Power of an Apostle – Elder Richard G. Scott

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With the passing of Elder Richard G. Scott this past week, I had an opportunity to reflect on how his teachings inspired me over the years. One experience in particular had a profound impact on me and many others.

While I served as a missionary for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in the Seattle, Washington area, Elder Scott visited our mission. I’ll share the experience as written in my missionary journal with additional commentary as necessary.

Friday, Oct. 15

Elder Richard G. Scott: With him are Elder Hammond of the area presidency and Elder Hammond’s second councilor. I got to shake [Elder Scott’s] hand and tell him my name and where I am from. [Elder Scott did this for every missionary there in the meeting. He wanted to shake everyone’s hands, look in their eyes, and then base his remarks on the impressions he received. It was a remarkable experience; I felt him understand who I was through the Spirit. There was such great power in his gaze that I knew he knew my soul.]

[He taught – these are summaries and not necessarily exact quotes]: “Set aside concerns and be led by the Lord. When there is an interchange of teaching, those teaching and those listening better can feel the Spirit. You hear and write down [i.e., take notes of the promptings from the Spirit]. You learn by what you feel and what you see.”

How you can learn by what you can observe [i.e., we can learn from people by watching them]:

  • Elder Kimball was teaching and set a handkerchief down and then the cup, so not to damage the finish – [Elder Scott learned] the power (value) of tithing and respect for the Lord’s property.
  • Pres. Packer holds his scriptures to his heart [when carrying them].

It is vitally important that we know the Bible, it is filled with truth. D&C 50:21-22. We do not all learn the same thing [the Holy Ghost teaches us what we need to learn]. A missionary has two parts – spiritual [power] and technical [knowledge and skills]. They are interrelated and cannot be separated. You can have a powerful testimony of truth but if you don’t know how to share it, the Lord cannot do His work.

[Other observations and encouragements]

  • You need to always keep growing.
  • Make the decision once, then use your energy to keep doing it.
  • Set goals.
  • Study doctrine.
  • Study the Savior and His life. He is the greatest motivator. The greatest motivation for enduring growth and most certain avenue for true happiness results when Father in Heaven and the Savior are at the head [center of our lives] and their teachings are the guide for our decisions.

[At this point in the meeting, Elder Scott took a break from teaching and had my mission president and his wife teach as well as those in the area presidency. Then Elder Scott taught again.]

9:30 yesterday – in temple during their meeting, he called Elder Hammond. There was a change in plans and Elder Hammond instantly accepted [i.e., attending and speaking at this meeting was a last minute change for Elder Hammond]. Be willingly obedient to the Lord.

Make sure you have a companionship inventory weekly.

Who I am [as a full time missionary]:

  • I have been called of Christ through His prophet by revelation to be a missionary to teach and testify of Christ.
  • I have been commissioned to bring souls to Christ through baptism and place them on the path to Celestial glory.
  • I have the right to be inspired what to do and have power to do it.
  • I am an authorized servant of Jesus Christ.

[About my mission president]: Pres. Larson is growing to fill his mantle. [We can ask ourselves] “Am I filling my mantle?”

  • People see the mantle [of a missionary]. Do not worry about the limits of the mantle. The Lord called you, He will prepare a way.
  • Must be clean and willing.
  • You can’t do it by yourself or all at once.
  • Remember who you are and never go back to where you were.
  • Keep growing.
  • How to gain confidence as a missionary: Nobody knows how much confidence you have, take all you want.
  • Know that there is a God in Heaven and your call is inspired.
  • Believe that the Lord will guide you and will build you.
  • Just decide to do it.
  • You cannot walk with one foot in the kingdom and one in the world.
  • Satan tries to get us on a path that is close to the Lord’s, then we justify a bit more and then we are way off [over time].
  • Do not let things come into your ears, mind, or eyes that will desensitize you [to the Spirit].
  • Draw your boundaries.

How to be led by the Spirit:

  • D&C 8:2-3, Enos 1:3 – starts with feeling or impression
  • Enos 1:4 – ponder, read, think, and pray
  • Enos 1:5 – your life changes

In order to be led more powerfully by the Spirit I must:

  • Exercise faith in Christ
  • Be diligent in keeping the commandments
  • Helamen 10:3 – ponder the things of the Lord
  • Serve and work
  • Without wearying, declare the word of God
  • Seek the Lord’s will
  • Do not fear
  • Prepare

I was touched greatly by the meeting. The thing that impressed me the most was having Elder Scott look into my eyes and know that he knew me as the Savior does. Then, Elder Scott took the impressions he received about my needs and the needs of all there to guide his remarks. It was a special experience.

Four Glorious Gifts From God

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The prophet Moroni wrote to encourage us to “Deny not the gifts of God, for they are many; and they come from the same God. And there are different ways that these gifts are administered; but it is the same God who worketh all in all; and they are given by the manifestations of the Spirit of God unto men, to profit them” (Moroni 10:8).

We receive four glorious gifts from God.

1. Faith

The first glorious gift is faith.

“Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” (Hebrews 11:1). Let me say that again with words that clarify the meaning: “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the proof of things not seen.” Faith isn’t just hoping something is true; it isn’t just believing in God – faith is much more and much more powerful. Faith is evidence; faith in God is proof of Him and His love for you. Walking by faith isn’t blindly following Christ, it is following Him because you have proof that what you are doing is right. Faith is a gift from God. Moroni wrote: “And to [some is given] exceedingly great faith” (Moroni 10:11). Faith comes of and by the Spirit of the Lord. If you want stronger faith, pray for it and keep the commandments. God will bless you with more and more faith as you follow Him.

Faith is a shield unto us. The Apostle Paul counseled: “Above all, [take] the shield of faith, wherewith ye shall be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked” (Eph. 6:16). In battles, the Roman shield was of key importance. It served to protect most of the body while allowing the legionnaire to attack his enemy with his sword or spear. The soldier moved his shield around to ward off blows and could use it to attack the enemy, if necessary. If the armies were farther apart, such as at the beginning of a battle, then small groups of legionaries would often make a testudo, or tortoise, formation in order to protect themselves from arrows. The legionaries in front or on the edges crouched behind their shields, blocking attacks from front. Those behind or in the middle held their shields over their heads and the heads of those in front. This formation was slow but very strong and could withstand strong attacks from the enemy. Soldiers could withstand more and stronger attacks as a group than they could individually.

Paul said the shield of faith was the most important armor for us. Faith in the Lord Jesus Christ is the first principle of the gospel. It is the foundation of the gospel; all other things build upon it. Faith is a shield; it can protect us from onslaughts by the Adversary. It also is stronger when combined with the faith of others – we stand stronger together than we do alone, which is one reason it’s important to attend church regularly and be an active part of a branch or ward. Who is has not been at church (recently) but could be or should be? Who is missing out on the faith-strengthening experience of attending church and partaking of the Sacrament? Who can you invite to join the army of the Lord? Inviting others to Christ will strengthen your faith in Him and help others develop faith in Christ.

With great faith, great works can be accomplished.

