Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Elder John A. Widtsoe on finding peace in a troubled world

Elder John A. Widtsoe (1872-1952) was born in Norway. He was raised by his widowed mother who immigrated to Utah when John was 11. He was educated at Harvard and in Europe, and had formative roles in programs in several Utah universities including BYU. He served as an apostle from 1921 to his death in 1952.
"Peace upon earth is not to be established by Congress or Parliament, or by a group of international representatives. Peace is not a thing that can be taken on, then taken off again, as we do a piece of clothing. Peace is quite different from that. Peace cannot be legislated into existence. It is not the way to lasting peace upon earth. That, every man here understands.
"Remember, the Savior Himself tried to point that out to us, for when he spoke to his disciples and said, 'Peace I give unto you, peace I leave with you,' He added, 'Not as the world giveth, give I unto you' (John 14:27).
"Peace comes from within; peace is myself, if I am a truly peaceful man. The very essence of me must be the spirit of peace. Individuals make up the community, and the nation—an old enough doctrine, which we often overlook—and the only way to build a peaceful community is to build men and women who are lovers and makers of peace. Each individual, by that doctrine of Christ and His Church, holds in his own hands the peace of the world.
"That makes me responsible for the peace of the world, and makes you individually responsible for the peace of the world. The responsibility cannot be shifted to someone else. It cannot be placed upon the shoulders of Congress or Parliament, or any other organization of men with governing authority.
"I wonder if the Lord did not have that in mind when he said: '...the kingdom of God is within you' (Luke 17:21), or perhaps we should re-emphasize it and say: 'The kingdom of God is within you.' ...
"If a man but conform to, if he be in harmony with, eternal law, peace will be his. That is a simple formula which refers to body, mind, and spirit, and to our neighbors. If I obey the physical laws of the body, physical peace will be mine. If I obey the laws of mental health, I shall be mentally at peace. If I obey the spiritual laws which God has given, I shall likewise find peace, the highest peace. If I love my neighbors, even as I love myself and my God, and all men do the same, there will be complete social peace. Such obedience can be yielded; such harmony can be won. It has been done by men; it can be done again. Such harmony with law lies at the foundation of the problem of our searching and reaching out for peace in our troubled world."
- John A. Widtsoe, "The Nature of Peace," Conference Report, October 1943, pp. 112-116
Click here to read the full talk

What is peace? Where does it come from? Elder Widtsoe gave this address in 1943, as the world was in the midst of World War II. He spoke of the hope for resolution of the conflict, and how it might be obtained through diplomacy or negotiations. But he believed such a peace would never last; you can't legislate lasting peace. True peace comes as men turn to the doctrine of Christ, and can only come about as we individually create peace in our own life:

I appreciated Elder Widtsoe's further analysis of the process, describing actions that lead to desired results:

  • Obedience of the body's physical laws ­čí▓ physical peace
  • Obedience to laws of mental health ­čí▓ mental peace
  • Obedience to God's spiritual laws ­čí▓ the highest peace
  • Loving neighbors as self and God ­čí▓ social peace

Different aspects of peace come to us in different ways, but they come when we choose to invite them into our life through our actions and agency.

Monday, January 30, 2017

Elder Jeffrey R. Holland on living the gospel conspicuously

Elder Jeffrey R. Holland (born December 3, 1940) served as Church Commissioner of Education from 1976-1980, as the president of BYU from 1980-1989, as a Seventy from 1989-1994, and as a member of the Quorum of Twelve Apostles since 1994.
"Live the gospel as conspicuously as you can. Keep the covenants your children know you have made. Give priesthood blessings. And bear your testimony! Don't just assume your children will somehow get the drift of your beliefs on their own. The prophet Nephi said near the end of his life that they had written their record of Christ and preserved their convictions regarding His gospel in order 'to persuade our children... that our children may know... [and believe] the right way' (2 Ne. 25:23, 26, 28).
"Nephi-like, might we ask ourselves what our children know? From us? Personally? Do our children know that we love the scriptures? Do they see us reading them and marking them and clinging to them in daily life? Have our children ever unexpectedly opened a closed door and found us on our knees in prayer? Have they heard us not only pray with them but also pray for them out of nothing more than sheer parental love? Do our children know we believe in fasting as something more than an obligatory first-Sunday-of-the-month hardship? Do they know that we have fasted for them and for their future on days about which they knew nothing? Do they know we love being in the temple, not least because it provides a bond to them that neither death nor the legions of hell can break? Do they know we love and sustain local and general leaders, imperfect as they are, for their willingness to accept callings they did not seek in order to preserve a standard of righteousness they did not create? Do those children know that we love God with all our heart and that we long to see the face—and fall at the feet—of His Only Begotten Son? I pray that they know this.
"Brothers and sisters, our children take their flight into the future with our thrust and with our aim. And even as we anxiously watch that arrow in flight and know all the evils that can deflect its course after it has left our hand, nevertheless we take courage in remembering that the most important mortal factor in determining that arrow's destination will be the stability, strength, and unwavering certainty of the holder of the bow."
- Jeffrey R. Holland, "A Prayer for the Children," Ensign, May 2003, p. 85
Click here to read or listen to the full article

