The Three Sides of Love

22 Aug. 2017

Transcript

The Three Sides of Love

Thank you. Thank you for the music, and thank you, too, to this institution and to President Kusch for having me here today. It’s quite the honor and privilege to be able to share a few thoughts with you. I’m glad I’ve had the opportunity over the last couple of months to think about it and prepare.

A life journey is a fascinating experience to participate in. For me, I have spent six of the last seven years in my work career learning about consumers—how they think during a purchase process, what things they take into consideration, why they consider what they do, what ultimately influences their decision, and their level of satisfaction once they have purchased the item. I’ve worked with development and engineering teams to develop products that consumers want in hopes of meeting and exceeding their expectations. Now, this was all done in the entertainment industry.

I can tell you that even though it may have seemed challenging to understand how to influence purchase intent and deliver value to my customers, it was extremely gratifying to see their faces when they made their purchase or experienced the product I was working on. It’s a moment of pure joy. It’s a moment of exhilaration. In many ways, it is a moment of pure love. People love things. We are a consumer-driven world, and the acquisition of goods is something that we all do.

It is with this same lens of how people love their consumer goods that I want to share some thoughts on the topic of love. It is not the love that ends with two people getting married, so you don’t have to worry about me addressing that topic. In our Church, Jesus Christ’s experience with the Pharisees is well-known and often quoted. When He was asked, “Master, which is the great commandment in the law?”[1] most members could repeat His answer verbatim:

Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind.

This is the first and great commandment.

And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.[2]

We often deduce from these verses in the New Testament that the two great commandments are love God and love your neighbor. In my personal and professional life, I have come to understand the importance of these two commandments. They are key attributes of the Savior that we must all develop to help us truly become who He hopes and knows we can become. We will revisit these two well-known commandments later, but for now I want to focus on a less talked about side of love.

I find it fascinating that the Savior said, “Love thy neighbor as thyself.” What does He mean, to love someone “as thyself”? Whenever I read these verses, this question comes to my mind. It’s not a new question but more a reminder to me of who I am and how important I am to the Lord. I’ve inferred from this scripture that we should learn to love ourselves. Loving ourselves is as important as loving others and loving God.

I think this is something that we don’t think about and is not often on our list of important items. We find time for activities that we enjoy, for friends, for work, for school, for exercise, and for food. But we don’t find time to truly love ourselves in the ways that we need.

What does loving yourself mean? Loving yourself can mean many things. The first thing is to know who you are as a daughter or a son of God. We hear this a lot. I think we don’t truly understand how vital this is to each of us, fulfilling what God has in store for us. President Russell M. Nelson says this: “Who are we? We are children of God. Our potential is unlimited. Our inheritance is sacred.”[3] To know that we are daughters or sons of God is to know our full potential in every sphere of mortal or eternal life. This knowledge means knowing that He loves each of us individually and cares deeply about the things that are important to us.

This understanding first hit me on one specific occasion. Prior to my mission, I had the opportunity to work as an Especially For Youth counselor. At this point in my life, I had been a member of the Church for five years. I had attended the summer camp the two prior summers and always felt that it would be a great opportunity to become a counselor myself. It was a busy summer, with several weeks of working with amazing counselors and youth across the United States.

The week prior to reporting to the Missionary Training Center in Provo, I worked my final session in upstate New York on the campus of Cornell University. It was an amazing experience to me, where I had the opportunity to visit Palmyra, New York, area and to spend time where the Church was organized and restored.

For those who haven’t attended EFY before, it’s a week full of gospel topic classes, dances, food, and fun among other kids of the LDS faith. Typically on a Thursday night, the session director gives a talk on the Atonement and then each group breaks out to provide opportunities for the participants to share their testimonies.

As I sat there listening to some amazing testimonies from the youth in my group, one of the boys started to cry hysterically. It caught me somewhat off guard, and I realized that I needed to comfort this young man. To this day, I don’t remember his name, but I remember pulling him out and asking him what was wrong.

Through his tears and sniffling, he shrieked out these words: “He did this all for me! Why? Why did He do that?” The young man was asking a very good question. He—speaking of the Savior—did do all what He did for each one of us, His sisters and brothers.

I learned a very important point that evening, seven days before I was supposed to enter the MTC. I am that important to my Heavenly Father that He would sacrifice His Son, Jesus Christ, for me. We have been taught this doctrine, but have you ever let it sink in, like this young man? Do you truly understand what that means for you and your relationship with Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ? Each of us as an individual is unique, special, and important to both Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ.

In addition, I believe that to love yourself means to take care of yourself mentally, physically, and spiritually. These three words—mentally, physically, and spiritually—have personal meaning to me. I have learned that as I take care of myself in these three areas, I am better equipped personally and professionally.

I prioritize these areas most every day. I arise at 5:00 am most mornings to study the scriptures for about 40 minutes, then I head to the gym to exercise for about an hour and 15 minutes. On the drive to and from the gym, I listen to BBC News to get an update on world events. By 7:00 am, I feel that I have started my day with the three critical areas I need to show love for myself. I am feeding myself with the essentials I need before I embrace the day with my family, work, community, and Church responsibilities.

When we develop and learn love for ourselves, we must remember not to be conceited. What is conceit? The Merriam-Webster Dictionary states that one of the definition for conceit is “having or showing an excessively high opinion of oneself.”[4] You can also call this pride in oneself.

President Ezra Taft Benson gave an extraordinary talk on pride in April 1989 General Conference. He said,

Most of us think of pride as self-centeredness, conceit, boastfulness, arrogance, or haughtiness. All of these are elements of the sin, but the heart, or core, is still missing.

The central feature of pride is enmity—enmity toward God and enmity toward fellowmen. Enmity means “hatred toward, hostility to, or a state of opposition.” It is the power by which Satan wishes to reign over us.

Pride is essentially competitive in nature. We pit our will against God’s. When we direct our pride toward God, it is the spirit of “my will and not thine be done.” As Paul said, they “seek their own, not the things which are Jesus Christ’s.” (Philip. 2:21.)[5]

Don’t let your pride be the downfall of you truly getting to know and love yourself. There are small but pivotal events in your life where Satan will insert himself to drive that wedge, to build the enmity that President Benson stated.

In recent years, there has been an increased body of research focused on self-compassion. Dr. Kristin Neff, a pioneer in self-compassion research, defines it as having compassion for oneself when having a difficult time, experiencing failure, or suffering in some way.[6] There are three main components that she highlights: self-kindness, common humanity, and mindfulness.

Self-kindness is when people “recognize that being imperfect, failing, and experiencing life difficulties is inevitable, so they tend to be gentle with themselves when confronted with painful experiences rather than getting angry when life falls short of set ideals.”[7]

Common humanity is “recognizing that suffering and personal inadequacy is part of shared human experience—something that we all go through rather than something that happens to ‘me’ alone.”[8]

“Mindfulness is a non-judgmental, receptive [mindset] in which one observes thoughts and feelings as they are, without trying to suppress or deny them. We cannot ignore our pain and feel compassion for it at the same time. At the same time, mindfulness requires that we not be ‘over-identified’ with thoughts and feelings, so that we are caught up and swept away by negative reactivity.”[9]

Having self-compassion takes introspection and truly being willing to love yourself more fully despite what you may deem as flaws and failures. The world would do its fair amount in telling you that you are not perfect, not the best, and not capable. My experience in the business world has taught me an important lesson as it relates to self-compassion.

During my time at both Walmart and Microsoft, I slowly started to recognize the feelings of stress and discomfort people put on themselves to be successful. I realized that for me, to be truly successful I needed to be comfortable with who I am, not to take myself too seriously, acknowledge my weaknesses and seek feedback to correct them, and to do my best always. I was able to keep my perspective by keeping my life balanced with objectives outside of work—coaching soccer, Church service, community activity, and, most importantly, family time.

However, I internalized that success in corporate America was ratified when I was having a mentor meeting with one of my mentors at Microsoft. His name was Matt Bartlett. At the time, Matt was leading Xbox Games in product marketing, and we had developed a good relationship. At this point, we were having a mentor meeting, and at one point in the conversation, he asked me, “What do you do outside of work?”

I shared with him my roles serving in the clergy for my local LDS congregation, coaching two soccer teams, and staying busy with my family of four kids. After sharing this with him, he looked at me and said, “I wish I would have had that type of balance at the same stage in my career, and I wish more people on my team had this type of balance.”

That experience was another revelatory moment in my personal and professional life. Yes, I do have personal and professional aspirations, but because I know who I am and my potential, I am willing to strike a balance needed to stay true to myself.

The North Carolina state motto comes to mind when I think of this topic, to love yourself. The motto is “to be rather than to seem.”[10] Let’s be who we can be, rather than seeming like it. Remember to love yourself.

Loving ourselves is essential in our ability to love others. Loving others requires us to look at others around us in a different way. It requires us to see them as our sisters and brothers—that’s every woman, man, and child in this world. Something I think LDS members forget is that the entire population of earth—with their different cultures, languages and beliefs—are members of our Heavenly Father’s family. Nothing must be done to obtain inclusion in Heavenly Father’s family.

This commandment fascinates me both in a personal and a professional way. Personally, I have found that the Lord has reminded me that caring for others is one of the most important things we can do. I was raised in three distinct cultures and learned how to embrace people and those cultures. I learned to love their differences in a way that allowed me to be more open and inclusive of others.

A lot of what I learned as a child was about respect for myself and for others. In a way, I feel that loving others is a sign of respect for those individuals. My exposure to others creates an opportunity for dialogue. That dialogue fuels an opportunity to understand others more deeply than at surface-level. Understanding allows for more acceptance and love for others, even though we often have distinct differences. In my mind, it is a simple equation: exposure leads to dialogue; dialogue leads to understanding; understanding leads to love and acceptance of others. Each of us can make an impact on others’ lives. Much of that begins with our ability to learn to love those whom we don’t know.

Think about the sons of Mosiah and their desire to take the gospel to the Lamanites, their Lamanite sisters and brothers. It started with a desire in their hearts. They fasted much and prayed much that the Lord would grant unto them a portion of His Spirit to go with them and abide with them, that they might be instruments in the hands of God.[11]

Ammon was one of these sons, and he departed from among the Nephites to go to the land of Ishmael. When he arrived in their land, he was taken captive by the Lamanites, “as was their custom to bind all the Nephites who fell into their hands.”[12] When Ammon was brought before the king, before King Lamoni, he “inquired of Ammon if it were his desire to dwell in the land among the Lamanites, or among his people.”[13]

Ammon said, “I desire to dwell among this people for a time; yea, and perhaps until the day I die.”[14] This is a great example of the type of people we need to be to develop love for others. We must desire it. In many instances, we must pray and fast for it. And finally, we must learn to be among people who may not be just like us—people who don’t look, believe, or act like us.

I remember, when I returned from serving my mission in the summer of 2000, I would ask myself in prayer every day and ask the Lord to provide me with the opportunity to serve and help someone in need. This continues even until today. There are multiple experiences that came from continued petitions, but there is one that stands out in my mind.

It was the fall semester of 2002 at Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah, and I was commuting from over in west Orem, across the highway from Utah Valley University. During the winter months, it was snowy and cold, as you are all aware if you live in Utah. It was either in November or December, and I found myself passing the same male student walking every day down a hill on State Street in Orem. I’m not sure how far he walked to school, but when I would pass him it was about three miles away from campus.

Every time I passed him, this thought—now I know it as a prompting of the Spirit—came into my mind: “Stop and offer him a ride.” Day after day I would see him, and I heard this little voice in my head, “Stop.” But I ignored it and would continue on with my really important world. Finally one day, after seeing this young man, I decided to stop. I pulled over and asked him if he needed a ride. He accepted. On the drive to BYU campus, we got to talking and he shared with me that his car had broken down over a month earlier. This meant that for the last month or so, he had been walking five-plus miles from his apartment in Orem to BYU in the cold. He had been working to save the money to fix his car, and finally he had saved enough to have it fixed. He then shared with me that his car would be ready to pick up the next day.

I dropped him off on campus and never saw him again. This experience taught me a very important lesson—and no, it’s not to pick up every stranger that I see walking during the cold winter months. I learned the importance of following the promptings of the Holy Ghost in directing me to help others. I’m a firm believer that God will use us to help those who are around us.

Because of this experience, I love this message on serving others from President Spencer W. Kimball:

God does notice us, and he watches over us. But it is usually through another person that he meets our needs. Therefore, it is vital that we serve each other in the kingdom. . . . So often, our acts of service consist of simple encouragement or of giving mundane help with mundane tasks, but what glorious consequences can flow from mundane acts and from small but deliberate deeds![15]

I firmly believe that we all have a role to play in each other’s lives if we truly seek, listen, and act. We can’t do this, though, if we haven’t loved ourselves first and put ourselves in positions where we can have a foundation to do it. During two separate times, I served as a clergyman for my local LDS congregation for a combined eight years, and I learned something very important: people need to be loved and not judged. People need to be supported and sustained. People need someone to listen and understand. People need pure empathy motivated by charity, “the pure love of Christ.”[16] Simply put, they need unconditional love like the Savior would give them.

During this most recent service in the bishopric, I remember having a conversation with my wife. She expressed to me her concern about a specific member and that individual not doing what she thought they should be doing in their calling. Essentially, she wanted this member to pull their weight in the functioning of the ward. We all do this, right? The natural man steps in, and we begin to build stories of these people in our mind. These stories start to form into reality because of our focus on this concern.

At one point in this conversation, I asked my wife if she wanted to know what was going on in the life of this member. The following dialogue occurred:

She asked me, “What do you mean?”

I said, “Well, I know what’s going on.”

She said, “No, I don’t want to know.”

There are probably more pieces in this dialogue that I’m leaving out, and you should know that my wife is an amazing woman and teaches me so much. She even edited my talk for me. What occurred to me during this conversation is, does it help if we know what is going on in others’ lives, to help us love them? Or should we love others because they need our love? That is the example the Savior set before us.

Another example of loving others is when I worked at Walmart. I had the fortunate opportunity to work on the gaming and movies and music categories. It was an exciting business with a ton of energy and content. The first person I met on the merchant side of this was a gentleman and now a dear friend named Eric Bright. Eric, at the time, was a senior buyer for video games and one of the most influential individuals in the gaming industry. He now works at GameStop, where he oversees all the merchandising for the company.

When I first met Eric, I was new to the gaming industry. He had years of experience in the entertainment industry and retail. Eric took me under his wing and taught me a lot about the industry and our vendors, like Nintendo, Activision, or Xbox. We spent a ton of time together working and traveling to grow our share of the video game business at Walmart. Over the two-plus years I was at Walmart, we became close friends. I looked to Eric as a confidante about my personal and professional life.

 After leaving Walmart, I had the opportunity to go to Dallas to speak at a diversity event at a high school on behalf of Microsoft. I naturally reached out to Eric so that we could connect and do dinner. We spent a couple of evenings dining and talking about life and work, and for some reason, I knew Eric wanted to share something with me.

On our second night, we were driving back to my hotel, and Eric shared with me that he was gay. I responded, “I know.”

He said to me, “You know? Why didn’t you say anything?”

I told him, “Because it doesn’t matter.”

Eric went on to state that, “Your church believes that marriage is between a man and a woman.”

I shared with him, “That is what I believe, but I’m not here to force my beliefs on other people.” I also shared that we could still be friends even though we believe differently. We then had a lengthy conversation about how two people who have different beliefs, political views, religious perspectives, and a slew of other things, could still be dear friends. This experience in friendship continues to be a testament to me of the importance of acceptance and love of others.

Ultimately, what I have recognized is the need for increased empathy, and there’s no one who has articulated what empathy is better than Dr. Brené Brown, a research professor at the University of Houston. She has spent the last sixteen years studying several topics, including empathy. Let’s listen to what she has to say about this topic:

[Recording of Dr. Brené Brown:]

So, what is empathy, and why is it very different than sympathy? Empathy fuels connection; sympathy drives disconnection. Empathy—it’s very interesting. Theresa Wiseman is a nursing scholar who studied professions—very diverse professions—where empathy is relevant and came up with four qualities of empathy: perspective taking—the ability to take the perspective of another person or recognize their perspective as their truth; staying out of judgement—not easy when you enjoy it as much as most of us do; recognizing emotion in other people; and then communicating that.

Empathy is feeling with people. And to me, I always think of empathy as this kind of sacred space when someone is kind of in a deep hole, and they shout out from the bottom, and they say, “I’m stuck. It’s dark. I’m overwhelmed.” And then, we look and we say, “Hey, I’m down. I know what it’s like down here. And you’re not alone.”

Sympathy is like, “Ooh. It’s bad, uh-huh. Uh, no. You want a sandwich?”

Empathy is a choice, and it’s a vulnerable choice because in order to connect with you, I have to connect with something in myself that knows that feeling. Rarely, if ever, is an empathic response begin with “At least . . . ” Yeah—and we do it all the time. Because you know what? Someone just shared something with us that’s incredibly painful, and we’re trying to silver line it. I don’t think that’s a verb, but I’m using it as one. We’re trying to put the silver lining around it.

“So, I had a miscarriage.” “At least you know you can get pregnant.”

“I think my marriage is falling apart.” “At least you have a marriage.”

“John’s getting kicked out of school.” “At least Sara is an A student.”

But one of the things we do sometimes in the face of very difficult conversations is we try to make things better. If I share something with you that is very difficult, I’d rather you say, “I don’t even know what to say right now; I’m just so glad you told me.” Because the truth is, rarely can a response make something better. What makes something better is connections.[17]

I love what Dr. Brené Brown said about what empathy is. “Empathy fuels connections,” she said. “Sympathy drives disconnection. . . . Empathy is feeling with people.” This characteristic of empathy is critical in our ability to love others. Therefore, I remind you, remember to love others.

When I think of loving others, loving God is something that naturally comes to my mind. For me, loving God is something I have done my entire life. My parents were what I consider God-fearing people and always sent us or took us to a church, prior to joining The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. They taught me about the Ten Commandments and their importance. I don’t think they truly understood then as much as they do now, but it was foundational in my life.

At a young age, I remember listening to cassette tapes—yes, cassette tapes—while I followed along with a Bible stories book my parents had given me and my brother. I remember listening to stories about the prophets—like Abraham, Moses, and Noah—and hearing how God cared so much about His children on this earth.

Now, you may ask yourself, “Why does God need our love?” I don’t think He necessarily needs our love. But we should love Him for what He has done for us and will do for us. We should love Him for the many blessings He has and will continue to provide to us, His children.

I love what President Dieter F. Uchtdorf has said about this:

God the Eternal Father did not give that first great commandment because He needs us to love Him. His power and glory are not diminished should we disregard, deny, or even defile His name. His influence and dominion extend through time and space independent of our acceptance, approval, or adoration.

No, God does not need us to love Him. But, oh, how we need to love God!

For what we love determines what we seek.

What we seek determines what we think and do.

What we think and do determines who we are—and who we will become.[18]

Just think about that for a second. What we love will essentially determine who we are and what we will become. This naturally leads me to ask, what do we want to become? Where have we set our sights? Are our sights set on earthly and temporal glory, or on eternal glory? If there is one thing I would challenge you to do and to think about as you move forward with your life, is to find time—whether it’s annually, quarterly, or monthly—and ask yourself this question. It will be a sobering moment when you realize, as I often have, that we will all require nearly constant refocusing.

Loving God requires us to develop and maintain a relationship with Him. There are many ways to develop a relationship with God—meaning Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ. There are the usual ones of attending church, daily scripture study, daily prayer, and regular temple attendance. Over the last ten years, I’ve recognized the importance of seeing others as the Lord sees them, as another way to develop my relationship with my Heavenly Father and the Savior.

I am human, just like everyone else, and there are moments when I get upset and frustrated with people. But it usually takes me a period, sometimes minutes or hours, before I start to think about that person differently. I start to ask myself, “What is causing them to act this way?” As I ask myself this question, I usually get an overwhelming feeling to give that person the benefit of the doubt. I find myself thinking about what I can do to help them.

