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Devotionals

Finding Our Way Back Home

Lolly—Last August when we arrived on this campus did you even imagine that we’d be speaking at a BYU-Hawaii Devotional come January? We had just celebrated our 50th wedding anniversary before we left Provo. This is us on our wedding day , full of anticipation for the future, but having no idea what would become of us. We haven’t changed much in 50 years now have we? Both of us fell hopelessly in love from the start. When we met, Elder Osguthorpe was a sophomore and had no idea what he was going to be when he grew up. I just knew that he was the man for me.

Russ— We had met the previous summer a few weeks after my return from my mission to Tahiti. We were introduced by my former mission president’s wife and then a few weeks later, when school started, our seats were assigned next to each other in a BYU choir. Having just returned from my mission I had no plans of getting married immediately. I was broke. Then one day Sister Osguthorpe explained that she wanted to serve a mission. By that time, I was not very eager to wait, so I promised her that we would serve together as missionaries someday if she would marry me.

Lolly—I believed him and this is what happened. Five children and spouses and 23 wonderful grandchildren. These are the blessings that have come to us because of that decision to marry in God’s temple and to try our best to serve the Lord. For our first two missions, we were called to South Dakota as mission president and wife and then eleven years later as temple president and matron in North Dakota. We loved serving together so much that we volunteered for a third time to teach here at BYU Hawaii.

Russ—We’ve learned many things through the years. We’ve had our share of sickness, disappointments, trials and tribulations just like you. But at this point in life, all we remember is the joy we feel every day to be serving again here in Hawaii. After spending six years in the cold and snowy Dakotas, when people ask us how we were assigned to Hawaii, we explain that the brethren decided we could use a change of scenery. Both our previous missions shaped us and taught us about the sacred principles of the Lord’s plan for us. Everything seems to point to the temple and how we must learn to return to our Heavenly Father.

Lolly Our home in Provo is situated within walking distance of the Provo Temple. And although we can’t see it from our house, we are reminded of the temple every time we leave our neighborhood. Our six-year-old neighbor girl, Lisi taught us a lesson I’ve never forgotten. Because she had to stay after school for a few minutes, our little neighbor missed her bus. Lisi thought she knew the way home and decided to try it on her own. She soon became turned around and found herself alone on a busy street similar to Kamehameha Highway. A woman jogger noticed her tears and stopped to inquire if she could help. While sobbing in the arms of the jogger, Lisi burst out “I can’t remember my address but if you can get me to the temple, I can find my way back home.” The jogger walked her to the temple and sure enough, Lisi knew how to get home. “If I can get to the temple, I can find my way back home.”

Russ—We are all like Lisi. We all want to find our way back home, one day to live together as families eternally. This is the ultimate purpose of our earthly existence—to learn all we need to learn to find our way back to our heavenly parents. So learning is much more than reading and studying and taking tests. The real definition of learning is to become like God. Any time we learn a new truth—whether secular or sacred—that truth helps us come closer to God. It helps us become more like Him. And how do we learn to be become more like Him?

Lolly—We learn by drawing upon His grace—his strengthening power. And that’s the same way we learn and teach each other the doctrine of the kingdom— “diligently”—and we are promised his grace shall attend us. (D&C 88:78). But we’re not talking only about learning new facts. We’re talking about learning how to be obedient, how to stay close to the Lord, and how to repent.

Russ—Yes, repentance itself is a form of learning. When we repent we turn away from an old way of thinking or behaving, and when we learn something new, we do the same thing: we turn away from ignorance (one of our greatest enemies) and replace that ignorance with the truth that we have come to understand. We’re really talking about what it means to be a disciple of the Lord Jesus Christ. But discipleship is a life-long commitment.

Natural Man

Lolly—However, we all have natural man challenges. As a parent, on a long road trip, I might have expressed some impatience when my kids would ask me the same question over and over. “How long ’til we get there?” I have to remind myself that Heavenly Father doesn’t get tired of me asking him the same question over and over. I just haven’t developed eyes to see or ears to hear the voice of the Lord.

Russ—That’s exactly the point. And it happens to all of us. We all have a gap between our desire to be good and our ability to actually be good. The apostle Paul expressed it this way: “. . . for what I would [do], that do I not; but what I hate, that do I” (Romans 7:15) In other words he simply could not figure out why his actions did not match his desire or motive to be totally obedient. I know what I should do. So why don’t I always do what I know I should do?

