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March 18, 2008
Brothers and sisters, I hope that you believe those hymns that were rendered. I am a child of God—I hope you believe that.
My children—that concerned the first hymn there—they did not believe that in their early years. I could tell that because they changed the words. “I am a child of God, and He has sent me here, has given me an earthly home with parents kind of weird. Lead me, guide me, walk beside me.” That’s a plea to Heavenly Father, not to me as a parent.
I would hope that you would believe these great hymns. You are children of God, the most powerful Man in all the universe. You are His child. And He doesn’t need to—as I would with my children—He doesn’t need to give a litany of names trying to find which one you’re talking to. I’ve even been known to include the dog’s and cat’s names. And I name my vehicles, and so my children really don’t know how many we have.
If you really believe that—those hymns—then you will be able to maybe render some feelings that I have concerning this day and some things about you. May I just say this in maybe a little story that all of you I’m sure have been familiar with. We’ll start the story off with “Once upon a time.”
There was a stake center that had just recently been built. Directly above the organ of that beautiful building was a nail in the ceiling. Day after day, that nail looked down on the organ and wished, “Oh, if I could be that organ! The organ does so many things. If I could sing the way you do.” And we say those things. This nail kept saying, “Oh, if I could just do that, then I would be doing something important.
The nail would look at the other parts of the chapel. “Oh, if I could be the altar. If I could hold the bread and the water, the emblems of that Easter day. If I could do that!” And as the nail continued to think this way, he shrunk in importance in himself. One day a great storm came. Therein caused the tragedy. The little bit of space in the shrinkage of this nail, the rain got to the organ and destroyed the organ.
Brothers and sisters, my great desire and hope for you is that you will realize and know that no matter where Heavenly Father has placed us, where in the stake center of life, there is an eternal reason for that. As Lehi said, he prayed that we would be a worthy instrument—wherever we are placed. (See 2 Nephi 1:24) May I compliment you on being placed here? A great trust has been placed upon you. Where much is given, much will be required. So may I just give you a few little thoughts on fine-tuning? As Brother Mumford said, I know many of you. I know who you are, both from association and through the gospel doctrines. So I don’t want to say to change anything, just maybe thought of fine-tuning.
Many years ago, I accompanied one of my daughters to see an orthodontist. We were escorted into a room, and there was that chair, and, you know, the bright lights and all those gadgets. And in this particular office there was another chair just like it. And seated there was a young man about the same age as my daughter. His sister was with him to give him encouragement and hope, and when the orthodontist walked in he went first to this young man. And he sat down—in your mind’s eye, can you see him sitting on his little chair, this orthodontist?—and as he was talking and greeting, he said, “Please open your mouth,” and “Open wide.” You know the route that he was taking. And then he leaned over and looked into the mouth of this young man. And all of a sudden, what drew my attention, especially as the orthodontist just kind of revolted back, reeled back and looking at the sister and the young man, he just simply said to the sister, “If I gave your brother some warm water in which to rinse out his mouth, we could have some soup. Please, take your brother home. Clean, brush, bring him back. Then I can make some adjustments.”
I have learned, brothers and sisters, from that. As I’ve looked back over my experiences, as I have learned—if I am clean, adjustments can be made.
If I may give you an example. One evening, in interviewing a sweet sister for her temple recommend renewal, the question came up towards the end, “Is there anything in your conduct,”—sorry, that’s not the right question—“Is there anything you have done in your life that would keep you from having an experience in the temple?” And she thought for a moment, and you could tell with her pondering she was serious with that question. And then she looked me in the eye and said, “President, I believe I’m okay. Thank you.”
So then I asked the next question. And then, we signed her recommend. As she left the room, I was very comfortable. I knew this sister, and I was comfortable with it. That was my last interview, so then as we were—I was kind of putting some stuff away, and a knock came on the door. I thought, “Who could this be?”
I went to the door, and it was this sister, and she had kind of a different expression. I said, “Please come in. How can I be of assistance?”
She said, “President, as I was unlocking my car, a thought came to my mind. I remembered something of my teenage years.” Now, this was a great-great-grandma. And she said, “I had never thought of this until now. May we talk?”
