God Is on the Move
Devotional Talk Given at
Brigham Young University–Hawaii
September 20, 2007
It is an awesome responsibility standing in front of you today. About 12 years ago, I sat where you sat--a BYU-Hawaii student trying to find my place in the world.
Toward the end of my junior year I heard, in this very place, a talk by Elder Neal A. Maxwell that forever changed my life. During the talk he spoke about President David O. McKay's dedicatory prayer at the groundbreaking of this University...the same prophecy that President Kongaika spoke about last week in devotional.
The words of President McKay struck me deeply then, as they did again last week listening to President Kongaika, "Mark my words I tell you, from this place will go men and women whose influence will be felt for good toward the establishment of peace internationally."
I remember feeling the spirit strongly and pondering the quote for some time. I looked around at my classmates. Some of them came from important families. Others came from areas of the world that desperately needed peace. Maybe, these elect few, I thought, were the ones President McKay was speaking of.
As I continued to pray and ponder, a different understanding started to sink in. As I read the words more carefully and more prayerfully, I came to see that President McKay didn't qualify his statement by saying some men and women or an elect few. Perhaps, he was talking about everyone here.
The other obvious implication hit harder--perhaps he was talking about me too. The thought left me terrified.
Who am I? What do I have to offer? How can one person, or even a group of people from a small school, make a difference? How could someone as unimportant as me do anything to influence peace internationally?
I spent the next decade in graduate school studying conflict resolution, along with stints working in places like Israel, Palestine, Northern Ireland, South Africa and the Balkans learning about conflict and trying to answer those questions.
In my travels I've seen violence, hatred, anger, greed, poverty and hopelessness. Most of all I've been overwhelmed by the intense suffering that so many people, regardless of where I go, seem to be carrying.
I understand the feelings of hopelessness that the situation in the world evokes in some.
But I'm also struck by another reality-less reported but equally true. In the midst of these dangerous times there is a lot of good that is going on around us.
Everywhere I go, regardless of the situation on the ground, I am amazed at the charity, the selflessness and hard work that others are doing in an attempt to ease the suffering of people who very often are complete strangers to them.
In Africa, thousands of aid workers work tirelessly to relieve poverty and help prevent and treat the devastating scourge of HIV. They risk their lives and their health, but their efforts can save thousands.
In the Middle East, even in the midst of war, I'm constantly amazed at the number of people on both sides of the conflict who, despite often suffering immensely themselves, risk their lives and well being in an attempt to bring peace.
Even in this little town of Laie, once a city of refuge, you don't have to look too far to your right or left to find someone engaged in a project that makes this community a better place.
Everywhere I turn, even in the midst of so much man-made destruction and chaos, I see God, working through individuals, feeding the hungry, taking in strangers, clothing the naked, healing the sick -- being influences for peace internationally.
People are on the move.
Love is on the move.
Peace is on the move.
God is on the move.
The question is ...are we going to be on the move with him?
May I suggest three ways we as BYU-Hawaii students, staff, faculty and administration can be on the move with God?
The first suggestion actually starts us down the path by turning our focus inward instead of outward.
1. We must be the change.
Are there people in your life that you haven't made peace with? Are there thorns that you carry around with you still burrowed in your soul?
Peace starts with us. We can't go about telling our neighbor to clean his yard, when our yard is still in disarray.
I think Elder Maxwell was right on the money when he said in a speech here at BYU-Hawaii:
"Many talk about the urgency of establishing peace in the world and rightly so. There are reams of such sincere rhetoric, but peacemaking is finally impossible unless a sufficient number of individuals are themselves spiritually at peace and inwardly composed."
Our inability to become spiritually at peace and inwardly composed--not the material conflicts that rage around us-- are the biggest obstacles to peace.
In conflict, we point fingers at our spouses, our kids, our bosses, and our leaders. We rehearse endlessly why we are right and they are wrong.
We pray for mercy for ourselves and ask God to deliver justice for our enemies. We wait for apologies and restitution to be offered. And peace never comes.
When we fail to see how our own actions and attitudes contribute to conflict, we can become the obstacle to the very thing we desire most--peace with those around us.
Because as long as I believe that you're the one that needs to change and as long you believe that I'm the one that needs to change...who will ever change?
There is an apocryphal story about Mahatma Gandhi that comes to mind. Gandhi was not just a political and spiritual leader, he was also quite wise and people traveled from all over to ask his help with problems both small and large.
