Friday, March 31, 2017

President Howard W. Hunter on the blessings of general conference

President Howard W. Hunter (1907-1995) was called to the Quorum of Twelve in 1959.  He served as Church President for only nine months, from June 5, 1994 to his death on March 3, 1995.
"Conference time is a season of spiritual revival when knowledge and testimony are increased and solidified that God lives and blesses those who are faithful. It is a time when an understanding that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God, is burned into the hearts of those who have the determination to serve him and keep his commandments. Conference is the time when our leaders give us inspired direction in the conduct of our lives—a time when souls are stirred and resolutions are made to be better husbands and wives, fathers and mothers, more obedient sons and daughters, better friends and neighbors.
"As we enter into the spirit of conference, another feeling comes to us—one of deep gratitude that we have been blessed by an understanding of the gospel of Jesus Christ as it has been restored to earth in this dispensation of time. We mix with others from around the world who have that same feeling, and we wish that men and women everywhere could understand and find the joy and peace that come from the knowledge that all people are children of God and therefore brothers and sisters—literally, actually, and in fact, regardless of race, color, language, or religious belief."
- Howard W. Hunter, "Conference Time," Ensign, November 1981, p. 12
Click here to read or listen to the full talk

Faithful Church members are eagerly anticipating the coming days of "spiritual revival" available to them. The understanding that God will bless us as we are faithful is a critical one, much needed when we struggle with the challenges of our lives. Part of the blessing of conference lies in the resolutions we make to improve as we listen to the counsel that is offered.

The second paragraph of President Hunter's message points out that we should feel deep gratitude for the blessings we experience during conference, of deepened understanding and growing testimony. And that gratitude should motivate us with a with that "men and women everywhere" could experience the same join and peace with us. We should be motivated to share our testimonies, to bless and lift those around us with the knowledge.

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Elder Richard G. Scott on the blessings of temple attendance

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.
"If you have received temple ordinances but do not now visit the temple, even when there is one nearby, with all the tenderness of my heart I invite you to come back to the temple. There are many reasons. It is a place of peace, solitude, and inspiration. Regular attendance will enrich your life with greater purpose. It will permit you to provide deceased ancestors the exalting ordinances you have received. Go to the temple. You know it is the right thing to do. Do it now.
"The temple ordinances are so imbued with symbolic meaning as to provide a lifetime of productive contemplation and learning. Ponder each word and activity in the temple. Study how they interrelate. As you ponder the significance of those matters, think of them in light of your relationship to the Savior and His to our Father in Heaven. Contemplate how the understanding you receive enhances your earth life by giving proper emphasis on things which are critically important. Arrange to participate for deceased ancestors in the sealing and other ordinances as well as the endowment. I find it helpful when receiving ordinances for another, to try and relate to that person specifically. I think of him and pray that he will accept the ordinance and benefit from it. Do these things with a prayer in your heart that the Holy Spirit will enhance your understanding and enrich your life. Those worthy prayers will be answered."
- Richard G. Scott, "Receive the Temple Blessings," Ensign, May 1999, pp. 25-27
Click here to read or listen to the full talk

This message from Elder Scott had some wonderful suggestions about the blessings and power available to us in the temples. He invites us all to return, particularly those who may not have been participating regularly; and promises:

  • Peace, solitude, inspiration
  • Enriched life with greater purpose
  • Service to deceased ancestors

But I appreciated even more the suggestions on improving the experience while attending the temple:

Considering how the various words and activities within the temple interrelate has been interesting to me; helpful insights about the reasons and benefits come in that effort. We begin to see new ways in which that understanding enhances our mortal experience as we can give proper emphasis to things that matter most.

And when participating in proxy ordinances, Elder Scott suggests we truly reach out, spirit-to-spirit, to the person we are representing. I recently had new insights in considering a person who, because of the name and date represented, had a dramatically different lifestyle and experiences than I will in mortality; but yet, we are equally sons of God, in need of His love and His ordinances all the same.

"Do these things with a prayer in your heart that the Holy Spirit will enhance your understanding and enrich your life. Those worthy prayers will be answered." So true!

