Saturday, January 31, 2015

Jeffrey R. Holland on latter-day discipleship

Elder Jeffrey R. Holland (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.
[After describing an incident in which fans at a basketball game subjected a player on the opposing team to "vitriolic abuse", Elder Holland commented:]
"The day after the game, when there was some public reckoning and a call to repentance over the incident, one young man said, in effect: 'Listen. We are talking about basketball here, not Sunday School. If you can't stand the heat, get out of the kitchen. We pay good money to see these games. We can act the way we want. We check our religion at the door.'
"'We check our religion at the door'? Lesson number one for the establishment of Zion in the 21st century: You never check your religion at the door.
"That kind of discipleship cannot be—it is not discipleship at all. As the prophet Alma taught, we are 'to stand as witnesses of God at all times and in all things, and in all places that [we] may be in' (Mosiah 18:9)—not just some of the time, in a few places, or when our team has a big lead.
"Whatever the situation or provocation or problem, no true disciple of Christ can check his or her religion at the door."
- Jeffrey R. Holland, "Israel, Israel, God Is Calling," CES devotional delivered at Dixie State University in St. George, Utah, on September 9, 2012.  See also Ensign, June 2014, pp. 30-37; click here to read the full talk
This is a grand message, and it applies to much more than public athletic competitions and other similar gatherings. Saints and disciples don't "put on" and "put off" their appropriate behavior. It's not a set of clothes; it's part of the very nature of who they are. It's the heart; it's the devotion and commitment that directs every word, every step.

I can hear Elder Holland's voice speaking these words, in "righteous indignation." He is, in my mind, a prime example of a true disciple.

Friday, January 30, 2015

Neil L. Andersen on the Savior's invitation to come and follow

Elder Andersen (1951- ) served as a Seventy beginning in 1993, and was called to the Quorum of Twelve Apostles in 2009 (the most recent member called).
"Jesus's call 'Come, follow me' (Luke 18:22) is not only for those prepared to compete in a spiritual Olympics. In fact, discipleship is not a competition at all but an invitation to all. Our journey of discipleship is not a dash around the track, nor is it fully comparable to a lengthy marathon. In truth, it is a lifelong migration toward a more celestial world.
"His invitation is a call to daily duty. Jesus said: 'If ye love me, keep my commandments' (John 14:15). 'If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me' (Luke 9:23). We may not be at our very best every day, but if we are trying, Jesus's bidding is full of encouragement and hope: 'Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest' (Matthew 11:28).
"Wherever you now find yourself on the road of discipleship, you are on the right road, the road toward eternal life. Together we can lift and strengthen one another in the great and important days ahead. Whatever the difficulties confronting us, the weaknesses confining us, or the impossibilities surrounding us, let us have faith in the Son of God, who declared, 'All things are possible to him that believeth' (Mark 9:23)."
- Neil L. Andersen, "What Thinks Christ of Me?", Ensign, May 2012, p. 111
Click here to read the full talk
The call to discipleship is a call to transformation—a gradual and steady transformation that makes us become more and more like Him. "We may not be at our very best every day, but if we are trying, Jesus's bidding is full of encouragement and hope." As long as we are on that road and sincerely attempting to move forward, we will have His approval, and even more, His support and assistance in the process.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Quentin L. Cook on facing the challenges of life

Elder Cook (1940- ) was called as a Seventy in 1996, then as a member of the Quorum of Twelve Apostles in 2007.
"Among the most frequently asked questions of Church leaders are, Why does a just God allow bad things to happen, especially to good people? Why are those who are righteous and in the Lord’s service not immune from such tragedies?
"While we do not know all the answers, we do know important principles that allow us to face tragedies with faith and confidence that there is a bright future planned for each of us. Some of the most important principles are:
"First, we have a Father in Heaven, who knows and loves us personally and understands our suffering perfectly.
"Second, His Son, Jesus Christ, is our Savior and Redeemer, whose Atonement not only provides for salvation and exaltation but also will compensate for all the unfairness of life.
"Third, the Father's plan of happiness for His children includes not only a premortal and mortal life but also an eternal life as well, including a great and glorious reunion with those we have lost. All wrongs will be righted, and we will see with perfect clarity and faultless perspective and understanding."
- Quentin L. Cook, "The Songs They Could Not Sing," Ensign, November 2011, p. 106; click here to read the full talk
There are many unpleasant things that happen in the world. There are unpleasant things that happen in our individual lives from time to time. And some of them just seem unfair, unjust, undeserved. As Elder Cook implies, there is often no explanation to justify these events; but an understanding of doctrines and principles helps us cope. With that understanding, the hope of eternity glows brightly in the hearts of true disciples.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Ezra Taft Benson on the blessings of the Holy Ghost

President 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.
"We hear the words of the Lord most often by a feeling. If we are humble and sensitive, the Lord will prompt us through our feelings. That is why spiritual promptings move us on occasion to great joy, sometimes to tears. Many times my emotions have been made tender and my feelings very sensitive when touched by the Spirit.
"The Holy Ghost causes our feelings to be more tender. We feel more charitable and compassionate with each other. We are more calm in our relationships. We have a greater capacity to love each other. People want to be around us because our very countenances radiate the influence of the Spirit. We are more godly in our character. As a result, we become increasingly more sensitive to the promptings of the Holy Ghost and thus able to comprehend spiritual things more clearly."
- Ezra Taft Benson, "Seek the Spirit of the Lord," Ensign, Apr. 1988, p. 4
Click here to read the full talk
This is a tender witness about the blessings that come to faithful disciples. Joy and tears are often linked in spiritual matters, as the Lord touches our feelings and emotions. And President Benson helps us understand why; it's because of how the Holy Ghost works in our lives, and influences our receptiveness and personality.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Joseph B. Wirthlin on the power of pondering

