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Baselines of Gospel Truth

My Friends, Aloha!

I am grateful that given the time that it is in the semester, with the many things that you have to do and prepare for, that you are here today. I hope that my message will be worth the time that you have given to be here.

As I have listened to each of the devotional speakers that have preceded me, I have found that there have been many common themes expressed that support the message that I hope to share with you today. I want you to know that the Lord has messages for you that He wants you to hear.

Points of Reference

I have always loved to explore – whether it is new buildings, new cities, new countries, the mountains, or the ocean. It is the main reason that I decided to become an oceanographer and geologist. I wanted to be able to explore the world and try to understand it.

When I was a teenager, one of my favorite things to do was to explore caves. There weren’t a lot of caves near where I grew up, but there were a few. One of these caves is named Little Brush Creek Cave. It is in the Uinta Mountains of Utah. I made multiple trips to this cave, both with friends and with youth groups. The cave has a large entrance and fairly large passages, but there are many passages, and often between these passages there are tight places that require crawling. These passages branch off in a variety of directions. Once a person enters the cave, the light from the entrance is quickly cut off so that without flashlights or headlamps it is impossible to see.

One time, on a trip with other young men from my home ward, we entered the cave as a large group. As I recall, a close friend and I were the oldest of the boys, and had been in the cave several times before. Because of this, the adult leaders gave us a lot of freedom to explore on our own. After a fun time exploring, the leaders decided to take the younger boys out, but allowed my friend and me to remain in the cave. We were confident in our abilities and confident that we knew where we were, where we wanted to go and, most crucially, how to find our way back out of the cave.

After a time, we decided that we were done and we headed back to the entrance. I will never forget the feeling I had as we entered what I thought was the passage leading out of the cave only to find a dead end of ice-covered rock in a large open space. I did not recognize anything in that space. The only passage was the one we entered through.

I didn’t panic, but my confidence was weakened, and I tried to figure out where we were and where we needed to go. I was confused, where seconds before I had been completely confident. Leaving the room and reentering the passage that we had been in, which had many branching passages, I suddenly felt like I didn’t know where to go. I started to worry. We wandered tentatively into various passages, but always came back to where we were because suddenly nothing looked familiar anymore. I began to pray in my heart for help. It felt like I must have checked various routes multiple times. I don’t remember how long we were apparently lost or how many additional passages I checked. To be honest, I don’t think that it was an especially long time. But it was long enough that I became very nervous and worried.

There came a point, however, where, as we were checking different passages, that I happened to look up to a small, projecting piece of rock near my head. It was not very big, maybe only the size of a baseball, but tied around it was a broken piece of string, left by some previous person who had used string to guide them back to the entrance. My heart filled with hope at that moment because I recognized that rock and that string. I had seen it earlier in the day when we had first entered the cave and because of that, I suddenly knew exactly which direction to go in order to find the exit. My friend and I made our way out of the cave – and none of our leaders ever found out how close we had been to being lost – we kept that to ourselves.

That small rock and piece of string, as simple as they were, served as a firm and clear reference point so that I knew exactly where I was. They gave me clear direction and provided the guidance I needed to get where I wanted to go.

Life is full of similar reference points – landmarks such as buildings, houses, road signs, mountains, or even trees. The Hawaiian words “Makai” and “Mauka” indicate where things are relative to the ocean and the land. These things can tell us where we are or where other things are.


In science we use the word “baseline” to describe reference points that we can compare our data to. For example, today we often talk about sea level rise. How do we know if sea level is rising and by how much? Well, we can compare modern observations of sea level with past observations of sea level at the same location. Those past observations thus serve as a baseline to which we can compare our modern observations in order to see if a change has taken place, and if so, then by how much. As a scientist, it would be impossible for me to say whether or not something is normal or not if I had nothing to compare it to. Without baselines, science would be useless.

As a geologist and an oceanographer, many of the baselines I use are either from past measurements, such as sea level records or land surveys, or they are specific materials that have been previously measured to a very precise degree. By such means I can detect very accurately the concentrations of the chemical elements that make up the rocks and minerals that I study. Other researchers use the same or closely matched materials, so that they are comparing their results to the same baselines that I use, and thus are able to accurately compare their data with mine.

