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Brigham Young University-Idaho Devotional

February 23, 2010




Fulfilling Your Divine Nature

Steven D. Bennion

Former President, Ricks College


Photo of Steven D. Bennion









What a glorious sight you are!  Marj and I are delighted to be back on this beautiful campus, with the wonderful students, faculty and staff of this institution.  We treasure the time we served here—at then Ricks College.  While we have been gone nearly 13 years, we recognize many familiar faces of terrific colleagues/friends.  I extend our commendations to President Clark, his administrative team and all who serve here for the amazing progress, growth and development of BYU-Idaho. THE LORD HAS HIS HANDS IN THIS PLACE!  You may have heard the prophetic statement of Jacob Spori, the first principal/president of this school who stated:  “The seeds we are planting today will grow and become mighty oaks, and their branches will run all over the earth.” This statement reminds me of a story.  We went on a tour of Europe and the Middle East.  Our first stop was in Amsterdam.  During the brief layover we visited a place that sold cheese and wooden shoes.  The charming host was a handsome young Dutchman who spoke flawless English.  He asked:  “Where are you from?”  A number indicated:  “Idaho!”  And he immediately responded:  “Free Taters for out of staters!”  Yes—he had attended Ricks College and we witnessed again the inspiration of Jacob Spori’s prophetic foresight.


Several decades ago a play was written entitled:  “Saturday’s Warriors”.  I remember a moving line from that play where one teenager says to the other:  “Once you know who you are, nothing else really matters!”   Knowing our identity is indeed important.  To know both your mortal and spiritual roots, certainly can make a profound difference in your life. In a recent devotional here, Elder Russell M. Nelson stated: “Your personal identity is everlasting and divine.2 (See Doctrine & Covenants 93:29)


This helps explain why there is such universal appeal to the hymn:  “I am a child of God.”  I wish I could replay for you a fireside of the Korean Branch in Queens, New York.  On one of our son Mark and Kristine’s and their family’s two visits to our mission in New York, we held a fireside for the Korean Branch at the mission home.  We must have had 50 or more people of all ages crammed into the mission home. Our precious granddaughters and their parents sang “I am a Child of God” in Korean.  It touched the hearts and minds of members and potential members there and set a sweet tone for the fireside.  Mark then spoke to them in Korean, the language he used as a missionary 15 years previous.


New York City is a melting pot of the world.  People come there from virtually every nation.  During a short ride on a NY subway you might hear a dozen different languages.  There is a sizable population of Chinese in New York.  Two of the six official mission languages are Mandarin and Cantonese.  Many of the Chinese immigrants to New York have grown up without a religious background or a belief in God.  The Chinese-speaking missionaries often recounted the joy of teaching someone they are a child of God, the son or daughter of a Father in Heaven who loves them.  Familiar and simple as this truth is to you and me, it was a startling and refreshing new truth to many of them.  And yes, many responded readily to this soul satisfying doctrine, one they had inherently sensed; it was a REDISCOVERY OF A TRUTH they had known before. 


Athens, Greece is a city long known for its learning and the dwelling place of noted Greek philosophers who lived before Christ such as Plato, Socrates and Aristotle.  Centuries later Paul the Apostle visited Athens and noted it was a “city wholly given to idolatry.” (Acts 17:10)  Paul ascended to Mars Hill and there boldly decried their false teachings:

"Ye men of Athens, I perceive that in all things ye are too superstitious...as I passed by, and beheld your devotions, I found an altar with this inscription, TO THE UNKNOWN GOD.  Whom therefore ye ignorantly worship, him declare I unto you.  God that made the world and all things therein, seeing that He is Lord of heaven and earth...is (not) worshiped with men’s hands, as though he needed anything, seeing He giveth to all life, and breath, and all things; and hath made of one blood all nations of men for to dwell on all the face of the earth, and hath determined the times before appointed, and the bounds of their habitation; that they should seek the Lord, if haply they might feel after Him, and find Him, though He be not far from every one of us.  For in Him we live, and move, and have our being; as certain also of your own poets have said, for we are also His offspring." 3       

