Thursday, January 31, 2019

Elder John A. Widtsoe the sacred work of temples and divine help that will come

Elder John A. Widtsoe (1872-1952) was born in Norway. He was raised by his widowed mother who immigrated to Utah when John was 11. He was educated at Harvard and in Europe, and had formative roles in programs in several Utah universities including BYU. He served as an apostle from 1921 to his death in 1952.
"Sometimes we forget the greatness of this work. It is a glorious thought that you and I, ordinary men, may do work upon earth that will be, is, recognized in heaven; that we may be as saviors to those who have gone before us into the unseen world. The Lord came upon earth and, in our behalf, in behalf of the whole race of God's children, did work which will bring us eternal life and joy and blessings. So, in a humbler manner may we, each one of us, do work for the dead that will bless them eternally, if they accept our service. We, also, may become saviors — 'saviors on Mount Zion.' That is a glorious thought that should remain in the minds of Latter-day Saints. It certifies to the claim that mankind are equally the children of God. It extends the doctrine of brotherhood to the whole human race.
"The Savior gave of Himself, gave His very life that we might live. To sacrifice that others might be blessed was His word, His work, His life. Sacrifice is the evidence of true love. Without sacrifice love is not manifest. Without sacrifice there is no real love, or kindness.... We love no one unless we sacrifice for him. We can measure the degree of love that we possess for any man or cause, by the sacrifice we make for him or it.
"As the Lord gave His life to prove His love for His brethren and sisters, the human race, we may show the spirit of love more vigorously than we have done if we will make the small sacrifices necessary to seek out our genealogies, to spend time and money for the work, to take time to go to the temple ourselves for the dead. All such service may entail sacrifice, but sacrifice lifts us toward the likeness of God, the likeness of our Elder Brother Jesus Christ. If we Latter-day Saints have any great ideal, it is that of our Elder Brother. All that we strive for, and all that we have fought for, and all that we pray for, is to become more and more like Him as our days and years increase. As He gave His life, unselfishly for us, so each of us, extending the open door of salvation to the dead, most of whom are but names to us, may then by our unselfishness, claim in very deed to be followers of Christ.
"Temple work, in form and substance, reflects the fundamental principles and thoughts belonging to the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ. We must dig deeply to taste the sweetness of the gospel. We cannot merely move about on the surface to secure the full gift of the Lord's plan of salvation. Deep down in the eternal realities, of which temple work is one, lies the real meaning, message, and blessing of the gospel.
"These are trying days, in which Satan rages, at home and abroad, hard days, evil and ugly days. We stand helpless as it seems before them. We need help. We need strength. Perhaps if we would do our work in behalf of those of the unseen world who hunger and pray for the work we can do for them, the unseen world would in return give us help in the day of our urgent need. There are more in that other world than there are here. There is more power and strength there than we have here upon this earth. We have but a trifle, and that trifle is taken from the immeasurable power of God. We shall make no mistake in become collaborators in the Lord's mighty work for human redemption."
- John A. Widtsoe, in Conference Report, Apr. 1943, p. 39; see "The Way of Salvation," Improvement Era, May 1943, 277-79
Click here to read the full talk (search for "fellow-workers")

Elder Widtsoe gave us some of our most helpful and inspiring insights into temple worship and service—it was a cause he was deeply supportive of and spoke about frequently. This is a marvelous address with many insights, worth reviewing in careful detail. Some insights that touched me:

  • The Savior's work on earth was born from His love and sacrifice on our behalf. We join in His work of salvation, becoming "saviors on Mount Zion," as we participate in genealogical and temple work
  • Sacrifice is a divine principle that brings blessings, and is the way love for others is manifest. If we truly love others, we will sacrifice on their behalf.
  • We can make small sacrifices of time and money for research, and then for temple service, to help bring to pass great things
  • As we sacrifice and serve, we become more like the Savior; "sacrifice lifts us toward the likeness of God."
  • When we are serving in this way, we will find ourselves deep down in the essence of the gospel, and not skimming the surface
And then this thought was particularly inspiring:

When Elder Widtsoe spoke these words, the world was in the midst of a global war; certainly they were "trying days" fill of "evil and ugly" things.  But our times are no less trying, and our need for help from the eternal world is no less critical. This is a beautiful promise. It doesn't just mean that we will have help in doing our genealogical research or temple service, but that help can come in all areas of our lives. Why would we not rush to claim that blessing?

