Gospel Manhood

boy-riding-fathers-shoulders-1156154-wallpaperLatter-day Saints understand the priesthood to be the power and authority of God, delegated to men for the purposes of doing His will and accomplishing His work on the earth. Ordination to the priesthood is available to any one of God’s sons who is living a life in harmony with the restored gospel of Jesus Christ, and, while the priesthood comes with the authority to govern in the affairs of the church, the power to bless others, and the commission to teach eternal truths, it also comes with a charge to conduct oneself according to God’s standard of manhood. Indeed, if priesthood holders are to represent the Lord, they must also emulate the Lord, modeling their lives after His.

Teaching the prophet Joseph Smith about recently restored priesthood authority, the Lord explained, “No power or influence can or ought to be maintained by virtue of the priesthood, only by persuasion, by long-suffering, by gentleness and meekness, and by love unfeigned” (D&C 121:41). In this statement, I can’t help but see a gentle repudiation of the world’s expectations for manhood: God’s standards for His sons is not that they be brawny, aggressive, or loud—but that they be gentle, loving, and persuasive. Indeed, God’s standards of manhood, the gospel model for masculinity, is much more about strength of character than handiness with a wrench.

The world recognizes men by their rugged individualism, by their ability to build fires in the woods without matches, by their aptitude for identifying and repairing any automotive mishap, by their willingness to play rugby in the mud without any protective gear. However, by the Lord’s standard, these “hallmarks” of masculinity are, at best, peripheral to the true measures of a man. In the same revelation to Joseph Smith regarding priesthood leadership, the Lord went on to instruct him—and all priesthood men—saying, “Let thy bowels also be full of charity towards all men, and to the household of faith, and let virtue garnish thy thoughts unceasingly” (D&C 121:45). And if a true man is full of charity, then it must be true that he “suffereth long, and is kind, and envieth not, and is not puffed up, seeketh not [his] own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil, and rejoiceth not in iniquity but rejoiceth in the truth, beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things” (Moroni 7:45)—all traits that he can possess and demonstrate whether he’s replacing a fan belt or filling macarons with ganache.

In speaking to His disciples in the ancient Americas, Jesus Christ asked, “[W]hat manner of men ought ye to be?” going on to answer: “Verily I say unto you, even as I am” (3 Nephi 27:27). Ultimately, the true measure of a man is in his efforts to follow the example of Jesus Christ, to develop a character that, like Christ’s, is above reproach, and to exert an influence that, like Christ’s, builds and improves everyone and everything he encounters.

Elder D. Todd Christofferson declared:

As men of the priesthood, we have an essential role to play in society, at home, and in the Church. But we must be men that women can trust, that children can trust, and that God can trust. In the Church and kingdom of God in these latter days, we cannot afford to have boys and men who are drifting. We cannot afford young men who lack self-discipline and live only to be entertained. We cannot afford young adult men who are going nowhere in life, who are not serious about forming families and making a real contribution in this world. We cannot afford husbands and fathers who fail to provide spiritual leadership in the home.

Thus, a man is not failing in manhood if he happens to know more about pliés than about pliers. To suppose so would be to look only towards superficial and culturally driven criteria for manhood. Instead, we should look to the eternal and fundamental criteria of manhood, the character traits set forth by God in charging His sons with priesthood service. When he is striving to emulate the example of Jesus Christ and to embody God’s vision of righteous manhood by showing himself to be trustworthy, loving, purposeful, spiritually sensitive, and capable of righteous leadership, then we may say that a man truly is a man.

Fruits of a True Prophet

general-conference-october-2012-1057257-wallpaperWarning His disciples against the threat of false prophets, Jesus said, “Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves,” afterwards giving His disciples the key by which to discern the character of anyone who claimed to be a prophet: “Ye shall know them by their fruits” (Matthew 7:15-16). In this, the Savior taught His disciples then and now that the true measure of anyone who claims to be a prophet is in the fruit that they bear, in the products of their ministry. Today, the president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Thomas S. Monson, is God’s prophet on the earth. While I could write about the many spectacular things that he has done in his life to serve God and His children throughout this world in over fifty years of dedicated church service, I want to share here some of the more personal fruits of President Monson’s ministry, the ways in which his teachings and counsel have influenced my life for the better.

Not Taking Myself So Seriously

During my time at Brigham Young University, President Monson came to speak to the students. He stood before us and spoke about lessons he had learned from previous prophets. At one point, he described an encounter that he and then-President Kimball had had with a man who was unhappy with the missionary assignment that his son had received. The man had come to tell President Kimball, the prophet, that he had gotten the son’s assignment wrong. After they listened to the man’s complaint, he left, and President Kimball said to Thomas Monson, “Aren’t some parents unusual?” At that point in the story, President Monson looked up at the gathered audience and said, “He would not use a word I might have used, but then he wasn’t in the navy like I was! (That line is not in my prepared message!)” There was the prophet of God, eschewing any pretense of infallible righteousness, poking fun at himself for his maritime vocabulary. In that moment and in many others, President Monson has taught me that there isn’t much to be gained by taking myself too seriously. His example has helped me to understand that humor is no sin and that the gospel is best lived with a brilliant smile.

Enacting my Feelings

In one General Conference, President Monson taught:

A grateful heart, then, comes through expressing gratitude to our Heavenly Father for His blessings and to those around us for all that they bring into our lives. This requires conscious effort—at least until we have truly learned and cultivated an attitude of gratitude. Often we feel grateful and intend to express our thanks but forget to do so or just don’t get around to it. Someone has said that “feeling gratitude and not expressing it is like wrapping a present and not giving it.”

I’m a naturally reticent person, so, even when I feel gratitude, I’m not always been eager to express it. But,from President Monson, I’ve learned that feelings of gratitude don’t do any good unless they’re expressed. Further, I’ve learned that this principle applies to more than just gratitude. Unexpressed faith does nothing to bless others. Unexpressed sorrow denies our friends the opportunity to reach out in Christian fellowship. Unexpressed love does nothing to benefit the beloved. The feelings and matters of our hearts should not be limited to abstract attitudes. Rather, they should inform our actions and influence our relationships. The scriptures don’t say that God probably loves the world, but He keeps those feelings to Himself. No, they say, “God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son” (John 3:16). If God’s feelings for us were backed by action, shouldn’t our feelings be reflected in what we do?

