Tuesday, July 28, 2015

This Week's Lesson: July 26, 2015

taught by Jennifer Neal

On Easter Sunday we celebrate the most long-awaited and glorious event in the history of the world.
It is the day that changed everything.
On that day, my life changed.
Your life changed.
The destiny of all God’s children changed.
On that blessed day, the Savior of mankind, who had taken upon Himself the chains of sin and death that held us captive, burst those chains and set us free.
Because of the sacrifice of our beloved Redeemer, death has no sting, the grave has no victory,1 Satan has no lasting power, and we are “begotten … again unto a lively hope by the resurrection of Jesus Christ.”2
Truly, the Apostle Paul was correct when he said we can “comfort one another with these words.”3

God’s Grace

We often speak of the Savior’s Atonement—and rightly so!
In Jacob’s words, “Why not speak of the atonement of Christ, and attain to a perfect knowledge of him?”4 But as “we talk of Christ, … rejoice in Christ, … preach of Christ, [and] prophesy of Christ”5 at every opportunity, we must never lose our sense of awe and profound gratitude for the eternal sacrifice of the Son of God.
The Savior’s Atonement cannot become commonplace in our teaching, in our conversation, or in our hearts. It is sacred and holy, for it was through this “great and last sacrifice” that Jesus the Christ brought “salvation to all those who shall believe on his name.”6
I marvel to think that the Son of God would condescend to save us, as imperfect, impure, mistake-prone, and ungrateful as we often are. I have tried to understand the Savior’s Atonement with my finite mind, and the only explanation I can come up with is this: God loves us deeply, perfectly, and everlastingly. I cannot even begin to estimate “the breadth, and length, and depth, and height … [of] the love of Christ.”7
A powerful expression of that love is what the scriptures often call the grace of God—the divine assistance and endowment of strength by which we grow from the flawed and limited beings we are now into exalted beings of “truth and light, until [we are] glorified in truth and [know] all things.”8
It is a most wondrous thing, this grace of God. Yet it is often misunderstood.9 Even so, we should know about God’s grace if we intend to inherit what has been prepared for us in His eternal kingdom.
To that end I would like to speak of grace. In particular, first, how grace unlocks the gates of heaven and, second, how it opens the windows of heaven.

First: Grace Unlocks the Gates of Heaven

Because we have all “sinned, and come short of the glory of God”10 and because “there cannot any unclean thing enter into the kingdom of God,”11 every one of us is unworthy to return to God’s presence.
Even if we were to serve God with our whole souls, it is not enough, for we would still be “unprofitable servants.”12 We cannot earn our way into heaven; the demands of justice stand as a barrier, which we are powerless to overcome on our own.
But all is not lost.
The grace of God is our great and everlasting hope.
Through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, the plan of mercy appeases the demands of justice13 “and [brings] about means unto men that they may have faith unto repentance.”14
Our sins, though they may be as scarlet, can become white as snow.15 Because our beloved Savior “gave himself a ransom for all,”16 an entrance into His everlasting kingdom is provided unto us.17
The gate is unlocked!
But the grace of God does not merely restore us to our previous innocent state. If salvation means only erasing our mistakes and sins, then salvation—as wonderful as it is—does not fulfill the Father’s aspirations for us. His aim is much higher: He wants His sons and daughters to become like Him.
With the gift of God’s grace, the path of discipleship does not lead backward; it leads upward.
It leads to heights we can scarcely comprehend! It leads to exaltation in the celestial kingdom of our Heavenly Father, where we, surrounded by our loved ones, receive “of his fulness, and of his glory.”18 All things are ours, and we are Christ’s.19 Indeed, all that the Father hath shall be given unto us.20
To inherit this glory, we need more than an unlocked gate; we must enter through this gate with a heart’s desire to be changed—a change so dramatic that the scriptures describe it as being “born again; yea, born of God, changed from [our worldly] and fallen state, to a state of righteousness, being redeemed of God, becoming his sons and daughters.”21

Second: Grace Opens the Windows of Heaven

Another element of God’s grace is the opening of the windows of heaven, through which God pours out blessings of power and strength, enabling us to achieve things that otherwise would be far beyond our reach. It is by God’s amazing grace that His children can overcome the undercurrents and quicksands of the deceiver, rise above sin, and “be perfect[ed] in Christ.”22
Though we all have weaknesses, we can overcome them. Indeed it is by the grace of God that, if we humble ourselves and have faith, weak things can become strong.23
Throughout our lives, God’s grace bestows temporal blessings and spiritual gifts that magnify our abilities and enrich our lives. His grace refines us. His grace helps us become our best selves.

