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)

Thursday, September 14, 2017

President Gordon B. Hinckley on contributing good to the world

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.
"You are good. But it is not enough just to be good. You must be good for something. You must contribute good to the world. The world must be a better place for your presence. And the good that is in you must be spread to others.
"I do not suppose that any of us here this day will be remembered a thousand years from now. I do not suppose that we will be remembered a century from now.
"But in this world so filled with problems, so constantly threatened by dark and evil challenges, you can and must rise above mediocrity, above indifference. You can become involved and speak with a strong voice for that which is right."
- Gordon B. Hinckley, "Stand Up for Truth," BYU devotional, Sep. 17, 1996
Click here to read or listen to the full talk

President Hinckley challenges us to ponder the difference between being good and being good for something. The reason, the motivation, the purpose and results of our goodness are the key. Are we good "in isolation" or are we attempting to have our goodness make a difference in the world? Are we reaching out to bless others?

In a world "so filled with problems, so constantly threatened by dark and evil challenges" what difference do I make? What difference do you make? President Hinckley encourages us to "become involved and speak with a strong voice for that which is right." One of the most important differences we can make in the world, then, is to stand up for true principles and defend what we know to be truth. In that way, we truly can establish a legacy that will outlive us, even long after our names are forgotten in the march of time.

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

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

President Ezra Taft Benson on growth through cleansing the inner vessel

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.
"All is not well in Zion. As Moroni counseled, we must cleanse the inner vessel (see Alma 60:23), beginning first with ourselves, then with our families, and finally with the Church....
"My beloved brethren and sisters, as we cleanse the inner vessel, there will have to be changes made in our own personal lives, in our families, and in the Church. The proud do not change to improve, but defend their position by rationalizing. Repentance means change, and it takes a humble person to change. But we can do it.
"We have made some wonderful strides in the past. We will be lengthening our stride in the future. To do so, we must first cleanse the inner vessel by awaking and arising, being morally clean, using the Book of Mormon in a manner so that God will lift the condemnation, and finally conquering pride by humbling ourselves.
"We can do it. I know we can. That we will do so is my prayer for all of us. God bless you for all the good you have done and will be doing."
- Ezra Taft Benson, "Cleansing the Inner Vessel," General Conference, April 1986
Click here to read or listen to the full talk

The concept of "cleansing the inner vessel" implies that changes have to start from the inside and not the outside. It's not just a matter of changing behavior; it's perhaps more important to change the thoughts and ideas that result in the behavior.

President Benson teaches that any worthwhile change requires humility and repentance. Change is often difficult; it's made more difficult by our pride and stubbornness. As we do the things that show obedience and humility, blessings will come:

Those are good suggestions to consider. Am I doing the things that will help maintain cleanliness and purity in my own personal "inner vessel"?

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

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Elder Richard G. Scott on help in the challenges of life

Elder Richard G. Scott (1928-2015) served as a Seventy from 1977-1988, when he was called to the Quorum of Twelve Apostles.  He passed away in September 2015 at the age of 86.
"Just when all seems to be going right, challenges often come in multiple doses applied simultaneously. When those trials are not consequences of your disobedience, they are evidence that the Lord feels you are prepared to grow more (see Prov. 3:11–12). He therefore gives you experiences that stimulate growth, understanding, and compassion which polish you for your everlasting benefit. To get you from where you are to where He wants you to be requires a lot of stretching, and that generally entails discomfort and pain.
"When you face adversity, you can be led to ask many questions. Some serve a useful purpose; others do not. To ask, Why does this have to happen to me? Why do I have to suffer this, now? What have I done to cause this? will lead you into blind alleys. It really does no good to ask questions that reflect opposition to the will of God. Rather ask, What am I to do? What am I to learn from this experience? What am I to change? Whom am I to help? How can I remember my many blessings in times of trial?
"Willing sacrifice of deeply held personal desires in favor of the will of God is very hard to do. Yet, when you pray with real conviction, 'Please let me know Thy will' and 'May Thy will be done,' you are in the strongest position to receive the maximum help from your loving Father."
- Ruchard G. Scott, "Trust in the Lord," General Conference, October 1995
Click here to read or listen to the full talk

Elder Scott spoke on a number of occasions about the trials and challenges that confront us in life. Sometimes those difficulties come as a result of our own bad choices and disobedience; but in this excerpt he discusses another reason: a loving Father may be recognizing a need for us to grow and change, and providing a process to do that:

It's interesting to note that the kind of change that will "stimulate growth, understanding, and compassion" and bring about real change in our character and in our life often "requires a lot of stretching, and that generally entails discomfort and pain." Some growth comes slowly, gradually, almost imperceptibly; but the kind of progress Elder Scott is discussing requires more dramatic and painful transition to achieve.

