My dear brothers and sisters, Aloha.
This devotional talk is a long time in coming. When I joined the faculty at BYU–Hawaii many years ago, I thought someday I might be called upon to give the weekly devotional and remembering the Boy Scout motto of “Be Prepared,” I started to prepare for that devotional by thinking about what I might say that would be of value to those in attendance. As I thought about it over these many years, I wrote down the impressions that I have had and this has become the basis for my devotional message today.
In some ways, this devotional address has taken a lifetime to write because my topic today is the blessings of the scriptures. I have a great love for the scriptures and consider them to be a great source of knowledge. As a professor, my life has been about the pursuit of knowledge and helping others increase in their knowledge of the world around them. However, our secular learning should never be more important than the pursuit of spiritual knowledge and daily study of the scriptures. Therefore, today I would like to share with you some of the things that I have learned from a lifetime of studying the scriptures.
While this devotional address is based on years of scripture study, I don’t want to set the expectations too high. I do not consider myself a great scholar of the scriptures like some of our religion faculty. I will admit that I am a little nervous. Believe it or not, I am a bit of an introvert and shy away from social interactions or talking to others that I don’t know really well. I certainly don’t like talking in front of groups, especially one as large as this. It is still kind of a mystery to me why I chose to become a professor but I do like learning and tackling complex problems. It is true that opposites do attract.
My wife, Marty, is a very outgoing person and will strike up a conversation with anybody she meets. I am always amazed that what should be a simple and brief conversation with somebody that she has met for the first time on the phone or in person, turns into a lengthy conversation as if they had been long time friends and want to catch up on everything that has happened in their lives. This is one of the qualities that I love about her. She helps to get me out of my comfort zone and has introduced me to some amazing people that I would have probably never met on my own.
Back to being a little nervous. At Everett Community College, where I started my long path in higher education, I had a speech teacher who told us that to be a little nervous is okay. He was more concerned about those individuals that weren’t nervous at all when speaking. He felt like those that were nervous, cared about what they were saying and wanted to convey those thoughts, feelings, and impressions to others in a clear and understandable way. This is true for me today. I am grateful that you are here today and I hope you take advantage of these weekly devotionals. I gain so much by attending devotionals. You should consider these an important part of your education.
It is my hope and prayer that I can share with you my love of the scriptures and encourage you to make scripture study a part of your daily life. However, my real desire in wanting to give the devotional this day is to share with my students that I have a testimony of the restored gospel of Jesus Christ and everything that entails. I want them to know that. My students may think that all I care about is business analytics or the effective management of large-scale operations in fields such as hospitality and tourism management. I hope they see me in a different light today. While I do care about helping them be successful in their chosen careers and I will continue to be a hard grader because I think they are capable of great things, I ultimately want them and you to develop a greater testimony of our Savior, Jesus Christ, and his restored Church, namely the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Let’s start with a scripture from Alma chapter 37.
"Now ye may suppose that this is foolishness in me; but behold I say unto you, that by small and simple things are great things brought to pass; and small means in many instances doth confound the wise." [i]
Reading the scriptures daily is a small and simple thing. Because it is such a small and simple thing, we often don’t recognize the impact that daily scripture study has on our lives and into the eternities. In fact, Alma goes on to clarify the importance of doing something as small and simple as reading your scriptures daily. Alma provides a tangible example and likens the study of the scriptures to the Liahona.
"And now, my son, I would that ye should understand that these things are not without a shadow; for as our fathers were slothful to give heed to this compass (now these things were temporal) they did not prosper; even so it is with things which are spiritual.
For behold, it is easy to give heed to the word of Christ, which will point to you a straight course to eternal bliss, as it was for our fathers to give heed to this compass, which would point unto them a straight course to the promised land.
And now I say, is there not a type in this thing? For just as surely as this director did bring our fathers, by following its course, to the promised land, shall the words of Christ, if we follow their course, carry us beyond this vale of sorrow into a far better land of promise.
O my son, do not let us be slothful because of the easiness of the way; for so was it with our fathers; for so was it prepared for them, that if they would look they might live; even so it is with us. The way is prepared, and if we will look we may live forever." [ii]
The scriptures are our compass or to use a more modern-day term, our GPS. We need to consult them often and frequently to make sure we are on track. Make a habit of reading your scriptures daily or in other words, consult that map daily to make sure you are on the correct path to returning to our heavenly home. Reading the scriptures is not a matter of quantity but of quality. Take time to not just read the scriptures but to study and ponder the scriptures. It is interesting to me that the scriptures often use the phrase “feasting upon the word.” It seems like some people appear to be on a diet or fasting when it comes to reading the scriptures.