When I look back at those experiences, it makes me think that is how They—Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ—are with us. They give us the benefit of the doubt. They see us not for who we are now, but for who we are becoming. Our relationship with our Heavenly Father and His Son, Jesus Christ, are highly important in helping each of us reach our full potential. We have been provided with laws and commandments that assist us in governing our lives in a way that allows us to receive great blessings that are spiritual and temporal—on earth and in the eternities—as we desire to live for them.

The Savior has told us Himself that “if ye love me, keep my commandments.”[19] He then promises that He will not leave us comfortless and He will come to us.[20] No matter if we love Them or not, They will always love us.

In closing, I want to leave you with this thought. I have talked a lot about love, in three different ways. You might be asking yourself, “After love, then what?” President Uchtdorf answered this question for us when he said,

The answer to the question “After love, then what?” can be simple and straightforward. If we truly love the Savior, we incline our hearts to Him and then we walk in the path of discipleship. When we love God, we will strive to keep His commandments.

If we truly love our fellowmen, we extend ourselves to help “the poor and the needy, the sick and the afflicted.” For they who do these selfless acts of compassion and service, the same are disciples of Jesus Christ.[21]

Love is truly a gift and a Christlike attribute that transcends many areas of our personal and professional lives. This attribute is extremely vital for each of us as we seek to leave our mark in a world that is ever changing. Let us remember to love ourselves, to love others, and to love God. I know that as we do so, we will be blessed. I’ve seen those blessings in my life. I’ve seen the influence that the Lord has been able to have on me and has allowed me to have on others, as I have truly sought to follow this guidance. And I share this with you in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.

 


[1] Matthew 22:36.

[2] Matthew 22:37–39.

[3] Russell M. Nelson, “We Are Children of God,” Oct. 1998 General Conference.

[4] “Conceited,” Merriam-Webster, www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/conceited.

[5] Ezra Taft Benson, “Beware of Pride,” Apr. 1989 General Conference.

[6] See Dr. Kristin Neff, “Definition of Self-Compassion,” Self-Compassion, (2017), self-compassion.org/the-three-elements-of-self-compassion-2/.

[7] Neff, “Definition of Self-Compassion.”

[8] Neff, “Definition of Self -Compassion.”

[9] Neff, “Definition of Self-Compassion.”

[10] Michael Parker, “To Be Rather Than to Seem: The NC State Motto,” Our State: Celebrating North Carolina.

[11] See Alma 17:3.

[12] Alma 17:20.

[13] Alma 17:22.

[14] Alma 17:23.

[15] Spencer W. Kimball, “Small Acts of Service,” Ensign, Dec. 1974.

[16] Moroni 7:47.

[17] “Brené Brown on Empathy,” https://ed.ted.com/on/HGj9kQ5z#review.

[18] Dieter F. Uchtdorf, “The Love of God,” Oct. 2009 General Conference.

[19] John 14:15.

[20] John 14:18.

[21] Dieter F. Uchtdorf, “After Love, Then What?” Ensign, Sep. 2016. 


Elder Alin Spannaus

19 Sep. 2017

Video

Audio

Transcript

On one occasion, I decided to count my blessings. It was an exercise—I started to write my blessings. In the beginning it was easy: my parents, my family, blah, blah, blah. But then I dug deeper and deeper, and at the conclusion of that exercise, and after four pages of my writing, I came to the conclusion that if you are really paying attention to your blessings, they are endless. They really are. Because Heavenly Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, they love us so much that they have created everything that we have surrounding us, for us. So I am glad that we had this musical number talking about blessings (Count Your Blessings, Hymn #241).

All right. I am delighted to be here with you, so smile! It’s a good day. It’s kind of rainy and gray, but it’s a beautiful day. I’d like to ask you this: Have you ever heard in your mind or in your heart or somehow, the magical words—five magical words—“Your sins are forgiven you.” Have you ever heard those words, or that phrase, in your life?

I have—not only one time; more than one time. So I’d like to talk today about the doctrine of forgiveness. There is this scripture in section 58 of the Doctrine and Covenants, verse 42: “Behold, he who has repented of his sins, the same is forgiven, and I, the Lord, remember them no more.”

It’s a short verse. I’d like to ask you, do you think the Lord plays games? Do you think, when He says that He remembers “no more” He really means it? Or, do you think that in reality, what He’s saying is, “I remember no more, but watch out. I still do. I remember who you were.” Do you think He plays a game?

Well, I know He has a great sense of humor, but I know He doesn’t play games. He does not, especially in regard to our own forgiveness and in regard to our own sins, and when it is about our own imperfections.

There is another scripture. It is in Isaiah. But remember that when we read prophets, what we are reading is “the will of the Lord” (Doctrine and Covenants 68:4)  as well. But Isaiah wrote: “Come now, and let us reason together, saith the Lord: though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool” (Isaiah 1:18).

 We believe that this is doctrine, that when He is saying that He will remember no more about our sins or about our wrongdoing, He really cleans those through His Atonement. So I’d like to talk a little bit about a process. Imagine you are in the middle of this circle that I am drawing with my finger. And then you go to the Lord, and you ask for forgiveness. And then in the second step, He does forgive you.

What you do with this forgiveness is what matters. If you change, we call that repentance. What happens with our faith and our own spirituality? Does it go up or down? It goes up, right? So you ask for forgiveness, He tells you that your sins are forgiven, and then you change. Your faith goes up, and you are in a newer level of light and knowledge. I’ll come back a little bit to this.

So when the Lord is telling you that you have been forgiven, He has changed your condition. You were dirty; now you are clean. And He says, “I remember no more.” He says, “You were red; now you are white.” This is a gift. It’s a blessing. It’s a miracle, actually.

You can tell me, “But Elder Spannaus, I still remember.” Well, for some reason, we have memory. I think it is a good thing that we remember. But that point can have two sides. What you do with your memories of your wrongdoing is what matters. When He tells you that you are clean, you are justified. It is called the law of justification—when you have no more guilt, when you are clean. That is the law of justification, and it comes through the grace and the mercy of the Atonement of the Lord Jesus Christ. Because of our faith in Him, He has the power to clean us.

What He has done by that forgiveness is change your condition. You are essentially the same person. Your nature, as yet, is not fully changed. What He did through forgiveness is say, “Yes, I know. You came to me, and you were dirty. Now you are clean; you are white again.” So what you do from there is what matters. You are in a newer level of light, and then you continue life. And then you make a mistake again, right? Have you made the same mistake more than once? Welcome to the club.

And then you go again and ask for forgiveness again. And then He forgives you. And then what you do, if you change, if you repent, then your faith goes up, and your spirituality goes up. And then you are in a newer level of light. Let me read the description or the definition of repentance: “Repentance: the Greek word of which this is the translation denotes a change of mind, a fresh view about God, about oneself, and about the world” ("Repentance", Bible Dictionary).

 So repentance is a blessing. It’s when we decide, I cannot continue like this. I need to change. And this process of repenting, when we understand the law of forgiveness, it’s a continuous process. It is the process through which we start to go up in levels of light. The scriptures call this process sanctification. It is when you become pure, spotless, holy. It is the process by which we become one with Him. It is obviously a gift, again, that comes by the grace and the eternal Atonement of the Lord Jesus Christ. But it is also a decision.

 When we are forgiven, we receive the gift of being clean again. Remember how you felt when you heard these words, that you had been forgiven? I’ll tell you how I felt; perhaps it is like how you felt. I felt clean, happier, energized, with a high energy. I felt love for others, and I had the desire to become a better person. Perhaps you have felt some other things. We need to use all of those feelings to be brave enough to continue the process of sanctification.

I am 56 years old. I am far away from being old, okay? But one of the good things about age and aging is when you have the possibility to see things with a perspective of time. Being 56 allows me to see in my past and to see decisions with the perspective of time. Now here we are. You are students of the LDS Business College. You are this age, in this range of ages that is critical. It is critical for many things—first of all, it is the age in which you make decisions that will impact not only the rest of your life on this earth, but it will impact your eternity. For instance, you are deciding what to study. You are deciding to study. You are deciding to get married. You are deciding to have children at this age.

So after all these years of serving in the kingdom and having the advantage before you of being older, I can share with you some of my experiences. I have learned that many, many, many members of the Church do not understand forgiveness. And I have heard, in interviews, members that continue remembering things they have done in the past. When I was a bishop, they would come and say, “Bishop, I still remember things that I committed ten, fifteen years ago.” And they are still carrying the weight.

I said, “Have you ever heard that the Lord has forgiven you?”

“Well, yes, I have.”

“So why do you insist—let me ask you. If you have heard already that the Lord has forgiven you, but you continue having these feelings of pain, etcetera, because of things you have done, who do you think wants you to stay in that mud? Would those feelings come from heaven? Would the Lord be playing the game that—oh, you did that ten years ago or fifteen years ago or two years ago? Do we really believe His words when He says, ‘I remember them no more’?”

That is the gospel we preach. This is what we preach. This is the good news, the good tidings that the angels were singing when the Lord was born, that He was going to atone for us, for our sins. So if you can, learn right now this doctrine and apply it, first of all to yourself, and let the past be in the past. Look up to the future. By definition, faith looks toward the future, because of the uncertainty of the unseen.

We can see the past, but we can’t see the future. So by definition, faith is looking toward the future. Faith will give you hope, the hope that things will go well, that we can actually change, that we can become saints. It is a process, a decision line upon line and precept upon precept.

I’ll read a long scripture from Mosiah 4, so bear with me. I hope that you can go and read it again. It is King Benjamin speaking, and I am reading verses 11 and 12:

“And again I say unto you as I have said before, that as ye have come to the knowledge of the glory of God, or if ye have known of his goodness and have tasted of his love, and have received a remission of your sins, which causeth such exceedingly great joy in your souls, even so I would that ye should remember, and always retain in remembrance, the greatness of God, and your own nothingness, and his goodness and long-suffering towards you, unworthy creatures, and humble yourselves even in the depths of humility, calling on the name of the Lord daily, and standing steadfastly in the faith of that which is to come, which was spoken by the mouth of the angel.

“And behold, I say unto you that if ye do this ye shall always rejoice, and be filled with the love of God, and always retain a remission of your sins.”

So this is the process. As I have told you, go back and read it again, so you understand the process of retaining the remission of sins. This is why we go to church every Sunday. This is why we partake of the sacrament every Sunday. This is why we need to repeat this ordinance for ourselves again and again.

It is the only ordinance that we repeat for ourselves again and again. We are baptized only once for ourselves. We go to the temple and are endowed only once for ourselves. We get sealed in the temple only once. But the sacrament, we ought to partake weekly. The reason is that it is another tool that the Lord is providing for us that we can use to retain a remission of our sins.

Remember the first principles and ordinances of the gospel are faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, repentance, ordinances. But if you have been baptized, the sacrament. That’s how you complete the circle. Faith, repentance, ordinance. That’s why we repeat.

I can be talking two or three more hours about this doctrine. I’d like to bear my testimony to you, my dear brothers and sisters, that the gospel is the gospel of joy. The Church is an association of imperfect human beings, of sinners. That is why we come to church, to become clean, to become holy and pure. And that is the battle of life. This is why we came to this earth—to prove, to show Heavenly Father we want to become like Him.

I know that He lives. I know that what I have taught this morning is the doctrine of Jesus Christ. I haven’t said anything of my own reasoning. It is what I have read in the scriptures. It is the doctrine of forgiveness. It is the hope. It is the blessing—an eternal blessing that we can enjoy daily, if we have a repentant attitude towards life. I leave you my love. May the Lord bless you, my dear brothers and sisters, in all your desires and dreams. Dream big. He will bless you. Keep studying, because the Lord will use you in His kingdom. In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.


Bio

Elder Alin Spannaus currently serves in the Fifth Quorum of the Seventy. He was called as a member of the Seventh Quorum of the Seventy of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints on March 31, 2012. He had been serving as president of the Mexico Cuernavaca Mission prior to his call as an Area Seventy.

Elder Spannaus received a bachelor’s degree in 1987 from the University of Buenos Aires and a master’s degree from Brigham Young University in 1992. He began his career at Black and Decker where he later became general manager. He also worked as general manager for Alcan.

Elder Spannaus has served in numerous Church callings, including full-time missionary in Bahia Blanca Argentina Mission, bishop, stake president, and president of the Mexico Cuernavaca Mission.

Alin Spannaus was born in San Martin De Los Andres, Argentina. He married Andrea Veronica Muñoz in October 1992. They are the parents of two daughters. Elder and Sister Spannaus reside in Salt Lake City, Utah.

Elder Netzahualcoyotl Salinas

31 Oct. 2017

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Why do we Keep the Commandments?

by Elder Salinas

How wonderful it is to be here with you. I am so happy. I feel it is a great privilege for me to talk to you, and I need to tell you that I admire you. I remember my time when I was in college. My first degree, in fact, was a college degree as an elementary school teacher. And then I went on a mission, and then when I came back I finished my second one in industrial relationships. So I know very well studying and being in your position and facing your challenges and enjoying the life in this time and age of your life.

Thank you, President Kusch, for everything. Thank you to the choir; it was great. I need to find another word. It was perfect—magnificent. Thank you very much; you did very well.

The next thing I need to tell you is I love you very much. I went to the temple last Friday, and I included your names [on the prayer roll]—like, “LDSBC students.” I don’t know if that is correct or not, but I think the Lord approved. And I prayed and fasted, trying to be well-prepared for this opportunity.

Maybe you need to know something about my name. My name is Netzahualcoyotl. Netzahualcoyotl is an Aztec name. It was a king, a very popular king, in Mexico City area, where the airport in Mexico City was, that was the kingdom of Netzahualcotl. In fact, the largest city in the whole country is Netzahualcotl City. It is part of the metropolitan area from Mexico City. In English, my name means “fasting”—no eating— “fasting coyote.” So, my name in English is “Fasting Coyote Salinas.” Yes, I have a talk, too, to share.

I would really like to start by sharing my testimony. Do you know, sisters and brothers, the following is all I really know. Other than this, I believe, and I think I know. But this—this following minute is the things I know. I know that Jesus Christ lives. I know He is my Savior. He is my Redeemer. He is my Master, my Shepherd. He is my Lord. He has all the power to save me and save my companion, my dear Vicki. He is going to be up in front of the doors into heaven, and because He has all power, He is going to open that door for Vicki and for me.

He is going to ask Heavenly Father if He could allow us to enter into His presence. I know this is true. For some who have some doubts, or challenges to believe in that, I express my testimony about Him. He is our Savior. He is all my hope. He is all my faith. He is all my love. This is true.

And now, this is my talk. The Lord gave the prophets Lehi and Nephi the following promise: “And he hath said that: Inasmuch as ye shall keep my commandments ye shall prosper in the land; but inasmuch as ye will not keep my commandments ye shall be cut off from my presence” (2 Nephi 1:10, 1 Nephi 2:20).

The promise of prosperity as a consequence of keeping the commandments is in the DNA of the Book of Mormon. It is repeated over and over again throughout all of the book. On at least twenty occasions, we find this promise almost literally described, and many other references are made to it using similar words.

Why did the prophets in the Book of Mormon emphasize the need to keep the commandments so much? One of the possible reasons is perhaps because the land where they lived was set aside to prosper righteous people. In this regard, the people of Jared to whom this land was given as an inheritance, were promised the following: “Behold, this is a choice land, and whatsoever nation shall possess it shall be free from bondage, and from captivity, and from all other nations under heaven, if they will but serve the God of the land, who is Jesus Christ” (Ether 2:12). And that this land was “choice above all other lands, which the Lord God has preserved for a righteous people” (Ether 2:7).

Perhaps a different reason is that keeping the commandments produced an increase in faith and trust in Christ. When we obey the commandments, we receive blessings and we receive them with gratitude, recognizing where they come from. This helps us to have a testimony that the grace of God is sufficient to recompense us for our obedience. This pattern of obedience and blessings undoubtedly produces an increase in trust in the love of Christ and His constant concern for us, and in His power to do whatever is necessary for our progress on earth and in eternity.

The prophet Nephi knew this when he said to his brothers: “Let us go up again unto Jerusalem, and let us be faithful in keeping the commandments of the Lord; for behold he is mightier than all the earth, then why not mightier than Laban and his fifty, yea, or even than his tens of thousands?”

“Now behold, ye know that this is true; and ye also know that an angel hath spoken unto you; wherefore can ye doubt? Let us go up; the Lord is able to deliver us, even as our fathers, and to destroy Laban, even as the Egyptians” (1 Nephi 4: 1,4).

The hope of the blessings promised through observance of the commandments of God is a great catalyst to obedience. Many times, the spark that generates the combustion necessary to move the engine of obedience is to know that there is an eternal law that says: “There is a law, irrevocably decreed in heaven before the foundations of this world, upon which all blessings are predicated—And when we obtain any blessings from God, it is by obedience to the law upon which it is predicated” (D&C 130:20-21).

Furthermore, the Lord declares, “I, the Lord, am bound when ye do what I say; but when ye do not what I say, ye have no promise” (D&C 82:10).

The commandments are requirements to become like God is. They are laws that govern the lifestyle of the celestial kingdom. And when we obey them, we are trained to internalize in our souls the desire to become like the Savior. The power to obey the commandments emanates from the strengthening and refining of our spirits. This happens through the subjection of the natural man through the Holy Ghost, and the grace and purifying power of the Atonement of Jesus Christ.

These two forces guide us to be “willing to submit to all things which the Lord seeth fit to inflict upon [us], even as a child doth submit to his father” (Mosiah 3:19). The Lord has always promised that the consequences of keeping His commandments will be happiness, joy, and peace.

To generate an increase of trust and faith in the Lord through obedience to the commandments, it is necessary that this increase be a product of the exercise of our will. One of the purposes of our lives on earth is to develop our agency in order for us to obey the Father in everything, even in this fallen state away from His presence.

The Lord revealed this purpose to Abraham: “And we will prove them herewith, to see if they will do all things whatsoever the Lord their God shall command them” (Abraham 3:25).

Therefore, showing obedience to the Father is a fundamental element in the eternal purpose of being here on this earth. So, the exercise of our agency is the empowering essence of obedience.

The great moment of truth in obedience to the commandments is when we consciously decide to obey by our own will, without external pressure. Our testimony and ultimately our conversion to the gospel of Christ are a product of what we have deliberately decided to do about what we believe.

As Elder [David A.] Bednar taught, “Continuing conversion is constant devotion to the revealed truth we have received—with a heart that is willing, and for righteous reasons. Knowing that the gospel is true is the essence of a testimony. Consistently being true to the gospel is the essence of conversion. We should know the gospel is true and be true to the gospel” (Bednar, 2012).

There are several reasons why we keep the commandments. Some have to do with the need for the promised blessings. For example, when we pay our tithing for the promise that our home will not be without food. Others are because they have become a lifestyle that we wish to preserve. For example, we go to church on Sunday because our family always has and also because it is a good habit.

Sometimes we also keep the commandments because of the responsibility that we have as a member of the Church. For example, a young man goes on a mission because it is the duty of every 18-year-old young man to serve a full-time mission. Another one is when we obey because of our fear of the consequence of breaking a law. For example, keeping the honor code because if I do not, I will receive academic consequences.

There are also less fortunate reasons. For example, obeying to avoid a disappointing report or because of deadlines. For example—it’s a very human and easy example—a home teacher in the last day of the month trying to do his home teaching visits. Finally, some obey from feeling pressure by others, and want to fit in and be accepted. In other words, we are compelled and forced to obey.

Some of these reasons to obey are good, and others better. No doubt, some of them have served as an incidence of inductive forces to find the truest and most excellent reason to obey, and that is the love of Christ. Obedience for these other reasons, without ever finding the higher purpose of obedience will lead us to become the kind of person we did not really wish to turn out to be.

