Monday, October 31, 2016

Marvin J. Ashton having patience with yourself

Elder Marvin J. Ashton (1915-1994) served as a member of the Quorum of Twelve Apostles from 1971 until his death in 1994 at age 78.
"Have more patience with yourself—more self-understanding. I would plead that we understand it is not our role to be self-condemning. I like to think when we are taught 'Judge not, that ye be not judged,' that it has direct reference to us and our relationship with ourselves. We should not judge ourselves. We should teach ourselves patience—patience to believe in ourselves, patience to motivate ourselves, patience to believe that God and I can do it. When necessary, lean on the truth 'I am a child of God.' God and I, with patience on my part, can do it.
"I remind you we do not have to worry about the patience of God, because he is the personification of patience, no matter where we have been, what we have done, or what we, to this moment, have allowed ourselves to think of ourselves. Two of Satan's greatest tools today are spreading impatience and discouragement. Drugs, moral misconduct, violent protest are merely evidences of internal impatience on our part....
"I share with you this morning, my young friends, this fact. When you have hours and days of a feeling of inadequacy, when you are inclined to say, 'I don't have much going for me; no one cares about me,' I bear witness to you that an eternal truth of the gospel of Jesus Christ is the value of the individual. God will not forsake you."
- Marvin J. Ashton, "Patience Is a Great Power," BYU devotional, February 13, 1973
Click here to read the full article

Are we sometimes too "self-condemning"? Elder Ashton warns that we may have the tendency to judge ourselves too harshly, focusing on our shortcomings and struggles and letting our impatience block our progress. But he reminds us that we never need to be alone in the struggles we face:

It was interesting that Elder Ashton identified two major tools used by Satan as "spreading impatience and discouragement." We want results fast, and get annoyed when we have to wait; or we lose hope.

Elder Ashton's strong witness was of the "eternal truth of the gospel of Jesus Christ" that each individual has great value to God, and will never be left alone in the midst of trials. We need only remember that and turn to Him for help!

Sunday, October 30, 2016

David O. McKay on reverence 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.
"The greatest manifestation of spirituality is reverence; indeed, reverence is spirituality. Reverence is profound respect mingled with love. It is 'a complex emotion made up of mingled feelings of the soul.' Carlyle says it is 'the highest of human feelings.' I have said elsewhere that if reverence is the highest, then irreverence is the lowest state in which a man can live in the world....
"Parents, Reverence, as charity, begins at home. In early childhood children should be trained to be respectful, deferential--respectful to one another, to strangers and visitors--deferential to the aged and infirm--reverential to things sacred, to parents and parental love.
"Three influences in home life awaken reverence in children and contribute to its development in their souls. These are: first, firm but Gentle Guidance; second, Courtesy shown by parents to each other, and to children; and third, Prayer in which children participate. In every home in this Church parents should strive to act intelligently in impressing children with those three fundamentals."
- David O. McKay, "Spirituality, the Goal in Life," Conference Report, Oct. 1956, pp. 4-8
Click here to read the full article

I love the way President McKay links reverence and spirituality, and the beautifully simple definition he gives of what reverence truly is: profound respect mingled with love.

President McKay gives instruction to parents on how to encourage feelings of reverence in children at home. But similar principles apply to each of us as we strive to increase and retain feelings of reverence and spirituality in our lives. We need to be willing to accept firm but gentle guidance from others who can guide and teach us; we need greater courtesy to all those around us; and we must always make prayer an integral and ongoing part of our personal and family lives.

