White Bar
Brigham Young University-Idaho Devotional

February 10, 2009 





Robert M. Wilkes

Former President, Billings Montana Templet












President and Sister Clark, brothers and sisters, I am genuinely honored to be with you today. I appreciate the privilege of addressing you. I pray that I may be guided by the Spirit of the Lord to say that which is true and that which for someone may prove helpful.


I have thought to speak with you regarding opportunity. It seems a fitting topic for ones engaged so deeply in the business of preparation as you are. Opportunity does knock on the doors of our lives, however on occasion it knocks very softly, perhaps disguised as something other than what it is. It may appear to be a problem, a challenge, or even a disaster. Yet if invited in, it often proves to be a good gift. Neither does opportunity always knock at the front door, as one might expect of a guest. It may come to the back door, as something more ordinary, even homely. If we are aware of it’s penchant for disguises, we will become more alert to possibilities in strange shapes. We will open the door with some enhanced sense of excitement and adventure. We will anticipate that whatever the vehicle of delivery — there will eventually be revealed a form of opportunity.


A Book of Mormon Prophet taught the need for opposition in all things” (2 Nephi 2:11). It may also be the case — that for the faith filled seeker — there is just as certainly opportunity in all things.


As a young graduate student I had an experience with just such a disguised opportunity. I had been assigned by my professor to write a paper on a particular topic. I did so in a rather hurried fashion and submitted it at the time appointed. I thought little more about it until it was returned to me with a note indicating that, “...he could not even grade my work as a scholarly paper, because it was nothing more than a conversation one might have with a friend.”


His note devastated me! I was married with two daughters. I needed to graduate and get into the work force. I needed to start making money to support my family, and it appeared that this botched project so late in the school year might thwart all of that. I could hardly go home to Estella that night.


After a day of suffering I returned to my professor. “What can I do now?” was my question. He outlined a rigorous pathway of recovery that at the time seemed hardly doable. However, my circumstance left me little alternative but to try. This set back later revealed itself to be an opportunity in disguise — one of the most valuable of my formal training. I think, with appreciation, of Professor Dodson. I have privately admired his courage in requiring of me that which I did not know was mine to give. I suppose he is long since gone and most likely was never fully aware of his contribution to my life — an opportunity disguised as failure.


With all of that said, let me share some rather wide ranging thoughts about the topic at hand, how personal it can be, how uniquely designed for each individual, and their specific circumstance at issue. By nature opportunity is both delicate and fragile. It typically requires a good bit of nurturing. On occasion it may even need rescuing by some extreme effort. Seldom, if ever, does it impose itself upon us.


Opportunity in Repentance


The 2008 — 2009 football season has just ended. What was once considered a fall sport now begins in August and ends in February. The recent bowl season has put me in mind of the 1969 Orange Bowl game between The University of Kansas (coached by Pepper Rogers) and Penn State University (coached by the now legendary Joe Paterno). That was 39 years ago as of this last season. I remember it for the intricate and complex manner in which it played out. I remember it because of the unusual and delicate circumstances upon which opportunity came or went for one team or the other.


At half-time the score was 7 to 7. In the second half, Kansas scored for a 14 to 7 lead which lasted until only 15 seconds remained on the clock. The Kansas coach had earlier passed up an almost certain field goal try at the Penn State five yard line with fourth and one to go. A field goal would have clinched the game for them. The play they ran instead failed — giving Penn State their opportunity. From the five yard line, with 15 seconds to go they scored. And now, rather than a 17-13 score, it was a 14 to13 and Penn State could win with a two point conversion. To quote a Sports Illustrated article, “At this point Joe Paterno, who will always go for broke, decided to try for two points. ‘If we couldn’t win, we’d lose’, he said later. It looked like lose when Penn State’s conversion pass...was knocked down.”

However, the umpire had noticed, before the play began, that Kansas had 12 men on the field. He knew he would need to throw a flag.

Again, from Sports Illustrated:

It was the fluttering red handkerchief.....that alerted Kansas and the world to the fact that the Jayhawks might not have won the Orange bowl after all. The penalty was marked off, and this time Penn State, not outnumbered, was able to get its two points.......The result was the 15-14 victory, (and) an undefeated season.

Penn State’s opportunity had come as a result of unexpected and complex circumstances allowing them an adequate number of chances to win. In other words, they had been given the opportunity to repent! Without it they were certain losers. What was it worth—the privilege of doing again that which was not done well enough the first time? In linking football with the notion of repentance there is no disrespect intended. There is something to learn from the comparison. For one thing: the need for another chance on the part of Penn State was not due to any frivolous error or planned mistake—no lack of commitment or effort. They had, in the words of the scripture played with “a sincere heart and real intent” (Moroni 10:4). There was no deceit involved in their need for another chance. So how much is the privilege of repentance worth? How much to be desired, the opportunity to redo some elements of even the true and faithful life—let alone, a life that may have drifted off-course.