He or she who obeys because of the promised blessings will become selfish and profit-seeking.

He who obeys as a habit will become indifferent.

He who obeys out of responsibility will become cold and sometimes even bitter.

He who obeys for fear will eventually get tired.

He who obeys to meet deadlines or quotas will see his heart filled with pride.

 He who obeys because of social pressure will become a hypocrite.

He who obeys because he is forced to do so will become, sooner or later, a rebel.

Let us consider Nephi’s example, and that of his brothers Laman and Lemuel. These three sons of Nephi performed their father’s assignments, given to them while in the desert. However, the way in which each one of them obeyed was quite different. While Nephi obeyed because he came to know the Lord, his brothers—if they obeyed at all—did so with doubtful hearts. In each case, the blessings came. The blessings came, because they obeyed. For example, the brass plates, wives to establish families, the Liahona to guide them in the desert, food for their travels, and a ship to take them to the promised land.

In the end, Nephi, Laman, and Lemuel became different types of men. While the first one became a prophet, the others became wild individuals, full of idleness and hate towards their brother and his family. Their obedience was not an assurance that you are going to become a good person.

The following sonnet, written around the middle of the 16th century, attributed to a Spanish Catholic priest, describes in a clear and beautiful way the most profound reason to obey the commandments:

 

I am not moved, my God, to love thee,

By the heaven thou hast promised me.

Nor am I moved by fear of hell,

To cease for that reason to offend thee.

Thou art what moves me, Lord.

It moves me to see thee

Nailed to a cross, and scorned.

It moves me to see thy body

So wounded.

I am moved by the insults and death

That thou endurest.

I am moved in some by love for thee,

And so greatly, that even if there were no heaven,

I would still love thee.

And even if there were no hell,

I will still fear thee.

Thou dost not have to give me anything

To make me love thee,

For even if I did not hope

For what I do hope for,

I would love thee the same

As I do love thee.

 

The highest reason for keeping the commandments is our love for Christ. The Lord declared: “If ye love me, keep my commandments” (John 14:15). In this short but profound declaration, the Lord taught the true reason for keeping the commandments. His invitation to obey for the love of Him describes first, the reason, and also the method. Later, the Savior taught, “He that hath my commandments, and keepeth them, he it is that loveth me.” And “Jesus answered and said unto him, If a man love me, he will keep my words; and my Father will love him, and we will come unto him, and make our abode with him” (John 14:21,23)

Our heart is filled with love when we remember His life and work, bringing to memory the tokens of the infinite love of our Heavenly Father and His Son in the pre-existence. As the apostle John declared: “We love him, because he first loved us” (John 4:19).

Keeping the commandments for love of Christ fills our hearts with gratitude. It gives us joy and peace, empowers our freedom to serve others. It makes us long-suffering with our own challenges and fills us with compassion for the sorrows of others. When we obey, our love for the Savior, the Lord’s sacrifice, becomes something more sublime, more like an offering than an exchange.

Obedience is dressed in devotion and crowned with fervor when it is done out of love. Obedience—true love connects the body and the mind with the heart, and frees the conduit of compassion so that the Spirit clothes and changes us. It is only when we obey for Christ’s sake that doubts, apathy, and indifference to the gospel disappear. It is true with this kind of obedience that we will actually come to know Christ, and increase our confidence in Him and our hope that all will be well, and that our “afflictions [will] be but a [brief] moment.”

For those for whom this challenge of achieving this level of obedience is difficult, I suggest that you look for the answers in the light of Christ. Begin by obeying commandments as a sign of gratitude for how much you have received from God. Listen to the words of the living prophets, and ask for the gift of charity as Mormon advises:

“Wherefore, my beloved brethren, pray unto the Father with all the energy of heart, that ye may be filled with this love, which he hath bestowed upon all who are true followers of his Son, Jesus Christ; that ye may become the sons of God; that when he shall appear we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is; that we may have this hope; that we may be purified even as he is pure” (Moroni 7:48)

May the Lord, my friends—may the Lord help us to obtain this divine gift—the gift of obedience, because we love Christ. In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.


Bio

Elder Netzahualcoyotl Salinas was named a member of the Fourth Quorum of the Seventy of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints on April 6, 2013. Elder Salinas attended Escuela Normal Javier Rojo Gomez where he received a degree in elementary education. He then attended the Instituto Tecnológico de Tlaneplantia where he received a bachelor’s degree in industrial relations.

He has worked for the LDS Church as a planning manager, area materials management manager and an area physical facilities manager in both the Caribbean and Mexico areas. He now works at Church headquarters in Salt Lake City in the Self-Reliance Department, focused on global strategic partnerships.

Elder Salinas has served in numerous Church callings, including full-time missionary (Mexico Monterrey Mission), stake president’s counselor, bishop, institute teacher, high councilor, and president for the México Mérida Mission.

Netzahualcoyotl Salinas Villazaes was born in Matamoros, Tamaulipas, México. He married Victoria Ochoa Pimentel in October 1989. They are the parents of five children. Elder and Sister Salinas reside in North Salt Lake, Utah.

Elder Quentin L. Cook

28 Nov. 2017

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His Paths Are Righteous

by Elder Quentin L. Cook

Mary and I are grateful to be with you wonderful young adults and President and Sister Kusch.  At his inauguration President Kusch emphasized priorities, choices, and actions consistent with what the Lord desires that you would achieve and become.  Based on that I have chosen as the title for my remarks, "His Paths Are Righteous." This is taken from 2 Nephi: 9, which contains absolutely incredible instruction for young adults. There are admonitions about learning, wisdom, wealth, labor, refusing to see or hear the consequences of sin, and profound doctrine about the atonement of Jesus Christ.

My emphasis will be on the paths of righteousness that allow us to report to the Holy One of Israel, 'the keeper of the gate,' who "employeth no servant there."

When I was approximately your age, I had some incredible experiences which helped me understand and choose a path of righteousness. I gained a testimony of the Book of Mormon as an additional witness of the Savior and Joseph Smith, as a prophet of God.  That does not mean I did not have some challenges to faith from time to time.

I can remember one, before my mission, where humor was used to disparage the Book of Mormon.  An American Literature professor, quoted Mark Twain’s pronouncement in Roughing It, that if you took… ‘and it came to pass’ out of the Book of Mormon, it…’would have been only a pamphlet.’ We all laughed because it was meant to be humorous, but I could see that his comment created doubt in some of my classmates.

It was interesting to me a few months later while serving a mission in London, England, that another professor, a distinguished Oxford-educated teacher at London University, took exactly the opposite position.  Dr. Sarofim, an Egyptian by birth, and an expert in Semitic languages, read the Book of Mormon which he had discovered in an unusual fashion and sent a letter to President David O. McKay asking if he could join the Church.  President McKay referred him to the British Mission home, in London.  Dr. Sarofim met with the missionaries and said he had an intellectual testimony of the validity of the Book of Mormon because he was convinced that it was indeed a translation of the learning of the Jews and the language of the Egyptians for the periods described in the Book of Mormon.  One of the many examples he used was the conjunctive phrase ‘and it came to pass’ which he said mirrored how he would translate phraseology used often in ancient Semitic writings.  The professor was informed that while his intellectual approach based on his profession had helped him, it was still essential to have a spiritual testimony.  Through study and prayer, he gained a spiritual witness and was subsequently baptized.  So, what one famous humorist saw as an object of ridicule a scholar recognized as profound evidence of the truth of the Book of Mormon, which was confirmed to him by the Spirit.

Dr. Sarofim’s true account is interesting, but I would suggest the best approach for gaining a testimony is to immerse yourselves in the Book of Mormon so you can experience the ongoing witness of the Spirit.

The essential doctrine of agency requires that a testimony of the restored gospel must be based on faith rather than external or scientific proof.  Obsessive focus on things not yet fully revealed such as: how the virgin birth or the resurrection of the Savior could have occurred; or exactly how Joseph Smith translated our scriptures will not be efficacious or yield spiritual progress.  These are matters of faith.  Ultimately Moroni’s counsel to read and ponder and then ask God in all sincerity of heart and with real intent to confirm scriptural truths by the witness of the Spirit is the answer.  In addition, when we inculcate into our lives scriptural imperatives and live the gospel, we are blessed by the Spirit and taste of His goodness with feelings of joy, happiness, and especially peace.

The attacks on the Prophet Joseph have been unrelenting from the very beginning.  This continues to our day.  Let’s review just a few facts to put Joseph in true perspective.  He was foreordained to be the prophet of the restoration in this the final dispensation.  In other words, to restore the church Jesus Christ established in the meridian of time. 

To accomplish this, he not only had marvelous visions and visitations from God the Father and Jesus Christ, but also from Moroni, Peter, James, John, John the Baptist, Moses, Elias, Elijah, and others.  All the doctrine and priesthood keys necessary to accomplish the Lord’s purposes were restored through the Prophet Joseph Smith.  Essential doctrines, such as the plan of happiness, including salvation and exaltation, were also restored.  Sacred ordinances were revealed for each step of the righteous pathway whereby we can return to our heavenly destination. 

We could speak for hours about the Prophet Joseph’s qualities, character, and accomplishments.  I am particularly impressed with the way he was an instrument in the Lord’s hand in bringing forth sacred scripture.  He commenced translation of the Book of Mormon on April 7, 1829, and finished in late June 1829, an unbelievably short period of time.  But he was an instrument – not the author.  As he said, he translated it by the gift and power of God.  Displayed on the left hand side of the screen is one page of the original Book of Mormon manuscript covering part of First Nephi.  On the right hand side is the same page from the printer’s manuscript in Oliver Cowdery’s handwriting.  You may have read that philanthropic contributors purchased this manuscript last month for 35 million dollars on behalf of the Church.  In the Churches’ view, they are both priceless.

As you can see both manuscripts are very old and hard to read on the screen. Both are on display in the Church History Museum.  I would encourage you to visit the Foundations of Faith exhibit located in the research room of the Church History Library, where you can view both of these documents and other precious materials of the Restoration.

You will note that neither of the manuscripts is divided into chapters or verses, but there are almost no cross-outs or insertions.  It looks like a few periods were added to the printer manuscript, but they read today, in The Book of Mormon, as they read then. 

Speaking of the translation process, Oliver Cowdery said, “These were days never to be forgotten – to sit under the sound of a voice dictated by the inspiration of heaven…”  I loved the fact that President Kusch echoed these words in his inaugural address.

Each of the scribes reported that when they would go to lunch and return the Prophet Joseph would begin dictating without looking or having read to him what he had dictated before lunch.  As a former lawyer, who has done a lot of drafting, it is clear that Joseph was an instrument in the Lord’s hand – not the author.

The testimonies of leaders who worked with and knew the prophet are inspiring.

Wilford Woodruff speaking of Joseph Smith in relation to Zion’s Camp said this: “We gained an experience that we never could have gained in any other way.  We had the privilege of beholding the face of the prophet, and we had the privilege of traveling a thousand miles with him, and seeing the workings of the Spirit of God with him, and the revelations of Jesus Christ unto him and the fulfillment of those revelations.” (Deseret News, 22 Dec., 1869, 543.)

President Woodruff, near the end of his life in his ninety-first year, bore this witness into an Edison gramophone. This recording was done in 1897. It is very old and a little hard to hear.  But it is Wilford Woodruff and you can listen and read the words.

“I bear my testimony that Joseph Smith was a true prophet of God, ordained of God to lay the foundation of His Church and Kingdom in the last dispensation and fullness of times.  I bear my testimony that in the early Spring of 1844 in Nauvoo, the Prophet Joseph Smith called the Twelve Apostles together and he delivered unto them the ordinances of the Church and the Kingdom of God; and all the keys and powers that God had bestowed upon him he sealed upon our heads.  He told us that we must round up our shoulders and bear off His Kingdom or we would be damned.  I am the only man now living in the flesh who heard that testimony from his mouth, and I know this is true by the power of God manifest through him.”

I never cease to be amazed at all the Prophet Joseph Smith received from the Lord.  Throughout my life I have discovered amazing teachings on which I had not previously focused, even in a life-time study of the gospel.  One of these, which has been of recent interest for me is the Prophet’s teaching on the return of the tribe of Judah to Israel.  The Jewish people had been scattered among the Gentile nations and very few lived in the Holy Land.

In the dedicatory prayer of the Kirtland Temple on March 27, 1836, a prayer given to the Prophet Joseph by revelation, it states:

62 We therefore ask thee to have mercy upon the children of Jacob, that Jerusalem, from this hour, may begin to be redeemed;

63 And the yoke of bondage may begin to be broken off from the house of David;

64 And the children of Judah may begin to return to the lands which thou didst give to Abraham, their father.

On April 6, 1840, the Prophet appointed Apostle Orson Hyde to dedicate the Holy Land.  That assignment contained the following statement: “The Jewish nation have been scattered abroad among the Gentiles for a long period; and, in our estimation, the time of the commencement of their return to the ‘holy land’ has already arrived.”

Orson Hyde, on October 21, 1841, arrived in the Holy Land and said: “My natural eyes, for the first time, beheld Jerusalem.”  In Orson Hyde’s beautiful prayer on Sunday morning, October 24th he dedicated and consecrated the land “for the gathering together of Judah’s scattered remnants….”

Seventy-six years later the first step in the creation of modern Israel occurred.  The British had wrested the Holy Land from the Ottoman Empire.  Lord Arthur James Balfour, Britain’s foreign secretary, issued what is known as the Balfour Declaration.  It begins: “His Majesty’s Government view with favor the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people.”  The declaration was sent to Lord Walter Rothschild, a leader of the Zionist Jewish community.  It should be noted that the declaration included the language: “…nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine.”  (End quote) This is consistent with the position the Church has always taken.

This month was the 100th anniversary of that declaration on November 2.  A dinner was held commemorating the event hosted by third generation family members of Lord Balfour and Lord Rothschild.  Britain Prime Minister Theresa May and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu also attended the banquet.

Because Orson Hyde had dedicated the land 76 years before the declaration, New York Jewish leaders invited Elder Jeffrey R. Holland and myself to Israel a year ago to celebrate the 175th year of Orson Hyde’s dedication.  They wanted Prime Minister Netanyahu to be aware of that seminal event.  Senator Joseph Lieberman and former New York Attorney General Robert Abrams arranged a meeting with Prime Minister Netanyahu where we were greeted warmly.  After Abrams and Lieberman informed Netanyahu of the commemoration, he with a big smile on his face said, “I have known about that for 25 years.  My pollster, Richard Wirthlin, a Latter-day Saint, told me about that 25 years ago.”

Everyone laughed.   

In all seriousness, it is my desire and prayer for each of you to have a testimony of the prophetic role of Joseph Smith.

Even when you do have a testimony there is still the question of what choices you make in this life.

First, the path you choose matters. Elder Marion D. Hanks, who was my mission president, introduced me to a special message from Harry Emerson Fosdick - a great Protestant teacher who said:

"The tragic evils of our life are so commonly unintentional.  We did not start out for that poor, cheap goal.  That aim was not in our minds at all…That's why the road to hell is always paved with good intentions, and that is why I am not celebrating high ideals, lofty aims, fine purposes, grand resolutions, but am saying instead that one of the most dangerous things in the world is to accept them and think you believe in them; and then neglect the day-by-day means that lead to them.  Ah, my soul, look to the road you are walking on!  He who picks up one end of a stick picks up the other. HE WHO CHOOSES THE BEGINNING OF A ROAD CHOOSES THE PLACE IT LEADS TO.  It is the means that determines the end."

It isn't just the paths that lead to evil we need to avoid.  In 2 Nephi 9:51 we are instructed, “…do not spend money for that which is of no worth, nor your labor for that which cannot satisfy."

In other words choose paths that will lead to righteousness.

Second, day-to-day consistent effort is better than occasional heroic effort. Some of us are sure that if we were asked to perform some great heroic task, we would be terrific. Yet we have trouble getting up in time for our earliest Sunday meeting or completing home or visiting teaching.  A familiar scripture illustrates this principle.  In 2 Kings:5; Naaman, captain of the host of the king of Syria, had leprosy. An Israelite maid to his wife told her mistress that the Prophet Elisha could heal Naaman. The king of Syria sent a small fortune to the king of Israel who was terrified because he knew he could not cure the leprosy. Elisha sent a message to the king of Israel saying, "Let him come now to me, and he shall know there is a prophet in Israel."

Naaman came and stood at the door of Elisha, and Elisha sent a messenger to direct him to wash in the river Jordan seven times, and he would be healed.  Naaman was wroth; he felt that Elisha would at least come out and call on the name of God.  He also believed that there were better rivers than Jordan.  So he went away in a rage.

Naaman's servants then asked him, "...if the prophet had bid thee do some great thing, wouldest thou not have done it? Then went he down, and dipped him seven times in Jordan ...and his flesh came again like unto the flesh of a little child, and he was clean."

At the conclusion of my October General Conference talk, I used the last line of part of a poem by Edmund Vance Cooke which illustrates this principle:

   "O one might reach heroic heights

   By one strong burst of power.

   He might endure the whitest lights

   Of heaven for an hour.

   But harder is the daily drag...

   To smile at trials ...

   And not to murmur -nor to lag.

   The test of GREATNESS IS THE WAY

   ONE MEETS THE ETERNAL EVERY DAY."

I am grateful to Elder Hanks and others for having been such an influence on me and commend these principles to you. They were taught powerfully fifty years ago and may be even more important today.

Not all decisions you will face are between good and evil.  Many need to be approached using the counsel Elder Dallin H. Oaks gave in his inspired sermon on 'Good, Better, and Best'.  Even the difference between good and best can be profound.

To illustrate this point I will share an experience that occurred when I was in my mid-twenties that had a profound impact on me. This involved two funerals of two good men that took place only a few days apart.  The account is true, but I have changed the names and purposely have been a little vague about a few of the facts.

I have decided to call one Rich and the other Faithful. Those two funerals are cemented in my mind because they clarified the significance of the choices all people have before them, especially the young. They also demonstrate the complexity of good, better, and best.

Both Rich and Faithful served missions as young men. By all accounts they were dedicated missionaries. Neither of them had the financial resources to complete college.  From that point, their lives began to diverge.  Rich married a beautiful girl who over time became less active in the Church.  Faithful married an equally beautiful girl who was completely active in the church. More than any other factor, this framed the remaining decisions of their lives.

Rich had wonderful people skills and cared a great deal about people. He began employment with a major U.S. corporation and ultimately became president of that company. He had a very large income and lived in a beautiful large home set on spacious grounds. That is why I decided to call him Rich. It would be fair to say that his career choices were not just good or better, but were the best.

His family and Church choices were not so good.  He was a very good man and did not engage in personal choices that were in and of themselves evil. However, his family choices and influence with his children were focused almost exclusively on education and employment.

Rich and his wife had also become less active.  He always considered himself LDS and was proud of his mission, but he did not attend Church. 

His funeral was held at a non-denominational chapel at the cemetery. There were many top executives and dignitaries at the funeral, including the governor of the state where he lived.  Almost everyone was over the age of 50. It was, on the whole, a somber funeral and basic principles of the Plan of Happiness were not taught and little was said of Jesus Christ.

Turning to Faithful, his employment decisions were far less successful. His initial efforts at a small independent business were thwarted when the business burned, and he lost everything.  He subsequently created a small business but could barely make his required payments.  He had a small, but adequate home.  He enjoyed his work and his interaction with people.  His career was "good" and certainly satisfactory, but not distinguished or what might be called best.

His family and Church choices, on the other hand, were absolutely the best.  He and his wife were completely active in the Church. He served as called and attended the temple frequently.  He had wonderful relations with his children and grandchildren. They were all well-educated, but his main emphasis had been on family and Church. He was a faithful tithe payer. In his retirement, he and his wife served a mission together. He had numerous ward callings, served on a high council, and was a Patriarch in the last years of his life.

