Let The Holy Spirit Guide

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Marlo LopezDevotional Talk Given at
Brigham Young University–Hawaii

September 28, 2006
Marlo Lopez
Coordinator for the Church Educational System (Hawaii Division)

My dear brothers and sisters: aloha!

I'm sure you enjoyed the musical selection performed by our talented members of the McCully Ward in the Honolulu Stake. Thanks to my dear friends Kristian Lei and Gavin Vinta who graced us with that beautiful musical number.

I am a proud alumnus of BYU-Hawaii. Never in a million years would I have imagined standing right before you today. It was not too long ago that I sat exactly where you are now. I attended BYU-Hawaii at least a couple of decades ago--way before many of you was even born! In fact, it is likely that your parents were my classmates.

What a pleasure it is indeed to address you. I pray that the spirit of the Lord will be present here today. But most important, may he help me get through this devotional and help you endure it.

As a college student, I received inspiration by attending every devotional and I'm happy to say that I was uplifted by the many outstanding speakers that addressed this great university.

To the president of our beloved BYU-Hawaii, Elder Eric B. Shumway, I thank you and your President's Council for having me as your devotional speaker today. This is indeed a humbling experience for my family.

I would like to also express my love and gratitude to my wife, Memnet, and fellow alum of BYU-Hawaii. Over the years, I've learned that she truly has a big heart and strong drive to consistently follow the spirit of the Lord. My eternal companion keeps me in check daily. I am certain I would be lost without her shining example and counsel.

BYU-Hawaii is very dear to my family. You see, Memnet and I met here. We were both Biology majors. And through "natural selection" we were married.

Happy to say, we produced "viable species" by the name of Jordan and Jershon. Temple View Apartments, affectionately known by young married couples here on campus as TVA, served as our prime choice of habitation. For it was the most choice territory for temporal survivability.

I love this institution! It is truly a sacred place of higher education; a place that was inspired by David O. McKay. It's no wonder BYU-Hawaii consistently ranks as the best institution in the Western United States by U.S. News and World Report.

My first employment here at BYU-Hawaii was a custodial job. We started scrubbing toilets as early as 4:00am until just before classes start at 7:30 in the morning. But I eventually moved and worked in the Math and Natural Sciences Division doing various assignments in the Science Learning Center and Museum of Natural History.

There I assisted our professors in the laboratories. I was happy and content with all the jobs I held here. There is one job that was rather unique and interesting to me and that was being the caretaker of a cadaver. I was privileged to be one of the first six students majoring in Biology to take the cadaver class. Brother Phil Bruner was our professor and we had a couple of guest instructors from the University of Hawaii's Medical School. Our hands-on experience with a cadaver started at 7:00pm until 10:00pm that night.

I prepared the cadaver before class and after class, I had the challenging task of staying behind, all by myself, alone, with the cadaver, of cleaning up and putting things back in its place.

Our classroom was above the planetarium. Many times, being alone in the same room with a cadaver, close to midnight, I prayed so hard for protection!

I used to love horror movies as a child and you can imagine how my mind haunted me during these moments alone with a dead body. My eyes were always focused on the exit door just in case the cadaver moved. But I knew that I was always being watched over, thankfully not by the cadaver, but by the Spirit of the Lord.

Perhaps, the reason I admire BYU-Hawaii the most is that students do more than just excel in their courses, they are taught by inspired leaders and professors about the importance of allowing the spirit of the Lord guide our every move. This brings me to my theme today brothers and sisters.

Hymn #143, "Let the Holy Spirit Guide," is one of my favorites. The words in this inspirational hymn have comforted me from my college years until this day as I make difficult decisions in my current calling as a bishop.

"Let the holy spirit guide; let him teach us what is true. He will testify of Christ, light our minds with heaven's view (verse 1)."

The words guide, teach, testify, and light in this verse are worth remembering. In our Seminary Teaching Handbook, the Holy Ghost functions in different capacities in gospel learning. We are taught that the spirit "shows a person what to do; he allows a person to speak with authority and boldness; he testifies to the truthfulness of God and other gospel principles; and he gives us truth, knowledge, insights, understanding and enlightenment."

I testify to you that all these gifts of the Holy Spirit are the blessings that are associated in our membership in the Church. These are the divine resources that are available to us as we live a worthy life.

Born and raised in the Philippines, I came from a family with strong, traditional values. I followed in the footsteps of my parents as a devout Catholic. In fact, in high school I was being groomed to become a Catholic priest. The Philippines is predominantly Catholic and it is not uncommon for heads of state to counsel with the Catholic Church leaders regarding political turmoil, just as Cory Aquino did in the mid 1980s shortly before Ferdinand Marcos was ousted out of our country and exiled here to Hawaii. So you see, the church has some influence over politics.

