Liberty Shall Prevail

At times it is easy to feel fearful about the state and direction of our nation. It is easy to fear that the liberties and freedoms that we have enjoyed are slipping away. It is easy to fear that a continual coarsening of our culture will destroy what has made America special.

In its bicentennial year, an Apostle of Christ spoke about the destiny of America. His words give me great comfort and optimism that the things that have always made America great will endure despite a multitude of trials and challenges:

He echoed the words of Elder Anthony W. Ivan’s, spoken in 1917 about the destiny of the nation

“Let me reiterate the message left with the Saints nearly sixty years ago at the general conference in April 1917 when Elder Anthony W. Ivins, after discussing religious liberty and the Constitution, said, “I feel authorized to say, here this afternoon, that these liberties which have come to men, both religious and civil, have not been established by the Lord to be destroyed, but that they are here to remain until liberty shall prevail from the rivers to the ends of the earth, until God’s kingdom shall be established among men, and his will done upon earth as it is done in heaven. Until the universal Fatherhood of God, and brotherhood of man shall be recognized, and the kingdoms of this world become the kingdoms of Christ, who shall reign as Prince of Peace.” (Conference Reports, April 1917, pp. 54–55.)”

That promise should reassure every patriot. We may have to defend our liberties vigorously. However, overall it will be a victorious battle. The core protections of religious freedom and other civil liberties will not be lost. In darkening times, that promise means the world to me.

Weaving our Spiritual Tapestry 

Elder Hales wove a beautiful portrait of what it means to be a true disciple of Jesus Christ:

What does it mean to be a disciple of our Lord Jesus Christ? A disciple is one who has been baptized and is willing to take upon him or her the name of the Savior and follow Him. A disciple strives to become as He is by keeping His commandments in mortality, much the same as an apprentice seeks to become like his or her master.

Many people hear the word disciple and think it means only “follower.” But genuine discipleship is a state of being. This suggests more than studying and applying a list of individual attributes. Disciples live so that the characteristics of Christ are woven into the fiber of their beings, as into a spiritual tapestry.

Discipleship is so much more than being a follower. Instead, discipleship is a process of transformation whereby we strive to emulate and become more like the savior. We learn of him, apply his teachings in our life, and in time are elevated and changed.

That process is a gradual refining fire. Because of that gradualness, it can be difficult to know when we are making progress. At times, we may feel that we are moving backwards. We may feel our hold on the Rod of Iron slipping. Yet, as long as we keep moving forward with steadfast faith in Christ, we can have confidence that we will make it back to our father in Heaven.

That process is an integrated one where our efforts to develop more Christlike character build off each other:

The attributes of the Savior, as we perceive them, are not a script to be followed or list to be checked off. They are interwoven characteristics, added one to another, which develop in us in interactive ways. In other words, we cannot obtain one Christlike characteristic without also obtaining and influencing others. As one characteristic becomes strong, so do many more.

Hence, Paul’s description of the pathway of the disciple relies on interwoven Christlike traits that grow together:

“Giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue; and to virtue knowledge;

“And to knowledge temperance; and to temperance patience; and to patience godliness;

“And to godliness brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness charity.”

I’m grateful for Christ’s example and for the ability to follow him. I fall so short and yet I am grateful for a savior who believes in second and third and seventy times seven chances.

Seeing the Light in Others

Elder Bragg’s message of hope in the face of darkness was a well needed antidote to the evil we see in the world:

“Even in the most difficult and darkest of times, there is light and goodness all around us. Last October, President Dieter F. Uchtdorf reminded us, ‘We are surrounded by such an astonishing wealth of light and truth that I wonder if we truly appreciate what we have.’”

Satan hopes that we dwell on evil and become despondent. He wants us to feel overwhelmed and unable to do good. He triumphs when good people feel like good has no point or purposes.

“However, the adversary would rather have us focus on ‘mists of darkness … which blindeth the eyes, … hardeneth … hear … , and … leadeth … away.'”

As Elder Bragg suggests, one of Satan’s chief deceptions for members of the Church is to get us to focus obsessively on the negative aspects of the Church and lose sight of the good that it does in the world and in our lives.

“Look, the Church will always have its critics. It has been that way from the beginning and will continue to the end. But we cannot allow such criticism to dull our sensitivity to the light that is available to us. Recognizing the light and seeking after it will qualify us for even more light.”

On the other hand, Satan also wants us to feel like we are the only Church and people that has any light and truth. That is another deep deception. The light of Christ is operative in the world in great force. Interestingly, Elder Bragg notes that “In a darkening world, the Light of Christ will shine brighter and brighter until the perfect day!”