Saturday, October 29, 2016

Boyd K. Packer on the freedom and choice to be obedient

President Boyd K. Packer (1924-2015) served as an Assistant to the Quorum of the Twelve (a position that no longer exists) from 1961 to 1970, when he was called to the Quorum of Twelve Apostles.  He served as president of that Quorum from 1994 until his death on July 3, 2015 at age 90.
"I am free, and I am very jealous of my independence. I am quick to declare my independence and my freedom. Choice among my freedoms is my freedom to be obedient. I obey because I want to: I choose to.
"Some people are always suspicious that one is only obedient because he is compelled to be. They indict themselves with the very thought that one is only obedient because he is compelled to be. They feel that one would obey only through compulsion. They speak for themselves. I am free to be obedient, and I decided that—all by myself. I pondered on it; I reasoned it; I even experimented a little. I learned some sad lessons from disobedience. Then I tested it in the great laboratory of spiritual inquiry—the most sophisticated, accurate, and refined test that we can make of any principle. So I am not hesitant to say that I want to be obedient to the principles of the gospel. I want to. I have decided that. My volition, my agency, has been turned in that direction. The Lord knows that....
"Obedience to God can be the very highest expression of independence. Just think of giving to Him the one thing, the one gift, that He would never take. Think of giving Him that one thing that He would never wrest from you."
- Boyd K. Packer, address at BYU, December 1971; see also "That All May Be Edified," pp. 253-261
Click here to read the full article

This was a classic topic addressed by a young Elder Packer shortly after being called to the Quorum of Twelve. Sometimes believers are accused of "blind obedience" or being compelled to obey. But Elder Packer boldly declared his independence and agency. He had chosen to obey, and did so very willingly after careful consideration.

I love the thought that our willing obedience is a precious gift that we can give to God, one that He would never take from us, demand or compel.

Friday, October 28, 2016

Ezra Taft Benson on the crucial battles of our time

President Ezra Taft Benson (1899-1994) was called to the Quorum of Twelve Apostles in 1943, and served as the 13th President of the Church from 1985 until his death in 1994 at age 94.
"All through the ages the prophets have looked down through the corridors of time to our day. Billions of the deceased and those yet to be born have their eyes on us. Make no mistake about it—you are a marked generation. There has never been more expected of the faithful in such a short period of time as there is of us. Never before on the face of this earth have the forces of evil and the forces of good been as well organized. Now is the great day of the devil's power, with the greatest mass murderers of all time living among us. But now is also the great day of the Lord's power, with the greatest number ever of priesthood holders on the earth. And the showdown is fast approaching.
"Each day the forces of evil and the forces of good pick up new recruits. Each day we personally make many decisions that show where our support will go. The final outcome is certain—the forces of righteousness will finally win. What remains to be seen is where each of us personally, now and in the future, will stand in this fight—and how tall we will stand. Will we be true to our last-days, foreordained mission?
"Great battles can make great heroes, but heroes will make great battle. You will never have a better opportunity to be a greater hero in a more crucial battle than in the battle you will face today and in the immediate future. Be warned that some of the greatest battles you will face will be fought within the silent chambers of your own soul. David's battles in the field against the foe were not as critical as David's battles in the palace against a lustful eye. We will each find our own battlefield. The tactics that the enemy will use against us will vary from time to time; he will feel after our weak spots. We must be alert to the devil's devious designs, to the subtle sins and clever compromises as well as the obvious offenses."
- Ezra Taft Benson, "In His Steps," BYU Fireside, March 4, 1979
Click here to read or listen to the full article

It's interesting to ponder President Benson's claim that the eyes of billions, both "of the deceased and those yet to be born," are focused on our time, when so much is expected of us in a short time.

The conflict between good and evil is escalating, and we are daily making "many decisions that show where our support will go." We have confidence in what the final outcome of that conflict will be; good and God will prevail. The only uncertainty is "where each of us personally, now and in the future, will stand in this fight—and how tall we will stand." That's another great thing to consider; am I doing what is expected of me in my "last-days, foreordained mission"?

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Richard G. Scott on exercising faith in life's trials

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.
"We are blessed with agency, which is our ability to make decisions and to become accountable for those decisions. The Fall made possible in our lives feelings of both happiness and sadness. We are able to understand peace because we feel turmoil.
"Our Father in Heaven knew this would happen to us. It is all part of His perfect plan of happiness. He prepared a way through the life of His perfectly obedient Son, Jesus Christ, our Savior, for His Atonement to overcome every difficulty that we may experience in mortality.
"We live in trying times. I need not list all of the sources of evil in the world. It is not necessary to describe all of the possible challenges and heartaches that are a part of mortality. Each of us is intimately aware of our own struggles with temptation, pain, and sadness.
"We were taught in the premortal world that our purpose in coming here is to be tested, tried, and stretched. We knew we would face the evils of the adversary. Sometimes we may feel more aware of the negative things of mortality than we are of the positive. The prophet Lehi taught, 'For it must needs be, that there is an opposition in all things' (2 Ne 2:11). Despite all of the negative challenges we have in life, we must take time to actively exercise our faith. Such exercise invites the positive, faith-filled power of the Atonement of Jesus Christ into our lives."
- Richard G. Scott, "Make the Exercise of Faith Your First Priority," Ensign, November 2014, pp. 92-94
Click here to read the full article