So how do we respond when the "challenges... come in multiple doses applied simultaneously"? I loved the two alternative approaches Elder Scott identifies, based on the kinds of questions we ask about our experiences. Are we questioning and doubting, or are we trusting with faith that God is in charge? Learning to truly trust Him in every way, at all times, is a key to peace and confidence even in the midst of challenges. We must learn to offer "willing sacrifice of deeply held personal desires in favor of the will of God," knowing that He is aware of us and leading us to a better position.

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

Monday, September 11, 2017

Elder L. Tom Perry on overcoming the tares in our wheat

Elder L. Tom Perry (1922-2015) was called as an Assistant to the Twelve in 1972, then as a member of the Quorum of Twelve Apostles in 1974. At the time of his passing at age 92, he was the oldest living general authority and the third in seniority among the leading quorum.
"That old enemy of all mankind has found as many devices as he can think of to scatter tares far and wide. He has found ways to have them penetrate even the sanctity of our own homes. The wicked and worldly ways have become so widespread there seems to be no real way of weeding them out. They come by wire and through the air into the very devices we have developed to educate and entertain us. The wheat and the tares have grown close together. A steward managing the field must, with all his or her power, nourish that which is good and make it so strong and beautiful the tares will have no appeal either to the eye or the ear. How blessed are we as members of the Lord’s Church to have the precious gospel of our Lord and Savior as a foundation on which we can build our lives.
"From the Book of Mormon in 2 Nephi we read: 'For behold, again I say unto you that if ye will enter in by the way, and receive the Holy Ghost, it will show unto you all things what ye should do' (2 Nephi 32:5).
"We must never let the noise of the world overpower and overwhelm that still, small voice."
- L. Tom Perry, "Finding Lasting Peace and Building Eternal Families," General Conference, October 2014; see also Ensign, November 2014, pp. 43-45
Click here to read or listen to the full article

Elder Perry applied the parable of wheat and tares to the challenges we face today. In his application, the tares are Satan's counterfeits and misuses of technology and other good things that exist in our time. I appreciate how he describes the proliferation of tares: "The wheat and the tares have grown close together" and it becomes difficult to weed out the tares.

It's an important principle, however, to recognize that one of the best ways to "weed out" the tares is to overwhelm them with good wheat. As we "nourish that which is good and make it so strong and beautiful" then whatever tares appear "will have no appeal either to the eye or the ear." So the truly positive thing we can do is to build up the very best in our lives.

The Holy Ghost will provide us guidance and counsel, comfort and peace—as long as we allow it to. Elder Perry's reminder of preserving that part of the wheat field above all else is a very timely one!

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

Sunday, September 10, 2017

President Boyd K. Packer on having confidence and comfort in the future

President Boyd K. Packer (1924-2015) served as an Assistant to the Quorum of the Twelve (a position that no longer exists) from 1961 to 1970, when he was called to the Quorum of Twelve Apostles.  He served as president of that Quorum from 1994 until his death on July 3, 2015 at age 90.
"We need not live in fear of the future. We have every reason to rejoice and little reason to fear. If we follow the promptings of the Spirit, we will be safe, whatever the future holds. We will be shown what to do.
"Christ promised that 'the Father, [would send] another Comforter, …
"'Even the Spirit of truth; whom the world cannot receive, because it seeth him not, neither knoweth him: but ye know him; for he dwelleth with you, and shall be in you' (John 14:16–17)."
- Boyd K. Packer, "The Cloven Tongues of Fire," General Conference, April 2000; see Ensign, May 2000, pp. 7-9
Click here to read or listen to the full talk

There are, on the surface, many reasons to be fearful for the future in today's world. Some of those reasons might include declining moral standards, increasing wickedness and crime, political unrest, international tensions, economic uncertainty, natural disasters, and temptations of many kinds.

But President Packer reassures us that with the perspective and understanding of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, we do not need to fear. There is a source of direction and wisdom in the midst of the uncertainty:

One of the beautiful names given to the Holy Ghost is that of Comforter. When we are worried or struggling in any way, there is a source of peace and guidance available to us if we are willing to turn to it. How grateful we should be for that divine gift!

