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Devotionals

Returning to My Sacred Grove


My Sisters and My Brothers, Aloha!

I am so thankful for my companion. It is a wonderful thing to get to choose your missionary companion! We have had 43 years together without a transfer! And when a transfer finally does come, we hope the separation will only be a short time before we are together again, never to be separated for all eternity. I love Sister Rasmussen. I love her testimony. You have heard and felt it today. We are blessed and grateful to be assigned here in Hawaii serve you and learn from you and grow with you.

I have visited Hawaii three times in my life. All three times, involving this campus, twice wearing a white shirt with a black name tag. The first time was in June of 1974. Back then, it was called the Church College of Hawaii. It was one of three Language Training Missions (LTMs), today’s MTCs. I stayed in Hale 2 with other missionaries learning various Asian languages. My language, Japanese! My first reaction when I opened my mission call and saw Japan was a nervous: “Oh, my, what a language!”

And the language was a challenge for me. One early morning a few weeks into my experience, I was outside my room in the courtyard, sitting on the grass and leaning back against a palm tree. I had my missionary flip chart open to a painting of a boy kneeling in a grove of trees. I was reciting, from mere rote memory, a simplified version of the First Vision. I had no idea what the sounds I was making were actually saying. All of a sudden, the words were making sense! I understood what I was saying. I guess you would say I was experiencing the ‘gift of tongues!’ It was perfectly clear; the language was natural and flowing. The tears began flowing also. Then the greatest thing happened. I knew by the Spirit that the message was true. Joseph, in reality, saw God the Father and His Beloved Son Jesus Christ in that grove of trees. It was true. It really happened. The tears ran down my cheeks and dripped off my chin. I remember seeing them splash on the flip chart page. I knew it was true, and like Joseph, I knew that God knew, that I knew, it was true. Here, on the soil of this wonderful campus, I found my own sacred grove.

In my patriarchal blessing that I received two weeks before my 18th birthday, it states:

“I bless you with the gift of faith, that you may be able to obtain and to keep an unswerving testimony of the truthfulness of the first vision of the Prophet Joseph Smith.”

That promised gift had not been clearly manifest before my La’ie LTM experience, but from that morning on, it has been a solid foundation stone in my life.

My hope in sharing this experience with you is that it might cause you to recall your own witness of the truthfulness of the First Vision. Sister Rasmussen shared how that witness came to her. Millions have, in their own way and in God’s own timing, gained that critically important witness. Remember that you too know, and if you don’t know yet, I promise that you can know that it is true!

We have visited the actual grove in Palmyra, New York, on many occasions. It is one of my favorite places on this globe. My family all know that if I ever win an all-expense-paid trip to anywhere in the world, I will most likely choose Palmyra! I would like to share with you one of our many experiences.

Sacred Grove 2006

A grandpa and two little grandsons, hand in hand, on the path to the Sacred Grove. They had just come from the Hill Cumorah Visitors’ Center, where they had watched the movie of the First Vision. As they approached the entrance to the grove, grandpa asks the boys if they were ready to go in there. Brayden, the older of the two, said that he didn’t want to go in. Not expecting that for an answer, grandpa asked, “Why not?” His answer: “Because Satan is in there!” He remembered from the film that Satan attacked the boy Joseph Smith, bound his tongue, and tried to stop his communication with God. The Spirit prompted grandpa to ask what Joseph did when Satan attacked.

The boys responded, “He prayed harder.”

“And who came?”

“Heavenly Father and Jesus.”

“Yes, they did, and they kicked Satan out, and I don’t think he has been back since!”

With that explanation, they were good to enter.

Both of these boys, our two oldest grandsons are currently sharing their Witnesses of the Living Father and Son in a foreign tongue, called to Guatemala and Armenia/Georgia.

There are many truths that we can learn from the First Vision. But the greatest is getting to know the Father and the Son!

“And this is life eternal, that they might know Thee the only true God and Jesus Christ whom Thou hast sent.” John 17:3

Down through time, over numerous lands, cultures, and beliefs, there have been many worshiped gods, which could be spelled with a lower case “g.”

But Eternal Life requires us getting to know the ‘Only True [and Living] God, and His Beloved Son!

In his first full conference address as an apostle, Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf stated that he came to know Jesus Christ through this glorious experience:

“By the universal power of the Holy Ghost, I felt in my heart and in my mind that it was true, that Joseph Smith saw God and Jesus Christ and heard Their voices. The Spirit of God comforted my soul at [a] young age with an assurance of the reality of this sacred moment that resulted in the beginning of a worldwide movement destined to “roll forth, until it has filled the whole earth” (D&C 65:2). I believed Joseph Smith’s testimony of that glorious experience in the Sacred Grove then, and I know it now. God has spoken to mankind again!

