Winter 2009

The Future Is Ahead, and We Must Prepare for It

06 Jan. 2009


The Future Is Ahead, and We Must Prepare for It

Good morning.  This is a very intimate setting. Generally when I have spoken to students, they’ve been a bit farther away.  But I find this very, very appealing. Now, typically when I start to talk, I don’t announce the title of my talk. But I want to do it here, because I want to change it. I just heard something that I was really impressed with. The title that I had chosen until three minutes ago was “Prepare Yourself to Be a Leader.” But I loved the quote from President Monson: “The future is ahead; we must prepare for it.” Isn’t that wonderful?  The future is ahead, and we must prepare for it. And I hope that what I have to say here, at least some of the things I have to say, will help you prepare for the future.

I’m highly honored to be here. I have great respect for this College. I’ve known at least one of your past presidents well, —Ken Beesley, I love the man. He was in Mongolia, in fact he was a missionary in Mongolia before Sister Cook and I got there, and he was really a pioneer.

You’re in the process—the objective of this College is to help prepare young people for society. And as you know, as you have been told, I’m the managing director of the Perpetual Education Fund. And in many respects, we’re in the same business. We’re in the business of financing students that are preparing themselves to enter society. I am so delighted to be a member of this Church. I wouldn’t say—I would normally say that I am proud to be a member of this Church, and I am, but I’m not sure that proud is such a good term to use these days. But I am.

As members of the Church, I don’t think we understand how blessed we are. And I think it’s because we don’t think about it that often. And I think in some respects, we live far below our privileges.  That’s a statement from Brigham Young. The first time I heard that, it was Elder Packer telling the general authorities about living below our privileges. And I think a lot of us do live below our privileges. And what does that mean? It means simply that our Father in Heaven is prepared to bless us beyond what we can possibly imagine if we would just keep the commitments that we have made thus far in our lives.

To illustrate how we are blessed as members of the Church, I’d like to tell you two or three stories. The first one involves a man by the name of Benjamin Wu, who is a Taiwanese. I met him in a stake conference in Taipei. I was sent there when I was in the area presidency in Hong Kong, to preside over a stake conference. And after the stake conference, we typically got together with the new members of the stake and we had them bear their testimony, and describe how they became a new member of that stake, a new member of the Church. And Benjamin Wu was in that group. There were about 40 or 50 men and women, meeting, as I recall, in the Relief Society room of the Taipei Central Stake.

Benjamin Wu got up and told us how he had become a new member. He said that when he was a young boy, 13, 14 years of age, he had about six or seven good friends, and they met the missionaries. And the missionaries would play basketball with them. They would play soccer, and one thing and another. And these young boys got to love the missionaries. And the missionaries asked them if they would like to take the lessons, to learn more about the Church. They all took the lessons, all five or six of them. And about three of them joined the Church, but Benjamin Wu decided not to. He wasn’t converted at that point in time.

He said, “Let me tell you about what has happened to me.” He’s about 45 years of age, so this is something like 30 years later, after he first met the missionaries. He said, “I’ve kept in close touch with my friends that joined the Church.” He said, “You know, they’re not rich, but in terms of jobs, they’ve all got pretty good jobs. They’ve been able to provide for their families very well.” He said, “I haven’t. I’ve bounced from one job to another.”

He said, “As far as health is concerned, I’m close enough to them that I pretty much know what their health situation is, and they’ve enjoyed pretty good health.” He said, “I haven’t.” He said, “I’ve had one sickness after another.”

Then he said, “Marriage. They’ve got good families. They’re close to their family. That really appeals to me. I have not had a happy married life.” He said, “I’m divorced, and it’s really pained me.”

He said, “About two months ago, the missionaries knocked on my door. And when I went to the door and I realized it was the Mormon missionaries and they wanted to know if I wanted to hear about the Church.” He said, “Why in the world wouldn’t I? I’ve got a perfect example of before and after, and I want the blessings of being a member of this Church.”

Okay, that’s the first story. Now let me tell you the second. It involves a man by the name of Pon, and he was the church controller when Sister Cook and I were in Mongolia; he’s still the church controller of the Asian Area. And he came up to help us as we organized the new mission; he came up to help us get it organized. We invited him to dinner. After dinner we were sitting around the table talking, and I said, “Brother Pon, tell me how you came to join the Church.”

He said, “Okay, I will.” He said, “I worked in a grocery store and I was a checker. And from time to time, two sisters—two Americans—came in to buy their groceries. And after about a month of bagging their groceries for them, I said to them, ‘What are you doing here?’” And he spoke in Cantonese to them. And they answered him back in perfect Cantonese.

They said, “We’re missionaries for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and we’re here to tell people about our church. Would you like to hear about our church?”

He was very impressed with their Cantonese, and he said, “Yes, I would.” And so they taught him, and they converted him. And he wanted to be baptized. The problem was that he was not yet eighteen years of age, and he had to have his parents’ permission to be baptized. So he went to his dad and said, “I’d like to become a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.”

He dad said, “Is that the Mormon Church?”

Brother Pon said, “Yes.”

His dad said, “Absolutely not. That’s a sect. I don’t want you to have anything to do with that church.”

Well, he was crestfallen, and like smart young men from time to time, he decided to talk to his mother. So, he went to his mother, and he described that he had taken the lessons, and she kind of knew about it. He said, “I want to be a member, but Dad won’t let me.”

She said, “Well, let me talk to your Dad.”

So she did, and his father relented. He said, “You can join on these conditions. I don’t want you to ever talk about the church to your brothers and sisters or to me or your mother.”

And Brother Pon said, “Okay. That’s fine.” So he was baptized and became a member and started to go to MIA. He met another LDS girl and then went to college, they were married. And when he was in Mongolia, his oldest child—I think they had four—was a boy and was about to be given the Aaronic Priesthood. He said an interesting thing happened.

“My dad observed our family. They observed our love and respect for one another. They observed how we treated one another. They observed our desire to improve ourselves, to be good neighbors, to be good citizens. Earlier this year, my dad came to me and said, ‘Pon, would you do something for me?’”

And Pon said, “Well, of course, Dad. Anything.”

He said, “I’ve observed how you live, and how your church has affected your life. Would you please talk to your brothers and sisters about the Church? It would be wonderful if you could convert them.”

Well, now my last story. And Ganhu (addressing a student in the audience), do you know the Tamir that went to high school in Idaho and then went on to BYU, joined the Church? His mother was a wonderful friend. She was the secretary to the minister of education in Mongolia. And let me tell you, we needed her. She opened a lot of doors for us. She was not a member of the Church, but she was a good friend.

Tamir came, as a result of her friendship with the Church; it was arranged for him to go to high school in Boise, Idaho. He graduated from high school, then he went to BYU—Idaho, I think, for a couple of years. He finished up at BYU, and this last spring, he got his MBA from BYU Provo. He went on to a job in Chicago. He’s married, has two children. Now he has three. But he sent Sister Cook and me a note, thanking us for hosting us at dinner. And he said something that really touched me because I feel exactly the same way. And this is what he said:

“When I look back at my life, all the good, all the wholesome things that have happened to me are associated with my membership in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.”

Well, this is a wonderful Church. We are incredibly blessed, and we ought to get on our knees every single day and thank the Lord for our membership in this Church. And we should vow that we will not live below our privileges—that we will live in such a way that the Lord will pour out the blessings that He’s ready to bless us with, if we just keep those commandments.

Now as in these stories about how wonderful the Church is as sort of a foundation, let me talk a little bit about the growth of the Church and the needs for the future. There was an article in U.S. News and World Report in the year 2000, in November of 2000. This article talked about the growth of the Church and how it was, if I remember correctly, it was the fastest-growing religion in America. And they estimated by the year 2080—that’s what, about 70-some-odd years from now—that there would be 265 million members of the Church around the world. I don’t know if those numbers are correct. I don’t know if we’re going to have that many. It blows my mind when I think we might, because I think of the leadership that’s going to be required by the Church—since we rely essentially on lay leadership—the leadership that’s going to be required to administer a church that large.

These leaders need to have commitment. They need to be educated. They need a good job, and to have adequate food on the table, that gives them discretionary time. Now when Sister Cook—and Ganhu will know exactly what we’re talking about here—when we first went to Mongolia, there were 78 members of the Church. Now there are about 8,000, so it’s really grown. But the thing that we noticed is, we would baptize these members and we would say, “Okay. Church is going to be held at 10 o’clock this coming Sunday.” And they would look at us and nod their head, but in many cases they wouldn’t show up.

Why wouldn’t they show up? Well, we got into it, and we found out that they were working six days and week, probably ten hours a day, and they needed Sunday to do the wash, to do their shopping, to do the housework and all the things that we in America and most other non-Third World countries do during the week. To really be a functioning, good member of this Church, you’ve got to have discretionary time. You can’t be spending all your waking hours putting food on the table.

Well, I really believe that that’s one of the reasons that President Hinckley, in 2001, announced the Perpetual Education Fund. In many respects, it’s a leadership program. And what it’s trying to do is to help the young people of the Church to get jobs so that they can be leaders, so they can function, so they can serve the Lord and have enough time to do so. We’ve got 33,000 young men and women in 40 countries in the progress.

Now, why am I telling you all of this? It’s because you need to become qualified to become leaders in the kingdom. Some people say that leaders are born. I don’t believe that for a moment. I think leaders are developed. Think about your own life. I think about mine. I came from a family where my father was an Adult Aaronic; my mother was a very faithful member of the Church. She was a college graduate; my dad hadn’t completed high school. I wasn’t born to leadership, but I look at my life and what I was taught as a Primary student, what I was taught with the Aaronic Priesthood and the Melchizedek Priesthood, and I think I’ve been given some pretty good leadership skills. And it’s not only as measured by the Church, but it’s as measured by the company that I worked for all of my life.

Now, I want to talk about four things that I think are important for you to know and to think about as you think about preparing yourself for leadership in the Church. Now, am I an expert? Heavens, no. I’m not an expert. I’ve had 35 years of experience with a big company. I’ve raised four children, all of whom have advanced degrees and are active in the Church. I’ve observed the struggles of these children in raising their children. I’ve been a mission president. I’ve been a general authority, and now I’m the managing director of PEF. And because of these experiences, I think I am just at least a teeny bit qualified to stand here and tell you what I think are some of the important things that you ought to be thinking about as you think about preparing yourself for leadership in the kingdom.

Let me mention the first one. Chart your life’s course now. You know, when back in the old days of sailing vessels, when a sea captain was going to launch himself on a major voyage, they used charts or maps. They charted their course very, very carefully. And why did they want to do it? Because they didn’t want to get lost. And they had to take sightings and one thing and another to keep them on course. But they knew where they wanted to go, and when they were off course, they adjusted. Well, now you know what charting your life’s course is. You need to decide what you want to do.

You’re feeling pretty good about yourself, and you should. You’re in school. You’re getting an education, and that’s wonderful. You’re preparing yourself. Maybe some of you have already charted your life’s course. But my belief is that, in ten to fifteen years, if you don’t chart your life’s course, many of you will have varying degrees of unhappiness with what you have accomplished. You need to avoid these disappointments. You need to define now what you want to achieve in life and what actions are necessary to get you there.

I’m an optimist. I’m a firm believer that you can control your destiny. Fulfillment of your dreams is not so much a matter of intelligence or good fortune as it is a combination of establishing sound goals, focusing, taking action and being willing to sacrifice. If I were the president of this College, I would require that every single student read chapter 17 of The Miracle of Forgiveness. The title of that chapter is “Charting a Safe Course.” You know, we can’t foresee—you can sit down and you can decide what you want to do, but you can’t foresee everything that’s going to happen to you. And that’s not what I’m talking about. But you can, you can—well, let me read what President Kimball has said: “We can’t foresee every circumstance in life, but we can see most of the important decisions that we need to make—decisions that if made correctly now will ensure happiness and success. These decisions are straightforward and uncomplicated.”

President Kimball talked about driving down some stakes, and the stakes he’s talking about are kind of stakes for your tent, not organizations within the Church. And he talks about “these are the things I will do, and these are the things that I will not do.” And they have to do with dating, temple marriage, the family, time for gospel living, time for honoring church covenants, and honoring marriage covenants. Now, you need to decide what’s important in your life. You need to decide the underpinning of this chart that you’re making for yourself.

Get all the help you can. When you think about it, if you need to be tested to see what you’re good at, get testing. If you want to talk to someone in a field where you think you might want to go, talk to them. By all means, pray about it. If you’re married, you want to consult your spouse. You’ve got a bishop; talk to your bishop. You’ve got a lot of wonderful professors here; talk to them. Get buy-in. Consult others. But by all means, chart your life’s course. And you will be in very, very—what shall I say—unique company when you do it, because there are very few people in this life that write down on a sheet of paper what they want to accomplish and set goals, if you will.

I think the most difficult part of this whole process is getting ourselves in gear to take the action to achieve what we’ve got on paper. Anthony Robbins has written an interesting book entitled Unlimited Power. And he says in that book, “Often we get caught up in the mental trap of seeing enormously successful people and thinking they are where they are because they have some special gift. Yet a closer look shows that the greatest gift that extraordinarily successful people have over the average person is their ability to get themselves to take action. It’s a gift that any of us can develop within ourselves.”

Well, chart your life’s course. Put that on your paper with the pen that the President said you should have here, and a piece of paper in front of you, and I’ll come back to it. I hope I’ve made my point.

Now the second point: Get all the education you can. It doesn’t take a genius to understand that the better educated you are, the better prepared you are for life, and the more likely it will be that you will achieve the goals that you have set for yourself in this point of charting of your course. President Hinckley has taught us about a lot of things, but there are very few subjects over the years, since he has been a member of the First Presidency, that he has taught with as much vigor and as much emphasis as it has been his passion that we educate ourselves.

He says, “It is incumbent upon every member of this Church, as a mandate from the Lord, to get all the education you can.” He’s taught this to men; he’s taught this to women. He’s taught it to small groups, to large groups. But he’s hit it over and over again. Let me just quote some of the things he has said: “Now is the great day of preparation for each of you. If it means sacrifice, then sacrifice. That sacrifice will become the best investment you have ever made, for you will reap the returns from it all the days of your lives. Do the very best you can. Maybe you’re not an “A” student. Maybe you’re not a “B” student. Maybe you’re not a genius. Most of us are not. In fact, a majority of us are not. I have concluded that the work of the world is done by ordinary people who learn to work in an extraordinary way.”

Well, I could give you some other quotes, but you get the point. And this is a prophet of the Lord, and these prophets are raised up to give us advice and counsel. And we are wise if we follow their advice and counsel.

Now consider—and I know I’m probably speaking to the converted—but let me just point out some things that you may not know. The typical college graduate can expect to earn 62% more than the typical worker who has only a high school diploma. If you have a master’s degree, you can expect to earn twice as much. If you have a professional degree, you can expect to earn three times as much. The typical college student that graduated from high school at 18, by the time he’s 33, he’s paid for all the money he’s borrowed to go to school, and he’s paid for the wages he would have earned had he not gone to school. So in 15 years, this investment will have paid for itself.

For both men and women, a higher level of education corresponds to higher income. If you’ve got a better education, it correlates with better health. The more education, the less likely you are to smoke, the more likely you are to engage in leisure time exercise, the better you will prepare your children for their schooling, the more likely you are to participate in volunteer community activities, and the more likely you are to vote.

Now, the prophet has said that education benefits the Church, and indeed it does. We have a church research department, and they have surveyed that issue and found that, the more education you have, the more likely a person is to have a testimony, give significant service to the Lord and the Church, and hold responsible callings. Now some of you are saying, “Elder Cook, you’re preaching to the choir.” Well, let me say this. This may be so. You’re enrolled here. I don’t know what the statistics are—in fact, I meant to ask the President—but in most of the four-year institutions in Utah, only 60% of the young people that start, complete. Finish what you’ve started. Finish what you’ve started.

Now if it means sacrifice, sacrifice. That’s the easiest thing you’ll do. I used to say this in Asia, and the interpreter would look at me—it’s a lead-pipe cinch. I mean, it’s the best investment you will ever, ever make. “A lead-pipe cinch” does not translate well. In fact, when you’re being translated, don’t use these idioms. They get the translators in a peck of trouble.

Okay, now the third point: Leverage your life with the gospel. Now, how many of you have been raised on a farm, raise your hand. Would you show me—I’ve only got two slides, but I brought it because I want everyone to understand what a lever is. Where are we? It’s coming. Let me tell you what a lever is. Have you ever seen a great big huge rock that weighs about 500 pounds, and you try to move it and you can’t? That’s this guy right here. Okay, now show the next slide. Technology is wonderful when it works. But, if you’re on a farm, if you get a long pole and you put it under that rock, you can see what you can do. You can move the rock. Now can you understand what a lever is? It’s simply this, you can do more with your life if you rely on the gospel of Jesus Christ and the blessings of our Father in Heaven, than you can ever do on your own. The gospel can be a lever. And the scriptures are absolutely full of promises to that end.

Now, I’m running out of time, or I’m out of time. I’ll give you one of them; I’ll just give you one, but there are many, many. This comes from D&C 82:10: “I, the Lord, am bound when ye do what I say; but when ye do not what I say, ye have no promise.”

Now, how many of you have Patriarchal Blessings? The majority. Okay, I want you to go home tonight, and I want you to look at your Patriarchal Blessing. You’ve got leveraging concepts in that Patriarchal Blessing, I promise you. I’ve taken three from my own Patriarchal Blessing, and they will illustrate what I am talking about.

The first one: “I promise you that insofar as you magnify the priesthood which you bear, God will manifold bless you for the efforts you put forth in doing it.”

The next one: “Accept responsibilities whenever they come from the priesthood. From service comes choice blessings.”

“Your greatest help in the accomplishment of these things is God our Heavenly Father. Put full faith and confidence in Him and He will help you, and with His aid, you cannot fail.”

Okay, you get the concept of what leverage is? Leverage your life with the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Okay, the last point: Live a seamless life. What in the world is a seamless life? Does anyone have any idea? If you do, raise your hand. What is a seamless life? Well, I’m going to show you. This fabric has two sides. One side is seamed. See this seam over here? It’s white and then it’s red. The other side has no seam whatsoever. Can anyone guess where I’m headed? I see some people shaking their head. This is the way you ought to live. Live the gospel of Jesus Christ seven days a week, 24 hours a day. This is a person that goes to church on Sunday and guess what—they don’t live a seamless life. They’re different. They don’t practice what they believe. They’re ashamed to call themselves a member of the Church. They tell dirty stories. They listen to dirty stories. They’re not completely honest in their dealings with their fellowmen. And on and on and on.

