Wednesday, February 28, 2018

President Harold B. Lee on continuing to learn throughout life

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 read recently from a column in the Washington Post, by George Moore.... In this article he said, 'I have spent the last twenty years of my life at Mount Vernon reducing my ignorance.' He claimed that a person never learns anything until he realizes how little he knows. In this article he makes this most illuminating observation about George Washington:
"'Washington never went to school. That's why he was an educated man, he never quit learning.'
"What George Moore said of himself I suppose could be said of many of you and of myself: 'I have spent more than three score years of my life reducing my ignorance.'
"Therein, it is my conviction, is the challenge to all who achieve distinction in any field. Some quit learning when they graduate from a school; some quit learning about the gospel when they have completed a mission for the Church; some quit learning when they become an executive or have a prominent position in or out of the Church.
"Remember, as George Moore said of Washington, 'We can become educated persons, regardless of our stations in life, if we never quit learning.'"
- Harold B. Lee, "The Iron Rod," General Conference, April 1971
Click here to read or listen to the full talk

The warning of Nephi comes to mind: "When they are learned they think they are wise..." (2 Ne 9:28). The wise understand that as they gain learning, they have so much left to learn, and that as President Lee points out, " a person never learns anything until he realizes how little he knows."

Our goal should be to never cease learning; to continue to "reduce our ignorance." For those of us "getting on in life" it would be good to evaluate periodically how we are responding to this charge! Are we truly growing in knowledge and wisdom? Are we reading, studying, stretching, seeking new settings and opportunities? What efforts are we making to ensure that happens in our lives?

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

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Elder Neal A. Maxwell on the powerful blessings of genuine hope

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.
"Genuine hope is urgently needed in order to be more loving even as the love of many waxes cold; more merciful, even when misunderstood or misrepresented; more holy, even as the world ripens in iniquity; more courteous and patient in a coarsening and curt world; and more full of heartfelt hope, even when other men's hearts fail them. Whatever our particular furrow, we are to 'plow in hope,' without looking back or letting yesterday hold tomorrow hostage (1 Cor. 9:10)....
"Genuine hope gives spiritual spunk, including to deserving parents drenched in honest sweat from being 'anxiously engaged.' Just as the leaning Tower of Pisa is a persistent rebuke to architectural pessimism, so parental hope—by refusing to topple merely because of the gravity of the current family situation—is a repudiation of despair. Giving parents never give up hope! ...
"Hope beckons all of us to come home where a glow reflects the Light of the World, whose 'brightness and glory defy all description' (JS-H 1:17). Jesus waits 'with open arms to receive' those who finally overcome by faith and hope (Morm. 6:17). His welcome will consist not of a brief, loving pat but, instead, of being 'clasped in the arms of Jesus'! (Morm. 5:11)."
- Neal A. Maxwell, "Brightness of Hope," General Conference October 1994
Click here to read or listen to the full talk

As usual, Elder Maxwell packs so much insight into his discourse! I love the concept of genuine hope, and the powerful impact it can have in our lives as it counteracts the despair the confusion of the world around us. It can make us more loving, more merciful, more holy, more courteous and patient. It gives "spiritual spunk" to parents who need the strength and courage to lovingly persist in spite of the pressures they face. And it offers these glorious promises:

The hope entailed in that glorious promise of a loving embrace is powerful and motivating. Knowing that we can be "clasped in the arms of Jesus" (Mormon 5:11) if we will only repent and turn to Him is the beckoning hope that Elder Maxwell invites us to embrace.

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

Monday, February 26, 2018

Elder Richard G. Scott on strength and fortification through faithful service

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.
"Father in Heaven has provided us tools that help to build the fortifications between our vulnerabilities and our faithfulness. Consider the following suggestions:
"Make covenants and receive ordinances for yourself. Then steadily and consistently work to provide ordinances in the temple for your own ancestors.
"Share the gospel with nonmember or less-active family members or friends. Sharing these truths can bring a renewed enthusiasm into your life.
"Serve faithfully in all Church callings, especially home teaching and visiting teaching assignments. Don’t be just a 15-minutes-a-month home or visiting teacher. Rather, reach out to each individual member of the family. Get to know them personally. Be a real friend. Through acts of kindness, show them how very much you care for each of them.
"Most important, serve the members of your own family. Make the spiritual development of your spouse and children a very high priority. Be attentive to the things you can do to help each one. Give freely of your time and attention.
"In each of these suggestions, there is a common theme: fill your life with service to others. As you lose your life in the service of Father in Heaven’s children, Satan’s temptations lose power in your life.
"Because your Father in Heaven loves you profoundly, the Atonement of Jesus Christ makes that strength possible. Isn’t it wonderful? Many of you have felt the burden of poor choices, and each of you can feel the elevating power of the Lord’s forgiveness, mercy, and strength."
- Richard G. Scott, "Personal Strength through the Atonement of Jesus Christ," General Conference October 2013
Click here to read or listen to the full article