Who Can Qualify?

In the Bible we read of Christ’s visit to the home of Simon the Pharisee.
Outwardly, Simon seemed to be a good and upright man. He regularly checked off his to-do list of religious obligations: he kept the law, paid his tithing, observed the Sabbath, prayed daily, and went to the synagogue.
But while Jesus was with Simon, a woman approached, washed the Savior’s feet with her tears, and anointed His feet with fine oil.
Simon was not pleased with this display of worship, for he knew that this woman was a sinner. Simon thought that if Jesus didn’t know this, He must not be a prophet or He would not have let the woman touch him.
Perceiving his thoughts, Jesus turned to Simon and asked a question. “There was a certain creditor which had two debtors: … one owed five hundred pence, … the other fifty.
“And when they [both] had nothing to pay, he frankly forgave them both. Tell me therefore, which of them will love him most?”
Simon answered that it was the one who was forgiven the most.
Then Jesus taught a profound lesson: “Seest thou this woman? … Her sins, which are many, are forgiven; for she loved much: but to whom little is forgiven, the same loveth little.”24
Which of these two people are we most like?
Are we like Simon? Are we confident and comfortable in our good deeds, trusting in our own righteousness? Are we perhaps a little impatient with those who are not living up to our standards? Are we on autopilot, going through the motions, attending our meetings, yawning through Gospel Doctrine class, and perhaps checking our cell phones during sacrament service?
Or are we like this woman, who thought she was completely and hopelessly lost because of sin?
Do we love much?
Do we understand our indebtedness to Heavenly Father and plead with all our souls for the grace of God?
When we kneel to pray, is it to replay the greatest hits of our own righteousness, or is it to confess our faults, plead for God’s mercy, and shed tears of gratitude for the amazing plan of redemption?25
Salvation cannot be bought with the currency of obedience; it is purchased by the blood of the Son of God.26 Thinking that we can trade our good works for salvation is like buying a plane ticket and then supposing we own the airline. Or thinking that after paying rent for our home, we now hold title to the entire planet earth.

Why Then Obey?

If grace is a gift of God, why then is obedience to God’s commandments so important? Why bother with God’s commandments—or repentance, for that matter? Why not just admit we’re sinful and let God save us?
Or, to put the question in Paul’s words, “Shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound?” Paul’s answer is simple and clear: “God forbid.”27
Brothers and sisters, we obey the commandments of God—out of love for Him!
Trying to understand God’s gift of grace with all our heart and mind gives us all the more reasons to love and obey our Heavenly Father with meekness and gratitude. As we walk the path of discipleship, it refines us, it improves us, it helps us to become more like Him, and it leads us back to His presence. “The Spirit of the Lord [our God]” brings about such “a mighty change in us, … that we have no more disposition to do evil, but to do good continually.”28
Therefore, our obedience to God’s commandments comes as a natural outgrowth of our endless love and gratitude for the goodness of God. This form of genuine love and gratitude will miraculously merge our works with God’s grace. Virtue will garnish our thoughts unceasingly, and our confidence will wax strong in the presence of God.29
Dear brothers and sisters, living the gospel faithfully is not a burden. It is a joyful rehearsal—a preparation for inheriting the grand glory of the eternities. We seek to obey our Heavenly Father because our spirits will become more attuned to spiritual things. Vistas are opened that we never knew existed. Enlightenment and understanding come to us when we do the will of the Father.30
Grace is a gift of God, and our desire to be obedient to each of God’s commandments is the reaching out of our mortal hand to receive this sacred gift from our Heavenly Father.

