Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Our Very Survival

(find the talk here)

Elder Kevin R. Duncan’s talk is one of the other talks that I mentioned in this post about the prophets. It came as no surprise to me that two separate General Authorities spoke of President Ezra Taft Benson’s Fourteen Fundamentals in Following the Prophet. It is interesting to me that these two brethren spoke of following and trusting in the prophets, and shortly after the prophets spoke, President Boyd K. Packer was publicly attacked for his words in General Conference – even by some members of the Church. People who just one day before he spoke rose their hands in a sustaining vote – sustaining President Packer as a “prophet, seer, and revelator.” I imagine that Heavenly Father knew that there would be those who would struggle with the words of the prophets that weekend, and prepared us with inspired words from both Elder Costa and Elder Duncan to remind us why we attend General Conference, and what the role really is of the men who speak to us.

Elder Duncan testifies that “the only sure and secure road to protection in this life comes through trusting in and obeying the counsel from the prophets of God.” He speak of the early Saints settling in the Salt Lake Valley – some did not want to heed the words of the prophet, Brigham Young. Some wanted to move on to California or other areas in the west. But Brigham Young’s instruction was clear - “This is the right place.” He said, “We have been kicked out of the frying-pan into the fire, out of the fire into the middle of the floor, and here we are and here we will stay.” Brigham Young proceeded to tell the Saints that the Lord would bless the land for their sakes. And He did.

The Fourteen Fundamentals deserve repeating, so I will:

1. “The prophet is the only man who speaks for the Lord in everything...”

2. “The living prophet is more vital to us than the standard works.”

3. “The living prophet is more important to us than a dead prophet.”

4. “The prophet will never lead the Church astray.”

5. “The prophet is not required to have any particular earthly training or credentials to speak on any subject or act on any matter at any time.”

6. “The prophet does not have to say ‘Thus saith the Lord’ to give us scripture...”

7. “The prophet tells us what we need to know, not always what we want to know.”

8. “The prophet is not limited by men’s reasoning, ...”

9. “The prophet can receive revelation on any matter – temporal or spiritual.”

10. “The prophet may be involved in civic matters.”

11. “The two groups who have the greatest difficulty in following the prophet are the proud who are learned and the proud who are rich.”

12. “The prophet will not necessarily be popular with the world or the worldly.”

13. “The prophet and his counselors make up the First Presidency – the highest quorum in the Church.”

14. “The prophet and the presidency – the living prophet and the first presidency – follow them and be blessed; reject them and suffer.”

“What the prophets teach may to some seem outdated, unpopular, or even impossible.” These are inspired words, as President Packer would go on the next day to talk about things that are very “unpopular” with the world. And then, a petition with hundreds of thousands of signatures would be delivered to Church Headquarters, protesting the words of the prophets. There were even members of the Church who found President Packer’s words to be “unpopular.” But, “‘our [very] salvation hangs on’ following the prophet.” Fundamental number thirteen speaks directly to this dilemma - “The prophet will not necessarily be popular with the world or the worldly.” It cannot get more true than that.

I’ll end with one last quote from the talk:

This world is full of so many self-help books, so many self-proclaimed experts, so many theorists, educators, and philosophers who have advice and counsel to give on any and all subjects... It is easy to get caught in the trap of looking to the “arm of flesh” for advice on everything from how to raise children to how to find happiness... we have access to the source of pure truth, even God himself. We would do well to search out answers to our problems and questions by investigating what the Lord has revealed through His prophets... [W]e have at our fingertips access to the words of the prophets on nearly any subject.

You can find the words of the prophets on nearly any subject by searching at LDS.org, or by simply reading the words of General Conference, the words of the First Presidency Messages, and other messages by the prophets that are published monthly in the Ensign magazine. There is no excuse for not searching out the words of the prophets. Technological tools provide us nearly instant access to their words 24/7. Not to mention the ability we have to pray and receive confirmation of their words on our own.

I testify with Elder Duncan that “there is no safer way to approach life, find answers to our problems, gain peace and happiness in this world, and protect our very salvation than by obeying their words.

What is the first place you turn to for advice and for instruction? Do you look for the words of the prophets? Or do you head directly to the “arm of flesh”? How can you increase your faith in the prophets and search out their instruction?

Friday, January 21, 2011

Faith – The Choice is Yours

(find the talk here)

“Let us choose faith.”


