Wanted: Latter-Day Saints
Devotional or Speech given at
Brigham Young University-Hawaii
May 10, 2011
Douglas E. Brinley
My wife and I have loved serving as missionaries here on campus. And may I say on behalf of all senior missionaries and volunteers serving here, I want to thank you for being 'Latter-day Saints.' President Marion G. Romney used to say that "the most difficult thing there is to do: [is to] make latter-day saints out of Mormons." (We have plenty of those.)(Elder Marion G. Romney, Church Correlation, address given to seminary and Institute of Religion faculty, June 22, 1964.)
I've been interested in the name of our Church. It wasn't until 1838 that we got the full name of the Church - The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The Lord honors us in calling us His 'saints.' You do know what it takes to qualify as a 'saint' in some churches. The dictionary describes a saint as (1) "one officially recognized . . . for holiness;" (2) "one of God's chosen people;" or (3) "a godly person." By calling you and me 'saints,' the Lord expects us to be examples of honesty, integrity, decency, charity, morality, and a whole host of saintly attributes. On other occasions the Lord referred to Church members as 'salt: which is a preservative;' another time a 'light unto the world,' [and still again] 'saviors of men.' (See 3 Nephi 12, Matthew 5:15, and D&C 103:9-10.)
So - whether we are a 'saint,' or 'salt,' or 'light,' or a "godly person" we are obligated to live standards of righteousness. If we really will be 'saints', we will attract others to the Church and the principles we cherish.
I want to remind you this morning of a few things that ought to be uppermost in the minds of a group of Latter-day Saints. We live in the Latter-days - called "The Dispensation of the Fulness of Times" which means that for one last time the Lord has restored enough gospel principles and priesthood so that with the crowning ordinance of temple marriage, we can qualify for exaltation.
We are witnesses of this dispensation as the most exciting period of revelation and restoration in the history of the world and you, as the Lord's saints, have a part to play as this work unfolds. We will do it in 3 ways: by (1) taking the gospel to the world (a world that knows very little about our Father in Heaven and His plan of salvation); (2) perfecting the Saints: meaning we must model 'godly behavior' for the world; and (2) by redeeming the dead: our way of expressing gratitude to those who somehow made it through the plagues and natural disasters of history so we could be born on the earth in this dispensation. These brave souls need the same ordinances you and I need to qualify for eternal life.
The Lord has always expected a great deal of 'His saints' and we are no exception: would you agree? If you know our church history, this dispensation has been difficult - as a people we had to move from Kirtland Ohio to Missouri to Illinois and then cross trackless plains and prairies to settle the Great Basin area of the West. That's not my kind of 'easy.' (In fact, even camping out, my air mattress always lost air; my sleeping bag was never warm enough. So now, Motel 6 with the windows open is rough enough for me!)
However, Elder Neal A. Maxwell shocked us in saying that the easy stuff is behind us as a Church - the real challenges are ahead. So it is time to buckle your seat belt and tighten your chin strap because high adventure lies just ahead and godly saints are needed on this planet more than ever.
First - let's look at how we got here:
Historically, the Father's family has not done well. The only bright spots have been (1) Enoch and his city of Zion and (2) the Nephite civilization following the resurrected Lord's visit. A few isolated bright spots were found with Abraham, Joseph, Melchizedek and even Jethro - but in the main, the world's inhabitants have been a spiritual disaster.
That's why we have the assignments we do - so let's review them again:
(1) Someone must take the gospel to the whole world. President Monson has now asked 'every young man' to prepare for missionary service - calling it a priesthood duty and obligation. That's you young brethren who have not served - must prepare yourself. And when you think about it - how else are we going to cover the whole earth and gather Israel from the four corners of the earth? We thank those who have already given that service.
(2) We are to perfect a group of saints in a world saturated with unprecedented wickedness - that is turning out to be no easy task.
(3) Temple work. Did you know that we have only completed .2% of the work we have to do for those who have lived on the earth.
To accomplish these three goals - will take every one of us doing the best we can as effectively as we can. For a little motivation as to why you are needed let me give you a scary connection between the days of Noah and us:
In Moses 8:21-22, we read: ". . . after that they had heard (Noah), they came up before him, saying: Behold we are the sons of God; have we not taken unto ourselves the daughters of men? And are we not eating and drinking, and marrying and giving in marriage? And our wives bear unto us children, and the same are mighty men, which are like unto men of old, men of great renown. And they hearkened not unto the words of Noah."
In other words - they didn't think they were doing anything wrong.