A meter in Hawaii is the same length as a meter in India. A kilogram in Japan is the same as a kilogram in Papua New Guinea. If a compass did not always point north, then most modern, long-distance navigation would be impossible. If GPS satellites did not send out precise and accurate measurements, then I would probably get lost every time I ventured into Honolulu. Without these baselines and the tools based on them, it would be impossible to trust the work or measurements of others. The ultimate purpose of all baselines is to help us to get closer to the fundamental truths of the world that we live in order to help us find success and accuracy in our daily lives.

However, I’m not here to give you a talk on science, as fun as that would be…for me. I’m here to talk to you about the truths of the Gospel and the baselines that will help all of us to stay close to our Heavenly Father and bring us peace. I’m here to talk about spiritual baselines or baselines of eternal Truth. So, what are these baselines? While there are many, many truths, not all of them are directly connected to our happiness and eternal progression. At the end of the day, I would argue that there are four, absolutely fundamental baselines to which all other things should be compared to.

During the April 2022 general conference, Elder Quentin L. Cook mentioned three of them. He shared a story of his brother’s decision to serve a mission, despite their father being against it. Their father thought that his brother should focus on his education instead. Elder Cook related, “In a remarkable discussion with my wise and exemplary older brother, we concluded that his decision on whether to serve a mission and delay his education depended on three questions: (1) Is Jesus Christ divine? (2) Is the Book of Mormon the word of God? and (3) Is Joseph Smith the Prophet of the Restoration?” [1] They concluded that if the answer to these questions were yes, then his brother should serve his mission.

So, I would list the three baselines that Elder Cook gives as:

  1. Jesus Christ is the Creator and Savior of the world. 
  2. The Book of Mormon is the word of God. 
  3. Joseph Smith was a prophet who restored Christ’s true Church. 

    And then I would add a fourth:

  4. There is a prophet on the earth today.  That prophet is Russell M. Nelson

These four truths are the baselines to which all other beliefs, thoughts, opinions, philosophies, political positions, and popular movements should be compared to. If these four things are true, then everything else is second to them. Why? Because if they are true, then they serve as the ultimate baselines for our spiritual, and thus eternal, progress and development. They serve as baselines of where to find the truths that will lead to lasting peace and happiness, and they help us to understand who we are and why we are here.

Mists of Darkness

Speaking of the Book of Mormon – one of the first stories told in the book is the story of Lehi’s Dream or Vision. Nephi describes how, under the influence of the Spirit of God, his father, Lehi had a dream in which he saw huge numbers of people wandering in a great wilderness, searching for something. Lehi says:

“And it came to pass after I had prayed unto the Lord I beheld a large and spacious field.

“And it came to pass that I beheld a tree, whose fruit was desirable to make one happy.

“And it came to pass that I did go forth and partake of the fruit thereof; and I beheld that it was most sweet, above all that I ever before tasted. Yea, and I beheld that the fruit thereof was white, to exceed all the whiteness that I had ever seen.

“And as I partook of the fruit thereof it filled my soul with exceedingly great joy; wherefore, I began to be desirous that my family should partake of it also; for I knew that it was desirable above all other fruit.” [2]

However, as Lehi looked for his family, he saw not only them, but he also saw countless numbers of people wandering in search of the tree. Their search was complicated by the fact that not only were they in a wilderness, but they were wandering through mists of darkness. These mists of darkness prevented people from seeing their surroundings, as well as where the tree was. Lehi continues:

“And I saw numberless concourses of people, many of whom were pressing forward, that they might obtain the path which led unto the tree by which I stood.

“And it came to pass that they did come forth, and commence in the path which led to the tree.

“And it came to pass that there arose a mist of darkness; yea, even an exceedingly great mist of darkness, insomuch that they who had commenced in the path did lose their way, that they wandered off and were lost.” [3]

I imagine that to the people in the dream, things were similar to the time that I was lost in Little Brush Creek Cave, where I was surrounded by darkness and stone, with no clear direction until I found the stone with the string tied to it. In the case of the people in Lehi’s Dream, they also had a guide.