One day a peasant woman came to visit Gandhi. She brought with her her young son. She told Gandhi that her son was addicted to sweets. The sugar made him hyper and too wild to attend school. She hoped Gandhi would tell her son to stop eating sugar. She was sure that her son would listen to him. Gandhi paused and then told the woman to come back in one week. She came back one week later. Gandhi took the little boy, sat him on his lap and said simply, "Please do not eat sugar. It is bad for you."
The boy smiled, promised to stop and returned back to his mother. His mother was understandably stunned. She had traveled over 100 miles. It was a difficult journey. Bewildered she approached Gandhi and asked,
"Why didn't you just tell him to quit eating sugar last week when I first approached you?"
Gandhi smiled and said patiently, "Last week, I too, was still eating sugar. ...We must be the change we wish to see in the world."
As long as Gandhi continued to eat sugar, he knew that he lacked the ability to ask another to stop. We too often, partake of the very things we wish the world would abstain from. Too often conflict rages or simmers in our homes, our dorm rooms, our workplaces, and communities. We search for peace everywhere, but cannot find it in our hearts.
To move from a heart of war to a heart of peace requires a broken heart and a contrite spirit--not revenge, justice or apologies.
God promises us if we are humble, we can feel peace. Yet at the center of our own conflicts it's usually pride, not humility, which has taken over our heart.
In Isaiah we learn that God "dwells in the high and holy place with him that is of a contrite and humble spirit." (Isaiah 57:15) The scriptures are replete with promises that those who have a broken heart and a contrite spirit "will escape enemies," that the "Holy Spirit" will enlighten the soul and that the "fatness of the earth" will be theirs.
When we submit ourselves to Christ and draw near to him, Paul, in his epistles on living a Christ-like life, promised that our hearts become purified and our bodies washed with pure water. He promised that we can begin to understand each other and that the divisions that are among us begin to melt away and we can become perfectly joined together.
Paul teaches that with a change of heart comes charity, which is the pure love of Christ. Before our hearts are purified, we see through a glass darkly. But with charity, we suddenly see the world and each other clearly. We no longer seek our own, are able to bear all things, believe all things, hope all things and endure all things.
Having a broken heart and a contrite spirit frees us from the cycle of revenge, remorse and anger that threatens to consume us. And it allows us to take responsibility for our emotions and actions and brings us an inner calm that can remain steady amidst the outer storms.
When we have a broken heart and contrite spirit, we quit asking God to bless us in our selfish endeavors and ask instead how we can be on the move with Him.
When we work together with God we know that we are doing his will and that there is no problem that can't be solved.
Most importantly it strengthens our faith in the Savior. Faith in the healing power of the atonement. Faith that we can change. And if we can change, so can our neighbor.
Now, Christ doesn't ask to be perfect to be on the move with Him. He recognizes that this process is a life long refinement and the Satan can use our lack of perfection to convince us that we have nothing to offer.
The key is to constantly be striving toward being the change. God will make up the difference.
Learn theories and practice skills that not only benefit our bottom line, but can bless the lives of others. With a change of heart often comes a desire to share that change with others.
One of the most common responses I hear from students and faculty alike when talking about our responsibility as peacemakers is that "I want to make a difference, but I just don't know how."
Here at BYU-Hawaii, of all places, we need to give each other the tools we need to make peace.
There's no doubt in my mind that learning and embracing the gospel of Jesus Christ can bring peace to troubled souls and even to war torn communities.
But the conditions on the ground often have to be right before a person or a group of people are ready to hear it.
In 1998 I spent some time in the town in Northern Ireland doing research and conflict resolution for a United Nations group called INCORE.
During that time I spent most of my Sundays in Catholic and Protestant churches studying how the use of sermons promoted either peace or conflict. One Sunday, weary of all the research and looking for something more familiar, I walked across town to the LDS Chapel.
The building was large and beautiful, but inside, only a small handful of Saints filled the pews. Knowing that the church rarely builds big buildings until they have enough Saints to fill it, I enquired to one of the members.
He said something to that I had never considered before. The conflict between Protestants and Catholics there had torn apart the LDS Church as well. Old hatreds resurfaced and many good members left the church angry and bitter at each other.
The missionaries there reported similar stories in proselytizing. With people carrying war in their hearts, they had little time or use for a message from the Prince of Peace.