People will feel drawn to be good and do good. The worldly distort morality, but the light of Christ will still pierce through the darkness. Our goal is to help others be drawn to that light: “May we see the Light of Christ in others constantly and help them see it in themselves.”

Stretching and Reaching for Christ 

President Nelson’s talk was one of the ones from conference that made the deepest impressions of me. I’ve returned to his words frequently since.

What stood out to me is how President Nelson described the process of gaining the Savior’s power in our lives.

Many of us have cried out from the depths of our hearts a variation of this woman’s words: “If I could spiritually stretch enough to draw the Savior’s power into my life, I would know how to handle my heart-wrenching situation. I would know what to do. And I would have the power to do it.”

When you reach up for the Lord’s power in your life with the same intensity that a drowning person has when grasping and gasping for air, power from Jesus Christ will be yours. When the Savior knows you truly want to reach up to Him–when He can feel that the greatest desire of your heart is to draw His power into your life–you will be led by the Holy Ghost to know exactly what you should do.

When you spiritually stretch beyond anything you have ever done before, then His power will flow into you

The sad truth is that I don’t reach for the Lord with that intensity, or at least not nearly as often as I should. I become comfortable and complacent with things as they are. I am more focused on playing a game on my phone or  checking my Facebook feed than I am on gaining the spiritual strength I desperately need. 

I suspect that’s why so many of those who reached out to the savior were those with physical maladies. They understood a need for healing, both physically and spiritually. They therefore were able to fervently reach out to him. When we are comfortable, we become complacent and fail to reach out to him and be healed.

We all need to pray for the mighty change of of heart so that gaining his power is our deepest desire.

Rise Up and Rejoice

The faith of the people of Limhi is one of my favorite stories in the Book of Mormon, so I loved hearing Elder Soares speak about it during conference. Limhi’s people were in bondage because of their past sins, but the Lord offered them hope of deliverance.

Brothers and sisters, please consider the importance of the invitation King Limhi gave to his people and its relevance to us. He said, “Lift up your heads, and rejoice, and put your trust in God.” With these words, Limhi invited his people to look to the future through the eyes of faith; to replace their fears with the optimism of hope born of faith; and to not waver in placing their trust in God regardless of circumstance.

I love the invitation to lift up my head and rejoice. The truth is it’s easy in life to look down and get discouraged. It’s easy to be weighed down by sin. Satan seeks to keep our heads down and our eyes on the things of the world. We need a regular prophetic reminder to look up.

Elder Soares described the deceptions of Satan as follows:

Brothers and sisters, if we are not rooted by steadfast trust in God and the desire to serve Him, the painful experiences of mortality can lead us to feel as though we are burdened by a heavy yoke; and we can lose the motivation to live the gospel fully. Without faith, we will end up losing the capacity to appreciate those designs of our God regarding the things that will happen later in our life.

In these moments of trial, the adversary–who is always on the lookout–tries to use our logic and reasoning against us. He tries to convince us that it is useless to live the principles of the gospel. Please remember that the logic of the natural man “receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him.” Remember that Satan “is an enemy [of] God, and [he] fighteth against him continually, and inviteth and enticeth [us] to sin, and to do that which is evil continually.” We must not allow him to deceive us; for when we do, we falter in our faith and lose the power to obtain God’s blessings.

Satan wants us to forget who we are and who is fighting for us. He wants us to believe that change is impossible. But it isn’t, thanks to Christ and his atonement.

If we are steadfast and do not waver in our faith, the Lord will increase our capacity to raise ourselves above the challenges of life. We will be enabled to subdue negative impulses, and we will develop the capacity to overcome even what appear to be overwhelming obstacles. This was what enabled King Limhi’s people to make a spectacular escape from their Lamanite captivity.

I’m grateful for the atonement of Christ which is the power of God for our deliverance from bondage.

“Replace Fear and Despair with Hope and Joy”

Elder Renlund has fast become one of the Apostles I most look forward to from hearing in conference.  I love the great compassion he exudes as he speaks. He really seems to understand the mercy and compassion of loving Heavenly Father and a redemptive Savior.

Elder Renlund began his talk this past conference by speaking about glimpses of Heavenly Father’s character. God is characterized by “immense compassion” as is the Savior. They love us despite our great imperfections. And that “compassion in the face of our imperfections draws us toward Him and motivates us in our repeated struggles to repent and emulate Him. As we become more like Him, we learn to treat others as He does, regardless of any outward characteristic or behavior.”

