Winter 2019

Terence M. Vinson

05 Mar. 2019

11:15 a.m. - Noon

Conference Center Little Theater

Video

Audio

Quotes

 

 


Transcript

    What a blessing to be amongst faithful young disciples from all over the world. I wholeheartedly embrace the international flavor of LDS Business College students, especially given that I have been resident in the US for only 7 months myself. The rest of my life has been lived in Australia and West Africa. So, I welcome all who are here, including my fellow “aliens” as we are apt to be called on entering this country.

    You are each at a critical stage of your lives. But it is extremely unlikely that you will finish your lives on this earth feeling exactly the same way you do now about yourself, the Gospel, and others. You will change with the years. That change will be for the better or the worse, and rather than just letting it happen to you, I strongly urge you to determine now in which direction you will head. Things will happen in your lives to alter your feelings and priorities. Those things will include friends (most especially your spouse), study, work, the media you watch and read, the causes you embrace, your hobbies, your health, setbacks, and opportunities. In other words, you will have choices to make.

    Let me tell you a story I heard in Ghana that illustrates this point. There was a very poor, elderly man who had a large dog that he loved. Unfortunately, the dog died, and the city in which the man lived had a law that required all animals to be buried in a special cemetery at the owner’s considerable cost. He could not afford the burial so he placed the dog in a large, old suitcase, and boarded a train to a country area where he would be able to bury the dog without cost. As he lifted the heavy bag onto the train, a kind young man saw how heavy it was and helped him. He then sat alongside the elderly man and conversed with him. When the young man asked what was in the bag, the elderly man was not exactly truthful and, trying to hide his purpose, told him it was full of expensive books and a computer. Then, as the train was about to pull out of the first station, the young man jumped up, grabbed the bag, and ran off the train. The other passengers called after him but the elderly man did not give chase.

    When the young man opened the bag, he realized that his choice had cost him his train trip, his reputation, and the cost associated with burying the dog. We, too, can easily make poor choices that are not in our best, long-term interests.

    So, how do we develop the strength to treat always as precious those things that are most important?

    Hopefully, you have discovered, as have I, that the things of most importance are to live the two great commandments – to love God (first and foremost), and to love others as He does (see Matt. 22:36-40).

    There will be threats to your determination to keep the first commandment and to develop into even stronger discipleship. Let’s look at what those threats might be by examining the temptations that Satan used against the Savior in his attempt to counter the love that Christ has for the Father.

    In Matthew 4:2-9, we read of these three temptations. There are many things we can learn from them and I do not intend to cover them all. But there are some aspects that I believe are most valuable for us to understand.

    The first temptation was for the Savior to turn stones into bread so that He might satisfy the hunger He had after fasting for forty days (see Matt. 4:2-4). He had, at that time, finished his fast; so, He was going to eat anyway. We know He had the power to turn stones into bread; later, he did perform a similar miracle with feeding the five thousand. But the power he would have needed to use was His priesthood power.

    Now, I hold the priesthood and, as such, I have the power to bless anyone in the world with that priesthood, member or non-member, except for one person. I can never use the priesthood to bless myself. Its purpose is to bless others, and not to be turned for one’s own benefit. The Savior understood this. So, this temptation was a temptation against His integrity, one of the most important qualities of God, and it was immediately rejected

    There will be times when you, also, will be tempted to compromise your integrity. Decide now that you will never succumb to such a temptation, that you will protect your integrity with all your might and strength, at whatever cost.

    The second temptation was for the Savior to cast Himself from the pinnacle of the temple to show the people His power and to receive their praise because He would be unharmed (see Matt. 4:5-7). This was a temptation to pride. But the Savior had no pride as he was the epitome of humility; so, this temptation, too, was immediately rejected. But we will also be tempted to be proud – of the successes we achieve, of our abilities, of the assets we accumulate, of the positions we attain. Always remember who it is who is the source of every blessing we receive in this life, and of how fragile and slippery is our hold on those things that might tempt us to be prideful, but which are really on loan from God. At most, we have a tenuous lease on those things. Life, health, and wealth are just some of the things we can lose in an instant.

    In fact, there is a powerful scripture in the Old Testament that speaks to this very point of fragility or slipperiness, teaching about the absolute folly in prioritizing less-important things over the things of the Lord. It talks of the people’s “ceiled houses” which were houses decorated with beautiful wood paneling, and comparing them to the “house” of the Lord. The scripture teaches, in a very direct way, the myopia of wanting to be in our homes rather than engaged in the work of the Lord, in this case building the temple. It is found in the Book of Haggai. Here it is:

    “Is it time for you, O ye, to dwell in your ceiled houses, and this house lie waste? Now therefore thus saith the Lord of hosts; Consider your ways. Ye have sown much, and bring in little; ye eat, but ye have not enough; ye drink, but ye are not filled with drink; ye clothe you, but there is none warm; and he that earneth wages, earneth wages to put it into a bag with holes. Thus saith the Lord of hosts; Consider your ways.” (Haggai 1:4-7)

    Satan’s third effort was focused on a temptation for the Savior to feel entitled to all the good things of the world (see Matt. 4:8-10). Well, He was entitled as the creator of the earth, but He realized that any reward He would receive must be based on His finishing His work on earth. There would be no short cuts. He knew that the way was going to be difficult but that the results would be worth it. How often do we look for shortcuts to our goals, instead of knuckling down and doing what’s required to earn them for ourselves? As Euclid said to the Egyptian king, Ptolemy, who wanted a shortcut to learning Euclid’s mathematical methods: “There is no royal road to geometry”. The same is true for us in all our worthwhile pursuits.

    These three character traits of the Savior – integrity, humility, and hard work – need to be developed and honed in each of us over a lifetime. His possessing them is one of the reasons we love Him and our seeking them is one of the ways we show that we love Him. And they are essential if we are to become like Him. So, I challenge you to make a commitment to yourself, and to the Lord, today, to have these qualities (integrity, humility, hard work) become descriptors that others would give of you.

    If you are to achieve this state, you will need to reject any distractions, unlike the general, Lehonti, when he was approached by Amalickiah. Lehonti had determined that he would not come down from Mount Antipas to meet with Amalickiah because he could not be trusted. But after many attempts, he finally compromised and accepted what he thought was a good and enticing plan, only to be poisoned by degrees by Amalickiah and suffer death, leading subsequently to the death of many thousands of innocent people. (see Alma Ch. 47)

    The second of these two great commandments is to love others. But it’s not just about feeling love for others, but it’s about doing something to lift and help them. We all need to understand the importance of people and our relationships with them. At the same time, we also must know that they have their agency to act for themselves. We, and they, can get stronger, or we can drift to a lower level. The lesson here is that we can’t base our faith on others. We must strengthen ourselves, as did the wise virgins. Their spiritual strength was represented by the oil in their lamps, as they awaited their time to accompany the bridegroom into the marriage feast (see Matt. 25:1-10). And we must allow others to choose whether they accept our invitation to obtain their needed oil to be ready to meet the Bridegroom.

    In relation to your friends and associates, both current and future, it is critical for you to observe and discern their real character. Don’t compromise on your own standards, but always be kind and considerate to others. We should always keep in mind the quote that President Monson famously used: “Never let a problem to be solved become more important than a person to be loved.” (Finding Joy in the Journey, Ensign Nov. 2008, 86)

    And the way that we show love to others is indicated by the Lord, Himself: “And if any man among you be strong in the Spirit, let him take with him him that is weak, that he may be edified in all meekness, that he may become strong also. . . Behold, this is the way that mine apostles, in ancient days, built up my church unto me.” (D&C 84:106, 108)

    This is ministering, not just ministering as assigned, but ministering to everyone and at every opportunity. It is always being on the lookout to help and lift others. It is what the Savior did all His earthly life, and it is what Heavenly Father does by loving us and answering our prayers.

