Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Elder Neal A. Maxwell on God's help in our challenges of life

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.
"God's plans for the development of souls have not changed. They were described to ancient Israel, whose 40 years in the wilderness were 'to humble thee, and to prove thee, to know what was in thine heart, whether thou wouldest keep his commandments, or no' (Deut. 8:2). Therefore, disciples today can understand why our faith and patience are tried at times—so that we can be prepared to go Home (see Mosiah 23:21).
"Brothers and sisters, we do not go many hours in our lives without having to decide again 'which way do we face' and whether we will pitch our tents facing Sodom or the holy temple (see Gen. 13:12; Mosiah 2:6).
"God has no distracting hobbies off somewhere in the universe. We are at the very center of His concerns and purposes. What a sharp contrast to those who believe that man lives in an 'unconscious universe' (Bertrand Russell), a 'universe... without a master' (Albert Camus)....
"Brothers and sisters, we dare not hold back the restored gospel's declaratives! We dare not hold back the reassuring revelations and truth-telling translations about 'things as they really are, and... things as they really will be.' These are so needed by those whose weary hands hang down because they suffer from doctrinal anemia, which can best be treated by the red blood cells of the Restoration (see Jacob 4:13). To hold back would be to restrain repentance and to obscure the beckoning spiritual alternative, which will become 'fair as the sun, and clear as the moon' (see D&C 105:31)."
- Neal A. Maxwell, "How Choice a Seer," Ensign, November 2003, pp. 99-102
Click here to read or listen to the full article

The "children of Israel" spent 40 years "wandering in the wilderness"; there were things they needed to learn and experience. They needed to prove their hearts, their willingness to obey. Elder Maxwell suggests that in modern times, we have the same experience—"our faith and patience are tried at times" in order to help in our preparation to return to God. The key question for us, then, is to ascertain, in the scriptural language, which way we face—toward the temple (symbolizing God and the gospel) or towards Sodom (representing the world and its temptations).

I love the description of God having "no distracting hobbies" that make Him oblivious to our needs and challenges. While we often engage in those distractions, He never will. We are always 'at the very center of His concerns and purposes."

In the midst of our individual "wanderings in the wilderness," we can become weary. We can "suffer from doctrinal anemia" if we are not focused enough on "the red blood cells of the Restoration." How critical it is to make sure we are facing the right way in order to receive the greatest benefits from what God promises us!

Monday, February 27, 2017

Elder Joseph B. Wirthlin on safety through careful obedience

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.
"With all my heart I echo the Savior's admonition that you choose to hear and heed the word of God. 'Keep the commandments. In this there is safety and peace' (Hymns, 1985, no. 303). In our world today the only protection from 'all the fiery darts of the adversary' (D&C 3:8) is to choose to 'Put on the whole armour of God, that [we] may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil' (Ephesians 6:11).
"And Satan is certainly wily. He is cunning—the master of deception and the father of all lies. Only by keeping all the commandments are you protected by 'the whole armour of God' from Satan's incessant, insidious efforts to lead you carefully into his power....
"And so we must keep all the commandments. You cannot approach the gospel as you would a buffet or smorgasbord, choosing here a little and there a little. You must sit down to the whole feast and live the Lord's loving commandments in their fullness.
"You have been taught the commandments. You know what to do:
"Study the scriptures.
"Pay your tithes and offerings.
"Attend your meetings.
"Partake of the sacrament.
"Magnify your callings and serve others.
"Sustain your Church leaders.
"Do your home teaching and visiting teaching.
"Make and keep sacred covenants.
"Share the gospel.
"Be honest, true, chaste, benevolent, and virtuous.
"The righteous King Benjamin, who loved his people dearly, gathered his people together near the end of his righteous life to share with them the deepest feelings of his heart. After reviewing the basic beliefs and commandments of the gospel of Christ with his beloved people, he offered this simple but powerful exhortation near the conclusion of his great sermon: 'And now, if you believe all these things see that ye do them' (Mosiah 4:10; emphasis added)."
- Joseph B. Wirthlin, "Choose the Right," BYU Fireside, September 4, 1994
Click here to read or listen to the full talk

There is safety in obedience; what an important message. The world is becoming ever more dangerous as the adversary increases "fiery darts" of opposition and temptation. But through God's armor we can resist and be safe.

But partial armor is not much better than no armor. We seek "the whole armor of God" that comes from "keeping all the commandments" in their fulness.

Elder Wirthlin reminds us what some of those key aspects of the Lord's feast are, and then reminds us, along with King Benjamin: "And now, if you believe all these things see that ye do them." We all need that reminder regularly!