Get the point? This is the key to leveraging your life. I worked for Ford for a long time, and one of the questions that I was invariably asked was this, and Keith Poelman worked for the same company, and I think he will verify this. “Brother Cook, does living your religion hurt your career?” Absolutely, positively not. I never found—Keith, did you ever find a day in your life when you worked for Ford Motor Company, that living your religion seven days a week, 24 hours a day hurt your career? It won’t. They’ll respect you. This world is looking for people that have integrity, and integrity and reliability are closely associated.

In fact, I had an old stake president, Jack Pfeifer, and Keith probably knows him. He used to say this, and I don’t know whether he was quoting Confucius correctly or not. “If you’re not utterly reliable, you’re utterly useless.” I’m not always utterly reliable, but I believe in the concept.

So what are you going to do? You’re going to chart your life’s course. You’re going to get all the education you can. You’re going to leverage your life with the gospel of Jesus Christ. And you’re going to empower yourself by living a seamless life.

I love the gospel. This is God’s Church. We are led by prophets, and I am so thankful that I am a member of this Church, and I hope I never forget the blessings that I have received and that my family has received by being a member. And I so testify this to you, in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.

Life Is God’s Gift to Man. What We Do with It Is Our Gift to God

13 Jan. 2009


Life Is God’s Gift to Man. What We Do with It Is Our Gift to God. 


Thank you. Isn’t life exciting? Well, three of you think so. That’s pretty good. As you learned from my introduction, I’m a product of the female finding and fellowshipping program of the Church, and I’m proud of it. Let me tell you something about my life, because I feel my experience can help you as you stand on the threshold of a great future—a wonderful opportunity that is yours.

I was baptized when I was nineteen years of age, and the last forty-nine years have been wonderful. And so in my earlier life, I didn’t have the benefit of the gospel of Jesus Christ to let me get a vision of potential and possibility. I remember at college, in the first year in a class of 32, I was first in English and Geography. In the second year, I was 31st out of 32 in English and Geography. In the third year, I was first in English and Geography. It was the teacher, I concluded. Not so.  I had not learned yet that I was responsible for my destiny, that I had the capacity to become what I righteously desired to become. And thus, I blamed others for my poor performance. The gospel of Jesus Christ opened my eyes to other possibilities, and that’s the wonder of this gospel and the great plan of happiness.

I remember when I started as a printing apprentice, and I went along to this big print shop. I had to spend five years as an apprentice after three years at college. I thought I’d be running the big printing presses and I thought I could do anything and everything. You know what it’s like. When I arrived at this big press—a two-colored Miehle letter-press printer—and we don’t do very much letter-press printing, now it’s almost obsolete. When I met the experienced printer, he said, “I’ll show you what your job is.” What I did day after day after day for six months, I simply put paper into the feeder so the printing press could print. They were taking advantage of me. I thought, how dare they? With all my talents and my abilities and my skills, they would simply have me putting paper into a printing press? I learned that until I was able to develop that skill, I could never be a great printer. And to this day, if they have challenges at Church Offices with a photocopier, they say, “Get Elder Johnson.” I know how to handle paper. You have to learn fundamental skills in order to progress with the greater opportunities of life.

Don’t look at simple things and say, “Why am I doing this?” Recognize that in those simple things, you gain a capacity that will be so essential as you progress through life and in your career. A statement by President Harold B. Lee really stirred my soul. He said, “Life is God’s gift to man. What we do with it is our gift to God.”

I did not know that. I did not know that I was a son of God. When I went on in my studies, I was not doing well. Two and a half years through my studies, an instructor came to me and said, “Johnson, you’re wasting your time here.”

I said, “Yes, but I’d rather play football or soccer”. I used to love playing football. And I played with a band—but I’ve repented of all of that. But I was distracted from my studies. And then I met a young lady. She was beautiful. Really. She’s more beautiful now, but she was beautiful.

I remember that first dance with her, she said, “I’m a Mormon.” I thought, “I wonder if it’s contagious.” I have learned that it is. But I’d never heard of that name, that title, that expression. I went back to my friends—with whom I played soccer and played in the band together, seventeen of us—and said, “What’s a Mormon?”

And they said, “That’s great! You can have as many wives as you like.” I thought, that can’t be true. I went back to the girl, and I asked her for dates, and you know what it’s like when you ask girls for dates. You do ask, don’t you? Well, eventually, I was baptized a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, on the 16th of August 1959. I had not known that I was a child of God.

When that was revealed to me, as it teaches in Romans, for “The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God”. When I received that witness, it transformed me. I had a different view of life, of myself, of the purpose of life. Two and a half years later, I gained a distinction in my college course and was invited back to be the instructor.

What had happened to me? I realized that life was God’s gift to man. What we do with it is our gift to God. I realized I had something to give and something to do to show gratitude for this great life and this great plan and these wonderful opportunities. I look back to those days and those moments and the transformation that occurred in my life—a complete change of vision, of possibility, of opportunity.

I love the scriptures. I love them dearly. I love a tremendous insight that comes from the Pearl of Great Price, from the book of Moses. This resonates with my soul. We read here, in verse 4 of Moses 1, the Lord speaking to Moses: “Behold, thou art my son. ” Those words, thou art my daughter, thou art a child of God. Think of what that means. Think of who we are. Think of what we can accomplish.

And then in verse 6: “I have a work for thee, Moses, my son.”

And this revelation of our divine destiny in verse 7:

“And now, behold, this one thing I show unto thee, Moses, my son, for thou art in the world, and now I show it unto thee.

“And it came to pass that Moses looked, and beheld the world upon which he was created; and Moses beheld the world and the ends thereof, and all the children of men which are, and which were created; of the same he greatly marveled and wondered.

“And the presence of God withdrew from Moses, that his glory was not upon Moses; and Moses was left unto himself.” 

Until I realized that I was a son of God, I was left unto myself. I was running under my own intellect and my own energy and my own feelings. When I learned that I was a son of God, I realized there were greater possibilities than previously I had known, and my life went upward and onward.

I remember being in a zone conference in Leeds, England. We were touring the mission back in 1995. I was sitting by the mission president, and the mission president said, “This young man who is about to share his testimony is a remarkable young man.” I did not say anything in response; it was too sacred a moment. But afterward, I turned to the president and I said, “Why did you say that this was a remarkable young man?”

He said, “He had been a member of the Church for one year and few weeks when he was called to serve a full-time mission. He went out with his trainer—many of you have had that experience—and they were in a home, and they knelt on the floor. The family knelt with them, and his senior companion put a piece of paper on the floor and did a diagram—premortal existence, birth, mortality, death, resurrection, eternal life—and began to explain the great plan of happiness. This new young missionary leapt to his feet, and pointing down to the diagram said, ‘We believe this?!?’

“His companion said, ‘Well, yes.’ And the young missionary began to dance around the room; he was so excited.”

And so the mission president looked for my response. I said, Is that unusual? I dance around the room every day. I leap out of bed every morning, don’t you? My wife worries, at my age. But I leap out of bed every morning and I dance around the bedroom, when I think about the great plan of happiness. It’s wonderful. It’s exciting. It’s elevating. That’s what the gospel has done for me—ignited like a fire burning within my bones, as it says in Jeremiah 20:9. It gets brighter every day.

I don’t understand people who say they get burned out in church service. You can only get fired up if you have the Holy Spirit. The fire does not burn you out, it fires you up to greater achievement, greater accomplishment. You look at the prophets; you look at the Brethren. It will make you better. It will fill your heart with desire and fire, if you have the Spirit with you in all that you do. That’s the gospel I know. That’s the transformation that occurred in my life, and I’m so grateful.

There was one error in the introduction; I have a granddaughter, not a grandson. And she’s delightful. Girls are—girls—whatever age or size, they’re wonderful. Our son, when we were called in 1990, we had to leave him in England. So I appointed him a partner in my insurance brokerage. And for three years life moved on and then President Monson called me into his office and said, “We’re transferring you to the First Quorum of the Seventy.” I was called for five years originally. It was interesting—when President Hinckley called me, he said, “Initially, for five years.” I said to Pam, “Why would he say ‘Initially’?” I found out in the interview with President Monson. So I met with our son. I said, “Son, do you enjoy the business?” You know, I started it from nothing. I had six thousand clients when I was called. I’d built it up; it was magnificent. I said, “Do you enjoy it, son?”

He said, “Do you want the truth?”

I said, “Yes.”

He said, “No.”

I said, “You don’t enjoy it? But I love it!”

He said, “You might do, Dad, but I’m doing this for you.”

I said, “Son, I want you to do what you want to do. What do you want to do?”

He said, “You know, when I was a missionary, I loved training. I loved training the other missionaries. I’d love to get into training.”

I said, “What would that mean?”

He said, “I need to get some qualifications.”

I said, “Do you know what they are?”

He had this piece of paper with all the information, and said, “These are the qualification.”

“How much will it cost?” And he told me. I said, “Okay, I’ll sponsor your training for you.” And so he got the qualifications and thought he could step out into the world and replace Steve Covey and Hyrum Smith and everyone else in the world of training. But nobody wanted to know. We were assigned to the Philippines at this time, and every weekend he would phone me and he would have a list of companies that were advertising placements in the world of training. He would read the names of the companies to me. One week he was reading the names, and I said, “Kevin, that’s the company!”

He said, “Which one?”

I said, “Read them again.”

He read them again. On Track International. I said, “That’s the company, phone them. Send them a letter. Contact them. Do something.”

Well, he sent a letter and got no response. He phoned me and said, “Dad, there’s no response. ”

I said, “Phone them.”

So he phoned and the owner of the company said, “Come over tomorrow; we’ll see you then.” So he drove 64 miles from Norwich to Cambridge and when he got there, the man had forgotten to write the appointment down. He wasn’t available , and he went home. In his weekly telephone call, he reported what had happened. 

I said, “Phone him tomorrow.”

Before he could do so, the man called and said, “I apologize. If you will come today, I will reimburse you for yesterday’s expenses and today’s expenses.”

So the next day he drove back to Cambridge, walked into the owner of the company’s office. The man didn’t say, “Good morning; lovely day,” he just said, “You are too young.”

Our son responded, “You haven’t seen what I can do.”

The owner of the company replied, “I beg your pardon?”

Our son responded, “You haven’t seen what I can do.”

The owner said, “I like that.” He called the directors into his office and said, “Show us what you can do. You give us a presentation for 45 minutes on this subject.” And he did. The man said, “Would you leave the room please?” After a while he was invited back into the office and the company owner said, “ We want to ask you some questions.” The questions came from different directors.

One of them said to him, “Young man, what’s the most important thing in your life?”

He responded without hesitation, “My relationship with my Heavenly Father.”

The owner of the company said, “Leave the room.” He left, and thought, “Well, there will be other jobs.” After a while he was invited back into the office to be greeted with these words, “We are so impressed. Not only with your skill, but that a young man at such a moment would say what you said. That tells us so much about you. We would like to give you some training opportunities.”

They paid him a meager 300 pounds a day. I mean, it’s peanuts, I know. He did this for six months and then the owner of the company said, “You have been marvelous. We want to offer you a position. This is the salary we will pay you.”

He said, “No.”

The owner said “We’ll give this salary, and we’ll contribute 3,600 pounds a year into a pension fund.”

Our son said no.

“Okay. We’ll give you that salary and we’ll give you that pension, and a blue Mercedes car.”

Our son said, “When do I start?” They could have saved themselves a lot of money if they’d have said the car first. That would have been it. They had four trainers at that time—they now have over 80 . Kevin is the CEO and owns part of the company. I believe, when we give our allegiance to God first, then come the blessings.

In my business I was successful, not because of any talent of my own, but because of my faith in God. I remember my business plan. If you’re studying business plans, you’ll probably think this is quite foolish. But my business plan was that I could feed and clothe and house my family, number one. Number two, that I could acquire a motor vehicle that would be able to get the branch members to and from the temple. The car that one of the brethren had would only get us to the temple. We had to find other ways of getting back. And number three was that, at the age of sixty, Pamela and I would serve a mission. I was not invited to serve a mission. As a young man, they were not calling young men in England when I was 19. Or if they were, they didn’t call me. The plan worked. We lived very comfortably and were blessed in many ways. I had a car that could go further than the temple and back. The Brethren intervened so that I did not fulfill the third part. At forty-nine I was called as a General Authority for twenty-one years, so I didn’t get to serve a two year mission.

But that was my business plan. It was based on the spiritual. My business was more of a missionary training center than it was an insurance brokerage, because I would employ young men, they would get qualified, go on a mission, and be replaced by another young man and so on. The wonder of that was the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Life is God’s gift to man; what we do with it is our gift to God.

You have something precious. You’re at a moment in your lives when you can take what you have and make something significant from it. You have two creators: first, our Father in Heaven, and then yourself. It’s what we make of ourselves that will really make a difference to us. In my observation the greatest quest of human endeavor is not to outperform other people but to overcome our own self-imposed limitations.

We are not limited when we realize we are children of God, when we have a vision of life as it is, when we remain positive and happy in challenging moments. I have found in my life the greatest revelations have come in the most difficult circumstances. When things look bleak and things don’t look good, look up. That’s when revelation will flood unto us, because we are more attuned for it, not because God loves us more. But when we recognize how dependent we are on our Father in Heaven then marvelous things happen to us.

Remember in the Book of Moses in verse 10, “And it came to pass that it was for the space of many hours before Moses did again receive his natural strength like unto man.” We are not limited to what we see. We have greater powers and possibilities than we think we have. In the hands of God, we can rise up to such heights that we will amaze ourselves and others.

Let me give you a warning. If we take the credit, we lose the Spirit. If we take the credit for our accomplishments, we lose the support of heaven, and come crumbling down. “We are left unto ourselves.” That wasn’t the reason Moses had this experience, “Moses did again receive his natural strength like unto man; and he said unto himself: Now, for this cause I know that man is nothing, which thing I never had supposed.”

We are nothing, in reality, by comparison with the divine. But in the hands of the divine, we have such glorious possibilities. Don’t anyone within the sound of my voice think that you are limited. We are not here to outperform other people. We’re here to overcome our own self-imposed limitations. We’re all blessed with beauty. We’re all blessed with character. We’re all blessed with wonderful gifts, because we’re divinely created.

As we move forward, don’t let the things of the world distract you from the things of lasting worth. Have an eternal perspective. Recognize the power in yourself and the strength in your life. The poet R.L. Sharpe expressed it in an interesting manner. He said:

Isn’t it strange how princes and kings,

And clowns that caper in sawdust rings,

And common people like you and me

Are builders for eternity?

To each is given a bag of tools,

A shapeless mass and a book of rules.

And each will build, ere life is flown,

A stumbling block or a stepping stone.

What will I make of my life? Will I make something magnificent—not to boast of any personal achievement, but to boast of my God. What are you going to be? What are you going to do? What will you become in this great journey of life?

In his book As A Man Thinketh, James Allen said, “Whatever your present environment may be, you will fall, remain, or rise with your thoughts, your vision, your ideal. You will become as small as your controlling desire; as great as your dominant aspiration.” According to our ideals.” What are your ideals? What are you looking upward toward? Are you looking down or sideways or upward? This is a glorious opportunity for you, and still for me. Life gets more exciting as you get a little older. It never stops being exciting. I still leap out of bed in the morning. I still enjoy the wondrous experiences that I have.

We have been asked by the Brethren to serve all over this planet, and everywhere I’ve been I’ve met faith-filled people that have strengthened my testimony and blessed my life. I think of people in Papua New Guinea. Have you been to Papua New Guinea? You have? You go to these countries and you say, “What opportunities do these young people have?”

When they send you to Papua New Guinea, the Brethren say, “Don’t take your wife with you. It ’s too dangerous. They meet you with a car ahead of you a car in the middle and a car behind. You take off your rings for if the rascals see them they’ll take your fingers to get the rings. I mean, it’s exciting. It really is. I went to Daru. It’s a remote island. You get on this little aircraft, I think 25 people. After 2 ½ hours the mission president said, “We’ re going to land any minute.”

I said, “Where? Where’s the airport?”

He said, “Well, you see that grass?”

I said, “Yes.”

He said, “Well, that’s the airport.” So the aircraft descends and we land.

I say, “Where’s the terminal?”

And he says, “You see that tree?” We stand under that tree until they come and pick us up. You know. That’s living—that is. We got in the car with the missionaries. They had a car. The missionaries were driving. We drove a few feet and there’s a big red barrel, and they got a plastic tube out of the car and put it in the barrel and started to suck the gas. I said, “What are you doing? You can’ t steal that.”

The missionary responded, “You buy a barrel, and then you siphon it into your car.” I thought they were stealing it. I didn’t realize that that was the only way to ref uel a car in Daru. 

We went to meetings with the missionaries and the district president said, “Could we have a meeting?”

I said, “Well, of course we can have a meeting.” I thought he meant with the district presidency.

But he said, “Would you give us twenty minutes?” We’re in this native construction—straw and wood chapel—and in 20 minutes 453 people came out of the jungle. They had been waiting by the trees and the bushes to see if we were going to have a meeting. I thought, “What do I do now? I don’t speak pigeon English.” So I said, “Let them ask questions, and you tell me what the questions are, and I’ll tell you how to respond.” 

And so the first six questions were submitted. Remember the millennium? Remember Y2K? They said, “Well, we’ve arranged with the government to have us shipped out of here when it comes.”

I said, “I beg your pardon?”

They said, “Well, the Navy are coming and they are going to take us away from here when it arrives.”

I said, “When what arrives?”

They said, “This big storm.”

I said, “Big storm?”

They said, “Yes, the millennial storm—Y2K. We’ve heard about it.”

I said, “Does anybody here have electricity?”

They said, “No. What’s that?”

I said—well, I knew they didn’t have running water, because the missionaries said, “Let us know when you want to wash, Elder Johnson, and we’ll man the pump and the rain water will be pumped up for you to wash.”

I said, “Does anybody have a computer here?”

They said, “What’s a computer?”

I said, “You’re the most blessed people on this planet. Y2K is a computer virus; it’s not a storm.”

These poor people thought that there was going to be a great storm that would wash them away. I thought how foolish we are, because we look at life and we draw conclusions that are far from reality.

I remember as a young boy, nine years of age, my brother and I used to go to the movies—you know, black and white, they were silent, but they were great. Before leaving the home, we would stop and kiss mother—we always kissed mother before we left home. On this occasion, she was ironing, as she often was, and my brother went up and kissed her on the cheek and walked away. When I kissed her, wow! I was thrown back across the room.

