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Elder LeGrand R. Curtis Jr.

Elder LeGrand R. Curtis Jr.

12 May. 2020

11:15 a.m.

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When I received this assignment several months ago, I pictured a much different setting. I thought we would all be in the same room feeling the Spirit together. COVID-19 has changed things, but I am grateful for technology that allows me to record this message for you to hear later. I pray that the Spirit will bless me as I deliver this message, and will bless you as you hear it.

Several years ago I was bishop of a ward with a large number of youth. Because of that, I had the blessing of holding many youth interviews. I loved that opportunity to get to know them better and to help in their spiritual growth. One of my favorite questions to ask them was, “Do you have a testimony?” The answers were very interesting. Some knew exactly what I meant and would tell me of the spiritual experiences in their lives that led them to have testimonies. But some would say something like, “I don’t like to bear my testimony.” I would then explain that I was not asking about bearing a testimony. I was asking about receiving a testimony. I would explain, “Have you had experiences in your life where you felt the Spirit of God, which let you know that God is there and loves you?” If they hesitated, I suggested some of the times that might have happened – while reading the scriptures, during prayer, during a seminary class, in a testimony meeting at Young Women’s camp, etc. I would explain that a testimony is the result of the Spirit of God witnessing to their spirit that He lives and that the gospel is true. Sometimes that triggered a remembrance of such an experience for them. Other times they frankly told me that they had not had that happen for them. In either case, I would encourage them to do the things that would put them in a position where it would happen.

I have learned much from hearing about how people received their testimonies. When Sheri Dew was in the General Relief Society Presidency, she gave a talk in General Conference where she told about an early experience she had with the Spirit. After talking about how she went with her grandmother to what seemed to be an endless stream of meetings, she said this:

“I’ll never forget an interchange [my grandmother] and I had one night as we drove home from yet another meeting. It began when I blurted out a question that flashed through my eight-year-old mind: ‘Grandma, what if the gospel isn’t true and we’ve been going to all of these meetings for nothing?’ . . . ‘Sheri, you don’t need to worry about that,’ she answered, ‘because I know that the gospel is true.’

I challenged her: ‘How can you know for sure?’

Several seconds passed before she said slowly, ‘I know for sure that the gospel is true because the Holy Ghost has told me that Jesus Christ is our Savior and that this is His Church.’ She paused and then she added something I will never forget: ‘And, Sheri, He’ll tell you too, and when He does, your life can never be the same again.’

I still vividly remember what happened next. A sensation unlike any I had ever experienced charged through my body, and then I began to cry. Though I didn’t understand the reason for my outburst, I’m sure Grandma realized exactly what was happening—that the Spirit was bearing witness to me that what she had said was true.”1

Over the years I have had the opportunity to ask many people how they received their testimony, or at least how they became aware that they had a testimony. The variety of responses is very interesting. Some will mention what happened to them while hearing a missionary lesson or reading the Book of Mormon. Some will talk about answers to heartfelt prayers. But some will say that they cannot pinpoint an experience because they just somehow have always known that the Church is true. I can identify with both those types of responses. For years I said that I first received a testimony as a teenaged Seminary student reading the Book of Mormon for the first time. I cannot pinpoint the precise time that it happened, but sometime during that process I started feeling something. It was good, it was warm, it grew, and I knew it was from God. For me, that feeling returns every time I open the Book of Mormon, or even think about that early experience with the word of God.

My point of view about my testimony was adjusted, however, by another experience that I had much later. I was in a meeting where a piano duet of “The Spirit of God” was being played as a special musical number. Listening to that music triggered a memory from my childhood. I remembered being a little boy attending stake conference with my parents. I was standing with them and the rest of the congregation and singing “The Spirit of God” as the congregational hymn. With that memory also came the same spiritual experience, that feeling that I felt singing that hymn with the congregation. As an adult hearing the piano duet I realized that the feeling that I had reading the Book of Mormon as a seminary student was not the first time I had felt the Spirit. I had felt the Spirit as a young boy in stake conference, and had undoubtedly felt the Spirit many other times by the time I was old enough to go to Seminary. Thus, although we may have an experience that we can point to as a particular time that our testimony came, or was noticed, the fact is, that our testimony is the accumulation of layer after layer of spiritual experiences.

