Sunday, July 22, 2018

Elder Ulisses Soares on the focus of priorities and programs in the Church

Elder Ulisses Soares (born October 2, 1958 in Brazil) has served as a Seventy since April 2005, and as a member of the Presidency of the Seventy since January 2013. He was sustained to the Quorum of Twelve Apostles on April 1, 2018.
"Jesus showed patience and love to all who came to Him seeking relief for their physical, emotional, or spiritual illnesses and who felt discouraged and downtrodden.
"To follow the Savior’s example, each one of us must look around and reach out to the sheep who are facing the same circumstances and lift them up and encourage them to proceed on the journey towards eternal life.
"This need today is as great as or perhaps even greater than when the Savior walked on this earth. As shepherds we must understand that we should nurture each one of our sheep to bring them to Christ, which is the purpose of all we do in this Church.
"Any activity, meeting, or program should focus on this same objective. As we stay in tune with the needs of the people, we can strengthen them and help them overcome their challenges, so they will remain steadfast in the way which will lead them back to our Heavenly Father’s presence and help them endure to the end.
"The gospel of Jesus Christ is about people, not programs. Sometimes, in the haste of fulfilling our Church responsibilities, we spend too much time concentrating on programs, instead of focusing on people, and end up taking their real needs for granted. When things like that happen, we lose the perspective of our callings, neglect people, and prevent them from reaching their divine potential to gain eternal life."
- Ulisses Soares, “Feed My Sheep," General Conference October 2005
Click here to read or listen to the full talk

This was the first general conference message shared by Elder Soares after his call as a general authority in 2005. He talked about the sacred responsibility we share as members of the Church to care for one another, truly following the example and teachings of the Savior. As recorded in the scriptures, His ministry focused on those who "felt discouraged and downtrodden" as He offered "relief for their physical, emotional, or spiritual illnesses." We might ask ourselves how well we are doing in following that specific example!

Truly, a primary reason for the organization and existence of the Church is to facilitate our serving one another in this manner. We must never lose that focus and priority! That is the way we help one another reach our "divine potential to gain eternal life."

(Compilation and commentary by David Kenison, Orem, Utah, 2018)

Saturday, July 21, 2018

Elder Gerrit W. Gong on worthiness and peace through Christ

Elder Gerrit W. Gong (born December 23, 1953) was called as a Seventy in April 2010, then to the Presidency of the Seventy in October 2015. He was sustained to the Quorum of Twelve Apostles in April 2018.
"To be worthy does not mean to be perfect. Heavenly Father’s plan of happiness invites us to be humbly at peace on our life’s journey to someday become perfected in Christ (see Moroni 10:32), not constantly worried, frustrated, or unhappy in our imperfections today. Remember, He knows all the things we don’t want anyone else to know about us—and loves us still.
"Sometimes life tests our trust in Christ’s mercy, justice, and judgment and in His liberating invitation to allow His Atonement to heal us as we forgive others and ourselves....
"When trust is betrayed, dreams shattered, hearts broken and broken again, when we want justice and need mercy, when our fists clench and our tears flow, when we need to know what to hold onto and what to let go of, we can always remember Him. Life is not as cruel as it can sometimes seem. His infinite compassion can help us find our way, truth, and life (see John 14:6)."
- Elder Gerrit W. Gong, "Always Remember Him," General Conference April 2016
Click here to read or listen to the full talk

So much is conveyed in that first simple line: "To be worthy does not mean to be perfect." Sometimes we confuse the two qualities. To be worthy means we are striving for perfection, and we can be "humbly at peace" with that knowledge:

We must be careful to remember that the Atonement of Jesus Christ provides for us the power to "heal us as we forgive others and ourselves." If we truly believe Him and trust in Him, then we should be filled with the hope and understanding of that healing and know that our worthiness in His eyes means we are accepting his offering on our behalf.

In addition, we must remember that life will have challenges that attempt to drag us down to despair. Elder Gong notes that we must occasionally deal with those times "when trust is betrayed, dreams shattered, hearts broken and broken again, when we want justice and need mercy, when our fists clench and our tears flow" and we fact the various disappointments and frustrations of life. Those are the critical times for us to "always remember Him" in order to bring back hope and faith.