    In fact, my wife Kay, as recipient, had a most tender experience of this type some years ago. In our home, there were cushions on the back of our couch that had buttons in the middle of them to give the cushions some shape. As Kay was cleaning one day she noticed that one of the buttons had come off. She picked it up with the intention of sewing it back on later and continued her cleaning. After some time, she realized she no longer held the button. She looked everywhere but could not find it. Just then, our eldest daughter, Jess, came to visit. She could see that her mother was searching for something and, when she asked, Kay told her about the lost button. Jess said “Mum, have you prayed to get help to find the button?” Kay answered that she wouldn’t pray about something so trivial and unimportant. Jess responded “But Mum, you always taught us to pray about everything.” Kay repeated her previous response that she wouldn’t worry Heavenly Father about something so small as a button. She continued searching and had the feeling to go into the laundry room and look in a rubbish basket, although she was sure that she hadn’t been into that room. To her surprise, she found the button under some rubbish in the basket. She returned to where Jess was and told her she had found the button. She then noticed a knowing smile on Jess’ face and said to her “Did you pray that I would find the button”. “Of course!” was Jess’ reply.

    Well, that night as Kay knelt to pray, she thanked Heavenly Father for His answer to the prayer and added “But it was only a button and it wasn’t important.” She was moved to tears when she felt these words in reply. “Yes, the button wasn’t important, but you are.”

    It probably won’t surprise you to know that she never sewed that button back on the cushion. Instead, she sewed it onto a lovely piece of material above the words “The button wasn’t important, but you are”. It now hangs behind a glass covering in a frame in a very prominent place in our home. It has been everywhere that we have lived, and it will continue to until we leave this earth. Our role, then, is to love others the way that God loves us.

    I’ve sometimes wondered why we even need the second commandment because if we live the first, we will develop the same qualities and attitudes the Savior showed. We will feel the same love for others that He did and does. I wonder, then, whether one reason for the Savior to have stressed this second commandment may have been because it serves as something of a barometer of how well we are really living the first commandment.

    When we lived in Ghana we saw many signs for businesses that referenced Jesus Christ or the scriptures. In fact, it may have been that the majority of businesses we saw had names reflecting the owner’s faith in the Savior. We saw them on the backs of buses and taxis and on little stores everywhere. But there was one sign that I thought was especially poignant. It was the name of a car repair and tyre sales business and it read “God’s Will Alignment”. What a great motto for our lives, and what a great goal to have as we experience the opportunities, challenges and changes that await us, and particularly that await you in the lives you will lead.

    There will be times when we will need to walk in faith. Always nourish your faith and starve your doubts when questions arise about our Savior and His gospel. There is nothing wrong with having questions, but when we reverse this counsel and feed the doubts and starve our faith, we cannot hope for spiritual strength.

    I remember Elder Jeffrey R Holland paraphrasing a French poem many years ago when he was in Canberra, Australia. The translation of Guillaume Apollinaire’s poem went something like this:

“Come to the edge," he said.
"We can't, we're afraid!" they responded.
"Come to the edge," he said.
"We can't, We will fall!" they responded.
"Come to the edge," he said.
And so they came.
He pushed them.
They flew.”

    My hope is that all who are here will have the faith to come to the edge when the situation requires it, to act in faith in following God’s two great commandments, always, and for the rest of your lives. It is only then that we will feel the power of God enabling us to fly.

    I testify that the scripture is absolutely correct when it states the commandment to love God as just one great commandment. In fact, the questioner asked for the great commandment when he said: “Master, which is the great commandment in the law? Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment.” (Matt. 22:36-38)

    And the second really is “like unto it” because the two are inextricably connected as we have discussed. In fact we are told in the next verse: “And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.” (Matt. 22:39)

    May you, both now and always, feel the importance of loving God and acting on that love, including nurturing your integrity, maintaining your humility, and being prepared to dig in and do the hard work. And may you strive to look for every opportunity to love, lift, and help others. In these ways, you will face, and move, in the right direction to have a joyful, fulfilling life and you will change for the better by growing in your discipleship.

    I love my Savior and my Heavenly Father with all my heart, and I rely on the Holy Ghost in all that I do. Otherwise, I could do nothing. Jesus Christ is the head of His Church, this Church. The Book of Mormon is a divine gift from God to enable us to know the Savior and to understand His gospel. Joseph Smith was a prophet of the Almighty God. I have heard more than one member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles paraphrase the sentiment first stated by George Q. Cannon by expressing the profound observation that no evil man could have written the Book of Mormon, and no good man would have written it with the intent to deceive.

    We even now have a prophet on the earth in President Russell M Nelson, who hears the word of God and acts accordingly to guide His Church, the Church of our Savior, Jesus Christ. President Nelson possesses all of the qualities we have discussed today. I have seen and felt these emanating from him.

    In the name of Jesus Christ. Amen.


Bio

Elder Terence M. Vinson was sustained as a General Authority Seventy of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints on April 6, 2013. At the time of his call, he had been serving as a member of the Eighth Quorum of the Seventy in the Pacific Area. Following his call as a General Authority, he served for five years in the Africa West Area Presidency, the final two years as Area President. Elder Vinson was named a member of the Presidency of the Seventy on August 1, 2018. He currently has supervisory responsibilities, working with three different members of the Twelve, for the North America Southeast, Africa Southeast, and Africa West Areas.

In 1974 Elder Vinson received a bachelor’s degree in mathematics and statistics from Sydney University and an education and teaching diploma from Sydney Teachers College. He was also awarded a master’s degree in applied finance in 1996 from Macquarie University. His career has involved teaching math as well as training and lecturing at universities. His main occupation for the final 23 years of his working career was as a financial adviser and funds manager. He retired in 2011 as joint CEO and chairman of a business he began called Northhaven Wealth Management. He continued to consult for that firm until he was called as a General Authority.

Since joining the Church in 1974, Elder Vinson has served in numerous callings, including counselor in a bishopric, bishop, high councilor, counselor in a stake presidency, regional representative, counselor in a mission presidency, temple ordinance worker, early-morning seminary teacher, and Area Seventy.

Terence Michael Vinson was born in Sydney, Australia, on March 12, 1951. He married Kay Anne Carden in May 1974. They are the parents of six children.

Chad Webb

22 Jan. 2019

11:15 a.m. - Noon

Conference Center Little Theater

Video

Audio

Quotes

Cassidy Thomas QuoteChad Webb quote

Transcript

Cleave Unto the Covenants Which Thou Hast Made

I’m excited to be with you today. I love this college and its mission. I’m grateful to be with President Kusch and your administration and instructors, and to be with my friends who serve as your institute teachers. They are all wonderful people and disciples of Jesus Christ. You will learn a lot in your classes, but you can also learn a lot from watching the great people who work here so don’t miss that part of your education.

With the limited time we have I want to jump right in. We’re going to be in the scriptures so will you have them ready? I want to start in section 25 of the Doctrine and Covenants which is a revelation given through the prophet Joseph Smith for his wife Emma.

I don’t know if we fully understand or appreciate the contribution and the sacrifices Emma made in the Restoration and founding of the Church. She married Joseph at the age of 23, despite objections from her parents. She was 26 when the Church was officially organized and was beginning to see glimpses of what her husband’s calling would mean for her and her family. She had a testimony of her husband’s calling. She had gone with him to Cumorah to obtain the gold plates and had worked as a scribe and was a witness to the miracle of the the translation of the Book of Mormon. But along with the miracles and the witness of the Spirit, also came trials. Circumstances required her to move at least 4 times in the early years of her marriage. In 1828 she gave birth to a son who died almost immediately after birth. Her early married life was filled with poverty requiring the help of friends just to survive. They were constantly threatened with violence. Even at Emma’s baptism, about fifty men harassed and threatened the Saints who had gathered. At the meeting where she was to be confirmed a member of the Church, Joseph was arrested and taken away. This not only postponed her confirmation but left her with great anxiety as she waited to hear what would happen to her husband. Time and time again she would be called to endure her suffering alone as Joseph would be gone, either fulfilling his prophetic calling or answering to false legal claims that constantly separated them. Whatever her hopes had been for herself and her family, she could hardly have anticipated the degree to which enemies of the Church would physically intimidate, legally harass, and financially cripple them for most of her married life with Joseph.

