General Priesthood meeting is a time of rich traditions for the brethren of the Church.  Fathers and sons, brothers, friends usually have some place to go for a meal or a treat before or after the session (at least in North America).  Ice cream is common in some form.  Elder Robert C. Oaks of the Presidency of the Seventy gave some perspective, “Today in the Church there are about 3 million priesthood holders, split evenly between the Aaronic and the Melchizedek Priesthoods.”  What a mighty gathering of the army of the Lord.  The following are brief excerpts from each of the six talks given in the Saturday evening session.

Our Most Distinguishing Feature

Elder Jeffrey R. Holland
Of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles

Nearly 70 years ago President David O. McKay, then serving as a counselor in the First Presidency of the Church, asked this question to a congregation gathered for general conference:  “If at this moment each one [of you] were asked to state in one sentence…the most distinguishing feature of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, what would be your answer? … My answer,” he replied, “would be…divine authority by direct revelation.”  That divine authority is, of course, the holy priesthood.

…In this commemorative year in which we are celebrating the 200th anniversary of the birth of the Prophet Joseph Smith and the 175th year since the organization of the Church, I wish to add my testimony of—and express my eternal gratitude for—the restoration of the holy priesthood, this hallowed consequence, this sovereign gift, and the role it plays in our lives on both sides of the veil.

…Clearly acting with divine authority requires more than mere social contract.  It cannot be generated by theological training or a commission from the congregation.  No, in the authorized work of God there has to be power greater than that already possessed by the people in the pews, or in the streets, or in the seminaries—a fact that many honest religious seekers had known and openly acknowledged for generations leading up to the Restoration.

…Breaking ecclesiastically with his more famous brother John over the latter’s decision to ordain without authority to do so, Charles [Wesley] wrote with a smile:

“How easily are bishops made

By man or woman’s whim:

Wesley his hands on Coke hath laid,

But who laid hands on him?”

To have received the authority and to have exercised the power of the Holy Priesthood, after the Order of the Son of God, is as great a blessing for me and for my family as I could ever hope for in this world.  And that, in the end, is the meaning of the priesthood in everyday terms—its unequaled, unending, constant capacity to bless.

Beware of the Evil Behind the Smiling Eyes

Elder Neil L. Andersen
Of the First Quorum of the Seventy

I’d like to tell you of an experience of a faithful Latter-day Saint who is a good friend of mine.  I’ll refer to him only as “my friend” for reasons you will understand.

Working as a special agent for the FBI, my friend investigated organized crime groups transporting illegal drugs into the United States.

On one occasion, he and another agent approached an apartment where they believed a known drug dealer was distributing cocaine.  My friend describes what happened:

“We knocked on the door of the drug dealer.  The suspect opened the door, and upon seeing us, tried to block our view.  But it was too late; we could see the cocaine on his table.

“A man and a woman who were at the table immediately began removing the cocaine.  We had to prevent them from destroying the evidence, so I quickly pushed the drug suspect who was blocking the door to the side.  As I pushed him, my eyes met his.  Strangely, he did not appear angry or afraid.  He was smiling at me.

“His eyes and disarming smile gave me the impression that he was harmless and so I quickly left him and started to move toward the table.  The suspect was now behind me.  At that instant, I had the distinct, powerful impression come into my mind:  ‘Beware of the evil behind the smiling eyes.’

“I immediately turned back toward the suspect.  His hand was in his large front pocket.  Instinctively I grabbed his hand and pulled it from his pocket.  Only then did I see, clutched in his hand, the semi-automatic pistol ready to fire. A flurry of activity followed and I disarmed the man.”

Later, in another case, the drug dealer was convicted of murder and he boasted that he would have also killed my friend had he not turned around at that very moment.

I have often thought of the communication that came into his mind:  “Beware of the evil behind the smiling eyes.”

…the choice of good over evil is not always easy, because evil frequently lurks behind smiling eyes.  Listen to these warnings:  “Take heed…that he do not judge that which is evil to be of God.”  “Ye must watch and pray always lest ye enter into temptation; for Satan desireth to have you.”  “Satan hath sought to deceive you, that he might overthrow you.”

The message is:  “Beware of the evil behind the smiling eyes!”

Who’s on the Lord’s Side, Who?

Elder Robert C. Oaks
Of the Presidency of the Seventy

In this, the dispensation of the fulness of time, as we prepare for the final satanic battles in anticipation of the return of Christ to the earth, it is very important to know who is on the Lord’s side.  The Lord needs to know on whom he can rely.

…What a great act of trust it is on the part of our Father in Heaven to share with us a part of His power, that we might assist Him in His grand work, as it rolls forth to fill the earth.

…When armies are formed, battles are generally fought on vast battlefields.  But this battle for souls is quite different.  The conflict goes on each day in individual lives, and pits the Lord’s troops against Satan’s forces of greed, selfishness and lust.

…We have an 11-year-old grandson, Andrew, who is confined to a wheelchair, maybe for the rest of his life.  He will be ordained a deacon in the fall and will join the priesthood army of the Lord.  His physical handicap will not limit him in this war because the weapons of choice are not spears and swords wielded on a chaotic field of battle.

Rather, the weapons of eternal worth reflecting the whole armor of God are truth, righteousness, faith, prayer and the word of God.  These weapons are wielded in our minds, mouths and movements.  Every righteous thought, word and deed is a blow for the Lord.

That is why Andrew has no handicap in this battle.  His parents have taught him well.  He stands ready to join the ranks of the priesthood brethren.

