Sunday, April 30, 2017

President Ezra Taft Benson on the fellowship of true friends

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.
"The fellowship of true friends who can hear you out, share your joys, help carry your burdens, and correctly counsel you is priceless. For one who has been in the prison of depression, the words of the Prophet Joseph Smith have special meaning when he said, 'How sweet the voice of a friend is; one token of friendship from any source whatever awakens and calls into action every sympathetic feeling' (TPJS 134).
"Ideally, your family ought to be your closest friends. Most important, we should seek to become the friend of our Father in heaven and our brother Jesus the Christ. What a boon to be in the company of those who edify you. To have friends, one should be friendly. Friendship should begin at home and then be extended to encompass the home teacher, quorum leader, bishop, and other Church teachers and leaders. To meet often with the Saints and enjoy their companionship can buoy up the heart."
- Ezra Taft Benson, "Do Not Despair," Ensign, November 1974, p. 65
Click here to read or listen to the full article

We come to appreciate the gift of "true friends" often only when we face a time of challenge or need, when that friendship is expressed in a variety of ways, such as carrying a burden or correcting a mistake. A true friend will rescue, sustain, and encourage. But a true friend also shares our joys in special ways too. They are there, willing and eager to help and bless, regardless of the time and need:

Joseph Smith knew the difference between a true friend and a pretend friend, a partial friend, an occasional friend. He saw many leave or turn against him when challenges came.

I liked President Benson's insights into the sources of our closest friends: Deity, family, church associates. Friendship in those settings is strengthened as we "meet often with the Saints and enjoy their companionship" as well as by our own attitudes at friendliness.

Saturday, April 29, 2017

Elder Neal A. Maxwell on the eternal perspective of life's challenges

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.
"One's life, therefore, cannot be both faith-filled and stress-free. President Wilford Woodruff counseled us all about the mercy that is inherent in some adversity: 'The chastisements we have had from time to time have been for our good, and are essential to learn wisdom, and carry us through a school of experience we never could have passed through without.' (In Journal of Discourses, 2:198.)
"Therefore, how can you and I really expect to glide naively through life, as if to say, 'Lord, give me experience, but not grief, not sorrow, not pain, not opposition, not betrayal, and certainly not to be forsaken. Keep from me, Lord, all those experiences which made Thee what Thou art! Then let me come and dwell with Thee and fully share Thy joy!'
"Serving, studying, praying, and worshiping are four fundamentals in perfecting 'that which is lacking in [our] faith.' (1 Thes. 3:10.) If we cease nurturing our faith in any of these four specific ways, we are vulnerable."
- Neal A. Maxwell, "Lest Ye Be Wearied and Faint in Your Minds," Ensign, May 1991, p. 88
Click here to read or listen to the full talk

This was one of the many masterful messages from one of the most gifted orators of our dispensation, full of nuggets of insight and inspiration.  Elder Maxwell certainly had a wise perspective on eternity, that enabled him to interpret the mortal experience in light of so much more than the short-term frustrations and concerns. Without the "chastisements" of mortality, in the words of President Woodruff, we would not be gaining the wisdom and experience necessary for our growth. That understanding helps us see how unwise we would be to avoid the intermittent pain and opposition of life: Truly, our life "cannot be both faith-filled and stress-free."

Elder Maxwell shares "four fundamentals in perfecting" our faith:
  • serving
  • studying
  • praying
  • worshiping
We must not stop nurturing faith in any of these areas! That would be an excellent area for self-examination.

Friday, April 28, 2017

President Dieter F. Uchtdorf on the blessing and power of serving in Church callings

President Dieter F. Uchtdorf (born 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.
"As Saints of the Most High God, we are to 'remember in all things the poor and the needy, the sick and the afflicted, for he that doeth not these things, the same is not my disciple' (D&C 52:40). Opportunities to go about doing good and to serve others are limitless. We can find them in our communities, in our wards and branches, and certainly in our homes.
"In addition, every member of the Church is given specific formal opportunities to serve. We refer to these opportunities as 'callings'—a term that should remind us of who it is that calls us to serve. If we approach our callings as opportunities to serve God and minister to others with faith and humility, every act of service will be a step on the path of discipleship. In this way, God not only builds up His Church but also builds up His servants. The Church is designed to help us become true and faithful disciples of Christ, good and noble sons and daughters of God. This happens not just when we go to meetings and listen to talks but also when we get outside ourselves and serve. This is how we become 'great' in the kingdom of God.
"We accept callings with grace, humility, and gratitude. When we are released from these callings, we accept the change with the same grace, humility, and gratitude.
"In the eyes of God, there is no calling in the kingdom that is more important than another. Our service—whether great or small—refines our spirits, opens the windows of heaven, and releases God’s blessings not only upon those we serve but upon us as well. When we reach out to others, we can know with humble confidence that God acknowledges our service with approval and approbation. He smiles upon us as we offer these heartfelt acts of compassion, especially acts that are unseen and unnoticed by others. (See Matthew 6:1-2.)
"Each time we give of ourselves to others, we take a step closer to becoming good and true disciples of the One who gave His all for us: our Savior."
- Dieter F. Uchtdorf, "The Greatest among You," General Conference, April 2017
Click here to watch or read the full talk

In his address to the Priesthood session of the recent general conference, President Uchtdorf gave some wonderful reminders of the importance of service to others, including Priesthood service but also more broadly, the blessings that come as we serve in a variety of ways. Noting that there are so many ways for us "to go about doing good" in our lives, he encouraged us to seek for them more actively.

