Aloha: More Than Just a Greeting

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Elder and Sister PetersonDevotional Talk Given at
Brigham Young University-Hawaii

July 15, 2008
President Stephen & Sister Cathy Peterson
Hawaii Honolulu Mission

Elder Peterson:
Good morning, our beloved BYU-Hawaii Ohana, and Aloha! It's wonderful to see you all here today. We are so grateful to be back on this campus and we love it every time we're able to come here. We feel such a spirit here. We have been presiding over this mission now for just over a year and we reflect often on what a great privilege it is to serve here among the wonderful Hawaiian people and others who have come to these islands. We are grateful, very grateful, for the diversity that is here, and that diversity is nowhere better represented than it is here on this campus. How blessed we feel to be able to rub shoulders with wonderful people who come from every corner of the earth.

Sister Peterson:
Our home is in Draper, Utah where we lived for 24 years before we were called to serve here. We have six children, all of whom are married to wonderful spouses whom we also call our children. We have been blessed with 14 adorable grandchildren, two of whom have been born since we left home.

We are excited that at the end of next month our youngest son will join your student body. He will be arriving here on August 20th with his sweet wife and adorable baby daughter. It will be such a blessing for us to have family close by and to be able to hug and kiss one of our sweet grandchildren.

In the spirit of the mission we are currently serving, we thought it would be fun to give this devotional as companions, for that is truly what we are. However, unlike our young elders and sisters, we will never be transferred to another companion! We are truly eternal companions and in the spirit of that unity, we are excited to stand before you today.

In the Hawaii Honolulu Mission we have a wonderful mission motto and it goes like this: We are grateful to be in the Hawaii Honolulu Mission--the Aloha Mission. The Atonement of Jesus Christ is our message, love of God and others is our motivation, and obedience to the commandments and mission rules is our strength. By sharing the gospel with others, we can give them the "ha" - the breath of life, even eternal life. Aloha.

We have come to love this motto a great deal and we have also come to love that word, "Aloha." You will note that each letter of the word, "Aloha", is represented in the motto. We decided to use the motto as our text today, because the principles contained in it have application far beyond the mission field.

The Atonement of Jesus Christ is our message

Elder Peterson:
Let me start with the first letter in "Aloha", "A", which represents the Atonement of Jesus Christ. The atonement of Jesus Christ truly is our main message to the world. Our unique message is that God has again spoken to his people through a living prophet and that priesthood power, authority and keys have been restored to the earth, but the main message of the gospel, the doctrine that makes everything possible in time and in eternity is that Jesus Christ is our Savior and our Redeemer.

The atonement is the greatest event in the history of the world. It is an act of love quite beyond our capacity to fully understand. We can read about it, study it carefully, prayerfully thank God for it and still never come to an understanding of how it was possible. And yet, in spite of our inability to comprehend it, our eternal salvation depends on believing in and accepting the atonement of Christ.

Elder Jeffrey R. Holland has said, "The atonement of Jesus Christ is the foreordained but voluntary act of the Only Begotten Son of God. He offered his life, including his innocent body, blood, and spiritual anguish as a redeeming ransom (1) for the effect of the Fall of Adam upon all mankind and (2) for the personal sins of all who repent, from Adam to the end of the world. Latter-day Saints believe this is the central fact, the crucial foundation, the chief doctrine, and the greatest expression of divine love in the Plan of Salvation. The Prophet Joseph Smith declared that all "things which pertain to our religion are only appendages" to the atonement of Christ (TPJS, 121)." (The Atonement of Jesus Christ, Encyclopedia of Mormonism)

In the Book of Mormon we read, "There is no flesh that can dwell in the presence of God, save it be through the merits, and mercy, and grace of the Holy Messiah" (2nd Nephi 2:8). Some of the blessings of the atonement are unconditional - the assurance of a resurrection is a gift to all men and women, regardless of how they have lived their lives. Other blessings of the atonement have conditions attached. However, even if we meet the conditions, we still fall short of being worthy of such blessings and they are actually given freely as an outpouring of Christ's love for us.

