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Ponder and Reflect

Aloha and good morning. I am thankful for this opportunity to speak to you this morning and pray that something I say will help you on your path through life. I am grateful for President Wheelwright and for all he does for this university and for each of you.

I attended BYU–Hawaii over 36 years ago. I was a freshman here in 1978. I owe every good thing that has happened to me in life to this institution.

In 1969, while visiting family here in Hawaii, my family and I attended the Polynesian Cultural Center. A few years later in 1975, I was visiting again and decided to visit the Center as well as the BYU­–Hawaii campus. While I was a non-member at the time, I remember thinking to myself, “I’m going to come here, I’m going to perform at PCC, and I’m going to attend BYU–Hawaii.” I don’t think I even thought about the fact that the PCC and BYU–Hawaii was owned and run by the Church. There was just something about this place that caught my attention.

My family and I later joined the Church as a result of a couple of missionaries coming to our home in 1977. I was a senior in high school. I’m sure that when the missionaries received their mission calls and read where they were assigned they must have said, “New Jersey?” Today, when missionaries from my stake are called to various places in the mainland, I sense their disappointment. I tell them about my conversion and that in 1977, two missionaries came to our house in New Jersey. Six of the seven members in my family were baptized by two elders from Utah. We were sealed as a family in the temple. My two sisters and myself have married in the temple, and we have families now. I served a mission in Oregon and stand before you today as a result of two young men who decided to accept a call to serve in New Jersey. A few months after my baptism, I received my patriarchal blessing. In that blessing, there were promises made to me that in the near future, men would come into my life and that I should be aware of this. They would teach me the gospel and tell me what I would need to be a faithful member of the Church. Little did I know that a few months after graduation, I would find myself here at BYU–Hawaii, dancing at the Polynesian Cultural Center. While here at BYU–Hawaii, there were men who came into my life who were great examples to me, and they taught me the gospel. These men either already went on missions or were going on missions. Many of those men are bishops and stake presidents today. It was here that I decided to serve a mission following my freshman year after having been a member for only two years. I had a good bishop that asked me to serve a mission. Since I was so new in the Church, I initially said I wouldn’t serve, but because of the influence of those promised men who came into my life, I changed my mind and decided to serve my mission after my freshman year. I’m certain that wouldn’t have happened if I didn’t come here and if I hadn’t met those men who became my friends. I also met my future spouse at PCC. Here, I met great friends – I increased in faith and testimony that set me on the correct path for the rest of my life. I had a wonderful mission president who mentored me and gave me leadership opportunities that would help me later in life to serve in many capacities in the Church. So to each of you, be grateful you are here, and ponder on what you are to learn here in addition to your education.

This morning, I would like to share with you something I wish that I had figured out many years ago when I was your age. The topic I would like to speak about with you today is how  pondering and r eflecting can enrich your life, how it can help you receive revelation and inspiration to strengthen your faith in the gospel, and how it can even help you in your chosen profession.

Rene Descartes was a French mathematician and a philosopher, who lived from 1596 to 1650. He contributed to many modern ideas, mainly those associated with science and the scientific method. He developed a design for an improved telescope and mapped the pathway of nerves from the eye to the optical center in the brain and traced the path of pain receptors from limbs to the brain. One of the things that Rene Descartes is most famous for is  the Cartesian coordinate system that is named after him. Perhaps some of you have used the Cartesian coordinate system in your math classes. What’s really interesting is how Descartes came to develop the Cartesian Coordinates – he was lying on his bed watching a fly!

Slowly, it came to him that he would be able to accurately describe the fly's position at any time by using three numbers. He had to use three numbers because the room was three-dimensional. The three numbers would describe the fly's position in relation to where it was to the floor and two adjacent walls. Today, this is known as the  x-y-z  coordinate system. Most modern cities are laid out in Cartesian fashion: if you tell a stranger to go three blocks down Bishop Street, then turn left on King Street, and go along five blocks, you are actually using Cartesian coordinates. If you have been lost in an old town or even in new developments, you will understand how useful the Cartesian coordinate system is. The system is used by the military and rescue services (as well as air traffic controllers and map makers) to accurately describe where to find people and places. As a mathematician, Descartes was credited with developing the system that still serves as the foundation for graphing some 350 years after his death.

Descartes discovered this as he  pondered and  reflected on a simple thing – a fly. He was curious about how to describe its position.

Joseph Smith’s Example

The prophet Joseph Smith had a similar experience, though it was spiritual in nature. Relating to his experience after reading James 1:5, the Prophet Joseph Smith said, “I reflected upon it again and again, knowing that if any person needed wisdom from God, I did; … At length I came to the conclusion that I must either remain in darkness and confusion, or else I must do as James directs, that is, ask of God” (Joseph Smith History 1:12-13).