It's an interesting concept, the idea of "fortifications between our vulnerabilities and our faithfulness." In areas where we feel strong and faithful, there may still be attacks—there almost certainly will be attacks! And so we build fortifications to safeguard ourselves. Elder Scott suggests the kind of fortifications that will make a difference: covenants and ordinances, sharing the gospel, serving in callings, serving family members. As we give to ourselves and to others in these ways, we are continually strengthened.

The true fortification, the greatest strength comes as a gift from God as we continue to serve and grow. The forgiveness and power offered to us through His Atonement will be the crucial blessing needed to survive in this world, and receive the fulness of the blessings He has promised to us.

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

Sunday, February 25, 2018

President Thomas S. Monson on the importance of family scripture study

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.
"A study of the scriptures will help our testimonies and the testimonies of our family members. Our children today are growing up surrounded by voices urging them to abandon that which is right and to pursue, instead, the pleasures of the world. Unless they have a firm foundation in the gospel of Jesus Christ, a testimony of the truth, and a determination to live righteously, they are susceptible to these influences. It is our responsibility to fortify and protect them.
"To an alarming extent, our children today are being educated by the media, including the Internet. In the United States, it is reported that the average child watches approximately four hours of television daily, much of the programming being filled with violence, alcohol and drug use, and sexual content. Watching movies and playing video games is in addition to the four hours. And the statistics are much the same for other developed countries. The messages portrayed on television, in movies, and in other media are very often in direct opposition to that which we want our children to embrace and hold dear. It is our responsibility not only to teach them to be sound in spirit and doctrine but also to help them stay that way, regardless of the outside forces they may encounter. This will require much time and effort on our part—and in order to help others, we ourselves need the spiritual and moral courage to withstand the evil we see on every side."
- Thomas S. Monson, "Three Goals to Guide You," General Conference, General Relief Society Meeting, October 2007
Click here to read or listen to the full talk

How do we best keep ourselves, and our families, strong in the midst of the challenges and confusing messages of our time? It's critical that our children, as well as ourselves, have a "firm foundation in the gospel of Jesus Christ" that leads to a strong testimony and the practices of righteous living:

A primary responsibility of parents is to "fortify and protect" their family, and the primary means of doing that is faithful and diligent scripture study. We can't let our children be "educated by the media" in these times. So we must start with being fortified and strong ourselves, and then passing on that strength to those who depend upon us. "This will require much time and effort on our part"—but what else could have a better claim on our time and effort than this?

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

Saturday, February 24, 2018

Elder Robert D. Hales on the importance of knowing God

Elder Robert D. Hales (August 24, 1932-October 1, 2017) served as a Seventy from 1976 to 1985, when he was called as a member of the Quorum of Twelve Apostles.
"As prophesied, we live in a time when the darkness of secularism is deepening around us. Belief in God is widely questioned and even attacked in the name of political, social, and even religious causes. Atheism, or the doctrine that there is no God, is fast spreading across the world.
"Even so, as members of the restored Church of Jesus Christ, we declare that 'we believe in God, the Eternal Father, and in His Son, Jesus Christ, and in the Holy Ghost.' (Articles of Faith 1:1)
"Some wonder, why is belief in God so important? Why did the Savior say, 'And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent'? (John 17:3; emphasis added.)
"Without God, life would end at the grave and our mortal experiences would have no purpose. Growth and progress would be temporary, accomplishment without value, challenges without meaning. There would be no ultimate right and wrong and no moral responsibility to care for one another as fellow children of God. Indeed, without God, there would be no mortal or eternal life."
- Robert D. Hales, "Seeking to Know God, Our Heavenly Father, and His Son, Jesus Christ," General Conference October 2009
Click here to read or listen to the full talk

Do you believe in God? Does it matter in today's world? Elder Hales warns that we live in a world that is increasingly dark and secular, where belief in God is widely questioned. So why does it matter? He testifies:

To understand why belief in God matters, Elder Hales suggests we consider the implications of not believing in Him, or of God not existing. We may live a life of blissful ignorance; but in reality, that life exists only because God exists, and the chance for true happiness depends on accepting and trusting Him.