This is fascinating counsel from Elder Holland. Parents should be living the gospel as conspicuously as they can. Children should see and hear frequent and obvious evidence of their parents' faith and testimony. They should frequently experience priesthood blessings and understand the importance in our lives of the scriptures, prayer, fasting, temple worship, and sustaining of leaders. Our examples will touch them in ways that are deeper and more lasting than our words. This kind of living example will help to launch them forth in their own paths of discipleship:

Elder Holland mentions in a footnote that the metaphor of children as an arrow shot from parents' bow comes from the Lebanese-American poet Kahlil Gibran. This is the passage, from his book The Prophet:
You are the bows from which your children
as living arrows are sent forth.
The archer sees the mark upon the path of the infinite,
and He bends you with His might
that His arrows may go swift and far.
Let your bending in the archer's hand be for gladness;
For even as He loves the arrow that flies,
so He loves also the bow that is stable.

- Kahlil Gibran, The Prophet
The counsel to live our religion "conspicuously" certainly applies directly to parents. But it could apply just as validly to the examples we set for those around us who are not family members, but friends and acquaintances in various settings.

Sunday, January 29, 2017

Elder Mark E. Petersen on the Atonement and the Sabbath

Elder Mark E. Petersen (1900-1984) served as a member of the Quorum of Twelve from 1944 until his death in 1984.
"Let us ask ourselves how important the Lord’s atonement is to us. How dear to us is the Lord Jesus Christ? How deeply are we concerned about immortality? Is the resurrection of vital interest to us?
"We can readily see that observance of the Sabbath is an indication of the depth of our conversion.
"Our observance or nonobservance of the Sabbath is an unerring measure of our attitude toward the Lord personally and toward his suffering in Gethsemane, his death on the cross, and his resurrection from the dead. It is a sign of whether we are Christians in very deed, or whether our conversion is so shallow that commemoration of his atoning sacrifice means little or nothing to us.
"Do we realize that most national holidays are observed more widely than is the Sabbath, so far as its divine purpose is concerned?
"Then have we put God in second or third place? And is that what we want to do? Is that where he belongs?
"I bear you testimony that to properly observe the Lord’s holy day is one of the most important things we can ever do. It is an essential step toward our eternal salvation."
- Mark E Petersen, "The Sabbath Day," Ensign, May 1975, p. 49
Click here to read or listen to the full article

Elder Petersen was one of the senior leaders of the Church when I was young, and I looked up to him in many ways. This talk on the Sabbath Day is truly a classic, and is worth referring to particularly as the concept is being re-emphasized in our day.

Elder Petersen makes a connection in a powerful way between the Atonement of Jesus Christ, and our attitude towards the Sabbath Day. At least part of the reason we are asked to keep the Sabbath holy is as a commemoration of what the Savior did for us. So the suggestion is that if our gratitude to the Lord is strong, it will show in how we commemorate His day. It becomes a sign of the depth of our conversion and our understanding of our dependence on Him:

Elder Petersen's comparison between the way the Sabbath is honored, and the effort sometimes put into commemorating other national holidays, tells a lot about the general attitude in out day towards sacred things. In large measure, people of our time have forgotten what it means to have a holy day. We must not let that happen in our individual lives!