“In New Zealand, President Kimball was stricken with…the flu, suffering around the clock with either fever and perspiration or with chills. Three thousand young people were waiting at a local stadium to hear him speak, but were told, ‘Tonight you will hear from President [N. Eldon] Tanner, because President Kimball is ill.’ Thirty minutes before the meeting was to start, President Kimball, still limp, spoke to his physician, Russel M. Nelson, who was waiting with him, and said, ‘Tell [my wife] we’re going.’ They had to practically carry him to the car. At the stadium, a young man giving the opening prayer said, ‘We are three thousand New Zealand youth. We are assembled here, having prepared for six months to sing and to dance for thy prophet. Wilt thou heal him and deliver him here?’ As he said ‘Amen,’ the car drove into the stadium. Three thousand voices cheered that the prophet had come. He stood, strengthened even in his illness, and bore his witness to them.” (Madsen, T. G. (2004). The Presidents of the Church: Insights into Their Lives and Teachings. Deseret Book. p. 350-351).

Such was the power of the faith of the New Zealand youth and the faith of the prophet. Such can be the power of faith in our lives!

2. Peace

The second glorious gift is peace.

One morning my mission companion and I spent the morning tracting without success. It was a warm but cloudy April morning in Seattle, Washington. The spring day was lovely with white, pink, and red apple and cherry blossoms floating gently down from the trees like snow. When we walked through the blossoms on the ground, they swirled around our shoes like hundreds of delicate butterflies trying to take flight. It was one of the most serene and beautiful sights I have ever seen. We walked along tree-lined roads near the coast of the Puget Sound – up and down the steep hills sharing a message of hope, peace, and restoration but no one was listening. People were generally kind to us but no one was interested. I was struck by the contrast of the rejection of our beautiful message on such a beautiful day. My companion and I felt more dejected the more we were rejected. Then adding a bit of injury to insult, at one house a dog ran up and bit me on the leg as my companion and I started walking up the driveway. It wasn’t a large bite but I was bleeding and my pants had a tear in them. We kept tracting for almost an hour to finish off the area then walked home so I could get cleaned up. I felt discouraged by the unsuccessful morning capped off with an unfriendly dog.

All the way home I kept thinking, “How can this day get any worse? I bet I could be hit by a car on my walk home. That would be worse.” Sometimes it helps me feel better if I imagine for a couple minutes how my life could be worse, then I realize my life is beautiful, regardless of difficulties at the time. So I spent part of the walk back to the apartment wondering how my day could get worse; it got worse.

Our mail was there when we got home. Missionaries opening mail are like children on Christmas morning so normally receiving mail is a joyful experience. There was a letter from my parents! I opened the letter to learn that Eric, a friend from high school and one of my roommates at BYU, had been in a taxi with his companion when a truck hit their vehicle, killing Eric. I was shocked. I was speechless. I was heart-broken. However, during this time of acute grief all I could think about was how Heavenly Father must have felt as He watched the persecutions, suffering, and death of His beloved Son. I prayed for the comfort of Eric’s family; I prayed for my own comfort. Then suddenly, after a few minutes, the pain was gone. My grief was intense but brief. I was still sad but there was no longer any pain. I knew Eric died doing the Lord’s work and was now in a much brighter world still doing the Lord’s work. Amid grief and loss and pain, the Lord provides peace. The Lord’s peace heals our pain. Brothers and sisters, that is the nature of the Atonement. It removes the sting of death and sin – miraculously – and replaces it with peace.

Many of you and many throughout the world have felt this peace. In the midst of the Civil War, following the news that his son had been injured in a battle, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow penned the following words:

I heard the bells on Christmas day
Their old familiar carols play,
And wild and sweet the words repeat
Of peace on earth, good will to men.

Till ringing, singing on its way
The world revolved from night to day,
A voice, a chime, a chant sublime
Of peace on earth, good will to men.

Then from each black, accursed mouth
The cannon thundered in the South,
And with the sound the carols drowned
Of peace on earth, good will to men.

And in despair I bowed my head
“There is no peace on earth,” I said,
“For hate is strong and mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good will to men.”

Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
“God is not dead, nor doth He sleep;
The wrong shall fail, the right prevail
With peace on earth, good will to men.”

These words resonate strongly in our tumultuous world today. People cry for peace but peace can be hard to find. Nations strive against nations. Brothers, sisters, mothers, fathers strive against one another. Hate, mistrust, abuse, and violence are rampant. It is enough to cause people’s hearts to fail and fear. Many feel that hope is lost, that “hate is strong and mocks the song of peace on earth.” The answer for despair and darkness is not found in human philosophies. The answer is not found in worldly goods. The Answer once lay in a manger surrounded by animals and bathed in radiant starlight.

In the most humble of births the King of Heaven and Earth, the Prince of Peace, came to earth. He came with no great earthly fanfare; angels witnessed to those with ears to hear and the star witnessed to those with eyes to see. This singular event was the start of the most important 33 years in the history of the world – a life like no other. Jesus Christ was a gift from God to bring peace and salvation to earth.

In contrast to the humble birth and life of the Savior, the Christmas season is full of frenetic shopping and greedy consumerism. However, there is much positive too; it is also a season full of giving, thanksgiving, love, family, and joy. At this Christmas season, I pray that we all might remember Who Christmas really is about.

Christmas should not be about getting, although we are given so much by God, it should be about giving. It is a time that we celebrate the birth of the Savior Jesus Christ. He gave His life – His whole life – for us so that we could be saved. Just as wise men brought the young Jesus gifts, so too should we give gifts to others. The best gifts are not the ones that cost money. We should give of our time and our love. We should give service to those in need and even to those who do not think they are in need.

Pres. Thomas S. Monson said, “For a few moments, may we set aside the catalogs of Christmas, with their gifts of exotic description. Let’s even turn from the flowers for Mother, the special tie for Father, the cute doll, the train that whistles, the long-awaited bicycle—even the books and videos—and direct our thoughts to God-given gifts that endure” (Monson, April 1993 General Conference). [Commentary: after looking back at that talk, I realized how similar my talk/essay was to his in structure. The similarity was unintentional. I collected that quote years ago and included it without referencing the talk specifically].

The greatest gift we could give this Christmas time is the gift of our hearts, our souls, and our will to the Savior. We can rededicate ourselves to Him and to living His gospel. We can do the things that the Savior would do – help others, lift those who suffer, do good to those who spitefully use us, and share of our abundance (or even of our lack of abundance) with those around us. Most of all, we can give the gift of peace by our peaceful actions towards others. We can give peace to the hurt, the suffering, the lonely. We can spread peace in our home and in our hearts by focusing on the Savior. “Blessed are the peacemakers”, Jesus taught. Blessed are those who are filled with peace and help others have peace.

3. Holy Ghost

The third glorious gift is the Holy Ghost

“Therefore say, Thus saith the Lord God; I will even gather you from the people, and assemble you out of the countries where ye have been scattered, and I will give you the land of Israel. And they shall come thither, and they shall take away all the detestable things thereof and all the abominations thereof from thence. And I will give them one heart, and I will put a new spirit within you; and I will take the stony heart out of their flesh, and will give them an heart of flesh: That they may walk in my statutes, and keep mine ordinances, and do them: and they shall be my people, and I will be their God.” (Ezekiel 11:17-20)

The Holy Ghost gives us a new, soft heart. No more will we be afflicted with spiritual stenosis, we can have a strong, soft heart sensitive to the Spirit. We can teach others how to recognize that Spirit and receive it into their hearts. This is a responsibility we have to our families, to our visiting or home teaching families, to those we teach at church – the responsibility of helping others recognize the Spirit of the Lord. Through the gift of the Holy Ghost we can know the path back to our heavenly home.