But in verse 22, the Lord gives His appraisal of this same group of people:
Moses 8:22: "And God saw that the wickedness of men had become great in the earth; and every man [that's a high percentage!] was lifted up in the imagination of the thoughts of his heart, being only evil continually."
In other words, every 'man' was evil all the time! How would you like to live in those days? Unfortunately, the Savior had to say of our day:
"But as it was in the days of Noah (every man was evil all the time), so it shall be also at the coming of the Son of Man (that is our day and the near future); For it shall be with them, as it was in the days which were before the flood. . . (JS-M 1:41-42.)
Is there anything in our environment to corrupt mankind so badly that 'every man' would be evil all the time? (Pornography comes to mind.)
So - each one of us must be a modern-day Noah: warning and teaching and sharing the gospel because our planet is fast approaching the level of wickedness of Noah's day. Someone has to change the way our world is going OR we will all go down together. This time we face a flood of wickedness rather than water that destroys every living thing and our Father is counting on us to make that difference.
Now: let's consider some good news:
- We are not being driven out of our homes like we were in Missouri & Illinois.
- Pres. Monson is not spending 5 months in jail as did the prophet Joseph Smith in Liberty, Mo.
- We are no longer draining swamps to establish a homeland in some desolate, mosquito-infested marshland named Nauvoo.
- Our mothers are not having babies in the back of wagons or on the plains.
- We are not burying our dead in the middle of the night trying to claw through snow drifts deep enough to prevent the wolves from getting the bodies of our dead babies.
- We are not calling married men on missions to England and elsewhere while their wives try to eek out an existence.
- Only a few dads are off fighting in the sands of Afghanistan - most of them are home as husbands and fathers.
- Our standard of living is providing us a fairly comfortable lifestyle.
- Prophets now visit on occasion with high ranking officials in the land.
- Prominent members of the Church are in highly visible positions. (15 members of Congress are LDS; who knows -maybe a couple of them will run for president next year.)
- Our prosperity is sufficient to allow you to obtain an education and choose a career from so many options.
- You get to marry and rear a family in the most glorious period in the history of the world - computers, I-pods, I-pads, I-phones, I-whatever-the- next gadget-out-is, washers/dryers, toilets, even toilet paper, watches, satellites, cars, gasoline, electricity, refrigerators, micro-waves, ball-point pens: all things created in recent times. Imagine what your children and grand children will be able to do compared with most people who lived on this planet since the days of Adam and Eve.
- We have many of you who are converts from the Pacific Rim who are making a contribution to the church and world as you are educated here on this campus.
- In the midst of our good fortune - can you see what our Father needs of us? To be Latter-day Saints: to be good examples, to preserve marriage, to preserve the family unit as God ordained it; to present a model of wholesomeness to the world. When people come to this campus, they should see something different than what they see on other campuses; and we need 100% of us to be faithful if we are to be God's people.
Let me illustrate what kind of impact Latter-day Saints are making in the world: First an example of faithfulness:
King Hussein (that's his name) is a convert to the church and the CEO of Span Construction Company; in fact, his firm built the Gordon B. Hinckley Building on the BYU Provo campus. He said his company contracted to build a new COSTCO warehouse. COSTCO has the policy that once a construction pad is in place, the company wants the store up and running in 120 days. At this one location there were some weather issues and building supply shortages that were delaying this project so the Vice President of COSTCO called a meeting of the contractor and sub-contractors. He explained the problem with the delays and said that they would have to work on Sundays to complete the building on time. As the VP went around the room to see what concessions each sub-contractor would make, Brother Hussein calmly said: "I don't work my crews on Sundays." The Vice-president said: "Well, you'll have to this time because we are way behind." He calmly responded: "Sir, I don't work my crews on Sundays, but I think we can meet the deadline." The vice-president got up and came around the desk (in front of all the sub-contractors) and: thumped him on the chest and said: "You mean to tell me that you would lose this contract just to keep your crews from working on Sunday?"
He said he gulped - this was one of those moments in life where you have to decide what you really believe."Yes, I would," he said."But I think we can complete the job on time."
They did finish the job on time and guess who builds COSTCO stores in the Western part of the United States? Span Construction Company. COSTCO : and the Lord learned--that they could depend on this Latter Day Saint to keep his word. (Read the story on MormonTimes.)
Many of you are about to learn something of the world: As you graduate and move into professional careers, you are going to live in a world where moral decisions are often influenced by improper financial incentives, shoddy workmanship, and short cuts to enhance balance sheets at the expense of honesty and integrity. It is essential that you live the highest standards of integrity; you must be men and women of character, saints in other words, who will be a positive influence in your workplace.
