Make the Link: Learning and Living the Gospel for Yourself
Devotional or Speech given at
Brigham Young University-Hawaii
14 March 2017
David T. Warner
Area Seventy, Utah Salt Lake Area
Brothers and sisters, with all the “ha” in my heart, and with the “ha” I feel in this room, I offer you my sincerest “aloha.”
“Ha” has been a recurring theme and sustaining force in our lives since our first introduction to this beautiful place called La’ie in 2006. That’s when David was first asked to support the PCC cultural leaders in preparing a new night show, “HA: Breath of Life.” From our first visit, the spirit that we felt has not only lingered, but intensified. We love you.
We feel we have been prepared to be here today. David served his mission in Taiwan, I spent two years of my youth living in Hong Kong. Our son Matthew served his mission in Singapore and Malaysia. David and I visited Cambodia, and Beijing for work a few years ago, and my grandfather served his mission in Japan. So you can see that being here with you today is a culmination of family experiences with the people of the “Isles of the Sea” spanning more than a century. Perhaps that is why we feel your collective “ha” so deeply.
Thank you, President and Sister Tanner, for inviting us to be here with you today.
A few years ago, after a particularly discouraging day, I was returning home in the dark from my walk and noticed two people approaching our front door. It was President and Sister Tanner. In her hands Sister Tanner held a warm loaf of homemade bread. I knew she had had a busy day, and yet here she was at our door with an offering that was not only delicious to eat but the gesture of service was nourishing to our souls. Now I am in no way obligating President and Sister Tanner to appear at your apartments with a warm loaf of bread, but I am commending them to you as servants of The Bread of Life who will feed you with his good word and nourish you with his love.
Now for a brief introduction of my husband and eternal companion, David. He has been a faculty member at BYU-Provo, a staff administrator at Church headquarters in Salt Lake City, and now is a founding partner of a private technology company. He has led small teams and large projects involving hundreds of people. I could catalog his various achievements, but I’d rather give you a glimpse of the person he truly is. Over the years he has received notes and letters from people he has served and led. Let me share just a few expressions of their appreciation:
One person wrote: “David, you have imbued and fostered an environment of mutual love and respect...that I’ve never seen equaled.”
Another said, “The thing I...treasure most is [your] deeply personal interest in who I am as a person, and [your] unfailing concern for my growth and development.”
From another: “[You have] a kindness in [your] character that makes everyone feel welcome...[You help] those around [you] to know that they have a valuable contribution to make.”
And finally, “You have constantly encouraged and reassured me. Thank you for teaching by word and example what it means to follow the Master. When I think about the disciple I’m trying to become, I think of you.”
That’s a little window into who David also is to me and our two sons Peter and Matthew, and we love him very much.
One side note: On the mainland David often interacts with people in formal situations. But here in La’ie, perhaps because of the island breezes, the flip flops, and the aloha spirit that makes everyone family, his friends have taken to calling him “Dave,” which brings a smile to our lips and a warmth to our hearts and endears each of you to us in a most special way.
Today I bear my testimony that we are all Heavenly Father’s children, that He has sent His son Jesus Christ to redeem us and make it possible for us to live with him again. In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.
Brothers and sisters, aloha! Allison and I are delighted to be here with you this morning. Amartuvshiin and Audrey, thank you for your prayer and scripture, and Mai, thanks in advance, for your prayer at the end of the meeting. And our dear cousins from the PCC, thank you for singing from your hearts, and to Brother Muti, for accompanying. We love that Primary song. You know, when prophets prophesied about the significance of this place, they were also prophesying about you and all the students who study here. Just by learning and living the gospel at BYU–Hawaii, you are truly helping “to bring the world His truth.”1
A couple of months ago I asked a few students here to tell me what makes a good devotional. I was intrigued by what they said: First, “tell stories.” Second, “show us that you are real.” And third, “talk about something that matters to us.” President and Sister Tanner’s message last week did all of those things, and was so inspiring. Allison and I hope you will re-read their message entitled “Three Ships” and refer to it often throughout your journey here.
This morning, I’d like to explore with you the topic of learning. But, let me quickly add, not the kind of learning you might be thinking of. I’m talking about the learning that encompasses all of life—the adventure of discovering why we came to the earth, who we are, and what Heavenly Father wants us to understand and become.
Think, for a moment, about the people in scripture who have a burning desire to learn. We open the Book of Mormon and meet Nephi, who “desires to know the mysteries of God.”2 Enos says, “My soul hungered.”3 And Alma leaves behind everything to learn and teach the gospel he received from Abinadi.4 Throughout the scriptures and Church history, we find the Savior’s prophets and disciples seeking to learn. And you have come to BYU–Hawaii for that very purpose.