We did. And as she left, she left with her recommend still intact, but having had an opportunity of expressing a few feelings to her president. I know that when she went to the temple the next time, some tremendous things were taught her, because the Holy Ghost brought things to her memory. Not serious things. She had already taken care of those, I’m sure. She was worthy, but there was a slight adjustment in her braces that Heavenly Father wanted to have made. I have learned, brothers and sisters, adjustments can be made when we come properly. Will you please always have a current recommend? Always, even if you’re not able to physically go. Always have a recommend.
The second kind of learning I’d like to share with you is shown in a story from President Marion G. Romney. He was worried about his wife’s hearing. He was afraid she was losing her ability to hear. He went to his physician and asked him what he could do, and what might happen. And the doctor gave advice. He first of all asked him the question, “How bad is it?”
“Well, I don’t know.”
“Here’s what I’d like to ask you to do,” he said. “Go home, speak a certain distance from her, and then if there’s no answer, move up and so on, until you know how bad it is.” So President Romney went home as instructed, went to the bedroom—his wife was in the kitchen—and there he called her name. And there was no answer, so he dutifully moved forward. Called again, no answer. And this went on a few times, until finally he was standing in the kitchen doorway.
“Ida,” he called her, “Can you hear me?”
She turned from the sink, or from wherever she was, and said, “Marion, what is it? I’ve answered you three times.”
If I may, because Brother Mumford says I’m supposed to do this, take a weird approach to this. I have learned something, brethren and sisters, about judging priesthood leaders that we assume cannot hear as good as we can hear. I would hope that you would never assume you can hear better or differently than your bishops. They are called of God. They are His representatives.
May I just give another little story. Years ago—some of you will remember this, those of you up here; you will not—there used to be a thing called “Budget” in the Church. Bishops were responsible for the maintenance of the building, the utilities, payment of custodial salaries, whatever—that came from the local membership, the ward. So bishops would develop a budget. Then he would review his membership list, trying to figure and ask the Lord, would there be an assessment, and how much. Two elderly sisters, widows, were called in at the appropriate time for their turn to be with the bishop to find out what their assessment would be for the ward budget.
The first sister—and they were good friends—the first widow went in to the bishop. This was not that long ago, brothers and sisters, but they went in and the bishop was kind of nervous, speaking to these sisters. He said to the one in the room, giving her assignment or assessment, “Do you think you can do this?”
She went ashen—and then said, “Bishop, are you sure?”
Then he, being a new bishop, said, “Yes.”
She said, “Then I will. I can.”
And she left the room, for the next person, her friend’s, turn. This next widow came in and lo and behold, same conversation. The assessment was given. “Can you do this?”
“Yes, I can, Bishop. That’s fine.” And she left the room, not questioning the bishop at all.
The next week the first widow came back to her bishop, caught him after the meetings and said, “Bishop, we need to talk.”
“Okay, let’s do it right now. I have time. Can you?”
When they were in the office, she says, “Bishop, my friend did not understand what you asked us last week. She thought you meant this was an annual assessment for the budget. You mean it’s every month, don’t you?”
Tears flowed as a bishop realized this sweet sister had not heard clearly what was intended. She worried about what her bishop had done to her, but she went willingly, “Yes, Bishop, I can pay this every month.” The “Widow’s Mite” is not just a New Testament story. Brothers and sisters, the sister was corrected; she walked out of the room having received a multitude of blessings from a loving Heavenly Father for what she placed on the altar.
I hope that you will always honor your bishops. I hope that you will always follow their counsel.
President Monson, in the last conference, spoke to the priesthood, especially the Aaronic priesthood. There was one phrase that caught my eye, and that is he asked those young men—and all of us—to have vision, to especially have vision in our small decisions.
May I be a spiritual optometrist for just a minute? And will you be optometrists with me? Vision number one: The Jews, said Jacob, were a stiff-necked people. Thus they became blind to the things of the spirit, and began to look beyond the mark. (See Jacob 4:14)
You know the results of that lack of vision. When we look beyond the mark today, I believe we just call it simply far-sightedness. As I drive down the road, I cannot see that which is in front of me, but I see long things off. And that is a problem for those back then. If you know things about the Jews, you know they were too busy looking beyond the mark by staring in search of a political liberator, and they missed the Messiah.
People who look beyond the mark are not without sight. They can see, but they just see what they want to look for, or to look at. This might be compared to us today in a little simple way of saying, as you’re driving down the roads here in Salt Lake, you’re looking down two intersections ahead of you—at that intersection—and not realizing that a truck is entering the intersection that you’re entering. That would be a disastrous situation for us all, wouldn’t it? We ought to pay attention, not only down there, but also see those things that are around us.
