The plan for the progression and salvation of the human race has been known from the beginning, but now is the time for all to receive the Lord's promised blessings, said Elder David B. Haight of the Council of the Twelve.
Church members today help their ancestors receive those blessings by performing genealogical research and performing ordinances in temples for their kindred dead.Many have questioned why the church has committed millions of dollars and tens of thousands of hours to the immense project of collecting genealogical records for nearly two billion people so far. "Our answer is simple, yet profound: `Because we love them. Because they are entitled to the same blessings that we enjoy. Because this is a major part of the heavenly plan for this, the dispensation of the fullness of times - for the blessing of all people.' "
Church members have the duty to gather records and identify ancestors, and then to perform saving ordinances of the gospel in temples so that each person who has lived will have the opportunity to accept or reject gospel ordinances performed in their behalf, Elder Haight said.
Elder Haight told of the church's practice of performing baptisms for the dead and how the principle of vicarious baptism for the dead was taught during the Savior's earthly ministry.
The process of searching out a family's ancestors has long been associated with tedium and painstaking research. But genealogy research is now aided by computer systems that use compact discs to store as many as 5 million names each, he said.
Information from many sources is stored in the genealogy computer system, combining records from around the world into one system. "It has made the world much smaller because it has put total strangers with common ancestry in touch with each other. Suddenly, church members and non-members alike are finding new cousins and thousands of deceased ancestors at the press of a computer key."
The pedigrees and family group records of more than 7 million people can now be accessed at the church's Family History Library in Salt Lake City or at one of many local family history centers. The files also contain the names and addresses of each person who has submitted information, enabling those doing genealogy to contact others involved in the process to exchange information and verify facts.
The computer system is easy enough for youngsters to use and will increase in value as individuals continue to contribute information to it, he said.
Elder Maxwell: Saints should heed scriptural counsel to strengthen their faith through adversity, not doubt the Lord.
Adversity can increase a person's faith or cause the roots of bitterness to spring up and scorch it, said Elder Neal A. Maxwell of the Council of the Twelve.
Some members of the church remain spiritually undernourished while some others have grown "weary and fainted in their minds," he said, referring to a passage in the New Testament book of Hebrews.
Circumstances such as wrenching or unrelieved sickness, economic pressures, the loss of a loved one or the deep disappointment with a spouse or friend can be the elements that scorch one's faith, Elder Maxwell said. "A few are fatigued by unconfessed sins. A few tire from or are halting about in the valley of decision. A few have failed to build their faith on Jesus, the sure and true foundation.
"Whatever the preceding causes, any fainting in our minds brings a loss of spiritual consciousness and with this the inclination to charge God foolishly."
Scriptural counsel not to weary in well-doing contains clues to avoiding such weariness: work steadily and continually expecting to reap in due season, serve while meek and lowly in heart to avoid the wearying burdens of self-pity and hypocrisy, and pray always so as not to faint.
Elder Maxwell said even those who are "righteously chastised or rebuked" need not faint because the Lord loves those he chastens, and because chastisements are essential to learning wisdom and carrying one through a "school of experience."
"One's life cannot be both faith-filled and stress-free . . . Therefore, how can we really expect to glide through life as if to say, `Lord, give me experience, but not grief, not sorrow, not correction, not pain, not opposition, not betrayal and certainly not to be forsaken. Keep from me, Lord, all those experiences which made thee what thou art. Then let me come and dwell with thee and fully share thy joy.' "
Failure to study inspired words leaves one intellectually and spiritually malnourished. A lack of deep prayer and genuine worship erodes one's faith.
Building faith often involves preparatory circumstances and requires a desire to believe. And those who possess faith must be careful not to neglect it - and must include trust in God's timing. "Ironically, some who acknowledge God are tried by his timing, both globally and personally," Elder Maxwell said, adding that faithful Saints "know the Lord's purposes will finally triumph."
Elder Ballard: Perceive in your children a boundless potential for spirituality and a resource for world peace.
Today's children will determine the fate of nations sooner than we realize, and teaching children is an immense responsibility that requires careful, spiritual attention, said Elder M. Russell Ballard of the Council of the Twelve.
"These precious souls come to us in purity and innocence. As parents, we assume an immense responsibility for their care and well-being," he said. Parents share this responsibility with many who need to keep a child's potential in mind as they teach.
"Parents and teachers should see beyond the little girl in pigtails and should not be misled by the ragged little boy with a dirty face and holes in the knees of his pants. True teachers and leaders see children as they may become."
Elder Ballard recalled turning on the lights at a Christmas lighting celebration last year at the church's Washington, D.C., visitors center, where a group of schoolchildren from the Soviet Union performed.