Finding my Way

Lately, I’ve been trying to figure out the course that I want to take in life, trying to prepare as much to make a decent living as to adopt a direction that would be pleasing to the Lord. While pondering that question, I read one of President Monson’s recent addresses, a short little sermon that, I’ll confess, seemed too short to contain anything useful. But in that talk, President Monson describes the meeting between the Cheshire Cat and Alice. Alice, confronted with a fork in the road, asks the Cat which way she should go, and the Cheshire Cat replies, “That depends where you want to go. If you do not know where you want to go, it doesn’t matter which path you take.” That’s all well and good, I thought, but I don’t know where I want to go, where I should go—so how does this help me? In the very next sentence, President Monson quieted my anxiety and elevated my gaze, saying, “Unlike Alice, we know where we want to go, and it does matter which way we go, for the path we follow in this life leads to our destination in the next life” (emphasis added). In the time it took me to get from one sentence to the next, Thomas S. Monson cleared up my confusion, teaching me that there isn’t a single right  path but that, rather, any course is valid and acceptable to God so long as it allows me to live in harmony with His will and leads me back to His presence after this life.

Thomas S. Monson is a prophet of God. I know it—not because I’ve seen him perform miracles—but because his counsel has blessed me and has changed me as I’ve acted on it. His words have encouraged me, inspired me, and led me to a happier, more productive life. In my experience, those are the fruits of his prophetic calling, the evidence that our Heavenly Father still speaks to His children in our day through a living prophet.

The perspective of an eternal plan

yosemite-half-dome-sunrise-1090321-wallpaper“O my Father,” early Latter-day saint poet, Eliza R. Snow, once asked, “In thy holy habitation / Did my spirit once reside? / In my first primeval childhood / Was I nurtured near thy side?” In her lines, she asks, essentially, whether her life began at birth—or whether her existence had its origins even earlier. There are glimmers of the doctrine of a premortal existence in the Bible (see Jeremiah 1:5; Job 38:4–7); however, a fuller understanding of that doctrine and its marvelous implications has come only through modern revelation.

Summarizing our place in the eternities, President Gordon B. Hinckley taught: “We are sons and daughters of God. God is the Father of our spirits. We lived before we came here. We had personality. We were born into this life under a divine plan. We are here to test our worthiness, acting in the agency which God has given to us. When we die we shall go on living.” In this succession of simple sentences, we see that the life we experience now is only a small part of our eternal existence and that we are here under a divine plan. Latter-day Saints know that plan as the Plan of Salvation, and it is the foundation for all of our beliefs and practices.

We believe that, before the creation of this earth, God the Father presented a plan to all of His children, a plan that would allow us to receive physical bodies and to qualify for the quality of life that He enjoys. In His infinite love and wisdom, God knew that life in the world would be rife with temptations, calamities, disappointments, and tragedies, so He also promised a way to overcome the opposition that we would face in mortality as we made our way back to His presence. As Elder Robert D. Hales once explained, “Father knew we would stumble and sin as we learned by experience in mortality, so He provided a Savior to redeem from sin all who repent and to heal the spiritual and emotional wounds of those who obey.” Of course, that Savior is Jesus Christ, and we can have the assurance that, as we follow the plan and strive to live after the example of the Savior, we can return to live with our Father in Heaven, to live in a state of eternal joy with our families.

That, in its most condensed form, is the basis of an eternal perspective, a paradigm that includes the reality of our existence beyond this life. But, while a knowledge of the eternal nature of God’s plan is interesting and worth having, the real power of that knowledge is in the way that it can transform our lives and give us a deeper sense of purpose. “The Plan of Salvation,” in Elder Hales’ words, “is one of the greatest treasures of knowledge ever given to mankind because it explains the eternal purpose of life. Without it, we are truly wandering in the dark.” He then goes on to say, “Understanding the plan clarifies our spiritual vision and allows us to see things as they really are.”

Being able to situate myself within an understanding of God’s plan has given me a sense of confidence and purpose that I couldn’t have otherwise. Knowing that my existence goes back far earlier than my birth gives me a reassuring sense of identity. Knowing that this life is all a part of God’s plan for my eternal success gives me the confidence to press forward despite difficulties and uncertainties. Knowing that there is much to my existence beyond this life encourages me to work hard to be my very best in order to return to my heavenly home and help others to do the same.

Without the knowledge of God’s eternal plan, our perspective would be limited to the short decades of our lives on earth: the commandments would be arbitrary restrictions, religion would be a fruitless pastime, and morality would be as flexible and negotiable as the latest fashions. With the perspective that comes from His plan, however, everything changes: commandments become guideposts to a happier eternity, religion becomes a binding link between God and His children, and morality becomes the bedrock of a successful life founded on eternal principles. To know the plan is to know God’s love, to know that, even though we must sometimes pass through heart-wrenching difficulties, He has provided a way for us to overcome all sorrows and to return to His presence, where He “shall wipe away all tears from [our] eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away” (Revelation 21:4).

We Believe in God

We believe in God, the Eternal Father, and in His Son, Jesus Christ, and in the Holy Ghost.

—Articles of Faith 1:1

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Both the Father and the Son appeared to Joseph Smith in 1820.

In describing the basic beliefs of members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Joseph Smith started with belief in God. It’s a belief that’s reflected in Paul’s teaching: “The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God: And if children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ; if so be that we suffer with him, that we may be also glorified together” (Romans 8:16–17). Here, Paul describes the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost as three individuals with distinct roles but also with a single, unifying purpose.

Paul explains the nature of God by calling us His children, His heirs, and His divine Fatherhood is fundamental to Latter-day Saints’ faith. He is, very literally, our Father. As our Father, He wants us to receive all that He has and to enjoy eternity with Him. He loves us. In fact, John characterizes Him by saying, “God is love” (I John 4:8). The Father knows the end from the beginning, He has power to do all things, and He directs His work of blessing His children and qualifying them—us—to live forever in His presence. He is the One to whom we pray, to whom Jesus prayed, and He is eager to listen and to respond with perfect paternal care and attention.

When asked to characterize Jesus, Peter called Him “the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Matthew 16:16). As such, Jesus came into the world uniquely qualified to suffer “pains and afflictions and temptations of every kind” (Alma 7:11) and to overcome them all. He endured the pains of death and hell at Gethsemane and at Calvary yet rose glorious from the tomb. He thus became our Savior and Redeemer, preparing the way for us to become joint-heirs of the Father with Him if we live His gospel and keep His commandments. Jesus Christ’s work is to save us from sin and death as we repent and model our lives after His perfect example. Because of that, He invites all of God’s children to come unto Him and to enjoy the blessings of His mercy and grace.

Finally, as Paul teaches, the Holy Ghost’s primary role is to bear witness of truth, particularly to bear witness of the Father and of the Son. Spiritual knowledge and conviction come to us through the Holy Ghost. He speaks truth to us in “a still small voice” (I Kings 19:12), and we can recognize His influence by what Paul calls “the fruit of the Spirit”—“love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance” (Galatians 5:22-23). The Holy Ghost leads us to Christ, prompts us to good works, and warns us of danger. Anyone may enjoy the occasional influence of the Holy Ghost, but, in conjunction with baptism under proper authority, all of God’s children may receive the Gift of the Holy the Ghost and the promise of His constant companionship, guidance, and protection.