(Compilation and commentary by David Kenison, Orem, Utah, 2018)

Friday, July 20, 2018

Elder Dale G. Renlund on treating others with love and respect

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.
"Those who have been persecuted for any reason know what unfairness and bigotry feel like. As a teenager living in Europe in the 1960s, I felt that I was repeatedly picked on and bullied because I was an American and because I was a member of the Church. Some of my schoolmates treated me as though I were personally responsible for unpopular U.S. foreign policies. I was also treated as though my religion were an affront to the nations in which I lived because it differed from state-sponsored religion. Later, in various countries across the world, I have had small glimpses into the ugliness of prejudice and discrimination suffered by those who are targeted because of their race or ethnicity.
"Persecution comes in many forms: ridicule, harassment, bullying, exclusion and isolation, or hatred toward another. We must guard against bigotry that raises its ugly voice toward those who hold different opinions. Bigotry manifests itself, in part, in unwillingness to grant equal freedom of expression. Everyone, including people of religion, has the right to express his or her opinions in the public square. But no one has a license to be hateful toward others as those opinions are expressed.
"Church history gives ample evidence of our members being treated with hatred and bigotry. How ironically sad it would be if we were to treat others as we have been treated. The Savior taught, 'Whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them' (Matthew 7:12). For us to ask for respect, we must be respectful. Furthermore, our genuine conversion brings 'meekness, and lowliness of heart,' which invites 'the Holy Ghost [and fills us with] perfect love' (Moroni 8:26), an 'unfeigned love' (1 Peter 1:22) for others."
- Dale G. Renlund, "Our Good Shepherd," General Conference April 2017
Click here to read or listen to the full talk

It seems that in recent years, we have been losing some of the civility and manners that used to mark society. Instead, we see increasing "ridicule, harassment, bullying, exclusion and isolation, or hatred" in so many public interactions. Elder Renlund reminds us that "the ugliness of prejudice and discrimination" have no place in our lives and attitudes.

We must never forget that the right to express opinions is a fundamental opportunity that we should never deny others; opinions should be respected and considered. Even if we disagree, that does not give us the right to be "hateful toward others"; not only should we be respectful, but the love of Christ and concern for others should influence all of our actions and attitudes.

(Compilation and commentary by David Kenison, Orem, Utah, 2018)

Thursday, July 19, 2018

President Joseph Fielding Smith on perspective of wealth and life's purpose

Joseph Fielding Smith (1876-1972) was the son of Joseph F. Smith, 6th president of the Church, and grandson of Hyrum Smith, brother of the Prophet Joseph. He was called as an apostle in 1910, and served as the 10th president of the Church from 1970 until his death in 1972 at age 95.
"We are here for a great purpose. That purpose is not to live 100 years, or less, and plant our fields, reap our crops, gather fruit, live in houses, and surround ourselves with the necessities of mortal life. That is not the purpose of life. These things are necessary to our existence here, and that is the reason why we should be industrious. But how many men spend their time thinking that all there is in life is to accumulate the things of this world, to live in comfort, and surround themselves with all the luxuries, and privileges, and pleasures it is possible for mortal life to bestow, and never give a thought to anything beyond?
"Why, all these things are but temporary blessings. We eat to live. We clothe ourselves to keep warm and covered. We have houses to live in for our comfort and convenience, but we ought to look upon all these blessings as temporary blessings needful while we journey through this life. And that is all the good they are to us. We cannot take any of them with us when we depart. Gold, silver, and precious stones, which are called wealth, are of no use to man, only as they enable him to take care of himself and to meet his necessities here."
- Joseph Fielding Smith, "Salvation for the Dead," Utah Genealogical and Historical Magazine, Apr. 1926, 154-55; see also Doctrines of Salvation, 1:68-69

So much in life really does depend on why we do what we do. Why do we work? Why do we strive to make a good livelihood? Why do we choose the kind of home we live in? Why do we accumulate the things that surround us?

I've always been struck by this teaching from Jacob in the Book of Mormon:
"And after ye have obtained a hope in Christ ye shall obtain riches, if ye seek them; and ye will seek them for the intent to do good—to clothe the naked, and to feed the hungry, and to liberate the captive, and administer relief to the sick and the afflicted." (Jacob 2.19)
There are two important caveats that stand out to me:

  1. The word after gives critical perspective. The priority is to first "obtain a hope in Christ" and only then to seek to obtain riches.
  2. The purpose of seeking the riches, and the reason that God will grant them to the righteous disciple, is "for the intent to do good."
Those important principles should be foundational in our efforts and priorities in this life!