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

Friday, February 23, 2018

President James E. Faust on working to achieve our potential

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.
"Be industrious. To be industrious involves energetically managing our circumstances to our advantage. It also means to be enterprising and to take advantage of opportunities. Industry requires resourcefulness. A good idea can be worth years of struggle.
"A friend who owned some fertile fields complained to his sister about his lack of means. 'What about your crops?' asked the sister. The impoverished man replied, 'There was so little snow in the mountains, I thought there would be a drought, so I did not plant.' As it turned out, unforeseen spring rains made the crops bountiful for those industrious enough to plant. It is a denial of the divinity within us to doubt our potential and our possibilities.
"The great poet Virgil said, 'They conquer who believe they can.' Alma testified, speaking of a just God, 'I know that he granteth unto men according to their desire.' (Alma 29:4.)
"To be industrious involves work. It involves creativity. It also involves rest. It includes both aspects of Sabbath day observance. On the one hand, we are to labor six days. On the other hand, we are to rest one day. This rest will leave us with more energy and resources to make the rest of the week more productive and fruitful."
- James E. Faust, "The Responsibility for Welfare Rests with Me and My Family," General Conference, April 1986
Click here to read or listen to the full talk

This conference address by President Faust reviewed some of the foundational principles of the welfare program, and described early thinking of what has now become the self-reliance services program of the Church. He gives details on five primary suggestions:
  • Practice thrift and frugality
  • Seek to be independent
  • Be industrious
  • Become self-reliant
  • Strive to have a year's supply of food and clothing

It's interesting to review these thoughts and see how they compare to our programs today, more than 30 years later.

The excerpt above comes from the third section of his recommendations, on being industrious. I appreciated the reminders of working hard and being creative, but also trusting in God in the process. I thought this was a profound statement:

The co-dependent values of work, creativity, and rest come together to make for greater productivity and achievement. Wise counsel for us all to reconsider!

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

Thursday, February 22, 2018

President Gordon B. Hinckley on being prayerful

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.
"Be prayerful. Don’t be ashamed to get on your knees, morning and night, and thank the Lord for His blessings. Pray for His inspiration and direction and help in all that you undertake to do in righteousness."
- Gordon B. Hinckley, Cape Town, South Africa, 20 Feb. 1998; see "Latter-day Counsel: Excerpts from Addresses of President Gordon B. Hinckley," Ensign, October 2000, p. 73
Click here to see the source of this quote

This reminder from President Hinckley is simple and straightforward, but very powerful:

I have always loved these words of Tennyson, that speak of the power of our petitions on behalf of one another:
 If thou shouldst never see my face again,
 Pray for my soul. More things are wrought by prayer
 Than this world dreams of. Wherefore, let thy voice
 Rise like a fountain for me night and day.
 For what are men better than sheep or goats
 That nourish a blind life within the brain,
 If, knowing God, they lift not hands of prayer
 Both for themselves and those who call them friend?
If we are sincere in our prayers, God will surely guide is with "inspiration and direction and help" in our righteous needs and desires.

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

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Elder Neil L. Andersen on the timing of miracles

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.
"Miracles are not always so immediate. At times we thoughtfully wonder why the miracle we have so earnestly prayed for does not happen here and now. But as we trust in the Savior, promised miracles will occur. Whether in this life or the next, all will be made right. The Savior declares: 'Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid' (John 14:27). 'In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world' (John 13:33).
"I testify that as you love Him, trust Him, believe Him, and follow Him, you will feel His love and approval. As you ask, 'What thinks Christ of me?' you will know that you are His disciple; you are His friend. By His grace He will do for you what you cannot do for yourself."
- Neil L. Andersen, "What Thinks Christ of Me?," General Conference April 2012
Click here to read or listen to the full talk

Sometimes we see miracles happen that seem truly astonishing; at times they seem the most natural and expected thing we could envision. But sometimes miracles don't occur when we expect them, when we think we have faith to have them happen. Elder Andersen assures us that the promised miracles will occur as we have faith:

The key, according to Elder Andersen, is to "love Him, trust Him, believe Him, and follow Him"—then we "will feel His love and approval" and be blessed by His grace. The sweet assurance of a faithful disciple, knowing of the Lord's love for him, is a blessing that cannot be matched.