He invited the Soviet children to sit with American church youth. "I said to the audience that perhaps the world's troubles could be solved if we could turn over the leadership of nations to the children for a few days. Through love they would find solutions to the misunderstandings, mistrust and misconduct of adults in the world. I had the clear impression that night that if all men and women could love Jesus Christ as these lovely children do, many world problems could be solved. Sooner, perhaps, than we realize, the fate of nations will be in the hands of today's children."
"Is it any wonder that Jesus brought the little children unto himself to teach and bless them? He said, `Whosoever shall receive one of such children in my name, receiveth me.' "
Love must abide in the home to teach the gospel of Jesus Christ and protect children from the influences of a wicked world. Parents must not allow the school, community, television or even church organizations to establish children's values, Elder Ballard said, because that responsibility has been given by the Lord to mothers and fathers.
On the negative side, some parents or guardians hinder a child through abuse or neglect, which is "a serious offense to God."
"We plead with you to take time for your children and your grandchildren while they are young. Special moments may come only once. Before we are aware, they have grown older and our best opportunity for teaching them how to live happy and fulfilling lives is past," Elder Ballard said.
Elder Dunn: We all have capacity for greatness in loving God deeply. As his children, we are bound together.
Mutual respect, charity and forgiveness are essential aspects of our interactions with one another, said Elder Loren C. Dunn of the Quorums of the Seventy.
"People will always have opposing views, and I suppose there will always be conflict and even misunderstanding; but the principle of mutual respect mixed with charity and forgiveness can lay the foundation for the resolving of differences and the solving of problems," Elder Dunn said.
"Was it not the Savior, speaking of the first and great commandment, who said that we are to love the Lord our God with all our heart, might, mind and strength and that the second is like unto it, that we are to love our neighbors as ourselves? The quality of mutual respect is a great quality. It can be found in the hearts of great people, and in that sense, we all should be great people. It does not have to compromise truth or principle, but it can create brotherhood and sisterhood and the resolution of many problems."
These attributes can be seen in the lives of most Christians, he said. "It takes into consideration the realization that God stands at the helm and we are all his children." This realization gives all people a certain obligation to each other.
Joseph Smith, who restored the church and was its first leader, never backed away from an opportunity to proclaim the truth of the gospel. "Nevertheless, he also said, `I never feel to force my doctrine upon any person; I rejoice to see prejudice give way to truth, and the traditions of men dispersed by the pure principles of the gospel of Jesus Christ.' "
Elder Wells: When individual goodness and love prevail, larger peace will come within our grasp.
Angels proclaimed peace on Earth and good will toward men when Christ was born, yet the world has seen much unrest in the 2,000 years since then, said Elder Robert E. Wells of the Quorums of the Seventy.
That is because the peace offered by the Savior, he said, has many forms that are not physical.
"In the meridian of time, many expected Christ to take a political stand against Roman rule and offer peace to the oppressed people. Christ did indeed offer peace, but it was not external or political; rather, the peace Christ taught was internal and personal."
During the Vietnam War, church President Harold B. Lee was asked the church's position on the war. President Lee responded by saying church members, together with the whole Christian world, abhor war. He cited several of the Savior's teachings as recorded in the New Testament that explained the Savior's peace is "not as the world giveth" and that in the world "ye shall have tribulation."
President Lee explained that the Savior was not talking about the peace that can be achieved between nations by military force or negotiation, Elder Wells said. "He was speaking of the peace we can each have in our own lives when we live the commandments and come unto Christ with broken hearts and contrite spirits."
Personal peace, Elder Wells said, comes from finding the ways to apply the eternal principles and attributes exemplified in Christ to the complex trials and tribulations of our lives. "Peace comes to us as we sow forgiveness and pardon, faith and hope, light and joy. We need to live these principles ourselves and in turn try to help others find the same spiritual, Christ-centered path."
Sister Hales: Path to righteousness is quiet: Prayer, study, service confer grace. `Getting ahead' does not.
Establishing patterns of righteousness in our lives brings a commitment to do all in our power to help others reproduce this pattern in their lives, said Sister Janette C. Hales, second counselor in the Young Women general presidency.
Pride deceives one into thinking righteousness requires climbing an imaginary vertical ladder that involves trying to get above or ahead of others, she said. But the Book of Mormon teaches that preachers and teachers are no better than the hearers and learners. The Lord has established patterns in all things so people will not be deceived.
Sister Hales focused her remarks on three patterns of righteousness: prayer, scripture study and service to others.
The habit of daily prayer can be reproduced in the lives of others by teaching and good example. "Hopefully, if the pattern of prayer is established in our homes, individual family members will help reproduce that pattern for others."
Scripture study helps increase the understanding of the pattern of righteousness. "As we live the words of God, we are told, `He will give unto the faithful line upon line, precept upon precept,' " she said, quoting a Doctrine and Covenants passage.
Giving loving service is taught in the scriptures and church leaders testify of its importance, Sister Hales said. "I suppose doing something for someone which they cannot do for themselves brings you close to God because that's what he and his Son are doing all the time out of pure love for us."