Elder D. Todd Christofferson has taught us that "justification and sanctification are the fruit of the Atonement's 'infinite virtue,' which virtue we also refer to as mercy or grace. Because of 'the infinite virtue of His great atoning sacrifice,' Jesus Christ can satisfy or answer the ends of the law' on our behalf. Pardon comes by the grace of Him who has satisfied the demands of justice by His own suffering, 'the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God' (1 Pet. 3:18). He removes our condemnation without removing the law. We are pardoned and placed in a condition of righteousness with Him. We become, like Him, without sin. We are, in a word, justified.

"In 3rd Nephi we read, "Whoso repenteth and is baptized in my name shall be filled; and if he endureth to the end, behold, him will I hold guiltless before my Father at that day when I shall stand to judge the world" (3rd Nephi 27:16).

Elder Christofferson continues, "...glorious as the remission of sins is, the Atonement accomplishes even more. That "more" is expressed by Moroni: 'And again, if ye by the grace of God are perfect in Christ, and deny not his power, then are ye sanctified in Christ by the grace of God, through the shedding of the blood of Christ, which is in the covenant of the Father unto the remission of your sins, that ye become holy, without spot.' (Moroni 10:33). (Justification and Sanctification, Ensign June 2001, 18)

We bear witness, my dear brothers and sisters, that Jesus is indeed the Christ, the immortal Son of God, our Savior, our Redeemer, our Advocate with the Father. We testify to you that although sinless Himself, he willingly and obediently took upon Himself the sins of each and every one of us. In a way far beyond our finite capacity to understand, He did for us what we are completely incapable of doing for ourselves.

We testify that the Atonement has three great affects in our lives. The first is that through the free gift of the Resurrection, we all will indeed live again. We testify with Job, "that I know that my Redeemer liveth, and though after my skin worms destroy this body, yet in my flesh shall I see God."(Job 19:26)

The second affect of the Atonement of which we testify is that we can be forgiven of our sins and thus justified and sanctified, even "made holy, without spot", and thus enabled to return back to the presence of the Father.

And lastly, we testify that because Christ descended beneath all things, he is perfectly able to succor, support, help and sustain us through all of our trials, pains, sufferings and anguish of body and spirit. As Alma taught us in the Book of Mormon, "And he shall go forth, suffering pains and afflictions and temptations of every kind; and this that the word might be fulfilled which saith he will take upon him the pains and sicknesses of his people. And he will take upon him death, that he may loose the bands of death which bind his people; and he will take upon him their infirmities, that his bowels may be filled with mercy, according to the flesh, that he may know according to the flesh how to succor his people according in their infirmities." (Alma 7:11-12)

Twenty one years ago our youngest son was hospitalized with a terrible disease that broke down his red blood cells and shut down his kidneys. He was 3 years old at the time. For 38 days he remained in the hospital, 34 of those days on peritoneal dialysis as his kidneys refused to work. Then, through the fasting and prayers of more people that we can count, and through more miracles and tender mercies from the Lord than we certainly deserved, and to the absolute astonishment and disbelief of his doctors and nurses, his kidneys suddenly started working again. A couple of days later, on the day he was to be discharged from the hospital, it was necessary to surgically remove the dialysis tubing from his abdomen. I walked along side his gurney down to the room where the procedure would be done. His little hand clung tightly to mine right up to the doorway where I had to wait outside the room. Then the door was closed and I stood outside praying for my little boy. He was not completely anesthetized for the procedure, just given a local anesthetic. As the operation began, he started to cry and to sob. He cried out for me, wondering where I was and why his Dad had left him at a time of such great need. I confess that I had to walk down the hall, to a place where I could no longer hear his cries, until the door opened and I knew they were done. I then ran to my son and embraced him "with all the feeling of a tender parent."

In that spirit, Brothers and Sisters, we give praise to a loving Heavenly Father for His part in the Atonement. How difficult it must have been for the Father to hear the cries of His Beloved Son as He said, "Abba, Father, all things are possible unto thee; take away this cup from me." (Mark 14:36) We have often wondered if perhaps, the God of Heaven had to go to a far part of His great universe where He would not have to watch the suffering of His Only Begotten Son. What a marvelous reunion it must have been in those royal courts on high as the Father welcomed Jesus back into His loving arms.