Saturday, January 28, 2017

President Dieter F. Uchtdorf on choosing to receive God's blessings

President Dieter F. Uchtdorf (b. November 6, 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.
"Part of our challenge is, I think, that we imagine that God has all of His blessings locked in a huge cloud up in heaven, refusing to give them to us unless we comply with some strict, paternalistic requirements He has set up. But the commandments aren't like that at all. In reality, Heavenly Father is constantly raining blessings upon us. It is our fear, doubt, and sin that, like an umbrella, block these blessings from reaching us.
"His commandments are the loving instructions and the divine help for us to close the umbrella so we can receive the shower of heavenly blessings.
"We need to accept that the commandments of God aren't just a long list of good ideas. They aren't 'life hacks' from an Internet blog or motivational quotes from a Pinterest board. They are divine counsel, based on eternal truths, given to bring 'peace in this world, and eternal life in the world to come.' (D&C 59:23)
"So we have a choice. On the one hand, there is the opinion of the world with its ever-changing theories and questionable motives. On the other hand, there is God's word to His children—His eternal wisdom, His certain promises, and His loving instructions for returning to His presence in glory, love, and majesty."
- Dieter F. Uchtdorf, "Living the Gospel Joyful," Ensign, November 2014, pp. 120-123
Click here to read or listen to the full article

I really love this expression of God's desire to bless us. He is "constantly raining blessings upon us" if we only are wise enough to receive them. We too often block or deflect the blessings by "our fear, doubt, and sin."

Elder Neal A. Maxwell said it this way:
 "So it is with the Son of God.... We may turn from him, but he is still there. We may feel that he is hidden from us because of the cloud cover of our concerns, but he is still close to us. We—not he—let something come between us, but no lasting eclipse need ensue. Our provincialism cannot withstand his universalism. Our disregard of him is no match for his love of us."
- Neal A. Maxwell, "All Hell Is Moved," BYU Devotional, Nov 8, 1977

President Uchtdorf teaches that it's the commandments and guidelines of the gospel that provide "loving instructions and the divine help" that remove impediments to receiving all of God's blessings. Each time we obey, we receive greater peace and additional help from a loving Father in Heaven. We need only choose to follow Him!

Friday, January 27, 2017

Elder Quentin L. Cook on singing the song of redeeming love

Elder Quentin L. Cook (b. September 8, 1940) was called as a Seventy in 1996, then as a member of the Quorum of Twelve Apostles in 2007.
"In one of the most profound verses in all of scripture, Alma proclaims, 'If ye have experienced a change of heart, and if ye have felt to sing the song of redeeming love, I would ask, can ye feel so now?' (Alma 5:26) ...
"This question, 'Can ye feel so now?' rings across the centuries. With all that we have received in this dispensation—including the Restoration of the fulness of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the outpouring of spiritual gifts, and the indisputable blessings of heaven—Alma's challenge has never been more important....
"Alma emphasizes that through the Atonement of Jesus Christ, 'the arms of mercy are extended' to those who repent (Alma 5:33). He then asks penetrating and ultimate questions, such as: Are we prepared to meet God? Are we keeping ourselves blameless? We should all contemplate these questions."
- Quentin L. Cook, "Can Ye Feel So Now?," Ensign, November 2012, pp. 6-9
Click here to read the full article

I have always loved this verse in Alma 5, in the midst of the wonderful collection of questions Alma asks of his people. To experience a "change of heart" is one of the crucial steps in our spiritual progress. But in addition, Alma specifically mentions the experience of feeling "to sing the song of redeeming love"—a particularly beautiful expression describing our joy in acknowledging the Savior's love on our behalf. It's one thing to have felt the spirit, blessings, and joy of the gospel, of the Redeemer's influence in our lives; but are those feelings recent and current? We should have an active and vibrant spiritual life!

Elder Cook also mentions the equally moving expression that comes a few verses later in Alma's discourse: "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). Those divine "arms of mercy" are continually open and inviting, welcoming us back to His presence as often as we repent. Should we not do so now, that we may feel to sing the heavenly song again?

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Elder M. Russell Ballard on finding help during challenging times of life

Elder M. Russell Ballard (born October 8, 1928) was called as a Seventy in 1976, and has served as a member of the Quorum of Twelve Apostles since 1985.
"Most of us experience periods in our lives where the tranquil waters of life are appreciated. At other times, we encounter white-water rapids that are metaphorically comparable to those found in the 14-mile stretch through Cataract Canyon—challenges that may include physical and mental health issues, the death of a loved one, dashed dreams and hopes, and—for some—even a crisis of faith when faced with life's problems, questions, and doubts.
"The Lord in His goodness has provided help, including a boat, essential supplies such as life jackets, and experienced river guides who give guidance and safety instructions to help us make our way down the river of life to our final destination....
"Let’s think about rule number one: stay in the boat!
"President Brigham Young commonly employed 'the Old Ship Zion' as a metaphor for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints....
"Given the challenges we all face today, how do we stay on the Old Ship Zion?
"Here is how. We need to experience a continuing conversion by increasing our faith in Jesus Christ and our faithfulness to His gospel throughout our lives—not just once but regularly."
- M. Russell Ballard, "Stay in the Boat and Hold On!," Ensign, November 2014, pp. 89-92
Click here to read the full article