Agency is not only the ability to make decisions; it is also the responsibility to be accountable for our decisions. As a part of God's "perfect plan of happiness" we needed agency in order to experience struggles as well as successes, tests and victories. But the critical thing, Elder Scott taught, is to learn to "take time to exercise our faith."

We "exercise faith" by the actions, activities, and habits that link us to God each day. Those are the things that will invite the power of the Atonement into our lives.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

L. Tom Perry on negative and positive memories

Elder L. Tom Perry (1922-2015) was called as an Assistant to the Twelve in 1972, then as a member of the Quorum of Twelve Apostles in 1974. At the time of his passing at age 92, he was the oldest living general authority and the third in seniority among the leading quorum.
"I come to you with a question about eternal memories you are building in your lives. Are they followed by the comment 'I wish I had,' or can you say, 'I'm glad I did'? ...
"We all make daily entries in our book of life. Occasionally we examine the entries we are making. What kind of memories will flood your mind as you examine the pages of your personal entries? How many pages will contain 'I wish I had' entries? Will there be entries of procrastination and failure to take advantage of special opportunities? Will you find entries of thoughtlessness in treatment of family, friends, or even strangers? Will there be those of remorse resulting from acts of unrighteousness and disobedience?
"Fortunately, each day brings a clean, white page on which to change entries from 'I wish I had' to 'I'm glad I did' through the process of recognition, remorse, repentance, and restitution. Feelings of depression for past acts or missed opportunities will be outshone by memory banks filled with exhilaration, enthusiasm, and the joy of living....
"My counsel to you is to fill up your memory bank and your book of life with as many 'I'm glad I did' activities as you possibly can (see Mosiah 2:41).
"Find the commitment and discipline to seek after those positive experiences that will lead to liberty and eternal life. It is my witness to you that God lives. It is by conforming our lives to His law that we will find true happiness here and eternal opportunities in the life to come."
- L. Tom Perry, "How to Fill Your Book of Life," from a CES fireside given on November 1, 1992; see New Era, Feb 2014, p. 48
Click here to read the full article

Elder Perry presents an interesting question to ponder. As we reflect on the memories of our lives and think about past events or activities, do we remember them with fondness and gratitude ("I'm glad I did"), or with regret and dissatisfaction ("I wish I had")?

Elder Perry's encouragement was to endeavor to make as many "I'm glad I did" memories as we can. That means living each day as well as we can, making the best possible choices, ensuring that priorities are clearly defined and carefully followed, and seeking always for spiritual guidance.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Joseph B. Wirthlin on the power of gratitude in prayer

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.
"Do your prayers at times sound and feel the same? Have you ever said a prayer mechanically, the words pouring forth as though cut from a machine? Do you sometimes bore yourself as you pray?
"Prayers that do not demand much of your thought will hardly merit much attention from our Heavenly Father. When you find yourself getting into a routine with your prayers, step back and think. Meditate for a while on the things for which you really are grateful. Look for them. They don't have to be grand or glorious. Sometimes we should express our gratitude for the small and simple things like the scent of the rain, the taste of your favorite macaroni and cheese recipe, or the sound of a loved one's voice.
"Thinking of things we are grateful for is a healing balm. It helps us get outside ourselves. It changes our focus from our pains and our trials to the abundance of this beautiful world we live in."
- Joseph B. Wirthlin, "Improving Our Prayers," BYU Devotional, January 21, 2003
Click here to read the full article

This is a profound insight: "Prayers that do not demand much of your thought will hardly merit much attention from our Heavenly Father." Our preparation for prayer, including the pondering Elder Wirthlin suggests, indicate how much we really value the communication. Before beginning prayer, we might "meditate for a while on the things for which you really are grateful" including the small and simple things.