One member said to me, "Our hearts are so hard we no longer will let the Spirit in. We can't hear the Spirit. Our fighting is drowning Him out."
It is no accident that in many of the most dangerous and war-torn areas of the world, missionary work grinds to a halt and the faith of the Saints already there is severely tested.
A broken heart and a contrite spirit may be an entry point into peace building, but there is more we can do.
Taking the time to become educated about the problems that we face in the world today, and taking the initiative to build skills that can help is essential.
God commanded Noah to build an ark before the flood. But had Noah not taken the time to actually learn how to build a sturdy boat, Noah and his family may have had to swim.
The Lord told the Saints in the Doctrine and Covenants to "Seek ye out the best books words of wisdom, seek learning, even by study and also by faith. Organize yourselves; prepare every needful thing." (D&C 88:118-19.)
If we are going to be on the move with God and influence peace internationally we have to be preparing ourselves with the best learning.
We spend a lot more time and money thinking about and doing war than we do peace. In 2006 the UN estimated that worldwide military expenditures totaled at 1.1 trillion dollars. The total for peace building projects combined with economic and humanitarian aid came in at around 10.5 billion.
Is it any wonder that 89 percent of all peace agreements between nations fail?
In our universities and in our classrooms we must do more to contribute to scholarly thinking and research on the topic, regardless of our discipline.
Conflict is complex and analyzing the problems of the world today requires a lot of information sharing from many disciplines.
While most students won't become students of conflict and peacemaking, virtually every major on campus comes from a discipline that has a say in the conditions on the ground that affect peace.
Whether you are an ICS major, history, political science, business, education, psychology, social work, computer science and even teaching of international languages-- every discipline has a stake in influencing peace internationally.
In addition to understanding the problems that face the world, there are also opportunities to practice skills in leadership, communication and facilitation. We have multiple opportunities to serve both at the university, in the community and within our wards and stakes.
Are we taking advantage of the opportunities to improve our ability to help?
In addition to secular knowledge and skills, we can learn essential lessons about peacemaking from prayerfully reading the scriptures. The scriptures are replete with examples of how the Lord works through people to affect positive change.
The Savior's mortal ministry is the ultimate example and one I will return to in the moment.
The writings of Paul and the apostles in the New Testament show how they handled disputes among the early members in the Church.
In the Book of Mormon, Alma describes how conversion to Christ caused the Anti-Nephi-Lehies to bury their weapons in the earth and renounce war and how even a military captain, Captain Moroni, even in the midst of destructive conflict with the Lamanites, used his position to sue for true peace.
In the Doctrine and Covenants, the Lord's patient counsel to the Saints in Zion's Camp in the 98th section of the Doctrine and Covenants teaches Latter-day Saints how to deal with and forgive those who have wronged us.
Over the past few general conferences, President Gordon B. Hinckley has tackled topics like reconciliation and forgiveness and the need for greater kindness in engaging other cultures and races.
Creating a community of BYU-Hawaii faculty, staff, students and alumni who have the desire and skills, regardless of their profession, to analyze and help solve the problems that beset our homes, communities, organizations and countries must become a reality if we are ever, as a group, to move with God in establishing peace internationally.
3. Have the courage to act
Moroni's lamentation in the Book of Ether has always stirred my soul. Not only was Moroni writing about the demise of a once great civilization, the Jaredites, but he was in the process of witnessing the utter destruction of his own tribe, the Nephites. In the midst of that he writes in chapter 12, verse four:
"Wherefore, whoso believeth in God might with surety hope for a better world, yea, even a place at the right hand of God, which hope cometh of faith, maketh an anchor to the souls of men, which would make them sure and steadfast, always abounding in good works, being led to glorify God."
We all hope for a better world. But we have to do more than hope if we are going to get the world we look for.
The elusive search for peace has jaded many.
Three weeks ago I was sitting on a roof top of Jerusalem suburb Bet Safafa, overlooking some of the most fought-for real estate in the world.
From that rooftop you could see the home of ancient sites like the Dome of the Rock, the Wailing Wall and the Church of the Holy Sepulcher--some of the holiest sites in the world to the three major monotheistic religions.
You could also see the 20-foot concrete security wall that the Israelis had built to separate themselves from the Palestinians and the restaurants and bus stops that Palestinian suicide bombers had attacked.
I was the guest of two cousins--Samer and Ghassan Alayan--volunteers at a program called PeacePlayers that tries to bring together Palestinians and Israelis and help them overcome stereotypes through the game of basketball.