Elder Ballard tells of a friend who took a river rafting trip through Cataract Canyon in southern Utah. He applies some of the lessons learned to life's journey. While rivers have areas of both tranquil water and dangerous rapids, it's the challenge of those faster waters that Elder Ballard likens to the challenges we face in our lives. But there are measures in place to insure safety and successful completion!

So the key is to "stay in  the boat" and follow the counsel, taking advantage of the safeguards, and enjoy a wonderful journey!

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Elder D. Todd Christofferson on obedience to commandments

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.
"At times, some people get confused, thinking that the commandments are restrictions or limitations that complicate life, that take away opportunities or happiness or the pleasures of life. In reality, the commandments protect us and guide us to happiness. They are not to restrict but rather to make possible—to allow us to achieve in this life and in the next—what we truly desire and what our Heavenly Father, who loves us, wants for us.
"They are like a flight of stairs. Each step may represent one commandment, and with each commandment that we obey, we can move upward. Then, if we understand the essence of the commandments, we want more. We don't feel resentment regarding the commandments; we want more in order to be able to progress more. And a Heavenly Father who loves us gives unto us according to our desires. If we desire it, He is going to give us more commandments in order to facilitate our progress."
- D. Todd Christofferson, "Steps to Happiness," address given to youth in Salta, Argentina, November 2011; see New Era, September 2013, pp. 22-23
Click here to read or listen to the full article

I have witnessed in others, and experienced myself, the attitude Elder Christofferson describes relating to commandments. They can be viewed as restricting, controlling, limiting. But that is a very naive and short-sighted approach that shows only a lack of understanding. When properly understood in the broader context of our eternal lives, commandments provide a framework of happiness, enabling both safety and progress.

I like the analogy of a flight of stairs. Each act of humble, conscious obedience raises us a little higher. Each step upward increases the desire to continue to climb. And in fact, each act of obedience makes it easier to obey as we continue; both our ability and our desire grow as we continue in the ascent towards our ultimate goal.

How blessed we truly are to have been given these divine guidelines to assist us in finding peace and joy!

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Elder Dallin H. Oaks on learning to judge righteously

Elder Dallin H. Oaks (b. August 12, 1932) served as president of BYU from 1971-1980.  He was then appointed as a justice of the Utah Supreme Court, and resigned when he was called to the Quorum of Twelve Apostles in 1984.
"We should, if possible, refrain from judging until we have adequate knowledge of the facts. In an essay titled 'Sitting in the Seat of Judgment,' the great essayist William George Jordan reminded us that character cannot be judged as dress goods—by viewing a sample yard to represent a whole bolt of cloth (see The Crown of Individuality [1909], 101-5).
"In another essay he wrote: 'There is but one quality necessary for the perfect understanding of character, one quality that, if man have it, he may dare to judge—that is, omniscience. Most people study character as a proofreader pores over a great poem: his ears are dulled to the majesty and music of the lines, his eyes are darkened to the magic imagination of the genius of the author; that proofreader is busy watching for an inverted comma, a misspacing, or a wrong font letter. He has an eye trained for the imperfections, the weaknesses....
"'We do not need to judge nearly so much as we think we do. This is the age of snap judgments.... [We need] the courage to say, "I don't know. I am waiting further evidence. I must hear both sides of the question." It is this suspended judgment that is the supreme form of charity' ("The Supreme Charity of the World," The Kingship of Self-Control [n.d.], 27-30; emphasis in original).
"Someone has said that you cannot slice cheese so fine that it doesn't have two sides....
"May God bless us that we may have that love and that we may show it in refraining from making final judgments of our fellowman. In those intermediate judgments we are responsible to make, may we judge righteously and with love. The gospel of Jesus Christ is a gospel of love. Our Master whom we seek to serve is, as the scriptures say, a 'God of love' (2 Cor. 13:11). May we be examples of His love and His gospel."
- Dallin H. Oaks, "'Judge Not' and Judging," talk at BYU on March 1, 1998; see Ensign, August 1999, pp. 6-13
Click here to read or listen to the full article

I was fascinated by the excerpts Elder Oaks shares. It's one thing to judge a bolt of cloth by the exposed pattern we can see; but that is because we assume the rest of the bolt reflects the same pattern, and so we are seeing an exact representation of the entire product at a glance. But that does not work for our interactions with one another. With people and situations, we can't possibly grasp the intricacies of a personality or of complex motivations based on superficial assumptions.