(Compilation and commentary by David Kenison, Orem, Utah, 2019)

Wednesday, January 30, 2019

President Boyd K. Packer on the opportunities of youth

President Boyd K. Packer (1924-2015) served as an Assistant to the Quorum of the Twelve (a position that no longer exists) from 1961 to 1970, when he was called to the Quorum of Twelve Apostles.  He served as president of that Quorum from 1994 until his death in 2015 at age 90.
"Teenagers also sometimes think, 'What’s the use? The world will soon be blown all apart and come to an end.' That feeling comes from fear, not from faith. No one knows the hour or the day (see D&C 49:7), but the end cannot come until all of the purposes of the Lord are fulfilled. Everything that I have learned from the revelations and from life convinces me that there is time and to spare for you to carefully prepare for a long life....
"There may be more justice in who we are and what we have or do not have than we ever suppose.
"You are a child of God!
"What a wonderful time to be young. You will see events in your lifetime that will test your courage and extend your faith. If you will face the sunlight of truth, the shadows of discouragement and sin and error will fall behind you. You must never give up! It is never too late! There is no knight in black armor with such power as you may have if you live righteously."
- Boyd K. Packer, "To Young Women and Men," General Conference April 1989
Click here to read or listen to the full talk

It's been 30 years since President Packer addressed these remarks to the youth of the Church in his conference address. He spoke to the youth at that time who were worried about the conditions of the world and what they viewed as a potential end of the world. But he reassured them that based on his knowledge of the Gospel plan, there was much still to be accomplished in the Lord's purposes and they would have adequate time to prepare.

We might ask ourselves how we believe the world's situation, and the state of completeness of the Lord's work, stand today, after 30 years have passed? Regardless, a great key to peace and happiness for each of us is to never forget that we each are a child of God, and He will care for us as we turn to Him.

This is a declaration of faith and hope. Though events will come during life that "test our courage and extend our faith," as long as we face the light of truth, we know the "shadows of discouragement and sin" will never block our view but will fall behind.

(Compilation and commentary by David Kenison, Orem, Utah, 2019)

Tuesday, January 29, 2019

Elder Joseph B. Wirthlin on our journey to higher ground

Elder Joseph B. Wirthlin (1917-2008) served as a Seventy from 1976 to 1986, then as a member of the Quorum of Twelve Apostles from 1986 until his passing in 2008 at age 91.
"Those who journey to higher ground love the Lord with all their hearts. We see in their lives manifestations of that love. They seek their God in prayer and plead for His Holy Spirit. They humble themselves and open their hearts to the teachings of the prophets. They magnify their callings and seek to serve rather than be served. They stand as witnesses of God. They obey His commandments and grow strong in their testimony of the truth.
"They also love Heavenly Father’s children, and their lives manifest that love. They care for their brothers and sisters. They nurture, serve, and sustain their spouses and children. In the spirit of love and kindness, they build up those around them. They give freely of their substance to others. They mourn with those that mourn and comfort those that stand in need of comfort. (See Mosiah 18:9.)
"This journey to higher ground is the pathway of discipleship to the Lord Jesus Christ. It is a journey that will ultimately lead us to exaltation with our families in the presence of the Father and the Son. Consequently, our journey to higher ground must include the house of the Lord. As we come unto Christ and journey to higher ground, we will desire to spend more time in His temples, because the temples represent higher ground, sacred ground.
"In every age we are faced with a choice. We can trust in our own strength, or we can journey to higher ground and come unto Christ.
"Each choice has a consequence.
"Each consequence, a destination."
- Joseph B. Wirthlin, "Journey to Higher Ground," General Conference October 2005
Click here to read or listen to the full talk

The image Elder Wirthlin conveyed in this talk is based on events in Indonesia in December 2004. An earthquake off the coast caused powerful tsunamis that devastated the coastal regions in countries throughout the area. Safety from the onslaught came only to those who managed to climb to higher ground, out of the reach of devastation. Elder Wirthlin likened that to the spiritual challenges of our time, and the need we have to avoid them by raising ourselves so the "spiritual higher ground" of obedience and faithfulness.

In this segment, near the end of the talk, he summarized some of the ways we can know we are on the higher ground: being filled with the love of the Lord, praying faithfully, studying prophetic teachings, serving eagerly and faithfully in callings, testifying of the truth with growing power, caring for those around us, and supporting others in any way needed. We become true disciples of Jesus Christ. And we seek to be in His presence, feeling His influence as much as we can:

As in every time, we must each choose whether to "trust in our own strength" or to "journey to higher ground and come unto Christ." We make that choice every day, multiple times each day as we move forward in our lives.

(Compilation and commentary by David Kenison, Orem, Utah, 2019)

Monday, January 28, 2019

Elder Bruce R. McConkie on the power of studying the scriptures

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 think that people who study the scriptures get a dimension to their life that nobody else gets and that can’t be gained in any way except by studying the scriptures. There’s an increase in faith and a desire to do what’s right and a feeling of inspiration and understanding that comes to people who study the gospel—meaning particularly the Standard Works—and who ponder the principles, that can’t come in any other way."
- Bruce R. McConkie, "Spare Time’s Rare to Apostle,” Church News, 24 Jan. 1976, 4

Elder Bruce R. McConkie was recognized in his day, and still is today, as being among the great gospel scholars of our dispensation. His writings about the doctrine of the Church, the life of the Savior, and the latter-day restoration were primary reference works, and he played a key role in enhancing the updated version of our printed scriptures. He wrote and spoke powerfully, drawing continually from the scriptures for his doctrine and explanations. Clearly he had dedicated much of his life to careful study of the Lord's written word. These words reflect personal experience:

This is a beautiful promise. As we devote time and effort to coming to know and understand the gospel, and then applying it on our lives, our lives gain richness and depth that come in no other way.