Often, when I ask people how they got their testimonies, they will mention an experience from their missions. I will often respond, “Wait, didn’t you have a testimony before you went on a mission?” They usually will say, “Yes, but compared with the testimony that I had after those spiritual experiences on my mission, my testimony before was very small.” So, our testimonies grow from additional spiritual experiences. Alma describes that process in Alma chapter 32. He compares the process of growing your faith to the process of growing a tree. The process starts with a “seed” that is perhaps no more than a “desire to believe”. (Alma 32:27) But if that seed is “not cast out by your unbelief . . . it will begin to swell within your breasts, and . . . ye will say . . . the word is good, for it beginneth to enlarge my soul; yea it beginneth to enlighten my understanding, yea it beginneth to be delicious to me.” (Alma 32:28) Alma explains that if you nourish the seed as it grows, “it shall be a tree springing up unto eternal life.” (Alma 32:41) “You shall pluck the fruit thereof, which is most precious, which is sweet above all that is sweet, and which is white above all that is white, yea and pure above all that is pure; and ye shall feast upon this fruit even until ye are filled, that ye hunger nor, neither shall ye thirst.” (Alma 32:42) Alma describes this as “reap[ing] the rewards of your faith, and your diligence, and your patience, and long-suffering.” (Alma 32:43).

I like the way that one of my missionaries in Italy referred to this in one of his weekly letters to me. He told me of a great spiritual experience where the Lord blessed his companion to do something that was truly remarkable for that particular elder. The letter then said, “It’s the little things like that that really add another layer of lasagna to the lasagna testimony.” If you do not know about lasagna, that may require some explanation. Really good lasagna has layer after layer of noodles, cheese, béchamel sauce and tomato sauce. Our testimony grows as we add layer after layer of spiritual experiences.

What kinds of experiences add layers to your lasagna of testimony?

President Russell M. Nelson said:

Nothing opens the heavens quite like the combination of increased purity, exact obedience, earnest seeking, daily feasting on the words of Christ in the Book of Mormon, and regular time committed to temple and family history work.2

I had an experience as a mission president that taught me much about what brings the Spirit. Every few weeks we would have some new missionaries come and some experienced missionaries finish their missions. That necessitated moving some of the missionaries around in a transfer. As part of that process I needed to decide who would be trainers, who would be leaders, who would serve with whom and where they would serve. I could not properly do that type of a transfer without having the Spirit actively guiding each decision of the transfer. I took certain specified steps to invite the Spirit into that process. Although in the weeks leading up to the transfer I would be thinking about it and considering what needed to be done, I would dedicate a particular day to making the ultimate transfer decisions. On that day I would fast. I would go to my office and put on sacred music that was conducive to the Spirit. I would read the scriptures. I would kneel down and say a long prayer. In that prayer I would rack my brain for anything in my life that was not quite right, and I would repent of those things. I would, for a long time, thank the Lord for blessings in my life. And, I would ask for the Lord’s Spirit to guide all the decisions that needed to be made as part of that transfer. I would then get off my knees and look at the transfer board. Inspired ideas started to flow. It took hours and several additional prayers to make all the necessary decisions, but it was a joyous, Spirit-filled experience. Each time I found that my testimony had been enlarged by the spiritual experiences I was having.

Fasting, listening to sacred music, reading the scriptures, repenting, thanking the Lord, giving service to others – have you found that those things bring the Spirit, and in turn strengthen your testimony? Remembering past spiritual experiences also have a way of bringing the Spirit. I like to create in my mind a gallery of such experiences that I mentally visit to bring the Spirit.

One of the things that has added to my testimony is learning more about the history of this Church. As was mentioned, I currently serve as the Church Historian and Recorder. I have always loved learning about Church history, but in this assignment, every day I learn more about it. And, every day my testimony is strengthened by the wonderful events of our history.

Take, for example, the translation of the Book of Mormon. As a 21-year-old, Joseph Smith was given possession of the gold plates. At that time, he knew no language other than English. In fact, according to his wife Emma, his English skills were not very good. She said at that point in his life he “could neither write nor dictate a coherent and well-worded letter, let alone dictat[e] a book like the Book of Mormon. And, though I was an active participant in the scenes that transpired, . . . it is marvelous to me, ‘a marvel and a wonder.’”3 Joseph’s explanation for how he could produce such a book was simple: He said that he translated the book “through the gift and power of God.”4 Adding to the marvel of it all is the speed at which it was done: almost all of the present Book of Mormon text was translated during a three month period between April and June 1829. Oliver Cowdery, Joseph’s principal scribe for the Book of Mormon, wrote this:

These were days never to be forgotten—to sit under the sound of a voice dictated by the inspiration of heaven, awakened the utmost gratitude of this bosom! Day after day I continued, uninterrupted, to write from [Joseph’s] mouth, as he translated with the Urim and Thummin, or, as the Nephites would have said, ‘Interpreters,’ the history or record called “The Book of Mormon.”5

A fuller description of this translation process can be found in the Church’s new multi-volume, narrative history. As you may know, this series is called Saints, and the process of translating the Book of Mormon is found in volume 1, chapters 6 and 7.