The stakes are extremely high.  The prizes are the very souls of the sons and daughters of God, their eternal salvation.  And these souls will be won or lost on the basis of virtue and cleanliness, on the basis of charity and service, and on the basis of faith and hope.

Perseverance

President James E. Faust
2nd Counselor in the First Presidency

When I was your age [Aaronic Priesthood] I used to wonder, “What will be my place in this world, and how will I find it?”  At that time about my only firm goal was to serve a mission.


  When my mission call came, I served, and my mission became like the North Star to guide me into the other pursuits of my life.  One of the important things I learned was that if I faithfully persevered in my Church callings, the Lord would open up the way and guide me to other opportunities and blessings, even beyond my dreams.

Serving a mission can do this for all of you young men.  A young man recently shared with me how much he had learned from his perseverance as a missionary.  I draw from his experience some of the things you can learn that would bring opportunities and blessings to you:

  1. How to organize and use time wisely.
  2. The importance of hard work—that you reap what you sow.
  3. Leadership skills.
  4. People skills.
  5. The value of gospel study.
  6. Respect for authority.
  7. The importance of prayer.
  8. Humility and dependence on the Lord.

…One of the great accomplishments of President Hinckley’s administration has been his extraordinary perseverance in building temples.  Since he became the President of the Church, 87 temples have been dedicated.  This remarkable achievement in temple building is unequaled in the entire history of the world…

…Each of us should serve faithfully and diligently in our priesthood callings until the end of our days.  Some might wonder, “How long do I have to be a home teacher?”  My answer is that home teaching is a priesthood calling.  To serve in the calling of a home teacher is a privilege as long as our bishop and priesthood leaders feel we are able to do so…

…President Joseph Fielding Smith, at age 94, said, “I have sought all my days to magnify my calling in that priesthood and hope to endure to the end in this life and to enjoy the fellowship of the faithful saints in the life to come.”

The Sacred Call of Service

President Thomas S. Monson
1st Counselor in the First Presidency

The oath and covenant of the priesthood pertains to all of us.  To those who hold the Melchizedek Priesthood, it is a declaration of our requirement to be faithful and obedient to the laws of God and to magnify the callings which come to us.  To those who hold the Aaronic Priesthood, it is a pronouncement concerning future duty and responsibility, that they may prepare themselves here and now.

…What does it mean to magnify a calling?  It means to build it up in dignity and importance, to make it honorable and commendable in the eyes of all men, to enlarge and strengthen it, to let the light of heaven shine through it to the view of other men.

And how does one magnify a calling?  Simply by performing the service that pertains to it.  And elder magnifies the ordained calling of an elder by learning what his duties as an elder are and then by doing them.  As with an elder, so with a deacon, a teacher, a priest, a bishop, and each who holds office in the priesthood.

…President Harold B. Lee, one of the great teachers in the Church, gave us this easy-to-understand counsel regarding the priesthood:  “You see, when one becomes a holder of the priesthood, he becomes an agent of the Lord.  He should think of his calling as though he were on the Lord’s errand.”

Now, some of you may be shy by nature or consider yourselves inadequate to respond affirmatively to a calling.  Remember that this work is not yours and mine along.  It is the Lord’s work, and when we are on the Lord’s errand, we are entitled to the Lord’s help.  Remember that the Lord will shape the back to bear the burden placed upon it.

…To all who willingly respond to the sacred call of service comes the promise, “I, the Lord, am merciful and gracious unto those who fear me, and delight to honor those who serve me in righteousness and in truth unto the end.

“Great shall be their reward and eternal shall be their glory.”

Gambling

President Gordon B. Hinckley,
President of the Church

I respond to a number of requests that I say something concerning the position of the Church on a practice that is becoming more common among us, and particularly among our youth.  That is the matter of gambling in various forms.

The story is told that one Sunday Calvin Coolidge, one time President of the United States and a man noted for few words, returned from Church.  His wife asked him what the preacher spoke about.  He replied, “Sin.”  “What did he say?” she asked.  “He was against it,” was his terse reply.

I think I could answer the question concerning gambling in its various forms just that briefly.  We are against it.

Gambling is to found almost everywhere.  People play poker.  They bet on horse races and dog races.  They play roulette and work the slot machines.  They gather to play in bars, saloons, and casinos, and, all too often, in their own homes.  Many cannot leave it alone.  It is addictive, as much so as illegal drugs.  In so many cases it leads to other destructive habits and practices.

…I am told that Utah and Hawaii are now the only two states in the United States that have not legalized lotteries and gambling of various forms.  From the letters I received from members of the Church, it becomes apparent that some of our young people start by playing poker.  They get the taste of getting something for nothing, and then travel outside of the state to where they can gamble legally.

…From the early days of this Church gambling has been denounced.

…The pursuit of a game of chance may seem like harmless fun.  But there attaches to it an intensity that actually shows on the faces of those who are playing.  And in all too many cases this practice, which appears innocent, can lead to an actual addiction.  The Church has been and is now opposed to this practice.  If you have never been involved in poker games or other forms of gambling, don’t start.  If you are involved then quit now while you can do so.

…As members of this Church, and as holders of the priesthood, you have so great a responsibility.  Please do not fritter away your time or your talents in an aimless pursuit.  If you do so, it will lessen your capacity to do worthwhile things.  I believe it will dull your sensitivity to your studies in school.  It will disappoint your parents, and as the years pass and you look back, you will be disappointed with yourselves.

The priesthood which you hold as young men carries with it the privilege of the ministering of angels.  That companionship is incompatible with indulgence in games of chance.