Tuesday, March 31, 2015

James E. Faust on Jesus and the Resurrection

President James E. Faust (1920-2007) was called as a Seventy in 1976, then as a member of the Quorum of Twelve in 1978. He served as a counselor to President Hinckley until his death in 2007 at age 87.
"How do we accept Jesus of Nazareth?
"We joyfully accept him without reservation as the greatest personage who ever lived on the face of the earth.
"We believe him to be the Messiah, the Redeemer.
"We glory in his mission and his doctrine.
"We delight in him as the firstfruits of them that slept.
"We worship him as the second member of the Godhead of three.
"We humbly come to the Father through him, believing his words. 'I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.' (John 14:6.)
"A hallmark of a disciple is described in the words of the Master: 'By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another.' (John 13:35.) ...
"With the abundance of testimony, both ancient and modern, sealed by the witness of the Holy Spirit of God, we stand firm and unequivocating in our knowledge that Jesus of Nazareth is the resurrected Savior. His arms are stretched forth to all men... who, by accepting Him in His appointed way, may become not just believers but true disciples and with Paul hope to 'obtain a better resurrection.' (Heb. 11:35.)
"To all we say, 'May Christ lift thee up, and may... the hope of his glory and of eternal life, rest in your mind forever.' (Moro. 9:25.)"
- James E. Faust, "The Resurrection," Ensign, May 1985, pp. 30-32
Click here to read the full talk

This beautiful invitation and testimony from a life-long disciple of the Savior encapsulates the spirit of the Easter season. Much is embodied in that question, "How do we accept Jesus of Nazareth?" We much accept him with joy, with delight, with worship. But especially with our whole hearts, and our whole lives.

Monday, March 30, 2015

Richard G. Scott offers an Easter invitation

Elder Richard G. Scott (1928- ) served as a Seventy from 1977-1988, when he was called to the Quorum of Twelve Apostles.
"I energetically encourage you to establish a personal study plan to better understand and appreciate the incomparable, eternal, infinite consequences of Jesus Christ's perfect fulfillment of His divinely appointed calling as our Savior and Redeemer. Profound personal pondering of the scriptures accompanied by searching, heartfelt prayer will fortify your understanding of and appreciation for His priceless Atonement. Another powerful way to learn of Jesus Christ and His Atonement is through consistent temple attendance....
"This Easter, resolve to make the Lord Jesus Christ the living center of your home. Be sure that every decision you make, whether it be of a spiritual or physical nature, be guided by the thought 'What would the Lord Jesus Christ have me do?' When the Savior is the center of your home, it is filled with peace and serenity. There is a spirit of calm assurance that pervades the home."
- Richard G. Scott, "He Lives! All Glory to His Name!", Ensign, May 2010, pp. 75-78
Click here to read the full talk

The Easter season is such a wonderful time to reflect on the Savior's love for us and on our relationship to Him. We have beautiful music and programs to help us do that, reminders in our literature,  and this year we will have a general conference Easter Sunday.

Elder Scott gives a worthwhile suggestion to start a "personal study plan," including "profound personal pondering" and "searching, heartfelt prayer," to deepen our understanding and appreciation of the "priceless Atonement."  We would certainly be blessed in this Easter season, and beyond, to accept that invitation.

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Harold B. Lee on holding on to testimony

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.
"Testimony is as elusive as a moonbeam; it's as fragile as an orchid; you have to recapture it every morning of your life. You have to hold on by study, and by faith, and by prayer. If you allow yourself to be angry, if you allow yourself to get into the wrong kind of company, you listen to the wrong kind of stories, you are studying the wrong kind of subjects, you are engaging in sinful practices, there is nothing that will be more deadening as to take away the Spirit of the Lord from you until it will be as though you had walked from a lighted room when you go out of this building, as though you had gone out into a darkness."
- Harold B. Lee, address to LDS Student Association and Young Adults, 4 November 1972; see The Teachings of Harold B. Lee, p. 139

This is another truly classic excerpt from the teachings of President Lee. The imagery he chooses to describe how fragile testimonies are is memorable and compelling:

It takes all three activities to "hold on" to testimony: study, faith, and prayer. If we neglect either of those things, our testimony will struggle. The word "recapture" is very descriptive; the testimony will flee and fade if we don't take the action to recapture and retain it—"every morning of your life."

Then President Lee warns of "deadening" activities that will actively diminish the light of testimony:
  • If you allow yourself to be angry
  • If you allow yourself to get into the wrong kind of company
  • You listen to the wrong kind of stories
  • You are studying the wrong kind of subjects
  • You are engaging in sinful practices
We might consider things in our own day, over 40 years after President Lee spoke, that would fall into the same category.