A second danger is to assume we can understand the character of another based on a proofreader-like examination for flaws. We miss the "majesty and music" in others when all we do is notice their mistakes or shortcomings.

Finally, we are cautioned to reserve judgment while we await "further evidence" and a more complete picture of the facts of a situation. Very wise counsel for any who have been victims of the consequences of hasty judgement.

This entire talk by Elder Oaks is very thought-provoking and contains wonderful counsel.

A few years ago I wrote an essay on a similar topic, based on some of my personal experiences, titled "Judge Righteous Judgment."

Monday, January 23, 2017

President David O. McKay on the inner thoughts of the heart

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.
"No principle of life was more constantly emphasized by the Great Teacher than the necessity of right thinking. To Him, the man was not what he appeared to be outwardly, nor what he professed to be by his words: what the man thought determined in all cases what the man was. No teacher emphasized more strongly than He the truth that 'as a man thinketh in his heart, so is he' [Prov. 23:7]....
"Contentment, complacency, peace—all that makes life worth living—have their source in the mind of the individual. From the same source spring unrest, turbulence, misery—everything that leads to dissolution and death....
"It is well for [every teacher and officer in the Church] to pause frequently and take stock of himself to ascertain 'what he is thinking about when he doesn't have to think,' for 'what he thinketh in his heart, so is he.'"
- David O. McKay, "'As a Man Thinketh... ,'" Instructor, Sept. 1958, 257-58; see Ensign, Oct. 2001, p. 22
Click here to read the full article

I am intrigued by the concept of "right thinking." The implication is that there is such a thing as "wrong thinking," that we should be aware of and careful to avoid. President McKay also seems to be warning about the way our thinking impacts our outward appearances or activities. We can appear to be doing the right things at times, professing to be on track; sometimes we are even outwardly deceptive in hiding what is really going on inside. But President McKay reminds us that what goes on in our minds and in our hearts is what really matters. And that ultimately, the things that truly make life worth living and joyful, spring from that hidden inner source:

President McKay suggests each individual should regularly consider "what he is thinking about when he doesn't have to think" as an indicator of the state of our heart. I think the Spirit confirms "right thinking" as it happens as well; if we are willing to be careful and sensitive, we will know if we are on the right track or not.

Sunday, January 22, 2017

President Russell M. Nelson on comfort through faith in Christ

President Russell M. Nelson (b. Sept 9, 1924) was an internationally-renowned heart surgeon when he was called to serve as a member of the Quorum of Twelve Apostles in 1984. He was set apart as president of the Quorum of Twelve on July 15, 2015.
"Each individual with a testimony of the Lord has the privilege, in faith, to know of His divine parentage and to testify that Jesus is the Son of the living God. True testimony includes the fact that the Father and the Son appeared to the Prophet Joseph Smith.... That testimony includes the fact that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is true and is led by a living Lord via prophecy and revelation through authorized administrators who receive and respond to direction from Him.
"Even in the most troubled times of modern life, this knowledge brings us peace and joy. 'Be of good cheer,' the Master said, 'and do not fear, for I the Lord am with you, and will stand by you; and ye shall bear record of me, even Jesus Christ, that I am the Son of the living God, that I was, that I am, and that I am to come' (D&C 68:6). Lovingly, we hold fast to His blessed promise."
- Russell M. Nelson, "The Peace and Joy of Knowing the Savior Lives," BYU devotional, Dec 10, 2002; see Ensign, Dec. 2011, p. 17
Click here to read or listen to the full article

The gift of true testimony is more valuable than we sometimes recognize. To actually know and understand the fundamental nature of the Savior's life, of His relationship to God including "His divine parentage" and His role with respect to this earth, will change and influence our choices and actions. One of the great keys this message suggests is that we gain peace and joy amidst the "troubled times of modern life" when that testimony is strong:

I'm so grateful for President Nelson's faithful example of one whose testimony is solid and vibrant, and who can encourage us to "lovingly... hold fast to His blessed promise" of divine companionship and comfort.