(Compilation and commentary by David Kenison, Orem, Utah, 2018)

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Elder Gary E. Stevenson on overcoming impediments to spiritual progress

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.
"Perhaps you’re aware of things in your life that are threatening to slow or stop your spiritual progress. If so, follow this scriptural counsel: 'Let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us.' (Hebrews 12:1.)
"It is not yet too late to repent. But it soon may be, because no one really knows when your four minutes will be over.
"Now, you may be thinking to yourself, 'I already blew it. My four minutes are already a disaster. I may as well give up.' If so, stop thinking that, and never think it again. The miracle of the Atonement can make up for imperfections in our performance. As Elder Jeffrey R. Holland has taught:
"'To those of you … who may still be hanging back, … I testify of the renewing power of God’s love and the miracle of His grace....
"'...It is never too late so long as the Master... says there is time.... Don’t delay.' (Jeffrey R. Holland, “The Laborers in the Vineyard,” Ensign, May 2012, 33.)
"Remember, you are not alone. The Savior has promised that He will not leave you comfortless. (See John 14:18.) You also have family, friends, and leaders who are cheering you on."
- Gary E. Stevenson, "Your Four Minutes," General Conference April 2014
Click here to read or listen to the full talk

It's good to examine our life now and then, and as Elder Stevenson suggests, try to identify things that might be "threatening to slow or stop your spiritual progress." We should never allow that to happen! When it does, we should take the steps necessary to remove the weight holding us down.

This talk was given shortly after a Winter Olympics game was held, and Elder Stevenson discussed the reality that sometimes years of preparation and training precede a 4-minute effort in competition. He likened our mortal life, in the broad scheme of eternity, to those four minutes; in reality, our chance to perform and prove ourselves is a tiny portion of our eternal life. We should do whatever is necessary to make sure we are taking the best advantage of the opportunity! And one of the most important of those things is the occasional need for repentance, for removing of burdens and correcting the course we are following.

This encouraging reminder should help to give us all hope. We are never alone. There is always help and support available in our efforts to remove burdens and to move forward in the best way possible!

(Compilation and commentary by David Kenison, Orem, Utah, 2018)

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Elder Ronald A. Rasband on feeling the Savior's love and loving others

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.
"Try to view others through a lens of fairness. To do this requires you to first acknowledge that Heavenly Father loves all of His children equally. He has said, 'Love one another; as I have loved you' (John 13:34). There is no choice, sin, or mistake that you or anyone else can make that will change His love for you or for them. That does not mean He excuses or condones sinful conduct; nor do we, in ourselves or in others. But that does mean we reach out in love to persuade, to help, and to rescue.
"When you feel completely and perfectly loved, it is much easier to love others and to see them the way the Savior does. Please turn to our Savior in prayer and ask to receive His pure love both for yourself and for others. He has promised that you will feel His love if you ask in faith."
- Ronald A. Rasband, "Religious Freedom and Fairness for All," BYU Devotional 8/15/15
Click here to read or listen to the full talk

Elder Rasband suggests that we can treat each other better, with more fairness, if we understand the important nature of God's love for us. He loves us perfectly and constantly, regardless of our choices and actions, our mistakes or sins. He loves all His children with that same love. As we understand and remember that concept, it should impact how we treat those around us:

Something important happens when we truly feel God's love for us and understand our relationship to Him. Then we can begin to express that same love to others. How critically important it is for us to turn to the Savior in our lives, and to receive that blessing of understanding!

(Compilation and commentary by David Kenison, Orem, Utah, 2018)