Sunday, February 26, 2017

Elder Quentin L. Cook on defending family time as a priority

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.
"Some addictions or predilections, while not inherently evil, can use up our precious allotment of time which could otherwise be used to accomplish virtuous objectives. These can include excessive use of social media, video and digital games, sports, recreation, and many others.
"How we preserve time for family is one of the most significant issues we face in most cultures. At a time when I was the only member of the Church in our law firm, one woman lawyer explained to me how she always felt like a juggler trying to keep three balls in the air at the same time. One ball was her law practice, one was her marriage, and one was her children. She had almost given up on time for herself. She was greatly concerned that one of the balls was always on the ground. I suggested we meet as a group and discuss our priorities. We determined that the primary reason we were working was to support our families. We agreed that making more money wasn’t nearly as important as our families, but we recognized that serving our clients to the best of our abilities was essential. The discussion then moved to what we did at work that was not necessary and was inconsistent with leaving time for family. Was there pressure to spend time in the workplace that was not essential? We decided that our goal would be a family-friendly environment for both women and men. Let us be at the forefront in protecting time for family."
- Quentin L. Cook, "Lamentations of Jeremiah: Beware of Bondage," General Conference, October 2013
Click here to read or listen to the full talk

In this interesting talk, Elder Cook discusses types of bondage we can fall into, particularly in modern times when various forms of addiction or distraction present themselves to us. In this excerpt, he warns of things that are not inherently bad, but to which an excessive focus could distract from things of greater value. His premise is that preserving time for family should be among the highest of our priorities, and things which distract from that goal must be appropriately controlled.

The specific example he shared was from a workplace setting, where a co-worker was struggling to balance her three divergent roles as employee, wife, and mother. In the midst of those unrelenting demands, she had sacrificed "time for herself" as a lesser priority but even so struggled to keep up with the other three. They were able to open discussions that enabled her (and others in the firm) to focus work efforts in ways that minimized unnecessary efforts and pressures. Elder Cook's implied encouragement to each of us is that we would likewise seek ways to "be at the forefront in protecting time for family" in every opportunity. Certainly that would begin with a personal evaluation of where we spend our time and what our priorities are!

Saturday, February 25, 2017

Elder Richard G. Scott on the Savior's support in life

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.
"More important, all of them [the scriptures and prophets], without exception, will lift your vision to the perfect friend—our Savior and Redeemer, Jesus the Christ.
"I love President Benson. I love the Book of Mormon, the Bible, and the other holy scriptures. But I adore this friend.
"I cannot comprehend his power, his majesty, his perfections. But I do understand something of his love, his compassion, his mercy.
"There is no burden he cannot lift.
"There is no heart he cannot purify and fill with joy.
"There is no life he cannot cleanse and restore when one is obedient to his teachings.
"Let my other friends [the living prophet and the scriptures] guide you to him, but find him yourself through humble, sincere prayer, obedience, and faith."
- Richard G. Scott, "True Friends that Lift," Ensign, November 1988, p. 76
Click here to read or listen to the full talk

Elder Scott discussed some of the important friends we have in this life to assist in our journey to happiness, including such things as scriptural records, the prophetic teachings they contain, and modern living witnesses. But his message comes to an apex as he introduces "the perfect friend" and shares thoughts about how He can bless our lives as part of the great plan of happiness:

All the other good "friends" of our life will guide us to the Savior, but we also discover Him and build our relationship with Him "through humble, sincere prayer, obedience, and faith."

