I am humbled by the responsibility to address you, and whole heartedly pray for the Holy Spirit to be with you and me, that we may all leave edified.
All of you are in the right place and at the right time. But, why are you here right now? The reasons will vary, for some it is a duty, for others it is social, but how many are here as an expression of love?
Consider for a moment the scene when the Savior posed three times the same question to his beloved apostle, Peter. The question, “Simon, Son of Jonas, Lovest thou me?” (John 21:-15-17)
Now, liken this scripture unto us, and listen to the Savior, calling you by your name, and even stating your father’s name in assuring his personal acquaintance with you. Hear that same question in your mind, “Lovest thou me?” not just once, not just random, but specifically, and lovingly to you, from one who loves you.
I would imagine that like Peter, three times we would respond, “yes”, and like Peter we would discover that a verbal response is not a full indicator of love.
We love God First and Foremost
I remember well when in the stage of falling in love with my wife, and knowing we wanted to share an eternity together, she informed me that before any engagement it was a requirement to first ask for permission from her father.
So we left Provo to take a trip to Mesa, Arizona. I recall during those hours of traveling, rehearsing in my mind what I might say. However, a greater fear of the unknown response of her father raced in my heart. What if he said no?
I waited until the very last moment on the last evening. After supper and finishing washing dishes, we were all in the living room. The television was off, we were just sitting there, her parents, Darla and I. Whenever the conversation grew quiet, Darla would nudge me, and finally she prompted me by saying “Kevin has something to say”. I blurted, “Darla has told me I need to ask you for her hand”. And in trying to lighten the tension, I said, “but, I don’t just want her hand I want all of her.” Her dad didn’t crack a smile, and her mother started to cry. I sat there knowing this didn’t work well, but fortunately, when he finally responded it was a “yes”, but with some stern instruction about what he expected from his future-son-in-law.
As I became a father, I determined as my daughters become of age and they had young men who wanted to marry them, I wanted a similar fearful experience for them. A sort of craving for justice I suppose. And so I required each prospective son-in-law to set up an interview with me prior to any engagement. I’ve enjoyed this. As they sat down, I told them, I have two questions for you. The first is, who do you love and will you love the most, the Lord or my daughter?
Their answer to this question was crucial to me as I knew it would set the tone for their marriage and eternal journey. It would tell me where their heart really was, and what treasure they would pursue. How would you answer this question?
The answer is quite simple, and was given by the Savior when questioned, “What is the greatest commandment?” He responded, “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” (Matthew 22: 37-38).
I knew that if both future son-in-laws had as their foundation loving God first and foremost, they would truly love my daughters best. By the way, they did answer the question correctly.
Loving God first is not only the foundation for romantic love, but for everything we do. For as the Savior stated, “On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets” (Matthew 22:40).
President Ezra Taft Benson taught, “When we put God first, all other things fall into their proper place or drop out of our lives. Our love of the Lord will govern the claims for our affection, the demands on our time, the interests we pursue, and the order of our priorities.” (President Ezra Taft Benson, “The Great Commandment – Love the Lord” Ensign, May, 1988)
However, something we need to remember as we strive to keep this commandment, is that before we loved God, He loved us first. We discover the genealogy of love by pondering scriptures from the book of John. First, the Savior pronounced, “A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you” (John 13:34). This standard of love for us did not come without the Savior understanding of the first love. In the great intercessory prayer offered by Lord recorded in John 17, Jesus prayed, “for thou hast lovest me before the foundation of the world” (John 17:24).
The commandment to love our Heavenly Father first and foremost is not given as an egotistical need for reciprocation, but rather an instructive course for life direction. President Dieter F. Uchtdorf taught, “God the Eternal Father did not give that first great commandment because He needs us to love Him. His power and glory are not diminished should we disregard, deny, or even defile His name. His influence and dominion extend through time and space independent of our acceptance, approval, or admiration. No, God does not need us to love Him. But oh, how we need to love God!” (President Dieter F. Uchtdorf, “The Love of God”, Ensign, November, 2009)
Love is the source of everything God does for us. It is by love we were created, as well as everything that is about us, whether it is below the earth, on the earth, or above it. It is by love we are given commandments. It is by love the great plan of redemption was set. And it will be by love that we will be able to return to His presence.
And so as our Heavenly Father has set the pattern of love, so we must learn to love as He does to become as He is.
Your membership in the kingdom, and your presence here at BYU-Idaho is testimony of God’s love for you. Lehi prophesied, “that there shall none come into this land save they shall be brought by the hand of the Lord” (2 Nephi 1:7). Not only can you witness how the “hand of the Lord” led you or your progenitors to this land, but more specifically, I hope you all recognize the personal hand-led guidance you have received to be here in Rexburg, Idaho.