Not only does this meditation improve our prayers, but Elder Wirthlin suggests that it's also a healing act that helps us see the abundance of the world around us in spite of the inner challenges we might face.

Monday, October 24, 2016

Hugh B. Brown on the search for happiness

Elder Hugh B. Brown (October 24, 1883–December 2, 1975) was called as an Assistant to the Twelve in 1953, then as an apostle in 1958.  He served as a counselor to President David O. McKay from 1961 until President McKay's death in 1970, then for five more years as a member of the Quorum of Twelve until he passed away at age 92.
"There are three qualities one must carry with him in his search for happiness through self-fulfillment: intellectual awareness, social sense, and cultural appetite. A hunger for truth and understanding gnaws at the mind and spirit of man. We must not let our minds be out of breath in trying to keep up with our speeding technological development.
"Great moral teachers have said that many wants will be satisfied within the person who does something to make life a bit better for others. No one is useless in this world who lightens the burdens of it for anyone else. To feel the warmth of man's brotherhood for man is ennobling. Cooperation in community as well as within the Church is satisfying.
"Usefulness, service, being better each day than you were the day before, adding upon what you have that is worthwhile—this is living. Have a goal and work toward it. Do not lose sight of it. However rough the seas may be, you know there is a shore toward which you are moving. Stay with the ship. Jump overboard and you are irretrievably lost."
- Hugh B. Brown, "What Do You Want out of Life?", New Era, November 1972, p. 5
Click here to read the full article

That everlasting search for happiness! Where do we find it? How is it achieved? President Brown gives an interesting insight; from his experience, the search for happiness is facilitated by:

  • intellectual awareness: a mind that is alert, active, and growing
  • social sense: willingness and eagerness to help and bless those around us
  • cultural appetite: desire to learn and expand horizons
In other words, we have the ability to control and direct happiness. These things are attitudes within us, not circumstances imposed on us. We find out what real living is as we follow this path diligently:

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Dale G. Renlund on the joy of the gift of repentance

Elder Dale G. Renlund (b. November 13, 1952) served in the First Quorum of Seventy starting in 2009, until his call to the Quorum of Twelve in October 2015.
"The power that makes repentance possible [is] the atoning sacrifice of our Savior. Real repentance must involve faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, faith that He can change us, faith that He can forgive us, and faith that He will help us avoid more mistakes. This kind of faith makes His Atonement effective in our lives. When we 'perceive afterwards' and 'turn around' with the Savior’s help, we can feel hope in His promises and the joy of forgiveness. Without the Redeemer, the inherent hope and joy evaporate, and repentance becomes simply miserable behavior modification. But by exercising faith in Him, we become converted to His ability and willingness to forgive sin....
"The reach of the Savior’s Atonement is infinite in breadth and depth, for you and for me. But it will never be imposed on us....
"Instead of making excuses, let us choose repentance. Through repentance, we can come to ourselves, like the prodigal in the parable (See Luke 15:17; see also verses 11–24), and reflect on the eternal import of our actions. When we understand how our sins can affect our eternal happiness, we not only become truly penitent but we also strive to become better....
"I invite you to feel more joy in your life: joy in the knowledge that the Atonement of Jesus Christ is real; joy in the Savior’s ability, willingness, and desire to forgive; and joy in choosing to repent. Let us follow the instruction to 'with joy... draw water out of the wells of salvation' (Isaiah 12:3). May we choose to repent, forsake our sins, and turn our hearts and wills around to follow our Savior. I testify of His living reality. I am a witness and repeated recipient of His incomparable compassion, mercy, and love. I pray that the redeeming blessings of His Atonement may be yours now—and again and again and again throughout your lives, as they have been in mine."
- Dale G. Renlund, "Repentance: A Joyful Choice," General Conference, October 2016
Click here to read or hear the complete talk

In his recent conference talk, Elder Renlund taught about the blessing of repentance. He shared some insightful examples and analogies of what it means to "turn around" or change behavior, while also emphasizing the need to also turn and change our heart as we renounce sin. Each of us has need for that kind of change in our life.

But the key is that none of that can be done alone; it requires the support and enabling power of the atonement of the Savior. We must each choose to accept that power into our lives so that we can feel the blessings and joy that come from divine forgiveness and renewal.