My brother said, “What’s wrong with you?”

I said, “When I kissed Mother, something happened.” I mean, kissing your mother?

He said, “You’re joking.”

I said, “You try it.” He kissed her and nothing happened. So that restored my confidence, so I went back and kissed her again. Wow, I was thrown across the room. We worked out that each time I kissed her she was holding the electric iron in her hand. There was a short in the circuit and pow! Can you imagine if I thought that’s what kissing was like, what I would be like?

And so we make decisions based on experience instead of “things as they really are.” Life is God’s gift to man. What we do with it is our gift to God.

I love this insight, as we come to the close of this devotional. I’ m considering 2 Peter 1, commencing in verse 4: “Whereby are given unto us exceeding great and precious promises.” I cannot convey to you how I feel about the covenants. Everything that is precious to me is bound by covenant. If Pamela were not with me, there would be no heaven. The covenants, the promises. Keep the covenants. “ The Lord [is] bound when [you] do.”

“…That by these ye might be partakers of the divine nature.” I hope everything we do, every show that we watch, every activity we engage in is a reflection of the divine nature. Let that be preeminent in your life. Make a decision that everything that you do will be in accord with the divine nature.

“…Having escaped a corruption that is in the world through lust.” We may have a very challenging world to live in, but never has the Lord poured out His Spirit more on the righteous to be safe in such a situation.

As a young student, I blamed the teacher for poor results. It was me. We cannot blame anybody else in the world for the decisions we make and the situations that we entertain.

“…And beside this, giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue; and to virtue knowledge.” I have come to know—faith and virtue precede knowledge. Because the knowledge we’re talking about, even though it will complement your studies here, is from the Holy Spirit. When you “treasure up in your minds continually the words of life, it shall be given you in the very hour that portion that shall be meted unto every man.” Even in your studies, as you have faith, you’ll be blessed to be brought to your remembrance that which you need to know to attain the status that is necessary for your career.

“…And to knowledge temperance; and to temperance patience; and to patience godliness;

“…And to godliness brotherly kindness.” Love one another. You can do that. It’s a gift from God, as taught in Preach My Gospel and stated in Moroni 7:48. It’s the love that will bind a couple together for eternity. We are not capable of such love unless the Holy Spirit God gives us that gift, because we have qualified for it. It’s not a passing feeling. It is not simply a physical attraction. It is an eternal union that comes as a gift from God.

“…And to brotherly kindness charity,” which is that love. “For if these things be in you and abound, they make you that ye shall neither be barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ.”

I testify that the gospel is true. I bear my witness of Jesus Christ, that He lives, that He loves you, each one individually, that He directs this work and this Church through Thomas Spencer Monson at this time. Your future is secure as you follow the prophets. Your life will be radiant and full as you listen to the Spirit, as you respond to the promptings that come. I know. I know that we are children of God, and that elevating principle has lifted me from a very ordinary young man to one with a very extraordinary responsibility, of which I never sought, which I never thought would come, which I never thought possible even when the call was extended. But even that isn’t the ultimate of the blessings I have. The ultimate is that I’m a husband and I’m a father and I’m a grandfather.

Now, if someone within the sound of my voice feels they’ve been overlooked in that regard, I promise you in the name of the Lord that if you live as you should live, that blessing will come. For He keeps His promises.

May you be blessed with the companionship of the Holy Spirit. As you are, you will never go off course, or engage in activity or behavior that will stop your eternal progression. Life is God’s gift to man. What we do with it is our gift to God. Lord bless you to give the greatest gift that you can give back to Him who has given the greatest gift that we could receive. The Lord loves you. He wants to bless you. I pray that you will claim every blessing that He has prepared for each one of you, in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, amen.

We Are Here to Become More Christ-Centered

20 Jan. 2009


We Are Here to Become More Christ-Centered


I heard President Harold B. Lee on more than one occasion say that, in his many years of ministry in the Church, the most effective teaching and preaching was always accompanied by beautiful and inspiring music, and I want to thank these young people for the beautiful testimony of the Savior they have borne to us today, which sets a marvelous foundation—sets the stage for us to consider that a little further.

I’m grateful to be with you. I’ve never spoken to this group before, so I’m honored to be asked to be with you. I’m grateful for the good you are doing, for the way you’re not only building yourselves, but in your individual ways, building the larger kingdom of God. I meet with a lot of young people who have returned from missions, who feel they’re sort of in a spiritual funk and find themselves a little depressed. When I push, I get this kind of comment: “Well, you know, when I was on a mission, I was doing so many great things for other people. I was always serving others. And now I feel selfish. I feel like I’m serving myself. Everything is about me, me, me.”

I remember saying to one young man, and it must have been true, because I felt the seriousness of it. I said to him, “Your mission was very significant. It was an important milestone in your life. But it just may be that what you’re doing right now, by way of preparing yourself to serve, may in the long run prove to be as significant if not more significant than your full-time mission.” And I believe that. Education, training, preparation—the world has need of men and women who bring those qualities and characteristics with them into the world of work.

I appreciate the sweet invitation and the introduction. On more than one occasion when someone has supposed to have introduced me as “Brother Millett is a professor of Ancient Scripture,” I’ve been introduced as “Brother Millett is an ancient professor of scripture.” So I’m grateful he got it right this morning.

I want to tell you a story. It’s a true story. Many, many years ago—I’ve served as a bishop twice, in different parts of the country, and—on one occasion I sat on the stand. My counselors and I tried to be on the stand seven to ten minutes before the meeting started, just to listen to the prelude and try to prepare our minds and hearts for the meeting. And as was often the case in that mood and in that attitude, my eyes would end up on a particular individual or couple or someone that I sensed needed to talk to me. This particular day, my eyes focused on a husband and wife, both very active, both very involved in the Church, both very dependable. But for some reason, I sensed they needed to talk to me. Being stubborn like I am, I didn’t act on it. The next Sunday I was sitting in church, I was sitting looking out again, and my eyes focused again on that husband and wife. They had three beautiful sons, beautiful boys, handsome little characters. Just a great family. But I felt again, “You need to meet with that couple.”

So I made arrangements with my executive secretary to set a time. They came in on a Wednesday evening. I said, “Well, how are you?”—just to sort of break the ice.

And she answered and said, “Well, we’re a little surprised it took you this long to get us in here.”

I said, “What do you mean?”

She said, “Well, we’ve been expecting to hear from you.”

I said, “Why? Is there something wrong?”

She said, “We’re not sure.”

I said, “What do you mean? Is there anything out of order in your life?”

She said, “No, it’s nothing like that, as far as sin.” She said, “It’s just that…it’s that…it’s that….”

And he cut in and said, “What we mean, Bishop, is this: She was president of her Beehive class, her MIA Maid class, her Laurel class; she received her Young Women’s Medallion. I was active in the Aaronic Priesthood, I was an Eagle Scout, I served a full-time mission. We were married worthily in the temple. We had three handsome young boys. We have a good job and are well provided for. And I guess what we’re asking is, Is this it?”

I didn’t know what they meant. I said, “What’s that again?”

“Is this it? Is this all there is? I mean,” he said, “is there any place to go from here, or have we arrived?”

I was a little buffaloed by their question, but they began to be clear to me after awhile what they were saying. They had done all the right stuff. They had, as far as they could, kept the commandments. They had done their duties. They had done it the way they were told. She had qualified for the Young Women’s Medallion. He had qualified for Eagle Scout. They had married in the temple. He had served a mission. And they were asking—we’ve kind of done everything we’ve been asked to do. Do we just sort of hold on until we’re really old and die?

We talked for a while that night, but we met several times thereafter, and I came to appreciate that what they were doing was simply being more honest than most members of the Church about their plight, their situation. You will, at one time or another, find yourself feeling a little vacant, a little empty, a little befuddled about “Where do I go from here? I’ve done all the stuff that you can check off. What now?”

Well, I learned some lessons from that experience. I think they did too. And one of those lessons was this: Sometimes we can, if we’re not careful in the Church, confuse means with ends. Meaning, we can be so caught up and so excited—and we ought to be—about serving a full-time mission, that that becomes the great end in life. Or more practically, we can be so...we can have drilled into our heads and taught to us for so many years in such a loving way that the greatest thing in life is to be married in the temple. Now I have to tell you, it is the greatest things in the world in many, many ways. I would say that the most significant decision I have ever made in this life was to marry, as Elder McConkie used to say, in the right place to the right person at the right time.

And yet, brothers and sisters, that is not the end. It is but a means to an end. A mission is not an end. It is a means to an end. And if I may be so bold, the Church is not an end, but a means to an end. And if I may be even a little bolder, the temple is not an end, but a means to an end.

Then what is the end? I’m convinced that the great end in life is to become more and more Christlike, to become more and more like our Heavenly Father and to become one who knows and truly loves his or her God. Coming to know God is the great end. That’s why Jesus would say, “This is life eternal,” in his high priestly prayer, “This is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent” (John 17:3).

And so, while they were on the path, this young couple, while we are on the path, we must remember that the great end in life is not just—as important as this is—keeping a lot of rules and commandments.

I was at a “Time Out for Women” program that Deseret Book hosts around the country a few years ago, and I was chatting at lunch with Sister Virginia Pearce, President Hinckley’s daughter. He was president of the Church then. And she said, “Bob, where do you think we as a Church need to go?”

I said, “What?”

She said, “Where do you think we as a Church ought to be going?”

I said, “You know, you probably ought to talk to your dad about that. I think he’d have a better feel than I would, and he certainly has a little more authority.”

She said, “No, what do you think? Where do you think we need to go?” And it was a thoughtful question, I think deserving of a thoughtful answer.

My response was, “I think we have to get to the point where we get the gospel first in our minds, down into our hearts, yes in our behaviors, but permeating our very being. That is to say, we become men and women of Christ, not just by behavior, but by being.” That is to say we’re doing the right things, but we’ve begun to do them for the right reason.

Now don’t misunderstand me. I will occasionally hear people say, “Hey, given the way I feel right now, it would be better not to go to church.” No, no. It would be better to go to church. “Given the way I feel about this assignment, it would be better not to go home teaching.” No, it’s better to go home and visiting teaching. It’s always better to do the right thing for the wrong reason than to do the wrong thing. Okay? But there is a higher motive.

I presume that many of you do your visiting teaching and your home teaching out of duty, because it’s your assignment. That’s noble. I applaud that. It’s something we ought to do. We should feel a sense of duty. I assume many of us go to church because it’s our responsibility as members of the Church to go to church. That’s wonderful.

But I would warn that unless we’re growing, not only in proper behavior but in proper motivation—that unless a kind of conversion/transformation is taking place within our hearts so that we begin doing the right things for the right reason, we will experience what many people in the Church experience, and that is what I call “Spiritual Burnout.”

The way we avoid spiritual burnout is to get the Spirit of the Lord in our life. We get the Spirit of Christ in our souls, and then we begin to serve, gradually, for other reasons than just duty. Of course it’s always a duty. But it begins to transcend duty, and we just begin to serve because we want to, because that’s just the way we are.

This is all about conversion, change, a change in direction. Now you and I, if we’re going to church, if we’re actively involved, if we’re qualified for a temple recommend, and if we’re able to use that temple recommend, we are moving in the right direction. We continue to move in that direction, praying all along that God will not only strengthen us to do the right thing, but that He will transform our hearts that we may long to do the right thing, that we will want to do the right thing, and that we will be consumed with righteousness and less and less impressed with wickedness.

It’s a marvelous thing to be enticed by righteousness and to be turned off by wickedness. And as time passes, there ought to begin to exist in our lives a broadening chasm between what is of God and what is of Satan. We don’t dabble, we don’t tempt ourselves. We say, “No. I’m going another path entirely.”

It’s not unimportant in 4th Nephi, when we read about after the Savior’s visit, we read about the people who had experienced the personal presence of the risen Lord. It’s not unimportant that it says of them, they were all converted unto Christ (see 4 Nephi1:17). It didn’t just say they were converted unto the church, which is important. It didn’t just say they were converted unto their duties, which is good. They were first and foremost converted unto Christ. And when we are converted unto Christ—do you know what the word “Christian” really means? It means “little Christs.” We become little Christs.

Now don’t misunderstand me. We don’t save people from their sins like He did. But we become little representations, little representatives of Him.

They were converted to Christ. And he goes on to say, “There could not have been a happier people” in all the world (v. 16).

In what I consider to be one of the greatest addresses in the last half century, Elder Dallin Oaks in October of 2000 said the following: “The Final Judgment is not just an evaluation of the sum total of good and evil acts—what we have done. It is an acknowledgment of the final effect of our acts and thoughts—what we have become. It is not enough for anyone to just go through the motions. The commandments, ordinances and covenants of the gospel are not a list of deposits required to make in some heavenly [bank] account. The gospel of Jesus Christ is a plan that shows us how to become what our Heavenly Father desires us to become” (“The Challenge to Become,” Ensign, November 2000).

Elder Oaks continues: “We are challenged to move through a process of conversion toward that status and condition called eternal life.” You know, it just hit me about a month ago—I have been praying for the gifts of the Spirit for fifty years. I’ve been praying for the fruit of the Spirit—namely patience, longsuffering, gentleness and kindness, and self-control and love—for fifty years. It occurred to me that the greatest of all the gifts of God is eternal life. And so I have a new prayer now. I may pray for discernment and wisdom and judgment and healing and teaching and writing. I may pray for a number of spiritual gifts, but I always find myself praying for the gift of eternal life, now.

Elder Oaks: “This is achieved not just by doing what is right, but by doing it for the right reason—for the pure love of Christ…The reason charity never fails and the reason charity is greater than even the most significant acts of goodness…is that charity…is not an act but a condition or state of being.” Charity is nowhere in scripture equated with an action. It is always associated with a spiritual gift, fruit or endowment from heaven.

Now what we’re saying is something you’ve heard many times. I want us to reflect on it, though. Clearly, a person can have a testimony of the truthfulness of the restored gospel and not be truly converted. Our example from the meridian church, our best example, is Peter.

Peter was a noble soul. Peter was with Jesus on so many marvelous occasions, where Jesus performed magnificent miracles—the healing of Jairus’s daughter, raising the son of the woman of Nain, and on and on and on. All of these marvelous things. On the Mount of Transfiguration. He was clearly a member of the meridian First Presidency, and was within the inner circle of the leadership of the Church. There is no question at all that Peter had a testimony. You know the experience at Caesarea Philippi where he bears that powerful testimony: “Thou art the Christ,” he said, “the son of the living God” (Matthew 16:16).

Another occasion which is a little less well known is following the Bread of Life sermon. As Jesus gives this powerful but spiritually divisive sermon in which he encourages people, only he that eats my flesh and drinks my blood shall have eternal life, (see verses 53-58) meaning only those who truly partake of Christ. And the account says, in John 6, that at that point, many of the people did not follow Jesus anymore. And Jesus, in the spirit of pathos I think, a spirit of disappointment and pain, turns to the Twelve and says, “Will ye also go away?” (v. 67).

And once again that marvelous apostle, that seniorest of special witnesses, says, “Lord, to whom shall we go? thou hast the words of eternal life. And we [know] and are sure that thou art that Christ, the Son of the living God” (vv. 68-69). There’s no question but that the man had a testimony. But there’s no question, too, that he stumbled, that he fell, that he bumbled things occasionally, that he was impetuous. I mean, right after bearing witness at Caesarea Philippi of the divine Sonship of Christ, Jesus begins to tell the people, the Twelve, about all the things He must go through, including His death and crucifixion and so forth, at the hands of wicked men. Peter jumps in and says, “Not so, Lord”—there’s no way we’re going to let you go through with that (see Matthew 16:22).

And Jesus turns to him and says, “Get thee behind me, Satan: [for] thou art an offense unto me: [you savor] the things” that be of man, and not of God (v. 23). So Peter, the rock, suddenly becomes Peter, the stumbling block. So here was a man that had a testimony. And of course, what’s the greatest example of just a blunder—his denial of knowing Jesus. A man who had a testimony, but struggled.

I think the answer to that dilemma lies in the conversation that Jesus had with him at the Last Supper, as recorded in Luke 22, where Jesus says something that to me is very touching. “Simon, Simon,” he said, “Satan hath desired to have you, that he may sift you as wheat.” Listen to this line: “But I have prayed for [you].” It’s a little thing, but think about that—Jesus saying, “I have prayed for [you], that [your] faith fail not: and when thou art converted, strengthen thy brethren” (vv. 31-32).

Peter had a testimony, but he hadn’t yet made that turn—which is what conversion is all about—that shift in the way he looked at things, the way he saw the world. There really were two things that made a difference in Peter’s life before and after. One was clearly the Resurrection of the Lord Jesus. As the Savior was resurrected, it all began to make sense. It all began to fit into place. Many of the things Jesus had taught him that he hadn’t understood before, he now began to understand. Two, perhaps more important, was the coming of the Holy Ghost on the Day of Pentecost.

Those two factors, the Resurrection of the Lord Jesus from the dead, and the coming of the Holy Ghost that plants that indelible witness in the soul and remakes the heart if we’ll let it, made of Peter an indefatigable apostle. You see him standing, not fearfully but boldly before the Sanhedrin and saying things like, “You know, we really ought to obey God rather than man” (see Acts 4:19).

And so it is with us. We can have a testimony, which is an important and vital foundation. But the extent to which we are truly converted—the extent to which we have turned our lives and pointed ourselves in the proper direction—that’s conversion.

I read a book once by a woman not of our faith who made this observation. She said, “The word sin—one of the definitions for sin in both Hebrew and Greek, is ‘missing the mark.’” If you can picture yourself shooting a bow and arrow, and trying to hit that target. I’ve never been very good with bow and arrow, and so consequently most of mine soar over the top of the target or fall some thirty feet before the target. She said, “Sin is missing the mark. Well, if that’s the case,” she said, “what is righteousness?” And I love this. She said, “Righteousness is target practice.”

I’m convinced, as she suggested, that our father in Heaven and our Lord Jesus are less concerned with how many times we hit the bulls eye than with whether we’re aiming in the right direction, whether we have pointed ourselves in the direction of eternal life, whether we’ve received the covenants and ordinances of salvation and are moving in that path.

There are two verses in the New Testament, in Matthew 7, at the end of the Sermon on the Mount, that I think we’ve all heard many times. I’d like to give them a slightly different twist. You recall that Jesus said, begins by saying, “Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven” (v. 21). We usually stop there and say, “See? You’ve got to do the stuff. You’ve got to perform the works.” This is especially true when somebody says to us, “You’re saved by the amazing grace of Christ”—which is as true as it can be. We come back with, “No, see here? You’ve got to do the stuff.” “He that doeth the will of my Father.”

