Dear Brothers and Sisters, Aloha!!!
It's wonderful to welcome you to this new academic year. I especially want to extend a warm welcome to all of the students, faculty and staff who have joined us over the past few weeks. We look forward to getting to know each of you much better.
I also want to welcome you to the first devotional of this new academic year. We hope that you will learn and grow from your attendance here today and that you will want to join us at each of these weekly devotionals throughout the year. These devotionals are a unique feature of the Church Education System, and one that can bless all of our lives, both individually and collectively.
Consider for a moment the term devotional. It is based on the concept of devotion and the act of being devoted. Today I'd like to address that subject. I'm sure each of you has seen the posters around campus that highlight devotion and include these important words from President James E. Faust:
"One of the greatest blessings of life and eternity is to be counted as one of the devoted disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ."
(President James E. Faust, "Discipleship," Ensign, Nov. 2006.)
As President Faust points out, the blessings of being a devoted disciple aren't just reserved for the eternities; they are for this life, too! I'd like to begin by sharing an experience I had one morning during the time my wife and I were serving in the London England Mission. A former business associate and long-time friend was passing through London, and I suggested we get together for breakfast. We had a meaningful visit where I was able to tell him about my assignment, the missionary program, and the gospel, more than I'd ever been able to share during our previous business meetings.
In the course of our exchange, he shared that he had not been brought up in a church but had long admired the devotion of those he'd known and worked with who were members of the LDS church. Towards the end of our meeting, he focused his gaze on my missionary tag, with its emphasis on the name Jesus Christ and commented thoughtfully, "That must be quite an honor and responsibility to bear that name each day." I confirmed that I could think of nothing better than to be recognized as a devoted follower of Jesus Christ.
I saw clearly then, and I propose to you now, that the blessings of being a devoted disciple are not just the blessings of eternity but also the blessings of a clear path and a straightforward purpose in dealing with the challenges and opportunities of mortality.
President Faust stated:
"Discipleship brings purpose to our lives so that rather than wandering aimlessly, we walk steadily on that strait and narrow way that leads us back to our Heavenly Father."
(President James E. Faust, "Discipleship," Ensign, Nov. 2006)
Indeed, the devotion we seek on this campus is that associated with discipleship. But what is a disciple, exactly? And how can we become devoted disciples of Jesus Christ?
Elder L. Tom Perry answered both those questions quite clearly:
"The word disciple comes from the Latin [word meaning] a learner. A disciple of Christ is one who is learning to be like Christ - learning to think, to feel, and to act [like] He does."
(Elder L. Tom Perry, "Discipleship", Ensign, Nov 2000.)
Perhaps one of the best scriptural descriptions we have of devoted discipleship and its blessings is that found in the invitation extended by King Benjamin in the fifth chapter of Mosiah:
"I would that ye should be steadfast and immovable, always abounding in good works, that Christ, the Lord God Omnipotent, may seal you his, that you may be brought to heaven that ye may have everlasting salvation and eternal life..."
Everlasting salvation and eternal life are certainly blessings worth seeking, so I would like to focus the remainder of my remarks on how we can become more devoted disciples of Jesus Christ, moving forward from wherever we find ourselves today.
I'm sure that most of you have had the opportunity over the past few weeks of watching at least some of the Olympics. As I watched several of the athletes compete, and as I learned more about their training and preparation for the Olympic competitions, I've been impressed by their focus, discipline, and self-control. These are definitely "devoted" athletes.
Each of these devoted athletes has followed a regimen that their coach has laid out. Similarly, the Lord Himself has laid out a path for us to follow to become His devoted disciples. But like outstanding athletes, His path to discipleship also requires focus, discipline and self-control if we are to be well prepared for life and eternal salvation and their accompanying blessings.
I've broken down the Lord's "fitness regimen," if you will, into three broad characteristics which capture much of what the scriptures and the Lord's prophets teach us about devoted discipleship. These are spirituality, integrity, and unity.
Let's first look at spirituality. I want you to think of this term in its most basic, literal meaning: Having the Spirit.
President Marion G. Romney taught the importance of receiving the gift of the Holy Ghost at the time of one's confirmation. He explained that the baptism of fire by the Holy Ghost "converts [us] from carnality to spirituality. It cleanses, heals, and purifies the soul..."