I encourage you as you read the scriptures, to mark up or highlight passages of scriptures just like you should be doing with your textbooks or assigned readings. I use a variety of different colored pens with different topics being assigned a particular color. For example, I use the color blue to highlight passages of scriptures that have to do with the characteristics and qualities of our Savior, Jesus Christ.
As I strive to be more like our Heavenly Father and our Savior, Jesus Christ,
I find myself looking through the scriptures and reading the passages that are marked in blue. In order to be more like Jesus Christ and our Heavenly Father, you first need to know more about them and what they are like. The scriptures are a great place to learn about Jesus Christ and our Heavenly Father. Even the scriptures on your mobile devices and the Gospel Library app allow you to highlight your online scripture passages using different colors.
I also write notes or comments in the margins of my scriptures that help link the scriptures back to events or things that have happened in my life. As I come across these comments while reading the scriptures, it causes me to reflect on those past experiences. I find myself losing track of time as I think about what I have learned and how the scriptures have helped me throughout my life. These are cherished moments that remind me what a blessing it is to have the scriptures.
Let me share with you some additional insights that I have gained from my study of the scriptures. Throughout the scriptures, there are often questions that we are asked to answer. Perhaps this is only interesting to a professor who has created many exams over the course of my career. Could I answer these questions correctly or in the way God expects us or wants us to answer? A good example of this is in Alma chapter 5. To me, this is a good pre-cursor to the temple recommend interview.
"…have ye spiritually been born of God? Have ye received his image in your countenances? Have ye experienced this mighty change in your hearts? Do ye exercise faith in the redemption of him who created you? …can you imagine to yourselves that ye hear the voice of the Lord, saying unto you, in that day: Come unto me ye blessed, for behold, your works have been the works of righteousness upon the face of the earth?
"…can ye look up to God at that day with a pure heart and clean hands? I say unto you can you look up, having the image of God engraven upon your countenances?" [iii]
One final question from Alma.
"And now behold, I say unto you, my brethren, if ye have experienced a change of heart, and if ye have felt to sing the song of redeeming love, I would ask can ye feel so now?" [iv]
I hope that we can answer yes to all of those questions.
The scriptures also contain quite a few lists. As I tell my students, when they come across lists in their textbooks or readings, they need to carefully study the list. Is this just a list or series of steps? There may be an order to the list or the list may have been prioritized. Let us take a look at this list in the scriptures. In Matthew chapter 5, we find the Beatitudes, a list of qualities or characteristics and their associated blessings.
"Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are they that mourn: for they shall be comforted. Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth. Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled.
Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy. Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God. Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God.
Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness’ sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake. Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven: for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you." [v]
Instead of looking at these as separate items on a list, I would like you to consider that this is a fairly comprehensive list of the characteristics that we need to develop to become more like Christ and that there is an order to the list or a progression.
Our journey starts with being humble or poor in spirit, recognizing there is a God. A journey starts with a destination, the kingdom of heaven. As we learn to feel the spirit, we begin to have compassion for others and we experience the comfort of the Holy Ghost.
With these two qualities, we become meek and can learn to overcome the wicked world around us. We begin to hunger and thirst for righteousness and increase in knowledge of the gospel. As we increase in faith, we recognize the need for mercy and the atonement of Jesus Christ. We become pure in heart and we are able to draw on the powers of Heaven or see God in our daily lives. We turn that faith and power into action to become peacemakers, which are the children of God.
As we take on the name of our Savior, we may run into opposition but by remaining faithful we shall inherit the kingdom of heaven just like those in whose footsteps we follow.
It is interesting that the last verse in chapter 5 of Matthew is this verse:
"Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect." [vi]
Besides looking for lists, I also tell my students to pay attention to phrases or words that are often repeated in their textbooks and readings. These are usually important things that the author wants the reader to remember. There are many phrases that are repeated throughout the scriptures but let me share three examples with you.
“Garments washed white” or “cleansed from all stain” through the “blood of the Lamb”.
This phrase appears throughout the scriptures. I actually take great comfort from the phrase, especially given the last scripture verse that I shared with you on being perfect, “even as your Father in heaven is perfect.” This is the good news about the gospel and the atonement of Jesus Christ. This is at the core of the gospel and one of the most important things we can share with others and something we need to be reminded of. We will not be able to live perfect lives. We will make mistakes, but through the atonement of Jesus Christ we can be forgiven of those sins as if they never happened. Washed white, cleansed from all stain, made perfect.
Another phrase found throughout the scriptures, is this phrase.