4. Atonement & forgiveness

The final glorious gift is the gift of forgiveness through the Atonement of the Messiah.

This Christmas season, whether we can afford to purchase gifts or not, we can all afford one gift – the gift of forgiveness. We can forgive others for any real or perceived wrongs they did unto us or loved ones and in turn we can be forgiven by God.

Pres. Henry B. Eyring wrote,

“As we gather in [our] heavenly home, we will be surrounded by those who have been forgiven of all sin and who have forgiven each other. We can taste some of that joy now, especially as we remember and celebrate the Savior’s gifts to us…. In the Christmas season we feel a greater desire to remember and ponder the Savior’s words. He warned us that we cannot be forgiven unless we forgive others (see Matthew 6:14–15). That is often hard to do, so you will need to pray for help. This help to forgive will come most often when you are allowed to see that you have given as much or more hurt than you have received. When you act on that answer to your prayer for strength to forgive, you will feel a burden lifted from your shoulders. Carrying a grudge is a heavy burden. As you forgive, you will feel the joy of being forgiven. At this Christmastime you can give and receive the gift of forgiveness. The feeling of happiness that will come will be a glimpse of what we can feel at home together in the eternal home for which we yearn.” (Ensign, December 2009).

Forgiveness is precisely what Christmas is about. That tiny baby born in a manger was the Son of God. Jesus lived so that we might have the promise of eternal life. He did this because He loves us. By His love and power we can be forgiven of our sins. We all make mistakes. We all sin and fall short of God’s laws. But we can be forgiven. God said of Joseph Smith (and of each of us, for we all sin), “Nevertheless, he has sinned; but verily I say unto you, I, the Lord, forgive sins unto those who confess their sins before me and ask forgiveness, who have not sinned unto death.” (D&C 64:7).

Because the Lord is so willing to forgive us, we are commanded to forgive one another, “Wherefore, I say unto you, that ye ought to forgive one another; for he that forgiveth not his brother his trespasses standeth condemned before the Lord; for there remaineth in him the greater sin. I, the Lord, will forgive whom I will forgive, but of you it is required to forgive all men.” (D&C 64:9-10). We are required to forgive all people – without condition. It does not matter what they did to us, the only thing that matters is forgiving. This does not mean that we sanction people’s misdeeds or sins but we should forgive. There is little more damaging to a person than the festering disease of an unforgiving attitude.

There is a story about George Albert Smith, who was a prophet of God. Pres. Smith was a peacemaker who sought never to “be an enemy to any living soul” (The Presidents of the Church, Madsen, p.222). The story goes as follows, “George Albert Smith had an old 1936 Ford with a very precious blanket on the front seat made by Navajo Indians; they had sewn the names of all the Twelve into the blanket, along with his own name. The car wasn’t locked because it was in a guarded Church parking lot. But the blanket was stolen anyway. George Albert walked out from his meetings and found the blanket was gone. He could have [got upset but what did he do?] He said simply, ‘I wish we knew who it was so that we could give him the blanket…, for he must have been cold; and some food also, for he must have been hungry.’” (ibid., p.224). Now that is forgiveness! Pres. Smith’s response showed his forgiveness and love for others, even those who wronged him – especially those who wronged him. We can emulate Pres. Smith’s example and forgive others.

In the hymn As Now We Take the Sacrament we sing:

“As now our minds review the past,
We know we must repent;
The way to thee is righteousness—
The way thy life was spent.
Forgiveness is a gift from thee
We seek with pure intent.
With hands now pledged to do thy work,
We take the sacrament.”

“Forgiveness is a gift” from Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ. It is Jesus’ Christmas gift to each of us as we repent. Like peace, forgiveness is another gift that each of us, no matter how rich or poor we may be, can afford to give to someone this Christmas season. What greater gift is there than the peace that comes from wrongs and trespasses forgiven? What greater gift could we give ourselves than to let go of the hurt and bitterness and pain we retain when we are unforgiving? This Christmas, give the gift of forgiveness to someone who needs yours.

As we move along the path of life, may we remember these four glorious gifts from God – faith, peace, the Holy Ghost, and forgiveness. May we share our faith with others through the actions of our lives, may we be peacemakers, may we follow the promptings of the Holy Ghost and teach others how to feel, recognize, and receive that Spirit, and may we forgive others! The Church and the gospel are true. We are led by a prophet of God who reveals God’s will. As we follow the prophet we will be blessed with gifts from God.

Image by Andy Noren. Used under a CC license (summary: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/2.0/).

The Conversation of Conversion

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When I was younger I went on a number of Boy Scout campouts. On one of these outings we got to our mountain campsite late in the evening, which meant that we had to set up our tents in the dark. The tent that I was assigned to was old and not in good working condition. While we had set up many tents, the three of us assigned that tent hadn’t set up that particular tent before. Trying to put up a tent in the dark with tent poles that didn’t quite fit together was a challenge. Because we were tired we decided to be content with a tent that wasn’t quite put up right but it was up and we could sleep in it so we decided to leave it as it was. If it had been a typical Arizona night we would have been fine but that night was different.

Elsewhere a storm was brewing. After we settled down and were asleep, it started raining. Soon the rain was coming down in torrents. The three of us woke up as our tent collapsed around us and we found the water level in the tent rising rapidly. Apparently we got the tent with the jacuzzi. Two of us made the best of our soggy situation and had fun with the experience. The other scout in the tent wasn’t thrilled but we all survived the night – if soaked and cold.

We thought we were sufficiently prepared for the night but we were not prepared to weather a storm. Although we tried to make the best with the tent we had, we were not fully prepared.

I will turn to another experience I had as a scout, an experience with a different outcome. On another campout I was not weathering a thunderstorm at night in a collapsing tent, this time it was daytime in the desert. My scout patrol and I found ourselves with a compass and instructions directing us to a destination.

We were part of an orienteering competition. If we wanted to win, my patrol had to try and complete an orienteering course faster and more accurately than the other patrols. Given nothing but bearings and distances, we had to traverse the course, find the waypoints, and then end up at the destination. My patrol and I had spent many hours practicing. We prepared by practicing our pacing of distances and understanding and following compass bearings. Because of our preparation and conscientiousness during the course, our scout patrol won that competition and won every other orienteering competition we were in. We won because we prepared and stayed true to our preparation. We strove to be like the worthy warriors of Helaman’s army who “did obey and observe to perform every word of command with exactness” (Alma 57:21). We did not just act blindly without preparation; we studied, we planned, and then we acted (see D&C 9:7-8).

In the gospel and in life a key to success is firstly being prepared and then acting with integrity to the capability we have. In the end, integrity to God is what really matters. One measure of our integrity to God is the measure of our conversion. Conversion takes preparation and work; it takes holding to the course and finding and following the guideposts. Conversion comes from striving to act with exactness to the principles we have been taught. It comes through at-one-ment with God.