There are many other incidents in Church history that likewise have strengthened my testimony. Take, for example, how section 76 of the Doctrine and Covenants was revealed. Here is how it is described in Saints, Volume 1:

“On February 16, Joseph, Sidney [Rigdon], and about twelve other men sat in an upstairs room in the Johnson home. The Spirit rested on Joseph and Sidney, and they grew still as a vision opened before their eyes. The glory of the Lord surrounded them, and they saw Jesus Christ at the right hand of God. Angels worshipped at His throne, and a voice testified that Jesus was the Only Begotten of the Father.

‘What do I see?’ Joseph asked as he and Sidney marveled at the wonders they saw. He then described what he beheld in the vision, and Sidney said, ‘I see the same.’ Sidney then asked the same question and described the scene before him. Once he finished, Joseph said, ‘I see the same.’

They spoke like this for an hour, and their vision revealed that God’s plan of salvation started before life on earth and that His children would be resurrected after death through the power of Jesus Christ. They also described heaven in a way no one in the room had ever imagined.6”

Our Church history is full of these kinds of inspiring events. My favorites include the dedication of the Kirtland Temple, the visions in the Kirtland Temple that occurred a week later, John Taylor’s and Willard Richards’ fearless defense of the Prophet in Carthage Jail and the Lord’s revealing of the Twelve’s right to lead the Church after the martyrdom of Joseph and Hyrum. You can read about all these incidents, and many more, in Saints, Volume 1.

And, as many of you have experienced in the last few months, Saints, Volume 2 has more inspiring incidents from our history. It begins with Lucy Mack Smith addressing a General Conference in Nauvoo the year after her sons Joseph and Hyrum had been brutally murdered in Carthage Jail. She bore testimony of the Church and urged the Saints to follow the direction of the Twelve Apostles.7

The last chapter of Volume 2 tells about the glorious dedication of the Salt Lake Temple forty years after it started. That spiritual dedication culminated a very challenging period for the Church. But shining through the difficulties is the faith of the people that ultimately triumphed over their trials.

That last chapter also tells of Anna Widstoe, a convert of the church from Norway. Her son, John, was studying at Harvard University at the time of the Salt Lake Temple dedication.

Like many students, his testimony was still developing and he had questions about his faith. While he had those questions, he kept serving in the Church and seeking out members of the Church to be his friends. Incidentally, in Volume 3, you will be able to read how he resolved his concerns and eventually was called to be an apostle. The very last paragraphs of Volume 2 tell about Anna writing John and testifying about what she had experienced at the temple dedication. Here are those last two paragraphs from Volume 2:

“When Anna made her way through the Salt Lake temple, she had felt the sacredness of the place. ‘I tried to stay in the celestial room as long as possible,’ she told John in a letter. ‘I saw it and felt as if a light was shone on me and that no place on earth had any value for me anymore.’

‘Everything is so glorious there,’ she testified, ‘and such a blessed peace fills the place that no language can explain it but those who have been there and received the holiness of holiness.’” 8

Learning the wonderful events of Church history can add new layers to our testimonies. And Saints, Volumes 1 and 2, is a wonderful place to go to add layer after layer.

I have recommended to you the study of Church history as a good way to strengthen your testimony. The irony is that some people blame a loss of faith on Church history. They claim they no longer believe because of some supposed Church history “fact” they have discovered. I have four suggestions for how to avoid this mistake:

1. Get Your Church History from Reliable Sources.

Sometimes people have heard something from someone who is trying to undermine their faith and have taken what they said to be true. They fail to be appropriately suspicious of those with bad motives. They fail to get to the best sources - original sources from trustworthy places. One of the great things about Saints is you can read the narrative, and through the footnotes, you can go right to the best sources available. If you read in the Gospel Library app, you can do that by clicking on the footnote.

2. Don’t expect perfection in Church leaders and members.

One of the lessons of the scriptures is that prophets, and other leaders and followers, are not perfect. Peter denied Christ. Jonah fled from an assignment. Still, God used those leaders to do marvelous work. The same is true in our dispensation. God accomplishes His work through wonderful, devoted people. But they are not perfect. That is part of the miracle of it all. Joseph Smith said: “I never told you I was perfect; but there is no error in the revelations which I have taught.” None of us is perfect, but we keep trying, keep repenting and God uses us as we work to get better. Don’t misunderstand me. I have always admired the senior leaders of this Church. And now that I have the opportunity to spend considerable time around them, I find they are even better than I thought. But, they would be the first to tell you that they are not perfect.