But it’s the next verse that is to me haunting. “Many will [come] to me in that day,” meaning the judgment day, “[and say] Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works?

“And then will I profess unto them,” Jesus said, “I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity” (vv. 22-23).

I know, as many of you know, the Joseph Smith Translation of that passage is slightly different. “Then will I profess unto you, ye never knew me; depart from me, ye that work iniquity.” Now, putting those two verses together, I think the Lord is trying to give us both sides of the coin. One side of the coin is, well, of course we do the works of righteousness. That’s what Christians do. Followers of the Christ are expected to act like the Christ, and to do the works of righteousness, remembering always though, that the purpose of the good works are not, as Elder Oaks said, to deposit some money in some celestial account. Keeping in mind that the good works of themselves have a sanctifying influence in our lives, if we allow them to. For what purpose? So that we can come to know God.

I had a sobering experience a few years ago as I sat with a friend of mine who was a very, very celebrated scholar, a person not of our faith, president of a seminary—meaning an organization for training people for the ministry. We were talking about grace and works, and he wanted to understand what we believe. I shared with him many things from the Book of Mormon in particular. He said, “You know, Bob, I guess it gets down to this question. Ask yourself this: you are at the judgment bar of God, and the Lord turns, the Father turns to you and says, ‘Robert Millett, what right do you have to get into heaven? Why should I let you in?’”

And then he turned to me and said, “Bob, how do you answer Him? How do you answer God? What right do you have to get into heaven? Why should I let you in?” Now, I’ve been asked a lot of questions through the years, but I’ve never been asked that one. What do I say to God? I really searched my soul. What is the right answer? What is the right approach to this? I suppose thirty or forty seconds—I know it was getting a little tense as he waited. But he was staring me in the eye the whole time.

And finally I said, “Okay, do you want to know what my answer would be?”

He said, “Yes.”

Let me just play a game with you for a minute. What if I asked you that? What would your answer be? Would you say, “Well, look. Okay, look, here’s my answer. I deserve to get into heaven, number one, because I was blessed as a baby by persons holding the Melchizedek Priesthood; I was in Cub Scouts, I won the Pinewood Derby two years in a row, I was an Eagle Scout, I served a mission, I married in the temple, I’ve been bishop twice, I’ve been in four stake presidencies, I’ve been stake president and on the Correlation Committee, and I’m a really good home teacher. And have you seen the list of books that I have written?”

Do you feel just a little discomfort in that kind of an answer? Why?

Well, here I am, standing before the holiest Being in the universe, dragging out my press clippings and my mortal medals, and holding them up and showing them and trying to impress Him. No, that’s not the answer that I gave. I said to my friend, “I believe I would answer this way: ‘I claim the right to enter the celestial kingdom by virtue of the merits and mercy and grace of Jesus Christ.’”

Now, does God care about all those good works? Well, of course He does. Those things help to make us what we must become. But I will never rely upon me to save me. That’s what Nephi means when he says, “Relying wholly upon the merits” of Christ (2 Nephi 31:19). It’s what Moroni means when he says, “Relying alone upon the merits of [Him], who was the author and finisher of [our] faith” (Moroni 6:4).

How do I know I’m making progress spiritually toward this? Elder Oaks suggested a couple of scriptures, and I’ll suggest a third. He said, for one thing, we gradually begin to gain the “mind of Christ,” as Paul said in 1 Corinthians 2. (verse 16) Now what does that mean? That doesn’t have to be mysterious; it just simply means that we keep the Spirit of the Lord with us. We almost make it a personal motto: I would never do anything that would cost me the influence of the Spirit of the Lord. We keep the Spirit of the Lord with us, and what do we begin to discover? We begin to discover that we begin thinking like the Lord and feeling like the Lord.

The second thing Elder Oaks mentioned was the fifth chapter of Mosiah, verses 1 and 2, after King Benjamin’s sermon. The response of the people: “We have no more disposition to do evil, but to do good continually.” Gradually, over time we begin finding ourselves, as I mentioned earlier, more enticed by righteousness and more turned off by evil.

I would add a third: section 59 of the Doctrine and Covenants, and 1 John 5:3. They go together. How? Well, section 59 says—I’ll just read this quickly and then I know I’ve got to quit because I’m over time—but I will say this fast. Here’s a fabulous thing. It’s a little odd. Speaking to those who have just come to Missouri, those “who have obeyed my gospel; …they shall receive for their reward the good things of the earth…And they shall also be crowned with blessings from above.” Listen to this: “Yea, and with commandments not a few” (vv. 3-4).

You read that and you say, “Oh, terrific. More commandments. I’ve always wanted more commandments.” Well, guess what? Our lives are changing when we look upon commandments differently—when we look upon them as godsends, when we look upon them as the Lord’s loving way of helping us stay in course. And interestingly enough, in 1 John, the language is this: “His commandments are not grievous.” They’re not oppressive. We no longer find ourselves bound down by them. We feel ourselves blessed by keeping them.

I bear you my testimony, brothers and sisters, that these things are true, that we’re here to participate in so many wonderful things, including the celebration of and the sanctification of our families. As important as family is to you and me, and the continuation of the family unit into eternity, it’s even more important that we remember what means are and what ends are. We are here to become men and women of Christ. We are here to become more Christ-centered. We are here to come to know God. I bear testimony that, as Jesus taught, this indeed is life eternal, in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.

Love—the Greatest Gift We Can Give

27 Jan. 2009


Love—the Greatest Gift We Can Give


The introduction by President Richards reminded me of the man who was introduced in California as having made a million dollars on oil in California. And after the speaker stood up, he said, “Well, that was essentially correct, but it wasn’t California; it was Pennsylvania. And it wasn’t oil; it was coal. And it wasn’t a million dollars; it was a hundred thousand dollars. And he didn’t make it; he lost it. And it wasn’t me; it was my brother.” So I’m glad you feel that way, when they introduce you. You wonder how well they know you.

While I was up at Utah State, I was the temple president at Logan, so I met a lot of young students. And one young man lamented up at Utah State,

I asked my girl to wed,

And she said, ‘Go to my father.’

Now, she knew that I knew

That her father was dead,

And she knew that I knew

The life he had led.

And she knew that I knew

What she meant when she said,

‘Go to my father.’

Now, that will take a second, but when it does, it’s pretty clever. Anyway, I’m delighted, and I’d like to start out by reading a verse by Christie Lund Coles. When you think of the struggles the pioneers made coming across the plains, and the effort, and the cold and the winter, and all that they went through, Christie Lund Coles said:

It was not worth the cost, the cynic said,

Reading the names of those who had died,

Remembering the graves of lonely dead,

Rocks piled high against the surging tide

Of elements—

The snarl of wind, the snow,

The unrelenting beat of sleet and rain,

The fangs and claws of wolves whose hungers

Know no pity.

Not worth the price of blood and pain?

Yet we who stand beneath the valley’s arch

Green as an Eden of another day

Watching each temple spire rise

Like a torch of truth, of verity

To guide men’s way.

We travel on the path they laid.

Thank God.

Thank God they found of worth

The price they paid.

I’d like to address my remarks in that direction, that the price they paid was love. And I look back on them; I love them. I may not meet them even in eternity, but I think I will. And my heart will be filled absolutely with love for them. So that’s what I’d like to direct my remarks today, to the subject of love.

It’s interesting—love is the greatest gift, I think, that we can give. It’s absolutely essential to Christmas, and it’s essential to our anniversaries, and different holidays. It’s a very important thing. And without love there’s no redemption. There’s no Atonement. There’s no plan of salvation, and no Savior. Love is a divine gift of God, and shines brightest in righteous souls and in great and noble souls.

There’s a quote I have on my desk, and it’s the only one I’ve had there, I think, in all the years that I’ve been a general authority and as a temple president, and then back home, and it’s on my desk at home. It’s not by one of our apostles or prophets, which you think it might be. It’s not in the Bible or in the scriptures. It’s by John Ruskin, I believe, and I’ve had it there for at least thirty years. “I believe that the test of a great man is humility. I do not mean by humility the doubt in one’s own personal power, but really truly great men have the curious feeling that greatness is not in them, but through them. And they see the divine in every other human soul and are foolishly, endlessly, incredibly merciful.”

I guess I’d like to measure up to that someday, but it’s always there to remind me. It’s one of those great gifts. Jesus prayed in the 17th chapter [of John] that these might “be one,” as we, Father, and filled with that same love (see verse 21). To the sinner or transgressor, love is hope. To the sad and the lonely, love is warmth. To the frustrated and anxious, love is soothing. To the depressed and weary, love is rebirth. To the overburdened and the unappreciated, love is a soothing balm. To those who stray from the Church and family, love is welcoming them back home. And to those who never seem to quite make it, love is peace. To the sick and the despairing, love is healing. In courtship, love is virtuous. It is respect, fulfilling, romantic and rewarding.

President Packer—he’s the only one I’ve ever heard say this—he said, “Romance is deeply and significantly religious.” And romance is an expression of love. He said romance is essential to exaltation—I think not only at your age, but I think it’s essential at our age. Romance doesn’t—should not—die during the years.

Love is justice. It’s mercy. It’s forgiveness, and unconditional. It’s gentle, it’s soft, it’s kind, it’s sympathetic, and comforting and sincere. Love is the noblest expression of charity. I think charity covereth a multitude of sins, and I think love is the noblest expression of charity.

Love is what motivates the servant/leader. I’ve given several talks about the servant/leader, and tried to qualify for that particular title, to be a servant/leader. I think I’m better at being a servant than I am a leader, but I believe it with all my heart that it’s something.

Pierre Teilhard de Chardin said, “Someday, after we have mastered the winds, the waves, the tides and gravity, we will harness for God the energies of love. Then for the second time in the history of the world, [man] will have discovered fire.”

President Harold B. Lee said, “I know that there are powers that can draw close to one who fills his soul with love.” What powers? All those things I’ve already mentioned above. I think President Nathan Eldon Tanner kind of had a three-word formula for life when he said, “Love each other.” How simple.

The Prophet Joseph said, “Love is one of the chief characteristics of Deity.” In the Topical Guide if you look up love, there are three column pages of references to love. And then President Faust said, “The golden pathway to happiness is the selfless giving of love.” Isn’t that a marvelous thought, in just a sentence?

In Proverbs there is a wonderful statement. It says, “Love covereth all sins” (Proverbs 10:12). I haven’t changed that. That’s exactly as it is stated. “Love covereth all sins.” How much power is there in love, if that is true.

You remember that when the Savior was in the home of Simon, and then I guess a very sinful woman came in and bent down and kissed His feet and bathed them with her tears, and took the tresses of her hair and wiped His feet and then anointed them with a special ointment. And Simon, seeing this, thought, “If he’s who he claims to be, why wouldn’t he recognize who this woman is?”

The Savior, perceiving his thoughts, said, “Simon, if a debtor owes fifty pence and another one five hundred pence, and the person to whom they’re in debt frankly forgives them both, who will love the most?”

And Simon says, “I guess he who is forgiven the most.”

And He said, “Thou hast rightly said.” And He said, “Because she loved much, she is forgiven” (see Luke 7:36-47).

Would you remember that? Because she loved much, she is forgiven. It doesn’t say she repented and all these other things, which are important. But He said, “Because she loved much, she is forgiven.”

Neal A. Maxwell said love is never wasted. It might not be reciprocated, it might not be appreciated, but it is never, never wasted. And Neil Armstrong, standing in Jerusalem on the ancient temple steps, and the guide that was there said to him, “Mr. Armstrong,” or to the group at least, “Where you’re standing right now is where Jesus stood two millenniums ago.”

And Neil Armstrong said, “I would rather be standing on these steps at this instant than standing on the moon.” I think that’s a dimension of his love for the Master, and ought to be ours as well.

There’s a little verse that goes:

The man who wants a garden fair,

Or small or very big,

With flowers growing here and there,

Must bend his back and dig.

The things are mighty few on earth

That wishes can obtain.

Whatever we want of any worth

We’ve got to work to gain.

It matters not what goal we seek

Its’ secret here reposes:

You’ve got to dig from week to week,

To get Results or Roses.

(“Results and Roses,” by Edgar A. Guest).

I think the same principal applies with love. You’ve got to give love over and over again, and remember, as Elder Maxwell said, it’s not wasted. I love the quote where Jacob worked seven years for Rachel, and he said, “They seemed…but a few days, for the love he had [for] her” (Genesis 29:20). Isn’t that a great statement? And I think a lot of you will feel the same way.

I think President Monson will be known as the compassionate prophet. There are three references to having a heart like unto God’s own heart—I think two are in Samuel, and one in Acts. And it describes David as having a heart like unto God’s own heart (see Acts 13:22). I think after almost three millennia, we have another prophet who has a heart like unto God’s own heart—President Thomas S. Monson. He is an amazing person.

I was in a temple meeting one day, and we were just finishing the meeting, and other the direction of President Hinckley, President Monson said, “Vaughn, we’ve just cleared a man in St. George to have his blessings restored. He is in the hospital and he’s dying. We’d like you to get down there as quickly as you can and, if possible, restore his blessings. He would like to go to the temple again before he dies.”

I got out of the meeting, went right the following and got an airline ticket, flew to St. George. The stake president picked me up, [and] we went to the hospital. Here were all the family gathered around the bed, and I thought, they really are expecting him to pass away. I excused everyone, I interviewed him, and when I was finished I felt that yes, he was ready. I restored his blessings. I had the family come back in for the restoration. After I had restored his blessings, we had a prayer in the room with the family. Then I left and went back to Salt Lake.

I heard that they took him to the temple in St. George the next day to an early morning session, on a gurney. He went through the entire session on the gurney, then they took him back to the hospital and he died a few hours later. It was interesting, President Monson called up and said, “Vaughn, did you get that blessing restored that I asked you to?”

I said, “It’s done, President, and he’s been to the temple this morning.”

And President Monson very humbly said thank you. I thought, that’s the kind of person President Monson is. He does have a heart like unto God’s own heart. Remember he used to talk about the 87 widows that lived in his ward when he was a young bishop, 22 [years old]? And all through the years until the last one died he took them a stewing hen or a box of chocolates or something during the holidays.

And there was a 15-year-old girl killed just a couple of weeks ago, you remember, skiing? And the morning of the funeral, which was last Monday—a week ago yesterday—they had the funeral, and just as the funeral was about to start, the side door opened up and in walked President Monson with his wife. I thought, “Of course. That’s what President Monson would do, be there when someone needs him.”

His wife had said, “Where are you going this morning?”

And he said, “We’re going to a funeral.” I guess he explained to her what the funeral was on the way.

And then do you remember the story about Crystal Methdin. He’s told it two or three times, and it’s a marvelous story of how the Lord moves to make things work and happen in his kingdom.

We were in an accident up by Afton, Wyoming. We were going about 65, and two horses were running at us about 25 miles an hour. Pretty heavy collision, and they came right through the windshield on my side of the car, both of them. Anyway, they flew us to LDS Hospital and I was in surgery. President Monson was just coming home from a trip, and he got off the plane and instead of going home, which I’m sure he wanted to worse than anything, but he came straight to the hospital and sat for an hour and visited with our family. Later on I said to President Monson, “If you’ll do that again, I’ll go through the accident again.” And I was serious. But he has a marvelous attitude and a wonderful love for people. He is the compassionate prophet, and has a heart like unto God’s own heart.

Oliver Goldsmith said, “The greatest object in the universe, says a certain philosopher, is a good man struggling with adversity; yet there is still a greater, which is the good man that comes to relieve it.”

I guess that’s where President Monson qualifies.

My wife is an adopted daughter, and she has a brother that was also adopted at infancy. And then, there was a little boy who was about six, and he’d been in about half a dozen or a dozen different homes, and no one wanted to keep him. So they said they would give him a try. Merlene’s parents tried taking care of this Robert, Bob, for a couple of months. Finally the mother said, “I can’t handle him. He’s got to go back to the orphanage.”

And her father said, “He’s not going back to one more orphanage. He’s going to stay with us no matter what happens.” Well, it wasn’t easy. He was in the detention center up in Ogden for a period of time. He went into the Army. He became an alcoholic, and he had some real serious problems. He came home and married. They adopted this little boy and took him into their home.

It was really interesting. Over the years, after he had married and then divorced, he wanted nothing to do with the family. I think he was too humiliated and embarrassed. His mother died, and the day of the funeral I got up early. I said, “Merlene, I’m going to go find your brother Bob and I’m going to get him to the funeral if I have to drag him there. He should be there.”

So I got one of my suits and a pair or shoes and stockings and a white shirt and a tie, and then I climbed in the car. This was about 8:30 in the morning, and the funeral was at noon at a Russon Brothers Funeral Home up on, I think, 2nd East. So I drove down to where I knew his former wife lived. I went in and I said, “Hello. I’ve got to know where Bob’s address is. Do you know what it is?”

She said, “Yes.”

I said, “Will you give it to me?”

And she said, “No.”

I said, “His mother’s funeral is today. I’ve got to take him to the funeral.”

She said, “No, I’m not going to give it to. I promised him I wouldn’t, that I wouldn’t let the family know where he lives, and I will not do that.”

I thought, surely for a death I’d get it. I talked for a half an hour, as hard as I knew how to beg and plead. I would have done anything to get the address. And she said no.

There was another lady living with her, and I said, “I’ll tell you what. Why don’t you tell her, and she can tell me, and you’ll be able to keep your word.”

She said, “I think I can do that.”

So she told the lady, and the lady wrote it down, and then she came and handed me this little note. I said, “That’s where he lives?”

And the lady said, “Yes,” and Helen nodded yes. So it was on Southgate Avenue. I drove down State Street. I know where the Southgate Shopping Center is at 38th South and State. I drove from 33rd to 45th, and I couldn’t find a Southgate Avenue. I drove around for about half an hour. I thought, surely there must be a Southgate Avenue. So I stopped a policeman, a patrolman, and said, “Do you know where Southgate Avenue is?”

He said, “It’s the first block past 27th South.” I hadn’t gone back that far, so I drove back to 27th South, and I got onto Southgate Avenue, and went to the address—this isn’t exact, but something like 78 East Southgate—and there was a 72 and an 84, but no 78. And I thought, she’s tricked me.

So I sat in front of the house, and I thought “78. I wonder if he lives in the garage.” So I got out of the car and walked out in the back, and lo and behold, here is a garage, a double garage with a little door on the side. And I could hear a television going on inside. So I walked over and knocked on the door, and no one answered, and I knocked again and no one answered. So I just tried the door. It was unlocked, so I walked in.