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Spencer W. Kimball on women becoming "sister scriptorians"

President Spencer W. Kimball (1895-1985) was ordained an apostle in 1943 and served as President of the Church from 1973 to 1985. The following excerpt is from a marvelous address given to a women's fireside held September 15, 1979—a precursor to the General Women's Meeting held today.
"I stress again the deep need each woman has to study the scriptures. We want our homes to be blessed with sister scriptorians—whether you are single or married, young or old, widowed or living in a family.
"Regardless of your particular circumstances, as you become more and more familiar with the truths of the scriptures, you will be more and more effective in keeping the second great commandment, to love your neighbor as yourself. Become scholars of the scriptures—not to put others down, but to lift them up! After all, who has any greater need to 'treasure up' the truths of the gospel (on which they may call in their moments of need) than do women and mothers who do so much nurturing and teaching?
"Seek excellence in all your righteous endeavors, and in all aspects of your lives.
"Bear in mind, dear sisters, that the eternal blessings which are yours through membership in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are far, far greater than any other blessings you could possibly receive. No greater recognition can come to you in this world than to be known as a woman of God. No greater status can be conferred upon you than being a daughter of God who experiences true sisterhood, wifehood, and motherhood, or other tasks which influence lives for good."
- Spencer W. Kimball, "The Role of Righteous Women," Ensign, Nov 1979, 102

This classic address by President Kimball teaches much about the Gospel's view of the potential of women in the Lord's kingdom. His challenge about "sister scriptorians" has been often quoted:

It's an interesting promise to ponder, that one who is more familiar with the scriptures is better able to love her neighbor. And this reminder is a good one, to keep the motivation in the proper place:

And finally, this reminder should ring true in the hearts of the "women of God":

Friday, March 27, 2015

Neal A. Maxwell on the daughters of Zion

Elder Neal A. Maxwell (1926-2004) served as a Seventy from 1976-1981, then as a member of the Quorum of Twelve until his death from cancer in 2004.
"The daughters of the world may grow more shrill, more hard, more selfish, and less motherly—but the faithful daughters of Zion will be ladies of light; they will be elect because they have elected to follow in the footsteps of the faithful women of God who have existed in all dispensations of time. That we know less than we would like of these marvelous women of God should fill us with anticipation for the day when there will be a fulness of their record before us, a part of all that God will yet reveal.
"Service less reported is service still. Contributions are never really measured in column inches of coverage in newspapers or even in the scriptures. Indeed, their deferred recognition only mirrors faintly the quiet queenliness of One we shall meet and greet when we leave 'this frail existence.'"
- Neal A. Maxwell, "Wherefore, Ye Must Press Forward", pp. 80-81

Elder Maxwell often contrasted the world's approach or philosophy with the Gospel version. In this case, he looks at the "daughters of the world" compared to the "daughters of Zion." The divergence he predicts (as have other Church leaders) is often apparent today. This is a wonderful vision for the faithful daughters:

Even though the contributions of the "marvelous women of God" are often less visible and less noted, they are profoundly significant in the eternal sense, where "deferred recognition" will truly make them known. This principle applies not just to women, but to all who serve quietly and faithfully in less prominent ways.

We should be grateful that the worldly records of contributions and worldly recognition for them are relatively insignificant in eternity!

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Joseph B. Wirthlin on the dangers of busy lives

Elder Joseph B. 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.
"I do not know of another period in the history of the world that has been so filled with such a variety of entangling nets. Our lives are so easily filled with appointments, meetings, and tasks. It is so easy to get caught in a multitude of nets that sometimes even a suggestion of breaking free of them can be threatening and even frightening to us. 
"Sometimes we feel that the busier we are, the more important we are—as though our busyness defines our worth. Brothers and sisters, we can spend a lifetime whirling about at a feverish pace, checking off list after list of things that in the end really don't matter. 
"That we do a lot may not be so important. That we focus the energy of our minds, our hearts, and our souls on those things of eternal significance—that is essential. 
"As the clatter and clamor of life bustle about us, we hear shouting to 'come here' and to 'go there.' In the midst of the noise and seductive voices that compete for our time and interest, a solitary figure stands on the shores of the Sea of Galilee, calling quietly to us, 'Follow me.'" 
- Joseph B. Wirthlin, "Follow Me," General Conference, April 2002; Ensign, May 2002, pp. 15-18
Click to read the full text

I love this message from Elder Wirthlin; it's good to review it periodically.