Elder Wirthlin (1917-2008) served as a Seventy from 1976 to 1986, then as a member of the Quorum of Twelve Apostles from 1986 until his passing in 2008 at age 91.
"Pondering, which means to weigh mentally, to deliberate, to meditate, can achieve the opening of the spiritual eyes of one's understanding. Also, the Spirit of the Lord may rest upon the ponderer....
"We are constantly reminded through the scriptures that we should give the things of God much more than usual superficial consideration. We must ponder them and reach into the very essence of what we are and what we may become....
"To soundly plant good seeds in your heart requires prolonged, intense, unremitting pondering. It is a deep, ongoing, regenerating process which refines the soul....
"In our quest for pure hearts, may we ponder on righteous acts and thoughts, and may we be faithful and diligent.
"I bear earnest and sincere testimony to the mighty transforming power of these noble ideals."
- Joseph B. Wirthlin, "Pondering Strengthens the Spiritual Life," Ensign, May 1982, p. 23; click here to read the full talk
Elder Wirthlin's messages were often thought-provoking and memorable; it's clear that he practiced the principles he preached in this sermon. For us, in our busy lives, it's easy to forget this principle. We often feel accomplished if we manage to "check the box" of our daily scripture reading; and if we're not careful, without real pondering, our reading becomes rote and superficial. The power and the blessing truly come in the pondering. And I love the adjectives Elder Wirthlin chooses to describe how we should ponder:

When I ask myself if my pondering of the scriptures or other important spiritual teachings is truly "prolonged, intense, [and] unremitting," I believe I need to try harder. But the beauty comes in the promises of regeneration, refining of the soul, the opening of spiritual eyes, increased presence of the Spirit, and "mighty transforming power." Is it worth the effort??

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Richard L. Evans on wise choices in work and leisure

Elder Evans (1906-1971) served as a Seventy from 1938-1953, when he was called to the Quorum of Twelve Apostles.  He died in 1971 at age 65.  He was known as "the voice of the Tabernacle Choir" from the beginning of its broadcasts in 1929 until his passing.
"There is both underdoing and overdoing in work.  Working too hard at work and working too hard at leisure, at playing--both could well become excessive.  There is also excessive haste, working swiftly and shoddily to get the work finished, regardless of quality, regardless of how well or how poorly....  Too much impatience in getting things done, and not enough enjoyment in doing may also be lack of moderation.
"Another extreme is that men sometimes become too specialized, too narrow, too busy for a balanced life; too busy to spend time with family and friends, with well-rounded sides of life.  Any person who becomes too busy to spend time with family, with home, with things of beauty, with things of the Spirit, with service beyond himself--too busy for time with his son, his daughter, too busy to keep close acquaintances with his loved ones, has pursued whatever he pursues to excess.
"'Honorable industry,' said Samuel Smiles, 'always travels the same road with enjoyment and duty.'
"'Enjoyment and duty' are indispensable elements in the balanced living of life--the enjoyment of work, the enjoyment of home and loved ones, and duty to both, are part of the balance of life and of labor.  Said Dean Charles R. Brown: 'We have too many people who live without working, and we have altogether too many who work without living.'"
- Richard L. Evans, "Music and the Spoken Word," April 28, 1963
Elder Evans points out the importance of balance in our decisions on how we allocate our time. It's so easy to be lured into excessive commitment—to work, to leisure, to recreation. I love the reminder of some of the things that ought to have their appropriate place in our time, first family and friends, but also "things of beauty," "things of the Spirit," and "service beyond himself." But nothing must come between us and the "close acquaintances and loved ones." It's a great reminder; we should regularly evaluate our busy lives to make sure the priorities are correct, and the balance is appropriate.

David O. McKay on the blessings of the sacrament

President McKay (1873-1970) was called to the Quorum of Twelve Apostles in 1906.  He served as a counselor in the First Presidency to Heber J. Grant and George Albert Smith beginning in 1945, then then as the president of the Church from 1951 to his death in 1970 at age 96.
"I believe in meetings. I desire to say this morning that I feel impressed to emphasize what the Lord has designated as the most important meeting in the Church, and that is the sacrament meeting....
"We meet in the brotherhood of Christ, all on the same level, each expressing confidence in the other and all in one another. Oh, the strength of brotherhood! Sin divides us. Righteousness unites.
"The partaking of the sacrament indicates also how communion with Christ may be secured. It cannot be obtained by Sunday righteousness and weekday indulgence. It implies that we will remember Christ always. 'If we show the Lord's death at communion we must show the Lord's life in the world.'
"And [a final] great significance is the promise that it is a means of receiving divine guidance. If a friend is one who summons us to our best, then is not Jesus Christ our best friend and should we not think of the communion as one of the chief appeals to us to be our best? The Lord's Supper looks not back to our past with a critical eye, but to our future with a helpful one."
- David O. McKay, Conference Report, October 1929, pp. 11-13; see TDOM 262
President McKay, who was such a gentle, wise man, shares a wonderful vision of the importance of Sabbath-day meetings, and in particular of the sacred sacrament.

There is indeed a great power in feeling the "unity of the Saints" as we assemble with our brothers and sisters. What a blessing even that simple act of coming together can be, when viewed in the proper spirit, and when supported and reinforced during the week by lives of Christian service and unity.

But that's just the beginning.  The real power in the meeting is in the partaking of the sacrament, teaching us "how communion with Christ may be secured" by remembering Him and following His teachings throughout the week. I love the unattributed quotation President McKay uses: 'If we show the Lord's death at communion we must show the Lord's life in the world.'

