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On the Frontier

President and Sister Wheelwright and the BYU–Hawaii community, Aloha.  We are so thrilled to be here with you during this exciting season in the university's history.  What a historic event we were able to take part in Sunday with the re-dedication of the Hawaii temple.  I am strongly impressed that the temple here in Laie is intricately connected to the Lord's plan, not only for this community but for the work and future of this university.  What a blessing to study and learn in such proximity to the temple.

As I reflected on this visit, I remembered that it was just five years ago when my wife and I were here in Hawaii in a very different capacity.  I was presenting academic research on innovation and change at an conference in Honolulu.  Remarkably, we were with President and Sister Wheelwright at the same event.  Both of our families then lived in Boston, and we had very different professional and personal responsibilities than either of us do today.  I am sure neither of our families could have imagined the changes that would soon take place in each of our lives.

Since that time, Christine and I have completely changed our plans and circumstances to follow a different path, a better path, that the Lord would take us on.  Our first move was from Boston to Rexburg, Idaho.  At the time we had four children, an expanding career and a comfortable life in New England.  When we were invited to join the administration at BYU-Idaho, we had to uproot our family, reinvest in a new community, and learn a whole new set of administrative and professional skills.  We grew to love the community and the mission of the university.  But less than three years after our transition to BYU-Idaho, we were again invited to redirect our plans.  In the fall of 2009, I was asked to lead several initiatives for the Church-owned media companies in Salt Lake City, Utah.  The changes from Boston to Rexburg, and from Rexburg to Salt Lake City were dramatic for our family. Both transitions were disruptive to comfortable patterns and removed us from places where we felt a deep sense of identity. But in both cases, we knew the changes were the will of the Lord.  We also knew that changes happening in these institutions were so dynamic that they would offer unprecedented opportunities to learn and grow.

As with many new challenges, I was able to embrace some aspects of each change, while others were more difficult.  This was true for me personally as well as for the institutions that were undergoing a dramatic reinvention of their culture and mission.  During my university transition, I learned a lesson that has impacted me forever.  I was going through a period where I had to significantly rethink the skills and models that were most familiar to me.  In a large setting, much like this, university President Kim B. Clark taught me a lesson I will never forget.  At the conclusion of a discussion about changes happening at the university, he made the following statement: If you want to know the Savior, go to the frontier because that is where you will see him in action.  It is at the frontier where he does  His work.  Suddenly, all of the personal changes and sacrifices seemed less of a burden because I realized the opportunity I had been given.  The Savior was inviting me to be part of His work, but I would have to go places I had never been.  I would have to go to the frontier.

We all will face frontiers, both personal and institutional.  Part of what will impact our ability to grow in life will be our willingness to leave the familiar and to journey to the frontier.  When those frontiers are the Savior's, we will also be granted the opportunity to get to know Him, both because we are doing His work, but also because something changes in us when we let go of ourselves and follow Him.

Institutional Frontiers

Institutions have frontiers.  I have mentioned the frontiers that are opening in Church Education and Church-owned media.  Changes in geographic reach, technology, and operating models will continue to expand the reach and influence of these institutions at unprecedented rates.

The restoration of the Church itself was a new frontier.  Many of the early members of the Church struggled to let go of traditions and well-learned patterns of religious practice.  Even when they received a testimony of the restored gospel, members were asked to forgo the familiar to follow their faith.  For many, this meant leaving well-known circumstances to gather with the Saints.  For some of the members, this meant losing the support of family or professional associates who looked down on this new faith and its growing visibility. Many members had to learn new ways of religious organization, which included continuous revelation, a new book of scripture, lay clergy, and a living prophet. Not everything went smoothly.  Those early years were without question a season of discovery and learning for the entire Church.  But the Lord was wise and knew where He was taking the Church.  He revealed direction to His prophet, line upon line, and the Gospel was restored.  I am so grateful for the faith, courage and willingness of those early Saints to go to the frontier.  They let go of what they knew for something better.  Today we are all blessed for their path-breaking efforts.