Together these Three constitute what Latter-day Saints call the Godhead. They work together in perfect unity, preparing the way for our salvation from sin and death. While the true extent of Their power, love, and knowledge is incomprehensible, I know that They live and love each one of us. The Holy Ghost has testified tome of Their reality as my prayers have been answered, as my efforts to become better have been magnified, and as the troubles in my life have been quietly and consistently resolved. Truly, we are at the heart of all that They do.

As a Hen Gathereth her Chickens

Near the end of His mortal ministry, Jesus lamented the recalcitrance of the people He had come to save—the people He had lived with, served, and loved. He said, “Oh Jerusalem, Jerusalem, thou that killest the prophets and stonest them which are sent unto thee, how often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not” (Matthew 23:37). Being the Son of God, He knew the way to eternal security and joy—and the prophets that preceded Him taught that way and pointed the people to His coming. However, the people of Jerusalem at that time failed to recognize the authority of the prophets and the divinity of the Christ, choosing instead to reject them, cast them out, and kill them. Essentially, Jesus’ lament was for their unwillingness to accept the salvation that He offered them. Similarly, Jesus Christ expressed sorrow over the wickedness and rebellion of the peoples of the ancient Americas after His resurrection. The Book of Mormon recounts that, when Jesus visited the ancient Americans, He said:

 O ye people of these great cities which have fallen, who are descendants of Jacob, yea, who are of the house of Israel, how oft have I gathered you as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and have nourished you. And again, how oft would I have gathered you as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, yea, O ye people of the house of Israel, who have fallen; yea, O ye people of the house of Israel, ye that dwell at Jerusalem, as ye that have fallen; yea, how oft would I have gathered you as a hen gathereth her chickens, and ye would not. O ye house of Israel whom I have spared, how oft will I gather you as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, if ye will repent and return unto me with full purpose of heart. (3 Nephi 10)

While reading these verses recently, I recognized that the Book of Mormon provides deeper insight into the Savior’s desire to gather His children—all of us—under His wings as a mother hen gathers her chicks. In addressing the people of the Americas, Christ’s was a three-part invitation: He reminded them of the numerous times that He had saved them and their predecessors before, He invited them to reflect on the times that they had lost His blessing—not because He was absent but because they were unwilling to receive it, and He promised them that He would continue to save them in the future.

[H]ow oft have I gathered you as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and have nourished you

In the first part of Christ’s invitation, He spoke of the many times that He had already acted in order to deliver His people. Surely, He spoke of the deliverance that the people enjoyed from the calamities and destruction that rocked the Americas following His crucifixion (3 Nephi 8), but I imagine He also meant to call the people’s minds back to the miracles He had done among the Children of Israel historically. I suppose He meant to remind them of the way that He had guided Noah to build an ark, led Moses and the Children of Israel across the Red Sea on dry ground, and toppled the walls of Jericho. I think He meant to remind them that He was and continued to be a God of Miracles—a God who had always been benevolent to His people, eager to bless them in their obedience.

Recognizing the good that the Lord has done in my life has helped me to trust Him—to see Him as kind and good and invested in my well-being. I’m sure that being reminded of all the times that Christ had gathered them helped the people of the ancient Americas to recognize the goodness of the Savior who had come to visit them: there’s a power in remembering His goodness. That act of remembering helps us to see the Lord as an ally, a friend dedicated to our success. In describing a years-long exercise in writing down the blessings of the Lord in his life, President Henry B. Eyring said:

I wrote down a few lines every day for years. I never missed a day no matter how tired I was or how early I would have to start the next day. Before I would write, I would ponder this question: “Have I seen the hand of God reaching out to touch us or our children or our family today?” As I kept at it, something began to happen. As I would cast my mind over the day, I would see evidence of what God had done for one of us that I had not recognized in the busy moments of the day. As that happened, and it happened often, I realized that trying to remember had allowed God to show me what He had done.

When we decide to remember the good that God has done in our lives and in the lives of others, we will, as President Eyring explained, be able to see that good more clearly. That recognition, then, will help us to feel the love that God has for us, to know how much He has cared and can yet care for us.

[H]ow oft would I have gathered you as a hen gathereth her chickens, and ye would not

Of course, the Savior’s visit to the Americas came right after calamitous earthquakes, fires, and floods. Perhaps there were some in the gathering of survivors who were eager to question the goodness of a God who had allowed such catastrophes to befall them. Perhaps, sometimes, we wonder why sorrows—or even catastrophes—befall us. In Christ’s words, we see that those misofortunes and sorrows do not come to us because our Savior has abandoned us or gotten busy with something else. Rather, they come about because we fail to seek our refuge in His arms.

While serving as a missionary in Brazil, I ran into several chickens on the unpaved roads of the rural cities I served in. Sometimes, dozens of little chicks accompanied those hens, and, when the two giant missionaries came tramping down the street, the mother hens spread out their wings like awnings against the ground in order to give their chicks a place to hide. Of course, we meant no harm, but the chicks didn’t know that. They only saw our size, our heavy feet, and the potential that we had to do them lasting harm. Those little birds were so frightened by our presence that they could only think to run away—as far and as fast as they could. They were so frightened by the danger they saw in us that they forgot all about the safety of their mother’s sheltering wings. The hens ran after them, trying to collect their chicks under their wings, but the chicks were off and away, alone and vulnerable. In my experience, the mother hens did all that they could to gather and shelter their chicks. It was the chicks, however, that were too afraid to trust in that shelter.

Small and vulnerable, the chicks were eager to get away from us, but they failed to remember the safety of their mother's wings (Image Credit: lds.org).

Small and vulnerable, the chicks were eager to get away from us, but they failed to remember the safety of their mother’s wings (Image Credit: lds.org).

Similarly, I believe that our Savior Jesus Christ does all that He can to safeguard and to shelter us from the troubles of life. However, I think we are sometimes like those chicks—so frightened by the looming danger that we abandon the safety of our Savior’s arms and flee as far and as fast as we can, often further exposing ourselves to danger and isolating ourselves from help. We should never do that. His arm of mercy is always extended, and we can always turn to Him and find refuge under His care. In another part of the Book of Mormon, we see that, while turning to the Savior may not remove the storms from our lives, turning to the Savior will give us access to His power to stand against those storms. Interestingly, that passage begins also with an injunction to remember:

And now, my sons, remember, remember that it is upon the rock of our Redeemer, who is Christ, the Son of God, that ye must build your foundation; that when the devil shall send forth his mighty winds, yea, his shafts in the whirlwind, yea, when all his hail and his mighty storm shall beat upon you, it shall have no power over you to drag you down to the gulf of misery and endless wo, because of the rock upon which ye are built, which is a sure foundation, a foundation whereon if men build they cannot fall. (Helaman 5:12).

Surely, Christ is always willing to gather us and to protect us. When that protection fails, we should resist the inclination towards feeling abandoned and instead examine ourselves to see whether we haven’t—like the chicks in Brazil—let our fear overcome our trust and drive us away from the loving embrace of the One who can protect us.