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Elder Neal A. Maxwell on living life with patience

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.
"Patience is not indifference. Actually, it is caring very much, but being willing, nevertheless, to submit both to the Lord and to what the scriptures call the 'process of time.'
"Patience is tied very closely to faith in our Heavenly Father. Actually, when we are unduly impatient, we are suggesting that we know what is best—better than does God. Or, at least, we are asserting that our timetable is better than his. Either way we are questioning the reality of God's omniscience....
"There is also a dimension of patience which links it to a special reverence for life. Patience is a willingness, in a sense, to watch the unfolding purposes of God with a sense of wonder and awe—rather than pacing up and down within the cell of our circumstance.
"Too much anxious opening of the oven door and the cake falls instead of rising! So it is with us. If we are always selfishly taking our temperature to see if we are happy, we won't be....
"Patience is, therefore, clearly not fatalistic, shoulder-shrugging resignation; it is accepting a divine rhythm to life; it is obedience prolonged."
- Neal A. Maxwell, "Patience," BYU Devotional address, November 27, 1979; see Ensign, October 1980, p. 28
Click here to read the full Ensign article
Click here to read or listen to the BYU devotional

In his wonderfully articulate way, Elder Maxwell shares his very personal thoughts about what he calls the "pedestrian principle" of patience, a quality he himself desired to develop more in a greater measure. He points out the connection between our personal faith in God and the ability to be patient; as we truly trust in Him, we will also trust in His timing and know that things will work out in due time. Our impatience to have things our way, in our timing, suggests we unwisely think we know better than He does. I love the suggestion that we should eagerly watch God's unfolding purposes in our life "with a sense of wonder and awe":

Another very thoughtful description is to liken patience to "obedience prolonged." We are willing to continue to trust God and follow His path for us because of the love, faith, and patience we feel for His purposes. It's that willingness to "endure to the end" that shows our true commitment.

Friday, January 20, 2017

Elder L. Tom Perry on building a solid foundation for life's challenges

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.
"Our journey through life has periods of both good times and bad. Each presents different challenges. How we learn to adjust to the changes which come along depends on the foundation on which we build. The gospel of our Lord and Savior provides a sure and solid foundation. It is constructed piece by piece as we gain knowledge of the Lord's eternal plan for His children. The Savior is the Master Teacher. We follow Him.
"The scriptures testify of Him and provide an example of perfect righteousness for us to follow....
"Men and women are shaped partly by those among whom they choose to live. Those to whom they look up and try to emulate also shape them. Jesus is the great Exemplar. The only way to find lasting peace is to look to Him and live."
- L. Tom Perry, "Finding Lasting Peace and Building Eternal Families," Ensign, November 2014, pp. 43-45
Click here to read or listen to the full article

Everything in life is built on a foundation of one kind or another. The decisions we make, the way we react to challenges, how we interact with others—all of these things depend on previous foundations of decisions, commitments, and patterns we have established in our lives. Elder Perry identifies the solid foundation of "the gospel of our Lord and Savior" as being the most reliable. We build that foundation "piece by piece" through our study, service, faith, and commitment.

The most sure way to build a solid foundation is to always look to the Savior as our model and friend. As we strive to emulate Him in all we do, our foundation becomes dependable and secure; we are better prepared to adjust to the changing circumstances of life.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Elder Neil L. Andersen on our growing perspective in life

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.
"As you live righteously, you will find that during your lifetime your perspective will enlarge many, many times. Usually this shift in perspective is not a dramatic one that you can see from one day to the next, but over time the advances are significant.
"The most important perspective we want to gain was described beautifully by the Savior: 'And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent' (John 17:3)....
"As you can learn to see through the generations—by looking back and by looking forward—you will see more clearly who you are and what you must become. You will better see that your place in this vast, beautiful plan of happiness is no small place. And you will come to love the Savior and depend on Him—as His great gift to us makes this all possible. Your influence will continue generation after generation throughout all eternity."
- Neil L. Andersen, "Seeing Through the Generations," BYU Devotional, May 15, 2006
Click here to read or listen to the full article

Perspective is such a critical thing. It can influence all of our actions and reactions. It's not just what we see, but how we see, and how we interpret what we see, that make all the difference.