And so we don't just review our past; we look ahead to the invitation of a blessed future with Divine assistance. What a wonderful vision for true Sabbath worship!

Saturday, January 24, 2015

D. Todd Christofferson on our gifts to the Savior

Elder Christofferson was born 70 years ago today (January 24, 1945). He was called to the Seventy in 1993, and as a member of the Quorum of Twelve Apostles in 2008.
"In ancient times when people wanted to worship the Lord and seek His blessings, they often brought a gift. For example, when they went to the temple, they brought a sacrifice to place on the altar. After His Atonement and Resurrection, the Savior said He would no longer accept burnt offerings of animals. The gift or sacrifice He will accept now is 'a broken heart and a contrite spirit' (3 Ne. 9:20). As you seek the blessing of conversion, you can offer the Lord the gift of your broken, or repentant, heart and your contrite, or obedient, spirit. In reality, it is the gift of yourself--what you are and what you are becoming.
"Is there something in you or in your life that is impure or unworthy? When you get rid of it, that is a gift to the Savior. Is there a good habit or quality that is lacking in your life? When you adopt it and make it part of your character, you are giving a gift to the Lord. Sometimes this is hard to do, but would your gifts of repentance and obedience be worthy gifts if they cost you nothing? Don't be afraid of the effort required. And remember, you don't have to do it alone. Jesus Christ will help you make of yourself a worthy gift. His grace will make you clean, even holy. Eventually, you will become like Him, 'perfect in Christ' (see Moro. 10:32-33)."
- D. Todd Christofferson, "When Thou Art Converted," Ensign, May 2004, pp. 11-13
Click here to read the full talk
I've always loved the concept of replacing animal sacrifice with the personal offering of "a broken heart and a contrite spirit." It seems like such a beautiful expression of moving to a higher law. Elder Christofferson's interpretation is simple and clear:
broken = repentant
contrite = obedient

We repent in order to "get right" with the Lord; we obey in order to "stay right." That's what he asks us to symbolically lay upon the altar. We sacrifice our sins and our unworthy desires, replacing them with discipleship and faithfulness.

The important thing is to truly make the offering—not just once, but continually. Elder Christofferson urges us to find the unworthy thing that should be eliminated, or the worthy thing that is lacking. Each of us must find, with His help, the personal gift to offer, and then make the change in our life that will constitute the offering our our gift to Him!

Friday, January 23, 2015

James E. Faust on the trials and blessings of life

President 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 until his death in 2007 at age 87.
"In the pain, the agony, and the heroic endeavors of life, we pass through a refiner's fire, and the insignificant and the unimportant in our lives can melt away like dross and make our faith bright, intact, and strong. In this way the divine image can be mirrored from the soul. It is part of the purging toll exacted of some to become acquainted with God. In the agonies of life, we seem to listen better to the faint, godly whisperings of the Divine Shepherd.
"Into every life there come the painful, despairing days of adversity and buffeting. There seems to be a full measure of anguish, sorrow, and often heartbreak for everyone, including those who earnestly seek to do right and be faithful. The thorns that prick, that stick in the flesh, that hurt, often change lives which seem robbed of significance and hope. This change comes about through a refining process which often seems cruel and hard. In this way the soul can become like soft clay in the hands of the Master in building lives of faith, usefulness, beauty, and strength. For some, the refiner's fire causes a loss of belief and faith in God, but those with eternal perspective understand that such refining is part of the perfection process.
"In our extremities, it is possible to become born again, born anew, renewed in heart and spirit. We no longer ride with the flow of the crowd, but instead we enjoy the promise of Isaiah to be renewed in our strength and 'mount up with wings as eagles' (Isa. 40:31)."
- James E. Faust, "The Refiner's Fire," Ensign, May 1979, pp. 53-59; click here to read the full talk
This is a profoundly beautiful, hopeful message. Each of us feels the challenges of mortality from time to time—the "agonies of life."  But knowing those things truly can "work together for our good" is perhaps the grand key to mortality.

Note the conditional "can"—not "will." In the depth of life's trials, the wise disciple will allow that refining purging to take place. The things that are "insignificant and unimportant" are brought into sharp relief against the things of eternity. God knows what he is doing.

How crucial it is, in these times of divinely-directed growth, to remember to "Trust in the Lord with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding.  In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths." (Proverbs 3:5-6)

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Harold B. Lee on success in life through service

President 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.
"That man who is ambitious for personal gain and personal advantage is never a happy man, for before him always are the receding horizons of life that will ever mock his attempts at acquisition and conquest. That man who serves unselfishly is the man who is the happy man.
"In the military service there were awarded ofttimes for outstanding accomplishment, national decorations and certificates of merit, and always with the citation were these suggestive words: 'For meritorious service beyond the call of duty.'
"Therein lies the way by which we, too, can reach the highest goals and win the merited plaudits of our Heavenly Father. That which we do beyond the call of duty, beyond that for which we are compensated by material wealth is that which gives us the greatest joy in life."
- Harold B. Lee, "On Earning Salvation," Conference Report, Apr. 1947, pp. 45-51.  Click here to read the full address
President Lee's thought illustrates the great dichotomy between the world's approach to life, and the Christian disciple's approach. It can be summarized as "man's search for happiness." In the worldly view, it's all about "personal gain and personal advantage." But the Gospel view is all about unselfish service. The Savior's injunction, "But he that is greatest among you shall be your servant" (Matthew 23:11) may seem contradictory to some; but it's the essence of the Savior's message, and the true key to happiness. A true Christian is one who is consistently giving "meritorious service beyond the call of duty." What a wonderful standard to aspire to.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Marvin J. Ashton on personal progress in life