Lolly—He was simply suffering from the effects of being a natural man. Sometimes our natural man or woman tendencies cause us to harm other people—even though we do it unintentionally. I reacted with impatience when my children kept bombarding me with the same question. The student who hurts the feelings of a roommate because the student lost patience or didn’t understand what the roommate thought she was communicating.

Russ—At other times it could be intentional. I remember one student several years ago who copied a computer program from another student and submitted it to the teacher as his own work. The teacher noticed the two programs were exactly the same and confronted the student.

Lolly—So what happened? How did the student respond?

Russ—We’ll get back to that later.

Lolly—The natural man tendencies lead us to make mistakes we need to correct by repenting, so we can learn how not to keep making the same mistake again and again. We need to learn how to yield to the enticings of the Holy Spirit and put off the natural man (Mosiah 3:19). But in general, our heart is right. We want to be good just as the apostle Paul wanted to be good, but our actions fall short.

Rebel

Russ But more serious is the rebel, the one who commits sin intentionally and is proud of it, the one who is not interested at all in changing or repenting. Alma the Younger, for example, in his early adult years was proud to be a “wicked and idolatrous man.” He did all he could to cause members of the church to doubt their faith and follow him.

Lolly—To bring it close to home, there might be students who intentionally skip church meetings or devotionals even though their schedules would allow them to attend, and like Alma the Younger, might try to draw others away. Even parking illegally in a handicap parking stall would be another case of rebellion against the rules. And of course the Honor Code reflects our commitment to follow the rules of honesty, conduct, and modesty on and off campus while being a student or teacher here at BYU.

Russ—The scriptures call this kind of conduct, rebellion, and there are myriad examples of the “Rebel” in the scriptures such as Nephi’s brothers, Korihor, King Noah to name a few. I remember a young man who had recently married but then ignored the covenants he had made and began living a life of total rebellion until he was no longer a member of the Church.

Lolly—So what happened? Did he ever come back?

Russ—We’ll have to wait and see.

Hypocrite

Lolly—So we’ve talked about our natural man tendencies, and also about our moments of open rebellion to God’s law, but what about when we are pretending to do all the right things, but we’re doing those things so we can get recognition from others or so we can make more money?

Russ— Now you’re talking about the “Hypocrite.” The scriptures have plenty to say about them. These are the pretenders, the imposters. On the outside they look good, but deep in their heart they’re not committed to the Lord at all. The missionary companionship who teaches more lessons than anyone else in the mission to impress the mission president.

Lolly—One of my students this semester reminded me that the Zoramites certainly fit this description. This could also be someone who comes to church meetings, devotionals, classes, or lectures with a cell phone texting and scrolling through social media the whole time.

Russ—A student I once knew signed up for a chemistry class because she had to fill a graduation requirement. Her heart was definitely not in it. On the first day of class she noticed that students sitting around her were majoring in chemistry. She knew she was doomed. She was convinced that she would fail the course.

Lolly—So what happened? How did she do?

Russ—We’ll get back to that later.

Lolly—So we know that when our heart is not in something, our motive for doing what we do is not right.

Russ—Definitely. And we all experience moments when we’re doing something, and our heart is not in it. I remember as a young faculty member I had no desire to attend university meetings. I was excited about my teaching and research, but these meetings just seemed like annoying interruptions.

Lolly—Did you ever come to a point where you actually liked those meetings?

Russ—We’ll get back to that later.

Lolly—So we’ve got three places we don’t want to be: the natural man, the rebel, and the hypocrite. But we haven’ mentioned the place where we want to be. If we’re going to learn our way back home, we need to become true disciples of the Savior.

Disciple

Russ This diagram helps me see it more clearly. On the top are motives. This is actually a continuum from pure to impure motives. On the side are actions, again with a continuum between righteous and unrighteous actions.

Lolly—In the Disciple box our actions are righteous, and our motives are pure. We’re doing the right things for the right reasons. And the reason is—love. If only all our actions could be motivated by love, we would immediately draw closer to God and to each other. The Lord showed us by his example here on earth that all of our actions could be motivated by love.

Russ—Absolutely. But as we’ve said, sometimes our actions do not match our motive as the apostle Paul taught. When we don’t do what we know we should do, we slip into the Natural Man box. We want to do well, but we fall short at times.

