Tuesday, April 14, 2015

LDS General Conference April 2015: Sunday Morning Session

THOMAS S. MONSON - "Blessings of the Temple"

This conference marks seven years since I was sustained as President of the Church. They have been busy years, filled not only with a few challenges but also with countless blessings. Among the most enjoyable and sacred of these blessings has been my opportunity to dedicate and rededicate temples...

The building of temples is a very clear indication of the growth of the Church. We currently have 144 temples in operation worldwide, with 5 being renovated and 13 more under construction. In addition, 13 temples which were previously announced are in various stages of preparation before construction begins. This year we anticipate rededicating 2 temples and dedicating 5 new temples which are scheduled for completion.

For the past two years, as we have concentrated our efforts on completing previously announced temples, we have held in abeyance plans for any additional temples. This morning, however, I am very pleased to announce three new temples which will be built in the following locations: Abidjan, Ivory Coast; Port-au-Prince, Haiti; and Bangkok, Thailand. What marvelous blessings are in store for our faithful members in these areas and, indeed, wherever temples are located throughout the world...

As I think of temples, my thoughts turn to the many blessings we receive therein. As we enter through the doors of the temple, we leave behind us the distractions and confusion of the world. Inside this sacred sanctuary, we find beauty and order. There is rest for our souls and a respite from the cares of our lives.

As we attend the temple, there can come to us a dimension of spirituality and a feeling of peace which will transcend any other feeling which could come into the human heart. We will grasp the true meaning of the words of the Savior when He said: “Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you. … Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.”...

My brothers and sisters, in our lives we will have temptations; we will have trials and challenges. As we go to the temple, as we remember the covenants we make there, we will be better able to overcome those temptations and to bear our trials. In the temple we can find peace.

The blessings of the temple are priceless. One for which I am grateful every day of my life is that which my beloved wife, Frances, and I received as we knelt at a sacred altar and made covenants binding us together for all eternity. There is no blessing more precious to me than the peace and comfort I receive from the knowledge I have that she and I will be together again.

May our Heavenly Father bless us that we may have the spirit of temple worship, that we may be obedient to His commandments, and that we may follow carefully the steps of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. I testify that He is our Redeemer. He is the Son of God. He it is who came forth from the grave that first Easter morning, bringing with Him the gift of everlasting life for all of God’s children. On this beautiful day, as we celebrate that momentous event, may we offer prayers of gratitude for His great and marvelous gifts to us.

ROSEMARY M. WIXOM - "Returning to Faith"
Primary General President

In a recent Sunday Relief Society meeting, I listened to a young mother share part of her journey of conversion. She had grown up in the Church, with parents who taught her the gospel. She attended Primary, Young Women, and seminary. She loved to learn and discover truths. Her constant quest was to know why. Elder Russell M. Nelson has said, “The Lord can only teach an inquiring mind.” And this young woman was teachable.

After high school she attended a university, was sealed in the temple to a returned missionary, and was blessed with beautiful children.

With the spirit of inquiry, this mother continued to ask questions. But as the questions grew harder, so did the answers. And sometimes there were no answers—or no answers that brought peace. Eventually, as she sought to find answers, more and more questions arose, and she began to question some of the very foundations of her faith.

During this confusing time, some of those around her said, “Just lean on my faith.” But she thought, “I can’t. You don’t understand; you’re not grappling with these issues.” She explained, “I was willing to extend courtesy to those without doubts if they would extend courtesy to me.” And many did.

She said, “My parents knew my heart and allowed me space. They chose to love me while I was trying to figure it out for myself.” Likewise, this young mother’s bishop often met with her and spoke of his confidence in her.

Ward members also did not hesitate to give love, and she felt included. Her ward was not a place to put on a perfect face; it was a place of nurture.

“It was interesting,” she remembers. “During this time I felt a real connection to my grandparents who had died. They were pulling for me and urging me to keep trying. I felt they were saying, ‘Focus on what you know.’”