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

President Boyd K. Packer on developing faith in family settings

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.
"As it has been since the beginning, the adversary would divide us, break us up, and if he can, destroy us. But the Lord said, 'Lift up your hearts and rejoice, and gird up your loins, and take upon you my whole armor, that ye may be able to withstand the evil day, ... taking the shield of faith wherewith ye shall be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked' (D&C 27:15, 17; emphasis added).
"The ministry of the prophets and apostles leads them ever and always to the home and the family. That shield of faith is not produced in a factory but at home in a cottage industry....
"Lest parents and children be 'tossed to and fro,' and misled by 'cunning craftiness' of men who 'lie in wait to deceive' (Eph. 4:14), our Father's plan requires that, like the generation of life itself, the shield of faith is to be made and fitted in the family. No two can be exactly alike. Each must be handcrafted to individual specifications.
"The plan designed by the Father contemplates that man and woman, husband and wife, working together, fit each child individually with a shield of faith made to buckle on so firmly that it can neither be pulled off nor penetrated by those fiery darts.
"It takes the steady strength of a father to hammer out the metal of it and the tender hands of a mother to polish and fit it on. Sometimes one parent is left to do it alone. It is difficult, but it can be done.
"In the Church we can teach about the materials from which a shield of faith is made: reverence, courage, chastity, repentance, forgiveness, compassion. In church we can learn how to assemble and fit them together. But the actual making of and fitting on of the shield of faith belongs in the family circle. Otherwise it may loosen and come off in a crisis....
"This shield of faith is not manufactured on an assembly line, only handmade in a cottage industry. Therefore our leaders press members to understand that what is most worth doing must be done at home. Some still do not see that too many out-of-home activities, however well intended, leave too little time to make and fit on the shield of faith at home."
- Boyd K. Packer, "The Shield of Faith," Ensign, May 1995, pp. 7-9
Click here to read or listen to the full article

The imagery of "the armor of God" was introduced by Paul in his letter to the Ephesians (6:10-18). He comments, in the words echoed in modern revelation, "Above all, taking the shield of faith, wherewith ye shall be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked" (Eph. 6:16). Possessing that "shield of faith" becomes critical in our day, when "fiery darts" seem to be present in abundance.

President Packer's message is that the family setting in homes is where the shield of faith is best produced, in that "cottage industry" instead of a mass-production factory.

In the ideal home, a father and a mother work together to custom-make the shield for each child, "made to buckle on so firmly that it can neither be pulled off nor penetrated by those fiery darts." Through teachings and example, through tutoring experiences, children must learn how their faith in Jesus Christ can grow, and can be used to preserve strength and safety. And each of us, young or old, must continue to strengthen our own shield, to make sure it is fitted tightly to our hearts and souls.

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

President Spencer W. Kimball on the deceptive attractiveness of sin

President Spencer W. Kimball (1895-1985) was ordained an apostle in 1943 and served as President of the Church from 1973 to 1985.
"Whoever said that sin was not fun? Whoever claimed that Lucifer was not handsome, persuasive, easy, friendly? Whoever said that sin was unattractive, undesirable, or nauseating in its acceptance?
"Transgression wears elegant gowns and sparkling apparel. It is highly perfumed, has attractive features, a soft voice. It is found in educated circles and sophisticated groups. It provides sweet and comfortable luxuries. Sin is easy and has a big company of bed fellows. It promises immunity from restrictions, temporary freedoms. It can momentarily satisfy hunger, thirst, desire, urges, passions, wants, without immediately paying the price. But, it begins tiny and grows to monumental proportions. It grows drop by drop, inch by inch."
- Spencer W. Kimball, "The Mistletoe," Conference Report, April 1967, pp. 64-67
Click here to read the full talk

I was 16 years old when President Kimball became the president of the Church. As a youth, I was always eager to hear him speak because of talks like this one (though it was given a few years earlier than that). He often shared very practical counsel, but with a way of expressing that was beautiful and inspiring. I learned to listen beyond the soft, raspy voice that was a result of throat cancer, and hear the power of his expression even when the delivery was not so powerful. It was a good lesson.

In this talk, President Kimball spoke of the mistletoe plant, that grows as a parasite on other trees. It starts as a small, attractive plant, but can eventually take over and destroy the whole host tree, sucking all the nutrition and energy from it. His analogy was to the way sin can overtake our lives—at first small and subtle, but then overpowering in impact.

In our time, 50 years after these words were first shared, the lures of Lucifer and his distractions are even more subtle and dangerous, and perhaps even more powerful in destroying life and hope. How carefully we must heed the prophetic warnings as they help us see the dangers that lie ahead from the "elegant gowns and sparkling apparel" of the world's ways!

