Moments of Truth

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Fraser BullockDevotional Talk Given at
Brigham Young University–Hawaii

November 3, 2006
Elder Fraser Bullock
Member of the Fifth Quorum of Seventy
Managing Director of Sorenson Capital

Brothers and Sisters, aloha!

I would like to take you back four and a half years ago to the 2002 Olympic Winter Games held in Salt Lake City. Jimmy Shea, from the United States, competed in the sport of skeleton, where the athlete lies on his stomach on a sled and goes head first down the track at over 80 miles per hour. Jimmy had been one of the leaders on the World Cup circuit in previous years, but in the season leading up to the Olympic Games, his results were disappointing.

Jimmy came from a unique family of Olympians: the first three generation Olympic family. His grandfather, Jack Shea won two gold medals in speed skating in the 1932 Games. His father was also an Olympian. Jimmy was hopeful of having them both there to cheer him on. Tragically, his grandfather died shortly before the Games as a result of a car accident with a drunk driver. Jimmy pressed on in the memory of his grandfather.

I was fortunate to be there the day of the event to watch history unfold. During the skeleton competition, the athletes make two runs and the total time determines the final standings. No one expected much from Jimmy due to his recent results on the World Cup circuit. Everyone was stunned when after the first run when he held the lead by a fraction of a second. For the second run, they go in the reverse order of their standing. Jimmy would go last. A light snow was falling, potentially slowing the track for the later competitors.

The competitor just before Jimmy, who was in second place, had a great second run. Next up: Jimmy. As he went down the track, the gap between him and second place narrowed. An expert commented, "Jimmy's going the wrong way." Near the bottom, Jimmy lost his lead by one one-hundredth of a second. Then came Jimmy's 'Moment of Truth.' Turns 13, 14 and 15 were Jimmy's specialty. He stunned the crowd by regaining the lead through those turns and winning the gold medal. As he jumped from his sled, he removed his helmet and pulled out a picture of his grandfather for all to see. The crowd erupted in celebration. His mother took out two security guards to get to her son for an embrace. This was one of the great stories of the Olympic Games.

Now, let me tell you the rest of the story. The reason Jimmy had trouble on the World Cup circuit in the season leading up to the Games was due to a circulatory disorder in one of his legs that left it at only 70% in strength. This would greatly affect his running start, a key element to a successful run. Jimmy didn't want anyone to know of his injury to avoid excuses. But he knew he had to do something different to prepare. He dedicated himself like no other athlete to know the Olympic track. He arose very early every morning to walk the track at 6:00am step by step to find the perfect lines to run. Through his dedicated preparation, he found a unique line to run through turns 13, 14 and 15 that would allow him to compete for the gold medal. It paid off. When Jimmy's 'Moment of Truth' came, he was prepared.

A 'Moment of Truth' is when we are faced with a decision or event that can greatly impact our lives. Our decision or the outcome may change much in our lives now and for the future. Like Jimmy, preparation is crucial to success. Beyond preparation, we should recognize 'Moments of Truth' when we see them, realize how critical they are and make the right choice or utilize the opportunity to advance in our eternal quest.

We are all very familiar with the ancient story of Joseph. He had many challenges in his young life that could have shaken his faith and left him vulnerable to poor decisions. After almost being killed by his brothers, they sold him as a slave. Through his undaunted faith and good works, he ended up in a position of trust in Potiphar's household. Then came a 'Moment of Truth' that would have life-defining consequences. Potiphar's wife tried to seduce Joseph, but "...he...fled, and got him out" (Genesis 39: 12). He stayed true to what he knew was right. He had prepared himself in faith and obedience, never straying from what he knew was right, and when the time came, he fled. Although he was imprisoned for his righteousness through a false accusation, this new path led him to eventually become second only to Pharaoh and playing a major role in the preservation of the House of Israel.

Like Joseph, one of the 'Moments of Truth' we all face is that of temptation. Temptations come to us all. It is part of the mortal experience. Through building our spiritual strength and commitment to obedience, when these 'Moments of Truth' come, we are prepared, we can recognize them and make the right choice.

As we delve more deeply into understanding 'Moments of Truth' arising from temptation, we find that they are not a once-in-a-lifetime event, but come frequently in the day-to-day mortal experience. Each time when they are faced, they lead to one path or another for the future. To some extent, they define who we are. Some, of a more serious nature, can have tremendously significant consequences and eliminate options that we would otherwise have. One such 'Moment' can change the path of a lifetime. I have personally seen far too many people fall into traps that at one point they never would have thought would happen to them.