The word conversion comes from a word meaning “to turn around”. In the gospel setting, it means turning our backs on our previous lives to turn back towards Christ. We turn back to Christ because we knew Him and accepted His plan in the grand council of Heaven. We go through a change – a change of heart, a change of direction, a change of motivation. Conversion is never a single event; it is a process. One way to look at conversion is as a life-long conversation. Conversation, incidentally, comes from the same root words as conversion. While this is not the common use of the word today, conversation means to turn about with, to keep company with, and to live with. This can bring new meaning to the phrase “converse with the Lord”. When we converse with the Lord we follow Him, we keep company with Him, and we live with Him. Conversion brings conversation with the Lord.

This reminds me of a story told about a meeting one of the apostles had with a group of ministers from other churches. During this meeting one of the ministers asked the apostle, perhaps condescendingly, “Would you give your life for Jesus?” After a brief pause, the apostle responded, “I thought that’s what I was doing.” When we are converted we give our lives to the Savior. Not just the breath of life – Jesus gives that to us – but the breadth of our lives.

As we are converted we go through a process of upconversion. The Lord takes what exists and replaces it with a higher quality version. We are upgraded from our base, natural tendencies to be more like the Savior. The apostle Paul spoke of this upconversion when he counseled the Saints to “put off concerning the former conversation [-] the old man, which is corrupt according to the deceitful lusts; And be renewed in the spirit of your mind; And that ye put on the new man, which after God[,] is created in righteousness and true holiness. Wherefore putting away lying, speak every man truth with his neighbour: for we are members one of another.” (Ephesians 4:22-25; emphasis added).

Conversion means throwing off the old man or woman of sin and putting on a new man or woman of Christ. It is not just an inner change, it affects our interactions with others. As we are converted we take upon us a new name and a new persona that is better and brighter than what existed before. Christ made us from the dust of the earth but He wants us to shine like the sun. “From physics we learn that there are set laws that govern the conversion of matter into energy, and the conversion of energy into matter. It is through these laws that the sun and other stars convert matter into energy, thereby giving us our light. In the same way there are laws governing our conversion from a natural man or woman to a son or daughter of God[, a radiant being full of light and the hope of eternal lives].” (Ryan Tanner, personal communication).

What are these set laws that govern our conversion? They are the principles and ordinances of the gospel of Jesus Christ as taught in the scriptures and by the living prophets: faith, repentance, baptism, confirmation, priesthood, service, charity, prayer, temple worthiness, endurance to the end.

If we do not strive to follow Christ we go through a process of deconversion. In the gospel this means we turn away from Christ. As we become deconverted we turn our backs on the Savior, rejecting Him and His atonement. We change from the new back to the old. Even as we turn away, the Savior reaches out to us, hoping we turn back – convert – to gaze upon His glory and have conversation with Him.

This conversation – this turning around with the Lord, this keeping company with the Lord, occurs as we repent. “And after their temptations, and much tribulation, behold, I, the Lord, will feel after them, and if they harden not their hearts, and stiffen not their necks against me, they shall be converted, and I will heal them.” (D&C 112:13) We are healed spiritually as we convert. The temple is vital for this conversation and conversion to occur: “Therefore, verily I say unto you, that your anointings, and your washings, and your baptisms for the dead, and your solemn assemblies, and your memorials for your sacrifices by the sons of Levi, and for your oracles in your most holy places wherein you receive conversations, and your statutes and judgments, for the beginning of the revelations and foundation of Zion, and for the glory, honor, and endowment of all her municipals, are ordained by the ordinance of my holy house, which my people are always commanded to build unto my holy name.” (D&C 124:39; emphasis added). If you have not gone to the temple, now is the time to obtain a recommend and go. For those with recommends, frequent attendance will bring great blessings to our lives. We will feel the Spirit of the Lord more powerfully.

As we become conversant with the Spirit, we are converted. When we are converted we are counseled to “strengthen [our] brethren [and sisters].” (Luke 22:32). This strengthening comes from the conversation of our lives and in our invitations to those around us to come unto Christ and be purified in Him.

I knew a man named Bill who was invited and then taught the gospel by friends. Bill was a contractor and an ex-Marine with a soft heart. After being taught the fundamentals of the gospel, Bill was baptized at age 50. Three weeks later he baptized his son. He quickly became immersed in the church, serving as ward executive secretary and then going to the temple to make sacred covenants a year after his baptism. Shortly after he joined the Church I overheard him talking to a ward member. He was happy to have the gospel and to be baptized but he expressed regret at having not been taught years before. Bill used to play basketball with LDS friends at the local church building. Although he was around them weekly, not once did they offer to share the gospel with him by inviting him to meet with the missionaries. Over the years Bill kept in touch with those friends but it took 20 years for them to finally offer to share the gospel with him. Although they had taught him in the conversations of the actions of their lives, they finally taught him the principles of the gospel through the conversation of missionary discussions; he rejoiced, he accepted, and he was baptized. His regret was that if his friends had simply started that conversation years ago, he would have joined the church as a younger man and been able to experience the blessings that come from it for those 20 years. He thought that perhaps if he had the church earlier he could have saved his marriage and been saved from some heartache over the years. Bill was happy to have the gospel but hurt that it took so long for that conversation and invitation to happen.

How many Bills are there in our lives – individuals just waiting for us to open our hearts and mouths in invitation? Is Bill your neighbor or good friend? Is he your co-worker or your brother? Just as we should not delay the day of our repentance, we should not delay our sharing with others the conversation of conversion.

President Monson has charged us as members of Christ’s church to participate in hastening the work of salvation. This requires us to be become conversant with others about the church and be bold in invitation.

The Lord has blessed us with a large increase in full-time missionaries. Since President Monson’s announcement that lowered the age at which missionaries could serve, we’ve had a 55% increase in the number of missionaries. What we have not yet seen is a similar increase in member referrals to missionaries. How many of us have friends, neighbors, and acquaintances who are “Ever learning, and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth” (2 Timothy 3:7) because we never extend the hand in invitation? Brothers and Sisters, the Lord has asked us to lengthen our strides and get to work by participating in the hastening of the work of salvation. “For behold the field is white already to harvest; and lo, he that thrusteth in his sickle with his might, the same layeth up in store that he perisheth not, but bringeth salvation to his soul” (D&C 4:4). The field is white when we as members do our part in preparing, teaching, and then inviting those around us to meet with the missionaries. We help the Lord of the Harvest by planting and nurturing seeds and working along side the missionaries in the field.

The prophet Zenos delivered a great allegory pertaining to the work of the Lord in the latter days.

“And the Lord of the vineyard said unto the servant: Pluck not the wild branches from the trees, save it be those which are most bitter; and in them ye shall graft according to that which I have said. And we will nourish again the trees of the vineyard, and we will trim up the branches thereof; and we will pluck from the trees those branches which are ripened, that must perish, and cast them into the fire. And this I do that, perhaps, the roots thereof may take strength because of their goodness; and because of the change of the branches, that the good may overcome the evil. And because that I have preserved the natural branches and the roots thereof, and that I have grafted in the natural branches again into their mother tree, and have preserved the roots of their mother tree, that, perhaps, the trees of my vineyard may bring forth again good fruit; and that I may have joy again in the fruit of my vineyard, and, perhaps, that I may rejoice exceedingly that I have preserved the roots and the branches of the first fruit—Wherefore, go to, and call servants, that we may labor diligently with our might in the vineyard, that we may prepare the way, that I may bring forth again the natural fruit, which natural fruit is good and the most precious above all other fruit. Wherefore, let us go to and labor with our might this last time, for behold the end draweth nigh, and this is for the last time that I shall prune my vineyard.” (Jacob 5:57-62).

