Tuesday, April 14, 2015

LDS General Conference April 2015: Sunday Afternoon Session

ROBERT D. HALES - "Preserving Agency, Protecting Religious Freedom"

This is Easter Sunday: a day of gratitude and remembrance honoring our Savior Jesus Christ’s Atonement and Resurrection for all mankind. We worship Him, grateful for our freedom of religion, freedom of assembly, freedom of speech, and our God-given right of agency.

As prophets foretold about these latter days in which we live, there are many confused about who we are and what we believe. Some are “false accusers … [and] despisers of those that are good.” Others “call evil good, and good evil; [and] put darkness for light, and light for darkness.”

As those around us make choices about how to respond to our beliefs, we must not forget that moral agency is an essential part of God’s plan for all His children. That eternal plan, presented to us in the premortal Council in Heaven, included the gift of agency.

In that Grand Council, Lucifer, known as Satan, used his agency to oppose God’s plan. God said: “Because … Satan rebelled against me, and sought to destroy the agency of man, which I, the Lord God, had given him, … I caused that he should be cast down.”

He continued: “And also a third part of the hosts of heaven turned he away from me because of their agency.”

As a result, Heavenly Father’s spirit children who chose to reject His plan and follow Lucifer lost their divine destiny.

Jesus Christ, using His agency, said:

“Here am I, send me.”

“Thy will be done, and the glory be thine forever.”

Jesus, who exercised His agency to sustain Heavenly Father’s plan, was identified and appointed by the Father as our Savior, foreordained to perform the atoning sacrifice for all. Similarly, our exercise of agency to keep the commandments enables us to fully understand who we are and receive all of the blessings our Heavenly Father has—including the opportunity to have a body, to progress, to experience joy, to have a family, and to inherit eternal life...

As we walk the path of spiritual liberty in these last days, we must understand that the faithful use of our agency depends upon our having religious freedom. We already know that Satan does not want this freedom to be ours. He attempted to destroy moral agency in heaven, and now on earth he is fiercely undermining, opposing, and spreading confusion about religious freedom—what it is and why it is essential to our spiritual life and our very salvation.

There are four cornerstones of religious freedom that we as Latter-day Saints must rely upon and protect.

The first is freedom to believe. No one should be criticized, persecuted, or attacked by individuals, or governments either, for what he or she believes about God. It is very personal and very important...

The second cornerstone of religious liberty is the freedom to share our faith and our beliefs with others. The Lord commands us, “Ye shall teach [the gospel to] your children … when thou sittest in thine house.” He also said to His disciples, “Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature.” As parents, full-time missionaries, and member missionaries, we rely on religious freedom in order to teach the Lord’s doctrine in our families and throughout the world.

The third cornerstone of religious liberty is the freedom to form a religious organization, a church, to worship peacefully with others. The eleventh article of faith declares, “We claim the privilege of worshiping Almighty God according to the dictates of our own conscience, and allow all men the same privilege, let them worship how, where, or what they may.” International human rights documents and many national constitutions support this principle.

The fourth cornerstone of religious liberty is the freedom to live our faith—free exercise of faith not just in the home and chapel but also in public places. The Lord commands us not only to pray privately but also to go forth and “let [our] light so shine before men, that they may see [our] good works, and glorify [our] Father which is in heaven.”

Some are offended when we bring our religion into the public square, yet the same people who insist that their viewpoints and actions be tolerated in society are often very slow to give that same tolerance to religious believers who also wish their viewpoints and actions to be tolerated. The general lack of respect for religious viewpoints is quickly devolving into social and political intolerance for religious people and institutions...

As disciples of Jesus Christ we have a responsibility to work together with like-minded believers, to raise our voices for what is right. While members should never claim or even imply that they are speaking for the Church, we are all invited, in our capacity as citizens, to share our personal witness with conviction and love—“every man [and woman] according to his [or her own] mind.”

KEVIN W. PEARSON - "Stay by the Tree"
of the Seventy

Enduring to the end is a hallmark of true discipleship and is essential to eternal life. But when trials and challenges come our way, we are often told to simply “hang in there.” Let me be clear: to “hang in there” is not a principle of the gospel. Enduring to the end means constantly coming unto Christ and being perfected in Him.