And here was a floozy sitting on the couch. You can’t believe the horrible mess and clutter, the way that apartment looked. I’ve never seen anything like that in my whole life. And she was just sitting there watching television. She said, “What are you doing here?”

And I said, “I’ve come to get Bob.”

She said, “Get out.”

I said, “I need to talk to Bob.”

She said, “Get out of this house.”

So I went into the bedroom to see if he was still in bed, and he wasn’t in bed. So I came back and said, “Please tell me where Bob is. I’ve got to get to him.” And then I said, “His mother’s funeral is today at noon, and I’ve got to get to him.” It was getting late; by this time it was almost quarter to 11:00. I said, “I’ve got to get him and take him to the funeral.”

And that woman who was sitting there on the couch, the tears gathered in her eyes, and she told me. She said he went to a job marketplace up on 7th East, told me where it was. So I drove up there and I went in, and there were a lot of men standing around. I couldn’t see Bob, so I went to the man and said, “Have you had a Bob Miner report to work today?”

He looked down at his list and said, “He’s at Coca-Cola, down on West Temple and 13th South.” I drove to West Temple and 13th South. I went in and said to the man who was the manager, “I’ve come to get Bob Miner to take him to his mother’s funeral.” I said, “I’ll pay his wage—I’ll pay anything you think he’s earned, plus I’ll pay him for the full day’s wage, if you’ll just let me take him with me.”

He said, “Elder Featherstone, I know you. You can go take him, and we’ll pay his full wage for the day.” So I went and found him, and thought, “If he resists, I’m going to drag him out of there.” I’d been working pretty hard.

I went and found him, and I said, “Bob, I’ve got a suit in the car, a white shirt and a tie and a pair of shoes and stockings. Your mother’s funeral is today in less than an hour, and I want you to go with me.”

He said, “Okay.” So we went out and got in the car, and we went to his mother’s apartment and he showered and cleaned up, put on his white shirt and tie and the suit I had given him, and the shoes and stockings. And then, about quarter to twelve—the funeral is at noon—we drove up to the Russon Mortuary. As we pulled up to the driveway, Merlene was standing out in the porch. I couldn’t see her face, but I knew that she knew there were two of us in the car, and I knew she cried. We went out and parked in the back, came around the front again, walked up the steps, and Merlene burst into tears and she hugged her brother Bob. And Bob hugged her, and then Carl, the other brother, came and hugged him.

And we went in and they had the family prayer. I was supposed to speak at the funeral. Just before I got up to speak, I thought, “Merlene’s mother would love me for doing this, for having Bob here to this funeral. And it seemed like but a moment for the love I had for Merlene’s mother.

I came home one night, some years back, and it was about 11:30 at night, and I had just been—I was exhausted. As I walked in the door, without hardly greeting my wife other than a quick kiss, I said, “I can’t handle one more problem.” That was kind of a clue to her—don’t tell me what the kids have done this weekend. And so I said, “I can’t handle one more problem.”

And she said, “Well, that’s too bad, because Joe Irvine called”—Joe Irvine, I went to grade school with him, in the first grade I started with him. I’d known him for fifty years.

I said, “What does he want?”

She said, “Here’s his phone number. It’s at the University of Utah Medical Center.”

So I called up and I said, “Joe, this is Vaughn Featherstone.” There was some sounds muffled—I knew he was emotional.

He said, “Vaughn, can you come up to the University of Utah Medical Center? My daughter is dying and she needs a blessing.”

I said, “When?” I was hoping he would say, “In the morning.”

He said, “Tonight.”

I said, “Of course, Joe, I’ll be right there.” I said to Merlene, “Will you go up to the hospital with me, up at University of Utah Medical Center?” And she said “Of course,” and we climbed in the car and rolled up to the University of Utah Medical Center, spent probably 15 minutes looking for the right room. My wife just waited in the car. I finally found the right room, the family were there, and we gathered and had a prayer. Joe and I went in to administer to his daughter who was in the ICU, and I still didn’t know anything. Then we went back and had a prayer with the family.

I got back in the car and we drove back home, about 1:30 in the morning. I wasn’t tired anymore, I wasn’t exhausted anymore. I thought, “I walked tonight where Jesus walked.” I felt that wonderful, sweet love from Joe and his family for doing something like that. They released his daughter from the hospital the next day.

I remember once when President Benson, I had the privilege of talking to him, and I heard that he loved the poem, “A Real Man.” I told my family, “When I die, if you feel like I’m worthy, on the grave marker would you put ‘Here lies Vaughn J. Featherstone, a man.’ You don’t have to put anything else. If I measure up—if any of the family doesn’t think I’ve measured up, don’t do it, but if you do, just put ‘A man’ in quotes.” That’s about the highest tribute you could pay to me.

So I’ve left that word with my family. If you go by my grave and there isn’t one of those, then you know I didn’t measure up. If there is, they fully felt pretty good. Anyway, President Benson loved this. Run yourself through a test:


   Men are of two kinds, and he

Was of the kind I’d like to be.

Some preach their virtues, and a few

Express their lives by what they do.

That sort was he. No flowery phrase

Or glibly spoken words of praise

Won friends for him. He wasn’t cheap

Or shallow, but his course ran deep,

And it was pure. You know the kind.

Not many in a life you find

Whose deeds outrun their words so far

That more than what they seem they are.

   There are two kinds of lies as well,

The kind you live, the kind you tell.

Back through his years from age to youth       

He never acted one untruth.

Out in the open light he fought,               

And didn’t care what others thought                 

Nor what they said about his fight             

If he believed that he was right.

The only deeds he ever hid

Were acts of kindness that he did.

   What speech he had was plain and blunt.

His was an unattractive front.

Yet children loved him; babe and boy

Played with the strength he could employ

Without one fear, and they are fleet

To sense injustice and deceit.

No backdoor gossip linked his name

With any shady tale of shame.

He did not have to compromise

With evil-doers, shrewd and wise,

And let them ply their vicious trade

Because of some past escapade.

   Men are of two kinds, and he

Was of the kind I’d like to be.

No door at which he ever knocked

Against his manly frame was locked.

If ever man on earth were free

And independent, it was he.

No broken pledge lost him respect,

He met all men with head erect,

And when he passed I think there went

A soul to yonder firmament                  

So white, so splendid and so fine

It came almost to God’s design.

   (“A Real Man,” by Edgar A. Guest)

I loved President Benson. Love is a great motivator, and I’ve loved him. He said when the Second Coming takes place that the flag of the United States of America will still be flying over this country. He was a great patriot, a great prophet, and a great leader, and a wonderful soul.

I remember once when we were in the mission field and we came home for April conference, and [our son] Joe said, “I’d like to get married in June, and I’d like you to do the sealing.”

I said, “Joe, I can’t—I’m a mission president. Even the general authorities who are mission presidents don’t come home between October and April, only at October and April.”

And he pondered long, and said, “Well, I’ll wait until October.”

I said, “Joe, please don’t do that. You’re ready to get married; get married. And I think I can get any one of the Brethren you’d like to have do it, to do it.”

So I tried to encourage him, and he said, “No, I’m going to wait for you.”

So about August I got a letter from the First Presidency, “Those general authorities who are serving as mission presidents will no longer come home for October conference, only at April conference.” I carried that letter around for three days before I dared call him. Finally I called Joe and I said, “Joe, let me read you a letter.”

I read the letter, and there was a long silence on the phone. I said, “Who would you like to have perform the sealing?”

He said, “Maybe Elder Packer.”

I said, “I think that would be wonderful. Do you want me to call him, or do you want to call him?”

He said, “I’d like to talk to him.”

So I said, “Great.”

So Joe called Elder Packer, made an appointment. And Elder Packer said, “Why doesn’t your dad do it?”

And he said, “Well, he read me a letter that he’s no longer invited home at October conference.”

So that afternoon, in the Twelve meeting, President Packer said he was going to do our son’s sealing, and President Kimball said, “Why doesn’t Vaughn come and do it?”

And Elder Packer said, “Because of a letter the First Presidency sent out, President Kimball, under your signature, that they would no longer come home at October conference.”

And that sweet, beloved man said, “You know, hasn’t Vaughn had pneumonia?”

They said yes, and he said, “Don’t you think he ought to come home and be examined by our doctors here in Salt Lake? And by the way, while he’s here he can do the sealing for his son Joseph.”

And then I remember another experience when I was just young. You won’t have lived long enough to know this, but—well, we might have a couple here—the old washers, they were independent and you plugged them into the wall. And when you wanted it to stop, you unplugged it. And it had a wringer and the wringers were electric. You had to fill the water up by taking buckets of hot water out of the sink and pouring them into this washer. And we couldn’t afford washing soap, so we would just take pieces of Ivory soap and make little shavings, and then that would become the suds when they finally dissolved and you would wash the clothes in that. And after you washed the clothes, you would wring them out and then you’d put them in a clear water rinse. Another tub was there that you had with warm water, and then you’d run it through the wringer again, and then you’d run it through another rinse which had bluing in it. Have any of you ever heard of bluing? Anyway, it had bluing in it.

And so I did the wash, and I think, I can’t remember any of my brothers being asked to do it—I think the only one my mom asked was me, to do it. My memory could be faulty, but I don’t remember anyone else doing it. I got pretty good at it, and it would take about three or four hours by the time you ran each batch through that system I’ve said. The washer had a hose on it, and you’d empty it into the buckets, and then you’d hang it back up, empty the bucket again and just keep doing that until it was empty. You’d fill the washer up and do the coloreds—the whites first, and then the colored, and then all the heavy overalls and things. And then you’d take them out and hang them on the clothesline to dry, with clothespins. We had about six or eight clotheslines, and I’d fill them all up with clothes. And it took, I guess, three or four hours, probably more than that. But it seemed but a moment, for the love I had for my mother.

I commend that to you. I think love is a wonderful thing. It needs to be expressed, especially to our mothers. I remember once when President Hunter told us in the temple about a little boy, and I’d heard of the little boy and actually seen him, and I thought he was about eight or nine, but President Hunter said he was twelve. He looked like he couldn’t have been more than eight or nine. President Hunter said that this little boy’s father was standing by the bed at the hospital, and he said, “You know, son, we don’t have much money left, we’ve spent all these years, we’ve spent”—he had leukemia, I believe—“money on the hospitals and medical expenses. We don’t have much, but we would like to give you a going away gift.” Everyone knew he was going to die within a week or so. And he said, “You tell us anything that you would like, and if we can possibly afford it, we’ll buy it for you as a going away gift.”

The boy thought for a moment, and he said, “Can I just shake hands with the prophet, President Hunter?”

The father said, “President Hunter is not well. He doesn’t come to the office every day, and when he does he has this little motorized wheelchair. And…can’t you think of something else you want?”

The son said, “No, I just thought I’d like to shake hands with the prophet before I die.”

The father said, “I’m sorry. He’s sick, he’s not well. Everyone in the Church would like to shake hands with President Hunter.” And then the father stood there and he thought, “Why not? My son is dying. At least I can ask.”

So he called Don Staheli, the prophet’s secretary, and he said, “Brother Staheli,” and he told him what I’ve told you. He said, “Do you think President Hunter would mind coming and shaking hands with my son?”

And Brother Staheli said, “Let’s find out.” Next thing you knew, this father was talking to President Howard W. Hunter on the phone, and President Hunter said the father told him everything that had happened, and what he would like to do.

And he said, “Of course, bring the boy down.” So they brought this boy down to Church Offices on a gurney, and they wheeled him into President Hunter’s office. President Hunter in his little motorized wheelchair wheeled out around from behind his desk, went over to the boy and kissed him on the forehead, shook hands with him, talked to him and then went back. He said they talked for about an hour, and then he gave this boy a blessing. And then President Hunter said this, “And he was a sweet little boy.” I could just feel the love he had for this wonderful little boy that all he wanted was to shake hands with the prophet.

Then one other that is past most of your time. There was a day when we used to pay building funds. Eighty-twenty, the Church paid twenty percent and the members paid eighty. Then it went to seventy-thirty, then to sixty-forty, then to fifty-fifty, then reversed. And finally it went down to two percent, and now it’s nothing. We don’t pay for any of the buildings, except through our tithes and offerings. But I remember when we had just moved into the Valley View Sixth Ward, and it was two or three days after Christmas. Our bishop called first, and came to see us. He sat down in the chair—first he walked through our house and he said, and we’d only lived there a few months, maybe three or four months, and he said, “Is this the same carpeting that was here when you moved in?”

I said, “Yes, we couldn’t afford new carpeting.”

And he said, “What about this furniture?”

I said, “It’s all our used furniture, yes, Bishop.”

He went around the house, and said, “Are these the same draperies, or did you buy new ones?”

I said, “No, these are the same draperies. We couldn’t afford new draperies.” I said, “What can I do for you, Bishop?”

He said, “Come in and sit down.” We went in and sat down in the living room in two chairs we had bought from a family that were selling some nice wing chairs up on the Avenues. I thought they were nice chairs, and they were pretty good. They were only thirty dollars apiece, so we bought those two wonderful wingback chairs. He sat in one, I sat in the other and Merlene sat on the couch, and he said, “I’ve just had a meeting with our stake president, President Rex Reeve, and he wants us to raise so much money before January 1st.”

This was about the 27th or 28th of December. If I had $35.00 in my bank account, it would be amazing. I had no collateral, I had no savings, I had no insurance. I didn’t have anything except the down payment that I had put on the home. And I thought, “Well, if we have to, we’ll sell our home and get the down payment and pay the building fund.” Anyway, I said, “Well, Bishop, how much do you want?”

He said, “I’ve selected a handful of people who have enough faith to pay, and I’m leaving that decision up to you.”

I said, “Bishop, don’t do that. You know how much you need, and you tell me, and we’ll get it for you. Whatever it takes, we’ll get it for you.”

He said, “No, I’m leaving that entirely up to you.”

I thought for a minute, and I thought, “Well, maybe we could get so much. I don’t have any collateral. I don’t know if they’ll give me a signature note for this much.”

And I was about to say that, and he remembered he said he’d selected a handful of people who had enough faith to pay. So I doubled that figure, and I was getting a little emotional. I thought, “I hope I can borrow that much.” I was about to speak, and then I remembered, the Lord said he would open up the windows of heaven and pour us out a blessing we could not contain. So I doubled that figure. I said, “Bishop, would so much be all right?”

I was on the verge of tears, and when I said that much he just openly wept. The tears streamed down his cheeks. When my wife got over the shock, she wept, and I was weeping. I knew as we sat there without saying a word that the bishop loved me with all of his heart and soul, and I loved him with all of my heart and soul. I wouldn’t trade that moment for anything.

Next day I went down to the bank and I said, “I’ve done something foolish. Our bishop came to us and asked us for money for the building fund, and I’ve committed to this much. It has to be a signature loan; I don’t have any assets, I don’t have any collateral. I need to borrow this money.” It was so urgent, I’ve got to get it. I had to make them say yes.

He looked at me for a long moment. He said, “Well, Mr. Featherstone, there are some things more important than collateral, and I think you have them. Of course we will give you the note.”

I went back and gave the check to the bishop that night, and I don’t ever remember paying it back. We did, but it wasn’t a difficulty, it wasn’t a burden. So I commend you to…I think love is one of the great blessings in life. In the D&C 133, the Lord says, “Now the year of my redeemed is come; and they shall mention the loving kindness of their Lord”—the loving kindness—“and all that he has bestowed upon them according to his goodness, and his loving kindness, forever and ever” (verse 52).

And I promise you His love will be extended, and can we extend our love to all around us—those who need it most, who probably deserve it least, they still need our love, and we can do it. I testify to you this is the only true and living Church, and loving Church, of Jesus Christ on the face of the earth. In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.

What Is Your Personal Brand?

10 Feb. 2009


What Is Your Personal Brand? 


Preparing our Hearts to Receive

I am humbled by this opportunity to speak and have felt the pressure of knowing that you are expecting me to have something to say. I have faith in the promise found in D&C 43:15-16. It suggests that if a teacher or speaker has done his/her best to sanctify themselves then they will be “endowed with power” sufficient to “give even as the [Lord] has spoken.”

Because of that I plead for the Spirit to help me and plead that you would plead for the Spirit to help us both – that I might speak by the Spirit and that you will receive by the Spirit so that in the words of Elder Maxwell, “the Spirit will arc between us so there is rapid and shared understanding.”

Let’s set the stage before we get to the topic of building your own personal brand. The 50th section of the Doctrine and Covenants gives us great insight into gatherings like this and our respective roles as we try to grasp the tailored tutorial the Spirit might have us learn for our collective and individual lives. 

D&C 50:13-14 suggest that in any gathering there is one who may be called upon to speak or preach. And what are they to preach? – The Savior’s gospel. And by what instrument or method are they to teach? – By the Spirit. And what is role of the Spirit? – To Teach the truth. Do you see the subtle difference between who does the speaking or preaching of the gospel and who does the teaching? The Spirit is the teacher and when a person speaks by the spirit it is carried “unto” the hearts of those present. Elder Bednar calls our attention to 2 Nephi 33:1 and helps us see that the spoken word can only come to the door of your heart and that you must let it in. You must receive it.

The act of “receiving” lies at the foundation of modern revelation. D&C 1:11 – the introduction to this entire book of revelation begins with the Lord’s conclusion: “Wherefore, the voice of the Lord is unto the ends of the earth, that all that will hear may hear.” 

Receiving, then is a willful act, and nowhere more prominent than in the promise of the Book of Mormon. Moroni 10:4: “I would exhort you that when you shall read these things ....that you remember how merciful the Lord has been unto the children of men, from the creation of Adam even down until the time that you shall receive these things and ponder then in your hearts.”

Now one final look at D&C 50, and then perhaps our hearts will be ready to receive. Verse22 : “Wherefore, he that preacheth and he that receiveth understand one another, and both are edified and rejoice together.” There is a distinction between the words “understand” and “edify”. Elder Scott stated: “The verb understand refers to that which is heard, it is the same message to all. “Edify” concerns that which is communicated by the Holy Ghost. The message can be tailored by the Spirit to the needs of each individual.”

Now that we understand the process, I invite you to open the door of your heart to “receive” and thus be edified by the Spirit.

What is a brand?

If I were to ask you what the Nike swoosh stands for, what would be your response? What is the emotional feeling brought to mind? What is the promise of the Swoosh?