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

Monday, March 27, 2017

President Harold B. Lee on the blessing of communication with God

President Harold B. Lee (1899-1973) was called to the Quorum of Twelve Apostles in 1941. He served as a counselor in the First Presidency from 1970-1972, then as Church president from July 1972 until his passing less than 18 months later in December 1973.
"One of the most prized of all the possessions that we can have or the prized knowledge that we can possess is that the Lord hears and answers prayers—or, to put it in another way, that we learn how to talk with God.
"Praying is not just a matter of saying words, as some various churches would teach, but to recognize that God, our Heavenly Father, and His Son, Jesus Christ, are living, real personalities and that through the ministry of the other member of the Godhead, the Holy Ghost or Holy Spirit, we can communicate with Him, our Heavenly Father, and receive an answer to our inquiry and strength for our days."
- Harold B. Lee, Address to the Lausanne Switzerland conference, 26 Sept. 1972, Historical Department Archives, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 2.  See Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Harold B. Lee, p. 53

This is an interesting question: what is the most "prized" knowledge to have or thing to possess? President Lee counts the gift of prayer high on that list. But not just going through the motions of prayer; having the knowledge that God both hears and answers, that the communication is real and alive:

He goes on to elaborate that prayer as he considers it includes understanding the nature of the Father and the Son, and that the Holy Ghost is a part of the process of facilitating that communication. In reality, we are involved with all three as we learn to communicate and "receive an answer to our inquiry and strength for our days."

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Elder Bruce R. McConkie on the power and blessings from prayer

Elder Bruce R. McConkie (July 29, 1915 - April 19, 1985) served as a Seventy from 1946-1972 when he was called to the Quorum of Twelve.  He served in that assignment until his death from cancer at age 69.
"It is pleasing to that God whose we are when we fast and pray and seek his blessings; when we plead with all the energy of our souls for those things we so much desire; when, as Paul says, we 'come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need.' (Heb. 4:16.)
"Prayer is the way and means, given us by our Creator, whereby we can counsel and communicate with him. It is one of the chief cornerstones of pure and perfect worship.
"In prayer we speak to the Lord, and he speaks to us. It is our privilege to have our voices heard in the courts above and to hear the answering voice of the Lord conveyed by the power of his Spirit.
"Prayer changes our lives. Through it we draw near to the Lord, and he reaches out his finger and touches us, so we never again are the same.
"Prayer is a great tower of strength, a pillar of unending righteousness, a mighty force that moves mountains and saves souls. Through it the sick are healed, the dead are raised, and the Holy Spirit is poured out without measure upon the faithful.
"In prayer we bind ourselves by solemn covenants to love and serve the Lord all our days. In it we pay our devotions and offer our sacraments to the Most High."
- Bruce R. McConkie, "Patterns of Prayer," Ensign, May 1984, pp. 32-34
Click here to read or listen to the full talk

In my youth, I loved listening to Elder McConkie. His words were always so sure, his voice so bold and clear in expounding doctrine and testifying of truth.

This explanation of the power of prayer and the role it can play in our lives is insightful and inspiring. Once we begin to grasp the blessings available through this heavenly gift, we truly will be willing to "come boldly unto the throne of grace."

Two more thoughts from Elder McConkie's quote impressed me. First, prayer provides the means through which "the Holy Spirit is poured out without measure upon the faithful." That is a gift to be sought after and prized as we deal with the challenges of mortality. The price to pay for the gift is small in comparison to that which is returned.

And then, "In prayer we bind ourselves by solemn covenants to love and serve the Lord all our days." What a beautiful expression of the sacred relationship we develop with our Father through sincere and regular communication. How deeply fortunate is the man or woman who establishes this habit and begins to receive the blessings that follow!

Saturday, March 25, 2017

President Joseph Fielding Smith on living in the world but avoiding the world

Joseph Fielding Smith (1876-1972) was the son of Joseph F. Smith, 6th president of the Church, and grandson of Hyrum Smith, brother of the Prophet Joseph. He was called as an apostle in 1910, and served as the 10th president of the Church from 1970 until his death in 1972 at age 95.
"In the wonderful prayer of our Redeemer, as recorded in the seventeenth chapter of John—I can hardly read this chapter without tears coming to my eyes—wherein our Lord, in praying to his Father in the tenderness of all his soul because he knew the hour had come for him to offer himself as a sacrifice, prayed for his disciples. In that prayer he said,
"'I pray not that thou shouldest take them out of the world, but that thou shouldest keep them from the evil.
"'They are not of the world, even as I am not of the world.
"'Sanctify them through thy truth: thy word is truth.' (John 17:15-17.)
"If we are living the religion which the Lord has revealed and which we have received, we do not belong to the world. We should have no part in all its foolishness. We should not partake of its sins and its errors—errors of philosophy and errors of doctrine, errors in regard to government, or whatever those errors may be—we have no part in it.
"The only part we have is the keeping of the commandments of God. That is all, being true to every covenant and every obligation that we have entered into and taken upon ourselves."
- Joseph Fielding Smith, "Fulfillment of Prophecy," Conference Report, Apr. 1952, pp. 26-28
Click here to read the full talk

This message from President Smith addresses one of the great challenges we face. We live in a world that seems to be increasingly contrary to the laws and principles of the gospel. We have no choice but to be exposed to those influences. How do we manage to stay above them, protected from them?