If enduring to the end is essential to eternal life, why do we struggle to be faithful? We struggle when we are caught between competing priorities. Casual obedience and lukewarm commitment weaken faith. Enduring to the end requires total commitment to the Savior and to our covenants.

Lehi’s vision of the tree of life is a powerful parable on enduring to the end. Please prayerfully study and ponder Lehi’s dream; then liken it unto yourself. As you do, carefully consider six important principles that help us endure to the end.

1. Don’t Forget to Pray
We begin with Lehi alone “in a dark and dreary waste.” Each of us experiences periods of darkness and loneliness. “When life gets dark and dreary, don’t forget to pray.” Follow President Heber J. Grant’s example. Pray for strength to endure to the end. Ask Heavenly Father, “What more would You have me do?”

2. Come unto Christ and Be Perfected in Him
The tree of life is the central focus in Lehi’s dream. Everything points to the tree of life. The tree represents Christ, who is the clear manifestation of the love of God. The fruit is His infinite Atonement and is great evidence of God’s love. Eternal life with our loved ones is sweeter and more desirable than any other thing. To realize this gift, we must “come unto Christ, and be perfected in him.” He is “the way, the truth, and the life.” We can fill our lives with accomplishment and well-doing, but in the end, if we do not enter into sacred covenants to follow Christ and faithfully keep them, we will have utterly and completely missed the mark.

3. Press Forward with Faith
There is a path that leads to the tree of life, to Christ. It is strait and narrow, strict and exact. God’s commandments are strict but not restrictive. They protect us from spiritual and physical danger and prevent us from getting lost.

Obedience builds faith in Christ. Faith is a principle of action and power. Consistently following the Savior’s example produces spiritual power and capacity. Without the strengthening and enabling power of the Atonement, it’s impossible to stay on the path and endure.

“Press forward with a steadfastness in Christ.”

4. The Book of Mormon Is Key to Spiritual Survival
Life’s journey is challenging. It’s easy to be distracted, wander off the path, and get lost. Tribulation is an inevitable and indispensable part of our eternal progression. When adversity comes, don’t let something you don’t fully understand unravel everything you do know. Be patient, cling to truth; understanding will come. Trials are like great mists of darkness that can blind our eyes and harden our hearts. Unless we are “continually holding fast” to the word of God and living it, we will become spiritually blinded rather than spiritually minded. Search the Book of Mormon and the words of the living prophets every day, every day, every day! It’s the key to spiritual survival and avoiding deception. Without it, we are spiritually lost.

5. Don’t Be Distracted and Deceived
To heed is to give careful attention. Heeding those who do not believe in Christ will not help you find Him. Searching #spaciousbuilding for knowledge will not lead you to truth. It’s not posted there. Only the Savior has “the words of eternal life.” Everything else is just words. The large and spacious building symbolizes the “vain imaginations and the pride” of the world—in other words, distraction and deception. It’s filled with well-dressed people who seem to have everything. But they mock the Savior and those who follow Him. They are “ever learning, and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth.” They may be politically correct, but they are spiritually lost.

6. Stay by the Tree
Lehi’s message is to stay by the tree. We stay because we are converted unto the Lord. Alma taught, “Behold, he changed their hearts; yea, he awakened them out of a deep sleep, and they awoke unto God.” As we yield our hearts to God, the Holy Ghost changes our very natures, we become deeply converted unto the Lord, and we no longer seek the spacious building. If we stop doing those things that bring about deepening conversion, we regress spiritually. Apostasy is the reverse of conversion...

Once we enter into covenants with God, there is no going back. Giving in, giving up, and giving out are not options. In the kingdom of God, there is a standard of excellence for exaltation. It requires valiant discipleship! There is no room for average or complacent disciples. Average is the enemy of excellence, and average commitment will prevent you from enduring to the end.

If you are struggling, confused, or spiritually lost, I urge you to do the one thing I know will get you back on track. Begin again to prayerfully study the Book of Mormon and live its teachings every day, every day, every day! I testify of the profound power in the Book of Mormon that will change your life and strengthen your resolve to follow Christ.

