is the least understood of all our revealed truths." He follows that with an invitation and challenge that we each study and ponder anew in order to gain "a sound and sure knowledge of the Atonement."

Elder McConkie taught powerfully of the entire plan of salvation, including the sacred importance of the creation and fall, and how necessary they are for the glorious redemption that would come. He closed with the powerful and personal witness that has become much loved by Church members:

Elder McConkie did not know when he spoke these words that "in a coming day" would be less than two weeks away in his mortal experience. How blessed we are to have his pure and sincere witness, his clear teaching of doctrine, and his invitation to learn and be blessed by the sacred doctrine of the Atonement of Jesus Christ.

Friday, April 14, 2017

President James E. Faust on the healing power of Atonement and Resurrection

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.
"Many who think that life is unfair do not see things within the larger vision of what the Savior did for us through the Atonement and the Resurrection. Each of us has at times agony, heartbreak, and despair when we must, like Job, reach deep down inside to the bedrock of our own faith. The depth of our belief in the Resurrection and the Atonement of the Savior will, I believe, determine the measure of courage and purpose with which we meet life’s challenges.
"The first words of the risen Lord to His disciples were, 'Peace be unto you' (John 20:19). He has also promised, 'Peace in this world, and eternal life in the world to come' (D&C 59:23). The Atonement and the Resurrection have taken place. Our Lord and Savior suffered that appalling agony in Gethsemane. He performed the ultimate sacrifice in dying on the cross and then breaking the bonds of death.
"All of us benefit from the transcendent blessings of the Atonement and the Resurrection, through which the divine healing process can work in our lives. The hurt can be replaced by the joy the Savior promised. To the doubting Thomas, Jesus said, 'Be not faithless, but believing' (John 20:27). Through faith and righteousness all of the inequities, injuries, and pains of this life can be fully compensated for and made right. Blessings denied in this life will be fully recompensed in the eternities. Through complete repentance of our sins we can be forgiven and we can enjoy eternal life. Thus our suffering in this life can be as the refining fire, purifying us for a higher purpose. Heartaches can be healed, and we can come to know a soul-satisfying joy and happiness beyond our dreams and expectations."
- James E. Faust, "Woman, Why Weepest Thou?", Ensign, November 1996, pp. 52-54
Click here to read or listen to the full talk

I love President Faust's perspective and wisdom. If you think life is unfair, you aren't thinking enough about the gift of the Atonement and Resurrection of the Savior. We will all have times of "agony, heartbreak, and despair" in life:

And so the Savior offers us His peace, promises peace, if we come unto Him. That is the power of His love and sacrifice for us. Joy replaces hurt in life as we allow "the divine healing process" to work in our lives. With the eternal perspective, we see that the challenges and suffering of this life are "the refining fire" that purifies us to a higher purpose. The Easter promise is glorious indeed!

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Elder David A. Bednar on the personal blessings of the atonement and resurrection

Elder David A. Bednar (born June 15, 1952) was serving as the president of BYU–Idaho when he was called and sustained as a member of the Quorum of Twelve Apostles in October 2004.
"The central feature in Lehi's dream is the tree of life—which is a representation of 'the love of God' that is 'most desirable above all things' and 'most joyous to the soul' (1 Nephi 11:22-23; see also 1 Nephi 8:12, 15).
"Lehi explained:
"'And it came to pass that I did go forth and partake of the fruit thereof; and I beheld that it was most sweet, above all that I ever before tasted. Yea, and I beheld that the fruit thereof was white, to exceed all the whiteness that I had ever seen.
"'And as I partook of the fruit thereof it filled my soul with exceedingly great joy; wherefore, I began to be desirous that my family should partake of it also' (1 Nephi 8:11-12; emphasis added).
"The greatest manifestation of God's love for His children is the mortal ministry, atoning sacrifice, and Resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ. The fruit on the tree can be considered a symbol for the blessings of the Savior's Atonement.
"Lehi's instant response to partaking of the fruit of the tree and experiencing great joy was an increased desire to share with and serve his family. Thus, as he turned to Christ, he also turned outward in love and service....
"The enduring lesson we learn... is the importance of experiencing in our personal lives the blessings of the Atonement of Jesus Christ as a prerequisite to heartfelt and authentic service that stretches far beyond merely 'going through the motions.'"
- David A. Bednar, "Come and See," Ensign, November 2014, pp. 107-110
Click here to read or listen to the full talk