(Compilation and commentary by David Kenison, Orem, Utah, 2019)

Sunday, January 27, 2019

President David O. McKay on the blessings of the sacrament

President David O. McKay (1873-1970) was called to the Quorum of Twelve Apostles in 1906.  He served as a counselor in the First Presidency to Heber J. Grant and George Albert Smith beginning in 1945, then then as the president of the Church from 1951 to his death in 1970 at age 96.
"The greatest comfort in this life is the assurance of having close relationship with God. I am speaking to men who know what that experience is. The sacrament period should be a factor in awakening this sense of relationship....
"No more sacred ordinance is administered in the Church of Christ than the administration of the sacrament....
"There are three things fundamentally important associated with the administration of the sacrament. The first is self-discernment. It is introspection. 'This do in remembrance of me' (Luke 22:19), but we should partake worthily, each one examining himself with respect to his worthiness.
"Secondly, there is a covenant made; a covenant even more than a promise.... A covenant, a promise, should be as sacred as life. That principle is involved every Sunday when we partake of the sacrament.
"Thirdly, there is another blessing, and that is a sense of close relationship with the Lord. There is an opportunity to commune with oneself and to commune with the Lord. We meet in the house that is dedicated to him; we have turned it over to him; we call it his house. Well, you may rest assured that he will be there to inspire us if we come in proper attune to meet him. We are not prepared to meet him if we bring into that room our thoughts regarding our business affairs, and especially if we bring into the house of worship feelings of hatred toward our neighbor, or enmity and jealousy towards the Authorities of the Church. Most certainly no individual can hope to come into communion with the Father if that individual entertain any such feelings. They are so foreign to worship, and so foreign, particularly, to the partaking of the sacrament.
"I think we pay too little attention to the value of meditation, a principle of devotion....
"I believe the short period of administering the sacrament is one of the best opportunities we have for such meditation, and there should be nothing during that sacred period to distract our attention from the purpose of that ordinance."
- David O. McKay, "The Lord's Sacrament," Conference Report, April 1946, pp. 111-117
Click here to read the full talk

President McKay teaches us that amidst the concerns and complications of our lives, the "greatest comfort" we can find "is the assurance of having close relationship with God." To recognize we are not alone, and that there is a plan and purpose for our struggles, brings a profound peace and perspective to us. Then he suggests that partaking of the sacrament, and the time during the service that we can ponder and reflect, can be a great key to awakening our understanding of our relationship with God.

Even considering the temple ordinances, President McKay suggests "no more sacred ordinance us administered in the Church of Christ than the... sacrament." That's powerful! It should make us wonder if we sometimes take the ordinance for granted. During those few minutes of the administration, we have a profound opportunity to meditate about our relationship to Deity, to carefully consider our covenants, and to feel His presence cleansing and blessing our soul.

(Compilation and commentary by David Kenison, Orem, Utah, 2019)

Saturday, January 26, 2019

President James E. Faust on the importance of family time

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.
"Teach principles of self-worth and self-reliance. One of the main problems in families today is that we spend less and less time together. Some spend an extraordinary amount of time, when they are together, in front of the television, which robs them of personal time for reinforcing feelings of self-worth.
"Time together is precious time—time needed to talk, to listen, to encourage, and to show how to do things. Less time together can result in loneliness, which may produce inner feelings of being unsupported, untreasured, and inadequate.
"Self-worth is reinforced in many ways. When parents say to a son or daughter, leaving the home for some activity, the simple but meaningful words, 'Remember who you are,' they have helped that child feel important."
- James E. Faust, "Enriching Family Life," General Conference April 1983
Click here to read or listen to the full talk

This message from President Faust included a series of suggestions of ways to strengthen and improve families. In this point he was concerned about developing greater self-worth within family members, and recognized how difficult it is to do that in our modern times when conditions tend to diminish time spent together. And so the precious time we spend together needs to be spent in ways that build and enrich us:

So time must be spent in ways that enable us "to talk, to listen, to encourage, and to show how to do things." That applies especially to younger children, but includes family members of all ages, including a husband and wife or other less-direct family settings. We can all learn from one another, and our families will be blessed when we learn to focus our time in the best ways.

