Relief Society Special Teaching for our Times
Easter Sunday: The Resurrection & Atonement
April 12, 2009

What wonderful timing to find this inspiring short video called An Apostle’s Easter Thoughts on Christ, from last week’s 179th Semi-Annual General Conference of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.

Can anyone recite the 3rd Article of Faith? We believe that through the Atonement of Christ, all mankind may be saved, by obedience to the laws and ordinances of the Gospel.

Today’s lesson is on the Resurrection and Atonement, which is the greatest lesson and act Jesus Christ did for us. Through the resurrection, Jesus’ life became a parable that we may learn, teach and be edified. In addition to reinforcing our understanding of and need for the Atonement of Jesus Christ, this lesson will also teach how to receive the blessings of the Atonement.

The Prophet Joseph Smith taught:
“The fundamental principles of our religion are the testimony of the Apostles and Prophets, concerning Jesus Christ, that He died, was buried, and rose again the third day, and ascended into heaven; and all other things which pertain to our religion are only appendages to it.”

In the April 2009 Ensign, Elder Cecil Samuelson’s May 2006 BYU Women’s Conference address offered the following counsel:
These fundamental principles are grounded in the Atonement of Jesus Christ. The word Atonement “describes the setting ‘at one’ of those who have been estranged, and denotes the reconciliation of man to God.

The risks of our becoming distant from our Father in Heaven and the Savior are significant and constantly around us. Jacob, the brother of Nephi, described the Atonement as “infinite” (2 Nephi 9:7), meaning without limitations or externally imposed constraints. That is why the Atonement is so remarkable and so necessary. Little wonder, then, that we not only need to appreciate this incomparable gift but also to understand it clearly.

Let us re-acquaint ourselves with Jacob and Nephi’s counsel through some of the greatest chapters of the Book of Mormon: 2nd Nephi 6-10.

According to these writings, what are some of the things the Savior does for us?
• He delivers us (2 Ne. 6:17)
• He redeems us (2 Ne. 7:2)
• He comforts us (2 Ne. 8:3, 12)
• He’s a light for us; He judges us; He saves us (2 Ne. 8:4-6)

Key point: He is able to do all of this for us, and much more, because of his atonement

Class Exercise: using the following as an outline, I divided the class into 4 groups, prompting each group with 2 questions to read, discuss and share the answers, taking about 15 minutes.
• Doctrine (2 Ne. 9:4-20)
• Application (2 Ne. 9:21-38)
• Invitation (2 Ne. 9:39-52)

Group A: Using a problem | solution format, first define the answers to the question, referencing 2 Ne 9:4-20.

1. What is our problem as mankind? (2 Ne. 9:6-9)
• Left to ourselves, all of us are hopelessly lost
• Our bodies would die and be lost to us forever (2 Ne. 9:7)
• Our spirits would be corrupted by the devil (2 Ne. 9:8-9)
• We are subject to two deaths (2 Ne. 9:10)
• Physical death: separation of our spirit from our body
• Spiritual death (aka “hell”): our separation from God

2. What are the results of the Savior’s atonement (2 Ne. 9:11-16)
• All will be resurrected, physically and spiritually (2 Ne. 9:11-12)
• All will be restored to their perfect state (2 Ne. 9:13-14)
• All will be brought into God’s presence for judgement (2 Ne. 15-16)

Group B: Using 2 Ne. 9: 4-20, please answer the following two questions.

1. What the Savior personally did to save us (2 Ne. 9:5, 21)
• He came and dwelled with us as one of us
• He suffered every pain and affliction of all people of all time
• He sacrificed his own life on our behalf

2. List some things that demonstrate God’s character
• His wisdom, mercy, and grace (2 Ne. 9:8, 19)
• His goodness (2 Ne. 9:10)
• His planning (foresight) (2 Ne. 9:13)
• His greatness and justice (2 Ne. 9:17)
• His holiness and knowledge (2 Ne. 9:20)

Group C: Using 2 Ne. 9: 18-52, please answer the following two questions. When this group shares their answers, emphasize what we must do to achieve Eternal Life as well as what we must avoid.

1. What are our requirements to be judged righteous by God?
• Believe in Christ (2 Ne. 9:18)
• Endure the crosses of the world (2 Ne. 9:18)
• Hearken to His voice (2 Ne. 9:21)
• Repent, be baptized, have faith (2 Ne. 9:23)
• Be spiritually minded (2 Ne. 9:39)
• Feast upon that which perisheth not (2 Ne. 9:51)
• Remember the words of God (2 Ne. 9:52)
• Pray continually (2 Ne. 9:52)
• Keep trying

2. What are the warnings given to us? (2 Ne. 9:27-38)
• Don’t waste your time on Earth (2 Ne. 9:27)
• Don’t put learning or riches ahead of God (2 Ne. 9:28-30)
• Don’t be spiritually blind or deaf (2 Ne. 9:31-32)
• Don’t be uncircumcised of heart (2 Ne. 9:33)
• Don’t lie, murder, commit whoredoms, or worship idols (2 Ne. 9:34-37)
• Don’t die in your sins! (2 Ne. 9:38)

Group D: Using both 2 Ne. 9: 29-52 and 2 Ne. 10: 1-8, please answer the following questions.

1. What the atonement do for Israel as a people?
• They will reject Christ (sin) (2 Ne. 10:3)
• They will suffer and lose the land of their inheritance (death) (2 Ne. 10:6)
• They will come to believe in Christ (repentance) (2 Ne. 10:7)
• They will be restored to their land (resurrection) (2 Ne. 10:8)

2. What is the invitation extended to individuals by the atonement?

Let’s read a familiar verse from Isaiah chapter 53, verses 4 and 5. As the verses are read, think about how they apply directly to you.

“Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows; yet we did esteem Him stricken, smitten of God and afflicted.
But He was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with His stripes we are healed.”

Ask: Has he ever borne your grief or carried your sorrows?

When I was investigating the Church, doctrinal discourse and gospel based thinking were all new, and I asked the missionaries what seems like a rather simple question: why was the Atonement necessary? Why would God require His son – his child — to suffer? Why? If He was omnipotent, why was it necessary for our Savior to be crucified?

Now that my knowledge of the gospel has deepened and grown, I realize that it wasn’t about the Savior. It wasn’t about Heavenly Father. The atonement was about us – a gift for you and for me to know eternal life.

The atonement is why the Savior knows our aching and feels our cries. The atonement is why, when we hand our yoke over, Christ shouldering our burden is not just a comforting theory. The atonement is not a goodnight story like Noah’s Ark so children can have happy dreams. The atonement is the foundation our entire world – humanity even — was built upon.

I have a strong testimony of the personal nature of the atonement of Jesus Christ. C.S. Lewis wrote in Mere Christianity:
“[God] has infinite attention to spare for each one of us. He does not have to deal with us in the mass. You are as much alone with Him as if you were the only being He had ever created. When Christ died, He died for you individually just as much as if you had been the only man [or woman] in the world.”

Before I joined the church, I was an expert in heaping guilt upon myself because of choices I had made in my dark and distant past. There were lots of voices in my head and around me telling me to forgive, love, accept, release, protect and free myself. And yet, there was no peace. Absolution was not mine to give.

When I was baptized, I felt the individual gift of the atonement as my sins were washed away. There is only one who can grant me absolution- there is only one who can carry my burden- there is only one who could free my heart, mind, body and soul.

The atonement is a tangible gift for one’s spirit. In my case, it has literally changed my life. During my Temple worthiness interview with Bishop Harris, we discussed the concept of clean vs unclean. He taught using Alma the Younger as a parable – after the penance was done, I too, was able to rise from my knees, truly new. As I left the interview, the power implicit in the gift of the atonement was engraved forever upon my heart.

While I know, beyond any shadow of any doubt, that I am forgiven and loved of the Lord, memories remain both of the acts and of my redeemer, who took my load from me, when no other could, saying:
“Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me, for I am meek and lowly in heart, and ye shall find rest unto your soul. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light” Matthew 11:28-30

I testify that Jesus IS the Christ — the only begotten son of God, the Father and that because of this he had power over death. He voluntarily gave up his life that we might live. Three days after his body expired, he was resurrected, fulfilling the promise of the atonement for each and every one of us.

Throughout history, up until the time of Christ, offerings – or sacrifices were made. These offerings were made in similitude of Jesus Christ and were offerings of forgiveness and a renewal of covenants. We have been asked to offer up a sacrifice of a broken heart and a contrite spirit. And, just as those early sacrifices were imperfect – so are ours.

As I learned firsthand, we do not have the power to sanctify ourselves. Without the Savior, no offering we give is enough. But, we must make our offering so that it can be sanctified. We must repent.

In the Garden of Gethsemane the Savior saw me, personally and he loved me enough to suffer for my sins, my pain, my weaknesses…

For everything I lack, the atonement is sufficient.