I loved Elder Renlund’s use of Les Misérables to illustrate this principle.  Jean Jaljean is touched by the christ-like example of the Bishop and display of “mercy and empathy motivate Jean Valjean to change the course of his life.” It is not by avoiding sinners, but by serving them with love, that the Bishop changes hearts.

Likewise with the Savior. God cannot look upon sin with allowance, but he can look on us with great compassion even though we are sinners.  “As the Good Shepherd, Jesus Christ views disease in His sheep as a condition that needs treatment, care, and compassion. This shepherd, our Good Shepherd, finds joy in seeing His diseased sheep progress toward healing.”

For us, “in our lifelong quest to follow Jesus Christ, His example of kindness to those who sin is particularly instructive. We, who are sinners, must, like the Savior, reach out to others with compassion and love. Our role is also to help and bless, lift and edify, and replace fear and despair with hope and joy.” We must mirror fully his love by avoiding even subtle forms of cruelty or bigotry. We must be his hands to heal and bless.

Christlike service changes people because it helps them look upward.  “The Savior’s compassion, love, and mercy draw us toward Him. Through His Atonement, we are no longer satisfied with our sinful state.”  It is when we are touched by unexpected mercy, compassion, or goodness that we most fully begin to reexamine ourselves and transform. Of course, the greatest example of unexpected mercy is the atonement of Christ.  But as we follow that lofty example we will likewise be a source of comfort and transformation for others.

The Savior of those who Straggle

Elder Neal A. Maxwell always had a powerful way with words. In April 1976, he bore a powerful witness of the Savior.  Even though he qualified his remarks by warning that they would be “the verbal equivalent of a child’s enthusiastic finger painting—because my tongue cannot tell all I know.”  Nevertheless, he rose above his mortal limitations to deliver a stirring testimony of Christ.

Elder Maxwell describes Christ as the greatest of all, and yet not prideful or arrogant.  I loved this take on the Savior because it is a reminder that when we are wise or established by the standards of the world, we must overcome the natural inclination to boasting and thinking of oneself as superior.  For me, that has been the biggest change in my character since joining the Church.  Realizing that everyone else is a child of God striving to follow the light of Christ within them was incredibly liberating. Before, I would get so frustrated by the imperfections of others.  Now, I can’t say that I am perfect in this respect, but I am certainly far more forgiving, patient and loving. I realize how much I fall short and need grace and therefore try to extend that grace to others.

I testify that in our first estate Jesus was the incomparable individual among all our Father’s spirit children. He helped to prepare this planet for us and led—not pushed—us from our premortal post. I thank him for the untold things he did, across the ages of that first estate, to prepare perfectly for his unique role—while I was doing so very much less. I thank him, further, for not deserting those of us who are slow or stragglers.

I testify that his intelligence is vastly superior in every field to the very brightest mortals in those fields and that his intellect in scope and truth far exceeds all human intellects. I thank him for encapsulating that exquisite mind in both perfect love and perfect humility. His brilliance is not the “catch-me-if-you-can” kind, but a pleading and patient, “Come, follow me.” (Luke 18:22.)

Christ also fully understood that we need the opportunity grow and make our own choices. We cannot be compelled to obey or to be good. I think this is a vital lesson to learn as a parent. I cannot compel my child to behave, but must encourage, teach and lead through example.  I am grateful for the example of the savior who leads the way for me.

I testify that his premortal performance reflected both an astonishing selflessness and a breathtaking commitment to freedom as a condition of our genuine growth. I thank him for combining his long view of our needs with a short step forward to volunteer his services. Never has anyone offered so much to so many in so few words as when Jesus said, “Here am I, send me.” (Abr. 3:27.)

There is so much more depth and beauty in this incredible sermon. I am going to give a taste of a few more parts that I particularly enjoyed and encourage you to read it all:

I testify that he assisted in the creation and management not only of this planet, but other worlds. His grasp is galactic, yet he noticed the widow casting in her mite. I am stunned at his perfect, unconditional love of all. Indeed, “I stand all amazed at the love Jesus offers me.” (“I Stand All Amazed,” Hymns, no. 80.)

It is truly incredible that the creator of vast galaxies and planets nevertheless sees my every need. Incredible but true.

I thank him for his marvelous management of time, for never misusing a moment, including the moments of meditation. Even his seconds showed his stewardship.

This is something I know that I can do better. The example of the savior as always sets the way.

Finally,

Last of all, I witness that he lives—with all that those simple words imply. I know I will be held accountable for this testimony; but, as hearers or readers, you are now accountable for my witness—which I give in the very name of Jesus Christ. Amen.