Friday, February 24, 2017

Elder Neil L. Andersen on being solidly grounded in times of spiritual tornadoes

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.
"With all the wonderful blessings that are ours in living in this beautiful world, ours is also a time of spiritual tornadoes.... These tornadoes come out of the modern day sky with increasing frequency and test our spiritual foundations. With more opportunities, more time, more freedom, and more privilege come more temptation, and more chance of spiritual destruction from the cares, riches, and pleasures of this life. (See Matthew 13:21; Luke 8:13-14)
"To weather these storms in this environment the Lord has instructed us by His prophets that we must become grounded, rooted, established, and settled in spiritual things. (See Ephesians 3:17; 1 Peter 5:10; Colossians 1:23; 2:7) Christ himself speaking to His disciples said, 'Settle this in your hearts, that you will do the things which I shall teach and command you.' (JST Luke 14:28) Grounded, rooted, established and settled.
"My message today is that we must deepen our faith. Our motives must be real belief. In the environment in which we now live and in which we will live, a simple desire to follow the traditions of our parents will not be sufficient to protect us. There must come into each of our lives a firm conviction that there will be no lasting happiness except in keeping the commandments of God. It will not be sufficient to spiritually live without deep-rooted, powerful testimonies, for the winds and tornadoes of the world will surround us like never before....
"What does it mean to be grounded, rooted, established, and settled spiritually? It means to see 'things as they really are.' (See Jacob 4:13) It means having an eternal perspective, and realizing those things that will shape our lives over much more than the next five, ten, fifteen, or fifty years, but shape and mold our spirits eternally, for our spirits live forever. It is having a faith that is not a generalized feeling but reflects specific experience with interlocking principles. Being grounded and rooted means being able to look forward and backward from this life. A hundred years from now, how will my decisions affect me? A thousand years? A million years? The difficulties that are now mine, how meaningful will they be in a future state?
"This perspective of seeing the spiritual all around us, seeing the purposes of life, does not come merely because we want to believe these things. If we have not grounded and settled these things deep within the foundation of our soul, when the tornadoes come we will find ourselves carried away."
- Neil L. Andersen, "Grounded, Rooted, Established, Settled," LDS Business College devotional, January 14, 1998
Click here to read the full article

I recently came across this talk by Elder Andersen, given when he was serving as a Seventy before his call to the Twelve. I loved his examples and analogies as he discussed the destructive power of tornadoes, and then considered the "spiritual tornadoes" of our time and the different but equally devastating destructive influence they can have if we are not prepared for their onslaught.

I believe it was Elder Neal A. Maxwell who, in a 1981 BYU devotional, first brought together adjectives from the teachings of Peter and Paul to discuss the hope for each of us to be "grounded, rooted, established, and settled" in our gospel maturity. That kind of spiritual anchoring and stability becomes the key in resisting the force of spiritual tornadoes:

Elder Andersen specifies some of the evidences of one who is "grounded, rooted, established, and settled" as:

  • having deep-rooted, powerful testimonies
  • seeing things as they really are (the spiritual perceptiveness to understand truth)
  • having eternal perspective on life and the events that befall us
  • having specific, detailed, reinforced faith
  • seeing life in the context of time both backwards and forwards
  • knowing that events and circumstances might seem serious, but being able to keep the long-term perspective of what their true impact will be
Being grounded and settled happens "deep within the foundations of our soul." We would be wise to carefully examine our souls and consider how we can strengthen our spiritual moorings.

Thursday, February 23, 2017

President Boyd K. Packer on personal prayer and revelation

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.
"You have your agency, and inspiration does not—perhaps cannot—flow unless you ask for it, or someone asks for you.
"No message in scripture is repeated more often than the invitation, even the command, to pray—to ask.
"Prayer is so essential a part of revelation that without it the veil may remain closed to you. Learn to pray. Pray often. Pray in your mind, in your heart. Pray on your knees.
"You must begin where you are. Pray, even if you are like the prophet Alma when he was young and wayward, or if you are like Amulek, of the closed mind, who 'knew concerning these things, yet... would not know' (Alma 10:6).
"Prayer is your personal key to heaven. The lock is on your side of the veil (see Rev. 3:20)."
- Boyd K. Packer, "Personal Revelation: The Gift, the Test, and the Promise," Ensign, Nov. 1994, 59-60
Click here to read or listen to the full talk

President Packer identifies one of the key blessings that comes when we exercise our agency and heed the invitation to pray: the inspiration and revelation that will begin to flow. And so it becomes critical that we learn to pray often and in every setting and opportunity.

The reluctance to pray enough puts us in the same category as Amulek; President Packer quotes a part of that early convert's admission of his own stubbornness:
Nevertheless, I did harden my heart, for I was called many times and I would not hear; therefore I knew concerning these things, yet I would not know; therefore I went on rebelling against God, in the wickedness of my heart.... (Alma 10:6).