Your presence here is a testimony of God’s love and recognition of you. The question is how will you reciprocate this love? What fruit you produce while at BYU-Idaho and in the future will all answer the question, “Lovest thou me?”
By your fruit you show who you love the most
Consider for a moment, the Prophet Zenos teaching of the allegory of the olive tree found in Jacob 5. As Nephi instructed, let us “liken” this particular passage of scripture “unto us”, for our “profit and learning” (1 Nephi 19:23). Consider this great University as a good olive tree, for some of you, the Lord’s choice of Rexburg may seem to be planted in the “nethermost part of the vineyard”, but nonetheless, it is a good tree. It is a tree that has been personally planted by the Lord. Its roots are good, they have been nourished a long time for the purpose that the Lord may “lay up unto himself against the season much fruit”. Consider yourselves as branches brought from all around this world and are grafted to this great tree of BYU-Idaho. The process of grafting occurred when you made a covenant to abide by the honor code according to the Law of Witnesses, with your signature and those of the Lord’s servants, your Bishop, and a member of the Stake Presidency. Like in the allegory, the Lord has prepared this tree. He and his servants have and continue to nourish this great tree by diligent loving labors of digging, pruning, and dunging. Look about you, and you can literally witness this, as construction of new buildings, remodeling and tearing down of old, and the constant creation of new technologies, methodologies, and modalities are a testimony of the Lord’s hand in providing the best tree possible to lay up good fruit. It has grown and developed in a very methodical manner from its meager beginning in 1888 as Bannock Stake Academy to present day BYU-Idaho. It certainly is a tree with good and strong roots, ready to give nourishment to the young and tender branches that are grafted to it.
However, as we study Zenos’ teaching a good tree does not always promise the result of good fruit. We learn that the Lord has no control of the type of fruit the branches will bring forth. He patiently awaits, and allows our agency to determine the fruit we produce. But, what determines the type of fruit we as branches will produce?
In verse 18, we learn that those branches who produced good fruit like unto the natural fruit, had “taken hold of the moisture of the root thereof, that the root thereof hath brought forth much strength; and because of the much strength of the root thereof, even the wild branches were able to bring forth good fruit.”
The key is to take hold of the moisture and strength that the root offers. Consider all that BYU-Idaho has to offer. I bear my witness unto you that the offerings of BYU-Idaho are in the pattern of vineyard, they have been produced in a labor of love. I witness each day this love. The strength of the root of BYU-Idaho is the solid foundation of enduring standards and principles. All here could not have been admitted or employed without utilizing your agency to commit to live by a life of honor. Yet not all take hold of it. We vary in obedience and personal integrity. So how does one take hold? It is by love. Just being here and being compliant is not enough, when one gains a love and gratitude for the standards they will take hold of the moisture and will begin to flourish. The true beauty of this olive tree and bounties of its harvest are dependent upon unified individual love based obedience, sacrifice, and service.
I invite you to read and ponder this great teaching with new eyes and a new heart by likening it unto yourself. Discover the Lord’s personal love in grafting you to this tree. Determine the type of fruit you desire to produce. Assess whether you have taken hold of the moisture of the root by evaluating your love and gratitude for the standards and your personal integrity in being “true at all time”. We employees should search our role as servants, in nurturing, pruning, digging, dunging, keeping balance in growth, and other labors of love described in this teaching.
Recall again the question asked by the Savior to Peter, “Lovest thou me?”
Peter learned the painful reality that his love was not yet as deep and determined as he supposed, as the cock’s crow testified of his fear of man, and sent him off weeping, but most importantly initiated a conviction to love the Lord by feeding his sheep.
We like Peter, should feel that piercing question of the Lord in all of our actions, “Lovest thou me? Our baptismal covenant to “remember him always” will assist us in keeping this self-evaluating and guiding question constantly in our hearts.
Everything we do demonstrates measurable Godly love, Godly submission, and Godly sacrifice. Throughout my years at BYU-Idaho, and now as your Dean of Students, there is not a semester gone by that I don’t hear comments like, “Why do we have curfew? What’s wrong with wearing shorts? Why are flip flops evil? We can have a temple recommend, yet we can’t have an endorsement. Why don’t let us be free and act for ourselves?”
Now, please understand, I know there are for every one of these comments there are three others who understand and really get it. However, for those who linger in the “zones of ignorance, hypocrisy, or rebellion”, or for those who comply for duty’s sake, I hope you will consider this.
It is true that such things as staying out until 12:30 a.m., sporting a beard while off-track, and or wearing shorts while crossing campus are not inherently wrong. However, not being honest with our commitments, breaking covenants, and lacking a “broken heart and contrite spirit”, will narrow heaven’s gate.
These seemingly small standards become an essential training ground for the development of a salvation required character.