Saturday, October 22, 2016

Gary E. Stevenson on blessings from the Book of Mormon

Elder Gary E. Stevenson (b. 1955) was called as a Seventy in 2008, then as Presiding Bishop in 2012. He was called as a member of the Quorum of Twelve Apostles in October 2015.
"Each of you can also receive a personal witness of this book! Do you realize that the Book of Mormon was written for you—and for your day? This book is one of the blessings of living in what we call the dispensation of the fulness of times. Although the Book of Mormon was written by inspired, ancient authors—many of whom were prophets—they and the people of their day did not have the benefit of possessing the whole book. You now have easily within your reach the sacred record that prophets, priests, and kings treasured, embraced, and preserved! You have the benefit of holding in your hands the complete Book of Mormon....
"In order to help the Book of Mormon become the keystone of your testimony, I offer you a challenge. I recently learned that many young people spend an average of seven hours a day looking at TV, computer, and smartphone screens. With this in mind, would you make a small change? Will you replace some of that daily screen time—particularly that devoted to social media, the internet, gaming, or television—with reading the Book of Mormon? If the studies I referred to are accurate, you could easily find time for daily study of the Book of Mormon even if for only 10 minutes a day. And you can study in a way that allows you to enjoy it and understand it—either on your device or in book form....
"Within the book’s pages, you will discover the infinite love and incomprehensible grace of God. As you strive to follow the teachings you find there, your joy will expand, your understanding will increase, and the answers you seek to the many challenges mortality presents will be opened to you. As you look to the book, you look to the Lord. The Book of Mormon is the revealed word of God." 
- Gary E. Stevenson, "Look to the Book, Look to the Lord," General Conference, October 2016
Click here to read or hear the complete talk

Elder Stevenson reminds us of something we often take for granted—the blessing of possessing the Book of Mormon in its complete state. We have information not just in our hands, but at our fingertips via electronic devices. Are we taking advantage of that sacred gift? In the midst of our many other distractions of our day, Elder Stevenson offers a challenge: spend a little more time reading the Book of Mormon.

The promises Elder Stevenson offers for taking advantage of this gift (reading and following the counsel) are wonderful.

  • you will discover the infinite love and incomprehensible grace of God
  • your joy will expand
  • your understanding will increase
  • the answers you seek to the many challenges mortality presents will be opened to you

Friday, October 21, 2016

Ronald A. Rasband on remembering personal sacred experiences

Elder Ronald A. Rasband (b. 1951) served as a Seventy beginning in 2000.  He was the senior president of the Seventy when he was called to the Quorum of Twelve Apostles in October 2015.
"It is important to remember the powerful counsel found in Deuteronomy: 'Keep thy soul diligently, lest thou forget the things which thine eyes have seen, and lest they depart from thy heart all the days of thy life: but teach them thy sons, and thy sons’ sons.' (Deuteronomy 4:9; emphasis added.)
"Generations are affected by the choices we make. Share your testimony with your family; encourage them to remember how they felt when they recognized the Spirit in their lives and to record those feelings in journals and personal histories so that their own words may, when needed, bring to their remembrance how good the Lord has been to them....
"Never forget, question, or ignore personal, sacred spiritual experiences. The adversary’s design is to distract us from spiritual witnesses, while the Lord’s desire is to enlighten and engage us in His work."
- Ronald A. Rasband, "Lest Thou Forget," General Conference, October 2016
Click here to read or hear the complete talk

We are continually reminded in the scriptures and modern teachings that we should remember. It is only by building on the things we've learned, felt, and experienced that we can continue to grow and progress. When we stop remembering the lessons and feelings of our previous experiences, at best we have to start over; at worst, we second-guess and refocus into other directions or patterns.

Another blessing Elder Rasband suggests is that we can pass on our lessons to others. As we share our testimonies and experiences with those we love, they are blessed by our remembering. And we can help them remember their own spiritual encounters.

It is sometimes tempting to second-guess or reinterpret our experiences and insights from the past. Elder Rasband warns us of this tendency. "Never forget, question, or ignore personal, sacred spiritual experiences." Each of those actions has its own consequences, and if we allow the adversary to push us in those directions, we can lose ground rapidly. How important it is to stay firmly planted on the Rock of the Redeemer, to remember the past, and to be continually building and growing in the present!