[H]ow oft will I gather you as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, if ye will repent and return unto me with full purpose of heart

Finally, the Savior invited that gathered people to repent of their sins and to turn unto Him with full purpose of heart. To them, He promised that He would continue to gather them and to shelter them. There is not one of us that the Savior doesn’t love or that He is uninterested in saving. Thus, all of us can enjoy the blessing of His care as long as we are willing to receive it. The promise and invitation here in the Book of Mormon reminds of one the Lord made through the prophet Isaiah when he wrote, “Come now, and let us reason together, saith the Lord: though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool. If ye be willing and obedient, ye shall eat the good of the land” (Isaiah 1:18-19). Our Savior isn’t a God interested in punishment, chastisement, or oppression. Rather, a little like the hens I saw in Brazil, He wants us to come near, to reason with Him, to trust in Him, to accept and follow His teachings, and to enjoy His blessings. If we are willing and obedient, we can rest in the assurance that He will bless us with all the good that we seek.

His hand is stretched out still (Image Credit: lds.org).

His hand is stretched out still (Image Credit: lds.org).

“Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him,” the Apostle Paul wrote of the great blessings that come to those who choose to be gathered under the wings of the Lord (1 Corinthians 2:9). I know that Christ has great things in store both now and in the future for all those who assert their faith over their fears and turn unto Him with unwavering hearts and real intent. I know that He wants to gather us as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and I know that we will find in Him the shelter and confidence we need to face the storms and struggles of life. Jesus Christ is our Savior, and He loves us unfailingly. There is no reason to turn from Him—even when our circumstances frighten us so much that we stop believing that He can help. Though struggles abound, we should run not from but to His sheltering arm, for “his hand is stretched out still” (Isaiah 5:25).

 

 

 

 

General Conference: A Message for Every One

With the beginning of October comes the semi-annual General Conference of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. More than just a worldwide gathering of people who share the same beliefs and hopes, General Conference is a time for all who will to hear the words of men who have been called as prophets and apostles—men chosen to communicate the will of God to the world and to testify of His reality and love to God’s children everywhere.

In four general sessions on the first Saturday and Sunday of months of October and April, those prophets and apostles and other leaders of the Church share messages that they have spent months preparing. Elder Robert D. Hales, a modern apostle, explained in a recent Conference that “conferences are always under the direction of the Lord, guided by His Spirit. We are not assigned specific topics. Over weeks and months, often through sleepless nights, we wait upon the Lord. Through fasting, praying, studying, and pondering, we learn the message that He wants us to give.” In other words, during months of seeking the will of the Lord, those who speak in General Conferences of the Church work to subordinate their wills to God’s will in order to make sure that they deliver to us the messages that God wants us to hear.

In addition to hearing inspired talks, those who participate in General Conference are graced with uplifting music. (Image: lds.org.)

In addition to hearing inspired talks, those who participate in General Conference are graced with uplifting music. (Image: lds.org.)

As a result, we can have the confidence that, during the Conference, we will hear something or recognize some truth that is tailored to our circumstances and needs. Our Father in Heaven knows us perfectly and intimately and, through the power of the Holy Ghost, can communicate personalized messages to our hearts and minds. Many times, poignant and powerful impressions can come through the messages of General Conference—messages that are inspired and appointed for our times and our current circumstances. Speaking of his experience attending General Conference, Elder Hales taught:

[T]he Holy Ghost carries the word of the Lord unto our hearts in terms we can understand. When I take notes at conference, I do not always write down exactly what the speaker is saying; I note the personalized direction the Spirit is giving me.

What is said is not as important as what we hear and what we feel. That is why we make an effort to experience conference in a setting where the still, small voice of the Spirit can be clearly heard, felt, and understood.

Because of the great blessings that can come to us as we listen to and decide to live by the counsels and teachings of the Lord’s chosen servants, I extend my invitation to follow this link and watch the live stream of the Sunday sessions of the 184th Seminannual General Conference at 10:00 a.m. and at 2:00. p.m. MDT on Sunday, October 5th. While watching the Saturday sessions, I have been inspired by the simple and meaningful messages delivered so far in the conference. I know that all those who listen with a sincere and faithful heart will receive, through the Holy Spirit, the messages that God wants them to hear, messages that will bolster their faith and bless their lives. Surely, in the General Conference, there are messages for everyone—and messages tailored for every one. In ending, I add my testimony to the truth of Elder Hales inspired witness, which he gave, saying:

My brothers and sisters, I bear my special witness that the Lord Jesus Christ lives and stands at the head of this Church. This is His general conference. I promise you in His name that if you pray with a sincere desire to hear your Heavenly Father’s voice in the messages of this conference, you will discover that He has spoken to you to help you, to strengthen you, and to lead you home into His presence.

The Gospel of Jesus Christ

In 1842, Chicago newspaperman, John Wentworth asked the Prophet Joseph Smith for a description of the “rise, progress, persecution, and faith of the Latter-Day Saints.” In response, Joseph Smith wrote a letter detailing the short history of the twelve-year-old Church. As a part of that response, he enumerated thirteen key beliefs of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, ranging from belief in God, the Eternal Father, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Ghost to belief that members of the Church should be law-abiding citizens of the nations in which they live. The fourth of those Articles of Faith outlines the essence of the gospel of Jesus Christ—the central teachings of the Church that bears His name:

We believe that the first principles and ordinances of the gospel are: first, Faith in the Lord Jesus Christ; second, Repentance; third, Baptism by immersion for the remission of sins; fourth, Laying on of hands for the gift of the Holy Ghost.

Simple though it may be, the gospel of Jesus Christ outlines the pattern for living a life of eternal significance. Jesus Himself explained His gospel in these words, saying, “[A]ccording to the power of the Father I will draw all men unto me…and…whoso repenteth and is baptized in my name shall be filled; and if he endureth to the end, behold, him will I hold guiltless before my Father at that day when I shall stand to judge the world” (3 Nephi 27:15-16). In all its simplicity, the gospel of Jesus Christ shows us how to live abundantly, how to prepare for eternity, and how to come to know the love and strength of its Author and our Savior. It is far more than a to-do list—it is a how-to guide. As Elder Dallin H. Oaks taught, “In contrast to the institutions of the world, which teach us to know something, the gospel of Jesus Christ challenges us to become something.” Indeed, the gospel is the way whereby we may “become the sons [and daughters] of God” (John 1:12).