This section on callings in the Church was insightful. President Eyring promises that "every act of service will be a step on the path of discipleship." As we are invited to serve in specific assignments, God not only builds up the kingdom, but also His servants, helping us each to "become true and faithful disciples of Christ, good and noble sons and daughters of God" as we follow the Savior's example of humble service to others.

The scriptural injunction to "magnify" our callings in the Priesthood (D&C 84:33) applies in all cases. To magnify is to enlarge or increase. As we are invited to participate and contribute, blessings come to others when we seek to increase the good we do at any level of service; and in the process, we become better disciples as God's favor is given to the humble servant.

Thursday, April 27, 2017

President Henry B. Eyring on the sacred role of families

President Henry B. Eyring (born May 31, 1933) served in the Presiding Bishopric from 1985-1992, as a Seventy from 1992-1995, then was called to the Quorum of Twelve Apostles. He has served in the First Presidency since 2007.
"You see, the names 'brother' and 'sister' are not just friendly greetings or terms of endearment for us. They are an expression of an eternal truth: God is the literal Father of all mankind; we are each part of His eternal family. Because He loves us with the love of a perfect Father, He wants us to progress and advance and become like Him. He ordained a plan by which we would come to earth, in families, and have experiences that would prepare us to return to Him and live as He lives....
"Our sense of right and wrong seems especially keen when we are raising our children. Innate in almost every parent is the desire to teach his or her children moral virtues. This is part of the miracle of Heavenly Father’s plan. He wants His children to come to earth, following the eternal pattern of families that exists in heaven. Families are the basic organizational unit of the eternal realms, and so He intends for them also to be the basic unit on earth. Though earthly families are far from perfect, they give God’s children the best chance to be welcomed to the world with the only love on earth that comes close to what we felt in heaven—parental love. Families are also the best way to preserve and pass on moral virtues and true principles that are most likely to lead us back to God’s presence."
- Henry B. Eyring, "Gathering the Family of God," General Conference, April 2017
Click here to watch or read the full talk

This was the opening address at the Saturday morning general session of the recent conference. President Eyring talked about the family of God, which we are all part of as brothers and sisters together. There was much encouragement to help us in family history research. But I appreciated his thoughts, shown here, about the eternal importance of our mortal families in God's plan.

The role of parents is so critical; the gifts and helps that come to them are divine and can be a real blessing. I think the enhanced "sense of right and wrong" that comes to parents as they are striving to teach children moral values is a great example of that divine endowment. God's great desire is for "His children to come to earth, following the eternal pattern of families that exists in heaven."

The love of parents for their children is "the only love on earth that comes close to what we felt in heaven." What a beautiful, inspiring thought!

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

President Thomas S. Monson on showing kindness in our interactions

President Thomas S. Monson (b. August 21, 1927) was sustained to the Quorum of Twelve Apostles in 1963. He served as a counselor in the First Presidency with Presidents Benson, Hunter, and Hinckley until becoming Church president in 2008.
"Brethren, we do not honor the priesthood of God if we are not kind to others....
"The scriptures teach us that the righteous exercise of the priesthood is dependent upon our living the principles of kindness, charity, and love.  In the Doctrine and Covenants we read:
"'No power or influence can or ought to be maintained by virtue of the priesthood, only by persuasion, … by gentleness and meekness, and by love unfeigned;
"'By kindness, and pure knowledge, which shall greatly enlarge the soul without hypocrisy, and without guile.' (D&C 121:41-42.)
"Brethren, let us examine our lives and determine to follow the Savior’s example by being kind, loving, and charitable. And as we do so, we will be in a better position to call down the powers of heaven for ourselves, for our families, and for our fellow travelers in this sometimes difficult journey back to our heavenly home."
- Thomas S. Monson, "Kindness, Charity, and Love," General Conference, April 2017
Click here to watch or read the full talk

President Monson spoke only two times, and very briefly, during the most recent conference. On Sunday morning he issued a testimony and a challenge to all focusing on daily reading of the Book of Mormon. In this Priesthood session address, he spoke of the importance of kindness to one another. It's interesting to ponder his choices of topics, the things that he considered the most important and valuable to share with us now. Particularly for this address, it's sobering to recognize that a lack of kindness is a serious enough problem to merit his (and our) attention.