(Compilation and commentary by David Kenison, Orem, Utah, 2019)

Friday, January 25, 2019

President Spencer W. Kimball on personal efforts to overcome plateaus in progress

President Spencer W. Kimball (1895-1985) was ordained an apostle in 1943 and served as President of the Church from 1973 to 1985.
"Now, my brothers and sisters, it seems clear to me, indeed, this impression weighs upon me—that the Church is at a point in its growth and maturity when we are at last ready to move forward in a major way. Some decisions have been made and others pending, which will clear the way, organizationally. But the basic decisions needed for us to move forward, as a people, must be made by the individual members of the Church. The major strides which must be made by the Church will follow upon the major strides to be made by us as individuals.
"We have paused on some plateaus long enough. Let us resume our journey forward and upward. Let us quietly put an end to our reluctance to reach out to others—whether in our own families, wards, or neighborhoods. We have been diverted, at times, from fundamentals on which we must now focus in order to move forward as a person or as a people.
"Seemingly small efforts in the life of each member could do so much to move the Church forward as never before."
- Spencer W. Kimball, "Let Us Move Forward and Upward," General Conference April 1979
Click here to read or listen to the full talk

This was a remarkable time in the history of the Church. President Kimball had been given the leadership of the Church as a somewhat ailing, frail-seeming man who had endured many health challenges and spoke with a soft, raspy, cancer-ravaged voice. But his leadership was so very dynamic and remarkable! I remember this talk, shared when I was a college student, and the vivid imagery of being challenged to move forward from the plateau we had paused on for too long:

President Kimball went on in his talk to suggest some of the ways individual members might increase efforts in the coming year that would help the Church to move forward in significant ways, such as:

  • If each active member family were to help another individual or family come to the Church, there would be several hundred thousand new members
  • If one adult couple chose to serve a mission from each ward, the missionary force would grow from 27,500 to over 40,000
  • If each family were to help bring a less-active member back to full participation, there would be tens of thousands of returning members
  • If each temple recommend holder would perform a single additional endowment there would be great blessings on both sides of the veil
  • If each member performed an act of quiet Christian service, feelings towards the Church would be impacted
  • If we spent a few more minutes of individual attention with spouse and family members each month we would be greatly blessed
So the prophetic challenge was to increase our efforts of obedience and service in "seemingly small" ways, with the promise that the whole Church would see a "surge in spirituality."

Well might each one of us consider, today, 40 years later—in what ways am I paused on a plateau in my spiritual progress? And what small changes or efforts should I make, personally, to bring great strides of progress?

(Compilation and commentary by David Kenison, Orem, Utah, 2019)

Thursday, January 24, 2019

Elder D. Todd Christofferson on the challenges of society and moral discipline

Elder D. Todd Christofferson (born January 24, 1945) was called to the Seventy in 1993, and as a member of the Quorum of Twelve Apostles in 2008.
"In most of the world, we have been experiencing an extended and devastating economic recession. It was brought on by multiple causes, but one of the major causes was widespread dishonest and unethical conduct, particularly in the U.S. housing and financial markets. Reactions have focused on enacting more and stronger regulation. Perhaps that may dissuade some from unprincipled conduct, but others will simply get more creative in their circumvention. There could never be enough rules so finely crafted as to anticipate and cover every situation, and even if there were, enforcement would be impossibly expensive and burdensome. This approach leads to diminished freedom for everyone. In the memorable phrase of Bishop Fulton J. Sheen, 'We would not accept the yoke of Christ; so now we must tremble at the yoke of Caesar.'
"In the end, it is only an internal moral compass in each individual that can effectively deal with the root causes as well as the symptoms of societal decay. Societies will struggle in vain to establish the common good until sin is denounced as sin and moral discipline takes its place in the pantheon of civic virtues.
"Moral discipline is learned at home. While we cannot control what others may or may not do, the Latter-day Saints can certainly stand with those who demonstrate virtue in their own lives and inculcate virtue in the rising generation."
- D. Todd Christofferson, "Moral Discipline," General Conference October 2009
Click here to read or listen to the full talk

Elder Christofferson's premise is that financial, economic, and societal challenges are the result of "widespread dishonest and unethical conduct." Governments respond by trying to enact more regulations to control behavior; but that only evokes more creative misbehavior. As the rules and controls pile up, we not only struggle with the burden of enforcement, but inevitably see a loss of general freedom.

It's been said that "you can't legislate morality." You can only attempt to control behavior. But the underlying motivations must come from a well-defined moral foundation in order to truly find peace and success:

And so it becomes ever more critical to "inculcate virtue in the rising generation." Without that foundation being established, society will continue to struggle mightily to define a proper course.

(Compilation and commentary by David Kenison, Orem, Utah, 2019)

Wednesday, January 23, 2019

Elder Neal A. Maxwell On the process of personal progression

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.
"Since we have been told clearly by Jesus what manner of men and women we ought to become—even as He is (see 3 Ne. 27:27)—how can we do so, except each of us employs repentance as the regular means of personal progression? Personal repentance is part of taking up the cross daily. (See Luke 9:23.) Without it, clearly there could be no 'perfecting of the Saints.' (Eph. 4:12.)
"Besides, there is more individuality in those who are more holy.
"Sin, on the other hand, brings sameness; it shrinks us to addictive appetites and insubordinate impulses. For a brief surging, selfish moment, sin may create the illusion of individuality, but only as in the grunting, galloping Gadarene swine! (See Matt. 8:28–32.)
"Repentance is a rescuing, not a dour doctrine. It is available to the gross sinner as well as to the already-good individual striving for incremental improvement.
"Repentance requires both turning away from evil and turning to God. (See Deut. 4:30; see also Bible Dictionary, s.v. 'Repentance.') When 'a mighty change' is required, full repentance involves a 180-degree turn, and without looking back! (Alma 5:12–13.) Initially, this turning reflects progress from telestial to terrestrial behavior, and later on to celestial behavior. As the sins of the telestial world are left behind, the focus falls ever more steadily upon the sins of omission, which often keep us from full consecration."
- Neal A. Maxwell, "Repentance," General Conference October 1991
Click here to read or listen to the full talk

