General Conference thoughts: Small and Simple Things

by President Dallin H. Oaks

Everything we need to know we learned in primary.  The primary or standard answers are always the answer because they truly are the answer.  Scripture study. Prayer. Church. Temple.  These are the things we need to make time for because these small acts done daily, weekly for church attendance, or as often as possible for temple attendance is what will determine our grasp on the iron rod and the pathway to the Tree of Life. Continue reading

Don’t be like Balaam

Every four years we study the Old Testament during Sunday School in church.  It’s a chance to refocus on stories in the book and discover ways the lessons in that book of scripture apply to our lives today.  This is an opportunity to learn and progress.  However, it’s amazing the human race has been going at the same life lessons over and over again.  Traditions and customs may change but human nature tends to run the same cycle.  One such example is found in Numbers 22-24. There is a sensational aspect of a talking donkey that tends to take the spotlight so I’m not going to mention it.  Instead, I’m going to focus on Balaam the prophet of God who happened to be a fence sitter.  That is the lesson here. Continue reading

Be Not Deceived

After traversing through a difficult trial that tested the limits of my faith, a church leader read Doctrine and Covenants 112:24-26 to me. Whether he intended to have me read it as a warning because of the actions of others or my own actions I’m still unclear. But it did get me thinking about the verses and led to a personal study. Here are some of my thoughts on the subject of being deceived. Or rather, how I can avoid being deceived in the days that blur the line between fact and fiction, right and wrong, light and dark. Continue reading

My Top 10 Scriptures: scriptures that are a comfort and compass in my life

Life is not easy.  But that’s okay; it is not supposed to be.  There are so many things vying for our attention giving us so many choices to make on a daily basis.  If we could step back and look at our life, it might resemble a map.  Decisions are the highways and spurs of roads.   Looking at all those possibilities perhaps you might feel overwhelmed by all the options.  Something to help you navigate down the road so that you end up at a destination by choice not chance would be appreciated.

Here’s some good news: we do have something to help us in our journey.  Even better news, we have more than just one option when it comes to navigation aids.  And the best news: all of life’s navigation tools are available to each of us.  We just have to utilize them.  There are a couple of things to remember that might provide comfort.  One: we are not here by accident.  This means our lives are purposeful.  And two, we have a cheering squad.  Someone wants us to return to a very specific destination – home.  Because of this, we have navigation tools at our disposal.  One of the very important tools within our reach is the scriptures.

The scriptures are a very useful tool.  When I start feeling like I’m all alone in the great big world and nobody cares one iota what I do, the scriptures are a ready reference of love.  They remind me of God’s dealings with man since the beginning of time.  He has always wanted mankind to succeed.  He has always wanted me to succeed.  By reading the scriptures I learn of Heavenly Father’s plan to rescue me.

Through my studies, I have become familiar with certain scriptures.  My list grew slowly over time.  At first, I had a Top Six list.  Until I realized there were actually seven scriptures in my Top Six Scriptures.  For the purposes of this writing, I decided to add a few more to round out my list to ten. Ten scriptures I can turn to when I know I should read but I’m not in the mood to read.  Ten succinct reminders of who I am even on dark days of doubt.  Ten ways to adjust my attitude.  Ten messages of love when I forget what love feels like and I want to give in to the “Oh, woest me,” syndrome.  I refer to them as my “Top Ten.”

My Top 10 now range from a line, to a verse, to a whole chapter.  Here’s my list.

 First, let’s start at the beginning.  What do I need to do?

Mosiah 4:9  King Benjamin’s address to his people included this simple bit of advice,  “Believe in God.”  There are a lot of things in the world today that try to get our attention and focus.  But this simple statement reminds us where our focus needs to be. 

King Benjamin continued, “Believe that he is, and that he created all things.”  Henry Wadsworth Longfellow wrote, “God is not dead, nor doth he sleep” (I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day).  Remember, God is, not was. 

“He created all things, both in heaven and in earth,” King Benjamin testified of one of God’s roles.   God is my creator and as such, He has a personal interest in my welfare. 

“Believe he has all wisdom and all power, both in heaven and in earth.” He is the safest source to trust because He knows everything.  Not only that, but He is the source of all light and truth.

“Believe that man doth not comprehend all the things which the Lord can comprehend.”  I don’t understand everything.  There are a lot of things I can’t explain.  But that’s okay.  This verse tells me, I may not understand, but I can choose to believe.  As I choose to believe in God, my understanding will open up line upon line, precept upon precept.  But for now, I begin with the first step: “Believe in God.