In spite of her substantial support system, she became less active. She said, “I did not separate myself from the Church because of bad behavior, spiritual apathy, looking for an excuse not to live the commandments, or searching for an easy out. I felt I needed the answer to the question ‘What do I really believe?’”

About this time she read a book of the writings of Mother Teresa, who had shared similar feelings. In a 1953 letter, Mother Teresa wrote: “Please pray specially for me that I may not spoil His work and that Our Lord may show Himself—for there is such terrible darkness within me, as if everything was dead. It has been like this more or less from the time I started ‘the work.’ Ask Our Lord to give me courage.”

Archbishop PĂ©rier responded: “God guides you, dear Mother; you are not so much in the dark as you think. The path to be followed may not always be clear at once. Pray for light; do not decide too quickly, listen to what others have to say, consider their reasons. You will always find something to help you. … Guided by faith, by prayer, and by reason with a right intention, you have enough.”

My friend thought if Mother Teresa could live her religion without all the answers and without a feeling of clarity in all things, maybe she could too. She could take one simple step forward in faith—and then another. She could focus on the truths she did believe and let those truths fill her mind and heart.

As she reflected back, she said, “My testimony had become like a pile of ashes. It had all burned down. All that remained was Jesus Christ.” She continued, “But He does not leave you when you have questions. When anyone tries to keep the commandments, the door is wide open. Prayer and scripture study became incredibly important.”

Her first step to rebuild her faith was to start with basic gospel truths. She bought a Primary songbook and began reading the words of the songs. They were treasures to her. She prayed for faith to lift the heaviness she felt.

She learned that when she came up against a statement that caused her to doubt, she “could stop, look at the whole picture, and make the gospel personal.” She said, “I would ask, ‘Is this the right path for me and my family?’ Sometimes I would ask myself, ‘What do I want for my children?’ I realized I want them to have temple marriages. That’s when belief came back to my heart.”...

Though she had questions about how the Book of Mormon came to be, she could not deny the truths she knew in the Book of Mormon. She had focused on studying the New Testament to better understand the Savior. “But eventually,” she said, “I found myself back in the Book of Mormon because I loved what I felt when reading about Jesus Christ and His Atonement.”

She concluded, “You have to have your own spiritual experiences with the truths in that book,” and she was having them. She explained, “I read in Mosiah and felt completely directed: ‘Believe in God; believe that he is, and that he created all things … ; believe that he has all wisdom, and all power, both in heaven and in earth; believe that man doth not comprehend all the things which the Lord can comprehend'.”

About this time a call came to serve as Primary pianist. “It was safe,” she said. “I wanted to have my children in Primary, and now I could be with them. And I wasn’t ready to teach yet.” As she served, she continued to feel from those around her the invitation “Come; we want you, whatever stage you are at, and we will meet you there. Give us whatever you have to offer.”

Playing the Primary songs, she often thought to herself, “Here are truths I love. I can still bear testimony. I will just say those things that I know and trust. It may not be a perfect offering of knowledge, but it will be my offering. What I focus on expands inside of me. It is beautiful to get back to the essence of the gospel and feel clarity.”

On that Sunday morning, as I listened to this yong sister share the story of her journey, I was reminded that “it is upon the rock of our Redeemer” that we all must build our foundation... As President Dieter F. Uchtdorf said: “We are all pilgrims seeking God’s light as we journey on the path of discipleship. We do not condemn others for the amount of light they may or may not have; rather, we nourish and encourage all light until it grows clear, bright, and true.”

JOSE A. TEIXEIRA - "Seeking the Lord"
of the Seventy

Brothers and sisters, today more than in any other time, we have at our disposal exceptional opportunities and resources to deepen our understanding of the teachings of Jesus Christ and of His Atonement. Using these resources appropriately will help us live a fruitful life filled with joy.

