Choose You this Day

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Devotional Talk Given at
Brigham Young University-Hawaii

February 5, 2004
Bret Ellis
Chief Information Officer, BYU-Hawaii

Thank you Laurel for the beautiful song, the introduction, and the testimony. Laurel has written many beautiful songs for members of our family and for special occasions.

I would also like to thank President Shumway for this opportunity and privilege to give a devotional address. I have known about this talk for about four months and have spent numerous hours contemplating what I should say that will be worth your time and in line with what the Lord would have me say today. I have given many talks, lectures, or discussions over the years, but this one has been especially difficult to prepare. This preparation has given me many opportunities to reflect on my life choices over the past years. I am grateful to share a few thoughts today; to again reflect on my own personal testimony; and to strengthen my commitment to the gospel in these latter days.

I am grateful for my employment here. Repeatedly I am told by visiting associates how blessed we are to live and work here. I am thankful to the wonderful people that I have to work with and associate with. I love being with the students. I dearly miss being in the classroom but I am serving in a different capacity for a time.

Our Heavenly Father has created a perfect plan for us to follow. He is our spiritual father and wants us to be successful in this life so that we can return to him. As a father of six children, I understand a little better how our Heavenly Father will do just about anything to help ensure His children are successful. I am also grateful for the atonement. What a wonderful part of the plan that we can be forgiven of mistakes we make as we travel through this life. I know that without the atonement that I could not stand before you.

During the early years of my life, I heard the childhood story "Tootle" many times on the lap of my mother and father. When our children were born, Laurel and I read this book to all of our children. For those not familiar with "Tootle" it was a book written in 1950 by Gertrude Crampton. This is a cute story about a baby locomotive that went to the village of Lower Trainswitch to learn to be a big locomotive.

In the village, they have lessons for the little locomotives in many classes. They learn whistle blowing, stopping for a red flag waving and puffing loudly, just to name a few. However, the most important lesson to learn was staying on the rails no matter what. Tootle caould never seem to do this. He always wanted to go and wander in the meadow and chase birds or butterflies.

As missionaries, we were given a Missionary Handbook. The handbook, which the missionaries in my mission affectionately called the "White Bible" contained rules and guidelines specific to missionaries. I remember hearing the counsel repeatedly how successful missionaries learn to follow the rules within the handbook and with exactness. I still remember the principle I was taught that as I conform more stringently to this "White bible" my free agency would increase, not decrease.

While in the missionary training center, in Provo, as I would find or hear a motivational thought I would write the thought into the margins of my "White bible." This would provide further encouragement and motivation on how to be a successful missionary. This talk could also be entitled "All I've ever learned I've learned from the margins of my White Bible." I will be sharing a few of these throughout this presentation, where appropriate. I do not have the sources of these thoughts so have just labeled them "White Bible."

President Gordon B. Hinckley, our current prophet, said, "The course of our lives is seldom determined by great, life-altering decisions. Our direction is often set by the small, day-to-day choices that chart the track on which we run. This is the substance of our lives " making choices. [1]

As Joshua said "choose you this day whom ye will serve...but as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD." (Joshua 24:15)

Let us inspect this sentence more closely to understand what Joshua is saying.

The word "choose" suggests that a person has a choice. They can choose to do this or to do that. It is entirely up to the person. This is another definition of free agency.

"This day" means today. This day does not say tomorrow or whenever it"s convenient.

"Whom" means "what or which person or persons."

"Serve" means "to give homage or obedience to." Serve can also be defined as "acting in a particular capacity" or "assisting or promoting the interests of."

"House" in this instance can be your dorm, your apartment, your roommates, your spouse, your workplace, your co-workers, or your classmates.

If we go back to the definition of "serve" then to "serve the Lord" could mean "to give homage or obedience to the Lord." It could also be defined as "acting in a particular capacity for the Lord" or "assisting or promoting the interests of the Lord."

Now if we complete this sentence analysis we can also define this scripture to say; it is your choice, right now, whether by yourself or with your friends, how you will act or what you will do. It is your choice how you will react to the current situation before you. Each day you will choose how you will serve the Lord.

