Episode 31. August 28, 2016. We are here in the US this week for our daughter Mauren’s wedding to Justin Brough. It has been an amazing weekend and an appropriate week to talk about my subject today: The Best is Yet to Come!
I want to start today by talking about the great patriarch Abraham. He was the father of Isaac and grandfather to Jacob who later became known as Israel – the father of the 12 tribes.
The Kings that ruled Egypt were known as Pharaohs. The Pharaoh during Abraham’s life was a good man and treated his people well. He, however, was from the lineage of Ham and did not have the rights to the Priesthood. That however did not stop him from claiming authority through Noah and then essentially creating their own priesthood rights. In this case it was idol worship, including human sacrifice. Abraham’s dad, Terah, got caught up in all of this and became an idol worshipper himself, even though he was of different descent than the Pharaohs. A good lesson here about being careful with whom you hang around with!
The priest of Pharaoh and those who worshipped with him did not like people telling them they were wrong. In Abraham Chapter 1 we learn that they took the life of a child as a thank offering upon their altar and later, offered up three virgins because they would not bow down to worship gods of wood or stone. This was done “after the manner of the Egyptians”, which means they picked their subjects for sacrifice based on their level of opposition to idolatry.
Abraham was able to get his hands on the “records of the fathers” as it says in Abraham 1:31” and because of reading of it and perhaps because of his mother (although the record is silent on the matter of his mother), caused him to desire the blessings of the fathers.
Abraham 1:2 says this about Abraham’s desire: “Finding there was greater happiness and peace and rest for me (in other words, he knew there was something better than what he was currently experiencing), I sought for the blessings of the fathers, and the right whereunto I should be ordained to administer the same; having been myself a follower of righteousness, desiring also to be one who possessed greater knowledge…” Clearly Abraham wanted more!
Well Abraham tried to convince his father Terah and his grandfather Nahor, that idolatry was wrong, but they “utterly refused to hearken to his voice”. In fact, his own father endeavored to take away his life, ironically much in the same way that he was later asked to sacrifice his own son Isaac as a test of his faithfulness. In league with Abraham’s father, the priest of Pharaoh had placed him on the altar after killing the three virgins, in an attempt to do the same to him. We know, however, that an angel stood by him and loosed his bands. The Lord then broke down the altar and smote the priest that he died.
Wow, how is that for happy teenage years? We know that Abraham did escape. The Lord blessed him with a wonderful wife named Sarai. The Lord then caused a terrible famine to come upon the Land of Chaldea. The Lord told them to flee the city Ur in the land Chaldea. They traveled about 600 miles and settled in a place called Haran. Because of the famine, Terah repented of this evil in trying to kill Abraham and followed them to Haran. Later Terah returned to his idolatry and Abraham and his household were led another 600 miles or so to the land of Canaan, which now modern day Israel.
So what kept Abraham going against some pretty formidable odds? He desired the blessings of the Priesthood. This created a hope with him, which kept him moving forward with great faith on the Lord – and his faith was rewarded.
Abraham’s trials were far from over, but because of his commitment to righteousness, the Lord blessed him abundantly. He became the father of many nations through the twelve tribes of Israel and the promises in the Abrahamic covenant.
Okay, now I want to tell you a second story, this one not so glamorous, but to me, filled with just as many miracles. This is my story.
I was born in 1957 to Leonard Kunz and Elvenia Pazdera. They married late in life, both of them were 36 when they married in 1953 and I was the third of three children. I was born when my mom was 41 years old. In 1963 my parents bought 10 acres of land on the Shoshone Bannock Indian reservation in Fort Hall, Idaho and we moved the 10 miles north from where we were living in Pocatello to this small farm.
My dad was an inactive member of the church. My mom was Catholic. The three of us kids were all raised Catholic. The agreement between my parents was that my mom could raise us Catholic, but when we got old enough to choose for ourselves, we would be allowed to do so.
Both my mom and dad dropped out of school in the 8th grade because of the great depression. Later my mom went back and received her high school equivalent GED.
My dad worked at a phosphorus plant in Pocatello for FMC as a laborer. When he retired in 1977, he was making $16,600 / year. The equivalent of $8 and hour. To make ends meet we milked cows, had a huge garden and raised our own beef. Looking back now I am pretty sure we were poor and we did not even know it.