“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…” [4]

“I beheld others pressing forward, and they came forth and caught hold of the end of the rod of iron; and they did press forward through the mist of darkness, clinging to the rod of iron, even until they did come forth and partake of the fruit of the tree.” [5]

Leading to the tree was a rod of iron. This rod was their guide or baseline that helped them to progress through the mists of darkness that surrounded them. By holding onto it, they knew where they were and where to go, regardless of how dark the mists became.

To most people who are familiar with this story, as most of us are, we typically speak of the mists of darkness as the temptations of the world, but I would like to suggest to you that they represent much more than simple temptations.

We live in a time in which organizations, groups of all kinds, online and social media personalities, politicians, celebrities, and whole industries are based on stirring us up, emotionally and mentally, in order to manipulate us for their own purposes. Sometimes those purposes are to get money from us. Sometimes those purposes are to bring about the political or social change that they want. Sometimes those purposes are noble and good. But sometimes those purposes are simply to sow discord and enmity or to divert us from the Truths of God.

President Nelson has said, “The voices and pressures of the world are engaging and numerous. But too many voices are deceptive, seductive, and can pull us off the covenant path. To avoid the inevitable heartbreak that follows, I plead with you today to counter the lure of the world by making time for the Lord in your life—each and every day.

“If most of the information you get comes from social or other media, your ability to hear the whisperings of the Spirit will be diminished. If you are not also

seeking the Lord through daily prayer and gospel study, you leave yourself vulnerable to philosophies that may be intriguing but are not true. Even Saints who are otherwise faithful can be derailed by the steady beat of Babylon’s band.” [6]

Today’s mists of darkness are the philosophies of the world that lead us away from spiritual truths. They are insidious and are often hidden in so-called “well-meaning” questions. They often try to manipulate our righteous desires, to turn them to support or uphold ideas in conflict with the Gospel. They may be arguments to justify choosing a political or social position over the recommendations or teachings of the prophet or the scriptures.

Thinking We Understand More Than We Do

One of the most subtle ways of influencing us is to make us feel so confident in our views that we feel that we understand more than we do, and thus close ourselves to the viewpoints of others or to Church leadership. We are tricked into thinking that we understand a situation or policy more than we actually do.

One of my earliest memories of sacrament meeting occurred when I was probably 3 or 4 years old. As a kid I loved to actively participate in Church meetings as much as I could. This meant that when we were asked to sustain someone in a new calling, I loved to raise my hand when everyone else did. One Sunday, I was not paying attention as members were called and sustained. In fact, as I recall, I was playing on the floor instead of sitting in my seat. On this particular Sunday my family was sitting almost in the very back of the chapel, in the overflow area. The leader who was conducting read out the name of someone who had been called and asked for the sustaining vote. I didn’t realize what was happening until everyone had already lowered their hands. At that point, the leader asked, “Are there any opposed?” I did not know what that word meant, but wanting to participate and feeling disappointed that I missed the first time that hands were raised, I quickly climbed onto my seat, stood as tall as I could, threw my hand as high as I could and shouted, “I do!” While most everyone found it humorous, I could tell from my parents’ reactions that I had done something that I shouldn’t have. I was inexperienced and I lacked understanding. I did not understand how things really were – despite my feeling of confidence that I did. Before I got lost in Little Brush Creek Cave, I had complete confidence that I knew where I was going.

Do not make the mistake of thinking that because you know something about a subject that you know all that there is to know about that subject. In the words of the character, Van Helsing, in Bram Stoker’s famous novel, Dracula, “We get the small truth first. Good! We keep him, and we value him, but all the same, we must not let him think himself all the truth in the universe.” [7] Have humility to recognize that you do not know all that God does.

Returning to Baselines of Truth

So, how do we see through the mists of darkness? How do we get back to the Iron Rod if we’ve let go of it? I suggest that we do it by returning to the four fundamental baselines that I spoke of earlier:

  1. Jesus Christ is the Creator and Savior of the world. 
  2. The Book of Mormon is the word of God. 
  3. Joseph Smith was a prophet who restored Christ’s true Church. 
  4. There is a prophet on the earth today – Russell M. Nelson.  