As you can imagine, she must have suffered greatly and had many questions about how best to respond to what she was experiencing. It is also reasonable to think that, as she watched Joseph, she may have wondered about her own role in work of the Lord. In this context, during a time of great uncertainty, anxiety and disappointment, Joseph sought and received revelation on her behalf. A portion of what the Lord revealed to Emma is recorded in section 25 of the Doctrine and Covenants. Will you look that up? Knowing the context of this revelation, consider for a minute why the Lord would say what he did. The Lord’s instruction to Emma includes 2 verses that I would like to read. First, Verse 10. “Verily I say unto thee that thou shalt lay aside the things of this world & seek for the things of a better.” And Secondly, verse 13. “Wherefore, lift up thy heart and rejoice, and cleave unto the covenants which thou hast made.”

I don’t know that we can fully appreciate what Emma was going through and we can’t know for sure what she was thinking, but on some level each of us can relate to her situation when we ask questions like, “What do I do when life is hard and things aren’t going the way I planned?” or “Where do I fit in and what is my role and purpose in the work of the Lord?”

I’d like for us to consider today, why the Lord gave the direction He did to Emma, and why it is important for us in our circumstances to learn “lay aside the things of this world and seek for the things of a better”, “to rejoice” and to “cleave unto the covenants” we have made.

One incredibly important thing our covenants do for us is to bind us to the Lord. I love the example of this principle found in the story of Shadrach Meshach, and Abed-nego, - three men who laid aside the things of this world and cleaved to their covenants. If you like to follow along, their story is found in Daniel chapter 3. Because they sought to please their Heavenly King rather than their earthy king, they would not bow down to a golden image and were condemned to death. The scriptures teach that before they were thrown into a fiery furnace, King Nebuchadnezzar, “in his rage and fury” commanded that they be brought before him and asked, (you’ll see this in verse 14)“is it true… do not ye serve my gods, nor worship the golden image which I have set up?”  I love the way they replied (starting in verse 16), “Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego, answered and said to the king, O Nebuchadnezzar, we are not careful to answer thee in this matter. If it be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of thine hand, O king. But if not, be it known unto thee, O king, that we will not serve thy gods nor worship the golden image”. We can learn a lot from the fact that their faith was in Jesus Christ and not in the outcomes they hoped for. But as a result of obeying and honoring the one true God, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego were cast into the fire. Keeping their covenants did not keep them from this terrifying experience. So if keeping covenants does not always eliminate every trial in our lives, what blessings can we count on for keeping our covenants? You might remember that when Nebuchadnezzar looked into the furnace, he saw a fourth person with them, who he said was “like the Son of God”. When we keep our covenants, the Lord does not remove all our challenges, but what He does promise is He will be with us.

Two years ago, I read a news article that touched me deeply. I think it symbolizes the idea that the Lord will be with us in our trials. Even if those trials are of our own making, when we turn to Him for help, He will be there with “outstretched arms”.

The story was about a retired Green Beret, named Joe Serna. After returning home he struggled from the memory of some very traumatic experiences. One of his most difficult experiences was when he and his fellow soldiers were trapped overnight inside an overturned vehicle that was submerged in water. Everyone in that vehicle died, except for Joe. Can you imagine what that night must have been like for him? Haunted by his memories he turned to alcohol. After coming home from his military service, he was guilty of driving under the influence and of breaking his probation. Finally, he found himself before a judge in a North Carolina courtroom. The judge, Lou Olivera had also served in the military. He had great empathy and understood the trauma of having served in combat. But he also knew that he had to hold Joe accountable for breaking the law.

Joe pleaded with the judge to not be incarcerated, knowing that being locked up in a windowless steel box would trigger painful memories of the night he was trapped. Despite this, the judge explained that he had no choice but to uphold the law and that Joe would have to stay one night in jail. Joe entered the cell and when the door closed, he felt like the walls were caving in. As he began to panic, the door opened, and he looked up to see the judge. The judge explained that while Joe would have to stay the night incarcerated, the law did not say he had to stay alone. Judge Olivera stayed with Joe, the entire night. He had a mat placed on the floor for him to sleep on, but they didn’t sleep. The whole night they talked of military experiences, of family, and of plans for the future. Joe said that his panic completely left him and instead he was filled with peace and hope.

I love that story. I think it’s a great illustration of how our Father in Heaven deals with each of us. He loves us and wants to be close to us. He is kind and patient and quick to forgive. The person you and I have been blessed to make covenants with wants more than anything for us to succeed and to return to Him. Because of His great love, He has bound himself to us by covenant. He has sent His only begotten Son as the messenger and fulfillment of that covenant. There are eternal laws and we are accountable for our choices. But, because of the Atonement of Jesus Christ, we do not have to be condemned by our mistakes. We can learn from them, we can repent, we can change. We do not need to go through life alone. If we will but turn to Him and ask, He has promised to be with us.

Not only do our covenants bind us to the Lord, they also give us access to His power. Will you look next at section 84 of the Doctrine and Covenants, verses 19 – 20?  

“And this greater priesthood administereth the gospel and holdeth the key of the mysteries of the kingdom, even the key of the knowledge of God. Therefore, in the ordinances thereof, the power of godliness is manifest.” Those two words, ordinances and power, are significant. Through ordinances, God’s power is manifest.

Will you think for a minute about the covenants you have made? What power of godliness is manifest in each of those covenants and ordinances? When we were baptized we made covenants to keep the commandments, to take upon us the name of Jesus Christ, and to always remember Him. When we keep our part of the covenant, He promises to forgive us of our sins. To be forgiven is a blessing available to all of God’s children. That godly power, to forgive and to cleanse, is manifest through the ordinance of baptism and is renewed each week as we worthily partake of the sacrament.

What power of godliness is manifest through your confirmation? The power to have the constant companionship of a member of the godhead, the Holy Ghost. The power to receive comfort, healing, direction, and all the other blessings associated with the Holy Ghost are available and manifest through that sacred ordinance. With Brigham Young, I wonder if maybe we too often live beneath our privileges as members of the Church who have been given this remarkable gift.

What power of godliness is manifest in temple ordinances? You could go through each of those in your mind and think about the powers of God that are available to you through the temple. For example, if you want the power to seal your family together for eternity, Heavenly Father holds that power. He makes it available to you through sealing ordinances in holy temples through sacred covenants. That power is real and available to every person who keeps their covenants with God.

We should never underestimate the blessings that are available to us through the temple. I recently heard about some young adults discussing whether being sealed was required for two people to be together in the next life. The Lord is clear in the revelations that in order to enter into the highest degree of the Celestial Kingdom, we must abide by the new and everlasting covenant of marriage. But what struck me about the conversation was that the blessings of being sealed was reduced to whether two people could simply be together in the next life. I suppose I don’t actually know that two people who want to hang out, can’t get together over lunch in the next life (if there is such a thing there). What I do know is that the promises of the Lord are so much greater than the ability to hang out. Section 132 promises that when we keep our sealing covenants, we will come forth in the first resurrection and inherit thrones, kingdoms, principalities, powers, and dominions. We are promised to pass by the angels and the gods which are set there to our exaltation and glory in all things… which glory shall be a fulness and a continuation of the seeds forever and ever.

That seems to me to be so much more than just being together. Do we really understand what the Lord wants for us? It is so much more than we sometimes aspire to. If you want a fulness of joy, don’t commit to any relationship that is less than what Heavenly Father wants for you in the eternities. He has said, “Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him.”

His promises are sure and what is waiting for the faithful is more than we can comprehend. But sometimes I worry that when we don’t see immediate blessings for our obedience we might begin to falter. We get impatient and want, what we want, when we want it. And when there is no obvious blessing for our sacrifices, our faith might begin to weaken.

I love the help we get with this in 3rd Nephi 24, starting in verse 13?  The Lord says, “Your words have been stout against me... Yet ye say: What have we spoken against thee? Ye have said: It is vain to serve God, and what doth it profit that we have kept his ordinances (there is that word again) and that we have walked mournfully before the Lord of Hosts? And now we call the proud happy; yea, they that work wickedness are set up; yea, they that tempt god are even delivered.”