Another example would be—a little bit more pertinent to what I’ve observed—someone waiting for a major assignment from the Lord, and missing some smaller assignments, what’s considered smaller. Someone waiting to be of great service to the Lord, and missing daily opportunities to see the Savior as one an hungered, or as a stranger, or as one imprisoned. I am just very pleased with what I see here at this campus. I have seen many doors being opened for another. I have seen many times when someone drops something and another picks it up. I compliment you for seeing those small moments and not missing, or not assuming that consecration is a once-in-a-lifetime event. You know it’s a daily devotion. Thank you for not always being blinded by seeing afar off.
The Apostle Peter referred to another malady in our vision. He said in 2 Peter, that “According as his divine power hath given unto us all things that pertain unto life and godliness…that by these [things] ye might be partakers of the divine nature….He that lacketh these things is blind, and cannot see afar off.” (vv. 3-4, 9) Notice how these people are different than the Jews. These do not see the big picture. This would be someone that is in the midst of their earthly trials and cannot see a purpose for those trials. This would be someone who would make a decision without considering Heavenly Father’s plan. These are people that know not the plan. We should not judge them harshly, for they’re making decisions on the light they have, but unfortunately, they would err in their decision, not seeing afar off.
If we, in the midst of our trials, would maybe cry out to Heavenly Father asking the question, “Why hast thou forsaken me?”—not in the way the Savior did, but in accusation—I would maybe want to suggest that that kind of vision would assume that Heavenly Father is no longer on our side.
President Abraham Lincoln is one of my heroes. When he was approached during a critical crisis that he was facing, some clergymen came into his office and had conversation with him. Pay attention to the conversation:
“Mister President. Do you think that the Lord is on our side?”
President Lincoln replied to this effect: “That is not a matter that concerns me so much. The thing that concerns me most of all is, are we on the Lord’s side?” It’s not a concern if He’s on mine; my concern is, am I on His? Who’s on the Lord’s side? Each day, our righteous living can demonstrate a faith in Jesus Christ that sees beyond mortal heartaches, disappointments and unfulfilled promises.
I have had many, many students. As Brother Mumford said, I have tried to do this for over thirty years. May I choose one student that would reflect many many, including you. His name is Luther Perkins, Holbrook, Arizona. Inactive in the kingdom. Enrolled in seminary because his friends are. Member of the Church, family totally inactive. Luther hardly ever came to seminary on time. He would stand out in the hall and goof off. At the appropriate time, meaning after the thought and prayer and song was over, he would come into class. Our class president asked me one day, “Do you care if I bring treats to class?”
I said, “That’s not part of the requirement.”
She said, “But I’d like to.” I was happy. She was a good cook. So she announced to the class that the next day there would be treats. She didn’t warn. Maybe she should have. I don’t know. When the bell rang, she closed the door, and only those in the room got the treats.
Can we learn a principle there? Luther didn’t get a treat. The next day he did. And the next day and the next day, and from then on, until he needed no longer the treats.
He was in line for lots of money from colleges to play football. The Pac-10 was after him; many major colleges from back east—they wanted Luther Perkins. After his senior year of football, which was very successful, he was also a varsity basketball player. He decided to go out for wrestling to strengthen some other areas that would help him in his football career. During a particular match, he blew out both knees. He found himself laying in the hospital, looking to heaven, blaming Heavenly Father. “Why did you do this to me?”
As Luther and I were visiting later, he said that a voice came to him as clearly as any he’d ever heard: “If I had not done this, you would not listen.” Luther listened. He felt there was an unfulfilled promise. He felt disappointed, in those beginning days. Then he came to seminary much more seriously. As we talked, I could see him growing.
I’m going to skip now to another part of the story—that of his father. His father at this time in the story, was sitting in the stake president’s office to receive a call as a church high councilor. Now do you understand the middle part? Luther had come home from the hospital, getting his braces clean, made some adjustments. One day, his father said that he came home—his father was in the living room smoking—and his son said to him, Luther said, “Dad, I will not allow you to smoke any more in this room, or in this house.” Role reversal.
Luther’s father found himself out in the alley with a teenager, smoking. And then he said, in his words, “I looked at that cigarette and looked inside the house at my son, and asked, ‘Which do I love the most?’” You know where he went.
