Do You Need a Miracle?


Devotional Talk Given at
Brigham Young University-Hawaii

August 30, 2001
President Eric B. Shumway
President of Brigham Young University-Hawaii

Dear brothers and sisters, Aloha!

How I love that word. This is the eighth time as president of BYU-Hawaii that I have addressed a university devotional at the beginning of a new academic year. Every time, I pray for the ability to express adequately Sister Shumway's and my love for all of you. Even though we do not know all of you personally, we sincerely pray for you everyday, on our knees. And we accept you as part of the sacred stewardship which the Lord has bestowed upon this campus. You come from many countries, cultures, and family backgrounds. But you are here now as one university family, the Lord has brought you here. Whether you specifically asked Heavenly Father to help you come, or whether you just wanted to come and came, you are still here by His will and pleasure. This is your time, your opportunity, and an opportunity of a lifetime. We pray that you seize this privilege to study and prepare on this campus with unrelenting determination.

In the mission field we used to tell our missionaries that every true conversion was likely to be the conversion and salvation of an entire posterity, their children and their children's children. It also probably meant the conversion and baptism of the person's ancestry, through their doing genealogy and temple work as members of the Church.

I am equally moved by the fact that each of you students here represents a posterity, your own unborn posterity. Your experiences here and the choices you make will affect your generations. This is verified in an email I recently received from a student from China who said:

"Among all of the treasures I discovered at BYU-Hawaii, the most matchless one is my acceptance of Jesus Christ which will be passed down to all of the following generations of my family without end, and all my people will be greatly blessed in God's love."

When our daughter Heather was married in the Salt Lake Temple, the person who performed the wedding told her afterwards that he felt the spirits of her future children in the room. It caused an overflow of feeling we had not expected. That is a startling thought, that your future children, your posterity are aware of you and realize that the choices you make now will not only affect you. It will affect them as well in the future. I hope that gives us all pause and resolve to do our best for ourselves, for them, and for the Lord.

As a faculty member and administrator on the campus for 34 years, and having seen thousands of young people come and go, I believe I know as well as anyone the burdens and pressures you carry. I know somewhat of the fear, the anxiety, the feelings of insecurity that some of you experience. I'm also aware of those who feel secure in their plans and abilities. Some of you are new to the Church and the Gospel. Things are different and tentative and strange as you learn the principles of the kingdom. Others are part of the fifth or sixth generation in the Church.

Some of you may be distressed about personal vanity things. "I'm losing my hair," or "I'm gaining weight." Some are haunted by deeper things, guilt perhaps over unresolved sins, fearful of the steps of repentance. Some may still suffer from the effects of abuse, physical and psychological. Some worry about their English abilities and view with trepidation the enormous task of going through an entire college experience competing with native English speakers. Some of you are afflicted with homesickness and spend much emotional energy thinking about home and the problems there. Mom is ill or Dad has lost his job or brother has fallen away from the Church. Some of you worry about money and debts. And what about the burden of your job at the Polynesian Cultural Center or on campus, the time commitment your employment takes away from studies. Dealing with the pressures there on the job in your relationship with supervisors or with the customer service expectations, can be stressful.

Some of you are in love or falling in love and are discovering what an affliction romantic love can be. Love is often a hostile takeover of the mind and the heart and of all of the sources of energy within you, leaving you limp, frustrated, divided---and of course, ecstatic. Some of you are newly married and struggling to adjust. Some are new parents and are struggling to adjust a lot. Not to mention, of course, the demands of your major, teachers expecting you to study at your limit, to meet deadlines, hand in papers on time. And don't forget Church expectations and assignments. You are called to be in a bishopric, a relief society presidency, or to teach, coordinate or supervise, etc. and etc.

For many of you, this is your first experience in a multi-cultural environment. You are learning that culture shock is not the figment of someone else's imagination. It is real. It is a shock to your whole system, your senses, and your self-esteem. In one day on this campus you have close encounters with more people of different races, colors, ethnicities, and languages than you have had in your entire life. It's new and different. It will get wonderful, but it's not wonderful yet.

Like one student expressed it, who bore virtually all of the above burdens, "Coming to BYU-Hawaii from my country is like being on another planet. It's a whole new world for me and it's terrifying. How can I succeed? I need a miracle. It's not just a big miracle to graduate. I need constant little miracles to get through each day."