Have you ever thought this way? Does it seem sometimes like those not keeping the commandments are having more fun. I remember Elder Glen L. Pace sharing a story about when his children were young. He said, they “would be on their way to Sunday church meetings, when occasionally they would pass a car pulling a boat. [His] children would become silent and press their noses against the windows and ask, “Dad, why can’t we go waterskiing today instead of to church?”

Sometimes, [he] would take the easy but cowardly way out and answer, “It’s simple; we don’t have a boat.” However, on [his] more conscientious days, [he] would…try to explain how much happier [their] family was because of our Church activity.

Then he shared this, “I first realized I wasn’t getting through when on a subsequent Sunday we saw a family laughing and excited as they loaded their snow skis onto their car. One of my teenage sons said with a sly grin, “They’re not really happy, huh, Dad?”

Does that sound familiar? I know it can sometimes feel that way. But finish the verse (we are on verse 16).

“Then they that feared the Lord spake often one to another, and the Lord hearkened and heard; and a book of remembrance was written before him for them that feared the Lord, and that thought upon his name. And they shall be mine, saith the Lord of Hosts in that day when I make up my jewels; and I will spare them as a man spareth his own son that serveth him. Then shall ye return and discern between the righteous and the wicked, between him that serveth God and him that serveth him not.”

Sometimes in real life, it seems like we are trying to keep the commandments and others who are not, are prospering. But part of having faith in the Lord is having faith in His timing and in His promises. In those times, the Lord says to us, “hold on, rejoice, and cleave unto thy covenants”. His promise is that the day will come that those who have kept their covenants will qualify for His richest blessings.

Another blessing that comes because of covenants is that they help us to do the Lord’s will even in a changing world. I’m sure you have noticed there are countless voices in the world. Many of them are helpful and encouraging. Some are well intentioned but a little misguided. Others are blatantly false and strive to lead us away from the Lord and His Church. Sometimes I think we underestimate the influences these voices can have on us.

A friend shared with me an experience he had as a young boy. One day his father was very upset after reading the newspaper. He had read an article about a body that was found near where they lived in southern California. Certainly, the death upset everyone. But another thing that troubled his father was that the report said that although the body had not been identified, they knew for sure that the person had lived his entire life in southern California. They knew this because of the condition of his lungs as a result of air pollution. My friend’s father was upset, that while he was trying to live the word of wisdom and keep his lungs healthy, the environment he lived in was making that all but impossible.

Apparently, experts can do an autopsy on a person’s lungs and tell you where they’re from. It has made me wonder if it were possible to do a spiritual autopsy, if someone could say, “I can tell from your attitudes about certain ideas and issues, that you must have lived on earth in 2019”. We may believe we are thinking for ourselves, but it is more difficult than we realize not to breathe the air of the beliefs, attitudes and culture we live in. In a changing world with so many influences and voices, cleaving to our covenants is vital in helping us stay on the covenant path. Our covenants help us to keep an eternal perspective, remember the Lord’s teachings, and can be a shield against the temptations and influences of the world.

Do you remember the story of the Anti-Nephi-Lehites? They made a covenant to Heavenly Father that they would never again take up their weapons of war against their brethren. That promise made sense in a time of peace. They wanted so much to be forgiven of their many sins and they felt this was a good way to demonstrate to Heavenly Father that they had changed. But then, their circumstances changed. When they were threatened by advancing armies, it would have been easy to say something like, “we made that promise under different circumstances”. “Things have changed.” “Certainly, Heavenly Father will understand.” But because they had made covenants that they refused to break, they knew what they must do.

As we are true to our covenants, we will continue to do the Lord’s will, even when our circumstances change, and our choices become confusing – and even when our hope and faith ebb and flow because of the trials of life. When we are unsure how to act because of the various voices and influences around us, our covenants can be like an anchor, securing us to the Savior, to His commandments, and His promises.

The last reason that I would briefly emphasize as to why we want so much to keep our covenants is that it helps us become more like Jesus Christ. Of all the attributes and divine characteristics of the Savior, one that I am especially grateful for is that he is a keeper of promises. I marvel as I read the accounts in the Gospels that tell us that in Gethsemane, Jesus “fell on his face, and prayed saying, O my Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me: nevertheless not as I will, but as thou wilt”. In this most important moment in all human history, the Savior of the world, despite His agony, despite even pleading to find another way, kept His promise.  We should be unspeakably grateful that He did. And if we are to be like Him, we must follow His perfect example and learn to keep our covenants.

Before I close, I want to remind you of two covenants we made when we were baptized. One is (as the Book of Mormon teaches) that we will be “willing to bear one another’s burdens, that they may be light… mourn with those that mourn…and comfort those that stand in need of comfort”.  I hope that as you go through your day at this wonderful college, you will look for opportunities to lift one another. We all face difficult challenges, we all need friends we can depend on. Will you look each day for a chance to keep your covenant to make each other’s burdens light and to give comfort when it is needed? If you are observant, you will not have to look very far.

The second covenant I would like to remind you of comes from the sacrament prayer where we are reminded of our covenant to always remember Jesus Christ. Can I invite you to think about what that means and what that will look like each day? There are so many ways to do that. Understanding the covenant to always remember Jesus Christ will change the way you pray, it will change the way you study, it will change the way you live and share the gospel, the way you treat others and the way you worship. What will it look like in your life to keep your covenant to remember Him and to bear His name? Will you please think about what that will mean for you personally?

Now I would like to close with my testimony that Jesus Christ is the Savior, Deliverer, and Redeemer of the world. He is the Author and Finisher of our faith, the Holy One of Israel, and the Prince of Peace. He is a keeper of every promise He has ever made to all of God’s children, including you. I bear testimony that He lives and that He and our Father in Heaven know you and love you.

I bear testimony that our covenants bind us to the Lord and give us access to His power. They help us to remain faithful in a changing world, they give us hope, and they help us in our most important goal, to become more like our Father in Heaven and His perfect Son, Jesus Christ. You can have complete faith in them. May we learn to love them, trust them, and to follow them. In the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.


Bio

Administrator—Seminaries and Institutes of Religion

Brother Webb was born and raised in Southeastern Idaho and served a mission in Veracruz, Mexico.  He and his wife, Kristi, are the parents of six daughters. He has a bachelor’s degree and a master’s degree from Brigham Young University.

He has taught released – time seminary in Salt Lake City and institute in Virginia, Ogden and Salt Lake. Since 2008 he has served as Administrator of Seminaries and Institutes of Religion for the Church.

Brother Webb is currently serving as the Stake President in his stake.

Ally Isom

15 Jan. 2019

11:15 a.m. - Noon

Conference Center Little Theater

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Quotes

Aurora Schuler quoteAlly Isom quote

Transcript

It is such an honor and a privilege to be with you today, I have been praying for you and about you for weeks and I know out Heavenly Father is mindful of you and it is truly my honor. Victor and Aurora and the bc singers have done a great job of inviting the spirit to be with us today.

I’m a planner—an OCD, define every step, every strategy, every risk, every contingency, every message, every channel kind of planner.

So, raise your hand if your life has gone exactly according to plan. Really? ME, TOO!! No really, thank HEAVENS! I truly thank my Heavenly Father, the eternal father of my spirit.

For God has had a much better plan than I EVER imagined. A plan that has stretched me in every way, and driven me to my knees when it seemed there was no way.

As a small child, my daddy told me I could be anything I wanted if I only put my mind to it. And my inner voice ignited. I KNEW he was right. I knew there was a better way than being so poor. I knew there was a better way than my mother working three jobs. And I knew education was my way out.

I set my sights on college, law school, power suits with big shoulder pads and a sleek car. Except every time I thought I had figured out what I wanted and how to get there, we moved. Another Plan B.

Every grade of elementary school we moved. Then junior high. Even in high school. Thirteen times in all—Plan B.

Now, plan B made me resilient. Plan B helped me accept change. Plan B helped me see the opportunity in new friends, new ideas, new horizons. Plan B meant my parents couldn’t write a check, so I approached every service organization in the greater Mesa, Arizona, metro area and sought sponsors to help me attend Jr. Statesman Summer School at Stanford University, or debate camp in Washington, D.C.