Someday, you young students will have children of your own. If you have children now and have not yet had the experience, someday you will watch as they suffer in body or spirit or both, from the consequences of their own decisions or from the actions of others. Someday your hearts will nearly break as you realize that for them, in that moment, "there is no other way." In that day, you will begin to understand at a very small level, the anguish that we can only imagine the Father felt for His Son. We give praise to the Father for his willingness to sacrifice His Only Begotten Son; that He loved the world enough that "He gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life." (John 3:15)

We also give praise to the Son who sustained us through those and other dark days as we struggled to find ourselves as parents, in demanding church callings and in the everyday trials that comprise life. In retrospect, it is easy to see that in our days of greatest trial, we were blessed beyond measure by the enabling power of the Atonement of Jesus Christ. We thank God for the incomparable gift of His Son.

Love for God and others is our motivation

Sister Peterson:
The "L" in "ALOHA" reminds us of our need to love God and others. How grateful we are for a loving Heavenly Father and His Son, Jesus Christ. With all that they have done and continue to do for us, how vital it is that we show our love for them and others - in fact, we are commanded to do so.

When asked which is the greatest of all the commandments, Jesus said, "Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself." (Matthew 22:36-39)

When the apostle Paul spoke to the contentious Saints at Corinth, he said you may possess many spiritual gifts, all understanding and knowledge and faith to move mountains, but if you do not have charity, or the pure love of Christ, those other attributes won't profit you at all.

When we truly love, we do more than say the words, "I love you," or send cards with those words written on them. We must put into action our deep devotion, concern and affection.

There was a time when I was greatly concerned about one of our children. In the middle of that experience, my father taught me a great lesson about the power of loving others. He told me "just quit worrying about your children and just love 'em."

The prophet Joseph Smith taught that "love is one of the chief characteristics of Deity, and ought to be manifested by those who aspire to be the sons of God. A man filled with the love of God, is not content with blessing his family alone, but ranges through the whole world, anxious to bless the whole human race." (History of the Church, 4:227.)

After their miraculous conversion, the sons of Mosiah could not bear that any human soul should perish, not even their brothers and sisters, the Lamanites who at the time were a bloodthirsty and idolatrous people. They left their homes, families and comforts of life to bring a hardened people to the knowledge of the Savior and His gospel. These young men and those that went with them loved the Lamanites and served them. They labored with them for fourteen years in spite of many trials and afflictions.

For over twenty years we lived next door to Jan, a sister who is filled with the love of God and others. She not only blessed her doctor husband and nine children, but went about blessing everyone around her. One day when I backed out of our driveway and started driving down the street, I hit and killed our family dog right in front of her house. I don't know how she knew I needed an angel of mercy right then, but there she was to comfort and console me. She told me to go on my way and continue to take our two daughters to their piano lessons. When I returned home she had cleaned up the mess and had prepared our dog for burial. She always seemed to know when I or someone in our family needed her help. Most recently, in May of this year, she attended the funeral of President Peterson's father, which we were unable to attend. While there, she comforted his mother and siblings and our children and took many pictures to send to us so that we could feel like we had been a part of the celebration of his father's life. Over the years, our family has been on the receiving end of one charitable act after another from this remarkable friend.

President Hinckley once said, "Each of us can, with effort, successfully root the principle of love deep in our being so that we may be nourished by its great power all our lives. For as we tap into the power of love, we come to understand the great truth written by John, 'God is love; and he that dwelleth in love dwelleth in God.' (1st John 4:16) ("And the Greatest of These Is Love," Ensign, Mar 1984, 3)

Brothers and sisters, we know that as we work at it and pray for help, we will realize the great power that comes from loving God and others with all of our hearts.

Obedience to the commandments is our strength

Elder Peterson:
The way we best show our love for God is through our willingness to do what He has asked us to do - by our obedience to Him as our Lord and Master. The "O" in Aloha stands for obedience. Let me introduce this part of the motto with a short story.