How many of you here need such a miracle? Let me assure you, miracles happen. No they don't just happen but you can make them happen. President Thomas S. Monson said, "When you are on the Lord's errand you can expect miracles." I believe you should all consider your time here at BYU-Hawaii as though you were on the Lord's errand.

Moroni, in completing his father's, Mormon's, book, declares fervently that God our Father is a God of miracles. In chapter nine, Moroni chastises those who reject miracles or despise the work of the Lord, for "ye shall wonder and perish" he says (26). Moroni states that if there are no miracles, it's because of the unbelief of the children of men (20).

But what is it that is so powerful in Moroni's formula for us to follow in order to benefit from the miraculous way God blesses His children on earth? He says, "Behold, I speak unto you as though I spake from the dead; for I know ye shall receive my words" (30). By miracle, I believe, Moroni means that constant, abiding assistance from spiritual sources that expand beyond our natural abilities our own capacity to cope, overcome, and achieve success and happiness here and salvation in eternity.

I believe the best thing I can do for us who "need a miracle" is to lay out at least the core of Moroni's formula found in Mormon, chapter 9, verses 20, 27 and 28.

1. Believe in Christ, doubting nothing

2. Come unto the Lord with all your heart

3. Work out your salvation with fear and trembling before Him

4. Be wise in the days of your probation

5. Strip yourselves of all uncleanness

6. Doubting nothing, whatsoever [ye] will ask the Father in the name of Christ, it shall be granted [you] . . . but ask not to consume it on your lusts

7. Ask in a firmness unshaken that ye yield to no temptation, but that ye will serve the true and living God

I will touch on only a few aspects of this formula. First, believe in Christ, doubting nothing. Last May my 91 year old mother passed away. As I reviewed her life, I again discovered what I knew already. From her early childhood. Mom was passionate about her allegiance to Christ and His church. I came across this account in her writings.

When she was six or seven years old, her parents moved the family to Flagstaff, Arizona where she tried to make friends in her new hometown. When she told her new acquaintances she was a Mormon, she had her first experience with religious persecution. Her acquaintances told their parents that a little Mormon girl was in their class. Alarmed, some parents expressly forbade their children from playing with her. It caused some commotion. Mom's parents, Grandma and Grandpa Kartchner, tried to encourage Mom to be a little less aggressive about telling people she was a Mormon and about her belief in the Church. They feared further backlash and undue negative attention toward the Church. For a little girl she could not understand that. Indignant and very hurt by this parental caution, she promptly went out into the street and stood on the curb. With every passerby on the street or on the sidewalk, she would announce, "I am a Mormon. I am a Mormon."

Of course, Mom grew out of her childish ways, but her allegiance to Christ and His Church were at the center of her life. It is not expected that we be so public and vocal about our membership in the Church. But I'm wondering how many of us, for whatever reason, have tried to hide the fact that we were Latter-day Saints. In fact there are some who go to great lengths to blend with the world so that their Church identity is never known.

Believing in Christ means that we believe in His plan, His love. It means that we also believe Him when He says that He will be with us, and that His arms of mercy are held out to us continually. But it must be more than a belief or a mental assent. That's why Moroni pleads that we "Come unto the Lord with all your heart." We do this in prayer, in the covenant of baptism, and in the renewal of that covenant during the sacrament every week. We come unto the Lord in the covenants of the temple. It requires true repentance, sincere remorse for our sins, and a genuine effort to live by every word that proceedeth forth from the mouth of God.

Faith in Christ and a sincere coming unto Him with a contrite and repentant heart is not a popular idea, let alone a popular practice in the world. This summer, between funerals, family reunions, kidney stone surgery, and fishing, I read for the first time three famous books, a novel, a history, and a compilation of the world's greatest ideas entitled, The Great Thoughts. The latter volume by George Seldes took twenty-four years to compile. According to the cover, these are the ideas that have shaped the world. The ideas are not necessarily true ideas, but they are powerful ideas. The volume is a litany of statements by poets, theologians, revolutionaries, philosophers, and scientists---all the thinkers over 5,000 years. It's a great book.

The amazing discovery for me, however, was that in 466 pages, not one line was a quotation from the life and teachings of Jesus Christ. Mr. Seldes offers a feeble disclaimer in the preface that such teachings from the Bible and other scriptures are well documented elsewhere and that there really was no room for them in the volume. It was a "technical impossibility." Does that sound familiar? No room for Christ?