What should it mean to you and me to know our true identity, who we really are?  As children of God we are invited to develop His attributes of love, learning, kindness, patience, forgiveness, meekness, courage, good will and the list goes on.  Yes, WE ARE INVITED TO BECOME LIKE HIM! In a recent gathering of friends who served missions in Scotland in our youth, I heard the following story from one of my former companions, Joseph McConkie.  While serving as a chaplain in Viet Nam during that conflict and war, Brother McConkie was responsible for helping meet the spiritual needs of LDS servicemen.   He said that at military headquarters, there was an assembly hall where religious services were held.  At that time the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was not viewed as a major religious denomination so the time for religious services given them was 4:00 P.M. on Sunday afternoon.  One day, following their meetings, a soldier who was responsible for the upkeep of the assembly hall said:  “I want to join your Church.”  Joseph asked:  “What has prompted this desire?”  The soldier replied:  “I watch your people come to Church each week in the late afternoons—and they come happy.  When they leave, they are even happier!”  No doubt this soldier could see the light of the gospel emanating from the faces of those soldiers who rejoiced every week in the great privilege of worship and fellowship—even in the difficult circumstances in which they found themselves. THESE SOLDIERS KNEW THEIR IDENTITY AND IT BLESSED OTHERS.


I think you know what a great opportunity you have to come and learn at this remarkable university. Indeed, it is a rare privilege!  Following your short season of study here, you will go to places all over the United States and the world to work, to raise a family or perhaps undertake even more study.  Your identity as a child of God goes with you, no matter where you go. Your identity is nurtured and reinforced in marvelous ways on this campus, in your student wards, and in your apartments.  I offer three things you can do to reinforce your foremost identity as a CHILD OF GOD wherever you may live.



In this information age, there are so many things to learn and there is not time to pursue them all. Many things you will want to avoid.  You must be selective.  Still, there are books and articles that will enhance your life, your confidence and your vision of who you are.  Elder Neal A. Maxwell spoke of the compelling need to have our learning be more than the accumulation of knowledge: “The mere accumulation of knowledge without purpose and of information without wisdom, constitutes ever learning but never coming to a knowledge of the truth” 4


Do you have a list of good books that you are reading or plan to read when you have more time—beyond those required readings for your classes?  Is scripture reading a daily anchor in your life?  Busy as we all are, daily time feasting on the word of the Lord brings bountiful blessings.  Daily scripture study helps us understand who we are and why we are here.  Two short scriptures depict how vital this is: 

“...feast upon the words of Christ, for...the words of Christ will tell you all things what ye should do.” 5  (2 Nephi 32:3)


The grass withereth, the flower fadeth; but the word of our God shall stand forever.” 6  (Isaiah 40:8)

The Lord teaches us in a revelation to the prophet Joseph Smith: “...seek ye out of the best books words of wisdom; seek learning, even by STUDY and also by FAITH.” 7 (Doctrine and Covenants 88:118)  In the same revelation, the Lord asks us to learn “...things both in heaven and in the earth, and under the earth; things which have been, things which are, things which must shortly come to pass; things which are at home, things which are abroad; the wars and the perplexities of the nations, and the judgments which are on the land; and a knowledge also of countries and of kingdoms.” 8 (Doctrine and Covenants 88:79)  You can link almost any discipline taught on this campus to some of the language of this revelation.  It may inspire you to learn all you can—even about disciplines beyond your chosen major.


On this campus and at other universities there are foundation and general education courses to provide a broad framework for learning before you specialize in your major.  Doing your best in these foundation courses is important.  I want to share a personal experience, a mistake in my education, which illustrates the point.  In high school math was NOT my favorite subject.  I took math classes each of the first three years of high school but decided not to my senior year.  When I selected a major at the university I discovered that math was not required and so I took no math as an undergraduate student.  When I was accepted and received a fellowship to attend graduate school, I was relieved to learn that “calculus was not a required prerequisite for the program.”  When I entered the required “Quantitative Methods” class on the first day, I painfully learned that this simple course title of quantitative methods covered differential and integral calculus and high-powered statistics based on the calculus.  Not only had it been seven years since my last math class, but I had not taken college algebra and trigonometry which are prerequisites for calculus.  I needed a miracle to launch me across this huge knowledge chasm.