 Why would God care for me?

Moses 7:29-40  The prophet Enoch was shown a great vision.  In it, he saw the inhabitants of the earth who lived during Noah’s time.  He was surprised when the “Heavens wept” because of the people. 

Enoch asked the Lord, “How is it thou canst weep?”  Why was God weeping over the fate of sinners? 

The answer is one of the great demonstrations of God’s love.  “Behold…they are the workmanship of mine own hands.  Should not the heavens weep, seeing these shall suffer?”  The people that Enoch saw were the people who perished in the great flood.  But that was only the beginning of their suffering because they exercised their agency to choose poorly.  They would also have to spend time in spirit prison.  A typical human response might be, “They got what they deserved.” 

But God sees his children differently.  He knew because of their poor choices, their lives – their probationary time to repent – would be cut short.  They would have to go to spirit prison and be “in torment.”  Thanks to this vision, we gain insight into the nature of our Heavenly Father.  The love He has for us is unimaginable.  He is our biggest supporter and He wants us to succeed.  Conversely, whenever we use our agency to choose unwisely, we know, “For this shall the heavens weep.”

  What is love?

Alma 7:11-12 There is no greater definition of love than Christ’s life.  Eighty-three years before Christ was born in Bethlehem, a Nephite prophet saw how the Savior would spend His time on earth.  “And he shall go forth, suffering pains and afflictions and temptations of every kind,” Alma wrote.  “He will take upon him the pains and sicknesses of his people.  He will take upon him their infirmities (physical weaknesses).”  He doesn’t just heal from sin; He heals us from sickness and weakness. 

Why would a perfect being without blemish or fault do that?  Couldn’t He rise above the pain?  Couldn’t He make the affliction go away?  If our pursuit is to become perfect, why would a Perfect Being lower Himself?  Alma explains, “That his bowels (inner parts –  demonstrating great feeling) may be filled with mercy, according to the flesh (our human experience), that he may know according to the flesh  how to succor (help in time of distress) his people (us) according to their infirmities.” 

The whole point of everything Christ experienced was for us, to help us.  We know He helps us become clean from sin.  But he also helps us become whole.  This means He not only has the power to make us clean but also to heal us.  He wants to heal our broken hearts.  He wants to strengthen our weaknesses.  His mission is “To succor his people according to their infirmities.”

 How does He help me?

Doctrine and Covenants 68:6 While the church was still new in this dispensation, the Lord told the Prophet Joseph Smith, “Be of good cheer.”   After more than 175 years, this counsel still applies to us.  Why wouldn’t we be of good cheer?  We have the fullness of the good news of the gospel.  We have every reason to courageously look to the future, “And do not fear.”  While I was on my mission, I heard this statement for the first time: Fear is the antithesis of faith.  When we allow fear to dwell in our homes, faith has no room.  We are God’s peculiar people; we have no reason to be afraid. 

“For I the Lord am with you, and will stand by you.”  How does the Lord stand by us?  Is this more figurative than literal?  This promise is absolutely literal.  A member of the Godhead is our gift when we are baptized and receive the Holy Ghost.  The Holy Ghost can be our constant companion to comfort and uphold us.  But the promise to stand by us includes something else.  

The Lord, our Creator, who knows us better than we realize and who has suffered every deprivation to be able to help us, often works vicariously through other people.  The well-timed friend, parent, sibling, aunt, teacher, leader, visiting or home teacher, or anyone at all, can be fulfillment of this scripture.  The blessings are doubled because both the recipient and the giver benefit.    Whether it is by the comfort of the Holy Ghost or by service of others, Jesus Christ is always the instigator.  “For I the Lord am with you, and will stand by you.”

 What are my 5 Responsibilities? First, service

3 Nephi 17 After the resurrected Christ had spent some time with the people on the American Continent, He told them He was going to leave for a while.  He instructed them to go to their homes and ponder the message He had shared with them.  They were to prepare for when He would return to deliver more of His word.  There was other work for Him to do, work of His Father. 

Before He left, “He cast his eyes round about again on the multitude, and beheld they were in tears, and did look steadfastly upon him as if they would ask him to tarry a little longer with them.”  They weren’t ready for Him to leave.  So moved by their experience with Him, they were in tears.  But none dared verbalize the request for him to stay.  After all, He was going to do the work of the Father, how could they ask Him to stay with them?