So we get twenty pages of Freud, five pages of Carl Jung, four of Nietzsche, three of Montayne, Shaw, Shelly, and Oscar Wilde. Two pages of quotes from Lenin, Machiavelli, Engels, Confucius, and Mark Twain, but not one line of Christ. For me, this is one more subtle indication of what has become a de facto tenet of many in higher education today, that university courses somehow must disabuse young minds of their religious beliefs and naivety, rescue them, as it were, from their spiritual roots.

In keeping with Moroni's admonition to believe in Christ doubting nothing and coming unto Him with all one's hearts I offer my own testimony. Christ's life, teachings, and atonement are the central reality of the existence of the human family even for those who reject Him, or those who diminish what He did by proclaiming other doctrines and other gods; or those who are indifferent to Him. Christ died to rescue the very people who murdered Him, or who still abuse His memory either by outright denial or profane language. Any doctrine, any philosophy, tradition, or religious construct whatsoever that removes Christ and the Atonement (including the resurrection) away from that central reality of all existence of the human family is not of God. No matter how it is decorated with bright personalities and fascinating rhetoric, it will never approach the fullness of what Heavenly Father has in store for those who embrace His son and His atonement.

The spirit of Moroni's admonition to you and me would encourage that everything you and I study in our academic disciplines on this campus should be examined in and by the light of the Gospel, not the other way around. These disciplines have much truth and usefulness, but by themselves they have no power to save or exalt you and your family.

Brigham Young put the Gospel of Jesus Christ and the truths of academic education in their proper relationship when he said:

"Mormonism embraces all truth that is revealed and that is unrevealed, whether religious, political, scientific, or philosophical" (9:149).

The philosophy of the heavens and the earth of the worlds that are, that were, and that are yet to come into existence, is all the Gospel that we have embraced. Every true philosopher, so far as he understands the principles of truth, has so much of the Gospel, and so far he is a Latter-day Saint, whether he knows it or not. Our Father, the great God, is the author of the sciences, He is the great mechanic, He is the systematizer of all things, He plans and devises all things, and every particle of knowledge which man has in his possession is the gift of God, whether they consider it divine, or whether it is the wisdom of man; it belongs to God, and He has bestowed it upon us, His children dwelling here upon the earth. 18:3592 [2]

For Brigham Young all educational pursuits were to be in the service of God.

Let's move back to Moroni's formula for miracles. He says to "Strip yourselves of all uncleanness." Strip yourselves of all uncleanness. What does that mean to you? "Strip" is a power verb meaning to remove emphatically, to tear off, to remove something that is really stuck, like paint or wallpaper. What do you think Moroni means by "all uncleanness"? What are the uncleannesses that stick like paint or wallpaper? If Moroni were at this pulpit today I know exactly the uncleannesses he would mention, the very same uncleannesses the prophet speaks about every time he addresses the Church: coveting what is someone else's, thoughts of stealing, cheating, angry thoughts. These are uncleannesses. But especially, I believe, Moroni would mean to strip away from us all lustful thoughts, lustful behavior, seeing each other as sexual objects, calling lust by the name of love, trying to draw someone else into a sexual relation, joking about the sacred procreative powers, tempting someone else into a situation beyond their power to resist. Strip yourselves of all of these uncleannesses.

Nowhere that I know is the arrogance of sin revealed so clearly as in the rationalizations of those who enjoy looking at or reading about explicit sex or pornography, which is a violation of the BYU-Hawaii Honor Code. The excuse goes, "I only watch, I don't touch, and it just passes through me and I forget it." This of course is a lie. If you are a normal human being with normal chemistry, watching explicit sex sticks. It is poison to the spirit just as narcotic drugs are poison to the body and mind. It taints, corrupts, and demeans. Pornography is addictive, many times on first encounter, just as crystal methane is addictive to some who indulge only once. It invades the mind and captivates the body's chemistry. Here is what President Hinckley says:

"Pornography is the tool of the devil to twist those [God given] instincts to forbidden ends . . . Many a man who has partaken of forbidden fruit and then discovered that he has destroyed his marriage, lost his self respect, broken his companion's heart, has come to realize that the booby-trapped jungle that he has followed began with the reading and viewing of pornographic material" [3].

