Episode 12. April 17, 2016. Today we are in Draper, UT having traveled to the US from the Philippines to be at our son Garen’s graduation from BYU with a degree in Chemical Engineering. Here is a shout out to you Garen! Today I want to talk about a topic that is increasingly important to me, and I hope will be equally important to you. That topic is the Scriptures.
I want to start today by talking about Lehi’s vision of the tree of life. I Nephi 8:19 says, “And I beheld a rod of iron, and it extended along the bank of the river, and led to the tree by which I stood” In verse 24 it says, “they did come forth and caught hold of the end of the rod of iron; and they did press forward through the midst of darkness, clinging to the rod of iron, even until they did come forth and partake of the fruit of the tree.”
The fruit of the tree of life is a representation of the love of God (1Ne 11:22), manifest in the perfect life, example and atonement of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. The reason the fruit “fills our souls with such exceedingly great joy and makes it desirable above all other fruit” (see 1 Nephi 8:11) is because when we partake of that fruit we are partaking of his love in a very personal way. While serving in a stake calling a few years back, I had an interview with an individual whose testimony had become firm and unshaken because they had been through some rough spots in their life and it caused them to seek this Jesus of Nazareth and the fruit that he offers. Above all other experiences with the church and the gospel in this individuals life, the one event that was life changing was this personal experience with the savior in that moment they sought after and partook of the fruit of the tree of life. I too, like many of you, have partaken of the fruit of this tree and, can declare that it is most desirable and that it has filled my soul with inexpressible joy.
I also want to say a word or two about that rod of iron that led to this tree and kept those who grasped it and pressed forward safe from the temptations of the world represented by the mists of darkness. Nephi learned that this iron rod was the word of God. (1 Nephi 11:25). It is interesting that iron would be the symbol here. In Nephi’s time, mining and then forging iron was a difficult and laborious process. For an entire pathway to be lined with something as precious as a rod made of iron sends a significant message about just how important and solid this handrail had to be.
The word of God has always had a powerful influence in the lives of God’s children. In
Helaman 15:7 (speaking of the converted Lamanites) it says, “And behold, ye do know of yourselves, for ye have witnessed it, that as many of them as are brought to the knowledge of the truth, and to know of the wicked and abominable traditions of their fathers, and are led to believe the holy scriptures, yea, the prophecies of the holy prophets, which are written, which leadeth them to faith on the Lord and unto repentance, which faith and repentance bringeth a change of heart unto them—therefore as many as have come to this, ye know of yourselves are firm and steadfast in the faith.”
Here we see the power of the word of God in the lives of the converted Lamanites. The written prophecies of the holy prophets caused the Lamanites to repent and have a change of heart so that they became firm and steadfast. The scriptures and especially the Book of Mormon can have this same effect on us.
So why is it the scriptures can have such a powerful effect?
Elder Hartman Rector Jr. tells about a prominent Jewish leader who joined the church and then later in a conversation with Elder Rector asked him why the Book of Mormon was so important. Elder Rector told him he should ask the Lord himself. Later, when the two met up again, the friend told Elder Rector that he had received his own answer from the Lord. When Elder Rector asked what it was, he told him it was a personal answer in response to a personal prayer and he did not feel he should share it. Several times over the next few years whenever these two men were together, Elder Rector would ask what it was the Lord had told him, but the friend declined. Finally Elder Rector found out this man was in the hospital and was dying. He flew to New York where he lived and there visited with him. After a lengthy visit, Elder Rector asked one more time. “My friend, you are dying, please tell me what it was that the Lord told you about the Book of Mormon. The man finally relented and said, “The Lord told me the reason the Book of Mormon is so important to the world is because it is saturated with the Spirit of the Lord. Now I have done some research on this phrase, and interestingly enough found it two other times. Bryant S. Hinckley, President Hinckley’s father, while serving as the President of the Liberty Stake in SLC said the Book of Mormon is saturated with the spirit and the essence of faith in God. Elder Clinton L. Cutler while serving incidentally as a counselor with Elder Rector in the General Sunday School Presidency said “The Book of Mormon is saturated with the Spirit of Christ. “ I testify to you that I know this is true and we cannot read, study and ponder the Book of Mormon without this saturation of the spirit rubbing off on us.