Elder Maxwell points out clearly that in order to find a "regular means of personal progression" and work towards our image of eventual perfection, we require regular and consistent repentance. Rather than being a "dour doctrine" (relentlessly severe, stern, or gloomy in manner or appearance), we should find repentance to be a joyful rescue and a means of increasing light, hope, and joy. The effects are profound:

This is a fascinating thought. The more we repent, the more holiness comes to us; and the more unique and individual we become in the process, as our personal gifts and traits are allowed to expand and thrive. On the other hand, one who is bound by sin loses that ability to shine; he or she just tends to blend into the crowd of similarly-limited people struggling to survive.

The additional insight offered here is that repentance initially can require "a 180-degree turn" as we replace a false or harmful behavior with one that is in line with God's wishes for us. But as we progress and expand, we find that repentance focuses more on small course corrections, refining and honing our path (overcoming the "sins of omission", adding more of the elevated behaviors) so that we are ever-more focused on Him.

(Compilation and commentary by David Kenison, Orem, Utah, 2019)

Tuesday, January 22, 2019

Elder Ulisses Soares on not allowing Satan's power in our lives

Elder Ulisses Soares (born October 2, 1958 in Brazil) has served as a Seventy since April 2005, and as a member of the Presidency of the Seventy since January 2013. He was sustained to the Quorum of Twelve Apostles on April 1, 2018.
"The war of good against evil will continue throughout our lives since the adversary’s purpose is to make all people as miserable as he is. Satan and his angels will try to shroud our thoughts and assert control by tempting us to sin. If they can, they will corrupt all that is good. Nevertheless, it is essential to understand that they will have power over us only if we allow it.
"The scriptures also contain several examples of those who gave that permission to the adversary and ended up becoming confused and even destroyed, like Nehor, Korihor, and Sherem. We need to be alert to this danger. We cannot allow ourselves to be confused by popular messages that are easily accepted by the world and that contradict the doctrine and true principles of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Many of these worldly messages represent nothing more than an attempt of our society to justify sin. We need to remember that, at the end, all will stand before Christ to be judged of our works, whether they are good or whether they are evil (see 3 Nephi 27:14). As we encounter these worldly messages, great courage and a solid knowledge of the plan of our Heavenly Father will be required to choose the right.
"All of us can receive the strength to choose the right if we seek the Lord and place all our trust and faith in Him. But, as the scriptures teach, we need to have 'a sincere heart' and 'real intent.' Then the Lord, in His infinite mercy, 'will manifest the truth unto [us], by the power of the Holy Ghost. And by the power of the Holy Ghost [we] may know the truth of all things.' (Moroni 10:4-5.)"
- Ulisses Soares, "Yes, We Can and Will Win!", General Conference April 2015
Click here to read or listen to the full talk

In some of father Lehi's final counsel to his sons, he warned them that Satan "seeketh that all men might be miserable like unto himself" (2 Ne 2:27). Elder Soares counseled that Satan is very active in that ongoing endeavor in our time.

The broader context of Lehi's counsel also includes that caveat stated by Elder Soares—Satan has "power over us only if we allow it":
"Wherefore, men are free according to the flesh; and all things are given them which are expedient unto man. And they are free to choose liberty and eternal life, through the great Mediator of all men, or to choose captivity and death, according to the captivity and power of the devil; for he seeketh that all men might be miserable like unto himself." (2 Ne 2:27)
When we exercise our agency to follow the Adversary's temptations, we find ourselves "becoming confused" and losing our power to choose. The eventual result result will be that we choose "captivity and death." It becomes critical that we not be misled by the messages of the world, but that we stay focused on the foundation of the Gospel message and the Savior.

