Saturday, June 30, 2018

President Russell M. Nelson on the blessings of sacred covenants

President Russell M. Nelson (born Sept 9, 1924) was an internationally-renowned heart surgeon when he was called to serve as a member of the Quorum of Twelve Apostles in 1984. He became president of that quorum on July 15, 2015. Following the death of President Monson, he was set apart as president of the Church on January 14, 2018.
"One of the most important concepts of revealed religion is that of a sacred covenant. In legal language, a covenant generally denotes an agreement between two or more parties. But in a religious context, a covenant is much more significant. It is a sacred promise with God. He fixes the terms. Each person may choose to accept those terms. If one accepts the terms of the covenant and obeys God’s law, he or she receives the blessings associated with the covenant. We know that 'when we obtain any blessing from God, it is by obedience to that law upon which it is predicated.' (D&C 130:21) ...
"Children of the covenant have the right to receive His doctrine and to know the plan of salvation. They claim it by making covenants of sacred significance. Brigham Young said: 'All Latter-day Saints enter the new and everlasting covenant when they enter this Church....  They enter the new and everlasting covenant to sustain the Kingdom of God.' (Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Brigham Young (1997), 62.) They keep the covenant by obedience to His commandments....
"When we realize that we are children of the covenant, we know who we are and what God expects of us. His law is written in our hearts. (See Isa 55:3.) He is our God and we are His people.(See Psalm 95:7.) Committed children of the covenant remain steadfast, even in the midst of adversity. When that doctrine is deeply implanted in our hearts, even the sting of death is soothed and our spiritual stamina is strengthened.
"The greatest compliment that can be earned here in this life is to be known as a covenant keeper. The rewards for a covenant keeper will be realized both here and hereafter."
- Russell M. Nelson, "Covenants," General Conference October 2011
Click here to read or listen to the full talk

President Nelson gives a wonderful summary of the doctrine of covenants in this address. He reminds us of the meaning of our sacred promises to God, of the obligations those promises imply, and of the blessings promised for fulfilling our part of the covenant in obedience to God.

The label "children of the covenant" occurs in that form in only one place in the scriptures (3 Ne 20:26) but the concept is described and implied in many others; I love the implications it offers for us as we enter into that special relationship with God. It gives us "the right to receive His doctrine and to know the plan of salvation."

What a wonderful achievement, to be known as one who keeps sacred covenants—according to President Nelson, the "greatest compliment that can be earned here in this life"!

(Compilation and commentary by David Kenison, Orem, Utah, 2018)

Friday, June 29, 2018

President James E. Faust on mutual respect for differing beliefs

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.
"We believe that the fulness of the gospel of Christ has been restored, but this is no reason for anyone to feel superior in any way toward others of God’s children. Rather, it requires a greater obligation to invoke the essence of the gospel of Christ in our lives—to love, serve, and bless others.
"Indeed, as the First Presidency stated in 1978, we believe that 'the great religious leaders of the world such as Mohammed, Confucius, and the Reformers, as well as philosophers including Socrates, Plato, and others, received a portion of God’s light. Moral truths were given to them by God to enlighten whole nations and to bring a higher level of understanding to individuals.' (First Presidency statement, Feb. 15, 1978.) Thus, we have respect for the sincere religious beliefs of others and appreciate others extending the same courtesy and respect for the tenets we hold dear."
- James E. Faust, "The Restoration of All Things," General Conference April 2006
Click here to read or listen to the full talk

The essence of the Gospel perspective is humility and perspective—recognition that all of God's children have eternal worth and infinite potential, and any temporary advantage we might have in understanding or temporal situation does not in any way convey superiority to others. Our greatest desire must always be to lift and serve, to recognize the goodness in others, and to grow together towards the divine potential within us:

I have always appreciated the perspective of that First Presidency statement. There is goodness and truth in many sources and many beliefs around us; we should respect others and seek to learn from them, even as we hope to share with them the things that matter most to us.

(Compilation and commentary by David Kenison, Orem, Utah, 2018)