Elder Ashton (1915-1994) served as a member of the Quorum of Twelve Apostles from 1971 until his death in 1994 at age 78.
"There is a natural, probably a mortal, tendency to compare ourselves with others. Unfortunately, when we make these comparisons, we tend to compare our weakest attributes with someone else's strongest. For example, a woman who feels unschooled in the gospel may take particular note of a woman in her ward who teaches the Gospel Doctrine class and seems to have every scripture at her fingertips. Obviously these kinds of comparisons are destructive and only reinforce the fear that somehow we don't measure up and therefore we must not be as worthy as the next person.
"We need to come to terms with our desire to reach perfection and our frustration when our accomplishments or behaviors are less than perfect. I feel that one of the great myths we would do well to dispel is that we've come to earth to perfect ourselves, and nothing short of that will do. If I understand the teachings of the prophets of this dispensation correctly, we will not become perfect in this life, though we can make significant strides toward that goal....
"I am also convinced of the fact that the speed with which we head along the straight and narrow path isn't as important as the direction in which we are traveling. That direction, if it is leading toward eternal goals, is the all-important factor."
- Marvin J. Ashton, "On Being Worthy," Ensign, May 1989, pp. 20-22
Click here to read the full talk
Elder Ashton was a personal favorite from my youth; I loved to hear him speak and teach. He often had insights that spoke directly to me, as this example does. Our personal quest for perfection will do much better as we keep it in a proper eternal perspective.

There's a potential trap here. We might rationalize that we can coast a bit; there is no rush to progress, as long as we're facing the right direction, since progress extends into eternity. Slow progress is just fine. And while that's part of Elder Ashton's message, the real essence is that each of us should be doing the best that we can at the pace that makes sense for us. We don't compare ourselves with others to see how we're doing. But we strive always to do the best that we can. The message of the parable of the talents is very applicable; we must strive to magnify and develop the gifts given to us! (See Matthew 25:14-30)

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Dieter F. Uchtdorf on choices and priorities in living the gospel

President Uchtdorf (1940- ) served as a Seventy from 1994-2004, when he was called as a member of the Quorum of Twelve.  He has served as second counselor in the First Presidency since 2008.
"Our Heavenly Father sees our real potential. He knows things about us that we do not know ourselves. He prompts us during our lifetime to fulfill the measure of our creation, to live a good life, and to return to His presence.
"Why, then, do we devote so much of our time and energy to things that are so fleeting, so inconsequential, and so superficial? Do we refuse to see the folly in the pursuit of the trivial and transient?
"Would it not be wiser for us to 'lay up for [ourselves] treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal'? (Matthew 6:20)
"How do we do this? By following the example of the Savior, by incorporating His teachings in our daily lives, by truly loving God and our fellowman.
"We certainly cannot do this with a dragging-our-feet, staring-at-our-watch, complaining-as-we-go approach to discipleship.
"When it comes to living the gospel, we should not be like the boy who dipped his toe in the water and then claimed he went swimming. As sons and daughters of our Heavenly Father, we are capable of so much more. For that, good intentions are not enough. We must do. Even more important, we must become what Heavenly Father wants us to be."
- Dieter F. Uchtdorf, "Of Regrets and Resolutions," Ensign, November 2012, pp. 21-24. Click here to read the full talk
One of the recurring reminders from our leaders is the need for real, devoted, whole-hearted discipleship. We don't find happiness, either temporarily or eternally, by casually living the Gospel. President Uchtdorf provides some great imagery to try to help us really comprehend that opportunity and challenge. "We are capable of so much more"—all of us. Note that he doesn't provide a list of specific areas of focus. We each need to learn, then do, and become.

Monday, January 19, 2015

David A. Bednar on being quick to observe

Elder Bednar (1952- ) was sustained as a member of the Quorum of Twelve Apostles in 2004. The following year, he spoke at a BYU devotional and shared thoughts about the spiritual gifts of observation and discernment:
"I hope you also are learning about and becoming quick to observe. Your future success and happiness will in large measure be determined by this spiritual capacity.
"Please consider the significance of this important spiritual gift. As used in the scriptures, the word observe has two primary uses. One use denotes 'to look' or 'to see' or 'to notice'—as we learn in Isaiah 42:20: 'Seeing many things, but thou observest not; opening the ears, but he heareth not' (emphasis added).
"The second use of the word observe suggests 'to obey' or 'to keep'—as is evident in the Doctrine and Covenants: 'But blessed are they who have kept the covenant and observed the commandment, for they shall obtain mercy' (D&C 54:6; emphasis added).
"Thus when we are quick to observe, we promptly look or notice and obey. Both of these fundamental elements—looking and obeying—are essential to being quick to observe....
"Quick to observe. Prompt to watch and to obey. A simple gift that blesses us individually and in our families and extends blessings to so many other people. Each of us can and should strive to be worthy of this significant spiritual gift—even the capacity of being quick to observe."
- David A. Bednar, "Quick to Observe," BYU devotional, May 10, 2005
Click here to read the full talk
Elder Bednar often gives wonderfully thoughtful and thought-provoking addresses. This was a good example. He teaches some great principles, and then gives some beautiful and touching examples that illustrate those concepts—how to observe faithful examples from those around us in order to learn and emulate, and a key to observing needs where we might make a difference for someone.

Elder Bednar then continues to note that "being quick to observe is an antecedent to and is linked with the spiritual gift of discernment. And for you and for me, discernment is a light of protection and direction in a world that grows increasingly dark."  He goes on to discuss this second spiritual gift in further detail. See the link at the end of the quote above to read the full talk; it's worth a few minutes to study and ponder!