I leave this Easter lesson with you in the glorious name of Jesus Christ, Amen.


Relief Society: Lessons For Our Times
Pray Always
by Elder David A. Bednar of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

bednar1
This month’s Teaching for Our Times is based on Elder David A. Bednar’s General Conference talk called Pray Always. This lesson was delivered on Sunday, March 22, 2009 to the Relief Society in the Saline, Michigan ward. You can download the powerpoint lesson or click on the Slideshare button on the right-hand side of this blog. This month’s lesson was a highly engaging, interactive discussion informed by the presentation and guided by the questions.

Pray Always | Teaching for Our Times

Pray Always was one of the most inspirational talks given at the October, 2008 General Conference. Let me kick things off by asking a simple question: How do you start your day?
Why do you pray?

We are commanded to “pray always” (2 Nephi 32:9; D&C 10:5; 90:24)—”vocally as well as in [our] heart[s]; . . . before the world as well as in secret, in public as well as in private” (D&C 19:28). Elder Bednar teaches us three principles that prayer becomes more meaningful:
#1 As we counsel with the Lord in all of our doings
#2 As we express heartfelt gratitude
#3 As we pray for others with real intent and a sincere heart.

How do you prepare yourself for prayer? Where do you pray? What’s the most unusual place you’ve prayed?

And now, behold, I say unto you, that these are the generations of the heaven and of the earth, when they were created, in the day that I, the Lord God, made the heaven and the earth,

“And every plant of the field before it was in the earth, and every herb of the field before it grew. For I, the Lord God, created all things, of which I have spoken, spiritually, before they were naturally upon the face of the earth Moses 3: 4-5

How do you feel about prayer? Is it a chore or something you anticipate? What are the sorts of things you pray about every morning and night?

Elder Bednar counsels us that the patterns used by God in creating the earth are instructive in helping us understand how to make prayer meaningful. Consider this example. There may be things in our character, in our behavior, or concerning our spiritual growth about which we need to counsel with Heavenly Father in morning prayer. After expressing appropriate thanks for blessings received, we plead for understanding, direction, and help to do the things we cannot do in our own strength alone. For example, as we pray, we might:

* Reflect on those occasions when we have spoken harshly or inappropriately to those we love the most.
* Recognize that we know better than this, but we do not always act in accordance with what we know.
* Express remorse for our weaknesses and for not putting off the natural man more earnestly.
* Determine to pattern our life after the Savior more completely.
* Plead for greater strength to do and to become better.

Offer a prayer in which you only give thanks and express gratitude.

Ask for nothing; simply let your soul rejoice and strive to communicate appreciation with all the energy of your heart. Do you feel comfortable going to our Heavenly Father in prayer?

I was struck by the story that Elder Bednar shared to support his testimony about prayers filled with gratitude. The humility that is exhibited by Elder Bednar, Sister Bednar and their family make them seem so very authentic as they exemplify His teachings. I’d like to read this story in it’s whole:

During our service at Brigham Young University–Idaho, Sister Bednar and I frequently hosted General Authorities in our home. Our family learned an important lesson about meaningful prayer as we knelt to pray one evening with a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles.

Earlier in the day Sister Bednar and I had been informed about the unexpected death of a dear friend, and our immediate desire was to pray for the surviving spouse and children. As I invited my wife to offer the prayer, the member of the Twelve, unaware of the tragedy, graciously suggested that in the prayer Sister Bednar express only appreciation for blessings received and ask for nothing. His counsel was similar to Alma’s instruction to the members of the ancient Church “to pray without ceasing, and to give thanks in all things” (Mosiah 26:39). Given the unexpected tragedy, requesting blessings for our friends initially seemed to us more urgent than expressing thanks.

Sister Bednar responded in faith to the direction she received. She thanked Heavenly Father for meaningful and memorable experiences with this dear friend. She communicated sincere gratitude for the Holy Ghost as the Comforter and for the gifts of the Spirit that enable us to face adversity and to serve others. Most importantly, she expressed appreciation for the plan of salvation, for the atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ, for His Resurrection, and for the ordinances and covenants of the restored gospel which make it possible for families to be together forever.

Our family learned from that experience a great lesson about the power of thankfulness in meaningful prayer. Because of and through that prayer, our family was blessed with inspiration about a number of issues that were pressing upon our minds and stirring in our hearts. We learned that our gratefulness for the plan of happiness and for the Savior’s mission of salvation provided needed reassurance and strengthened our confidence that all would be well with our dear friends. We also received insights concerning the things about which we should pray and appropriately ask in faith.

If those we love and serve have not heard and felt the influence of our earnest prayers in their behalf, then the time to repent is now. Prayer becomes more meaningful as we pray for others. Do our spouses, children and other family members likewise feel the power of our prayers offered unto the Father for their specific needs and desires? Have you felt when others have prayed for you?

Praying for others with all of the energy of our souls increases our capacity to hear and to heed the voice of the Lord

I loved this line from Elder Bednar: Just as expressing gratitude more often in our prayers enlarges the conduit for revelation, so praying for others with all of the energy of our souls increases our capacity to hear and to heed the voice of the Lord.

*Share with us a time when your prayers were answered. (depending upon time…could break into groups for discussion as well).

Prayer becomes more meaningful as we counsel with the Lord in all of our doings, as we express heartfelt gratitude, and as we pray for others. I testify that the power of prayer is real. That I have been the recipient of prayer and felt my burdens lifted during dark times. I have had others tell me that they knew they were in my prayers. Prayer is our individual way of talking with our Heavenly Father. He is a living God and He answers our prayers. We are blessed to have a living Prophet who guides the church through the revelation he is given in answer to his prayers. And I leave this lesson with you in the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.


Over the last few months, I was asked by the Relief Society Enrichment leader to participate in an experiment. The focus was on Mary, Martha, & Betty Sue (the forgotten sister who was too busy to get around to helping Martha or sitting with Mary). Each sister focused on just one of these scripture sisters and I was asked to focus on Mary. At the quarterly Enrichment activity, we “reported” on what we learned over the past months. Here’s my talk…

It was a cold, crisp Sunday in October, 2008. Even though the conference center will filled with 22,000 visitors, you could hear a pin drop when President Monson arose, walked to the podium and began his General Conference talk. He started with the words

“I begin by mentioning one of the most inevitable aspects of our lives here upon the earth, and that is change. At one time or another we’ve all heard some form of the familiar adage: “Nothing is as constant as change.”

Throughout our lives, we must deal with change. Some changes are welcome; some are not. There are changes in our lives which are sudden, such as the unexpected passing of a loved one, an unforeseen illness, the loss of a possession we treasure.

Within days, the mortgage crisis struck our country. And the stock market crashed. My grandmother passed away. And my husband lost his job.

While this noise was going on in my life, Mary asked me to participate in this experiment. I was surprised she asked me to focus on Mary, specifically what is it like to be a Mary-like person. Because I’m usually Martha. Or at least Martha-like. I think. I do. A boss once wrote on my performance review that I was THE model of operational efficiency, which meant I got the same amount of work done as the rest of his team combined (who were 10 men, BTW).

So I read the stories about how Mary, Martha, and their brother, Lazarus, were faithful followers of Jesus, and Jesus loved them very much.

One day while Jesus was visiting them, Martha was busy cleaning the house and preparing food. She wanted to be sure that Jesus was well cared for. Instead of helping Martha, Mary sat at Jesus’ feet, listening to Him. The harder Martha worked, the more upset she became with Mary. Finally, Martha complained, “Lord, dost thou not care that my sister hath left me to serve alone? Bid her therefore that she help me.”

Jesus understood Martha’s feelings, and He answered, “Martha, Martha, thou art careful and troubled about many things: “But one thing is needful: and Mary hath chosen that good part.”

Jesus wanted Martha to know that it was important for her to serve others and that He appreciated all she had done for Him. But it was even more important to learn about God, have faith and to grow spiritually.

I know Martha. I can relate to Martha. Why Mary? What is it to be a Mary-like person? I must’ve asked myself that question at least a thousand times before the answer was revealed over the long, cold grey weeks of winter. I wrote down:

Mary is a dreamer. Martha runs things.
Mary is a Mac. Martha is a pc.
Mary would drive an SUV. Martha would drive a minivan.
Mary feels with her heart. Martha thinks with her head.
Mary is Facebook. Martha is Twitter.

President Uchtdorf also understood what it was like to be Martha. His talk “Happiness is your Heritage” that he delivered for the Relief Society Meeting was inspirational when I heard it back in October, just before everything in my world imploded. A couple of months later, I returned to find new counsel and wisdom in his words:

“We know that sometimes it can be difficult to keep our heads above water. In fact, in our world of change, challenges, and checklists, sometimes it can seem nearly impossible to avoid feeling overwhelmed by emotions of suffering and sorrow.