This scripture is repeated twice more in the scriptures: once in Alma and again in Moses, each time directing us to Choose today whom we will serve. (Alma 30:8, Moses 6:33) The word "Choose" is repeated in the scriptures 91 times.

The original scripture suggests that we choose this day or today whom we will serve. I suggest that with the speed of life and the world of choices that we have in front of us that it should be "Choose you this moment whom you will serve."

Today I would like to suggest that there are three areas where we can choose to serve the Lord. First, mission and church, second, marriage and family, and third, career.

1. Lessons from my mission and church service

Many years ago I was called to serve in the Mexico Guadalajara mission. While serving in the quaint, antique city of Guanajuato, the city and its missionaries were transferred to the Mexico City North mission, under the direction of President John B. Dickson. These were two wonderful years of choosing to serve the Lord, learning the principles of free agency, striving to make daily righteous choices and learning and teaching the eternal laws associated with these principles.

Here is an example of a principle I learned. Though I had taken four years of Spanish in high school, the language and the discussions were very difficult and at times almost enough to want to leave the mission. One of the first quotes I put in my "White Bible" was a quote from President Spencer W. Kimball "Those who climb the highest mountains in life are the men of discipline." I remember waking much earlier that my companions to study the language and discussions.

I spent many weeks and months struggling to feel that I was adequately conveying the message of the restoration and principles of the gospel in Spanish. Elder Richard G. Scott recently suggested, in a general conference, that were it not for the Spirit, many investigators would never understand the message spoken by these "green" elders.

As I chose to give my "all" and get my thoughts and actions in line with the Lord, the language and discussions began to progress.

"That which we persist in doing becomes easy to do. Not that the nature of things has changed, but the ability to do it has increased." (White Bible)

The Spanish language was still challenging to speak, but as I persisted and did not give up, I was able to speak the words of my heart and not just the pre-written discussions. The Spirit was more able to work through me to communicate the messages to the investigators.

We all have challenges; we can choose to walk the lower or easier road or we can daily choose the upper road which is steeper and more challenging but in the end pays greater dividends.

Another thought that I wrote in the margin of my "White bible" was "Reputation through a thousand years, may depend on the conduct of a single moment."

By following the example and direction of the Savior and his appointed disciples today, we can avoid devastating consequences. We should stay well away from the edge.

In the missionary handbook, I read over and over "Through dedicated service, your mission will bring you closer to the Lord than ever before and will establish a spiritual foundation that will serve you through-out your life." [2]

"Down in their hearts, wise men know this truth." "The only way to help yourself is to help others." (White Bible)

"Happiness is like jam " you can't spread a little without getting some on yourself." (White Bible).

As we choose to serve others in the mission field and in our church callings, we experience greater joy and happiness in our lives.

Whether as a missionary or in my church responsibilities, I will choose to serve the Lord by learning my duties, following the council of my church leaders, and keeping myself spiritually fit to be able to serve the Lord. I will have faith that I have been called of God as his servant and will choose to serve Him each day to the best of my ability.

2. Lessons from my marriage and family

Laurel and I were married on August 23rd 1983. We have now been married for twenty years and six months. Following the example of Bill and Dianna Neal, whom we have known for more that 20 years, we try to take time on the 23rd of each month to recognize our monthaversary. This last January 23rd we celebrated our 245th monthaversary. This is a way that we choose to remember our wedding day and eternal covenants.

I also find that each time Laurel and I pray together, as a couple, that we recommit ourselves to each other, to our children and to the Lord. We again confirm our choices. Brother Bryan Espenshied was our sealer in the temple. One of many pieces of counsel that we still observe today is that Laurel was assigned the even days to pray and I was assigned the odd days. We always know when we pray as a couple who gets the blessing of being voice to the prayer.

"The secret of success is constancy of purpose."[3] (N. Eldon Tanner). A marriage and a family are not celestial by one-time acts of love or service. It takes daily and regular positive efforts to build an eternal relationship. By making conscientious choices each day to serve our spouse, children and family, it is very difficult to stray far from the Lord's plan.