Bishop Richard C. Edgley’s talk is one I probably needed to hear in high school. I was one of only a handful of LDS students in my high school, and my beliefs were constantly being attacked and ridiculed. Even in the good ole South, Christian views were attacked – mostly by rebellious teens who had nothing better to do than tear down others.

It was hard to stay strong – but the choice I made was faith. I just wish I had known how to say that to my friends who labeled me as being ignorant or misinformed. “I choose faith,” I should have said. “In spite of all the secular education I have received, I choose faith.” I am not ignorant or misinformed. I studied Math and Physics in college. I love to read anything and everything I can get my hands on. I love to understand the world around me in scientific and secular terms.

But I join with Bishop Edgley in saying, “I do not know why my beliefs sometimes conflict with assumed scientific or secular knowledge... But while I don’t know everything, I know the important. I know the plain and simple gospel truths that lead to salvation and exaltation... And what I don’t know or don’t completely understand, with the powerful aid of my faith, I bridge the gap and move on, partaking of the promises and blessings of the gospel.”

Bishop Edgley reminds us that “faith is a choice” and that we are responsibly for our faith, and similarly, for our lack of faith. Faith doesn’t just happen to us. It has to be worked at.

One of my favorite scriptures is Alma’s discourse on faith in Alma Chapter 32, in particular, this passage: “But behold if ye will ... exercise a particle of faith, yea, even if ye can no more than desire to believe...” (emphasis added). Alma reminds us that it’s okay if we don’t have faith – it’s even okay if we are having a hard time believing. He says all we have to do is desire to believe. Which is completely a choice.

I also love this part of Bishop Edgley’s talk:

  • If confusion and hopelessness weigh on your mind, choose to “awake and arouse your faculties” (Alma 32:27). Humbly approaching the Lord with a broken heart and contrite spirit is the pathway to truth and the Lord’s way of light, knowledge, and peace.
  • If your testimony is immature, untested, and insecure, choose to “exercise [even] a particle of faith”; choose to “experiment upon [His] words” (Alma 32:27). The Savior explained, “If any man will do his will, he shall know of the doctrine, whether it be of God, or whether I speak of myself” (John 7:17).
  • When logic, reason, or personal intellect come into conflict with sacred teachings and doctrine, or conflicting messages assault your beliefs as the fiery darts described by the Apostle Paul (see Ephesians 6:16), choose to not cast the seed out of your heart by unbelief. Remember, we receive not a witness until after the trial of our faith (seeEther 12:6).
  • If your faith is proven and mature, choose to nurture it “with great care” (Alma 32:37). As strong as our faith is, with all the mixed messages attacking it, it can also become very fragile. It needs constant nourishment through continued scripture study, prayer, and the application of His word.

Bishop Edgley addresses really every argument against faith.

I know that faith is a choice, and I know that I chose faith. When my peers mocked me and ridiculed me, still I chose faith, and I will continually choose faith. It is a choice. It is not being ignorant or misinformed – it is a choice to believe in something bigger, better, and more beautiful that you or I.

Let us “[c]hoose faith over doubt, choose faith over fear, choose faith over the unknown and the unseen, and choose faith over pessimism.”

How has your faith been challenged? What conscious efforts to you make to continually choose faith? Do you open your heart to the spirit? Do you “desire to believe”? What testimony have you received because you chose faith?

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Let There Be Light!

(find the talk here)

The part of Elder Quentin L. Cook’s talk that struck out to me most forcefully when I have listened to it is this scripture:

“It is not common that the voice of the people desireth anything contrary to that which is right; but it is common for the lesser part of the people to desire that which is not right... If the time comes that the voice of the people doth choose iniquity, then is the time that the judgments of God will come.” (here)

I believe that this holds true in our country – the majority of the people of the United States want what is right and good. But there are minority groups that would convince us that we need to listen to their voices and do what they want, otherwise we are neglecting or abusing their “rights” – but that goes against democracy, and the teachings of the scriptures. The same scripture says “... therefore this shall ye observe and make it your law – to do your business by the voice of the people.” I believe that this scripture is why democracy works.

And this scripture is based on what Elder Cook spends his whole talk speaking about . That the Light of Christ is inherent to humanity – which should give us hope. “It is by the Light of Christ that all mankind ‘may know good from evil.’”

I believe that all men have the Light of Christ, and that gives me hope. I have always been a believer that there is good inside every person – even people who do bad things. Some yield to the natural man more than they yield to the Light of Christ – but that doesn’t mean the Light of Christ isn’t present in them.