RAFAEL E.PINO - "The Eternal Perspective of the Gospel"
of the Seventy

In a revelation given to Moses, we are told of our Heavenly Father’s declared intention: “For behold, this is my work and my glory—to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man.” According to that statement, the Father’s desire is to give everyone the opportunity to receive a fulness of joy. Latter-day revelations show that our Heavenly Father created a great plan of happiness for all His children, a very special plan so that we can return to live with Him.

Understanding this plan of happiness provides us with an eternal perspective and helps us to truly value the commandments, the ordinances, the covenants, and the trials and tribulations...

The eternal perspective of the gospel leads us to understand the place that we occupy in God’s plan, to accept difficulties and progress through them, to make decisions, and to center our lives on our divine potential.

Perspective is the way we see things when we look at them from a certain distance, and it allows us to appreciate their true value.

It is like being in a forest and having a tree in front of us. Unless we step back a little, we will not be able to appreciate what a forest really is. I once visited the Amazon jungle in Leticia, Colombia, near the borders of Brazil and Peru. I was not able to appreciate its magnitude until I flew over it and gained perspective...

Elder Neal A. Maxwell taught: “Though ‘anchored’ in grand and ultimate hope, some of our tactical hopes are another matter. We may hope for a pay raise, a special date, an electoral victory, or for a bigger house—things which may or may not be realized. Faith in Father’s plan gives us endurance even amid the wreckage of such proximate hopes. Hope keeps us ‘anxiously engaged’ in good causes even when these appear to be losing causes (see D&C 58:27).”

Not having an eternal perspective, or losing it, can lead us to have an earthly perspective as our personal standard and to make decisions that are not in harmony with the will of God.

NEIL. L. ANDERSEN - "Thy Kingdom Come"

We are a very large worldwide family of believers, disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ.

We have taken His name upon us, and each week as we partake of the sacrament, we pledge that we will remember Him and keep His commandments. We are far from perfect, but we are not casual in our faith. We believe in Him. We worship Him. We follow Him. We deeply love Him. His cause is the greatest cause in all the world.

We live, brothers and sisters, in the days preceding the Lord’s Second Coming, a time long anticipated by believers through the ages. We live in days of wars and rumors of wars, days of natural disasters, days when the world is pulled by confusion and commotion.

But we also live in the glorious time of the Restoration, when the gospel is being taken to all the world—a time when the Lord has promised that He “will raise up … a pure people” and arm them “with righteousness and with the power of God.”...

The miracle of the Church in the Ivory Coast cannot be told without the names of two couples: Philippe and Annelies Assard and Lucien and Agathe Affoue. They joined the Church as young married couples, one in Germany and one in France. In the 1980s, Philippe and Lucien felt drawn back to their native African country for the purpose of building the kingdom of God. For Sister Assard, who is German, to leave her family and allow Brother Assard to leave his work as an accomplished mechanical engineer required unusual faith. The two couples met each other for the first time in the Ivory Coast and started a Sunday School. That was 30 years ago. There are now eight stakes and 27,000 members in this beautiful African country. The Affoues continue to serve nobly as do the Assards, who recently completed a mission to the Accra Ghana Temple...

Our faith grows as we anticipate the glorious day of the Savior’s return to the earth. The thought of His coming stirs my soul. It will be breathtaking! The scope and grandeur, the vastness and magnificence, will exceed anything mortal eyes have ever seen or experienced.

In that day He will not come “wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger,” but He will appear “in the clouds of heaven, clothed with power and great glory; with all the holy angels.” We will hear “the voice of the archangel, and … the trump of God.” The sun and the moon will be transformed, and “stars [will] be hurled from their places.” You and I, or those who follow us, “the saints … from [every quarter] of the earth,” “shall be quickened and … caught up to meet him,”  and those who have died in righteousness, they too will “be caught up to meet him in the midst … of heaven.”

Then, a seemingly impossible experience: “All flesh,” the Lord says, “shall see me together.” How will it happen? We do not know. But I testify it will happen—exactly as prophesied. We will kneel in reverence, “and the Lord shall utter his voice, and all the ends of the earth shall hear it.” “It shall be … as the voice of many waters, and as the voice of a great thunder.” “[Then] the Lord, … the Savior, shall stand in the midst of his people.”