The next Sunday at Church I met my miracle, a Ph.D. student in philosophy by the name of Cody Carter.  When I learned that Cody held bachelors and masters degrees in mathematics, I quickly and desperately inquired:  “Could I hire you to tutor me in math?”  His quick answer:  “No!”  I was on the verge of tears before he said:  “But I will be happy to be your tutor without pay.”  With Cody’s expertise in math and patient tutoring, through my own extensive sweat and toil, and positive encouragement from Marj, I was able to complete the class and not have to repeat it.  That was indeed a miracle!  The moral of this anecdote is NOT to procrastinate as I did, but to dive into the courses you will need—even if they aren’t your favorites.  As Abraham Lincoln said, “I’ll prepare now and take my chances on what comes.”


I want to share an example of someone who prepared and learned in advance and great blessings have come to many from his learning.  His name is Cole Durham.  He was a young, founding faculty member of the BYU Law School when it started in l977.  Elder Dallin H. Oaks, then President of Brigham Young University, invited and charged the Law School faculty to develop some area of expertise and knowledge that would be helpful to the Church.  Brother Durham followed that counsel and chose to learn all he could about religious freedom and laws and principles related to it.  Fast forward to l989 and the Berlin Wall came tumbling down.  Countries behind the Iron Curtain had languished without religious freedom and were now interested in establishing laws and practices that would foster religious freedom.  Professor Durham made numerous trips to many of these countries offering expert advice and much tangible help.  By heeding President Oaks’ counsel he was prepared to meet a vital need and many nations have come to recognize and be blessed by his timely and invaluable help.


Two concluding examples of learning come from my parents. Mother served as the cultural refinement teacher in Relief Society for a long time.  She loved it.  She acquired a sizable library of books and maps about the countries and cultures throughout the world.  She loved this and other  callings.  She used to say around the dinner table:  Sister__________ is the best read sister in the ward.  She loves good books and is always sharing inspiring insights.  While this sister was not able to attend college because she needed to help support her family in the Great Depression when she graduated from high school, she always loved to read and learn and adopted this habit throughout her life.  My mother was speaking of Sister Marjorie Hinckley.


My father spent much of his life teaching, learning and writing. The last decade of his life he had Parkinsons’ disease.  While his body gradually broke down, his active mind continued to yearn for learning.  He would often say a person needs to use his mind or his brain to fulfill his nature as God’s child and unless he gets excited about ideas, about learning; unless he reads books and talks about ideas, and not just the weather and people, he will not fulfill that nature.  On one visit to his home during the last year of his life I said:  Dad, what are you reading?”  He said:  “The Book of Mormon.”  I said, where are you in the book and how long have you been reading it?  His reply:  “I began Monday and I’m in Moroni.”  It was Wednesday. Even with this debilitating disease, his mind was still alert in his late 80’s because he had always used it.  To fulfill your divine nature, PURSUE AND LOVE INSPIRED LEARNING!



One of the classic statements from King Benjamin’s masterful discourse is often quoted: 

“...I tell you these things that ye may learn wisdom; that ye may learn that when ye are in the service of your fellow beings ye are only in the service of your God.” 9 (Mosiah 2:17) 

Elders Engstrom and Low were walking down the street in Long Island one sunny, spring afternoon—dressed in slacks, white shirts and ties. They saw an elderly, white-haired man shoveling in a huge pile of dirt. They walked over and asked if they could help.  He readily accepted.  They shoveled for a while with Lou Vigliotti and then said: “Could we come back on Saturday dressed for the occasion and help you finish shoveling?”  Lou said: “That would be nice.”  On their return they brought two more elders and they moved that huge pile rather quickly.  In the process they had an extensive discussion with Lou about the gospel. He invited them to his home and he began attending Church.  In a month’s time Lou joined the Church.  At his baptism, this 80 year-old man said: “I feel like I have found my home!” He now understood more fully his purpose on earth and his true identity. All because two elders seized the opportunity to give timely service!