After the martyrdom of the prophet, the Lord took the Church to a new frontier almost as immediately as he had introduced the Restoration itself.  A new prophet was called, with a new voice and different gifts.  And just like in Kirtland, the Saints were again asked to leave behind what had only just become familiar and comfortable.  Newly constructed homes, meetinghouses and businesses would soon be left abandoned.  I marvel at the words of pioneer sister Bathsheba Smith who described what she left behind in Nauvoo:  My last act in that precious spot was to tidy the rooms, sweep up the floor, set the broom in its accustomed place behind the door.  And then with the emotions in my heart . . . I gently closed the door and faced the unknown future.

Sister Sheri Dew has helped us understand how these pioneers have relevance to us today: I love Nauvoo.  I love to walk the roads, to gaze upon the temple, to imagine Joseph and Brigham, and Emma, and Eliza, and so many others building the kingdom of God.  But there is one place in Nauvoo that for me evokes unusual emotion.  Every time I visit the City of Joseph, I walk to the end of Parley's Street, where the Saints lined up their wagons as they prepared once again to leave their homes and evacuate the city.  There I try to imagine how our pioneer sisters must have felt as they loaded what little they could into their wagons, glanced a final time at the nearly completed temple on the hill and at their homes, and then followed their faith into the wilderness.  I can't help but wonder: Would I have loaded that wagon?  Would my testimony of a modern day prophet and my faith in Jesus Christ have been strong enough that I would have given up everything and gone anywhere?

Once again the Church was off to a new frontier.  Vanguard companies were dispatched by Brigham Young to plant crops and secure early territory for future settlement.  Members were assigned to leadership roles they had never before assumed, requiring skills that could only be learned on the trail.  The exodus was remarkable, with around 70,000 members of the Church making the exodus to the Utah frontier between 1847 and 1869.  The trek was not easy.  Many faced great sacrifices of time, forgone wealth, and in some cases, loss of life.  One instructive account comes from a member of the Martin Handcart Company: Everyone of us came through with the absolute knowledge that God lives for we became acquainted with him in our extremities.

The pioneer trek was hard.  But those Saints came to know the Savior as they went to the frontier.  I am so grateful for the faith, courage and willingness of those pioneers to go to the frontier.  They let go of what they knew for something better.  Today we are all blessed for their pioneering efforts.

The institutions within the Church continued to change, allowing members of the Church repeated opportunities to move to the frontier and get to know the Savior.  The creation of pioneer academies, the colonization of communities, welfare programs, missionary work, temples and so many other institutions in the Church have and will continue to move to the Lord's frontier.  Changes in these institutions followed a pattern that is instructive for each of us in our own lives:

  • Reflected the will of the Lord
  • Directed by prophets of God
  • Provided opportunities to grow closer to the Savior

In the Doctrine and Covenants, the Lord explains that there are critical seasons when the Lord is at work in different fields of labor.  In those times, He will hasten his work, and it becomes critical that we draw near to Him when that happens: And thus they all receive the light of the countenance of their lord, every man in his hour, and in his time, and in his season. ... And again, verily I say unto you, my friends, I leave these sayings with you to ponder in your hearts, with this commandment which I give unto you, that you shall call upon me while I am near.   The opportunities to go to the frontier with the Lord will pass if we don't take them.  The command to call upon Him while He is near implores us not to miss the opportunities of going to the frontier when they come.  Winston Churchill, the British Prime Minister during his country's epic battle of World War II, stated, To every man there comes in his lifetime that special moment when he is figuratively tapped on the shoulder to do a special thing unique to him and fitted to his talents.  What a tragedy if that moment finds him unprepared or unqualified for the work which would be his finest hour.

Personal Frontiers

History is full of courageous men and women who were willing to leave the familiar and journey to the frontier.  Think of the Polynesian seafarers who first discovered the Hawaiian Islands.  If those original discoverers had been unwilling to leave the Marquesas and later Tahiti to venture out into the unknown, the Hawaiian Islands would not have been opened for waves of future settlement and growth.  Those who followed were grateful for the faith, courage and willingness of those original discoverers to go to the frontier.  I am sure there were those who were afraid to make the voyage.  There were almost certainly others who stayed back because they did not want to disrupt the familiar patterns of a comfortable life.  Maybe it was more than just familiarity.  Maybe leaving home meant leaving position and status to learn new skills and new ways of doing things.

