Rise Up in Strength, Sisters in Zion

What a joy it is to be gathered
in this Conference Center with the girls, young women,
and women of the Church. We are also very aware
that there are thousands of other groups of
sisters gathered throughout the world
watching these proceedings, and I’m grateful for the
opportunity and means that allow us to join
together in unity and purpose this evening. In October 2006, President
Gordon B. Hinckley gave a talk entitled
“Rise Up, O Men of God,” named after a hymn
written in 1911. It was a call to action
for the men of the Church to rise up and
improve themselves. That talk has echoed in
my mind as I have prayed to know what to share with you. Sisters, we live in
“perilous times.” The conditions of our day
should not be a surprise to us. They have been
foretold for millennia as a warning and admonition
so that we can be prepared. The eighth chapter
of Mormon gives a disconcertingly
accurate description of the conditions of our day. In this chapter, Moroni
says he has seen our day, and it includes wars and rumors
of war, great pollutions, murders, robbing, and
people who tell us that there is no right
or wrong in God’s eyes. He describes people who are
filled with pride, caught up in the wearing of
expensive clothing, and who make fun of religion. He is shown people who are so
obsessed with worldly things that they allow “the
needy, and the naked, and the sick and the
afflicted to pass by” without being noticed. Moroni asks a soul-searching
question of us–we who are living in these times. He says, “Why are
ye ashamed to take upon you the name of Christ?” This indictment
accurately describes the increasingly secular
condition of the world. Joseph Smith–Matthew indicates
that in the last days even “the very elect … according to
the covenant” will be deceived. Those of the covenant include
the girls, young women, and sisters of the Church who
have been baptized and made covenants with their
Heavenly Father. Even we are at risk of being
deceived by false teachings. Sisters, I don’t believe
that conditions are going to improve going forward. If current trends
are an indication, we need to be prepared for
the storms that lie ahead. It would be easy to throw
up our hands in despair, but as covenant people,
we need never despair. As Elder Gary E.
Stevenson has said, “Heavenly Father’s
generous compensation for living in perilous
times is that we also live in the fulness of times.” I love the comfort
of that statement. President Russell M.
Nelson told us a year ago: “Attacks against the Church, its
doctrine, and our way of life are going to increase. Because of this,
we need women who have a bedrock understanding
of the doctrine of Christ and who will use that
understanding to teach and help raise a sin-resistant
generation. We need women who can detect
deception in all of its forms. We need women who know how to
access the power that God makes available to covenant keepers
and who express their beliefs with confidence and charity. We need women who
have the courage and vision of our Mother Eve.” This message reassures me
that despite the conditions of our day, we have many reasons
to rejoice and be optimistic. I believe with all of
my heart that we sisters do have the innate
strength and faith that will allow us to meet
the challenges of living in these last days. Sister Sheri Dew has
written, “I believe that the moment we
learn to unleash the full influence of converted,
covenant-keeping women, the kingdom of God
will change overnight.” It will take concerted
effort to be converted and to keep our covenants. To do so, we need to
be girls and women who study the essential
doctrines of the gospel and have an unshakable
testimony of their truthfulness. There are three
areas I believe are foundational to
strong testimonies and that I consider to be
essential to our understanding. First, we need to acknowledge
the centrality of God, our Eternal Father, and
His Son, Jesus Christ, to our faith and salvation. Jesus Christ is our
Savior and Redeemer. We need to study and understand
His Atonement and how to apply it daily–repentance is one
of the greatest blessings each of us has to stay on course. We need to see Jesus Christ
as our primary role model and the example of
who we need to become. We need to continually teach
our families and classes about our Father’s great plan
of salvation, which includes the doctrine of Christ. Second, we need to understand
the need for the restoration of the doctrine, organization,
and keys of authority in these latter days. We need to have a witness that
the Prophet Joseph Smith was divinely chosen and
appointed by the Lord to bring about this restoration,
and recognize that he organized the women of the Church after
the organization that existed in Christ’s Church anciently. And third, we need to study and
understand temple ordinances and covenants. The temple holds a place at
the very center of our most sacred beliefs, and the Lord
asks that we attend, ponder, study, and find personal meaning
and application individually. We will come to understand
that through the ordinances of the temple, the
power of godliness is manifest in our lives
and that because of temple ordinances, we can be
armed with God’s power and His name will be upon
us, His glory round about us, and His angels have
charge over us. I wonder if we are fully
drawing upon the power of those promises. Sisters, even the very
youngest in this audience can rise up in faith and
