Establishing a Standard of Excellence for Building a Life of Happiness, Fulfillment, and Spiritual Growth
Elder Richard G. Maynes
Brigham Young University–Idaho Devotional
November 11, 2008
My dear brothers and sisters, Sister Maynes and I are truly grateful for the opportunity to be with you today. It is both an honor and a privilege for us to be in your presence. I am grateful to the First Presidency for this assignment to address you at your devotional today. I would also like to express appreciation to President and Sister Clark for their wonderful hospitality during our visit to your beautiful campus.
In the Book of Mormon 16 different chapters of Isaiah are quoted between chapters 7 and 24 of 2 Nephi.
I find it interesting to note the words of the prophet Nephi at the conclusion of these Isaiah quotes. He states in 2 Nephi, chapter 25: “Now I, Nephi, do speak somewhat concerning the words which I have written, which have been spoken by the mouth of Isaiah. For behold, Isaiah spake many things which were hard for many of my people to understand; for they know not concerning the manner of prophesying among the Jews.
“For I, Nephi, have not taught them many things concerning the manner of the Jews; for their works were works of darkness, and their doings were doings of abominations. . . .
“Wherefore, hearken, O my people, which are the house of Israel, and give ear unto my words. . . . I shall prophesy according to the plainness which hath been with me from the time that I came out from Jerusalem with my father; for behold, my soul delighteth in plainness unto my people, that they may learn. . . .
“. . .I proceed with mine own prophecy, according to my plainness; in the which I know that no man can err. . . .”
It is obvious that Nephi recognized the importance of understandable communications with his people. He stated the reason he communicated in plainness was so his people would learn and not err.
It is my desire today that through the power of the Spirit I might communicate with you in plainness, that we may all learn and not err."
Those of you who have served missions and those of you who are planning on serving a full-time mission are familiar with the Church’s guide to missionary service entitled Preach My Gospel. On page 146 of Preach My Gospel it states, “Your mission president may establish standards of excellence or mission goals intended to raise your vision and increase your faith.”
Today I would like to share with you a standard of excellence for your college years intended to raise your vision and increase your faith during this most critical time of your life. This standard is very simple and composed of three basic principles. If you will do your very best to understand this standard of excellence and live the principles taught, you will successfully establish the celestial foundation upon which you will build a life of happiness, fulfillment, and spiritual growth. You will become the person you want to become and the person the Lord expects you to become.
The first principle I would like to share with you and which is included in the standard of excellence is the principle of gaining basic gospel knowledge. In order to reach your full potential as individuals, full-time missionaries, and future parents, it is very important to study and understand basic gospel principles. Only with a clear understanding of gospel principles will you be assured that you are living celestial law and that you are properly preparing yourselves for the future.
It is a fact we live in a world filled with false traditions. One of the great blessings of being a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is our access to truth. The scriptures tell us that “truth is knowledge of things as they are, and as they were, and as they are to come” and any deviations from the truth are done through the influence of the “wicked one who was a liar from the beginning.”
We therefore have a sacred responsibility to study and learn gospel truths. How do you go about fulfilling this responsibility? Your personal study plan will ultimately not only have an eternal impact on you, but on your future investigators and your future spouse and children.
If you are asking yourself where to begin, I would suggest using the Church’s guide to missionary service, entitled Preach My Gospel. This inspired guide is a wonderful personal scripture study plan as well as a missionary guide. Chapter 3 of Preach My Gospel contains five lessons, “The Message of the Restoration,” “The Plan of Salvation,” “The Gospel of Jesus Christ,” “The Commandments,” and finally “Laws and Ordinances.” These five lessons contain a total of 42 basic gospel principles. Thirty-five of these principles need to be taught to investigators before they are eligible for baptism. The investigators not only need to understand the principles, but they also need to live them prior to baptism. It seems it would be appropriate for us as members to understand these same basic gospel principles and the corresponding scriptures that support them. The gospel principles and associated scriptures found in chapter 3 of Preach My Gospel would make a wonderful personal study plan.
