Faith, Great Faith, and Exceedingly Great Faith

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Elder ReevesDevotional Address Given at
Brigham Young University–Hawaii

December 1, 2005
Elder David Reeves

It is an honor to stand before you this morning. Vickie and I love this place and love these Islands and the Polynesian People. I have often said I have a Polynesian spirit trapped in my haole body. This is an awesome responsibility, to try and share a couple of perspectives on the principles that never change. I ask an interest in your faith and prayers as we ponder together: faith, great faith, and exceedingly great faith. As we do so, I would like to share part of the roadmap and the compass that, if followed will guarantee us that place in the Celestial Kingdom for which we all strive.

Nephi said: "I did liken all scriptures unto us that it might be for our profit and our learning." I wish to liken a handful of particular scriptures today, in hopes that they might be for our profit and our learning.

The first is found in 1 Nephi, but before we get to that scripture let me set the stage as to what's happening here.

We know that Lehi departed into the wilderness and left everything. I love Lehi, because he took nothing with him except provisions and a tent. The interesting thing about that is that he had lived in wealth and relative luxury (the scriptures tell us that his wealth included gold, silver and all manner of precious things) and when it was time to follow the direction of the Lord, he literally gave everything to build the kingdom. The rhetorical question here is: have we?

After traveling three days out into the desert, Lehi had a dream. The Lord wanted his sons to go back to Jerusalem and get the plates of brass from Laban. You can just hear Laman and Lemuel now: "You're kidding. We've already traveled three days through this desert and now you want us to go back? Why didn't you think about this before we left? Ugh."

These two oldest brothers complained and grumbled, but Nephi, exercising great faith, said: (and here's the first scripture) "I will go and do the things which the Lord has commanded, for I know that the Lord giveth no commandments unto the children of men save he shall prepare a way for them that they may accomplish the thing which he has commanded them." So, off they went with Laman and Lemuel still bad-mouthing the plan.

In spite of Nephi's faith, as you know, the brothers were not immediately successful in their quest to obtain the plates.

The interesting thing about their failure to obtain the brass plates was that they began by doing it the world's way. First, they began by drawing lots (gambling), and Laman, who drew the short straw, failed miserably. Second, they tried appealing to Laban's greed (they brought him a whole wagon load of their family's wealth in exchange for the plates and nearly lost their lives. When all of that failed, Laman and Lemuel tried violence (beating Nephi and Sam with a rod).

After all of trying to do it the world's way, an angel came and straightened them out and off went Nephi to do it right this time. Which brings us to the second great scripture in the list we will use today in "likening the scriptures unto our selves." It's found in 1 Nephi chapter 4. He said: "I was led by the spirit, not knowing beforehand the things which I should do.  Nevertheless, I went forth."

It is my personal opinion that of all the great ones in the Book of Mormon, and there are so many, none of them are greater than Nephi. And none of them ever lived the first principle of the gospel better than Nephi.

Let's fast forward now to 1850 and take a quick look at the first missionaries to these islands, and see how they lived the first principle of the gospel. George Q. Cannon and nine others were sent by the First Presidency to preach the gospel to the people of Hawaii. Because of his age, George Q. was not the Mission President. Another one was, and he decided that they were not going to teach the Hawaiian people (calling them heathen and decadent), but rather, they would concentrate their efforts on teaching the Europeans and Americans that were in the ancillary businesses of the Islands. With that directive in mind, the 10 missionaries separated and went to the various islands. George Q. and two others went to Lahaina, Maui.

Listen to his own words about his call:

"When we first arrived in the islands and were sailing past Maui, my feelings were drawn towards that island...and I felt that I would like that to be my field of labor. I know not why this should have been, except that the Lord gave me that feeling, for I knew nothing concerning it that would make it a desirable place in my eyes."

These three elders determined (in spite of the directive by the mission President) that they should try to learn the Hawaiian language so that they could teach the native people.
Listen again to the words from his journal: "My desire to speak the language was very strong. It was present with me night and day and I never missed an opportunity of talking with the natives to improve it. I also tried to exercise faith before the Lord, to obtain the gift of talking and understanding the language."

He goes on: "One evening while sitting on the mats visiting with some neighbors, I felt a peculiar sensation in my ears; I jumped to my feet with my hands to my ears, and exclaimed: I can understand them!  From that time forth, I had but little, if any, difficulty in understanding what the people said."

Thereafter, he spoke the Hawaiian language almost perfectly and went about sharing the message of the restoration with these children of Lehi, these descendents of Nephi.