Monday, July 16, 2018

Elder Neil L. Andersen on spiritual understanding in Church settings

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.
"Spiritual understanding rarely comes from a lecture. It comes in classrooms where questions are welcome, where doubts and fears can be expressed, and where honest opinions are never dismissed. It comes from obedience, private study, and prayer. Spiritually, the classroom of faith becomes less like a lecture hall and more like a fitness center. Students do not get stronger by watching someone else do the exercises. They learn and then participate. As their spiritual strength increases, they gain confidence and apply themselves all the more.
"The Savior taught by listening and observing. After teaching and healing the multitude, He fed them. (See Matthew 15:32–38.) To the woman caught in adultery, He wrote in the sand. (See John 8:6.) Before He healed the daughter of the leader of the synagogue, He asked those who did not believe to leave the house. (See Mark 5:40.) And to Caiaphas, the high priest, He said nothing. (See Matthew 26:63.)
"Elder Neal A. Maxwell summarized effective teaching in these words: 'Do not be afraid of repetitious teaching. Ask inspired questions. Typically, but not always, two-way dialogue is better than one-way monologue.' (Neal A. Maxwell, in David A. Bednar, Act in Doctrine (2012), 124.)
"Use the scriptures; share simple stories, parables, and real-life examples; ask questions; invite students to teach and to share their feelings; encourage them to act in faith and to report on what they are learning.
"Keep your teaching centered in the doctrine. Alma taught: 'Therefore God gave unto them commandments, after having made known unto them the plan of redemption.' (Alma 12:32; italics added.)
"Commandments are best understood in the context of the doctrine of Christ."
- Neil L. Andersen, "A Classroom of Faith, Hope, and Charity," broadcast for instructors and personnel in the Church Educational System on February 28, 2014
Click here to read the full talk

This is an interesting excerpt to consider, both from the perspective of a teacher and from that of a learner. The teacher must do the things in a formal classroom setting that will facilitate the maximum amount of learning, both intellectually and especially spiritually. But the learner also has a great responsibility to participate in the most effective ways:

As we have formal opportunities to be a teacher in Church settings, we should remember what a sacred responsibility and obligation that is. It is not something to be done casually; it requires significant effort, pondering, preparation, and divine guidance.

But I continue to wonder if we are doing all we can as learners in the Church. Do I make efforts to be prepared to be taught? Am I eager to participate and share? Do I make those personal efforts in areas of "obedience, private study, and prayer"?

(Compilation and commentary by David Kenison, Orem, Utah, 2018)

Sunday, July 15, 2018

President Gordon B. Hinckley on the need for optimism in a stress-filled 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.
"Looking at the dark side of things always leads to a spirit of pessimism which so often leads to defeat....
"I have little doubt that many of us are troubled with fears concerning ourselves. We are in a period of stress across the world. There are occasionally hard days for each of us. Do not despair. Do not give up. Look for the sunlight through the clouds. Opportunities will eventually open to you. Do not let the prophets of gloom endanger your possibilities."
- Gordon B. Hinckley, "The Continuing Pursuit of Truth,"  BYU—Hawaii commencement 18 June 1983; see Ensign, April 1986, p. 2
Click here to read the full article

President Hinckley's consistent message of hope and optimism rings true today. While we sometimes face storms and challenges that seem to block the sunlight in our lives, we should always remember that storms are temporary and we must never despair. This applies both to a "period of stress across the world" and to the most individual challenges in our own lives.

I think perhaps one of life's great challenges is to "look for the sunlight through the clouds." Our nature is to focus on the clouds, forgetting that the sunlight is still there behind them. Once we develop that gift, we will find our challenges much easier to bear.

(Compilation and commentary by David Kenison, Orem, Utah, 2018)

Saturday, July 14, 2018

Elder D. Todd Christofferson on the joy of choosing to turn to God

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.
"As in the days of Nehor and Korihor, we live in a time not long before the advent of Jesus Christ—in our case, the time of preparation for His Second Coming. And similarly, the message of repentance is often not welcomed. Some profess that if there is a God, He makes no real demands upon us (see Alma 18:5). Others maintain that a loving God forgives all sin based on simple confession, or if there actually is a punishment for sin, 'God will beat us with a few stripes, and at last we shall be saved in the kingdom of God' (2 Nephi 28:8). Others, with Korihor, deny the very existence of Christ and any such thing as sin. Their doctrine is that values, standards, and even truth are all relative. Thus, whatever one feels is right for him or her cannot be judged by others to be wrong or sinful.
"On the surface such philosophies seem appealing because they give us license to indulge any appetite or desire without concern for consequences. By using the teachings of Nehor and Korihor, we can rationalize and justify anything. When prophets come crying repentance, it 'throws cold water on the party.' But in reality the prophetic call should be received with joy. Without repentance, there is no real progress or improvement in life. Pretending there is no sin does not lessen its burden and pain. Suffering for sin does not by itself change anything for the better. Only repentance leads to the sunlit uplands of a better life. And, of course, only through repentance do we gain access to the atoning grace of Jesus Christ and salvation. Repentance is a divine gift, and there should be a smile on our faces when we speak of it. It points us to freedom, confidence, and peace. Rather than interrupting the celebration, the gift of repentance is the cause for true celebration.
"Repentance exists as an option only because of the Atonement of Jesus Christ. It is His infinite sacrifice that 'bringeth about means unto men that they may have faith unto repentance' (Alma 34:15). Repentance is the necessary condition, and the grace of Christ is the power by which 'mercy can satisfy the demands of justice' (Alma 34:16)."
- D. Todd Christofferson, "The Divine Gift of Repentance," General Conference October 2011
Click here to read or listen to the full talk