We should each ponder President Monson's words very seriously and humbly, and consider if perhaps there are ways we could express greater kindness in our interactions with those around us.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Elder Dale G. Renlund on following the example of the Good Shepherd

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.
"We get a glimpse into our Heavenly Father’s character as we recognize the immense compassion He has for sinners and appreciate the distinction He makes between sin and those who sin. This glimpse helps us have a more 'correct [understanding of] his character, perfections, and attributes' (Lectures on Faith, 38) and is foundational to exercising faith in Him and in His Son, Jesus Christ. The Savior’s compassion in the face of our imperfections draws us toward Him and motivates us in our repeated struggles to repent and emulate Him. As we become more like Him, we learn to treat others as He does, regardless of any outward characteristic or behavior....
"[T]he Savior said that He 'cannot look upon sin with the least degree of allowance' (D&C 1:31); so how can He look at us, imperfect as we are, without recoiling in horror and disgust?
"The answer is simple and clear. As the Good Shepherd (see John 10:11, 14), Jesus Christ views disease in His sheep as a condition that needs treatment, care, and compassion. This shepherd, our Good Shepherd, finds joy in seeing His diseased sheep progress toward healing....
"We, who are sinners, must, like the Savior, reach out to others with compassion and love. Our role is also to help and bless, lift and edify, and replace fear and despair with hope and joy....
"Our Good Shepherd is unchanging and feels the same way today about sin and sinners as He did when He walked the earth. He does not recoil from us because we sin, even if He on occasion must think, 'But what a sheep!' He loves us so much that He provided the way for us to repent and become clean so we can return to Him and our Heavenly Father (see Articles of Faith 1:3). In doing so, Jesus Christ also set the example for us to follow—to show respect to all and hatred toward none.
"As His disciples, let us fully mirror His love and love one another so openly and completely that no one feels abandoned, alone, or hopeless."
- Dale G. Renlund, "Our Good Shepherd," General Conference, April 2017
Click here to watch or read the full talk

I very much enjoyed Elder Renlund's considerations of the imagery of the Good Shepherd. I think he asked some interesting questions and looked at the story in unusual ways. A shepherd doesn't despise his sheep when they are ill or injured; quite the contrary, he loves and nurtures them with loving caring until they are well again. Why should we feel any lack of God's love for us when we have made mistakes in life? The "immense compassion" felt for us by both the Father and the Son should inspire us with confidence and hope as we deal with our own "disease" conditions.

In addition, they are models about how we should treat others in our sphere who are different or especially who are struggling.

Reaching out to others is not an option in Elder Renlund's view. "Our role is also to help and bless, lift and edify, and replace fear and despair with hope and joy." A true disciple will live and act like his Master as we strive to "fully mirror His love and love one another so openly and completely that no one feels abandoned, alone, or hopeless."

Monday, April 24, 2017

Elder Gary E. Stevenson on the roles and blessings of the Holy Ghost

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.
"The Holy Ghost Warns
"...the Holy Ghost can help you by warning you in advance of physical and spiritual dangers....
"As you heed promptings from the Holy Ghost—impressions most often quiet and still—you may be removed, without ever knowing, from spiritual and temporal danger....
"The Holy Ghost Comforts
"To continue answering the question 'How does the Holy Ghost help you?' let’s now explore His role as Comforter. Unexpected events in all our lives cause sadness, pain, and disappointment. Yet, amid these trials, the Holy Ghost serves us in one of His important roles—as Comforter, which is actually one of His names. These peaceful, reassuring words from Jesus Christ describe this sacred role: 'I will pray the Father, and he shall give you another Comforter, that he may abide with you for ever' (John 14:16)....
"The Holy Ghost Testifies
"The Holy Ghost also testifies and bears witness of the Father and the Son and of all truth. The Lord, speaking to His disciples, said, 'But when the Comforter is come, whom I will send unto you from the Father, ... he shall testify of me' (John 15:26)."
- Gary E. Stevenson, "How Does the Holy Ghost Help You?," General Conference, April 2017
Click here to watch or read the full talk

Using personal experiences and insights, Elder Stevenson taught about the roles and blessings of the Holy Ghost in our lives. He emphasized three roles: The Holy Ghost warns, comforts, and testifies. For each of these three areas, he shared personal insight and experience from his life.