I am not suggesting that we can simply flip a switch and stop the negative feelings that distress us. This isn’t a pep talk or an attempt to encourage those sinking in quicksand to imagine instead they are relaxing on a beach. I recognize that in all of our lives there are real concerns. I know there are hearts here today that harbor deep sorrows. Others wrestle with fears that trouble the soul.”

But then – this is where I had the AHA! Moment about Mary. He goes onto say:

“I would like to speak about two principles that may help you find a path to peace, hope, and joy—even during times of trial and distress. I want to speak about God’s happiness and how each one of us can taste of it in spite of the burdens that beset us.”

President Uchdorf asks: what do you suppose is the greatest kind of happiness possible? It wasn’t so much the question as this notion of happiness that resonated for me. In the parable, Mary is happy. Martha is not. Mary is fulfilled. Martha is “encumbered with serving”. Mary is focused on the teachings and Martha seems to be distracted.

So in December, during what had to be one of the darkest moments, I prayed to understand what it was like to be Mary. And it was revealed to me that I have been Mary my whole life. When I was a little girl, I often observed rather than participated. My mother told me that I would spend days reading, writing stories and daydreaming. In high school, my friendships were scarce but meaningful. I was Mary in film school when I would spend hours, digging my toes in the sand, feeling the wind licking my face as I waited patiently for the sun to set over the Pacific ocean so I could capture ‘just the right shot’.

Since having my first child more than a decade ago, I seemed to have morphed into becoming Martha. Motherhood should have taught me to be more loving, more compassionate – more Mary-like, yet I feel like it taught me more about serving others first, more about time management and multi-tasking instead.

I resolved to become more Mary-like at the beginning of 2009, starting with my job. With my husband out of work, I couldn’t quit, but I did request a change in responsibilities. Now I find myself with many direct reports (again) meaning I spend less time focused on tasks and more time spent on the Mary-like qualities of compassion, teaching, learning and truly understanding human nature. I am also able to put Jesus Christ back at the center of my life rather than a series of never-ending to-do’s.

Although Mary and Martha are opposites, Christ was not comparing or chastising either one of them. He simply pointed out that each had chosen something different. Mary’s choice would have lasting value, but He also appreciated Martha’s service, even if it was selfishly motivated. I believe that is what I’ve been taught these last years – the principle of selfless service. I’ve learned to sacrifice my own dreams/wants/desires for the happiness of my family. I could be doing much more with my own career, yet I chose not to, which is impossible for many in my ambitious field to understand. Yet this is my true self, which is what, in essence, Mary was offering up to Jesus.

For the first time in years, my job is about creating something from nothing, which is what makes me happy. I had been burdened by all the ‘doing’, which left little time for creating. Signs that I was desperate to create were everywhere, yet so busy was I that I simply didn’t take notice. Now I have been placed in a position to use my creative “Mary-like” talents in order to serve others as well as my family. I am much happier than I ever thought possible, even though there is a lot of yuck to work through from the events of this past winter.

President Uchdorf teaches us:
The desire to create is one of the deepest yearnings of the human soul. No matter our talents, education, backgrounds or abilities, we each have an inherent wish to create something…
Creation brings deep satisfaction. We develop ourselves and others when we take unorganized matter into our hands and mold it into something of beauty.

Now it is spring and I am listening to the birds chattering. I can smell the dewy earth. And I can see my three daughters – evidence of God and His work of creation through me. Which brings me back to where I began and our Heavenly Father began: Creation. Genesis, Change. Humanity.

I’d like to close with a short video clip called “Create” from the Relief Society web site about creation and happiness based on a talk given to the Relief Society General Conference by the oh-so-easy-on-the-eyes President Dieter Uchtdorf called “Happiness, Your Heritage”. It takes a little while to download, but it is well worth the wait!


Relief Society: Lessons For Our Times

The Sacrament Meeting and The Sacrament

by Elder Dallin H. Oaks of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

oaksdh_04This month’s Teaching for Our Times is based on Elder Dallin H. Oaks’ General Conference talk on The Sacrament Meeting & The Sacrament was delivered on Sunday, February 23, 2009 to the Relief Society in the Saline, Michigan ward. You can download the powerpoint lesson or click on the Slideshare button on the right-hand side of this blog. This month’s lesson was a highly engaging, interactive discussion informed by the presentation and guided by the questions.

The Sacrament Meeting Teaching for Our Times


Kicked off the lesson with a chalkboard exercise about church ordinances – what is done in the meeting house versus what is done in the Temple. Facilitated a conversation about similarities between the lists and differences.

Elder Oaks’ talk starts off with one of his earliest memories of a sacrament meeting and contrasting it with the differences today. Asked the RS: What is your earliest memory of a sacrament meeting?

Preparing for the Sacrament we are reminded to:
Bring a broken heart + contrite spirit
Arrive early. Prepare spiritually. Arriving early allows us time to compose ourselves. I would not know about this, although after having done the preparation for this lesson, it is certainly something I will strive for.
Prayerful meditation. During the sacrament service we should dismiss from our minds all worldly thoughts. We should feel prayerful and reverent. We should think of the atonement of our Savior and be grateful for it. We should examine our lives and look for ways to improve.
Remember our covenants to serve Him, obey Him and always remember Him. We should also renew our determination to keep the commandments.

Invite someone to read: “Wherefore whosoever shall eat this bread, and drink this cup of the Lord, unworthily, shall be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord. But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of that bread, and drink of that cup. For he that eateth and drinketh unworthily, eateth and drinketh damnation to himself, not discerning the Lord’s body”. 1 Corinthians 11:27–29

The Lord emphasizes that no one should partake of the sacrament unworthily. Unworthily. Worthily. What does that mean to you? Does it mean we must repent of our sins before taking the sacrament. The scriptures say, “If any have trespassed, let him not partake until he makes reconciliation” (D&C 46:4).

The scriptures also say, “Ye shall not suffer any one knowingly to partake of my flesh and blood unworthily, when ye shall minister it; For whoso eateth and drinketh my flesh and blood unworthily eateth and drinketh damnation to his soul” (3 Nephi 18:28–29).

Let me clarify. We do not need to be perfect before partaking of the sacrament, but we must have the spirit of repentance in our hearts. The attitude with which we partake of the sacrament influences.

Sacrament Meeting Do’s:
Dress appropriately
Refrain from all other activities
Actively participate with the music, esp singing hymns
Spirit of prayer & devotion

Dont’s:
Dress casually
Read books or magazines
Use your cell phone
Amusement, laughter, light-mindedness

What can we think about during the sacrament to help us be more reverent?

Read D&C 20:77. Discuss the meaning of the prayer. On the day of the feast of the Passover, Jesus sent two of his Apostles into Jerusalem to arrange for the feast. They prepared a room where they could be together.

This was the last time Jesus would meet with his beloved Apostles before his death.

During the evening, he told his Apostles that one of them would betray him. When Judas had left the gathering, as if on an errand for the Savior, Jesus tried to strengthen the others by giving them what he called “a new commandment.” He commanded, “Love one another; as I have loved you” (John 13:34). He explained, “By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another” (John 13:35). He comforted them by saying that he would send the Holy Ghost to be with them, to strengthen and guide them.

Jesus tried to tell them that he would soon leave them, but they did not understand. Desiring that they remember him and keep his commandments, he introduced the sacrament. He broke bread and blessed it and passed it among his disciples saying, “Take, eat; this is my body” (Matthew 26:26).

The bread is in remembrance of his body, which broke the bands of death so that each of us might also be resurrected.

Read D&C 20:79. Discuss this prayer. Significance of the order that bread comes before water? The water is in remembrance of his blood with which he bought for us redemption from our sins if we repent.

Next he took a cup of wine, blessed it, and gave it to his Apostles to drink. He said:

“Drink ye all of it;

“For this is my blood of the new testament, which is shed for many for the remission of sins.” (Matthew 26:2728; see also the Joseph Smith Translation in the footnotes of the Latter-day Saint edition of the King James Version of the Bible.)

How do you think the Apostles felt about the last evening they spent with the Savior after his death and resurrection?
What difference do you think it made to the Apostles in the way they viewed their promise to remember him after they had watched his arrest, his trial, his crucifixion, his death, and finally his resurrection?

As members of the Church, we should delight in the privilege of partaking of the sacrament. The Lord has promised us that if we will keep our covenants, we will always have his Spirit to be with us. President David O. McKay has reminded us to partake of the sacrament weekly:

“My brethren and sisters, do we always stop to think, on that sacred Sabbath day when we meet together to partake of the sacrament, that we witness, promise, obligate ourselves, in the presence of one another, and in the presence of God, that we will do certain things? Note them.

“The first: We are willing to take upon ourselves the name of the Son. In so doing we choose him as our leader and our ideal; and he is the one perfect character in all the world.

