Aloha, it is a joy to be with you today. Thank you for inviting us to share some thoughts that hopefully will provide perspective, the basis of some personal resolve, and a desire to change as you enjoy the journey you are on. If you hear or feel anything motivating or prompting today that is not said, write it down and act on it. Similar to what happens in school, and in the temple, when we embrace and implement true principles and concepts that are given to us, not necessarily the exact words, they eventually manifest themselves in what we become. So, take notes, mental or otherwise, with the intent to learn, retain and act, and not just to endure the time in this devotional. Life is an evolution, and where we end up depends on which path we select, how fast we travel, and how many side-trips we take.
As Sister Hallstrom mentioned, I attended the Church College of Hawaii after high school before most of you were born. It was a revealing and enlightening two years, being my first time away from home. I formed relationships that still exist today. It was not by accident that I came here to school – although I did not know it at the time. Having lived in Laie as a young freshman and sophomore 57 years ago, I loved it. And, now as the Temple President, again having the privilege of being here, I know that I have come home. In fact, a year ago, we bought a house here in Laie in anticipation of being able to forever live in Zion. There is a spirit here like no other place. Like me, you are not here by accident, but have been placed in this environment for your profit and learning at this stage of your life. What a great privilege; don’t live below your potential. Take advantage of your situation.
Importance of the Temple
Before I share some thoughts on living in the present, let me briefly comment on the importance of the temple. I remarked a while back to President John Tanner when he was the president of the school, how wonderful it is to have this beautiful campus here on Oahu situated in the middle of the Pacific. His insightful and thought-provoking reply was, if it were not for the Laie Hawaii Temple, BYU–Hawaii as we know it would not be here. The school, and the Polynesian Cultural Center, and all of their support facilities are here because of the presence and significance of the temple. The temple is the keystone of our community and its spiritual centerpiece. Everything has evolved from and has been enhanced by, its presence.
The Laie Hawaii Temple is The House of the Lord; it is the beacon that has brought light to all desiring to receive it, and it continues that prophetic mission today. I hope you recognize its significance, not just as a beautiful edifice and symbol of our faith, but as a sacred temple of God where you can enter into binding commitments essential to your personal journey -- if you hope to fulfill the full measure of your creation and return back to your Heavenly Father. Among the key establishments in Laie that the Lord has guided here, the temple should become the centerpiece of your life and the symbol of your faith.
It is in the temple that we are prepared and receive our endowment. Endowment means gift. I hope that you comprehend the bestowal of the incredible gift that has been or can be given to you only in the temple, conditioned upon your acceptance, obeying, and magnifying the required laws of God -- similar in concept to the opportunity given the servants in the parable of the talents (Matthew 25: 14-30). And, that you recognize the blessings that flow to each of us as we make, better understand, and keep our sacred covenants.
In my view, life is all about knowledgeably making and keeping essential covenants. My eyes have been opened and my understanding meaningfully enhanced as I spend time in the temple since receiving the privilege of serving here in Laie.
As the Temple President, you may have anticipated that I am going to spend my time today sharing insights and ah ha’s about the temple. Not so. If you are not a member or not-endowed, it would not be something you would relate to; and, if an endowed member, I would encourage you to join us as an ordinance worker where you can bask in the spirit of the temple and be taught first-hand the doctrine of Christ and work on discovering your own ah ha’s. Instead, I want to talk about something more basic.
Your life and mine, here and now, are all about choices and how we use our God-given gift of agency. We each determine the path we take, and, as Latter-day Saints, determine our own eternal destiny. I believe our conferred right to always have the ability to choose, which was an integral part of the plan of happiness in the preexistence, is second only in magnitude to the incomparable sacrifice of our Savior.
It is this concept I want to discuss, our use of agency as it relates to conscious choices and consequences. As I have had the opportunity to visit with young starry-eyed couples in the temple who have their entire lives ahead of them as partners in an incredible eternal relationship, I hear myself saying to them that there are no such things as small choices. Each step we take leads somewhere.
The Book of Laie Alma
I would like to share some life principles from the Book of Laie Alma, chapter 34, beginning with verse 32, that perhaps as students, you observe in others or yourself. It will help if you know your Book of Mormon scriptures. This is President Amulek speaking:
For behold, this time at BYU–Hawaii the time for men and women to prepare to excel in your classes; yea, behold the day of this life is the day for you to perform your labors.
