M. McClain Bybee
Brigham Young University–Idaho Devotional
February 19, 2002
President and Sister Bednar, members of the administration and faculty/staff, and you wonderful students of this great university, Brigham Young University-Idaho, I am humbled to be here today.
I received the invitation to speak at this devotional from Brother Garth Hall. Brother Hall served on the High Council in the Orem Utah Canyon View Stake when I was stake president. I often gave him challenging High Council assignments. Now, he is getting even!
In the course of my career, I am often in a position of asking people for money. I am not here today to ask you for money. So you can relax. I might ask Brother Hall before I leave, but not you. Seriously though, my mission today is not to ask anyone for money. I'm here to invite you to embark on a great adventure, a journey that could last an entire lifetime.
As was mentioned, I work for LDS Foundation a department of the Presiding Bishopric. It was created by the First Presidency in 1973 with a mission to "correlate, encourage, facilitate, and acknowledge voluntary philanthropic donations to the Church and its charitable institutions . . ." such as BYU-Idaho, for example. Specifically, these are donations beyond tithes and fast offerings. We tend to work quietly in the background. However, as the mission of the Church expands throughout the world, you will probably hear more of us as we strive to accelerate the work of the kingdom by assisting members and friends of the Church provide additional financial resources. In any case, if you have ever received a scholarship, accessed library materials on campus, or attended an activity at Badger Creek, you have probably been blessed by the generous gifts of donors assisted by the LDS Foundation.
In 1974, President N. Eldon Tanner spoke to those of us who were the first employees of this new Church department. He quoted two scriptures which he said articulated our purpose:
For it shall come to pass, that which I spake by the mouths of my prophets shall be fulfilled; for I will consecrate of the riches of those who embrace my gospel among the Gentiles unto the poor of my people who are of the house of Israel. (Doctrine and Covenants 42:39)
President Tanner said the Lord would bless the Saints and they would use their wealth to bless the house of Israel. His statement is so true. Think of it. Which nations of the earth, except for the United States and Canada, have the ability to fund a world-wide missionary operation, the construction of temples, and hundreds of chapels each year? None. The Lord's storehouse or financial base has historically been North America.
President Tanner went on to quote from the Doctrine and Covenants:And remember in all things the poor and the needy, the sick and the afflicted, for he that doeth not these things, the same is not my disciple. (Doctrine and Covenants 52:40)
President Tanner further noted that the Lord always seems to couple the words "poor and needy" as well as "sick and afflicted." He reminded us that "poor" does not always mean someone without material wealth. That "needy" could also include a person who needs the blessings of an education or skill. That "afflicted" could be someone who cannot read. Our eyes were opened that night to the many definitions and applications of these phrases in this scripture. In all cases, the Lord invites us to ease the burdens of His children. This was the charge President Tanner gave us that night so long ago. It has not changed.
Three months ago, President Bednar spoke at a BYU-Provo devotional. The subject of his talk was an often undiscussed aspect of the atonement. Most of us hear speakers talk about the redemptive power of the atonement. President Bednar focused on the enabling power of the atonement. This is the supportive power of the atonement granted to us by the grace of Jesus Christ. It assists each of us in coping with the challenges and experiences of mortality--challenges and experiences that are the direct result of the Fall.
The Fall introduced into our lives such things as sickness and affliction, poverty and need, suffering, pain, disappointment, discouragement, aging and death, as well as many other mortal burdens.
As I have passed through a half century or more of mortal existence, I have become more and more conscious of the effects of the Fall. Some I have experienced personally. Some I have observed in the lives of others.
When we pray and seek for the enabling power of the atonement in our own lives, and then assist and bless the lives of others, we truly begin to understand the meaning of the atonement in our own lives. We are blessed to be a blessing to others.
When we labor to bring God's sons and daughters to Christ through preaching the gospel, perfecting the Saints, and redeeming the dead, we find that the very act of service blesses our own lives with the very same redemption.
The Savior's invitation to each of us to join Him in His mission to rescue and bring to pass the saving and sustaining effects of His atonement in the lives of His and our brothers and sisters is a sobering, yet exciting opportunity.
The scriptures are full of references to the purpose of His mission and His invitation to all of us to join Him. "Come follow me!" he said. "Come follow me!" The invitation stands today. It's a personal invitation to you . . . and to me.
As Jesus gave His first recorded sermon in the synagogue at Nazareth, he outlined His mortal mission in a few words:
And he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up: and, as his custom was, he went into the synagogue on the sabbath day, and stood up for to read.