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

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Elder D. Todd Christofferson on finding our lives in faithful discipleship

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.
"Finding our life by losing it for His sake and the gospel’s entails a willingness to make our discipleship open and public: 'Whosoever therefore shall be ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation; of him also shall the Son of man be ashamed, when he cometh in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.' (Mark 8:38.)
"Elsewhere in Matthew, we find a companion statement:
"'Whosoever therefore shall confess me before men, him will I confess also before my Father which is in heaven.
"'But whosoever shall deny me before men, him will I also deny before my Father which is in heaven.' (Matthew 10:34–38.)
"One obvious and rather sobering meaning of losing your life by confessing Christ is to lose it literally, physically, in sustaining and defending your belief in Him....
"The more common (and sometimes more difficult) application of the Savior’s teaching, however, has to do with how we live day by day. It concerns the words we speak, the example we set. Our lives should be a confession of Christ, and together with our words testify of our faith in and devotion to Him. And this testimony must be stoutly defended in the face of ridicule, discrimination, or defamation on the part of those who oppose Him 'in this adulterous and sinful generation.'"
D. Todd Christofferson, "Saving Your Life,"  CES Devotional, September 14, 2014
Click here to read or listen to the full talk

On occasion, people in this world have been given the choice to deny their faith and belief in God or to lose their life if they won't. Many have become martyrs for their Christian faith. Elder Christofferson discusses that interpretation; then goes a step further, to discuss how we can "lose our life" in the way we live it from day to day:

This is a high standard: "Our lives should be a confession of Christ, and together with our words testify of our faith in and devotion to Him." Our example and our testimony need to shine brightly, regardless of what is happening around us. In effect we are losing the worldliness and selfishness, and finding something far better. In that process we discover a richness and fulfillment of joy on the path of discipleship. Elder Christofferson goes on to explain that when we "lose one’s life in Christ and His gospel [we] thereby find authentic (and eventually eternal) life."

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

Monday, February 19, 2018

Elder Quentin L. Cook on thriving and blooming in a world in commotion

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.
"In the parable of the wheat and the tares, the Savior declared to His disciples that those who offend and do iniquity shall be gathered out of His kingdom. (See Matthew 13:41.) But speaking of the faithful, He said, 'Then shall the righteous shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father.' (Matthew 13:43.) As individuals, disciples of Christ, living in a hostile world that is literally in commotion, we can thrive and bloom if we are rooted in our love of the Savior and humbly follow His teachings.
"Our ability to stand firm and true and follow the Savior despite the vicissitudes of life is greatly strengthened by righteous families and Christ-centered unity in our wards and branches. (See Doctrine and Covenants 115:5–6.)"
- Quentin L. Cook, "The Lord is My Light," General Conference, April 2015
Click here to read or listen to the full talk

We live in a "hostile world" that effectively tries to destroy the light and beauty we believe is available to us through the life of discipleship. Elder Cook testifies that we don't have to succumb to the hostility; instead, we need to find the way to be properly "rooted" in the Savior and His teachings:

I appreciated the testimony that the best way to find solid rooting in the Savior and gospel is through our "righteous families and Christ-centered unity in our wards and branches." That makes it clear where we should devote our efforts and priorities! We might have expected the emphasis on home and family; but the importance of our connections with fellow Church members is also critical, since that is one of the key places were we both learn Gospel principles, and have a chance to implement and practice them.