Elder Cook points out a very valid question for believers of all faiths - “How under these circumstances [ones in which the power and authority of God questioned and denigrated] can we promote values in a way that will resonate with the nonbelievers and the apathetic...?” This is a question I struggle with daily, as I want to teach good principles to my children, and to other children (and adults) that I come in contact with, but many good moral values that are beneficial to society are rejected when presented in the context of religion. Many people hear “God” or “faith” or other religious concepts and turn off – even to the basic moral values that are highly beneficial to our entire communities.

But Elder Cook says “We ... find the majority of people are still respectful of basic moral values.” This is a little encouraging. However, he goes on to say, “There has always been  an ongoing battle between people of faith and those who would purge religion and God from public life.”

Elder Cook explains that the reason why “the majority of people aspire to be good and honorable”, even when they support no religious beliefs of their own, is because the “[Light of Christ] is given ‘for the sake of the whole world.’”

And that brings us back to the scripture that stuck out to me. I agree with Elder Cook when he says that religious faith “benefits society in a dramatic way” when religious people act the way God would want them to – “when ... they feel accountable to God.”

He goes on to demonstrate the social implications of honesty (a religious concept) and the view that all of God’s children are sisters and brothers (also a religious concept). He mentions that there are some who are “surprised at how critically important religion is to democracy... that in societies where citizens are taught from a young age to feel accountable to God for honesty and integrity, they will abide by rules and practices that, while unenforceable, promote democratic ideals.” Again – bringing us back to the scripture about the voice of the people.

Even our Founding Fathers knew that democracy only worked when the people were educated and morally decent.

“We should both participate ourselves and support people of character and integrity to help reestablish moral values that will bless the entire community... Neither religious nor secular voices should be silenced.”

How are you supporting people of character and integrity in your communities and in government in general? Do you believe that all men are blessed with the Light of Christ? Do you believe that most of our society (at least here in the United States) are good, decent people with consciences (i.e., the Light of Christ)? Do you think religious thought has a place in the public forum? How do you promote values that resonate with non believers and the apathetic?

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Agency: Essential to the Plan of Life

When I listened to Elder Robert D. Hales’ talk at the last General Conference, I was reminded of this MormonAd from the 80’s. It has always been one of my favorite MormonAd posters. Elder Hales gave this experience as an illustration of making wrong choices:

In my youth I learned an important lesson about how our actions may limit our freedom. One day my father assigned me to varnish a wooden floor. I made the choice to begin at the door and work my way into the room. When I was almost finished, I realized I had left myself no way to get out. There was no window or door on the other side. I had literally painted myself into a corner. I had no place to go. I was stuck.

“Agency is to act with accountability and responsibility for our actions.” The gift of agency from our Father in Heaven is a central point to the plan of our life – the plan of salvation, or the plan of happiness. We were allowed to come to earth to be tried and tested – and the only way we could prove to Heavenly Father that we are willing to do what He asks is by having agency – or the power to choose for ourselves that will will indeed follow His commandments.

My favorite part of the plan of salvation is knowing that we already chose to follow Christ and the plan of salvation.

“Before we came to this earth, Heavenly Father presented His plan of salvation...” Lucifer, or Satan, wanted to come to earth and redeem all mankind, saving us all by forcing us into obedience – and on top of that, he wanted God’s honor and glory. But Jesus Christ said, “thy will be done, and the glory be thine forever.” Even though he knew that some of us would not choose to follow Him, even though he knew that giving us our agency would allow us to “make wrong choices, commit sin, and lose the opportunity to be with Heavenly Father again” He said it anyway - “Thy will be done.” Jesus Christ knew that agency was vital to the plan of happiness. He knew that if we didn’t have the ability to choose incorrectly, we also would not have the ability to choose correctly.

“Each of Heavenly Father’s children had the opportunity to exercise the agency Heavenly Father had given him or her. We chose to have faith in the Savior Jesus Christ – to come unto Him, follow  Him, and accept the plan Heavenly Father presented for our sakes. But a third of Heavenly Father’s children did not have faith to follow the Savior and chose to follow Lucifer, or Satan, instead.” (emphasis added)

One of the greatest truths that I know is that I chose to follow Christ alreadybefore I came to this world. I already made that correct choice. It makes me feel more confident in my ability to use my agency correctly.

