It Really Isn’t Complicated

I recently read a BYU devotional talk titled When Shall These Things Be? by M. Russell Ballard. Although it was given 25 years ago, it could easily have been given today! It is definitely worth reading! Something he said really resonated with me. “Are you going to follow the true and living prophets or not? It really isn’t any more complicated than that. Keep your eyes riveted on the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. We will not lead you astray. We cannot.”1

This weekend is general conference and I’m so excited! One of the ways I like to prepare is to read the talks from the previous conference. I read them often throughout the six months, but there is something powerful that happens when I read them all in just a few days. It is almost like putting a puzzle together. Each piece adds to the next. When I am done, a beautiful masterpiece is before me. But it only remains a beautiful masterpiece if I apply what has been taught.

In a contentious and convoluted world, what an incredible blessing it is to have calm and concise voices guiding us through the confusion! With our eyes riveted on the prophet and apostles, we are protected. What an amazing promise!

David A. Bednar suggests this helpful pattern for us to follow as we listen to conference, “[I]dentify the fundamental doctrine or principle that’s being taught, find any invitations associated with and related to that doctrine or principle, and then … recogniz[e] the promised blessings, if we act in accordance with that invitation.”2

As you listen to conference this weekend, I encourage you to make a list of the things our leaders are inviting us to do. As you look at the list, think about Elder Ballard’s question. “Are you going to follow the true and living prophets or not?” Following them is acting on those invitations. It really isn’t any more complicated than that.

References:

1.  When Shall These Things Be? – M. Russell Ballard

2. Church News Podcast: Episode 24 – David A. Bednar

new normal

Do What Matters Most

As 2020 comes to an end, I think we will all shout a collective “hallelujah!” Perhaps more than any other time, we anxiously await a new year, sincerely wanting our lives to be better. While it is customary around this time of year to take an inventory of our lives, asking ourselves questions like “What have I learned? What do I want to improve? What do I want to add? What do I want to eliminate?”, our answers will probably be quite different from previous years.

Hopefully one thing 2020 has given us is a clearer perspective. I have thought often over these last several months about something David A. Bednar shared in general conference five years ago. He had gone to visit Robert D. Hales who had been seriously ill. Elder Bednar asked what lessons he had learned as he had gotten older and experienced severe health challenges. Elder Hales said, “When you cannot do what you have always done, then you only do what matters most.”1 Elder Bednar went on to say, “Physical restrictions can expand vision. … Inability to do many things can direct focus to a few things of greatest importance.”1 Oh, how well that applies to this year!

A few months into the pandemic, we started hearing that life would not be returning to normal any time soon and that we needed to accept a “new normal.” I really disliked those words! I didn’t want a new normal! I wanted my life just like it was before. My heart softened to that phase when it was uttered by our dear prophet. I was given a clearer perspective. He said, “Today we often hear about ’a new normal.’ If you really want to embrace a new normal, I invite you to turn your heart, mind, and soul increasingly to our Heavenly Father and His Son, Jesus Christ. Let that be your new normal.”2

An invitation from the prophet is profoundly personal. President Nelson’s words were exactly what I needed to hear. No matter what other limitations and restrictions were placed upon me, my access to heaven was unrestricted. Whatever else is going on or not going on around me, what is going on inside of me is of most importance. The word increasingly reminds me of the constant and consistent effort that is required. I can and must be moving closer to my Heavenly Father and the Savior—every day.  A beautiful thing happens when we turn to our Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ—we feel more love for our family and friends and desire to serve and bless those around us.

With clearer perspective, a new year begins. Some things that once seemed so important have now found their proper place in my life. Other things have taken on added and more profound meaning. I have come to more fully appreciate Elder Bednar’s words, “Inability to do many things can direct focus to a few things of greatest importance.”1 What are the things of greatest importance in our lives? What will our focus be in 2021? What really are those things that matter most? More than once President Nelson has reminded us to keep our focus on the Savior, the most recent being just a few weeks ago when he told us, “There is nothing more important we can do … than to rivet our focus on the Savior.”3

I can’t imagine a better New Year’s resolution than that!