Every other teaching, philosophy, belief, interest, or opinion should be held up against these four baselines. If I have a political position that leads me to criticize a statement from the prophet, then I should pause and rethink it. If my social opinions cause me to complain about what the prophet or an apostle says, then I need to make sure that I return to these four baselines and reevaluate my testimony. Why? Because, as President Dallin H. Oaks has said, “I find some wisdom in liberalism, some wisdom in conservatism, and much truth in intellectualism – but I find no salvation in any of them.” [8]

Two weeks ago, Sister Sheri Dew, asked the question, “Can you think of any journalist, talk-show host, celebrity, athlete, or politician you trust more than our prophet? How about any entrepreneur, billionaire, or scholar? Any YouTube celeb or star of stage, screen, or Netflix?

“I can’t. Each of these want something from us: our vote, money, or support. They all have personal agendas. Prophets of God do not. Their agenda is the Lord’s.” [9]

And I would reiterate what Christ taught, “Ye shall know them by their fruits.” [10]

While I have not had the one-on-one experiences with the prophets that Sister Dew has had, I have had more experiences than I can count of applying the teachings of the prophets as I have faced challenges in life. I have been blessed with vast amounts of peace and hope because I’ve done so.

A popular sentiment today is the idea of “my truth,” which is meant to express an individual’s personal viewpoint. However, from both a scientific and religious perspective, such an idea is fundamentally flawed, if not outrightly false. As my friend, Forest Gahn, a geology professor at BYU–Idaho, once said:

“Truth—absolute truth—defines and governs the cosmos. It exists independently of our perceptions or even our capacity to comprehend reality. Truth is not subject to our thoughts, biases, or desires—it is what it is regardless of how well we may, or may not, understand it. It is what it is whether we accept, reject, or ignore it.” [11]

Let me be clear, I am not condemning anyone for their beliefs, thoughts, or political and social leanings. It’s ok to have opinions. We are a diverse people. God wants us to be. We are His children after all. However, when you struggle with the constant bombardment of social media messages and popular opinions, I want you to know where you can look to sort through them. I encourage you to develop in your mind and heart a habit of using these four concepts as the baselines to which you can compare the wave of messages you constantly deal with in our increasingly chaotic and manipulated world.

And if you do not yet have a testimony of these baselines, then I ask you to dedicate the time to gain one. How can you do that? The answer was given by President Kauwe in the very first devotional of this semester. So, as we approach the end of this semester, I want to repeat his advice to you – to apply Moroni’s Promise at the end of the Book of Mormon:

“And when ye shall receive these things, I would exhort you that ye would ask God, the Eternal Father, in the name of Christ, if these things are not true; and if ye shall ask with a sincere heart, with real intent, having faith in Christ, he will manifest the truth of it unto you, by the power of the Holy Ghost.

“And by the power of the Holy Ghost ye may know the truth of all things.

“And whatsoever thing is good is just and true; wherefore, nothing that is good denieth the Christ, but acknowledgeth that he is.” [12]

I would also add the words of Christ, “If any man will do his will, he shall know of the doctrine, whether it be of God, or whether I speak of myself.” [13] The best way to come to know Truth is to apply it in your life. If you do, the Holy Ghost will bear witness of it.

The answers don’t always come quickly (but sometimes they do). But I bear my own witness that if you apply the four baselines I have outlined to determine what is really true, and if you gain your own testimony of them, then you will find greater happiness and greater peace throughout your life than you will by following the opinions and philosophies of others. God loves you. He is real. Christ is our Savior. Joseph Smith was a prophet. The Book of Mormon is true. And President Nelson is a prophet on Earth today.

In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.

[1] Elder Quentin L. Cook, Conversion to the Will of God, General Conference, April 2022
[2] 1 Nephi 8:9-12
[3] 1 Nephi 8:21-23
[4] 1 Nephi 8:19
[5] 1 Nephi 8:24
[6] President Russell M. Nelson, Make Time for the Lord, General Conference, October 2021
[7] Bram Stoker, Dracula, Penguin Classics, 512 p. 2011 (1897).
[8] Elder Dallin H. Oaks, “Criticism," Ensign, February 1987.
[9] Sister Sheri Dew, “Prophets Can See Around Corners,” BYU-Hawaii Devotional, 1 November 2022
[10] Matthew 7:16
[11] Forest Gahn, "Truth and Other Treasures, BYU-Idaho Devotional, 13 March 2018
[12] Moroni 10:4-6
[13] John 7:17