Our Incredible Journey

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Jim D. NilsonDevotional Address Given at
Brigham Young University–Hawaii

November 17, 2005
Jim D. Nilson
Chief Informations Officer

I would like to talk about a journey that we are all on. A journey from point A (Pre-mortality), through point B (Mortality), to point C (immortality and eternal life).

As with any journey, it is best to have a plan, a roadmap, to assist in finding our way. The scriptures and words of prophets past and present provide the printed directions for our journey. They also provide a travel log or history of portions of the journey that we have already completed.

To begin, let me quote from "The Family: A Proclamation To The World."

"In the premortal realm, spirit sons and daughters knew and worshiped God as their Eternal Father and accepted His plan by which His children could obtain a physical body and gain earthly experience to progress toward perfection and ultimately realize his or her divine destiny as an heir of eternal life.

"All human beings—male and female—are created in the image of God. Each is a beloved spirit son or daughter of heavenly parents. And, as such, each has a divine nature and destiny."

In our premortal existence, we lived as spirits in a preexistent world or first estate.

The Prophet Joseph Smith taught: "The spirit of man...existed from eternity, and will exist to eternity....Furthermore, not only mankind, but...all things, even the earth itself, had a spirit existence before the physical creation."

We were happy there. Our heavenly parents provided us with a celestial home more glorious and beautiful than any place on earth.

You and I were born as members of his family. We lived in a family unit. We enjoyed family relationships with our brothers and sisters. We saw God's face; we heard His voice; we received counsel from him, personally, as well as through representatives and agents; we knew and loved Him in the pre-existence.

We are the literal offspring of our heavenly parents, we worshipped and loved them and they in turn loved us as their sons and daughters. A principle about each one of us is presented in the Proclamation:

"Gender is an essential characteristic of individual premortal, mortal, and eternal identity and purpose."

We learn from this that our spirit has gender that was from the beginning. We dwelt as sons and daughters in the spirit and our mortal bodies have that same characteristic.

A gift that was given to every spirit child by our Heavenly Father was our agency, which is the power and ability to choose; he also gave us laws and allowed us to obey or disobey. Through obedience we can and did develop talents, abilities, aptitudes, and characteristics of diverse sorts. We were capable of learning, love, hate, happiness, sorrow, obedience, disobedience and other personal characteristics.

We attended a great meeting or family council of God's spirit children, which we refer to as the council in heaven or the grand council. Our Heavenly Father explained that for us to truly become like our heavenly parents, we would need to acquire a physical body as a first step to resurrection and immortality. We would need to leave our celestial home to be tested and to gain experience.

We must enter mortality. We needed to choose good over evil. We would need to leave our physical bodies at death and reunite with them in the resurrection. Then we would receive immortal bodies like those of our heavenly parents. If we passed our tests, we would receive the fullness of joy that our heavenly parents have received. We were instructed that as our Heavenly Parents had previously been mortal, died, and been resurrected, we must walk that same path in order to become like them.

"And we will prove them herewith, to see if they will do all things whatsoever the Lord their God shall command them; And they who keep their first estate shall be added upon; and they who keep not their first estate shall not have glory in the same kingdom with those who keep their first estate; and they who keep their second estate shall have glory added upon their heads for ever and ever" (Abraham 3:25-26).

Our Heavenly Father then explained his plan for his children to undergo this necessary experience. He taught about the creation, the fall, mortality, the atonement, the resurrection, and the final judgment; thus we were instructed in the details of the Plan of Salvation or the Plan of Happiness The first born spirit son of God—the one who would become Jesus, the Father's Only Begotten in the flesh—spoke out and asked for the role of Savior:

"And the Lord said: Whom shall I send? And one answered like unto the Son of Man: Here am I, send me."

Jesus said simply, "Father, they will be done, and the glory be thine forever."

He proposed accepting the terms of the Father's plan, even though it meant that many of the spirit children would not succeed. However, another one of the spirit sons, Lucifer, asked that he be allowed to assume the role of Savior instead. He said: "Behold, here am I, send me, I will be thy son, and I will redeem all mankind, that one soul shall not be lost, and surely I will do it; wherefore give me thine honor."

Lucifer said he would eliminate agency, or mankind's ability to choose for themselves, and ensure that everyone would pass the probationary test. In return for saving all mankind, he would assume Heavenly Father's presiding role in the universe. Then a vote was taken on who should be selected as Savior. The majority accepted Heavenly Father's plan as stated and Jesus' role as Redeemer.

As the meeting proceeded, many of us rejoiced and shouted for joy; while sadly, objections were made by some of our brothers and sisters. They had a problem with the role and scope of the foreordained Savior and his mission. We were taught that the test would not be easy; this high risk of failure undoubtedly intimidated some of brothers and sisters. In our Father's plan, the Savior would only redeem the spirit children who met certain requirements.