References:

1.  Chosen to Bear Testimony of My Name – David A. Bednar

2.  A New Normal – Russell M. Nelson

3.  Divine Gifts – Russell M. Nelson

Navigating the Journey

A few days ago, we were returning home from a long weekend away with one of our daughters and her family. They got on the road about 45 minutes earlier than we did. As is customary in our family, we call each other every now and again just to check in and see how things are going. With about an hour left on their drive, our daughter called telling us the traffic had gotten really bad. Only a few minutes later, she called back to tell us there was an accident a few miles ahead of where they were and that traffic was at a standstill. We quickly called one of our other daughters to have her check to see exactly where the accident was and if it would be possible to take another route to avoid the delay. She was able see where we were, where the accident was and where the traffic was again flowing at regular speeds. She guided us off the freeway, onto the frontage road, down a few side streets and then back on the freeway. Because of the warning from one daughter and the directions from another, we were able to avoid a 35-minute delay.

That experience is much like our mortal journey. Life can be full of uncertainty. There are unexpected stops and detours all along the way. But, as President Henry B. Eyring just told us, “God has the power to make our way easier.”1 Our loving Heavenly Father never intended for us to travel this journey on our own. Two of the great gifts He has given us are a living prophet and the Holy Ghost. We can be assured that our way will be easier if we will hear and heed the living prophet and recognize and respond to the impressions of the Holy Ghost.

Russell M. Nelson is God’s prophet today. He can see what we cannot see and can warn us of the dangers that lie ahead. He has given us guidance, direction, and warnings. If we listen, we can avoid many roadblocks and dangers along our way. Consider the counsel he has given us since becoming our prophet. It has been amazing! Perhaps his most often repeated counsel has been to learn to recognize and respond to the Holy Ghost. He warned, “In coming days, it will not be possible to survive spiritually without the guiding, directing, comforting, and constant influence of the Holy Ghost.”2

On our trip home the other day, the warning that there was an accident ahead that was causing major delays would have done us little good had we not gotten further direction and guidance from another source. The prophet warns us and the Holy Ghost guides us. The scriptures teach us that “by the power of the Holy Ghost [we] may know the truth of all things”3 and that He can “show unto [us] all things what [we] should do.”4

As we navigate the challenging roads ahead of us, we can find great comfort in knowing that heavenly help is always available to us. President Nelson reminds, “Our ultimate security comes as we yoke ourselves to Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ!”5

References:

1.  Tested, Proved, and Polished – Henry B. Eyring

2.  Revelation for the Church, Revelation for Our Lives – Russell M. Nelson

3.  Moroni 10:5

4.  2 Nephi 32:5

5.  Embrace the Future with Faith – Russell M. Nelson

True and Enduring Freedom

Yesterday we took a Sunday drive to see an enormous American flag flying in a nearby canyon. It was breathtaking! When I saw our beautiful flag blowing in the breeze, I couldn’t help but have a lump in my throat, a tear in my eye and a deeper my love for this great country! I am sure part of my patriotism comes from having a father who served in the military. After celebrating the 4th of July with fewer freedoms than we usually have, I was grateful for the tender reminder of the precious gift of freedom. I truly am grateful to live in America. I am thankful for those who have fought, and continue to fight, to make us free and for those who promote freedom.

In the early 1950s, my dad served in the Coast Guard. He spent most of his time on the St. George Reef Lighthouse, off the coast of northern California. A few years before he passed away, my family had the privilege of going back with him to visit. Although we weren’t able to go out to the lighthouse, which is six miles out to sea, one clear day, we could see this sturdy granite structure from the shore. Parts of the lighthouse, including the huge Fresnel lens, were on display at the museum we visited in Crescent City. As he looked at that massive lens, my dad recounted many wonderful experiences on the lighthouse. And while cleaning that lens was one of his most important jobs, and certainly the most dangerous, it was definitely his least favorite! It was time-consuming and tedious. But it was essential. The light from the lens could warn weary travelers some twenty miles away.

Thinking about my dad’s experiences as a lightkeeper made me think a little deeper about freedom. The captains of the boats knew they could trust that there would be a light burning brightly to warn of danger, keeping them free from inevitable harm if not for that light. We, too, have lightkeepers who want to ensure our freedom by warning us of imminent dangers. They are our prophets and apostles!