Thursday, June 28, 2018

President Howard W. Hunter on standing faithfully in the days of battle

President Howard W. Hunter (1907-1995) was called to the Quorum of Twelve in 1959.  He served as Church President from June 5, 1994 to his death on March 3, 1995.
"At a critical moment in the battle of Waterloo, when everything depended on the steadiness of the soldiery, an anxious courier dashed into the presence of the Duke of Wellington, announcing that unless the troops were immediately relieved or withdrawn, they must yield before the impending assault of the French army. The Duke replied, 'Stand firm!'
"'But we shall perish!' remonstrated the officer.
"'Stand firm!' again was the answer of the ironhearted Duke.
"'You’ll find us there!' rejoined the courier, as he galloped away.
"And, of course, the British were victorious that day as a result of such loyalty and determination (see Walter Baxendale, ed., Dictionary of Anecdote, Incident, Illustrative Fact, New York: Thomas Whittaker, 1889, p. 225).
"Today another battle of far more serious consequence is being waged. It is a battle being fought for the souls of men. Its outcome likewise depends on the steadiness of the soldiery. The clarion call of the chieftain is heard above the fierce artillery of the archenemy, 'Stand firm! Be true!'
"Brothers and sisters, I am grateful that most within the sound of my voice are standing firm and remaining true to the kingdom of God. Like Helaman’s stripling warriors, 'they stand fast in that liberty wherewith God has made them free; and they are strict to remember the Lord their God from day to day; yea, they do observe to keep his statutes, and his judgments, and his commandments continually; and their faith is strong in the prophecies concerning that which is to come' (Alma 58:40). I am referring to those members of the Church who live their Christian beliefs in the quiet commonplace of their daily lives."
- Howard W. Hunter, "Am I a 'Living” Member?,' General Coference April 1987
Click here to read or listen to the full talk

When faced with overwhelming odds, does it make sense for a military force to "stand firm" and not retreat? It might! Perhaps the commander is aware of circumstances or situations that would make that kind of defense the right thing to do. If a commander is certain that a stand will result eventually in victory, then the counsel is wise.

President Hunter used the example of British troops at Waterloo to illustrate this principle. With determination and resolve, at that moment "when everything depended on the steadiness of the soldiery," they were counseled to "stand firm" and they did, eventually winning the battle in spite of what appeared to be a hopeless and desperate situation.

In the battle we are fighting "for the souls of men" in our world today, our leaders and commanders are giving us that same message: stand firm!

The way we "stand firm" in the battles and challenges of our time is to "live [the] Christian beliefs in the quiet commonplace of [our] daily lives." That simple but powerful message is so critical for us. As we "observe to keep... his commandments continually" (not just occasionally, or when convenient) we will find that our "faith is strong in the prophecies concerning that which is to come" and we will be blessed and sustained.

(Compilation and commentary by David Kenison, Orem, Utah, 2018)

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Elder Neil L. Andersen on having a testimony of Joseph Smith

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.
"On his first visit to the Prophet Joseph Smith at age 17, an angel called Joseph by name and told him that he, Moroni, was a messenger sent from the presence of God and that God had a work for him to do. Imagine what Joseph must have thought when the angel then told him that his name would 'be had for good and evil among all nations, kindreds, and tongues.' (JS-H 1:33.) Perhaps the shock in Joseph’s eyes caused Moroni to repeat again that both good and evil would be spoken of him among all people. (See JS-H 1:29–46.)
"The good spoken of Joseph Smith came slowly; the evil speaking began immediately. Joseph wrote, 'How very strange it was that an obscure boy … should be thought … of sufficient importance to attract … the most bitter persecution.' (JS-H 1:23.)
"While love for Joseph grew, so also did hostility. At the age of 38, he was murdered by a mob of 150 men with painted faces. (See D&C 135:1.) While the Prophet’s life abruptly ended, the good and evil spoken of Joseph was just beginning....
"Why does the Lord allow the evil speaking to chase after the good? One reason is that opposition against the things of God sends seekers of truth to their knees for answers.
"Joseph Smith is the prophet of the Restoration. His spiritual work began with the appearance of the Father and the Son, followed by numerous heavenly visitations. He was the instrument in God’s hands in bringing forth sacred scripture, lost doctrine, and the restoration of the priesthood. The importance of Joseph’s work requires more than intellectual consideration; it requires that we, like Joseph, 'ask of God.' (James 1:5.) Spiritual questions deserve spiritual answers from God."
- Neil L. Andersen, "Joseph Smith," General Conference October 2014
Click here to read or listen to the full talk

When Joseph's life abruptly ended at the age of 38 (174 years ago today), opinions of his life and contribution were already divided and pronounced. The prophecy that Joseph Smith's name would be known "for good and evil among all nations" is perhaps more true and fulfilled in our day than ever before, as the proliferation of accessible information via the Internet now provides increased access to arguments on both sides. In this conference talk, Elder Andersen considers that divide, and encourages all to seek for true understanding of the Prophet's mission through spiritual confirmation:

The testimony of the prophets is that God is eager to lead us to truth and to confirm our path to happiness. If we add spiritual searching to our intellectual considerations, as Elder Andersen testifies, we will surely receive that witness.