Some may think they will be ready with little or no preparation and can be strong in the moment of temptation. That approach, however, can be self-deceptive, when in fact we may be taking subtle daily steps that would lead to a wrong choice in the face of a potentially life-defining 'Moment of Truth.' For example, when facing a decision involving moral purity, if an individual has been indulging in viewing inappropriate material, harboring impure thoughts, or willing to enter riskier situations, such an individual is much more vulnerable to fail when faced with the larger "Moment of Truth.' In reality, the individual has faced smaller 'Moments of Truth' in these smaller decisions and chosen the wrong paths. Then, when the larger 'Moment of Truth' came, the ability to make the right choice was severely impaired.

Brothers and Sisters, let us prepare for our 'Moments of Truth' that may come in the form of temptation through building spiritual strength and an unwavering commitment to flee these temptations. It requires us to properly face the small 'Moments of Truth' everyday in choosing to fill our hearts and souls with righteousness and eliminating that which would pull us down. Then when larger, potentially life-defining temptations confront us, we will be prepared to make the right decisions. Let me suggest some steps in daily preparation:

1.  We can begin by exploring and understanding the linkage between our thoughts, our desires, our character and our actions. It all begins with what thoughts we foster in our minds. In an insightful essay entitled, "As a Man Thinketh," James Allen writes about the deep connection between thought and who you really are. He states the following, "A man is literally what he thinks, his character being the complete sum of all his thoughts. As the plant springs from, and could not be without, the seed, so every act of a man springs from the hidden seeds of thought, and could not have appeared without them. This applies equally to those acts called "spontaneous" and "unpremeditated" as to those which are deliberately executed." He continues, "Every thought-seed sown or allowed to fall into the mind, and to take root there, produces its own, blossoming sooner or later into act.

"A noble and God-like character is not a thing of favor or chance, but is the natural result of continued effort in right thinking, the effect of long-cherished association with God-like thought."

Brothers and sisters, there is tremendous power in these concepts and it is a key to understanding how we build ourselves spiritually. In Doctrine and Covenants 121, verse 45, we read, "...let virtue garnish thy thoughts unceasingly." This admonition is tied to several powerful promises, one of which we will discuss later. In addition, at the conclusion of King Benjamin's speech, before the people entered in to the covenant, he urged them as follows; "And finally, I cannot tell you all the things whereby ye may commit sin; for there are diverse ways and means, even so many that I cannot number them. But this much I can tell you, that if ye do no watch yourselves, and your THOUGHTS, and your words and your deeds and observe the commandments of God, and continue in the faith of what ye have heard concerning the coming of our Lord, even unto the end of your lives, ye must perish. And now, O man, remember, and perish not." (Mosiah 4: 29-30) Please note the order in which these fall: thoughts being the beginning or the foundation of words and deeds.

Understanding this fundamental connection between what we think, what we desire, what we do, and ultimately who we are, we can then enter the discussion, "how do we utilize this knowledge in our daily living?' What can we do to more effectively manage our thoughts to build the kind of divine character and spiritual nature that will aid us in this mortal probation? James Allen suggests how we can take active control of this important influence of our destiny, "A man's mind may be likened to a garden, which may be intelligently cultivated or allowed to run wild; but whether cultivated or neglected, it must and will, bring forth. Just as a gardener cultivates his plot, keeping it free from weeds, and growing the flowers and fruits which he requires, so may a man tend the garden of his mind, weeding out all the wrong, useless, and impure thoughts, and cultivating toward perfection the flowers and fruits of right, useful, and pure thoughts."

You need to decide who you are, who you want to become, and cultivate those thoughts that would lead you there. You need to weed out those thoughts that pull you down and are not consistent with this objective. Let us explore the practical application of this process. Consciously 'weeding out' those thoughts that would pull us down or make us more susceptible to temptation, entails:

First, avoiding inappropriate media. While we may think that it's just not that harmful, in fact each exposure plants a seed, or nourishes an already-planted seed that gradually changes the way we think. These growing influences in our thoughts and in our mind can substitute values of a lesser kind, drive away the Spirit, which will not dwell in unholy temples, and can inevitably lead to changed behavior. Then, when a 'Moment of Truth' temptation comes, especially one that can be life-defining, it is not at all foreign to what we have become inside, making us more vulnerable to succumbing.

Second, 'Standing in Holy Places.' We need to avoid those places that would pull us down, such as any type of gathering where the Spirit would not feel comfortable.

Third, watching what you think. When inappropriate thoughts do enter the scene, quickly change the channel to something wholesome. I recall a few years ago working on a project for the US Olympic Committee, when I received an apparent email from one of our group working on the project. When I opened the attachment, I found myself face-to-face with pornography. I was all alone in my office. No mortal being would know of what I did next. I could either indulge it and open the other accompanying attachments and whisper to myself that, 'it won't hurt to just look for a few minutes,' or do the right thing. I immediately shut off the computer and felt shaken. I fled the temptation as did Joseph. After deleting the email, I notified the sender, and it turned out that someone had hijacked his email box. We can seemingly face temptation at almost any time.