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Neil L. Andersen on sharing the gospel message

Elder Neil L. Andersen (b. August 9, 1951) served as a Seventy beginning in 1993, and was called to the Quorum of Twelve Apostles in 2009.
"The divinely appointed responsibility that once rested primarily upon the shoulders of full-time missionaries now rests upon us all. We all want to share the restored gospel, and gratefully, thousands are baptized each week. But even with this wonderful blessing, our concern for our brothers and sisters and our desire to please God bring a compelling urgency to share and strengthen the kingdom of God across the world....
"Be open about your faith in Christ. When the occasion presents itself, speak of His life, His teachings, and His incomparable gift to all mankind. Share His powerful truths from the Book of Mormon. He has given us this promise: 'Whosoever… shall confess me before men, him will I confess… before my Father… in heaven' (Matthew 10:32). I promise you that as you pray often and sincerely for opportunities to 'stand as a witness of God,' those opportunities will come, and those who seek more light and knowledge will be put before you. As you respond to spiritual promptings, the Holy Ghost will carry your words to the heart of another, and one day the Savior will confess you before His Father."
- Neil L. Andersen, "A Witness of God," General Conference, October 2016
Click here to read or hear the complete talk

A appreciated this talk by Elder Andersen as he discussed the challenges many face as they try to follow the injunction to share the gospel message with friends and acquaintances. He addressed some of the common difficulties, such as fear and rejection. But the overriding message was the joy of sharing something precious with others as we trust the Lord's ability to not only guide us, but to be the One who touches hearts that are prepared and ready.

Truly, all who know the truth of the message should sense a "compelling urgency" to share it and to help build up the kingdom of God.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

D. Todd Christofferson on the power of God's love for us

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.
"The Bible tells us that 'God is love' (1 John 4:8). He is the perfect embodiment of love, and we rely heavily on the constancy and universal reach of that love. As President Thomas S. Monson has expressed: 'God’s love is there for you whether or not you feel you deserve love. It is simply always there.' (Thomas S. Monson, 'We Never Walk Alone,' Ensign, Nov. 2013, 124.)
"There are many ways to describe and speak of divine love. One of the terms we hear often today is that God’s love is 'unconditional.' While in one sense that is true, the descriptor unconditional appears nowhere in scripture. Rather, His love is described in scripture as 'great and wonderful love' (D&C 138:3), 'perfect love' (1 John 4:18; Moroni 8:16), 'redeeming love' (Alma 5:26), and 'everlasting love' (Jeremiah 31:3). These are better terms because the word unconditional can convey mistaken impressions about divine love, such as, God tolerates and excuses anything we do because His love is unconditional, or God makes no demands upon us because His love is unconditional, or all are saved in the heavenly kingdom of God because His love is unconditional. God’s love is infinite and it will endure forever, but what it means for each of us depends on how we respond to His love.
"Jesus said:
"'As the Father hath loved me, so have I loved you: continue ye in my love.
"'If ye keep my commandments, ye shall abide in my love; even as I have kept my Father’s commandments, and abide in his love.' (John 15:9-10)
"To 'continue in' or 'abide in' the Savior’s love means to receive His grace and be perfected by it (See Moroni 10:32-33). To receive His grace, we must have faith in Jesus Christ and keep His commandments, including repenting of our sins, being baptized for the remission of sins, receiving the Holy Ghost, and continuing in the path of obedience. (See 2 Nephi 31:11-21; 3 Nephi 27:16–20; see also D&C 20:29–34.)"
- D. Todd Christofferson, "Abide in My Love," General Conference, October 2016
Click here to read or hear the complete talk

It's difficult for us to fully understand God's love for us. Perhaps one challenge is that we see only imperfect models of love in our interactions, so we don't have an understanding of perfect love. Elder Christofferson helps clarify what that divine love represents:

We all "rely heavily on the constancy and universal reach of that love" as we come to understand the blessings God offers to us. But Elder Christofferson cautions us not to misunderstand the use of the word "unconditional" when speaking of God's love for us. One of the great keys to understanding is this: "God’s love is infinite and it will endure forever, but what it means for each of us depends on how we respond to His love." He then teaches the crucial point that we must "continue in" and "abide in" His love through faith, obedience, and receiving His grace.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Quentin L. Cook on avoiding stumbling blocks to testimony