Let’s try it again, how about a Jonathan Apple with a bite out of the right side? What is the brand? What is the emotional feeling brought to mind by the brand? What is the promise of the brand?

Here is another. A red and white bulls eye? What is the brand? What does it stand for? What is the emotional feeling brought to mind by the brand? What is the promise of the brand?

One more. A blue square with a white “F”? What is the emotional feeling brought to mind by the brand? What is the promise of the brand?

Question. Have you ever considered yourself as a brand? When your name is mentioned by those who know you or your work, what is the emotional feeling brought to mind? What do they think you stand for? What makes you memorable to others? What are the values your brand is based upon? What is the promise of your brand? Finally, how much equity or value does your brand have to others? 

A brand is anything that adds to or subtracts from your real or perceived value as a family member, friend, co-worker, community member, employee, student at the BC, and a ward member.

Now stop yourself right here. It is at this point that for some Satan whispers in your ear, “You stand for nothing, you are not memorable to anyone, no one has a positive emotional reaction to you. You have no value. Stop listening to Brother Richards and let’s ponder all things wrong in your life.” 

These thoughts are just a modern day version of the same dialogue recorded in the first chapter of the Book of Moses. Moses sees God face to face, talked with him and was shown a great vision. In the eight verses that cover this exchange, God refers to Moses as His “son” in three of those verses. And in verse six, He tells Moses that he is in the “similitude of His only Begotten Son”. Now that is a powerful boost – a pretty good esteem builder. That is a solid brand identity.

When the presence of the Lord withdrew from Moses, he was visited by Satan. And how did Satan address him? Was it an affirmation of Moses’ divine sonship? No. Verse twelve states “... Satan came tempting him saying: Moses, son of man, worship me.”

That is the same as “You stand for nothing, you are not memorable to anyone, no one has a positive emotional reaction to you. You have no value. Stop listening to Brother Richards and let’s ponder all things wrong in your life.”

Part of being valiant in the testimony of Jesus is believing that he is who he is, and you are who your really are - gods in embryo, and that he will magnify your honest efforts. That testimony of him has burned in you since before this world was. Your testimony was the sword and shield you wielded in the war in heaven in defense of the plan of happiness. Revelation 12:11 in part reads: “And they (those who fought along side Michael the Archangel) over came him (Lucifer) by the blood of the Lamb, and by the word of their testimony…”. You have great worth and capacities. We are here to help you discover and develop it.

We are here to help you:


  • Know
    • Who you are and what you can do
    • Your relationship with heaven an be well grounded in it
  • Be Ready
    • To build families
    • To serve in the kingdom and community
  • Become
    • Confident in your abilities
    • Self-reliant
    • “Latter-day Saints” in every sense of the word.

These represent the foundation of your personal brand which we are helping you build.


Elements of a Personal Brand

So what are the elements of a spiritual and temporal brand built upon the foundation we have just described? What is it that will help you make your own mark in the world? May I suggest that your mark upon the world, your community, your family, and this college will be the result of what you choose to do with your head, your heart, and your hands.

Our Heads

President Hinckley said, “You have a mandate from the Lord to educate your head, your hearts, and your hands.” On another more popular occasion he said, “Get all the education you can get.” Why? The answer is simple: Leadership is the key to growth in the church and community. Education is the key to leadership.

Does that mean that all your education has to be in the classroom on a straight and uninterrupted diet of primary school, secondary school, college, and advance degrees? No. Neither is all the learning achieved in the classroom. It was Mark Twain who said, “I have never let my schooling interfere with my education.” There is very little of my college classroom education that has been relevant in my career. But my extracurricular activities at college, my active involvement in community projects, and my responsibilities in the church taught me leadership skills and became the laboratory in which I could hone the skills I learned in class.

Today’s educational environment is incredibly exciting and challenging. The first challenge is embedded in changing nature and speed of the world economy. For example: the amount of technical information is doubling every two years. Therefore, if you are starting a four-year technical degree, this means that half of what you learn in your first year of study will be outdated by your third year of study. The top 10 ten “in-demand” jobs in 2010, did not exist in 2004. Translation: We are helping you prepare for jobs that don’t exist yet using technologies that have not been invented yet, in order to solve problems we don’t even know are problems yet. The U.S. Department of labor estimates that today’s students will have 10-14 jobs before the age of 38 and several different careers.

The 25% of India’s population with the highest IQ’s is greater than the total population of the United States. Translation: India has more honors kids than America has kids. 

So what does that mean? There may be some technical skills that get you a job, but it is unlikely that the technical skills will make you promotable, and flexible in changing markets and fluctuating economies. It means that you must learn how to learn and develop a passion for it. It means you become a life-long learner and love it. It means you view each new employer as a learning opportunity and become a sponge proactively seeking and absorbing knowledge.

The second challenge with educating your head is to learn wisdom. My favorite definition of wisdom is the power to judge rightly following the soundest course of action based on knowledge, experience and thinking. You see what good is knowledge without the power to judge rightly? Knowledge for its own sake is not good enough. We must know of things as they really are and really will be. We must be willing to pursue truth from all sources. If our pursuit of truth is confined to the sciences, then our knowledge of things as they really are is bound by the limits of the tools of our own invention. [Astronomy story]

With wisdom comes the capacity to be teachable. To be teachable is to be bold in your actions but to expect correction, to learn and to make adjustments. 

We are wise if we understand the pattern of the Lord and his prophets when they teach. The key is that they allow us to use our agency and participate in our own learning. Example: Moses 4:15 “where goest thou”, 1 Nephi 11 “what desirest thou?” “What beholdest thou”, [President Monson’s stories to me]. 

Our Hearts

Eric Shumway, former president of BYU-H said: “Fill your life with all the things that will improve your head, your heart, and your mind.”

Your heart is the place you sort out your values, priorities, and yearnings. It is the place where inspiration and direction about your life will be confirmed. In the book The Little Prince, the Fox, speaking to the Little Prince says, “It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.” 

There is great wisdom in that little quote. When our hearts are right I think we see things differently. With the heart we tend to see abundance, with only our eyes we often see scarcity and limitation. Therefore, how great the need for our hearts to be soft, contrite, and in tune with the powers of heaven. How does it get that way? Listen to the voice of the Lord; D&C 43:16: “Sanctify yourselves and ye shall be endowed with power that ye may give even as [the Lord] has spoken.” You want power from heaven to help you become what you have the capacity to become and to create a spiritual and temporal legacy? Watch your heart.

President Heber J. Grant made this promise and observation: “If we are faithful in keeping the commandments of God His promises will be fulfilled to the very letter. . . . The trouble is, the adversary of men's souls blinds their minds. He throws dust, so to speak, in their eyes, and they are blinded with the things of this world.”

Can you change your heart? Yes, there can be a mighty change – because the spirit of the Lord Omnipotent, can wrought a mighty change in your heart, that you have no more disposition to do evil but to do good continually (Mosiah 5:2)

Listen to President Hinckley:

“I am asking that we stop seeking out the storms and enjoy more fully the sunlight. I am suggesting that as we go through life we “accentuate the positive.” I am asking that we look a little deeper for the good, that we still voices of insult and sarcasm, that we more generously compliment virtue and effort. I am not asking that all criticism be silenced. Growth comes of correction. Strength comes of repentance. Wise is the man who can acknowledge mistakes pointed out by others and change his course. What I am suggesting is that each of us turn from the negativism that so permeates our society and look for the remarkable good among those with whom we associate, that we speak of one another’s virtues more than we speak of one another’s faults, that optimism replace pessimism, that our faith exceed our fears. When I was a young man and was prone to speak critically, my father would say: “Cynics do not contribute, skeptics do not create, doubters do not achieve (from Ensign, Apr. 1986, 2–4).

Such an attitude comes first from the heart and then it gets into your head and finally to your hands.


Our Hands

Three positions of hands apply when we talk about establishing a personal brand and creating a spiritual and temporal legacy. Picture with me a hand raised to the square, then hands reaching out, and finally hands folded.

First a hand raised to the square. Speaking of sustaining church leaders, President Monson stated: “As we raise our hands we pledge our hearts.” Follow the brethren. Is it blind obedience? NO. An ancient philosopher reportedly said, “I don’t obey God any more, I agree with Him.” If the Lord loved us enough to send prophets, surely we should be smart enough to follow them. There is safety in sustaining the Brethren with your hands, your heart, and your head.

Second, hands that reach out to others. Here is President Monson’s thoughts on a well known event recorded in the third Chapter of the Book of Acts. 

“Reflect a moment on the experience of Peter at the gate Beautiful of the temple. One sympathizes with the plight of the man lame from birth who each day was carried to the temple gate that he might ask alms of all who entered. That he asked alms of Peter and John as these two brethren approached indicates that he regarded them no differently from scores of others who must have passed by him that day. Then Peter’s majestic yet gentle command: “Look on us.” The record states that the lame man “gave heed unto them, expecting to receive something” from them (Acts 3:4–5).”

“The stirring words Peter then spoke have lifted the hearts of honest believers down through the stream of time, even to this day: “Silver and gold have I none; but such as I have give I thee: In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth rise up and walk.” Frequently we conclude the citation at this point and fail to note the next verses: “And he took him by the right hand and lifted him up:

“And he … stood, and walked, and entered with them into the temple” (Acts 3:6–8).”

“A helping hand had been extended. A broken body had been healed. A precious soul had been lifted toward God.”

“Time passes. Circumstances change. Conditions vary. Unaltered is the divine command to succor the weak and lift up the hands which hang down and strengthen the feeble knees. Each of us has the charge to be not a doubter but a doer; not a leaner but a lifter. But our complacency tree has many branches, and each spring more buds come into bloom. Often we live side by side but do not communicate heart to heart. There are those within the sphere of our own influence who, with outstretched hands, cry out: “Is there no balm in Gilead?” Each of us must answer.”

And Elder Holland reflected Brigham Young’s call in 1856 to do what we can do with outstretched hands.

“As surely as the rescue of those in need was the general conference theme of October 1856, so too is it the theme of this conference and last conference and the one to come next spring. It may not be blizzards and frozen-earth burials that we face this conference, but the needy are still out there—the poor and the weary, the discouraged and downhearted, those "[falling] away into [the] forbidden paths" … and multitudes who are "kept from the truth because they know not where to find it." They are all out there with feeble knees, hands that hang down, and bad weather setting in. They can be rescued only by those who have more and know more and can help more. And don't worry about asking, "Where are they?" They are everywhere, on our right hand and on our left, in our neighborhoods and in the workplace, in every community and county and nation of this world. Take your team and wagon; load it with your love, your testimony, and a spiritual sack of flour; then drive in any direction. The Lord will lead you to those in need if you will but embrace the gospel of Jesus Christ… Open your heart and your hand to those trapped in the twenty-first century's equivalent of Martin's Cove and Devil's Gate. In doing so we honor the Master's repeated plea on behalf of lost sheep and lost coins and lost souls.”

Third, let’s consider hands that are folded. John14:13-14. “And whatsoever ye shall ask in my name, that will I do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If ye shall ask any thing in my name, I will do it.” A key to asking is to not ask amiss (2 Nephi 4:35). How do we avoid asking amiss? When we are in the earnest process of educating our minds by seeking wisdom, when our hearts are broken, contrite and we are in the process of sanctifying ourselves, when our hands are stretched out to lift others, then we have come to the same unity of mind, will, and action Nephi had as recorded in Helaman Chapter 10: 4-5 – we will not ask amiss.

“Calling upon the name of the Lord” with folded hands reflects a character that is teachable and humble. Many a great man or woman with great leadership ability is lost because they forget to call upon the name of the Lord. That is, they are great leaders but not great followers and hence are less serviceable to heaven. The Brother of Jared was a large and mighty man, almost a natural leader who forgot to continue calling upon the name of the Lord in a period of relative prosperity. 

Note what happened when the Brother of Jared repented. What was his purpose for calling upon the name of the Lord? -- It was for his brethren. Note the very same thing in Enos’s life (verse 8-9).

Brethren and sisters may we not live below our privilege to tap the powers of heaven. May we choose wisely and not be blinded by the weakness spoken of in Ether 12:27. May we be like President Monson who said, “I want to live my life in such a way that if the Lord needs an errand run, he knows Tom Monson will be there to run it.”

With our head on straight, our heart in the right place, and our hands doing the right things, we are ready to act and not be acted upon. We will be in the process of building our own personal brand.



The notion of a personal brand gives rise to the idea of living every day in a positive way – despite the challenges and setbacks. In the trial there is great growth, in the searing furnace of affliction our metal is fashioned that we might become as Joseph Smith wrote: “A smooth shaft in the quiver of the Almighty.”

Good Timber

by Douglas Malloch

The tree that never had to fight
For sun and sky and air and light,
But stood out in the open plain
And always got its share of rain,
Never became a forest king
But lived and died a scrubby thing.


The man who never had to toil
To gain and farm his patch of soil,
Who never had to win his share
Of sun and sky and light and air,
Never became a manly man
But lived and died as he began.


Good timber does not grow with ease:
The stronger wind, the stronger trees;
The further sky, the greater length;
The more the storm, the more the strength.

By sun and cold, by rain and snow,
In trees and men good timbers grow.

Where thickest lies the forest growth,
We find the patriarchs of both.
And they hold counsel with the stars
Whose broken branches show the scars
Of many winds and much of strife.
This is the common law of life.


From Mother Teresa we get this counsel:

People are often unreasonable, illogical and self-centered;
forgive them anyway.

If you are kind, People may accuse you of selfish, ulterior motives;
Be kind anyway.

If you are successful, you will win some false friends and some true enemies;
Succeed anyway.

If you are honest and frank, people may cheat you;
Be honest and frank anyway.

What you spend years building, someone could destroy overnight;
Build anyway.

If you find serenity and happiness, there may be jealousy;
Be happy anyway.

The good you do today, people will often forget tomorrow;
Do good anyway.

Give the world the best you have, and it may never be enough;
Give the world the best you've got anyway.

You see, in the final analysis, it is between you and God;
It was never between you and them anyway.


Ponder the example of Joseph Smith and his brand. 

So brothers and sisters, what is in a brand? You, your divine heritage, and your divine potential. What is in a brand? Your head, your heart and your hands. What is the product of your brand? A spiritual and temporal legacy that tapped the powers of heaven and bound you to blessings? What is the promise of your brand? That having done all you will stand in holy places and be not moved. That Heaven will bless you with blessings unnumbered. In the words of President John Taylor blessings of “thrones and principalities and dominions in the eternal worlds.” We are here to help you achieve exactly what you want… and then some. We are here to help you create and build your own personal brand and to give it value in the community and Kingdom. May the Lord help us both to do our part. He lives, He is the Christ, and the government of the kingdom is and will forever be upon his shoulders. He is the Wonderful Counselor, The Mighty God, The Everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace. He stands at the door of your mind and heart and knocks. May you love him enough to let him in so he can direct your hands for good I pray in name of Jesus Christ, Amen.

Take off Your Sunglasses: Embracing Light to Discover Truth

24 Feb. 2009


Take off Your Sunglasses: Embracing Light to Discover Truth

A number of years ago we had a student on campus who was enthralled with the power of evil. She had spent a long time studying what she saw as a pervasive and strong force that comes from the dark side. Talking with her reminded me of a scene in a Star Wars movie. You know the one. Near the end of that movie, the villain says to our young hero Luke Skywalker, “Only now at the end do you understand the power of the dark side.” Then the villain zaps our Luke with electric bolts that come out of his finger tips. The young student I talked with espoused that same philosophy. She believed that by studying the dark you could better understand the light. Her idea was that the contrast helped you better appreciate the good. 

You likely can see the danger and the lie in that are nested in that point of view. It is tantamount to saying that the Lord wants us to understand the brilliance of the sun by focusing our efforts on the shadows. In fact, this lie would tell us that the best thing would be or us to study deep shadows so we can see the contrast, and the deeper the shadow the better. 

But Christ does not ask us to study shadows. Instead, he wants us to turn to face the light. He said:

 “Walk while ye have the light, lest darkness come upon you: for he that walketh in darkness knoweth not whither he goeth. “While ye have light, believe in the light, that ye may be children of light” (John 12: 36-37).

The apostle Paul echoed the Savior’s words when he wrote:

“Ye are all the children of light, and the children of the day; we are not of the night nor of darkness” (1 Thes. 5: 5).

What a great thing to say. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we saw ourselves that way, as children of light? Let’s say that you’ve gone back home for the summer and someone in your home ward asks you what you’re majoring in at college, and instead of saying accounting or interior design or some other field, you answer, “I’m studying light. I’m a disciple of light.” In fact, we could say that we spend so much time in the light that we’re beginning to get a Son-burn. But this is one burning that would be desirable, a kind of celestial burning.

Many of you are already having something like that happening in your life. The way you have chosen to live has changed your countenance. You’re somehow brighter, more radiant. Your personality glows. We have many visitors on campus who are impressed with your goodness and can sense it radiating from you. They say things like: “They have a glow about them,” “They shine,” “There’s a light that comes from their faces.” “They seem so bright.”

We know that this light is the light of Christ which burns in us, and if we live right, the light can intensify. The scriptures say it this way:

“That which is of God is light; and he that receiveth light, and continueth in God, receiveth more light; and that light growth brighter and brighter until the perfect day.

And again, verily I say unto you … I say it that you may know the truth, that ye may chase darkness from among you” (D&C 50: 24-25).

Notice the interesting connection that the Lord makes to light. Christ gives us instructions that we might know the truth to the end that we might chase darkness from us. Time does not permit today, nor, in fact, will we live long enough to exhaust the concept of light, but let’s take a few moments this morning to talk about light and its connection to truth and what that means to you as students in a College that specializes in learning by study and by faith.

The scriptures often combine the concept of light with truth.

 “For the word of the Lord is truth, and whatsoever is truth is light, and whatsoever is light is Spirit, even the Spirit of Jesus Christ” (D&C 84: 45).


“The glory of God is intelligence, or in other words, light and truth. Light and truth forsake that evil one” (D&C 93: 36-37).

We know that there is a difference between learning and coming to knowledge of the truth. In fact, the scriptures note that some are “ever learning, and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth” (2 Tim 3: 7). To paraphrase one writer, “You can swim all day in the Sea of [Truth] and still come out completely dry. Most people do” (Norman Juster).

So what is truth? You may remember that Pilot asked that of Christ during the last day of the Savior’s life. But Pilot asked a rhetorical question and did not wait for an answer. He was a kind of moral relativist and didn’t believe in absolute truth, and certainly not in the kind of truth Christ could have given him (John 18: 37-38). We, on the other hand, want to know and understand truth that we might become full of light.