"Living a good life is like shaving: no matter how good you do it today, you still have to do it again tomorrow." (White Bible.

At the beginning of this devotional, Laurel sang this song, You Will Find Joy, which she wrote and composed in October 1998 for her youngest brother's missionary farewell.

Time is short here on this earth
Daily we choose which road we will take
Sometimes we are tempted to stray from the path
Straight and narrow the way.

Chorus

Do what is right you will find joy
Always strive in keeping the commandmentsLearn of Christ.
Follow His word.
Then you will find joy.
Comfort, ease beckon to me
Wide and short the road claims to be
Follow His promptings, regrets will be few
Straight and narrow the way

Chorus

When you've learned to follow His light
Then it's your turn to teach others joy
Spreading your sunshineYou will bring souls to Christ
Straight and narrow the way.

Chorus

I appreciate Laurel sharing this song with us today. It continually reminds me of how important daily choices are and how important it is to share our light with others.

"If a task is once begun, never leave it till it's done, be the labor great or small, do it well or not at all." (White Bible)

This is very true of many aspects in life. Right now with six children ranging in age from 6 months to 18 years there are many challenges and great opportunities. Laurel and I cannot choose to abandon the children or the marriage when it gets difficult. We choose to be in it for the eternity.

"Triumph is 'umph' added to 'try'" (White Bible). Each child is unique and each one has different talents and capacities. It is interesting to observe how with a little extra encouragement, a child can be successful. They just need to choose to stay with the task until it is completed.

God has given commandments with promise of blessings for compliance with his laws, and penalties for violation of them. James E. Talmage said: "Obedience to law is the habit of free men. The transgressor fears the law, for he brings upon himself deprivation and restraint, not because of the law that would have protected him in his freedom, but because of his antagonism to the law. It is no more a part of God's plan to compel men to work righteousness than it is his purpose to permit evil powers to force his children into sin." [4]

God loves us and believes in us and has done and will do anything he can to help us, but he will not impose on our free agency. [5]

Elder Delbert L. Stapley said "Once a person yields to sin, he is under Satan's control, and it is not easy to break away." [6]

He further said, "Be suspicious of those who would put you in a compromising position. Never compromise the right, for compromise can lead to sin, sin to regret, and regret can hurt so very much."

"No man is free who is not master of himself. True freedom of agency exists with the observance of God's laws. Keep in mind that good and evil can never be amalgamated into one. They are at opposite ends. They do not abide in harmony within a person. One tendency will prevail over the other, for as Jesus taught: "No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon." (Matt. 6:24.) [7]

Now back to the story of Tootle the small train. As with anything in human nature once he chose to leave the tracks so he could frolic in the flowers he felt free. The more often he left the tracks the more free he felt. However, Tootle was going contrary to his purpose in life. He was not following the instruction of the larger mature locomotives.

Christ is our teacher; he has shown by example the way to use our free agency to gain eternal life.

What are you and I doing with our agency today? Are we drawing closer to God, or away from him? Are we satisfied and happy in what we are doing with this God-given endowment here on earth? Can we improve in the use of it?

I choose to honor covenants that I made with my wife and the Lord in the Holy Temple. I choose to serve the Lord through raising sons and daughters in the gospel and by being the best Priesthood holder I can be.

3. Lessons from my career

Why is the Lord interested in having us be successful in worldly pursuits such as careers? Why have His prophets invested so many tithing dollars in these universities and us? It is clear to me that as we choose to serve the Lord while pursuing our careers, we further His eternal plan and are better able to raise our families in the gospel. Through our careers, we open doors for the gospel in various industries and around the world. We continue to pay tithing to build more churches, temples and other necessary facilities for the church.

"Strength is the product of struggle." (White Bible).

During my nearly ten years of higher education including bachelors, masters and a PhD degree. I have learned that the capacity to do something is based upon previous conquests over self. It seemed that during the first four years of education, the professors were encouraging and helpful. Progressing through the second and then third degree, I learned that any successes I had were because of my own perseverance and choosing to stick with it. If it was to be, it was entirely up to me.