Plan B made me resourceful. Plan B meant I chose the Harvard debate tournament over playing high school basketball—and eventually became a policy debate state champion. I learned there that my voice has power.

Plan B meant I attended Provo’s Brigham Young University—the bastion of Molly Mormons and marriage clichés—instead of Chicago’s Northwestern University as I planned—and I found my own identity could resist those very clichés and I also found my intellect ignited.

Plan B meant marrying a Jimmy Stewart-type Idaho farmboy right after my freshman year of college, rather than after law school as I planned—and I found there, stability and a foundation for greater faith by trusting that inner voice and the voice of the Spirit.

Plan B meant running political campaigns between four difficult pregnancies, jumping into state government as an agency administrator—Where I negotiated flexible hours to assure work-life balance and be home when my children were home—and learning I LOVE good public policy—the process, the outcomes, the partnerships—and I found there is opportunity in conflict and there is opportunity in controversy.

Plan B meant a post as the Governor’s deputy chief of staff, communications director, and spokesperson—what some in my industry actually consider a dream job—There I felt a duty to speak for those without voice,I felt a responsibility to allow those in power to have safe space, to be themselves, to be human, to be fallible, to explore solutions.

Moreover, I felt a CALLING to speak truth to power—diplomatically, and directly, but candidly. My voice—that TRUTH—became a big part of my identity.

At the Capitol, In that beautiful, historic building just up the hill, I was in my groove. And I hit my stride. My voice made a difference. My ideas made a difference. It was the ideal convergence of all my academic and professional preparation—the nexus of politics, policy, communications. I was wired for that job. It started to feel like Plan A.

But then…just as I was running full throttle, with sixteen hour days, late nights, incessant media, constant motion, my brain always ON—Plan B again.

Plan B meant the passing of my beautiful, smart, faithful, diligent 21 year-old daughter through life’s veil—a transformational experience— to say goodbye to Alyssa.

In a complete fog, I bent to pick up the countless pieces of my shattered heart, scooping them into my exhausted arms, and other pieces would silently tumble and splinter—It felt like a futile but essential part of moving forward.

After time on my knees and a lot of time in sacred spaces. I found my ability to trust God completely and the courage to act when the Spirit said it was time to leave that “dream job,” time to heal, and time to realize I had actually been prepared to do something else. The Spirit said, “November 22 shall be your last day.”

Then, just the week after I left the Governor’s Office, the precedent-setting Utah court case on gay marriage was decided and it consumed the holidays for the my team of Governor’s staff. I was home enjoying Plan B with my family, in my slippers, with a little hot cocoa. God knew I needed Plan B.

And two weeks later I had three meaningful job offers. Then that same Spirit—that same distinct voice— told me to take the post with the least clarity, the greatest uncertainty, no advancement path, no resources and the least pay —wasn’t exactly IDEAL for one’s career trajectory.

But by then, I’d learned to trust Plan B, To open my head and my heart, To open my eyes and ears, To see the opportunity, To see the meaning,
To trust my inner voice and use my voice for truth. To feel true joy. I am so very thankful to Heavenly Father for Plan B!

Plan B led me to that role in Public Affairs for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints—a place where my job description never perfectly aligned with my actual portfolio. Some days, I wasn’t sure they knew what to do with me.

I had responsibility for local community outreach, local interfaith relations, and non-profit organizations, as well as matters of concern to women, LGBTQ saints, and race. For two years I was the lead on the design of mormonandgay.lds.org— a labor of love, a labor on beautiful and sacred ground.

Now, after five years in Church employment, I’m the first-ever director of Institutional Messaging—where I get to tackle the way the Church talks to the world— and—some days— it starts to feel like they just may have figured out what to do with me. Honestly, however, some days, I’m still trying to figure out what to do with me.

The first attribute listed in my job description: comfortable with ambiguity. I don’t fit in a box. I don’t have a predictable career path. But I KNOW there’s a plan. I trust there’s a plan. And it’s not MY plan. But it is a plan uniquely suited for ME. A plan where God has guided me through every new frontier and every new opportunity.

To be perfectly candid, my experience as a mother and my journey of faith has been the foundation of my professional opportunities. That might sound a little strange to some who think of themselves as true professionals. But I believe that when we place our educational pursuits and career on the altar, when we recognize those gifts God has given us, As well as the opportunities He provides, He will guide our path. And he will make more of those gifts and opportunities than we ever envisioned.

I could not have known those small sacred moments rocking a baby at 2am would cement in my heart an appreciation for things that matter most.

I could not have known those agonizing moments on bedrest with a threatened pregnancy where I TRULY trusted God and rely on my Savior as my rock, as taught in 2 Nephi 4, Would provide the footing, faith and courage I needed to move from one job to another. I could not have known that figuring out my own way of co-parenting with my husband and determining what parenting approach best aligned with my personality and strengths would one day provide the framework for my organizational leadership style and my management paradigm.

My mothering moments attuned me to the Spirit, and I know what truth and light feels like because I was listening and practicing and learning in my own domestic laboratory.

And twenty years later, as I struggled and wondered, WHAT am I doing HERE, Father?—I felt familiar guidance---principles like…

  • You are here for a reason. God will show you what that is—be patient and watch for it.

  • Learn all you can and prepare, so you are ready to step through the door when it opens.

  • Be true to yourself, for your gifts are divine, and there are many places and many ways to contribute to God’s work.

  • Seek not to do things according to the designs of human beings, but according to the Spirit.

And I wrote those principles down in a little black book I carry with me.

Shortly after I came to work for the Church, I came across an Ensign piece authored by Elder Robert Gay, entitled, "Your Journey of Giving," based on a commencement address he gave at another school up north, “Continuing Your Life’s Journey,” given at Brigham Young University–Idaho on July 23, 2013.

He referenced Nephi's construction of a ship and then said:

“In the days ahead you will find many occasions to murmur. But remember that God is in control and is never absent. Remember that your call is to work after the manner of the Lord, not after the manner of men, and that by following His voice, you will become a powerful instrument in His hands for doing good.

True success is to accomplish what the Lord sent you to earth to do. Never doubt yourself. You are a child of a loving Father in Heaven. He has given you great blessings that He expects you to recognize. When you reach a game-changing crossroads, He asks you not to shrink but rather to act with deep faith to revolutionize the world in which you live.

Don’t fret at how irrational the voice of the Spirit may seem. God is in control and knows what is necessary and right. Always be guided by the Holy Ghost.”

It’s a little bit long, but I put that statement on my wall, I framed copies for my team, I re-read it often.

“To act with deep faith to revolutionize the world in which you live.”

Revolution is no small thing, is it? It's an overthrow in favor of an entirely new system. And sometimes, Doesn’t the revolution have to happen within us first? Sometimes we need a new system WITHIN—a new way of seeing things, a new way of doing things.

As I prayed to see with spiritual eyes and pled to hear with spiritual ears, a revolution took place within. I came to understand living life is facing one frontier after another, the end of one thing, the beginning of another. I call it my “constant new normal.” I came to understand two other principles --

Adversity is preparation for deep learning.

AND…

Repentance is bidding your former self farewell.

Over the past six and a half years, since Alyssa passed, I have experienced deep learning and moved beyond my former self over and over again.

One of my favorite philosopher poets is David Whyte. He speaks of Moses in Exodus 3, when the Lord tells Moses, "put off thy shoes from off thy feet, for the place whereon thou standest is holy ground."

The Hebrew translation of put off thy shoes is actually more like "shed your shoes," much like a snake shedding its skin and becoming a new self.

Sacred ground transforms us into something new. We learn to do things a new way, in the Lord's way, and we are changed, we are transformed.

Whyte says we are always changing. We are constantly at the beginning AND the end. Middle is nothing but an illusion, he says. We are never really at rest.

In my words, we are ALWAYS growing. It’s innate—that desire to grow, To become your best self, To become all that God intends. If you study Moses 1, you’ll see it teaches a powerful concept. Satan comes to tempt Moses, to tempt him, AFTER Moses sees God, when Moses' strength is spent. Satan offers a counterfeit version of deity. But God's spirit had not altogether withdrawn and Moses responds, “Get thee hence.” “Deceive me not.”