Referencing the fourth Article of Faith, he goes on to say, "Faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, repentance, and baptism [by immersion] are all preliminary and prerequisite to it, but [the baptism of fire] is the consummation." (Learning for the Eternities, comp. George J. Romney, 1977, p.133; see also 3 Nephi 27:19-20)
So this first characteristic, spirituality, specifically means being worthy to have the Holy Ghost as a constant companion.
Are you wondering if the Holy Ghost is your companion? The prophet Joseph Smith taught that we can recognize the gift of the Holy Ghost because "it will whisper peace and joy to [our] souls; it will take malice, hatred, strife, and all evil from [our] hearts; and [our] whole desire will be to do good, bring forth righteousness, and build up the kingdom of God." (Elder Joseph B. Wirthlin, "The Unspeakable Gift," Liahona, May 2003)
While I'm sure that we've each felt the companionship of the Spirit on occasion, the challenge lies in the frequency of that companionship. Just like those Olympic athletes, it requires sincere focus, discipline, and self-control to be worthy to receive and be guided by the Spirit at all times, each and every day. Elder Neal A Maxwell provided some wise counsel on what we need to do to qualify for such spirituality. He said:
"Sometimes, as we commence taking up the cross, we ignore or neglect the first part of Jesus' instruction. He said, 'Deny [yourselves], and take up [your] cross daily, and follow me'. (Luke 9:23). This self-denial is especially challenging in a world filled with so many sensual and secular stimuli."
There are sacrifices required to become a dedicated disciple of anything, whether it be a sport, a hobby, or a profession, but nothing requires more sacrifice and self-denial than becoming a devoted disciple of Jesus Christ.
Elder Maxwell went on to say:
"Denying oneself has never been popular as a lifestyle, and it is clearly not today ... [The world] constantly put[s] down discipleship and encourage[s] the natural man to think highly of himself and to please himself." ("Becoming a Disciple", Elder Neal A. Maxwell,
Ensign, June 1996.)
What is it that we are to deny ourselves? From the Savior's own teachings, it is clear that we are to deny ourselves of any appetites, actions or even thoughts that would make use unworthy of the Spirit of the Lord.
And if that doesn't sound hard enough, Elder Boyd K. Packer, while speaking on this campus, pointed out that:
"Spirituality, while consummately strong, reacts to very delicate changes in its environment. To have it present at all, and to keep it in some degree of purity requires the commitment and watch-care [of a devoted disciple]." ("BYU-Hawaii: The First Fifty Years", unpublished manuscript, BYU-Hawaii, 2008.)
It sounds like a nearly monumental task! Is it worth it? Absolutely. Is it possible? Absolutely. So how can it be accomplished? How can we increase our spirituality and have the Spirit as a constant companion? We can begin by turning to the scriptures and studying the words of the prophets.
In The Book of Mormon, Samuel outlines how studying the scriptures and the words of the prophets blessed the lives of the Lamanite converts by leading "them to faith on the Lord, and unto repentance, which faith and repentance bringeth a change of heart unto them" (Helaman 15:7-8).
Similarly, our modern-day prophets have frequently counseled us to strengthen our spirituality through repeated acts of devotion such as daily scripture study, morning and evening personal prayer, weekly church attendance so that we may worthily partake of the sacrament, and consistent Monday-night Family Home Evenings. And on this campus, we have the added opportunity to start each of our gatherings with prayer and to participate in weekly devotionals. This handful of repeated acts of devotion is equivalent to the thousands of hours great athletes put in at the gym. They require focus, discipline, and self-control. Going through these steps and routines, over and over and over again, will strengthen our devotion and make us steadfast disciples of our Savior.
As we follow these steps and routines, the Holy Ghost has greater and greater influence in our lives, resulting in our having greater and greater faith, in turn leading us to repentance, and ultimately increasing our commitment and devotion to the Lord.
The second characteristic essential to our becoming devoted disciples of Jesus Christ is the development of integrity. The scriptures offer so many fine examples of individuals with infallible character, with deep integrity. My favorites are Captain Moroni and Helaman's Stripling Warriors. We read that they were fixed, immovable, selfless, and accountable. Their experiences show that they were focused, disciplined, and self-controlled. They perfectly personified the characteristic of integrity. They were "true at all times in whatsoever thing they were entrusted" (Alma 53:20).