We are not alone in this work. “And it came to pass that the Lord of the vineyard sent his servant; and the servant went and did as the Lord had commanded him, and brought other servants; and they were few…. And it came to pass that the servants did go and labor with their mights; and the Lord of the vineyard labored also with them; and they did obey the commandments of the Lord of the vineyard in all things.” (Jacob 5:70,72). The Lord is out there too; He not only directs the work, He performs it. We are called to participate with the Lord in this great work of salvation.

Another way we can hasten the work is in our own homes as we strive to raise our children in such a manner that they are firm and steadfast, abounding in good works. Preparation for full-time missionary service needs to occur in our homes. Going on a mission is like jumping into the deep end of a pool without knowing how to swim. We can soften the shock by teaching our children to be missionaries all the time. We need to prepare our children by acting as missionaries to all those around us. Then, when they enter the mission field they will already be comfortable with the work. They will still be in over their heads but that’s where growth occurs. Just as do the rest of us, missionaries have to rely on the Spirit to buoy them up. Learning to recognize the Spirit and act on those promptings happens most powerfully in the home. This means that parents have to be more conscientious about teaching their children and helping their children learn to recognize the Spirit. Youth preparing to serve missions need to know doctrine, understand the scriptures, recognize the Spirit, and live the gospel. As our youth are filled with “faith, hope, charity and love, [and have eyes] single to the glory of God” (D&C 4:5) they are qualified for the work. It is our responsibility to be filled with those attributes and encourage those around us to likewise be filled.

As we are converted, we will strive to participate with the prophet in rescuing those who are lost. A story from the Revolutionary War teaches the principle of rescue.

On a bitter cold Christmas night the Continental Army, led by George Washington, made a bold maneuver against the superior forces of the British army. General Washington led his troops over the Delaware in what would prove to be a defining moment of the Revolutionary War and American history. The crossing of the Delaware took all night; it was a significant adversity. Severe winter weather blew and froze the troops all during the crossing and the following day. Even so, the poor weather was a mixed blessing – it made the crossing treacherous but it also masked the movements of the Americans. Even after crossing the icy river, surviving the danger of that maneuver, it was so frigid that there are reports of at least two soldiers freezing to death that night. John Greenwood was a member of the army; he served as a fifer but because of the circumstances, John the fifer became John the soldier when he was called to carry a musket during the upcoming assault. As the army marched on its way after crossing the Delaware, John Greenwood was exhausted like many others. During one break he sat down with the intention of going to sleep. The voice of the bitter cold enticed John, lulling him into a false sense of security. He was so fatigued that he didn’t care if he never awoke from his slumber. As he drifted off to sleep, a passing sergeant noticed John, roused him, and got him up and moving. (Fischer, David H. 2004. Washington’s crossing. Oxford University Press, New York, NY, p. 228). This act saved his life. Had the sergeant not noticed the lowly fifer, had the sergeant not gone after a sleeping sheep, John’s life would have been lost.

This story exemplifies the principle of stewardship in the gospel. All members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints have responsibilities to other people. All are ideally called as visiting teachers or home teachers where in our conversations we strive to strengthen conversion – that of others and our own. Do we watch over others or do we leave them by the wayside to suffer the effects of their inaction? Let us be proactive so that we do not need to spend time helping others become re-active. Cain asked a simple but condescending question of the Lord, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” (Genesis 4:9). Even though Cain’s reason for asking was neither honest nor of concern for his brother, whom he had just killed, it is a question we would do well to ask ourselves in honesty. Do we really see ourselves as our brothers’ and sisters’ keepers?

It is our covenant duty as members of the Church to love others and watch over them – even when inconvenient, maybe especially when inconvenient. When we watch over others we might just save their lives spiritually or physically. We can participate with Pres. Monson in rescuing those who are lost by acting with diligence to our covenant responsibilities that come with our conversion to the gospel. As we do so, we and they can converse with our Heavenly Father along the path to exaltation.

The prophet king Benjamin taught his people a powerful sermon. “And now, it came to pass that when king Benjamin had thus spoken to his people, he sent among them, desiring to know of his people if they believed the words which he had spoken unto them. And they all cried with one voice, saying: Yea, we believe all the words which thou hast spoken unto us; and also, we know of their surety and truth, because of the Spirit of the Lord Omnipotent, which 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. And we, ourselves, also, through the infinite goodness of God, and the manifestations of his Spirit, have great views of that which is to come; and were it expedient, we could prophesy of all things. And it is the faith which we have had on the things which our king has spoken unto us that has brought us to this great knowledge, whereby we do rejoice with such exceedingly great joy. And we are willing to enter into a covenant with our God to do his will, and to be obedient to his commandments in all things that he shall command us, all the remainder of our days.” (Mosiah 5:1-5).

King Benjamin’s people experienced a mighty change of heart. They were converted and healed. Are we converted? In the words of Alma: “I ask of you…have ye spiritually been born of God? Have ye received his image in your countenances? Have ye experienced this mighty change in your hearts? And now behold…if ye have experienced a change of heart, and if ye have felt to sing the song of redeeming love, I would ask, can ye feel so now?” (Alma 5:14,26).

As we prepare and are converted, conversing with the Lord, we should work with the Lord in rescuing those who are lost and in hastening the work of salvation. May we seek out to rescue the John Greenwoods around us or invite and teach the Bills in our lives! May we be prepared for whatever paths or storms come our way. May we be healed through our conversions and conversations with God. This I so pray in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.

Hastening the Work of Salvation: High Council

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Members of the High Council have the responsibility to help strengthen and train leaders and members of the Elders quorum and High Priest group in the ward or branch in which they are assigned. Part of this responsibility lies in helping hasten the work of salvation by encouraging those who bear the priesthood to strengthen their brethren, particularly those who have left the gospel fold or become casual in their attendance and testimonies. The Church has a series of videos focused on how various church leaders play a role in hastening the work of salvation. Here is a brief video about the role that high councilors play.

Here’s the link to the video (I’d embed it but it kept auto-playing and until that is fixed, I’ll just link to the video).

The Church also has a short document describing the responsibilities high councilors over missionary work in a stake have regarding hastening the work of salvation. This is found here (as a PDF): http://www.lds.org/bc/content/shared/english/wwlt/hasten/hastening-the-work-high-councilor-eng.pdf?lang=eng

The District

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BYUtv, in conjunction with The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, has a new documentary series about 8 missionaries serving in the San Diego, CA mission. It provides a touching, if sometimes superficial, look at the lives of these missionaries. Missions are not easy. They are happy years but also years full of discouragement and difficulty. A mission is a time to try to help others come unto Christ but it is also a time when the missionary experiences a lot of growth. Missions are maturing more than just about any other experience a young woman or young man could be doing at that time. That maturity comes through a solemn, covenant responsibility, one that is weighty but lifting at the same time. I remember clearly how I felt when I was released as a full-time missionary more than 10 years ago. As my Stake President released me through the laying on of hands, I felt a weight lift off me. It was a bittersweet moment – a time of relief over the loss of that burden but also a twinge of regret over the loss of that blessing. I almost felt like sighing with relief and crying with remorse. Missions are beautiful experiences – times to focus on little but helping others follow the Savior. They are also times to really start to learn what being a disciple of Christ entails.

