It’s a new year. I have a strong feeling that 2012 will be a great year for all of us. It could be one of the most exciting years for the Church in its 182 year history. It could also be a year of new challenges, as the Church will likely be subject to increased attention and public scrutiny. Are we prepared to take on the challenges the New Year will bring to each of us as members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints?
As we drove up to campus today, Barbara and I passed the beautiful Rexburg Temple. Perhaps, a few of you in this congregation were here when the temple was dedicated nearly four years ago. May I ask those of you who were here to recall the spirit you felt at the time of the temple open house. There is a unique spirit which we always feel as we enter the holy temple.
“There is sometimes a wide difference—a gulf of misunderstanding—between the ways we experience the Church from the inside and the ways others look at it from the outside. This is the principal reason we hold open houses for temple dedications. The member volunteers at the temple open houses are simply trying to help others see the Church as they see it from the inside. They recognize the Church is a marvelous work, even a wonder, and they want others to know it too.”
Joseph Smith wrote his history to “disabuse the public mind, and put all inquirers after truth in possession of the facts” (JSH 1:1).
“The growing visibility and reputation of the Church presents a remarkable opportunity to us as its members. We can help to ‘disabuse the public mind,’ and correct misinformation when we are portrayed as something we are not. More importantly, though, we can share who we are.
“There are a number of things that we can do—that you can do—to advance understanding of the Church. If we do it with the same spirit, and conduct ourselves in the same way we do when we host a temple open house, our friends and neighbors will come to understand us better. Their suspicions will evaporate, negative stereotypes will disappear, and they will begin to understand the Church as it really is” (L. Tom Perry, Ensign, November 2011).
Today, I would like to issue a challenge to you—the future graduates of BYU-Idaho. Prepare yourselves now to take advantage of the significant opportunities the New Year will bring to all members of the Church. Demonstrate by what you say and the lives you live by the teachings of our Savior.
If we ponder the eternities for just a moment, we recognize that none of us are here and now by happenstance. Our mortal test is designed in such a way that we do not recall the great council in heaven when our Heavenly Father’s purposes and plan were first revealed to us. Still, those with “eyes that see” and “ears that hear” see and hear about events foretold by prophets on an increasingly frequent basis. None of us know when the Savior will come again, but I’m quite certain that you sense, as I do, an unmistakable acceleration in the fulfillment of prophecy. Each of us must prepare now to play his or her foreordained part as the final pieces of Heavenly Father’s plan come together in this, the Dispensation of the Fullness of Times. There will be much required of us because much has been given to us (Luke 12:48; D&C 82:3), but no one who is prepared should fear, for we have been promised: “If ye are prepared, ye shall not fear” (D&C 38:30).
Today, the Church of Jesus of Latter-day Saints is truly a world-wide church. Nevertheless, it is important for all of us to realize that the Church could never have become what it is today without the birth of a great nation, the United States of America. The Lord prepared a new land to attract the peoples of the world who sought liberty and religious freedoms. The new land was blessed with strong leaders who felt duty-bound to establish a government that allowed individuals to worship according to their own conscience. The Founding Fathers believed religious faith was fundamental to the establishment of strong government.
Many Americans have forgotten the central importance of religious beliefs in the formation of the policies, laws, and rules of government. Many of our fellow citizens do not understand that the Founders believed the role of religion would be as important in our day as it was in their day. The Founders did not consider “religion and morality” an intellectual exercise—they forcefully declared it an essential ingredient of "good government and the happiness of mankind.”
This position was set forth by President George Washington in his Farewell Address. He said:
"Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, religion and morality are indispensable supports. . . . And let us with caution indulge the supposition that morality can be maintained without religion. . .reason and experience both forbid us to expect that national morality can prevail to the exclusion of religious principle. It is substantially true that virtue or morality is a necessary spring of popular government."1
The United States is the Promised Land foretold in the Book of Mormon—a place where divine guidance directed inspired men to create the conditions necessary for the restoration of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. It was the birth of the United States of America that ushered out the Great Apostasy, when the earth was darkened by the absence of prophets and revealed light. It was no coincidence that the lovely morning of the First Vision occurred shortly after the establishment of this great nation.