Such a 'Moment of Truth' would lead to one of two potential paths. One was that of driving the Spirit from my life and potentially beginning a life of an imprisoning addition, or living true to who I am. The right path was chosen due to a preparation of daily commitment to gospel and doing the right thing at any time in any place.

The 'natural man' would like to tarry and perhaps explore these scenes further. Do not let inappropriate thoughts linger and do not entertain them. They will impact you and reduce your resistance to temptation. When circumstances or thoughts come that are inconsistent with our spiritual pursuits, we must quickly change the scene.

As we eliminate those weeds of thought that would pull us down, we can instead plant and cultivate righteous and pure thoughts. It is something that must be actively pursued and refines and lifts our character. It changes who we are and who we will become. It is a conscious act and can follow an active plan and objective. Here are a few of suggestions.

Plant and cultivate spiritual seeds every day, which include scripture study, pondering, and prayer. With this context, you can see the opportunity scripture study provides us in an additional light. We can search the scriptures for those teachings and principles we want to plant within us that are taught by the prophets and most notably, the Savior. We can then ponder how our nature can be enhanced through proactively planting these divine seeds of thought in us and nurturing them. Meaningful prayer with a connection to deity can further draw us to that which is pure and holy in our thinking. In a way, it is a small 'Moment of Truth' each day to see if we will do what we know is needed and to what we are committed. If we become casual in our relationship with the Lord, it opens the door for temptations to potentially gain a foothold. However, as we pursue and embrace these spiritual daily essentials, we can consciously use them as tools to cultivate the garden of our mind.

Next, seek those personal characteristics that are consistent with the teachings of the prophets. For example, we have recently been taught the importance of patience, kindness and charity. These characteristics don't magically appear, but are the result of right thinking, planting the right seeds, conscious effort to move towards them and then receiving assistance from on high to have them become part of us. We can plant within our minds the lessons from the parable of the Good Samaritan, and keep in our daily consciousness the opportunity to do likewise. What early on was a conscious, thought-driven effort, then becomes who we are. We are taught in Moroni 7 the principles of charity and then encouraged to "...pray unto the Father with all the energy of heart that ye may be filled with this love..." (Moroni 7:48).

Finally, we must recognize that the atonement is a real power in our lives. It is the power to change, to become better. It is the power to leave behind that which would pull us down and replace it with that which we seek to become. Embracing the atonement in our lives is another 'Moment of Truth,' when we decide to change for the better, to draw closer to God. In the cases where we have erred and see hope apparently all but vanish, we can turn to the Savior and His redeeming sacrifice to right us and return us to the Divine path. The atonement can become very personal to us, allow us to become completely clean and follow Him.

As we go through this process of carefully managing our thoughts, weeding out the impure and planting the divine, we see positive change within us. We can perceptibly feel ourselves moving to the light. With active effort, we can see small victories each day, or small 'Moments of Truth' that are defining what we are becoming. We then receive of the promise contained in Doctrine and Covenants Section 121, verses 45 and 46 that follows the admonition, "...let virtue garnish thy thoughts unceasingly;" specifically, "The Holy Ghost shall be thy constant companion." We now have additional power given us to follow paths of righteousness, to resist temptation and face up to the larger 'Moments of Truth' that inevitably come our way. We then have increased faith to then build upon this progress we see and the increase of the Spirit in our lives. This cycle can continue as we, with divine assistance, add more and more to our spiritual nature and who we are.

Following these principles will build our foundational strength we need not only each day, and keep us on the proper path, but also for those 'Moments of Truth' that are temptations that can be life-altering. We need to see such moments for what they are, how significant they can be, and choose the right path. We must avoid closing off alternatives that would otherwise be available to us. You have immense potential in front of you that you want to build upon.

As we proceed forward, endeavoring to improve what we think as who we are, not everything will always go as we plan or expect. In early 1999 I joined the Organizing Committee for the 2002 Olympic Winter Games, approximately three years before we were to host the world. We were embroiled in the midst of a scandal; we faced a $400 million budget deficit; and planning for Games-time operations was yet to begin. There was much to do.

While our first objective was mere survival—to not be indicted through the investigation of the Justice Department and somehow find a way to break even financially—our ultimate objective was to completely turn around the tainted image of these Games and the State of Utah through putting on the best Games ever. Hosting the Olympics is a massive undertaking and one of keys to potential success was meticulous planning and preparation. We put together a plan that consisted of over 42,000 milestones—a staggering number. We had a careful plan to follow, step by step, to lead us to where we wanted to end up.

Over the ensuing couple of years, we carefully followed and adapted our plan as necessary, one milestone at a time. As the Games drew closer, our confidence increased to the point in the summer before, I remember visiting Mitt Romney and telling him we might just 'hit this one out of the park.' He said, 'Fine. Let's not tell anyone.' He appropriately wanted to manage expectations.