His funeral was large and I would say joyful. The services were held in the ward building and it was a great example of an LDS funeral.  The Plan of Happiness was taught, and the Savior was at the center of the service. The vast majority of those attending were young people, including large numbers of grandchildren and those he had served or to whom he had given patriarchal blessings.

What was most important to me about the lives I just described, is that I realized the choices that are most significant can be made by everyone regardless of their talents, abilities, opportunities, or economic circumstances.  I realized that for me, my future children, and everyone I would have the opportunity to influence—putting family, Church, and the Savior first was essential.

This is clear throughout the scriptures.  I think of 1 Nephi 2:4, Lehi, "...departed into the wilderness and he left his house, and the land of his inheritance, and his gold, and his silver, and his precious things, and took nothing with him, save it were his family…”

As we face the difficulties of life, many events occur over which we have little or no control.

On matters of principle, matters of conduct, religious observance, and righteous living, we are in control. Our faith in and worship of God the Father and his Son Jesus Christ is a choice that we make.  

Elder Neal A. Maxwell quoting from William Law, an 18th century English clergyman, has stated this in a most succinct fashion:

“If you have not chosen the Kingdom of God, it will make in the end no difference what you have chosen instead.”

Please understand I am not advocating in reciting the true account of Rich and Faithful for less interest in goals relating to education or occupation.  Quite the contrary, I believe you young people should do everything you can to advance your accomplishments in these two areas.  What I am saying is that when goals relating to education and occupation are elevated to a position superior to the family, the Church, and a testimony of the Savior, the unintended consequences can be significantly adverse.

The most important meeting that each of us will have on the other side of the veil is with the Savior. Regardless of whom our ancestors are and whether we are rich or poor, we will report on our compliance with the commandments we have been given.  We should live so we can look forward to meeting the Savior.

In 2 Nephi 9:41 it reads:  “... the keeper of the gate is the Holy One of Israel; and he employeth no servant there; and there is none other way save it be by the gate; for he cannot be deceived, for the Lord God is his name."

We need to be humble and sufficiently repentant to qualify for the Savior's mercy. None of us can return to God by our own good works alone without the benefit of the Savior's grace.

All of us have sinned, and it is only through the Savior’s atonement that we can obtain mercy and live with God. I testify of the reality of the atonement and the divinity of the Savior.  I am one of His witnesses.  I am a sure witness.  I know that He lives.

In conclusion, I invoke a special blessing upon you young people.  As you stay on the path of righteousness with a focus on the Savior and follow His example, you will feel the Spirit in your lives, and because of His atoning sacrifice, you will have the peace, happiness, and joy that you desire.  In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.


Bio

Elder Quentin L. Cook was sustained as a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints on 6 October 2007.  Called as a General Authority in April 1996, he served in the Second Quorum, the First Quorum, and the Presidency of the Seventy.

He previously served in the Area Presidency in the Philippines, as president of the Pacific Islands and the North America Northwest Areas, and as Executive Director of the Missionary Department.

At the time of his call to be a General Authority of the Church, he was vice chairman of Sutter Health System.  He had previously served as president and chief executive officer of a California health care system. Prior to that, he was a business lawyer and managing partner of a San Francisco Bay Area law firm.

He is a native of Logan, Utah, received a bachelor’s degree in political science from Utah State University, and a Doctor of Jurisprudence from Stanford University.

He has served the Church as a full-time missionary in the British Mission and as a bishop, stake president in the San Francisco California Stake, Regional Representative, and Area Authority in the North America West Area.

He married Mary Gaddie in November 1962. They are the parents of three children and have 11 grandchildren.

Elder Scott D. Whiting

07 Nov. 2017

Video

Audio

Transcript

The Power of Pondering

by Elder Scott D. Whiting

Good morning, my dear brothers and sisters. I am honored to be with you today and so very grateful that I have received this assignment from the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. I congratulate President Kusch on his recent appointment as president of the LDS Business College. I know that he will bless you with his leadership just as you will bless him with your righteous examples.

I have pondered much about what I should speak on today and while engaged in that process I had the distinct impression that I should speak about that very process—that is, pondering and the power that comes to us when we ponder over sacred things.

Pondering is a spiritual principle that is often spoken of in scripture and by prophets, seers, and revelators, but I have learned that not many of us know how to ponder or how to do so with the degree of effectiveness that will unlock the desired results. It is my hope that I may be able to help you learn to develop this gift.

Let’s begin by considering what pondering is. The dictionary defines the word “ponder” in the following ways:

“to weigh in the mind, to think about and reflect on”, and “to think or consider quietly, soberly and deeply” (“Ponder.” Merriam-Webster.com. Merriam-Webster, n.d. Web. 4 Oct. 2017).

Another word used as a synonym is the word “meditate.”

From my own experience, I have learned that pondering is an active process that requires discipline, focus, and persistence. Learning to ponder requires practice and through practice, you can come to learn of the power that comes from pondering.

Elder Marvin J. Ashton taught that, “pondering is a progressive mental pursuit. It is a gift to those who have learned to use it” (Marvin J. Ashton, October 1987 General Conference, There are Many Gifts).

By way of contrast, the opposite of pondering is “wandering”. The dictionary defines “wandering” as “losing normal mental contact, and straying in thought” (“Wander.” Merriam-Webster.com. Merriam-Webster, n.d. Web. 4 Oct. 2017). Something that will likely happen to most of you as my talk progresses this morning.

Even though these are opposite actions, I have learned that there is a fine line that separates pondering and wandering. Perhaps you have had experiences like me when you are trying to ponder only to find your mind seemingly a million miles away from what you intended to think deeply about.

The scriptures are filled with rich and helpful examples of both how to ponder and the power that comes from pondering. First, let’s look at some examples of how others have successfully used pondering as a spiritual tool.

In the last section of the Doctrine and Covenants, President Joseph F. Smith gives us a great account of the pondering process he used to receive the comforting and instructive revelation on our kindred dead. Listen to the description he gives in Section 138:

On the third of October, in the year nineteen hundred and eighteen, I sat in my room pondering over the scriptures; (Doctrine & Covenants 138:1).

And, reflecting upon the great atoning sacrifice that was made by the Son of God for the redemption of the world (Doctrine & Covenants 138:2).

While I was thus engaged, my mind reverted to the writings of the Apostle Peter… (Doctrine & Covenants 138:5).

So, what do we learn about the process of pondering from these scriptures? I have identified four steps? First, he sat in his room. Now that may not sound like a very important part of the process. However, please consider how many times you have “sat in your room” with no music, no television or any other distractions? Just you, alone, in your room. (I’m sorry, but lying on your bed doesn’t count.) By sitting in his room, President Smith set the stage for the commencement of the pondering process. He eliminated distractions and created a sacred space where he could think deeply about sacred things. Interestingly, Nephi also included sitting as part of his pondering process. In first Nephi, chapter 11 verse 1 it reads, “For it came to pass after I had desired to know the things that my father had seen, and believing that the Lord was able to make them known unto me, as I sat pondering in mine heart I was caught away in the Spirit of the Lord,…” Apparently, sitting is a good start to this process.

The second step, after he prepared the time and the environment, was to begin the pondering process by thinking deeply over the scriptures he had read. Involving scripture in the process of pondering is a crucial step. It connects us with Heaven and the powers available through that connection. All too often we tend to approach our scripture reading as a task that needs to be completed quickly so that we can move on to other studies or activities. It is as though we have a checklist in our heads and daily scripture reading is merely one more box to be ticked. Perhaps we have a hurried and undisciplined scripture study.  From personal experience, I know that my learning from the scriptures is greatly enhanced if I slow down and think deeply upon what I am reading. As an example, when I read the Book of Mormon I like to ask myself questions as I am reading. Knowing that this book was written for our day, I ask, “what application does this scripture have for me?” or, “why did a loving Heavenly Father include this verse or story among others that were not included?” And, “What am I to learn from this?” Asking these questions is how I “liken all scripture unto [myself]” (1 Nephi 19:23,24). I even like to insert myself into the stories of the Book of Mormon and wonder how I would have responded if I had been present. Would I have murmured like Laman and Lemuel or moved forward with faith like Nephi, Sam and Jacob? Would I have lamented the breaking of Nephi’s bow or been a problem solver and fashion a new bow and arrow to provide my family?” Would I have helped Nephi build a ship, or mocked him for thinking that he could do so? The questions truly go on and on.

Slowing down and thinking more deeply about what I am reading has helped me develop a greater ability to ponder. Recently, I have been focusing my daily Book of Mormon study on a specific Christ-like attribute that I would like to obtain. I am finding that by reading deliberately and with a specific purpose rather than a goal to just “finish,” I am seeing the familiar passages of the Book of Mormon with new eyes. I am seeing and understanding things that I have not seen nor understood before. By seeing new things, it is helping me think more deeply about the doctrine and principles being taught, which then leads me to greater insights on how to apply what I am learning in my daily life. All of this is hopefully, helping me to develop attributes of Jesus Christ which will help me to more fully know Him and his character.

President Howard W. Hunter counseled us this way, “We should not be haphazard in our reading but rather develop a systematic plan for study. There are some who read to a schedule of a number of pages or a set number of chapters each day or week. This may be perfectly justifiable and may be enjoyable if one is reading for pleasure, but it does not constitute meaningful study. It is better to have a set amount of time to give scriptural study each day than to have a set amount of chapters to read. Sometimes we find that the study of a single verse will occupy the whole time” (Howard W. Hunter, “Reading the Scriptures,” Ensign, Nov. 1979, 64). Have you ever had the experience of spending your whole scripture study on just one verse? Perhaps that is difficult to imagine, but as you develop the gift of pondering you will have such experiences from time to time and it will be most gratifying.

The third step used by President Joseph F. Smith was to reflect upon the teachings and doctrine of God. In this case it was the atonement of Jesus Christ. Is there any topic more important to truly think deeply about than the saving sacrifice of Jesus Christ? I know that there is much that we cannot understand about this greatest event in history, but we can certainly come to know Him and more fully appreciate the selfless sacrifice of our Savior by reflecting and thinking deeply about what He has done for us. Perhaps you can begin to practice pondering during your weekly sacrament meetings when you will sit in a room and hear scripture in the form of the prayers offered over the emblematic bread and water and then reflect upon the atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ. Learning to develop the gift of pondering will truly enhance your Sabbath day experience and bring deeper meaning to the sacred ordinance of the sacrament.

The young boy, Joseph Smith, also teaches us the importance of reflecting on scripture when he shares that he “reflected on [the powerful words in James 1:5] again, and again” (Joseph Smith—History 1:12).

The fourth step is to engage. President Smith’s use of this word furtherer teaches us that pondering is not a passive activity. The word engage is a word of affirmative action. We must engage our minds in the process to gain its accompanying power and benefits. You will notice that while he was “engaged,” his mind “reverted,” (Doctrine & Covenants 138:5) or returned, to the writings of Peter. Oftentimes when we ponder we are led to other scripture that helps answer, deepen, or clarify our thoughts and questions. “Reverting” or being lead to other scripture, or reflections on sacred things should not be confused with wandering. As we learn to effectively ponder, we will often times be directed to other doctrines and principles that build upon each other. This is part of learning “line upon line, precept upon precept” (2 Nephi 28:30) which is spoken of so many times in the scriptures. It is through this process that we bring the gospel of Jesus Christ more deeply into our hearts thereby deepening our conversion.

So, in review what do we learn from President Smith’s experience about the process of pondering?

First, we sit in our room. We need to prepare a quiet place free from distractions.

Second, we read scripture with the desire to learn from them, rather than to just finish, by thinking deeply about what we are reading.

Third, we reflect upon what we have read and think about it again and again

And, fourth, we engage our minds in an active process.

Now, what then, is the power that comes from this process? Again, we turn to President Smith’s experience where he shares that “as [he] pondered over the things which are written [in scripture], the eyes of [his] understanding were opened, and the Spirit of the Lord rested upon [him],” (Doctrine & Covenants 138:11) and he received revelation. Clearly, the power that comes from pondering is the power to receive revelation. (It should be noted, that as President of the Church, Joseph F. Smith received revelation for the Church and the world on that day. Our revelation will be appropriately limited to the sphere of our area of assigned stewardship, whether it be personal, family or our own callings) (Doctrine & Covenants 28:2,7). As Elder Ashton taught, “By pondering, we give the Spirit an opportunity to impress and direct…If we use the gift to ponder we can take [the] eternal truths [in the scriptures] and realize [through personal revelation] how we can incorporate them in our daily lives” (Marvin J. Ashton, October 1987 General Conference, “There are Many Gifts”).

While pondering, Joseph F. Smith received timely and comforting revelation for the Church and the world when he saw the great vision concerning the Savior’s visit to the spirits of the dead while His body was yet in the tomb. (To more fully understand the importance of this revelation at this time, it should be noted that World War I was raging, and the influenza epidemic had started to spread across the land. Many families were mourning the loss of loved ones, including President Smith who, ill himself, suffered the loss of his eldest son earlier in the year to an illness)( Robert L. Millet, “The Vision of the Redemption of the Dead (D&C 138),” in Sperry Symposium Classics: The Doctrine and Covenants ). In this vision, the prophet saw “an innumerable company of the spirits of the just who had been faithful in the testimony of Jesus while they lived in mortality” (Doctrine & Covenants 138:12). He saw “Father Adam, the Ancient of Days and father of all, and our glorious mother Eve with her many faithful daughters” (Doctrine & Covenants 138:38,39). He saw Noah (Doctrine & Covenants 138:41), Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Moses (Doctrine & Covenants 138:4) and other prophets of the Old Testament. He saw the prophets of the restoration—Joseph and Hyrum Smith, Brigham Young, John Taylor and Wilford Woodruff (Doctrine & Covenants 138:53). And, perhaps, most comfortingly given the time in which this vision was given, he “beheld that the faithful elders of this dispensation, when they depart from mortal life, continue their labors in the preaching of the gospel of repentance. . ., among those who are in darkness and under the bondage of sin in the great world of the spirits of the dead” (Doctrine & Covenants 138:57).

In chapter 11 of First Nephi, after Nephi “sat pondering,” (1 Nephi 11:1) he was shown not only the dream that his father saw, but also learned the meaning of the symbolic elements in the dream. He was also shown the condescension of God the Father and God, the Son through the birth of Jesus Christ to a “virgin [who] was exceedingly fair” (1 Nephi 11:13, 16-18, 26). He saw the ministry of John the Baptist and the baptism of Jesus (1 Nephi 11:27). He saw the discovery of the promised land (1 Nephi 13:12). The coming forth of the Bible (1 Nephi 20-28), the Book of Mormon (1 Nephi 13:34,35), and “other books” (1 Nephi 13:39). The list of what Nephi saw goes on and on, all because he “was desirous also that he might see, and hear and know of” (1 Nephi 10:17) the things which is father saw,” so, he “sat pondering” (1 Nephi 11:1) in his heart. Is it no wonder that we sing the words, “To Nephi, Seer of olden time, A vision came from God” (“The Iron Rod,” Hymns, no. 274)?

We see that same power of revelation descending upon Helaman’s son Nephi as recorded in Helaman chapter 10. This is after Nephi correctly revealed that the chief judge had just been murdered by his own brother at the judgment-seat (Helaman 8:27). Nephi, perhaps, marveling over what was revealed to him, “went his way towards his own house, pondering upon the things which the Lord had shown unto him” (Helaman 10:2). “. . .As he was thus pondering in his heart, behold, a voice came unto him saying: Blessed art thou, Nephi, for those things which thou has done…” (Helaman 10:3,4). After having been praised of God for his courage and steadiness and for his loyalty in keeping the commandments, he is given this personal promise, “ye shall have power over this people, and shall smite the earth with famine, and with pestilence and destruction.” (Helaman 10:6) And even more significantly, he was given “power that whatsoever ye shall seal on the earth shall be sealed in heaven; and whatsoever ye shall loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven” (Helaman 10:7). In addition to the revelation received, this Nephi was also given other powers of God, that became known to him only after he was ponding in his heart.

One final scriptural example of the power of pondering. This example comes through the Prophet Joseph Smith and Sidney Rigdon. While Joseph and Sydney were “doing the work of translation” of the Bible in the fifth chapter, twenty-ninth verse of John which speaks of the resurrection of the dead, they marveled (Doctrine & Covenants 76:15-18). And then it reads, “while we meditated upon these things, the Lord touched the eyes of our understandings and they were opened, and the glory of the Lord shone round about. And we beheld the glory of the Son, on the right hand of the Father, and received of his fullness” (Doctrine & Covenants 76:19, 20). They were subsequently shown the resurrection of the just and unjust, the redeeming power of the Atonement of Jesus Christ, the plight of Lucifer and those who follow him, and then the glory of the celestial, terrestrial and telestial kingdoms and those who would attain each (Doctrine & Covenants 76). All was revealed because they pondered or meditated over scripture.

My dear brothers and sisters, while these are examples of prophets, please know that the same power of revelation is available to you. You truly can draw upon the powers of heaven. The examples that I shared are certainly instances of extraordinary heavenly visions and communications with heaven-sent messengers. I bear witness that when needed, God still can communicate in such a miraculous way. However, most often that communication, that power of revelation, comes as described in the Doctrine and Covenants where it reads, “I will tell you in your mind and in your heart, by the Holy Ghost, . . .behold, this is the spirit of revelation” (Doctrine & Covenants 8:2, 3). Elder Neal A. Maxwell, commenting on both the means and availability of revelation to us said, “a few of you may still feel that revelation consists only of supernal events like the First Vision, or that revelation is out of your reach, or that it is something so extraordinary that a seemingly ordinary person is not entitled thereto. But you are entitled” (Neal A Maxwell, “Revelation,” Worldwide Leadership Training, Jan. 2003, 5.).

With all of the important life decisions that are ahead of you, surely you feel the need for personal revelation. You may not be given a vision of the eternities, but you will have the Holy Ghost speak “peace to your mind” (Doctrine and Covenants 6:23), or “cause that your bosom shall burn within you” (Doctrine and Covenants 9:8). As you learn to ponder over sacred things you will have your heart and mind open to greater truths of the gospel. It will take practice and patience, but I can bear personal witness that pondering will lead to revelation. This I know to be true for as I have sat in my room and pondered on many occasions, the Spirit has spoken peace to my soul and opened the eyes of my understanding. These personal revelations have been a blessing to me personally, to my family, and to those whom I have had stewardship over.

After Jesus taught the Nephites gathered at the temple in Bountiful, he admonished them to, “go ye unto your homes and ponder upon the things which I have said, and ask the Father, in my name, that ye may understand” (3 Nephi 17:3). And, then, Moroni in his final words to us pleads, “behold, I would exhort you that when ye shall read these things, …ye would remember how merciful the Lord hath been unto the children of men…and ponder it in your hearts” (Moroni 10:3). The admonition to ponder was given to all who gathered at the temple and to all who read the Book of Mormon. The invitation is to all men, women, and even children. Anyone who has come to know, even in the smallest degree, that the Book of Mormon is true, has received revelation. Personal revelation is the common ingredient found in every testimony of the restored gospel of Jesus Christ.

I bear you my witness that the Church is led by the power of revelation today. It is upon this rock that the Church is built. I bear you my witness that there are prophets, seers and revelators on earth today and that President Thomas S. Monson is chief among them. He is the senior apostle on the earth and is authorized to hold and exercise all the keys of the priesthood. I bear witness that Joseph Smith was and is a prophet of God. I know that after reading and reflecting on scripture he was prompted to enter a grove of trees that later we would call “sacred” and that there he saw God the Father and his Son, Jesus Christ. I know that this was the first of many revelations received by him. I know the Book of Mormon to be the word of God. The Holy Spirit has revealed this to me as I have read and pondered over its words. And finally, I bear you my witness that Jesus Christ lives. He is our Savior and Redeemer. This I know. This, too, has been revealed to me by the power of the Holy Ghost. My witness can be your witness through the power of revelation that will come to you when you ponder over sacred things. Of these things I testify, in the sacred name of Jesus Christ, amen.