It was a pinnacle of pride for a Filipino family to have a priest in the clan. I looked forward to serving Heavenly Father for the rest of my life, with no hopes of an eternal marriage or a large family.

But my career and life plans were shattered by two young men with black name tags and clean-cut hairstyles. My father started discussing religion with these lads. Week after week, the rest of the family grew interest in their discussions. It also peaked my mother's interest and soon the entire family was involved. It was one Sunday evening after I came home from mass as an altar boy when my father made a special request for me to meet the missionaries. As an obedient son, I did not argue and I listened intently to their teachings.

The missionaries' presentation of the first vision will forever be imprinted in my mind. I had no doubt that a 14-year-old boy had seen a vision of two personages. When asked, "Do you believe that God the father and Jesus Christ appeared to Joseph Smith?" I replied with no hesitation, "Why not?" I strongly believed in apparitions or visions. I was 17 years old then; Joseph Smith was 14. If my conviction in God remained strong at my age, it was easy for me to understand Joseph Smith's faith.

I knew that most apparitions happen to young people. But I sensed that there was something different as to why I believed Joseph Smith's experience.

Behind the resentful attitude I manifested during the discussions with the missionaries, there was always a burning feeling present in the room and in my heart. Even before the missionaries could finish their thoughts, the message seemed so clear and familiar to me.

I believed every word they uttered about the gospel of Jesus Christ. It was something I could not explain in words, but felt so strongly about in Spirit.

The influence of the Holy Ghost was working ever so strongly. I could not see him, but I could feel warmth, as if thrills were circulating in my heart and going up and down my spine. I did not know then what it was until the missionaries helped to recognize that the burning sensation in my bosom was indeed the Spirit of the Lord testifying of the truth and of our Savior, Jesus Christ.

I am thankful that my heart was softened then because the strong spirit that I felt lead me to join my family in the waters of baptism. I have learned throughout the years to allow the Holy Spirit to guide us every day; that we should always take the time to listen to promptings and pray.

I have the pleasure of teaching seminary every day and there is one theme that I promote in all of my classes. We train our seminary teachers with a simple principle that the very most important factor students should be taught in seminary is the importance of recognizing the spirit. It is the presence of the spirit that enhances learning and promotes higher education. I am a witness of this principle:

All the classes that I attended in this institution, whether it was religion, biology, or history class, believe it or not the spirit was always present. Thanks in part to temple worthy instructors who invite the Spirit of the Lord to their classrooms.

This institution is composed of students and employees who hold high moral values and are committed to adhere to the university's honor code and standards. I believe BYU-Hawaii is the Lord's university, directed by living prophets and apostles.

From my personal experience, the very key factor of my successful completion of my college education in this institution was the consistent guidance of the Holy Spirit.

I have great admiration to our youth today, particularly those who attend our early-morning seminary classes. Our preliminary statistics show that we have about 1,600 enrolled high school students attending seminary throughout the state of Hawaii. While other teens are still snug in their beds, our young members sacrifice their sleep for spiritual nourishment.

I commend these students who get out of bed at the crack of dawn to attend seminary. It's no easy task, but the rewards, I am certain, are eternal.

Recently, I visited a seminary class which meets at 6:00am. I considered this group as a challenged group that suffered from attention deficit learning.

It was a typical day in seminary. In one side of the room, two students were listening to music sharing ear phones; they were both seated in the front.

They were both moving their heads up and down with the beat of the music, simultaneously, as if they were agreeing with the teacher. Little did the instructor know they were listening to music!

It gets worse. One student was rushing to do her school work at the corner of the room. Seated beside her was a student dreaming of probably her experiences the day before.

Meanwhile, a couple of students were constantly going in and out of the classroom with their excuse of retreating to the powder room and they weren't even wearing make up.

One student left in the beginning of the class and was seen again towards the end. He obviously took a break and slept in the foyer. Another couple of students were constantly chatting during the entire class period.

And then there was this young man who literally brought his bacon and eggs and the whole nine yards to class as he enjoyed feasting on what his loving mother had made for him that morning. He enjoyed his complete breakfast as if he was in the comfort of his own home.

To make a long story short, a student arrived to seminary just before the closing prayer was offered.

The seminary teacher was a bright, energetic young man. This was his first year teaching seminary. He was inspiring, and if there was anyone whom he had touched in that classroom, I believe it was only me.

The students missed the opportunity to be edified for they did not recognize the spirit that was brought in by the teacher.

My young friends, in every class you attend in this great institution, feast on the Spirit. The greatest mistake you can make is to ignore his presence.