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

Saturday, September 9, 2017

President Russell M. Nelson on our covenants with God

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.
"We need to remember that a covenant is a promise. A covenant made with God should be regarded not as restrictive but as protective. Covenants with Him protect us from danger.
"This concept is not new. If our water supply is of questionable quality, for example, we filter the water. Similarly, divine covenants shield us from harm. When we choose to deny ourselves of all ungodliness (see Moro. 10:32; JST, Matt. 16:26, in Matt. 16:24, footnote a), we lose nothing of value and gain glory known only to those who obtain eternal life. Keeping a temple covenant is not constraining but enabling. It elevates us beyond limits of our own perspective and power. It is like the difference between plodding through a muddy field and soaring through the skies in a supersonic jet. Keeping a covenant with God is both protective and enabling."
- Russell M. Nelson, "Prepare for Blessings of the Temple," Ensign March 2002, p. 21
Click here to read the complete article

This is a wonderful concept: covenants are not restrictive, they are protective! They can "shield us from harm" as they help us avoid the ungodliness in our world. If we can remember and ponder that concept, our covenants will be even more precious to us.

The focus of our most significant covenants is the temple:

The combination covenants provide of being both protective and enabling is truly a divine and sacred gift.z

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

Friday, September 8, 2017

Elder Quentin L. Cook on spiritual nourishment and commitment

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.
"Many who are in a spiritual drought and lack commitment have not necessarily been involved in major sins or transgressions, but they have made unwise choices. Some are casual in their observance of sacred covenants. Others spend most of their time giving first-class devotion to lesser causes. Some allow intense cultural or political views to weaken their allegiance to the gospel of Jesus Christ. Some have immersed themselves in Internet materials that magnify, exaggerate, and, in some cases, invent shortcomings of early Church leaders. Then they draw incorrect conclusions that can affect testimony. Any who have made these choices can repent and be spiritually renewed.
"Immersion in the scriptures is essential for spiritual nourishment (see John 5:39; Amos 8:11). The word of God inspires commitment and acts as a healing balm for hurt feelings, anger, or disillusionment (see Alma 31:5). When our commitment is diminished for any reason, part of the solution is repentance (see Alma 36:23–26). Commitment and repentance are closely intertwined."
- Quentin L. Cook, "Can Ye Feel So Now?," General Conference, October 2012; see Ensign, November 2012, pp. 6-9
Click here to read or listen to the full article

The concept of "spiritual drought" is an interesting one. In the physical sense, drought is a period of water shortage due to lessened rainfall; spiritually, if we have a lack of inspiration and presence of the spirit, the condition of stunted growth and related challenges is a good analogy. Elder Cook suggests that we can those spiritual droughts on ourselves through sin or unwise choices, but also through "casual observance of sacred covenants" or mis-focused priorities. We can be distracted by material or philosophy that impairs our receptivity to spiritual influence.

The key to overcoming spiritual drought is usually to "repent and be spiritually renewed." Elder Cook suggests another important ingredient:

Particularly in times of "spiritual drought" we should seek renewal from the fount of "living water" (John 4:10). That will aid us in our efforts to strengthen our commitment and draw nearer to the source of strength and forgiveness.

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

Thursday, September 7, 2017

Elder Neal A. Maxwell on coping with 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.
"Occasionally I see individuals who are meeting life’s challenges reasonably well but who unfortunately fail to appreciate the general adequacy of their response. They let the seeming ordinariness of life dampen their spirits. Though actually coping and growing, some lack the quiet inner-soul satisfaction which can steady them. Instead they seem to experience a lingering sense that there is something more important they should be doing or that their chores are somehow not quite what was expected, as if what is quietly achieved in righteous individual living or in parenthood is not sufficiently spectacular.
"Feeling unrequited as to role and feeling underwhelmed do not occur, however, because of a structural failure in this divinely designed second estate. Rather they occur because of a lack of love, for love helps us to see and to respond to those opportunities which have been allotted to us and which lie unused all about us. Before we complain about the curriculum in mortality, or more particularly our current class schedules, we would do well to remember who designed the curriculum and to allow for however many other places it has been successfully used."
- Neal A. Maxwell, "Grounded, Rooted, Established, and Settled," BYU Devotional, Sept 15, 1981
Click here to read or listen to the full talk

Elder Maxwell often spoke with tender sympathy and insight, but sometimes you have to ponder his elegant language to get the full import! In this case, I know exactly what he is referring to. So many times in life, we are facing challenges or struggles of various kinds, and feel overwhelmed and inadequate. We can easily fail to see how well we really are doing in coping with the difficulties we are facing, thinking instead that we are failing and drowning. But we should remember that what we "quietly achieve" in our "righteous individual living or in parenthood" is often truly spectacular, though it may seem just the opposite to us at the time.