At some point in the discussion, Ghassan's father ambled up the stairs and joined the conversation.
He looked at the PeacePlayer shirt his son wore with a furrowed brow. "This word peace," he said pointing to the shirt. "We [Palestinians] hate this word. Peace, peace, everyone always comes talking about peace. You know the problem with this word? Everyone talks about peace. No one does peace. We are tired of hearing a word that is not real."
Ghassan's father's comment--that people only talk peace, they never do--struck me hard.
For some, peace belongs in the world of ideas, not in the harsh light of real life.We like to talk about peace or social justice. We may even do a service project or sign a petition or maybe wave a candle at a rally. But when it comes to doing peace, real peace, we often find that our efforts, or lack thereof, are woefully inadequate.
Peace, if it's to have any real meaning, shouldn't be an adjective or a noun. It should be a verb.
Peace is not just an absence of destructive conflict, though it's a start. It's about a shared sense of responsibility for our fellow brothers and sisters throughout the world. It's a sense of interconnectedness and respect that permeates all living things.
Too often our fear of the world causes us to disengage it. We huddle in our homes, lock our doors and then pray for peace.
But God doesn't ask us to be out of the world. He just doesn't want us to be of the world.
If we are to going to be peacemakers, we have to engage.
When our hearts are broken and our spirits are contrite, our desires shift from self-interest to a deep desire to help our neighbors.
For those who say, why should I care about what's happening to people I don't know? It's none of my business. The answer to me is simple...
1. Because God cares and
2. Because discipleship has a very real cost.
Few of us lack the love, but I know in my own life, at times I've lacked the courage or will to follow Christ's call to "Come, follow Me."
We cannot really learn any deep or lasting things about Jesus unless we heed his call to follow Him. Doing so will teach us keenly and deeply about His divine attributes.
"If any man will come after me," Christ declared, "let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me. For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it." (Matt. 16:24-25)
King Benjamin asks, "How knoweth a man the master whom he has not served and who is a stranger unto him, and is far from the thoughts and intents of his heart?" (Mosiah 5:13)
Those who follow Christ, King Benjamin continued, don't just talk about the poor and downtrodden with a sense of pity, ye "succor those that stand in need of your succor, ye administer unto those that standeth in need; and ye will not suffer that the beggar putteth up his petition to you in vain, and turn him out to perish." (Mosiah 4:16)
When God is on the move, he uses the Spirit to provoke us into action.
In the sixth chapter of the Book of Isaiah, Isaiah describes a vision where he sees the Lord.
Near the end of the vision the Lord asks, "Whom shall I send and who will go for us?" Isaiah's spirit-filled reply? "Hear am I; send me."
When God is on the move...are we standing around waiting for someone else to raise their hand?
The apostle Paul, after delivering a powerful discourse on faith in his epistle to the Hebrews, ends his sermon with these lines:
1. Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us,
2. Looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith...(Hebrews 12:1-2)
May I end with taking Paul's advice and looking unto Christ, who in the last hours of his mortal ministry, gave the world his model for peace...offering us a way out of the hatred, pain and sorrow that were endemic even in his time.
On Thursday, in an upper room just inside the walls of Jerusalem, the apostles prepared for the annual Passover feast.
Christ had just made his triumphal entry into Jerusalem the day before and knew the end was near. Despite repeated attempts at explaining his impending death, his apostles did not understand.
With just hours left in his mortal ministry Christ gathered his apostles for the last time to teach through both instruction and example.
As Christ ate the Passover supper with his closest associates, the apostles were bickering among themselves about their relative importance -- perhaps concerning who should sit where at the table.
After three years of spending every waking moment by the Master's side, many of his teachings still had not sunk deeply into their hearts.
Christ didn't want his apostles, whom soon would have the responsibility for building the Church he started, fighting over the honors of men. If they were going to lead his Church, their hearts had to be broken, their spirits contrite.
Christ's response to the dispute was profound, "He that is greatest among you, let him also be thy servant."
As Christ often did, He then illustrated the teaching that evening by living what he preached. Christ knelt down and began washing the feet of his apostles.
After finishing, Christ said, "If I then, your Lord and Master, have washed your feet; ye also ought to wash one another's feet. For I have given you an example, that ye should do as I have done to you." (John 13:14-15.)