The heart that knows, but stubbornly refuses to act, is one that desperately needs to be softened and changed. If we are not unlocking the precious door of heaven with our prayers, frequently and consistently, we are invited to repent and begin to claim the greater blessings that are ours.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Elder Marvin J. Ashton on the blessings of plainness

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.
"'For my soul delighteth in plainness; for after this manner doth the Lord God work among the children of men.' (2 Ne. 31:3.) 'I glory in plainness; I glory in truth; I glory in my Jesus, for he hath redeemed my soul from hell.' (2 Ne. 33:6.) 'My soul delighteth in plainness unto my people, that they may learn.' (2 Ne. 25:4.) Through this great prophet Nephi, along with other leaders and wise teachers, we come to realize that we learn more readily if principles are taught and explained in plainness. Brigham Young once said that if he could do but one thing to bless the Saints, he believed it would be to give them 'eyes with which to see things as they are.' (Journal of Discourses, 3:221.)
"Plainness is best comprehended by the humble, the teachable, the intelligent, the wise, and the obedient. Often plain truths are perverted by the pretentious, the crude, the low, the critical, the contentious, the haughty, and the unrighteous. More so than in any other time in our history, there is an urgency in today's society for men and women to step forward and teach the gospel of Jesus Christ in the power of plainness. God delights when His truths are taught clearly and understandably with no conspicuous ornamentation. Plainness in life, word, and conduct are eternal virtues. When the plainness of Christian teaching and living is lost, apostasy and suffering result. People walk in darkness when the light of plainness is taken from their lives....
"The truths of the gospel of Jesus Christ are plain, precious, and powerful. The lives of the worthy are plain, precious, and powerful."
- Marvin J. Ashton, "The Power of Plainness," Ensign, May 1977, pp. 66-68
Click here to read or listen to the full talk

This was one of the classic talks by Elder Ashton. Noting the powerful teachings of Nephi about the importance of plainness, he applied the concept to our modern times and situation.

I've always loved Nephi's personal expression of love for the Savior as expressed in this memorable phrase: "I glory in plainness; I glory in truth; I glory in my Jesus, for he hath redeemed my soul from hell." He spoke of "my Jesus" even though this was hundreds of years before the mortal life of the Savior; but yet Nephi already had the depth of personal understanding and conviction to recognize Jesus as his personal Redeemer and to hold Him close in esteem. This is plain and pure doctrine.

As we focus on the plain and simple truths of the Gospel, and their direct application to our lives, we are deeply blessed.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

President James E. Faust on true belief and action overcoming fear

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 Savior's words to the leader of the synagogue capture the essence of this story: 'Be not afraid, only believe' (Mark 5:36). These five words comprise my message to you.
"We must believe in God, the Eternal Father, and in His Son, Jesus Christ, and in the Holy Ghost (see Mosiah 4:9). We must believe in the Atonement and the Resurrection of the Savior. We must believe in the words of the prophets, both ancient and modern. We should also believe in ourselves.
"Believing requires action. If you prepare to walk down the path of life, you can be rewarded beyond your dreams and expectations. But to achieve this, you must work very hard, save, be wise, and be alert. You must learn to deny yourselves of worldly gratification. You must be faithful in paying tithes; you must keep the Word of Wisdom; you must be free from other addictions. You must be chaste and morally clean in every respect. You should accept and be faithful in all of the calls that come to you. Steadiness and toil will serve you better than brilliance."
- James E. Faust, "Pioneers of the Future: 'Be Not Afraid, Only Believe'," Ensign, Nov. 1997, p. 45
Click here to read or listen to the full article

The five simple words of the Savior's admonition as recorded in Mark are, to me, among the most profound and influential of His instructions. "Be not afraid, only believe." These words encapsulate guidance for dealing with a complex and sometimes confusing mortality, and provide the essence of the message of discipleship. They emphasize the important distinction between fear and faith, encouraging us to overcome the former with the latter. If we truly grasped the full import of this simple invitation and accepted it completely, much would be clarified and simplified in our lives.

Believe what? President Faust offers some suggestions: believe in God, the Savior, the Holy Spirit; believe in the power of the Atonement and Resurrection on our behalf; believe in prophets sent to represent God; believe in our own capacity to follow and find happiness.

But belief is not passive; true, sincere, heart-felt belief implies and requires action:

It's in the "deny[ng] yourselves of worldly gratification" that our incomplete belief is sometimes manifest, particularly as we allow those things to intervene in the actions that demonstrate true belief. The true and faithful disciple will demonstrate "steadiness" in the path, and not scattered instances of brilliance.