And there was delivered unto him the book of the prophet Esaias. And when he had opened the book, he found the place where it was written,
The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he hath anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor; he hath sent me to heal the brokenhearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised,
To preach the acceptable year of the Lord.And he closed the book, and he gave it again to the minister, and sat down. And the eyes of all them that were in the synagogue were fastened on him.
And he began to say unto them, This day is this scripture fulfilled in your ears. (Luke 4:16-21, emphasis added).
Now listen for the same expressions describing the Savior's mortal mission, spoken by a servant of the Lord in the Old Testament who by his actions showed himself to be a true disciple and laborer in the Lord's mission. His name was Job.
When I went out to the gate through the city, when I prepared my seat in the street!
The young men saw me, and hid themselves: and the aged arose, and stood up.
The princes refrained talking, and laid their hand on their mouth.
The nobles held their peace, and their tongue cleaved to the roof of their mouth.
When the ear heard me, then it blessed me; and when the eye saw me, it gave witness to me (Job 29:7-11)
Why was Job so revered?
Because I delivered the poor that cried, and the fatherless, and him that had none to help him.
The blessing of him that was ready to perish came upon me: and I caused the widow's heart to sing for joy.
I was eyes to the blind, and feet was I to the lame.
I was a father to the poor: and the cause which I knew not I searched out." (Job 29:12-13, 15-16, Emphasis added).
I like the phrase "and the cause which I knew not I searched out." Job must have been a great priesthood leader. One actively interested in his fellow men.
Let me tell you of some others who, like Job, searched out "the cause which I knew not" and have been involved with the changing and saving of lives in the spirit of philanthropy.
"Wait a minute," you say to yourself. "I haven't even graduated, and he is talking to me about philanthropy?" "Isn't philanthropy something done by rich people?" In the Greek language philanthropy means the "love of mankind." I would propose that philanthropy is an activity for all true followers of Christ. King Benjamin's discourse in the third and fourth chapters of the Book of Mosiah are instructive here.
The ancient and modern Jews have a concept of philanthropy that is best expressed by the Hebrew word: Tzedakah.
The word has an astonishing range of definitions. In Hebrew it means, Righteousness, Justice, Charity, Alms, or Philanthropy.
To some Latter-day Saints this word has a familiar sound. Tzedakah. Tzedek. Where have we heard this before? Melchizedek
An analysis of the word Melchizedek will help us to better see the similarity. The word Melech means "King."
Melech = King
Tzedakah = Righteousness, Justice, Charity, Alms, and Philanthropy
And the word Tzedakah means Righteousness, Justice, Charity, Alms, or Philanthropy.
And so we have the meaning of Melchizedek which means King of Righteousness, Justice, Charity, Alms, or Philanthropy.
Melech - Tzedakah
Do you remember the story of Abraham going all the way to the ancient City of Salem (now known as Jerusalem)? The scriptures indicate that the King of Salem was the great high priest Melchizedek.
So exalted and high was the position of Melchizedek in the eyes of the Lord and his people that he stood as a prototype of the Son of God himself, the Son who was to arise after the similitude of Melchizedek (Hebrews 7:15).
Here is the man who was so filled with righteousness, justice, and charity that our Father in Heaven named the "Holy Priesthood after the Order of the Son of God" the Melchizedek Priesthood, after this great man. How fitting that Abraham paid both tithes and offerings to this righteous king and high priest, after whom the Melchizedek Priesthood was named. (Hebrews 7:1-2; Alma 13:18).
Many years ago while serving as a counselor in a full-time mission presidency, I was assigned to be the traveling companion to the visiting general authority at a stake conference. As he and I talked about my work of assisting members of the Church make philanthropic donations, the general authority reminded me of the words of the Lord regarding tithes and offerings recorded by the prophet Malachi.
Will a man rob God? Yet ye have robbed me. But ye say, Wherein have we robbed thee? In tithes and offerings.
Ye are cursed with a curse: for ye have robbed me, even this whole nation.
Bring ye all the tithes into the storehouse, that there may be meat in mine house, and prove me now herewith, saith the LORD of hosts, if I will not open you the windows of heaven, and pour you out a blessing, that there shall not be room enough to receive it. (Malachi 3:8-12)
The general authority then taught me an interesting principle; tithing is the "law," and offerings are the "gospel." Both are found in our covenants. We return to the Lord a minimum of a tithe or tenth of our annual increase as a fulfillment of the law. However, our offerings are left to our choosing. It is as though the Lord is asking us what we will do, on our own with the material blessings He has blessed us with?