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

Sunday, February 18, 2018

Elder David A. Bednar on living so that our actions match our beliefs

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 commandment 'Thou shalt not bear false witness' (Exodus 20:16) applies most pointedly to the hypocrite in each of us. We need to be and become more consistent. 'But be thou an example of the believers, in word, in conversation, in charity, in spirit, in faith, in purity' (1 Timothy 4:12).
"As we seek the Lord’s help and in His strength, we can gradually reduce the disparity between what we say and what we do, between expressing love and consistently showing it, and between bearing testimony and steadfastly living it. We can become more diligent and concerned at home as we are more faithful in learning, living, and loving the restored gospel of Jesus Christ."
- David A. Bednar, "More Diligent and Concerned at Home," General Conference, October 2009
Click here to read or listen to the full talk

This concept of hypocrisy and bearing false witness against oneself is an interesting one. Elder Bednar discusses a number of ways it applies in this talk, as we strive to live the gospel-directed life. It is sometimes a hard lesson to learn, to make our true inner lives correspond to the outer perception we are presenting:

So the key warning is to "reduce the disparity between what we say and what we do." As we mature in the gospel, we know what we should be doing; we understand the guidelines and recommendations for our personal worship, our private behavior, etc. But Elder Bednar's warning is that we all too often fall short of the ideal.

Brigham Young said it this way: "The sin that will cleave to all the posterity of Adam and Eve is, that they have not done as well as they knew how" (JD 2:129-130). Our challenge is to have our behavior measure up to our beliefs, completely and sincerely. Elder Bednar's recommendation is to focus on being "more diligent and concerned at home" to establish those patterns of faithful living in our lives.

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

Saturday, February 17, 2018

Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf on finding happiness in the gospel path

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.
"The gospel of Jesus Christ is not an obligation; it is a pathway, marked by our loving Father in Heaven, leading to happiness and peace in this life and glory and inexpressible fulfillment in the life to come. The gospel is a light that penetrates mortality and illuminates the way before us.
"While understanding the 'what' and the 'how' of the gospel is necessary, the eternal fire and majesty of the gospel springs from the 'why.' When we understand why our Heavenly Father has given us this pattern for living, when we remember why we committed to making it a foundational part of our lives, the gospel ceases to become a burden and, instead, becomes a joy and a delight. It becomes precious and sweet.
"Let us not walk the path of discipleship with our eyes on the ground, thinking only of the tasks and obligations before us. Let us not walk unaware of the beauty of the glorious earthly and spiritual landscapes that surround us.
"My dear sisters, seek out the majesty, the beauty, and the exhilarating joy of the 'why' of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
"The 'what' and 'how' of obedience mark the way and keep us on the right path. The 'why' of obedience sanctifies our actions, transforming the mundane into the majestic. It magnifies our small acts of obedience into holy acts of consecration."
- Dieter F. Uchtdorf, "Forget Me Not," General Conference, October 2011
Click here to read or listen to the full talk

Are we finding true happiness along the gospel pathway? Elder Uchtdorf testifies that we should, if we approach life in the right way. Though there is often darkness along the path, the gospel provides illumination to help us see the good and understand the purposes of our lives. But this is a critical point of allowing that to happen: it requires that we understand not just the things the gospel suggests we do, but the reasons for them:

As we understand this process, living the gospel life can indeed become "a joy and a delight" and "precious and sweet" to us.

Sometimes, however, we are so consumed in our challenges and frustrations that we see only the short-term difficulties, with our eyes symbolically fixed on the immediate path when there are glorious vistas all around. Elder Uchtdorf warns us of that danger, encouraging us to lift our eyes upward so that we can see the true beauty of life.

Elder Uchtdorf offered this beautiful concluding thought about the power of a proper gospel understanding to transform our lives:

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

Friday, February 16, 2018

Elder Jeffrey R. Holland on the importance of each unique individual

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.
"On those days when we feel a little out of tune, a little less than what we think we see or hear in others, I would ask us, especially the youth of the Church, to remember it is by divine design that not all the voices in God’s choir are the same. It takes variety—sopranos and altos, baritones and basses—to make rich music. To borrow a line quoted in the cheery correspondence of two remarkable Latter-day Saint women, 'All God’s critters got a place in the choir.' (Laurel Thatcher Ulrich and Emma Lou Thayne, All God’s Critters Got a Place in the Choir (1995)) When we disparage our uniqueness or try to conform to fictitious stereotypes—stereotypes driven by an insatiable consumer culture and idealized beyond any possible realization by social media—we lose the richness of tone and timbre that God intended when He created a world of diversity.
"Now, this is not to say that everyone in this divine chorus can simply start shouting his or her own personal oratorio! Diversity is not cacophony, and choirs do require discipline—for our purpose today... I would say discipleship—but once we have accepted divinely revealed lyrics and harmonious orchestration composed before the world was, then our Heavenly Father delights to have us sing in our own voice, not someone else’s. Believe in yourself, and believe in Him. Don’t demean your worth or denigrate your contribution. Above all, don’t abandon your role in the chorus. Why? Because you are unique; you are irreplaceable. The loss of even one voice diminishes every other singer in this great mortal choir of ours, including the loss of those who feel they are on the margins of society or the margins of the Church."
- Jeffrey R. Holland, "Songs Sung and Unsung," General Conference, April 2017
Click here to read or listen to the full article