Elder Hales states, “Whenever we choose to come unto Christ, take His name upon us, and follow His servants, we progress along the path to eternal life... when we don’t keep the commandments or follow the promptings of the Holy Ghost, our opportunities are reduced; our abilities to act and progress are diminished.” I absolutely know this is true. I have seen this in my life and in the lives of those around me. I absolutely have more opportunities when I am choosing to follow the promptings of the Spirit and keep the commandments. When I use my agency unwisely, I find that I have fewer opportunities to grow, fewer opportunities to serve, and fewer opportunities to become closer to my Father in Heaven. But when I am obedient to the Lord and use my agency wisely, I am blessed and windows and doors open for me and my family that I never even knew were there.

And then – of the eraser that we all need in life – of repentance, Elder Hales puts it beautifully:

'All have sinned, and come short of the glory of God.’ For those who find themselves captive to past unrighteous choices, stuck in a dark corner, without all the blessings available by the righteous exercise of agency, we love you. Come back! Come out of the dark corner and into the light. Even if you have to walk across a newly varnished floor, it is worth is.

I add my testimony to that of Elder Hales - “I testify that by making the same choice to follow the Savior now, while we are here on earth, we will obtain and even greater blessing in the eternities... May we continue to follow Him and our Eternal Father, as we did in the beginning.” I know that if we do this – follow Christ and the Father, that we will have more opportunities and blessings, and that we will have an even greater blessing in the eternities.

How does it make you feel to know that you choose correctly in the pre-existence? Does it help you make correct choices today? Have you painted yourself into a corner? What did you do to get out? How does it feel to partake of Christ’s infinite atonement?

Monday, January 3, 2011

Of Things That Matter Most

(find the talk here)

I loved this talk the first time I heard it, which was probably when I was running or cleaning or taking care of some other mundane task. I wasn’t able to listen to the Saturday session of General Conference, so I made it a point to listen to those talks first when the audio was available (which was practically the day of conference).

President Dieter F. Uchtdorf often uses analogies about planes in his talks, which is why his comments about trees and what they had to do with planes was so amusing.

I am often guilty of doing too much – over scheduling my life – and especially determining my self-worth by how frantic my pace is. President Uchtdorf says “Some might even think that their self-worth depends on the length of their to-do list.” This becomes my problem occasionally – and I frequently am dealing with the consequences: “Because they unnecessarily complicate their lives, they often feel increased frustration, diminished joy, and too little sense of meaning in their lives.”

Last week, my husband taught the “Teachings for our Times” lesson (the lesson on the 4th Sunday of the month in Priesthood and Relief Society meetings usually comes from the most recent General Conference addresses). The talk assigned was this talk. While reading the talk before Church, my husband mentioned to me “You need to read this talk.” At first I was offended, since I had been listening to the General Conference talks consistently for a while, and I knew that I had heard the talk probably two or three times, if not more. I knew that I had enjoyed the talk, and had been enlightened and felt its meaning for me personally. However, I did, indeed, need to read the talk.

Listening to the talks is a lot different for me than reading them. For instance, with President Uchtdorf’s talk, when I was listening to the talk, I got stuck on the introduction to his talk, when he speaks of slowing down and steadying the course in times of trial and tribulation. But as I actually read the talk, I realized that he was telling us that this life itself is a time of stress – meaning we need to be simplifying our lives and steadying the course because that is what will help us in this life. So instead of narrowly applying this talk to times of extra stress and tribulation in my life, I am now able to apply it to my life even in times of calm weather, such as now. I feel like our life is pretty calm, and I feel like I can put on the gas a little more. But President Uchtdorf’s words hold me steady. “There is a beauty and clarity that comes from simplicity that we sometimes do not appreciate in our thirst for intricate solutions.”

I have been reading a lot of minimalist and simple living blogs lately, trying to grasp this concept and apply it in my life. But all those blogs and writings, good as they are, pale in comparison to the inspiration of the Latter Day prophets, and the Spirit I feel when reading their words.

While President Uchtdorf does mention at one point that we should “proceed at the optimum speed for our circumstances,” I think that we often overestimate the optimum speed for our circumstances, much like inexperienced pilots. We should do all “
things ... in wisdom and order; for it is not requisite that [we] should run faster than [we have] strength. [But] it is expedient that [we] should be diligent, [and] thereby ... win the prize.” “That is why ‘we talk of Christ, we rejoice in Christ, we preach of Christ, we prophesy of Christ, ... that [we] may know to what source [we] may look for a remission of [our] sins.’ In the complexity, confusion, and rush of modern living, this is the ‘more excellent way.’”