In concluding his remarks, Elder Stevenson reminded all listeners, whether newly baptized or long-time experienced in the Gospel, how crucial it is to retain the gift of the Holy Ghost as an active part of our lives, to both physical and spiritual safety. Keys to doing that include:

  • striving to keep the commandments
  • having individual and family prayer
  • reading the scriptures
  • seeking loving and forgiving relationships with family and loved ones
  • keep our thoughts, actions, and language virtuous
  • worship our Heavenly Father in our homes, at church, and, whenever possible, in the holy temple
  • stay close to the Spirit, and the Spirit will stay close to you

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Elder Ronald A. Rasband on the sacred gift of the Holy Ghost

Elder Ronald A. Rasband (b. February 6, 1951) served as a Seventy beginning in 2000.  He was the senior president of the Seventy when he was called to the Quorum of Twelve Apostles in October 2015.
"Our Father in Heaven knew that in mortality we would face challenges, tribulation, and turmoil; He knew we would wrestle with questions, disappointments, temptations, and weaknesses. To give us mortal strength and divine guidance, He provided the Holy Spirit, another name for the Holy Ghost.
"The Holy Ghost binds us to the Lord. By divine assignment, He inspires, testifies, teaches, and prompts us to walk in the light of the Lord. We have the sacred responsibility to learn to recognize His influence in our lives and respond.
"Remember the Lord’s promise: 'I will impart unto you of my Spirit, which shall enlighten your mind, which shall fill your soul with joy.' (D&C 11:13) I love that assurance. Joy that fills our souls brings with it an eternal perspective in contrast to day-to-day living. That joy comes as peace amidst hardship or heartache. It provides comfort and courage, unfolds the truths of the gospel, and expands our love for the Lord and all God’s children. Although the need for such blessings is so great, in many ways the world has forgotten and forsaken them."
- Ronald A. Rasband, "Let the Holy Spirit Guide," General Conference, April 2017
Click here to watch or read the full talk

The role of Comforter as one of the assignments of the Holy Ghost is a precious one to me. As Elder Rasband explains, we are all confronted with "challenges, tribulation, and turmoil" in this life and we often fact "questions, disappointments, temptations, and weaknesses." Through the gift of the Holy Spirit, we are able to find "mortal strength and divine guidance" to help confront and endure.

The simple statement that the Holy Ghost "binds us to the Lord" implies so much about our covenant life and the blessings that accompany discipleship. When we consider the sacred role of the Holy Ghost, how blessed we are to have the understanding of His role!

The rest of Elder Rasband's address keys on the phrase from the sacramental prayers, that we "may always have His spirit to be with [us]." He suggests ways we can help facilitate that goal: living worthy of the Spirit, being willing to receive the Spirit when it comes to us, recognizing its promptings, and acting on the first promptings.

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Elder Neil L. Andersen on the blessings of overcoming the world

Elder Neil L. Andersen (born August 9, 1951) served as a Seventy beginning in 1993, and was called to the Quorum of Twelve Apostles in 2009.
"The blessings that the Lord has promised to those who overcome the world are breathtaking. They will be 'clothed in white... and [named in] the book of life.' The Lord 'will confess [their names] before [the] Father, and before his angels' (Revelation 3:5). Each shall have 'part in the first resurrection' (D&C 76:64), receive eternal life (see Revelation 2, chapter heading), and 'go no more out' (Revelation 3:12) from the presence of God.
"Is it possible to overcome the world and receive these blessings? Yes, it is....
"Those who overcome the world develop an all-encompassing love for our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ....
"Overcoming the world is not one defining moment in a lifetime, but a lifetime of moments that define an eternity....
"Overcoming the world is not a global invasion but a private, personal battle, requiring hand-to-hand combat with our own internal foes....
"Overcoming the world is keeping our promises to God—our baptismal and temple covenants and our oath of faithfulness to our eternal companion....
"Overcoming the world does not mean we live a cloistered life, protected from the unfairness and difficulties of mortality. Rather, it opens the more expansive view of faith, drawing us to the Savior and His promises.
"While perfection is not complete in this life, overcoming the world keeps our hope aflame that one day we 'shall stand before [our Redeemer]; [and] see his face with pleasure' (Enos 1:27), and hear His voice: 'Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you.' (Matthew 25:34)"
- Neil L. Andersen, "Overcoming the World," General Conference, April 2017
Click here to watch or read the full talk

Elder Andersen's message was based on a phrase from a visionary experience of President David O. McKay, describing heavenly beings as those who have "overcome the world." In analyzing that phrase, he described aspects of what it would mean for a person in this life to achieve that state. While emphasizing that it's a lifelong process, "a lifetime of moments" leading to the point where "perfection is... complete" only after this life, he also describes many of the aspects of discipleship and obedience that demonstrate progress towards the goal.

I think one of the blessings of the process is that our efforts to overcome the world help to "keep our hope aflame" that the process can eventually be completed, and the joy and blessings that accompany that eventual state will be profound.