On the other hand, Satan would prefer us to be ignorant of gospel truths. He wants us, as individuals and parents, to teach those whom we come in contact with and especially our children false traditions. Satan is looking for multigenerational success. Unfortunately, he has enjoyed great success in deceiving children through the false traditions and teachings of their parents. In Doctrine and Covenants section 74, verse 4 it states, “And it came to pass that the children. . .gave heed to the traditions of their fathers and believed not the gospel of Christ, wherein they became unholy.”
"The Family: A Proclamation to the World" is an inspired document introduced to the world on September 23, 1995. It is one of five proclamations issued by the First Presidency and Council of the Twelve Apostles since the Restoration of the Church in 1830. It is, in fact, a prophetic guideline or blueprint that will help you prepare for the establishment of your own Christ-centered family, or if already married, help you to raise your children in light and truth.
If we follow the counsel of our prophets and apostles found in this inspired document, we will avoid the problem of living and teaching false traditions. I would like to share with you a portion of this prophetic guideline. This quotation is found in paragraph seven of the proclamation:
“The family is ordained of God. Marriage between man and woman is essential to His eternal plan. Children are entitled to birth within the bonds of matrimony, and to be reared by a father and a mother who honor marital vows with complete fidelity. Happiness in family life is most likely to be achieved when founded upon the teachings of the Lord Jesus Christ. Successful marriages and families are established and maintained on principles of faith, prayer, repentance, forgiveness, respect, love, compassion, work, and wholesome recreational activities. By divine design, fathers are to preside over their families in love and righteousness and are responsible to provide the necessities of life and protection for their families. Mothers are primarily responsible for the nurture of their children. In these sacred responsibilities, fathers and mothers are obligated to help one another as equal partners.”
This portion of the proclamation instructs us that Christ must be at the center of our lives and the lives of our family members and that success in life depends on establishing gospel principles as the traditions that will define our family life. Eternal happiness will not be achieved based on the psychological theories of the day, a self-help seminar, or even competent therapy. True happiness can only be found in the gospel of Jesus Christ.
When we know we are to be judged based on how we fulfilled our family responsibilities, it is perplexing to see some fathers and mothers ignore the counsel given by our prophets and apostles and choose to live and teach traditions in the home that are contrary to those found in the proclamation. Outside of the scriptures, I know of no other document that focuses on the spiritual well-being of individuals and families and which contains such a concentration of true principles and celestial traditions as "The Family: A Proclamation to the World." I counsel you to include it with the scriptures and Preach My Gospel as part of your regular scripture study plan.
Brothers and sisters don’t underestimate the importance of personal gospel knowledge. The knowledge you obtain of gospel principles will be brought to your mind by the power of the Spirit to assist you in effectively living and teaching true principles. This will be the case in your private lives, in your missionary lives, and in your role as parents.
I would like now to make the transition between the first principle found in the standard of excellence, which is obtaining gospel knowledge, and the second principle, which is the application of that knowledge in our everyday lives. The application of knowledge is another way of saying “the exercise of our agency.” When we live truth, we exercise our agency wisely. If we reject truth and choose to live false traditions we fail to live up to our divine potential. This principle is clearly taught and illustrated in Helaman 14:30:
“And now remember, remember, my brethren, that whosoever perisheth, perisheth unto himself; and whosoever doeth iniquity, doeth it unto himself; for behold, ye are free; ye are permitted to act for yourselves; for behold, God hath given unto you a knowledge and he hath made you free.”
As members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, we have been given knowledge of true principles and the freedom to internalize and apply them or not. In other words, we ultimately decide our own destiny. Our future is determined by our everyday choices. Faithfulness and an ever-growing testimony are the ingredients which allow the Holy Ghost to bless our lives. His influence and promptings are needed if we are to continue making good decisions. If you want to make good decisions, be worthy of the promptings of the Spirit.