"Persistent people begin their success where others end in failure." (Edward Eggleston)

"The heights by great mean reached and kept were not attained by sudden flight, but they while their companions slept were toiling upwards in the night." (Henry Wadsworth Longfellow)

I would like to share a story, however, though quite personal, that demonstrates what happens when we choose to serve another other than the Lord.

I did not intend on being a professor at a university. Before I had started my "real" career in business, I had an opportunity to teach at the University of Wisconsin—Eau Claire campus. It was there that I observed from my senior teaching colleagues that success in my field would come by earning a PhD., writing books, doing research and doing lucrative consulting. It was at that time that I began to choose to serve mammon, unknowingly. My goals began to be centered on obtaining the riches and the admiration of man. During the next ten years I did get a PhD, I did write books, I did travel and I did consulting—often-billing $100-200 per hour. "A man is literally what he thinks. His character is the sum of all his thoughts." (White Bible).

At this time in life, Laurel and I had four children and I was ready to quit having children. My goal then was to be wealthy enough at 40 years of age that I could retire and serve the Lord for the rest of my life. Though I believed I was choosing to serve the Lord, I was leaving out an important component. I had not consulted with the Lord to determine what he would have Laurel and I do during this time of our lives. Looking back, I am convinced that we could have been enlarging our family and eternal treasures instead of treasures here on earth.

Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal:

But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal:

For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also. (Matthew 6:19-21) I am also convinced that much of the great material gains I made during this time were wiped away a few years ago when the technology stock market crashed.

Also during this period of great success in the business world, I had become less regular in attending the temple, not completely fulfilling my church responsibilities, and not spending quality time with my family. I was on the road earning money, gaining prestige, and making a name for myself. I learned from this brief experience that a person can convince themselves that they are moving in the right direction while they are slowly drifting away from God's plan.

Elder Delbert L. Stapley said, "Be aware and warned of the subtle workings of Satan, for he never stops trying to lead us astray. He is an expert on making things seem appealing and right, when actually they can bring about our moral destruction. He does not believe in free agency, and would like to control our minds, thoughts, and acts. We can see his workings more and more in the movies, television shows, magazines, and in the actions of men and nations. If our thoughts are turned to sensual things, we will be strongly tempted to use our free agency wrongfully." [8]

"Think of the long view of life, not just what's going to happen today or tomorrow. Don't give up what you most want in life for something you think you want now." [9]

For the past few years, I have served as the Chief Information Officer or CIO for the University. I say served because this is not a position that I have aspired to have. I believe that at this university, most if not all of the employees are here to serve the Lord in various roles at one of His universities. Laurel and I did not have any intention of living nor raising a family here in Laie. However, we, like many on the faculty, and staff are serving here and very blessed to be here. We have chosen to stay because this is a place where believe we are supposed to be.

As the CIO, I am responsible for campus enterprise computing systems, telephone systems, the technology infrastructure, and the library. It is a very challenging job with new opportunities nearly every day.

You are no doubt aware of the rise in viruses, worms and SPAM that plague our computers and networks. Let us talk for a moment about viruses, denial of service attacks and anti-viruses.

A computer virus is a computer program designed to replicate itself by copying itself into the other programs stored in a computer. It is a program or piece of code that is loaded onto your computer without your knowledge and runs against your wishes. Even such a simple virus is dangerous because it will quickly use all available memory and bring the computer system to a halt. An even more dangerous type of virus is one capable of transmitting itself across networks and bypassing security systems.[10]

A "backdoor" in a computer system is a method of bypassing normal authentication or obtaining remote access to a computer, while intended to remain hidden to casual inspection. The backdoor may take the form of an installed program or could be a modification to a legitimate program.

Many computer worms, such as Sobig, last year's big virus and Mydoom, the virus of 2004 so far, install a backdoor on the affected computer (generally a PC connected to the Internet running insecure versions of Microsoft Windows and Microsoft Outlook).[11]

A denial-of-service (DoS) attack is any of certain forms of malicious damage to computer systems. The aim of such an attack is to prevent legitimate users from accessing their services.