President Uchtdorf has a great heading for the next part of his talk, “So What Are the Basics?” – I love headings, and I especially  love ones that feel like they just asked my own question for me.

President Uchtdorf speaks of “the importance of four key relationships: with our God, with our families, with our fellowman, and with ourselves.”

“We improve our relationship with our Heavenly Father by learning of Him, communing with Him, by repenting of our sins, and by actively following Jesus Christ, for ‘no man cometh unto the Father, but by [Christ].’” He then speaks of spending quality time alone with Heavenly Father. We need to be having daily personal prayer and scripture study and strive to be worthy of a temple recommend. I struggle in communing with Heavenly Father, and I really always have, as I confided once long ago to my sweet sister in law. She spoke of the difficulty being because we often talk and preach and rejoice in Christ, so it is somewhat easier to have a relationship with Christ – but because we only pray to Heavenly Father, and do not speak and preach of Him as often, that relationship often takes a back seat to our relationship with Christ. But if we can realize what our relationship with Christ is really all about – He is our advocate with the Father – then perhaps that will help us develop a more meaningful relationship with Heavenly Father.

“We build deep and loving family relationships by doing simple things together, like family dinner and family home evening and by just having fun together.” I struggle with this one, because my husband and I define “fun” in different ways. For example, a lot of hard work, and some mundane tasks, even, become “fun” for me when the whole family is involved, when we’re spending time together doing them, and when we are all enjoying the process together. My husband finds mundane tasks distasteful, and enjoys being alone while doing them so he can simply get done with the task. He enjoys watching movies, playing out doors, and doing other less mundane activities. Occasionally I find myself viewing those things as a waste of time – after all, there are dishes to be done and clothes to be washed. This probably feeds into the “simplicity” thing – if we had less clothes, less dishes, less “things”, we would have fewer “mundane” tasks to accomplish. But, like I said, I actually enjoy the mundane tasks – when I am doing them with family. Perhaps we will address that in our family and see what kind of compromise we can come up with.

“We establish a divine bond with each other as we approach God together through family prayer, gospel study, and Sunday worship.” Here we do pretty well. Our children are very young, so our “gospel study” together consists of lessons from the nursery manual - “I will share.” “I will be reverent.” “Heavenly Father loves me.” – you get the picture. But isn’t it ironic that even that goes back to President Uchtdorf’s counsel to focus on the basics? What is more basic than the doctrine taught in the nursery?

The one of of the key relationships that I feel I have a pretty good grasp on is that with my fellowman. “We build this relationship... by being sensitive to the needs of others, serving them, and giving of our time and talents.” In fact, I think that often the other three relationships suffer because I am too wrapped up in my relationship with my fellowmen, and not enough concerned with my relationship with Heavenly Father, my family, and myself.

President Uchtdorf says, “As we evaluate our own lives with a willing mind, we will see where we have drifted from the more excellent way.”

President Uchtdorf’s fourth relationship is with ourselves. He says some of us “criticize and belittle themselves all day long until they begin to hate themselves.” I don’t think I have progressed to “hating myself” – but I am very guilty of criticizing and belittling myself. He says to “take a little extra time to get to know yourself better. Walk in nature, watch a sunrise, enjoy God’s creations, ponder the truths of the restored gospel, and find out what they mean for you personally.” When the weather warms up a little, I will enjoy going for early morning runs (not so fun to run in 10 degree weather), and I am covetous of my early morning time by myself to study the gospel, as I am doing now. If one of the children wakes up before I have completed my gospel study, I often find myself becoming annoyed and frustrated. But if I truly want more time to myself, I’ll have to wake up earlier, which means retiring to bed earlier... which honestly never sounded better.

I’ll end with these three quotes:

“Let us joyfully partake of [the pure doctrinal waters of the restored gospel] in their simplicity and plainness.”

“Strength comes not from frantic activity by from being settled on a firm foundation of truth and light.”

“Let us simplify our lives a little.”

What things do you focus on to “simplify your life” a little? How do you focus on the four key relationships that President Uchtdorf mentioned? Do you sometimes feel too frantic and rushed? How do you come back to peace and simplicity?

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