And now, as I, your professors and others have said unto you before, and as ye have had so many witnesses (look around at those students who have wasted their time at the beach or sleeping or just skipping class), I beseech of you that ye do not procrastinate the day of your repentance and preparation until the end; for after this day of life, which is given to you to prepare for finals, behold, if you do not improve your knowledge while enrolled in school this semester, then cometh the night of darkness wherein there can be no labor performed.
Ye cannot say when ye are brought to that awful deadline for submissions or a final test that I will repent, that I will cram all night or that I will return to my studies. Nay, ye cannot say this; for that same slothful spirit that doth possess you at the end of the semester, that same lack of knowledge and independent attitude will possess your soul thereafter.
For behold, if ye have procrastinated the day of your repentance and learning even until the end of the term, behold, ye have become subjected to a poor or failing grade and a lower GPA, and the system doth seal you accordingly; therefore, the opportunity for change hath withdrawn from you and hath no immediate place in you. Laziness, self-rationalization, and blameful thinking, those devils, hath all power over you; and this is the final state of your transcript and your educational development.
Many of us think we can beat the system, and spend great effort trying to do workarounds, apply short-term fixes, and make death-bed repentance promises to change the destination of the path which we chose to walk. We all live by the law of the harvest; we reap what we sow. It is a law of nature that many seem to believe applies only to everyone else.
Coming to this earth and not learning how to become like our Heavenly Father is very much akin to the story of so many, as portrayed in the Book of Laie Alma.
The Plan of Salvation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ is like school. It requires that each of us learn and elect to put off our natural man tendencies and repent. We must personally choose to enter into covenants that align ourselves with Heavenly Father through His Son (we enroll); and then, choose to wholly embrace and live them (we do the work) to develop personal character elements and build a source of light that will prepare us to return and live with Him. This process will change our perspective and our hearts. The greatest gift in the Plan of Happiness is the Savior’s atonement, but only we can activate and receive its highest blessings through our own use of agency.
Do It Now
Here in mortality, we can learn from the mistakes and enjoyment of the past, and plan and prepare for the anticipated events of the future. When you are with friends, what do you talk about? The experiences of the past and what we want to do in the future. But in reality (and here is the key), all relevant actions, decision making, execution, growth, and learning happens in the present. The current and long-term spiritual quality of our lives depends upon how we exercise our agency at the moment. The late Elder Neil A. Maxwell of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, in his first general conference address as a general authority in 1974, said, “The past of each of us is now inflexible. We need to concentrate on what has been called “the holy present,” for now is sacred; we never really live in the future. The holy gift of life always takes the form of now.” (Why Not Now?, October General Conference, 1974)
It is what you and I do right now that determines our direction and growth. There are no little choices. Our life’s progress and direction are determined by the cumulative moment-to-moment decisions we make over the course of time. To not actively and spiritually live in and maximize the now wastes our opportunity for required progress. We fail to plant the seeds we need to nurture and harvest to fulfill the measure of our creation.
In the temple, we are given gifts of discernment, physical and spiritual capability, and are filled with the spirit of the Lord in preparation of receiving a conditional endowment, a gift of all that Father can bestow on His single unsealed sons and daughters. It is subject only to our living the transforming covenants with increased understanding which prepare us in all things. Our souls begin to radiate the covenants that become part of our nature. It is through current, moment by moment, living the covenants that define who we are and become, as this process impacts our heart and changes us from within. Only by putting off the natural man and becoming a saint in the current moments of our lives can we enjoy the consistent promptings of the spirit and feel the peace that surpasses all understanding.
We have been taught that the greatest gift we personally control is our gift of agency, and that intentional positive use of our agency is a catalyst to inviting the Holy Ghost and invoking the blessings of the atonement.
What is a catalyst? As a young boy growing up in Hawaii, I would surf by day and repair my dinged surfboard by night, working in the garage. Once the damaged area of the board was cut out and cleaned up, new foam and fiberglass were ready to be applied. A clear (wonderfully smelling) catalyst solution was applied to a small paper cup of resin. Immediately, the mixture began to get warm and solidify. It was the catalyst that chemically activated the resin to change it from a liquid to a solid state to become useful and binding in the repair process.
I repeat- the intentional positive use of our agency is a catalyst to inviting the Holy Ghost and solidifying the blessings of the atonement. This is one of the great lessons we observe not just from repairing surfboards, but from Adam and Eve. The proper use of agency brings the blessings of heaven.