(Compilation and commentary by David Kenison, Orem, Utah, 2018)

Tuesday, June 26, 2018

Elder Ronald A. Rasband on finding peace through prayer

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.
"You too will have moments when the adversary will come after you. He will make things hard or sometimes worse, more alluring, than living the commandments of God. Do not be drawn off or discouraged. Do not blame the Lord for He has said, '...I will make all my mountains a way, and my highways shall be exalted.' (1 Nephi 21:11.)
"Trust Him. Trust Him to help you with the decision about an eternal companion, a family, a job and a home. Pray for guidance, make a decision, and then take it to the Lord for His confirming peace.
"'...when thou liest down at night lie down unto the Lord, that he may watch over you in your sleep; and when thou risest in the morning let thy heart be full of thanks unto God....' (Alma 37:37)
"If you find yourself in mists of darkness, get down on your knees. Brigham Young used to teach about prayer, 'Knees get down, I say; and down bend the knees.' (JD 7:164) It's that simple....
"The Lord has a plan for each one of us and He will unfold that plan as we turn to Him in prayer, seek His guidance, act upon His promptings and press on. This, I know, brothers and sisters."
- Ronald A. Rasband, "To the Summit," BYU-Idaho Commencement Address, April 8, 2016
Click here to read or listen to the full talk

Elder Rasband acknowledges some of the challenges of life: when things are challenging and hard, or when it seems rewarding to turn away from God. Those are the times when we most need God; and we must learn to turn to him regardless of the situation and our inclinations:

The key is to learn to trust God. As we have experiences in our lives with Him, we will become familiar with how He can bless and sustain us through our challenges or temptations. If we get used to praying when prayer is more natural or easy, then we will be more likely to pray when it's more difficult or unnatural. Each experience builds our faith and confidence in Him, to the point like Brigham Young, we know to discipline ourselves and choose to turn to Him .even when the tendency is to turn away.

(Compilation and commentary by David Kenison, Orem, Utah, 2018)

Monday, June 25, 2018

Elder D. Todd Christofferson on striving for holiness in our daily lives

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.
"If we yearn to dwell in Christ and have Him dwell in us (see John 6:56), then holiness is what we seek, in both body and spirit. (See Romans 12:1.) We seek it in the temple, whereon is inscribed 'Holiness to the Lord.' We seek it in our marriages, families, and homes. We seek it each week as we delight in the Lord’s holy day. (See Isaiah 58:13.) We seek it even in the details of daily living: our speech, our dress, our thoughts. As President Thomas S. Monson has stated, 'We are the product of all we read, all we view, all we hear and all we think.' (TTSM 267) We seek holiness as we take up our cross daily (see JST, Matthew 16:25–26, in Matthew 16:24, footnote e)....
"Zechariah prophesied that in the day of the Lord’s millennial reign, even the bells of the horses would bear the inscription 'Holiness unto the Lord' (Zechariah 14:20). In that spirit, the pioneer Saints in these valleys affixed that reminder, 'Holiness to the Lord,' on seemingly common or mundane things as well as those more directly associated with religious practice.... These references to holiness in seemingly unusual or unexpected places may seem incongruous, but they suggest just how pervasive and constant our focus on holiness needs to be.
"Partaking of the Savior’s flesh and drinking His blood means to put out of our lives anything inconsistent with a Christlike character and to make His attributes our own. This is the larger meaning of repentance: not only a turning away from past sin but also 'a turning of the heart and will to God' (Bible Dictionary, 'Repentance') going forward. As happened with my friend in his revelatory dream, God will show us our flaws and failings, but He will also help us turn weakness into strength. (See Ether 12:27.) If we sincerely ask, 'What lack I yet?' (Matthew 19:20) He will not leave us to guess, but in love He will answer for the sake of our happiness. And He will give us hope.
"It is a consuming endeavor, and it would be terribly daunting if in our striving for holiness we were alone. The glorious truth is we are not alone. We have the love of God, the grace of Christ, the comfort and guidance of the Holy Spirit, and the fellowship and encouragement of fellow Saints in the body of Christ. Let us not be content with where we are, but neither let us be discouraged."
- D. Todd Christofferson, "The Living Bread Which Came Down from Heaven," General Conference October 2017
Click here to read or listen to the full talk

The opening phrase of this excerpt introduces a wonderful concept: "If we yearn to dwell in Christ and have Him dwell in us...." I love that expression of the longing to be close to the Savior in our lives. Elder Christofferson goes on to express how we can fulfill that kind of yearning, in the quest for holiness in our lives:

Holiness can be a part of everything we do and experience in life, if we learn to bring God's spirit and influence into each aspect! The early pioneer settlers of Utah who adopted the expression "Holiness to the Lord" as a motto in both spiritual and temporal settings convey that message, and is one we could profit from.

But that's where we should return to the opening phrase. As we seek greater holiness in our daily lives, as we yearn to be closer to Christ, it is in and through Him and His promised help that we can access that power and influence. I have always felt that one of the most important prayers we can offer is the one Elder Christofferson suggests as well: "What lack I yet?" And the testimony that God "will answer for the sake of our happiness" is a blessing to us. We need to be willing to heed and act, but hope and help from Heaven are always with the soul who seeks with honesty and willingness.