In the Savior’s metaphor of the vine and the branches, He said: “Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, except it abide in the vine; no more can ye, except ye abide in me.”2

The more we understand the extraordinary role of Christ in our lives, the more conscious we become of our purpose here in mortality, which is to have joy. That joy, however, does not preclude us from experiencing trials and difficulties, even some so great and complex that they may lead us to think that happiness is not possible in such circumstances...

Today I would like to mention three simple habits that will establish healthy online activity. These habits will generate the daily self-reflections that are necessary for us to grow closer to the teachings of our Heavenly Father and His Son, Jesus Christ.

Habit Number 1: Visit the Church’s Official Websites for Resources
Often visits during the week to these resources will help us to always be sensitive to the teachings of the gospel and encourage our family and friends to think and reflect on what matters most.

Habit Number 2: Subscribe to the Church’s Official Social Networks
This choice will bring to your screen the content that is essential to deepen your searching and seeking of the Lord and His teachings, and it will strengthen your desire to understand the gospel. More important, this will help you remember what Christ expects of each of us.

Just as “there is no good soil without a good farmer,” likewise will there be no good online harvest unless we prioritize from the very beginning that which is accessible to our fingers and our minds.

Habit Number 3: Make Time to Set Aside Your Mobile Devices
It is refreshing to put aside our electronic devices for a while and instead turn the pages of the scriptures or take time to converse with family and friends. Especially on the Lord’s day, experience the peace of participating in a sacrament meeting without the constant urge to see if you have a new message or a new post...

The Lord Jesus Christ said, “As the Father hath loved me, so have I loved you: continue ye in my love.” God wants us to have joy and to feel His love. Christ makes such joy a possibility for each of us. We have the means to know Him better and to live His gospel.

1st Counselor, Presiding Bishopric

There are so many wonders in this world. However, sometimes when we have them constantly before our eyes, we take them for granted. We look, but we don’t really see; we hear, but we don’t really listen.

During His earthly ministry, Jesus said to His disciples:
“Blessed are the eyes which see the things that ye see:
“For I tell you, that many prophets and kings have desired to see those things which ye see, and have not seen them; and to hear those things which ye hear, and have not heard them.”
I have often wondered what it would have been like to live at the time of our Savior. Can you imagine sitting at His feet? feeling His embrace? witnessing as He ministered to others? And yet so many who met Him failed to recognize—to “see”—that the very Son of God was living among them.

We too are privileged to live in an exceptional time. The prophets of old saw the work of the Restoration as “a marvelous work … , yea, a marvelous work and a wonder.” In no previous dispensation have so many missionaries been called, so many nations been opened for the gospel message, and so many temples been built throughout the world.

For us, as Latter-day Saints, wonders also occur in our individual lives. They include our own personal conversion, the answers we receive to our prayers, and the tender blessings God showers upon us daily.

To marvel at the wonders of the gospel is a sign of faith. It is to recognize the hand of the Lord in our lives and in everything around us. Our amazement also produces spiritual strength. It gives us the energy to remain anchored in our faith and to engage ourselves in the work of salvation...

I testify that the work in which we are engaged is “a marvelous work and a wonder.” As we follow Jesus Christ, God bears witness to us “with signs and wonders, and with divers miracles, and gifts of the Holy Ghost, according to his own will.” On this special day, I bear witness that the wonders and marvels of the gospel are anchored in the greatest of all of God’s gifts—the Savior’s Atonement. This is the perfect gift of love that the Father and the Son, united in purpose, have offered to each one of us.

BRENT H. NIELSON - "Waiting for the Prodigal"
of the Seventy

My brothers and I had served as bishops and quorum presidents, and we had experienced the joy of success with ward and quorum members as we left the ninety and nine and went after the one. However, with our sister, our persistent efforts to rescue her and to invite her back only pushed her further and further away.

As we sought heavenly guidance as to how we might properly respond to her, it became evident that we had to follow the example of the father in the parable of the prodigal son. Susan had made her choice, and we had to figuratively let her go—but not without her knowing and feeling our sincere love for her. And so, with renewed love and kindness, we watched and we waited.