Let’s return to the olive tree allegory one more time. The Lord whenever he speaks of the purpose of His vineyard, we read the phrase “lay up fruit against the season, unto my own self.”
Consider for a moment, your fruit of obedience, sacrifice, and service here at BYU-Idaho is not so much about the here and now, but to “lay up fruit against the season”. In other words, learning to obey and sacrifice upon a foundation of love and willful submission is stored fruit for a future season. When we figure this out and really get it, we discover to truly love God means we seek His will and then do whatever we can to do His will. We then prepare ourselves for a much needed automated response when we face adversity, trials, and required tests of this mortality.
Whether an affliction is consecrated or contaminated is dependent on our heart.
Elder Joseph B. Wirthlin taught, “Seek to understand and obey, because “this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments. When we love the Lord, obedience ceases to be a burden. Obedience becomes a delight. When we love the Lord, we seek less for things that benefit us and turn our hearts toward things that will bless and uplift others.” (Elder Joseph B. Wirthlin, “The Great Commandment”, Ensign, November 2007
Today’s planted seeds of love based obedience and sacrifice will be fruits of life and light in the future
President Ezra Taft Benson said, “The great test of life is obedience to God. The great task of life is to learn the will of the Lord and then do it. The great commandment of life is to love the Lord.” (President Ezra Taft Benson, “The Great Commandment – Love the Lord” Ensign, May, 1988)
I have felt impressed to share a personal witness of how life’s greatest test, task and commandment blend together to bless and develop us.
On Saturday, December 20, 2008, it was a busy day in the Miyasaki home. My wife helped with the finishing touches of our local High School’s Operation Merry Christmas. We then cooked breakfast for the basketball team, and after running several more errands, she was getting ready to go score keep at the upcoming basketball games when she complained of chest pains. I deducted it was probably just her fast paced morning, and instructed her to just lie down and rest for a bit. My daughter came and told me that the pain still persisted and I called my sister, a nurse for counsel. She suggested I take her to the Community Care Center for examination. On the way to Rexburg from our home in Sugar City, my wife said in a tearful voice, “I’m too young to die”. I scolded her for even thinking that she would die, but little did I know, that in less than one minute, she would state, “I feel like I’m going to faint”, and then she went into cardiac arrest. As she went limp, I reached over and placed one hand on her head, offering a short priesthood blessing. I maneuvered my way to the hospital, steering with one arm down the center of the road, and with my other arm headlocking my sweetheart’s limp body to keep her upright, until we arrived at the Emergency Room. I ran in and shouted, my wife is not breathing, and quickly the medical personnel rushed her to the emergency room.
I heard the overhead address system call out repeatedly, “Code Blue, Emergency Room”. I watched the flat line on the heart monitor, fear overcame me and I called my daughter to tell the family their mother was not breathing nor had a heartbeat. Just as I hung up the phone, in the next miraculous moment, they revived her life.
She was transferred to the hospital in Idaho Falls underwent successful surgery, but still unconscious, the physicians warned me that they did not know how much damage was left by the minutes she was without oxygen before she was brought back to life. For 24 hours they reduced her body temperature to the high 80’s to keep the swelling in her brain to a minimum.
I recall sitting by her side during that time, holding her cold hand, wondering what might our future be. Would she be less than what she had been? Would she be able to walk, talk, and think? How would our life now be changed?
I remember wondering what I should pray for. A blessing was given, could I pray for more than what she was blessed? What was the will of the Father? Did He want her to be here or did He need her in the next life? Or if she were to survive and be less than normal, did God desire me to live a life of serving my sweetheart?
On Monday morning, some 40 hours since hearing those words, “I’m too young to die”, my Darla opened her eyes. During the next two days, she showed remarkable progress, and it looked as if all was well and normal. She was talking, walking, eating, making jokes, and began stating her worries. The doctors were enthused, and reported Darla would be moved to the rehab floor on Wednesday, which meant we were close to release, possibly on Christmas day. It was now Tuesday night, and after the visitors and family all left, Darla and I were alone in the room, holding hands, I offered a prayer of thanks.
After the prayer, Darla asked me, “Why did this happen to me?”
I responded, “Probably to learn some important lessons.”
After a moment, Darla said, “I don’t know of any lessons I have learned,” then she asked, “what have you learned?”
I then rehearsed to her many lessons that I had learned, but one of the great lessons I rehearsed was from the teachings of Paul found in Ephesians 5:25: “Husbands, love your wives even as Christ also loved the church.”
My discovery that night, was the answer to the question, “how do we take hold of the good root?”