(Compilation and commentary by David Kenison, Orem, Utah, 2018)

Sunday, June 24, 2018

Elder Quentin L. Cook on having a proper perspective of prosperity

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.
"A familiar scripture found in Alma 36:30—and similarly in many other places in the Book of Mormon—has two parts. It reads, 'Inasmuch as ye shall keep the commandments of God ye shall prosper in the land.' The second part reads, 'Inasmuch as ye will not keep the commandments of God ye shall be cut off from his presence.' It is clear that having the blessing of the Holy Spirit is a principal element of prospering in the land.
"Along with having the Spirit, sacred teachings of the Church establish having sufficient for our needs as the best measure of temporal prosperity. Lucifer’s paradigm shift here is to elevate the seeking of great wealth and the acquisition of highly visible luxury products. Some seem absolutely driven to achieve the lifestyle of the rich and famous. Excess wealth is not promised to faithful members, nor does it usually bring happiness.
"As a people, the Latter-day Saints have indeed prospered. Some achieve wealth as the result of very worthwhile and appropriate pursuits and use that wealth to bless mankind  veking the kingdom of God first; working, planning, and spending wisely; planning for the future; and using wealth to build up the kingdom of God."
- Quentin L. Cook, "A Banquet of Consequences: The Cumulative Result of All Choices," BYU Devotional, Feb. 7, 2017
Click here to read or listen to the full talk

The verse Elder Cook quotes from Alma 36 provides a great key to our understanding of God's promises to us. It's critical to note the parallel descriptions:
  • If we keep God's commandments, we prosper in the land
  • If we do not keep God's commandments, we are cut off from His presence
Given our normal interpretation of prosper in the first condition, we might expect the second one to say, "If you don't keep the commandments you'll be poor and needy."  But perhaps prosper doesn't mean what we sometimes think it means—to have lots of worldly success? Elder Cook suggests that perhaps prosper means "having the blessing of the Holy Spirit." Certainly that aspect of prosperity would be far more meaningful in the eternal perspective than any earthly possession!

So the best way to consider financial or temporal prosperity is to have sufficient for our needs. The challenge is to not succumb to Lucifer's temptation to "elevate the seeking of great wealth." And then to remember that if wealth does come, to remember that the proper use is to build up the kingdom of God. I think those two challenges are harder than we acknowledge; the subtle but pervasive attitudes of our society sink deep into our minds and hearts!

(Compilation and commentary by David Kenison, Orem, Utah, 2018)

Saturday, June 23, 2018

President Gordon B. Hinckley on safeguarding and blessing children

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.
"As Tagore, the poet of India, once observed, 'Every child comes with the message that God is not yet discouraged of man' (Charles L. Wallis, ed., The Treasure Chest, New York: Harper and Row, 1965, p. 49). Children are the promise of the future. They are the future itself. The tragedy is that so many are born to lives of sorrow, of hunger, of fear and trouble and want. Children become the victims, in so many, many cases, of man’s inhumanity to man....
"My plea—and I wish I were more eloquent in voicing it—is a plea to save the children. Too many of them walk with pain and fear, in loneliness and despair. Children need sunlight. They need happiness. They need love and nurture. They need kindness and refreshment and affection. Every home, regardless of the cost of the house, can provide an environment of love which will be an environment of salvation."
- Gordon B. Hinckley, "Save the Children," General Conference, October 1994
Click here to read or listen to the full talk

These remarks were shared 24 years ago, shortly before President Hinckley became president of the Church. In the talk, he reviews many of the challenges faced by children in today's world: starvation and disease, child labor and exploitation, inadequate parenting (especially missing fathers), physical and sexual abuse, and so on.

In the face of these terrible challenges, and knowing of God's love for His little ones, President Hinckley pleaded for more attention and care to be given to the safety and welfare of children. The root answer, of course, he said lies in "adherence to the principles of the gospel and the teachings of the Church. It lies in self-discipline."

President Hinckley also talked about "the joys... of happy parenthood" and the positive alternative to the challenges we often see. As terrible and tragic as are the challenges, just as wonderful and joyful are the successes and rewards when parenting is done with love and self-sacrifice.

We should labor first in our own homes and spheres of influence to make sure there is love and peace, following the example of the Savior as we teach and bless the little ones. Then we should be on alert for ways to share that spirit in the broader community around us to help do all we can to "save the children." What a tender, but critical and timely, message this is.