Bio

Elder Scott D. Whiting was sustained as a General Authority Seventy of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints on March 31, 2012. At the time of his call, he had been serving as a member of the Fifth Quorum of the Seventy in the North America West Area. He has served as the President of the Asia North Area and is currently serving at Church headquarters.

Elder Whiting received a bachelor’s degree in Japanese from Brigham Young University in 1986 and a juris doctor degree from the University of the Pacific McGeorge School of Law in 1990. Most recently, he was employed as the president of Waterhouse, Inc., and he previously worked as the president and CEO of Molokai Ranch.

Elder Whiting has been active in civic affairs, serving as a member of both the Aloha Council and Far East Council executive boards of the Boy Scouts of America and as chairman of the LDS-BSA Relations Committee. He has also served as a member of the Brigham Young University–Hawaii School of Business executive advisory board and the Hawaii Reserves, Inc. board.

Elder Whiting has served in numerous Church callings, including full-time missionary in the Japan Tokyo North Mission, elders quorum president, bishop, stake young men president, high councilor, stake president, and Area Seventy.

Scott and his wife, Jeri, were married in 1984 and are the parents of five children.

Nathan Mitchell

03 Oct. 2017

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Can you Imagine?

by Nathan Mitchell

In old Nauvoo, when the Saints were gathering there—literally by the boatload—Brother Joseph would often be there to greet the new coming saints. He would say to them some pretty audacious things. He would say to them things like, “We’re so glad that you’re here. We were hoping that you would be coming soon. We’ve been waiting for you.”

He would look them right in the eye and say, “We need someone with your abilities for this work.” Such a familiar greeting from a relative stranger must have provoked various reactions. I’m sure many hearts were thrilled, and some were comforted. I imagine that, for some, there was that panic that we feel when someone recognizes us but we don’t recognize them in return. Still for others—I’m sure there must have been a few—that may at first have seemed disingenuous, to receive that kind of greeting. It may have come off a little like a sales pitch.

But if there were any who were initially incredulous or suspicious of his sincerity, those shadows of doubt were soon dispersed by his example. He proved that he was the real thing through his devoted service and his consistent love. That love is one of the Prophet Joseph’s many spiritual gifts.

He was given this gift, and cultivated this gift, to be able to see others the way that God sees them—even his enemies. I want to tell you here today, that I have been praying about you over the past few weeks. I want to share with you an experience that I have had in that process, as I have anticipated our time together.

I don’t consider myself to be a visionary man. To this point in my life, it seems to not have been my gift. But I have been praying about you. I’ve been asking Heavenly Father to show you unto me, or to be more precise, that I might see you, or perceive just a little of your world, your experience, your hearts, and your needs, so that I could know what to share with you that might do us both the most good.

So, although you are relative strangers to me, I admit that I feel a little like Brother Joseph when I tell you that I am so glad that you decided to come here today. I wish that I could look into your eyes individually as he did to those saints, so that you could know it is neither pretense nor platitude when I tell you I was hoping to see you here today, that we need someone with your abilities for this work, and, because God answers prayers, I feel I have a message or two to deliver to you.

In saying that, I want to make clear that I don’t pretend to receive revelation for you. I don’t have that stewardship; it’s not my accountability. That job will be left to you. I’m a sojourner, like you. We are fellow pilgrims, and, for today at least, we share this path together. And it is an honor.

At our house, we love the missionaries. We love to feed the missionaries, and we love to have the missionaries over. We love to hear their stories and their lessons. We’re usually one of the first to know, in our ward, when a transfer happens—because a new missionary will often accidentally tract into our home. It’s a bit of a surprise.

Sometimes when I meet a new elder or sister for the first time, they are surprised to find out that I have what they often call “a real job.” I am, indeed, a counselor by profession. I work in a wilderness treatment center for at-risk adolescents and young adults called Anasazi: The Making of a Walking. At Anasazi, we utilize the wilderness settings and primitive living skills to help families of these youth to address behavioral [challenges].

I’m passionate about the work that we do at Anasazi. Looking back on my journey into that field, I can see that it wasn’t by happenstance that I ended up there. I had a journey of my own, which includes some mental health issues and some learning struggles. Some of them meet diagnostic criteria and some of them don’t. But for a lot of us in that field, we go into it thinking that we can get some access to figuring ourselves out. It hasn’t happened so far; I’ll let you know if it does.

From my youth and into my early adulthood, these struggles, for me, went unrecognized and untreated. I know that some of you here today share in those struggles. For some of you, you are already aware and on the path to recovery. Some of you are not. I know that you suffer, and no one else sees that you suffer. Part of my message for you today is that you don’t need to suffer the way that you are, that there is light and there is help, and there is hope for all of us.

I know that in the depths of that struggle, the darkness can feel almost overwhelming, and we may begin to fear that the light may never come. But as each day dawns, the rising sun repeats its teaching of a powerful and fundamental lesson that we must never forget, and that is that light chases away darkness.

This simple truth is not a mere observation of a natural phenomenon, but more like a law which is applicable to the physical and non-physical aspects of our world and our lives. Sometimes it can be easy to forget this truth. If we have not grown past feeling, or are driven too much to dull and distract our senses, then we may be fortunate enough to notice when we are walking in darkness.

Having made that realization, sometimes we will employ various strategies to get ourselves out of it. Sometimes, we may try to seek the source of that darkness, as though it were a fountain, and if we could plug up that fountain then there would be no more darkness in our lives. Sometimes, noticing there is darkness in our lives, we’ll try to gather that darkness, to sweep it up with a broom, or scoop it up with a shovel, so we can collect it and contain it and get rid of it. And sometimes, we notice that we are walking in darkness, and we’ll try to replace that darkness with something that is just a little bit less dark.

None of these strategies can work, because only light has that power to expel darkness. These strategies can turn out to be like illusions. They can give us the counterfeit feeling of making progress, because there is movement. But we must never confuse movement with actual progress. They are not the same thing.

There is a singular effective formula for ridding one’s life of darkness, and that is by adding light—and not just once. We must seek light and add it to our lives continually. When finding that one is walking in darkness, the wise, observant pilgrim will immediately look for light. The fact that you are here today tells me that you know quite a bit about it already, that you know where to look for light.

Prophets and apostles, both ancient and modern, including this past weekend of general conference, have been teaching and re-teaching us why we must look for light, and how to do it. As a mental health practitioner, I know many Latter-day Saints who have operated under the tragic misunderstanding that we must simply pray our blues away. And if that didn’t work, they surmised that it must be due to a lack of faith or, even more tragic, a lack of worthiness—which only reinforced some of their most destructive beliefs and thoughts.

This is one of the reasons that I find the imagery of light so helpful. When the sun rises, you may notice how freely nature seems to let go of the darkness. It does not resist the light the way we sometimes do. In addition to looking for the light in the usual, Primary-answer type ways, there may be some ways of looking for light that you may not have thought of. I’m not going to spend a lot of time on the Primary answers, because obviously you already know them.

But some of the other ways that you might not have thought of I do want to share with you. Some of these are: developing a sense of wonder and awe and gratitude. President Uchtdorf has spoken extensively, a number of times, about that subject—about being grateful, and cultivating that attitude of gratitude.

One of the other solutions or ways to look for light that you might not have thought of—and I think this is maybe one of the most important—and that is our connection with each other, the community that we share. Whenever we are in darkness, it feels like we are alone. God has placed us on this earth in the midst of others, and given us strict instructions to be one. That’s a powerful step that we can take when we find out that we are walking in darkness, to reach out for help. And not only to reach out for help, but to reach out in service with the aim of connecting to someone else and being useful, being helpful in their journey.

Another way that we are taught sometimes to seek for light and to look for light is taught by Alma. In the fifth chapter of Alma, he reviews a technique for looking for light that I think is pretty intriguing and has helped me to gather light in a way that has really changed my life—which is why I want to share it with you today.

In the fifth chapter of Alma, starting about verse 16—this is after the very famous chapter in Alma, this sermon that he delivers, is full of beautiful doctrine that he delivers. It is going to be very familiar to you, where he talks about having “a mighty change” (Alma 5:13) of heart, where he talks about have you “received his image in your countenances” (Alma 5:14).

In verse 16, he begins by saying, “I say unto you, can you imagine to yourselves that ye hear the voice of the Lord.” This phrase, “can you imagine,” is something that we use quite a lot in our day-to-day conversation, but I suspect that Alma is using it somewhat differently here, because he repeats it a number of times. Can you imagine? Alma is trying to get these people to engage that faculty, that ability that God gave them to simulate this experience. This experience simulator, this imagination of ours, is a powerful tool to help us to understand gospel principles, especially to understand the scriptures and to gather light, to understand those things in our heart. For understanding, after all, happens in the heart. This is a principle that is taught throughout scripture.

I would like to maybe do a little exercise with you today, with that in mind—this idea of trying to imagine more deeply, more fully, as you study the scriptures. Let’s explore a New Testament story to illustrate what I mean. This will be in the 13th chapter of Matthew. He records a pretty well-known story here. This story finds the apostles all gathered together, following and listening to Jesus. They are aboard a boat with the Master, as He is preaching to a group, a multitude that is over on the seashore. So as He is teaching them these things, He teaches them the parable of the sower. This is the part when one of the apostles, after He is finished with the parable, he asks, “Why do you teach to them in parables?”

I want to make sure that I set this up properly, to engage your imagination in the way that Alma talks about. I’m going to go ahead and read some of these verses with you, and I’m going to invite you to ponder a few of these questions, again, with the aim of engaging the imagination in a deeper way that will hopefully lead to some understanding that you haven’t been aware of before. I want you to close your eyes. You can leave off writing notes for a minute. You may catch another moment or two of sleep, but that won’t be quite as useful to you as if you stayed awake. Imagine in your mind’s eye that you are one of these apostles. I just want you to ponder these questions.

Imagine in your mind’s eye that you are one of the apostles on the boat. Depending on which apostle you are, you may be very comfortable on a boat, or you may be very, very uncomfortable. How does the Savior speak, as He addresses you, the apostles, versus the way He speaks to the multitude? How close are you sitting to Him as He speaks? Are you sitting on the deck? On a pile of nets? Are you sitting on some kind of chair? How long have you been sitting there? What is that doing to your body?

Who is sitting next to you? What has your conversation with that person been like that day? What time of day is it? What is the weather like? What are you wearing, and how long have you been wearing it? When was the last time you had something to eat or to drink? What have you been doing that day? Who have you been thinking of? Have you been walking all day? Have you been fishing all day? Where does the Savior look, as He teaches? At which moments does He look at you? Does He hold your gaze, as if to teach you something in specific? Do others in the quorum notice this happening?

In this teaching, Jesus quotes a well-known prophecy from Isaiah. If you are a Jew and chosen to be one of the Twelve, are you familiar with this prophecy? What do you experience as the Savior speaks about this prophecy fulfilled? I’m going to go ahead, with that in mind just sort of pondering and putting you in that place. I’m going to read what Jesus says to the apostles in response to this question, “Why do you speak to them in parables?" (Matthew 13:10).

Starting in verse 11, “He answered and said unto them, Because it is given unto you to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it is not given.

“For whosoever hath, to him shall be given, and he shall have more abundance: but whosoever hath not, from him shall be taken away even that he hath.

“Therefore speak I to them in parables: because they seeing see not; and hearing they hear not, neither do they understand.

“And in them is fulfilled the prophecy of Esaias, which saith, By hearing ye shall hear, and shall not understand; and seeing ye shall see, and shall not perceive:

“For this people’s heart is waxed gross, and their ears are dull of hearing, and their eyes they have close; lest at any time they should see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and should understand with their heart, and should be converted, and I should heal them.

“But blessed are your eyes, for they see: and your ears, for they hear.

“For verily I say unto you, That many prophets and righteous men have desired to see those things which ye see, and have not seen them; and to hear those things which ye hear, and have not heard them" (Matthew 13:11-17).

I wish that we were in a Sunday school class, so that I could see what this experience is like for you, if this sort of deep imagining has had any impact on your understanding of this passage, that hopefully has been familiar to you before today.

I want to close with my testimony. Brothers and sisters, I know that Joseph Smith saw exactly what he said he saw. I know it. I likewise know that each one of us is going to live forever, whether we like it or not. I testify to you of the divine mission of the Savior Jesus Christ, that His mission is always to heal our hearts, to make us one with Him and with His Father, that we can live with Them again. In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.


Bio

Nathan Mitchell is co-executive director for the Anasazi Foundation. He is known for his on-screen performances as Joseph Smith in “Joseph Smith: Prophet of the Restoration,” “Praise to the Man,” “Emma Smith: My Story,” and “Treasure in Heaven: The John Tanner Story.” He portrayed James G. Willie in “17 Miracles” and Simon Peter in “The Life of Jesus Christ” Bible videos.

Nathan earned his master’s degree in mental health counseling from the University of Phoenix and a bachelor’s in fine arts/acting from Brigham Young University.

He enjoys spending time with his wife and four children and is an avid woodworker, hiker and fisherman.

President and Sister Kusch

12 Sep. 2017

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5 Things to Keep You Safe and Secure, and Keep the Companionship of the Holy Ghost

By Sister Alynda Kusch

In July 2006, David Buschow died in the Utah desert. He was a fit, 29-year-old decorated ex-military police officer from New Jersey who had joined 11 other outdoor enthusiasts to “experience the wilderness to the fullest.”

But by day two, Dave was in very bad shape. Desperate for water he was pale and dehydrated, suffering from severe stomach cramps, slurred speech and hallucinations.

After going about 10 hours without a drink, in 100-degree heat, he fell, unconscious, face down in the dirt, less than 100 yards from the goal of the day: A cave with a pool of cool, clear water.

During what had been advertised as a wilderness-survival adventure designed to test physical and mental toughness, Dave and the 11 other hikers were led by expert guides.

The guides were carrying emergency water, but did not offer any to Dave. They wanted him to push himself beyond his known limits and see that he made it to the cave on his own.

Instead, Dave collapsed and died (source: The Guardian, 2007).

To me this story is a tragedy in so many ways:

  • Water was nearby, but Dave did not know it.
  • He was almost to his goal, but didn’t realize it.
  • When he began to be so sick that he could hardly walk and knew, in his own words, “that something was not right,” in his effort to not look weak to the others, he did not ask for help.
  • The guides were either not watching or did not care about what was happening to Dave.
  • At last, when they realized that he was in trouble, it was too late to help him.

But most tragic of all, is that the guides were indeed carrying emergency water, but they choose not offer it to a dying man.

As I have contemplated the events of that day, questions come to my mind: Can this happen to me? Could I find myself spiritually thirsty, even dying spiritually, all the while surrounded by spiritual truth?

Yes. But it doesn’t have to happen to me. There are things I can do to protect myself.

As we make our way on this mortal journey, our great life-long adventure—and more specifically as we begin this new semester at LDSBC—it is possible to have a safe and secure path.

It is possible to have peace and joy as well as confidence that we can be kept from dangerous, spiritual situations and enjoy the peace that the gospel brings.

I tell you today, it is possible to receive help from Heaven in all of your endeavors this semester at school, whether you are far from home, new to college or starting over. The Lord wants to help you.

This morning I offer five things that I have learned that help me remember that being both safe and secure and having the Spirit with me are possible:

1) Build on a foundation of faith in Jesus Christ.

This group of adventure seekers were given instructions that were flawed, led by those who had miscalculated the danger and the result was tragic.

I am grateful to know that I can trust completely in the Savior. He is the source of real truth and light, the giver of perfect love and the provider of a perfect way to have peace and a happy life.

He explained who He is many times: “Behold, I am Jesus Christ, the Savior of the world” (D&C 43:34).
“I am the bread of life; He that cometh to me shall never hunger” (John 6:35).
“He that drinketh of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst” (John 4:14).

Lehi taught us that all mankind would be lost unless they would rely on the Redeemer [who is Jesus Christ] (1 Nephi 10:6).

And Nephi taught us what to do: We “…look forward with steadfastness unto Christ,” having complete faith in him (2 Nephi 25:24).

Having faith in Jesus Christ means relying completely on Him—trusting in His infinite power, intelligence, and love, remembering that He knows us completely and Has experienced our pains, our sicknesses, even our disappointments. Because of this...He knows how to help us perfectly” (True to the Faith, pages 54-56).

Trust in who He says He is. Trust that He can do what He has promised He will do. Trust that He is the truth and the way.

2) Remember that we have true guides, even living prophets.

The group of hikers set-out on what had been advertised as a character-forming adventure and had been told that they would be led by expert guides.

As I read about these adventure guides, I was astounded to discover that they offered life-saving water to two of the other hikers and yet withheld it from the one with the greatest need. I could not help but make the comparison between them and our prophets.

“As members of The Church of Jesus Christ we are blessed to be led by living prophets, inspired men who have been called to speak for the Lord” to all of his children (True to the Faith, pages 148-149).

Or in other words, true guides, watching over us, with all of our welfare foremost on their minds. They would never withhold life-saving spiritual water from anyone, nor leave us to wonder and try to make it on our own.

Our prophets’ messages to us are true and universal. Their counsel applies to not just a few, but to all of us, giving us what we need to navigate safely while on our mortal journey.

General Conference is in less than three weeks, I am anxious to hear from prophets, knowing that I can trust completely in their words and counsel.

3) Love and obey the commandments.

Many years ago, President Kusch and I went to New York to visit the beautiful and very impressive Niagara Falls. The view from the top of the falls is amazing. The power and noise of the water is incredible.

During our visit to the waterfall we were able to travel upriver. What we saw there was very interesting. Not far from the waterfall, just one or two miles, the river was very calm. A person might see this smooth water and believe that they could safely float down the river and enjoy the beautiful sites, not realizing that they were close to danger.

But then, as they heard the waterfall and felt the power of the water pulling them to the edge, it would be too late. They would have reached a point where they could not stop.

In the same way a person on the river relies on signs posted along the banks that warn that, even though they can’t see them, dangerous currents, even a waterfall lie ahead, God’s commandments are so much more than a list of things we cannot do. They protect us from spiritual danger and keep us safe.

I am grateful for and love the commandments of God.

4) Listen to and follow the Holy Spirit.

The constant presence and influence of the Holy Ghost was given to you as a gift when you were confirmed a member of the Church.

From my own experience I can promise you that the Holy Ghost can teach you things in ways that will astound you, and in ways that may surprise you.

We have a very dear friend who was serving as a stake president. He’s an eloquent speaker, and when I hear him give an address, it’s almost like listening to poetry.

He told us of a time years ago when he was giving a talk at stake conference and in his own words said, “I was as waxing very eloquent and was pleased with my talk.”

Following the conference, a woman came to greet our friend and said to him, “President, that was a wonderful talk on tithing.” He replied, “Sister, thank you but my talk was not on tithing.” “Yes it was President, and it was powerful and just what I needed to hear tonight.”

The Holy Ghost had taught this sweet woman the lesson that she prayed she would learn, even though no words were spoken during the meeting relating to that message. That is what the Holy Ghost can do.

I testify to you that this can be your experience this semester, in your classes, devotionals, family home evening and in your church meetings. I invite you to prayerfully come to devotionals with a question in your heart and then write down what you learn from the Holy Ghost during this important and sacred gathering.

5) Decide now to be completely faithful.

Making this decision, to continue moving faithfully forward and persevere, will bless your life in ways you cannot anticipate.

Elder Neal A. Maxwell said in October 1974:

“There are reasons for your commitment to be made now, for as the rush of hours, days, and months grows stronger, the will to commit grows weaker. Events to transpire soon on this planet will dry up the options for the lukewarm…!