We have to be very careful about the expectations set by society or culture in our time; they may be subtly inappropriate in ways that can lead us to undesirable results. Getting caught in those "entangling nets" that fill our lives with too many things of lesser importance is a real danger of our day. This is very wise counsel:

How wise to discern that it's not how much we do that matters; it's making absolutely sure that we "focus the energy of our minds, our hearts, and our souls on those things of eternal significance."

And I think this last phrase is one of the most beautiful statements of recent years—truly profound and wise:

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

David O. McKay on mortality and spirituality

President David O. 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.
"Man's earthly existence is but a test, whether he will concentrate his efforts, his mind, his soul upon things which contribute to his comfort and gratification of his physical instincts and passions, or whether he will make as his life's purpose and aim the acquisition of spiritual qualities. 
"The spiritual road has Christ as its ideal, not the gratification of the physical, for he that would save his life, yielding to that present gratification of a seeming need, will lose his life. 
"If he would seek the real purpose of life, the individual must live for some thing higher than self. He hears the Savior's voice saying: 'I am the way, the truth, and the life' (John 14:6). Following that voice, he soon learns that there is no one great thing which he can do to attain happiness or eternal life. He learns that 'life is made up not of great sacrifices or duties, but of little things in which smiles and kindness and small obligations given habitually are what win and preserve the heart and secure comfort.' 
"Spirituality, our true aim, is the consciousness of victory over self and of communion with the Infinite. Spirituality impels one to conquer difficulties and acquire more and more strength. To feel one's faculties unfolding and truth expanding the soul is one of life's sublimest experiences. Would that all might so live as to experience that ecstasy!" 
- David O. McKay, "Spirituality, the Goal in Life," Conference Report, October 1956, pp. 4-8
Click here to read the full talk

"Spirituality" was a favorite theme for President McKay, one he addressed on a number of occasions. We might well ask how we are doing in the fundamental test of earthly existence; where are our efforts and soul, our purpose and aim, really concentrated?

There is a vast difference between what Pres. McKay calls a physical focus to life, and a spiritual one. In the spiritual path, we work on the little things, including "smiles and kindness and small obligations given habitually" — along with the more serious ones such as self-discipline and our relationship with Divinity. These steps all lead to the acquisition of true spirituality, "one of life's sublimest experiences."

Monday, March 23, 2015

Richard L. Evans on the role of our loving Father

Elder Richard L. 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.
"Our Father in heaven is not an umpire who is trying to count us out. He is not a competitor who is trying to outsmart us. He is not a prosecutor who is trying to convict us. He is a Loving Father who wants our happiness and eternal progress and everlasting opportunity and glorious accomplishment, and who will help us all he can if we will but give him, in our lives, the opportunity to do so with obedience and humility and faith and patience.
"God help us to live to have his help, that these things which he has in store for his children, all of whom we are, may be ours."
- Richard L. Evans, General Conference, October 1956; CR pp. 99-101
Click here to read the full talk

This is a classic testimony from Elder Evans, given near the conclusion of one of his talks. I love the analogies he provides, first about what Heavenly Father is NOT — a judge, adversary, competitor. We might sometimes view him in that kind of role. But the real power of the quote comes in the description of what our Father truly IS — "He is a Loving Father who wants our happiness and eternal progress and everlasting opportunity and glorious accomplishment." What a beautiful contrast to the worldly view of God!

And then the sweet conditional: God "will help us all he can if we will but give him, in our lives, the opportunity to do so with obedience and humility and faith and patience." In other words, WE have to set the stage through our actions and attitudes; then God, as an eternal, perfectly-loving Father, will step in to bless, sustain, and protect.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Neil L. Andersen on the encircling arms of the Lord

Elder Neil L. 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).
"I have thought of the Lord's invitation to come unto Him and to spiritually be wrapped in His arms. He said, 'Behold, [my arms] of mercy [are] extended towards you, and whosoever will come, him will I receive; and blessed are those who come unto me' (3 Nephi 9:14).
"The scriptures speak of His arms being open (Mormon 6:17), extended (Alma 19:36), stretched out (2 Kings 17:36; Psalm 136:12), and encircling (2 Nephi 1:15). They are described as mighty (D&C 123:6) and holy (3 Nephi 20:35), arms of mercy (Alma 5:33), arms of safety (Alma 34:16), arms of love (D&C 6:20), 'lengthened out all the day long' (2 Nephi 28:32).
"We have each felt to some extent these spiritual arms around us. We have felt His forgiveness, His love and comfort. The Lord has said, 'I am he [who] comforteth you' (2 Nephi 8:12).
"The Lord's desire that we come unto Him and be wrapped in His arms is often an invitation to repent. 'Behold, he sendeth an invitation unto all men, for the arms of mercy are extended towards them, and he saith: Repent, and I will receive you' (Alma 5:33)."
- Neil L. Andersen, "Repent... That I May Heal You," Ensign, November 2009, pp. 40-43
Click here to read the full talk
"Arms" are often used in scriptural imagery, frequently to denote power or strength, such as making the arm bare in order to fight or defend (see for example Isaiah 52:10). Another important aspect is the warning not to trust in our own abilities, in the arm of flesh (2 Ne 4:34) — instead, learning to trust in God to defend us.