Here's what two Latter-day Saints did to bring credit to the Church. Let me give you a little background. Ten years after the establishment of the Church in Ghana in 1979, the Saints were severely tested when on 14 June, 1989, without any warning, the Ghanaian government publicly announced that it was imposing an immediate freeze on all LDS Church activities. It banned all Church operations in Ghana after a vile, anti-Latter-day Saint film - had been shown over national television. The Church mission president, all foreign missionaries, and other church representatives were given forty-eight hours to get out of the country. Local missionaries were immediately released and sent home though some continued to wear their missionary name tags. All chapels and other church buildings were locked down and military police were placed to guard them. (Read the story on Deseret News.)
Church members were not allowed to meet in any public gatherings except their homes and only with their own family members. Priesthood leaders quietly encouraged the saints to hold family prayer, scripture reading, and family home evening and to hold sacrament meetings in their homes each week. Fathers were counseled to be priesthood leaders in their homes.
These restrictions went on for nearly eighteen months during which time Church matters were placed under the direction of Dr. Emmanuel Kissi, who had been serving in the Mission presidency.
One government official predicted over national television that "the Mormons will never return to Ghana," to which a recently returned Ghanaian missionary replied, "There was once a Governor of Missouri who made a similar foolish statement about the Mormons and he was also wrong!"
Many non-Latter-day Saints, friends of the Church, stepped forward to defend the Church, expressing shock that such actions would be taken against one of the most respected religious organizations in the world. Even former President Jimmy Carter, who worked with African nations in famine and disease prevention, expressed shock at the action taken against what he called his "Mormon friends." Government leaders were reminded of the considerable humanitarian aid the Church had given the people of Ghana and other African nations. Finally, the freeze was lifted on 29 November 1990 and church meetings resumed on Sunday, December 2, 1990.
President Mensah, the District President offered the invocation at a meeting and surprisingly thanked the Lord for the freeze. He noted, 'For one and one-half years we have witnessed fathers taking the role as branch presidents in the family, and sons as priesthood bearers blessing and passing the sacrament, mothers playing the role of Relief Society presidents, along with the daughters and everyone together for the eternal goal. There was the family, the first basic unit of the Church in action.'
After the ban was lifted, the new mission president, Grant Gunnell, invited all missionaries from Ghana who had been released due to the freeze to come in for an interview to see how many might want to finish their missionary service. (It was anticipated that after 18 months very few missionaries would be available because of work, marriage, education, etc.) Church leaders were stunned when 60 of the 76 missionaries released earlier came and 57 returned to full-time missionary service. Some had married and others were encouraged to remain at their jobs. They were extended honorable releases.
The return of such a large percentage of missionaries tells you something about these young men and women. When asked why they would continue their missionary service, the answer was typically, "I must complete my commitment to the Lord as a missionary." Some missionaries chose to live by missionary rules during the freeze and spent time in gospel study and teaching family members to retain the missionary spirit and be ready when the Lord needed them to return.
The faith and example of the members, the dedication and great service of the missionaries along with the desire of the Ghanaian Saints to share the gospel with others, led to a near explosion of Church membership in the country. Less than a month after the ban was lifted, there were more than 9,000 members in Ghana and within five months, on 21 April 1991, the first two stakes were organized by Elders Boyd K. Packer and James E. Faust : one in Cape Coast and the other in Accra. Within nine months, five new branches and three new districts were organized.
A colleague of mine at BYU, Dale LeBaron (former mission president and CES employee in Africa - who told me this story) related an experience he had at BYU 8 years after the organization of these two stakes by Elders Faust and Packer. In 1999, Dale and his wife were asked by the Church to host a prominent dignitary visiting Utah from Ghana who had been invited to visit Church headquarters, meet BYU officials, and present a lecture to the campus community. He had achieved a rare and remarkable feat - lifting an African nation out of terrible financial debt and economic chaos for which he was now recognized worldwide for this achievement.
On the final day of his Utah visit, my friend asked the visitor a question: 'What program or economic theory did you use to turn the nation's economy around so dramatically?' This former Minister of Finance smiled and said: "It was really quite simple!" I knew that the most serious problem I would face was corruption at the national level among government officials and the only way to solve the financial mess would be to place trusted people in key positions, individuals who could not be bribed or be dishonest in any way. To locate such individuals I observed many and devised tests to determine those who were trustworthy. After considerable effort, I found only two men in whom I had complete confidence and I appointed them to key positions in the Department of Finance and thanks to their integrity, hard work and courage, the economy of the nation was reversed.