A profound warning was given by Ezra Taft Benson when he was the prophet. He said, “Wickedness is rapidly expanding in every segment of our society. It is more highly organized, more cleverly disguised, and more powerfully promoted than ever before. Secret combinations lusting for power, gain, and glory are flourishing. A secret combination that seeks to overthrow the freedom of all lands, nations, and countries is increasing its evil influence and control over America and the entire world. … As the forces of evil increase under Lucifer’s leadership and as the forces of good increase under the leadership of Jesus Christ, there will be growing battles between the two until the final confrontation. As the issues become clearer and more obvious, all mankind will eventually be required to align themselves either for the kingdom of God or for the kingdom of the devil. As these conflicts rage, either secretly or openly, the righteous will be tested. … But God will provide strength for the righteous; … and eventually and finally truth will triumph.”1

We know there will always be an ongoing battle between freedom and bondage, between right and wrong, between good and evil. While we are being warned about the need to cherish, honor and protect our freedoms, many of the talks I read during my study remind us that the best way to do that is through obedience to God’s commandments.

Here are a few quotes from some of those talks.

“Living the commandments makes us free. … Real freedom is found only in obedience—in subjecting ourselves to God’s will. … One of Satan’s most effective tools is to clothe bondage in the costume of liberty.”2 – Paul V. Johnson

“How can we best … secure the blessings of liberty and ensure the protection and guidance of our Father in Heaven? First and foremost, we must be righteous.”3 – Ezra Taft Benson

“Freedom and liberty are precious gifts that come to us when we are obedient to the laws of God and the whisperings of the Spirit. … Obedience leads to true freedom. The more we obey revealed truth, the more we become liberated.”4 – James E. Faust

“There is no true freedom without responsibility, and there is no enduring freedom without a knowledge of the truth.”5 – Boyd K. Packer

“The Lord has revealed His sacred standard to guide people in a troubled world. You and I were born free to follow His divine guidance. … For freedom and joy, choose to ‘be faithful in Christ.’”6 – Russell M. Nelson

“Freedom comes not from resisting it but from applying it. … It is God’s will that we be free men and women enabled to rise to our full potential both temporally and spiritually, … prepared in all things to join Him in His celestial kingdom.”7 – D. Todd Christofferson

“Freedom is a God-given eternal principle. … One of the privileges of mortal life is the opportunity to rise in freedom’s defense.”8 – Ezra Taft Benson

On my way back to the car after seeing the beautiful flag, there was an older man, a veteran I am sure, who with help from his family stood, staring at the flag. You could see from the expression on his face that he loves what the flag stands for. He, like so many others, fought for our freedoms. Does a love of freedom show in our faces and in our actions? What are we doing to cherish, honor and protect our freedoms?

Watching this humble older man reminded me of something Vaughn J. Featherstone said, “I think it is time we should all awaken. Our concern isn’t about the flames of freedom which burn so brightly in our generation; the concern is that in the upcoming generation the fire has never been kindled. … Freedom ought to ring in the heart of every Latter-day Saint regardless of his country. The United States of America is the greatest nation on the face of the earth. We ought to love it and we ought to talk about it. We need to be true, we need to have faith. If we do this, God will give us strength to brace against the winds. He will make this country like a giant pillar of granite. He will make us a mighty people, a pure people, a Christlike people, a worthy people, a free people.”9

Elder Featherstone’s generation was my dad’s generation and the generation of the veteran I saw yesterday! The flames of freedom definitely burned brightly in them! Gratefully I was blessed with a father who kindled the fire of freedom in me!

The granite lighthouse my father served on was built to withstand the ocean beating on it from every side. And perched atop was a bright, guiding beacon. If we are righteous, God will make this country, which was founded on freedom, like a great pillar of granite. Every latter-day prophet has reminded us that America is a chosen land, chosen because it was necessary to have a free country where the gospel could be restored. We know that there will be opposition from every side, not just here in America. The prophets and apostles, our lightkeepers, can be our beacon in this ever-darkening world. If we will follow them, they will lead us to safety in these treacherous times.

References:

1.  I Testify – Ezra Taft Benson

2.  Free to Choose – Paul V. Johnson

3.  Our Divine Constitution – Ezra Taft Benson

4.  Obedience: The Path to Freedom – James E. Faust

5.  Agency and Control – Boyd K. Packer

6.  Addiction or Freedom – Russell M. Nelson

7.  Free Forever, to Act for Themselves – D. Todd Christofferson

8.  October 1972 Ensign – Ezra Taft Benson

9.  But Watchman, What of the Night? – Vaughn J. Featherstone