Many years ago in Arabia lived a man whose name was Ben Yussef. He and his son were very wealthy. Their wealth came from breeding and training Arabian stallions that were famous for their speed, beauty, and sturdiness. Each year the horses were trained and sold. They were always in great demand, but each year Ben Yussef and his son kept the very best for themselves. Training began when the horses were very young. The Arabians were carefully trained so that each one would answer to the call "Kyama, Kyama." When these words were called out, there was a thunder of hooves, swishing of manes and tails as the horses obediently responded to their master.

One day Ben Yussef turned to his son and said that the time had come for the sorting of the horses - the time for testing. These horses had been given the very best grooming, feeding and attention given to their every need, and they now had their luxuries cut off. Their feed was cut down to barely enough to keep them alive and they were turned out of their stables into stubby fields. Their coats were neglected and became dirty and ragged. They were not given enough water, and after awhile began to look wild and thin. They no longer looked like the thoroughbreds they were born to be.

After several months Ben and his son and several stable hands, reigned up the horses and led them to an enclosed field. Beyond the gates was a green grassy pasture with bran and hay and an abundance of clear water. The horses whined and pulled against their reins to get to the field.

After struggling to rein them in, Ben called to the stable hands "Open the gates." The gates were opened, and the way was clear. There was nothing to stop them. The horses began to gallop. In a loud and clear voice Ben Yussef called out: "Kyama, Kyama." The horses' ears twitched. Most of the horses rushed straight on to the field, some glanced back but then galloped on. And only a few stopped, turned ever so slowly, and walked back to Ben Yussef. As Ben Yussef looked at the stallions in front of him, he said with emotion and pride - "These are my Chosen."

This is a powerful story of obedience. Even if we know nothing about Arabian horses, we can all relate to being deprived of something we desperately want. How willing are we to be obedient to the voice of our Master as he calls out to us? How willing are we to pay the price necessary to be called "His Chosen?"

Since we are here at a university today, I thought it might be wise to define our terms. As I researched the word obedience, I found that it comes from the Latin word "oboedire" - ob means "towards", oedire means "to hear or listen." So, oboedire is to "listen towards." The dictionary continues to define obedience as the virtue of entrusting oneself to proper authority; the act of obeying; dutiful or submissive behavior with respect to another person; the trait of being willing to obey.

When we think about our failure to be obedient, we usually tend to consider things we have done - sins of commission as we call them. This includes things like breaking the law of chastity or word of wisdom, treating others unkindly, using profanity or lying. Here at BYU-Hawaii you would also consider it disobedient to break one of the rules of the Honor Code such as wearing immodest clothing or cheating on a test.

There is, however, another category of sin or disobedience which we refer to as sins of omission - instances where we fail to do something we should have done. Let me quote from three men who spoke of this type of disobedience.

First, the great Roman emperor and philosopher, Marcus Aurelius, said, "A wrongdoer is often a man that has left something undone, not always he that has done something." (As quoted in Spencer W. Kimball, The Miracle of Forgiveness, [Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1969], p. 91)

President Spencer W. Kimball wrote that, "People tend often to measure their righteousness by the absence of wrong acts in their lives, as if passivity were the end of being." (Spencer W. Kimball, The Miracle of Forgiveness, [Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1969], p. 91)

Finally, James, the brother of Jesus, wrote, "Therefore to him that knoweth to do good, and doeth it not, to him it is sin." (James 4:17)

What are some examples of sins of omission? We could discuss things such as not paying an honest tithing, not attending our church meetings each Sabbath Day, not fulfilling our home and visiting teaching assignments faithfully, not honoring our parents, and not adhering to the grooming standards in the Honor Code. These are all sins in which we are disobedient by not doing something we have been commanded to do.