The attack on resources has become increasingly popular, mainly through attempts to "flood" a network with excess or spurious packet data over the internet, thereby preventing legitimate traffic. For example, this week two companies SCO and Microsoft were bombarded with hundreds of thousands of "hits" on their web servers. SCO's web services were disabled earlier this week because of this DOS.

Occasionally on our own campus a DOS event will occur when one campus computer becomes compromised and begins to generate so much traffic on the campus network that legitimate traffic such as e-mail or internet requests cannot be handled by the our servers and the servers abort.

Antivirus programs are designed to detect and remove computer viruses. The simplest kind scans executable files for a list of known viruses. Others anti-virus programs are constantly active, attempting to detect the actions of general classes of viruses. Antivirus software should always include a regular update service allowing it to keep up with the latest viruses as they are released.[12]

Analysts say MyDoom spread so quickly because it was successfully fooling users into opening first the email and then the attachment. The email often disguises itself as an email that the user sent that has bounced back. The user, wanting to know why the email failed, opens it up and then sees a text file icon, instead of the icon for an executable. Their computer is now infected, often unbeknownst to them.

Viruses, denial of service (DOS) and anti-virus protection parallel a gospel message.

"The highest kingdom I can find is in the confines of my mind." (White Bible)

Prophets, the anti-virus providers are always scanning the horizon, looking for, and detecting false messages sent by the adversary. They have counseled us to keep our guard up against the evil influences and stains of the world. They have named and enumerated these evil influences. The prophets have pleaded with us to choose to close the ports that allow pornography or other inappropriate ideas through computer, television, music, movies, and magazines into our lives.

As with computer viruses, once it is inside our mind, the thoughts or images may stay quiet for some time. Then without warning, these thoughts will express themselves. With our own lives, inappropriate thoughts can become activated and lead to choices that cause pain, anxiousness, embarrassment and even the loss of eternal blessings.

In Alma 12:14 it reads, "For our words will condemn us, yea, all our works will condemn us; we shall not be found spotless; and our thoughts will also condemn us; and in this awful state we shall not dare to look up to our God; and we would fain be glad if we could command the rocks and the mountains to fall upon us to hide us from his presence.

Now Satan often sends Denial of Service messages through his channels, which include popular fashion, competing events with Sunday activities, scintillating music and movies, and messages suggesting marriage, children and commitment are no longer the "in" thing.

This past month President Shumway spoke to us through his devotional talk and again to the faculty and staff in a separate presentation. He pleads with us to choose to follow the commitments that we have made; to keep the honor code and to live up to our other covenants. You are aware that in 2005 we will celebrate the 50th year celebration or Jubilee celebration for Brigham Young University-Hawaii.

Year of Jubilee

In the October 1999 General Conference, in an address entitled "A Year of Jubilee," Elder L. Tom Perry said of the jubilee year, "The people were to rest the land so it could be rejuvenated and more productive for future years. Today in our busy, multifaceted lives, the year of jubilee offers an excellent time to evaluate our direction and determine whether our priorities are in order. Have we placed the opportunity for eternal blessings ahead of worldly ambitions? Are there parts of our lives that we could rest for a season in an effort to renew our souls so we can be more productive, especially in the ways that matter most to the Lord?" [13]

"As we enter the 21st century, we are in the midst of an information revolution, the so-called information age, with all of its new challenges and opportunities. Now we are being flooded with information. For many, television is robbing them of valuable family time. The Internet is a new source of information that offers tremendous opportunities as well as another potential—becoming addicted. Unfortunately, with the blessings of the new information age also come challenges, as evil influences have a new medium of transmission and new ways of infiltrating our minds. Worldly influences enter our homes in new shapes and forms to challenge our resolve to use our time wisely and for the Lord's purposes.

"Perhaps we could take a page out of the law of ancient Israel and call 'time-out.' Let us make a list of those basic activities that add value to eternal man and woman and determine in our year of jubilee that we will discontinue those activities that are of little value and worth that might even jeopardize our eternal welfare. Let us place higher priority on family prayer, family scripture study, and family home evenings and eliminate those activities that fill our lives with worldliness and evil."