Elder Bednar applies the lesson of Lehi's dream, where the tree and its fruit are identified as representing God's love for His children. That love is manifest profoundly in the ministry, atonement, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Elder Bednar notes that when Lehi first tasted of the fruit, his "instant response" after discovering the joy it brought to him, was to want to share it with his family:

Elder Bednar's suggestion is that we, likewise, as we begin to understand and appreciate the sacred blessings of the Atonement of Jesus Christ, will be filled with the desire to serve as He encouraged us. We will respond as did Lehi: "As he turned to Christ, he also turned outward in love and service."

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Elder Dallin H. Oaks on the powerful ideas of Resurrection and Atonement

Elder Dallin H. Oaks (b. August 12, 1932) served as president of BYU from 1971-1980.  He was then appointed as a justice of the Utah Supreme Court, and resigned when he was called to the Quorum of Twelve Apostles in 1984.
"Every follower of Jesus Christ knows that the most powerful ideas of the Christian faith are the resurrection and the atonement of Jesus Christ. Because of him we can be forgiven of our sins and we will live again. Those powerful ideas have been explained in countless sermons from this pulpit and a million others. They are well known but not well applied in the lives of most of us.
"Our model is not the latest popular hero of sports or entertainment, not our accumulated property or prestige, and not the expensive toys and diversions that encourage us to concentrate on what is temporary and forget what is eternal. Our model—our first priority—is Jesus Christ. We must testify of him and teach one another how we can apply his teachings and his example in our lives."
- Dallin H. Oaks, "Powerful Ideas," Ensign, November 1995, pp. 25-27
Click here to read or listen to the full talk

What are the most "powerful ideas" that influence us in this life? Elder Oaks considers that question and encourages us to ponder what we believe and what we teach, what are the foundations of our faith and action.

The ideas of the resurrection and atonement of Jesus Christ have to be among the very most powerful of all. Elder Oaks worries that these ideas "are well known but not well applied in the lives of most of us." If those ideas are understood and applied properly, they will influence us in significant ways:

We should do more testifying and teaching about the Savior! That would bless us as we strive to follow and apply those teachings in our lives.

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Elder M. Russell Ballard on true progress through appropriate goals

Elder M. Russell Ballard (born October 8, 1928) was called as a Seventy in 1976, and has served as a member of the Quorum of Twelve Apostles since 1985.
"Wise goal setting includes the understanding that short-term goals are only effective if they lead to clearly understood longer-term goals. I believe that one important key to happiness is to learn how to set our own goals and establish our own plans within the framework of our Heavenly Father’s eternal plan. If we focus on this eternal path, we will inevitably qualify to return to His presence.
"It is good to have goals and plans for our careers, for our education, even for our golf game. It is also important to have goals for our marriages, our families, and our Church councils and callings; this is especially true for missionaries. But our greatest and most overriding goals should fit into Heavenly Father’s eternal plan. Jesus said, 'Seek ye first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things shall be added unto you' (3 Nephi 13:33)....
"During the coming weeks, find time to review your life’s goals and your plans, and make sure they align with our Heavenly Father’s great plan for our happiness. If you need to repent and change, then consider doing so now. Take the time to prayerfully think about what adjustments are needed to help you keep your 'eye single to the glory of God' (D&C 4:5)."
- Elder M. Russell Ballard, "Return and Receive," General Conference, April 2017
Click here to watch or read the full talk

Elder Ballard's message included some important principles for setting goals that lead to improvement:

  • A long-term goal, once clear and well understood, is blessed by establishing short-term goals that lead to attaining it
  • The most important long-term goal is "immortality and eternal life," and the short-term goals leading to it are defined in the plan of salvation
  • We are blessed to the extent that we establish our goals and plans in harmony with God's goals and plans

So Elder Ballard's challenge is that "our greatest and most overriding goals should fit into Heavenly Father’s eternal plan." Once we set our plans in the context which He has established, we will be blessed.