“Act now, so that a thousand years from now, when you look back at this moment, you can say this was a moment that mattered—this was a day of determination” (General Conference talk titled: Why Not Now).

Make the decision to be faithful in all things, beginning now.

Our desire for you is to have the most glorious experience this semester, to be successful, safe and happy.

And so, my friends:

  • Have faith in Jesus Christ and believe Him.
  • Remember that living prophets are our true guides.
  • Love and obey the commandments of God.
  • Listen to and follow the Holy Ghost.
  • Make the decision to be faithful, beginning now.

We love you. We pray for you. We’re here to help you.

May the Lord bless you with every worthy desire of your heart is my prayer. In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.

If You Believe All These Things

by President Bruce C. Kusch

Brother and sisters, it is a blessing to be with you today. The beginning of a new semester is always an exciting time and we add our excitement to yours as we begin this season of learning together.

If I were to tell you that the topic of my remarks today was “The Plan of Salvation,” I’d be curious to know what the first thought is that comes to your mind. And, if we were to put them into a word cloud and project them, along with your name, I wonder if it might look something like this? 

In a recent fast and testimony meeting a young woman was talking about her seminary class and mentioned that the topic that day in class was the plan of salvation. She said, “I’ve heard about the plan of salvation thousands of times, so I knew this was one day I didn’t really need to pay attention.” She was followed by a young man who shared his thoughts and said, “Yeah, I was in class that day too and just spent the whole time on my phone.”

My purpose today is not to discuss the plan of salvation in detail; rather to discuss principles, that if applied, will help us recognize the importance of knowing, believing, living and understanding Heavenly Father’s plan for each of His children.

To hear something repeatedly, does not mean we necessarily understand what is being said. You will remember prior to the Savior’s visit to the Americas that the Nephites were gathered at the temple in the land of Bountiful. They heard a voice, but they did not understand it. They heard it a second time and still did not understand. But the third time they heard the voice they opened their ears and their eyes, looking “steadfastly towards heaven,” and only then did they understood.

There is a consistent pattern found in the Book of Mormon of those who are converted to the gospel of Jesus Christ that can be instructive for us. The pattern consists of:

  • Someone is appointed to teach the gospel of Jesus Christ to a large gathering, or sometimes just to one individual, or a small group of individuals
  • Those being taught open their hearts, they listen
  • As they listen, they are taught by the Holy Ghost, and they begin to have understanding, which leads to repentance and a desire to change
  • That understanding and desire to change leads them to believe on Christ, to look to him for a remission of their sins
  • There is a specific feeling that comes to the truly repentant when they experience a remission of sins
  • That feeling and remission of sins brings great joy, peace of conscience, causes a might change of heart, and changes the disposition of the person or people

Listen to these words...

“...the Spirit of the Lord came upon them, and they were filled with joy, having received a remission of their sins, and having peace of conscience, because of the exceeding faith which they had in Jesus Christ...” (Mosiah 4:3)

“...the Spirit of the Lord Omnipotent...has wrought a mighty change in us, or in our hearts, that we have no more disposition to do evil, but to do good continually” (Mosiah 5:2).

“...and they did all declare...the selfsame thing – that their hearts had been changed; that they had no more disposition to do evil” (Alma 19:33).

As we listen with open hearts, the Holy Ghost teaches us, and we come to understand. When we truly understand, it is in that moment we begin to change. But if we never listen with open hearts and look with open eyes, no matter how many times we have heard or seen something, we may never come to understand, and never make the necessary changes in our lives that will bring us closer to God and to the Savior.

I’d like to show you an example of hearing, listening and understanding.

Elder Luciano Zuniga was one of our missionaries who was from a town very close to Mexico City that actually bordered our mission to the north. The mission home was less than an hour from where he was from. Elder Zuniga was an excellent missionary and he had a very unique talent. He could talk really fast. So fast in fact, it was almost impossible to understand him. We used this video to help our missionaries from the United States get an idea of what Spanish was going to sound like when they arrived in their first area.

My guess is that very few of you were able to understand what Elder Zuniga taught – it actually was the plan of salvation in 43 seconds! So, you see, hearing and even listening is not the same as understanding!

You may know about the plan of salvation, but have you given your heart to truly understanding it? Do you truly believe it? Do you pick and choose what you believe? Are you doing the things that truly make you a partaker of the plan? The full blessings of the plan of salvation only come into our lives as we put our trust in the Lord, are diligent in keeping His commandments and continue in faith every single day of our lives.

This does not come without sacrifice. Think on the experience of the father of king Lamoni. After Aaron taught him the gospel, including the plan of redemption the king asked, “What shall I do that I may have this eternal life...? Before he knew the answer to his question he said, “I will give up all that I possess, yea, I will forsake my kingdom, that I may receive this great joy.” Aaron then taught him how he might get an answer to his plea. And, once he understood, he made this bold declaration in prayer to God: “...I will give away all my sins to know thee” (Alma 22:15, 18).

Have you asked yourself the question, “What shall I do that I might have eternal life?” What are you willing to forsake? Are there some sins you think are just too hard to give up right now? Or are there things you know you should not be doing that you actually quite enjoy?  What are you willing to give up to be a partaker of all of the blessings of the plan of salvation and not just the gift of resurrection that everyone born into mortality will receive as a free gift?

King Benjamin admonished us to:

“Believe in God; believe that he is, and that he created all things, both in heaven and in earth; believe that he has all wisdom, and all power, both in heaven and in earth; believe that man doth not comprehend all the things which the Lord can comprehend.

And again, believe that ye must repent of your sins and forsake them, and humble yourselves before God; and ask in sincerity of heart that he would forgive you; and now, if you believe all these things see that ye do them” (Mosiah 4:9-10).

Elder David A. Bednar reminded us that “...what we know is not always reflected in what we do” (October 2009, “More Diligent and Concerned at Home”).

It is possible to know about something but not believe it. It is possible to believe something, but not act on that belief. When what we know is not reflected in what we do, this indicates either a lack of belief or a fundamental lack of understanding.

So, we may know about the plan of salvation and we may even believe much of what we know, but when our actions are not consistent with the doctrine it could very well be that we have not yet “applied our hearts to understanding” (Mosiah 12:27).

Brothers and sisters, a deep knowledge of, belief in, and understanding of the plan of salvation is essential FOR our salvation and exaltation. This knowledge, belief and understanding will inform all of our decisions, it will motivate us to repent and change, which will lead to peace and joy. I don’t believe any of us can afford to “procrastinate the day of our repentance.” 

On Friday, I heard a reporter interviewing a man who lived in the Florida Keys about his plans to remain in his home in spite of the warnings to evacuate. “I’ll be fine,” the man said. “If it’s a category 3 storm it won’t be a problem, but if it’s stronger, then I’ll consider leaving.” This was before the storm’s track changed and category 5 Irma headed straight for the Keys. I do not know if the man had time to leave. 

With the time remaining I would invite us all to apply our hearts to understanding more deeply the essential importance of the plan of salvation in our lives. In the April 2017, General Conference Elder Dallin H. Oaks offered a very succinct description. As I read this, I invite each of you to offer a silent prayer, asking that the Holy Ghost might teach you important things, to strengthen your belief in and deepen your understanding of the plan of salvation. After the devotional, I would invite each of you to dedicate a portion of your personal study time to the plan of salvation, and commit to apply the doctrines in your life.

“As spirit children of God, in an existence prior to mortality, we desired a destiny of eternal life but had progressed as far as we could without a mortal experience in a physical body. To provide that opportunity, our Heavenly Father presided over the Creation of this world, where, deprived of our memory of what preceded our mortal birth, we could prove our willingness to keep His commandments and experience and grow through the other challenges of mortal life. But in the course of that mortal experience, and as a result of the Fall of our first parents, we would suffer spiritual death by being cut off from the presence of God, be soiled by sin, and become subject to physical death. The Father’s plan anticipated and provided ways to overcome all of those barriers.”

As spirit children of God, in an existence prior to mortality, we desired a destiny of eternal life but had progressed as far as we could without a mortal experience in a physical body.

To provide that opportunity, our Heavenly Father presided over the Creation of this world, where, deprived of our memory of what preceded our mortal birth, we could prove our willingness to keep His commandments and experience and grow through the other challenges of mortal life.

in the course of that mortal experience, and as a result of the Fall of our first parents, we would suffer spiritual death by being cut off from the presence of God, be soiled by sin, and become subject to physical death.

The Father’s plan anticipated and provided ways (through the Atonement of Jesus Christ) to overcome all of those barriers.”

President Kusch invited several students to participate in a Q&A. Below is the general transcript of their conversation.

Sacrament

President Kusch: Would you stand please? Here’s the question: The gospel of Jesus Christ is central to the plan of salvation and the Savior is central to His gospel. How has partaking of the sacrament worthily made the plan of salvation more meaningful for you?

Student: Well it is clear that it is real. I don’t have many thoughts about it, just the fact that I know that is has an affect every week that I take it, so that means the Lord’s power is behind it.

President Kusch: Would somebody else like to answer the question?

Student: For me, it is more of a reminder that everything I do every week, every year, should be centered in Christ—that I need to remember that everything in the gospel is centered in Him. And that’s the way I remember that, partaking of His flesh and blood every weekend when I go to church.

President Kusch: Great, Thank you very much.

President Kusch's notes/thoughts: The sacrament focuses us on Christ, helps us overcome being soiled by sin and is one of the provided ways to overcome the barriers created by the fall – suffering spiritual death and being soiled by sin.

The Plan of Salvation

President Kusch: Okay, I’m going to do something that two young men are not expecting, two of our missionaries are here today, Josue and Elliot, would you please stand and answer the next question I’m going to ask? And I also want a young woman that is a return missionary, a sister missionary, to be thinking about this question too.

Here’s the question—As you taught the plan of salvation as missionaries, and you were companions for a while, and you saw your investigators come to understand their divine nature as children of God, and as you bore your testimonies to them, how did that change you?

Josue: I think that the biggest change in my life was to know that everything that I was teaching was also being applied to me as well. For a big part of my life I didn’t realize that the Atonement was for me as well, but once I started seeing the changes in other people, that brought hope into my life to know that it is possible. And when these people were able to change their lives and brighten their future, it really just opened up my mind to all sorts of experiences that allowed me to grow spiritually, allowed me to press forward and to know that Heavenly Father sees us all as His children, and we all have an equal opportunity to return to Him.

President Kusch: Thank you.

Elliot: I think, to fully gain a testimony of our Savior Jesus Christ and His plan, we have to share with others. I’m thankful for the opportunity I had on the mission to share my testimony and help others grow through the atonement and the gospel of Jesus Christ. Seeing other people change through the gospel really helped me to be the man I am today. I know that Christ has His hand extended all the time to uplift and to change people’s lives. And I think that as we teach the gospel to those in need, their hearts are opened as they make righteous decisions to change and to follow Christ.

President Kusch: Thank you. Is there a sister missionary, a returned missionary, that would like to respond to that question?

Student: In my last area—it was Spanish speaking and I served English throughout the rest of my mission—we were teaching a young woman who had just moved from Chihuahua, Mexico, and she had a rough life. She had a child when she was 16 years old and she was raising him by herself. When we talked to her about the plan of salvation, she was speechless and she had never considered that God loved her that much to provide a plan for her to come back to Him. And that hit me really hard because I was raised in the church, and being around it all the time, I didn’t realize how special that concept really is.

President Kusch's notes/thoughts: Reflect on full-time mission service. Remember the feeling of bearing testimony? Can you feel so now?

President Kusch: Thank you. Is there anyone here that is a recent convert within the last year or the last two years? Would you stand please? When were you baptized?

Student: I was baptized November fifth, 10 months ago.

President Kusch: Wonderful. So, here is the question, as you were taught the plan of salvation by the missionaries and you came to understand it, how did it change your view of yourself and your relationship with Heavenly Father and the Savior?

Student: It changed everything. It changed my entire outlook on life. It changed everything from how I treat other people to the purpose of my life. It makes me want to be a better person every single day.

President Kusch: Thank you very much.

As members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, it is highly likely that you have heard the plan of salvation discussed many times. It is even more likely that throughout your life you will hear it discussed hundreds or thousands of times more.

In just a few weeks hence we will have the blessing of being taught by prophets, seers, revelators and other general Church officers. I am confident many of those messages will focus on topics that relate to the plan of salvation.

As each of us comes to know the plan of salvation, as we seek to believe all these things – every single one of them – and as we “see that we do them” I promise our understanding will increase of the vital and essential blessing of the plan of salvation. As we do it will change us – not only once, but again and again. This understanding will be a protection for us as we navigate our way through life’s challenges. We will know who we are, in our true identity as children of God. No matter how many times we have heard the plan of salvation taught or how many times we will hear it taught, I pray that each of us will forever open our hearts, our minds, our ears and our eyes.

The plan of salvation is ultimately about the Lord Jesus Christ and being partakers of the heavenly gift of His atonement. I testify He lives. He is real. The Father’s plan is one of mercy and love, allowing us realize our destiny of eternal life that we expressed our desire to achieve in our premortal existence. I so testify. In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.


Bio

President Bruce C. Kusch began his Church Educational System employment as a member of the business management faculty at Brigham Young University–Idaho in August 2002.

In July 2008, he was named associate academic vice president for curriculum at BYU–Idaho, serving in that position until June 2012 when he answered a call to serve as president of the Mexico Cuernavaca Mission.

President Kusch returned to BYU-Idaho in July 2015 as associate dean of online programs.

Prior to joining the BYU-Idaho faculty, President Kusch worked as a sales and marketing executive and management consultant for various high-tech firms in the San Francisco Bay Area.

President Kusch holds a B.S. in business administration from the University of Phoenix, an MBA from the Keller Graduate School of Management and a Ph.D. in instructional design from Idaho State University.

President Bruce C. Kusch joined the Business College in March 2016, serving as its chief academic officer until he was appointed president in April of this year. His inauguration, which will be held in the Assembly Hall, is set for October 24, 2017. We hope you’ll all join us for his upcoming inauguration.

President Kusch and his wife, Alynda, were married in the Los Angeles California Temple in 1974. They are the parents of four children and 17 grandchildren. His personal interests include running, biking, fly fishing, photography and outdoor cooking.

Sister Alynda Kusch was born and raised in Southern California. She is an accomplished pianist who has taught piano lessons for more than 20 years. She's also a master quilter and quilt designer.

Sister Kusch graduated from BYU-Idaho as a non-traditional student. She was also an adjunct faculty member at BYU-I, in the culinary arts department, until the Kusches left in 2012 to serve in the Mexico Cuernavaca Mission.

Sister Kusch has served as a gospel doctrine teacher, primary president, in ward and stake Relief Society and young women presidencies, as a seminary teacher and stake seminary supervisor. She currently serves as a Church service missionary at LDS Business College and as first counselor in the stake young women presidency.

Sister Reyna I. Aburto

10 Oct. 2017

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Reaching Up to the Savior

by Reyna I. Aburto

My dear friends, what a beautiful sight you are! I am so grateful to be standing in front of you today and to feel of your faith and your desire to be lifted and inspired.

It is an honor for me to speak to you who belong to this remarkable institution that is LDS Business College. I love your mission statement, which reads: “LDS Business College provides a distinctive educational experience rooted in the restored gospel of Jesus Christ. We work together to cultivate a nurturing environment, teach practical skills and develop confident and skillful learners. We enlighten minds, elevate hope and ennoble souls to strengthen individuals, families, communities and the Lord’s Church.”

It is my prayer that we can all be enlightened, elevated, and ennobled today as we receive promptings from the Spirit and as we get clear impressions that guide us into action.

A story is told about two brothers who lived many years ago and were extremely lazy. Their father was a farmer who worked tirelessly for long hours, to keep up his farm. Even though he tried to teach the principle of work to his sons, they did not want to live up to his example and instruction and took every opportunity to run away from their chores.

One day, the two brothers were, as usual, avoiding work at all costs and went to their favorite hiding place. One of them was lying face down on the grass and the other one was lying face up, right next to him. All of a sudden, the one that was looking up saw something in the sky that he had never seen before. A huge plane was passing above their small town for the first time ever. With the desire to share that impressive sight with his brother, he exclaimed: “Look! In the sky! I have never seen anything like that before! It must be a plane! It is amazing!” Without moving or even turning one inch and still lying facedown, his brother replied, “Lucky you that you can see it!”

This story reminds me of the time when fiery serpents bit the children of Israel while they were in the desert, and many of them died. They begged Moses to pray to the Lord to protect them from the serpents. When Moses did so, the Lord told him to make a fiery serpent, to set the brass serpent on a pole, and to instruct those who had been bitten to look at it, so they might live (Numbers 21:7–9).

The Lord Jesus Christ clarified that the serpent on the pole was a symbol of Himself, when He said, “As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up: that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have eternal life” (John 3:14–15).

I love the further insights we get from the Book of Mormon. Nephi explained that the Lord “prepared a way that they might be healed; and the labor which they had to perform was to look; and because of the simpleness of the way, or the easiness of it, there were many who perished” (1 Nephi 17:41).

Alma also expanded on these truths when he said: “There were many who were so hardened that they would not look, therefore they perished. Now the reason they would not look is because they did not believe that it would heal them” (Alma 33:20).

According to these passages of scripture, many of the people of Israel did not look at the serpent on the pole in order to be healed because it was such a simple thing to do that they did not believe it had power to heal them. Because of unbelief or maybe because of their “spiritual laziness,” they did not make even the smallest effort to look. Does that sound like the story of the two brothers? Could it also describe us when we refuse to reach up to the Savior by doing the simple things that turn our hearts to Him?

As we go through our mortal existence, sometimes we find ourselves in the midst of tribulation and sorrow. We experience heart-wrenching situations, and it becomes hard to find the strength to go on. During those times, it may be difficult to believe that by reaching up to the Savior and turning our hearts to Him, He has the power to heal us.

Other times, we have periods of spiritual laziness in our souls. We just go through the motions and are not “anxiously engaged” (Doctrine and Covenants 58:27) in reaching up to God so we can receive help from Him.

I grew up as a Catholic, and even though I believed in God, I did not have a clear understanding of His nature and His love for me. I believed in Jesus Christ but did not truly comprehend how much I needed Him in my life and that I had to be more proactive in reaching up to Him in order to be saved through His grace. I was in some sort of “spiritual sleep” and was “spiritually lazy,” without the desire to exert any kind of effort to reach up to heaven for help or direction in my life.

It was not until I was 26 years old that I “came to [myself],” (Luke 15:17) like the prodigal son. At that point, I had just gone through a painful final separation from my first husband; I had a three-year-old-son, whom I loved with all my heart; and I found myself overwhelmed by fear, despair, and hopelessness. It was then, through the Light of Christ, that I received a testimony of the restored gospel of Jesus Christ. I felt the sincere desire to join the Church and to start participating in this remarkable journey of discipleship, experiencing its ups and downs, just like everyone else.

All I had to do was to desire to reach up to the Savior, to turn my heart to Him, to believe in Him, and to act on that belief.

My husband, Carlos, had a similar experience. He joined the Church in Mexico, together with his family, when he was nine years old. Because of various circumstances, his family did not remain active in the Church. However, he did not forget how he felt when the missionaries visited his home during his childhood and taught his family the truth.

Years later, he moved to the United States and lived with his brother. They occasionally received visits from home teachers and missionaries, and in their apartment sat a Book of Mormon which, for a long time, was untouched.

When Carlos was 27, he broke up with a girlfriend and felt devastated. Some of you may know the feeling of being brokenhearted. It is horrible! Right? It was then that he remembered how he had felt in his childhood when the Holy Ghost testified to his heart of the truthfulness of the gospel. So he finally reached up to the book, and he opened it. As he started to read, something amazing happened: he could not stop. Back then, he had two jobs and not much spare time, but instead of eating during his breaks, he continued reading the book.