The key, according to President Smith, is simply to live our religion and obey the commandments of God. As we focus our efforts and dedicate ourselves to the principles of the Lord's gospel, we can be in the world but "have no part in all its foolishness."

Note that we don't just avoid the actions and deeds of the world that are contrary to the appropriate behaviors the gospel defines for us, but we also avoid "errors of philosophy and errors of doctrine, errors in regard to government, or whatever those errors may be." How critical it is that we are "true to every covenant and every obligation that we have entered into and taken upon ourselves."

Friday, March 24, 2017

President Joseph F. Smith on finding the rest of the Lord in this life

President Joseph F. Smith (1838-1918) was the son of Joseph's brother Hyrum. He was ordained an apostle in 1866 at age 28, and served as a counselor to Brigham Young and the three presidents who followed.  He became the 6th president of the Church in 1901, and served until his death in 1918 at age 80.
"The particular part that I wish to call your attention to is that which refers to 'entering into the rest of the Lord' (see Moro 7:3.); not unrest, fear, doubt, and trembling. What does it mean to enter into the rest of the Lord? Speaking for myself, it means that through the love of God I have been won over to Him, so that I can feel at rest in Christ, that I may no more be disturbed by every wind of doctrine, by the cunning and craftiness of men, whereby they lie in wait to deceive; and that I am established in the knowledge and testimony of Jesus Christ, so that no power can turn me aside from the straight and narrow path that leads back into the presence of God, to enjoy exaltation in His glorious kingdom; that from this time henceforth I shall enjoy that rest until I shall rest with Him in the heavens.
"I desire to impress this thought upon your minds, for I want you to understand that this is the meaning intended to be conveyed by the words, 'entering into the rest of God.' Let me assure you that that man who is not thoroughly established in the doctrine of Christ, who has not yielded his whole soul unto the Lord, and to the Gospel He has taught to the world, has not yet entered into that rest. He is still at sea, so to speak, wandering, unstable, lacking firmness, lacking the faith that cannot be moved, ready to be overtaken by the cunning and craftiness of him who lies in wait to deceive and mislead into error and darkness.
"While he that has received the testimony of Jesus Christ in his heart, he that has yielded his all to the kingdom of God and to the will of the Father, is so established. His heart is fixed; his mind is made up; doubts have been dispelled; fears have all been removed; he knows in whom to trust; he is thoroughly established in his purposes and in his determination that, as for him and his house he will serve God, keep His commandments and walk, as far as it is possible for human creatures to walk, in purity of life, in honor, fidelity, and uprightness before the Lord."
- Joseph F. Smith, "At Rest in Christ," address at Provo, Utah, on 13 January 1907; see Millennial Star, 30 May 1907, 337-49
Click here to read the full talk

Too many face life with "unrest, fear, doubt, and trembling." President Smith suggests that's the alternate to living in "the rest of the Lord." When we "rest in Christ" we are at peace, untroubled by the forces of the world around us, moving untroubled through the world's tribulations and the various "winds of doctrine."

The key is to be "established in the doctrine of Christ" and to have "yielded his whole soul unto the Lord." So the process begins with learning, studying, pondering the doctrine; and then applying it in a way that brings total devotion. The result is that peaceful state when the man so committed has doubts and fears dispelled, and is committed to God in obedience and service. He then is able to "walk, as far as it is possible for human creatures to walk, in purity of life, in honor, fidelity, and uprightness before the Lord." That's a beautiful and treasured state.

The "rest of the Lord" can begin in this life, and not just in the eternities!

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Elder Richard L. Evans on consistently living our beliefs

Elder Richard L. Evans (1906-1971) served as a Seventy from 1938-1953, when he was called to the Quorum of Twelve Apostles.  He died in 1971 at age 65.  He was known as "the voice of the Tabernacle Choir" from the beginning of its broadcasts in 1929 until his passing.
"I am reminded of the story of Jacob in the Old Testament, in Genesis, when he was traveling in a strange land. Up to that time he had had limited experience and had been held close to home ties. But in this strange place he awoke one night after a dream and said. 'Surely the Lord is in this place; and I knew it not.' (Genesis 28:16) I would like our young men to remember that wherever they are, God is in that place and they must take Him into their confidence and conduct themselves in His ways.
"We cannot departmentalize the eternal record of our lives. It is one continued story. As Latter-day Saints we don't behave one way in the army and one way in business and another in Church. That is, not if we give heed to our principles. We do not behave one way at home and another way away from home. Wherever we are, remember that God is in this place also, and when the final record is written and read, all that we have done and thought, at home and abroad, in all the occupations and in all the pursuits that we may be called upon to undertake, is all a part of the eternal record of all of us, and it stands unalterably for us or against us."
- Richard L. Evans, Conference Report, April 1941, p. 53
Click here to read the full talk