Friday, April 21, 2017

Elder D. Todd Christofferson on the invitation to warn based on love

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.
"Far from being anxious to condemn, our Heavenly Father and our Savior seek our happiness and plead with us to repent, knowing full well that 'wickedness never was [and never will be] happiness' (Alma 41:10). So Ezekiel and every prophet before and since, speaking the word of God out of a full heart, have warned all who will to turn away from Satan, the enemy of their souls, and 'choose liberty and eternal life, through the great Mediator of all men' (2 Nephi 2:27).
"While the duty to warn is felt especially keenly by prophets, it is a duty shared by others as well. In fact, 'it becometh every man who hath been warned to warn his neighbor' (D&C 88:81). We who have received a knowledge of the great plan of happiness—and its implementing commandments—should feel a desire to share that knowledge since it makes all the difference here and in eternity....
"The motivation for raising the warning voice is love—love of God and love of fellowman. To warn is to care. The Lord instructs that it is to be done 'in mildness and in meekness' (D&C 38:41) and 'by persuasion, by long-suffering, by gentleness..., and by love unfeigned' (D&C 121:41). It can be urgent, as when we warn a child not to put his or her hand in a fire. It must be clear and sometimes firm. On occasion, warning may take the form of reproof 'when moved upon by the Holy Ghost' (D&C 121:43), but always it is rooted in love."
- D. Todd Christofferson, "The Voice of Warning," General Conference, April 2017
Click here to watch or read the full talk

Elder Christofferson offers an invitation to all that we raise a "warning voice" to those around us. But he clarifies what that means; it focuses on invitations based on love and concern for others, including those close to us. At times the warning voice needs to be urgent and even reproving, but usually it is kind and gentle, showing a desire to share knowledge that is precious and valuable. When we feel the motivation of caring and concern for our neighbors, the warning voice is a natural result.

"To warn is to care." That's a beautiful summary of Elder Christofferson's message.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Elder Quentin L. Cook on the importance of consistent efforts in spiritual growth

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.
"Personal foundations, like many worthwhile pursuits, are usually built slowly—one layer, one experience, one challenge, one setback, and one success at a time....
"Unfortunately, in an increasingly secular world, less emphasis is placed on the amount of spiritual growth necessary to become more Christlike and establish the foundations that lead to enduring faith. We tend to emphasize moments of sublime spiritual understanding. These are precious instances when we know the Holy Ghost has witnessed special spiritual insights to our hearts and minds. We rejoice in these events; they should not be diminished in any way. But for enduring faith and to have the constant companionship of the Spirit, there is no substitute for the individual religious observance that is comparable to physical and mental development. We should build on these experiences, which sometimes resemble initial baby steps. We do this by consecrated commitment to sacred sacrament meetings, scripture study, prayer, and serving as called....
"Just as repetition and consistent effort are required to gain physical or mental capacity, the same is true in spiritual matters. Remember that the Prophet Joseph received the same visitor, Moroni, with exactly the same message four times in preparation for receiving the plates. I believe that weekly participation in sacred sacrament meetings has spiritual implications we do not fully understand. Pondering the scriptures regularly—rather than reading them occasionally—can substitute a superficial understanding for a sublime, life-changing enhancement of our faith."
- Quentin L. Cook, "Foundations of Faith," General Conference, April 2017
Click here to watch or read the full talk

Many things that matter in our lives take significant time to develop. This applies to intellectual learning, physical abilities, proficiency in a talent, etc. Elder Cook's point is that the same persistent effort is required in spiritual development. We grow "line upon line, precept on precept" and need to recognize the power there is in consistent, persistent efforts over a long period.

I thought this point was particularly important: the "moments of sublime spiritual understanding" are critical to us—those spiritual high-points when we have revelatory experiences or profound spiritual experiences. But they are not the things that build "enduring faith" and "constant companionship of the Spirit" in our lives. Those things come from our steady, repeated, personal "individual religious observance."

This message should encourage in each of us an examination of our "steadiness" to ensure that we are continuing to do the things that will bring that ongoing strength.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Elder David A. Bednar on growth and preparation of young men

Elder David A. Bednar (born June 15, 1952) was serving as the president of BYU–Idaho when he was called and sustained as a member of the Quorum of Twelve Apostles in October 2004.
"Three interrelated words define a pattern of preparation and progression for sons of God: priesthood, temple, mission. Sometimes as parents, friends, and Church members, we focus so extensively upon missionary preparation for young men that we may neglect to a degree the other vital steps along the covenant pathway that must be fulfilled before beginning full-time missionary service. Working as a missionary certainly is one but not the only important building block in the process of creating a strong foundation for a lifetime of spiritual growth and service. Priesthood and temple blessings, both of which precede arriving in an assigned field of labor, also are necessary to fortify and strengthen us spiritually throughout our entire lives....
"As priesthood, temple, and mission blessings are gathered 'together in one... in Christ' (Ephesians 1:10) and synergistically interact in the heart, mind, and soul of a young missionary, he can qualify for the work (see D&C 4:5). His capacity is increased to fulfill the responsibility to represent authoritatively the Lord Jesus Christ. The spiritually potent combination of honoring priesthood and temple covenants, receiving 'the power of godliness' (D&C 84:20) through priesthood ordinances (D&C 84:19–21), serving selflessly, and proclaiming the everlasting gospel to God’s children enables a young man to become 'firm and steadfast in the faith' (Helaman 15:8) and 'rooted and built up in [Christ]' (Colossians 2:7).
"In our homes and at church, we should give balanced emphasis to all three elements of the Lord’s pattern of preparation and progression for faithful sons of God: priesthood, temple, mission. All three require us to love being and remaining worthy. Be worthy. Stay worthy."
- David A. Bednar, "Called to the Work," General Conference, April 2017
Click here to watch or read the full talk