“Second: That we will always remember him. Not just on Sunday, but on Monday [and the other days of the week], in our daily acts, in our self-control. …

“The third: We promise to ‘… keep his commandments which he has given …’—tithing, fast offerings, the Word of Wisdom, kindness, forgiveness, love. The obligation of a member of the Church of Jesus Christ is great, but it is as glorious as it is great, because obedience to these principles gives life, eternal life. …

“Order, reverence, attention to divine promises—the promise to enter into the fold of Christ, to cherish virtues mentioned in the gospel of Christ, to keep them ever in mind, to love the Lord wholeheartedly, and to labor, even at the sacrifice of self, for the brotherhood of man—these and all kindred virtues are associated with the partaking of the sacrament. It is good to meet together and especially to renew our covenants with God in that holy sacrament” (Gospel Ideals [1954], 146–47).

I leave this lesson with you in the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.


Relief Society: Lessons For Our Times

Celestial Marriage

by Elder Russell M. Nelson of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

Note: My entire lesson can be downloaded here at slideshare and it will probably make more sense with the pictures than just reading this blog entry.

This Lesson for Our Times based on Elder Nelson’s General Conference talk on Celestial Marriage was delivered on Sunday, January 4, 2009 to the Relief Society in the Saline, Michigan ward. You can view the full presentation including images with the lesson on Slideshare/mormonmom. My earlier Lessons for our Times can also be viewed by clicking on the slideshare button on the right-hand side of this blog.

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Our prophets have repeatedly delivered the same message about Celestial Marriage since the doctrine was revealed. The position of the Church has never changed regarding the importance of celestial marriage. It is a commandment of God as stated in Genesis: “And the Lord God said, It is not good that the man should be alone” (Gen. 2:18).

To obtain a fullness of glory and exaltation in the celestial kingdom, one must enter into this holiest of ordinances.

Elder Russell Nelson’s talk at the October General Conference was not the first time he had offered wisdom and counsel on this essential topic. In April, 2006 Elder Nelson delivered a powerful talk called Nurturing Marriage. Elder F Burton Howard of the Seventy wrote Eternal Marriage for Liahona in 2003. President Spencer W. Kimball provided prophetic counsel on the subject in 1980 as part of a First Presidency message called The Importance of Celestial Marriage. In that same year, Elder N. Eldon Tanner wrote “Celestial Marriages & Eternal Families” for Ensign. Two years earlier, in 1978, Elder Bruce R McConkie wrote for New Era on the topic called, “Celestial Marriage”. In 1979, Elder McConkie followed up his New Era article with one for Liahona called Celestial Marriage part 2.

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Celestial marriage is at the heart of Heavenly Father’s Plan of Salvation. In the Family: Proclamation to the World, it states: In the premortal realm, spirit sons and daughters knew and worshipped God as their Eternal Father and accepted His plan by which His children could obtain a physical body and gain earthly experience to progress toward perfection and ultimately realize their divine destiny as heirs of eternal life. [Heavenly Father’s great] plan of happiness enables family relationships to be perpetuated beyond the grave. Sacred ordinances and covenants available in holy temples make it possible for individuals to return to the presence of God and for families to be united eternally.

The quality of this time here and in eternity depends to a great extent on how and whom we marry. Reflecting upon the importance of marriage, Elder Nelson creates the parable of the shopper.

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Knowing that we can be together with that one special person forever makes it critical to “choose wisely” when selecting a mate, and motivates us to work very hard at making the partnership successful. It’s Christmastime in America, so we’ve all been to the stores recently — even if it’s been the grocery store to stock up on food storage items. Wise shoppers, Elder Nelsen tells us, study their options thoroughly before they make a selection. They focus primarily on the quality and durability of a desired product. They want the very best.

In contrast, some shoppers look for bargains and others may splurge, only to learn later — much to their dismay — that their choice did not endure well.
Finally, there is what he terms the ‘marital shoplifter’ — those who chose neither and brazenly steal what they want
What do you think he is referring to in these categories?

Elder Nelson helps to contextualize it at the end of his talk:
God’s plan of happiness allows us to choose for ourselves. As with the patterns of the shopper, we may choose celestial marriage or lesser alternatives. Some marital options are cheap, some are costly, and some are cunningly crafted by the adversary. Beware of his options; they always breed misery!

The best choice is a celestial marriage. Thankfully, if a lesser choice has previously been made, a choice can now be made to upgrade it to the best choice. That requires a mighty change of heart and a permanent personal upgrade. Blessings so derived are worth all efforts made.
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Only those who are married in the temple and whose marriage is sealed by the Holy Spirit of Promise will continue as spouses after death and receive the highest degree of celestial glory, or exaltation. A temple marriage is also called a celestial marriage. Within the celestial glory are three levels. To obtain the highest, a husband and wife must be sealed for time and all eternity and keep their covenants made in a holy temple.

We are also reminded, “The earth was created and this Church was restored so that families could be formed, sealed, and exalted eternally”.

In Mormon Doctrine, Elder Bruce McConkie states: “The most important things that any member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints ever does in this world are: 1. To marry the right person, in the right place, by the right authority; and 2. To keep the covenant made in connection with this holy and perfect order of matrimony—thus assuring the obedient persons of an inheritance of exaltation in the celestial kingdom” (Mormon Doctrine, 2nd ed.)
-Why does the Lord place such tremendous importance upon this principle?
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Elder Nelson tells us: “Heavenly Father has restored priesthood keys in this dispensation so that essential ordinances in His plan can be performed by proper authority. Heavenly messengers—including John the Baptist;9 Peter, James, and John;10 Moses, Elias, and Elijah11—have participated in that restoration.” Elder Nelsen references D&C 128:8, which is markedly similar to the direction given by our Heavenly Father in Matthew 16:19.

Dr. Andrew Skinner, dean of Religious Education at BYU, wrote recently about the power of the sealing authority:
The fullness of the authority of the priesthood includes the sealing power. The sealing power is the highest authority and the greatest power on earth. . . .Some aspects inherent in the sealing power of the priesthood are more perceptible and obvious than others. One dramatic and visible aspect is control over the elements: the sealing and unsealing of the heavens and the invocation and revocation of famine. Thus, the sealing power gives its possessor power over all things on earth and the right and ability to have his actions recognized and ratified in heaven by the Father. It is stunning to realize that the sealing together of husbands, wives, and children is done by the same power that seals shut the heavens or changes the elements of the earth.

Elder Nelson also reminds us that we, as the Lord’s prophets and apostles, again proclaim to the world that “the family is central to the Creator’s plan for the eternal destiny of His children. Striving to live the gospel of Jesus Christ strengthens our home and family unit. As Latter-Day Saints, everything in the church organization is dedicated to families as the most important priority: worship, activities, education and support to each individual family member, helping marriages and families to succeed in God’s Plan of Salvation.

I’d like to spend a few minutes reading aloud that important proclamation made by the Church.
We, the First Presidency and the Council of the Twelve Apostles of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, solemnly proclaim that marriage between a man and a woman is ordained of God and that the family is central to the Creator’s plan for the eternal destiny of His children.
All human beings—male and female—are created in the image of God. Each is a beloved spirit son or daughter of heavenly parents, and, as such, each has a divine nature and destiny. Gender is an essential characteristic of individual premortal, mortal, and eternal identity and purpose.
In the premortal realm, spirit sons and daughters knew and worshipped God as their Eternal Father and accepted His plan by which His children could obtain a physical body and gain earthly experience to progress toward perfection and ultimately realize their divine destiny as heirs of eternal life. The divine plan of happiness enables family relationships to be perpetuated beyond the grave. Sacred ordinances and covenants available in holy temples make it possible for individuals to return to the presence of God and for families to be united eternally.
The first commandment that God gave to Adam and Eve pertained to their potential for parenthood as husband and wife. We declare that God’s commandment for His children to multiply and replenish the earth remains in force. We further declare that God has commanded that the sacred powers of procreation are to be employed only between man and woman, lawfully wedded as husband and wife.
We declare the means by which mortal life is created to be divinely appointed. We affirm the sanctity of life and of its importance in God’s eternal plan.
Husband and wife have a solemn responsibility to love and care for each other and for their children. “Children are an heritage of the Lord” (Psalm 127:3). Parents have a sacred duty to rear their children in love and righteousness, to provide for their physical and spiritual needs, and to teach them to love and serve one another, observe the commandments of God, and be law-abiding citizens wherever they live. Husbands and wives—mothers and fathers—will be held accountable before God for the discharge of these obligations.
The family is ordained of God. Marriage between man and woman is essential to His eternal plan. Children are entitled to birth within the bonds of matrimony, and to be reared by a father and a mother who honor marital vows with complete fidelity. Happiness in family life is most likely to be achieved when founded upon the teachings of the Lord Jesus Christ. Successful marriages and families are established and maintained on principles of faith, prayer, repentance, forgiveness, respect, love, compassion, work, and wholesome recreational activities. By divine design, fathers are to preside over their families in love and righteousness and are responsible to provide the necessities of life and protection for their families. Mothers are primarily responsible for the nurture of their children. In these sacred responsibilities, fathers and mothers are obligated to help one another as equal partners. Disability, death, or other circumstances may necessitate individual adaptation. Extended families should lend support when needed.
We warn that individuals who violate covenants of chastity, who abuse spouse or offspring, or who fail to fulfill family responsibilities will one day stand accountable before God. Further, we warn that the disintegration of the family will bring upon individuals, communities, and nations the calamities foretold by ancient and modern prophets.
We call upon responsible citizens and officers of government everywhere to promote those measures designed to maintain and strengthen the family as the fundamental unit of society.