As with other applications, so also can spiritual opportunities be intricate and delicate. Spiritual victories often depend on multiple well intended chances in order to win. Not only may it require the scriptural “seventy times seven” but as Brigham Young explained it: “Do not throw away a man or a woman, old or young. If they commit an evil today, and another tomorrow, but wish to be Saints and to be forgiven, do you forgive them — not only seven times, but seventy times seven in a day, if their hearts are fully set to do right. Let us make it a point to pass over their weaknesses and say, ‘God bless you in trying to be better in time to come,’” (Discourses of Brigham Young, Widtsoe, p.277).


How many opportunities does repentance provide for the sincere and honest in heart? By the estimation of Brigham Young, “ — as many as it takes!" Walter Malone, a late nineteenth century poet captured the essence of such opportunity to repent with these lines:

They do me wrong who say I come no more

When once I knock and fail to find you in;

For every day I stand outside your door

And bid you wake, and rise to fight and win.

Dost thou behold thy lost youth all aghast?

Dost reel from righteous retribution’s blow?

Then turn from blotted archives of the past

And find the future’s pages white as snow

Though deep in mire, wring not your hands and weep;
I lend my arm to all who say “I Can!”
No shame-faced outcast ever sank so deep
But yet might rise and be again a man!
(The Little Book of American Poets —1787 — 1900)

Lehi added weight to this notion by making it scriptural. Said he to his boys, “...arise from the dust, my sons, and be men..." (2 Nephi 1:21).


The authorization making all of these opportunities for personal improvement possible is, of course, the Infinite and Atoning Sacrifice of the Lord Jesus Christ. Jacob taught:

He cometh into the world that he may save all men if they will hearken unto his voice; for behold, he suffereth the pains of all men, yea, the pains of every living creature, who belong to the family of Adam. (2 Nephi 9:21)


O then, my beloved brethren, come unto the Lord, the Holy One. Remember that his paths are righteous. Behold, the way for man is narrow, but it lieth in a straight course before him and the keeper of the gate is the Holy One of Israel; and he employeth no servant there; and there is none other way save it be by the gate; for he cannot be deceived, for the Lord God is his name. (2 Nephi 9:41)

He provided the sacrifice and He will stand as, “the keeper of the gate.” He will be the ultimate judge. The correctness, accuracy, and mercy of His judgments are certain, for there is in Him no error. No sin.

Now a caution! As we attempt all that we might wish to do, relative to seizing opportunity, we must be wary of judgments other than His, the Keeper of the Gate that is. His judgments are certain—others may not be. The judgments others make of us often hurt in ways that are disruptive and relentless. However, the judgments we make of ourselves can be just as debilitating and even more so. Our self judgments can sap us of the — strength and will to seize the “moments’ as they present themselves.

Of such judgments, the late Marvin J. Ashton of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles taught that:

Possibly the hardest guidelines for us to follow are those we set for ourselves. To analyze our fears, our dreams, our goals, our motives can be soul-wrenching. We may find that we fear failure so much that we won’t take a risk. Often our self-esteem is bruised by criticism. It is natural to assume that everyone else has his life under control and doesn’t have to deal with dark little weaknesses and imperfections. There is a natural, probably a mortal, tendency to compare ourselves with others. Unfortunately, when we make these comparisons, we tend to compare our weakest attributes with someone else’s strongest. Obviously these kinds of comparisons are destructive and only reinforce the fear that somehow we don’t measure up and therefore we must not be as worthy as the next person. (On Being Worthy, Ensign, May 1989)

To be certain, there is much of opportunity in the thoughtful consideration of our strengths and weaknesses. Kind and well-intended sharing by others can be useful in the process. We must be honest with ourselves in the appraisal of what can and should be done by way of the obvious need for improvement that we all have. At the same time, we cannot afford to become weak and doubting because we took too seriously the unkind comments of others or more tragically because we have become the victim of our own negative self assessment.


Opportunity for Inclusion


As with other applications we have discussed, temples are places fraught with opportunity. They too are delicate and fragile. .

For example, try to imagine how fragile the threads upon which hangs this account of temple opportunity. With permission I will tell you the story of an older man and wife who were given a gift subscription to the Church News and the Ensign magazine. This in spite of the fact that neither of them were members of the LDS Church. As these gifts arrived each month the couple devoured their contents; and after one year when the subscription ran out, they re-subscribed on their own and continued to enjoy them as the years came and went. Here is the
next fragile thread: The bishop of the ward was reviewing his magazine subscription list. He saw the couple’s name. Not recognizing them as members of his ward, he began to investigate. Discovering that they were not members of the Church in any ward, he was impressed to send the missionaries. And (most importantly) he acted upon his inspiration—another fragile complexity.


These good people were taught the gospel. They believed and asked to be baptized. After the qualifying progress had been made, they came to the Billings Montana Temple to be sealed. Their two children, who had each one died in infancy, were ultimately sealed with them into an eternal family unit. At the conclusion of this remarkable chain of events, the mother — contemplating the meaning of it all — spoke softly, “O, forever. I can’t believe it.”