Doctrine and Covenants section 45, verse 57 states, “For they that are wise . . . have taken the Holy Spirit for their guide.”
Brothers and sisters, is the Holy Ghost your guide? Does He help you make your decisions? In this world of ever-increasing promiscuity, you are not left alone. One of the great responsibilities of the Holy Ghost is to help you make good decisions. He can be your dearest and most trusted friend when it comes time to make a decision. Our journey through these troubled times is not meant to be a solitary journey. It was intended that we make this journey with a good and capable guide, even the Holy Ghost.
If we truly love the Lord, we will follow Him. He states in John 14, verse 15, “If ye love me, keep my commandments.” When we truly love the Lord, we keep His commandments. Our love of the Lord will spiritually motivate us to become worthy of the influence of the Spirit. Repentance is the process of becoming and being worthy of the Spirit in our lives. The word repentance in the ancient Greek and Hebrew means to change—change one’s mind, change one’s heart, and change one’s position or behavior.
When the Lord and His servants throughout history have cried repentance to the people, they have done nothing more than petition them to change their behavior and live the principles of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Therefore the question "Have you repented?" You know if you have properly repented by how you feel. An example in Church history might help us understand this principle.
In June of 1829, Oliver Cowdery, David Whitmer, Martin Harris, and Joseph Smith went into the woods near the Whitmer home in Fayette, New York, and began to pray for the privilege of viewing the golden plates. Martin Harris soon removed himself from the group, feeling unworthy. He moved to another area in the woods to offer prayer. Later on Joseph Smith found him praying. They offered prayer together and then saw the same vision of Moroni that Joseph had just experienced with Oliver Cowdery and David Whitmer. They also heard the voice of God testifying of the truthfulness of the translation of the Book of Mormon and commanding them to bear record of what they had seen and heard.
If you feel the influence and promptings of the Holy Ghost in your life, then you know you are worthy. If you have any doubts regarding your worthiness, please seek counsel from your priesthood leaders. They will be able to assist you in the process. Alma counseled his son Corianton regarding this principle in this way: “Only let your sins trouble you, with that trouble which shall bring you down unto repentance.”
Remember it is through the atoning sacrifice of the Savior we can be freed from the guilt that accompanies our sins. Listen to this wonderful promise of the Lord regarding those who truly repent; and we just heard this verse a few minutes ago. “Behold, he who has repented of his sins, the same is forgiven, and I, the Lord, remember them no more.”
It is true that we are not perfect, but through, the process of repentance, we can become worthy to feel and hear the promptings of the Holy Ghost.
Remember that the first principle in our standard of excellence was that of obtaining gospel knowledge. Our second principle is that of properly applying those truths in our lives. Worthy members rely on the promptings and influence of the Holy Ghost to guide them in this process.
Now I would like to transition to the third and final principle in the standard of excellence for building a life of happiness, fulfillment, and spiritual growth. This is the principle which, when applied, acts as the catalyst that binds the first two principles together. This is the principle of being honest with the Lord. Being honest with the Lord binds together the basic gospel knowledge we learn with our willingness to apply that knowledge in our lives. In other words, when we are honest with the Lord we act upon our knowledge by being obedient to His commandments.
Brothers and sisters, being honest with Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ means we are true to the covenants we have made with Them. Almost all of us here today have made covenants or promises to the Lord. We made promises to the Lord when we were baptized, and we make additional promises to Him as we participate in temple ordinances.
There is nothing more important in life than being true to the covenants or promises we have made with the Lord. Our eternal life depends on the principle of honesty.
The Lord reminds us each week how important these covenants are by allowing us the privilege of renewing them as we partake of the sacrament. When we honestly take upon ourselves the name of Jesus Christ, always remember Him, and keep His commandments, we can and will be worthy of His Spirit. This great blessing and gift of the Holy Ghost will guide, direct, and influence us for good throughout our lives.