But here’s something to think about: have you noticed that we can choose to see “assigned” learning—like homework, research papers, and exams—in a way that diminishes our desire to learn? That’s not a criticism of schoolwork. But in our natural-man sort of way we can let the wonder of discovery get buried beneath the weight of deadlines and grades and graduation requirements. And if we’re not careful, we may even forget that we chose to come to school in the first place! That’s when we find ourselves gazing out at the blue sky beyond our classroom window, tempted to turn off our brains and just run away. And a temptation like that must be especially hard to resist when you’re going to school in this paradise called La’ie.
But giving into such temptations—giving up on the kind of learning we’re talking about—would be a tragedy. We came to earth to learn. And if we choose to trade learning for mindless distractions and fleeting pleasures, a part of us dies. Because learning is like breathing. And if we ever stop doing it deeply and continually, we can lose the strength and ability to do it at all.
The Lord has said it is expedient—meaning it is necessary—for us to “understand...things both in heaven and in the earth, and under the earth; things which have been, things which are, things which must shortly come to pass; things which are at home, things which are abroad;...and a knowledge also of countries and of kingdoms.”5
That is a sweeping course of study! And why is such broad learning necessary? The Lord explains it is all about you: “That ye may be prepared in all things when I shall send you again to magnify the calling whereunto I have called you, and the mission with which I have commissioned you.”6
If being prepared for the mission of your life is what you desire, you are in the right place! Being a student at BYU–Hawaii is a blessing given to you by your Heavenly Father and you are here for a purpose. What your teachers are helping you learn is critically important for your future and for those whom you will bless. But learning is more than completing required assignments. Learning is what happens within you. And the decisive factor in your learning is not the quality of your teacher, the curriculum, or even your own intellectual ability. It is your desire.
Where learning the truth of the gospel is concerned, when you desire “with a sincere heart” and “with real intent, having faith in Christ,”7 the Holy Ghost will help you. He will testify of truth, including the all-important connection between what you learn and what it means for your life.
With permission from our son Matthew, let me reconstruct a conversation we had when he was 16 years old. One evening, while driving in the car together, I asked what he was learning in seminary.
“Oh, you know,” he said in his teenage way, “the gospel.”
“What about the gospel?” I asked.
“You know, Dad, the Restoration and all that.”
“I see. Which part?”
He paused for a moment, as if weighing whether to share something that really mattered to him. “OK,” he said, “the part about Joseph Smith giving Oliver Cowdery the 126 pages from the Book of Mormon.”
For a moment, I wondered what kind of seminary class he was in. Then I tried to gently explain, “Well, you know son, the Prophet Joseph Smith gave those pages to Martin Harris, not Oliver Cowdery.”
“Sure, whatever,” Matthew said.
“And,” I continued, “I believe it was 116 pages, not 126.”
“Yeah, yeah, Dad, I know. But the point is, I made the link.”
“The link?” I asked.
Then Matthew helped me understand. “Do you remember the summer when I earned $100 mowing lawns, and I wanted to buy that electric scooter? You said you didn’t think it was a good idea. But I really wanted that scooter. So I prayed about it, and I had the feeling I should listen to you. But I didn’t like that answer, so I prayed about it again—a couple of times. And I kept getting the feeling I should forget the scooter. But I really wanted it, so I just bought it anyway. And the second day I rode it, it broke. It was too expensive to fix, and we ended up throwing it away. And I lost everything I’d saved! Dad,” he said, “ that’s what happened to Joseph Smith. He knew in his heart that he shouldn’t loan out those pages. But he kept asking the Lord, and finally Joseph loaned them anyway. And they were lost. He was totally sad and couldn’t sleep or eat or anything. And he decided he was never going to disobey again. That’s the link, Dad. That’s the link I made to myself.”
We sat in silence for a moment while I was making a link of my own: Learning the gospel is about more than hearing and repeating facts and concepts. Was it Oliver Cowdery or Martin Harris? It’s important to know, but not essential to salvation. The number of pages lost? That’s not a saving doctrine either. Suddenly I was thinking about good people I know who master many details of gospel doctrine and Church history, but do not make the link to what it means for them.
Linking gospel truth to ourselves is another way of talking about truly understanding the gospel. Matthew’s new understanding was very simple: “Heavenly Father wants to help me. He won’t impose His will or insist that I obey. He will speak to me by the still, small voice of the Holy Ghost. And if I willingly listen and respond, I will be blessed and happy.”