Angrily, Lucifer used his divine gift of agency to make a decision that would lead to his eternal damnation. In bold opposition, he and one-third of the spirit children of God rebelled, were cast out of heaven, and forfeited the blessings of eternal life. Even with the possibility of their eternal damnation, Heavenly Father would not take their agency from them. To do so would be counter to eternal law. Lucifer, thereafter named Satan, and his followers became devils and still continue to tempt mankind to rebel against God.

In Moses we read:

"Wherefore, because that Satan rebelled against me, and sought to destroy the agency of man, which I, the Lord God, had given him, and also, that I should give unto him mine own power; by the power of mine Only Begotten, I caused that he should be cast down; And he became Satan, yea, even the devil, the father of all lies, to deceive and to blind men, and to lead them captive at his will, even as many as would not hearken unto my voice" (Moses 4:3-4).

The spirits that followed Satan were deluded into thinking that there were acceptable alternatives to the risks that accompany agency and free will. The price they paid is beyond comprehension.

Once Satan and his followers were cast out, the council continued and other assignments besides the role of Savior were made and accepted.

President Joseph Fielding Smith taught:

"At that council plans were perfected and an organization formed for the government of this earth during its mortal probation. Our Eternal Father, knowing the end from the beginning, chose from among the spirits those to be his rulers and prophets to assist in carrying through his eternal purposes on this earth in relation to the final destiny of men."

We should remember that while our Heavenly Father arranges events so that we always have the opportunity to fulfill what is expected of his children in mortality, they still maintain their agency and can choose to leave those assignments unfulfilled or poorly done.

Our Heavenly Father then continued and established laws that included the creation of the earth, the gift to receive a physical body in which we could be tried and tested and receive experiences impossible to gain in any other way; they included the opportunity to choose between right and wrong, to do good or to do evil, the opportunity to grow and advance in the things of the spirit; and they included the opportunity to enter into a marriage relationship that has the potential of being eternal.

Once the plans were finalized and all necessary assignments made, the heavenly host—led by the premortal Jesus—created our world. One of the more valiant spirit sons known as Michael became Adam, the first man in mortality. He was joined by a spirit daughter who became Eve. Adam and Eve were commanded to "multiply, and replenish the earth" so that the other spirit children would also be able to experience mortality.

The fact that you and I are here on this earth with a physical body is evidence that we kept our first estate; we exercised our agency as spirits, we passed the test and were permitted to come to earth.

Remember Abraham's words that in the spirit world the Lord promised that "they who keep their first estate shall be added upon; ...and they who keep their second estate shall have glory added upon their heads for ever and ever?"

We have been "added upon" by receiving our physical bodies. We further know that the gospel teaches us how we must keep this, our second estate, in order that in the next life, the third estate, we may "have glory added upon [our] heads for ever and ever."

Now a veil has been drawn across our eyes, we do not remember our premortal existence, but our journey requires us to seek to do the things that will enable us to be like our Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ.

We possess a divine spirit, one that can draw closer to heaven through promptings of the Holy Ghost. We do not know what work we were chosen to do here on earth; but we are here to prove ourselves and return to Heaven.

Recounting our journey so far, we exercised our free agency in the preexistence and earned the right to receive a body and come to earth. That same agency is given to us in mortality. What are we to expect on the portion of the journey through mortality?

Basically, we are presented with two patterns for making decisions in life:

(1) Decisions Based Upon Circumstance, and
(2) Decisions Based Upon Eternal Truth.

Satan encourages choices to be made according to circumstance. Or in other words: What are others doing? What seems to be socially or politically acceptable? What will bring the quickest, most satisfying response? There is no set of values or standards to guide our decisions. Decisions are made for what appears to be the most attractive choice at the moment. The Lord will not be there to help.

An Argentinian children's story illustrates this:

A pack of dogs was gathered on a street corner. The dogs were telling each other the woes and troubles they had suffered in their lives. There was a large number of them and the conversation became very loud. Suddenly the most observant one let out a loud cry, "The dog-catcher!" Immediately animals scattered in every direction as fast as they could go. About one or two blocks away one of them stopped and asked, "Why am I running? I'm a cat."

We should not act as the cat, and be swept along because of what others are doing around us.

Recall the life of King David. As a native shepherd boy whose thoughts were garnished with virtue, filled with faith and confidence, he slew Goliath while his compatriots cowered in the background. As a poet-king, he wrote of green pastures, still waters, and paths of righteousness. He wrote that those who shall ascend unto the hill of the Lord must have "clean hands, and a pure heart."