On the other hand, when we break a commandment, we are actually breaking our word, our promises, and our covenants. We are being dishonest with the Lord. When we are dishonest with the Lord, we are, in fact, working against His work.
In today’s culture the principle of honesty at times seems to be seldom talked about and often abused. The world is filled with false tradition of corruption—corruption in government and politics, corruption in business and even athletics. Honesty, it seems, must take a back seat to the worldly aspiration of getting ahead at any cost.
Therefore, the big questions and ultimate decisions are these: Will I be true to the covenants I have made to the Lord in the waters of baptism and in the holy temple? Will I be honest with the Lord?
Is it possible to succeed in this world and at the same time be true to your covenants? I believe it is.
Many years ago when I was president of a company that specialized in factory automation, I was confronted with a situation that taught me the importance and the benefit of keeping promises no matter what the cost. This was the situation:
Our company was going through a phase of rapid growth. We were engineering, fabricating, and installing automated production lines in factories around the world. We were hiring personnel and building increased factory capacity as fast as we could.
We had accepted the order on a large project in Scotland for a multinational corporation. We had agreed to a specific delivery date on the project. As the promised delivery date approached, it became obvious that we would not be able to meet the schedule.
We met as an executive council and discussed the matter. After careful analysis it looked like we would miss the delivery date by approximately three weeks. While studying the detailed schedule of the project, it was pointed out that the critical path included a shipment window of approximately three weeks. The production line equipment would be shipped from our California factory over land to New Orleans and then transported via cargo ship to Liverpool, England, then across land to Scotland.
It became obvious that the only way we would be able to keep our word and make the delivery date would be a very expensive option. It was decided that we would lease wide-bodied jets and ship all the equipment for the Scotland factory via air freight. This option cost hundreds of thousands of dollars and, as you might suspect, eliminated any positive contribution this project was expected to make to our bottom-line. The financial cost of keeping our word was high; however, you can’t put a dollar figure on a good nights sleep.
Interestingly enough, the successful and timely installation of this project in Scotland wasn’t the end of the story. Several months later I was in Malaysia negotiating a similar project with a different company. We had reviewed with the customer all of the engineering drawings and the design concepts as well as the financial aspects of the project. We were coming to the conclusion of our negotiation session when the highest-ranking executive representing the customer asked this question: “Will you be able to honor the delivery date?” My team huddled for a moment to review the time constraints and then we answered by stating that yes, we could make the date.
Much to my surprise the executive responded by saying, “We know you will. We have heard all about what you did in Scotland to keep your word. The project is yours.”
In the end, our company could never have spent enough money on advertising in the trade magazines to develop the goodwill that had been created throughout the world due to the simple act of being honest and keeping our word.
When we are honest with our fellowman we are, in fact, keeping our covenants. When we keep our covenants we are at the same time being honest with the Lord. We cannot separate the two. Sometimes even members try to live in both worlds, the world of truth and the world of false traditions.
Dr. Benjamin Martinez shared the following example that illustrates this dichotomy:
“Of all the kinds and colors of marble, the milky white Carrara is the rarest and most costly. Sculptors who lived during the Golden Age of Tuscan Sculpture claimed that it was the purest substance God ever created, and they longed for the feel of it beneath their hands. Any sculptor who was commissioned by a wealthy patron of the arts to create a statue of Carrara marble felt himself to be highly favored.
"Sculpting in marble was neither fast nor easy. In addition to innate talent, it required both careful analysis and tedious, backbreaking work. The artist would have to study the block of marble to determine its essential nature. He would then need to discover the direction of the grain and ascertain the presence of any flaws. He had to make careful and precise plans and drawings that were in accord with the structure of the marble itself. Then, with consummate care, he would begin to chip off the superfluous marble, layer by layer, until he revealed the form he had envisioned.