Modern-day prophets also highlight integrity as a critical characteristic of a devoted disciple of Jesus Christ. Speaking directly to us at BYU-Hawaii, President Gordon B. Hinckley said:
"There is a need for another education, without which the substance of our secular learning may lead only to our destruction. I refer to the education of the heart, of the conscience, of the character of the spirit-these indefinable aspects of our personalities which determine so certainly what we are and what we do in our relationships one with another." (BYU-Hawaii: The First Fifty Years, unpublished manuscript, BYU-Hawaii, 2008.)
Integrity is like strength and endurance training. It's creating the belief in ourselves that we can win the race, that we can do the right thing every time.
Elaborating on these attributes of character, President Hinckley said in a subsequent visit to this campus:
"[The world needs young men and young women who are] not weak, but forgiving; not soft, but understanding; not arrogant, but respectful of the rights and feelings of others; not boastful, but thankful for the blessings of the Almighty; not selfish, but generous in giving of their abundance to the less fortunate; not drunk with power, but humble before God in whom they place their trust. These are the ... qualities I challenge you to cultivate."
(BYUH Commencement, May 15, 1964.)
Clearly, these are the qualities we need to develop if we are to become devoted disciples; they are also the attributes of the men and women of this campus seen in vision over half a century ago by the prophet David O. McKay, young people who "could not be bought or sold," whose worth would be that of "pure gold." As stated by President Hinckley, these will be "leaders who speak out for truth and goodness and decency." (ibid, page 3.)
How can each of us develop such character, such integrity, during our time here on this campus? The scriptures often use the analogy of a furnace or forge or some other "refining" process in connection with the development of such attributes. Expanding on this idea, Elder Richard G. Scott taught:
"The process of identifying truth sometimes necessitates enormous effort coupled with profound faith in our Father and His glorified Son. God intended that it be so to forge your character."
He goes on to say, "Worthy character will strengthen your capacity to respond obediently to the direction of the Spirit as you make vital decisions." So you can see that spirituality and integrity are tightly intertwined. They support and enhance each other. Elder Scott said, "Righteous character provides the foundation of spiritual strength."
Again, this sounds hard, even painful. Not unlike all the training and exercise of Olympic athletes. It is difficult to develop such strong character and integrity. It requires focus, discipline, and self-control. It may seem like a nearly monumental task. Is it worth it? Absolutely. Is it possible? Absolutely. Elder Scott concludes:
"[Integrity] is more important than what you own, what you have learned, or what goals you have accomplished. [Integrity] allows you to be trusted. It enables you in times of trial and testing to make difficult, extremely important decisions correctly even when they seem overpowering."
("Truth: The Foundation of Correct Decisions," Ensign, November, 2007.)
And it is possible. Each of us has the opportunity, repeatedly, to exercise faith and strengthen our integrity through the choices we make every day. They may be choices to avoid temptation, such as when taking an exam, while at the beach with friends, or when choosing a movie to watch. Or they may be choices to strengthen and bless others, such as choosing to help a friend in need, choosing to invite a colleague to join you at the temple, or choosing to help with a service project. Even seemingly small and inconsequential choices have an impact on our character, and thus contribute to our progress in becoming a devoted disciple of Jesus Christ.
The third essential characteristic for becoming devoted disciples that I want to discuss is that of unity. In his epistle to the Ephesians, the Apostle Paul emphasized the importance of "perfecting the saints" and reaching a "unity of the faith" (Eph 4:12-13). With this "unity," Paul promised that the Saints would "be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the slight of men, and cunning craftiness..." (Eph 4:14.)
Achieving the kind of unity required of a devoted disciple begins with ones' self. Elder D. Todd Christofferson elaborated on this internal unity, or constancy:
"Jesus achieved perfect unity with the Father by submitting Himself, both flesh and spirit, to the will of the Father. His ministry was always clearly focused because there was no debilitating or distracting double-mindedness in Him. Referring to His Father, Jesus said, 'I do always those things that please him.'" ("That They May Be One in Us," Liahona, Nov. 2002, emphasis added.)
As we grow in our unity individually and as a BYU-Hawaii Ohana, we naturally grow in love for one another. Indeed, love of families and fellow men was the keystone of the Savior's ministry. To His disciples, He said, "This is my commandment, that ye love one another, as I have loved you" (John 15:12).