Elder Christofferson suggests that in our world today, we are seeing an ancient pattern re-expressed: the adversary continues to attempt to confuse believers with philosophical arguments about the nature of God and of sin, getting many off-course with his deceptions. The fundamental nature of eternal principles, commandments, sin, and obedience are so critical to understand. And the interplay of repentance in that situation is perhaps the most critical of all, since that is the key that opens the door to "real progress or improvement in life":

How rarely do we think of repentance in such a positive, encouraging way! It's the source of joy and peace, and even thinking about the prospect of repenting should bring happiness to us. It truly is the reason for celebration and rejoicing in our lives! How grateful we should be, always and forever, for the Atonement of Jesus Christ that makes it possible to us.

(Compilation and commentary by David Kenison, Orem, Utah, 2018)

Friday, July 13, 2018

Elder Quentin L. Cook on persistence in family scripture study

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.
"Clearly, a dividing line between those who hear the music of faith and those who are tone-deaf or off-key is the active study of the scriptures....
"I hope we are reading the Book of Mormon with our children regularly. I have discussed this with my own children. They have shared with me two observations. First, persistence in reading the scriptures daily as a family is the key. My daughter in a lighthearted way describes their early-morning efforts with mostly teenage children to consistently read the scriptures. She and her husband wake up early in the morning and move through the blurry mist to grasp the iron railing that lines their staircase to where their family gathers to read the word of God. Persistence is the answer, and a sense of humor helps. It requires great effort from every family member every day, but it is worth the effort. Temporary setbacks are overshadowed by persistence....
"We know that family scripture study and family home evenings are not always perfect. Regardless of the challenges you face, do not become discouraged."
- Quentin L. Cook, "In Tune with the Music of Faith," General Conference April 2012
Click here to read or listen to the full talk

We often underestimate the importance of "active study of the scriptures" in our lives. Elder Cook reminds us how critical that is for us, and for parents who are teaching their children:

Most families face challenges in finding the patterns of consistent and beneficial scripture study. Elder Cook encourages patience and steadiness: "Temporary setbacks are overshadowed by persistence." We may not think our efforts are doing much good, but we often underestimate the impact of those ongoing and consistent efforts.

(Compilation and commentary by David Kenison, Orem, Utah, 2018)

Thursday, July 12, 2018

Elder David A. Bednar on what we do and what we are

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 thirteenth article of faith begins, 'We believe in being honest, true, chaste, benevolent, virtuous, and in doing good to all men.' It is significant to me that the first trait listed in this inspired summary of basic Christian virtues is honesty. Indeed, the very fountain and foundation of our daily discipleship are integrity and honesty.
"People of integrity and honesty not only practice what they preach, they are what they preach. And the Savior stands as the finest example. He said, 'I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me' (John 14:6). It is not just that the Son of God brought light into a darkened and fallen world; He is the Light (see 3 Ne. 11:11). It is not just that our Savior showed us the way; He is the Way. It is not just that Christ made the resurrection available; He is the Resurrection (see John 11:25). And it is not just that Jesus of Nazareth restored the truth and taught the truth; He is the Truth."
- David A. Bednar, "Be Honest," BYU-Idaho devotional September 10, 2002; see New Era October 2005, p. 7
Click here to read the full talk

Virtues such as honesty seem so basic and fundamental to Christian discipleship. And on the surface, perhaps in our interactions with others, we seem to do a fairly good job. But Elder Bednar is talking about a more in-depth view of that virtue and its companion integrity, relating to the deeper motivations and subtleties of our behavior and actions.

So in this interpretation, integrity relates more to not just what we do, but what we are in our internal and spiritual motivations. And what we are will then define what we do.

The Savior is the premiere example; it's not just what He did, but what He is that demonstrate the power of His life and message. As our hearts and motivations become pure and clarified, we will realize how much of our discipleship depends on that same principle.