(Compilation and commentary by David Kenison, Orem, Utah, 2018)

Friday, June 22, 2018

Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf on finding joy in the journey of life

Elder 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 served as second counselor in the First Presidency from 2008 to 2018.
"So many people today are waiting for their own golden ticket—the ticket that they believe holds the key to the happiness they have always dreamed about. For some, the golden ticket may be a perfect marriage; for others, a magazine-cover home or perhaps freedom from stress or worry.
"There is nothing wrong with righteous yearnings—we hope and seek after things that are 'virtuous, lovely, or of good report or praiseworthy.' (Articles of Faith 1:13.) The problem comes when we put our happiness on hold as we wait for some future event—our golden ticket—to appear....
"If we spend our days waiting for fabulous roses, we could miss the beauty and wonder of the tiny forget-me-nots that are all around us.
"This is not to say that we should abandon hope or temper our goals. Never stop striving for the best that is within you. Never stop hoping for all of the righteous desires of your heart. But don’t close your eyes and hearts to the simple and elegant beauties of each day’s ordinary moments that make up a rich, well-lived life."
- Dieter F. Uchtdorf, "Forget Me Not," General Conference, October 2011
Click here to read or listen to the full talk

In this excerpt from his classic and memorable talk, President Uchtdorf reminded us to not forget the joy that can be found in the journey—and not just at the end of the road. This is not easy to do when we are struggling with disappointment, unrealized dreams, or righteous desires that continue unfulfilled. But the critical need is to continue to search for sources of joy, even in the midst of the challenges:

How do we learn to push back the sadness and disappointment, and to instead find "the simple and elegant beauties of each day’s ordinary moments"? I think a large part of the answer comes only through the grace of God. As we strive to look to Him, and learn to see as He sees, we will surely be blessed with the understanding of eternal perspective and will be able to see how much joy is available to us in other areas.

(Compilation and commentary by David Kenison, Orem, Utah, 2018)

Thursday, June 21, 2018

Elder Jeffrey R. Holland on bearing burdens patiently and in faith

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.
"And so I ask you to be patient in things of the Spirit. Perhaps your life has been different from mine, but I doubt it. I have had to struggle to know my standing before God. As a teenager I found it hard to pray and harder to fast. My mission was not easy. I struggled as a student only to find that I had to struggle afterwards, too. In this present assignment I have wept and ached for guidance. It seems no worthy accomplishment has ever come easily for me, but I’m living long enough to be grateful for that....
"All but a prophetic few must go about God’s work in very quiet, very unspectacular ways. And as you labor to know him, and to know that he knows you; as you invest your time—and inconvenience—in quiet, unassuming service, you will indeed find that 'his angels [have] charge concerning thee: and in their hands they shall bear thee up.' (Matt. 4:6.) It may not come quickly. It probably won’t come quickly, but there is purpose in the time it takes. Cherish your spiritual burdens because God will converse with you through them and will use you to do his work if you carry them well....
"If sometimes the harder you try, the harder it gets, take heart. So it has been with the best people who ever lived."
- Jeffrey R. Holland, "The Inconvenient Messiah," BYU Devotional, 2 February 1982; see Ensign February 1984, pp. 68-73
Click here to read the full talk

This is one of my favorite of the perhaps lesser-known talks given by Elder Holland. Speaking to an audience of students when he was serving as the president of BYU, he addresses the Savior's profound example of not choosing the easy or convenient way. And the applications to us are many as we face challenges in our lives; we often are asked to follow a more difficult path.

Elder Holland points to the personal struggles he faced in his life to make spiritual progress. Most of us have felt similar concerns and struggles. He encouraged us to "invest [our] time—and inconvenience—in quiet, unassuming service" in order to feel the blessings of heaven sustaining us in the process. And then he offered this challenge and counsel:

It requires faith and understanding to be able to "cherish" the "spiritual burdens" that come to us. We have to learn to trust in God's promises that the blessings will come not just at the end of the trials, but in the process of them. Elder Holland's reassurance, through his personal experience and the testimonies of others he shares, helps to give us that perspective.

(Compilation and commentary by David Kenison, Orem, Utah, 2018)

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

President M. Russell Ballard on media's influence and speaking up for virtue

President M. Russell Ballard (born October 8, 1928) was called as a Seventy in 1976, and has served as a member of the Quorum of Twelve Apostles since 1985. He became acting president of the Twelve in January 2018.
"The choices we make in media can be symbolic of the choices we make in life. Choosing the trendy, the titillating, the tawdry in the TV programs or movies we watch can cause us to end up, if we’re not careful, choosing the same things in the lives we live.
"If we do not make good choices, the media can devastate our families and pull our children away from the narrow gospel path. In the virtual reality and the perceived reality of large and small screens, family-destructive viewpoints and behavior are regularly portrayed as pleasurable, as stylish, as exciting, and as normal. Often media’s most devastating attacks on family are not direct or frontal or openly immoral. Intelligent evil is too cunning for that, knowing that most people still profess belief in family and in traditional values. Rather the attacks are subtle and amoral—issues of right and wrong don’t even come up. Immorality and sexual innuendo are everywhere, causing some to believe that because everyone is doing it, it must be all right. This pernicious evil is not out in the street somewhere; it is coming right into our homes, right into the heart of our families....
"The new morality preached from the media’s pulpit is nothing more than the old immorality. It attacks religion. It undermines the family. It turns virtue into vice and vice into virtue. It assaults the senses and batters the soul with messages and images that are neither virtuous, nor lovely, nor of good report, nor praiseworthy.
"The time has come when members of the Church need to speak out and join with the many other concerned people in opposition to the offensive, destructive, and mean-spirited media influence that is sweeping over the earth."
- M. Russell Ballard, "Let Our Voices Be Heard," General Conference October 2003
Click here to read or listen to the full talk