My mother never stopped loving and caring for Susan. Every time my mother attended the temple, she placed Susan’s name on the prayer roll and never lost hope. My older brother and his wife, who lived closest to Susan in California, invited her to all family events. They prepared dinner in their home each year on Susan’s birthday. They made sure they were always in touch with her and that she knew of their genuine love for her...

As our children went on missions and were married, Susan was invited to and attended these family celebrations. We tried diligently to create family events so that Susan and her children could be with us and they would know that we loved them and that they were part of our family. As Susan received an advanced degree at a California university, we were all there to support her at her graduation. Although we could not embrace all of her choices, we could certainly embrace her. We loved, we watched, and we waited...

Six years ago this weekend, my wife, Marcia, and I were sitting on the front row of this Conference Center. I was to be sustained as a new General Authority that day. Marcia, who is always in touch with the Spirit, had written a note to me that read, “I think it is time for Susan to come back.” My daughter Katy suggested that I leave and call Susan to invite her to watch general conference that day.

Prompted by these two great women, I walked to the foyer and called my sister. I got her voice mail and simply invited her to watch that session of general conference. She got the message. To our delight, she felt impressed to watch all the sessions of conference. She heard from prophets and apostles she had loved in earlier years. She found new names she had not heard before, such as President Uchtdorf and Elders Bednar, Cook, Christofferson, and Andersen. During this and other unique heaven-sent experiences, my sister—like the prodigal son—came to herself (see Luke 15:17). The words of prophets and apostles and the love of her family moved her to turn and begin the walk back home. After 15 years our daughter and sister who was lost had been found. The watch and the wait were over.

Susan describes this experience just as Lehi described it in the Book of Mormon. She let go of the iron rod and found herself in a mist of darkness (see 1 Nephi 8:23). She states that she did not know she was lost until her faith was reawakened by the Light of Christ, which brightly magnified the stark contrast between what she was experiencing in the world and what the Lord and her family were offering...

Perhaps the most important lesson the Lord taught me through this process happened during our family scripture study after my sister had left the Church. Our son David was reading as we studied together Luke 15. As he read the parable of the prodigal son, I heard it differently that day than I had ever heard it before. For some reason, I had always related to the son who stayed home. As David read that morning, I realized that in some ways I was the prodigal son. All of us fall short of the glory of the Father (see Romans 3:23). All of us need the Savior’s Atonement to heal us. All of us are lost and need to be found. This revelation that day helped me know that my sister and I both needed the Savior’s love and His Atonement. Susan and I were actually on the same path back home.

JEFFREY R. HOLLAND - "Where Justice, Love, and Mercy Meet"

My beloved brothers and sisters, today is Easter Sunday. Although we should always remember (we promise in our weekly sacramental prayers that we will), nevertheless this is the most sacred day of the year for special remembrance of brotherly hands and determined arms that reached into the abyss of death to save us from our fallings and our failings, from our sorrows and our sins...

In our increasingly secular society, it is as uncommon as it is unfashionable to speak of Adam and Eve or the Garden of Eden or of a “fortunate fall” into mortality. Nevertheless, the simple truth is that we cannot fully comprehend the Atonement and Resurrection of Christ and we will not adequately appreciate the unique purpose of His birth or His death—in other words, there is no way to truly celebrate Christmas or Easter—without understanding that there was an actual Adam and Eve who fell from an actual Eden, with all the consequences that fall carried with it.

I do not know the details of what happened on this planet before that, but I do know these two were created under the divine hand of God, that for a time they lived alone in a paradisiacal setting where there was neither human death nor future family, and that through a sequence of choices they transgressed a commandment of God which required that they leave their garden setting but which allowed them to have children before facing physical death. To add further sorrow and complexity to their circumstance, their transgression had spiritual consequences as well, cutting them off from the presence of God forever. Because we were then born into that fallen world and because we too would transgress the laws of God, we also were sentenced to the same penalties that Adam and Eve faced...