Shoveling dirt seems like a pretty mundane task.  President Kimball reminds us that: “Mundane service can be of great value.  God does notice us, and He watches over us.  But it is usually through another mortal that He meets our needs.  Therefore, it is vital that we serve each other in the kingdom. . .So often our acts of service consist of simple encouragement or of giving mundane help with mundane tasks—but what glorious consequences can flow from mundane acts and from small but deliberate deeds.” 10


I share a story about a student some years ago at this school.  She began in the fall semester. She was discouraged and remained in her apartment, didn’t attend many activities and went home at Christmas and told her Mother: “I don’t think I want to go back.  I’m just not having a good experience or much fun.”  Her mother reflected for a few minutes and then said:  “Camille, I want you to return next semester and do just one thing every day.  Each day I want you to do something for someone that is not expected or required—just go out of your way to render needed service for someone.  Will you try that for a semester and then see how you feel?”  Camille agreed and returned to school.  She took her mother’s advice to serve someone each day.  Within two or three weeks she couldn’t believe how happy she was.  By focusing on others and less on herself, she felt better about herself and others.  After about five weeks some of her friends encouraged her to run for a student office.  She ran and was elected.  Her service as a student officer was outstanding as she continued doing daily service!  Camille learned the sweet impact of the Savior’s counsel: “He [she] that findeth his life shall lose it; and he that loseth his life for my sake shall find it.” 11 


Service is also a wonderful way to heal us when we face heartache and even tragedy in our lives.  How touching it has been to learn about the events in Haiti over the past two months!  The loss of life and extensive human suffering have been heart-wrenching.  The loving response of so many has been heart-warming.


This campus and community knows the name of Brady Howell, one of 188 killed in the 9/11 attack on the Pentagon.  The son of long-time Ricks College employee Ken Howell and his wife Jeanette, Brady was working as a presidential management intern in Naval intelligence with a promising career ahead of him.  His wife Liz was beginning her promising career in nursing and the medical field.  Her life was dramatically changed with this tragedy.  Brady & Liz, who met and courted on this campus, had their dreams disrupted.  From a recent Church News article, Liz stated: “I realized there are other people in the world who are suffering, and while I by no means am an expert on grief or trial, I’m acquainted with grief.  I realized at that point that I wanted to serve others with all my heart, with everything that I had, and I realized that I had been blessed so much after the loss of my husband, and comforted so much.” That is what helped her decide at age 30 to serve a mission to Portugal.  Liz noted that “I took the responsibility to channel my grief in a positive direction.” 12

She has been part of an LDS team rendering humanitarian relief in Haiti. And the peace of service has helped bind her broken heart.


Yes, through acts of service, special consequences flow.  I have often wondered what course my life may have taken had I not found a very competent math tutor at a timely moment WILLING to serve.  The greatest joys in life are found through giving and sometimes receiving WILLING SERVICE TO (or from) OTHERS!  As you reach out to others you strengthen your confidence in who you are.



Samuel taught that “...to obey is better than sacrifice, and to hearken than the fat of rams.” (see I Samuel 15:22)  Perhaps you have wondered why obedience is the first law of heaven?  We have been taught by prophets that the purpose of life is to be tested, “...to see if (we)...will do all things whatsoever the Lord...(our) God shall command...” (see Abraham 3:24-26)  By proving ourselves faithful in this testing process, we show that we can be trusted. 


The Lord’s commandments are loving advice from our Heavenly Father to lead us to happiness, to strengthen our identity of who we really are, and who we can become.  It is a straight and narrow path but also a path of protection and safety.  Obedience to God’s commandments is the covenant we renew each week to remember the promised blessing that accompanies diligent efforts to “always have His Spirit to be with us.” (Doctrine & Covenants 20:77) A recurring theme in the Book of Mormon reminds us of this promise:  “ . . .inasmuch as ye shall keep the commandments of God ye shall prosper in the land; and . . .inasmuch as ye will not keep the commandments of God, ye shall be CUT OFF from His presence.” 13 (Alma 36:30) To prosper means economic blessings; but I believe that the larger blessing and meaning of “prosper” is to enjoy the Lord’s Spirit and influence in our lives as we HAPPILY hearken to His commandments.


The hymn we sang “I am a Child of God” in its initial version had the phrase:  “...teach me all that I must KNOW”.  A prophet, President Spencer W. Kimball, suggested to the composer, Sister Naomi Randall, that the phrase be changed with just one word:  “…teach me all that I must DO”.  This is the same prophet who simply said:  “DO IT!”  This was a prophetic reminder of how important our actions are!