(Compilation and commentary by David Kenison, Orem, Utah, 2019)

Monday, January 21, 2019

Elder Gerrit W. Gong on following the Savior's example of compassion and kindness

Elder Gerrit W. Gong (born December 23, 1953) was called as a Seventy in April 2010, then to the Presidency of the Seventy in October 2015. He was sustained to the Quorum of Twelve Apostles in April 2018.
"Many of our Savior’s miracles begin with His understanding and compassion. He knows our hearts and circumstances. He is filled with compassion for our hopes and our hurts, our desires and our needs....
"Through His ministry our Savior is moved by compassion—compassion for the leper (Mark 1:41), compassion for the man’s son possessed with a foul spirit (Mark 9:22), compassion for a widowed mother whose only son has died (Luke 7:13). Our Savior teaches us to be like the good Samaritan who had compassion on the man wounded and left for dead (Luke 10:33).
"Likewise, the father of the prodigal son had compassion and ran to his son when his son 'was yet a great way off' (Luke 15:20). Interestingly, speaking of bread, when the prodigal son 'came to himself,' his realization is 'How many hired servants of my father have bread enough and to spare' (Luke 15:17).
"Our Savior begins with compassion. He concludes with gracious kindness.
"The gospel accounts say that after Jesus fed the multitude, He 'sent them away.' But the footnote in Mark clarifies. Instead of He 'sent them away,' the footnote says He 'bid the people farewell' (Mark 6:45; see Mark 6:46, footnote a). Can’t you hear Jesus compassionately bidding the people farewell as they leave after He has fed them?"
- Gerrit W. Gong, "And Jesus Said unto Them: I Am the Bread of Life," address to CES Religious Educators, Feb. 17, 2017
Click here to read or listen to the full talk

There is so much to be learned by studying the attributes and personality of the Savior. Elder Gong focuses on His understanding, compassion, and gracious kindness. As our hearts are filled with compassion, our very lives are changed and our behavior is deeply influenced.

Compassion results in gracious kindness. How desperately we need those gifts in our world today!

(Compilation and commentary by David Kenison, Orem, Utah, 2019)

Sunday, January 20, 2019

President Russell M. Nelson on the symbolism of the temple

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.
"In the temples, symbols are utilized to teach us spiritual things. For example, we admire that beautiful chandelier in the celestial room.... Look at the many innumerable pieces in that chandelier, each one made beautiful as it reflects the light behind it. Can you see that each piece in that chandelier could represent some of the lineage of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob illuminated by the light of the Lord?
"Elsewhere in the temple we admire the altars. They become more important to us when they symbolize the importance of prayer. The sculptured carpets on the floor signify the sure foundation of truth, below which we do not descend, as devoted Latter-day Saints....
"The whiteness of temple clothing suggests purity, and the similarity of our dress symbolizes the fact that we are all sons and daughters of God. In the temple there is no segregation according to position held, color, wealth, or the lack of it.
"In this temple there is a symbolic pathway of progression. The baptismal font is located in the lowest part of the temple, symbolizing the fact that Jesus was baptized in the lowest body of fresh water on planet earth. There He descended below all things to rise above all things. In Solomon’s temple, the baptismal font was supported by twelve oxen that symbolized the twelve tribes of Israel.... From the baptismal font of the temple, we progress upward through the telestial and terrestrial realms to the room that represents the celestial home of God."
- Russell M. Nelson, "Symbols and the Temple," St. Louis Missouri Temple Dedication, session eighteen, June 5, 1997; see Teachings of Russell M. Nelson pp. 371-372

President Nelson helps us ponder some of the symbols we might be missing in the external aspects of temples. It's interesting to consider why they are built the way they are, and to learn from these aspects of their construction, layout, and appointments.

Light is a particularly powerful symbol, and I appreciated this insight into beautiful chandeliers and their ability to reflect and enhance light. We must all learn to be light-reflectors and light-transmitters, helping those around us to be blessed by His true light!

(Compilation and commentary by David Kenison, Orem, Utah, 2019)

Saturday, January 19, 2019

Elder Dale G. Renlund on allowing for personalized rates of progress

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.
"As God encourages us to keep on trying, He expects us to also allow others the space to do the same, at their own pace. The Atonement will come into our lives in even greater measure. We will then recognize that regardless of perceived differences, all of us are in need of the same infinite Atonement.
"Some years ago a wonderful young man named Curtis was called to serve a mission. He was the kind of missionary every mission president prays for. He was focused and worked hard. At one point he was assigned a missionary companion who was immature, socially awkward, and not particularly enthusiastic about getting the work done.
"One day, while they were riding their bicycles, Curtis looked back and saw that his companion had inexplicably gotten off his bike and was walking. Silently, Curtis expressed his frustration to God; what a chore it was to be saddled with a companion he had to drag around in order to accomplish anything. Moments later, Curtis had a profound impression, as if God were saying to him, 'You know, Curtis, compared to me, the two of you aren’t all that different.' Curtis learned that he needed to be patient with an imperfect companion who nonetheless was trying in his own way.
"My invitation to all of us is to evaluate our lives, repent, and keep on trying. If we don’t try, we’re just latter-day sinners; if we don’t persevere, we’re latter-day quitters; and if we don’t allow others to try, we’re just latter-day hypocrites. As we try, persevere, and help others to do the same, we are true Latter-day Saints. As we change, we will find that God indeed cares a lot more about who we are and about who we are becoming than about who we once were."
- Dale G. Renlund, "Latter-day Saints Keep on Trying," General Conference April 2015
Click here to read or listen to the full talk

It's an important observation to realize that we each progress at different rates or paces in this life. Elder Renlund points out the benefits of allowing those around us to establish their own rate; not only does that allow each of us the freedom to do our best, based on our situation and circumstances, but as Elder Renlund suggests. each of us is blessed as we allow (and facilitate) the blessings of the Atonement of the Savior to enter the lives of those around us.