As one of His ordained witnesses, I declare this Easter morning that Jesus of Nazareth was and is that Savior of the world, the “last Adam,” the Author and Finisher of our faith, the Alpha and Omega of eternal life. “For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive,” Paul declared. And from the prophet-patriarch Lehi: “Adam fell that men might be. … And the Messiah cometh in the fulness of time, that he may redeem the children of men from the fall.” Most thoroughly of all, the Book of Mormon prophet Jacob taught as part of a two-day sermon on the Atonement of Jesus Christ that “the resurrection must … come … by reason of the fall.”

So today we celebrate the gift of victory over every fall we have ever experienced, every sorrow we have ever known, every discouragement we have ever had, every fear we have ever faced—to say nothing of our resurrection from death and forgiveness for our sins. That victory is available to us because of events that transpired on a weekend precisely like this nearly two millennia ago in Jerusalem.

Beginning in the spiritual anguish of the Garden of Gethsemane, moving to the Crucifixion on a cross at Calvary, and concluding on a beautiful Sunday morning inside a donated tomb, a sinless, pure, and holy man, the very Son of God Himself, did what no other deceased person had ever done nor ever could do. Under His own power, He rose from death, never to have His body separated from His spirit again. Of His own volition, He shed the burial linen with which He had been bound, carefully putting the burial napkin that had been placed over His face “in a place by itself,” the scripture says.

DIETER F. UCHTDORF - "The Gift of Grace"

On Easter Sunday we celebrate the most long-awaited and glorious event in the history of the world.
It is the day that changed everything.
On that day, my life changed.
Your life changed.
The destiny of all God’s children changed.

On that blessed day, the Savior of mankind, who had taken upon Himself the chains of sin and death that held us captive, burst those chains and set us free...

We often speak of the Savior’s Atonement—and rightly so!

In Jacob’s words, “Why not speak of the atonement of Christ, and attain to a perfect knowledge of him?” But as “we talk of Christ, … rejoice in Christ, … preach of Christ, [and] prophesy of Christ” at every opportunity, we must never lose our sense of awe and profound gratitude for the eternal sacrifice of the Son of God.

The Savior’s Atonement cannot become commonplace in our teaching, in our conversation, or in our hearts. It is sacred and holy, for it was through this “great and last sacrifice” that Jesus the Christ brought “salvation to all those who shall believe on his name.”...

It is a most wondrous thing, this grace of God. Yet it is often misunderstood.9 Even so, we should know about God’s grace if we intend to inherit what has been prepared for us in His eternal kingdom.

To that end I would like to speak of grace. In particular, first, how grace unlocks the gates of heaven and, second, how it opens the windows of heaven.

First: Grace Unlocks the Gates of Heaven

Because we have all “sinned, and come short of the glory of God” and because “there cannot any unclean thing enter into the kingdom of God,” every one of us is unworthy to return to God’s presence.

Even if we were to serve God with our whole souls, it is not enough, for we would still be “unprofitable servants.” We cannot earn our way into heaven; the demands of justice stand as a barrier, which we are powerless to overcome on our own.

But all is not lost.

The grace of God is our great and everlasting hope.

Through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, the plan of mercy appeases the demands of justice “and [brings] about means unto men that they may have faith unto repentance.”

Our sins, though they may be as scarlet, can become white as snow. Because our beloved Savior “gave himself a ransom for all,” an entrance into His everlasting kingdom is provided unto us.

The gate is unlocked!

But the grace of God does not merely restore us to our previous innocent state. If salvation means only erasing our mistakes and sins, then salvation—as wonderful as it is—does not fulfill the Father’s aspirations for us. His aim is much higher: He wants His sons and daughters to become like Him.

With the gift of God’s grace, the path of discipleship does not lead backward; it leads upward.

It leads to heights we can scarcely comprehend! It leads to exaltation in the celestial kingdom of our Heavenly Father, where we, surrounded by our loved ones, receive “of his fulness, and of his glory.” All things are ours, and we are Christ’s. Indeed, all that the Father hath shall be given unto us.