But some time later, after becoming the king of all Israel, David, the shepherd boy grown tall, "lifted up his soul into vanity"; and, following the lusts of a heart no longer pure, he committed a sin for which forgiveness is difficult, and then compounded it by covertly committing an even greater sin.

The second pattern, making decisions based upon eternal truth, is the pattern of the Lord. It will always lead you to make decisions guided by His plan of happiness. These decisions are centered in doing what is right, not in first deciding the result desired. Choosing to do what the Lord has defined as right will, in the long run, always lead to the best outcomes.

Satan's program is "play now and pay later." The Lord's program of happiness now and joy forever through gospel living.

We are loved by our Heavenly and mortal parents. We are all great souls, because we came through a noble heritage. We have the right to become kings and rulers because of the roles we played in the spirit world before we came here. We were chosen to come forth in this day and time, and we are destined for immortality as are all members of this church. Because of the restored gospel of Jesus Christ, we are fortunate to know who we are, where we came from, why we are here, and where we may go. And of great significance, we know how to get where we desire to go. We are so blessed to know the importance of our earth life conduct.

The year 2005 theme for the primary children's sacrament meeting, "I Will Follow God's Plan For Me," is taken from a primary song. I would like to read the words from this song:

My life is a gift; my life has a plan.
My life has a purpose; in heav'n it began.
My choice was to come to this lovely home on earth.
And seek for God's light to direct me from birth.
I will follow God's plan for me,
Holding fast to his word and his love.
I will work, and I will pray;
I will always walk in his way.
Then I will be happy on earth
And in my home above.

For youth, this is a period of timelessness when the horizons of age seem to distant to be noticed. Predictably you will soon realize that the present will soon be the past which will be reflected upon either with sorrow and regret or joy and remembrance of cherished experiences.

The body is the temple of our spirits, a gift from God. It is the vehicle that we use on our mortal journey. It should be cared for, nurtured and not marred. Remember what Paul taught:

"If any man defile the temple of God, him shall God destroy; for the temple of God is holy, which temple ye are." (1 Corinthians 3:17)

Let's consider why having a physical body is so important to us and why we should be grateful and treasure this divine gift.

Joseph Smith taught very clearly:

"We came to this earth that we might have a body and present it pure before God in the celestial kingdom. The great principle of happiness consists in having a body. The devil has no body, and herein is his punishment. He is pleased when he can obtain the tabernacle of man, and when cast out by the Savior he asked to go into a herd of swine, showing that he would prefer a swine's body to having none...All beings who have bodies have power over those who have not. The devil has no power over us only as we permit him.

The moment we revolt at anything which comes from God, the devil takes power" (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith).

Our bodies are so important to our Heavenly Father's plan that it is one of the key targets of Satan.

Elder David A. Bednar taught:

"It is to me one of the ultimate ironies of eternity that the adversary, who is miserable because he has no physical body and therefore cannot progress, seeks to make us miserable 'like unto himself' through the improper use of our bodies. The very tool he does not have and cannot use thus is the primary instrument through which he attempts to lure us to spiritual destruction."

How do we keep our bodies in proper condition? Just like a finely-tuned machine, we must have frequent maintenance, use proper fuel, and keep it clean and presentable. How we choose to use our personal temples will affect us throughout eternity.

The Word of Wisdom is given to us with a promise that we can receive "great treasures of knowledge, even hidden treasures." We are told how to keep our bodies free from substances like drugs, alcohol, tobacco, and kava drinking which might dull, even destroy, our physical senses. Use of addicting substances can dim or darken the light of the spirit.

Our bodies, specifically our brains, are similar in performance to a computer. Having worked with computers all of my adult life, I know that a computer must have input in order to process and produce an output. Be cautious in the use of the internet; it is a great tool to learn about the world and promote good. But just as it is the Lord's tool for good it is Satan's tool to destroy you. Do not view questionable books or magazines. Do not watch television that is beneath wholesome standards. Do not rent movies that depict that which is filthy. Do not sit at the computer and play with pornographic material found on the internet.

Elder Dallin H. Oaks has counseled:

"Pornographic or erotic stories and pictures are worse than filthy or polluted food. The body has defenses to rid itself of unwholesome food. With a few fatal exceptions, bad food will only make you sick but do no permanent harm. In contrast, a person who feasts upon filthy stories or pornographic or erotic pictures and literature records them in this marvelous retrieval system we call a brain. The brain won't vomit back filth. Once recorded, it will always remain subject to recall, flashing its perverted images across your mind and drawing you away from the wholesome things in life."