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Henry B. Eyring on continuing education

President Eyring (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. These remarks were shared during a CES fireside address in 2001.
"No service that matters can be given over a lifetime by those who stop learning. A great teacher is always studying. A nurse never stops facing the challenge of dealing with something new, be it equipment or procedure. And the workplace in every industry is changing so rapidly that what we know today will not be enough for tomorrow.
"Our education must never stop. If it ends at the door of the classroom on graduation day, we will fail. And since what we will need to know is hard to discern, we need the help of heaven to know which of the myriad things we could study we would most wisely learn. It also means that we cannot waste time entertaining ourselves when we have the chance to read or to listen to whatever will help us learn what is true and useful. Insatiable curiosity will be our hallmark.
"For many of us, the feeling bears down on us that we must choose between spiritual and secular learning. That is a false conflict for most of us, particularly for the young. Before we have families, there is leisure time even in what is our busiest day. Too often we use many hours for fun and pleasure, clothed in the euphemism 'I'm recharging my batteries.' Those hours could be spent reading and studying to gain knowledge, skills, and culture."
- Henry B. Eyring, "Education for Real Life," CES fireside in Moscow, Idaho, on 6 May 2001; see Ensign, Oct 2002, p. 14.  Click here to read the full article
The ancient apostle Paul worried about those in the last days who would be "Ever learning, and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth" (2 Timothy 3:7).  President Eyring worries first that we don't even get that far—that instead, we stop learning altogether. So the first challenge is to be ongoing students, to be committed to learning, to be cautious and wise in how we use our free time in the midst of so many opportunities.

In modern revelation, the Lord has continued to issued this challenge: " and learn, and become acquainted with all good books, and with languages, tongues, and people" (D&C 90:15).  Clearly He intends for that to be an ongoing, continual process.

In addition, President Eyring assures us that we need not be overly concerned about the perceived choices of "spiritual" and "secular" learning, since both can lead to good ends. I love pondering D&C 88:77-80 where we are encouraged to study and teach not only the "doctrines of the kingdom," but also a list of topics that seems to include such diverse fields as astronomy, geology, history, current events, social issues, international relations, geography—quite a diverse list! But we should choose wisely where we devote our energies. The key, the second challenge from President Eyring, and the solution to Paul's concern, lies in invoking "the help of heaven" to guide us in what we should study.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Robert D. Hales on becoming better Christians

Elder Hales (1932- ) served as a Seventy from 1976 to 1985, when he was called as a member of the Quorum of Twelve Apostles.  In this wonderful address, he discusses what it means to be a Christian — a disciple of Jesus Christ.  And he encourages us to be "more Christian Christians" by striving to emulate Christlike qualities.
"I testify that through His infinite love and grace, we can become more Christian Christians. Consider the following Christlike qualities. How are we doing in strengthening them within ourselves?
"Christian love. The Savior valued everyone. Kind and compassionate to all, He left the ninety and nine to find the one (see Matthew 18:12–14), for 'even the very hairs of [our] head are... numbered' (Luke 12:7) to Him.
"Christian faith. Despite temptations, trials, and persecutions, the Savior trusted our Heavenly Father and chose to be faithful and obedient to His commandments.
"Christian sacrifice. Throughout His life the Savior gave of His time, His energy, and ultimately, through the Atonement, gave Himself so that all of God's children could be resurrected and have the opportunity to inherit eternal life.
"Christian caring. Like the good Samaritan, the Savior was continually reaching out to rescue, love, and nurture people around Him, regardless of their culture, creed, or circumstances.
"Christian service. Whether drawing water from a well, cooking a meal of fish, or washing dusty feet, the Savior spent His days serving others--lifting up the weary and strengthening the weak.
"Christian patience. In His own sorrow and suffering, the Savior waited upon His Father. With patience for us, He waits upon us to come to ourselves and come home to Him.
"Christian peace. Throughout His ministry He urged understanding and promoted peace. Especially among His disciples, He taught that Christians cannot contend with other Christians, notwithstanding their differences.
"Christian forgiveness. He taught us to bless those who curse us. He showed us the way by praying that those who crucified Him would be forgiven.
"Christian conversion. Like Peter and Andrew, many recognize the truth of the gospel as soon as they hear it. They are instantly converted. For others it may take longer. In a revelation given through Joseph Smith, the Savior taught, 'That which is of God is light; and he that receiveth light, and continueth in God, receiveth more light; and that light groweth brighter and brighter until the perfect day' (D&C 50:24), the perfect day of our conversion. Jesus Christ is 'the light and the Redeemer of the world; the Spirit of truth' (D&C 93:9).
"Christian endurance to the end. In all His days, the Savior never gave up doing His Father's will but continued in righteousness, goodness, mercy, and truth to the end of His mortal life."
- Robert D. Hales, "Being a More Christian Christian," Ensign, November 2012, pp. 90-92.  Click here to read the full talk
"How are we doing in strengthening [these qualities] within ourselves?"

I love this "checklist"! It's beneficial to consider each item and see where I can focus more effort. If we are becoming more Christian Christians, we'll see the evidence in our attitudes, in our priorities, in our relationships, in our thoughts, and especially in our actions and deeds.