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Marriage and family is at the core of our faith. The family proclamation also reminds us that “husband and wife have a solemn responsibility to love and care for each other.” Children born of that union are “an heritage of the Lord.” When a family is sealed in the temple, that family may become as eternal as the kingdom of God itself.

Why are sealings so important? Why must we be sealed together? What are we ultimately doing when we seal people together?
Being sealed together as an eternal family is the very order of heaven. It is the kind of life our Heavenly Parents live. In other words, the family is not just the basic unit of society; it is the basic unit of eternity.

Elder McConkie also wrote:
All things gain enduring force and validity because of the sealing power. So comprehensive is this power that it embraces ordinances performed for the living and the dead, seals the children on earth to their fathers who went before them and forms the enduring patriarchal chain that will exist eternally among exalted beings.

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Facilitate a discussion: What kinds of marriages are there? Think about your friends/ family.
• What must we do to be worthy of the highest degree of glory in the celestial kingdom?
• How does a covenant marriage protect us in today’s world?
• What is God’s purpose for marriage?
• How did God design marriage as a refuge — a safe haven — from a troubled world?
• What kinds of spiritual challenges have you faced — to humble, stretch, and refine us?

*****Write on one side of the chalkboard, Civil. Write on the other side of the chalkboard, Celestial. Discuss what makes a Celestial marriage different from a Civil marriage.

Civil Marriage: Til Death Do Us Part
1. Home, church, office, almost anywhere
2. Justice of the peace, minister, judge, bishop
3. Until “death do us part”
4. Not extended to the family unit (just between man and wife)

Celestial Marriage: Covenant for Eternity
1. Sacred sealing room in the temple
2. One having sealing power from the prophet of the Lord
3. For time and eternity
4. A family unit forever (children are sealed to their parents if converts, or born into the covenant because their parents had a Temple marriage)

Elder Nelson makes a strong point about the difference between marriages that end with ‘death do you part’ and a sealed marriage for eternity. He tells us, “I read in a newspaper obituary of an expectation that a recent death has reunited that person with a deceased spouse, when, in fact, they did not choose the eternal option. Instead, they opted for a marriage that was valid only as long as they both should live. Heavenly Father had offered them a supernal gift, but they refused it. And in rejecting the gift, they rejected the Giver of the gift.

In the Eternal Marriage Student Manual, we are taught by President Gordon B Hinckley that God is the designer of the family. “He intended that the greatest of happiness, the most satisfying aspects of life, the deepest joys should come in our associations together and our concerns one for another as fathers and mothers and children.”

D&C 88:33 For what doth it profit a man if a gift is bestowed upon him, and he receive not the gift? Behold, he rejoices not in that which is given unto him, neither rejoices in him who is the giver of the gift.

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But, Elder Nelson asks, what of the bretheren who are not married? He reassures them that through no failing of their own, they deal with the trials of life alone. No blessings will be withheld from His faithful Saints. The Lord will judge and reward each individual according to heartfelt desire as well as deed.

Jesus Christ, for all His love and devotion to children, never married. And yet, without him, we might not ever know celestial marriage.

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God’s plan of Salvation is the ideal of Marriage and Family.
Elder Nelson explains that list of unique problems and issues and circumstances is as long as there are individuals. All of these difficulties, and more, are part of our mortal existence. What Elder Nelson is teaching us is that regardless of our individual situation, God’s Plan of Happiness is still in effect for every one of His children, and it remains an eternal promise of happiness for ALL. If any of these blessings cannot be realized in this life, through no fault of our own, then they will be realized in the next life.

I loved the line, “mortal misunderstandings can make mischief in a marriage’. We are 2 imperfect people, each of whom has their own agency, who have to work together to secure happiness — it requires a concerted effort. Add in children, 2, 3 or more each with their own agency and it becomes like herding cats getting the family to exaltation.

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God’s plan of happiness is based upon agency. Returning to the analogy of the shopper, the choice for celestial marriage or other, what Elder Nelson calls ‘lesser alternatives’ are up to each one of us. Some marital options are cheap, some are costly, and some are cunningly crafted by the adversary. His favorite target is the family. Satan would lead millions more than the unavoidable few out of their sacred promises by prospects of something better, sweeter, or finer. But Satan is a liar. He will “not support his children at the last day, but doth speedily drag them down to hell” (Alma 30:60).

There is only one source of enduring happiness. When we act contrary to promises, covenants, counsel, and impressions, we are acting contrary to the nature of happiness. Elder Nelson also explains that if a lesser choice has been made, a choice can now be made to upgrade it. In order to do this requires a mighty change of heart and a permanent personal upgrade.

In Joseph’s vision of the celestial kingdom, he describes those who are there in these terms: These are they whose names are written in heaven, where God and Christ are the judge of all. These are they who are just men made perfect through Jesus the mediator of the new covenant.

Men and women who are just — good men and women, those who hunger and thirst after righteousness will be made perfect through Jesus, the mediator of the new covenant. Bringing us back to the Plan of Salvation, of which the atonement of Jesus Christ plays a central role. For without the atonement, none of this…Celestial marriage…would be possible.

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Celestial marriage is a pivotal part of preparation for eternal life. It requires one to be married to the right person, in the right place, by the right authority, and to obey that sacred covenant faithfully. Then one may be assured of exaltation in the celestial kingdom of God. What an amazing promise. He makes this wonderful declaration to us, repeating what the Lord has promised.

I am so grateful for a living prophet who guides this church. I’m grateful for the Book of Mormon and the Doctrine and Covenants. I know Jesus Christ lived and atoned for our sins, was resurrected. I love our Savior. I hope to continue to be more like Him in this new year.

In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.


Relief Society: Lessons For Our Times

The True and Living Church

by President Henry B. Eyring, First Counselor in the First Presidency of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

Note: My entire lesson can be downloaded here at slideshare and it will probably make more sense with the pictures than just reading this blog entry.

Like many of the talks at the Spring General Conference, President Eyring’s talk, The True and Living Church, opens with the significance of sustaining President Monson as prophet, seer and revelator and President of the Church. And yet, having studied the talk for a few months now, prayed about it and developed today’s Teaching for Our Times lesson, I realize that there is deep significance in the fact that Eyring opens his talk in this manner…and even in the title of his talk, the True and Living Church.

Anyone know where it comes from? The First Doctrine & Covenant verse 30.

And also those to whom these commandments were given, might have power to lay the foundation of this church, and to bring it forth out of obscurity and out of darkness, the only true and living church upon the face of the whole earth, with which I, the Lord, am well pleased, speaking unto the church collectively and not individually-

For I the Lord cannot look upon sin with the least degree of allowance; Nevertheless, he that repents and does the commandments of the Lord shall be forgiven; And he that repents not, from him shall be taken even the light which he has received…

I found out that Section One of the Doctrine & Covenants is the Lord’s preface to the book. It was given in November, 1831 after 65 revelations had been delivered. Here, in verse 30, the Lord is effectively granting authority to Joseph Smith, “the power to lay the foundation of this church, and to bring it forth out of obscurity and out of the darkness, the only true and living church upon the face of the whole earth…

Are those to whom the commandments are given strong or weak? Is weakness forged from strength or the other way around – strength is forged from weakness? So the very foundation of the church is built upon weakness made strong through repentance and humility…and the blessing of knowledge from the Lord.

Repeat: The only true and living church upon the face of the whole earth. We need to be worthy both collectively and individually. The collective is important because it’s not enough for the individual or her family but the whole church needs to act together for the Lord to be satisfied with our efforts.

Repeat: For I the Lord cannot look upon sin with the least degree of allowance. Why do you think that is? Why is there such absolute language here?

President Eyring spends a great deal of time around the word ‘True’ that I will get to, but I would like to start with ‘Living’.

WHAT IS A LIVING ENTITY?

Homeostasis: Regulation of the internal environment to maintain a constant state.

Growth: Maintenance of a higher rate of synthesis than catabolism.

Response to stimuli: Interaction and response to its environment.

Reproduction: The ability to produce new organisms like itself.