Within three months, the hope for success in the islands was not forthcoming. Whereupon, the Mission President decided they were all in the wrong place, and departed for Tahiti. The four married Elders decided that they had given it their all and left for home. George Q. Cannon and four others stayed determined to fulfill their assignment from the Prophet. And fulfill they did. Again, from his journal we read: "I felt resolved to stay and master the language and warn the people of the islands, if I had to do it alone, for I felt that I could not do otherwise and be free from condemnation...The spirit of it was upon me."

They stayed for four years. At the end of those four years, they had baptized more than 3,000 of these great people. Don't you just love how living this first principle of the gospel changes everything?

Let's return again to Book of Mormon days. There were other great ones after Nephi. One of those was his nephew, Enos, the son of Jacob. In his younger days, before he got his life straightened out, he was not living a worthily. Listen to his words, liken them unto yourself, and notice his exceedingly great faith. He said: "And I will tell you of the wrestle which I had before God before I received a remission of my sins. Behold, I went to hunt beasts in the forests, and the words which I had often heard my father speak concerning eternal life and the joy of the saints, sunk deep into my heart.  And my soul hungered..." (That's how we know that he had not been living a righteous life, or his soul would have rejoiced).

He goes on: "And I kneeled down before my Maker, and I cried unto him in mighty prayer and supplication for mine own soul; and all the day long did I cry unto him [does your faith match his?], yea, and when the night came I did still raise my voice high that it reached the heavens."

"And there came a voice unto me, saying: Enos, thy sins are forgiven thee, and thou shalt be blessed. And I Enos knew that God could not lie...and my guilt was swept away."

"And I said Lord, how is it done? And he said unto me: Because of thy faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, whom thou hast never before heard nor seen...Wherefore, go to, thy faith hath made thee whole."

If we want our faith to make us whole, we must live the first principle of the gospel and have faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. Most of us believe in Jesus Christ, but too many do not believe Jesus Christ, and they are, consequently, unprepared to claim the blessings of the atonement.

Let's move forward again to November 1991 and get a picture of one of the best BYU-Hawaii basketball teams ever, playing a game in Idaho. There was, on this team, our oldest son Dave, President Shumway's son Jeff, and about the best leaper in college basketball in those days, whose name was Barry Hardy. This guy could practically dunk it with his elbows. He was doing slam dunks from the free throw line before Michael Jordon was. In the game he came down wrong and tore his anterior cruciate ligament. The doctor who examined him thought the injury was so severe that he was through for the season. Our son wrote us a letter the other day, containing a wonderful account of what happed next:

"We were playing in Idaho and Barry hurt his knee pretty bad. Dr. Nielsen looked at it on the court, then went with Barry into the locker room. Later, he told Coach Wagner that Barry was done. His knee was injured pretty severely."

"That night, the entire team and the coaching staff and school administrators, gathered in Barry's room. Somebody had asked Barry (who was not a member of the church) if he wanted a blessing and Barry said, 'Oh, I don't know.' One of the other non-LDS players told Barry, 'You better do it. Those blessings really work.' It was a cool experience. All the Melchizedek priesthood holders on the team stood in a circle around Barry and we blessed him (following the anointing from Jeff Shumway). Even though the coaches and administrators were in the room, they did not participate in the blessing. This was a team thing. It's not like we planned it this way, it just sort of naturally happened. Looking back on it, I don't know why the coaches and President Shumway were not invited into the circle...we probably should have! I suppose it was akin to the brotherhood we felt as a team. Anyway, it was a spiritual moment for everyone, member and non-member alike."

"Within three weeks Barry was playing with us again. Our best athlete, and Nike slam dunk champ, was again flying above the rim for the rest of the season."

"When ye are prepared, ye shall not fear." Those returned missionaries were prepared to exercise their priesthood and did not fear. And so I ask another rhetorical question: Are you one of those who lives his life in such a way that the Lord can do His work through you?

Or are you living your life like my friend Paul when I was growing up in southern California?

In the summer of 1958, I was 15 years old. My friend Paul was 17. At Huntington Beach with other guys from our ward, about 9:00 at night, sitting around one of those fire rings, in the midst of the conversation Paul said: "I'm going to sin until I'm 23 years old, then I'm going to repent." I'm sorry to tell you that most of these teenagers said: "Wow. Cool. Paul's got his life all figured out. I wish I was as cool as Paul."

Well, as far as I know, Paul never killed anybody, but true to his word, he did commit just about every other sin possible and guess what? When he turned 23, he didn't repent. He didn't repent because he didn't know how. And even though the Lord stood at the door of his life and knocked, (like he stands at the door of our lives and knocks), Paul could not hear his voice. He did not open the door. Consequently, the Savior could not come in unto him and sup with him.