In what ways has the Lord blessed us materially? Our lives, our health, our family relationships, the air we breath, our food and water, our clothes, cars, homes, employment--our all. And remember, we cannot claim to own any of these things ourselves. The Lord has said:
I, the Lord, stretched out the heavens, and built the earth, my very handiwork; and all things therein are mine.
And it is my purpose to provide for my saints, for all things are mine.
But it must needs be done in mine own way; and behold this is the way that I, the Lord, have decreed to provide for my saints, that the poor shall be exalted, in that the rich are made low.
For the earth is full, and there is enough and to spare; yea, I prepared all things, and have given unto the children of men to be agents unto themselves. (D&C 104:14-17)
In these verses, the Lord reminds us that "all things" are his. He will provide for His children in His "own way." Are we willing to help Him? Are we willing to submit our desires to do it "His way?"
God is watching to see if we will have the spirit of Tzedakah in our lives. Tzedakah was the underlying, foundation concept for the establishment of a society that we call ZION.
What is our responsibility as stewards of these blessings? How can we know what to do with these blessings?
We can listen to the gentle counsel and invitations from our priesthood leaders to assist in blessings others. We can pray to be blessed so that we might become a blessing to others. We can pray for health, education and employment that we might bless our companions, children, extended family, the family of Christ (who are members of the Church), and the family of God (those of Father's children who live in the world, but have not become members of the Church). President Kimball spoke of this process in the Welfare Session of the April 1978 General Conference.
"Finally we consecrate our time, talents and means as called upon by our file leaders and as prompted by the whisperings of the Spirit." (President Spencer W. Kimball, Welfare Session, April 1978 General Conference)
Time, talent, and means or treasure are three words which find their meaning in the admonition to all of us from Jacob, in the Book of Mormon:
Think of your brethren like unto yourselves, and be familiar with all and free with your substance, that they may be rich like unto you.
But before ye seek for riches, seek ye for the kingdom of God.
And after ye have obtained a hope in Christ ye shall obtain riches, if ye seek them; and ye will seek them for the intent to do good--to clothe the naked, and to feed the hungry, and to liberate the captive, and administer relief to the sick and the afflicted. (Jacob 2:17-19)
I have been privileged to come to know many true "philanthropists" both within and without the Church who have used whatever the Lord has blessed them with to bless the lives of others.
"Think of your brethren like unto yourselves, and be familiar with all and free with your substance, that they may be rich like unto you." (Jacob 2:17)
How does one learn to be a philanthropist, one who loves mankind?
I remember coming to know Mr. Herb Cummings, of Phoenix, Arizona, and former owner and CEO of Sara Lee foods. Mr. Cummings was born in Canada to a Russian immigrant Jewish family.
When asked how he learned to become a great philanthropist, he told us that he first learned and practiced the principle of philanthropy in the home of his grandmother.
Every Thursday, his grandmother would contact all of the married children in their family and invite them to prepare for the Sabbath, by coming to her home on Friday night for Sabbath dinner. Herb said that he never remembered a Friday night, as they began their Sabbath, that his grandmother had not found a homeless immigrant Jewish man or woman on the streets of Saint John, New Brunswick, Canada and brought them home with her.
As she would contact her family for the Sabbath meal, she would ask one family for an extra pair of shoes, a shirt, pants, money, or for knowledge of where there might be a job.
She would feed, clothe, house and then find gainful employment for these immigrants. She sometimes cared for them up to eight weeks, as their self-esteem was built and made strong. Mr. Cummings saw hundreds of these people helped by his grandmother. "I just grew up understanding that I had a responsibility to take of my surplus and help someone else less fortunate." "I have just always practiced philanthropy."
Now Herb Cummings was very wealthy. He did wonderful things with his material wealth in the true spirit of philanthropy. What about the rest of us? Can we be philanthropists? What about his sweet grandmother? Was she a philanthropist - a lover of mankind?
Recorded in Church History is the story of the Prophet Joseph Smith's reaction to the need of a Church member.