Elder Andersen suggests that through obedience and faithfulness, our spiritual perspective gradually increases in ways that make a profound difference for us:

The additional interesting thought is that our perspective should include both the past and the future. We should see and understand things as they were, and as they may become. That makes all the difference for things as they currently are! And it will enable us to better understand the role of the Savior, His eternal gift of Atonement, and our ongoing dependence on Him.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

President Thomas S. Monson on the blessings of forgiveness and mercy

President Thomas S. Monson (b. August 21, 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.
"In the Book of Mormon, Alma describes beautifully the [Lord's mercy] with his words: 'The plan of mercy could not be brought about except an atonement should be made; therefore God himself atoneth for the sins of the world, to bring about the plan of mercy, to appease the demands of justice, that God might be a perfect, just God, and a merciful God also.' (Alma 42:15.)
"From the springboard of such knowledge we ask ourselves, Why, then, do we see on every side those instances where people decline to forgive one another and show forth the cleansing act of mercy and forgiveness? What blocks the way for such healing balm to cleanse human wounds? Is it stubbornness? Could it be pride? Maybe hatred has yet to melt and disappear....
"There are those among us who torture themselves through their inability to show mercy and to forgive others some supposed offense or slight, however small it may be. At times the statement is made, 'I never can forgive [this person or that person].' Such an attitude is destructive to an individual's well-being. It can canker the soul and ruin one's life. In other instances, an individual can forgive another but cannot forgive himself. Such a situation is even more destructive....
"Should you or I have erred or spoken harshly to another, it is good to take steps to straighten out the matter and to move onward with our lives. 'He [who] cannot forgive others breaks the bridge over which he himself must pass if he would ever reach heaven; for every one has need to be forgiven.' (George Herbert)"
- Thomas S. Monson, "Mercy—The Divine Gift," Ensign, May 1995, pp. 54-60
Click here to read or listen to the full article
Mercy is such a beautiful, hopeful concept. Oh, how we depend on God's mercy for us! The fact that He can be both a "perfect, just God, and a merciful God also" is truly a wonder—what a remarkable doctrine that is. He is so eager to forgive, through the blessings and merits of the atonement of the Son.

President Monson then ponders: given that marvelous gift, why do we fail to emulate it in our personal lives? If God is willing to extend mercy to us, how can we fail to do so as we interact with one another? The impact of our unwillingness can be lasting and profound:

In modern revelation, the Lord counseled explicitly: "I, the Lord, will forgive whom I will forgive, but of you it is required to forgive all men" (D&C 64:10). And that includes forgiving ourselves when we have properly resolved our mistakes of the past. That's a good principle to ponder.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

President James E. Faust on resisting the adversary's influence

President James E. Faust (1920-2007) was called as a Seventy in 1976, then as a member of the Quorum of Twelve in 1978. He served as a counselor to President Hinckley from 1995 until his death in 2007 at age 87.
"The Prophet Joseph Smith related from his own experience, 'The nearer a person approaches the Lord, a greater power will be manifested by the adversary to prevent the accomplishment of His purposes' (in Orson F. Whitney, Life of Heber C. Kimball, Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1967, p. 132).
"However, we need not become paralyzed with fear of Satan's power. He can have no power over us unless we permit it. He is really a coward, and if we stand firm, he will retreat. The Apostle James counseled: 'Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you' (James 4:7). He cannot know our thoughts unless we speak them. And Nephi states that 'he hath no power over the hearts' of people who are righteous (see 1 Ne. 22:26).
"We have heard comedians and others justify or explain their misdeeds by saying, 'The devil made me do it.' I do not really think the devil can make us do anything. Certainly he can tempt and he can deceive, but he has no authority over us which we do not give him."
- James E. Faust, "The Great Imitator," Ensign, Nov 1987, pp. 33-36
Click here to read the full article

Joseph Smith's statement is thought-provoking. As a person gets closer to God, "the adversary" focuses more efforts and attention on him. One would expect as much; those are the people who are the greatest threat to his plans, or the greatest evidence of his failure. It's reminiscent of Brigham Young's observation, "We never began to build a temple without the bells of hell beginning to ring" (JD 8:355). It's clear that Satan knows how and where to focus his efforts. But that should not be a cause of undue fear for us:

So while there may be adversity, and efforts to counteract or disrupt or righteous desires, we need not fear. God's power is always greater, and as we turn to Him, we will be strengthened against any conflict. President Faust reassures us that Satan will retreat as we stand firm. This final phrase is a wonderful summary: "Certainly he can tempt and he can deceive, but he has no authority over us which we do not give him."