And, the sooner we choose to align, the quicker we grow and develop, and the greater the opportunity is for more transformation and change.
If we live our lives with an eternal perspective, which is having the ultimate end in mind, it makes little sense for us to just passively keep the commandments and wait around for the consequent eventual upgrade of a new heart. This spiritual transformation may occur too gradually for us to benefit while we are here in the growth cycle of mortality.
Using our agency, why not proactively apply the catalyst now and actively partner with God to change our own heart -- through intentional obedience, sacrifice, and consecration? Think of the Temple covenants. This means to consciously, in the moment and from moment to moment, change our perspective, our attitude, our behavior. To deliberately be kinder, more loving, and Christlike from within. As we consciously strive to do this, we invite the Holy Ghost into our lives at that moment and then cumulatively moment upon moment. We will affect change faster, become a better agent and tool for the Lord, and will be happier with ourselves. When our outward behavior reflects an alignment of our inner commitment to the Lord, we find more immediate joy and fulfillment. We will live with the spirit as a constant companion.
As members of the Church, particularly endowed saints, we hope that we will become like the Savior. But, many of us are just passively waiting for that future harvest, that eventual transformation. We are trying to graduate as spiritually mature souls with only minimal daily cultivation or fertilization. Our lack of action reveals that we don’t believe that we will reap what we are currently sowing. Remember the Book of Laie Alma.
We are the only person who can change ourselves and actuate the personal miracle of the atonement. We deny ourselves the blessings and promises of the New and Everlasting Covenant when we only passively look to the future and are mediocre in the present. Look to the Lord and fully immerse and embrace the gospel. “Do what is right (now) and let the consequence follow.”
What happens when we screw up?
Let me take another minute to comment on what happens when we make a mistake. It is true that a momentary major indiscretion can ruin years of good behavior and quickly lose the progress and goodness gained. Reestablishing trust from others and God takes time and demonstrated repetition of correct choices to regain our standing – but it is possible, and the plan provides the means to do so. Whether a big error in judgment or smaller daily transgressions, the Savior makes it possible to return through true change of heart repentance. Again, look to Adam and Eve, who were able to enter again into God’s presence after their significant transgression. Recognize that a significant step backward in the progress of life is more impacting than a step forward, but we only need to graduate with lessons learned, and character refined and realigned; we do not need to be the head of the class. All of this is literally and symbolically taught and shown to us in the temple. The law of eternal progression is rooted in forward progress with those who embrace the atonement. So,
Improve each shining moment. In this you are secure,
for promptness bringeth safety and blessings rich and pure.
Let prudence guide your actions; be honest in your heart;
and God will love and bless you and help to you impart.
Let me end, with a more eloquent version of the botched scripture shared earlier. This one is not mingled and combined with the philosophies of men. It is directly from Alma chapter 34, beginning with verse 32.
For behold, this life is the time for men to prepare to meet God; yea, behold the day of this life is the day for men to perform their labors.
And now, as I said unto you before, as ye have had so many witnesses, therefore, I beseech of you that ye do not procrastinate the day of your repentance until the end; for after this day of life, which is given us to prepare for eternity, behold, if we do not improve our time while in this life, then cometh the night of darkness wherein there can be no labor performed.
Ye cannot say when ye are brought to that awful crisis, that I will repent, that I will return to my God. Nay, ye cannot say this; for that same spirit which doth possess your bodies at the time that ye go out of this life, that same spirit will have power to possess your body in that eternal world.
For behold, if ye have procrastinated the day of your repentance even until death, behold, ye have become subjected to the spirit of the devil, and he doth seal you his; therefore, the Spirit of the Lord hath withdrawn from you and hath no place in you, and the devil hath all power over you; and this is the final state of the wicked.
It is my prayer that each of us will fulfill the measure of our creation, and find joy and happiness now and forever, by choosing to embrace our covenants and live in the moment. All blessings that you seek are ready to be delivered directly to you upon your demonstrating to Heavenly Father that you can be and are True and Faithful to His covenants which are eternal principles.
I bear you my witness that we have a fullness of the restored gospel on the earth, are led by an inspired living prophet, even President Russell M. Nelson, and through the teachings of our leaders, the scriptures, and the temple, we can become sanctified with joy and assurance.
In the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.