Monday, February 20, 2017

Elder Gary E. Stevenson on letting our light shine

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.
"Recently, as I participated with Elder Quentin L. Cook in a conference with many other priesthood leaders, he counseled, 'Don't be in camouflage.'  He went on to emphasis how it is important that we stand up and stand out. I believe he was addressing another type of fear—the fear of being ridiculed for one's beliefs.
"Today’s cultural landscape is full of those who would mock and ridicule our beliefs. We worry that if we express our peculiar beliefs—and they are peculiar—that this will somehow become an embarrassment, or ultimately, a disadvantage in our professional or social relationships. But we shouldn’t hide among the shadows, trying to blend in. 'Ye are the light of the world. A city that is set on an hill cannot be hid' (Matthew 5:14)....
"It is more important than ever to be willing to express your values and beliefs—particularly in today’s society, where people are stumbling around in the midst of darkness. You can express your faith with words, but especially by the way you live your life. 'Be strong and of a good courage' (Joshua 10:25). There are those out there who are hungry for the light of truth that you have. 'Let your light so shine before men' (Matthew 5:16).
"Remember that the flame of conviction, truth and testimony inside you is bright enough to vanquish your fear of ridicule for your beliefs."
- Gary E. Stevenson, "Conquer Fear with the Fire of Faith," BYU-Hawaii commencement address, April 18, 2015
Click here to read or listen to the full talk

It's not unusual to be worried about having our beliefs ridiculed. We want to make a good impression, to have others think well of us. But we also want to share things that are precious to us with others. We just worry that they may not understand them or find them as precious as we do; and sometimes we're afraid that the criticism may lead to "disadvantages" in social or professional settings. So we hesitate.

Elder Stevenson encourages boldness and courage in letting our light shine; too many around us are struggling and stumbling in the darkness of today's world:

The final point is a powerful one.  It is "the flame of conviction, truth and testimony" in our hearts that will "vanquish your fear of ridicule for your beliefs." When the fire is strong, the fear fades away in the desire to share and bless.

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Elder Jeffrey R. Holland on Christlike love and true righteousness

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.
"Christlike love is the greatest need we have on this planet in part because righteousness was always supposed to accompany it. So if love is to be our watchword, as it must be, then by the word of Him who is love personified, we must forsake transgression and any hint of advocacy for it in others. Jesus clearly understood what many in our modern culture seem to forget: that there is a crucial difference between the commandment to forgive sin (which He had an infinite capacity to do) and the warning against condoning it (which He never ever did even once).
"Friends, especially my young friends, take heart. Pure Christlike love flowing from true righteousness can change the world....
"Be strong. Live the gospel faithfully even if others around you don't live it at all. Defend your beliefs with courtesy and with compassion, but defend them. A long history of inspired voices, including those you will hear in this conference and the voice you just heard in the person of President Thomas S. Monson, point you toward the path of Christian discipleship. It is a strait path, and it is a narrow path without a great deal of latitude at some points, but it can be thrillingly and successfully traveled, 'with... steadfastness in Christ, ... a perfect brightness of hope, and a love of God and of all men' (2 Nephi 31:20). In courageously pursuing such a course, you will forge unshakable faith, you will find safety against ill winds that blow, even shafts in the whirlwind, and you will feel the rock-like strength of our Redeemer, upon whom if you build your unflagging discipleship, you cannot fall (see Helaman 5:12)."
- Jeffrey R. Holland, "The Cost—and Blessings—of Discipleship," Ensign, May 2014, pp. 6-9
Click here to read and listen to the full article

Elder Holland suggests an interesting premise: we can not truly express Christlike love unless we are living a Christlike life. Righteousness must accompany the emotion. In order to live as He lived, to love as He loves, "we must forsake transgression." Not only that, we must avoid any condoning or advocacy of sin; we must in every case stand for truth. But the promise is powerful; "Pure Christlike love flowing from true righteousness can change the world."

Elder Holland encourages us to "Live the gospel faithfully even if others around you don't live it at all"—sometimes that is hard to do. If we listen carefully to the "inspired voices" who guide and encourage us, we can find the "path of Christian discipleship" and be able to remain on it. I love Elder Holland's promises; as we "courageously pursue" that path:

  • you will forge unshakable faith
  • you will find safety against ill winds that blow
  • you will feel the rock-like strength of our Redeemer

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Elder M. Russell Ballard on the protection of spiritual armor