(Compilation and commentary by David Kenison, Orem, Utah, 2018)

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf on rising up when we fall

Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf (born November 6, 1940) served as a Seventy from 1994-2004, when he was called as a member of the Quorum of Twelve.  He served as second counselor in the First Presidency from 2008 to 2018.
"Our destiny is not determined by the number of times we stumble but by the number of times we rise up, dust ourselves off, and move forward.
"We know this mortal life is a test. But because our Heavenly Father loves us with a perfect love, He shows us where to find the answers. He has given us the map that allows us to navigate the uncertain terrain and unexpected trials that each of us encounters. The words of the prophets are part of this map.
"When we stray—when we fall or depart from the way of our Heavenly Father—the words of the prophets tell us how to rise up and get back on track.
"Of all the principles taught by prophets over the centuries, one that has been emphasized over and over again is the hopeful and heartwarming message that mankind can repent, change course, and get back on the true path of discipleship.
"That does not mean that we should be comfortable with our weaknesses, mistakes, or sins. But there is an important difference between the sorrow for sin that leads to repentance and the sorrow that leads to despair."
- Dieter F. Uchtdorf, "You Can Do It Now!" General Conference October 2013
Click here to read or listen to the full talk

I've learned from my outdoor experiences that even the strongest hikers occasionally stumble and fall! Some of us do it more frequently than others. President Uchtdorf employed that analogy in discussing our spiritual lives to remind us that it's not the fall that matters, ultimately—but how we respond to it. The most important thing is to get back up quickly, "dust ourselves off" (repent), and begin moving forward again:

One of the keys President Uchtdorf shared was that we should know and follow the words of the prophets to help us remain on the proper path in life, to avoid losing our way and getting off-course. The prophets will continue to remind, as they always have, that repentance is available and will bless our lives, regardless of where we are and what has happened in our past.

(Compilation and commentary by David Kenison, Orem, Utah, 2018)

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Elder Jeffrey R. Holland on the Church as a hospital and not a monastery

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.
"Mercy, with its sister virtue forgiveness, is at the very heart of the Atonement of Jesus Christ and the eternal plan of salvation. Everything in the gospel teaches us that we can change if we need to, that we can be helped if we truly want it, that we can be made whole, whatever the problems of the past.
"Now, if you feel too spiritually maimed to come to the feast, please realize that the Church is not a monastery for perfect people, though all of us ought to be striving on the road to godliness. No, at least one aspect of the Church is more like a hospital or an aid station, provided for those who are ill and want to get well, where one can get an infusion of spiritual nutrition and a supply of sustaining water in order to keep on climbing.
"In spite of life’s tribulations and as fearful as some of our prospects are, I testify that there is help for the journey. There is the Bread of Eternal Life and the Well of Living Water. Christ has overcome the world—our world—and His gift to us is peace now and exaltation in the world to come. (See D&C 59:23.) Our fundamental requirement is to have faith in Him and follow Him—always."
- Jeffrey R. Holland, "He Hath Filled the Hungry with Good Things," General Conference October 1997
Click here to read or listen to the full talk

The idea of describing the Church as a place of healing, and not merely a place to display or honor the healthy and perfect, has a long history. It was employed in a 1964 article by advice columnist Abigail Van Buren ("Dear Abby"). A variation is attributed to the early Christian theologian St. Augustine. And it may even have its roots in the words of the Savior Himself: "They that are whole have no need of the physician, but they that are sick..." (Mark 2:17).

However, we still seem to struggle with that idea, and hence Elder Holland's reminder. We come to Church to be "made whole" and to "get well" from whatever ailment is holding us down, holding us back.

"Spiritual nutrition" and "sustaining water" are wonderful symbolic promises. Elder Holland emphasizes in his talk the blessing of both the "Bread of Eternal Life and the Well of Living Water" that are offered to us, as we turn to God in faith.

