Elder Gary E. Stevenson was the Presiding Bishop when he was called to the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles in October 2015. He grew up in Cache Valley, Utah but has spent many years in Asia serving in the church. He is married with four sons.
Look to the Book, Look to the Lord
In architectural terms a keystone is a main element in an arched gateway. It is the wedge-shaped stone in the very center and at the highest point of an arch. It is the most important of the stones because it keeps the sides of the arch in place, preventing collapse. And it is the structural element that ensures the gate, or opening below, is passable.
President Ezra Taft Benson expanded on those teachings of Joseph Smith. He said: “There are three ways in which the Book of Mormon is the keystone of our religion. It is the keystone in our witness of Christ. It is the keystone of our doctrine. It is the keystone of testimony.”
President Benson further taught: “The Book of Mormon teaches us truth [and] bears testimony of Christ. … But there is something more. There is a power in the book which will begin to flow into your lives the moment you begin a serious study of the book. You will find greater power to resist temptation. … You will find the power to stay on the strait and narrow path.”
In order to help the Book of Mormon become the keystone of your testimony, I offer you a challenge. I recently learned that many young people spend an average of seven hours a day looking at TV, computer, and smartphone screens. With this in mind, would you make a small change? Will you replace some of that daily screen time—particularly that devoted to social media, the internet, gaming, or television—with reading the Book of Mormon? If the studies I referred to are accurate, you could easily find time for daily study of the Book of Mormon even if for only 10 minutes a day. And you can study in a way that allows you to enjoy it and understand it—either on your device or in book form. President Russell M. Nelson recently cautioned, “We should never make reading the Book of Mormon seem like an onerous duty, like the gulping of nasty medicine to be swallowed quickly and then checked off with finality.”
You will pore through the passages of this precious book and encounter your beloved Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, on nearly every page. It is estimated that some form of His name is used an average of once every 1.7 verses.
Within the book’s pages, you will discover the infinite love and incomprehensible grace of God. As you strive to follow the teachings you find there, your joy will expand, your understanding will increase, and the answers you seek to the many challenges mortality presents will be opened to you. As you look to the book, you look to the Lord. The Book of Mormon is the revealed word of God. Of this I testify, with all my heart and soul, in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.
Where Are The Keys and Authority of the Priesthood?
The performance of every ordinance of salvation comprising our covenant pathway back to the presence of our Father in Heaven requires appropriate governance through priesthood keys.
First, an understanding of these terms may be helpful. The priesthood, or priesthood authority, has been defined as “the power and authority of God” and “the consummate power on this earth.” Priesthood keys are defined for our understanding as well: “Priesthood keys are the authority God has given to priesthood leaders to direct, control, and govern the use of His priesthood on earth.” Priesthood keys control the exercise of priesthood authority. Ordinances that create a record in the Church require keys and cannot be done without authorization. Elder Dallin H. Oaks taught that “ultimately, all keys of the priesthood are held by the Lord Jesus Christ, whose priesthood it is. He is the one who determines what keys are delegated to mortals and how those keys will be used.”
Through this restoration, each of you has access to the great blessings promised to Abraham. These blessings can be yours if you remain faithful and live worthy. In the pamphlet For the Strength of Youth, you are given some very practical instruction about how to “go forward with faith.” I summarize some of that counsel: “To help you become all that the Lord wants you to become, kneel each morning and night in prayer to your Father in Heaven. … Study the scriptures each day and apply what you read to your life. … Strive each day to be obedient. … In all circumstances, follow the teachings of the prophets. … Be humble and willing to listen to the Holy Ghost.”
This counsel is followed by a promise leading to promises that come through the blessings of Abraham: “As you do these things, the Lord will make much more out of your life than you can by yourself. He will increase your opportunities, expand your vision, and strengthen you. He will give you the help you need to meet your trials and challenges. You will gain a stronger testimony and find true joy as you come to know your Father in Heaven and His Son, Jesus Christ, and feel Their love for you.”
Plain And Precious Truths: Heavenly Father’s generous compensation for living in perilous times is that we also live in the fulness of times.
These words are preceded by the Lord’s declaration which demonstrates the love of a Father for His children: “Wherefore, I the Lord, knowing the calamity which should come upon the inhabitants of the earth, called upon my servant Joseph Smith, Jun., and spake unto him from heaven, and gave him commandments.”
Our loving Heavenly Father and His Son, Jehovah, with a knowledge of the end from the beginning, opened the heavens and a new dispensation to offset the calamities that They knew would come. The Apostle Paul described the forthcoming calamities as “perilous times.” For me, this suggests that Heavenly Father’s generous compensation for living in perilous times is that we also live in the fulness of times.
Now, consider how your pathway to eternal life is similar to these athletes’ “four-minute performance.” You are an eternal being. Before you were born, you existed as a spirit. In the presence of a loving Heavenly Father, you trained and prepared to come to earth for a brief moment and, well, perform. This life is your four minutes. While you are here, your actions will determine whether you win the prize of eternal life. The prophet Amulek described, “This life is the time … to prepare to meet God; yea, behold the day of this life is the day … to perform [your] labors.”