"Any mistake could be disastrous. If the sculptor went against the grain he could crack the marble; if he struck with a blow with too much force he could mash the crystals beneath the surface, creating holes and ruining the sculpture. This seldom happened with the greatest of sculptors, who labored with infinite care and supreme sensitivity. Those with lesser talent and little patience, however, would occasionally be confronted with such a disaster. Rather than admit their blunder and lose their commission, some would resort to subterfuge.
"Soft, white wax, skillfully applied, could usually disguise the damage. In outward appearance the sculpture appeared to be flawless and the defect was seldom discovered until well after the work had been accepted and the commission paid. As the practice became more common, patrons of the arts became more discerning. They refused to accept a piece of marble statuary until after a careful examination had been made to ensure that it was undamaged and contained no wax-covered flaws. The highest standard of excellence for works of white Carrara marble came to include the distinction, sine cere, meaning without wax.
"Eventually these two words merged to become a single word, in Spanish “sincera” or in English “sincere” meaning pure, unadulterated, whole, intact, and uninjured.” When the word was used to refer to marble works of art, the emphasis was on the fundamental wholeness of the statue, not just on its superficial appearance or outward appearance. The statue was expected to be good, not just to look good.”
Brothers and sisters, in a gospel context, we as members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are expected to be righteous, not just appear to be righteous. What we believe and what we say and what we do should all be the same thing. This is the definition of integrity. A person of integrity does not cover his sins in order to look good to the outside world. A person of integrity repents of behavior unbecoming a member of the Church, embraces and lives new habits and lifestyles, and tries to eliminate the flaws in his or her life.
One of the great blessings I enjoyed while serving as a mission president in Mexico many years ago was the privilege of interviewing the missionaries. I interviewed missionaries when they arrived from the MTC. I had regular interviews with each missionary on a monthly basis during his or her mission, and then I had the great privilege of interviewing missionaries at the end of their mission just prior to their departure.
I learned an interesting lesson when I first started giving these exit interviews to the sister missionaries. On many occasions, before the interview concluded the sister missionaries would ask me this question: “President, how will I know when I meet the young man I should marry?” Wow, that question caught me off guard. How would you answer that?
I wanted to be able to give some counsel on the subject, but I knew that I needed to be very careful. At first I responded by saying that the decision of whom you will marry is very personal and it will ultimately be decided between you and the Lord. You will need to make it a matter of prayer. I felt that was an appropriate answer, but I also wanted to add some practical advice that might be of some additional assistance. After much thought and prayer I felt I had received inspiration on what I might add to my answer. The direction the answer took was a little bit surprising to me. This is how I finally answered the question: “Sister, the decision of whom you will ultimately marry will be one of the most important decisions of your entire life. It is very personal and you will need to make it with the help of the Lord. You will need to make it a matter of earnest prayer. There is one additional idea I might share with you that could be of some help. When you start to date a young man, you might consider observing his attitude regarding the principle of tithing. If he doesn’t pay an honest tithing, run the other way. If he pays his tithing but complains about doing it, run the other way. However, if he pays an honest and full tithing and he does it with a smile, knowing he is being faithful to his covenants and helping to build the kingdom, you might consider giving him a fair chance. I’m not saying you should marry him. I’m just saying this: if he is willing to be honest with the Lord and sacrifice a bit for Him, there is the probability he will ultimately be honest with his future wife and be willing to sacrifice for her and his future family.” Paying a full tithing is a matter of honesty, honesty to the Lord. “Will a man rob God?”
Brothers and sisters, most of you in this congregation today are living within the decade of vital decision making. This is the decade between 18 and 28 years old. If you could project yourselves into the future, see yourselves in the twilight of your lives and reflect back on the most important decisions you ever made in your life, the decisions that had the greatest impact on your celestial future, you would see that most, if not all, of those decisions were made between the ages of 18 and 28.
Satan’s greatest desire is to deceive and motivate us to become less than our potential. His strategy and worldly philosophies are ancient. However his techniques and tools are updated at the speed of technology.
Remember the story of Korihor. It is found in Alma, chapter 30. Compare some of his false teachings with today’s secular philosophies.