Evidently, Joseph was working in his garden in Nauvoo, and several of the brethren were sitting on the rail fence surrounding the garden asking questions and listening to the Prophet teach them. Another person approached them and commented to Joseph that a certain member who lived some distance from Nauvoo had his house burn down the night before. Nearly all of the men expressed their sympathy for the man's loss. Joseph put his hand in his pocket, took out five dollars and exclaimed, "I feel sorry for this brother to the amount of five dollars: how much do you feel sorry?" (Journal of Andrew Workman, Virgin City, Washington County, Utah)
The other brethren present immediately began to search their own pockets for spare money, as the Prophet had shown them by example that "action speaks louder than words."
That story reminds me of similar story of philanthropy that did not involve a wealthy person.
I recently heard President Eric Shumway, president of BYU-Hawaii, relate this story. Last summer President Shumway's mother died in Utah. He traveled to Utah and then Arizona for her funeral. After returning to his home in Laie, Hawaii, he heard a knock at his door early one morning. Upon opening the door, he saw three humble Tongan brethren whom he had known for years. After inviting them into his home, one of the brethren spoke for the group: "President Shumway, we heard of the death of your dear mother and felt our need to mourn with you and your family. Please accept this gift as a token of our sorrow." They handed President Shumway an envelope. After they left his home, he opened the envelope to find a nice condolence card, and inside the card was $100. Now, President Shumway did not need $100; but he knew from living and associating with the Tongan people for years, that this $100 represented a great monetary sacrifice and a "heartfelt token" of their grief.
President Shumway's story reminds me of Alma's instruction to those who desired to become members of the Church, before their baptism at the Waters of Mormon:
And it came to pass that he said unto them: Behold, here are the waters of Mormon (for thus were they called) and now, as ye are desirous to come into the fold of God, and to be called his people, and are willing to bear one another's burdens, that they may be light;
Yea, and are willing to mourn with those that mourn; yea, and comfort those that stand in need of comfort, and to stand as witnesses of God at all times and in all things, and in all places that ye may be in, even until death, that ye may be redeemed of God, and be numbered with those of the first resurrection, that ye may have eternal life-- (Mosiah 18:8-9)
How should we determine how much to give? A speaker once said about Mormons, "They give until it hurts, then they continue to give until it feels good!"
I remember reading about a young Heber J. Grant being asked by the First Presidency to go down to Provo, Utah, and ask Brother Jesse Knight to give the Church $5,000. The Church was in very serious financial trouble, and $5,000, along with some money being given by some other brethren of means in the Church, would keep the Church financially solvent for a period of time.
Elder Grant made an appointment and visited with Brother Jesse Knight who was one of the richest men in Utah and in the Church at the time. Brother Knight had found a very rich silver mine and had stated that the Lord had led him to it in order to bless the Church.
Elder Grant told "Uncle" Jesse, as he was called, that the First Presidency needed $5,000. Uncle Jesse was not happy with the request, as the First Presidency was coming to him again and again with such requests. "Look, Heber" he said, "I've done about all I can do. Now you had better take your request elsewhere." To which Elder Grant replied, "I only ask one promise: go home and pray about it tonight. In the morning, I'll be back and you can answer no or yes; but all I ask is that you tell me what you really feel after you have prayed." Brother Knight agreed to that.
That night when he prayed, he heard a voice say, "Give my servant Heber $10,000." "But Lord," he exploded, "Heber only asked for $5,000!" "Give Heber $10,000."
Well, when Elder Grant showed up the next morning, there was a $10,000 check waiting for him. Brother Knight said, "Take it and go and don't ever ask me again to pray about a donation."
As some of you might know, Brother Knight literally gave his entire fortune away before he died to support the Church and BYU. Without him, BYU would have closed its doors.
Brother Knight was very generous in all of his gifts. He made certain that whatever he gave to others had quality. We are asked to give of our "surplus" by the Lord. Should the gift of our "surplus" be the best we have to offer or something less?
A story which gives us a standard to follow is one told about President Heber J. Grant during the great national depression. The Church Relief Society was asking members of the Church to donate clothes for those who were out of work and less fortunate. President Grant asked the Relief Society Presidency to come to his home as he had some shirts to donate. At the appointed time, President Grant met the Relief Society Presidency at his home and gave them brand new white shirts, still in their original wrappers. The sisters quickly explained that they were not looking for new shirts, just good shirts. "Well," President Grant said, "I always enjoy the look and feel of a new shirt. Don't you think that someone less fortunate would enjoy the same look and feel?" What a teaching moment for all of us.
Some people feel that they cannot make a donation now, in their present financial circumstance, but when they have more money they will make a gift then.