All We Can Do

The prophet Nephi made an important contribution to our understanding of God’s grace when he declared, “We labor diligently … to persuade our children, and also our brethren, to believe in Christ, and to be reconciled to God; for we know that it is by grace that we are saved, after all we can do.31
However, I wonder if sometimes we misinterpret the phrase “after all we can do.” We must understand that “after” does not equal “because.”
We are not saved “because” of all that we can do. Have any of us done all that we can do? Does God wait until we’ve expended every effort before He will intervene in our lives with His saving grace?
Many people feel discouraged because they constantly fall short. They know firsthand that “the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.”32 They raise their voices with Nephi in proclaiming, “My soul grieveth because of mine iniquities.”33
I am certain Nephi knew that the Savior’s grace allowsand enables us to overcome sin.34 This is why Nephi labored so diligently to persuade his children and brethren “to believe in Christ, and to be reconciled to God.”35
After all, that is what we can do! And that is our task in mortality!

Grace Is Available to All

When I think of what the Savior did for us leading up to that first Easter Sunday, I want to lift up my voice and shout praises to the Most High God and His Son, Jesus Christ!
The gates of heaven are unlocked!
The windows of heaven are opened!
Today and forevermore God’s grace is available to all whose hearts are broken and whose spirits are contrite.36 Jesus Christ has cleared the way for us to ascend to heights incomprehensible to mortal minds.37
I pray that we will see with new eyes and a new heart the eternal significance of the Savior’s atoning sacrifice. I pray that we will show our love for God and our gratitude for the gift of God’s infinite grace by keeping His commandments and joyfully “walk[ing] in [a] newness of life.”38 In the sacred name of our Master and Redeemer, Jesus Christ, amen.

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Clothing Exchange


NEWS RELEASE — 30 JUNE 2015 Church Leaders Counsel Members After Supreme Court Same-Sex Marriage Decision

Dear Brethren and Sisters:
Enclosed is a statement by the Council of the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve in response to the recent Supreme Court decision legalizing same-sex marriage in the United States. The statement also pertains to the situation in Canada. Local leaders are asked to meet with all adults, young men, and young women on either July 5 or July 12 in a setting other than sacrament meeting and read to them the entire statement.
Also included is background material which may be helpful in answering questions that arise.
Stake presidents are asked to see that bishops receive copies of this letter and the enclosures.
Sincerely yours,
Thomas S. Monson
Henry B. Eyring
Dieter F. Uchtdorf

RESPONSE TO THE SUPREME COURT DECISION LEGALIZING SAME‐SEX MARRIAGE IN THE UNITED STATES
June 29, 2015  
Because of the recent decision of the United States Supreme Court and similar legal proceedings and legislative actions in a number of countries that have given civil recognition to same‐sex marriage relationships, the Council of the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter‐day Saints restates and reaffirms the doctrinal foundation of Church teachings on morality, marriage, and the family. As we do, we encourage all to consider these teachings in the context of the Plan of Salvation and our Heavenly Father’s purposes in creating the earth and providing for our mortal birth and experience here as His children.
Marriage between a man and a woman was instituted by God and is central to His plan for His children and for the well‐being of society. “God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them. And God blessed them, and God said unto them, Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth” (Genesis 1:27‐28). “Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh” (Genesis 2:24). Strong families, guided by a loving mother and father, serve as the fundamental institution for nurturing children, instilling faith, and transmitting to future generations the moral strengths and values that are important to civilization and vital to eternal salvation.
A family built on marriage of a man and a woman is the best setting for God’s plan of happiness to thrive. That is why communities and nations generally have encouraged and protected marriage between a man and a woman, and the family that results from their union, as privileged institutions. Sexual relations outside of such a marriage are contrary to the laws of God pertaining to morality.
Changes in the civil law do not, indeed cannot, change the moral law that God has established. God expects us to uphold and keep His commandments regardless of divergent opinions or trends in society. His law of chastity is clear: sexual relations are proper only between a man and a woman who are legally and lawfully wedded as husband and wife. We invite all to review and understand the doctrine contained in “The Family: A Proclamation to the World.”
Consistent with our fundamental beliefs, Church officers will not employ their ecclesiastical authority to perform marriages between two people of the same sex, and the Church does not permit its meetinghouses or other properties to be used for ceremonies, receptions, or other activities associated with same‐sex marriages. Nevertheless, all visitors are welcome to our chapels and premises so long as they respect our standards of conduct while there.
The gospel of Jesus Christ teaches us to love and treat all people with kindness and civility—even when we disagree. We affirm that those who avail themselves of laws or court rulings authorizing same‐sex marriage should not be treated disrespectfully. Indeed, the Church has advocated for rights of same‐sex couples in matters of hospitalization and medical care, fair housing and employment, and probate, so long as these do not infringe on the integrity of the traditional family or the constitutional rights of churches.
The Church insists on its leaders’ and members’ right to express and advocate religious convictions on marriage, family, and morality free from retaliation or retribution. The Church is also entitled to maintain its standards of moral conduct and good standing for members.
As members of the Church, we are responsible to teach the gospel of Jesus Christ and to illuminate the great blessings that flow from heeding God’s commandments as well as the inevitable consequences of ignoring them. We invite all to pray that people everywhere will have their hearts softened to the truths God established in the beginning, and that wisdom will be granted to those who are called upon to decide issues critical to society’s future.
THE COUNCIL OF
THE FIRST PRESIDENCY AND
QUORUM OF THE TWELVE APOSTLES
OF THE CHURCH OF JESUS CHRIST OF LATTER‐DAY SAINTS