Moses began to fear exceedingly He calls upon God and receives strength on that sacred ground. Moses says, "I can judge between him and thee.” And in the name of the only Begotten, Moses tells Satan to depart. As he stands on that sacred ground, Moses is changed And Moses is empowered. Moses recognizes his identity. He recognizes he is more powerful than Satan.He recognizes his power comes through the Son of God. Moses has a new way of seeing things, a new way of doing things.

In my first position at Church headquarters, I have to admit, it took a while to start to feel settled—At first, it was as if they were not quite sure what to do with me and I felt I was supposed to be doing more. About six months into my Church employment, during that July lull when leaders take their vacations, I experienced a period of serious questioning.

I found myself wondering, “WHAT AM I DOING HERE?!?” You see, it had been a bit of an adjustment coming down the hill. I experienced what you might call a number of cultural collisions. I felt like I was from Mars. I came from a political realm where I could say what I thought and I was valued for it. But in Church employment, it seemed difficult to feel like some valued my contribution. In some settings, conversation felt strained, My credibility felt questioned, some men would not make eye contact. I found few female role models in the workforce to mentor or coach me.

Those cultural collisions seemed pretty regular and, truthfully, enormously discouraging. It resulted in unexpected self-doubt and professional frustration.

Fortunately, the Spirit helped me and guided me, one day at a time, one situation at a time.

During one particular episode where someone seemed to avoid eye contact with me for the better part of an hour while seated directly across the table, the Spirit gently whispered, “Be patient. They're just getting used to you." But if I’m going to be honest—and maybe even a little vulnerable—about it, it was a difficult time.

Mentally, I wrestled with figuring out how I could make a meaningful difference. Spiritually, I wrestled with what God wanted me to do.

Let me share one story that might illustrate how I felt. From my office window in Public Affairs, I looked out onto the Main Street Plaza and the east side of the Salt Lake Temple. It was an inspiring view! I enjoyed watching the people milling about and bridal parties rejoicing as loved ones exited the temple as newlyweds. I studied the spires and other architectural features, as much for their instructive symbolism, as for the sheer miracle of their construction. One day, I came back to my office from a meeting to find this enormous mud splatter on my window. Upon closer examination, I realized it was actually the perfect outline of a bird—one who had obviously collided at high speed with the large pane of clear glass. The bird’s wingspan was nearly two feet across, and I saw the imprint of small feathers at the tips of those wings. I could see its feet and even the outline of its eye—the poor thing. I looked out to see if it had landed on the wide ledge beneath my window, or even upon the ground below, but there was no sign of the bird.

That splatter remained on my window for a few months, until the next scheduled cleaning. I grew accustomed to studying that bird, just as I’d studied the temple spires, wondering about where it came from, how old it was, if it survived, if it had a nest of babies somewhere. Eventually, I started to relate to that bird, realizing it was becoming a metaphor or my own perceived reality—one in which I felt I was colliding with culture, one where I was doing my best to move forward, only to run smack into a hard surface at full speed, not sure what hit me or where I was going in the first place—completely disoriented and even a little stunned. I faced many questions:

Was God guiding my path?
Did my voice matter?
Could I make a meaningful contribution?

Could I be effective in this environment?
Where in the world did I think I was going?

It was a difficult time. I turned inward and experienced real self-introspection. I looked upward and spent more time at the temple and in sacred texts. I looked forward and tried to take the LONG view— to see as God sees.

Elder Gay's words often came back to me:

“... you will find many occasions to murmur. But remember that God is in control and is never absent... True success is to accomplish what the Lord sent you to earth to do. Never doubt yourself... Always be guided by the Holy Ghost.”

I found myself on a journey of deeper understanding.

One passage of holy writ that inspired and instructed me was 2 Nephi, chapter 31, where Nephi says: “Wherefore, ye must press forward with a steadfastness in Christ, having a perfect brightness of hope, and a love of God and of all men. Wherefore, if ye shall press forward, feasting upon the word of Christ, and endure to the end, behold, thus saith the Father: Ye shall have eternal life” (2 Ne 31:20).

As I sought answers, the guiding principles came, but I want to share one in particular. It illustrates how the Spirit will communicate beyond simple words, with layered and very personal impressions.

In my Public Affairs portfolio were several assignments, one of which was chairing the Women’s Outreach Committee, where we worked to elevate the voice, visibility and perceived value of women, both within the church and externally. Too often, the concerns of women are framed in artificial binaries.

The easy default is women vs. men. But I believe strongly that meaningful and durable solutions are found when we all engage.

And as I asked, “Why am I here? What am I to do?” the image that came to my mind was two hands, both left and right, cupped together. The Spirit said, “You are here to help men and women work together. We hold more Living Water together than we do separately.” It doesn’t matter who is the left hand or who is the right hand; what matters is that we work together, in partnership with Heaven, to share the Living Water and Light of Truth with others that all might feast upon the words of Christ and have eternal life.

For me, it went back to what Elder Gay said:

"...your call is to work after the manner of the Lord, not after the manner of men, and that by following His voice, you will become a powerful instrument in His hands for doing good... act with deep faith to revolutionize the world in which you live."

Let me end by telling you about a she-ro of mine: Alice Merrill Horne. As a generous educator and diligent legislator, a mother of six, a feisty clean air advocate, a tireless champion of the arts, Alice was extraordinary in so many ways, including the way she engaged in very faith-centered public dialog and recognized the gifts of others in that public policy arena.

She was known to leave flowers on the desk of all other legislators, by the way. She wrote:

“Every spirit which enters mortality comes stamped with Infinity — with a power to reach out and grow inimitably. This heaven-given possibility is intensely individual in character; since that identity comes from the fact that each soul has within it a gift, a possibility, a power, a characteristic, what you will, which distinguishes it from any other soul…”

Within you are infinite possibilities. Within you are the seeds of divinity. The next time you find yourself asking, Why am I here, Father? Seek guiding principles.

And if you need to borrow some of mine for a bit—

  • Adversity is preparation for deep learning.

  • Repentance is bidding your former self farewell.

  • You are here for a reason. And I know God will show you what that is—be patient and watch for it.

  • Learn all you can and prepare so you are ready to step through that door when it opens.

  • Be true to yourself, for your gifts are divine, and there are many places and many ways to contribute to God’s work.

  • Seek not to do things according to the designs of human beings, but according to the Spirit.

And one more:

  • Be patient, they are just getting used to you.

Be open to another Plan B. 

Trust God. Have courage. Be still and know, you can be ANYTHING God wants. I bare that witness with you in the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.


Bio

With expertise at the nexus of communications, public policy and politics, Ally Isom is passionate about helping organizations bring people together to tackle tough issues. Ally is currently the Director of Institutional Messaging for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, with responsibilities for integrated and global communications. Previously, she worked in state government for ten years, including time as deputy chief of staff, communications director and spokesperson for Utah’s governor, and as a state agency administrator and a legislative liaison.

She started in politics by running political campaigns between pregnancies and also served as a city council member, community council chair and PTA officer. A Brigham Young University-Provo graduate, Ally is married to an Idaho farmboy. After nearly 30 years, they have two daughters, two sons, one brilliant granddaughter and one not entirely bright labrador.

President and Sister Kusch

08 Jan. 2019

11:15 a.m. - Noon

Conference Center Little Theater

Video

Audio

Quotes

Sister Kusch quotePresident Kusch quote

Transcript

Alynda Kusch, “A soft and teachable heart”

It is wonderful to be with you today and we welcome you to another great semester at LDS Business College.  It looks like everyone survived their first day of classes and we are happy about that.

I have an older sister. Her name is Arlene and she is 2 years older than me. We have always been good friends and I love her.

This is a picture of us together – you can see that Arlene is taller, when we were younger though my mother dressed us alike and even though my sister’s hair was kind of reddish when she was younger I was shorter with black hair people would ask if we were twins.  

When Arlene was a little girl she was sick most of the time with a heart condition that prevented her from being actively involved in normal childhood activities.  