The missionary in the story learned the important lesson of allowing others to do the best they can. He recognized that even though he thought he was far ahead of his companion, given someone else's standards, he was not doing so well either. We all need to learn to keep that broader perspective!

This is a clever way of expressing the challenges we face as we continue to strive to move forward and upward in our lives.

Elder Renlund included this interesting footnote related to the word "hypocrite":
"Hypocrite as used in the New Testament may be translated from the Greek as “pretender”; “the Greek word means ‘a play actor,’ or ‘one who feigns, represents dramatically, or exaggerates a part’” (Matthew 6:2, footnote a). If we do not give others the opportunity to change at their own pace, we are simply pretending to be Latter-day Saints."
Surely we should all aspire to be "true Latter-day Saints" in every way.

(Compilation and commentary by David Kenison, Orem, Utah, 2019)

Friday, January 18, 2019

Elder Gary E. Stevenson on the power of the Book of Mormon

Elder Gary E. Stevenson (born August 5, 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.
"When you read the Book of Mormon and pray with a desire to know it is true, you too can receive the same impression in your heart that [others have] received. You may also find that as you stand and bear witness of the Book of Mormon, you will feel the same spirit of confirmation. The Holy Ghost will speak to your heart. You can also feel this same spirit of confirmation when you hear others share their testimonies of the Book of Mormon. Each of these spiritual witnesses can lead to the Book of Mormon becoming the keystone of your testimony.
"Let me explain. The Prophet Joseph Smith, who translated the Book of Mormon through 'the gift and power of God,' described the Book of Mormon as 'the most correct of any book on earth, and the keystone of our religion.' (Introduction to the Book of Mormon.)
"Since the Book of Mormon’s first printing in 1830, more than 174 million copies have been published in 110 different languages, demonstrating that the Book of Mormon is still the keystone of our religion. But what does this mean for each of you?
"In architectural terms a keystone is a main element in an arched gateway. It is the wedge-shaped stone in the very center and at the highest point of an arch. It is the most important of the stones because it keeps the sides of the arch in place, preventing collapse. And it is the structural element that ensures the gate, or opening below, is passable.
"In gospel terms it is a gift and blessing from the Lord that the keystone of our religion is something as tangible and graspable as the Book of Mormon and that you can hold it and read it. Can you see the Book of Mormon as your keystone, your spiritual center of strength?"
- Gary E. Stevenson, "Look to the Book, Look to the Lord," General Conference, October 2016
Click here to read or listen to the complete talk

Elder Stevenson teaches that a personal witness of the validity of the Book of Mormon can come differently—as we read, as we hear others teach and testify, or even as we ourselves share our feelings about the book. Gaining and strengthening our personal testimony will lead to that book taking its place as the keystone of our testimony:

It truly is a blessing to have something so "tangible and graspable" to cling to. The more we learn from the power of the Book of Mormon, the more powerfully we will know of its validity and the better equipped we will be to deal with life's challenges. It truly can be the "spiritual center of strength" for any who take advantage of its gifts.

(Compilation and commentary by David Kenison, Orem, Utah, 2019)

Thursday, January 17, 2019

President Thomas S. Monson on the path of faithfulness

President Thomas S. Monson (1927–2018) 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 and then became Church president in 2008. He led the Church for almost a decade until his passing in January 2018.
"There is no resting place along the path called faithfulness. The trek is constant, and no lingering is allowed. It must not be expected that the road of life spreads itself in an unobstructed view before the person starting his journey. He must anticipate coming upon forks and turnings in the road. But he cannot hope to reach his desired journey's end if he thinks aimlessly about whether to go east or west. He must make decisions purposefully.
"As Lewis Carroll tells us, Alice was following a path through a forest in Wonderland when it divided in two directions. Standing irresolute, she inquired of the Cheshire Cat, which had suddenly appeared in a nearby tree, which path she should take. 'Where do you want to go?' asked the cat. 'I don't know,' said Alice. 'Then,' said the cat, 'it really doesn't matter, does it?' (See Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, p. 89.)
"We know where we want to go! Do we have the resolution, even the faithfulness, to get there? President N. Eldon Tanner answered this question in his own mind when he declared: 'I would rather walk barefoot from here to the celestial kingdom... than to let the things of this world keep me out.' (Conference Report, Sept.-Oct. 1966, pp. 98-99.)"
- Thomas S. Monson, "Happiness—The Universal Quest," Ensign, October 1993, pp. 2-4
Click here to read the full article

What does it mean to be faithful? President Monson suggests that it involves constant, steady focus in our journey of life. More importantly, it's critical that we know where we want to go, and make clear and informed decisions at every point along the way. We must not waver and wander!