If an escape from the grasp of pornography is the miracle you need, Moroni's formula will work for you. There is a way and it begins with "believing in Christ, doubting nothing." We may need help from bishops and counselors, but Christ can heal. He can cleanse. If we come unto Him with all our heart, He will say to us, as He said to the woman taken in adultery, "Go thy way and sin no more."

Now let's further examine Moroni's formula regarding prayer as it relates to miracles. He says:

"Doubting nothing, whatsoever [ye] shall ask the Father in the name of Christ, shall be granted (21) . . . [but] ask not that ye may consume it on your lusts. But ask . . . that ye will yield to no temptation, but that ye will serve the true and living God" (28).

"Ask not that ye may consume it on your own lusts." This is to alert us that right motives and righteous desires humbly expressed are the key to the kind of prayers we should offer. Moroni's teaching is against selfish, self-centered prayer in which we focus mainly on us, our own problems, our own comfort, our own glory, such as, "Help us to have a good time,"or "Bless Gretchen to love me, only me and accept my ring," or "Help me to achieve my goal to be a millionaire by 30 years old"; "Heavenly Father, if only I'm elected president, I would be so happy." or "Please let me make the team." What about, "Heavenly Father if only I can get this job as a model in Waikiki, I would be so grateful."

As someone pointed out to me, it would be a major tragedy if God answered every prayer exactly the way we wanted it answered. If we were protected from every pain, problem, or persecution, how would we grow and mature? If we received every comfort or honor we desired we would damn ourselves very soon. Beware of offering "vanity" prayers, says Moroni, asking for things for ego reasons or our own vain desires.

Let me tell you about the special prayer experiences of two of our students to illustrate Moroni's point that we pray for strength to resist temptation and to serve the true and living God in the way we love and serve each other. Meilani Smith Kongaika told this experience recently.

She went on the choir tour to the South Pacific a few years ago and was very concerned about the fact that she hated fish but knew that fish was the main diet in the islands of the Pacific. Fish was repulsive to her. Staying with members meant that she would probably have to refuse the fish and run the likelihood of offending her hosts. So she prayed earnestly about it and asked Heavenly Father to somehow rescue her somehow from this inevitable situation in which she might bring harm and insult to someone. In one island, she was assigned to stay with a very humble family. When Meilani entered the house the hostess asked if she would like to accompany her to the market to get some food. Meilani was glad to go. When they got to the market the hostess asked "What kind of food would you like to eat?" Thinking that this was the Lord's answer to her prayers, to give her a chance to tell the hostess what she could or couldn't eat without bringing it up in the first place, Meilani said, "Chicken, I love chicken."

The sweet islander hostess, looking crestfallen and very embarrassed, said to her, "Oh I humbly apologize, chicken is too expensive for us. How about some nice fish?" Meilani could only say, "Great." And all she could do was to pray to make the best out of the meal of fish the lady bought. She determined to do her best. Meilani even helped cook the fish. When she sat down with the family to eat, she very tentatively took a tiny bit of fish. To her amazement it tasted delicious. She felt nothing of her former revulsion. She finished her portion and asked for some more. Of course the family was delighted that she loved the food. Then came Meilani's profound observation. "In our prayers we get so used to telling the Lord how we want Him to bless us that we don't allow Him to work the miracle that He wants to give us for our own good, not just because it's comfortable."

Moroni would nod his head at this fundamental truth about prayer.

Jackie Harrison Skaff just graduated last June and got her first job to teach this summer in a local high school, famous for its tough, rowdy students. A haole from Alaska, in her first teaching job after college, in a classroom full of local kids, Jackie was filled with anxiety. Would they accept her? Could she love them, help them? When the class roll was sent to her, she pored over the different multi-ethnic names and then humbly knelt and prayed over each name, pronouncing it the best she could before the Lord and asking Him to help her love that child and to know what he or she needed. The result was marvelous miracles. When she walked into the class, there was instant rapport. And love has prevailed ever since.

Brothers and sisters, whatever your burdens, fears, or worries, I promise that your teachers, your counselors, the entire staff and administration of this campus will help you. It's not only our job. It's our privilege. It's our greatest desire. But it is Christ who will perform the miracle. I testify that this is His restored Church on the earth. This is His University. Moroni was also His prophet just as Gordon B. Hinckley is His prophet today. Let us put Moroni's formulas to the test and allow Christ to work miracles in our lives.

In the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.