In everything, Jesus taught the way—His gospel. (lds.org)

In everything, Jesus taught the wayHis gospel. (lds.org)

Faith

As Joseph Smith wrote, the first step in living the gospel of Jesus Christ is to have faith in Jesus Christ. Faith is fundamental, but it can be difficult to comprehend. I can hardly say that I understand faith completely, but, in my own efforts to understand it, I’ve come to think of faith as trust. Thus, when we have faith in Jesus Christ, we trust Jesus Christ. The Gospel of Matthew illustrates this well:

And when Jesus was entered into Capernaum, there came unto him a centurion, beseeching him, [a]nd saying, Lord, my servant lieth at home sick of the palsy, grievously tormented. And Jesus saith unto him, I will come and heal him. The centurion answered and said, Lord, I am not worthy that thou shouldest come under my roof: but speak the word only, and my servant shall be healed. For I am a man under authority, having soldiers under me: and I say to this man, Go, and he goeth; and to another, Come, and he cometh; and to my servant, Do this, and he doeth it. When Jesus heard it, he marvelled, and said to them that followed, Verily I say unto you, I have not found so great faith, no not in Israel…. And Jesus said unto the centurion, Go thy way; and as thou hast believed, so be it done unto thee. And his servant was healed in the selfsame hour. (Matthew 8 5-10, 13)

The centurion came to Jesus, trusting that Jesus had the power to heal his servant. Jesus called that trust faith, and the centurion’s trust was so great that his servant was healed of his affliction. I think it’s important that the centurion’s trust led him to seek out the Lord and ask for His help: faith is much more than passive belief. If we only make Jesus Christ the recipient of our silent wishes, we can hardly say that we trust Him. However, if we are moved to accept His teachings and follow His example and then act in accordance with that hope—even and especially when tangible confirmation is scarce—then we can say that He trust Him, that we have faith in Him. Then, we will see miracles, blessings that come in response to our trust.

Repentance

If faith, then, is trusting Christ enough to act in accordance with His teachings, one of the first manifestations of our faith is in repentance, the second of the first principles of the gospel. Like faith, repentance is a subject that could comfortably fill volumes; however, I understand repentance to be essentially a turning from sin and worldliness and then a turning towards God and holiness. The Book of Mormon illustrates the fundamentals of repentance with an account of a violent and warring people and of the missionary named Ammon who taught them. The gospel that Ammon brought impressed them and showed them a higher way to live, and, ready to change for the better, that violent and aggressive people joined their king who voiced their desire, saying:

Oh, how merciful is our God! And now behold, since it has been as much as we could do to get our stains taken away from us, and our swords are made bright, let us hide them away that they may be kept bright, as a testimony to our God at the last day, or at the day that we shall be brought to stand before him to be judged, that we have not stained our swords in the blood of our brethren since he imparted his word unto us and has made us clean thereby. And now, my brethren, if our brethren seek to destroy us, behold, we will hide away our swords, yea even we will bury them deep in the earth, that they may be kept bright, as a testimony that we have never used them, at the last day; and if our brethren destroy us, behold, we shall go to our God and shall be saved. (Alma 24:15-16)

By burying their weapons, the people of this account forsook the errors of their past and began their repentance. The account continues to deepen our understanding of repentance when it says that “this they did, vouching and covenanting with God, that rather than shed the blood of their brethren they would give up their own lives; and rather than take away from a brother they would give unto him; and rather than spend their days in idleness they would labor abundantly with their hands” (Alma 24:18). Thus, we see that repentance does not just mean ceasing to sin—it also requires replacing vices with virtues and weakness with strength. The great promise Christ makes to those who repent is, in the prophet Ezekiel’s words, that “[i]f the wicked restore the pledge, give again that he had robbed, walk in the statutes of life, without committing iniquity; he shall surely live, he shall not die. None of his sins that he hath committed shall be mentioned unto him: he hath done that which is lawful and right; he shall surely live” (Ezekiel 33:15-16).

Baptism

On a quiet night, the Savior explained to Nicodemus, “Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God” (John 3:5), highlighting the necessity of baptism for all of God’s children. In fact, baptism is so essential to our eternal well-being, that even perfect Jesus was baptized in Jordan to set the example for us (Matthew 3: 14-17; 2 Nephi 31:5-10). Properly performed only by immersion (as Christ was baptized) and only by an authorized servant of God (as John the Baptist surely was), baptism symbolizes the burial of an old life of sin and rebirth into a life of commitment to the teachings and example of Christ. Beyond the physical act of immersion, baptism signifies a spiritual commitment—a covenant with God. Covenants are mutual agreements in which two parties commit to uphold their respective commitments. Teaching a group of people who were about to be baptized, the Book of Mormon prophet Alma explained the covenant of baptism by first outlining their twofold commitment, saying that as they were “desirous to come into the fold of God, and to be called his people,” they had to be  “[1] willing to bear one another’s burdens, that they may be light; [y]ea and [be] willing to mourn with those that mourn; yea, and comfort those that stand in need of comfort, and [2] to stand as witnesses of God at all times and in all things and in all places that ye may be in” (Mosiah 18:8-9). The promises they made—and that all who are baptized are expected to make—were to live selflessly, emulating Jesus Christ, in lifting and strengthening those around them and to be fearless in sharing their testimonies of the gospel in both word and deed. Alma then continued by outlining the promises that God makes to those who honor the commitments they make through their baptismal covenants, explaining that they would be “redeemed of God,” that they would qualify for “eternal life,” and that God would “pour out his Spirit more abundantly upon [them]” (Mosiah 18:9-10).

The Gift of the Holy Ghost

After baptism and as part of the Lord’s promise to pour out His Spirit, new members of the Church of Jesus Christ are confirmed and receive the Gift of the Holy Ghost. As Elder David A. Bednar taught:

The Holy Ghost is the third member of the Godhead; He is a personage of spirit and bears witness of all truth. In the scriptures the Holy Ghost is referred to as the Comforter, a teacher, and a revelator. Revelations from the Father and the Son are conveyed through the Holy Ghost. He is the messenger for and the witness of the Father and the Son.

When God’s children receive the Gift of the Holy Ghost, they receive the right and blessing to have the constant companionship of that Comforter, teacher, and revelator as long as they uphold their end of their baptismal covenants. The Holy Ghost’s is a quiet and gentle influence, but it’s one that has had a real impact on my life and on the decisions I’ve made. It has been, for me, an essential part of every important thing I’ve done. To explain the value of the companionship of the Holy Ghost, Brigham Young, the second president of the Church of Jesus Christ, related what Joseph Smith had taught him:

Be careful and not turn away the small still voice; it will teach [you what] to do and where to go; it will yield the fruits of the kingdom. Tell the brethren to keep their hearts open to conviction so that when the Holy Ghost comes to them, their hearts will be ready to receive it…. It will whisper peace and joy to their souls, and it will take malice, hatred, envying, strife, and all evil from their hearts; and their whole desire will be to do good, bring forth righteousness, and build up the kingdom of God. Tell the brethren if they will follow the Spirit of the Lord they will go right.