As a young missionary in Scotland, President David O. McKay tells of a time in his mission when he had “become discouraged and homesick . . .”  As he and his companion walked they saw “ . . .an unfinished dwelling, (and) over the front door . . . was a stone on which there was some carving.  He walked over to see what it said and saw “...a striking motto carved in stone—it read: ‘WHATE’ER THOU ART, ACT WELL THY PART. . .’ ”  President McKay took this statement as a direct message to him and he said:  “The Spirit said to me, ‘You are a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, …and you are a representative of the Church and you are to act well your part as a missionary and you should get into the work with all your heart.’” 14


Blessings that come from obedience are abundant.  President McKay spoke of one of these: “To have the approval of your conscience when you are alone with your thoughts, is like being in the company of true and loving friends.” 15  To have peace of conscience in this life is a cherished blessing.


Remembering the Lord’s love and purpose for each of us as His children provides motivation to hearken to the Lord’s teachings as Elder Neal A. Maxwell stated:

I believe with all my heart that because God loves us there are some particularized challenges that He will deliver to each of us.  He will customize the curriculum for each of us in order to teach us the things we most need to know.  He will set before us in life what we need; not always what we like.  And this will require us to accept with all our hearts the truth that there is divine design in each of our lives and that we have rendezvous to keep, individually and collectively.” 16

The Lord knows you and loves you.  You were prepared to come to earth at this time.  This is both a great opportunity and responsibility.  Like the LDS soldiers in Viet Nam, you are to make a difference by how you live, by the Spirit you radiate, and by the power of your examples.  The importance of how you live and obey the Lord was clearly taught by Alma: “And trust no one to be your teacher nor your minister, except he be a man of God, walking in His  ways and keeping His commandments.” 17


I love the following thoughts from two inspired leaders of youth:  From Elder Glenn Pace: 

“. . . we will remain much safer and infinitely happier if we will place our energies in current obedience rather than saving them for future repentance.” 18 

And from Sister Ardeth Kapp: 

These commandments are given not to restrict us, but to redeem us; not just to reform us but to exalt us.” 19

 Elder Maxwell helps enlarge our vision concerning your divine potential:

My beloved young friends, you are the vanguard of the righteous spirits to be infused into the Church in the last days.  Back beyond time, it was so determined and you were prepared—before the foundations of the world—to help save others in the latter-day world.  You cannot keep this resplendent rendezvous if you become like the world!  Make your righteous marks on the world instead of being spotted by the world.” 20 

 As you make righteous marks by faithfully following the Lord’s commandments, you understand why obedience is the first law of heaven.  Obedience is heaven’s law which opens the door to the cherished blessings in God’s great plan of happiness.      


Remember, as you LOVE AND PURSUE INSPIRED LEARNING, WILLINGLY SERVE OTHERS, AND HAPPILY OBEY THE LORD’S COMMANDMENTS, you will nurture and re-enforce your powerful identity as a CHILD OF GOD.  Your identity, which is “EVERLASTING AND DIVINE,” makes all the difference in enabling you to fulfill your divine nature—in how you live now and what you can become!

2    CHURCH NEWS, January 30, 2010, 10
3    THE HOLY BIBLE, New Testament, Acts 17:22-29
5    THE BOOK OF MORMON, 2 Nephi 32:3
6    THE HOLY BIBLE, Old Testament, Isaiah 40:8
9    THE BOOK OF MORMON, Mosiah 2:17
11  THE HOLY BIBLE, New Testament, Matthew 10:39
12  CHURCH NEWS, 1/30/10, 7
13  THE BOOK OF MORMON, Alma 36:30
14  Gregory A. Prince & Wm. Robert Wright, DAVID O. MCKAY AND THE RISE OF MODERN MORMONISM, 7
15  Statement by Pres. David O. McKay as remembered by Steven D. Bennion
17  THE BOOK OF MORMON, Mosiah 23:14
18  Glen L. Pace, SPIRITUAL SURVIVAL, 104
19  Ardyth Green Kapp, MY NEIGHBOR, MY SISTER, MY FRIEND, 28