Having a sure knowledge of our destination becomes a crucial factor in making directional decisions along the way. We gain that knowledge through inspired words that we read in the scriptures and the teachings of living prophets, and through our own pondering and inspiration. We will be blessed as we pursue a steady and clear course!

(Compilation and commentary by David Kenison, Orem, Utah, 2019)

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

President Gordon B. Hinckley on finding peace and strength through prayer

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.
"Never assume that you can make it alone. You need the help of the Lord. Never hesitate to get on your knees in some private place and speak with Him. What a marvelous and wonderful thing is prayer. Think of it. We can actually speak with our Father in Heaven. He will hear and respond, but we need to listen to that response. Nothing is too serious and nothing too unimportant to share with Him. He has said, 'Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest' (Matt. 11:28). He continues, 'For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light' (Matt. 11:30).
"That simply means that when all is said and done, His way is easy to bear, and His path is easy to trod. Paul wrote to the Romans, 'For the kingdom of God is not meat and drink; but righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost' (Rom. 14:17).
"Faith in the Lord Jesus Christ must be a beacon light before you, a polar star in your sky."
- Gordon B. Hinckley, "Stay on the High Road," General Conference April 2004
Click here to read or listen to the full talk

What classic counsel: "Never assume you can make it alone." How much we need one another to help bear our burdens and endure to the end; and so much more critically, how desperately we need the help of our loving Heavenly Father!

Prayer truly is the choicest of gifts and will bring us rich blessings and profound support as we learn to communicate with God. Another profound truth: "Nothing is too serious and nothing too unimportant to share with Him." We should never hesitate to "come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need" (Hebrews 4:16).

(Compilation and commentary by David Kenison, Orem, Utah, 2019)

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

Elder Ronald A. Rasband on the value of loyal friends

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.
"Many years ago, in March of 1839, the Prophet Joseph Smith, with several of his companions, had been wrongfully incarcerated for months at Liberty Jail. Many writers of Church history have said that this experience for the Prophet Joseph was certainly one of the most difficult and darkest periods of his entire life. His words 'O God, where art thou?' (D&C 121:1)—as recorded in section 121 of the Doctrine and Covenants—speak of a desperate loneliness in the bleakest of settings.
"The Lord did not appear or send angels; He did not thrash the guards or swing wide the door of that damp, dirty cell. Put simply, He did not change the circumstances, but He spoke comfort and reassurance to Joseph like no other could: 'My son, peace be unto thy soul; thine adversity and thine afflictions shall be but a small moment' (D&C 121:7). It was as if the Lord put His arm around Joseph when He said, 'My son.' Those are precious and tender words. And then He put a timetable on Joseph’s hardship—'a small moment.' What a lesson for all of us to remember. Our hardships will be brief—in eternal terms—and the Lord will be right there.
"Then the Lord said this: 'Thy friends do stand by thee, and they shall hail thee again with warm hearts and friendly hands' (D&C 121:9).
"Here was Joseph, locked in jail by the treachery of men, some of whom had once been his close associates. But the Lord made the point so clear—'thy friends do stand by thee.' How comforting that declaration was to the Prophet Joseph; how comforting to us. Think for a minute what it means to you to know you have someone standing right by you, someone you can trust to be your friend on good days and bad, someone who values you and supports you even when the two of you are apart.
"Our most prized friend is Jesus Christ Himself. Is there any greater assurance than His 'I will be on your right hand and on your left, . . . and mine angels round about you, to bear you up' (D&C 84:88)? So often those 'angels round about' are our friends."
- Ronald A. Rasband, "Thy Friends Do Stand by Thee," BYU Devotional March 7, 2010
Click here to read or listen to the full talk

The challenging and difficult conditions to which Joseph Smith and his companions were subjected in Liberty Jail are heart-rending to us—"a desperate loneliness in the bleakest of settings." For Joseph it was certainly "one of the most difficult and darkest periods of his entire life." Elder Rasband talked about the Lord's reassurance to Joseph during that time, in speaking peace to his soul; but then commented on the further reminder the Lord provided about Joseph's loyal friends:

Certainly the knowledge of friends standing by our side is for us a great blessing, as it was for Joseph. The love and confidence of a devoted friend can be a powerful blessing. We should cultivate and treasure those friendships, and more importantly, seek to be that kind of friend to others.

Perhaps most importantly, though, is the knowledge that Jesus Christ can be "our most prized friend." The Savior gave these beautiful instructions to his ancient disciples:
"Ye are my friends, if ye do whatsoever I command you.
"Henceforth I call you not servants; for the servant knoweth not what his lord doeth: but I have called you friends; for all things that I have heard of my Father I have made known unto you" (John 15:14-15).
It should be a great desire for each of us to be called His friend. And then, to reflect that gift of inspired and inspiring friendship to those around us.

(Compilation and commentary by David Kenison, Orem, Utah, 2019)
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