Luther called me a few years ago and explained to me he had just been released as a bishop. Thank God for Molly, that did small consecrated acts of service to one that was imprisoned. She saved him. She saved the family. Thanks to our Heavenly Father that Luther made the adjustments of unfulfilled promises. He developed the kind of faith that in the scriptures would be called seeing things as they really are.
Moses was one of those, brothers and sisters, that saw things as they really are. When Satan came to him, the scriptures record, “And it came to pass that Moses looked upon Satan and said: Who art thou? For behold, I am a son of God, in the similitude of his Only Begotten;…where is thy glory, that I should worship thee?” (Moses 1:13)
Brothers and sisters, I hope you will continue to develop the vision that sees things as they really are. Trials will come. You agreed to that before your birth. This is a test. It’s almost like coming to my class and saying, “Why do we have a test?” You’re in school. It goes with the turf. So when we pray, maybe it ought not to be asking for no tests, but maybe the prayers ought to be to help me in the test to have vision, to see things as they really are.
Joseph Smith said, “I had actually seen a light…in the midst of that light I saw two Personages…they did in reality speak to me;…though I was hated and persecuted for saying that I had seen a vision, yet it was true;… while they were persecuting me, reviling me…speaking all manner of evil against me…for so saying, I was led…in my heart: Why persecute me for telling the truth? I have actually seen a vision…who am I that I can withstand God, or why does the world think to make me deny what I have actually seen? For I had seen a vision; I knew it, and I knew…God knew it.” (Joseph Smith—History 1:25) Joseph saw things as they really are.
During these last days, when all things shall be in commotion, the restored gospel of Jesus Christ provides us many essential things, including the precious perspective of seeing things as they really are.
There really is a living God. There really is a living Church. There really is an empty tomb. He is alive. This is His Church. That’s the way it really is. There are living prophets on the earth today. There are living scriptures. Those are the things that really are, and you really are children of God, and He loves you. He has a place for you in the various parts of His stake center. May you please serve where asked to serve, no matter the circumstances?
As introduced, I know that God will always provide a way for you to receive an education, raise a family, provide for a family and serve in the Church. You can do it. You are the royal generation. You are a peculiar people, and you can do all, for God has provided a way. I know that. In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.
Introduction: Tom Mumford
For many of you, Brother Norton needs no introduction. You’ve been in his classes; you’ve felt his love for the gospel and his testimony of the Savior and the Restoration of the gospel. You’ve been the recipients of his subtle and quirky sense of humor; you’ve enjoyed his warm smile, and you know his genuine motive is to teach the gospel and to give all the credit to the Savior and to the Spirit of the Holy Ghost.
For those thus not acquainted with Brother Norton, in his own words—he was born at an early age in Wellington, Utah. Now, for those who have driven through Wellington and asked yourself, “Could anything good come out of Wellington?” the answer is “Yes, Barry Norton.”
He served a mission in Scotland in 1965-66, where he served as a Primary president and a branch president. He also served as a radio man in the U.S. Navy submarine service, working communications in both the Atlantic and the Pacific oceans. While on leave from the Navy, he met his future wife Linda. They were only together a few hours and he sailed off again. He returned to Hawaii for another docking, where she met him. They were together about two weeks, and he proposed. Now, I wonder why I have him teaching Courtship and Marriage, and I still wonder, but anyway.
They left the Navy for Weber State University where—get this, those of you who are students—Brother Norton took 22 hours per semester, worked full time, served as the Elders quorum president. His wife Linda was a full-time nursing student. They already had one child and were expecting the second. He did graduate. They left Weber State with degrees, heading for BYU where he got his master’s degree in History.
Brother Norton and his wife are the parents of five children. They have nine grandchildren. His church service includes teacher, a branch president, bishop, high councilor, stake president and currently he serves as the high priest group leader in his ward. Brother Norton has been employed by the Church Education System, seminaries and institutes, for more than 30 years. His assignments have taken him to Holbrook, Arizona; Huntington, Castledale and Price, Utah; Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania; and now for the past two years, here at the LDS Business College.
I personally am grateful that before my retirement, I have had the privilege and opportunity of working and associating with this very wonderful man. Now, part of the reason he looks so young is he’s retiring early, and I am looking forward—and I hope you are—to listening and being taught by Brother Norton.