play a significant role in building the kingdom of God. Children begin gaining their
own testimonies by reading or listening to the
scriptures, praying daily, and partaking of the
sacrament in a meaningful way. All children and young women can
encourage family home evenings and be full participants. You can be the first
ones on your knees as your family gathers
for family prayer. Even if your homes
are less than ideal, your personal examples
of faithful gospel living can influence the lives of
your family and friends. Young women of the Church
need to see themselves as essential participants in
the priesthood-directed work of salvation and not just
as onlookers and supporters. You hold callings
and are set apart by those holding
priesthood keys to function as leaders with power and
authority in this work. As you magnify your callings
in class presidencies and prepare spiritually,
counsel together, reach out to minister
to your class members, and teach one
another the gospel, you are taking your
place in this work, and both you and your
peers will be blessed. All women need to see themselves
as essential participants in the work of the priesthood. Women in this Church are
presidents, counselors, teachers, members of councils,
sisters, and mothers, and the kingdom of God cannot
function unless we rise up and fulfill our
duties with faith. Sometimes we just
need to have a greater vision of what is possible. I recently met a
sister in Mexico who understands what it means to
magnify her calling with faith. Marfissa Maldonado was called
to teach a youth Sunday School class three years ago. She had 7 students attending
when she was called, but she now has 20
who attend regularly. I asked her in
amazement what she had done to bring about
such an increase in numbers. She modestly said,
“Oh, it wasn’t just me. All the class members helped.” Together they saw the names of
the less-actives on the roll and began to go out
together and invite them to come back to church. They have also had a baptism
because of their efforts. Sister Maldonado set
up a social media site just for her class members
called “I Am a Child of God,” and she posts
inspirational thoughts and scriptures
several times a week. She regularly texts her
students with assignments and encouragement. She feels it is
important to communicate in the ways they best relate
to, and it is working. She told me simply,
“I love my students.” I could feel that love as
she told me of their efforts, and her example
reminded me of what one person of faith
and action can accomplish in this work
with the help of the Lord. Our youth are being exposed
to difficult questions on a daily basis,
and many of us have loved ones who are
struggling to find answers. The good news is,
there are answers to the questions being asked. Listen to the recent
messages from our leaders. We are being urged to
study and understand our Heavenly Father’s
plan of happiness. We have been reminded of
the principles in the family proclamation. We are encouraged to teach
and use these resources as the measuring
sticks to keep us on the strait and narrow path. About a year ago I visited
with a mother of young children who decided to take a proactive
approach to inoculating her children against the
many negative influences they were being exposed
to online and at school. She chooses a topic
each week, often one that has generated a lot
of discussion online, and she initiates
meaningful discussions during the week when her
children can ask questions and she can make
sure they’re getting a balanced and fair perspective
on the often-difficult issues. She is making her
home a safe place to raise questions and have
meaningful gospel instruction. I worry that we live in such an
atmosphere of avoiding offense that we sometimes
altogether avoid teaching correct principles. We fail to teach our young women
that preparing to be a mother is of utmost importance
because we don’t want to offend those
who aren’t married, those who can’t have
children, or to be seen as stifling future choices. On the other hand,
we may also fail to emphasize the
importance of education because we don’t want to
send the message that it is more important than marriage. We avoid declaring that
our Heavenly Father defines marriage as being
between a man and a woman because we don’t want
to offend those who experience same-sex attraction. And we may find it
uncomfortable to discuss gender issues or healthy sexuality. Certainly, sisters, we need
to use sensitivity, but let us also use our common sense and
our understanding of the plan of salvation to be bold and
straightforward when it comes to teaching our
children and youth the essential gospel
principles they must understand to navigate
the world in which they live. If we don’t teach our children
and youth true doctrine–and teach it clearly–the world
will teach them Satan’s lies. I love the gospel
of Jesus Christ. I am eternally grateful
for the direction, power, and daily help I receive as
a covenant daughter of God. I testify that the
Lord has blessed us, as women who live in
these perilous times, with all of the power,
gifts, and strength that are needed in
order to prepare the world for the Second Coming
of the Lord Jesus Christ. I pray that we may all see
our true potential to rise up to become the women of faith
and courage our Father in Heaven needs us to be. In the name of
Jesus Christ, amen.

2 Replies to “Rise Up in Strength, Sisters in Zion”

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