There will be unforgettable reunions with the angels of heaven and the Saints upon the earth. But most important, as Isaiah declares, “All the ends of the earth shall see the salvation of our God,” and He “shall reign over all flesh.”

In that day the skeptics will be silent, “for every ear shall hear … , and every knee shall bow, and every tongue shall confess” that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, the Savior and Redeemer of the world.

Today is Easter. We rejoice with Christians all over the world in His glorious Resurrection and in our own promised resurrection. May we prepare for His coming by rehearsing these glorious events over and over in our own minds and with those we love, and may His prayer be our prayer: “Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven.”

JORGE F. ZEBALLOS - "If You Will Be Responsible"
of the Seventy

What responsibility do we have as members of the Church of Jesus Christ? President Joseph Fielding Smith expressed it as follows: “We have these two great responsibilities. … First, to seek our own salvation; and, second, our duty to our fellow men.”2

These, then, are the main responsibilities that our Father has assigned to us: seeking our own salvation and that of others, with the understanding that in this statement, salvation means reaching the highest degree of glory that our Father has provided for His obedient children.3 These responsibilities that have been entrusted to us—and which we have freely accepted—must define our priorities, our desires, our decisions, and our daily conduct.

For someone who has come to understand that, because of the Atonement of Jesus Christ, exaltation is truly within reach, failing to obtain it constitutes damnation. Thus, the opposite of salvation is damnation, just like the opposite of success is failure. President Thomas S. Monson has taught us that “men cannot really long rest content with mediocrity once they see excellence is within their reach.”4 How, then, could we be content with anything short of exaltation if we know that exaltation is possible?

Allow me to share four key principles that will help us fulfill our desire to be responsible to our Father in Heaven as well as respond to His expectation that we become as He is.

1. Learning Our Duty
If we are to do God’s will, if we are to be responsible to Him, we must begin by learning, understanding, accepting, and living according to His will for us. The Lord has said, “Wherefore, now let every man learn his duty, and to act in the office in which he is appointed, in all diligence.” Having the desire to do what is right is not enough if we do not make sure to understand what our Father expects from us and wants us to do...

2. Making the Decision
Whether we have learned about the Restoration of the gospel, a particular commandment, the duties associated with serving in a calling, or the covenants we make in the temple, the choice is ours whether or not we act according to that new knowledge. Each person chooses freely for himself or herself to enter into a sacred covenant such as baptism or the temple ordinances. Because swearing oaths was a normal part of people’s religious lives in antiquity, the old law stated that “ye shall not swear by my name falsely.” However, in the meridian of time, the Savior taught a higher way of keeping our commitments when He said that yes meant yes and no meant no. A person’s word ought to be sufficient to establish his or her truthfulness and commitment toward someone else—and even more so when that someone else is our Father in Heaven. Honoring a commitment becomes the manifestation of the truthfulness and honesty of our word.

3. Acting Accordingly
After learning our duty and making the decisions that are associated with that learning and understanding, we must act accordingly.

A powerful example of the firm determination to meet His commitment with His Father comes from the Savior’s experience of having a man sick with palsy brought to Him to be healed. “When Jesus saw their faith, he said unto the sick of the palsy, Son, thy sins be forgiven thee.” We know that the Atonement of Jesus Christ is essential to receiving forgiveness for our sins, but during the episode of the healing of the man with palsy, that grand event had not yet taken place; the Savior’s suffering in Gethsemane and on the cross had not yet happened. However, Jesus not only blessed the man with palsy with the ability to stand up and walk, but He also granted him forgiveness for his sins, thereby giving an unequivocal sign that He would not fail, that He would fulfill the commitment He had made with His Father, and that in Gethsemane and on the cross He would do what He had promised to do.

4. Willingly Accepting the Father’s Will
Discipleship requires us not only to learn our duty, make correct decisions, and act in accordance with them, but also essential is our developing the willingness and the ability to accept God’s will, even if it does not match our righteous desires or preferences.

I am impressed by and admire the attitude of the leper who came to the Lord, “beseeching him, and kneeling down to him, and saying unto him, If thou wilt, thou canst make me clean.” The leper did not demand anything, even though his desires might have been righteous; he was simply willing to accept the will of the Lord.