Jesus replied, “Behold my bowels (inner parts, meaning great feeling) are filled with compassion towards you.”  He healed their sick, blessed their children, prayed with and for them, and instituted the sacrament.  This was not a quick act of service to pacify the people.  There were 2,500 people gathered together.  He made the time to accommodate the people and see to their needs.  There is no task that I have that is greater than the work Jesus was going to do for Heavenly Father.  If He could take the time to serve, then I can too.   

When my brother was called to serve as bishop, he asked several people for advice.  The best advice, he states, came from our dad who told him, “It’s about the people.”  It’s always about the people first.  This is the example we learn from the Savior himself.  “Behold,” He said.  “My bowels are filled with compassion towards you.”

Second, be faithful

Joshua 3:15-17; 4:18 Imagine being Joshua.  He had the unenviable task of following the beloved and popular prophet Moses.  But the Lord promised to be with Joshua also and to make him great in the sight of Israel.  After all, Moses was only the vessel that performed the miracles.  The miracles were brought about by the priesthood or the power of God. 

The Lord fulfilled His promise.  When it was time for the Israelites to cross the river Jordan, the Lord demonstrated it was Him, not Moses that parted the sea.  The Israelites needed to cross the river Jordan to get to the land of their inheritance. The Lord commanded the Ark bearers to enter the water first.  As soon as the water came to the priest’s ankles, the river stopped flowing.  “And the priests that bare the ark of the covenant of the Lord stood firm on dry ground in the midst of Jordan, and all the Israelites passed over on dry ground, until all the people were passed clean over Jordan.”  

It’s a simple lesson.  When dealing with faith, sometimes we have to get our ankles wet.   It is only after we stand in the water, that we will see the miracle.  The priests stayed where they were until every person passed through.  “And it came to pass, when the priests of the Lord were come up out of the midst of Jordan, and the soles of the priests’ feet were lifted up unto the dry land, that the waters of Jordan returned unto their place, and flowed over all his banks, as they did before.”  

 Third, adjust my attitude

1 Nephi 17 True, life is not fair.  Sometimes it may feel like challenges and trials are being pitched from an automated pitching machine.  With the setting set on fast ball.  Here’s the thing about trials though – everyone goes through them.  No one is exempt.  How we handle our challenges determines our happiness and overall wellbeing.   That’s what I learn from Nephi and his brothers.

          In chapter 17 we read the same account of events given from two very different perspectives.  First, Nephi explains in verse 2, “And so great were the blessings of the Lord upon us, that while we did live upon raw meat in the wilderness, our women did give plenty of suck for their children, and were strong, yea, even like unto the men; and they began to bear their journeyings without murmurings.”

          Did you catch all that?  First, they lived on raw meat.  May I say, yuck.  That sounds like a huge trial to me.  But Nephi describes the blessings he saw from this particular problem.  Way to see the glass as half full, Nephi! 

          Laman shares his view a little later in the chapter in verse 20, “…and our women have toiled, being big with child; and they have borne children in the wilderness and suffered all things, save it were death; and it would have been better that they had died before they came out of Jerusalem than to have suffered these afflictions.”

          Remember, Nephi and Laman are describing the same events.  Laman continues with this common lament in the next verse, “…and we might have been happy.”  Oh, if only our lives were perfect without all these troublesome problems, then we might be happy.  But if we wait for perfection, we will miss out on having a happy life.

          The great trick to life is finding the blessing in the adversity.  And we should begin today.  Until we can declare with Nephi this testimony he gives in verse 3, “[God] did provide means for us while we did sojourn in the wilderness.”

 Fourth, learn to live peaceably with others

Jacob 2:21 Perhaps it’s part of human nature to want to rank things.  Including people.  This might lead us to think, “Sure, I’m not perfect, but I’m better than so-and-so.”  This, in turn, may lead us to believe Heavenly Father loves us more than so-and-so.  The danger in this train of thought is that we make Heavenly Father’s love conditional on our obedience.  Let me make it clear, Heavenly Father’s love for all of us is unconditional.  Remember, He wants us to succeed.  He wants ALL of us to succeed. 

          Jacob reminds us “And for the selfsame end hath he created them.”  We are all here for the same reason.  Ranking is a human trait, not a divine quality. 