Enduring to the End

Having reviewed, as we have here, the fundamental components of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Book of Mormon prophet Nephi wrote, “And then are ye in this strait and narrow path which leads to eternal life…and ye have received the Holy Ghost…. And now, my beloved brethren, after ye have gotten into this strait and narrow path, I would ask if all is done? Behold, I say unto you, Nay” (2 Nephi 31:18-19). While Nephi knew that faith, repentance, baptism, and the Gift of the Holy Ghost were necessary to get us on the path which leads to eternal life, he recognized that being on the path and reaching the destination are two different things. As mentioned in the beginning, the gospel of Jesus Christ is about becoming—not merely doing. As a result, the Lord expects us to continue to develop faith in Him, to repent of our weakness, and to prepare ourselves to live in His presence. The blessing of baptism is not that it frees us from the work of living well but that it grants us continuous access to the Holy Ghost who will lead and strengthen us on our way to salvation. “Wherefore,” Nephi taught, “ye must press forward with a steadfastness in Christ, having a perfect brightness of hope, and a love of God and of all men. Wherefore, if ye shall press forward, feasting upon the word of Christ, and endure to the end, behold, thus saith the Father: Ye shall have eternal life” (2 Nephi 31:20), and that is the greatest of all the gifts of God.

The Watchman in Israel

Speaking to Ezekiel, the Lord appointed him to a sacred responsibility: “Son of man,” He said, “go, get thee unto the house of Israel, and speak with my words unto them” (Ezekiel 3:4). Ezekiel’s duty, like that of all the prophets who preceded him and all those who followed after him, was to convey the word and will of God to the people of the earth. As the Lord Himself explained to the newly called prophet, “I have made thee a watchman unto the house of Israel: therefore hear the word at my mouth, and give them warning from me” (Ezekiel 3:17). Ezekiel’s mission, then, was to warn the people of future perils and teach them the way to live in order to ensure that they could receive God’s protection from the dangers ahead.

The New Testament teaches, “Known unto God are all his works from the beginning of the world” (Acts 15:18). God was able to tell Noah of the coming flood, to warn Joseph of seven years of famine, and to advise Moses to lead the Children of Israel out of Egyptian bondage. Whenever He acted, He acted for the benefit of those who heard His voice and obeyed. That God of mercy and miracles yet lives—and He is unchangingly dedicated to our welfare. He has restored the Church of Jesus Christ as it existed anciently, and He directs the Church through a living prophet named Thomas S. Monson. Like every prophet before him, President Monson receives the word of God and conveys it to us. This weekend (and every six months) he addresses the Church and the world alongside twelve modern Apostles to teach us all what God wants us to know. It is my testimony that Thomas S. Monson is a prophet of God, and I’m eager to hear his messages during the General Conference of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, held today and tomorrow, April 5th and 6th.

President Thomas S. Monson is God's prophet on the earth today (lds.org).

President Thomas S. Monson is God’s prophet on the earth today (lds.org).

Just as the Lord called Ezekiel to be a watchman in Israel, He has called a prophet today to see the perils and opportunities that lie ahead and to warn and advise us as we make our way through life. I know there is safety and happiness in following the words of the prophet: as I strive to live according to the prophet’s teachings, I have recognized the blessings that follow obedience. Speaking of prophets, Jesus Christ taught, “Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them” (Matthew 7:20). We cannot know if a man is a prophet of God without knowing his fruits—without receiving his counsel and testing it out in our lives.

Thus, I invite you to “Come, listen to a prophet’s voice, / and hear the word of God” during the General Conference of the Church of Jesus Christ, streamed live in four sessions on April 5th at 10:00 a.m. and at 2:00 p.m. MDT and on April 6th at 10:00 a.m. and 2:00 p.m. MDT. I know that there is a watchman in Israel on the earth today, and I hope and testify that the messages that will be shared this weekend will teach us the way to walk safely through the coming months, for, surely, they will be the words of a loving and merciful Father in Heaven.

I Saw a Pillar of Light

Whenever God has had a message for His children, He has sent that message through a prophet. When the Children of Israel were slaves in Egypt, the Lord called Moses—speaking “unto Moses face to face, as a man speaketh unto his friend” (Exodus 33:11)—to lead the people out of captivity, through the Sinai wilderness, and into a promised land. When the people He had delivered so miraculously eventually wandered after the false god Baal, God called Elijah—speaking to him with a “still small voice” (I Kings 19:12)—to contend with the priests of Baal, call fire from the heavens, and demonstrate that there is but one true God. When the city of Jerusalem was faced with an Assyrian army from without and with a false, apathetic faith from within, the Lord called Isaiah—appearing to him and asking, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” (Isaiah 6:8)—to bring the people to repentance, teach them about God’s power and mercy, and prophesy of their ultimate physical and spiritual redemption. Indeed, the Bible shows that “the Lord God will do nothing, but he revealeth his secret unto his servants the prophets” (Amos 3:7).

The Lord revealed the Ten Commandments through Moses. (lds.org)

The Lord revealed the Ten Commandments through Moses. (lds.org)

This pattern is evident even in the New Testament. Before God sent His Son Jesus Christ into the world, He revealed that secret through John the Baptist, whose commission was to prepare the people for the ministry of the Son of God, to be the “voice of one crying in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make his paths straight” (Matthew 3:3). Before the gospel was preached to every nation, kindred, tongue, and people, the Lord revealed to Peter that the gospel of Christ was for all people everywhere, prompting the chief apostle to say, “Of a truth I perceive that God is no respecter of persons” (Acts 10:34).  Thus, the church that Christ had organized before His death and resurrection continued the work of salvation that He had inaugurated. Christ’s Church was founded upon the rock of revelation, with Peter being the only one authorized to receive that revelation in order to direct the great mission of the Church. Of course, the apostles were entitled to revelation to help execute their duty of carrying out the mission of the Church, and countless others were touched by revelation when they recognized truth in the gospel message and entered the Church through baptism. But the Lord will do nothing without revealing His secret unto His prophet, and it was only in Peter’s office that the Lord had vested the authority to receive revelation for the Church as a whole.

Unfortunately, the people at those times wandered from the truth just as their forebears had. In his letter to the Galatians, the Apostle Paul commented, “I marvel that ye are so soon removed from him that called you into the grace of Christ unto another gospel: Which is not another; but there be some that trouble you, and would pervert the gospel of Christ” (Galatians 1:6-7). Just as violently as those who opposed truth had rejected the Savior of the World, they began to reject His servants and the gospel they preached. While the people of the earth martyred the Lord’s servants and mocked and corrupted His gospel, the Lord quietly withdrew from humankind the power and authority to direct His Church and to preach His gospel. The Lord then withheld His voice from the earth and waited for a time when His children would seek to hear it again.