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.
"Long before the world was formed, Satan and those who followed after him raged against the forces of good and tried to overthrow the work of God. That struggle has not ended, only shifted battlegrounds. It is ruthless, and relentless; the objective of the battle is your eternal soul and mine.
"The Apostle Paul spoke of how to arm ourselves for this conflict in these very graphic terms:
"'Be strong in the Lord, and in the power of his might.
"'Put on the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil....' (Ephesians 6:10-13)
"How do we put on the whole armor of God so that we may, as Paul promises, 'be able to withstand in the evil day'?
"I like to think of this spiritual armor not as a solid piece of metal molded to fit the body, but more like chain mail. Chain mail consists of dozens of tiny pieces of steel fastened together to allow the user greater flexibility without losing protection. I say that because it has been my experience, covering many more years than you have yet been privileged to live, that there is not one great and grand thing we can do to arm ourselves spiritually. True spiritual power lies in numerous smaller acts woven together in a fabric of spiritual fortification that protects and shields from all evil.
"It is a common expression to talk about the 'chinks' in a person’s armor. The definition of the word chink is 'a crack, cleft, ... a narrow opening' (Webster’s New Universal Unabridged Dictionary [1996], s.v. 'chink,' 361). Should an arrow strike exactly one of the chinks in one’s armor, a fatal wound can result.
"I would like to suggest to you six ways we may protect ourselves by eliminating any chinks or gaps in our personal spiritual armor.
"1. Rely on the Protective Power of Prayer....
"2. Rely on the Protective Power of the Scriptures....
"3. Draw on the Merciful Grace of God....
"4. Watch Yourselves....
"5. Don’t Waste the Days of Your Probation....
"6. Remember That Reverence Invites Revelation."
- M. Russell Ballard, "Be Strong in the Lord, and in the Power of His Might," BYU Fireside, March 3, 2002
Click here to read or listen to the full talk

The great battle between the forces of good and the forces of evil continues to rage; the battlefield is all around us. Paul's original imagery of the "armor of God" still resonates, but Elder Ballard gives a new insight by describing that armor not just as solid metal plates (our usual imagery) but as chain mail made of small, strong rings of metal tightly woven together:

We must actively weave our own mail through "numerous smaller acts" of righteousness and faithfulness. A well-woven mail will continue to provide great flexibility in life, while also providing great protection. Sadly, it doesn't take much of a "chink" in the armor to make it less than secure; and Satan is expert at exploiting chinks.

Elder Ballard gives wonderful advice in this talk about the habits and practices that will provide a secure and strong spiritual armor for us.

Friday, February 17, 2017

Elder Dallin H. Oaks on serving others unselfishly

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.
"Our Savior gave Himself in unselfish service. He taught that each of us should follow Him by denying ourselves of selfish interests in order to serve others.
"'If any man will come after me [He said], let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me.
"'For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it' (Matthew 16:24-25; see also Matthew 10:39)....
"It is not easy to give up our personal priorities and desires. Many years ago a new missionary in England was frustrated and discouraged. He wrote home saying he felt he was wasting his time. His wise father replied, 'Forget yourself and go to work.' Young Elder Gordon B. Hinckley went to his knees and covenanted with the Lord that he would try to forget himself and lose himself in the Lord's service. (See Ensign, July 1987, 7.) Years later, as a mature servant of the Lord, Elder Hinckley would say, 'He who lives only unto himself withers and dies, while he who forgets himself in the service of others grows and blossoms in this life and in eternity.' (TGBH p. 588.)"
- Dallin H. Oaks, "Unselfish Service," Ensign, May 2009, pp. 93-96
Click here to read the full talk

Disciples of Christ strive to emulate Him in every way. Unselfish service to others was one of His greatest characteristics during His mortal life, and He encouraged His followers to do likewise. Elder Oaks observes very pointedly, "It is not easy to give up our personal priorities and desires" in order to focus on the needs of others. And then he shares this wonderful example from a young President Hinckley:

I liked Elder Oaks' postscript to the story of young Elder Hinckley, as he reflected many years later on the blessing that unselfish service is; anyone who who discover the secret "grows and blossoms in this life and in eternity."

Thursday, February 16, 2017

President Dieter F. Uchtdorf on the sacred importance of forgiving one another

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.
"Jesus said it is easy to love those who love us; even the wicked can do that. But Jesus Christ taught a higher law. His words echo through the centuries and are meant for us today. They are meant for all who desire to be His disciples. They are meant for you and me: 'Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you' (Matthew 5:44).
"When our hearts are filled with the love of God, we become 'kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving [each other], even as God for Christ's sake [forgave us]' (Ephesians 4:32).
"The pure love of Christ can remove the scales of resentment and wrath from our eyes, allowing us to see others the way our Heavenly Father sees us: as flawed and imperfect mortals who have potential and worth far beyond our capacity to imagine. Because God loves us so much, we too must love and forgive each other....
"Brothers and sisters, there is enough heartache and sorrow in this life without our adding to it through our own stubbornness, bitterness, and resentment.
"We are not perfect.
"The people around us are not perfect (see Romans 3:23). People do things that annoy, disappoint, and anger. In this mortal life it will always be that way.
"Nevertheless, we must let go of our grievances. Part of the purpose of mortality is to learn how to let go of such things. That is the Lord's way.
"Remember, heaven is filled with those who have this in common: They are forgiven. And they forgive.
"Lay your burden at the Savior's feet. Let go of judgment. Allow Christ's Atonement to change and heal your heart. Love one another. Forgive one another.
"The merciful will obtain mercy."
- Dieter F. Uchtdorf, "The Merciful Obtain Mercy," Ensign, May 2012, pp. 70-77
Click here to read or listen to the full article