The God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, the God of Jacob…
I always found this phrase very interesting. Not only are they recognizing there is a God, but they are also honoring their ancestors and their steadfast faith in that God. I thought about my ancestors, my maternal grandfather and grandmother, Elmer and Amber Pierce, and my father and mother, Larry and Sandy. As a child, I learned from them about my Father in Heaven and began to learn about the gospel of Jesus Christ. I could see myself saying I believe in The God of Elmer, The God of Amber, The God of Larry, and The God of Sandy. As my faith and testimony grew, I was able to finally say that their God is my God too; he became The God of Cary. I have continued to try and live my life in such a way that my children and posterity could continue to say that about me.
One last phrase or word that is found often in the scriptures is “remember” or “remembrance.” Here is one scripture where remembrance is mentioned:
"…and I have always retained in remembrance their captivity; yea, and ye also ought to retain in remembrance, as I have done, their captivity." [vii]
What is it that I am to remember or more specifically why am I to “always retain in remembrance their captivity?” As I thought more about this, I began to think about my ancestors and their “captivity” or more importantly the miracles that rescued them from their “captivity.” My ancestors were some of the early saints and pioneers. I am always overwhelmed by their courage and their faithfulness. I retain a remembrance of them. I served my mission in Germany and I thought about the struggles of the saints there. While I was on my mission, Germany was still divided with an East and West Germany. I served in some of the towns along the border that were divided in half.
Today Germany is reunited and it is interesting to know that the first temple in Germany was in East Germany. I have even thought about my wife’s ancestry in Japan and what I have learned from my travels there or the stories that I have heard from her and my children, who served their missions there. Yes, it is good to remember the things we have been through and realize how blessed we have been due to the miracles granted by a loving Heavenly Father. When you have an opportunity to talk with your parents, grandparents, or just any of your relatives, ask them about their experiences and how they have been blessed. These are good things to retain in remembrance.
The scriptures contain a lot of symbolism and some unusual words. In the past, I wasn’t always good about stopping and thinking about why this word was used and not another word or what I was to learn from this particular use of symbolism. As I have thought about the words used in the scriptures or the use of symbolism, I have found my German scriptures to be a great source of additional insight. It is often very helpful and enlightening to see what words they used in the language translations of the scriptures. For those familiar with other languages, there are often certain words that really don’t translate well into a different language such as English or the words that they have used in that particular language seem to offer further understanding of the meaning.
"However, here are some words in the English language version of the scriptures that I have found interesting. For verily I say unto you, one jot nor one tittle hath not passed away from the law, but in me, it hath all been fulfilled." [viii]
The smallest letter in the Hebrew alphabet is called a jot. A tittle is even smaller than a jot. A tittle is the little tiny mark or pen stroke that can differentiate one Hebrew letter from another. The Lord is concerned with every small detail and the things that others may consider insignificant. There are some days when I feel small and insignificant like a jot or a tittle, but then I remember that everything is important to the Lord and He cares about every jot and tittle.
Another interesting use of words, literally.
"And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth." [ix]
This seems like an odd way to word things. How can the Word be made flesh? A word is a message of the gospel. We may refer to the gospel as being the good word. You may have noticed that “Word” is capitalized. In the scriptures, we capitalize those terms that refer to Heavenly Father or Jesus Christ. The Word is Jesus Christ. Christ is the tangible part of the gospel or the message. He embodies the gospel and is the example of what we should be. Not just words on paper.
In Malachi chapter 3, verse 10, the phrase “windows of heaven” is used.
"Bring ye all the tithes into the storehouse, that there may be meat in mine house, and prove me now herewith, saith the Lord of hosts, if I will not open you the windows of heaven, and pour you out a blessing, that there shall not be room enough to receive it."
Why not a door or better yet, why not the garage door? We are talking about a pretty big blessing. Perhaps, we are not talking about just a physical blessing. Paying your tithing does help in temporal ways but often the blessings are spiritual. Looking through a window of a building provides you with a glimpse of what is inside. Looking through the “windows of heaven” gives you a glimpse of what heaven is like and the immense blessings that are in store for us when one day we will enter through the door.
One of the most unique things about the scriptures and the teachings of Jesus Christ is the use of parables. There is something powerful about conveying gospel teaching in memorable stories. These are things that we can often relate to. As I have read these parables over and over during my lifetime, I find that they have taken on new meanings as my circumstances and experiences have changed. I would like to share with you two parables that have taken on greater meaning to me as I have moved beyond the surface level of understanding.