It's always good to note specific challenges and instructions given during general conference. This is an example of such a request made of us all by Elder Ballard:

The serious personal evaluation suggested by Elder Ballard would truly be a blessing to any individual willing to seriously review his or her goals and plans, and make appropriate adjustments.

Monday, April 10, 2017

Elder Dallin H. Oaks on the blessings of our understanding of God

Elder Dallin H. Oaks (b. August 12, 1932) served as president of BYU from 1971-1980.  He was then appointed as a justice of the Utah Supreme Court, and resigned when he was called to the Quorum of Twelve Apostles in 1984.
"So, how does understanding this heavenly revealed doctrine about the Godhead and the plan of salvation help us with our challenges today?
"Because we have the truth about the Godhead and our relationship to Them, the purpose of life, and the nature of our eternal destiny, we have the ultimate road map and assurance for our journey through mortality. We know whom we worship and why we worship. We know who we are and what we can become (see D&C 93:19). We know who makes it all possible, and we know what we must do to enjoy the ultimate blessings that come through God’s plan of salvation. How do we know all of this? We know by the revelations of God to His prophets and to each of us individually.
"Attaining what the Apostle Paul described as 'the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ' (Ephesians 4:13) requires far more than acquiring knowledge. It is not even enough for us to be convinced of the gospel; we must act and think so that we are converted by it. In contrast to the institutions of the world, which teach us to know something, the plan of salvation and the gospel of Jesus Christ challenge us to become something."
- Dallin H. Oaks, "The Godhead and the Plan of Salvation," General Conference, April 2017
Click here to watch or read the full talk

In his familiar style, always thorough and organized, Elder Oaks shared a message summarizing our understanding of the Godhead. After his careful explanation, this final section of his address provided somewhat of a "Therefore, what?" summary as he considers how that understanding can bless us in confronting our challenges. Having a correct understanding of the nature of God provides us with "the ultimate road map and assurance for our journey through mortality." The key is to make sure that understanding is correct; then we will also comprehend our relationship to God and how we can be blessed and helped in all of our needs.

But more is required than just acquiring a correct knowledge; we must allow the knowledge to change our lives, change our natures:

I truly love that summary. It doesn't matter at all what we know unless that knowledge leads us to become something different and better. So the blessing of our learning and understanding must be accompanied by a softened heart and a willing spirit.

Sunday, April 9, 2017

President Russell M. Nelson on a correct understanding of the Atonement of Jesus Christ

President Russell M. Nelson (b. 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 was set apart as president of the Quorum of Twelve on July 15, 2015.
"As Latter-day Saints, we refer to His mission as the Atonement of Jesus Christ, which made resurrection a reality for all and made eternal life possible for those who repent of their sins and receive and keep essential ordinances and covenants.
"It is doctrinally incomplete to speak of the Lord’s atoning sacrifice by shortcut phrases, such as 'the Atonement' or 'the enabling power of the Atonement' or 'applying the Atonement' or 'being strengthened by the Atonement.' These expressions present a real risk of misdirecting faith by treating the event as if it had living existence and capabilities independent of our Heavenly Father and His Son, Jesus Christ.
"Under the Father’s great eternal plan, it is the Savior who suffered. It is the Savior who broke the bands of death. It is the Savior who paid the price for our sins and transgressions and blots them out on condition of our repentance. It is the Savior who delivers us from physical and spiritual death.
"There is no amorphous entity called 'the Atonement' upon which we may call for succor, healing, forgiveness, or power. Jesus Christ is the source. Sacred terms such as Atonement and Resurrection describe what the Savior did, according to the Father’s plan, so that we may live with hope in this life and gain eternal life in the world to come. The Savior’s atoning sacrifice—the central act of all human history—is best understood and appreciated when we expressly and clearly connect it to Him."
- Russell M. Nelson, "Drawing the Power of Jesus Christ into Our Lives," General Conference, April 2017
Click here to watch or read the full talk

President Russell is now 92 years old, and is the oldest of the current general authorities (three years older than President Monson). Yet he continues to teach with insight and power. I thought this talk was among the most instructive of the recent conference; it is full of nuggets of clarification and inspiration.