Paul went on to marry an LDS girl, but not in the temple. They had a couple of children. But their attendance at church came to nothing. Paul got his masters degree and then his Doctorate in Psychology. He became a distinguished professor of Psychology at Washington State University, but when I saw his son years later, playing Basketball for Washington State, I asked about Paul and about whether he himself was a member of the church. He said, "Oh, no. We don't believe in any of that."

When virtue does not garnish our thoughts unceasingly, we get lost and sometimes we never find our way back.

I'm reminded of the story about an Indian boy who wanted to become a brave. In order to do so, he had to go alone into the mountains and stayed up there for 30 days, surviving as best he could. When his personal ordeal ended, he was on his way back down the mountain. In the middle of the trail was a snake, which said, "Please help me. I need to get down to the valley or I'll freeze to death up here. The boy said, "I'm not going to pick you up. If I do you'll bite me and I'll die." The snake said, "I promise, I won't bite you." The boy said, "But you've bitten everyone else that ever picked you up."

The snake said, "This is different, I just need your help to get down the mountain into the sunshine." So the boy leaned down, scooped up the snake, and put him carefully under his shirt and took him down the mountain. When he came to the meadow, he took the snake and laid him on the grass whereupon the snake coiled and struck the young brave on the arm. "But you promised!" cried the boy. And the snake said as he slithered away, "You knew what I was when you picked me up."

This is the story of Satan. The analogy of the Indian brave reminds us that Satan is a mean and crafty dog. Like the snake that he is, he lays in the grass and waits, and at just the right moment he strikes and tries to kill us, spiritually.

So, we go through our lives meeting temptation, doing the best we can, and just when we think we have a handle on our various problems: the music, the movies, the television, even a neighbors life style, entices back to thoughts, desires and appetites that we are having a tough time controlling. And Satan (or his little minions) grabs hold of us and takes us on a seemingly uncontrollable, downward spiral; away from the things that we know to be right, virtuous and lovely. And Satan laughs while the Savior weeps.

As you remember from your own study of the scriptures it says, "Satan desireth you to sift you as wheat." And the companion scripture: "He cheateth their souls, and leadeth them carefully down to hell." Such warnings assure us that Satan is very patient and careful in his plan to rob us of our eternal life.

We have it within us to avoid him; to not yield to his enticing spacious building, but we don't always do as we know. We do yield. We justify actions and thoughts and attitudes and dress saying, "Oh, what's the use. I keep trying to do better, but I keep stumbling and falling. These trials are just too great for me."

I'm reminded of the words of that great Tongan, Charles Wolfgramm, who said, "To think of this as a trial would be absurd. The Lord gives to his children, those wonderful challenges because he knows exactly what each must endure and overcome to make his or her faith stronger." And, I might add, He gives us no trial that is beyond our capacity to conquer and rise above.

Among my heroes are those great souls President Shumway told us about in his book Tongan Saints. One of those is Mosese Lui Muti from Uiha Ha'apai, Tonga. He is one of my heroes because his faith was pure. He loved the Lord, and he loved fulfilling his calling in the Church.

After his first mission, he returned to his young wife, and was thereafter, called to be the secretary of the Sunday School and the clerk of the whole branch.

Listen to his words, "I cherished these assignments in our little branch and performed them with care and attention. Even when I got a painting job with Burns Philp, Ltd., and took Salavia with me to Pangai during the week, we would always catch a boat back to Uiha on Saturday afternoon and spend Sunday there. I simply could not neglect my calling."

Time will not allow us to read all of his beautiful testimony, but with President Shumway's permission, I will paraphrase the rest of his story. One Saturday they went to the dock to catch the boat home, and there was no boat. Most of us would have said, "Well, we tried, but there's no boat. Guess we'll just have to spend the weekend here. Besides, it won't matter if I miss just this one Sunday." Not Mosese!

Even though it was 9:00 p.m. and on a pitch black night, he decided that he'd swim the mile or so to the Island of Uoleva and from there swim across one of the most treacherous channels in Tonga, the Auhangamea Channel, and on to home.

The ocean was rough and the current strong, but he felt no danger. When his feet touched the sands of Uoleva, he crossed over to the other side of the island, waded into the channel and started to swim for home.

He hadn't gone forty yards when a voice spoke to his mind to look back. He looked back and saw a light in the thick undergrowth of the island. The voice urged him to turn and go back. He did. There in the undergrowth, he found the hull of a canoe, but that would be useless unless he had an outrigger. At that moment, the light which had guided him to the canoe moved away into the bush about ten yards, to a fine unattached outrigger with sennit rope to bind it to the canoe. He lashed the canoe and outrigger together, then went in search of something to use for a paddle. He hadn't gone more than a few yards when he literally stumbled over the stalk of a large coconut palm frond that had been cut and shaped into a paddle.