In the talk, ‘living’ is through sustaining our leaders and via individual and collective development. I think there’s more in what is implied through that concept that I’d like to start with. So what is a living entity? Well, according to science, to be a living entity requires certain specific criteria, characteristics, and inherent abilities. There is some variability in definitions, but generally speaking the short list goes like this <read from list above>

Does the Church exhibit spiritually analogous characteristics that satisfy these physical definitions. I would say yes. The Church exhibits the characteristic of Homeostasis because this is God’s Church. The Church is orderly and, through Temple ordinances as just one example, is also eternal and constant. The Church also exhibits the characteristic of Growth because there is a knowledge of eternal progression. Ours is not a static Church, but rather it is dynamic and yet unchangeable in the sense that the Church has never changed from His perfect course. We need to look no further than lds.org to experience the evidence that the Church is able to respond to stimuli. And all saints know that our Church is able to reproduce through missionary work, when investigators join- they are spiritual offspring who can literally become part of the Church.

According to President Eyring, there are some important characteristics that define the True and Living Church. It’s kinda like when you’re reading a list of ingredients in a package — the ones that are listed first have made the largest contribution. They are the most important. In President Eyring’s talk, this would be the Keys to the Priesthood. This is a critically important point – ours is the only church to have the keys to the priesthood given directly to our prophet from John the Baptist, Peter, John, Moses, Elias and Elijah. The Apostles, after the Ascension of Christ, continue to exercise the keys He left. But eventually, the keys were lost and we entered into the Apostasy.

Restoration of the keys of the priesthood is what makes the Church true. So is the Power to Seal. The sealing power is intricately tied with the ordinances of the Temple. And when you are in the Temple, you are in the House of the Lord. As I prepare for my family’s sealing, I was given a handbook from Bishop Harris written by then Acting President of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, Boyd K Packer. In the handbook it states: No work is more of a protection to this Church than temple work and the family history research that supports it. No work is more spiritually refining. No work we do gives us more power. No work requires a higher standard of righteousness. The sealing represents the transcendent delegation of spiritual authority from God to man. The keeper of that sealing power is the Lord’s chief representative here upon the earth, the President of the Church.

That is the position of consummate trust and authority. Eyring’s final differentiation that ours is the True and Living Church is that the church is greater than Joseph Smith or anyone chosen to lead. This is how it lives on.

Keys to the Priesthood (show images of keys). Not like these, although the metaphor should not be lost. Because we think about keys unlocking doors to things familiar and valuable to us, like our home, our car, perhaps our workplace. Information is unlocked by keys. As is music.

When we don’t have keys, we are either locked out or we must rely on others to open the door. The savior taught that we need to be baptized by one having His authority. If one wants to receive the ordinances of salvation from someone who is authorized to do so, ours is the true church that can offer these blessings. Back in 1977, President Spencer W Kimball gave the opening devotional address at BYU called, Absolute Truth, which nicely complements President Eyring’s talk.

President Kimball talked about the difference between relative truth, for example, scientific theories that may change from year to year and absolute truth. Jesus Christ overcame death and established the resurrection. This is an absolute truth. President Kimball also connects the dots that Jesus Christ is the only person who could establish resurrection being both mortal (the son of Mary) and the divine (the Son of God).

Before his crucifixion, the Savior recognized the absolute necessity for an organization of persons duly empowered to carry on his work, teach his plan to the world, and persuade people to follow the eternal program. He therefore organized his Church among his faithful followers, with apostles, prophets, and other officials to give his people guidance. He sent those officials into all the world to teach his truths–but to teach them without using force, for the basic law of this world is free agency. Certainly men and women may use their free agency to do as they please, but they cannot ever evade the penalties that might come by reason of any error they make.

The Lord set up his program of organization fully, gave the governing principles and doctrines, and delegated his full authority to his officers to teach and perform ordinances. He ignored all the multitudinous religious organizations then extant and all their manmade doctrines and philosophies and set up his own divine plan. This is true. If all the proponents of the “-isms” on all the continents disbelieve it, it is still true–an absolute truth.

As I continued to research, study and pray on this important topic, I found more inspiration from the Nov 1987 Ensign article, “Keys to the Priesthood”. Elder Nelson references the keys to the priesthood as: precious, powerful, and invisible! Some can lock and unlock in heaven as well as on earth. He goes on to say, “…Preparation, priesthood service, and keys are all related, but different. Service of any type requires preparation. But proper authorization to give that service requires keys.” He then illustrates with an example from his own life, prior to his calling to the Twelve, he was a medical doctor and a surgeon. He had been certified by two specialty boards. That preparation takes many years, yet it carried no legal permission. “Keys were required,” he says. “They were held by authorities of the state government and the hospitals in which I desired to work. Once those holding proper authority exercised those keys by granting me a license and permission, then I could perform operations. In return, I was obligated to obey the law, to be loyal, and to understand and not abuse the power of a surgeon’s knife. The important steps of preparation, permission, and obligation likewise pertain to other occupations.” He then asks: “Why is the power to act in the name of God more important? Because it is of eternal significance. We should understand the source of our authority and something of the keys that control its power. They may benefit every man, woman, and child who now lives, who has lived, and who yet will live upon the earth.”

President Eyring points out that it is important to live worthily so that the keys will continue to be on the earth. How are the keys bestowed? He gives us 4 ways <read from slide>

1. We must examine our lives. President Eyring gives us specific direction: examine your life for the depth of your gratitude as a member of the church. He emphasizes the importance of being grateful for a true and living church. He specifically mentions being grateful for the ordinances of the gospel and for the blessings that the gospel brings to his family. He also promises that the gospel can help to improve your family situation as you embrace its principles.

2. Repent. Remember D&C 1:31:3 For I the Lord cannot look upon sin with the least degree of allowance; Nevertheless, he that repents and does the commandments of the Lord shall be forgiven; And he that repents not, from him shall be taken even the light which he has received; for my Spirit shall not always strive with man, saith the Lord of Hosts.

3. Pledge to keep the Lord’s commandments. President Eyring tells us that we need to know through the power of the holy ghost in what ways we can improve ourselves.

4. We truly sustain our leaders when we heed their counsel and keep the commandments of the church. Another way that we can sustain our leaders is by giving service to others. It is important to follow the words of the prophet, so that we can continue to receive his counsel. Simply put, we ALL must remain faithful and humble to properly build up the kingdom of God on the earth.

And yet, there is a paradox at play here because, as humans, we are attracted to strength and confidence yet, as I shared earlier, every one of us has our weaknesses. And there is great power in humility. The Lord has a purpose behind this as he shares in D&C 1:19, 25-8) And inasmuch as they were humble they might be made strong, and blessed from on high, and receive knowledge from time to time.

The Lord’s servants, like all of us, need to rely on and be sustained by Him. We are not sufficient unto ourselves, and we must be humble. The Lord gives us weakness specifically so we may become humble (Ether 12:27.) The Lord’s servants are no exception. The Lord said to Paul: “my strength is made perfect in weakness,” Paul added: “Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.” (2 Cor 12:9.)

In addition to the keys to the priesthood, another critically important point is that our Church has the Power to Seal. Through the church and ordinances which are in it – the blessings of the sealings affect the spirit world as well as the earthly world….it is the sealing power and our knowledge of it which changes and transforms our family life here and our expectations for the joy of family life in the world to come.

Have you ever thought about how your actions here affect those beyond the veil?

Through service + faith. For example: finding the names of your ancestors and offering them vicarious ordinances is one way you sustain this great work. Offering salvation to ALL of Heavenly Father’s children who have lived in this world. From the beginning, our Heavenly Father has used priesthood ordinances and covenants to build relationships with His children in order to prepare them – us – to return to His presence.

And so, the church is being prepared for the Savior’s return. Evidence of the prophesied perfecting of the church. Steady improvement in members’ lives through simple faith and atonement. Have you ever had a prayer answered? Wait – let me ask a more specific question: have you ever prayed to be shown your weaknesses? For those who have not — are you afraid to do so?

One more thought on fear as a barrier to a deeper understanding of oneself and our relationship with the Savior. We learn in 2 Timothy 1:7 that when we experience fear, it is not of God. It reads: “For the Lord hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind.” In the story of Adam and Eve, even after they had disobeyed Father, they weren’t afraid to face Him. They knew they needed direction and guidance. It wasn’t until the serpent point out their nakedness that they were filled with fear and hid themselves from the Lord.

More perfecting of the church = change our way of thinking. One of the more popular business metaphors for changing for human behavior has to do with boiling a frog. Who is familiar with this approach? Let me quickly explain for those who are not. A frog is a cold-blooded creature. Meaning, if it jumps into a pot of boiling hot water, it jumps out. But if that same frog jumps into a pot of lukewarm or room temperature water, and the pot is put on the stove, the frog just sits in the water, not reacting to the change in temperature. But if you THUMP the pot, it shifts the temperature enough to catapult the frog out of the pot and onto the relative safety of a countertop.