(Compilation and commentary by David Kenison, Orem, Utah, 2018)

Monday, July 9, 2018

President M. Russell Ballard on the sacred role of teachers

President 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. He became acting president of the Twelve in January 2018.
"Surely no teachers in the Church are more important than fathers and mothers. No classroom is more important than the home. Parents have been commanded to teach their children the gospel. (See D&C 68:25.)
"My brothers and sisters, I believe that every human soul is teaching something to someone nearly every minute here in mortality. May we consider with great reverence the trust that the Lord has placed in us to 'teach one another the doctrine of the kingdom.' (D&C 88:77.)
"May I urge each member of the Church, when you are serving as a teacher, to remember that every human soul is precious to our Father in Heaven, for we are all his children. God’s children are entitled to be taught the truths of the gospel in clear and understandable terms so that the Spirit can confirm the truths of the gospel to them."
- M. Russell Ballard, "Teaching—No Greater Call," General Conference April 1983
Click here to read or listen to the full talk

For years, the message "Teaching—No Greater Call" has been emphasized in the Church. The role we all play as teachers is far more important than we often acknowledge. President Ballard helped to explain that emphasis in this address, as he gave perspective on how that role is a part of so much that we do, both in formal callings and in informal settings. Being a parent in the home is certainly one of the most crucial teaching settings.

This insight was interesting—we truly are teaching far more frequently, even constantly, than we realize:

So we are "teaching something to someone nearly every minute" of our lives. If not in words, it's in our attitude, our actions, our priorities. Those around us notice the message more than we know, and so it is important that we never waver from the clear and pure message of righteousness. Since we are all God's children, we all deserve to be taught through righteous examples "so that the Spirit can confirm the truths of the gospel" in each of our hearts.

(Compilation and commentary by David Kenison, Orem, Utah, 2018)

Sunday, July 8, 2018

President Spencer W. Kimball on the need for faithful devotion in today's world

President Spencer W. Kimball (1895-1985) was ordained an apostle in 1943 and served as President of the Church from 1973 to 1985.
"It seems that at no time in world history has there been a greater need for understanding and blending the wholesome and divine teachings of the Master into our lives and into all our dealings with our fellowmen. I say to everyone within the sound of my voice, 'Do not fail the Lord.' We must accept the truth that the gospel principles are not on trial but that we are. The teachings of Jesus as revealed through the ancient and modern prophets are constant and unchanging.
"The history of man evidences that these teachings are true. The rise and fall of civilizations according to the alternating righteousness and wickedness of the peoples proclaim the need to hear and to heed the Savior’s divine messages. We must prepare ourselves, both individually and as a church, to defend the gospel truths against a world steeped in atheism and godlessness. We must oppose the so-called intellectuals who reason that they have all the answers, and we must contend mightily with those whose lust for power and worldly gain destroy their sense of right and wrong.
"As members of Christ’s true church we must stand firm today and always for human rights and the dignity of man who is the literal offspring of God in the spirit. We cannot condone a separation of our religious beliefs from our daily living. Righteousness must prevail in our lives and in our homes."
- Spencer W. Kimball, "Fortify Your Homes Against Evil," General Conference April 1979
Click here to read or listen to the full talk

President Kimball's voice was weak, ravaged by cancer and age; but his message was always clear and strong. I particularly enjoyed this talk, as he shared with Church members a sense of his vision for their duties and opportunities in the face of a challenging world. Never has there been a greater need for living the teachings of the Master:

In this talk, President Kimball used the phrase "we must" a total of 16 times as the tried to convey the need of faithfulness and obedience to his audience. Even in this short excerpt, notice the urgency of his invitations:

  • we must recognize that we are being tried on how we can live gospel truths
  • we must be intellectually prepared to stand up for our beliefs
  • we must be ready to contend against intellectualism
  • we must oppose those who lose a moral sense in their desire for power and profit
  • we must stand firm in defense of the rights and dignities of men
This message, of how much the Lord depends on us and is counting on our efforts in His work, should inspire us to greater efforts and faithfulness in the things that matter most.

(Compilation and commentary by David Kenison, Orem, Utah, 2018)