I love how the scriptures teach us about the importance of obedience. You are all familiar with the Book of Mormon story of the 2060 stripling warriors. There was a raging battle for the city of Cumeni. As soon as the battle was over, their prophet/leader, Helaman, sent men to determine how many stripling warriors had been killed. To his amazement and great joy, he found that although 1000 Nephites had been slain not a single stripling warrior had been killed. As he reported to Captain Moroni on this miracle, he wrote words which can serve as a guide to spiritual and temporal preservation in our own lives. Helaman wrote, "Yea, and they did obey and observe to perform every word of command with exactness; yea, and even according to their faith it was done unto them; and I did remember the words which they said unto me that their mothers had taught them." (Mosiah 57:21) For these young warriors, physical preservation seems to have been a simple matter of exact obedience, faith and believing in what their mothers taught them.

With that story of exact obedience in mind, what do the scriptures teach us about partial, almost perfect obedience? In the Book of 1st Samuel we read the story of Saul and his battle with the Amalekites. The Lord was displeased with the Amalekites because of the way they treated the children of Israel and so He told the prophet, Samuel, to speak these words to Saul: "Thus saith the Lord of hosts,...Now go and smite Amalek, and utterly destroy all that they have, and spare them not; but slay both man and woman, infant and suckling, ox and sheep, camel and ass." (1st Samuel 15:2-3)

That seems to be a pretty straightforward commandment. Well, Saul decided that he would obey, but not quite perfectly. We read that he decided to spare the king of the Amalekites along with the best of the sheep, oxen, fatlings and lambs. When confronted by Samuel about why he had not kept the commandment of the Lord, Saul responded that he had indeed utterly destroyed the Amalekites except for just one person, and that he had destroyed all of the animals except those he had spared to be used as sacrifices to the Lord. In response to that excuse, Samuel uttered words that are still often quoted today: "Hath the Lord as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the Lord? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to hearken than the fat of rams." (1st Samuel 15:22)

As a result of Saul's failure to perfectly obey the Lord's commandment he was rejected by the Lord from being king of Israel.

There are times when we are asked to do things when the reasons for doing them are not very clear. Such was the case with our first parents. Shortly after Adam and Eve were cast out of the Garden of Eden, they were given the commandment to "offer the firstlings of their flocks, for an offering unto the Lord. And Adam was obedient unto the commandments of the Lord. And after many days an angel of the Lord appeared unto Adam, saying: Why dost thou offer sacrifices unto the Lord? And Adam said unto him: I know not, save the Lord commanded me. (Moses 5:5-6)

In society today, members of the church are sometimes accused of being blindly obedient to our leaders. What a marvelous example Adam and Eve set for us. There will occasionally be things that we are asked to do even though the reasons for doing them may not be immediately obvious. I hope and pray that we can all learn to be obedient just "because the Lord commands." And, as a reminder to us all, the Lord has taught us that "whether by mine own voice or the voice of my servants, it is the same." (D&C 1:38) We must never find ourselves questioning what the Lord's earthly representatives ask us to do. It may sound like blind obedience to the world, but in reality it is the only safe path back to the Father.

According to Elder Bruce R. McConkie, "Obedience is the first law of heaven, the cornerstone upon which all righteousness and progression rest." (Bruce R. McConkie, Mormon Doctrine, 2nd ed. [Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1966], p. 539). We agree with Elder McConkie. All of the other covenants we make rest on the foundational covenant of obedience, and without it there is no righteousness and our progression is thwarted both in time and in eternity.

Elder Neal A. Maxwell has said, "The submission of one's will is really the only uniquely personal thing we have to place on God's altar. The many other things we 'give' are actually the things he has already given or loaned to us. However, when you and I submit ourselves, by letting our individual wills be swallowed up in God's will, then we are really giving something to him! It is the only possession which is truly ours to give!" (Neal A. Maxwell, "'Swallowed Up in the Will of the Father'," Ensign, Nov 1995, 22)

And we love this quote from President Ezra Taft Benson. He said, "When obedience ceases to be an irritant and becomes our quest, in that moment God will endow us with power." (as quoted by Donald L. Staheli, "Obedience - Life's Great Challenge," Ensign, May 1998, 81)

That power is the thing that will enable us to sanctify ourselves through the atonement of Christ and return back to the presence of the Father.