Lolly—And then the Rebel is the one who has impure motives and impure actions—doing the wrong thing for the wrong reason. From my perspective, this is the box to avoid at all costs. It is like willingly turning ourselves over to the adversary. Our rationalizations can lead us to open rebellion. We might begin listening to Satan’s accusatory voice instead of the still small voice. If not always watchful unto repentance, we can even seek for ways to beat the system and get ahead of our neighbor.

Russ—The Hypocrite might be equally undesirable. Hypocrites are intentionally deceptive. They try to fool others and maybe themselves into thinking they are really good, when in fact their motives are impure. President Dallin H. Oaks has taught that sometimes “the sin is in the desire [or motive], not in the act” (Oaks, Dallin H., 1985, The Desires of Our Hearts, BYU Devotional, October 8, 1985). Those who practiced priestcraft in the Book of Mormon were preaching the gospel—so their actions were good. But their only motives were to get fame and money. Corrupt motives are like soul destroying bacteria—they eat away at who we are down deep one bite at a time.

Lolly—When we say the word, disciple, it seems like someone who is already perfect. I know that’s not true. I know even disciples make mistakes and fall short at times. I think of Nephi—who was clearly a devoted disciple—but even he had moments of frustration. “Oh, wretched man that I am!” (2 Nephi 4:17), he cried out. Now I’m not sure what made him feel wretched—maybe it was his actions or maybe it was his motives—but either way, he was at that moment down on himself.

Russ—Then there’s Moroni who became frustrated because he did not feel that his writing skills were adequate to record all that he wanted to record in those sacred books. Lamenting his skills, he said, “when we write we behold our weakness, and stumble because of the placing of our words” (Ether 12:25).

Lolly—We’ve probably all felt Moroni’s frustration at times or Nephi’s lamenting. But their struggles actually make me feel better about my own shortcomings. They show that even the most devoted disciples have weaknesses. That gives me hope. In fact, I read recently that we should not be discouraged at all if we have weaknesses. After all, the scriptures teach us that God himself gave us our weaknesses so that we would turn to him for help.

Russ—I like the thoughts of this Latter-day Saint family therapist,

The Lord is inviting us to recognize that weakness isn’t something we overcome, but a condition that reminds us to turn to Him so he can give us strength and power. (Geoff Steurer)

Lolly—This is when we draw upon the Lord’s grace to strengthen us so that we avoid sin in spite of our weakness. Weakness in itself is not a sin. Moroni’s lack of skills was not a sin.

Russ—But when we allow our weakness to lead us to sin, then we’re in trouble. Then we’ve slipped into one of the other boxes.

Lolly—So we try to draw upon the enabling power of the Savior’s Atonement to help us avoid sin because we have a weakness. All of us have weaknesses we must learn to avoid acting on—not that the weakness vanishes, but that our ability to avoid the sin that might be associated with that weakness can become stronger.

Russ—Like our missionary who was so quiet. I remember in our first interview I asked if there was something I should know about him that would help me serve him better as a mission president. He responded, “Well, before now, I’ve never spoken to anyone except my own family.” Trying not to look surprised, I asked, “What about in school? What about friends?” He responded, “I don’t have any friends, and teachers never called on me, because they knew I wouldn’t say anything.” His response touched me. I wondered silently how he could muster the courage to serve a mission having never spoken to anyone outside his own home.

Lolly—He reminded me of a young woman I once had in my class who had this same challenge. I had it explained to me that every time someone spoke to her, it was as if a pit bull was ready to attack her. I could only imagine the fear she felt constantly.

Russ—My thought about our missionary was how could he possibly succeed as a missionary, since all missionaries do is talk to strangers all day every day? Should we tell them now what happened to this missionary?

Lolly—Not yet. They still need to wait a little longer. But when I think of this missionary I think about how much love he had for the Lord to come on a mission in the first place. If we look at the diagram again, we can see that love is the pure motive, and that missionary definitely had love in his heart. But if love is the pure motive, what do we call the impure motive?

Russ—There are many impure motives—greed, selfishness, and so on. But one word that perhaps captures them all is lust. In talking about love and lust, Elder Holland has said,

Love makes us instinctively reach out to God and other people. Lust, on the other hand, is anything but godly and celebrates self-indulgence. Love comes with open hands and open heart; lust comes with only an open appetite. (Ensign, May 2010)

Most think of the word applying to sexual sin, but a person can also lust after money or fame. Hey, it’s possible to lust after food or a car or a piece of clothing.