In time, Matthew did learn the correct names and number of pages. And thanks to a fine seminary teacher, he identified much rich doctrine embedded in early Church History. But let’s remember, none of that would have meant much to 16-year-old Matthew until he made the link and came to an understanding for himself. That’s when he changed. And that confirms the powerful principle taught by President Boyd K. Packer: “True doctrine, understood, changes attitudes and behavior.”8 That’s what happened to Matthew.
One more insight from Matthew’s experience: when making a link is our goal, when understanding is what we’re working for, we don’t wait around for an assignment to learn. We desire it for ourselves. We hunger for it. We find ourselves “anxiously engaged”9 in learning and seek it of our “own free will,” acting and not being acted upon.10
Brothers and sisters, it is liberating and life-changing to actively learn the gospel. Let me illustrate with an experience from my father’s life. When he was your age, he went to Army basic training. He had attended many Church meetings and classes throughout his youth, and he knew much information about the gospel. But he wanted to understand. He wanted to make the link.
So every weekend, while his buddies went out “on the town,” he took his modest stipend and rented a little motel room. Back then, a paperback copy of the Book of Mormon cost 25 cents. He bought three. One copy he read page by page, and the other two he dismantled, cutting out the verses that meant the most to him. He laid those verses on the carpet in topical clusters, starting with Adam and Eve. Over time, he began to learn the gospel for himself, by his own effort. There was a cluster of verses about the plan of salvation, which led him to think about his future education, his profession, and his contribution in the world. There was another cluster about the priesthood, and that guided his thinking about ordinances, and his future marriage and family. And at the center was the topic of greatest importance, the Atonement of our Savior Jesus Christ. Assembling those verses led to inspiration about repenting, forgiving, and loving God’s children. All week long he looked forward to getting back to that motel room and making links between gospel doctrine and his life. And those links helped prepare him to be the person Heavenly Father wanted him to be.
Dad paid a price to learn the gospel for himself. He used paper and scissors. You might use digital devices. Whatever the tools, full engagement is required—heart, might, mind, and strength. Listen carefully to the words of one young man, even younger than you, who invested his whole soul to learn God’s will. He said: “My mind was called up to serious reflection. ...My feelings were deep and often poignant. ...I attended...several meetings as often as occasion would permit. ...My mind at times was greatly excited. ...I often said to myself, What is to be done?”11
In time, this young man’s searching led him to a scripture about prayer. From there, he made a link. Here’s how he described it:
“Never did any passage of scripture come with more power to the heart of man than this did at this time to mine. It seemed to enter with great force into every feeling of my heart. I reflected on it again and again. ...At length I came to the conclusion that I must either remain in darkness and confusion, or else I must do as [the scripture] directs.”12
Yes, that is Joseph Smith’s description of his link to eleven words that changed this world:
“If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God.”13
O my dear friends, think about the price 14-year-old Joseph Smith paid to prepare for his life’s mission! He studied. He went to meetings. He searched the scriptures for answers. He made a link! And then he woke up on his own, slipped from the little bed he shared with his siblings, put on his clothes in the half-light of morning, crawled down steep steps from the upper loft, quietly opened the latched door, and walked out into the place he had previously designed to go. No one had assigned him to go that grove of trees! No one was expecting a follow-up report! And when he returned from his vision of Heavenly Father and His Son, Jesus Christ, he said to his mother, “I have learned for myself.”14
Your mission in life are different from Joseph Smith’s. But you are called to learn for yourself. All of us are.
Now, with that foundation, let’s consider a particular area of learning—the curriculum we call adversity, or opposition, and or tribulation. In “the great school”15 of mortality, as Brigham Young called it, we might think of these as “required” learning, or “assigned” schoolwork, because we don’t get to choose our afflictions. But we knew that opposition would be part of Heavenly Father’s plan from the beginning. We wanted that plan! In fact, we shouted for joy at the prospect of coming to the earth to fulfill it. And we had absolute faith that whatever challenges we experienced, our Savior would faithfully perform the great sacrifice that could redeem us. As He promised His disciples, “In this world ye shall have tribulation, but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.”16
So here you are! As young adults, you have undoubtedly passed Tribulation 101. Perhaps you started with simple scrapes and bruises. Maybe you were called names on the playground. You might have been teased by siblings, and then graduated to broken promises by people you trusted. These are the ABC’s of opposition. But usually they are not enough for us to learn to fully rely upon the Savior.