As a bishop, my focus is to minister to my members. My calling is to make judgments and counsel with members. We have almost 700 members in our ward. It is quite overwhelming, particularly, when you also want to be made aware of everything that is going on in the ward in each auxiliary, quorum, as well as in each family and individual.

I am amazed of the mantle of responsibilities given to bishops. But in spite of this overwhelming ministry, we are provided with an exclusive promise from the Holy Spirit. The Spirit provides us access to heavenly guidance. He sustains us and assists us in this capacity.

Remember the experience of Nephi in obtaining the brass plates from the hands of Laban? After the failures of their two attempts, Nephi was left all by himself to come up with another strategy. In his words, he shared his experience of success:

"And I was led by the spirit, not knowing beforehand the things which I should do. Nevertheless I went forth,"

Dear brothers and sisters, you all have bishops on campus. I testify to you that the Spirit leads us and will continue to do so. Nevertheless, we always go forth for we recognize the promise associated to our calling.

Your bishop is a tremendous support for helping you live a life that will ensure your companionship with the Holy Spirit. Stay close to your bishop. Love him for with the help of the Spirit of the Lord. He will not lead you astray.

"Let the Holy Spirit guard; let his whisper govern choice. He will lead us safely home if we listen to his voice" (verse 2).

I was given a privilege to work in Micronesia in the Church Educational System in the position of a country director. We were stationed on Guam, where my wife was raised. I was engaged in extensive traveling for 11 years. There I served as a counselor to four mission presidents.

I will never forget one experience I had in the Island of Chuuk. I was in a 15-footer fiber-glass boat traveling from the main Island of Moen to the outer Island of Uman. The trip was about half an hour long during a clear day. I was with the district president, Masaru Matisima. Our boat was driven by a 15-year-old young man.

After a full-day of visiting with members and missionaries, it was already nearing dark. On our way back home, we went through thick clouds of rain. It was so thick that we could hardly see each other in the boat. Our boat driver stopped the engine and manifested a feeling of confusion and fear. Our boat was not equipped with sophisticated equipment in such a situation.

Traveling from one island to another is like relying on the Urim and Thumim. After a brief period of silence, President Masaru Matisima stood up, shut his eyes, raised his arm and pointed to a certain direction and then he motioned our boat driver to start the engine and head toward the direction he was pointing. When we reached the harbor, I asked President Matisima what he did out there. This was his explanation: "I listened to the wind!" I responded, "You mean you were feeling the wind direction?" And he replied, "There are many different wind directions, I listened to the correct one."

In our lives, we hear whispers. But there are only two sources of that still small voice. The Book of Mormon identifies them as one being from the Holy Ghost and the other is an imitation that comes from the adversary.

I quote from 2 Nephi 28: 20-22: "For behold, at that day shall he rage in the hearts of the children of men, and stir them up to anger against that which is good. Others will he pacify and lull them away into carnal security, that they will say: all is well in Zion; yea, Zion prospereth, all is well and thus the devil cheateth away and telleth them there is no hell and he saith unto them: I am no devil, for there is none and thus he whispereth in their ears, until he grasps them with his awful chains, from whence there is no deliverance."

The adversary has the ability to duplicate the whisperings of the Spirit. However, the Book of Mormon tells us how to identify the correct one. Helaman 5:30 states that the communication of the Holy Ghost is:

"A still small voice of perfect mildness, as if it had been a whisper and it did pierce even to the very soul."

My dear brothers and sisters, be cautious of what you hear. The only sure way to identify the Holy Spirit is through consistent living and understanding the ways of the Lord. Surely, if we obey the commandments, the Spirit will protect us so that we may qualify to return back to our heavenly home.

Soon after my wife and I graduated from BYU-Hawaii, together with our two small children we returned back to our home country (the Philippines). My wife had never been back to the Philippines since she was 10 years old. It was rather difficult during the first few months, but our desire to return and to serve our countrymen was unwavering.

My wife was blessed to attend a medical school in manila and I was accepted to teach in a prestigious Catholic university. I was back to familiar surroundings, this time not as a Catholic priest but a priesthood holder representing The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

My unique training and educational upbringing in this university qualified me to compete with my fellow teachers in our department. Though I had not earned any advanced degrees at that time I was able to level my capabilities with them. I knew then that I had something that they do not have. I had the guardianship of the Spirit of the Lord.

This precious gift has guided and directed me to influence my students so that they were able to excel in their studies. I was able to communicate with them and earn their trust and confidence. Every day the Spirit led me to teach effectively.