As for the show The District, there’s only one episode out so far so I am looking forward to the next one. Watch the first episode below.

Lowering the Age and Raising the Bar

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I wanted to share a few thoughts about the lowering of the age requirements for LDS missionaries, which was announced on Saturday morning by Pres. Thomas S. Monson. Young men can serve at 18 if they are done with high school (or its equivalent) and young women can serve at 19 if they are done with high school (or its equivalent).

First about numbers: Church leaders are expecting a significant increase in the number of missionaries serving. I think it will have a greater effect initially on the number of women serving than the number of men, although it will affect both. We currently have 58,000 missionaries serving. Back in the 90s it was usually at 60,000 but was down to around 52,000 in recent years with a higher trend recently. The trend will continue upward after this announcement.

Second, this point should not be ignored: “Elder Holland also explained that missionaries will be asked to enhance their pre-mission preparation prior to entering the Missionary Training Center (MTC) and that time spent in the MTC will be reduced by approximately one-third for all missionaries. That change will help accommodate an overall increase in missionaries.” Missionaries called to missions in their own language typically only spend 20 days in the MTC so this will be reduced to around 14 days. The best education about the process of being a missionary occurs in the field. On the job training is more effective than any in the classroom training that occurs in the MTC. What the MTC does is get missionaries used to the missionary schedule (typically 6:30 AM – 10:30 PM). Missionaries who are learning a new language spend around 9 weeks in the MTC(s) with the extra time spent learning the language (or at least thinking you are learning the language). Again, most of the language learning occurs in the field. With a reduction of about 33%, the stay is reduced from 9 weeks to 6 weeks. As Elder Holland stated, this reduction in MTC time is to accommodate more missionaries (it can be assumed that the Church is expecting up to a 33% increase in missionaries, although this increase likely will occur over the course of a decade – I’m predicting {and I could be wrong – hopefully I am} an increase of about 15,000 within 10 years).

Third point. Where are the missionaries prepared now if not as much in the MTC? Where they always were supposed to be prepared – in the home and at church: “Elder Holland said parents need to help their children prepare for missionary service.” Back in 2003 Pres. Gordon B. Hinckley raised the bar for missionaries by raising the standard for the preparation of missionaries. The Lord wanted better-prepared servants who were ready to hit the ground running. Part of this change required revamping the missionary discussions (near the end of my mission new discussions were starting to be piloted in the adjacent mission to mine in Washington). These updated discussions emphasized the role of prophets more but more significantly and substantially relied on missionaries receiving revelation concerning the needs of those whom they were teaching. This greater emphasis of reliance on the Spirit meant that missionaries needed to be better prepared.

All of this implies that preparation need to occur in the homes. Parents have a greater responsibility to make sure that their children areprepared. With the recent age change and subsequent shortening of stays in MTCs, this puts even greater responsibility on parents to prepare their children. Young men and women should be intimately familiar with Preach My Gospel (notice: PDF link of the book) before they get to the MTC. Making it a regular part of gospel study is encouraged. Going on a mission is like jumping into the deep end of a pool without knowing how to swim. Missionaries have to rely on the Spirit to buoy them up because they are in over their heads (I can’t take credit for this analogy, it comes to me second hand from one of my ward mission leaders who met regularly with some of the Apostles to discuss church technology plans – he learned it from them). Learning to recognize the Spirit and act on those promptings best happens in the home. This means that parents have to be more conscientious about teaching their children and helping their children learn to recognize the Spirit. Youth need to know the doctrine, recognize the Spirit, and live the gospel. This has always been the case but it is imperative now that the youth are prepared before they are set apart as missionaries. Having served with the youth for the past 6 years, I can say that many are that prepared.

Overall, this was an exciting announcement from the prophet. I don’t know if I would have gone at 18 if I had the choice. I thoroughly enjoyed the year I had at Brigham Young University before my mission. I learned much that year, a lot that helped me prepare further to serve as a missionary. I could have gone at 18 but I value the experiences and friends I had at BYU as a freshman. On the other hand, if I went at 18, I might have modified my career trajectory earlier (I essentially figured out what I wanted to do when I was a missionary; my freshman year was spent in classes that were for a major that I no longer wanted to do. I don’t want to say that the whole year was a waste, it was valuable in many ways and it was a year I hold dear to my heart, but most of my classes were major-specific and thus not helpful when I changed my major to psychology). If I had gone on a mission right after high school maybe I would have figured out my new major before I spent a year on classes that in the end did not matter (although they were still great learning experiences). This is a lot of ifs and hypotheticals and is in the end a moot discussion because going earlier was not an option.

My point in belaboring this point is that the decision is not an easy one. The Church is not expecting every young man to go at 18. They do not even expect every young man to go at 19. The hope is that every able young man will be able to serve a mission but there are extenuating circumstances that contraindicate missions for some individuals. What is important is to make the decision of when to go with the inspiration of God and with input from parents and church leaders. What the Lord wants are missionaries who are willing and worthy to serve and who are prepared to act as instruments in His hands as full-time missionaries and throughout their lives.

The Reality of Evil

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While I was a missionary for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints my missionary companion and I were out knocking on doors in a suburb of Seattle on a Thursday morning in June. At one home a man talked with us through a kitchen window, which was right by the pathway to the front door. We talked with him for a few minutes. He told us that he had seen Christ in a vision and that he had had a badly burned hand completely healed through that vision. During our conversation in which he was trying to tell us of the error of our ways, I kept getting a progressively worse feeling inside. It is difficult to explain what it was like other than it was a really bad feeling (cue the Star Wars quote: “I’ve got a bad feeling about this…”). I had never talked with anyone who had such a evil spirit about him; it was almost terrifying. The feeling went way beyond creepiness. At one point, I felt that my legs were almost held in place as he talked with us. I was just thankful that we were separated by a sturdy house wall instead of talking with him without a barrier. He was not interested in what we had to say so we quickly left, thanking him for his time, and went on knocking on other doors. As we left his presence, the evil feeling went away. I hoped and prayed that one day he would understand and accept the truth of the gospel.

On a Monday just a few weeks later, my companion and I were out looking for a family who had just moved into our ward boundaries (their membership records had been moved into the ward but they had not shown up at church). As we were looking for their address we passed a house a few times. Inside that house there was a man who just stood inside and stared out at us. We found the address we were searching for but no one was home so I decided to go talk with the man who had been staring at us. I pulled out a Book of Mormon and we approached his home. He saw us coming (he was still staring at us) and opened the door saying, “Hello Elders!” I asked if he was a member of the Church. He replied, “If I was born a member and never not became one, I guess you could say that I was.” He invited us in and we talked for a few minutes. He had stopped going to church when he was 14. He started telling us many of the standard anti-Mormon lines and some not-so-common lines (e.g., The LDS Church owned Pepsi-Cola [but was hypocritical because they prohibited church members from drinking Pepsi]; it had been discovered that Moroni was the name of one of the Devil’s main messengers, etc.). The only thing I could do, because he was not really interested in talking with us, he just wanted to talk at us, was bear my testimony to him. My companion and I both had a creeping, hollow, bad feeling growing inside while in his presence. It was a really bad feeling, similar to what I had felt a few weeks previously. He quickly became very angry with us (mainly with me because I was the one responding to him) because I would not try to argue with him about the claims he was making against the LDS Church. He asked us to leave, which we gladly did, thanking him for his time as we went on our merry way. Like the previous man, I hope and prayed that he would be able to accept the truth some day.