We do it by following the example of our Savior. We taste of the sweetness of the blessings of the atonement when we abide by his invitation of “…that which ye have seen me do even that shall ye do” (3 Nephi 27:21)
President Uchtdorf taught, “When we truly understand what it means to love as Jesus Christ loves us, the confusion clears and our priorities align. Our walk as disciples of Christ becomes more joyful. Our lives take on new meaning. Our relationship with our Heavenly Father becomes more profound. Obedience becomes a joy rather than a burden.” (President Dieter F. Uchtdorf, “The Love of God”, Ensign, November, 2009)
During the night after that sacred conversation, my Sweetheart suffered a severe stroke. The doctors after examining the MRI results reported that the bleeding in her brain was so severe, that Darla had lost her ability to speak, think, and be mobile. They posed a possible surgical intervention that at best preserve a vegetative state, but even at that stated her chance to survive the surgery was 50/50. Without surgery, they speculated she would die within a few hours.
As patriarch, I gathered our family into a hospital room. There I announced to them the state of my wife, their mother, their sister, and grandmother. The scene was heart wrenching. We had to make a quick decision. Should it be surgery with the best possible results a vegetative state, or let fate take its course and have Darla with us only a few more hours. A beautiful, heart searching family prayer was offered by my son, Jared, and the will of the Lord was revealed. Darla’s mortal mission was complete, and we must submit to the will of the Father.
Brothers and Sisters, submission to the Father’s will in all things is a pattern of love. It is the essential characteristic of the atonement and receiving the blessings of the atonement. It shows we trust in Him, that we love Him most, and in turn we can love others best. He then can bless us in ways that we cannot see nor comprehend. We then can produce fruit that we and He can lay up against the season.
Six days had now passed since we made the decision, and Darla was in an unconscious state throughout this time, her body hanging on to mortality, but day by day growing closer to death. On this sixth night, we had a dinner of take out Chinese food, which of course included the fortune cookies. We joked about how lame the messages of fortune had become, my message echoed this as it read, “the evening promises romantic interests”. We all shared a laugh about my untimely message of fortune. For when one envisions romance, certain images appear of a night out, possibly going to a nice dinner, having wonderful caring conversations, and then cuddling and loving each other. That was certainly not in my cards that night.
I discovered that night what true romance really is. That last night of being together in this mortality was filled with pure love and romance. After my family had left, and it was just my sweetheart and I in the hospital room, I told my unconscious Darla that this would most likely be our last night together. I shared with her that I was ready to let her go and asked if she was ready. I noticed her eyes twitching, something that I had not seen for a week. I asked her if she could to respond by squinting her eyes once for yes and twice for no. She responded with a squint. It was evident her spirit was alive and was able to communicate with me. She responded that she was also ready to go on.
We then started the night with a prayer. I then read scriptures to her from sections 130, 132, and 138 from the Doctrine and Covenants, Alma 7, 42, and 43, and from the 5th book of Ephesians. I shared with her my testimony and lessons I had learned from each of those scriptures. We prayed again. During the time in the hospital, I tried very hard not to counsel the Lord, and not ask for things that were contrary to His will. I tried to really pray in the name of Christ, and to have the mind of Christ. That night as we prayed, I felt the feeling that anything I asked that night would be granted, and so I offered my sweetheart, pure, clean, and ready for service in the next life. I then laid my hands on my eternal companion’s head and gave her the last priesthood blessing in this mortality. Then, after this most beautiful night, positioning chairs so I could lay down next to Darla, we then held hands the remainder of the night, all night long.
That, my friends, was truly a night of romance and pure love. Not a penny was spent, there was no fancy dressing up, no expensive dinners, not one dependency on outside entertainment. Yet, our spirits were molded into one, our hearts were bound, we were one in purpose though soon our paths would be temporarily separated, never would our eternal destiny differ.
As I went through this ordeal, there was nothing more I desired than for my sweetheart to live. We had a future with plans of serving in the temple, going on missions, and enjoying our family. Because of loving God first, I was able to love my Sweetheart the best. Because of submitting our will to the will of the Lord, we were blessed with so many miracles and continue to be blessed.
The Savior showed the way of how to love the Father the best. He always knew the Father’s will and He always submitted to His will.
In understanding the “pure love of Christ” Moroni instructs us what we should do: “pray unto the Father with all the energy of heart, that ye may be filled with this love, which he hath bestowed upon all who are true followers of his Son Jesus Christ; that they may become sons of God; that when he shall appear we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is; that we may have this hope; that we may be purified even as he is pure…” (Moroni 7:48)
Each of our lives is a minute by minute opportunity to show our answer to the question, “Lovest thou me”. My testimony is that your experience here at BYU-Idaho is a training ground for learning to love the Lord first and foremost, and to learn to sacrifice your individual will to make way for the will of the Father. By learning this now, you will be armed with stored fruit of personal integrity that will be much needed in the storms ahead. God lives and loves you. Our Savior’s atonement is real and ready for us to take hold. This is my testimony in the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.