Friday, January 16, 2015

M. Russell Ballard on the importance of personal study

Elder Ballard (1928- ) was called as a Seventy in 1976, and has served as a member of the Quorum of Twelve Apostles since 1985.
"Education--particularly spiritual education--is constantly stressed by the Lord. We cannot be saved in ignorance (see D&C 131:6), but the Lord can only reveal light and truth to us as we are prepared to receive it. And so it is incumbent upon each of us to do everything we can to increase our spiritual knowledge and understanding by studying the scriptures and the words of the living prophets. When we read and study the revelations, the Spirit can confirm in our hearts the truth of what we are learning; in this way, the voice of the Lord speaks to each one of us (see D&C 18:34, 36). As we ponder the teachings of the gospel and apply them in daily living, we become better prepared to receive additional light and truth....
"As promised in the scriptures: 'Ye have not as yet understood how great blessings the Father hath... prepared for you.... Ye cannot bear all things now; nevertheless, be of good cheer, for I will lead you along. The kingdom is yours and the blessings thereof are yours, and the riches of eternity are yours.' (D&C 78:17–18) ...
"My brothers and sisters, we need to embrace, study, and appreciate the revealed truths that are ours."
- M. Russell Ballard, "Marvelous are the Revelations of the Lord," Ensign, May 1998, pp. 31-33;  Click here to read the full talk
It's so easy to get distracted and neglect our "spiritual education."  Reminders such as this one are important and valuable to us. Studying puts us in the situation where "the voice of the Lord speaks to each one of us." Why would we not crave that, and do anything to obtain it?  We have greater tools than ever, better resources, more accessible information.

Elder Ballard quotes the Lord's challenge to us— "Ye have not as yet understood how great blessings the Father hath... prepared for you." If we did understand, perhaps we wouldn't need so many reminders!

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Dallin H. Oaks on following the Savior

Elder Oaks (1932- ) was sustained to the Quorum of Twelve Apostles in 1984.
"Throughout His ministry Jesus gave commandments. And He taught, 'If ye love me, keep my commandments' (John 14:15; see also verses 21, 23)....
"Latter-day Saints understand that we should not be 'of the world' or bound to 'the tradition of men,' but like other followers of Christ, we sometimes find it difficult to separate ourselves from the world and its traditions....
"Jesus's teachings were not meant to be theoretical. Always they were to be acted upon. Jesus taught, 'Whosoever heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them, I will liken him unto a wise man' (Matthew 7:24; see also Luke 11:28) and 'Blessed is that servant, whom his lord when he cometh shall find so doing' (Matthew 24:46). In another beloved hymn we sing:
Savior, may I learn to love thee,
Walk the path that thou hast shown....
Savior, may I learn to love thee--
Lord, I would follow thee. (Hymns, no. 220)
"As Jesus taught, those who love Him will keep His commandments. They will be obedient.... Following Christ is not a casual or occasional practice but a continuous commitment and way of life that applies at all times and in all places."
- Dallin H. Oaks, "Followers of Christ," Ensign, May 2013, pp. 96-99
Click here to read the full talk
It's one thing to talk about loving God or the Savior; it's quite another to actually do it. His teachings are not just theoretical. They are truly a guide to be acted upon. We learn to love him as we follow, as we obey, as we grow in love. It takes effort. It requires us to learn, and then to act. It requires consistency and an ongoing commitment. It is truly life-changing!

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

L. Tom Perry on our divine gifts and potential

Elder Perry (1922- ) has served as a member of the Quorum of Twelve Apostles since 1974.
"In the eighth Psalm of David, he gave us a vision of who we are and the eternal opportunities which are ours. He said:
"'O Lord our Lord, how excellent is thy name in all the earth! who hast set thy glory above the heavens....
"'When I consider thy heavens, the work of thy fingers, the moon and the stars, which thou hast ordained;
"'What is man, that thou art mindful of him? and the son of man, that thou visitest him?
"'For thou hast made him a little lower than the angels, and hast crowned him with glory and honour.
"'Thou madest him to have dominion over the works of thy hands; thou hast put all things under his feet:...
"'O Lord our Lord, how excellent is thy name in all the earth!' (Ps. 8:1, 3-6, 9).
"Have you ever thought of yourself as a junior angel crowned with glory and honor? Every one of our Father in Heaven's children is great in His sight. If the Lord sees greatness in you, how then should you see yourself? We have all been blessed with many talents and abilities. Some have been blessed with the talent to sing, some to paint, some to speak, some to dance, some to create beautiful things with their hands, and others to render compassionate service. Some may possess many, others only a few. It matters not the size or the quantity but the effort we put forth to develop the talents and abilities we have received. You are not competing with anyone else. You are only competing with yourself to do the best with whatever you have received. Each talent that is developed will be greatly needed and will give you tremendous fulfillment and satisfaction during your life.
"The almost universal gift everyone can develop is the creation of a pleasant disposition, an even temperament. It will open more doors for you and give you more opportunities than any other characteristics I can think of."
- L. Tom Perry, "Youth of the Noble Birthright", Ensign, Nov. 1998, pp. 73-75
Click here to read the full talk
We all occasionally need to be reminded to see ourselves as God sees us, "a little lower than the angels... crowned... with glory and honor." To be able to share in that perspective makes all the difference in this world! It's particularly helpful to know that each of us is unique, has been given our own gifts and talents, and has the ability to develop and magnify those abilities so that we can use those gifts in God's service.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Boyd K. Packer on the influence of good thoughts

President Packer (1924- ) was called to the Quorum of Twelve Apostles in 1970.  He currently serves as the president of that Quorum.
"No good thought is ever lost. No turn of the mind, however brief or transitory or illusive, if it is good, is ever wasted. No thought of sympathy, nor of forgiveness, no reflection on generosity or of courage or of purity, no meditation on humility or gratitude or reverence, is ever lost. The frequency with which they are experienced is the measure of you. The more constant they become, the more you are worth, or, in scriptural terms, the more you are worthy. Every clean thought becomes you. Every clean thought becomes you."
- Boyd K. Packer, "Let Virtue Garnish Your Thoughts," BYU Devotional, Sept. 26, 1967; "That All May Be Edified" [Bookcraft 1982], p. 39
In 1967, Elder Packer gave a landmark address at BYU about the importance of thoughts, controlling our thoughts, and being blessed by appropriate and virtuous thoughts. This paragraph comes near the end of that address, which included the well-known analogy about the mind being a stage that only one actor can occupy. I love this testimony about the power of "good thoughts" and how they bring strength and blessings. What a powerful goal, to help us increase in worth and worthiness as we fill our minds with virtue!