This experience happened to the prophet Joseph Smith because he took the time to  ponder and  reflect on what he was reading and acted on his impression concerning something he really needed wisdom about and had a great desire to know. Pondering and reflecting is not just a passive activity but one in which you have to act, do something, and not just think about something – otherwise, nothing happens. Joseph Smith’s experience began the long awaited Restoration of the gospel and changed the world forever. You and I are benefactors of the prophet Joseph Smith’s experience.

Joseph F. Smith

A similar experience happened to the prophet Joseph F. Smith. In the Doctrine and Covenants section 138, he describes an experience he had after reading the First Epistle of Peter in the third and fourth chapters. “For Christ also hath once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh, but quickened by the Spirit: By which also he went and preached unto the spirits in prison” (quoted in D&C 138:7-8).

President Smith said, “I sat in my room  pondering over the scriptures; And  reflecting upon the great atoning sacrifice that was made by the Son of God, for the redemption of the world” (D&C 138:1-2).

What came next was the vision he received about the spirit world: How Christ organized righteous individuals and appointed them to teach the gospel to those in the spirit world. He saw many of the great and noble servants, Father Adam, Mother Eve, Abel, Noah, Shem, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, and many others. This all because he  pondered and  reflected on a scripture he read and sought an answer.

My Experience

Years ago, I made the commitment to attend the temple on a weekly basis. I thought to myself that if I was going to attend the temple weekly, I needed to change the way I approached my temple attendance. The temple endowment, like the scriptures, doesn’t change each time we read them. However, what can change is our understanding and impression we get as we read them. I thought to myself that I could either go through the motions every week and yes, I would fulfill my goal of attending the temple weekly, but this wouldn’t be spiritually fulfilling even though I was in the house of the Lord. I decided that if I was going to attend the temple that I would focus on things I heard and saw, focus on every word and everything I saw!

As I attended the temple with this new approach, words began to stand out to me. I would  ponder and  reflectupon those words, and revelation would come to me about their meanings. I felt renewed and excited as I began to understand many of the mysteries I had wondered about for years. Now when I go to the temple, I’m excited every time I go and wonder, “What will I learn today? What revelation will I receive today?” The result has strengthened my faith, and I have a much deeper relationship with the Savior.

Just a couple of months ago, as I sat pondering over a few things about the temple endowment, another revelation came to me, something I had wondered about for more than 30 years! It came to me as a result of my study of the scriptures since I was preparing for a priesthood meeting. My study of the scriptures actually prepared me to receive a greater understanding of the things I saw and learned in the temple.

My brothers and sisters, there is so much more you will learn in the temple through revelation than you will ever hear or see – just study the scriptures and prepare before you go. I’m sad to think that many of us members of the Church will never reach this level of temple worship. Perhaps, we will now because we are here today and will make that decision to study and prepare before we go to the temple.

Does it work in the business world?

Some years ago, I was working with an elderly couple. He was 80 and she was 79. He came to me with a dilemma. He had limited assets but needed more income to provide for his retirement. He was a pretty sophisticated individual and knew a lot about the bond market, especially the junk bond market. He approached me to look for some junk bonds, and for those of you who are unfamiliar with these types of investments, they can be the most risky way to invest in bonds. Given his age and the potential for loss of his principal, I didn’t feel comfortable recommending these types of investments to him. My education taught me to ask questions, so I gathered as much as I could about his whole financial situation. I asked him more questions about his liabilities, real estate holdings, and other assets he might have. With this information, I knew a lot more about his financial position, and I was armed with the information I needed to find a better solution than the one he was suggesting.

As I  reflected on his situation, the answer came, and I was able to provide the needed extra income for him plus allow him and his wife to take a trip around the world, which is something he had wanted to do but lacked the assets to do. A few years later, his wife died, but I was grateful I could apply this principle I learned while attending the temple.

First, it takes preparation.

Receiving inspiration to life’s question takes preparation. Descartes would not have received the inspiration he received if he had not prepared himself for the inspiration to come. He spent many years studying and learning and had a curiosity about how the world worked around him. He was prepared for the inspiration that day as he was pondering over how to describe the location of a fly.

So the next time you are tempted to do the least amount of work to pass a class or skip the extra work a professor gives you, don’t do it. You will only handicap yourself later in life. You will lack the knowledge and wisdom for inspiration to work in you. You cannot, when the time comes, plug a USB memory stick into your head or Google it or find it on Twitter or any other website.