In Matthew chapter 25, we have the parable of the ten virgins with their lamps as they waited for the bridegroom. Five of them were wise and they brought additional oil for their lamps and five of them were foolish because they took no additional oil. The bridegroom didn’t come until late and they that had additional oil were able to meet the bridegroom. Those without additional oil wanted to borrow some oil from those that brought extra but they were told they had to get their own oil and were turned away.
I understand that we need to be prepared for the second coming of the Lord and we shouldn’t procrastinate the day but I always felt that this was a little mean. I have always tried to share what I have with others and if that means I have a little less that is okay, I will make do. I probably was being a little too literal with this parable. As I have thought about this parable, I have come to realize that the lamp and the oil represent our testimonies. We can certainly share those testimonies and by sharing those testimonies with others, they experience the light and warmth of that testimony but eventually, everyone needs to gain their own testimony. Thereby, they are able to stand on their own through the darkness and storms that they may encounter in this life. As others develop stronger testimonies of the restored gospel, the world is a little brighter and there is a little more warmth.
For the second parable that I want to share with you, I would like to give you a little background first. For those of you not familiar with the Order of the Arrow, this is Scouting’s Honor Society. These are some of the top scouts and they are selected by their fellow scouts to be a part of this honor society. I have been blessed to be a part of this organization as a youth and later serve as an adult advisor.
In 2009, I was one of the adult advisors accompanying our contingent of scouts from the Aloha Council to attend the National Order of the Arrow Conference (NOAC). This event happens about every three years and it draws these top scouts from all over the United States. The theme at the 2009 NOAC was “The Power of One.” Throughout the conference they featured stories and videos that highlighted the significant difference or impact made by one individual. The scouts were encouraged to be that one individual that makes a difference and changes the world for the better.
However, I discovered that this theme didn’t seem to resonate with them. They would say, “I am just a scout from Kauai or from Kaneohe.” “Who am I that can make that kind of difference in the world.” “I am not like these people they are featuring.” Mind you, that these scouts are the best and brightest Scouting has to offer. They are talented leaders and hard workers. As I was thinking about this, I happened to come across the parable of the one lost sheep and the ninety and nine sheep in my scripture study.
"What man of you, having an hundred sheep, if he loses one of them, doth not leave the ninety and nine in the wilderness, and go after that which is lost, until he find it? And when he hath found it, he layeth it on his shoulders, rejoicing. And when he cometh home, he calleth together his friends and neighbors, saying unto them, Rejoice with me; for I have found my sheep which is lost." [x]
Once again, I understand the desire to bring everyone into “the fold” and the joy in someone that has repented. In fact, the next verse following the parable in Luke, Jesus commented on this:
"I say unto you, that likewise joy shall be in heaven over one sinner that repenteth, more than over ninety and nine just persons, which need no repentance." [xi]
However, I found myself thinking about the ninety and nine and the relationship to the one. In business, we certainly would not want to lose any of our inventory but 99% of our inventory is pretty good. Why is the focus so much on the one? I then remembered the theme of the conference, “The Power of One.” We may sometimes think that what we have to offer is very little. We may feel like our contribution or impact at school, work, church, or within the different groups we associate with, is insignificant. That we would not be missed. The truth is that thinking is entirely wrong. As I thought about each of the scouts that were with me at the conference, I realized that we needed every one of them and more. No matter how small they thought their assignment or task were, our organization would suffer if they were not a part of it, that our ability to make a difference in the world would be diminished.
We would lack the power each one of them brings to our organization. As a school, as a Church, and as a community, one that is trying to be like Zion, we need every one of you. Therefore, next time you are in a quorum meeting, at relief society, in class, or just hanging out with friends, look around and see who is missing. Encourage them and help bring them back to the fold. Think about what more can be accomplished and how much of a difference it will make because of the power of one more.
The most important thing that we can do at BYU–Hawaii is help you build and strengthen your testimony of our Savior, Jesus Christ, and the restored gospel. One of the best things you can do is read and study the scriptures daily. It is more important than any academic study but you can do both. I have found that when I make scripture study a priority, other things fall into place and go much better. I believe you will discover the same thing.
One of my favorite scriptures is Jacob 6:12: "O be wise, what can I say more?"
There is great wisdom in the scriptures. I pray that you may discover the blessings and joys of scripture study, that you make it a lifelong pursuit.
In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.
[i] Alma 37:6
[ii] Alma 37: 43-46
[iii] Alma 5: 14-16, 19
[iv] Alma 5:26
[v] Matthew 5: 3-12
[vi] Matthew 5:48
[vii] Alma 36:29
[viii] 3 Nephi 12:18
[ix] John 1:14
[x] Luke 15:4-6
[xi] Luke 15:7