To inherit this glory, we need more than an unlocked gate; we must enter through this gate with a heart’s desire to be changed—a change so dramatic that the scriptures describe it as being “born again; yea, born of God, changed from [our worldly] and fallen state, to a state of righteousness, being redeemed of God, becoming his sons and daughters.”

Second: Grace Opens the Windows of Heaven

Another element of God’s grace is the opening of the windows of heaven, through which God pours out blessings of power and strength, enabling us to achieve things that otherwise would be far beyond our reach. It is by God’s amazing grace that His children can overcome the undercurrents and quicksands of the deceiver, rise above sin, and “be perfect[ed] in Christ.”

Though we all have weaknesses, we can overcome them. Indeed it is by the grace of God that, if we humble ourselves and have faith, weak things can become strong.

Throughout our lives, God’s grace bestows temporal blessings and spiritual gifts that magnify our abilities and enrich our lives. His grace refines us. His grace helps us become our best selves...

Do we understand our indebtedness to Heavenly Father and plead with all our souls for the grace of God?

When we kneel to pray, is it to replay the greatest hits of our own righteousness, or is it to confess our faults, plead for God’s mercy, and shed tears of gratitude for the amazing plan of redemption?

Salvation cannot be bought with the currency of obedience; it is purchased by the blood of the Son of God. Thinking that we can trade our good works for salvation is like buying a plane ticket and then supposing we own the airline. Or thinking that after paying rent for our home, we now hold title to the entire planet earth.

Why Then Obey?
If grace is a gift of God, why then is obedience to God’s commandments so important? Why bother with God’s commandments—or repentance, for that matter? Why not just admit we’re sinful and let God save us?

Or, to put the question in Paul’s words, “Shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound?” Paul’s answer is simple and clear: “God forbid.”

Brothers and sisters, we obey the commandments of God—out of love for Him!

Trying to understand God’s gift of grace with all our heart and mind gives us all the more reasons to love and obey our Heavenly Father with meekness and gratitude. As we walk the path of discipleship, it refines us, it improves us, it helps us to become more like Him, and it leads us back to His presence. “The Spirit of the Lord [our God]” brings about such “a mighty change in us, … that we have no more disposition to do evil, but to do good continually.”

Therefore, our obedience to God’s commandments comes as a natural outgrowth of our endless love and gratitude for the goodness of God. This form of genuine love and gratitude will miraculously merge our works with God’s grace. Virtue will garnish our thoughts unceasingly, and our confidence will wax strong in the presence of God...

The prophet Nephi made an important contribution to our understanding of God’s grace when he declared, “We labor diligently … to persuade our children, and also our brethren, to believe in Christ, and to be reconciled to God; for we know that it is by grace that we are saved, after all we can do.”

However, I wonder if sometimes we misinterpret the phrase “after all we can do.” We must understand that “after” does not equal “because.”

We are not saved “because” of all that we can do. Have any of us done all that we can do? Does God wait until we’ve expended every effort before He will intervene in our lives with His saving grace?

Many people feel discouraged because they constantly fall short. They know firsthand that “the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.” They raise their voices with Nephi in proclaiming, “My soul grieveth because of mine iniquities.”

I am certain Nephi knew that the Savior’s grace allows and enables us to overcome sin. This is why Nephi labored so diligently to persuade his children and brethren “to believe in Christ, and to be reconciled to God.”

After all, that is what we can do! And that is our task in mortality!

Grace Is Available to All
When I think of what the Savior did for us leading up to that first Easter Sunday, I want to lift up my voice and shout praises to the Most High God and His Son, Jesus Christ!

The gates of heaven are unlocked!

The windows of heaven are opened!

Today and forevermore God’s grace is available to all whose hearts are broken and whose spirits are contrite. Jesus Christ has cleared the way for us to ascend to heights incomprehensible to mortal minds.

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