Fortunately for us, the answer Pilot could have received was given through the Prophet Joseph Smith as part of the restoration of knowledge (2 Ne 30: 5). Here’s the answer, and it has significant impact for you and me:

“And truth is the knowledge of things as they are, and as they were, and as they are to come” (D&C 93: 24).

In other words, truth is a holistic understanding of things that takes into account the beginning, the middle and the end of a topic. It is a celestial viewpoint. It is seeing things as they really are, as they actually were, and as they surely will be. Wouldn’t that be a great thing to understand? Surely, if the College offered that kind of a course, Celestial Truth 101, we would sign up. 

In reality, it is a course you can take. In fact, it’s one you take every morning when you read your scriptures or every Sunday when you go to Church or when you pray with sincere desire and real intent (see Mormon 10: 3-4). 

When we spend time in this Celestial Truth 101 class, we learn that some things are much more important than others and we gain an understanding and viewpoint that helps us put other things into proper perspective. 

Elder Neal A. Maxwell said,

“Some truths are salvationally significant and others are not. It is clear from the verses of scripture that some truths may turn out to have a place in a yet-to-be-revealed hierarchy of truth which the world doesn’t anticipate. The scriptures tantalize us by saying ‘all truth is independent in that sphere in which God has placed it.’ (D&C 93: 30) One even wonders if truths, like planets, might belong to a particular order. (See Abr. 3: 9) But we do not now know. No wonder we should not speak casually of ‘education for eternity” (The Inexhaustible Gospel, Ensign, April 1993).

I talked with a very educated geologist at another school some years ago who was decidedly not religious. He knew a great deal about geology, but did not see a divine hand in the creation of the earth, or in its geologic history, or in its more recent activities. My geologist friend’s perspective was too narrow. When I pointed out that the scientific community still referred to their founding principles as theories, and that maybe there were significant principles we did not yet understand, he quickly got defensive and ended the discussion. It reminded me of what Nephi wrote when he said,

“Wo unto all those who tremble, and are angry because of the truth of God! For behold, he that is built upon the rock receiveth it with gladness; and he that is built on a sandy foundation trembleth lest he shall fall” (2 Ne. 28: 28).

Does that mean we should not learn about geology or geologic time? I don’t think so. The scriptures specifically mention geology in the things that we should learn (see D&C 88: 79). But in our learning, we should recognize that we don’t know it all, that there is still more to understand.

Elder Maxwell said,

“The role of secular knowledge is very important. Latter-day Saints should have all the genuine excitement others have in the traditional adventure of learning, including learning secular truths, and we should have a little more. In fact, when we are so learning and so behaving, we are truly ‘about (our) Father’s business.’ This should bring to us a special and genuine zest for learning” (ibid).

Again, this zest for learning requires a health sense of humility. There’s a little verse I like that says:

I used to think I knew I knew.
But now I must confess.
The more I know I know I know
I know I know the less.
         A. Ray Olpin

Part of discovering truth is realizing that we don’t know it all. With that knowledge comes the understanding that God is the source of all truth and that He gives knowledge to us as we demonstrate a willingness to obey His laws. And if we are willing, we can receive a fullness of light and truth. Christ said:

 “And no man receiveth a fulness unless he keepeth his commandments.

“He that keepeth his commandments receiveth truth and light, until he is glorified in truth and knoweth all things” (D&C 93: 26-28).

That is a tremendous promise. Now notice what follows in the next verses: The Lord defines intelligence as “light and truth” or, more instructively as “the light of truth,” (D&C 93: 29) and then says this:

“And every man whose spirit receiveth not the light is under condemnation. For man is spirit. The elements are eternal, and spirit and elements inseparably connected, receive a fullness of joy; and when separated, man cannot receive a fulness of joy” (D&C 93: 32-34).

In other words, true intelligence is the combination of light and truth, and light and truth, when they come to us, bring a fulness of joy. Many, if not most of you have had those moments when pure intelligence flows into you and you see a thing with new clarity, and the insight fills your heart with joy. Those are moments we live for, moments we study for, and moments we work for. In essence, we take off our telestial sunglasses so that we can see the full brilliance of truth and light.

This process usually happens a little at a time and in addition to personal efforts; it requires patient and willingness to wait for the Lord to give us a full understanding.

Let me share an example. In 1984, an antique documents dealer named Mark Hoffman, claimed to have purchased a letter purported to have been written by Martin Harris to W.W. Phelps. Mark Hoffman had a strong reputation as an amazing acquirer of rare documents so this letter had immediate interest. The letter said that Joseph Smith had been practicing "money digging" through magical practices, and that instead of the angel Moroni giving him the gold plates, it was, in reality, "a white salamander" that had appeared to Joseph. The letter showed every evidence of being authentic, so a member of the Church purchased the document and donated it to the Church. As you might imagine, when the press found out about the letter through an anonymous source, they had a heyday. Newspaper articles across the country ran headlines about Joseph receiving the gold plates from a white salamander, and the editorial sections and letters to the editor were not very complimentary of the intelligence of the Latter-day Saints. Suddenly it was a bit uncomfortable to be a member of the Church.

One national publication referred to the letter as “a fundamental crises (that) loom(ed) before Joseph Smith’s church” (Gnosis: A Journal of Western Inner Traditions, Spring 1995).

The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, The Sunday Times of London, and others jumped on the band-wagon for what was later called ''some of the most sustained and intense Latter-day Saints Church-bashing since the turn of the century'' (Mormon Official Castigates Press, New York Times, Aug. 9, 1987).

The press accused the Church of suppressing documents it found embarrassing or that did not agree with its doctrine. They found the Church leadership guilty of inaccuracies, distortions, bias, refusing to print letters of reply and other attempts to cover up. In short, they accused Church leaders of lying.

One New York Times article said: ''According to investigators, the church leaders purchased from Mr. Hofmann and then hid in a vault a number of 19th-century letters and other documents that cast doubt on the church's official version of its history.'' The Los Angeles Times ran an article in 1985 citing an unnamed source that said the Church had a secret history that varied from the official history. It was later revealed that Mark Hofmann was the confidential source of the story. 

Antagonists to the Church took delight in pointing out what they said would be the final downfall of the Church. 

This was at a time in the Church’s history that also saw other challenges. President Spencer W. Kimball was the prophet and President Marion G. Romney his first counselor, but both of them were too ill because of age to deal with the day-to-day events of Church leadership. That left President Gordon B. Hinckley, who was second counselor in the First Presidency, to deal with the issue. 

I had friends who had a hard time with this and some left the Church. The letter implied that the story of Joseph Smith and the Angel Moroni really wasn’t about an angel after all, but a white salamander, and that Joseph really did claim to have magical powers that he used to dig for money. As strange as this sounds now to hear it, the letter then seemed very authentic.

For many it was a tough time. And it went on for several years.

I remember one conference during this time when President Hinckley spoke. It wasn’t his specific words that comforted me, but his confidence, his faith. When it looked dark for the Church, he exuded a quiet optimism. He said that he did not know all things, but he knew that the work was true and that it would go on, boldly and nobly as Joseph had prophesied. Those words were a great comfort to me. I realized I didn’t need to be able to answer every criticism, that I could wait to know the truth, but in the meantime, I could continue on in faith. 

President Hinckley said:

“We are familiar with stories that the work would fail. When the Book of Mormon came from the press, the crude critics said it would soon be forgotten. When troubles grew in Kirtland, the enemies said the work would fail. When the Saints were driven from Missouri, those who drove them said the Church would soon expire. When the Prophet and Hyrum were killed in Carthage, their murderers said it was the end of this thing. When in February of 1846 the wagons crossed the river into the Iowa winter, the enemies of the Church said that it could not survive. When the Saints found themselves in this lonely valley, with crickets devouring their crops, there were even some of them who thought it was all over.

But the work has gone forward. The Church has never taken a backward step since it was organized in 1830—and it never will. It is the cause of the Master. It is the church of God. It is his work established in this latter day. It is the little stone which was cut out of the mountain without hands, which should roll forth to fill the whole earth. God bless it as it moves forward on its great advancing course. And may each of us be found faithful and true and doing our part in advancing it” (April Conference 1984, The Miracle Made Possible by Faith).

Three years after initial press accounts of the so-called white salamander letter, Mark Hoffman was shown to be a liar and a murder. He ended up in prison and his letters were exposed for the forgeries they were. Critics were silenced, journalists embarrassed, and the Saints vindicated. I often wondered in those days about the people who had left the Church. Did they regret their short-sightedness? Did they realize what they had given up and did they wonder why their faith had not been stronger? Did they wish to return, or had they so justified their choice that they now were truly out of the Church?

President Henry B. Eyring said:

“Just as truth is given to us line upon line and the light brightens slowly as we obey, even so, as we disobey, our testimony of truth lessens almost imperceptibly, little by little, and darkness descends so slowly that the proud may easily deny that anything is changing” (A Life Founded in Light and Truth, Ensign, July 2001).

The Mark Hoffman event happened when I was not much older than some of you, but the same thing happens now. Today we hear of DNA evidence that purports to disclaim the truthfulness that Native Americans are descendants from Lehi. Also, popular opinion today casts doubt in the minds of others because of the Church’s stand on Proposition 8. They ask, how can any intelligent person support Proposition 8? I suspect that more anti-LDS sentiments will grow over this issue, and you may not always be able to explain things. In the days ahead it may become much less popular to be LDS and people may wonder about your intelligence. And there may be yet other issues more difficult than this. 

If we take, as our definition of truth, the transitory, temporary, limited view of man, then we will always be tossed to and fro by every wind of doctrine. If we take a more celestial view, a long-range vista that defines truth as it really is, and as it really was and is to be, then we are humble and patient enough to wait for the arm of the Lord to be revealed. Then we can then say with the Psalmist:

“O send out thy light and thy truth: let them lead me; let them bring me unto thy holy hill [temple], and to thy tabernacles” (Psalms 43: 3).

President Eyring said:

“Life will have its storms. We can and must have confidence. God our Heavenly Father has given us the right to know the truth. He has shown that the way to receive that truth is simple, so simple that a child can follow it. Once it is followed, more light comes from God to enlighten the understanding of His faithful spirit child. That light will become brighter even as the world darkens. The light that comes to us with truth will be brighter than the darkness that comes from sin and error around us. A foundation built on truth and illuminated by the light of God will free us from the fear that we might be overcome” (ibid).

Now, if you were paying attention, you will notice how the scriptures that talk about truth and light all point to Christ. They teach us that Christ is the “life and the light of the world,”(Mos. 16: 9) the “light that shineth in the darkness and the darkness comprehendeth it not,” (D&C 45: 7) “the true light, which lighteth every(one) who cometh into the world” (John 1: 9)

He is “the light of truth; which truth shineth. This is the light of Christ. As also he is in the sun, and the light of the sun, and the power thereof by which it was made. As also he is … the light of the moon, and the power by which it was made; as also the light of the stars … and the earth also, and the power thereof, even the earth upon which you stand.

And the light which shineth, which giveth you light, is through him who enlighteneth your eyes, which is the same light that quickeneth your understandings” (D&C 84: 6-11).

The light that illuminated the barges built by the Brother of Jared was literally the light of Christ. (See Ether 2: 18 – 3:6, 6: 2-3) The light that illuminates our lives also comes from Him. Let us turn toward the light and let the shadows fall behind us. Turn away from darkness and be children of light. Isaiah said in speaking of Christ, “The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light; they that dwell in the land of the shadow of death, upon them hath the light shined” (2 Ne 19: 2).

You may have some doubts and at times your faith may seem weak, but be patient. Let your faith guide you as you learn and patiently wait to understand the things that are not yet clear to you. In time, you will come to know, and your knowledge will be based in truth. And truth will “chase darkness away from you” (D&C 50: 25). Because “if your eye be single to my glory, your whole bodies shall be filled with light, and there shall be no darkness in you; and that body which is filled with light comprehendeth all things” (D&C 88: 67). Turn toward the light so that you do not “walk in darkness at noon-day” (D&C 95: 6).

When I was younger I read a scripture that said that “darkness cover(ed) the earth, and gross darkness the minds of the people” (D&C 112:23). It made me wonder: When heavenly hosts look down on us, do they see us partly in terms of light and darkness? If they do, what kind of light am I? Am I a speck of light, a mere pinpoint? That thought was not satisfying to me and there grew in me a desire to be much more than a small spot of light. I determined to do what I needed to do to have more light, to be brighter. I would ask, how bright is your light, and what can you do to make it more brilliant? Is there something holding you back? Are you hanging on to telestial sunglasses when it would be better to let them go?

As your light becomes more brilliant, you not only will bring blessings to yourself, you will become a light on a hill, a beacon to the world. There are hundreds of young men and women both in and out of the Church who desperately need and want someone to set an example for them. Your example can be a lamp to their feet and a guide to their way.

And you also can help each other while you are here. When you choose to live virtuously, to keep your language uplifting and clean, when you keep your commitment to the honor code, when you are honest, and kind and considerate and patient with others, you set an example that is too bright to ignore.

A few years ago Emily was a student here. Emily had suffered through a terrible car accident that, even after years of therapy, left her still unable to speak clearly, nor could she say more than a few words at a time. She had trouble walking and struggled with extreme fatigue. Reading was a chore and the physical effort it took her to stay up on her homework was nothing short of exhausting. We would often find her asleep in a chair late in the afternoon as she waited for her dad or mom to pick her up at the end of the day, and she was here every day, all day, and spent long hours into the evening doing homework.

But for all that Emily couldn’t do, there was such a light and spirit about her that we all wanted to be around her. She radiated love and strength. She would tell those with difficult challenges to “never give up” and she had an unflagging positive attitude. I can tell you, and I think I speak for many who know Emily; I have never met anyone quite like her. Her eventual graduation brought an outpouring of love from faculty, staff, and other students that seldom has been seen.

Before she graduated, we had Emily speak to a group of donors who gathered on campus. She spoke, and her dad repeated her words so that those in the audience could understand. It was a moving experience for everyone in the room. She brought a great spirit to the room and all of us shed tears. 

Elder Henry B. Eyring, then a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles and the Commissioner of Education, was the speaker after Emily. He said that people often asked him what it was like to speak in General Conference after a General Authority. What they should ask him, he said with emotion, was what it was like to speak after Emily. He then made us an apostolic promise that those of us in that room would never forget that evening, worlds without end. That promise came because of the spirit, the love, and the light that came from Emily. 

Thankfully, no one here has the same challenges as Emily, but you have the same opportunity to have an impact for good, to be a light to the world. You can bring clarity, joy, hope, and love to such a degree that your impact will last far beyond this life. You can become someone who will impact others for good, worlds without end.

Our great hope and prayer for you is that you will turn to Christ. Please, step fully into the light. You have such potential for good. Turn away from darkness and doubt, and trust that God who gives you both light and truth. May God bless you to use your time at the College to that end, I pray.

You Are Your Secrets

03 Mar. 2009


You Are Your Secrets

It’s an honor to be asked to speak, only because there’s a responsibility that we have, and as you’ve made a choice to be here, and I have prayed that you might receive something of value from what I say.

I want to begin by talking about Brother Evans’ talk last week on technology. Have you ever noticed how everything nowadays comes with an owner’s manual? In the old days, you just got a watch, and you could just pull out the little stem, you could twist it a few times to wind it up, you could set the time and go about your business. But now you’ve got to have an owner’s manual to set the dual time and the alarm and all the different stopwatch functions and what-have-you, and all the buttons on the sides. Without your owner’s manual, you can’t even work your watch. Isn’t that right?

Now, I know we’ve turned all the cell phones off, but how many have a cell phone in here? Just have a cell phone? Okay, that looks like most of you. How many of you have a cell phone owner’s manual that is at least a quarter of an inch thick? Today’s computers, televisions, DVDs, cameras, etc. all come with owner’s manual—oftentimes they are like a regular book you would buy in the bookstore, it seems like. And I have found, at my age and not being a tech guy, that it’s hard to understand, even with a manual, how to operate half of the stuff I buy.

Most cars now have on-board computers. So when you go in to have it diagnosed for a problem, you have to hook it up to the computer at the dealership. In fact, a lot of really small repair shops now are limited on either the cars they can operate on, meaning service, or the kinds of service, because they simply can’t afford to purchase all of the software for all of the cars and all of the things that they really could do. We simply live in a world that’s got all kinds of manuals.

Now why am I telling you this? Well, a few weeks ago, our youngest son and his wife had their first baby. They were in the hospital for two days, and sent home with the most complicated of all things—a human being—and no owner’s manual. I mean, can you imagine buying a really expensive, high-tech, high-end device and then not getting an owner’s manual with it? You would complain, right? I think it would be really cool if as a baby popped out it had an owner’s manual taped to its body. And it would be for that very model. You could just open that up—not the baby, the manual—and actually read how to take care of this thing that you’ve just taken home. And so, with that in mind, I’ve thought about this a lot, and I believe that the closest thing we have to an owner’s manual for human beings is the scriptures. I believe the scriptures say what they say because of what and who we are.

In the scriptures, teachings, principles, doctrines, commandments, rules and even the stories, human nature—the way human beings work—is revealed. And we are also taught how to be spiritually, psychologically, emotionally and socially healthy.

Let me just give a few really brief quotes from the Owner’s Manual. Just statements.

“Every spirit of man was innocent in the beginning” (D&C 93:38).

“Adam fell that men might be; and men are, that they might have joy” (2 Nephi 2:25).

“The natural man is an enemy to God, and has been from the fall of Adam, and will be, forever and ever, unless he yields to the enticings of the Holy Spirit, and putteth off the natural man and becometh a saint through the atonement of [Jesus] Christ…and becometh…a child, submissive, meek, humble, patient, full of love, willing to submit to all things…the Lord seeth fit to inflict upon him, even as a child doth submit to his father” (Mosiah 3:19).

“And the Messiah cometh in the fulness of time, that he may redeem the children of men from the fall” (2 Nephi 2:26).

“And the Lord said unto me: Marvel not that all mankind, yea, men and women, …must be born again; yea, born of God, changed from their carnal and fallen state, to a state of righteousness” (Mosiah 27:25).

“For as he thinketh in his heart, so is he” (Proverbs 23:7).

“For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh” (Matthew 12:34).

“To be carnally minded is death; but to be spiritually minded is life and peace” (Romans 8:6).

“The glory of God is intelligence, or, in other words, light and truth” (D&C 93:36).

“Light and truth forsake that evil one” (D&C 93:37).

“For godly sorrow worketh repentance to salvation” (2 Corinthians 7:10).