Elder Bednar spoke during the Priesthood Session of the recent general conference. He was primarily addressing the young men in issues relating to their preparation for future service and growth; but many of the principles apply to young women as well. Elder Bednar discussed the efforts we make to help youth prepare, which are often focused on mission preparation; but he encouraged additional focus on the other important aspects of the young man's development:  priesthood, temple, mission.

When all three of those areas receive attention in a young man's preparation, or in an adult life, then it becomes a "spiritually potent combination" of growth and development.

Elder Bednar also had a subtheme, repeated three times in the talk: "Please learn to love being and remaining worthy. Be worthy. Stay worthy." How critical that is for our happiness in life!

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Elder Jeffrey R. Holland on an invitation for all to participate in the blessings of the Gospel

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.
"Brothers and sisters, we live in a mortal world with many songs we cannot or do not yet sing. But I plead with each one of us to stay permanently and faithfully in the choir, where we will be able to savor forever that most precious anthem of all—'the song of redeeming love' (Alma 5:26; see also Alma 26:13).
"Fortunately, the seats for this particular number are limitless. There is room for those who speak different languages, celebrate diverse cultures, and live in a host of locations. There is room for the single, for the married, for large families, and for the childless. There is room for those who once had questions regarding their faith and room for those who still do. There is room for those with differing sexual attractions. In short, there is a place for everyone who loves God and honors His commandments as the inviolable measuring rod for personal behavior, for if love of God is the melody of our shared song, surely our common quest to obey Him is the indispensable harmony in it.
"With divine imperatives of love and faith, repentance and compassion, honesty and forgiveness, there is room in this choir for all who wish to be there. (See 2 Nephi 26:33.) 'Come as you are,' a loving Father says to each of us, but He adds, 'Don’t plan to stay as you are.' We smile and remember that God is determined to make of us more than we thought we could be.
"In this great oratorio that is His plan for our exaltation, may we humbly follow His baton and keep working on the songs we cannot sing, until we can offer those 'carol[s] to [our] King.' (Hymns, no. 227.)"
- Jeffrey R. Holland, "Songs Sung and Unsung," General Conference, April 2017
Click here to watch or read the full talk

In this sermon, Elder Holland spoke beautifully based on the lyrics of the hymn "There is Sunshine in my Soul Today" (Hymns, no. 227). He drew a number of comparisons and analogies that were helpful in thinking about how we confront the challenges of this life.

I thought this section, near the end of his talk, was particularly interesting. He points out the importance for "each one of us to stay permanently and faithfully in the choir" (the symbolic description of faithful discipleship) as we deal with our various situations. And he points out that diversity of needs and backgrounds, of personal situations, is not only acceptable in that "choir," but also very desirable in the formation of the choir. "There is a place for everyone who loves God and honors His commandments as the inviolable measuring rod for personal behavior."

So all who love God and desire to follow Him are invited and welcome:

I hope all members of the Church can feel the power of this message, knowing that not only are we personally needed and wanted in that choir, but also we should be open, welcoming, and loving to all those who likewise come to receive the blessings and benefits of singing together with us.

Monday, April 17, 2017

Elder Robert D. Hales on being true disciples of Christ

Elder Robert D. Hales (b. August 24, 1932) served as a Seventy from 1976 to 1985, when he was called as a member of the Quorum of Twelve Apostles.
"What does it mean to be a disciple of our Lord Jesus Christ? A disciple is one who has been baptized and is willing to take upon him or her the name of the Savior and follow Him. A disciple strives to become as He is by keeping His commandments in mortality, much the same as an apprentice seeks to become like his or her master.
"Many people hear the word disciple and think it means only 'follower.' But genuine discipleship is a state of being. This suggests more than studying and applying a list of individual attributes. Disciples live so that the characteristics of Christ are woven into the fiber of their beings, as into a spiritual tapestry....
"The attributes of the Savior, as we perceive them, are not a script to be followed or list to be checked off. They are interwoven characteristics, added one to another, which develop in us in interactive ways. In other words, we cannot obtain one Christlike characteristic without also obtaining and influencing others. As one characteristic becomes strong, so do many more....
"Brothers and sisters, now more than ever, we cannot be a 'part-time disciple'! We cannot be a disciple on just one point of doctrine or another. The constellation of characteristics that result from faith in Christ—including the ones we have talked about today—are all necessary to our standing strong in these last days.
"As we earnestly strive to be true disciples of Jesus Christ, these characteristics will be interwoven, added upon, and interactively strengthened in us. There will be no disparity between the kindness we show our enemies and the kindness we bestow on our friends. We will be as honest when no one is looking as when others are watching. We will be as devoted to God in the public square as we are in our private closet."
- Robert D. Hales, "Becoming a Disciple of Our Lord Jesus Christ," General Conference, April 2017
Click here to watch or read the full talk