President Ballard issued this warning about media 15 years ago. Certainly the concerns he mentions are significantly worse today! The negative influence of media presentations can be brazen and overt, or subtle and hidden. Sometimes "family-destructive viewpoints and behavior are regularly portrayed as pleasurable, as stylish, as exciting, and as normal." But the more subtle attacks, where the agendas are hidden and clever, can be even more destructive to us and to our families. We must guard actively against these attacks of "pernicious evil" that are attempting to invade "right into the heart of our families."

President Ballard encouraged us not only to safeguard our homes and monitor our support of public media presentations, but also to "speak out and join with the many other concerned people in opposition" to the negative and destructive influence of this kind of media. We should seek for opportunities to have our voices heard!

(Compilation and commentary by David Kenison, Orem, Utah, 2018)

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

President Henry B. Eyring on teaching doctrine in our 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.
"There has been a war between light and darkness, between good and evil, since before the world was created. The battle still rages, and the casualties seem to be increasing. All of us have family members we love who are being buffeted by the forces of the destroyer, who would make all God’s children miserable. For many of us, there have been sleepless nights. We have tried to add every force for good we can to the powers swirling around the people who are at risk. We have loved them. We have set the best example we could. We have pled in prayer for them. A wise prophet long ago gave us counsel about another force which we may at times underestimate and thus use too little...
"'Alma thought it was expedient that they should try the virtue of the word of God' (Alma 31:5).
"The word of God is the doctrine taught by Jesus Christ and by His prophets. Alma knew that words of doctrine had great power. They can open the minds of people to see spiritual things not visible to the natural eye. And they can open the heart to feelings of the love of God and a love for truth....
"The need to open eyes and hearts tells us how we must teach doctrine. Doctrine gains its power as the Holy Ghost confirms that it is true. We prepare those we teach, as best we can, to receive the quiet promptings of the still, small voice. That takes at least some faith in Jesus Christ. It takes at least some humility, some willingness to surrender to the Savior’s will for us. The person you would help may have little of either, but you can urge that they desire to believe. More than that, you can take confidence from another of the powers of doctrine. Truth can prepare its own way. Simply hearing the words of doctrine can plant the seed of faith in the heart. And even a tiny seed of faith in Jesus Christ invites the Spirit."
- Henry B. Eyring, "The Power of Teaching Doctrine," General Conference April 1999
Click here to read or listen to the full talk

How do we best prepare ourselves, our family members, our youth and ward members to deal with the "war between light and darkness" in which casualties are continuing to increase? President Eyring suggests the answer is to focus on teaching doctrine, establishing a firm foundation and bringing strength and power:

It's powerful to remember the importance of teaching and testifying; as we do so, those who hear us are given the chance to plant seeds of faith in their hearts. "And even a tiny seed of faith in Jesus Christ invites the Spirit." What a beautiful, hopeful message!

(Compilation and commentary by David Kenison, Orem, Utah, 2018)

Monday, June 18, 2018

President Dallin H. Oaks on the power of sacred music in our lives

President Dallin H. Oaks (born August 12, 1932) served as president of BYU from 1971-1980.  He was then appointed as a justice of the Utah Supreme Court, and resigned when he was called to the Quorum of Twelve Apostles in 1984. He became President of the Quorum of Twelve Apostles and also 1st Counselor in the First Presidency in January 2018.
"The singing of hymns is one of the best ways to put ourselves in tune with the Spirit of the Lord. I wonder if we are making enough use of this heaven-sent resource in our meetings, in our classes, and in our homes....
"The singing of hymns is one of the best ways to learn the doctrine of the restored gospel....
"The scriptures contain many affirmations that hymn singing is a glorious way to worship....
"When the Lord’s Apostles meet in modern times, the singing of hymns is still part of their meetings. The weekly meetings of the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve Apostles in the Salt Lake Temple always begin with a hymn. Elder Russell M. Nelson plays the organ accompaniment. The First Presidency, who conduct these meetings, rotate the privilege of selecting the opening song. Most of us record the date each hymn is sung. According to my records, the opening song most frequently sung during the decade of my participation has been 'I Need Thee Every Hour' (Hymns, 1985, no. 98). Picture the spiritual impact of a handful of the Lord’s servants singing that song before praying for his guidance in fulfilling their mighty responsibilities.
"The veil is very thin in the temples, especially when we join in worshipping through music....
"Sacred music has a unique capacity to communicate our feelings of love for the Lord. This kind of communication is a wonderful aid to our worship. Many have difficulty expressing worshipful feelings in words, but all can join in communicating such feelings through the inspired words of our hymns."
- Dallin H. Oaks, "Worship through Music," General Conference October 1994
Click here to read or listen to the full talk