Finally according to Elder Perry, "during the year of jubilee, all of the Israelites who were in bondage for some reason were granted their freedom. Of course, the practice of slavery has long since been abolished in almost all parts of the world. Nevertheless, if we are not watchful, any one of us can become ensnared, and then enslaved, by the evil one." [14]

President Kimball said on the same topic "Given that there must be opposition in all things (2 Nephi 2:11), with agency comes the need to choose good from evil. Moreover, agency also opens the possibility for sin; that, in turn, creates the need for repentance. President Kimball has said: "Sin is intensely habit-forming and sometimes moves men to the tragic point of no return. Without repentance, there can be no forgiveness, and without forgiveness, all the blessings of eternity hang in jeopardy. As the transgressor moves deeper and deeper in his sin, and the error is entrenched more deeply and the will to change is weakened, it becomes increasingly hopeless and he skids down and down until either he does not want to climb back up or he has lost the power to do so" [15]

President Kimball also counseled us:"Substitute habits, change environment. Change comes by substituting new habits for old. You mold your character and future by thoughts and actions."

"You can change by changing your environment. Let go of lower things, and reach for higher. Surround yourself with the best in books, music, art, and people" [16]

I choose to prepare myself and my environment to welcome the jubilee year of BYU-Hawaii. I choose to serve the Lord and not mammon.

Application to Our Lives

In the end, Tootle, the tiny train discovered that staying on the rails no matter what was more important than his so-called liberty to wander about freely. I interpret it as encouragement to stay on the right track. In today's world that means staying on "the road less traveled." I especially like the end of the book where Tootle, with tears in his eyes, realizes that he should be on the track, where his instructor is waving a green flag. You hear the excitement in his voice when he says "Oh, this is the place for me." and all the townspeople shout "Hurray!" and throw up their arms in excitement.

Trains are designed by their makers to run on the rails. Men are designed by their Creator to obey His holy law. Both only function properly when they do what they are designed to do.

As President Hinckley has said so frequently, "Be true to your convictions. You know what is right, and you know what is wrong. You know when you are doing the proper thing. You know when you are giving strength to the right cause. Be loyal. Be faithful. Be true."[17]

Summary

I have shared with you three areas in which I will choose to do better. I earnestly hope that something in this presentation has caused a moment of reflection or a recommitment to the gospel for you. It certainly has for me.

Each morning when I awake, I like to start it with prayer, scripture study, and meditation. It is during these quiet moments that I recommit myself to choose to serve the Lord again today. It is a practice of mine when faced with a choice to between right and wrong to remind myself that I've committed to serve the Lord, regardless of the situation. May we all choose each day and every moment to choose to serve the Lord whether in school, on a mission, in the church, in the home, in our careers and in life.


[1] Gordon B. Hinckley, Stand a Little Taller

[2] P.8, Missionary Handbook, Published by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Salt Lake City, Utah, 1973.

[3] N. Eldon Tanner, "Constancy Amid Change," Ensign, Nov. 1979, 80

[4] (The Great Apostasy, Deseret Book Co., 1958, pp. 34-35.)

[5] Marion D. Hanks Ensign, November 1983, page 21

[6] Delbert L. Stapley, "Using Our Free Agency," Ensign, May 1975, 21

[7] Delbert L. Stapley, "Using Our Free Agency," Ensign, May 1975, 21

[8] Delbert L. Stapley, "Using Our Free Agency," Ensign, May 1975, 21

[9] Elder Richard G. Scott Ensign, May 1997, 54

[10] http://www.webopedia.com/

[11] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia

[12] http://foldoc.doc.ic.ac.uk/foldoc/index.html

[13] L. Tom Perry, "A Year of Jubilee," Ensign, Nov. 1999, 75

[14] L. Tom Perry, "A Year of Jubilee," Ensign, Nov. 1999, 75

[15] The Teachings of Spencer W. Kimball, ed. Edward L. Kimball [1982], 83).

[16] The Teachings of Spencer W. Kimball, 172

[17] Gordon B. Hinckley, Stand a Little Taller