After administering the sacrament, Jesus gave some final counsel to his apostles. With Gethsemane and the cross at Calvary just hours away, Christ took His last opportunity with His apostles to explain the true nature of His mortal ministry.
"A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another.
By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another" (John 13: 34-35).
It would be the first of four times that Christ would repeat this phrase that night.
In his last moments with his apostles, as he tried to distill his ministry down to the point that even a child could understand, we find the true meaning of Christ and his work.
There was little doubt that everyone left in the room had a deep love for the Savior. Christ reminded them, however, that that wasn't enough-- loving one another is essential to our continued love of Christ.
And then in I'm sure was a moment of deep despair, with Gethsemane just moments away, Christ once again lived what he preached.
He had every right to be caught up in His own problems, His own impending trial the likes of which none of us will ever have to face. But instead of turning inward to be consumed by despair, He turned outward and comforted His apostles by promising them the most elusive of all things on this world-- PEACE.
"Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid" (John 14: 27).
That quote about peace can be used, out of context, as an excuse for inaction by some who claim peace in the world -- or at least until the Millennium -- isn't going to happen. As long as I have inner peace, they reason, why should I be troubled by the chaos that surrounds me? Why should I get involved? Anything I do won't really matter anyway.
And so we disengage.
But it's not until Christ's words are put into the proper context of the events of that wonderful and terrible night that the true meaning of his words become clear.
What He promises is an internal peace that provides calm even though storms may be swirling around us.
However, that peace comes with a responsibility.
"I am the vine, ye are the branches: He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without me ye can do nothing.
"Herein is my Father glorified, that ye bear much fruit; so shall ye be my disciples.
"This is my commandment, That ye love one another, as I have loved you.
"Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.
"Ye are my friends, if ye do whatsoever I command you" (John 15: 5, 8, 12-14).
Here Christ closes the loop between his love for us and our discipleship. It's true that Christ doesn't promise security, justice or to keep us from feeling pain in this life. But that's not the peace that comes with Christ-like love. The type of love Christ describes is neither passive nor abstract. It is active. It is a force that causes us to see others as the Lord sees them and then requires us to treat them the way the Lord would treat them. It is the type of love that does more than feels compassion or sympathy. It seeks out injustice and suffering wherever it maybe and seeks to heal and reconcile. Paul in his epistle to the Hebrews calls this "provoking unto love" and teaches us one of the eternal truths about its power. Hate cannot defeat hate. Only love can do that.
From here Christ will go on to Gethsemane, where he will sweat great drops of blood to atone for the sins of the world—love overcoming justice. He will go to Golgotha, where he will be tried, denied by his followers and hung on a cross. He will try to comfort thieves on the cross and ask his apostles to take care of Mary. Then, even to the soldiers who were gambling for his last possessions, he will ask the Lord to forgive them. Three days later, he will rise again on Easter Morn, having overcome death—having overcome the world.
Now, you may say, all of this is great and fine, but it's not practical. It doesn't reflect the realities, or the dangers of the suffering that I feel. You may say that violence, anger, hatred, revenge, and war will always be with us; you might say that even our best efforts at peacebuilding will be blown back in our faces by the stiff wind of opposition. You might say that if my heart is broken and my spirit is contrite, I'll be vulnerable, and people who wish to do me harm might take advantage. You might say we live in a world where an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth is the only language my enemy understands.
But I testify, in the name of the Lord, that the world's practical way of hate and revenge, of anger and war, will not bring us peace. There is no war to end all wars; only love can do that. I testify that those who seek peace do not do so in vain. I testify that we do not need to fear enemies; we only need to love them, because history is the story of the fact that righteousness is stronger than evil. History is the story of the fact that though evil and destruction may reign for a season, one day, ultimately goodness and love prevail. History is the story of the fact that God can make the weak things strong, and he'll give no commandment to us save he prepare a way for us to accomplish it.
So now I pray that the Lord will open our eyes and that we'll see who we are and why we're here; that we'll understand that David O. McKay's prophecy are not the dreams of an old, idealistic man, but the vision and prophecy of the prophet of the Lord, and that when God is on our side, nothing is impossible. I pray that we will let the Spirit come into our hearts, that our hearts will be softened, that our spirits will be contrite, that we will learn how to become peacemakers, and, most importantly, that those senses of fear and nothingness will be replaced by courage and understanding that when God is on our side, we cannot fail. And most of all, I pray, that when God is on the move, we get up and move with him.
And I do so in the name of Jesus Christ. Amen.