Maintain a neat and well groomed appearance of your bodies just as the Church's temples are always neat and well maintained. Persons who are well groomed and modestly dressed invite the companionship of the Spirit and are able to exercise a wholesome influence upon those around them.

Do not adorn yourself with inappropriate attire that is not in keeping with the standards of the Church and BYU-Hawaii. If you have swim wear or beach wear that is not in keeping with these standards that you like to wear when not in proximity to our campus, you are only fooling yourselves and inviting Satan's influence to grip you.

We should also be mindful of what we do to the outside of our bodies. How would you feel if you saw graffiti on the exterior of the temple? Just the thought of markings on the temple is offensive to all of us. We must be careful as the fads and fashions of the world entice us to mark or to pierce or to deface or disfigure our personal temples.

Elder Bednar has said:

"True individuality is the product of spirituality and is not a function of trinkets or ornaments attached to or hanging from parts of our body."

Live a morally clean life. This is again confirmed in the Proclamation:

"We declare that God's commandment for His children to multiply and replenish the earth remains in force. We further declare that God has commanded that the sacred powers of procreation are to be employed only between man and woman, lawfully wedded as husband and wife."

Alma declared "Wickedness never was happiness." We cannot do wrong and feel right, it is impossible! We live at a time and in societies where the procreative powers bestowed upon us by a loving Father increasingly are viewed as a selfish and animalistic appetite to be satisfied "here and now" rather than as a sacred privilege and responsibility with eternal consequences.

Years of happiness can be lost in the foolish gratification of a momentary desire for pleasure. The world tells us that the standard of moral purity is old-fashioned and out-of-date. The world would have us accept a so-called new morality, which is nothing more than immorality.

The moral code of heaven for both men and women is complete chastity before marriage and full fidelity in marriage. In the Church and kingdom of God, chastity will never be out-of-date, regardless of what the world may do or say. You cannot build happy lives on immorality."

Elder Jeffrey R. Holland has said:

"We declare that one who uses the God-given body of another without divine sanction abuses the very soul of that individual, abuses the central purpose and processes of life."

Honesty and integrity are key principles that are so important on our journey. Be honest with yourself and others. President Spencer W. Kimball has said:

"Practically all dishonesty owes its existence and growth to the inward distortion we call self-justification. It is the first and worst, and most insidious and damaging form of cheating, to cheat oneself."

Students and employees of this university have promised to live the Honor Code and obey the rules and regulations. There was no coercion to attend or work at BYU Hawaii. The standards were nor accepted for the first day of work or the day of registration only. BYU Hawaii is a "city set on an hill [which] cannot be hid." What happens here is noted throughout the world. There is much expected of students, staff and alumni of this great school.

Do not compromise your integrity. Neither Satan nor any other power can weaken or destroy your growing character. Only you could do that through disobedience. That is why Satan is so intently focused on tempting you to make decisions that will undermine your character. Satan is an accomplished master at making devastating choices appear attractive, even reasonable.

So our charter is taken from the 58th section of the Doctrine and Covenants: "Verily I say, men should be anxiously engaged in a good cause, and do many things of their own free will, and bring to pass much righteousness" (D&C 58:27).

The choice rests with you. If there happen to be bumps in the road or diversions from our path, know that you can find comfort and forgiveness in the atonement of Jesus Christ. Just as the physical body can be cleansed and healed, so can the spirit be washed clean by the power of the Atonement. The Lord will lift you and carry your burden during the suffering and struggle required to make you clean. That is what the Atonement of Christ is all about. He said, "I, the Lord, [will] remember [your sins] no more."

The time of our mortal probation was not intended to last forever. One day each of us will die; our spirit will separate from our physical body as part of God's plan. We will reside in a place called the spirit world for all who have died and are awaiting the resurrection. As Alma taught: "And then shall it come to pass, that the spirits of those who are righteous are received into a state of happiness, which is called paradise, a state of rest, a state of peace, where they shall rest from all their troubles and from all care, and sorrow" (Alma 40:12).

The same priesthood that governs God's kingdom on the earth exists in the spirit world. Jedediah M. Grant, a counselor to Brigham Young saw the spirit world and described it: "The people there were organized in family capacities....When I looked at families there was a deficiency in some, for I saw families that would not be permitted to come and dwell together, because they had not honored their calling here [in mortality]."

I want to keep my second estate and be able to greet, converse, and reminisce with my ancestors. I rejoice in the possibility in thanking them for their faith and courage as many of them made that fateful journey to the Salt Lake Valley.

Our path is straight and narrow and we are assisted by the scriptures and teachings of living prophets. We can become like our Heavenly Parents and achieve immortality and eternal life through obedience and good works. That we may remain true to our divine heritage and fulfill our divine destiny is my prayer.