The First Vision precipitated a flood of revealed truth. Knowledge was restored about the nature of the Godhead; a new translated scripture gave a second witness and testament of Jesus Christ; the restoration of the priesthood re-endowed mankind with the power and authority to act for and on behalf of God in conducting priesthood ordinances and reestablishing the Church of Jesus Christ on the earth. Again, we are blessed to be members of a world-wide Church that was organized 182 years ago in Fayette, New York. At that moment in time, the Church had six members, and, today, we are over 14 million strong and growing. As Alma taught his son, Helaman—“. . . that by small and simple things are great things brought to pass” (Alma 37:6).
In October 1972, nearly 40 years ago, I was called by President Harold B. Lee to be a General Authority. Twenty years earlier, President Lee, then a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, ordained me a high priest. I had infrequent contact with President Lee between these important events, but I was always attentive to the lessons he taught at General Conference.
President Lee had a beautifully clear understanding of priorities. He once taught: “Much of what we do organizationally . . . is scaffolding, as we seek to build the individual, and we must not mistake the scaffolding for the soul.”2
President Lee was not minimizing the role of the Church in the salvation of men, women, and families. What he did teach powerfully was that the core of the Gospel of Jesus Christ is individuals and families, and the Church functions as a support system to individuals and families.
Most of you are at the wonderful and confusing time of life when you are selecting the plans for building your family and professional lives. The decisions you make at the beginning of your adult lives are clearly the most important decisions of your life because they shape everything that comes after. In the rest of the time I have today, I want to explore with you how the Church of Jesus Christ can provide scaffolding as you engage in these, your life’s two most important building projects.
President Harold B. Lee also said the Church is the scaffold with which we build eternal families.3
I belong to a branch of the Wing family tree. Members of the Wing family still own the oldest home built in New England that has stayed in the same family. It is called the Old Fort House. It was the home of Stephen Wing and his family after they arrived in this country about 1635.
The nucleus of the house was constructed for protection. Its walls are two feet thick, made of hewn oak trunks driven into the ground to form the typical construction of a New England garrison. There are two separate walls. The space in between was filled with sandstone for protection against the arrows and bullets of the Indians. The fort was the center of their home. As the Wing family grew, it added onto the sides of the original fort house. But the fort remained their protection, their safe haven.
Perhaps each of us should consider building structures for our spiritual security, free from the influences of the world—places where we can protect and also teach family members how to meet the challenges of a world that is always threatening our core values. I prefer to be optimistic, so I continue to hope for positive change in the world, but I’m also a realist so I form a contingency plan in case positive changes don’t come. My contingency plan for spiritual security must account for all the content—both good and evil—that is being pushed through various media. Where do I look to learn about how to build such a contingency plan for the spiritual security of my family? I look to the Church—the scaffold with which I build an eternal family.
There are two principle reasons why I appreciate President Lee’s metaphor for the Church—as scaffolding for our eternal families. First, it helps me understand what the Church is. Second, and equally important, I understand what the Church is not.
The Church as scaffolding is perhaps best represented by the statement by the Prophet Joseph Smith about his role as the leader of the Church. He said: “I teach them correct principles, and they govern themselves.” Eternal principles are the scaffolding the Church provides. These eternal principles are embedded in the doctrines of the Kingdom of the Eternal God, and reflected in His eternal plan of happiness. We meet as members of the Church to teach and learn from each other the principles of righteousness and receive saving ordinances so the scaffolding is steady and stable as we build our eternal families.
Notice that the Church is not meant to do the work of parents—it guides the work of parents. The Church offers an eternal form. As builders of eternal families, we are reassured by promises that if we build according to this eternal form, our efforts can provide the safety and protection we seek for those we love most.
My young friends, your challenge is to use the Church as scaffolding to build a family that is as spiritually strong or stronger than the old Fort House is physically strong. How is this done?