Within the first year of our return home, I was offered a job in the Church Educational System to teach our Church youth who are attending college in Manila. The decision for me to accept this job and terminate my employment in the Catholic university was spirit-directed.

I took this matter to the "House of the Lord" and sought for his guidance.

I have never doubted my decision to work for the Church. My decision was formulated according to the words of the Lord to the prophet Joseph Smith in Doctrine and Covenants 8: 2-3:

"Yea, behold, I will tell you in your mind and in your heart, by the Holy Ghost, which shall come upon you and which shall dwell in your heart. Now, behold, this is the spirit of revelation."

It is my testimony that you cannot go wrong when you are with the constant companionship of the Holy Ghost. It is also my testimony that you will not be protected if you don't listen to that still small voice.

"Let the spirit heal our hearts thru his quiet, gentle power. May we purify our lives to receive him hour by hour" (verse 3).

Many times in our lives, our hearts will be wounded by tragedy, challenges, disappointments, relationships, and even by transgressions. But what a wonderful promise the Spirit gives us. Our savior will heal our wounds though our healing might not be spectacular or dramatic. We will feel it quietly and gently. And when the healing is complete, there emanates a change of heart.

Tosiwo Tosie came from a prominent family of ministers in the Island of Kosrae. The very first time I met Tosiwo was in the municipal jail. He was a regular inmate, in and out for misdemeanors, feared by the people in the Village of Malem. His countenance reflected his chaotic and disorderly life. But the gospel changed his life. He now reflects the joys of membership in the Church.

I had the privilege to witness his baptism. It was attended by many, even those who were not members of our faith. Everyone in the village was curious about the church that changed Tosiwo's life. In his testimony, he told us that his family, especially his brothers, had given up on him until they all unitedly encouraged him to go to the Mormon missionaries and see what they can do for him. The feelings he felt with the missionaries healed his heart.

Surely, the power of the true gospel of Jesus Christ transformed Tosiwo to a new person. He later became the branch president of Malem branch in the Island of Kosrae.

Alma preached on this type of change:

"And now behold, I say unto you, my brethren, if ye have experienced a change of heart, and if ye have felt to sing the song of redeeming love, I would, ask, can ye feel so now?" (5:26)

It is my testimony that the spirit of the lord heals the heart and transforms a person to "the image of god engraven upon your countenances" (Alma 5:19).

While attending graduate school at BYU in Provo, a group of recruiters from the Guam Department of Education came and visited the campus. We invited them to our home for a Guamanian dinner. They had been on the road for awhile and had missed our island food. My wife prepared chicken kelaguen and red rice. During the course of our evening visit, I asked them how they liked BYU. The team leader immediately responded "Everything here is immaculate!" I was deeply touched by her usage of the word immaculate to describe BYU. She referred to the physical appearances of the students. She was impressed by their grooming.

You've heard the saying "How you dress affects how you act." I am so thankful for the dress and grooming standard of this institution. I have experienced that how you present yourself physically affects your thinking and action. The Spirit will not reach our hearts if we shield our body with inappropriate clothing and bodily accessories.

The Spirit is pure and will respond only in purity. The scripture is clear on this:

"For the natural man is an enemy to god unless he yields to the enticings of the Holy Spirit." (Mosiah 3:19)

At this time, may I pay tribute to my family. To my wife, who has always been my spiritual anchor. I express my gratitude to her. My love to my wife is a like a testimony; it is true and it is pure. To my first-born son, Jordan, born in the wilderness, and to his beautiful wife, Drena, both residents of TVA: I thank you for your support and love.

And to my two other sons, Jershon, who will be returning home soon from his mission and Jericho, who is attending McKinley High School. I thank them for the joy they have brought into our lives. I love my family and look forward to be with them forever.

I quote from the first goal of BYU-Hawaii in accomplishing its mission: "educating the minds and spirits of students within an intercultural, gospel-centered environment and curriculum that increases faith in god and the restored gospel, is intellectually enlarging, is character building, and leads to a life of learning and service."

I am one of the many living witnesses of this statement. You, my young friends, are the generational alumni of BYU-Hawaii. You will never find any institution that will serve you with these eternal principles of education. Every day of your life here on campus will have an impact in your eternal perspective. These principles of learning will assist you in mortality and will extend to the life hereafter.

I am a witness to you of the truthfulness of the gospel found in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. We are guided by true prophets. Our leaders are guided by the Holy Spirit. The Book of Mormon is true and it contains the fullness of the gospel of Jesus Christ. I pray that the powerful tune of the hymn "Let the Holy Spirit Guide" will linger in your minds as a reminder of my message to you this day.

Let the Holy Spirit guide you. Listen to him every day. Take the time to truly listen and pray.