Elder Andersen provides a wonderful summary of the scriptural descriptions of God's love for His children, as manifest in the examples of how His arms express the more tender emotions. How beautiful is the imagery of open, inviting arms, waiting to envelope in a protective embrace!

Elder Andersen believes that each of us has felt aspects of that divine spiritual love and comfort. It's good to remember those feelings! And to seek to experience them more constantly in our lives, through repentance, obedience, and faithfulness.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

D. Todd Christofferson on covenants and Christians

Elder D. Todd Christofferson (1945- ) was called to the Seventy in 1993, and as a member of the Quorum of Twelve Apostles in 2008.
"We need strong Christians who can persevere against hardship, who can sustain hope through tragedy, who can lift others by their example and their compassion, and who can consistently overcome temptations. We need strong Christians who can make important things happen by their faith and who can defend the truth of Jesus Christ against moral relativism and militant atheism. 
"What is the source of such moral and spiritual power, and how do we obtain it? The source is God. Our access to that power is through our covenants with Him. A covenant is an agreement between God and man, an accord whose terms are set by God (see Bible Dictionary, 'Covenant,' 651). In these divine agreements, God binds Himself to sustain, sanctify, and exalt us in return for our commitment to serve Him and keep His commandments.... 
"Divine covenants make strong Christians. I urge each one to qualify for and receive all the priesthood ordinances you can and then faithfully keep the promises you have made by covenant. In times of distress, let your covenants be paramount and let your obedience be exact. Then you can ask in faith, nothing wavering, according to your need, and God will answer. He will sustain you as you work and watch. In His own time and way He will stretch forth his hand to you, saying, 'Here am I.'" 
- D. Todd Christofferson, "The Power of Covenants," Ensign, May 2009, pp. 19-23
Click here to read the full talk

It's one thing to be a Christian, and another to be a "strong Christian." According to Elder Christofferson, characteristics of the latter include:

  • Persevere against hardship
  • Sustain hope through tragedy
  • Lift others by their example and their compassion
  • Consistently overcome temptation
  • Make important things happen by their faith
  • Defend the truth of Jesus Christ against moral relativism and militant atheism
That's a great list to ponder in self-introspection. How am I doing? What areas should I work on strengthening?

But the real power in growth comes through making and keeping sacred covenants. "Divine covenants make strong Christians" as God "binds Himself to sustain, sanctify, and exalt us in return for our commitment to serve Him and keep His commandments." And as always, the promises are sure:

Friday, March 20, 2015

Quentin L. Cook on overcoming the challenges of life

Elder Quentin L. Cook (1940- ) was called as a Seventy in 1996, then as a member of the Quorum of Twelve Apostles in 2007.
"Just as the Savior's death brought sorrow, the vicissitudes of life, like death, disease, poverty, and injury, can and often will bring unhappiness. Separation from those we love invariably brings sorrow and mourning. Life is not easy, and it would be improper to diminish in any way the trials and tribulations that most experience.
"That having been said, the Resurrection and Atonement wrought by the Savior and the promise of eternal life with our loved ones are of such overwhelming significance that to not rejoice would demonstrate a lack of understanding of the Savior's gift.
"Joy comes when we have the Spirit in our lives (see Alma 22:15). When we have the Spirit, we rejoice in what the Savior has done for us.
"What do we need to do to have this kind of joy? In addition to attaining saving ordinances and following the living prophet, we need to live in accordance with certain fundamental spiritual principles, such as prayer, scripture study, righteous living, and service to others."
- Quentin L. Cook, "Rejoice!", Ensign, Nov. 1996, p. 28
Click here to read the full talk

"Life is not easy" — most of us can bear testimony to that principle! The word "vicissitudes" isn't used much these days; the dictionary defines it as "a change of circumstances or fortune, typically one that is unwelcome or unpleasant." I wonder what a corresponding world would be that refers to changes that are welcome and pleasant— something like the "good fortunes" of life? We often feel more negative impact from the downturns than we feel positive benefit from the upturns. But regardless, we konw we will have "trials and tribulations" in this existence.

Elder Cook points out that in eternal perspective, there are things that are "of such overwhelming significance" that, if properly understood, will inevitably help rejoicing to replace any mourning or struggling with life's challenges.