Elder Quentin L. Cook (b. 1940) was called as a Seventy in 1996, then as a member of the Quorum of Twelve Apostles in 2007.
"A stumbling block is 'an impediment to belief or understanding' or 'an obstacle to progress.' (Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary) To stumble spiritually is 'to fall into sin or waywardness.' A stumbling block can be anything that distracts us from achieving righteous goals.
"We cannot afford to have our testimonies of the Father and the Son become confused and complicated by stumbling blocks. We cannot fall into that trap. Our testimonies of Them need to remain pure and simple....
"If we are to be valiant in our testimony of Jesus, we must avoid the stumbling blocks that entrap and impede the progress of many otherwise honorable men and women. Let us determine to always be in His service. While seeking knowledge, we need to avoid the philosophies of men that lessen our commitment to the Savior. We must see sin in its true light and accept the Savior’s Atonement through repentance. We need to avoid looking beyond the mark and focus on Jesus Christ, our Savior and Redeemer, and follow His doctrine....
"One writer suggests that stumbling blocks may be made into 'stepping-stones to a noble character and to Heaven.' (Henry Ward Beecher)
"For us, being valiant in our testimony of Jesus is a stepping-stone toward qualifying for the Savior’s grace and the celestial kingdom. Jesus Christ is the only name under heaven by which we may be saved. (See 2 Nephi 31:21; Mosiah 3:17.)"
- Quentin L. Cook, "Valiant in the Testimony of Jesus," General Conference, October 2016
Click here to read or hear the complete talk

The path through mortality is hard enough without adding the complications of "stumbling blocks," which Elder Cook identifies as the things that distract us from achieving righteous goals. It's particularly concerning when those things impact our testimonies; a personal testimony should "remain pure and simple" and not be complicated or compromised by sophistry, distractions, and mistakes.

Elder Cook describes in this article some of the major obstacles that threaten to disrupt our progress, and encourages us to take appropriate measures to avoid them or counteract them. These include the "philosophies of men," refusal to acknowledge sin, and "looking beyond the mark."

Monday, October 17, 2016

David A. Bednar on blessings for serving the Lord

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.
"We more fully come to know the Lord as we serve Him and labor in His kingdom. As we do so, He generously blesses us with heavenly help, spiritual gifts, and increased capacity. We are never left alone as we work in His vineyard.
"He declared: 'For I will go before your face. I will be on your right hand and on your left, and my Spirit shall be in your hearts, and mine angels round about you, to bear you up.' (D&C 84:88)
"We come to know the Savior as we do our best to go where He wants us to go, as we strive to say what He wants us to say, and as we become what He wants us to become. As we submissively acknowledge our total dependence upon Him, He enlarges our capacity to serve ever more effectively. Gradually, our desires align more completely with His desires, and His purposes become our purposes, such that we would 'not ask that which is contrary to [His] will' (Helaman 10:5).
"Serving Him requires all of our heart, might, mind, and strength. (See D&C 4:2.) Consequently, selflessly serving others counteracts the self-centered and selfish tendencies of the natural man. We grow to love those whom we serve. And because serving others is serving God, we grow to love Him and our brothers and sisters more deeply. Such love is a manifestation of the spiritual gift of charity, even the pure love of Christ. (See Moroni 7:47.)"
- David A. Bednar, "If Ye Had Known Me," General Conference, October 2016
Click here to read or hear the complete talk

This talk by Elder Bednar was a wonderful exploration of the ways we come to know the Lord in our mortal lives. He knows us perfectly and intimately; we must develop the same kind of relationship with Him. One of the important ways we do that is by serving Him. "For how knoweth a man the master whom he has not served, and who is a stranger unto him, and is far from the thoughts and intents of his heart?" (Mosiah 5:13) Elder Bednar offered a beautiful promise: as we come to know Him better, "He generously blesses us with heavenly help, spiritual gifts, and increased capacity."