We are not perfect, and neither are those around us. We make mistakes; so do others. We sometimes offend and hurt one another. But "there is enough heartache and sorrow in this life without our adding to it through our own stubbornness, bitterness, and resentment." President Uchtdorf pleads for greater forgiveness and understanding, since we all need to receive it as well as give it. And no hurt is so great that we can't let it go, with the help of the Savior, once we truly allow His atonement to "change and heal" our hearts.

I love that final line: "Remember, heaven is filled with those who have this in common: They are forgiven. And they forgive." We would each be wise to examine our hearts and our lives, and make sure we are not holding back the forgiveness that He would have us offer to one another.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Elder Dale G. Renlund on the faithful disciple's walk in life

Elder Dale G. Renlund (born November 13, 1952) served in the First Quorum of Seventy starting in 2009, until his call to the Quorum of Twelve in October 2015.
"[Former South African president Nelson] Mandela frequently deflected accolades by saying, 'I’m no saint—that is, unless you think a saint is a sinner who keeps on trying.'
"This statement—'a saint is a sinner who keeps on trying'—should reassure and encourage members of the Church. Although we are referred to as 'Latter-day Saints,' we sometimes flinch at this reference. The term Saints is commonly used to designate those who have achieved an elevated state of holiness or even perfection. And we know perfectly well that we are not perfect.
"Our theology does teach us, though, that we may be perfected by repeatedly and iteratively 'relying wholly upon' the doctrine of Christ: exercising faith in Him, repenting, partaking of the sacrament to renew the covenants and blessings of baptism, and receiving the Holy Ghost as a constant companion to a greater degree. As we do so, we become more like Christ and are able to endure to the end, with all that that entails. In less formal terms, God cares a lot more about who we are and who we are becoming than about who we once were. He cares that we keep on trying."
- Dale G. Renlund, "Latter-day Saints Keep on Trying," Ensign, May 2015, pp. 57-58
Click here to read or listen to the full talk

A lot hinges how we interpret the word "saint." Mandela's definition is perfect; it's just someone who keeps on trying. It's a disciple who is firmly on the path and doing his or her best to progress. That progress comes through the Master whom we follow:
And now, my beloved brethren, after ye have gotten into this strait and narrow path, I would ask if all is done? Behold, I say unto you, Nay; for ye have not come thus far save it were by the word of Christ with unshaken faith in him, relying wholly upon the merits of him who is mighty to save. (2 Nephi 31:19, emphasis added.)

I love the phrase "relying wholly upon" that Elder Renlund quotes. It requires a total and unrestrained commitment to Him in order to walk the path; partial or occasional reliance won't do. Elder Renlund then elaborates:

It's a powerful reminder that God is much more concerned with our present state and direction, than He is about where we came from. We should never forget that!

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

President Gordon B. Hinckley on Valentine's Day and true love

President Gordon B. Hinckley (1910-2008) was called to the Quorum of Twelve in 1961. He served as a counselor in the First Presidency from 1981-1995, then as Church President until his death in 2008.
"When I was a little boy, we children traded paper hearts at school on Valentine’s Day. At night we dropped them at the doors of our friends, stamping on the porch and then running in the dark to hide.
"Almost without exception those valentines had printed on their face, 'I love you.' I have since come to know that love is more than a paper heart. Love is of the very essence of life. It is the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. Yet it is more than the end of the rainbow. Love is at the beginning also, and from it springs the beauty that arches across the sky on a stormy day. Love is the security for which children weep, the yearning of youth, the adhesive that binds marriage, and the lubricant that prevents devastating friction in the home; it is the peace of old age, the sunlight of hope shining through death. How rich are those who enjoy it in their associations with family, friends, church, and neighbors.
"I am one who believes that love, like faith, is a gift of God....
"To all of us who would be his disciples, he has given the great commandment, 'A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you.' (John 13:34.)
"If the world is to be improved, the process of love must make a change in the hearts of men. It can do so when we look beyond self to give our love to God and others, and do so with all our heart, with all our soul, and with all our mind."
- Gordon B. Hinckley, "And the Greatest of These Is Love," Ensign, March 1984, p. 3
Click here to read the full talk