Then the man said: 'Coming to Utah, I made an interesting discovery. I did not know before I came here that both of those men that I appointed were members of your church!' He then shared the names of the two men and they had been the ones sustained as members of the two stake presidencies organized by Elders Packer and Faust. One of the men was the new stake president and the other was a counselor in an adjoining stake presidency.
As you know, we now have a temple in the capital city. (Read more about the Church in Ghana at LDS Church News.)
Here's an example of some 'saints' not of our faith. A few years ago there was an unusual high school football game played in Grapevine, Texas (close to our mission).The game was between Grapevine Faith Academy, a Christian school and Gainesville State School which was located within a maximum security correction facility: a prison. (You have to understand that high school football in Texas is a religion. They put a football in the crib of each boy so he can get the feel of leather.)
The Gainesville State School of Correction had 14 players who played every game -- on the road (obviously).Their record was 0-8.They had only scored twice.Their 14 players were teenagers who had been convicted of crimes ranging from drugs to assault to robbery.Most had families who had disowned them.They wore outdated, used shoulder pads and helmets.On the other side, Faith Academy's record was 7-2.They had 70 players, 11 coaches, and the latest equipment.
Chris Hogan, the head coach at Faith Academy, knew the Gainesville team would have no fans, and it would be no contest.He thought, "What if half of our fans and half of our cheerleaders, for one night only, cheered for the other team?" He sent out an email to faithful fans asking them to do just that."Here's the message I want you to send to these young men," Hogan wrote."You're just as valuable as any other person on the planet."
Some folks were confused about the coach's efforts.One player said, "Coach, why are we doing this?" The coach said, "Imagine you don't have a home life, no one to love you, no one pulling for you.Imagine that everyone pretty much had given up on you.Now, imagine what it would feel like and mean to you for hundreds of people to suddenly believe in you."
The idea took root.On the night of the game, imagine the surprise of those 14 players from the prison when they took the field and there was a banner the cheerleaders made for them to crash through.The visitors' stands had people sitting in them.The cheerleaders were leading cheers for them.The fans were calling them by their names.Isaiah, the quarterback: also played middle linebacker said, "I never in my life thought I would hear parents cheering me to tackle and hit their kid.Most of the time, when we come out, people are afraid of us. You can see it in their eyes, but these people were yelling for us.They knew our names." (Read the whole article on ESPN.)
Here's a test of obedience to the request of a living prophet in Sierra Leone. I quote from an article in the Church News a couple of months back (Peter Evans, CN, Saturday, Jan. 1, 2011.)
"The first converts baptisms in Freetown, Sierra Leone, came in June 1988. By 1990, Mustafa Touray and his family were organized as a home group in Sierra Leone's second largest city. By August 1990, a branch was organized in Bo and Brother Touray was called to preside. Two other groups were meeting in rented buildings.
There was enthusiasm for the growth of the Church, and the saints felt they had finally gained a toehold in this teaming city of Â½ million. There was notoriety in the community and recognition by those of other faiths that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was there to stay.
(Now - notice what happened.) 5 months later, in January 1991, mission president, Miles Cunningham, received a letter from Church President, Ezra Taft Benson, in which he asked the Saints in Bo to abandon their meetinghouses and go back to their homes to worship. The young leaders were very discouraged feeling that the buildings were such an important milestone for the Church in this part of Sierra Leone.
Uniformly, members were disappointed and unhappy about the request. Some members of the infant congregations were offended that the prophet in Utah would give such unwelcome advice. Others were heard to question whether or not the prophet understood their circumstances, and, lacking faith in the Lord's servants, they left the Church (those were not 'saints.' Others felt the stirring of testimony and confirmation of the Spirit, and while they didn't understand why President Benson would ask such a thing, they knew him to be a prophet. President Touray was sad and discouraged, but "recognized that [that saints] had been given a formal commandment, and had to obey."I realized" he said, "it would be very important for us to obey although I did not know why at the time." The chapel doors were closed.
In March 1991 (2 months later), civil war erupted in Sierra Leone and this little nation became engulfed in a fiery battle that lasted more than a decade. Communities collapsed, infrastructures deteriorated, banks were closed, food was in scarce supply and repeated military coups left uncertainty as to who was a friend or foe. [Here's the point]: Churches were frequently targeted by the rebels with bullets and firebombs, and thousands of people lost their lives while sitting on pews hoping to pray and worship.But the members of the Lord's Church were safe from this harm for they were home -- worshiping in obedience to a prophet's counsel.