In 1986 we moved from Houston to LaPlace, LA, just outside of New Orleans. Because my commute to work in my car was a bit further, I began listening to the Book of Mormon tapes every day on my to and from work. This was in direct response to President Bensen’s November 1986 conference address on the Book of Mormon and his challenge to us to make studying it a lifelong pursuit. After about a month or so of listening to these tapes every day I was asked to pray in church. I was somewhat startled as I heard my own voice. It was different. There was a greater portion of the spirit in my voice I had not heard for a long time. This book, saturated with the spirit of the Lord was rubbing off on me. Sort of like eating pancakes with syrup, always ending up with sticky hands whether I wanted to or not. I was finding that the scripture in 1 Ne 1:12 speaking of Lehi reading from the Book given him by the angel was true… And it came to pass that as he read, he was filled with the aSpirit of the Lord. When we read from the scriptures, we truly are filled with the spirit of the Lord.
Here are five personal examples I would like to share with you about how the scriptures have changed my life:
During the time we were in LaPlace, I remember reading and studying the Book of Mormon. One of the insights I gained was about how Laman and Lemuel murmured because they knew not the dealings of that God who created them. (1 Ne 2:12). This caused me deep reflection and helped me to realize that when I was tempted to murmur, it was because I did not understand God’s dealings with me. This realization changed my potential murmuring into a quest for a deeper understanding of my relationship with Heavenly Father and how he might be trying to help me strengthen areas of weakness in my own life.
When I was first called as a Bishop in 1997, I spent quite some time studying the difference between ministering and administering. I knew I would be required to do both, but wanted my focus to be on ministering. Through a thorough study of the scriptures I learned that to effectively minister is to teach, uplift, inspire and listen. I learned that to minister I would need to be able to hear the spirit and respond to its promptings. I would need to have a greater portion of the spirit with me to lift others from disappointment, despair or simply weariness. This caused me to seek the spirit more earnestly and to listen more carefully with my spiritual ears. It changed the way I conducted personal priesthood interviews and Temple Recommend Interviews. It made me realize my responsibility to minister as the Savior ministered.
Later during my tenure as a Bishop I was studying about charity. I read in Moroni 7:44 where it says that without charity we are nothing. This was very sobering to me. In the verse prior to this it says we cannot have faith and hope (pre-requisites for charity) save we shall be meek and lowly of heart. As I began to learn about being meek and lowly of heart, I gained a new appreciation for what it means to be truly humble. I saw for the first time how the Savior not only taught this principle of lowliness of heart, but how he embodied it in the very way that he lived his life. I learned that being lowly of heart means we need to be able to “look up” from our own position in life and see everyone as being above us. This has changed the way I treat others, especially those who previously I may have treated as though I was better than they. It was during the period of time that I was studying this that I realized I needed to stop yelling at referees at Basketball games.
When Elder D. Todd Christopherson came to the Cypress Stake Conference in 2001, he challenged those of us in attendance to study four particular chapters in the Book of Mormon (2 Nephi 2, 2 Nephi 9, Alma 12 and Alma 42) and from that write a one page document on the Plan of Salvation. As I worked on this assignment I learned many things, but in particular I gained a deep understanding about justification and sanctification for the first time in my life. This prepared me for the invitation to attend the temple every week. I already knew why I needed to do it. The spirit had taught me the importance of the temple in the sanctification process. Answering the call was the next natural step in my own personal progression.
Perhaps the most valuable change in my life from the scriptures has come from a thorough study of the power of the atonement in the lives of the people in the scriptures. The stories of Moses and the brazen serpent, the people of King Mosiah, Alma the Younger, King Lamoni and his father, and many more taught me that to gain access to the grace embodied in the atonement, I just needed enough faith to actually kneel down and ask for help. I learned that the atonement applies to mistakes, errors in judgment, afflictions, sicknesses and temptations of every kind every bit as much it applies to sin. I will share with you just one example, but there are many. As a relatively new Bishop a member of the ward had made some serious mistakes. After working through the beginnings of the repentance process, the sin reoccurred. I felt horrible. As a Bishop I felt I had failed. It was then that I found comfort in the power of the atonement as I sought the Lord’s help to overcome the feelings of inadequacy I was having. I bear testimony that he answered my prayer and removed the burden I was feeling. I believed the scriptures that if it could work for others, then it could work for me.
I have a testimony that making the scriptures a daily part of our lives will indeed change us. It has changed me. No matter where we are spiritually, reading and studying the scriptures every day will bring us closer to the Savior. Again, this is especially true of the Book of Mormon, but it applies to all of the standard works. It will change our very attributes and characteristics. I hope each of us will make the scriptures a more important priority in our daily lives. I join with Elder Robert D. Hales who in a 2006 conference address said this. “If you have not heard His voice speaking to you lately, return with new eyes and new ears to the scriptures. They are our spiritual lifeline.” (Elder Robert D. Hales – Oct 2006 Conference address).