I believe family traditions are like the hewn oak trunks driven into the ground to build the old Fort House. Make the honoring of family traditions and the development of new ones a priority throughout your lives. Holiday traditions, birthday traditions, Sunday traditions, dinner-time traditions – honor them, write them down and make certain you follow them. Studies show that the reason young people join gangs is for the tradition and ritual of belonging to something larger than self. That is what a family should be. Be certain you are creating a rich environment for your family to look forward to these special times of the year when traditions hold you together as a great eternal family unit.
Please understand this is neither a simple nor an easy solution. Just as Rome was not built in a day, neither are family traditions. Family traditions can offer the basic and lasting support, but there’s a lot that must be built around them. Perhaps, family traditions only work when they create a role for every member of the family, and there is united effort to build them. This means family members need to spend time together and also learn how to work together. When it comes to families, there is no such thing as quality time without a certain quantity of time.
When you consider your future employment an important consideration is how much time it will demand of you each day. Is it one that will keep you working 14 hours a day and establish a consistent pattern of arriving home after your children are in bed? I’m not suggesting such employment opportunities are out of bounds, but if you choose them, you must find creative ways to remain connected to your family. The scaffolding of the Church will help remind you of your eternal priorities.
For my career, I selected the retail business. Our stores were open six days a week from 10 in the morning until 10 at night. My normal work day was at least 10 hours, sometimes 12 to 15. I had to be very careful to have time for my children, and I believe the Church as scaffolding continuously reminded me of my eternal priorities.
For example, I involved all of my children in part-time jobs at our stores. My oldest daughter used to come in and update sales figures so my reporting was always current and I could make year-over-year comparisons. It was a big job before the age of electronic spreadsheets. All the figures had to be entered by hand. I had my son work in Accounts Payable during the summer. This gave us the opportunity to see each other during the day, and have lunch together several days a week. I taught my youngest daughter how to run a cash register so she could be a part-time cashier, again giving me opportunity to spend precious time with her. In all cases, the best time together was during the daily commute to and from work. This was precious one-on-one time with each of my children.
In addition to our family lives, I also believe the Church can provide scaffolding for our professional lives. Please remember that when you graduate and leave this great institution you are marked for life as both a graduate of BYU-Idaho and a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. In effect, you leave here as representatives of Jesus Christ and His Church. In this respect being “as good as” someone else from another university or who belongs to another church is not good enough.
President George Albert Smith taught us a lesson by saying in a lesson you’ve already been taught this year in Priesthood and Relief Society. President Smith said:
“Within the last year, I have had the privilege of meeting and conversing on the gospel with some men who live in this community [Salt Lake City], not members of our Church. One man had resided here for twenty years, a man whose life is above reproach, a good citizen, a splendid business man, one who has kindly feelings towards our people. He told me that he had lived here twenty years, and he had come to the conclusion that we were just as good as our neighbors who are members of other churches; he could not see any difference in us.
“I want to say to you, my brethren and sisters, that is no compliment to me. If the gospel of Jesus Christ does not make me a better man, then I have not developed as I should, and if our neighbors not in this Church can live among us from year to year and see no evidence of the benefits that come from keeping the commandments of God in our lives, then there is need for reform in Israel. …
“… Are you doing your duty? are we performing the labor that the Lord has entrusted to our care? do we sense the responsibility that is upon us? or are we idly floating down stream, going with the tide taking it for granted that in the last day, we will be redeemed?”4
A member of the Church who is worthy of a temple recommend should always stand out in whatever professional circles he or she belongs. My advice to you is to dare to be different. Never worry about offending others by living up to the standards of the Church. I promise you that living up to temple recommend standards will bless and never hurt you in any situation in which you may find yourself.