I am impressed by that wonderful Old Testament insight from Jacob's life. We can find God in many places where we may not expect to see Him, and should never assume that He is not near. We just may not have the spiritual sensitivity and maturity to notice Him at times; what a challenge to work on!

The idea of "departmentalizing" our lives also rings true. We are not part-time disciples. We must look to Him in every thought (see D&C 6:36) and every deed.

Elder Jeffrey R, Holland told more recently of an experience when LDS members behaved badly as members of an audience at a sporting event, saying they "check their religion at the door" so they can enjoy the game with vocal abuse and taunting. Elder Holland stated:
"Lesson number one for the establishment of Zion in the 21st century: You never 'check your religion at the door.' Not ever.
"My young friends, that kind of discipleship cannot be—it is not discipleship at all. As the prophet Alma has taught the young women of the Church to declare every week in their Young Women theme, we are 'to stand as witnesses of God at all times and in all things, and in all places that ye may be in,' not just some of the time, in a few places, or when our team has a big lead."
- Jeffrey R. Holland, "Israel, Israel, God Is Calling," CES Devotional broadcast from Dixie State College, St. George Utah, September 9, 2012
Elder Evans reminds us that "we don't behave one way in the army and one way in business and another in Church." God is in every place where we are, and we must behave as one who understands that vital principle.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Elder Joseph B. Wirthlin on finding peace in a troubled world

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.
"While we yearn for peace, we live in a world burdened with hunger, pain, anguish, loneliness, sickness, and sorrow. We see divorce with all of its attendant conflict and heartache, especially among the innocent children caught in the middle. Wayward, disobedient children cause their parents grief and anxiety. Financial problems cause distress and loss of self-respect. Some loved ones slip into sin and wickedness, forsake their covenants, and walk in their 'own way, and after the image of [their] own god.' (D&C 1:16.)
"The value of peace within our hearts cannot be measured. When we are at peace, we can be free of worry and fear, knowing that with the Lord's help, we can do all that is expected or required of us. We can approach every day, every task, and every challenge with assurance and confidence in the outcome. We have freedom of thought and action, freedom to be happy.... Few, if any, blessings from God are more valuable to our spiritual health than the reward of peace within. In modern-day revelation the Savior said, 'But learn that he who doeth the works of righteousness shall receive his reward, even peace in this world, and eternal life in the world to come.' (D&C 59:23.)
"Despite dismal conditions in the world and the personal challenges that come into every life, peace within can be a reality. We can be calm and serene regardless of the swirling turmoil all about us. Attaining harmony within ourselves depends upon our relationship with our Savior and Redeemer, Jesus Christ, and our willingness to emulate him by living the principles he has given us. He has extended to us an invitation: '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.' (Matt. 11:28-30.)"
- Joseph B. Wirthlin, "Peace Within," Ensign, May 1991, pp. 36-38
Click here to read or listen to the full article

Church leaders frequently acknowledge the challenges of our times; they are aware of the difficulties we face. While we sometimes assume they "have it all together" and are beyond such problems in areas of "hunger, pain, anguish, loneliness, sickness, and sorrow," I am certain they either face or have faced many of them, and they see challenges faced by their acquaintances and own loved ones. Add to these the situations of divorce, wayward children, financial struggles, those who choose to forsake covenants, and we have a pretty good picture of the difficulties of living in our time.

But there is hope! With the Lord's help, we can find peace in the world, in spite of these challenges. To be "calm and serene regardless of the swirling turmoil all about us" is the invitation Elder Wirthlin presents. That "peace within" comes from "doing the works of righteousness."