We have a heaven-sent resource to help and bless us, that we may not be making enough use of in many settings. We should sing the hymns of the gospel, in order to learn doctrine, worship God, and invite the presence of the Spirit into our meetings and into our lives:

Elder Oaks reminds us of the power available to us through sacred music, and invites us to take more advantage of this blessing in our lives. Surely we can find more opportunities when our worship of God can be expressed as we invite His Spirit into our lives!

(Compilation and commentary by David Kenison, Orem, Utah, 2018)

Sunday, June 17, 2018

President Russell M. Nelson on the sacred responsibilities of fathers

President Russell M. Nelson (born Sept 9, 1924) was an internationally-renowned heart surgeon when he was called to serve as a member of the Quorum of Twelve Apostles in 1984. He became president of that quorum on July 15, 2015. Following the death of President Monson, he was set apart as president of the Church on January 14, 2018.
"Parents have the primary responsibility for the welfare of their children. (See D&C 68:25–28.) The Church does not replace that parental responsibility. Ideally, the Latter-day Saint family is presided over by a worthy man who holds the priesthood. This patriarchal authority has been honored among the people of God in all dispensations. It is of divine origin, and that union, if sealed by proper authority, will continue throughout eternity. He who is the Father of us all and the source of this authority demands that governance in the home be in love and righteousness. (See D&C 121:41–45.)
"You fathers can help with the dishes, care for a crying baby, and change a diaper. And perhaps some Sunday you could get the children ready for Church, and your wife could sit in the car and honk.
"'Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it.' (Eph. 5:25.) With that kind of love, brethren, we will be better husbands and fathers, more loving and spiritual leaders. Happiness at home is most likely to be achieved when practices there are founded upon the teachings of Jesus Christ. (See Ensign, Nov. 1995, 102.) Ours is the responsibility to ensure that we have family prayer, scripture study, and family home evening. Ours is the responsibility to prepare our children to receive the ordinances of salvation and exaltation and the blessings promised to tithe payers. Ours is the privilege to bestow priesthood blessings of healing, comfort, and direction."
- Russell M. Nelson, "Our Sacred Duty to Honor Women," General Conference April 1999
Click here to read or listen to the full talk

While fatherhood, as viewed by the Church, bears certain divinely assigned roles and responsibilities to preside in righteousness and govern in love, it does not excuse a man from other aspects of being a part of a family. With his typical wit and insight, President Nelson expands the role of a father:

President Nelson quotes from Paul's letter to the Ephesians to describe what a man's love for his wife should represent; he should be willing to give himself for her and to her, even as Christ loved the Church and gave Himself for it. That kind of single-focused devotion is so critical; it's the foundation of happiness, rare in today's society. We need to rediscover that level of commitment and love.

And then we add the commitment to obedience taught in the Family Proclamation to ensure our homes are "founded upon the teachings of Jesus Christ." And so a father has the privilege and responsibility to lead his family in those sacred principles and practices. President Nelson's message is a clear call for all men to "rise up" and become the kind of father that God would have us be!

(Compilation and commentary by David Kenison, Orem, Utah, 2018)

Saturday, June 16, 2018

President Ezra Taft Benson on the obligation of fathers to pray in order to bless families

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 father must hunger and thirst and yearn to bless his family; he must go to the Lord, ponder the words of God, and live by the Spirit to know the mind and will of the Lord and what he must do to lead his family.
"It is soul-satisfying to know that God is mindful of us and ready to respond when we place our trust in Him and do that which is right. There is no place for fear among men and women who place their trust in the Almighty, who do not hesitate to humble themselves in seeking divine guidance through prayer. Though persecutions arise, though reverses come, in prayer we can find reassurance, for God will speak peace to the soul. That peace, that spirit of serenity, is a great blessing....
"All through my life the counsel to depend on prayer has been prized above any other advice I have ever received. It has become an integral part of me, an anchor, a constant source of strength."
- Ezra Taft Benson, "Strengthening the Father," in Priesthood [Deseret 1981] pp 142-143

This is an inspiring, though somewhat challenging, instruction to fathers everywhere. A father has a profound opportunity to bless his family; but having that occur does not happen automatically. It requires effort, continuing and sincere effort, in order for the sensitivity and inspiration to come that will guide a man on how best to serve:

While the responsibilities of being a father, or a mother, and being ready to provide this kind of blessing and leadership may seem overwhelming, President Benson cautions that we should not fear because the Lord's promises are sure. Once we experience that inspiration, we can know the "soul-satisfying" confirmation "that God is mindful of us and ready to respond when we place our trust in Him and do that which is right." There is truly a profound reassurance in prayer as God will "speak peace to the soul."