This explanation of the Atonement of Jesus Christ was particularly helpful to me. As we discuss that event and consider how to draw benefit from it, we sometimes do speak as if the event itself takes on power and life. But President Nelson explains it's our connection to the One who performed the action that is the crucial aspect we need to focus on. We must never forget:

  • It is the Savior who suffered.
  • It is the Savior who broke the bands of death.
  • It is the Savior who paid the price for our sins and transgressions and blots them out on condition of our repentance.
  • It is the Savior who delivers us from physical and spiritual death.

With that clarification, President Nelson then teaches:

How grateful we are, not just for the Atonement, but for the Atonement of Jesus Christ! What a marvelous thing to ponder in the coming week as we approach the Easter commemoration.

Saturday, April 8, 2017

President Dieter F. Uchtdorf on living with joy in our world

President Dieter F. Uchtdorf (b. 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.
"One of the ways Satan wants us to manipulate others is by dwelling upon and even exaggerating the evil in the world.
"Certainly our world has always been, and will continue to be, imperfect. Far too many innocent people suffer because of circumstances of nature as well as from man’s inhumanity. The corruption and wickedness in our day are unique and alarming.
"But in spite of all this, I wouldn’t trade living in this time with any other time in the history of the world. We are blessed beyond measure to live in a day of unparalleled prosperity, enlightenment, and advantage. Most of all, we are blessed to have the fulness of the gospel of Jesus Christ, which gives us a unique perspective on the world’s dangers and shows us how to either avoid these dangers or deal with them.
"When I think of these blessings, I want to fall to my knees and offer praises to our Heavenly Father for His never-ending love for all of His children.
"I don’t believe God wants His children to be fearful or dwell on the evils of the world. 'For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind' (2 Timothy 1:7).
"He has given us an abundance of reasons to rejoice. We just need to find and to recognize them. The Lord often reminds us to 'be not afraid,' to 'be of good cheer,' and to 'fear not, little flock' (Luke 12:32)."
- Dieter F. Uchtdorf, "Perfect Love Casteth Out Fear," General Conference, April 2017
Click here to read or watch the full talk

It's interesting to consider the extremes of the position offered by Satan and by God. The first would create fear and dread, building on uncertainty and danger to cause us to struggle even more with the challenges we face. But the second offers a spirit "of power, and of love, and of a sound mind"—the knowledge that all is well in His hands, and we need only trust and follow.

With that perspective, we can be grateful, as President Uchtdorf defines, for the privilege of living in a time of "unparalleled prosperity, enlightenment, and advantage":

So our world is filled with "an abundance of reasons to rejoice"—and our task is "to find and recognize them." That's a great assignment!

Friday, April 7, 2017

President Henry B. Eyring on finding peace in our lives

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.
"My message tonight is a simple one. We have all felt peace tonight. All of us would like to feel such peace often within ourselves, in our families, and with the people around us. The Lord promised peace to His disciples as He was about to leave them. He has made the same promise to us. But He said that He would give peace in His way, not in the world’s way. He described His way of sending peace:
"'But the Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you.
"'Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid' (John 14:26–27)....
"You will at times have your faith challenged by Satan; it happens to all disciples of Jesus Christ. Your defense against these attacks is to keep the Holy Ghost as your companion. The Spirit will speak peace to your soul. He will urge you forward in faith. And He will bring back the memory of those times when you felt the light and the love of Jesus Christ.
"Remembering may be one of the most precious gifts the Spirit can give you. He will “bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever [the Lord has] said unto you” (John 14:26). The memory may be of an answered prayer, of a priesthood ordinance received, of a confirmation of your testimony, or of a moment when you saw God’s guiding hand in your life."
- Henry B. Eyring, "My Peace I Leave with You," General Conference, April 2017
Click here to watch or read the full talk

President Eyring's talk at the Women's session of General Conference was tender and reassuring, as he so often is in his remarks. Addressing the challenges and fears that can come to us all in this life, he reassured his listeners that the Lord offers the incomparable gift of peace through the Holy Ghost.

The invitation and challenge President Eyring issues is to "keep the Holy Ghost as your companion." That is the great key to finding and retaining peace. As we live worthy of that gift, then the Lord's promise of His peace can be realized in our lives.

The sacred gift of remembrance is to be cherished as well. As we have sacred experiences with the Holy Ghost, they should be noted and "treasured up" so that they can later return to bless us with peace in a time of need.
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