Monday, January 12, 2015

Thomas S. Monson on how to live greatly

President Monson (1927- ) 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 until becoming Church president in 2008.
"All of us are prone to excuse our own mediocre performance. We blame our misfortunes, our disfigurements, or our so-called handicaps. Victims of our own rationalization, we say silently to ourselves: 'I'm just too weak,' or 'I'm not cut out for better things.' Others soar beyond our meager accomplishments. Envy and discouragement then take their toll.
"Can we not appreciate that our very business in life is not to get ahead of others, but to get ahead of ourselves? To break our own records, to outstrip our yesterdays by our todays, to bear our trials more beautifully than we ever dreamed we could, to give as we have never given, to do our work with more force and a finer finish than ever--this is the true idea: to get ahead of ourselves.
"To live greatly, we must develop the capacity to face trouble with courage, disappointment with cheerfulness, and triumph with humility. You ask, 'How might we achieve these goals?' I answer, 'By getting a true perspective of who we really are!' We are sons and daughters of a living God, in whose image we have been created. Think of that truth: 'Created in the image of God.' We cannot sincerely hold this conviction without experiencing a profound new sense of strength and power, even the strength to live the commandments of God, the power to resist the temptations of Satan."
- Thomas S. Monson, "Yellow Canaries with Gray on Their Wings," Ensign, July 1973
Click here to read the full talk
It's so easy to fall into the traps Pres. Monson describes—looking for a scapegoat for our shortcomings, doubting our personal abilities, comparing our performance or achievement to others around us. His reminders about personal progress are worth pondering; a better perspective is not only healthier as we encounter trials, but enables us to achieve far more than those self-limiting perspectives..

Sunday, January 11, 2015

George Q. Cannon on the importance of prayer

President Cannon was born on January 11, 1827 — 188 years ago today. He was called to the Quorum of Twelve in 1860. He served as counselor in the First Presidency to Brigham Young beginning in 1873, and then to the next three presidents, until his death in 1901.
"To live without prayer is to live a mere animal existence. It is to leave the best part of our natures in a starving condition; for without prayer the spirit is starved, and men dwindle in their feelings, and die in their faith. If anyone is disposed to enquire into the truth of this and satisfy himself upon this point, let him visit the families of those who observe their prayers in the season thereof. The effect upon the household is very marked. Children grow up in an atmosphere of faith. A reverence for God, for truth, and for everything holy and pure is developed within them. They are more easily controlled. Their consciences are more tender. They have a higher conception of that which is right.
"If a family where prayer is neglected be visited, the children will be of a different type and disposition. What influence is there to hold them? If the parents do not honor God, what grounds have the children for honoring their parents?
"We trust that every reader... will make it a fixed rule to attend to secret and family prayers. Better go without a meal than to neglect this duty. If your stomach is empty, you will feel faint and be reminded that you must give it food. Remember that the spirit also needs food, and make it your business to attend to supplying it in the way that God has appointed. Then your spirit and your body will be developed alike, and strength will be maintained."
- George Q. Cannon, Juvenile Instructor 27:58-59, January 15, 1892; see also Gospel Truth 2:170
Jesus often used analogies comparing physical needs to spiritual.  In the "sermon on the mount" he taught, "Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled" (Matthew 5:6).  And he elaborated: "I am the bread of life: he that cometh to me shall never hunger; and he that believeth on me shall never thirst" (John 6:35).  President Cannon's teaching echoes that message: without prayer, the spirit is starved, and we should be at least as concerned with nurturing our spiritual strength as we are our physical strength.

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Richard G. Scott on the purpose of life

Elder Scott (1928- ) served as a Seventy from 1977-1988, when he was called to the Quorum of Twelve Apostles.
"You are here on earth for a divine purpose. It is not to be endlessly entertained or to be constantly in full pursuit of pleasure. You are here to be tried, to prove yourself so that you can receive the additional blessings God has for you (see Abr. 3:25).  The tempering effect of patience is required (see Mosiah 3:19).  Some blessings will be delivered here in this life; others will come beyond the veil. The Lord is intent on your personal growth and development. That progress is accelerated when you willingly allow Him to lead you through every growth experience you encounter, whether initially it be to your individual liking or not. When you trust in the Lord, when you are willing to let your heart and your mind be centered in His will, when you ask to be led by the Spirit to do His will, you are assured of the greatest happiness along the way and the most fulfilling attainment from this mortal experience. If you question everything you are asked to do, or dig in your heels at every unpleasant challenge, you make it harder for the Lord to bless you (see 1 Ne. 3:7).
"Your agency, the right to make choices, is not given so that you can get what you want.  This divine gift is provided so that you will choose what your Father in Heaven wants for you.  That way He can lead you to become all that He intends you to be (see D&C 58:26–32).  That path leads to glorious joy and happiness."
- Richard G. Scott, "Finding Joy in Life," Ensign, May 1996, p. 24; click to read the full talk
It's easy to lose sight of the purpose of life, in the midst of demands that are often urgent and options that may seen endless. When challenges come, it's sometimes natural to turn to God; but there is also a tendency to question or tire in the midst of endurance. How crucial it is for us to learn to trust, to seek the good and the growth! A true disciple learns to view "every unpleasant challenge" as a sign of God's love, not as a sign of his absence; and as an opportunity to grow closer to Him and become more like Him.