It's so hard for us to not compare ourselves with others around us. Elder Holland warns about the tendency to evaluate ourselves and see "a little less than what we think we see or hear in others." Others always seem to be doing so much better, or accomplishing so much more! But in reality, all God asks of each of us is to do the best we can with the gifts and the circumstances we are given in our individual lives. And not only that—the power and beauty of the human race require the differences and distinctions between us! Diversity is a blessing, and we should never "disparage our uniqueness or try to conform to fictitious stereotypes" that we think are so important.

It's so important that we learn to "sing in our own voice, not someone else's." We can, and should, learn from the examples of others; we can notice qualities or gifts that we might aspire to and work to develop. But we should never forget that we, too, have unique personality traits and distinct gifts that can be used to help God's work and bless His children.

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

Thursday, February 15, 2018

President M. Russell Ballard on having the gospel deep in our hearts

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.
"I'm simply suggesting that we take the next logical step in our complete conversion to the gospel of Christ by assimilating its doctrines deep within our hearts and our souls so we will act and live consistently—and with integrity—what we profess to believe.
"This integrity simplifies our lives and amplifies our sensitivities to the Spirit and to the needs of others. It brings joy into our lives and peace to our souls—the kind of joy and peace that comes to us as we repent of our sins and follow the Savior by keeping His commandments.
"How do we make this change? How do we ingrain this love of Christ into our hearts? There is one simple daily practice that can make a difference for every member of the Church, including you boys and girls, you young men and you young women, you single adults, and you fathers and mothers.
"That simple practice is: In your morning prayer each new day, ask Heavenly Father to guide you to recognize an opportunity to serve one of His precious children. Then go throughout the day with your heart full of faith and love, looking for someone to help. Stay focused, just like the honeybees focus on the flowers from which to gather nectar and pollen. If you do this, your spiritual sensitivities will be enlarged and you will discover opportunities to serve that you never before realized were possible."
- M. Russell Ballard, "Be Anxiously Engaged," General Conference, October 2012
Click here to read or listen to the full talk

The first paragraph of this excerpt sets the tone for President Ballard's message. Our goal as disciples of Christ is "complete conversion," which we achieve by having the doctrines of the gospel of Christ assimilated "deep within our hearts and our souls" in order that we act consistently according to what we believe. President Ballard encourages us to "ingrain" a deep love of Christ into our souls and lives in order to discover the fullness of joy and peace promised by the gospel.

As we strive to live the Christlike life, President Ballard offers a suggestion for a "simple daily practice" that can make all the difference in our lives:

When we are actively seeking for inspiration on living the Christlike life, wanting to serve and bless those around us as He did, we will be blessed with guidance. We will find our "spiritual sensitivities" enhanced and increased so that we are better able to make a difference in the lives of others. What a marvelous reminder!

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

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

President Henry B. Eyring on the tests of our mortal 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.
"I wish to bear witness of God’s power of deliverance. At some point in our lives we will all need that power. Every person living is in the midst of a test. We have been granted by God the precious gift of life in a world created as a proving ground and a preparatory school. The tests we will face, their severity, their timing, and their duration will be unique for each of us. But two things will be the same for all of us. They are part of the design for mortal life.
"First, the tests at times will stretch us enough for us to feel the need for help beyond our own. And, second, God in His kindness and wisdom has made the power of deliverance available to us.
"Now you might well ask, 'Since Heavenly Father loves us, why does His plan of happiness include trials that could overwhelm us?' It is because His purpose is to offer us eternal life. He wants to give us a happiness that is only possible as we live as families forever in glory with Him. And trials are necessary for us to be shaped and made fit to receive that happiness that comes as we qualify for the greatest of all the gifts of God."
- Henry B. Eyring, "The Power of Deliverance," BYU devotional Jan. 15, 2008
Click here to read or listen to the full talk