So much depends on our relationship with the Lord, our understanding of His plan, and our level of commitment to His path. We don't choose the trials and adversity we face; but we choose whether to have peace in our life.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

President Gordon B. Hinckley on the blessings of temple worthiness and attendance

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.
"Our people cannot partake of all of the blessings of the gospel unless they can receive their own temple ordinances and then make these ordinances available to those of their kindred dead and others....
"These unique and wonderful buildings, and the ordinances administered therein, represent the ultimate in our worship. These ordinances become the most profound expressions of our theology. I urge our people everywhere, with all of the persuasiveness of which I am capable, to live worthy to hold a temple recommend, to secure one and regard it as a precious asset, and to make a greater effort to go to the house of the Lord and partake of the spirit and the blessings to be had therein. I am satisfied that every man or woman who goes to the temple in a spirit of sincerity and faith leaves the house of the Lord a better man or woman. There is need for constant improvement in all of our lives. There is need occasionally to leave the noise and the tumult of the world and step within the walls of a sacred house of God, there to feel His spirit in an environment of holiness and peace."
- Gordon B. Hinckley, "Of Missions, Temples, and Stewardship," Ensign, Nov. 1995, p. 53
Click here to read or listen to the complete talk

President Hinckley's vision of the importance of the temple in our lives changed the direction of the Church in a significant way. The dramatic expansion of temple-building worldwide provides a profound opportunity for all to experience the sacred ordinances, to serve their "kindred dead," and to return regularly for the blessings that are promised for faithful attendance.

In the temple, President Hinckley states, we experience the "ultimate in our worship." We go to be close to God, to learn of Him and His plan for our lives, and to be strengthened by His power.

I am touched by President Hinckley's urging "with all of the persuasiveness of which I am capable" that we live worthy of a temple recommend, and make a greater effort to attend the temple. It's clear he feels the eternal significance and present importance of that standard of worthiness, and of the opportunity it offers worthy holders of the recommend.

Those are wonderful blessings promised: personal growth and improvement, escape from the pressures and frustrations of a noisy world, and immersion in a setting of holiness and peace. We should all make a greater effort to claim those blessings!

Monday, March 20, 2017

President James E. Faust on God working miracles through willing servants

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 Lord has a great work for each of us to do. You may wonder how this can be. You may feel that there is nothing special or superior about you or your ability. Perhaps you feel, or have been told, that you are stupid. Many of us have felt that and some of us have been told that. Gideon felt this when the Lord asked him to save Israel from the Midianites. Gideon said, 'My family is poor in Manasseh, and I am the least in my father's house' (Judges 6:15). He had only three hundred men, but with the help of the Lord, Gideon defeated the armies of the Midianites (see Judges 7).
"The Lord can do remarkable miracles with a person of ordinary ability who is humble, faithful, and diligent in serving the Lord and seeks to improve himself. This is because God is the ultimate source of power."
- James E. Faust, "Acting for Ourselves and Not Being Acted Upon," Ensign, Nov. 1995, 47
Click here to read or listen to the complete talk

There are times in life when each of us probably has the experience of feeling surrounded by super-achievers, by remarkable people with gifts that lift and bless so many, by individuals who seem to "have it all together" while we are struggling just to hang on. Or worse, as President Faust notes, some have the chronic feeling that they are "stupid" or don't measure up in critical ways.

What a sense of bright encouragement to know that in spite of our perceived shortcomings, if we are humble and faithful, "The Lord can do remarkable miracles" with each of us:

Not only can the Lord do great things with and through each of us, but He will do them. As President Faust points out, "The Lord has a great work for each of us to do." It should be a major quest for each of us to discover that mission as we seek His help in our lives, strive to be humble and faithful, and offer ourselves as willing servants in His work.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Elder Neal A. Maxwell on submitting our will to God

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.
"Seventy years ago, Lord Moulton coined a perceptive phrase, 'obedience to the unenforceable,' describing 'the obedience of a man to that which he cannot be forced to obey' ('Law And Manners,' Atlantic Monthly, July 1924, p. 1). God's blessings, including those associated with consecration, come by unforced obedience to the laws upon which they are predicated (see D&C 130:20–21). Thus our deepest desires determine our degree of 'obedience to the unenforceable.' God seeks to have us become more consecrated by giving everything. Then, when we come home to Him, He will generously give us 'all that [He] hath' (D&C 84:38).
"The submission of one's will is really the only uniquely personal thing we have to place on God's altar. The many other things we 'give,' brothers and sisters, are actually the things He has already given or loaned to us. However, when you and I finally submit ourselves, by letting our individual wills be swallowed up in God's will, then we are really giving something to Him! It is the only possession which is truly ours to give!
"Consecration thus constitutes the only unconditional surrender which is also a total victory!"
- Neal A. Maxwell, "'Swallowed Up in the Will of the Father'," Ensign, Nov 1995, pp. 22-24
Click here to read or listen to the complete talk

The concept of consecration is one of the most beautiful and sacred gospel doctrines. In humility, we offer all that we have to God—everything. We hold nothing back, dedicating every possession and every ability to Him and His work. At that point, He is able to bless us in ways he could not before, including giving us "all that He hath."