Saturday, July 7, 2018

President Thomas S. Monson on American prosperity and dependence on God

President Thomas S. Monson (1927–2018) was sustained to the Quorum of Twelve Apostles in 1963. He served as a counselor in the First Presidency with Presidents Benson, Hunter, and Hinckley and then became Church president in 2008. He led the Church for almost a decade until his passing in January 2018.
"Too many Americans have been screaming ever louder for more and more of the things we cannot take with us and paying less and less attention to the real sources of the very happiness we seek. We have been measuring our fellowmen more by balance sheets and less by moral standards. We have developed frightening physical power and fallen into pathetic spiritual weakness. We have become so concerned over the growth of our earning capacity that we have neglected the growth of our character.
"As we view the disillusionment that engulfs countless thousands today, we are learning the hard way what an ancient prophet wrote out for us 3,000 years ago. 'He that loveth silver shall not be satisfied with silver; nor he that loveth abundance with increase' (Eccl. 5:10).
"The revered Abraham Lincoln accurately described our plight. 'We have been the recipients of the choicest bounties of heaven; we have been preserved these many years in peace and prosperity. We have grown in numbers, wealth, and power as no other nation has ever grown; but we have forgotten God. We have forgotten the gracious hand which preserved us in peace and multiplied and enriched and strengthened us. We have vainly imagined, in the deceitfulness of our hearts that all these blessings were produced by some superior wisdom and virtue of our own. Intoxicated with unbroken succession, we have become too self-sufficient to feel the necessity of preserving and redeeming grace, too proud to pray to God that made us.'
"Can we extricate ourselves from this frightful condition? Is there a way out? If so, what is the way? We can solve this perplexing dilemma by adopting the counsel given by Jesus to the inquiring lawyer who asked, 'Master, which is the great commandment in the law? Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.' (Matt. 22:36-39)
"First, then I would suggest that each American love the Lord, our God, and with our families serve Him in righteousness."
- Thomas S. Monson, "America Needs You," Conference Report, October 1964, pp. 140-142
Click here to read the full talk

A young Elder Monson (age 37) shared these thoughts the year after his call to the Quorum of Twelve. While he expressed gratitude for the privilege he felt as a resident of the United States, he also recognized the troubles of the country at the time, in the aftermath of the assassination of President Kennedy, racial rioting and other tensions, increases in crime, and so on.

It's always interesting to compare the perspective of a past generation. President Monson was concerned in 1964 about confused priorities: desire for physical wealth and prominence instead of things of more lasting value. In neglecting the things that matter most, he worried: "We have developed frightening physical power and fallen into pathetic spiritual weakness." So how do we fare, 54 years later? In general, we can only believe that conditions are at least as bad today!

And President Monson shifts the focus back even earlier, a full century before his time, when Abraham Lincoln described similar issues and concerns:

The antidote suggested by President Monson is that we remember the two great commandments: love God with all our hearts, souls, and minds; and love our neighbors as we love ourselves. As we learn to turn our hearts upward to God and outward to our neighbors, the proper perspective returns and the whole nation is blessed.

(Compilation and commentary by David Kenison, Orem, Utah, 2018)

Friday, July 6, 2018

Elder Neal A. Maxwell on the life process of trusting God

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.
"The object is for our wills to be finally 'swallowed up in the will of the Father' (Mosiah 15:7), eventually bringing to us the joys gladly given by the Father and constituting 'all that He hath' (Genesis 24:36). In a very real sense, therefore, what we can take now foretells what He can give later! This reality should be kept firmly in mind as we understandably pray for relief from short-term stress or long-term trauma. We would, if we could, put periods, if not exclamation points, where God is content to put commas in the process.
"Either way, the 'process of time' is needed to facilitate our incremental improvement (Moses 7:21). Therein, individual increments of personal improvement are often scarcely discernable by themselves, yet the cumulative process moves us ever closer to Home.
"Successfully traversed, the individual Sinais of stretching can facilitate our developing and better emulating Christlike attributes. Along with receiving His ordinances and keeping our covenants with Him, each of these attributes also certifies our eventual admissibility to the celestial kingdom.
"Hence, the stretching trek requires deep faith in God's existence, deep faith in God's purposes, and also deep faith in His timing. The latter is sometimes most difficult to develop, yet 'the cross comes before the crown.'"
- Neal A. Maxwell. The Promise of Discipleship [Deseret 2001], p. 36

Perhaps among the great purposes of this mortal experience is the need for us to learn to trust God completely and perfectly. The beautiful phrase used in Abinadi's description and witness, "the will of the Son being swallowed up in the will of the Father," helps us understand that process. Eventually, as we come to truly trust Him, we'll understand that it's not about what I want, but it's about what He wants for me.

We must learn to use "the process of time" to gradually draw nearer to that perfect understanding. Those small and steady "increments of personal improvement" are the essence of eternal progress. They are the steps in developing the "Christlike attributes" that prepare us to return to Him as we learn to have faith in His timing.

(Compilation and commentary by David Kenison, Orem, Utah, 2018)
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