“No man can serve two masters….Ye cannot serve God and mammon” (Matthew 6:24).

“We have learned by sad experience that it is the nature and disposition of almost all men, …as they [gain] a little authority, as they suppose, they will immediately begin to exercise unrighteous dominion” (D&C 121:39).

“Therefore, it is not right that any man should be in bondage one to another” (D&C 101:79).

“Agree with thine adversary quickly, whiles thou art in the way with him” (Matthew 5:25).

“Verily I say [unto you], men should be anxiously engaged in a good cause, and do many things of their own free will, and bring to pass much righteousness; for the power is in them, wherein they are agents unto themselves” (D&C 58:27-28).


Now, those are just one-liners. I wrote those down in about five minutes, just trying to think through the scriptures of different statements that direct our lives or give us thoughts about our lives, or things we should be doing with our lives. But we’re a religious school. This is a private institution, and religious courses are required of you as students. Therefore, I think we sometimes become casual and become almost secular in our approach to the scriptures.

Let me just read a little—it’s not a poem—and I changed it from the original, to make it say what I wanted it to say:


Jesus took his disciples up into a mountain,

And He opened His mouth and taught them,

Saying, Blessed are the poor in spirit.

Blessed are they that mourn.

Blessed are the meek.

Blessed are they which do hunger

And thirst after righteousness.

Blessed are the merciful.

Blessed are the pure in heart.

Blessed are the peacemakers.

Blessed are the persecuted.

Then one disciple asked, ‘Do we have to write this down?’

Another said, ‘Do we have to turn this in?’

Another asked, ‘Will this be on the test?’

One said, ‘The other disciples didn’t have to learn this.’

And one said, ‘What does this have to do with real life?’

And Jesus wept.


I’ve entitled my remarks “You Are Your Secrets.” And, using the “Owner’s Manual,” I would like to develop that idea. I would like you to think of your heart as a bank account. We’ll call it today a “heart account.” We make deposits and withdrawals every day. If we do good things, live by our core values, we make a positive deposit into our heart account. If we sin, we make a negative deposit.

Now how does the heart account work? Well, whenever we tell or brag about some positive accomplishment or favor we’ve done someone, we exchange the positive credit for immediate satisfaction from the people we’re talking to. In other words, we make a withdrawal. We spend our positive deposit. In the same way, when we confess or tell a negative act, something we feel guilty about, we likewise spend it and it’s gone from our hearts.

Let’s go to the Owner’s Manual and see what it says about the things of our heart. In the famous Sermon on the Mount, in chapter 6 of Matthew, Jesus is talking about alms and prayers and fasting. These are all acts that are called acts of religiosity. These are good things, and as I read from Matthew 6, I’m going to read first of all about alms. Alms are just anything you do, any act that you perform, that’s for a good, service-type thing.

“Take heed that ye do not your alms before men, to be seen of them: otherwise ye have no reward of your Father which is in heaven.

“Therefore when thou doest thine alms, do not sound a trumpet before thee, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may have the glory of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward.

“But when thou doest alms, let not thy left hand know what thy right hand doeth:

“That thin alms may be in secret: and thy Father which seeth in secret himself shall reward thee openly” (vv. 1-4).

He’s teaching us to do good things secretly, not to be seen of other people. Now, I don’t want you to raise your hand, but how many of you can identify with that feeling you get when you’ve spontaneously done something for someone that was the right thing to do, and no one knows about it but you, the person you served—maybe they don’t even know—and Heavenly Father. There’s a good feeling that comes. It’s almost like getting a little increase of internal pressure. It kind of just makes you feel good, and I hope you can identify with that. That’s a positive reward from Heavenly Father. He rewards us openly. We recognize that.

Now, at the same time, “When thou prayest, thou shalt not be as the hypocrites are: they love to pray standing in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets, that they may be seen of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward.

“But thou, when thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father which is in secret; and thy Father which seeth in secret shall reward thee openly” (Matthew 6:5-6).

Now, of course He’s not talking about the prayer we had in our devotional. This is talking about personal, private prayer. And that is a secret and private thing. But the feelings of the Spirit in personal prayer, when it becomes a relationship, when you know that you’re talking to Father in Heaven and He is feeling your thoughts and you’re feeling His recognition, are some of the most personal and sacred experiences you will ever have. And you will know in those moments that there is a God in heaven who knows you. But they will not come in prayers that are done to be seen of men.

Lastly, Jesus comments about fasting. He says, “Moreover when ye fast, be not, as the hypocrites, of a sad countenance: for they disfigure their faces, that they may appear unto men to fast. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward.

“But thou, when thou fastest, anoint thine head, and wash thy face;

“That thou appear not unto men to fast, but unto thy Father which is in secret: and thy Father, which seeth in secret, shall reward thee openly” (Matthew 6:16-18).

What we’re being told here is on Fast Sunday, take a shower, put on your makeup, go to church and give no appearance to anybody that you are fasting. And don’t look down at your watch as the meeting’s just ending and say, “Boy, in twenty more minutes, I’ll have gone 24 hours.” Or, and this one I’ve actually heard: “I have a headache, but I can’t take anything because I’m fasting.” Don’t be fasting as far as anybody else would know. Do it in secret. That’s what the Savior is teaching us over and over again in these scriptures.

He used a word in all three cases. Did you pick up the word? In each case, those that do alms, those that pray, and those that fast to be seen of others were called a hypocrite. A hypocrite is an actor, a person who puts on a false appearance of virtue or religion. Or, another definition, a person who acts in contradiction to his or her stated beliefs or feelings.

The reward the hypocrites get is that people think they’re righteous. But they get no reward of their Father in Heaven. They spend, if you will, what could have been a positive deposit before it even gets deposited in the bank.

The power of doing good in secret is beautifully illustrated in a story from last December’s—and notice the source—this comes out of the Friend, for the little kids. It was entitled “The Secret Giver.” Adela Frederick is our vice president of service, and so certainly the service vice president ought to read a story about service. So I’ve asked Adela to read this brief little story to you. I hope it makes the point about doing things in secret.


Adela Frederick:

I love everything about Christmas: the lights, carols, time with family—everything we do to celebrate the birth of Jesus. Oh, and I especially love getting presents. I start making my Christmas wish list in September.

One year my list was about as long as my arm. And I kept thinking of things to add to it. I was excited to show it to my dad. “Well, David, I see what you want to get for Christmas,” he said as he looked it over. “But what are you going to give?”

“I’m making gifts for you and Mom at school. On Friday Mom is taking me shopping for Shannon’s and Jon’s gifts. So I’ve got it all planned out.”

“Hmmm,” was all Dad said. For some reason he didn’t like my answer. I didn’t like the sound of “hmmm.”

The next family home evening, my parents discussed the idea of giving and getting and the true meaning of Christmas. I could see my wish list getting shorter by the minute. They asked us if we had any ideas to help us remember to be more giving. Shannon waved her hand excitedly. My older brother, Jon, and I groaned. With Shannon, ideas usually involved doing things for other people, like weeding our neighbors’ gardens.

“Let’s choose some people who are lonely or in need and anonymously leave presents on their doorsteps,” Shannon said with excitement.

“Not a bad idea,” Jon said. “It would be top secret.”

“This might actually be fun,” I thought.

We all agreed that it would be a great plan. We chose two families. One was the Swenson family in our ward. Since Brother Swenson had gone back to school, they never seemed to have enough money. They had lots of kids too, who would love getting Christmas surprises. The other family was Mr. and Mrs. Perez, an older couple who lived down the street. They always seemed a little lonely.

We all went shopping for the gifts. We agreed to buy them using some of the money we would have used for our own presents. That was fine with me. I was having way too much fun choosing toys for the younger Swenson boys. Somehow my stuff wasn’t that important anymore.

We decided to give one gift a night to each family starting 12 days before Christmas. When the first night came, I dressed in black from head to toe, and Jon drove me over to the Swensons’ house. I quietly put the first gift on the porch, rang the doorbell, and ran away as fast as I could. I jumped behind a fence just as one of the kids opened the door. I could hear their surprised voices as they discovered the present. I felt like I would explode with excitement and joy. My life as a Secret Giver had begun.

Things only got better—and harder. We had to go at different times every night and sometimes even in the morning because the Swenson kids started looking out the window to try to catch us. And every time I crept up to the Perez’s doorstep, I imagined Mrs. Perez waiting there, ready to fling the door open, give me a hug, and tell me how wonderful I was. I definitely had to avoid that. Keeping a secret was half the fun.

Well, that year was only the beginning. The Christmas after that, we chose a family whose daughter had been in the hospital 11 times that year and another family whose mom had cancer. Wow—I didn’t realize that some people had it so tough.

Now that Christmas is here again, we’ve decided to help three families. The hardest part is choosing them. There seem to be so many people who could use a little Christmas cheer.

As for my own list? Each year it has gotten a little shorter. I’m so busy making my Secret Giver plans that I don’t have much time to think about myself. There are gifts to choose and strategies to plan.

One thing is certain—it’s great doing things for others. Nothing beats the feeling I get when I see the surprise and excitement on the faces of the people we help. Giving has become one of my favorite things about Christmas.

(Charlotte Goodman McEwan, Friend, Dec 2008, 4–6. Based on a true story).


Brother Mumford:

Thank you, Adela. I hope you enjoyed that story. I forgot to mention, it’s a true story.

So, to summarize up to this point, we are to do good in secret, and not to be seen of others. Remember now how the heart account works. When we tell or brag about some accomplishment or favor we’ve done someone, we spend our positive credit for immediate praise or satisfaction from others.

Now, don’t raise your hands, but I want to again ask a question. How many of you have ever done something that was the right thing to do at the right time, and received that positive good feeling, and then maybe in an hour or two later you were with friends, you were talking about how great they were, and in an effort to make yourself look good you then told what you had just done. And you felt it leave you. Now I can testify that as we tell these good things that are, if you will, secrets in our heart, there is something that leaves us and goes away.

Now let’s contrast that with the other side. What about our negative deposits? By contrast, what does the Owner’s Manual for human beings say? Let me read a few statements from it:

“I acknowledged my sin unto thee, and mine iniquity have I not hid. I said, I will confess my transgressions unto the Lord; and thou forgavest the iniquity of my sin” (Psalm 32:5).

“If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9).

“And whoso repenteth of their sins and did confess them, them he did number among the people of the church; and those that would not confess their sins and repent of their iniquity, the same were not numbered among the people of the church, and their names were blotted out” (Mosiah 26:35-36).

“Behold, he who has repented of his sins, the same is forgiven, and I, the Lord, remember them no more” (D&C 58:42).

“By this ye may know if a man repenteth of his sins—behold, he will confess them and forsake them” (D&C 58:43).

The overriding message in the Owner’s Manual is that we are supposed to tell or confess all the things we have done that are wrong. By telling or confessing, we spend our guilt, and it becomes a withdrawal on our heart account and is no longer a part of us. So if we now summarize these two aspects of the Owner’s Manual, Jesus is telling us to confess or acknowledge all of our bad things, and to keep inside of us all of our good things.

But what do most of us do? Just the opposite. We tend to go around talking about the good things we’ve done, and keep all the bad things inside. Even small sins are accompanied by fear—of losing the good opinion of men, of being found out, of being robbed of earthly treasure.

Now remember, when you tell something or brag or make yourself look good in the eyes of others, it’s the same as spending and the positive credits are gone. So how would a person feel about themselves, about their relationship with God and others, if their heart is simply full of negative things? Negative deposits make us feel guilty, unlovable, unworthy, lower our self-esteem. On the other hand, if we really believe the words of Jesus in the Owner’s Manual and confess or told our negative things, we would spend them and they would no longer be in our heart. And if we kept back all of the good things, our heart would be filled with positive deposits. How would you feel about yourself, feel toward God and others, if your heart was filled with nothing but positive deposits? They make us feel worthy. They give us confidence in the presence of God. They make us feel loving toward other people.

Since the deposits we tell are spent and are no longer in us, at any given moment in our lives, we truly are our secrets. Whatever we have kept inside is who we are. And while others may not know, we know, and we know that God knows. Even if someone is able for a time to hide his or her actions, our secrets are never hidden from God. As Jacob tells us, “He knoweth all things, and there is not anything save He knows it.”

In his book, The Miracle of Forgiveness, President Spencer W. Kimball wrote: “Many offenders in their shame and pride have satisfied their consciences, temporarily at least, with a few silent prayers to the Lord and have rationalized that this was sufficient confession for their sins. ‘But I’ve confessed my sins to my Heavenly Father,’ they will insist, ‘and that is all that is necessary.’ This is not true where a major sin is involved.”

In an article by Bishop Jerry Taylor he wrote: “It would be helpful to know the purpose of confession. We read in the Doctrine and Covenants that the spirit is much like the body, only the matter is of a constituted finer and more pure nature. If we suffer major trauma to the body, we visit a doctor, and he will prescribe a course to make us whole again. The same holds true for an injury or an insult to the spirit. In order for the spirit to heal properly, part of the therapy is confession.”

Let me just share two personal examples to try to make my point about both doing good in secret and confession. My birthday is in August and I became a deacon during the summer. I knew deacons passed the sacrament, and that’s about all that I knew that deacons did. They got to wear white shirts and ties. My first Sunday as a deacon I was assigned to cut a widow’s lawn in our ward. I didn’t even know the woman; she lived clear across town, three blocks away. But I remember as a brand-new deacon pushing our hand mower and feeling really stupid as it crashed and clanked down the street for three blocks to her house. I only knew it by the address. I didn’t even know if she was home.

I began cutting the front lawn, and as I was finishing the front lawn, the door opened and this little lady came to the front door holding a glass of lemonade. It was a hot August day; I was grateful for the lemonade. So I thanked her after I drank it and I went around to do the back lawn. When I finished the back lawn and was getting ready to go home, as I started to leave down her driveway I remember this—and this is a very clear memory for me—I remember the door opened again, and out she came. And I would have hoped for a lemonade again, but instead she held out in her hand two shiny quarters. I remember this, I was twelve. I’m an old man; this was long ago.

The two shiny quarters kind of caught me off guard. I felt that I was supposed to cut this lawn as a deacon, as part of my priesthood assignment, and I didn’t think that involved taking money. But I remember thinking how hot it was, and there was a Fernwood’s Ice Cream store between her house and my house, which I had to push my lawnmower past to get to where I lived. As I looked at those two quarters, I just felt that it wasn’t right. So I thanked her and told her I had cut her lawn as a deacon, and then before I was tempted anymore I turned around really quickly and started home.

Now, I can tell you that I was tired, but I walked home more energized than when I went down. I somehow felt that Heavenly Father knew that I had done the right thing. As a little twelve-year-old deacon, I had a marvelous feeling in my heart that I was good, and Heavenly Father knew that I had done good. I never told that story to anybody. My parent—one of them has passed away—don’t even know about it. I never shared that story until I was a bishop, talking to my Aaronic Priesthood and trying to teach them the power that could come to them if they would learn how to serve for the right reasons.

Another experience: I was serving as a bishop. We had in our ward a really sweet widowed grandmother. I can picture her very clearly. This sweet grandmother loved everybody. She loved the kids. She went to the temple regularly. She came in for a temple recommend interview and those that have been interviewed recently remember that the last question always asks if there has been anything in your life that’s not been resolved with the priesthood that needed to be. I remember asking that question rather perfunctorily and reaching for the recommend book to start to fill it out, and I heard a “Yes.”

I remember being caught off guard by that yes, and I did a double take and—bishops always try to act cool, like they aren’t surprised by anything, you know—and I kind of leaned back so she could speak. And she then began to share with me how she and her husband had joined the Church after they were married. They were in their late twenties. But she told how, when they were courting there had been a few times that she’d felt maybe weren’t appropriate. But when they had been interviewed, now as a married couple several years later, she had wondered if she should bring that up but she didn’t, in the interview for her baptism. And all of these years, I’m going to guess at least forty, maybe fifty—all of those years she had wondered if she should have ever told that. And she said that, in her life, she could sort of feel okay about it because she wasn’t a member then. And then a talk would be given in Church and it would come into her mind that she maybe should have. Then she’d sort of deal with it and put it out of her mind.

It bothered her for all those years and I don’t know why she chose, on that particular day, but for whatever reason she chose on that day for the first time ever to share that. I felt very blessed as a bishop. It was a sacred moment as I watched tears in her eyes, and I watched this sweet little sister unburden herself. She was probably sharing the only negative secret in her heart. And I watched the smile on her face. She just glistened as she finished and as we stood to leave. In fact, I will confess this to you, only because this is a confession. She asked, “Bishop, can I give you a hug?” If it wouldn’t have been that she was about 85, I would have said no, but she gave me a big hug. And it wasn’t me that she was hugging. She was hugging the office of a bishop. I just happened to be the lucky bishop who got to be in that sacred moment at that time for her.

Well, in conclusion this afternoon, just by looking at these two little ideas that are in this Owner’s Manual about doing good things in secret and telling or confessing our negative things, we can truly be spiritually, psychologically, emotionally and socially healthy, and have a more abundant life and more confidence in the presence of the Lord.

Listen to D&C 121:45-46. “Let thy bowels also be full of charity.” The bowels are simply a symbol in scripture for our inwards. Let’s put our heart there. Let me re-read it. “Let thy heart also be full of charity”—that’s those good deeds done in secret—“towards all men, and let virtue garnish thy thoughts unceasingly.”

So there’s just two requirements—a heart full of righteous, personal, good things and virtuous thoughts. And here’s the five promised blessings if we’ll do that: “Then shall thy confidence wax strong in the presence of God; and the doctrine of the priesthood shall distil upon thy soul as the dews from heaven.

“The Holy Ghost shall be thy constant companion, and thy scepter an unchanging scepter”—that’s your symbol for authority—“an unchanging scepter of righteousness and truth; and thy dominion”—that’s your sphere of influence, notice the way it works—“shall be an everlasting dominion, and without compulsion…it shall flow unto thee.” Most authority flows outward, because of threats and fear. In righteousness, dominion flows toward righteousness. That’s the promise if we live by the Owner’s Manual in just these two little principles that are contained therein.

Now, if any of you have negative deposits in your heart, I promise you that they will not go away until you confess them to the appropriate person or persons. One of the veritable signs of this being the true church is its absolute insistence upon the need for confession of serious sin in order to experience true repentance and healing. I further promise that as we perform acts of goodness in secret, we’ll find our confidence waxing stronger in the presence of God, and a love for others and for ourselves that is so true. It’s in the Owner’s Manual, and it’s who we are and how we work and how we are. In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.