In the simplest terms, "Joy comes when we have the Spirit in our lives" because it helps us understand "what the Savior has done for us." We should diligently seek that gift, and do all we can to obtain and retain it!

Thursday, March 19, 2015

David A. Bednar on coming to Christ through scripture study

Elder David A. Bednar (1952- ) was sustained as a member of the Quorum of Twelve Apostles in 2004.
"Coming unto Christ is not a single event with a fixed point of beginning or ending; rather, it is a process that develops and deepens during a lifetime. As an initial step in the process, we certainly must obtain knowledge and learn about Jesus and His life, teachings, and ministry. But truly coming unto Him also requires consistent obedience and striving to become like Jesus in our thoughts, motives, communications, and actions. As we 'press forward' (2 Ne. 31:20) on the pathway of discipleship, we can draw near unto the Savior with the expectation that He will draw near unto us; we can seek Him diligently with the hope that we shall find Him; we can ask with confidence that we shall receive; and we can knock anticipating that the door shall be opened unto us (see D&C 88:63). 
"One of the best ways to draw near unto Him and to both learn about and become more like the Lord Jesus Christ is to consistently study the holy scriptures—to daily 'feast upon the words of Christ' (2 Ne. 32:3). 
"Please notice that I used the word study and not the word read. Studying and feasting suggest a focus and an intensity that reach far beyond casual reading or quick perusing. Studying and feasting, followed by sincere prayer and steadfast application of the truths and principles we learn, yield personal resolve, spiritual commitment, and the bright light of testimony. Studying, learning, praying, and appropriately applying gospel truths are all key elements in the process of coming unto the Savior." 
- David A. Bednar, "More Diligent and Concerned at Home," Ensign, Nov. 2009, pp. 17-18
Click here to read the full talk

In the typical usage of the word "come" we think of discrete events; we come to a meeting or come together with a friend. But Elder Bednar clarifies the meaning of the scriptural admonition to "Come unto Christ":

There are two critical steps in this process: obtaining knowledge about Jesus, and then striving to become like Him through consistent obedience. The Savior has promised that our efforts to seek, knock, and draw near will be responded to.

But Elder Bednar goes further, explaining the importance of learning about Him and becoming more like Him as we "feast" upon His word. He uses words like "consistently" and "daily" to describe how we should go about the studying process; and then he emphasizes the importance of going beyond mere casual or methodical reading as we study the scriptures with focus and intensity.

The rewards for our efforts are promised, and as is always the case, we can trust that the blessings will be abundant.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Dieter F. Uchtdorf on God's help in the challenges of life

President Dieter F. 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.
"We know that sometimes it can be difficult to keep our heads above water. In fact, in our world of change, challenges, and checklists, sometimes it can seem nearly impossible to avoid feeling overwhelmed by emotions of suffering and sorrow.
"I am not suggesting that we can simply flip a switch and stop the negative feelings that distress us. This isn't a pep talk or an attempt to encourage those sinking in quicksand to imagine instead they are relaxing on a beach. I recognize that in all of our lives there are real concerns. I know there are hearts here today that harbor deep sorrows. Others wrestle with fears that trouble the soul. For some, loneliness is their secret trial.
"These things are not insignificant....
"I have a simple faith. I believe that as you are faithful and diligent in keeping the commandments of God, as you draw closer to Him in faith, hope, and charity, things will work together for your good (see D&C 90:24). I believe that as you immerse yourselves in the work of our Father—as you create beauty and as you are compassionate to others—God will encircle you in the arms of His love (see D&C 6:20). Discouragement, inadequacy, and weariness will give way to a life of meaning, grace, and fulfillment."
- Dieter F. Uchtdorf, "Happiness, Your Heritage," Ensign, Nov. 2008, pp. 117-18
Click here to read the full talk

Almost all of us feel overwhelmed from time to time, by the demands of our lives or the busy-ness of our activities, if not by "emotions of suffering and sorrow." But Pres. Uchtdorf acknowledges that in the more challenging times of discouragement, it's not trivial to turn the mood around. We may deal with trials of sorrow, fear, or loneliness, and "these things are not insignificant." You can't just "flip a switch" and make it all better. But you can follow the Lord's counsel:

So Pres. Uchtdorf's formula includes 1) diligent obedience to the commandments, 2) drawing closer to the Lord through faith, hope, and charity, 3) to "immerse yourselves" in God's work, which includes creating beauty and sharing true compassion — THEN we will feel the deep protection of His love and care, and ultimately the relief from suffering and concerns.

What a sweet promise!  I testify that it is true and real.
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