Church leaders often acknowledge the challenges we face in life, and provide encouragement and suggestions in dealing with them. In this case, President Eyring points out that many of our challenges are actually tests, customized to each of our individual, personal needs and circumstances by a loving God who wants to prove and to prepare us. But the test would not accomplish those goals unless it stretched us beyond our "comfort zones." This is a key concept in our understanding of the mortal experience:

Our tests and trials, then, are designed to teach us that we can't survive without His help; and that He is always there to offer that help! As we learn to turn to God and depend upon His help and guidance, we will be blessed with greater insight, greater strength, and greater power to accomplish the things He has in store for us. He is eager to bless us with the greatest of all gifts as we learn to turn to Him!

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

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

President Dallin H. Oaks on how the gospel transforms our lives

President Dallin H. Oaks (born 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. He became President of the Quorum of Twelve Apostles and also 1st Counselor in the First Presidency in January 2018.
"The gospel of Jesus Christ challenges us to change. 'Repent' is its most frequent message, and repenting means giving up all of our practices—personal, family, ethnic, and national—that are contrary to the commandments of God. The purpose of the gospel is to transform common creatures into celestial citizens, and that requires change....
"The traditions or culture or way of life of a people inevitably include some practices that must be changed by those who wish to qualify for God’s choicest blessings....
"There is a unique gospel culture, a set of values and expectations and practices common to all members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. This gospel way of life comes from the plan of salvation, the commandments of God, and the teachings of the living prophets. It is given expression in the way we raise our families and live our individual lives. The principles stated in the family proclamation are a beautiful expression of our gospel culture."
- Dallin H. Oaks, "Repentance and Change," General Conference, October 2003
Click here to read or listen to the full talk

There is no growth without change, and in the spiritual sense, that means repentance. We grow as we learn to accept and follow the commandments of God. As we discover areas where our practices are contrary to the commandments, the call to us is to follow Him and allow Him to bless us:

I love that statement, "The purpose of the gospel is to transform common creatures into celestial citizens." Transformation is sometimes painful, but it is certainly worthwhile as we progress toward an idea.

President Oaks discusses the difference between cultural and doctrinal aspects of change in his message. Sometimes both are necessary; as we come to understand the benefits of the "gospel culture" that is taught to us, we will be eager to adopt it and will be blessed as we do.

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

Monday, February 12, 2018

President Russell M. Nelson on the Savior as our personal Prince of Peace

President Russell M. Nelson (born 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 became president of that quorum on July 15, 2015. Following the death of President Monson, he was set apart as president of the Church on January 14, 2018.
"Focusing on the Lord and everlasting life can help us... through all the challenges of mortality. Imperfect people share planet earth with other imperfect people. Ours is a fallen world marred by excessive debt, wars, natural disasters, disease, and death.
"Personal challenges come. A father may have lost his job. A young mother may have learned of a grave illness. A son or a daughter may have gone astray. Whatever may cause the worry, each of us yearns to find inner peace.
"My message tonight pertains to the only source of true and lasting peace, Jesus the Christ—our Prince of Peace. (See Isaiah 9:6; 2 Nephi 19:6.) ...
"Peace can come to all who choose to walk in the ways of the Master. His invitation is expressed in three loving words: 'Come, follow me.' (Luke 18:22)"
- Russell M. Nelson, "Jesus the Christ—Our Prince of Peace," Christmas Devotional December 2013
Click here to read or listen to the full talk

It's good to remember that we live in "a fallen world marred by excessive debt, wars, natural disasters, disease, and death." The nature of our mortal experience requires an environment in which those kinds of things can exist, and even flourish. As men and women choose to use their agency in negative ways, we all face a multitude of challenges. President Nelson offers counsel on finding personal peace in a world that is very troubled:

While our personal efforts in finding, and maintaining, peace in our lives are critical, President Nelson reminds us there is only one source of "true and lasting peace"—and that is in and through the Prince of Peace. As we follow Him and walk in His ways, we will know of that truth.
These things I have spoken unto you, that in me ye might have peace. In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world. (John 16:33)
(Compilation and commentary by David Kenison, Orem, Utah, 2018)
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