“This is how Joseph Smith’s First Vision blesses our own personal lives, the lives of families, and eventually the whole human family—we come to believe in Jesus Christ through the testimony of the Prophet Joseph Smith.” (“The Fruits of the First Vision, Apr. Gen. Conf. 2005)

There are dozens of remarkable truths learned through this foundational experience. We learn that God knows us personally, by name. The Father and the Son have bodies of flesh and bones and are separate and distinct individuals. They are merciful beings that forgive sins. And mixed in with dozens of other Truths is the declaration that the fullness of Christ’s Gospel was not then on the earth but would be restored at a future time.

These declared truths constitute a message that the world must hear, and they must hear it from those of us that know. Through you wonderful students here at BYU—Hawaii, the concluding line of President David O. McKay’s (1958) prophetic dedicatory prayer of this campus is being fulfilled: (offered Dec. 16, 1958)

“From the high and glorious point of the revelation of Thyself and Thy Beloved Son to the Prophet Joseph, may we be, in every sense of the word, loyal, true to the best that is within us, and consecrate our lives and our efforts to the establishment of the kingdom of God on earth...”

When we come to know Him and the True and Living Church which bears His name, we are duty-bound to open our mouths and share this message with the world.

Truly, “the World is our Campus,” and we must “Enter to Learn and Go Forth to Serve.”

I have seen a lot of beautiful feet here in La’ie! I am not referring to my time spent on the beaches. I am using it metaphorically, as the Book of Mormon prophet Abinadi did in quoting from Isaiah.

He speaks of the beautiful feet of “[those] who have published peace, who have brought good tidings, … who have published salvation;” those who stood as witnesses of the Prince of Peace. He spoke of those who have published peace, as well as those who are still publishing peace!

“And again, how beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of those who shall hereafter publish peace, yea, from this time henceforth and forever!”

Evidently, preaching the gospel gives you beautiful feet. At least they are beautiful to those to whom you have walked long miles to bring them this glorious message of peace.

One might ask: “Who has the most Beautiful feet of all?”

“O how beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him that bringeth good tidings, that is the founder of peace, yea, even the Lord, who has redeemed his people;” (Mosiah 15:14-18)

After we read those verses, I once asked a class: “What makes Christ’s feet so beautiful?” An inspired student responded: “Isn’t it the nail holes?”

The class fell silent! We all knew that truth had been spoken.

Brothers and Sisters, I love the account in 3rd Nephi of Christ manifesting Himself to the Nephites, showing them His beautiful feet, and helping them to come to know Him. After He descended from Heaven, they fell to the ground before him:

“Arise and come forth unto me, that ye may thrust your hands into my side, and also that ye may feel the prints of the nails in my hands and in my feet, that ye may know that I am the God of Israel, and the God of the whole earth, and have been slain for the sins of the world.

And it came to pass that the multitude went forth, and thrust their hands into his side, and did feel the prints of the nails in his hands and in his feet; and this they did do, going forth one by one until they had all gone forth, and did see with their eyes and did feel with their hands, and did know of a surety and did bear record, that it was he, of whom it was written by the prophets, that should come.” (3rd Nephi 11: 14-15)

Returning to those messengers with beautiful feet, Christ gives us clear direction:

A year and a half after His Church had been restored upon the earth, Christ’s message to Joseph now was quite different than the one that He delivered in the grove. He witnessed that there was now a Church that He could call His own. The Savior declared:

[my servant Joseph Smith, Jun.] ... might have power to lay the foundation of this church, and to bring it forth out of obscurity and out of darkness, the only true and living church upon the face of the whole earth, with which I, the Lord, am well pleased, speaking unto the church collectively and not individually— Doctrine and Covenants 1:29-30

This can be a hard message to hear, even offensive to members of other faiths.

But we must not be ashamed or embarrassed by the doctrine of the Only True and Living Church! We are commissioned to help bring it out of obscurity and darkness. We must teach it in its fullness of truth, with its priesthood authority, and saving ordinances. We must boldly proclaim to the world that Christ’s true church is again upon the face of the earth. But as Alma said to his son Shiblon: “Use boldness but not overbearance.;” (Alma 38:12)

We must not share and testify of this message with an attitude of arrogance! God is pleased with the Church collectively, not necessarily individually.

Charity is the guiding Principle that must govern our approach to inviting others to come and see. God loves all of His children. He wants us to invite all to come unto Christ. The Prophet Joseph taught to invite all to bring all the truth that they have and come see what additional truths are available to assist in knowing and understanding the Father and the Son and their Plan of Happiness.

The grand blessing for assisting the Father and the Son in their work of saving the souls of men is clearly promised us by the Savior in this Book of Mormon passage:

“And for this cause ye shall have a fulness of joy; and ye shall sit down in the kingdom of my Father; yea, your joy shall be full, even as the Father hath given me fulness of joy;” (3 Nephi 28:10)

Brothers and Sisters, this Church means everything to me! The First Vision means everything to me! They were the vehicles through which I came to know my Savior and to know that He is the way, the only way to happiness in this life and eternal life with our Heavenly Parents and their great Ohana! The only way to be with my eternal companion and our wonderful Ohana!

It is so good to be back on this ‘Sacred Soil of my own Sacred Grove.’

In the Sacred name of Jesus Christ. Amen.