The Lord cannot inspire you if you lack the knowledge. My ability to solve my client’s problem came from my education, professional courses, and training provided by my firm. The Lord said, “Seek ye diligently and teach one another words of wisdom; yea, seek ye out of the best books words of wisdom, seek learning even by study and also by faith” (D&C 109:7). Spiritual growth takes place as we draw close to God through prayer, scripture study, pondering, and obedience.

Nephi taught, “Wherefore, ye must press forward with a steadfastness in Christ, having a perfect brightness of hope, and a love of God and of all men. Wherefore, if ye shall press forward,  feasting upon the word of Christ, and endure to the end, behold, thus saith the Father: Ye shall have eternal life” (2 Nephi 31:19-20).

Feasting to me means that you are enjoying everything. It’s so good you want to partake of everything; you can’t get enough of it. You wish you could keep eating, but your body says you’ve had enough. This is such an important principle for you to remember and practice in your life.

In Malcolm Gladwell's book  Outliers, he says, “Researchers determined what they believe is the magic number for true expertise: 10,000 hours. Ten thousand hours of practice is required to achieve the level of mastery associated with being a world-class expert – in anything.”

There is no silver bullet or easy way to achieve the level of preparation that you will need. Your education here is just scratching the surface. You will need to continue to study and learn throughout your life.

John A. Widtsoe once said, “Decide what you want to be, pay the price, and be what you want to be.” The Lord will provide ample opportunities for you to practice your skills. They often come in the form of trials and adversity. Be grateful for them and learn from them and allow them to make you stronger and deeper rooted in the gospel.

You had an opportunity to listen to General Conference last weekend. Take the opportunity to listen to every talk. It has never been easier to listen to the apostles and prophets from our laptops, our smart phones, desktops, etc. Perhaps, in some ways, it has never been harder given all of the distractions we have with those same devices. It is part of that preparation you will need to receive inspiration and revelation in your life.

Second, slow down.

You live in a world that moves at lightning speed. Technology has been a blessing in many ways. However, it can also be a distraction.

When I was growing up, we had one phone in the house it was a rotary phone. There was no speed dialing or favorites like we have on smart phones today. Look how your generation communicates today. No one calls anyone anymore; you don’t even use email that much. You text each other. You don’t even use real words anymore. If I were to ask you what LOL, BTW, BCNU, or BFF stood for you would know.

The problem with this type of communication, while convenient and cool, is that it doesn’t lend itself to pondering and reflection. They are just letters. It’s one of the reasons why daily scripture study is so important to you. Not only are you reading actual words, but as you read the words, impressions can come as you focus on words. Thoughts can come which lead to deeper testimonies and greater faith. This is feasting upon the word.

One day, I was leaving my office for an evening event for work. As I was driving along Ala Moana Blvd, it was the time of day that the sun was going to be setting within the next 15 minutes. The sky was clear and the ocean beautiful. Most times, I would hurry to my meeting, not taking time to appreciate the beautiful place in which we live. This particular day, I decided to pull off the road and into a parking lot where I could get out of my car and stand on the shore and watch the sun set. I stood there appreciating the beautiful place that we live in and gave thanks to my Father in Heaven for creating it. The picture is still as vivid in my mind today as it was when I originally saw it.

Third, be present.

A couple of months ago, I happened to be visiting another ward in a stake on the mainland. I arrived a few minutes before the meeting started. The chapel was full due to a couple of returning missionaries and so chairs were set up in the cultural hall to accommodate everyone. As a stake president, I always sit on the stand, maybe oblivious to what is actually going on in the congregation. As I sat in the back, I noticed everyone around me was either on their smart phones or iPads, looking at Facebook or scores on ESPN, texting, sending emails, or playing video games. To make matters worse, they weren’t even church games. I was disappointed and shocked. Perhaps some of you may be tempted to do some of these things right now.

We sang the opening hymn or at least tried to, but I was the only one singing in the back and felt out of place, so I stopped singing. As the sacrament was passed through the congregation, they didn’t skip a beat. One quick grab at the bread and they were right back to their previous behavior. As I sat there, I reflected on this experience and about those around me that just missed one of the most sacred ordinances we can experience in the Church. The sacrament is a time to ponder the previous week and reflect on the things that we need to improve. It is a time to express gratitude to the Savior for His Atonement and to remember Him. Being present does take effort and work. To help you be present and avoid distractions, keep a note pad or some other device so that when thoughts come into your mind, you can write them down so that you don’t forget them. This will allow you to stay in the moment.

You will find if you make a concentrated effort to continually increase your knowledge, slow down and take time to reflect and be present, life will be much more fulfilling. You will be able to solve problems you may have at work or be able to answer questions you may have about gospel subjects.

I’d like to bear my testimony of the gospel, that Joseph Smith helped restore the gospel to the earth, and that we have a prophet leading the Church today under the direction of the Lord. I say this in the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.