After two weeks of using any minutes he had to read, he finished the book and, he was a new man. He came back to activity in the Church. Every Sunday, he renewed the covenant he had made in his childhood. Through that simple act of faith of reaching up to the Savior by reading the Book of Mormon, a whole universe of truth and light has come into his life.

In both of our cases, we were not physically lazy—we were actually busy and hardworking people—but we were going through a long period of spiritual laziness, without stretching ourselves toward God.

It was actually a simple act of faith—of reaching up—performed by a 14-year-old that started the glorious process of the Restoration of the gospel in this “dispensation of the fulness of times” (Doctrine and Covenants 128:18). As we know, at that young age, Joseph Smith found himself “in the midst of [a] war of words and tumult of opinions.” Does that sound like the times in which we live? Do you sometimes feel surrounded by a wave of stirring, division, and contention? At times, there are so many things competing for our attention, for our time, and even for our hearts, that it may be hard to keep our sight on the Lord and His gospel.

Young Joseph often asked himself, “What is to be done?” It is significant that he not only wanted to know the truth, but he also wanted to know what he needed to do. He was willing to find out what God’s will was for him and to do it.

The first answer he received entered his heart “with great force” as he was reading in James 1:5: “If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him.”

Joseph decided to act on those feelings. He chose a time and a place where he could exercise his faith and have a personal conversation with God. After going to the place he had chosen, he began to pour out his soul to his Creator. And then, an astonishing force overcame him entirely, in such a way that he could not speak. However, he exerted all his powers to call upon God. It was then that he saw a pillar of light “above the brightness of the sun,” descending gradually until it fell upon him and he had the glorious experience of seeing “God, the Eternal Father, and … His Son, Jesus Christ,” (Articles of Faith 1:1) who not only answered his question but also gave him instructions on what to do (Joseph Smith—History 1:5–20). Your presence here, my young brothers and sisters, your membership in the Church, are the fruits of Joseph’s reaching up to God. Your process of reaching, like his, begins with desire but quickly turns to action.

In his April 2017 general conference talk, President Russell M. Nelson said that in order to “[draw] the Savior’s power into our lives [we need] to reach up to Him in faith. [And] such reaching requires diligent, focused effort.”

He then talked about “the woman who suffered for 12 years with a debilitating problem [and] exercised great faith in the Savior, exclaiming, ‘If I may touch but his clothes, I shall be whole’ (Mark 5:28).

“This faithful, focused woman needed to stretch as far as she could to access His power. Her physical stretching was symbolic of her spiritual stretching.”

President Nelson added: “Many of us have cried out from the depths of our hearts a variation of this woman’s words: ‘If I could spiritually stretch enough to draw the Savior’s power into my life, I would know how to handle my heart-wrenching situation. I would know what to do. And I would have the power to do it’” (Russell M. Nelson, “Drawing the Power of Jesus Christ into Our Lives,” Ensign, May 2017, 41–42).

My young friends, no matter our circumstances, we all need to draw the Savior’s power into our life at all times. We all need to have a clear understanding of our divine nature and purpose so that each decision each of us make in life, can be guided by our desire to receive virtue and healing from the Savior. We all need to constantly exert all our power, stretch ourselves physically and spiritually, and reach up to the Savior so our afflictions can be “swallowed up in [His] joy” (Alma 31:38). For that, we need to start with the desire to draw closer to the Savior, nurturing that desire and exerting all of our power, until desire becomes faith and belief in the power that He has to help and to heal us.

Exerting our power in simple ways could mean to constantly pray to our Heavenly Father, knowing that He is our Father, that He knows our hearts, that He listens to our prayers, and that He truly wants us to be happy in this life and throughout eternity.

It could also mean to focus our thoughts on the Savior in a more intentional way.  It may seem too simple, but I testify to you that turning our minds and hearts to our Savior as we go about our daily routines is a powerful way to reach up to Him and to draw from His power.

Another way to exert all of our power could be by reaching up to Heavenly Father through a diligent, personal study of the scriptures. Sometimes the difference between tapping into the Gospel Library and any other app on our phone is just a matter of a few millimeters. It can be as easy as to do this [swipe finger], instead of this [swipe finger the other way]. Or it could be to do this [move thumb], instead of this [move the other thumb]. Just a simple and easy movement shows our desire to reach up to the Savior—and to receive His light and guidance.

The same principle applies to studying the words of the living prophets, seers, and revelators. Once again, we have received, just a few days ago, a wealth of inspired counsel from our called leaders, and we have all of these gifts of knowledge and wisdom at our fingertips, literally.

A significant way in which we exerted all our power and showed the Savior that we wanted to receive virtue from Him was when we went into the waters of baptism to make a covenant with God, promising Him that we would obey His commandments. That act of faith required a spiritual and physical effort from us and from the people who support us in our decision to be a disciple of Christ.

Every Sunday we have the opportunity to stretch our arm and reach up our hand as we make the decision to partake of the sacrament and renew all of the covenants we have made with God. Through that simple and regular act of stretching and reaching up to the Savior, of acknowledging that we need His help at all times, we receive the strength and the vision we need every day of our week.

I know that you have a busy life. In fact, you are anxiously engaged in school, work, Church callings, helping family and friends, and having a social life. I am not implying by any means that you are lazy. My desire is to plead with you not to fall into the trap of spiritual laziness, but to keep doing the “small and simple things” (Alma 37:6) that will get you closer to the Savior so He can bless you.

President Nelson also counseled:

“When you reach up for the Lord’s power in your life with the same intensity that a drowning person has when grasping and gasping for air, power from Jesus Christ will be yours. When the Savior knows you truly want to reach up to Him—when He can feel that the greatest desire of your heart is to draw His power into your life—you will be led by the Holy Ghost to know exactly what you should do.

“When you spiritually stretch beyond anything you have ever done before, then His power will flow into you” (Russell M. Nelson, “Drawing the Power of Jesus Christ into Our Lives,” 42).

The Lord has promised that when we reach, He responds, explaining, “Draw near unto me and I will draw near unto you; seek me diligently and ye shall find me; ask, and ye shall receive; knock, and it shall be opened unto you” (Doctrine and Covenants 88:63).

Together with Alma, I pledge to you:

“O my brethren [and sisters], if ye could be healed by merely casting about your eyes that ye might be healed, would ye not behold quickly, or would ye rather harden your hearts in unbelief, and be slothful, that ye would not cast about your eyes, that ye might perish?

“… Then cast about your eyes and begin to believe in the Son of God, that he will come to redeem his people, and that he shall suffer and die to atone for their sins; and that he shall rise again from the dead, which shall bring to pass the resurrection, that all men shall stand before him, to be judged at the last and judgment day, according to their works” (Alma 33:21–22).

My young brothers and sisters, I testify to you that we have a Father in Heaven, who knows each of us personally and who “so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life” (John 3:16). I testify to you that our Lord Jesus Christ is the Son of God, the Only Begotten Son, the Prince of Peace, and that He has the power and the desire to heal you, and to embrace you in His loving arms as you go through this mortal life. He loves you, He knows you, He wants you to draw near unto Him, and “from His perspective, you’re not that far away” (Henry B. Eyring, “My Peace I Leave with You,” Ensign, May 2017, 18).  He has sent you the Comforter, even the Spirit of truth, who testifies to you of the saving and enabling power that comes from Jesus Christ, our Savior and Redeemer.

Of these things, I humbly testify, in His name, even Jesus Christ, amen.


Bio

Sister Reyna I. Aburto was sustained as second counselor in the Relief Society General Presidency in April 2017.

Prior to her call, she served as a member of the Primary General Board and in different callings in Relief Society, Young Women, Primary, Sunday School and Scouting.

Sister Aburto was born in Managua, Nicaragua. She moved to the United States in 1984 and joined the Church in 1989 in San Francisco, California. She and her husband, Carlos, live in Orem, Utah. They have three children and two grandchildren.

Sister Aburto studied industrial engineering at Universidad Centroamericana in Managua, Nicaragua, and earned an associate degree in computer science from Utah Valley University. She has worked in the language industry for more than 25 years and currently works as a translator in a small translation business she owns with her husband.

Stephanie Allen Egbert

14 Nov. 2017

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Love is Easy - Love is Hard

by Stephanie Allen Egbert

What a privilege it is to be with you today in this great building. There’s a lot of strength here because of who created this building, and the sacrifices that they made so that we can be here at this time. It’s pretty awesome that you get to come here every week and have a devotional. I’m really happy for you that way.

I want to tell you that I know a little bit about you—not a lot, but a little bit about you. For the past five years, working over in the Church Office Building, I have had the privilege of working with lots of your leaders, staff members, faculty members, and some of you students at LDS Business College. I have had the privilege of walking in your hallways, and riding your slow elevators—sorry—and climbing the stairs, because of your slow elevators, with many of you. And it’s been a great privilege to be on your campus and to feel your spirit. I’m hoping that they get an express one for you guys that have to go to the tenth floor a lot.

At any rate, let me tell you what I feel about you because of my experience being with you. I feel like you have a really deep intent to study and learn by faith. I know that you have strong testimonies of the Savior. I am aware that many of you have overcome significant challenges to be where you are, and that is impressive to me. I sense that you are striving to follow Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ with full intent of heart, and to stand for truth and right. I also sense that you are striving to be loving and kind and accepting of others. You have a really diverse student body, which is wonderful, and you mix together and meld in a beautiful way.

I respect you greatly for who you are and what you are. I respect you for the goodness that you bring into the world, and I thank you for the goodness that you radiate. It really is an honor to be with you today.

I want to start with this story, because we all love stories, and stories can teach us a lot. When I was young, I had a story book that was titled Love Is Easy; Love Is Hard. I read it over and over and over again. It was about a little girl who had a lot of people in her life—her six-year-old life. She had parents, she had grandparents, siblings, neighbors, teachers, kids at school—and she found that loving some of those people was really easy to do, because they were kind to her—like her grandparents and her friends, and her baby brother who would smile at her and like to be held.

She had other people in her life that were hard to love, like her brother who teased her, and the mean neighbor who scowled at her. And there was a kid at school who bullied her. For her, loving those people was hard. I guess I needed to learn that over and over again, because I read that book over and over again.

I think what was interesting for me, at that young age, and for this young girl, was that even if she didn’t like some of those people at the time, she needed to learn to love them, because that’s what Jesus wanted her to do.

That lesson is applicable to all of us, right? There are people in our lives that are easy to love, and sometimes there are people in our lives that are hard to love. Sometimes there are situations in our life that are hard to love in. That’s what I want to talk about today.

Some of us, like this young girl, have to learn over and over about this. I think the best advice that you can get is to go to the Savior’s words about loving people. That’s the best way to find counsel in how to love people. So, let’s just think about a few of the things He said on the subject of love.

In Matthew 22, you’ll remember that He teaches that the second great commandment is to “love thy neighbor as thyself” (Matthew 22:39). In the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5, He tells us to “love [our] enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you” (Matthew 5:44).

Those are hard situations. And in John 15, He tells His disciples at the end of His life, “Love one another, as I have loved you” (John 15:12). As was the case of the young girl in this story, loving each other as Christ has taught us to love is hard. Sometimes, even as grown-ups, we have people who tease us or scowl at us, or bully us, because of who we are and what we believe. That is, unfortunately, a reality of life. We all encounter people who are unkind to us, who openly criticize us, or the Church, because of our beliefs. I want to show you a video about a young woman who is just about your age, where that very thing, that bullying thing, unexpectedly happened to her right in a political science classroom. Her name is Samantha. Let’s watch what happens.

Video:

Teacher: Who does get to decide what’s right and what’s wrong? Do you get to decide for me? I mean, you get to decide for yourself, sure, that’s our free society, right? But what do you get to decide for me or for some other group of people? Nicki?

Nicki: Okay. The right to love. So churches, especially the Mormon church, teach that if you are gay, you can’t marry. Well, who are they to say you can love that person, but you can’t love that person. You know what? Maybe we should ask Samantha. She’s a Mormon.

Teacher: Okay, Samantha. Is the Mormon church telling people who they can love or how they can love?

Samantha: Well, I don’t really represent the whole church.

Teacher: Represent yourself.

Nicki: Okay—your church doesn’t believe or allow gay marriage. Isn’t that discrimination?

Samantha: Well, we believe in families, and that starts with a man and a woman.

Nicki: Your church is bigoted. That makes you a bigot.

Samantha: I don’t think it’s fair to say that. I’m not trying to be hateful towards people just because we have a disagreement. I have my voice and you have your voice.

Nicki: Yeah, but, Samantha, you are trying to tell me what I should believe.

Samantha: And you are trying to tell me what mine are.

Teacher: Okay Nicki, listen. I don’t hear anything that is really discriminatory or intolerant about a religion practicing or worshipping the way they want to.

Nicki: She is deflecting the real issue, just like her church does.

Teacher: What is the real issue then?

Nicki: The Mormon church oversteps its bounds by trying to impose its beliefs on us, on me. I’m not a member of their church; I shouldn’t have to believe what they believe.

Samantha: Well, no one is forcing you to.

Nicki: Your church does more than just preaching. It tries to influence public policy.

Samantha: Yeah, and so are you, and so are a lot of groups. That’s democracy. That’s the process, right? We talk about our feelings; we vote on the issues. Churches have always influenced communities for the good.

Nicki: You seem like a really nice person, but you are incredibly naïve.

 

Wow. That was exciting. How would that be, for you to get caught in that situation? Have you ever found yourself in circumstances like Samantha’s? That’s a pretty rough situation. How do you like that, “You are incredibly naïve”? That’s what they say to us a lot.

Well, it’s understandable, given that situation, that you, like Samantha, might be a little frustrated or agitated. I sometimes find myself getting defensive when I am in similar situations. Maybe some of you have to. It is hard to love people when they act like Nicki.

After that experience, Samantha realizes that she didn’t handle the situation as well as she could have, and that she doesn’t have loving feelings toward Nicki, which she feels like she should. She prays to forgive Nicki, and just have kind feelings toward her. She reads the scriptures and she talks to Church leaders, and she reads talks from Church leaders about kindness and civility and charity. She makes sure she understands where the Church stands on some divisive issues, because she wants to be able to articulate her beliefs and the Church’s position on them, without getting flustered or upset.

She also talks to her bishop and asks for his advice. Let’s look at a part of that conversation between Samantha and her bishop. This takes place during a ward service activity

Video:

Samantha: So, tell me how I deal with people who attack my beliefs.

Bishop: Something happen at school?

Samantha: Yes. It was awful! This girl attacked me, and then I attacked her, and then, I don’t know. It just didn’t feel right.

Bishop: It sounds like she attacked—well, challenged—what you believe.

Samantha: Yeah. More like my right to even believe.

Bishop: How did that feel?

Samantha: It made me angry.

Bishop: Patience doesn’t come easy, does it?

Samantha: No.

Bishop: I think you will find that most people are sincere in what they believe. You need to give them room to live their way, while respectfully asking for space to worship the way you choose.

Samantha: Okay.

Bishop: You know the scripture, “Whosoever therefore shall humble himself as this little child, the same is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven? (Matthew 18:4.)

Samantha: Yes. I know that.

Bishop: So, if you want to be the greatest, you have to humble yourself enough to listen to others.

Samantha: But I tried that.

Bishop: Do you know what she thinks, or what she believes?

Samantha: That I’m wrong. I don’t know.

Bishop: Be patient. Take a step back and ask yourself, why would she—this reasonable, intelligent person—think this way?

Samantha: But I tried that. At first. But I just wasn’t expecting the confrontation. I just felt myself getting angry.

Bishop: When the Savior said, “Agree with thine adversary” (Matthew 5:25), I think what He meant was to keep our anger in check, you know, and to also try to see things from their point of view.

In this conversation, Samantha’s bishop talks to her about some interesting things. He helps her see that most people are sincere in their beliefs, and that we should try to understand what those beliefs are and to respect them. That reminds me of the 11th Article of Faith, which states:

“We claim the privilege of worshiping Almighty God according to the dictates of our own conscience, and allow all men the same privilege, let them worship how, where, or what they may.”

That’s a safe way to behave, whenever we ask the right to hold our own beliefs and not be criticized for them. It also increases mutual understanding and respect for each other.

Some pretty good advice from a bishop. I like how he tells her to look outward and see what other people believe and find out what their beliefs are before trying to express your beliefs, so that you know where they are coming from. I think that is good advice for all of us.

Samantha continues to work on and toward forgiving and loving Nicki. She also practices being articulate about what she believes. And then she does a really brave thing. She goes back and approaches Nicki. Let’s see what happens.

 

Video:

Samantha: Hey. Do you mind if I sit?

Nicki: Are you sure it’s safe?

Samantha: I’m sure. Look, I just wanted to apologize for our argument. I shouldn’t have gotten so defensive. I’d really kind of like a do-over.

Nicki: Huh. I didn’t expect that at all. I guess we were both a little too heated.

Samantha: I’m sorry about that. I don’t know what got into me. I was just freaking out, and I apologize. I was just….

Nicki: That’s okay. Stop apologizing. What did you want to talk about—without getting too heated, first.

Samantha: Well, okay. I just—I want to understand where you’re coming from, what motivates you, what you believe in.

Nicki: Well, I don’t believe in religion, if that’s what you mean. I could never see myself living that way.

Samantha: But you believe in something.

Nicki: Yeah. I believe in a moral code, but one that benefits every member of society, one that we all can agree on. I believe in everybody’s right to choose for themselves, according to what they think is right or wrong, without being preached to or intimidated into believing or acting a certain way. Your turn.

Samantha: Well, I actually believe a lot of the same things you do, with the exception of a moral code. I believe that comes from God. But I still believe in the right to choose what we believe—our right to choose our friends, the right to choose the way we live, to agree, to disagree. And believe it or not, I actually want to make sure that everyone is treated fairly.

Nicki: But you want to force everyone to live by your rules.

Samantha: No.  No, I really don’t. I think diverse societies are healthy. We can learn from each other. The civil laws are created for the good of everyone. It creates a safe base for all different kinds of beliefs to exist together.

Nicki: Well, what about bigoted beliefs?

Samantha: Okay, that word means hateful, and someone who isn’t willing to listen. And I’m not hateful, and neither is my church. I’m here, and I want to understand.

Nicki: But you would never stand up for gay rights.

Samantha: Of course I would. Okay, for example, I think that it’s wrong that someone gets turned down for a job or even is fired because they are gay. It isn’t fair that they can’t get an apartment because of a prejudiced landlord. I will stand up for you in those rights. All I’m asking is that you recognize the same rights you want for gays be granted to those who think differently than you.

 

What do you think about that last conversation? I’m pretty sure it’s safe to say that Samantha and Nicki will never be bosom friends. However, did that conversation change their perceptions about each other and about their beliefs? I think that it did, and I also thing that was a really loving act on the part of Samantha.

All of us have people in our lives who are hard to love, and all of us have situations in our lives where it is difficult to love. I experienced one of those situations just earlier this year, when I was asked to give a keynote address at a professional conference. I was pretty excited—I mean, I’ve never been asked to give a keynote anywhere, and didn’t think that would happen in my lifetime. I was kind of nervous, but kind of excited. The day came, and there was my picture up on the internet, and there was my byline that said, “Stephanie Allen Egbert,” and the name of the Church underneath it, and gave a little bit of background about what I would be speaking about, which was helping kids around the world get education. And then suddenly, it wasn’t up anymore, and I was uninvited from the conference at all, and from being a keynote speaker. And that’s because a number of the people that were going to attend that conference had told the conference organizers that they wouldn’t participate in the conference—they wouldn’t come—because a representative of the Church was a key presenter.