We have spent lifetimes watching people around us, inside and outside of the church, trying to find lasting joy and peace in some other way than through obedience to God. They have never succeeded. They never will.

We have become a great believer in the truth taught by King Benjamin when he said, "And moreover, I would desire that ye should consider on the blessed and happy state of those that keep the commandments of God. For behold, they are blessed in all things, both temporal and spiritual; and if they hold out faithful to the end they are received into heaven, that thereby they may dwell with God in a state of never-ending happiness. O remember, remember, that these things are true; for the Lord God hath spoken it." (Mosiah 2:41)

HA - The Breath of Life

Sister Peterson:
The last syllable in "ALOHA" is "ha" which in the Hawaiian language means "breath of life." By sharing the gospel with others, we not only help people receive the "breath of life" in mortality, but we show them the path to eternal life in the world to come. Eternal life is to live in God's presence and to continue as families. Eternal life is God's greatest gift to man. In Moses 1:39 we read, "For behold, this is my work and my glory - to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man." God wants to reward each of His children with this greatest gift. We can be instruments in His hands as we share how to obtain this gift with others.

The gospel of Jesus Christ is the greatest message that anyone on earth can hear. We have been blessed over this past year to see and hear about many who have received the message of the restoration of the gospel and who have entered the gate through baptism and are on the path to eternal life.

Let me share two recent convert stories as examples of how the gospel does give people the breath of life:

One man recently wrote, "I was born in...Hawaii and remember going to different churches and learning about Jesus Christ as a child. When I was a teenager, my parents separated and I chose not to go to church anymore. Around this time, I got involved with drugs, gangs, criminal activities and eventually ended up in prison....My third time back in prison I realized my actions were affecting my family...I felt like I was letting my family down, especially my sister....I decided to change who I was. I quit all my old habits....But I still felt that I wasn't whole. It wasn't until March 2008 that I found what I was missing. My fiance asked me to attend a baptism for her mother at a church called The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. At first I didn't want to go...but we got ready and went. Nothing could have prepared me for what was about to happen. During the actual baptism ceremony, I know the Spirit was present as my mother-in-law was [immersed] in the water. I can't explain what happened to me at that moment, but I know now that I felt the Holy Spirit tell me this is what I needed to do. I've never had a feeling like that before in my entire life. Ever since that day I have felt the Holy Spirit touch my heart and open my eyes. It has been only a couple of months now since [my fiance] and I were baptized, but our lives have already changed so much. I strive to do what Heavenly Father wants me to do. The blessings are pouring down on my family."

Another recent convert, a sister, said her good neighbors made her promise that she would meet the missionaries and attend the "Mormon" church three times. She writes: "The first time in church I sat and looked around the congregation at the beautiful and respectful people and all their lovely children. And I felt tears run down my cheeks....This for me was extraordinary because I had no immediate explanation for my reaction. The second visit to church was the same. I sat down and began again to weep for no apparent reason, although now I recognized the intervention of the Holy Ghost. By the third visit, I no longer wept. I enjoyed everything about it, but most especially having a group of people who were interested in the same thing that had held my attention for forty years, the Christ, the Path and the Truth."

We are grateful for the gospel of Jesus Christ. It has blessed our life immensely! We are grateful for the hope and faith that we have that we can be together as husband and wife, with our children and grandchildren forever because of the power of the Atonement and the blessings it brings. We are grateful to be on the path to eternal life.

In closing, once again, we are so grateful to have had the privilege of being with you today. We leave you with our love and our blessings. Most importantly, we leave you with our testimonies. We know that the things about which we have spoken today are true. The principles of the all-encompassing power of the Atonement, developing a mighty love for God and our fellowmen, obedience to God, and enjoying the breath of life now and in eternity are true principles. We pray that every time you hear the word, "ALOHA", you will be reminded of these principles. We rejoice in this glorious restored gospel of Jesus Christ and testify that our lives have been made richer by it. We pray that God's choicest blessings will rest upon each of you, in all of your righteous endeavors, and do so in the sacred name of the Lord, Jesus Christ, Amen.