Becoming a true disciple of Jesus Christ requires more than just a superficial acceptance of a code of beliefs, or joining an organization. Elder Hales teaches that "genuine discipleship is a state of being"—it means that there has been a change of nature in the individual as he or she adopts the way of life in deep and profound ways. The invitation for us, as prospective disciples of Jesus Christ, is to learn about his attributes in order that they can be "woven into the fiber of [our] beings."

And Elder Hales emphasizes that you can't just pick some of the attributes that look most desirable, or choose occasions in which to demonstrate the characteristics. We need to be full-time disciples; we need to adopt all of the characteristics of the Savior, all of the time:

I am grateful for Elder Hales' description of the growing, iterative process of this transition: "As we earnestly strive to be true disciples of Jesus Christ, these characteristics will be interwoven, added upon, and interactively strengthened in us." A miraculous transition can and will occur when the heart is willing and the commitment is sincere and deep.

Sunday, April 16, 2017

President Gordon B. Hinckley on the miracle of the Savior's Resurrection

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.
“Then dawned the first day of the week, the Sabbath of the Lord as we have come to know it. To those who came to the tomb, heavy with sorrow, the attending angel declared, ‘Why seek ye the living among the dead?’ (Luke 24:5).
“‘He is not here: … he is risen, as he said’ (Matt. 28:6).
“Here was the greatest miracle of human history. Earlier He had told them, ‘I am the resurrection, and the life’ (John 11:25). But they had not understood. Now they knew. He had died in misery and pain and loneliness. Now, on the third day, He arose in power and beauty and life, the firstfruits of all who slept, the assurance for men of all ages that ‘as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive’ (1 Cor. 15:22).
“On Calvary He was the dying Jesus. From the tomb He emerged the Living Christ. The cross had been the bitter fruit of Judas’s betrayal, the summary of Peter’s denial. The empty tomb now became the testimony of His divinity, the assurance of eternal life, the answer to Job’s unanswered question: ‘If a man die, shall he live again?’ (Job 14:14). …
“And so, because our Savior lives, we do not use the symbol of His death as the symbol of our faith. But what shall we use? No sign, no work of art, no representation of form is adequate to express the glory and the wonder of the Living Christ. He told us what that symbol should be when He said, ‘If ye love me, keep my commandments’ (John 14:15).
“As His followers, we cannot do a mean or shoddy or ungracious thing without tarnishing His image. Nor can we do a good and gracious and generous act without burnishing more brightly the symbol of Him whose name we have taken upon ourselves. And so our lives must become a meaningful expression, the symbol of our declaration of our testimony of the Living Christ, the Eternal Son of the Living God.”
- Gordon B. Hinckley, “The Symbol of Our Faith,” Ensign, Apr. 2005 4–6
Click here to read the full article

In this message, President Hinckley shared the experience of being asked why the Church of Jesus Christ doesn't use the cross as a symbol like other Christian churches. He explained that while the Savior's voluntary giving up of His life is a crucial part of the Atonement in our theology, the other aspects of His sacrifice and particularly the Resurrection provide so much power and understanding. It was "the greatest miracle of human history."

President Hinckley's main point is that there is no symbol that can adequately represent the depth of our love and appreciation for what took place on the cross and in the tomb. Instead, the best representation is the lives of his followers. Their actions, deeds, and Christlike charity become the symbol of the Living Christ.

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

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Elder Bruce R. McConkie on the doctrine of the Atonement of Christ