President Hinckley originally shared this message in a Valentine's Day devotional at BYU (February 14, 1978). The reminiscences from his youth are characteristic of his warm and personal approach. But the insights he shares of his impressions about the meaning of "love" are very thought-provoking. While the emotion is too often lessened and cheapened in colloquial use, it truly has a far-reaching and powerful meaning:

President Hinckley's conclusion speaks of the importance of love as the key to bring about change and improvement in the world. It starts with individual hearts, as each heart is changed and learns to love others as Christ loved us. Once we reflect His perfect love in our interactions with those around us, our individual world truly will be changed, and the broader world we are a part of will begin to feel the impact as well.

(Compilation and commentary by David Kenison, Orem, Utah, 2017)

Monday, February 13, 2017

President Russell M. Nelson on help in today's world

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.
"Problems abound in this world because it is populated by imperfect people. Their objectives and desires are heavily influenced by their faith or lack of it. Many put other priorities ahead of God. Some challenge the relevance of religion in modern life. As in every age, so today there are those who mock or decry the free exercise of religion. Some even blame religion for any number of the world's ills. Admittedly, there have been times when atrocities have been committed in the name of religion. But living the Lord's pure religion, which means striving to become a true disciple of Jesus Christ, is a way of life and a daily commitment that will provide divine guidance. As you practice your religion, you are exercising your faith. You are letting your faith show....
"The scriptures provide one of the best ways to find our course and stay on it. Scriptural knowledge also provides precious protection....
"My dear brothers and sisters, what are we missing in our lives if we are 'ever learning, [but] never able to come to the knowledge of the truth' (2 Timothy 3:7)? We can gain great knowledge from the scriptures and obtain inspiration through prayers of faith.
"Doing so will help us as we make daily decisions. Especially when the laws of man are created and enforced, God's laws must ever be our standard. In dealing with controversial issues, we should first search for God's guidance."
- Russell M. Nelson, "Let Your Faith Show," Ensign, May 2014, pp. 29-32
Click here to read or listen to the full article

It seems the world in which we live is becoming more and more secularized; in too many places and too many lives, religion no longer plays a significant role. President Nelson laments the lack of faith; but among the faithful, he is convinced that by living "pure religion" and "striving to become a true disciple of Jesus Christ" we open the way to receiving guidance from above.

The concept of "practicing your religion" or "exercising your faith" implies working to develop or strengthen them, as if exercising a muscle or improving a skill. Those are things true disciples must be eager to do, and never hesitate to let faith show.

But in the struggle against secularization, President Nelson counsels that scripture study and scriptural knowledge "provides precious protection" for our lives.

Our resistance to modern secularization will be much more effective as we have a stronger foundation of scriptural understanding. This is a very timely warning for our day.

Sunday, February 12, 2017

President Gordon B. Hinckley on living in gratitude to God

President Gordon B. Hinckley (1910-2008) was called to the Quorum of Twelve in 1961. He served as a counselor in the First Presidency from 1981-1995, then as Church President until his death in 2008.
"Gratitude is of the very essence of worship—thanksgiving to the God of Heaven, who has given us all that we have that is good.
"As you know, I served as a counselor to President Ezra Taft Benson, and I was with him many times when he prayed. He did not ask for very much in his prayers. His prayers were expressions of gratitude. Be thankful. When you walk with gratitude, you do not walk with arrogance and conceit and egotism, you walk with a spirit of thanksgiving that is becoming to you and will bless your lives. Be grateful. Be thankful to the Almighty for His wonderful blessings upon you. You have all that this great age has to offer, and beyond that the marvelous blessings of the restored gospel of Jesus Christ. How lucky can you be. Walk with appreciation and respect for the blessings of life and happiness which you enjoy."
- Gordon B. Hinckley, Pittsburgh Pennsylvania Regional Conference, 4/28/96; see TGBH (1997), p. 250

This was a frequent theme for President Hinckley. He reminded us regularly that there are blessings that come to a grateful heart.

It's interesting to ponder what true worship is. Standing in awe and admiration of a divine Being far greater than ourselves seems only part of the action; but to express our deep and sincere appreciation to that Being, not just in words and thoughts, but in actions and emulation, seems to complete the expression.

In this excerpt, President Hinckley describes what a life of gratitude looks like—the simple humility that will accompany a person who is truly grateful to God for the blessings that have come.

To truly "walk with gratitude" is more than just occasionally remembering to feel or express it. It implies a constant, consistent, ongoing attitude that expresses itself in all we do.
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