I think of another set of discoverers, this time from the Book of Mormon.  When Nephi and his family left Jerusalem, they had to leave familiar and comfortable surroundings.  After traveling through much hardship in the wilderness, they finally reached the land Bountiful.  I am sure they were comfortable in Bountiful, and some of them would have preferred to stay where they were.  But the Lord had a different plan, and once again they would be invited to go to the frontier. And it came to pass that after I, Nephi, had been in the land of Bountiful for the space of many days, the voice of the Lord came unto me saying: Arise and get the into the mountain . . . And it came to pass that the Lord spake unto me, saying:

Thou shalt construct a ship, after the manner which I shall show thee, that I may carry thy people across these waters.   Nephi's brethren were not so enthusiastic about this change of affairs.  Moreover they did not believe that Nephi knew how to build a ship because he lacked the tools and experience required to construct something so new and different: And when my brethren saw that I was about to build a ship, they began to murmur against me, saying: Our brother is a fool, for he thinketh he can build a ship; yea, and he also thinketh that he can cross these great waves.  

What Laman and Lemuel could not see was that when we go to the Lord's frontiers we are not relying on our own understanding.  If we go to the Lord's frontiers, He will take us to places we could never even imagine, if we recognize our entire dependence on Him.  Nephi didn't know how to build a ship.  He didn't even know how to build tools to construct a ship.  But he immediately asked the Lord where he could go to find ore to molten that he might make tools to construct a ship, and here is the key, after the manner which thou has shown me.  Nephi wasn't going to a frontier of his choosing.  He certainly wasn't going to a frontier on his own. And I will also be your light in the wilderness; and I will prepare the way before you, if it so be that ye shall keep my commandments; wherefore, inasmuch as ye shall keep my commandments ye shall be led towards the promised land and ye shall know that it is by me that ye are led. After Nephi and his family built the ship and sailed to the promised land, they knew it was by the hand of the Lord that they had been led.

Personal Frontiers

Each of us will face our own personal frontiers.  In these moments, we will have to decide whether we are willing to go where the Lord will lead us or whether we will stay where we are comfortable and content.  President Henry B. Eyring has taught, The purpose of the gospel of Jesus Christ is to change you so that you're not trying to resist change. 
I would highlight two challenges we much overcome if we are to change and go to the Lord's frontiers:

  • Pride
  • Fear

President Benson described how pride keeps us from progressing because we are no longer able to learn: Pride is a damning sin in the true sense of the world.  It limits or stops progression.  The proud are not easily taught.  They won't change their minds to accept truths, because to do so implies they have been wrong.   In a counterintuitive way, Nephi's greatest advantage was that he had never built a ship; this meant he was teachable in ways an expert ship builder may never have been.  Similarly, the prophet Joseph Smith was a 14-year-old boy with no formal religious or organizational training, and yet it was through this young prophet that the work of the Restoration was revealed.  It seems the Lord can do so much more on the frontier when we are willing to let go of our pride.

Fear is the other great obstacle to obtaining the Lord's frontier.  Fear is the inverse of pride, but it is rooted in the same personal limitations.  I am sure Nephi and his family worried about what they would face in the wilderness when they left Jerusalem.  Similarly, it must have been unnerving for a family who had no experience with sea travel and navigation to board a ship.  When we fear the uncertainty of the frontier, it is too often because we rely on our own understanding and do not trust in the Lord.  We are taught in Proverbs:  Trust in the LORD with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding.  

As I think of overcoming these twin constraints of pride and fear, I think of the parable of the rich young ruler and his invitation to follow the Savior to a place that was new and unfamiliar to him.  In Matthew 19 we read: And, behold, one came and said unto him, Good Master, what good thing shall I do, that I may have eternal life?  When reminded of the commandments, the young ruler replies, All these things I have kept from my youth up: what lack I yet? Jesus said unto him, If thou wilt be perfect, go and sell that thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come and follow me.  But when the young man heard that saying he went away sorrowful: for he had great possessions.   A wise friend once helped me understand this scripture though the artwork of Carl Heinrich Bloch. In the painting, Christ is showing the rich young ruler a better way.  But instead of looking to where the Lord might take him, the young man appears to be contemplating all that he might give up. What he failed to see was the light on the horizon the Savior was pointing him to.  Like the rich young ruler, when all we consider are our own possessions, identity, and circumstance, we are blind to the blessings that come only at the frontier. As we let go of our pride and fear, we can look to Christ to see a better way.