Those are two of the most memorable times that I have been in the presence of people who have exuded such feelings of emptiness and evil that being in their presence was nearly unbearable for me. Those two different men were both witnesses to me of the reality of evil. The experiences might seem minor in light of all the evil that goes on in the world but the evil spirit is the same. There are people in whom the Spirit of the Lord resides, there are people in whom the Spirit does not reside, and there are some people in whom an evil spirit resides. These two men were filled with an evil spirit. I have not met any people like those two since that time.

A Random Missionary Experience

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I wanted to share an experience from my LDS mission so I opened my journal to a random entry. Here are a couple entries (with mild editing to clean up any errors and to edit out names):

From Tuesday, January 4, 2000: “Today was a good day. We did not have too many referrals to do, so that was a good break [I worked in the office at this point and making all the phone calls in the morning when we had to send out information about people who had contacted the LDS Church stating they wanted to receive a movie or book {and who said that they wanted to be contacted by representatives of the Church} to the various missionaries in the mission. The process took up to three hours some days.]. We did get a lot done, mostly busy work but it was fun. I was talking to Sis. Larson [our mission president’s wife] about the piano and school and all [that]. She is really neat. Today she asked me if I did finger exercises so I would keep up on my skills. [She and President Larson [make] sure I keep up on my piano skills. Pres. Larson always asks me if I get enough piano practicing in…. An older couple took us and the Hermanas to a buffet restaurant for dinner. It was good. We went and met with Bill [recently baptized] after dinner and just talked with him. We set his son’s baptism date for January 26! We have a lot do in between now and then, especially since he won’t be here for half the time because he stays part of the time at his mother’s place. Bill is such a great man. He is intelligent and wants to learn so much. I know that he will be a great strength to this ward [he was called to be the ward executive secretary about 7 months after his baptism]. Life is great. I do want to help a lot of people in this world. I only hope that I may be a Christ-like person and really be kind and generous. =)”

Why did I share this entry? It was simply one that I opened up to. I also thought it represented a typical day as a missionary – at least as an office missionary. We worked in the mission office until at least lunch (we had the occasional day where we were there until almost dinner time) and then went home and did ‘normal’ missionary work for the rest of the day. As missionaries we spent out time talking with people – everything is about the people. We have good news of Christ’s restored gospel that we want to share with all people. It is the world’s most important news and so all our time was spent trying to share this news with people. We spent all our time with others – teaching, talking, serving, and loving. Even the hard days of rejection and sadness were uplifting in their own way.

One thing that strikes me as I go back and read my missionary journals is how often the words, “Life is great” or “Life is beautiful” or some variation on that theme. I’ve always tried to be upbeat and optimistic about life but my mission journals generally just ooze with positivity. It is not mere melodrama – serving as an LDS missionary is one of the most amazing things I have ever done. Within the Church you frequently hear people refer to the years they spent as missionaries as “the best two years” of their lives. For me, life continues to get better with each passing year but my years as a full-time missionary were two of the best years of my life; I know that seems a bit contradictory but there really is not a better way to explain it. There is something about full-time missionary service that is incredibly rewarding. It’s not a service done for personal benefit – taking two years out of schooling or other life seems like a waste of time to many people but it was anything but that. I have never been happier for as long as I was than when I was a full-time missionary.

Being a missionary is about the people though. It is about the Bills and Andrews and Karens of the world who hear the gospel preached to them, feel the Spirit, and rejoice at and accept the good news they hear and feel. Those of us who served (and serve or will serve) full time missions for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are ‘normal’ people. We were called of God to do a great work – spread His restored gospel.

Selected October 2009 General Conference Quotes and Thoughts – Sunday Morning Session

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Pres. Henry B. Eyring – The Road of Improvement

Different as we may be, we share a desire to be better than we are. We can and must expect to become better as long as we live. We will all meet the Savior someday and need to prepare for that time. Any believing Latter-day Saint is an optimist about what may come. Even the most humble person can take comfort in the invitation to become like the Savior.

I’m trying to be like Jesus, I’m following in His way. I’m trying to love as He did, in all that I do and say.

It is a commandment to become like the Savior. He has prepared a way through His Atonement and example. Love is the motivator along the way to becoming like Him. Love of God will lead us to keep His commandments. The family is an example of the ideal setting in which we can experience love [and service]. Sorrow [in our families] comes primarily from selfishness.

I pray that there will be no empty chairs in your family in the life to come. Pray for the love to make your companion’s joy your own.

[He talked about wayward children]. Orson F. Whitney quote: “Though some of the sheep may wander, the eye of the Shepherd is upon them…Pray for your careless and disobedient children…Love them, reach out to them with confidence…”

Honor thy father and mother – the only commandment with a promise.

You can feel the approval our your Heavenly Father when you do what He asks. I hope you will go out today looking for opportunities to do as He did.

Elder L. Tom Perry – Temple and Missionary Work

Talked about the Manti Temple pageant and temple. There is a special spirit about these older temples that were constructed [with great sacrifice]. I can hear the pioneers saying, “Look what we built with our own hands!”

Stories of the pioneers. Settling in Sanpete and promised to have a temple. They waited and no temple was started so they, with the Church leaders’ permission, started building the Manti temple. They used the principles of ship-building to build a solid roof for the temple (they designed it like a ship and turned it upside-down). The principles of building a sound ship also applied to the temple.

We have all accepted the responsibility to share the gospel with others. The church eliminated the stake missions and brought it down to the ward level; it increases involvement by the members. Pres. Hinckley said: “So many of look upon missionary work simply as tracting…there is a better…wherever there is a member who introduces an investigator, there is a built-in support system.”

How prepared are you to give witness and testimony of the gospel…to play that supporting role to the full-time missionaries as they teach investigators?

The gospel of Jesus Christ is the divine way to face the future.

Elder Russell M. Nelson – Revelation

Modern technology is amazing. But more amazing is our ability to receive knowledge from heaven without hardware, software, or monthly fees. This offer to receive personal revelation is extended to all God’s children. We always need to be ready to receive [personal revelation].

To access information from heaven, one must have firm faith and sincere desire. One needs to ask with real intent and with faith in Jesus Christ. Study the matter diligently.

Some revelations have been given for specific circumstances, like Noah’s ark.

A desire to follow the prophet takes much effort because the natural man knows little of the Lord. The natural man is an enemy to God and will be forever unless he [submitteth unto the Lord].

Personal revelation can be honed to become spiritual discernment. This is a supernal gift. It allows us to see things not visible and feel things not tangible. Can detect trends in the world…things that are flashy and fleeting and those that are [worthwhile and lasting].

“None of the callings in the Priesthood are for the personal benefit or fame of those who have them. They are to fulfill the purposes of God.” ~ Pres. John Taylor (paraphrased)

Revelation need not all come at once. It may be incremental. “Line upon line, precept upon precept.” Unto him who receiveth, I will give more.