President Heber J. Grant reported that during his service as President of the Church he was constantly reminded by a regular elderly patron of the Salt Lake Temple that he had dedicated his all to the Lord. This good brother always made it a matter to seek out President Grant in the Temple and make his vocal commitment. Because of this, President Grant decided to watch and see if this member kept his commitment when he died. Eventually the day arrived when this elderly brother died. Sadly, he had not properly planned his estate, and not one dollar came to the Church. When the report was given to President Grant he is alleged to have commented, "This brother had so planned his estate that he couldn't take it with him into the Spirit World, and neither could the Lord."
One of the wealthiest men in the Church today is Jon Huntsman. Many years ago, just after Jon and Karen were married and living in a small apartment in Los Angeles, they decided to donate to charity a certain amount of money every month. That amount of money represented a sizeable percentage of their meager monthly income. Brother Huntsman indicated in an interview that it was this decision, early in their marriage, that prepared them to be able to give when they had great wealth. They continue today to be major philanthropists, often in quiet and confidential ways.
Finally, the Tongans have another wonderful cultural philanthropic tradition which illustrates that our gifts can take many forms and have many purposes.
President Eric Shumway told me last week that when he was inaugurated as President of BYU-Hawaii Campus, the Tongans brought twenty-seven (27) hand-made quilts and laid them on the Cannon Center floor in front of the stands. The audience was in awe as they watched this ceremony.
One of the dignitaries sitting on the stand leaned over to President Shumway and asked him how he and Carolyn would ever fit all of those quilts into their home?
President Shumway then explained to this good brother that the quilts were not given to him for his personal use. The Tongans were honoring him, one of their own (President Shumway is a Talking Chief to the King of Tonga). They wanted President Shumway to be a great university president, and be able to give great presidential gifts when acting in his office. They gave him the quilts to make him a great president.
President Shumway told me that he and his wife had a wonderful experience giving the quilts away to people who were less fortunate. Their act of giving, honored the Tongan Nation and people who made the quilts for the Shumways.
Each of the stories that I have related today relate to the Savior's teachings about caring for our brothers and sisters who are in trying circumstances as a result of the Fall.
Near the conclusion of the Savior's mortal ministry and just days prior to His final Passover celebration, Jesus related to his disciples several parables about the kingdom of heaven. In His final parable, He defines who will be His true disciple at the time of His Second Coming. The parable is an invitation to participate in relieving the suffering and affliction of our brothers and sisters.
When the Son of man shall come in his glory, and all the holy angels with him, then shall he sit upon the throne of his glory:
And before him shall be gathered all nations: and he shall separate them one from another, as a shepherd divideth his sheep from the goats:
And he shall set the sheep on his right hand, but the goats on the left.
Then shall the King say unto them on his right hand, Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world:
For I was an hungred, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in:
Naked, and ye clothed me: I was sick, and ye visited me: I was in prison, and ye came unto me.
Then shall the righteous answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, and fed thee? or thirsty, and gave thee drink?
When saw we thee a stranger, and took thee in? or naked, and clothed thee?
Or when saw we thee sick, or in prison, and came unto thee?
And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me. (Matthew 25:31-40)
My young brothers and sisters, begin now to give! Make this a characteristic of your life. Give of your time, talent, and treasure. Look for opportunities to give a generous fast offering; participate in service as a student, as well as financially support causes which change or save another's life.
Many of us speak of the Law of Consecration and say that when it is restored, we will live it. In his conference address to the Welfare Session of General Conference in April 1978, entitled "Becoming the Pure in Heart," President Kimball taught us that the Law of Consecration can be lived now and that the Law of Consecration begins in our hearts.
Joseph Smith defined the gospel principle of consecration:
"Now for a man to consecrate his property, his wife and children, to the Lord, is nothing more nor less than to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, visit the widow and the fatherless, the sick and the afflicted, and do all he can to administer in their afflictions, and for him and his house to serve the Lord." (Joseph Smith Jr., HC 3:230-231)
Come and join the Savior in His great work.
May the spirit of "Tzedakah" fill your hearts and your lives. It was in that spirit that the Lord gave His disciples a new commandment during His last night in mortality:
"A new commandment I give unto you, that you love one another as I loved you. By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another." (John 13:34-35)
"That they may be rich like unto you!" (Jacob 2:17)
I leave you with my witness that this work is the work of the Lord. Your life will find real meaning as you help others find meaning in their lives. And I leave this witness in the sacred name of the poorest of all men; the greatest philanthropist who ever lived, our beloved redeemer, Jesus Christ, amen.