Here at BYU-Hawaii, as we each overcome double-mindedness and unite our efforts - whether it's working with classmates on a group project, fulfilling our calling as part of a ward family, or working as part of a team in one of the PCC villages - we will see greater progress in building the kingdom and in developing our own talents and abilities. Indeed, we will extend and enhance our ability to accomplish all the Lord would have done here in Laie.
Just as we develop unity with the Savior by serving Him, one of the best ways to develop unity as faculty, staff and students is through serving and helping one another. Speaking on this campus, President Howard W. Hunter reminded us that:
"[We should] use what [we have] learned throughout [our] lifetime [to] help every student, faculty, and employee become a part of a loving, productive, and honest community, learning the lessons of respect and tolerance, of hard work, and of integrity, which will make them leaders in a world that will come to value those qualities as they become more rare." ("BYU-Hawaii: The First Fifty Years", unpublished manuscript, BYU-Hawaii, 2008.)
Perfect unity is a rarity, as rare as a perfect score at the Olympics, but is the pursuit worth it? Absolutely. Is it possible? Absolutely. It's all about teamwork. It begins as we look within ourselves, preparing to be a valuable team member. We strengthen our personal spirituality and integrity. It's those countless hours at the gym, going over the same steps and routines again and again and again, making them become a very part of us. It's the strength and endurance training of giving our level best, day after day, of knowing we can finish the race. These characteristics combine to create an irreplaceable member of a team, ready to work together for everyone's benefit. And each one of us can do it. Each one of us is a critical member of the BYU-Hawaii Ohana. You are an integral part of our success.
As we strive to develop these three characteristics of devoted discipleship - spirituality, integrity, and unity - both individually and collectively, our lives will be filled with the blessings promised to faithful followers of the Savior, and this university will be able to achieve its prophetic vision.
I challenge each and every one of us to make an assessment of where we are in our quest to become a devoted disciple of the Lord, and then to push ourselves just a little bit harder.
Begin by examining how you are doing with your spirituality. Is the Spirit your constant companion? If not, why not? What do you need to change to make it so? Spend the hours necessary in your spiritual gym, reading your scriptures, saying your prayers, and attending your meetings.
Next, take a good look at your level of integrity. Would others say of you that you are "true at all times" and "in whatsoever thing" you are entrusted? If not, spend a bit more time on the character track, improving your strength and endurance. Be completely honest wherever you are and in whatever you're doing, whether anyone's watching or not. Choose to strengthen and bless others.
Finally, consider if you are united with our great cause - committed to building up the Kingdom of Heaven here on Earth. Look closely at your personal constancy. Do you practice what you profess to believe? Then look at our campus. Are you a team player? Are you extending and enhancing our united efforts in your classes, your ward family, and your employment?
Once you've made this assessment of your degree of devotion, I would invite you to prayerfully develop a tangible plan for how you will make real progress on all three of these discipleship characteristics. That is, what are you going to do today, this week, this month and this year to become a more devoted disciple of Jesus Christ? Write it down and refer to it as you would a rigorous training schedule. And don't be afraid to ask a loving Heavenly Father for increased focus, discipline, and self-control.
In conclusion, let me share with you President Henry B. Eyring's vision of BYU-Hawaii and the great promise he made during his visit to campus less than a year ago:
"Success [on this campus] will be an increase of the power of students to improve families, communities, and the world. The legendary vision of President David O. McKay for this place was about young people going forth to be an influence for peace worldwide. The power to be such an influence will come from the Atonement of Jesus Christ changing their hearts. That is the way people can feel peace themselves. And that is the way they will gain the power to influence others to choose the path to peace. That is why the study of and the living of the teachings of the Savior will be increasingly at the center of the education here." (Inauguration Remarks, President Henry B. Eyring, BYU-Hawaii, Nov 6, 2007.)
I testify that as we accept the Savior's invitation to "follow Him," our lives will be filled with innumerable blessings - the blessings promised throughout the ages to all devoted disciples of the Savior. Our path will be clear, and our purpose straightforward. I testify to you that Jesus Christ is indeed the Son of God, the Prince of Peace, the Redeemer and Exemplar. May we each grow in our desire and ability to serve Him and be recognized as one of His devoted disciples is my prayer, in the sacred name of Jesus Christ, Amen.