The cure for our malaise in life often is to focus on love, Elder Maxwell suggests. When we feel more love, we can "respond to those opportunities" we have all around us more effectively and appropriately. I suppose that includes love for ourselves, love for God, and love for others around us.

This is a good reminder about our faith in God and his plan for us. We can trust that the circumstances through which we are struggling will ultimately "give thee experience, and shall be for thy good" as Joseph Smith was taught (D&C 122:7). God is designing the curriculum that will bless us most if we trust in Him.

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

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Elder Dale G. Renlund on developing an attitude of charity

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.
"The pure love of Christ or charity is selfless and self-sacrificing, emanates from a pure heart and a good conscience. Charity is more than an act or action. Charity is an attitude, a state of heart and mind that accompanies one’s actions. It is to be an integral part of one’s nature. In fact, all things are to be done in charity. Charity casts out all fears and it is a prerequisite for entering the kingdom of heaven....
"The underlying, fundamental principle that we have shared is that conversion to Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ and His Atonement is the key to developing charity, the pure love of Christ. The development of charity then leads to the development of other Christlike attributes."
- Dale G. Renlund and Ruth L. Renlund, “One in Charity,” BYU Women’s Conference, April 29, 2016
Click here to read the full talk

As one of the three cardinal virtues ("faith, hope, and charity") of discipleship, it is good to ponder what charity is and how we can both develop and express it. This interesting address, by Elder Renlund and his wife, was shared with a BYU Women's Conference and gives a number of insights into the important principle.

We often use phrases like "act of charity" in our conversation, and it's tempting to think that the act is the charity. Elder Renlund points out that charity is the inner attitude that generates the act:

The scriptural injunction "Let all your things be done with charity" (1 Cor 16:14) should give us cause to ponder. Do we truly do all things in an attitude or spirit of charity? Do we allow that underlying "state of heart and mind" help to determine all of our actions?

Elder Renlund concludes with the reminder that "conversion to Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ and His Atonement is the key to developing charity." We should first seek that conversion, knowing that true charity will be a gift that follows.

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

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Elder Gary E. Stevenson on the essential preparation for success 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 way that certain steps are essential in the very brief performance of an Olympic athlete—jumps or maneuvers for ice skaters and snowboarders, negotiating the turns of a bobsled run, or carving through the gates of a downhill slalom course—so it is in our lives, where certain things are absolutely essential—checkpoints which move us through our spiritual performance on earth. These spiritual markers are the essential God-given ordinances of the gospel: baptism, receiving the gift of the Holy Ghost, priesthood ordinations, temple ordinances, and partaking of the sacrament each week.
"'In the[se] ordinances … , the power of godliness is manifest' (D&C 84:20).
"And in the same way that the discipline of training prepares an athlete to perform elements in his or her sport at the highest level, keeping the commandments will qualify you to receive these saving ordinances.
"Do you sense the urgency? ...
"Self-discipline is needed. Daily prayer, scripture study, and church attendance must be the foundation of your training. A consistent pattern of obeying the commandments, keeping the covenants you have made, and following the Lord’s standard found in For the Strength of Youth is required."
- Gary E. Stevenson, "Your Four Minutes," General Conference, April 2014
Click here to read or listen to the full talk

Elder Stevenson spoke to the youth of the Church in this conference address, using the example of athletes who had recently competed in the Winter Olympic. He spoke of the very short time their performance caught the eye of the world in the international competition, but of the countless hours of preparation that led up to that performance. Then he likened that brief performance to our mortal experience of earthly life.

It's good to consider the "spiritual markers" that ordinances provide, and make sure we are "on track" in our preparations. They help us to be prepared to the challenges and opportunities of our life.

But it's the discipline of obedience that is perhaps the key aspect of Elder Stevenson's analogy:

How critical those simple, daily, ongoing tasks continue to be, not just for the youth but for each of us! As we continue to focus on the basic elements of spiritual preparation, our performance of life will truly be blessed and strengthened.

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