I love Elder Maxwell's analysis of what it is we can really give to God. He helps us see that no possession or ability is really ours to give; it's only our will, our agency, our commitment that we can truly and wholly offer to Him:

There's a verse in our hymn "God Loved Us So He Sent His Son" that I love. It's one of those "extra" verses printed at the bottom of the page that we sometimes neglect to sing. But consider the beauty and truth of these words written by Edward P. Kimball:
In word and deed he doth require
My will to his, like son to sire,
Be made to bend, and I, as son,
Learn conduct from the Holy One.

Hymns No. 187
How truly blessed is one who learns to bend his will to God, and thus learn conduct directly from Him! As we consecrate all that we possess, we are blessed with all that He possesses.

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Elder Marvin J. Ashton on the blessings of asking for God's help

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.
"Our Heavenly Father is so concerned that we do right that he will bless each of us with a sign, if we will ask his counsel. Do we realize that the Lord has promised us a physical manifestation if we but ask him to direct us in the right? In the ninth section of the Doctrine and Covenants, verse 8, we have this commitment from the Lord:
"'But, behold, I say unto you, that you must study it out in your mind; then you must ask me if it be right, and if it is right I will cause that your bosom shall burn within you; therefore, you shall feel that it is right.'
"Brothers and sisters, we compromise our blessings, we rationalize ourselves out of the sure and safe way, when we do not ask our God to guide us in the decisions that are part of our daily lives.
"The Lord has promised that he will help us in our pursuit of happiness if we will trust in him and follow his path. The abundant life will be ours if we rely on his strength.... All we need to do to enjoy eternal, happy lives is to live the gospel of Jesus Christ."
- Marvin J. Ashton, "Love of the Right," Ensign, June 1971, pp. 31-32
Click here to read the full article

Elder Ashton describes God as a loving Father who is eager to guide and assist us on our way in this mortal journey. But He expects that we will ask for help! And as soon as we do, He will confirm to us that our decisions are right and our path is proper. If we fail to ask for guidance, we put ourselves at risk and deny blessings that could otherwise be ours:

I've always loved the phrase "the abundant life," which many leaders have used to describe the path of a faithful disciple. It implies a richness and fulness not available to those not following that path. And that life, according to Elder Ashton, comes simply from living the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Friday, March 17, 2017

President Howard W. Hunter on being a true and living member

President Howard W. Hunter (1907-1995) was called to the Quorum of Twelve in 1959.  He served as Church President for only nine months, from June 5, 1994 to his death on March 3, 1995.
"On November 1, 1831, at a conference of the Church in Hiram, Ohio, the Lord revealed in the preface to the Doctrine and Covenants that this is the 'only true and living church upon the face of the whole earth.' Then he added, 'with which I, the Lord, am well pleased, speaking unto the church collectively and not individually' (D&C 1:30). This should raise a question in our minds of eternal significance: We know that this is the true and living church institutionally, but am I a true and living member individually?
"This question may appear as a play on the words of the Lord when he said this is the true and living church. When I ask, 'Am I a true and living member?' my question is, am I deeply and fully dedicated to keeping the covenants I have made with the Lord? Am I totally committed to live the gospel and be a doer of the word and not a hearer only? Do I live my religion? Will I remain true? Do I stand firm against Satan's temptations? He is seeking to cause us to lose our way in a storm of derision and a tide of sophistry. We can have victory, however, by responding to that inner voice calling 'stand firm!'
"To answer affirmatively the question, 'Am I a living member?' confirms our commitment. It means that we now and always will love God and our neighbors as ourselves. It means our actions will reflect who we are and what we believe. It means that we are every day Christians, walking as Christ would have us walk."
- Howard W. Hunter, "Am I a 'Living' Member?", Ensign, May 1987, p. 16
Click here to read or listen to the full talk

I remember smiling at President Hunter's application of the Lord's description when he offered this talk. If there is a "true and living Church"—is it made up of "true and living members"? If so, what would that imply in our lives and actions? President Hunter offered some suggestions for us to consider in our individual lives:

I think both of those adjectives are very significant: "true," meaning faithful, consistent, firm, fixed; and "living," meaning vibrant, growing, alive.