Some of you have already begun your advanced coursework. Perhaps you were born with a disability, or were raised in a family that does not live gospel principles. You may have faced social and financial hardship, accident, injury, disease, the divorce of parents, depression, or prejudice. Some of you may be bearing heavy private burdens that only the Lord can understand.
Be assured that through experiences like these, you are on track for the highest possible degree...the highest degree of glory! Elder Orson F. Whitney taught, “Through sorrow and suffering, toil and tribulation, ...we gain the education that we [came to the earth] to acquire.”17
Tribulation doesn’t mean that you are less worthy or less beloved of the Lord. Often, just the opposite is true. Nephi described himself as “having seen many afflictions..., nevertheless, having been highly favored of the Lord.”18 This is a pattern: highly favored, many afflictions. Three days before his martyrdom, the Prophet Joseph Smith said of Nauvoo, “This is the loveliest place and the best people under the heavens. Little do they know the trials that await them.”19 There’s that pattern again: good people, great trials.
“Beloved,” the Apostle Peter said, “think it not strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened unto you: But rejoice, inasmuch as ye are partakers of Christ’s sufferings; that when his glory shall be revealed, ye may be glad also with exceeding joy.”20 The truth is, “whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth.”21 So if He is using adversity to make you chaste and pure and ready to fulfill your mission here on earth, you know he loves you deeply.
Now, let’s take a further step. Within the curriculum we call tribulation, you have a specific learning opportunity. Some of your most fiery trials will come just because of your efforts to live the gospel. Again, let’s think of Joseph Smith. As a 17-year-old boy, Moroni told him that his “name should be had for good and evil...among all people.”22 And Joseph Smith said of himself, “Envy and wrath have been my common lot all the days of my life.”23 How did Joseph survive and be happy? By making the link to God’s purposes for him: “I have waded in tribulation lip-deep;” he said, “but every wave of adversity which has struck me, has wafted me that much nearer to Deity.”24
So, what does it mean for you when someone calls you out on social media? Ridicules you? Refuses to be fair with you? Rejects you? Or spreads vicious rumors about you because you stand with the Savior and His servants?
It means you have the opportunity to make this most sacred link yourself: Jesus Christ was despised and rejected of men,25 mocked, scourged, and ultimately crucified. This isn’t because he failed in some way. It is because He was the “light and life of the world,” shining forth in the darkness, even when “the darkness [comprehended] it not.”26
When you choose to stand with the Savior, you choose to shine with Him in a world darkened by misunderstanding, confusion, false teachings, and sin. At times, the world will not fully comprehend your light and why you believe as you do. Yet still you are called to stand as tall and bright as a city set on a hill. Our Savior knows what challenges this may bring into your lives, and He knows how to help you bear them obediently. Because of what He has done for you, He alone can offer us this most comforting assurance: “Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake...for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you.”27
With you, I express gratitude for the privilege of standing with the prophets who went before us and especially those who lead Christ’s Church today. “Ye cannot behold, with your natural eyes, for the present time, the design of your God concerning those things which shall come hereafter, and the glory which shall follow after much tribulation.”28 I testify that when we follow Jesus Christ and His servants the prophets, we truly can “rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great is [our] reward in heaven.”29
There are so many links to be made! Some will occur in your classes. Others will come through learning in the temple, in sacrament meeting, in Church callings, in your apartment, at work, and in your communications with family members. In his recent BYU–Hawaii commencement address, Elder Dallin H. Oaks taught: “Our education should not be limited to formal study...learning can increase our ability to appreciate and relish the workings and beauty of the world around us.” Such learning opportunities abound here in La’ie.
When I first started coming to volunteer at the PCC, I had the idea it would be wonderful to see a sunrise from the beach. But when I parted the drapes and saw clouds, I decided to wait for another day. After a few trips I made an interesting link. When the sky is cloudless, it’s actually hard to see a sunrise. But on cloudy days, the rising sun transforms those dark, threatening shapes in the sky.
First a peach-colored wash silhouettes the emerging ink spots. Then gold begins to gild their dark edges. Suddenly, they become billowing volumes of pink, purple, sapphire, orange, and yellow. Brilliant shafts of light break through the atmospheric strife, and the whole sky is resplendent and alive.
Here’s what I’m talking about, taken on my phone two blocks away, just a month ago:
Obviously, it is necessary for me to be on time for this first class of the day, and I try to come ready to be taught by the teacher with a very still, small voice. The link I’ve made is priceless to me: We are blessed to witness the Son of God in our lives because “dark clouds of trouble [do] hang o’er us.”30 As we experience affliction, hardship, and even persecution, His light not only becomes more visible, but more beautiful. And we are filled with gratitude for the cloudy days and even the treacherous storms of life.