When she was 9 years old, the doctors told my parents, "Arlene needs surgery because she has pulmonary stenosis and her heart is dying.  Without this procedure, as time goes on she will become weaker and weaker and will be disabled in 3 or 4 years. Without this very necessary surgery, Arlene will not live to see her 16th birthday."

This was hard news for my parents to receive and they were left with a very difficult decision to make because this was long enough ago that this type of heart surgery was new and it was risky.  As you can imagine, my parents were afraid, but they had no other choice if they wanted their daughter to live.

My mother went with Arlene to Mt. Sinai Hospital in Los Angeles, which was a place where there were doctors and nurses who had the ability, the knowledge and the skill to change her life.  There the doctors repaired the pulmonary valve in Arlene’s heart and it began functioning properly, pumping life-saving blood to the rest of her body. In the following months during her recovery, she became stronger and stronger.

Following the corrective surgery, Arlene’s heart was strong and it worked perfectly. It was a miracle for my family.

My sister's heart was repaired and perfect and in the years that have followed, she has a wonderful and active life.

My sister was in need of a heart repair so that she could have a new and perfectly functioning heart.  

Can you see a spiritual application, even a lesson for us from the experience that Arlene had as a child?

The scriptures talk much about our hearts.  We know that Nephi prayed for a soft heart so he would be able to believe all that his father taught.  We know that Laman and Lemuel would not believe because of the hardness of their hearts.

Prophets teach that we each need a new life, to be born again, to have a changed heart.  

What they are describing is a process of real conversion, complete conversion, forever conversion.  To have this in our life we must have a changed and soft heart so we are receptive to the influence and guidance of the Holy Ghost.

My question then is what is this; what is the condition of your heart?  Is it soft, so the Lord can teach you and mold you, so He can help you? Or is it not?  Are you compassionate, and submissive, and willing or are your tendencies more to being jealous, and willful, and rebellious?  

Is it possible to change a hard and prideful heart into one that is soft and humble?  Yes it is!

The first thing we need to ask then is was causes a hard heart.  In the case of my sister, through no fault of her own, she was born with a heart defect – one that required surgery to correct.  We are not born with hard hearts as evidenced by the scriptures teaching that we must become like little children who listen, who are easily taught; who believe.

It is behavior that is learned.  In the case of Laman and Lemuel, they quit praying.  They quit listening to a prophet. They quit even thinking about the Lord and certainly they did not care about His commandments.  They looked for things in the behavior of their righteous father and brother that made them furious. They would not believe. Ultimately they became men who were angry, complaining, jealous, and rebellious.  

We can probably see a part of ourselves in this description of Laman and Lemuel, maybe not everything, but some things.  So the second question we would ask is, how can I change my heart? If refusing to pray or listen to our prophet, or if being disobedient and angry and jealous causes a hard heart, then the opposite must be true.

If we look to Nephi as an example of what we can do, you will remember that he was first willing to follow his prophet father and keep the commandments of the Lord.  We can do that. Nephi had a great desire to know and to believe. We can do that. With faith and humility he prayed to know. We can do that. As a result, he received divine guidance and it was the Lord that softened Nephi’s heart so that he did believe and did not rebel.  The Lord can do that for us too.

And so it is possible that with desire and faith and effort, we can change a willful and prideful heart into one that believes.

What are the results of having a changed and soft heart?  A repaired and changed heart for Arlene meant that she could live, that she could have a wonderful life.  

Do you want to believe?  Do you want to feel more of the Lord’s influence, more of the Holy Ghost in your life?  Do you want to be happy? Would you like to feel peace? Do you hope that your prayers are answered?  

A change of a spiritual heart can yield all of this and more.  

Helaman taught that as humans our hearts tend to be unsteady – that we waiver and wonder and sometimes wander.  But he also gave us a formula for changing and repairing a heart that is in need of spiritual heart surgery:

Know of yourselves the truth + believe the scriptures + believe the prophets + have faith in the Lord which leads us to repentance + trust in the Lord = a change of heart = which then allows us to be firm and steadfast in the faith.  (Helaman 15:7-10)

That is a description of conversion.  The development of this kind of heart condition comes from years of righteous and worthy living.

In General Conference in October of 2012, Elder Bednar taught us about this: "For many of us, conversion is a constant process and not a single event that results from a powerful or dramatic experience. Line by line and precept by precept, gradually and almost imperceptibly, our intentions, our thoughts, our words and actions are in tune with the will of God. Conversion to the Lord requires both perseverance and patience."

It is not immediate but it is a process of becoming completely converted. It is a process that includes:

  • Faith in Jesus Christ along with a willingness to try to be more like Him, and to serve Him

  • Studying the Scriptures

  • Praying with faith, with an expectation that we will be heard and that the Lord will answer

  • Being obedient to God’s commandments

  • Making covenants in the temple and then keeping those covenants

In other words: it is a process that helps us happily live the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

While we were in the mission field, in the spring of each year President Kusch invited every missionary to read The Book of Mormon in 65 days (which was the length of time that it took Joseph Smith to translate the book)

I accepted his invitation.  As I read, I began to make a list of the different ways in which the prophets taught about happily enduring to the end.  On my list, I had more than 80 different words or phrases that prophets in the Book of Mormon had used to explain living faithfully.

The phrase that I love the most are the words of King Benjamin when he described us as: "firm and immovable, always abounding in good works." (Mosiah 5:15)

We can do that!

Arlene received the equivalent of a new heart, and as a result she has had a wonderful life because of the surgery she had many years ago.

Do you see that we can have the same; a changed and pure heart, a clean and wonderful life?

If there are some things that we need to change in our lives so we can receive the same gift, then that is what we should do.

If it's too hard to think that I have to change immediately and completely; and from this moment on I must live perfectly -

Then think instead, I may not be able to live perfectly today, but I can do something.

Here is my invitation:  Do something today to increase your faith.  Do something today that will yield a changed heart.

And then day after day and day after day, when you live like you believe and know, praying as Nephi did for a soft and teachable heart, then your faith will increase and your heart will be changed.

It is then that we can live in the manner described by Elder Bednar; that our intentions, our thoughts, our words and actions will be in tune with the will of God. We will want to follow and be like the Savior.  We will want to happily live the gospel of Jesus Christ.

As you do this, you will learn, from your own experience, how the Lord blesses the faithful.

In the same way that the doctors repaired my sister's heart, through repentance and the Atonement of Jesus Christ along with a desire to believe and trust and follow the Savior, we can have a new, soft and converted heart.

 

Bruce C. Kusch, "A Whole Sole Soul Offering"

Brothers and sisters, good morning. It is always a blessing, on this first devotional of the semester, to look into your faces and as we do so to begin another wonderful semester at LDS Business College. There is always something exciting about the beginning of a new year, and for all of us, the beginning of a new semester. If there were two wishes that I would have today, I expressed these at our new student orientation devotional last Friday when we met with those that are here as new students, but it would be two things: it would be one to feel the presence of the Holy Ghost today teaching you and lifting and edifying you and the second would be that you would feel Heavenly Father’s love and the Savior’s love for you and know that they know you and I want you to know that I know that they know that you are here and they love you very much as do Sister Kusch and I and I am grateful to share this time with her today and to share this glorious experience of working and serving at LDS Business College with Sister Kusch.

In late February, 2015, Sister Kusch and I attended a gathering of our missionaries. Right about that time we had received copies of the movie “Meet the Mormons” and had been given permission to show it to all of the missionaries, their investigators, and to members in the mission. These gatherings with our missionaries were great fun. We told them we were inviting them to the “movies” which was something that was quite unusual for a mission president to invite his missionaries to go the movies something that was prohibited, but we told them that this time we were making an exception and we invited them to bring their favorite treats, popcorn, and soda. We just had a great time.

As we gathered with one group of our missionaries, I could not help but notice the shoes of one of our sister missionaries – Sister Katelyn Hoffman from Bountiful, Utah.