          Someone may then argue, why keep the commandments if we will not be loved more than those who do not? Do not confuse the natural order of blessings with being loved.  For example, when I was younger, my mom paid for me to have piano lessons.  However, if I wanted to play the piano I needed to practice.  I could not receive the blessing of being a pianist without the obedience of practice.  But when I did not practice did that affect the love my parents have for me?  No, not at all.  I lost out on the blessing of becoming a pianist but I never lost the love my parents had for me. 

          We are all here for the same reason with the same goal.  Even if some of us do not realize it.  We are at different levels of our progression.  But we need to be kind to each other because “…the one being is as precious in his sight as the other.”

 Fifth, when all is said and done, just come

Matthew 19:16-22 This scripture has had the biggest impact on my life.  I never wanted to serve a mission.  It was not something I thought I could do.  One day, I prayed for guidance about the direction of my life.  My desire was to finish college and I wanted that to be my answer. 

As I studied the scriptures, I came across the example of the rich young ruler.  He came to the Savior and asked how to gain eternal life.  Jesus told him the typical answers everyone knew. 

The young man, perhaps emboldened by the Savior’s response, pressed further, “What lack I yet?”  Maybe he thought the Savior would tell him nothing more was needed.  That the young man had done enough and should enjoy his blessings and rich life.  Instead, Jesus answered, “If thou wilt be perfect, go and sell that thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come and follow me.”  The young man went away sorrowful “for he had great possessions.” 

When I read this scripture many years ago, I related all too well to the young ruler.  I wanted to know what to do with my life, but I wanted the answer to be on my terms.   This scripture continues to speak to me today.  It is a reminder not to let myself be content with what I have.  But to always seek to be more charitable and more willing to give my whole soul to Christ.  To make sure I’m doing all I can to, “Come and follow me.”

How do I come?

Alma 20:23; 22:15 Ammon, the Nephite prince and missionary, traveled with the Lamanite Lamoni.   They were going to free Ammon’s brother and other missionary companions from prison.  On their way they met Lamoni’s father, the king of all the land.  Days earlier, Lamoni missed a feast his father had given.  So, the King was probably not in a very good mood to begin with.  To top it off, the King sees his son traveling with a Nephite.  The Nephites were sworn enemies of the Lamanites and were killed on sight. Yet, his son was in the company of this foe and they were not fighting.

          The king asked his son to explain himself and demanded he kill the Nephite.  When Lamoni gave an honest explanation that hinted at his recent conversion, the king became irate.  He even attempted to kill his own son when Ammon intervened.  Ammon overpowered the king and had the opportunity to kill him.  The king recognized this and pleaded in verse 23, “If thou wilt spare me I will grant unto thee whatsoever thou wilt ask, even to half of the kingdom.”  In other words, the price tag he places on his own life is half his kingdom.  Granted, that is no small change.

          Ammon’s desire was not in riches.  He only wanted to preach the word of God with his brothers and friends.  But he was not stupid; he took advantage of the opportunity with two requests.  One, the king allow the freedom of his brothers, and two, that he will not be displeased with his son Lamoni.

          The king agreed and his heart was touched.  He returned to his kingdom but Ammon’s generosity in sparing his life and seeking the welfare of others caused him to think.  Later, when Ammon’s brother Aaron came to the kingdom the king had some questions.  Aaron answered honestly and testified boldly.  The king was so touched by the Spirit of the Lord he declared, “I will give up all that I possess, yea, I will forsake my kingdom, that I may receive this great joy.”  Just to keep score, he was willing to give up half his kingdom to save his life.  Yet, he was willing to give up all he possessed to gain Eternal Life. 

          When I shared this account with my young women, I had one say, “This doesn’t make sense.  Why would the king be willing to give up his whole kingdom?”  The Prophet Joseph Smith taught, “A religion that does not require the sacrifice of all things never has power sufficient to produce the faith necessary unto the enjoyment of life and salvation” (Lectures on Faith).

          After reading the king’s conversion, I ask myself, “What shall I do that I may have this eternal life?

 My top ten scriptures have provided comfort and a compass for me in my life.  I have accumulated them over time through study and being taught by the Spirit.  My treasure of ten continues to grow and multiply.  Each one that I shared with you has helped me out at different points in my life.  Whether it was a behavioral change, or a spiritual awakening, each one has given me direction or comfort.  That is why I consider the scriptures a blessing and a gift. 

I hope you enjoy my top 10 and I hope it will remind you of your top 10.


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