Let me offer a personal example. Again, my business career was as a retail executive. As such, I was required to attend trade association meetings, business clubs, chamber of commerce meetings, etc. They always started with a cocktail hour. I was always uncomfortable in the setting. Nearly everyone would be holding an alcoholic beverage in their hands as they mingled together. I asked myself, “What could I hold in my hand to represent my standards and the standards of the Church?” I realized that if I didn’t hold a glass in my hand someone would always be wanting to buy me a drink.
At first I tried holding 7-Up, but it looked the same as other bubbly, alcoholic drinks. Finally, I decided to walk over to the bartender and request a glass of milk. I thought he might be hard of hearing because he made me repeat my order three times. The final time was loud enough that everyone in the room could hear.
After fumbling around for a few minutes the bartender finally handed me a glass of milk. You can imagine the ribbing I received as I mingled the rest of that evening, but I knew my standards, and I was undeterred. The next month, at the same meeting, I ordered my milk. From then on, the bartender always had a glass of milk for me.
Then a funny thing started to happen. At future meetings more people started ordering milk and drinking it with me. They confided in me that their wives did not like them drinking because it might impair them as they drove home. Instead of feeling awkward during cocktail hour, I soon became the center of conversation. It helped me meet more people and fulfill the purposes for which I attended those gatherings.
I learned an important lesson from this experience. If I kept my promises to the Lord, He would always keep His promises to me. He would always fulfill his end of the bargain—and much, much more—if I fulfilled mine.
As I read and watch the news each day, I am shocked at the difficulties we are creating for ourselves. As times and conditions change and become more complex, there seem to be fewer and fewer individuals capable of shouldering the responsibilities of leading positive change. I wish to issue a challenge to you who are leaders and future leaders to recognize the world is changing very rapidly. There is an urgent need for leaders capable and bold enough to take on the immense challenges that face us today.
The moral foundation of a strong Judeo-Christian tradition appears to be eroding in the United States. This tradition was based on justice, compassion, and respect for human dignity. It was not based on laws and regulations, but the light of Christ in every good and decent American. It was something that was part of the character of most men and women of a country that was “one nation under God.”
While the number of citizens who subscribe to these beliefs and values is dwindling, you and I remain true. I believe that more than anything else this is because the Church is scaffolding for both our family and professional lives.
I know a little bit about scaffolding because over my lifetime I have been involved in building many chapels in different communities of this great country, on an island in the Pacific, and in Nagasaki, Japan. I know scaffolding allows me to reach heights I could not otherwise reach, and do things I could not otherwise do. One also needs to be careful on scaffolding because it is easy to fall off and injure oneself. Still, if we stay firmly centered on the scaffolding of the Church we remain safe and protected.
You are the generation the Lord has saved for this day. You, like all baptized members of the Church, have taken upon yourselves the name of Jesus Christ. You have covenanted with Him to represent Him. By representing Jesus Christ, you can help many of your brothers and sisters remember their Judeo-Christian traditions by reflecting the light of Christ in your lives.
You and I must be bold in our declarations of the divinity of Jesus Christ. We want others to know that we believe He is the central figure in all human history. His life and teachings are the heart of the Bible and the other books we consider to be Holy Scriptures. The Old Testament set the stage for Christ’s mortal ministry. The New Testament describes His mortal ministry. The Book of Mormon gives us a second witness of His mortal ministry. He came to earth to declare His gospel as a foundation for all mankind so that all of God’s children could learn about Him and His teachings. He then gave His life in order to be our Savior and Redeemer. Only through Jesus Christ is salvation possible. This is why we believe He is the central figure in all human history. Our eternal destiny is always in His hands. It is a glorious thing to believe in Him and accept Him as our savior, our Lord, and our Master.
May the Lord continue to bless you, my very special brothers and sisters. You are blessed with a royal heritage. You are part of this very wonderful school which has been dedicated to preparing bright minds to go forward and bring positive change to a troubled world. You reflect the light of Christ. Please remember all that the scaffolding of the Church has done, is doing, and can do for your family and professional lives. This is not any other church, but the Restored Church of Jesus Christ. Of this, I testify in His holy name, even the name of Jesus Christ, amen.