(Compilation and commentary by David Kenison, Orem, Utah, 2018)

Friday, June 15, 2018

Elder David A. Bednar on education and intelligence

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.
"The revelations teach us that 'the glory of God is intelligence' (D&C 93:36). We typically may think the word intelligence in this scripture denotes innate cognitive ability or a particular gift for academic work. In this verse, however, one of the meanings of intelligence is the application of knowledge for righteous purposes. As President David O. McKay taught:
"'True education—the education [or learning] for which the Church stands—is the application of knowledge to the development of a noble and Godlike character.' ('True Education,' Improvement Era 60, no. 3 (March 1957): 141)
"We are blessed in mortality with endless opportunities to apply what we learn and know for righteousness—or to increase in intelligence. And learning from experience is one of the primary vehicles provided in the Father’s plan of happiness to accomplish this eternally important outcome. Consequently, we should not equate intelligence exclusively with formal education, academic degrees, or professional success. Some of the most educated people I have ever known had little or no intelligence. And some of the most intelligent people I have ever known had little or no formal education.
"The Prophet Joseph Smith is a prime example of an uneducated person who learned from experience and was filled with the light and truth of intelligence. (See D&C 93:36.)"
- David A. Bednar, "Walk in the Meekness of My Spirit," BYU University Conference, Aug. 28, 2017
Click here to read or listen to the full talk

The definition of intelligence as "the application of knowledge for righteous purposes" is not what we normally associate with it; that might be what we more commonly call wisdom. But Elder Bednar gives a good explanation of the scriptural application of the term and how it relates to our learning and education. And the importance of "learning from experience" through our mortality is critical.

Intelligence and education can take many forms in our lives, and we should be careful in how we assume they relate and are manifest in others. There are some remarkably intelligent people who have very little education!

In any case, they key is that we should strive to grow in both intelligence and education, and we will find the Spirit can enhance our efforts in both directions.

(Compilation and commentary by David Kenison, Orem, Utah, 2018)

Thursday, June 14, 2018

President Heber C. Kimball on living in kindness to all creatures

President Heber C. Kimball (June 14, 1801-1868) was a member of the first Quorum of Twelve Apostles ordained in this dispensation in 1835. He served as first counselor to Brigham Young from 1847 until his death in 1868 at age 67. He was the grandfather of Spencer W. Kimball, who became an apostle in 1943 and served as president of the Church from 1973-1985. His great-great-grandson, Quentin L. Cook, currently serves as an apostle.
"It has been said, 'A man needs a portion of the Spirit to drive oxen.' [Voice in the stand: 'Yes, a double portion of it.'] I know, as well as I know my name is Heber C. Kimball, that a spirit of kindness in a man will beget the same in his animal, in his child, or in persons over whom he exercises control. The Holy Ghost in the people of God will control not only our domestic animals, our families, our servants, and our handmaids, but it will control the armies of men that are in the world, the mountains, seas, streams of water, tempests, famines, and pestilence, and every destructive power, that they come not nigh unto us, just as much as we can keep sickness from us by the power of faith and prayer and good works. If we live our religion, we shall never suffer as the world suffers. We shall not be perplexed with famine and pestilence, with the caterpillar, and other destructive insects, which the Lord will send in the last days to afflict the wicked.
"God will sustain us, if we will sustain him and be his friends. But how can you be his friends, except you are friends to his cause and to his servants? You cannot find favor with your God while you are opposed to his authority, or to the ordinances and regulations of his house."
- Heber C. Kimball, remarks delivered in the Salt Lake Tabernacle, October 7, 1859; see Journal of Discourses 7:330
Click here to read the complete talk

I love this insight. The virtue of kindness is not frequently discussed, but according to President Kimball, it has remarkable power to influence for good—starting with animals, but extending to our relationships with those close to us, and with the larger situations we encounter in the world.

It's interesting how closely the Holy Ghost is associated with kindness in this description. As we act with kindness, the Holy Ghost is more able to attend our actions and our service.

Kindness is certainly an attribute we would attribute to the Savior; his tender affection towards children, to those who struggle with disease or afflictions, and even towards sinners are some of the best-known examples from His mortal life. We would do well to emulate that spirit!

(Compilation and commentary by David Kenison, Orem, Utah, 2018)
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