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.
"I feel, and the Spirit seems to accord, that the most important doctrine I can declare, and the most powerful testimony I can bear, is of the atoning sacrifice of the Lord Jesus Christ.
"His atonement is the most transcendent event that ever has or ever will occur from Creation’s dawn through all the ages of a never-ending eternity.
"It is the supreme act of goodness and grace that only a god could perform. Through it, all of the terms and conditions of the Father’s eternal plan of salvation became operative.
"Through it are brought to pass the immortality and eternal life of man. Through it, all men are saved from death, hell, the devil, and endless torment.
"And through it, all who believe and obey the glorious gospel of God, all who are true and faithful and overcome the world, all who suffer for Christ and his word, all who are chastened and scourged in the Cause of him whose we are—all shall become as their Maker and sit with him on his throne and reign with him forever in everlasting glory....
"Now, the atonement of Christ is the most basic and fundamental doctrine of the gospel, and it is the least understood of all our revealed truths.
"Many of us have a superficial knowledge and rely upon the Lord and his goodness to see us through the trials and perils of life.
"But if we are to have faith like Enoch and Elijah we must believe what they believed, know what they knew, and live as they lived.
"May I invite you to join with me in gaining a sound and sure knowledge of the Atonement.
"We must cast aside the philosophies of men and the wisdom of the wise and hearken to that Spirit which is given to us to guide us into all truth.
"We must search the scriptures, accepting them as the mind and will and voice of the Lord and the very power of God unto salvation....
"And now, as pertaining to this perfect atonement, wrought by the shedding of the blood of God—I testify that it took place in Gethsemane and at Golgotha, and as pertaining to Jesus Christ, I testify that he is the Son of the Living God and was crucified for the sins of the world. He is our Lord, our God, and our King. This I know of myself independent of any other person.
"I am one of his witnesses, and in a coming day I shall feel the nail marks in his hands and in his feet and shall wet his feet with my tears.
"But I shall not know any better then than I know now that he is God’s Almighty Son, that he is our Savior and Redeemer, and that salvation comes in and through his atoning blood and in no other way.
"God grant that all of us may walk in the light as God our Father is in the light so that, according to the promises, the blood of Jesus Christ his Son will cleanse us from all sin."
- Bruce R. McConkie, "The Purifying Power of Gethsemane," General Conference, April 1985
Click here to read or listen to the full talk

This remarkable message from Elder McConkie was given only about two weeks before he passed away—his "final witness" to the Church in mortality. Elder Russell M. Nelson followed Elder McConkie in the conference, and offered an expression of testimony and gratitude that Elder McConkie's life had been prolonged to deliver such a powerful sermon.

Elder McConkie taught so powerfully in this message, as only he could, about the eternally significant and sacred nature of what transpired in the Garden of Gethsemane and on the cross of Calvary. The sermon is so full of truth and pure doctrine that it was hard for me to excerpt portions.

I was moved again by Elder McConkie's bold statement: "The atonement of Christ is the most basic and fundamental doctrine of the gospel, and it is the least understood of all our revealed truths." He follows that with an invitation and challenge that we each study and ponder anew in order to gain "a sound and sure knowledge of the Atonement."

Elder McConkie taught powerfully of the entire plan of salvation, including the sacred importance of the creation and fall, and how necessary they are for the glorious redemption that would come. He closed with the powerful and personal witness that has become much loved by Church members:

Elder McConkie did not know when he spoke these words that "in a coming day" would be less than two weeks away in his mortal experience. How blessed we are to have his pure and sincere witness, his clear teaching of doctrine, and his invitation to learn and be blessed by the sacred doctrine of the Atonement of Jesus Christ.

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

Friday, April 14, 2017

President James E. Faust on the healing power of Atonement and Resurrection

President James E. Faust (1920-2007) was called as a Seventy in 1976, then as a member of the Quorum of Twelve in 1978. He served as a counselor to President Hinckley from 1995 until his death in 2007 at age 87.
"Many who think that life is unfair do not see things within the larger vision of what the Savior did for us through the Atonement and the Resurrection. Each of us has at times agony, heartbreak, and despair when we must, like Job, reach deep down inside to the bedrock of our own faith. The depth of our belief in the Resurrection and the Atonement of the Savior will, I believe, determine the measure of courage and purpose with which we meet life’s challenges.
"The first words of the risen Lord to His disciples were, 'Peace be unto you' (John 20:19). He has also promised, 'Peace in this world, and eternal life in the world to come' (D&C 59:23). The Atonement and the Resurrection have taken place. Our Lord and Savior suffered that appalling agony in Gethsemane. He performed the ultimate sacrifice in dying on the cross and then breaking the bonds of death.
"All of us benefit from the transcendent blessings of the Atonement and the Resurrection, through which the divine healing process can work in our lives. The hurt can be replaced by the joy the Savior promised. To the doubting Thomas, Jesus said, 'Be not faithless, but believing' (John 20:27). Through faith and righteousness all of the inequities, injuries, and pains of this life can be fully compensated for and made right. Blessings denied in this life will be fully recompensed in the eternities. Through complete repentance of our sins we can be forgiven and we can enjoy eternal life. Thus our suffering in this life can be as the refining fire, purifying us for a higher purpose. Heartaches can be healed, and we can come to know a soul-satisfying joy and happiness beyond our dreams and expectations."
- James E. Faust, "Woman, Why Weepest Thou?", Ensign, November 1996, pp. 52-54
Click here to read or listen to the full talk

I love President Faust's perspective and wisdom. If you think life is unfair, you aren't thinking enough about the gift of the Atonement and Resurrection of the Savior. We will all have times of "agony, heartbreak, and despair" in life:

And so the Savior offers us His peace, promises peace, if we come unto Him. That is the power of His love and sacrifice for us. Joy replaces hurt in life as we allow "the divine healing process" to work in our lives. With the eternal perspective, we see that the challenges and suffering of this life are "the refining fire" that purifies us to a higher purpose. The Easter promise is glorious indeed!
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