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

This Week's Lesson: July 12, 2015

Chapter 14: Marriage and Family—Ordained of God
“The family is one of God’s greatest fortresses against the evils of our day. Help keep your family strong and close and worthy of our Father in Heaven’s blessings.”

Sunday, July 12, 2015

July Visiting Teaching Message

Prayerfully study this material and seek to know what to share. How will understanding the life and roles of the Savior increase your faith in Him and bless those you watch over through visiting teaching? For more information, go to reliefsociety.lds.org.
Relief Society seal
Faith, Family, Relief
This is part of a series of Visiting Teaching Messages featuring divine attributes of the Savior.
Jesus and woman
Understanding thatJesus Christ has been forgiving and merciful to us can help us forgive and extend mercy to others. “Jesus Christ is our Exemplar,” said President Thomas S. Monson. “His life was a legacy of love. The sick He healed; the downtrodden He lifted; the sinner He saved. At the end the angry mob took His life. And yet there rings from Golgotha’s hill the words: ‘Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do’—a crowning expression in mortality of compassion and love.”1
If we forgive others their trespasses, our Heavenly Father will also forgive us. Jesus asks us to “be ye therefore merciful, as your Father also is merciful” (Luke 6:36). “Forgiveness for our sins comes with conditions,” said President Dieter F. Uchtdorf, Second Counselor in the First Presidency. “We must repent. … Haven’t we all, at one time or another, meekly approached the mercy seat and pleaded for grace? Haven’t we wished with all the energy of our souls for mercy—to be forgiven for the mistakes we have made and the sins we have committed? … Allow Christ’s Atonement to change and heal your heart. Love one another. Forgive one another.”2

From the Scriptures

“We are to forgive even as we are forgiven,” said ElderJeffrey R. Holland of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles.3 The story of the prodigal son shows us both sides of forgiveness: one son is forgiven and the other son struggles to forgive.
The younger son took his inheritance, quickly spent it, and when a famine arose, he worked feeding swine. The scriptures say “when he came to himself,” he returned home and said to his father he was not worthy to be his son. But his father forgave him and killed a fatted calf for a feast. The older son returned from working in the fields and became angry. He reminded his father that he had served many years, never transgressed the commandments, yet “thou never gavest me a kid, that I might make merry.” The father replied, “Son, thou art ever with me, and all that I have is thine. It was meet that we should make merry, and be glad: for this thy brother was dead, and is alive again; and was lost, and is found” (see Luke 15:11–32).

Consider This

How can forgiveness benefit the one forgiving?