Thus came the days which the ancient prophets foresaw when they said that the people “shall wander from sea to sea, and from the north even to the east, they shall run to and fro to seek the word of the Lord, and shall not find it” (Amos 8:12), the days when the “people [drew] near unto [the Lord] with their mouth, and with their lips [did] honour [him], but [had] removed their heart far from [Him]” (Isaiah 29:13). Without God’s authorized servants on the earth and with the consequent lack of revelation from heaven, the people wandered, and they lost the simple truths that had been taught by Christ and His apostles. Even though some sincerely sought the way of the Lord and were willing to lay down their lives to preserve His word and spread it abroad, countless others were engaged in corrupting, doctoring, and obscuring the simplest truths of salvation. Eventually, doctrinal issues in Christendom were settled by appeals to popular priestly opinion, theological methodologies, and what little precedent could be gleaned from the Biblical records—rather than by prophetic revelation.

Of course, God was not content to leave the world and His children in that state of spiritual darkness. While they wandered in their faith, He was actively preparing a way to restore the plain fulness of the gospel of Jesus Christ, to call anew an authorized prophet, and to recommence in earnest the work of salvation—to keep the promise He had made through Isaiah when he said: “[B]ehold, I will proceed to do a marvellous work among this people, even a marvellous work and a wonder: for the wisdom of their wise men shall perish, and the understanding of their prudent men shall be hid” (Isaiah 29:14).

After nearly two thousand years of confusion among His children, the Lord moved to reveal the secret of the coming Restoration to a new prophet, one who, to the world’s eyes, was anything but qualified for his calling. Eventually, the confusion of Christendom culminated, it seems, in the cacophony of competing creeds that were sounded high and low in Palmyra, New York in 1820. Reflecting on the excitement that surrounded him when he was only fourteen, Joseph Smith described it as “a scene of great confusion” in which good feelings between the churches were “entirely lost in a strife of words and a contest of opinion.” In the midst of that confusion, Joseph wondered, “What is to be done? Who of all these parties are right; or, are they all wrong together? If any one of them be right, which is it, and how shall I know it?” With those questions in mind, he consulted the local pastors and preachers and searched the Bible for answers but found little to indicate which church he was to join.

Finally, he came upon the fifth verse of the first chapter of James, which reads: “If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him.” Joseph later recorded, “At length I came to the conclusion that I must either remain in darkness and confusion, or else I must do as James directs, that is, ask of God.” Dissatisfied with the accumulated confusions of the past millennia and with the answers that good—albeit uninspired—men had given him in his search for truth, Joseph decided to take the issue directly to God. He wrote:

So, in accordance with this, my determination to ask of God, I retired to the woods to make the attempt. It was on the morning of a beautiful, clear day, early in the spring of eighteen hundred and twenty. It was the first time in my life that I had made such an attempt, for amidst all my anxieties I had never as yet made the attempt to pray vocally. After I had retired to the place where I had previously designed to go, having looked around me, and finding myself alone, I kneeled down and began to offer up the desires of my heart to God.

Joseph Smith knelt to pray with the sincere desire to discover the will of God and with the sincere commitment to do whatever God revealed to him. With the desire to know which church was the true church of Christ, he could never have expected what happened in response to his humble supplication. He wrote:

I saw a pillar of light exactly over my head, above the brightness of the sun, which descended gradually until it fell upon me…. When the light rested upon me I saw two Personages, whose brightness and glory defy all description, standing above me in the air. One of them spake unto me, calling me by name and said, pointing to the other—This is My Beloved Son. Hear Him!

"This is My Beloved Son--Hear Him!" (lds.org)

“This is My Beloved Son–Hear Him!” (lds.org)

When it was time for the Father to restore the fulness of the gospel and organize anew the Church of Jesus Christ on the earth, He called Joseph Smith—by appearing to him with His Son in a quiet grove—to direct the organization of the Church through revelation, bring to light another sacred testament of Jesus Christ, and teach the world the way to live in order to return with their families to live forever in God’s presence.

It is my testimony that Joseph Smith saw the Father and the Son in that grove that morning. In response to his simple question, They told him that the Church of Jesus Christ could not be found on the earth and that he was not to join any of the then-existing churches. In those sacred moments, God put in motion His marvelous work and wonder—a work by which the small and simple faith of a fourteen-year-old boy was a tool in God’s hands to reopen the heavens and bring about the great restoration of the Gospel of Jesus Christ in its pure fulness.

After his initial meeting with the Father and the Son, Joseph Smith faced serious persecution that continued throughout his life. Nevertheless, he refused to deny his testimony, for, as he said, “I had seen a vision; I knew it, and I knew that God knew it, and I could not deny it, neither dared I do it….” As he continued to follow the guidance of God, Joseph translated the Book of Mormon: Another Testament of Jesus Christ, a record of Christ’s dealings with an ancient American people; received visits from Peter, James, and John, Moses, Elijah, and John the Baptist in order to receive from them the prophetic authority to lead the Church; and organized again a quorum of Twelve Apostles to direct the work of preaching salvation to the ends of the earth.  Since that time, the authority that was restored  through Joseph Smith has continued in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Even today, a prophet of God walks the earth, revealing to the world the word and will of God. The current president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Thomas S. Monson, is that prophet.

When the scribes and Pharisees challenged Christ’s authority and teachings, He responded, “If any man will do his will, he shall know of the doctrine, whether it be of God, or whether I speak of myself” (John 7:17). It is by that key that I know that Thomas S. Monson is God’s prophet on the earth today: by applying his counsels and living his teachings, I have come to know through my own experience that his word is God’s word.  I have come to know that God yet speaks and that His word will always point us to happiness and security in these most “perilous times” (II Timothy 3:1).

Hark, All Ye Nations!

Some time after joining the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Louis F. Moench wrote about the excitement he felt in his renewed faith and about the importance of sharing that faith with the world. Later set to music and translated to English, his verse became the hymn “Hark, All Ye Nations!” an anthem that echoes the zeal of all those who have learned and preached the reality of God and of His love for His children since ancient times. Moses stood before Pharaoh and testified of the the great “God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob” (Exodus 3:15) who had prepared a way to deliver His people from Egypt; Isaiah gloried in the Lord’s “marvellous work and a wonder” (Isaiah 29:14) that would bring the people’s hearts back to the Lord; Paul was “not ashamed of the gospel of Christ,” but declared it boldly, for he knew it to be “the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth” (Romans 1:16); the Book of Mormon prophet Alma wished that he “were an angel” so that he could persuade everyone everywhere to “repent and come unto our God, that there might not be more sorrow upon all the face of the earth” (Alma 29:2). Indeed, it is such a great joy to know that God lives and that He speaks to us. As a result, those who have that faith and testimony are eager to share it with all who will listen.