Despite the heavy sea and blackness of the night he crossed the channel safely and landed at 4:00 a.m. in the morning on the beach on his home island. Pulling the canoe up onto the sand he paused briefly to offer a prayer of thanks and went to his home.

He slept a few short hours, went to the chapel, completed his assignments, and returned back, exactly as he had come, leaving the canoe where he found it and swimming the rest of the way.

Listen to his words: "I have since contemplated this experience many times and have marveled that I should not have taken such risks. I have thought of the blackness of the night, the roughness of the ocean, the strange concentrated light that guided me to the canoe, a light I have not seen before or since my lack of fear and my love for my church assignment to be a secretary in the Kingdom of God was more important to me than nearly anything else."

I think the words of Elder Bruce Hafen put such faithfulness as Mosese's, into clear perspective when he said: "The earth is not our home. We are away at school trying to master the lessons of the great plan of happiness so we can return home. Of necessity, the plan is full of thorns and tears. His and ours. But because He and we are so totally in this together, our being 'at one' with Him in overcoming all opposition, will itself bring us incomprehensible joy. Christ's Atonement is at the very core of this plan."

Elder Neal Maxwell said, "When I first contracted Leukemia, I began my chemotherapy treatments. Thanks to the faith and prayers of all of you, the Leukemia went into remission. After awhile, the Leukemia returned and I found myself saying: Why me? It's not that I'm afraid of dying, but the chemotherapy treatments and the other medication will keep me from fulfilling my calling. It was then that I heard the voice of the Lord speaking peace to my mind. The voice said, "I have given you leukemia so that you could teach my people with more authenticity."

I wonder if the Lord is saying to you and to me: "I have given you this trial so that you could teach my people with more authenticity." Think about it. The whole thing is a test. Will we exercise exceedingly great faith, just like Mosese Muti, and do his will, and return unto him so that he can heal us, and then use us to bless the lives of others?

A few thousand years ago the King of Syria learned that the reason his troops could not over take the Israelite army, was because, the Prophet Elisha Kept telling the leaders of Israel's Army how to escape he ordered his troops to go to the city where the prophet lived and bring Elisha back to him.

The next morning, when Elisha's little servant went to get water, he saw the whole Syrian Army surrounding the city. Running back up stairs he called to Elisha, "Master, the whole city is surrounded by the Army of Syria, how shall we do?" Elisha goes to the window to see and says, "Fear not, those who be with us are more than those who be with them." The scriptures actually don't say this, but the servant probably looked at Elisha and said, "You're kidding. I'm just a little boy and you're an old man. There's a whole army out there;" which is when Elisha prayed and said, "Lord, open his eyes that he may see." And the Lord opened the eyes of the young man and he saw that the mountain behind the army of Syria was full of horses and chariots of fire.

I promise you from my own experience that if we exercise this great first principle of the gospel and evidence our faith by never forgetting morning and evening prayers, daily study of the scriptures, frequent attendance at the temple, fulfilling our church callings diligently, and by "standing as witnesses (of Him) at all times and in all places that we may be in," then, "virtue will garnish our thoughts unceasingly."

"The Holy Ghost shall be our constant companion" and when that happens, we will have total confidence that "those that be with us, are more than those that be with them."

That great truth assures us that Satan will not have his way with us unless we choose him.

I love this quote from President Benson: "And now we're here. Our memories are veiled and we're showing God and ourselves what we can do. And nothing is going to startle us more when we pass through the veil to the other side than to realize how well we know our Father and how familiar his face is to us. And then, as President Brigham Young said, 'We're going to wonder why we were so stupid in the flesh.'"

"God loves us. He's watching us, he wants us to succeed, and we'll know someday that he has not left one thing undone for the eternal welfare of each of us."

"If we only knew it there are heavenly hosts pulling for us, friends in heaven that we can't remember now, who yearn for our victory. This is our day, to show what we can do, what life and sacrifice we can daily, hourly, instantly bring to God."

Finally this, President Hinckley, said, "In my quiet moments, I think of the future with all of its wonderful possibilities and with all of its terrible temptations. I wonder what will happen to you in the next 10 years. Where will you be? What will you be doing? That will depend on the choices you make, some of which will seem unimportant at the time, but which will have tremendous consequences."

May we exercise exceedingly great faith in the Lord Jesus Christ and never forget his great compassion and mercy towards all of us I pray in His sacred name, even Jesus Christ, Amen.