Finding Peace Amidst Change

Less than two years ago, I was able to observe Elder Neil L. Anderson as he spoke to students at a university commencement exercise.  In that setting he reminded the students that a commencement was a new beginning, not a culmination of past successes.  More importantly, a commencement was an invitation to become something more than you are now.  We can honor past contributions while still recognizing the need to grow and change.  His point was that companies hire graduates not for what they are already, but for their potential to be more than they are today.  To become the kind of person the Lord would have us be, we will all need to change, to become something more than we are today.

The very nature of the frontier means we cannot fully know beforehand how the landscape will change as we move into the unknown.  This will require us to trust the Lord before we can see how his plan will unfold.  The prophet Joseph was taught this in the Doctrine and Covenants: For I, the Lord, have put forth my hand to exert the powers of heaven; ye cannot see it now, yet a little while and you shall see it, and know that I am and that I will come. When we know that we are headed where the Lord would take us, great peace can accompany great change.  Think of the experience of the Jaredites driven by mighty winds to the promised land.  Even though the storms were often fierce, they consistently pushed the travelers in the right direction: And it came to pass that the wind did never cease to blow towards the promised land while they were upon the waters; and thus they were driven forth before the wind.

I learned this lesson as a young graduate student.  One evening at the beginning of my doctoral program I met my wife Christine for dinner along the banks of the Charles River in Cambridge, Massachusetts.  In that setting I confided in her that I didn't know whether I could make it through the program I questioned whether I could keep pace with the academic rigor that was required and wondered if I ought to withdraw and go back to a more familiar work setting where I was confident and had been successful.  I will never forget the words of my wife as she looked me in the eyes and declared boldly:  Clark, we received an answer that this is where the Lord wanted us to go.  We have now moved all the way across the country, we are not turning around.  You get back to work and the Lord will bless you because this is where we are supposed to be. Only time would tell how important it was for me to finish the program we started.  But I learned a lesson from my wife that when we are on the Lord's frontier, he qualifies us for the work.

This week we have witnessed a remarkable temple re-dedication.  In a similar setting, amidst considerable change, President Henry B. Eyring taught that the temple can become the great beacon of peace amidst a sea of constant change: The constancy of the temple will supply peace and a sure steady bearing, like a guiding star, for those navigating uncertain waters.   You and I will receive repeated calls throughout our lives to be something more than we are today.  The call to our own personal frontiers will require each of us to change our very nature.  When those opportunities come, we can choose to stay where we are or we can move to the frontier.  But when we commit to following the Savior, we also receive the promise that He will be there with us, helping us become who he needs us to be.  That is the miracle that happens on the frontier.  

Brothers and Sisters, I know that this is the true gospel of Jesus Christ.  I know that this is His work. When we are engaged in that work we have the opportunity to come to know Him.  The Atonement of Jesus Christ is real and it can change our very nature.  It is my prayer that we can follow him to His frontier.  I say these things in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.   

Quinton L. Cook, Hope Ya Know, We Had a Hard time,  Ensign, November 2008

Sheri L. Dew,  No Doubt About It, Deseret Book, 2001

James E. Faust, A Priceless Heritage,  Ensign, July 2002

D&C 88: 58, 62

1 Nephi 17: 8

1 Nephi 17: 17

1 Nephi 17: 13

Henry B. Eyring, A Steady, Upward Course, BYU-Idaho Devotional, September 2001

Ezra Taft Benson, Beware of Pride,  Ensign, May 1989

Proverbs 3:5

Matthew 19:16, 18-22

D&C 84: 119

Either 6:8

Henry B. Eyring, The Temple and a College on a Hill, BYU-Idaho Devotional, June 2009