Pres. Thomas S. Monson – Service

Volunteers in Medicine founder – Dr. McConnell – giving service

Unless we lose ourselves in service to others, there is little purpose in life. Giving service can, in effect, save your life.

“Man’s greatest happiness comes from losing himself for the good of others” – David O. McKay.

At baptism we covenant to bear one another’s burdens that they may be light. Too often we think, “oh, someone else will fill that need.” We spend too much time thinking about things that do not matter much in the grand scheme of things.

“I have wept in the night for the shortness of sight that to somebody’s need made me blind; But I never have yet felt a tinge of regret for being a little too kind.”

“Warm fuzzies jar” – based on acts of service. A girl in a ward babysat for free for a family who did not have a lot of money. [Other examples of service were shared].

We have to live a long time to learn how empty a room can be that is filled only with furniture. The memories of the past can burn within our hearts.

Have I done any good in the world today?
Have I helped anyone in need?
Have I cheered up the sad and made someone feel glad?
If not, I have failed indeed.

If we truly listen we may hear that voice say, “Well done, thou good and faithful servant.”

Testimony

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To testify is to declare a belief about, of, or in something. It is to declare a fact or a truth about something. It is to witness your knowledge of the veracity of something. The word testimony is a noun so someone has a testimony or can declare their testimony by testifying. The word testimony comes from the Latin word testis meaning witness. It is also related to the Latin words for three and stand, implying that the testis, or witness, stands as another (third) witness. We are taught in the Old Testament – testament is the same word as testimony – as well as the New Testament and Doctrine & Covenants that there need to be multiple witnesses to establish the truth of an accusation or declaration; this includes God’s word, which shall be established by multiple witnesses (two or three; see Deut. 19:15; Matt. 18:16; D&C; 6:28). It is in the bearing testimony of multiple witnesses that truth is established. Even the Godhead, though one in witness and purpose and glory, constitute multiple witnesses. When Jesus Christ was baptized, His Father bore witness to John the Baptist saying, “This is my beloved Son.” The Holy Ghost also descended like a dove to bear witness to John of the divinity of Jesus Christ. God’s pattern for testifying of His truths is well-established.

When Alma and Amulek started preaching to the people in the land of Ammonihah, the people were astonished that two people bore witness unto them: “And now, when Amulek had spoken these words the people began to be astonished, seeing there was more than one witness who testified of the things whereof they were accused, and also of the things which were to come, according to the spirit of prophecy which was in them” (Alma 10:12). This is one reason LDS missionaries go out two by two – there are multiple people to bear witness, to share their testimony of the truths of the gospel.

In the October 2001 General Conference Elder Richard G. Scott gave this powerful teaching about testimony: “A strong testimony is the sustaining power of a successful life. It is centered in an understanding of the divine attributes of God our Father, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Ghost. It is secured by a willing reliance upon Them. A powerful testimony is grounded in the personal assurance that the Holy Ghost can guide and inspire our daily acts for good. A testimony is fortified by spiritual impressions that confirm the validity of a teaching, of a righteous act, or of a warning of pending danger. Often such guidance is accompanied by powerful emotions that make it difficult to speak and bring tears to the eyes. But a testimony is not emotion. It is the very essence of character woven from threads born of countless correct decisions” (Ensign, Nov. 2001, Scott; emphasis added).

Let me repeat: “[A testimony] is the very essence of character woven from threads born of countless correct decisions.” A testimony is based on the goodness of our lives, of our characters, and our actions. Our testimonies are strengthened as we live in accordance to the principles and ordinances of the gospel. In fact, that is the surest way to gain a testimony! Live the gospel principles for which you strive to gain a testimony. If you want to have a testimony of tithing, pay it! If you want to have a testimony of Jesus Christ, live His teachings. If you want to have a testimony of anything else, do it. That is one reason we are taught in Alma 32 to “experiment upon the word.” As we test what God has told us, we can know of its truth.

I want to share an experience when my testimony of the prophet Joseph Smith was strengthened. I’ll quote from my missionary journal: “Tonight we taught Sarah [name changed] the 1st discussion at the stake center. She bought us pizza! What an amazing discussion. Elders VanBebber, Malie, and I taught it. Sarah is amazing. (Today Elder Malie and I reviewed the 1st [discussion] for companionship study and how we can apply it to Sarah. While doing that I decided to use the Joseph Smith pamphlet and read the Joseph Smith history in the discussion, as we are supposed to [do] but do not always do). [Sarah] used to go to church when she was 8 or so (LDS Church) with some friends. She even wanted to be baptized but told [her mom] and [her mom] said she couldn’t go to that family’s house any more. What a change [Sarah’s mom] has gone through [we taught and baptized her previous to this experience]! I got to teach the Joseph Smith principle. Amazing! While I paused after the First Vision story, the Spirit hit me hard and I even started to cry. That is the first time that has happened to me – getting emotional like that in a discussion. As I testified of Joseph Smith I thought, ‘Now I can really, honestly, [and fully] say that I know Joseph Smith is a prophet.’ I have always known but now I KNOW! That feeling I received, I shall never forget nor deny.”

I have not forgotten that feeling, even 8+ years later. That was one of the singular moments in my life. As I wrote back as a missionary, I have always known Joseph Smith was a prophet. That’s not something I have ever doubted. My testimony of his calling as a prophet was based on years of going to church, reading the scriptures, praying, and learning about him. I saw and partook of the fruits the Lord restored through him to the earth. However, before that time I had not had a powerful singular experience like the one I had that evening. That does not mean I did not have a testimony before – I did – but it was strengthened considerably by that experience. What I did not write was how I had been reading my scriptures and praying with a sincere earnestness that I would receive a witness of the gospel. I had not just received that witness out of the blue, although that can happen; testimonies are most often gained through mighty prayer and righteous living. Sometimes – or most times – we must wrestle in prayer as we seek a witness of the truths of the gospel.

For any who want to receive a witness of the truthfulness of the gospel Elder Scott offers His apostolic counsel: “Try reading the Book of Mormon because you want to, not because you have to. Discover for yourself that it is true. As you read each page ask, ‘Could any man have written this book or did it come as Joseph Smith testified?’ Apply the teachings you learn. They will fortify you against the evil of Satan. Follow Moroni’s counsel. Sincerely ask God the Father, in the name of Jesus Christ, with real intent, if the teachings of the Book of Mormon are true (see Moro. 10:3–5). Ask with a desire to receive a confirmation personally, nothing doubting. There has to be an explanation of that book you can hold in your hand. I know that you can receive a spiritual confirmation that it is true. You will then know that Jesus Christ lives, that Joseph Smith was and is a prophet, and that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is the Lord’s Church (see introduction to the Book of Mormon, especially the last paragraph). You will confirm that the Savior guides His Church through a living prophet. These truths will become a foundation for your productive life.” (Elder Scott, Ensign, November 2003).

I add my testimony to his that all can receive a witness of the truthfulness of the gospel. We can all know that Joseph Smith was a prophet, that the Book of Mormon is God’s word. We can know that Jesus is Divine, the Only Begotten Son of God in the flesh, our Savior and Redeemer. We can know that God has a plan for each of us and that plan is to return to live with Him again and to someday see Him as He really is. I know these things and testify of them in the name of Jesus Christ.