I clearly recall a short later being on the phone with Mitt as he was driving by the Pentagon, just after it had been hit by an aircraft piloted by terrorists. The world had been dealt a staggering blow, which we felt deeply, but now, in addition, we were the next world event on the scene in just five short months. I clearly remember our conversation that morning of our duty to somehow keep millions of people safe in a newly-changed world. How could we do it? The Olympics had already historically been the target of terrorist attacks, including the last Games held in the US in 1996. We had a monumental challenge before us; a crucial 'Moment of Truth' to see if we could stay with the course we had pursued and safely host the world shortly after the largest terrorist event in history.

Fortunately, we were well prepared. We re-reviewed our security plans with the Secret Service, FBI, military, FEMA and local law enforcement, we found that our meticulous planning was indeed a solid foundation. We needed some adjustments for the new type of aviation terrorist threat as well as taking security to an even higher level, but overall we knew we could be ready. Preparation had made the difference.

I will never forget all the pieces coming together the evening of Opening Ceremonies where Mitt Romney, President Bush and Jacques Rogge, the President of the International Olympic Committee, were all standing at attention as the flag from World Trade Center Tower One was brought in to the hushed silence of over 50,000 people in the stadium with the world watching. It was a unique moment. The Olympic Games held in Salt Lake City ended up as one of the most successful in history. The reputation of the state had been restored and everyone was kept safe.

Many times in life, we will be dealt totally unexpected, potentially devastating blows that could pull us from our intended course. They represent to us another form of a 'Moment of Truth.' They can make us more vulnerable to deviating from our path. They come unwanted. They are difficult. They are some of the hardest times we face. But yet, they are part of the mortal experience. They come to all of us. You are still in the early years of life and certainly may have experienced some such challenges or perhaps not. But as you journey through life, they WILL come. How will we respond? Will we be prepared?

Several talks in General Conference just a month ago addressed difficulties that will come our way, how they are part of our mortal experience and how to find solace in the gospel and the loving care of the Savior. A fundamental choice we make is whether or not we draw closer to God in the face of such times. It would be easy to become bitter, withdrawn, or depressed. Some such emotions are hard to avoid. We can feel that it's not fair, blame others, or blame ourselves, but such responses make recovery more difficult and postpone a healthy recovery. During such times, it is an opportunity to find humility, to more deeply realize our reliance upon the Lord and realign ourselves more closely with fulfilling the purpose of our mortal probations. Turning to family, support in the Church, and ultimately the Savior, provide support, Divine comfort as well as a spiritually strengthening opportunity.

We can also find strength in devoting ourselves to overcome the difficulty as best we can. Weathering such times through being reminded of our reliance on the Lord and through strengthening our closeness to the Spirit can actually strengthen us in our mortal journey. Such 'Moments of Truth' can also be life-defining as we recognize them for what they are and choose the path that allows us take another step towards our divine destiny. Once again, preparation in building a strong foundation helps us prepare for such times.

The ultimate 'Moment of Truth' came almost 2,000 years ago in the life of our Savior. He had been prepared from the foundation of the world for this Moment. His Divine heritage, His perfect life, His mortal ministry all prepared Him for this singular 'Moment of Truth.' The weight of His atoning experience was almost more than He could bear. It was such that in the Garden of Gethsemane, he "fell on His face" (Matthew 26: 39). We read, "Which suffering caused myself, even God, the greatest of all, to tremble because of pain, and to bleed at every pore, and to suffer both body and spirit." (Doctrine and Covenants 19: 18). Ultimately, it led him to express the words, "Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me: nevertheless, not as I will, but as thou wilt" (Matthew 26: 39). Our Savior faced the ultimate 'Moment of Truth' for US. He endured it so we could live. This 'Moment of Truth' was singularly defining for all of mankind.

Through His infinite atonement, we are able to have the faith to better ourselves, overcome our weaknesses, turn from the past and look to the hope of the future. We can find the power to resist temptation, especially certain 'Moments of Truth' that will inevitably come our way.

Brothers and sisters, I encourage each of us to awaken to the possibilities of refining our natures through pure and righteous thinking. We can realize the almost tangible power in tending the garden of our minds through weeding out the inappropriate and impure thoughts and planting and cultivating the seeds of that which is right. Indeed, we must: "let virtue garnish thy thoughts unceasingly." Once again, to repeat the insightful words of James Allen, "A man is literally what he thinks, his character being the complete sum of all his thoughts.  A noble and God-like character is not a thing of favor or chance, but is the natural result of continued effort in right thinking, the effect of long-cherished association with God-like thought."

The Holy Ghost then becomes more a part of our lives and we can see ourselves fulfilling one of key purposes of this mortal probation. We then have the strength to withstand temptations that come our way that can be life-defining. We can also endure those times when our faith may otherwise be shaken.