Friday, January 9, 2015

Eldred G. Smith on patriarchal blessings

Eldred G. Smith was born January 9, 1907—108 years ago today. He served as "Patriarch to the Church" from 1947 to 1979, during which time he was sustained as a prophet, seer, and revelator along with the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve. He was then released and designated an emeritus general authority; he was not replaced as presiding patriarch. Elder Smith passed away on April 4, 2013 at age 106.
"A patriarchal blessing is much like an anchor to a ship. It is referred to at times as an anchor for your soul, to keep you from being buffeted around.  You know what an anchor is to a ship?  When the winds rise and the waves come, they drop anchor and that keeps the ship from drifting off course.  Well, that is what we need sometimes; is an anchor we can drop in times of emergency, in times of trial, to keep us from drifting off course.  Sit down and read your patriarchal blessing, or read a blessing given to you by your father, at a time when you are disturbed, distressed, discouraged and not satisfied with your life.  To read your patriarchal blessing sometimes gives you courage and brings you back to where you started from and gets you in the right groove again.  It gets your mind set on the proper goals, keeps you from drifting off to one side and going down skid row.  It can give you a little extra courage some times when you need it the most."
- Eldred G. Smith, "Lectures on Theology: Last Message Series," Salt Lake Institute of Religion, April 30, 1971, pp. 6-7 
A man who is said to have given over 20,000 patriarchal blessings during his life is a good source for counsel on the strength and gifts those blessings can provide.

Most of us in today's world are pretty unfamiliar with the sea, and the challenges of ocean travel. We know an anchor is supposed to help keep a ship in one place; but this imagery of how critical the anchor is in the midst of a raging storm, to keep a ship from being blown far off course, is a grand one. The application to patriarchal blessings (and other Priesthood blessings) should make us hunger for that strength, particularly in times when we might personally be "disturbed, distressed, discouraged and not satisfied."

Perhaps Elder Smith had Paul's counsel to the Hebrews in mind, wherein he reminded them that there is "consolation" and "refuge" in the hope made available to us through Jesus, "which hope we have as an anchor of the soul, both sure and steadfast...." (see Hebrews 6:18-20).  Certainly a patriarchal blessing provides a link between us and Him who is "a high priest forever" and the most sure anchor we could have.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Howard W. Hunter on growth and progress

President Hunter (1907-1995) was called to the Quorum of Twelve in 1959.  He served as Church President from June 5, 1994 to his death on March 3, 1995.
"Part of our difficulty as we strive to acquire spirituality is the feeling that there is much to do and that we are falling far short. Perfection is something yet ahead for every one of us; but we can capitalize on our strengths, begin where we are, and seek after the happiness that can be found in pursuing the things of God. We should remember the Lord’s counsel:
"'Wherefore, be not weary in well-doing, for ye are laying the foundation of a great work. And out of small things proceedeth that which is great.
"'Behold, the Lord requireth the heart and a willing mind; and the willing and obedient shall eat the good of the land of Zion in these last days.' (D&C 64:33–34.)
"It has always been encouraging to me that the Lord said it is the 'willing and obedient [who] shall eat the good of the land of Zion in these last days.' All of us can be willing and obedient. If the Lord had said the perfect shall eat the good of the land of Zion in these last days, I suppose some of us would be discouraged and give up....
"The place to begin is here. The time to start is now. The length of our stride need be but one step at a time. God, who has, 'designed our happiness,' will lead us along even as little children, and we will by that process approach perfection."
- Howard W. Hunter, "Developing Spirituality," Ensign, May 1979, pp. 24-26
Click here to read the full talk
It's easy to get discouraged when we find ourselves "falling far short."  This reminder about perspective is helpful. We don't need to be perfect—yet.  We just need to be "willing and obedient."  And we can start doing a little better at that today!

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Gordon B. Hinckley on the blessings of temple worship

President 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.
"I would hope that we might go to the house of the Lord a little more frequently....
"Most of our temples could be much busier than they are. In this noisy, bustling, competitive world, what a privilege it is to have a sacred house where we may experience the sanctifying influence of the Spirit of the Lord. The element of selfishness crowds in upon us constantly. We need to overcome it, and there is no better way than to go to the house of the Lord and there serve in a vicarious relationship in behalf of those who are beyond the veil of death. What a remarkable thing this is. In most cases, we do not know those for whom we work. We expect no thanks. We have no assurance that they will accept that which we offer. But we go, and in that process we attain to a state that comes of no other effort. We literally become saviors on Mount Zion. What does this mean? Just as our Redeemer gave His life as a vicarious sacrifice for all men, and in so doing became our Savior, even so we, in a small measure, when we engage in proxy work in the temple, become as saviors to those on the other side who have no means of advancing unless something is done in their behalf by those on earth.
"And so, my brothers and sisters, I encourage you to take greater advantage of this blessed privilege. It will refine your natures. It will peel off the selfish shell in which most of us live. It will literally bring a sanctifying element into our lives and make us better men and better women."
- Gordon B. Hinckley, "Closing Remarks," Ensign, Nov. 2004, p. 104
Click here to read the full talk
The Payson Utah Temple
President Hinckley provides two insights into the temple attendance.  First, we go because we are providing a gift of unmatched service, becoming "saviors on Mount Zion" as we assist in the salvation of those for whom we do ordinances. We serve unselfishly, receiving no expression of appreciation, not even knowing if our gift is received. It's a great model for the best kind of pure-hearted service.

But yet, the promised blessings of temple service are a great treasure to us. President Hinckley also encourages us to attend for our own benefit.

Promises like these should make it easier for us to respond to Pres. Hinckley's invitation to "go to the house of the Lord a little more frequently."

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