Quote: “And this Anti-Christ, whose name was Korihor, . . . began to preach unto the people that there should be no Christ . . . .
“Ye look forward and say that ye see a remission of your sins. But behold, it is the effect of a frenzied mind; and this derangement of your minds comes because of the traditions of your fathers, which lead you away into a belief of things which are not so.
“ And many more such things did he say unto them, telling them that there could be no atonement made for the sins of men, but every man fared in this life according to the management of the creature; therefore every man prospered according to his genius, and that every man conquered according to his strength; and whatsoever a man did was no crime.
“And thus he did preach unto them, leading away the hearts of many, causing them to lift up their heads in their wickedness, yea, leading away many women, and also men . . . telling them that when a man was dead, that was the end thereof.”
So what became of Korihor? What becomes of all men who choose to live and preach false tradition and who refuse to repent and come unto Christ? The answer is found in Doctrine and Covenants section 76:110-11: “These all shall bow the knee, and every tongue shall confess to him who sits upon the throne forever and ever;
“For they shall be judged according to their works, and every man shall receive according to his own works, his own dominion, in the mansions which are prepared."
Korihor, after it was too late to escape his fate, confessed to Alma:
“But behold, the devil hath deceived me; for he appeared unto me in the form of an angel, and said unto me: Go and reclaim this people, for they have all gone astray after an unknown God. And he said unto me: There is no God; yea, and he taught me that which I should say. And I have taught his words; and I taught them because they were pleasing unto the carnal mind; and I taught them, even until I had much success, insomuch that I verily believed that they were true; and for this cause I withstood the truth, even until I have brought this great curse upon me ."
“And thus we see the end of him who perverteth the ways of the Lord; and thus we see that the devil will not support his children at the last day, but doth speedily drag them down to hell."
Through the example of Korihor we clearly see that Satan’s strategy and false teachings have not changed over the centuries and the fate of those who succumb to his enticing are detailed as a warning for all.
So who are the Korihors of today? I submit that they are anyone or anything that would entice you to stray from the straight and narrow path that leads to eternal life.
Brothers and sisters, the doctrine taught by Jesus Christ and revealed to prophets throughout the ages is true and needs to be understood and applied if we want to return to live with Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ. Basic principles and ordinances of the gospel of Jesus Christ are not negotiable. They represent the foundation upon which life is lived in the celestial kingdom.
It is true that we can exercise our agency and choose not to live celestial law, but it is also true that we will ultimately be compelled to accept the result of that decision when our inheritance is justifiably terrestrial or telestial.
Now the first principle in the standard of excellence was that of obtaining gospel knowledge. Of course we all understand that obtaining truth is meaningless if we do not apply it in our lives. “But be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving your own selves. Therefore, the second principle in the standard of excellence was applying gospel knowledge in our everyday life. The third and final principle in the standard of excellence was that of being honest with the Lord. Honesty is the trait which connects the promises we have made to the Lord to our everyday actions. If we are honest we will, in fact, keep the covenants we have made in the waters of baptism and in the holy temples of the Lord.
Remember, the Lord expects us as members in His Church to not only appear to be good but to actually be good. We are ultimately responsible to not only learn gospel principles but apply them in our lives. If we are honest with the Lord, He will help us succeed through the power of the Spirit. The Lord, in Doctrine and Covenants, section 78, verse 7, emphasizes this doctrine:
“For if you will that I give unto you a place in the celestial world, you must prepare yourselves by doing the things which I have commanded you and required of you.”
I bear you my humble witness of the reality of a loving Heavenly Father. I bear you my witness of the reality of the great plan of salvation and happiness and the important role that Jesus Christ plays within that plan as our Savior and Redeemer. The gospel of Jesus Christ, in its fullness, has been restored to the earth in these, the latter days. President Thomas S. Monson is the Lord’s chosen prophet on earth today. Of these true principles I testify, in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.
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