She and her family were now included as recipients of the temple’s highest ordinances and most sacred opportunities. They had come to know that the temple is the Lord’s great instrument of inclusion. That while only a short time ago they were simply subscribers to a magazine — they were now “no more strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints, and of the household of God” (Ephesians 2: 19).


It seems ironic that a common perception of many is that our church doctrines and our people are exclusive. Ironic, in fact, because the whole intent of the Great Plan of Happiness is to include everyone — that all might be partakers of His hope.


I learned something of how prophets feel about those who may be left on the outside looking in — or in other words excluded. It is a simple story, but one that for me conveyed a powerful message. Some years ago I had been asked to make a brief report to the Church Board of Education regarding some things that were being done here to allow more students to attend our school. (I notice from a recent press release that you continue working to make that happen.) I made my report with some emphasis on how many fewer had been denied admission during the current year than had been the case for the previous year. It was a significant number, in the thousands. In retrospect, I think I may have sounded more pleased with that progress than I wish I had. As the report was concluded, there seemed a momentary silence, and then President Hinckley asked: “What happened to the “few” who were still not admitted?” His thought was not about the many who were in, but rather about the few who were not. With prophets as with temples the point is the inclusion of all who wish it.

Opportunity to Learn


The temple affords the opportunity to learn. It is the Lord’s House and among other things it is a House of Learning. Church leaders have called it the Lord’s University to emphasize the point. Unlike other universities, however, this one has few faculty — really only one. In the temple it is the Holy Ghost who teaches — and what we learn there, we learn from Him. “But the Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance,...” (John 14:26). Temple learnings are as personal as they are sacred. They are not to be spoken of outside the temple and only with rare exception inside. We do not attempt explanation of what we learn in the temple, even though we may have been granted some clearer insight.


In this regard, Nephi made it clear to his family that he was teaching them certain sacred things relative to their father’s vision because “the Holy Ghost giveth authority that I should speak these things, and deny them not”.(1 Nephi 10:22). Although he was teaching because the Holy Ghost had authorized his doing so, it is equally clear that he was not authorized to teach certain other things. On a later occasion he said, “And now I, Nephi, make and end; for I durst not speak further as yet concerning these things” (1 Nephi 22: 29).


The Prophet Alma taught similarly:

 It is given unto many to know the mysteries of God, nevertheless they are laid under a strict command that they shall not impart only according to the portion of his word which he doth grant unto the children of men, according to the heed and diligence which they give unto him. (Alma 12:9)

So among the many blessings associated with temple worship is the opportunity to learn. Learning that will be facilitated “according to our diligence and heed” and may be granted more liberally to those that can be depended upon not to “impart” that which is sacred.


Opportunity Is for Everyone


Sometimes youth feel that opportunity is only a future proposition for them; older folks are sure it is in their past and long gone — neither fully realizing just how much they matter and how singular and significant their “moment” is in the grand scheme of things. When President Gordon B. Hinckley dedicated the Billings Montana Temple, he said that the temple belonged to the young people who would come there, as much as to their parents. (See: Billings Montana Temple Dedication Services) The implication was that the youth also would have the opportunity to learn, and grow, and have their hearts purified.


In that spirit, two youth, a young man age 12 and a young woman age 14, came to the temple. They were not brother and sister, but both were members of the same small church unit. The two young persons were accompanied by five adults which will tell you something of their value to the kingdom. In coming they traveled a total of eight hours to and from their homes. That is far by some standards — not so far by others. In any case, it was part of the price they willingly paid to make a faithful offering unto the Lord. As we sang a hymn together the spirit witnessed powerfully of their goodness and of their desire to be of service.


There appeared to be no ulterior social component to their coming. No shopping time, no much to be anticipated eating out experience, no fun activity to make it all worth while. Only travel, service and more travel. It could not have been more ordinary in terms of youth coming to the temple and it could not have been more extra-ordinary in terms of how it felt to have them there. In any case, we learned through them, and others like them, that with God opportunity is not determined by age or numbers, only by the reaching out of pure and honest hearts.


Perhaps it was of such reaching out that Emma Lou Thayne wrote:

Where can I turn for peace?

Where is my solace (w)hen other sources cease to make me whole?

...He answers — privately, Reaches my reaching

In my Gethsemane, Savior and Friend.
(emphasis added, See Hymns of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints –– Hymn number 129)

My purpose, and my hope in addressing you today is to testify that of all the opportunities possible for mankind, the most to be desired is the knowing of  “Where [We Can] Turn for Peace.”  I witness that through the power of His Atoning Sacrifice, He literally reaches our reaching, and thereby we discover the assurance of His being and the certainty of His love. Through that reaching, our witness will become certain, our vision clear, and the privileges of His Kingdom more appreciated. In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.