JOSEPH W. SITATI - "Be Fruitful, Multiply, and Subdue the Earth"
of the Seventy

In the day that God the Father called upon His Only Begotten Son to make man in Their image and likeness, He blessed His children, saying, “Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it, and have dominion … over every living thing that moveth upon the earth.” Thus, our mortal journey began with both a divine charge and a blessing. A loving Father gave us the charge and the blessing to be fruitful and to multiply and to have dominion so that we can develop and become even as He is.

Brothers and sisters, this afternoon I invite your faith and prayers as I share some thoughts with you about three fundamental attributes of our divine nature. My prayer is that we might all more fully recognize and fulfill our sacred responsibility—our Father’s charge—to develop our divine nature so that we may navigate our journey more successfully and obtain our divine destiny.

First, God Charged Us to Be Fruitful
An important part of being fruitful that is sometimes overlooked is that of bringing forth the kingdom of God upon the earth. The Savior taught:

“I am the vine, ye are the branches: He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without me ye can do nothing. …

“If ye abide in me, and my words abide in you, ye shall ask what ye will, and it shall be done unto you.

“Herein is my Father glorified, that ye bear much fruit; so shall ye be my disciples.”

We become fruitful as we abide in Christ and as we “take upon [ourselves His] name [and] … serve him to the end” by helping others come unto Him.

In our day, living prophets and apostles continue to lift their voices to invite each one of us to become fully engaged in the work of salvation according to our abilities and opportunities...

Second, God Charged Us to Multiply
Our physical bodies are a blessing from God. We received them for the purposes of fulfilling Heavenly Father’s work “to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man. The body is the means by which we can attain our divine potential.

The body enables Heavenly Father’s obedient spirit children to experience life on earth. Bearing children gives other spirit children of God the opportunity to also enjoy life on earth. All who are born in mortality have the opportunity to progress and to be exalted if they obey God’s commandments.

Marriage between a man and a woman is the institution that God ordained for the fulfillment of the charge to multiply. A same-gender relationship does not multiply...

Third, God Charged Us to Subdue the Earth
To subdue the earth and have dominion over every living thing is to control these things so they fulfill the will of God11 as they serve the purposes of His children. Subduing includes gaining mastery over our own bodies. It does not include being helpless victims of these things or using them contrary to the will of God.

Developing the ability to subdue the things of the earth begins with humility to recognize our human weakness and the power available to us through Christ and His Atonement. For “Christ hath said: If ye will have faith in me ye shall have power to do whatsoever thing is expedient in me.” This power becomes available to us as we choose to act in obedience to His commandments. We increase our ability by seeking the gifts of the Spirit and by developing our talents.

RUSSELL M. NELSON - "The Sabbath Is a Delight"

I am intrigued by the words of Isaiah, who called the Sabbath “a delight.” Yet I wonder, is the Sabbath really a delight for you and for me?

I first found delight in the Sabbath many years ago when, as a busy surgeon, I knew that the Sabbath became a day for personal healing. By the end of each week, my hands were sore from repeatedly scrubbing them with soap, water, and a bristle brush. I also needed a breather from the burden of a demanding profession. Sunday provided much-needed relief.

What did the Savior mean when He said that “the sabbath was made for man, and not man for the sabbath”? I believe He wanted us to understand that the Sabbath was His gift to us, granting real respite from the rigors of daily life and an opportunity for spiritual and physical renewal. God gave us this special day, not for amusement or daily labor but for a rest from duty, with physical and spiritual relief...

The Savior identified Himself as Lord of the Sabbath. It is His day! Repeatedly, He has asked us to keep the Sabbath or to hallow the Sabbath day. We are under covenant to do so.

How do we hallow the Sabbath day? In my much younger years, I studied the work of others who had compiled lists of things to do and things not to do on the Sabbath. It wasn’t until later that I learned from the scriptures that my conduct and my attitude on the Sabbath constituted a sign between me and my Heavenly Father. With that understanding, I no longer needed lists of dos and don’ts. When I had to make a decision whether or not an activity was appropriate for the Sabbath, I simply asked myself, “What sign do I want to give to God?” That question made my choices about the Sabbath day crystal clear.

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