3. Make sure that you learn enough Church history.

In any learning endeavor, context is everything. You cannot understand an event, or a person, unless you understand the context. Some events sound strange until you learn about the times that surround them. For example, bloodletting or applying leeches sounds horrible, and clearly something that no one ever should have done. But, it was the standard accepted medical practice well into the 19th Century. Context is very important in Church history. There were practices on the 19th century American frontier that may seem strange, but understanding the times and local circumstances help us understand them. Using a seer stone is one of those practices. Sometimes the needed context is to understand better what God commanded, and to the extent we can learn it, why God commanded it. To be understood, plural marriage needs that perspective.

4. Be patient and exercise faith.

Try as we might, we will encounter things in Church history, or Church doctrine for that matter, that we cannot explain even with all the context we can get. Camilla Eyring Kimball, the wife of President Spencer W. Kimball, had a useful way to deal with such problems. Her biographers wrote:

“Camilla had a philosophy about religious problems that helped her children. She said that when things troubled her, she put them on the shelf; later when she looked at them again, some were answered, some seemed no longer important, and some needed to go back on the shelf for another time.9”

Some issues have a way of resolving themselves over time. Others seem to shrink in importance as we get more experience. One of the most useful things that we can do is to continue to have powerful experiences with the Book of Mormon and other scripture. The feeding of our testimonies in that way allows us to put unanswerable concerns on the shelf for a while. In the meantime, we are likely to find out that what we do know, outweighs the items on the shelf. The testimony we have from a series of spiritual experiences can carry us over the few events or situations that we simply, at least now, cannot explain well. I love the analogy used by Elder Steven E. Snow, my predecessor as Church Historian. He said that Church history is like a fine tapestry. If you stand very close to the tapestry you may see some threads that do not seem to be right. But if you stand back a few steps, you will see a beautiful piece of art woven with thousands of threads, and that all the threads play their part. God wants us to use the spiritual experiences that we have had to help us have faith and patiently wait until all things are made known. In this life we, at best, “see through a glass, darkly,” as the Apostle Paul said. But the promise is made that someday we will see “face to face” and “know even as [we are] known.”10 God requires that kind of patience.

I wish you the best as you continue through life. I pray that you will be blessed with layer after layer of spiritual experiences that make your testimony deep and personally satisfying. I encourage you to make Church history a part of that process. Specifically, I encourage you to read Saints. It is available in many formats. You can buy an inexpensive paper copy if you like, but you can read it, or listen to it free, on the Gospel Library app or at ChurchofJesusChrist.org. And, as appropriate, take advantage of the opportunity to dig deeper into Church history by studying material referenced in the footnotes.

I bear my testimony that this is God’s work, and it is a glorious opportunity for you and for me to be part of it. In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.

 

[1] October 1997 General Conference

[2] April 2018 General Conference

[3] Emma Smith, “Last Testimony of Sister Emma,” Saints’ Herald, Oct. 1, 1879, 290

[4] Preface to the Book of Mormon (1830 ed.)

[5] Joseph Smith—History 1:71, note.

[6] Saints, Volume 1, p. 147

[7] Saints, Volume 2, p. 3-6.

[8] Saints, Volume 2, p. 675.

[9] Caroline Eyring Miner and Edward L. Kimball, Camilla, a Biography of Camilla Eyring Kimball, 110.

[10] 1 Corinthians 13:12


Bio

Elder LeGrand R. Curtis Jr. was sustained as a General Authority Seventy of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints on April 2, 2011. At the time of his call, he had been serving as a member of the Fifth Quorum of the Seventy in the Utah Salt Lake City Area. He returned from serving as President of the Africa West Area in July 2016. He has served as an Assistant Executive Director of the Priesthood and Family Department, First Counselor in the Utah Area Presidency, and Assistant Executive Director of the Church History Department. He is currently serving on the Scriptures Committee, on the Area Committee, and as Church Historian and Recorder and is the Executive Director of the Church History Department.

Elder Curtis received a bachelor’s degree in economics from Brigham Young University in 1975. Then in 1978 he received his juris doctor from the University of Michigan. His career includes work as an attorney and partner in the law firm Manning Curtis Bradshaw & Bednar and as an adjunct professor at the J. Reuben Clark Law School at Brigham Young University.

Elder Curtis has served in a number of Church callings, including full-time missionary in Italy, bishop, high councilor, counselor in a stake presidency, stake president, president of the Italy Padova Mission (1998–2001), and Area Seventy.

LeGrand Raine Curtis Jr. was born in Ogden, Utah, on August 1, 1952. He married Jane Cowan in January 1974. They are the parents of five children.