Hark, All Ye Nations! Hear heaven’s voice

Through the prophet Isaiah, the Lord said: “Hear, O heavens, and give ear, O earth: for the Lord hath spoken” (Isaiah 1:2). While the revelations of Isaiah often seem to be characterized by prophecies of destruction and harsh condemnations, they are balanced and filled by the tender messages of God’s mercy and love for all of His children in every nation. Though He soundly rebukes them in earlier prophecies, the Lord promises ultimate peace to Egypt and Assyria, the enemies of His chosen people Israel, saying, “Blessed be Egypt my people, and Assyria the work of my hands, and Israel mine inheritance” (Isaiah 19:25). In the end, He makes no difference between Israel and their antagonizers: all will be blessed by His mercy. Indeed, God is not the God of a chosen few: He is the Father of all the inhabitants of the earth, and, while our own choices may lead us into strife, His work is to bless and prosper all of His children—without exception. When God speaks, He does so to show us all how to live in order to find happiness. “Learn to do well,” He taught through Isaiah, “seek judgment, relieve the oppressed, judge the fatherless, plead for the widow” (Isaiah 1:17). After inviting the people to live to a higher moral standard, God, through His prophet, promised, “If ye be willing and obedient, ye shall eat the good of the land” (Isaiah 1:19). If our Father in Heaven was so determined to bless His obedient children anciently, why would He not want to teach us the way of happiness today?

Thru ev’ry land that all may rejoice!

After teaching the Philippians their duty, the Apostle Paul reminded them, “Rejoice in the Lord alway: and again I say, Rejoice” (Philippians 4:4). Sometimes, the commandments may look like interminable lists of shalt not’s, restrictions designed to hold people back. It’s a natural impulse to push back when we are told what to do. I think Paul was aware of that when he reminded the Philippians to rejoice: though he had sent them a catalogue of corrections and commandments, he wanted them to remember that his counsel was based in God’s plan for their happiness. Even today, I know that I feel happier and more secure when I am doing my best to follow the teachings of Christ, to pray, to be kind to others, and to live according to God’s will. There are times when it feels like more than I can do, but, when I get lax, things don’t go as well. I know that God desires our happiness, and I know that His word comes to teach us how to achieve great joy—not just some far-off joy in the next life, but real joy today.

Angels of glory shout the refrain: Truth is restored again!

All over the world, thousands of missionaries for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are teaching those who receive them about God’s plan for our happiness. The great message of the Church of Jesus Christ is that God still speaks to His children and that He still calls prophets who transmit God’s word to us and who point us to our Savior Jesus Christ so that, through Him, we can rise above the woes and stresses of life. We, as members of the Church, believe that God has restored the authority to direct His affairs on the earth and to perform the great work of salvation so that all of His children might believe and “enter into his rest” (Hebrews 3:18).

Go Ye Therefore and Teach All Nations (lds.org)

Go Ye Therefore and Teach All Nations (lds.org)

Searching in darkness, nations have wept

Of course, to say that something has been restored is to say that it was, at some point, lost. After Jesus Christ’s resurrection, He commissioned the apostles, whom He had called and authorized, to go “into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature” (Mark 16:15). They obeyed, and the church that Christ organized grew as His gospel spread. The apostles maintained the order of the Church and the purity of the revelations and often sent out letters to far-flung congregations in order to prevent human fallibility from corrupting the early saints’ understanding of God’s eternal truth. However, amidst persecution, the apostles were martyred, and the Church began to splinter. Paul remarked that he was surprised to see how the church in Galatia was “so soon removed from…the grace of Christ unto another gospel” by those who “would pervert the gospel of Christ” (Galatians 1:6-7). Before long, those who held God’s authority were gone, leaving nobody through whom the word of God to His church could be revealed. In time, even humanity’s understanding of the nature of God went from being a matter of clear and simple revelation to being a matter of scholarly debate and theological controversy. The fulness of God’s plan was gradually lost through accumulated human errors. The time came, as foreseen by Amos, when there came “a famine in the land, not a famine of bread, nor a thrist for water, but of hearing the words of the Lord.” Said Amos of that time, the people of the earth“shall wander from sea to sea, and from the north even to the east, they shall run to and fro to seek the word of the Lord, and shall not find it” (Amos 8:11-12). Of course, Father in Heaven was not content to let His children languish in confusion. He preserved key fragments of the truth, and He inspired good men and women to defend faith and virtue while He prepared the way to bring about the restoration of the fulness of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

All now rejoice; the long night is o’er.

The time of restoration came in 1820 when Joseph Smith, then fourteen years old, was caught up in the confusion that came with having countless Christian churches all professing to have the truth. Joseph wanted to find the truth in its fulness, and he fully expected to find it in one of the churches where he lived in western New York. He later wrote, “I attended their several meetings as often as occasion would permit,” but he added that “it was impossible for a person young as I was, and so unacquainted with men and things, to come to any certain conclusion who was right and who was wrong.” While he listened to preachers and searched the Bible for some clue that would show him where to find the true church of Christ, Joseph Smith came upon the Epistle of James and these simple words: “If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him” (James 1:5).

Joseph decided then that he would go to the source of truth for the answer he sought, supposing that, if anybody could point him in the right direction, it would be God. He went to a grove near his home and offered his question to God in prayer, and God answered in a miraculous way. Joseph wrote:

I saw a pillar of light exactly over my head, above the brightness of the sun, which descended gradually until it fell upon me…. When the light rested upon me I saw two Personages, whose brightness and glory defy all description, standing above me in the air. One of them spake unto me, calling my name and said, pointing the other—This is My Beloved Son. Hear Him!

God the Father and His Son Jesus Christ appeared in response to a humble prayer. They answered Joseph’s question, saying of the competing churches Joseph was to “join none of them, for they were all wrong.” Joseph was then called to be prophet, a tool in the Lord’s hands to bring about the restoration of Christ’s gospel as it had existed before the centuries of confusion following the deaths of the apostles.

"This is My Beloved Son. Hear Him!" (lds.org)

“This is My Beloved Son. Hear Him!” (lds.org)

Truth is on earth once more!

Ten years after Joseph Smith saw the Father and the Son, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was organized. During that intervening decade, Joseph translated the Book of Mormon, an ancient record and witness of the divinity of Jesus Christ that restored the truths that had been lost from the Bible. The Lord called twelve apostles and commissioned them once again to go forth and preach the gospel to every creature as directed by Him through the Prophet Joseph Smith. With the restoration of the gospel and the organization of the Church of Jesus Christ, God opened the way for all of His children to hear His voice again, to learn His ways, and to discover His joy.

To ev’ry land and people we’ll go, teaching his holy word.

An invitation from a member of the Church to Jesus Christ to learn about the Church is an invitation to share the truths that form the foundation of that member’s happiness and faith. I know that God lives and that He speaks through a prophet today because living by His counsel has brought me greater joy and understanding. As I mentioned before, God is not the God of a select few, but is, rather, the Father of us all. He loves us all and wants us all to enjoy the happiness and blessings that a life of faith will bring us. It is my testimony that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is the restored church of Jesus Christ, the place where we can find all the truths that will lead us to happiness now and forever. I also know that there is no finer way to spark a similar conviction than to do as James suggests, to “ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally and upbraideth not.” Surely God will hear your prayer and lead you in the right way: He has heard mine.