My dad had a horrible smoking and drinking problem. In his later life he became a full fledge alcoholic. He eventually succumbed from cancer caused by these. I don’t ever remember my dad telling me that he loved me. The day he died prior to an operation he was undergoing, I told him I loved him. The best he could say was “me too”. How grateful I was for that moment on the phone that for me is frozen in time. While not often expressed, I never doubted my parent’s love for me.
Let me just say or word or two about growing up in that environment. The good news is that I learned to work hard at an early age and I learned what it means to have significant responsibility. As a second grader I would drive an old Allis Chambers hand cranked tractor two miles to 60 acres of land that we leased from several Indian families. It was there that we raised alfalfa in order to feed our dairy cows. For us, summertime was not a time for vacation and travel, but rather a time to mow, rake, bale and haul about 3000 bales of hay spread over two or three crops. Every morning and every night from the time I was 8 years old, I would work with my brother and sister to milk cows using a Surge hand milking machine. I could not have asked for a better preparation for my life although at the time I felt pretty deprived.
But there was a downside to this upbringing, and that is that I had absolutely no social grace and lived my life focused mostly just on me. Looking back I was selfish, self absorbed, obnoxious and cocky in my own little world, although I had no confidence around girls. I thought the use of colorful language made me cool. In high school I rarely dated, and that generally only happened if a girl asked me to a girls choice dance. The one time I did ask a girl to a dance, I went with a friend, Lance Burnside, to his dairy barn where they had a phone. With Lance’s encouragement I called and asked Anita to a dance. Gratefully after conferring with her parents, she said yes. But I have to tell you I was scared to death to make that phone call. I later found out she had been dating one of my friends. I was absolutely oblivious.
So with that as a backdrop, I knew I wanted a better life than my parents. I saw how hard my dad worked at FMC (he would often return from work covered in dust and dirt) and when he got home he would then work even more on our small farm. I wanted something more. I was determined to use my head instead of my brawn. I wanted to get a good education, get a good job and have a beautiful loving family.
It wasn’t until my senior year in high school when LaDawn Ogden asked me to a girl ask boy dance that I began to glimpse just how good life could be. You see, I was drawn to LaDawn because of her goodness and virtue. Through my relationship with her and the example she set, I eventually joined the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints on August 2, 1975. I then transferred from the University of Idaho where I was enrolled for that fall semester and instead attended BYU for my freshman year. A later I served a two-year mission to Munich Germany. Upon my return from my mission, I went back to BYU and then married LaDawn on December 27, 1975. I graduated from BYU in 1981 and began employment with Shell Oil Company in May of that year. Thirty-five years later my rewarding career with Shell is nearing an end.
You see, I have seen both sides of life. I have lived in a home where God was not at the center and I now live in one where he is. And I choose this one. I have lived the self- centered life and I am now trying to live a life more focused on others. And I choose this one. I have lived a life where nearly every moment is consumed in doing what it takes to put food on the table and I now live a life where my education has blessed me with a good job with a good salary and with good benefits. And I choose this one. I have lived a life where promises didn’t mean much and telling the truth was based more on convenience than commitment. I now live a life where I keep my promises and willingly make new ones. And I choose this one.
In the October 1999 General Conference Elder Jeffrey R. Holland gave an address titled “An High Priest of Good Things to Come”. In that remarkable address he shared some of his own struggles and in one of those moments, in his minds eye looking back he saw himself and he said he wanted to call out: “Don’t give up, boy. Don’t you quit. You keep walking. You keep trying. There is help and happiness ahead—a lot of it—30 years of it now, and still counting. You keep your chin up. It will be all right in the end. Trust God and believe in good things to come.”
I want to add my witness that Elder Holland’s counsel and his promise is absolutely true. With all of the struggles and chaos in the world today, it is with absolute certainty that I declare to my own posterity that it will be all right in the end. Trust God and believe in good things to come. For me, there have been two things that have really helped me. The first was the commitment to serve others. Very early in my church experience I made a decision to volunteer first for assignments. The second was a commitment to feed my spirit with sacred things. Daily scripture study and frequent temple attendance has been key.
I want to end today with a short poem I learned as a young man that has epitomized my own desire to claim the best that life could offer.
Good better best,
Never let it rest
Till the good is better
And the better best
Living a gospel-centered life is a life that just keeps getting better. And the very best life is eternal life with a loving Father in Heaven. I stand all amazed at the love offered to us from the God of the universe if we will be just try to follow him and become like his Son, Jesus Christ. I know the atonement works to make us better. It has worked for me, and it will work for you.