The concept is summarized President Hunter's phrase "every day Christian"—we strive each day to live the life of a disciple, to walk as Christ would have us walk. That's a beautiful and inspiring challenge.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

President Ezra Taft Benson on overcoming fear by trusting in God

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.
"Yes, God is at the helm, my brothers and sisters. I know it, and you know it. Surely no group in all the world has greater evidence of that fact than do the Latter-day Saints. Even during the days of persecution and hardship, the Lord has continually encouraged us to trust in him, to keep his commandments, to do that which is right and then be unafraid.
"We live in a world of fear today. Fear seems to be almost everywhere present. But there is no place for fear among the Latter-day Saints, among men and women who keep the commandments, who place their trust in the Almighty, who are not afraid to get down on their knees and pray to our heavenly Father....
"So among the Latter-day Saints, particularly, there should be no fears, even in a world where many people are concerned about atom bombs, the hydrogen bomb; where many are fearing Communism and some are talking fearfully of a depression. There need be no fear in the hearts of Latter-day Saints. People who live the gospel, who keep the commandments, who trust in God and do that which is right, need never fear because God speaks peace to the honest in heart through his Spirit....
"So, my brethren and sisters, there may come persecution; there may come opposition; there may come reverses; there may come criticism and misrepresentation. Your motives may be questioned. You may be attacked. But if we place our trust in the Almighty and do that which is right, there will come an inner assurance, an inner calm, a peace that will bring joy and happiness to our souls."
- Ezra Taft Benson, "Trust in God and Do the Right," Conference Report, April 1954, pp. 56-59
Click here to read the full talk

Many people live in fear of the challenges of their world. In the times when President Benson shared these remarks, some 63 years ago, the fears were somewhat different from the ones we have today. But they were just as real to that generation as our time, when they are perhaps replaced by terrorism and violence, natural disasters, impacts of drugs and pornography, disintegrating families, moral challenges, economic uncertainty, etc.

But the key message never changes; fear is overcome by faith. For those who know God and trust in Him and in His promises, there is no need to fear. The key is "the Lord has continually encouraged us to trust in him, to keep his commandments, to do that which is right and then be unafraid."

So while there may be temporary setbacks and challenges along the path, we can face them with "an inner calm" in knowing God is in charge. That confidence truly will "bring joy and happiness to our souls."

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Elder D. Todd Christofferson on the blessings of spiritual rebirth and divine grace

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.
"'Jesus answered, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God' (John 3:3-5).
"This rebirth was described more fully to Adam as recorded in the book of Moses. God taught Adam that it was necessary for men to repent, be baptized, and receive the Holy Ghost. Adam, seeking deeper understanding, asked why (see Moses 6:50-53). God explained that man must be clean in order to dwell in His presence and that this requires a cleansing birth into the kingdom of God:
"'By reason of transgression cometh the fall, which fall bringeth death, and inasmuch as ye were born into the world by water, and blood, and the spirit, which I have made, and so became of dust a living soul, even so ye must be born again into the kingdom of heaven, of water, and of the Spirit, and be cleansed by blood, even the blood of mine Only Begotten; that ye might be sanctified from all sin, and enjoy the words of eternal life in this world, and eternal life in the world to come, even immortal glory;
"'For by the water ye keep the commandment; by the Spirit ye are justified, and by the blood ye are sanctified' (Moses 6:59-60).
"We see here the elements that bring about our second birth or entry into the kingdom of God analogized to the elements that accompany our birth into mortality (water, blood, and spirit). This birth from mortal life into eternal life requires the interaction of (1) covenants (symbolized by water, the principal feature of our first covenant: baptism), (2) the grace of Christ (symbolized by His blood), and (3) the Holy Spirit, the medium through whom atoning grace is applied to remit sins and sanctify souls.
"Justification and sanctification are accomplished by the grace of Christ, which grace is a gift to man based on faith. But our moral agency is also a necessary element in this divine process. We must will to repent and act to repent. We must elect to be baptized and receive the Holy Ghost, and we must elect to remain loyal to our covenants thereafter. To receive the gift we must act in the manner He has ordained."
- D. Todd Christofferson, "Justification and Sanctification," Ensign, Jun 2001, pp. 18-25
Click here to read or listen to the full article
Elder Christofferson's discussion of justification and sanctification in this article is very insightful and helpful to me. In this segment, he talks about the power and blessing of spiritual rebirth that comes to those who choose to accept the call of discipleship and walk steadily on that path.

The description from the experience of Father Adam is particularly helpful; I've always been grateful for Adam's audacious questioning of God (but why is this necessary?). This leads to the analysis of the symbols of water (baptism), blood (grace), and spirit (application of the atonement). The power of that grace in our lives in accomplishing God's plan continues to amaze me.

How blessed we are to have such a plan of perfect potential, enabling us to use our agency to choose to receive all the blessings our loving Father offers to us, now and eternally!
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