As you look at this photo you will notice a large crack in her shoe kind of by where her big toe is, but you will also notice that Sister Hoffman had put duct tape on the sole of her shoe to hold it together. Now, for those of you who have served missions, this picture might not look so unusual, in fact you may have had shoes that looked kind of like Sister Hoffman’s, hopefully not and Elder however. But as I looked at Sister Hoffman’s shoes, it spoke volumes to me about the dedication and consecration of a set apart servant of the Lord. Some might look at those shoes and say, “How could anyone allow a missionary to wear shoes like that?” For Sister Hoffman, those shoes represented who she was as a missionary. She was one the happiest of any of the missionaries we had the blessing of serving with in Mexico. She was offering her whole sole as an offering, and she was doing everything she could to make sure that those shoes endured to the end.

Now I love these words from Amaleki in the Book of Mormon:

“...I would that ye should come unto Christ, who is the Holy One of Israel, and partake of his salvation, and the power of his redemption. Yea, come unto him, and offer your whole souls as an offering unto him...and endure to the end...”

There are four powerful and unique invitations to be “whole soul” Latter-day Saints in this scripture that I believe merit our consideration, along with seeking the promised blessing for accepting each of them. Those invitations are:

Come

Partake

Offer

Endure

 

COME

The Book of Mormon contains nearly 40 invitations to come unto Christ, including the Savior’s personal invitations to “come unto me.” In this context, to “come unto” Christ suggests action, effort, motion toward him , a beginning, and eventual arrival. None of these words should make us feel that coming unto Christ is a one-time event. It is the journey of a lifetime – but a journey that begins when we accept the first invitation to come unto Him and  walk the path of discipleship.

PARTAKE

We are invited to partake of the Savior’s salvation and power of His redemption.

Each week, in our sacrament meetings, we have the opportunity to partake of the sacrament. We are presented with the emblems of His body and His blood. We extend a hand and in doing so, we act. We take. We eat. We drink. We promise. We repent. We commit. We renew.

When we partake of the Savior’s salvation and power of His redemption we willingly receive the infinite gift of the Atonement that He offers to each and everyone of us.

OFFER

As we willingly accept the invitation to “offer our whole souls as an offering” unto Christ, our role transitions from partaker to giver. We express our desire to pay a personal price, our willingness to do something for Him, to serve Him in a personal way. We give all that we can – our broken heart, our contrite spirit, and we do all we can to align our will with Heavenly Father’s commandments and His desires for us.

I believe that Elder Neal A. Maxwell said it best when he said:

“...the submission of one’s will is really the only uniquely personal thing we have to place on God’s altar. The many other things we ‘give’ are actually the things He has already given or loaned to us. However, when you and I finally submit ourselves, by letting our individual wills be swallowed up in God’s will, then we are really giving something to Him! It is the only possession which is truly ours to give!”

ENDURE

Now brothers and sister, it is a lifetime of correct decisions that make it possible for you and me to endure to the end. The scriptures are clear that the promised blessing of eternal life is contingent upon our enduring, in persevering, in living our lives with grit, with commitment, and determination. That’s what is means to be a “whole soul” Latter-day Saint.

Elder D. Todd Christofferson of The Quorum of the Twelve Apostles said:

“To persevere firm and steadfast in the faith of Christ requires that the gospel penetrates one’s heart and soul, meaning that the gospel becomes not just one of the many influences in a person’s life, but the defining focus of his/her life and character.”

THE GOSPEL AS THE “DEFINING FOCUS” OF OUR LIFE AND CHARACTER

Let me illustrate the gospel as the defining focus of our life and character by showing you two photographs.

This is a picture of a hydrangea. You can see that some of the picture is in focus and some of it is not. As you study the photo you will see the beauty of the flowers but you will also note another flower in the background that might make it difficult for you to know where to focus your view.

This photo is in perfect focus. You will notice some other things around it, but the defining focus on this picture is the flower right in the middle – it captures your sight. I think this is an example of the principle Elder Christofferson is teaching us.

Elder Christofferson also shared an important insight that would be important for each of us to consider. He said:

“Most of us find ourselves at this moment on a continuum between a socially motivated participation in gospel rituals on the one hand and a fully developed Christ-like commitment to the will of God on the other.”

Brothers and sisters, WHERE you and I are on this continuum is probably not as important as how you and I feel about where we are, and if we are making progress toward being a “whole soul” Latter-day Saint. A “fully developed Christlike commitment to the will of God” begins as Alma described: by arousing our faculties, experimenting upon the word, exercising a particle of faith, even if you can no more than desire to believe, and then letting that desire work in us.

While socially motivated gospel and church participation is certainly better than no participation at all, simply showing up for a sabbath worship is not sufficient to strengthen our discipleship and become whole-soul latter-day saints. The new pattern of home centered and church supported personal study and preparation has been introduced for one singular purpose, to deepen our conversion and faith in Heavenly Father and in his son Jesus Christ. Its purpose is to help us become whole soul latter-day saints. Elder Dallin H. Oaks said that conversion to the Lord Jesus Christ and His restored gospel precedes conversion to and membership in His church.

“Conversion to the Lord Jesus Christ and His restored gospel, precedes conversion to and membership in His Church” (President Dallin H. Oaks, MP Seminar, June 2017).

Now brothers and sister, and my dear friends. There are essentially two voices in our lives competing for our time and attention. One of them is boisterous at times and subtle and cunning at others. It is a voice that discourages, deceives, confuses, that twists, and distorts the truth. It is a voice that would plant doubts in our minds and in our hearts; that would cause us to question prophetic wisdom, and doctrine. It is a voice that encourages us to embrace societal norms and practices that are not wholesome or worthy or holy or in accordance with God’s will for His children. This is brothers and sisters, I believe, the biggest challenges of your generation. This is the voice of adversary. If we are not to be deceived, we must recognize this voice for exactly what it is and reject it.

The other voice is a still small voice of perfect mildness (see Helaman 5:30). It is not a voice of thunder, but of a whisper. It’s a voice that requires us each to develop the capacity to hear it, even amongst the noise of the world. It is the voice of the Good Shepherd, by the power of the Holy Ghost, calling and inviting you and me to come unto Him. Inviting us to be firm, steadfast, and immovable. And, once we hear it, we should be determined to obey it, for it is the voice that will protect us, guide us, and lead us back to the presence of Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ.

Now, I return to the shoe – the “whole sole” offering of a faithful servant of the Lord. It was tattered and worn and she did all she could to have that shoe serve her needs.

Here’s what the Lord can do for us, when we do our part.

Somehow, I think the Lord made that shoe as if it were whole. Now, if you look at the shoe you will still see it’s still not perfect. There’s no shine just yet, but just as the Lord told ancient Israel, “...I will restore health unto thee, and I will heal thee...” He made more of that shoe than Sister Hoffman could ever have done on her own.

I testify that is precisely what the Savior does with each of us, as we humbly and sincerely offer unto Him our whole souls as an offering. He will heal us. He will guide us. He understands us. He can make our burdens light.

I testify that that is true and pray that the Lord will bless you this semester as you embark on this wonderful adventure.
In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.


Bio

President Bruce C. Kusch grew up in Southern California in a part-member family. After graduating from high school, President Kusch enrolled at California State University in Long Beach. He served a mission in the Guatemala-El Salvador Mission.

After completing his mission, while attending university and institute classes, he met Sister Kusch in the institute choir. A little less than a year later, they were married in the Los Angeles California Temple. Then, just four years later, President Kusch was called as bishop of their ward, the same ward he grew up in.

Eventually, they moved to Northern California where President Kusch worked and consulted in the high-tech industry before deciding to move to Rexburg to teach at BYU-Idaho. President and Sister Kusch both taught at BYU-I, and President Kusch also went on to serve for four years in the administration at the school. He also served as a stake president in Rexburg.

In 2012, President Kusch was called to preside over the Mexico Cuernavaca Mission. After their mission, the Kusches returned briefly to BYU-Idaho before President Kusch accepted the position of chief academic officer at LDS Business College in 2016.

In April 2017, President Dieter F. Uchtdorf announced that President Kusch would become the 13th president of LDS Business College.

President and Sister Kusch are the parents of four children and have 17 grandchildren.