So even though the presentation wasn’t at all about the Church, I was suddenly gone from an invited guest to a reject. And it hurt a little bit. I felt, Oh wow, I didn’t quite expect that coming. So I had to remind myself that those individuals don’t really understand the Church’s position on same-sex attraction, and that they don’t recognize that Heavenly Father has guided our Church leaders to remain firm in defending the doctrine of marriage between a man and a woman. Like Samantha, I had to work through my hurt feelings, and I had to come to a place where I could correctly articulate my beliefs in the Church’s position, and seek to understand the beliefs of those who had rejected my participation.

From that experience and from others like it, I can attest that it is hard to love when people misunderstand or openly reject our Church leaders or the commandments. It is also hard to love when people who once held the same beliefs as us now turn and criticize and say that we are out of touch and unenlightened. Some of you have probably had that experience as well.

Love really is hard sometimes. However, regardless of whether we get angry or we feel confused or we get embarrassed about how people who are hard to love treat us, it is important to trust and believe that the Savior’s teaching about loving others really is true. It is important to be able to state what we believe in a calm, measured manner, and also to ask others what they believe and to seek to find beliefs that we share and hold in common.

Love is what our Church leaders teach. That is what they are inspired to teach, because we belong to the Savior’s church, and that’s what He taught. And they are His servants. Even though sometimes Church policies are tough because they differ from mainstream society norms, love is the foundation behind those as well.

In every difficult situation, we can return to the Savior’s teachings to love your neighbors as yourself, to love your enemies, and to love one another as He has loved us. When we follow those teachings, we can develop a dialogue of civility that can lead to inclusive and common language among humans all over the world.

Of all people, we Latter-day Saints should choose to be loving in our interactions with others. We are reminded of that constantly by our Church leaders. For example, at a BYU—Idaho devotional last year, Elder Von G. Keetch said the following: “…No matter what the issue may be. Whenever there is heated controversy, the best way to proceed is with love, respect, and understanding, while never abandoning the conviction of truth that we hold in our hearts” (“An Example of the Believers”).

Elder Von G. Keetch also said, “There really is no tension between the two great gospel principles… of standing up for truth, while [at the same time] respecting and loving others. Our strong conviction of the truth should never cause us to act in a way that is disrespectful or resentful toward others. But at the same time, our desire to show kindness and love to everyone should never undermine our duty to stand for truth.” (“An Example of the Believers”).

These humble though admittedly imperfect servants of God do their best to lead the Savior’s church as He has directed, and especially to show love—to love all people. They love when it’s easy to love, and they love when it is hard to love. They seek to understand what people believe and why. They articulate what they and the Church believe in non-confrontational ways. They stand for eternal truths in a kind and loving way, and approach all with love and respect, just as the Savior did when He walked the earth.

My dear friends, sometimes love is easy, and sometimes love is hard. When we come to moments in our lives that love is hard, I pray that we too will stand for eternal truth in a kind and loving way, and will approach all with love and respect, just as the Savior did, in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.


Bio

Dr. Stephanie Allen Egbert is the associate director of the global education initiative of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. She has extensive experience designing, prototyping, developing, implementing and evaluating a wide variety of academic and corporate learning experiences.

Stephanie is married to David Egbert and enjoys being a stepmom to David’s four children. The global education initiative, aimed at increasing educational opportunities for individuals around the globe, provides extremely affordable education and career planning, English language instruction, and online courses through a unique hybrid delivery model.

Tracey Anderson

17 Oct. 2017

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Our Shared Journey Home

by Tracey Anderson

I first had nightmares about this opportunity to speak to you a few years ago while working at BYU-Idaho. A friend of mine had been asked to give a talk at Devotional and I have shared with her how grateful I was it wasn’t me, to which she responded by saying, “You’re next”. In that moment, the Spirit confirmed that someday I would be asked to speak at devotional.

I am not even sure the number of dreams I began to have as a result of that learning, some dreams being more pleasant than others. The pleasant dreams came after I was able to humble myself enough to be willing to speak, prior to this formal request. When I was able to look past my own fears and worries and seek to be a route for God’s love to reach you, my dreams became blessings in my life.

I have prayed for you, literally for years. I have sought to prepare my heart and mind so I would be ready, when the time came, that I would be able to hear, prepare, and then deliver a message God would have you hear. I know that, just as President Uchtdorf taught in our recent conference, that “God will use [us], if [we] are willing.” I am grateful He softened my heart to where I’d be willing to let Him use me when the time came. I will also rely on the promise from President Uchtdorf that the Lord “will magnify [my] righteous desires and turn the compassionate actions [I] sow into a bountiful harvest of goodness” for you this day. (https://www.lds.org/general-conference/2017/10/a-yearning-for-home?lang=eng)   

It is part of my prayer for you today that you will see past my weaknesses and that you may hear His voice and feel of His love through our experience together this day. I would ask that any good you see in me this day you attribute to the goodness of the Lord and my desire to follow Him and become like Him. I would also ask that any fault or error you find that you attribute that to me, in my imperfections on striving to grow into something better than I am today.

Another part of my prayer for you is that you will be guided in some way to know what changes the Lord would have you make in your life, in your efforts to grow closer to Him. I encourage you to record the thoughts and impressions I know He will send this day.

I know He will send impressions because you are His and He desires for every good thing to come into your life. I know He will send impressions because you have shown you are ready to receive them by being in attendance this day. I also know that for some of you the impressions you hear and feel will come as a result of the words I share, but for many, if not most of you, the impressions you receive will come because of our collective and prayerful pleas to have the Spirit with us and your impressions will have nothing to do with what I actually say. In all cases, I know that as you seek to understand what God would have you know, that all impressions received will be tailored to you in your willingness and readiness to learn of Him.

At LDSBC, as at other schools within CES, we are blessed to be part of learning in the Lord’s way. Here, we have opportunity to attend and work at a college which seeks to help each of us discover more about ourselves, then provides opportunities for us to grow in our capacity to become something better as a result of our time here. LDS Business College is truly a place that seeks to make good men better and better men their best.

Several things came to mind as I considered you, our students, on campus and across the world. What would be most critical for you to come to understand in your lives at this time?

I’ve felt prompted to talk about who we are and how understanding that influences our interactions with each other in our shared mortal journey back to heaven.

Some of what I’d like to share includes the following: Your value is not dependent on someone else’s actions or attention, ever; you are literally a child of God, our Heavenly Father, and we’re all in this together.

First; your value is not dependent on someone else’s actions or attention. Ever. While I won’t share more thoughts on this today in my remarks, I feel strongly you need to know this principle. Your value is already set and cannot be changed. Your value is the same as everyone else’s, because of who you are. Because you are literally a child of God, an heir to His throne and blessings, He will love you regardless of if you choose to return to Him or not; but as your father, His heart yearns for your safe return to His arms and His presence because you are His.

Second; you are literally a child of God, our Heavenly Father. As such, you already have talents and abilities beyond what you can imagine. You were born with divinity and strength. Sometimes you just need help in finding it. Just like traits we so easily and regularly point out receiving from our earthly parents, you were born with traits you inherited from Him, your heavenly parent. These traits are gifts and are enough to get you back to Him. We just need to remember to look for our gifts and use them.

Third; we are all in this together. Life can be hard and helping each other is essential. The commandment to mourn with those who mourn and comfort those who stand in need of comfort is not just a great idea, it is essential and even life-saving (Mosiah 18:9).

An example of this principle in action was recently witnessed during a PathwayConnect gathering, as shared by a student in attendance. He shares, “A brother was our Lead Student in last night’s Religion portion.  As he started the lesson we could all see that he was visibly shaking and perspiring.  It took a while for him to say his first word.  At that moment I could “feel” the prayers coming from each of us in the gathering.  He started to cry and bear his testimony of faith, the Holy Spirit, and his extreme fear of public speaking.  Immediately one of the sisters started to discuss what it takes to be a Lead Student.  It doesn’t take knowledge or expertise of the subject.  It takes the Holy Ghost. We were all feeling the comfort of the Holy Ghost as we all took turns discussing what an awesome example of faith and relying on the Holy Ghost.  We could all see that he was fully prepared because of the handouts that were given.  Now he was relying on our Heavenly Father to carry him through this lesson.  Last night I had a lesson on every single principle of the Learning Model from this brother without him saying much of anything.  Needless to say this brother completed possibly the best lesson I ever participated in.”

The principle of our shared journey home is also illustrated in numerous other ways, evidenced throughout our lives. An interesting change that takes place each semester in Rexburg, Idaho is in the way students begin to cross the street. Early in the semester large bodies of students gather at the corners and wait for a decent break in traffic before crossing the road. There seems to be a consensus, or at least a general awareness, that the drivers of the cars also have places they are trying to reach. Over time however, within just a few weeks, a shift takes place and the desires of students to cross the street seem to overpower their sense of their surroundings to where they have lost sight that they share the road with others. Thankfully, not all of the pedestrians lose sight of others around them and they maintain the gathering, waiting, and crossing that they started with, allowing other cars to take turns.

In thinking of this phenomenon, I believe it can provide a great parallel to, or metaphor for, our mortal journey on this earth. As children of a loving Heavenly Father we are all trying to reach the same destination, a return to our heavenly home. Sometimes we forget we are on this journey. Sometimes we remember that we are on this journey, but forget others are there with us. It is in coming to understand who we are that we can broaden our view of not only the road, but also where others are on it with us.

Understand who you are

Understanding who we are allows us to also understand who others are. Essentially, when we know who we are as children of God we also know who others are. When we know who we are, we take turns. Sometimes in leading, sometimes in following. When we know who we are we seek for opportunities to support and inspire others. When we know who we are we recognize nobody can alter our destination but ourselves. Our path, or the timing of our travels, can be impacted by others, but we are the ones who set our own course.

When we know who we are, we understand that our actions impact opportunities for others, we feel the responsibility of our choices and accept accountability for the consequences our choices create.

What does it mean to have our actions so heavily intertwined with each other? How can we not lose sight of the other travelers working to get down the road? Why does it matter?

As a key part of my preparation today, I reached out to some of you to learn what it is you desire to learn and feel when you attend devotional.

You shared with me that you need to hear that things will be okay. You want to know what it looks like to keep moving forward, finding strength in the gospel, when life is hard. You want to see and understand what the gospel looks like when it’s lived, to help you remain faithful in this challenging time. You want to know that it is okay to fail, and to know that even in our failures we will not be alone. You want to feel peace during this time of turmoil. You also shared that you learn and grow when we as speakers share with you our personal lives as it shows you that this gospel is truly real and does bring hope and healing. I will do my best to serve these needs this day.

Things will be okay

Things will be okay. But we need to understand that “okay” might look different for each of us. For things to be okay we often have to experience things that are not okay to recognize what “okay” looks like once we have found it. This does not mean we should settle for less than the best, nor does it mean we should seek things we know to be damaging or harmful, but it does mean we should understand our growth often comes through trials.

Keep moving forward

To keep moving forward in the gospel, we need to understand who we are and what the gospel even means for us. The gospel provides the good news that we have a loving Father in Heaven who stands ever-ready to welcome us home and that He has provided a way to do so. As we are imperfect, we will sin and become unclean. As God cannot be around unclean things, it is then necessary for us to have a way to be clean again (Moses 6:57). Through the offering of a Savior, whom we know to be our brother Jesus Christ, and through the guidance of the Holy Spirit we can make our way back to our father’s presence. Our Savior is our required way to this cleansing and the Spirit draws us ever closer to our Savior.

We all have most likely heard of trials that have brought strengthened faith, closer relationships with Christ and strengthened abilities to build and serve others. I, gratefully, have been blessed through some of my own trials to become one of these types of witnesses. I have been preserved and protected of the Lord. Often my preservation and strength has come through intense suffering and heartache.

Some of the things I would love to share that I know to be true have come through hard, long and challenging personal experiences many of which are to personal and to sacred to share with you this day. I need you to understand that some things, especially heartbreaking and soul-wrenching things, are often the things that lead us to the greatest source of spiritual power as we overcome them. I also need you to understand that sometimes living the gospel and moving forward requires you to make hard choices about the influences, relationships and companionships you have allowed into your life.

I often say agency is the best, and the worst, thing about the gospel. It is the best as it is agency that provides the ability to even live the gospel and express our devotion to, and faith in, Christ. It can be the worst as sometimes, perhaps even often, as it is agency that brings soul-refining challenges into our lives because of poor decisions we’ve made, or others have made, that negatively impact our lives. Many hard, agency-based decisions that have negatively impacted my life have been made by fellow saints and travelers who have, at least for a moment, forgotten who they are and have forgotten we share this mortal journey.

There are many examples though that highlight those who used their agency for good and have kept pressing forward with faith in Christ, even when things were extremely difficult or when others’ choices added extra hazards along their paths.

Examples such as when Abinadi (Mosiah 11:20-29, 12:17-37, 13-17) is tortured and eventually burned at the stake for testifying of truth; or when Alma and Amulek are forced to see women and children thrown to their deaths in order for God to be able to enact the laws of justice. (Alma 14) Nephites who are threatened with death by murderous men while they faithfully awaited the signs of Christ’s birth (3 Nephi 1); Joseph who was sold into Egypt by His family and who then experienced numerous trials and unimaginable circumstances as a result of His family’s choices (Genesis 37, 39-45).

Like these brothers and sisters of ours, my faith has been strengthened through some of my most challenging experiences, accompanied by soul-searching, pleading prayers to my Father in Heaven. A side note on prayer: please know that our prayers are not to always be pretty, for if we do not pour out our souls to God He cannot fully pour out His grace upon us. We must ask for His help. God, our father, truly lives to hear our soul’s complaints (Hymn 136).

In addition to these scriptural examples I want to share a few modern-day examples of when God sustained His children, through their challenges, as they sought to find His help, hear His voice, and feel His peace. Hopefully, it will not surprise you that the individuals in these stories of faith and endurance were sustained because of the goodness of others in their lives. Sustaining of our brethren comes because some have learned who they are and have learned that they share the road in our journey back to heaven.

With permission, one experience I have felt prompted to share comes from one of my amazing sisters. A sister whose sweet family had their world torn apart several years ago with the diagnosis of childhood cancer for one of their children, who was only 3 years old at the time. She shares:

“[My husband] flew out this morning to New York for a funeral that is tomorrow. [Our sweet girl] hasn’t eaten all day and had puked 5-6 times and was not drinking much either. I was putting [the kids] in bed when there was a knock at the door, but I told the older kids to ignore it. I hate when people stop by without calling. I ignore the door a lot. Then [they] said “it’s the missionaries” and I said “Just ignore it” but the Spirit said, “They could give [her] a blessing.” so I opened the door. It wasn’t the missionaries. It was our stake president and Elder Richards of the second quorum of the seventy. He is in town for stake conference. They asked if they could visit with us. Of course I let them in. They asked how things were and how [she] was doing and I asked if maybe they could give her a blessing. They said sure but they wanted to visit first. The stake president looked me in the eyes and asked me how I was doing. I said “I’m fine” but He asked me again. I said, “I feel like people are trying to make me cry when they ask me that. I am okay.” He asked if I had had a blessing and I said no. I had meant to ask dad or [my father-in-law] when they were out but never got around to it. He asked if I needed one and I said yes.  He said, “We could have gone anywhere tonight and the Spirit led us to you. I feel it is for this reason, and maybe for [her] too.”

Another story I’ve felt prompted to share is part of my life story. In working to finalize my thoughts I came across an e-mail I sent a few years ago to a friend whom I had asked for a blessing of healing after a surgery on my leg. This e-mail was sent four years ago. It was sent by me over a year after the blessing I speak of and thank him for and it reads:

“I don't know if you remember much about the blessing you gave me last year or not but I do. In the blessing I was promised that I would fully recover if I followed the direction of the doctors and I was also counseled as the prophet Joseph Smith to not run faster than needed... (D&C 10:4) When my knee started bothering me again in late November I was so sad. It was frustrating because I was trying to figure out what I had done wrong. I knew that if the blessing said I'd make a full recovery that it would happen but didn't know how. I also got the impression though during the blessing that it wouldn't be a quick fix and that it was going to be a long process. When I'd become frustrated or sad the Spirit would tell me to just keeping doing what I could. It seemed like I was doing very little though physically as everything I tried hurt too much. It was probably the first time in all of my years of dealing with this lovely leg that I felt at a loss and was tempted to just give up and ask for permanent crutches or a wheel chair. My mind always kept returning to that blessing and it really strengthened my faith that everything would work out. I knew I was doing what the doctors had told me to and that I had been continuing to work to strengthen my leg. There were days I wondered if a 'full recovery' meant being able to walk upright, and days when I wondered if 'full recovery' did, in fact, mean life in a wheelchair, or if it even meant a recovery that was full in other terms, like no pain. Either way I knew the Lord knew me, my pains, and would make it all okay in the end, even if it meant changing my perspective on healing. I knew it because He had blessed me through worthy priesthood holders who cared about me and cared about the Lord.

The recent surgery I referenced in the e-mail was my 6th surgery on my leg; a leg that had me heading toward life in a wheelchair due to a previously undiagnosed condition and multiple, repeated injuries. I am able to stand before you today because of the faith and hope my Lord and Savior has provided me and sustained me with, and because of the help, love, and faith of  family and friends; family and friends who realized we share the road on this journey and who realized their choices and actions affected me as we love, serve and live alongside each other.

It is okay to fail, if only temporarily

My heart and mind have failed me many times in my life. It’s okay to have set-backs in our faith as long as we get back on the road and keep trying. For when we fail, Satan would have us believe we’re back at the beginning of the road or that we never got on the road in the first place. Satan lies (Moses 4:3-4).

When you feel like you’re failing you’re just running out of gas, or experiencing a flat tire. You’re not so far off the path that you’re un-savable. There is no length too far, or place too dark that God’s love and Christ’s atonement cannot reach. I know it because I’ve felt it, tested it, and found it true in my life. “Even if you feel you are the lost and last laborer of the 11th hour, the Lord of the vineyard still stands beckoning.” (https://www.lds.org/general-conference/2012/04/the-laborers-in-the-vineyard?lang=eng)

By sharing the road back to heaven there are literally hundreds and thousands of our fellow saints and travelers positioned along the path already prepared to help. Saints like my dear friend who served as the mouthpiece for the Lord for me. Saints like my sister’s dear stake and church leaders who were ready and able to answer the Lord’s call when He sent them to her.

As God has sent help to me, He has sent others to you. Have you seen them? Do you know how to find them when they’ve come?

Peace, hope and faith

In closing, I’d share that faith, specifically faith in Jesus Christ, is personal and powerful. Faith in Christ can look many different ways and so we need to be careful in how we define it, so we don’t miss it.  Satan will seek to steal our hearts and minds away from the subtle goodness we see any chance He gets.

God knows us and loves us. He will not leave us comfortless. He will guide us to the necessary steps we should take to strengthen our faith in Christ. He will teach us about Christ as we seek to learn and He will provide opportunities for our growth.

I am grateful for His love, His help, His son and His spirit. He loves you and knows you by name. Seek Him and ask Him for the help you need. He is ready, willing and desirous to lift and bless you.

He has given us each other to make it through this life, of this I am certain and of which I am most grateful.

The last part of my prayer for you is that you will learn to recognize the help He has already sent you, and that you will be the help for others He’s sent you to be, in the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.


Bio

Tracey Anderson and her husband, Eric, have been married for nearly 19 years and have been blessed with four fantastic children. The Anderson family has shared a life consisting of 20 moves, 22 jobs in 10 towns, across three states. They’ve also shared in six educational degree programs, six dogs (two currently), 17 vehicles, 15 wards, 27 callings, 13 surgeries, and 21 broken bones (29 if you count toes).

Tracey currently serves in her ward’s young women’s organization and is the director of student development at LDSBC. Tracey began working within the Church Educational System in 2010 and has had the opportunity to serve in a variety of roles.

Tracey’s greatest desire is to be an example of the believers (see: Timothy 4:2) as she seeks to improve her relationship with Christ and increase her faith and trust in Him each day.

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