President Touray spoke of the miracle that had come to the people because of their obedience."No member of the Church died in the city of Bo during the war : not one. The LDS Church was the only church that continued operating during the war in Bo : the only one. Every other church closed its doors. It was too dangerous for the people to walk to church and too dangerous to sit and worship. None of us (the Latter-day Saints) had any problem during the war. We worshipped through the whole war no matter how grave the situation was. Because we were obedient, our members received this great blessing." (Read the whole article on Church News.)
(Brothers and Sisters - I suspect there will be more of these tests in the near future; one reason why the Brethren and Sisters in Conference keep reminding us that we have living prophets and we must stay in tune with the Spirit of the Lord.)
5. Now - let's think about us - how good do we have it here in Hawaii? Are we willing to keep our commitments? Are we 'saints?' Do we live the gospel as we understand it? Our Board of Trustees (made up of prophets, seers, and revelators) asks us to be modest, to not wear provocative clothing, they are asking that of you because they want you to safeguard the most precious power you possess outside of your agency: your procreative powers.
Remember: the 3 most serious sins a Latter-day Saint could commit are, in order - (1) Son of Perdition; (2) Murder; (3) Sexual sins. Which one is the greatest challenge of your day? Son of Perdition? Murder? (Not until you have teenagers).
Now, senior missionaries, unlike their younger counterparts, can go swimming. A few of us were at a Turtle Bay beach last Fall when we saw a number of our university students playing volleyball in their bikinis. My heart hurt and I was reminded of a story Elder Scott told in conference a few years ago. I quote from his remarks:
"(Recently) in Salt Lake City I turned my car in front of a pickup truck loaded with attractive young women. Their vehicle then swerved in front of me, cutting dangerously close. The girls vented their displeasure with multiple vulgar comments and obscene gestures. They were dressed . . . [in] immodest clothing that left little to the imagination. My heart sank. These are daughters of God. I resolved that if I ever had the chance, I would enlist the righteous priesthood of God to help such misguided young women. Brethren, we can and must help them. I fear that much of their plight comes from our own neglect or misdeeds. (In this case - the girls were not playing volleyball with just other girls - there were guys on their teams.) As a priesthood . . . brother, each of us absolutely must help each daughter of God we can to realize what sacred characteristics Father in Heaven has given her. . . . Because it is their nature to give and please others, many women do not realize their intrinsic worth. That loss makes them vulnerable to those who would convince them that their major role is to be physically appealing." ("The Sanctity of Womanhood," Ensign, May 2000, 36.)
As we left the beach, however, we saw three of our students who met our standards and we thanked them for keeping their word and honoring their commitments. Let me tell you why this is important.
6. What YOU, at your age, think to be quite harmless, scares those of us who are fathers and grandfathers. We have been down the road a little farther - and have watched people make some rather tragic decisions that cost them their missions, their temple marriages, and in some cases, their membership in the church (to say nothing of an ecclesiastical endorsement).
Here's why it is important: I'm going to predict that you, like me, can't really appreciate the law of chastity until you have your first child. When we began having children - fathers were not allowed to be in the delivery room. That changed over time and when my 4th child was born - I was there. My first impression was: 'I'm glad I'm not a woman.' But, I remember my wife looking at this little guy and she started laughing. I didn't see a lot of humor after all she went through to make me a daddy. She said: "His profile looks just like you!" Then it hit me as it will you as to what this Law of Chastity is all about. It is about life, about bringing life from the presence of our Heavenly Father - for a mortal probation.
Yes, it is about protecting you from disease, from your children being born outside the covenant of Abraham; about missing out on missions or temple marriages and perhaps other important things. However, as you look upon your precious baby, you will realize what sexual relations are all about and why God wants His children to come to earth under the protection of a loving father and mother who have kept His law of chastity within the bound of marriage.
Do you know how enjoyable that will be for you to be able to go to class reunions and meet girls or guys you dated years ago - and to be able to face them knowing that your dates were wholesome and clean and that nothing took place that would prove an embarrassment to either one of you. I hope that will be your experience.
All of us who represent the Church must be Latter-day Saints. We have much to do and much of what you do will have an impact on you, your family, and those with whom you work. We must be saints in behavior. May we be the Lord's light to the world, salt that preserves, and the holy ones: saints-- who will make a difference in our world. Remember: We have plenty of Mormons; we need more Latter-day Saints. May you fulfill your destiny in that sacred role - is my prayer, in the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.
Photo by Mei Yin.