People are not much different. Sometimes we’re the frog — we don’t see the situation around us changing, until it’s too late. It could be something like Hurricane Ike creeping up on Texas or the stock market imploding. On a more personal level, it might be a health issue around anxiety or depression – a ‘social disease’ that is more evident to others than the individual suffering from the symptoms. In my own example, after I had my second daughter, I thought I was a little moody, maybe ‘baby blues’ that would pass. It turned out to be post-partum depression requiring intensive clinical treatment. Had my husband and close friends who knew me best not ‘thumped my pot’, I know I would never have gone to the doctor. I was definitely the frog in the pot and I am forever grateful that my husband thumped it for me. You can thump the pot for someone through prayer and kindness, remind that person that you are there, you care and you can help.

I mentioned earlier that President Eyring also challenges us to measure the depth of our gratitude for a true and living church. Why? Without gratitude, you begin to take things for granted. When you are grateful for something, you will nurture it, care for it, give it an important place in your live and keep it safe. You will also sustain it’s growth and life. In his talk, President Eyring shares that his personal sense of gratitude comes from the blessings to his family. The sealing power and our knowledge of it changes and transforms life, including expectations for joy of family life in the world to come. Eternal families, in short.

He also tells us that we need to know by the power of the Holy Ghost in what ways we can do better in keeping the commandments. And he reminds us why – the scriptures promise that when the Lord comes again to His Church, he will find it spiritually prepared for Him. In other words, He has challenged us to do better and we will. We can and we are doing better every day.

There is evidence of the prophesied perfecting of the church through the steady improvements in members’ lives, often characterized by faith and obedience. One of these improvements is the desired capacity for helping out the poor and those in need.

The Perpetual Education Fund (PEF) as many of you know, was established to help young men and women get a good education and become self-reliant after serving a mission for the Church. The program is funded through contributions of Church members and friends. It is a revolving resource in which money is loaned to an individual to help pay for advanced education or training. President Eyring calls out that the Saints’ giving is independent of economic affluence – he is seeing the Perpetual Education Fund and the Humanitarian Fund being mentioned in obituary notices. I thought it was telling that in the first 5 years (it was established in 2001), it has funded 27,000 students in 39 countries. Perhaps most importantly to the point that this important initiative is changing members’ lives: the average monthly wage of students participating in the program has increased 320% from when they start (average $179/mo) to when they finish college (average $756/mo).

In addition to seeing the increased activity with the Perpetual Education Fund, I must admit, before teaching this lesson today, my grasp of the connection between Fast Sundays and the Church’s Humanitarian Fund was tenuous at best. I learned from lds.org that essentially, it helps people become self-reliant by teaching skills and providing resources for a self- sustained life.

Donations, principally from Church members but also from people around the world, are used to make relief projects possible. Also, one hundred percent of the donations given to the Church’s humanitarian services fund are used for relief efforts. There is no other humanitarian organization on the planet that can make this claim. The Church absorbs its own overhead costs. Between 1985 and 2006, the Church donated cash of more than $201 million and goods of more than $705 million in disaster relief to 163 countries.

More perfecting of the church… Every member a missionary was one of President David O MacKay’s well-known sayings. President Kimball had faith in our ability to continue the effort successfully: “Somehow,…I feel that when we have done all in our power that the Lord will find a way to open doors. That is my faith” (Ensign, Oct. 1974, 7).

Since the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was formally organized in a small log cabin in upstate New York in 1830, missionary work has characterized our Church. From its earliest days, fanning out to Native American lands, to Canada and, in 1837, beyond the North American continent to England for missionaries to lay the foundation for the Lord’s church. It took 117 years – until 1947 – for the Church to grow from the initial six members to one million. And yet the two-million-member mark was reached just 16 years later, in 1963, and the three-million mark in eight years more.

In the Spring 2008 General Conference, membership was approaching 13 million. Now, imagine if half of those members introduced someone into the church next year. How quickly we could get to 20 million. And if it was done again the following year? 30 million.

More perfecting of the church.

We sustain our leaders and the Lord’s Church as we give service as opportunities are extended to us through his servants. But what about callings? I’ve been studying a lot about the church’s organizational structure this past month because it is a wonderful model that more businesses should study. It helped me to understand how callings work once a position is identified.

Finally, I would like to bear my own testimony that this is the true and living church because we are continually led by a living, caring Heavenly Father through our Savior, Jesus Christ. He has the knowledge and authority to make adjustments, expansions, and give further revelation to us, either individually or to the Church as a whole. This is what makes it the Living Church, and I am extremely grateful for such reassurance, especially in turbulent times. It is a wonderful to not have to rely solely on one or two thousand-year-old texts written by long-dead prophets, in languages we no longer understand for cultures that have vanished.

We are so very blessed to have a living prophet in President Monson being directed by our Savior to provide steadfast direction for such an immense body of saints. And his two counselors, Presidents Eyring and Uchdorf who respectively have provided inspirational counsel to all saints through their General Conference talks this past April.

I am thrilled and humbled to be attending the General Conference next week where I look forward to hearing our leaders share their personal testimony that this is the true and living church. And bringing you, my sisters, more Lessons for Our Times as long as my calling lasts.

I leave this lesson with you in the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.


Relief Society Teachings For Our Times from April 2008 General Conference

Gaining a Testimony of God the Father; His Son, Jesus Christ; and the Holy Ghost.

by Elder Robert D. Hales, Quorum of the Twelve Apostles

I am fascinated by history, especially thinking about how naturally we humans draw on our past to make sense of the present. Lately I’ve been following the archeological dig around Stonehenge that is challenging every textbook assumption and in doing so, has reaffirmed my personal testimony about our Heavenly Father, His Son Jesus Christ and, somewhat interestingly, our Heavenly Mother as well as the Holy Spirit. Has anyone here been to Stonehenge?

For more than 4,000 years, millions of people like all of us have visited and viewed the monument. For those of you who have never visited, it’s unlike anything you’ve ever seen in the US. There is a small visitor’s center, you walk through a tunnel (where the highway is on top of you) and there is a paved, roped-off ‘road’ wide enough for a car to travel in a single file. Immediately visible is Stonehenge because it looks like every one of the textbook images you’ve ever seen. No fences or park wardens like you might find here. Just all these famous oversized rocks scattered about like bowling pins on top of a grassy knoll.

About 10 years ago, a British archaeologist happened to be visiting at the right time of day when a man’s face carved into the side of one of the rocks was clearly revealed to him. Who is it? We will never know. Why had no one ever seen it before – because now that I’m showing it to you, it’s really quite obvious, right?

One fundamental doctrinal difference between Latter Day Saints and other religions is our belief in the Godhead as three distinct entities: God, our Heavenly Father; His Son Jesus Christ and the Holy Ghost. In building my own personal testimony about the Godhead, I felt a bit like that archaeologist – like it was hiding in plain sight. In many ways it is difficult to describe to others how obvious this is to me, but Elder Hales offers a superb talk in the April 2008 General Conference. He explains a great deal on our view as Latter Day Saints of the Godhead, referencing many New Testament scriptures. Elder Hales talks to us about building a testimony of God, the father and his son Jesus Christ.

He states, “People all over the world, of every creed and persuasion, search and struggle to know:
o Who is God?
o What is His relationship to Jesus Christ?
o And what is our relationship with Them?”

Those are fairly monumental and fundamental questions. We’re going to talk more about them later, but start thinking about it now: Who is God? Anyone?

There is probably no question that is as common to man as that of who God is. Gaining a testimony about anything of a spiritual nature is hard work. You cannot acquire it over a weekend. And contrary to my daughters’ belief, it isn’t found on tv, online or in a video game format. It takes weeks and months of study and prayer. It takes patience and perseverance.

Let me confess something to my sisters – I don’t know if you have an Apostle who speaks to you more than another, but I have to admit that my ‘favorite’ is Elder Ballard. Does anyone else feel that way or is it just me? When you are listening to the talks at the General Conference – are there some that you find yourself more drawn to than others? For me it is always Elder Ballard.

Ok, so in cross-referencing this talk, I picked up on what Elder Ballard said at the October General Conference in 2004:

“…a testimony of the reality of Heavenly father’s love of the life and ministry of Jesus Christ and of the effect of His Atonement on every son and daughter of God brings about the desire to repent and live worthy of the companionship of the Holy Ghost.

It also brings a confirmation to our soul of the Restoration of the gospel in these latter days Real testimony of these precious truths comes as a witness by the Holy Ghost after sincere and dedicated effort, including teaching in the home, prayer, scripture study, service to others and diligent obedience to Heavenly Father’s commandments. To gain and forever hold on to a testimony of gospel truths is worth whatever price in spiritual preparation we may be required to pay.”