In a sense, your four minutes have already begun. The clock is ticking.
so it is in our lives, where certain things are absolutely essential—checkpoints which move us through our spiritual performance on earth. These spiritual markers are the essential God-given ordinances of the gospel: baptism, receiving the gift of the Holy Ghost, priesthood ordinations, temple ordinances, and partaking of the sacrament each week.
Do you sense the urgency?
My young friends, wherever you are in your “four-minute performance,” I urge you to ponder, “What do I need to do next to ensure my medal?” Perhaps during this conference, the Spirit has whispered to you what that may be: to prepare more thoughtfully for an ordinance in your future or to receive an ordinance that you should have received a long time ago. Whatever it may be, do it now. Don’t wait. Your four minutes will pass quickly, and you’ll have eternity to think about what you did in this life.
Recently, Elder David A. Bednar described a simple way to conduct a family assessment to mark progress on the covenant path by essential ordinances. All that is needed is a piece of paper with two columns: “name” and “plan for next or needful ordinance.” I did this recently, listing each family member. Among them, I noted an infant grandson, soon to be blessed; a six-year-old grandson, whose preparation for baptism was essential; and a son turning 18, whose preparation for the priesthood and temple endowment was imminent. Everyone on the list needed the sacrament ordinance. This simple exercise assisted Lesa and me in fulfilling our role to help each member of our family along the covenant path, with an action plan for each of them. Perhaps this is an idea for you which will lead to family discussions, family home evening lessons, preparation, and even invitations for essential ordinances in your family.
Dear friends, you are in the midst of an exhilarating journey. In some ways, you are racing down the half-pipe or sled track, and it can be challenging to perform each element or navigate each turn along the way. But remember, you’ve prepared for this for millennia. This is your moment to perform. This is your four minutes! The time is now!
I express my utmost confidence in your abilities. You have the Savior of the world on your side. If you seek His help and follow His directions, how can you fail?
Be Valiant in Courage, Strength, and Activity
Young men, there will be times when you, like John, will have to demonstrate your righteous courage in plain view of your peers, the consequence of which may be ridicule and embarrassment. Additionally, in your world, skirmishes with the adversary will also be fought on a silent, solitary battlefield in front of a screen. Technology with its substantial benefits also brings challenges not faced by generations before you. A recent national survey found that today’s teens are tempted at alarming levels each day not only in schools but also in cyberspace. It revealed that teens who were exposed to images of drinking or drug use on social networking sites were three to four times more likely to use alcohol or drugs. Commenting on the survey, a former U.S. cabinet secretary stated: “This year’s survey reveals a new kind of potent peer pressure—digital peer pressure. Digital peer pressure moves beyond a child’s friends and the kids they hang out with. It invades the home and a child’s bedroom via the Internet.” The demonstration of righteous courage will often be as subtle as to click or not to click. Missionaries are taught from Preach My Gospel, “What you choose to think and do when you are alone and you believe no one is watching is a strong measure of your virtue.” Be courageous! Be strong! “Stand ye in holy places, and be not moved.”
Young men, I promise the Lord will empower you. “For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power.” He will reward you for your courage and righteous behavior—with happiness and joy. Such courage will be a byproduct of your faith in Jesus Christ and His Atonement, your prayers, and your obedience to commandments.
Remember, what you do, where you go, and what you see will shape who you become. Who do you want to become?
You are never lost when you can see the temple. The temple will provide direction for you and your family in a world filled with chaos. It is an eternal guidepost which will help you from getting lost in the “mist of darkness.” It is the house of the Lord. It is a place where covenants are made and eternal ordinances are performed.
The First Presidency has invited “adult members to have a current temple recommend and visit the temple more often” where time and circumstance permit and encouraged members “to replace some leisure activities with temple service.”
Under the definition of “Temple” in the Bible Dictionary, we read the following: “It is the most holy of any place of worship on the earth,” followed by this insightful statement: “Only the home can compare with the temple in sacredness.” For me this suggests a sacred relationship between the temple and the home. Not only can we turn the doors of our homes to the temple, or the house of the Lord; we can make our homes a “house of the Lord.”
In order to keep the temple and those who attend it sacred and worthy, the Lord has established standards through His servants, the prophets. We may be well-advised to consider together, in family council, standards for our homes to keep them sacred and to allow them to be a “house of the Lord.” The admonition to “establish … a house of prayer, a house of fasting, a house of faith, a house of learning, a house of glory, a house of order, a house of God” provides divine insight into the type of home the Lord would have us build. Doing such begins the construction of a “spiritual mansion” in which we all may reside regardless of our worldly circumstance—a home filled with treasure that “neither moth nor rust doth corrupt.”
There exists a righteous unity between the temple and the home. Understanding the eternal nature of the temple will draw you to your family; understanding the eternal nature of the family will draw you to the temple. President Howard W. Hunter stated, “In the ordinances of the temple, the foundations of the eternal family are sealed in place.”
Temple. One other word is equal in importance to a Latter-day Saint. Home. Put the words holy temple and home together, and you have described the house of the Lord!”
President Boyd K. Packer stated, “The ultimate purpose of all we teach is to unite parents and children in faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, that they are happy at home, sealed in an eternal marriage, linked to their generations, and assured of exaltation in the presence of our Heavenly Father.”