Monday, January 16, 2017

President Heber J. Grant on finding peace through the Savior

President Heber J. Grant (1856-1945) was ordained an apostle in 1882 when he was 25 years old.  He served as president of the Church from 1918 until his death in 1945 at age 88.  His tenure as president lasted over 26 years; only Brigham Young had a longer term (over 29 years).
"In the living of the Gospel of Christ, and in the joy which flows from service in His cause, comes the only peace that lives forever.
"To the multitude Jesus said:
Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.
Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light. [Matthew 11:28-30]
"To His apostles in the Passover chamber He said:
Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid. [John 14:27]
"His peace will ease our suffering, bind up our broken hearts, blot out our hates, engender in our breasts a love of fellow men that will suffuse our souls with calm and happiness.
"His message and the virtue of His atoning sacrifice reach out to the uttermost parts of the earth; they brood over the remotest seas. Wherever men go, there He may be reached. Where He is, there may the Holy Spirit be found also, with its fruit of 'love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith.' [Galatians 5:22]
"He will be our comfort and solace, our guide and counselor, our salvation and exaltation, for 'there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved.' [Acts 4:12] ...
"Just before He offered up the divine prayer, Jesus, teaching the apostles, said: 'These things I have spoken unto you, that in me ye might have peace. In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world.' [John 16:33]"
- Heber J. Grant, Improvement Era, 45:1, January 1942, p. 10

In many ways, life is a continuing quest for peace. That applies to our public interactions, to our close relationships, and to our inner personal thoughts and feelings. The testimony of President Grant is direct and clear: "In the living of the Gospel of Christ, and in the joy which flows from service in His cause, comes the only peace that lives forever." So it's by following the Gospel principles in our life, and particularly in learning to serve diligently and unselfishly, and we can find peace. The Savior promises rest as we learn of Him and join in His cause. Truly, He is the source of the only real peace in this life:

I have always loved the beautiful invitation of the Savior from John 16:33.  We will have tribulation in the world; but we can always "be of good cheer"—not because of any method of coping with trials, or any self-help program to make us strong in difficulties, or any external program to facilitate our survival. We can have peace because He has "overcome the world"—and so can we as we turn to Him.

Sunday, January 15, 2017

President Spencer W. Kimball on living a life of reverence

President Spencer W. Kimball (1895-1985) was ordained an apostle in 1943 and served as President of the Church from 1973 to 1985.
"We are a richly blessed people. The Lord has given us everything: the gospel of Jesus Christ, the light, the priesthood, the power, the promises, the covenants, the temples, our families, the truth. We should be the happiest people on earth. We should also be the most reverent people....
"Reverence has been defined as a 'feeling or attitude of deep respect, love, and awe, as for something sacred.' To describe it as devotion to God is another way to express the meaning of reverence.
"Many of our leaders have expressed regard for reverence as one of the highest qualities of the soul, indicating it involves true faith in God and in his righteousness, high culture, and a love for the finer things in life....
"As with the other principles of the gospel, reverence leads to increased joy.
"We must remember that reverence is not a somber, temporary behavior that we adopt on Sunday. True reverence involves happiness, as well as love, respect, gratitude, and godly fear. It is a virtue that should be part of our way of life. In fact, Latter-day Saints should be the most reverent people in all the earth."
- Spencer W. Kimball, "We Should Be a Reverent People" (pamphlet, 1976), 1, 2.
Click here to read the full article

The concept of true reverence has been discussed by many Church leaders in my lifetime. This is a wonderful example from President Kimball. Reverence, or deep respect and love, comes from recognizing the blessings we receive from God and being truly grateful. It results in devotion and faithfulness, in putting things in a proper divine perspective.

Statements such as this one from Pres. Kimball probably led to the publishing of one of our most beautiful songs for children, copyrighted in 1987, a few years after President Kimball's pamphlet was published:
Rev'rence is more than just quietly sitting:
It's thinking of Father above,
A feeling I get when I think of his blessings.
I'm rev'rent, for rev'rence is love.
When I'm rev'rent, it shows in my words and my deeds.
The pathway to follow is clear.
And when I am rev'rent, I know in my heart
Heav'nly Father and Jesus are near.

- "Reverence is Love" by Maggie Olauson; Children's Songbook p. 31
Finally, there is a real connection between true reverence and true joy:

How often we should be led to acknowledge our blessings and the goodness of God in our lives! Each day should be willed with gratitude, worship, and deep reverence.
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