I could spend the balance of my lifetime reading all the material that exists about the nature of God and of Jesus Christ. But I don’t have to. We are blessed to already have an authoritative source in our prophet. There is no confusion in our church. The doctrines, at least the ones I’ve read so far, are clear and consistent.

Elder Hales then talks about God and Jesus being separate distinct beings.

In one of the first Gospel Principles classes I took, the question was asked, “who is responsible for the creation?” and before I could blink, one of the gentlemen responded, “Jesus Christ under the direction of God, the Father.” After more study, I found a gospel classic from the 1909 First Presidency called “The Origin of Man”, which stated the doctrinal position of the Church that has never wavered in the past century which, when you consider what else HAS wavered in this past century, it’s a testimony to the power of the Lord’s church:

“God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them.” In these plain and pointed words the inspired author of the book of Genesis made known to the world the truth concerning the origin of the human family.

Jesus Christ, the Son of God, is “the express image” of His Father’s person (Heb. 1:3). He walked the earth as a human being, as a perfect man, and said, in answer to a question put to Him: “He that hath seen me hath seen the Father” (John 14:9). This alone ought to solve the problem to the satisfaction of every thoughtful, reverent mind. The conclusion is irresistible, that if the Son of God be the express image (that is, likeness) of His Father’s person, then His Father is in the form of a man; for that was the form of the Son of God, not only during His mortal life, but before His mortal birth, and after His Resurrection. It was in this form that the Father and the Son, as two personages, appeared to Joseph Smith, when, as a boy of 14 years, he received his first vision.

That man was made in the image of Christ is positively stated in the book of Moses: “And I, God, said unto mine Only Begotten, which was with me from the beginning, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness; and it was so. …

“And I, God, created man in mine own image, in the image of mine Only Begotten created I him; male and female created I them” (Moses 2:26–27).


Elder Hales quotes the 1st Article of Faith. “We believe in God, the Eternal Father, and in His Son, Jesus Christ, and in the Holy Ghost.” This is important. It’s the first order of business in his talk. God, the Eternal Father and His Son Jesus Christ are separate, distinct entities.

He talks about Joseph Smith finding out through personal experience the nature of God the Father and Jesus Christ by seeing them. Joseph’s experience guided Elder Hales through his boyhood. Joseph sought to know from the scriptures, God’s will.

Elder Hales shares specific scripture references supporting that they are two beings. He talks about Jesus being the literal Son of God: God’s introduction of His Son at baptism, Mount of Transfiguration, Christ’s appearance to the Nephites and also to Joseph Smith were the same. “This is my Beloved Son, Hear Him.”  We are commanded to listen.

The truth about our Father in Heaven, Jesus Christ and the Holy Ghost and my personal relationship to each is something I am just now beginning to appreciate. Prayer is migrating from something I did when all other options had failed me to an essential part of my daily life.

I have read and pondered these words: “I know with surety that our Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ live. The Atonement is real. God the Father and Jesus Christ are distinct, separate, immortal beings. They know us as individuals, and They hear and answer our sincere prayers.” I had never before thought of my prayers being heard by THEM. Generally I thought of just of HE.

Elder Hales reminds us that Jesus is the only Begotten of the Father in the flesh. He is our mediator with the Father. We open our prayers to our Eternal Heavenly Father and we close every prayer in Jesus Christ’s name. Have you ever thought about that? Why do you think we pray to Heavenly Father and close each prayer in the name of Thy Son, Jesus Christ? (Pause – Discuss)

What really does it mean to pray in the name of Jesus Christ? Who is this ‘Jesus’? The Bible Dictionary offers this enlightenment: “We pray in Christ’s name when our mind is the mind of Christ, and our wishes the wishes of Christ–when his words abide in us.” Elder Hales clarifies: Jesus Christ is the Only Begotten of the Father in the flesh. He is our Mediator with the Father. He is the Savior who laid down His life for us and pleads our cause with the Father. Therefore, we pray to Heavenly Father in the name of His Son, Jesus Christ. Jesus, the Son, is not the same being as His Father, but He is like His Father. He too is a glorified being of power and authority.

As I shared earlier, He participated with His Father in the Creation of the World and was responsible under the direction of his Father, to create all things on the face of the earth.

Jesus Christ is not the same being as His Father, but is like him in purpose. The oneness is oneness of purpose and love for His children. In the Garden, Christ made it clear that he was not performing His own work but that of the Father. Christ was not talking to himself while praying in the garden, but was calling upon his Father for strength. On the Cross, He cried, “Father into thy hands I commend my Spirit.”

Elder Hayes shares moving verses from the great Intercessory Prayer found in the Book of John in the New Testament. Listen to His words as He reports the obedient completion of His earthly mission to His Father in Heaven:

“I have glorified thee on the earth: I have finished the work which thou gavest me to do. . . .

“For I have given unto them [the disciples] the words which thou gavest me . . . , and they have believed that thou didst send me. . . .

“As thou hast sent me into the world, even so have I also sent them into the world. . . .

“And the glory which thou gavest me I have given them; that they may be one, even as we are one.”

Through the course of the Savior’s ministry, the disciples did indeed become one but not in their physical bodies. They became one in unity of purpose and love. This is the oneness of God the Father and His Son, Jesus Christ, spoken of in the scriptures. They too are distinct beings, but They are united in purpose, in Their love for us, and in the work They are doing on our behalf.

The Savior also prayed:

“O Father, glorify thou me . . . with the glory which I had with thee before the world was. . . .

“ . . . That the world may know that thou hast sent me, and hast loved them, as thou hast loved me.

“ . . . For thou lovedst me before the foundation of the world.”

Oh, how Jesus wanted us to know the Father as He did. He prayed:

“O righteous Father, the world hath not known thee: but I have known thee, and these [the disciples] have known that thou hast sent me.

“And I have declared unto them thy name, and will declare it: that the love wherewith thou hast loved me may be in them, and I in them.”

But what of our testimony? Testimony is a gift from God. We are encouraged to share it but not force it upon someone else because a personal testimony is granted by the Holy Ghost. It can aid others in gaining knowledge for themselves…”

If you are a mother blessed with children, think about how you can teach and encourage them to learn the gospel on their own. Bonds of friendship can be cultivated as you help friends or spouses or others who are just beginning to question the gospel or growing their own faith. Every time we state our testimony of Christ, we strengthen it. Every time we humbly state our beliefs, our convictions grow.

Christ lives as the only begotten of the Father. He will return to reign on this very earth. He has taken away the sins of the world for those who believe steadfast on His name. He brings the reality of the Resurrection. And as an Apostle, Elder Hales shares his testimony:
I testify that our Savior lives. He is the Only Begotten of the Father, and He will come again on this earth to reign. He is Jesus Christ, the Holy One of Israel, “full of grace, and mercy, and truth. . . . It is he that cometh to take away the sins of the world, yea, the sins of every man who steadfastly believeth on his name.” He is the literal Son of God, who rose from the dead on the third day, bringing the reality of resurrection to all who will come to earth. I also testify that God our Eternal Father lives and loves each of us, for we are His children. So great is His love that He sent His Only Begotten Son into the world “that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.”

As an Apostle of the Lord Jesus Christ, I testify of the truth of what is in the scriptures and what has been told to me and can be told to you by the Holy Spirit. It will be revealed according to your obedience and desires. The Savior taught us during His mortal ministry this great truth that applies to all of us: “Whatsoever ye shall ask the Father in my name, which is right, believing that ye shall receive, behold it shall be given unto you.”

BREAK INTO 4 GROUPS FOR STRUCTURED CLASS DISCUSSION

Conclusion

When I kneel down to pray at night, there is no doubt in my mind to whom I am speaking. I am praying to a loving Heavenly Father who has all power to help me and wants to do so. I feel his encouragement and love through the gift of the Holy Spirit that has been bestowed upon me. I received it by the laying on of hands from those who are authorized to administer that ordinance.

There is no confusion in my mind as to who Jesus Christ is. He is God’s only Begotten Son in the flesh, meaning that he is Divine. His Father was God and his mother was Mary. He is my Savior, my Redeemer, my Lord, My God and my King. I love Him. I worship Him. I serve him and I obey him. He is my friend. He suffered for me in the Garden of Gethsemane so I can repent.

The gospel is not complicated. We do not need to get hung up on intellectual pursuits that lead us nowhere. To me, the basics of the gospel of Jesus Christ are a clear as the face carved into the hardest known stone on Earth more than 4 millennia ago – the gospel has always been there. Only now is it clear to me what it all means as I continue to build my personal testimony. How grateful I am to a loving Heavenly Father who sent his Son to redeem the world. It is a miracle. All I know is that when I repent and strive to be obedient that I am happy.

I leave this lesson with you to feast upon for the next month and say these things in the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.