Day by day, as you make such links, you will be changed. You will become the sons and daughters of Christ—spiritually “born of Him,” with “hearts...changed through faith on his name.”31 And that change is the greatest gift you can give your children and our Heavenly Father’s children whom you are called to serve.
Brother Brown was the custodian in charge of gym lockers at the physical education building at BYU–Provo. He never published in scholarly article. He never spoke in a devotional. He never taught a class. But because the gospel had grown in him, he taught wherever he went, through whatever he was doing. One day while cleaning out lockers he found a wallet. He opened it to learn whose it was and found a few small pictures cut out of magazines—pictures that were inappropriate for anyone to see. When the owner, a young man, came retrieve it, Brother Brown invited him to sit down for a moment. “Before I return your wallet,” Brother Brown said, “may I show you mine?” The young man nodded. Brother Brown opened his well-worn billfold. “This is a picture of my wife—my beloved companion of many years. This is my temple recommend, which makes it possible for us to be together forever. These are pictures of my children. Here are my grandchildren. My brother, I desire with all my heart that one day, you will be able to open your wallet and see what I see. I invite you to do whatever you need to do so that you can have that blessing.” Tears flowed as the young man opened his wallet, removed the pictures, and left them behind.
Whatever your life’s mission may be, and whatever your current role at BYU–Hawaii, you are called “to bring the world His truth.” But Brother Brown could not have done that by merely quoting what he’d heard others say, or what he’d memorized as a full-time missionary. He had to do more than just repeat concepts and historical facts. He had to share the doctrine and principles that had grown within him as he learned and lived the gospel for himself. When we do that, the Holy Ghost bears witness of the truth that is in us. That is what this world needs. That is what your children will need to help them become lights in this world.
How we love you! As we watch you fulfilling your missions on the earth, we recognize that the world has probably changed more in your lifetime than in any other period of human history. Never have God’s children had so many tools to learn the gospel for themselves. Sadly, the availability of these tools has tempted some to resist learning from inspired teachers and leaders.
There is plenty of information for you to find. If any of you lack facts, figures, definitions, and opinions, you can Google them. With spiritual discernment and care, you can identify what is good, and you can also recognize much that the Holy Ghost directs you to deliberately ignore.
But if any of you lack wisdom—which is God’s knowledge and what he wants for you— ask of God. Search the scriptures. Harken to His servants the prophets. Pray.
And please embrace President Nelson’s special assignment to you, as young adults. It comes with the promise of a glorious link to your life. He said, “If you proceed to learn all you can about Jesus Christ, I promise you that your love for Him, and for God’s laws, will grow beyond what you currently imagine. ...Your ability to turn away from sin will increase. Your desire to keep the commandments will soar. You will find yourself better able to walk away from the entertainment and entanglements of those who mock the followers of Jesus Christ.”32
In this way, you will heed President Thomas S. Monson’s call to: “build up within [yourself] a great and powerful faith which will be [your] most effective defense against the designs of the adversary—a real faith, the kind of faith which will sustain [you] and will bolster [your] desire to choose the right.”33
I close with one more promise from the Lord: as we learn the gospel, we must do much on our own, but we will never be alone. When the Lord described the sweeping scope of our learning, he promised, “My grace shall attend you.”34 So don’t be overwhelmed by His invitation to “learn of me.”35 Those words not only mean learn “about” Him, they also mean learn “from” Him. Believe in the Savior. Believe that He will help you learn through His Spirit. Know that He loves you, and He will lead you along.
I testify that Joseph Smith is the prophet of the Restoration. The Book of Mormon is another testament of Jesus Christ and is true. President Thomas S. Monson is God’s holy prophet upon the earth. His beloved counselors, President Henry B. Eyring and President Dieter F. Uchtdorf, are prophets, seers, and revelators, as are all the members of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. I rejoice to sustain them and stand with them. I bear my personal witness that our Savior Jesus Christ lives. I know for myself that He lives.
In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.
 1 Nephi 2:16
 Enos 1:4
 see Mosiah 17:2
 Moroni 10:4
 2 Nephi 2:14
 James 1:5
 John 16:33 (italics added)
 1 Nephi 1:1
 1 Peter 4:12
 Hebrews 12:6
 Isaiah 53:3
 Matthew 5:11-12
 Matthew 5:12
 Mosiah 5:7
 Matthew 11:29