One of the best ways to serve God is to serve those around us, who are His children, so that we can overcome "the self-centered and selfish tendencies of the natural man" as we grow in the spiritual gift of charity.

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Jeffrey R. Holland on effective and powerful home teaching

Elder Jeffrey R. Holland (b. 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.
"Brethren, the appeal I am making tonight is for you to lift your vision of home teaching. Please, in newer, better ways see yourselves as emissaries of the Lord to His children. That means leaving behind the tradition of a frantic, law of Moses–like, end-of-the-month calendar in which you rush to give a scripted message from the Church magazines that the family has already read. We would hope, rather, that you will establish an era of genuine, gospel-oriented concern for the members, watching over and caring for each other, addressing spiritual and temporal needs in any way that helps.
"Now, as for what 'counts' as home teaching, every good thing you do 'counts,' so report it all! Indeed, the report that matters most is how you have blessed and cared for those within your stewardship, which has virtually nothing to do with a specific calendar or a particular location. What matters is that you love your people and are fulfilling the commandment 'to watch over the church always' (D&C 20:53)."
- Jeffrey R. Holland, "Emissaries to the Church," General Conference, October 2016
Click here to read or hear the complete talk

In speaking to the Priesthood session of the recent general conference, Elder Holland shared a vision and understanding of how "watching over" one another, particularly in areas of priesthood stewardship, can make a profound difference in lives. With poignant personal examples and inspired instruction, he lifted the vision of how this service ought to be making a difference in lives, both spiritually and temporally.

As we "lift our vision" to include the power of this program, we will understand that it goes far beyond a monthly message and a routine visit. It means that we are reaching out in true love and concern, bearing one another's burdens, caring and serving in every way as the Lord inspires us to do so.

And in a broader sense, this principle applies to our general Christian duty to love and serve one another.

Saturday, October 15, 2016

Robert D. Hales on serving one another by teaching with love

Elder Robert D. Hales (b. August 24, 1932) served as a Seventy from 1976 to 1985, when he was called as a member of the Quorum of Twelve Apostles.
"As we follow Jesus Christ, His love motivates us to support each other on our mortal journey. We cannot do it alone (See 1 Corinthians 12:12)....
"'Teach[ing] one another the doctrine of the kingdom' (D&C 88:77) is a way to love and serve each other. Parents and grandparents, we tend to bemoan the state of the world—that schools are not teaching moral character. But there is much we can do. We can take advantage of the teaching moments in our own families—that means now. Don’t let them slip by. When an opportunity comes to share your thoughts about the gospel and the lessons of life, stop everything, sit down, and talk with your children and grandchildren.
"We should not worry that we are not professionally trained gospel teachers. No training class or manual is as helpful as personally studying our scriptures, praying, pondering, and seeking the guidance of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit will lead you along. I promise you: the calling to be a parent includes the gift to teach in the ways that are right for you and for your children. Remember, God’s power to influence us righteously is His love. 'We love him, because he first loved us' (1 John 4:19)....
"Let us remember, the most important work we do in our families is through the power of the Holy Ghost. Whenever we raise our voices in anger, the Spirit leaves our companionships and families. When we speak in love, the Spirit can be with us. Let us remember that our children and grandchildren measure our love by how much devoted time we give them. Above all, don’t lose patience and don’t give up!"
- Robert D. Hales, "'Come, Follow Me' by Practicing Christian Love and Service," General Conference October 2016
Click here to read or hear the complete talk

Elder Hales talked about various forms of "Christian service" that are open to us as we strive to follow the Savior's example of blessing our families, our brothers and sisters, and those all around us. I particularly enjoyed this segment about serving those closest to us in our family settings.

One of the most important acts of service is to teach gospel doctrine to one another, particularly those who are younger and still able to be formed and influenced in good ways. I was very impressed by this suggestion that we look for the moments in the midst of normal activities when we can pause to teach a message or share a personal experience and a testimony:

As we listen to the promptings to teach and share, we will be given help and inspiration in those settings with the words and the ways to make a difference: " the calling to be a parent includes the gift to teach in the ways that are right for you and for your children." The growing, cumulative impact of these moments will bless more than we realize. Words spoken in love and patience, and time devoted to show genuine interest and concern, will help to set feet firmly on the path of discipleship.
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