Lolly—That’s why motives are so terribly important. When motives are impure, there is always deception, and we know that the adversary is the father of deception. It’s just so important that we examine our own motives to find out if we’re doing things for the right reasons. Is our heart totally in it? Am I keeping the honor code because I really want to, or am I complying grudgingly? Am I striving for honesty in my motives?

Russ—Your use of the word grudgingly reminds me of Moroni’s counsel. These are pretty strong words:

For behold, if a man being evil giveth a gift, he doeth it grudgingly; wherefore it is counted unto him the same as if he had retained the gift; wherefore he is counted evil before God (Moroni 7:8)

Lolly—I agree, those are strong words, and that word grudgingly hits pretty close to home for all of us at times. The French translation for the word grudgingly is contrecoeur—literally “against your heart.” When we do something, and our heart is not in it, we go against ourselves.

Russ—Like my not wanting to attend meetings when I began my career. When I attended grudgingly, I was physically present in the meeting but not spiritually present. I learned later that I could find value in the meetings if I worked on my unacceptable motive. I could contribute. I could get to know others better. I could take an interest in them and their work.

Lolly—And then you eventually found yourself convening lots of those very meetings and trying to help others want to come, right?

Russ—Exactly. The Lord has an interesting way of teaching us what we need to learn. Now, what about those people we said we would get back to later?

Lolly—Each of those stories has something to teach us about how we can move from one of those three negative “boxes” in the diagram and become the Lord’s disciples. How about the student who plagiarized another student’s computer program?

Russ—When the teacher confronted him, he felt ashamed and began to cry. He knew he had done wrong. He knew that his natural man tendencies had taken over. He was so overcome with remorse that he could hardly speak. Then he said, “I’ll do anything to make this right. I’ll do extra work—anything.” The teacher accepted his apology, and he immediately started work on a new program.

Lolly—So he moved from the Natural Man box into the Disciple box. He put off the Natural Man and became submissive and meek—just like the scripture says (Mosiah 3:19).

Russ—Yes. That always happens when we truly repent.

Lolly—What about the young man who fell away from the Church—the one who ignored his covenants? Did he ever come back?

Russ—That’s even a happier story. When we’re in the Rebel box, it often takes longer to repent of the serious transgressions we’ve committed. And it took some time for this young man. But one day he called to invite me to attend the service when he would be re-baptized a member of the Church. He not only left his former rebellious life; he became a devoted disciple.

Lolly—How about the student who knew she was going to fail the chemistry class?

Russ—She had been going along for several weeks pretending to do what she was supposed to do, but her heart was definitely not in it. Then she said,

I woke up one morning and knew that I’d been looking at this class all wrong. I was only concerned about the grade, but then I realized that the grade wasn’t why I’d come to college. I came so that I could learn. So I began focusing totally on my own learning and forgot about the grade. The moment I did that, I began learning more about chemistry than I ever thought possible, and the grade took care of itself.

Lolly—She moved out of the hypocrite box and became a disciple. Motives are so important! I’m reminded of the angel Moroni’s visitations to the Prophet Joseph in 1823. During Moroni’s third visit he gave Joseph specific instruction about his motives: that Joseph must “have no other object in view in getting the plates but to glorify God, and must not be influenced by any other motive than that of building his kingdom;” (Joseph Smith History 1:46).

Russ—So Moroni was making it clear that no matter how hard Joseph may have tried to obtain the plates, he would not be successful unless his motive was pure. That is so like the student who discovered that until her motive became pure, she would not be able to learn what she was supposed to learn. But only the Lord can change our heart. She had divine help just as the student who copied the computer program. As Alma said,

Behold, he changed their hearts; yea, he awakened them out of a deep sleep, and they awoke unto God. Behold, they were in the midst of darkness; nevertheless, their souls were illuminated by the light of the everlasting word. . . (Alma 5:7)

At times we all need to be awakened out of a deep sleep—particularly as it relates to the motives that underlie our behavior.

Lolly—Now let’s tell them what happened to our missionary who grew up not speaking to anyone outside his own family. Just thinking about him now reminds me how eager the Lord is to bless us if we simply invest ourselves in His work.

Our missionary did not need to be redeemed from past sin. He needed to be strengthened by the Lord so that he could talk to others. After he had been serving for one year with companions who were committed to help him, he began opening up. In fact, in one zone conference he gave a training that was as effective as any we had ever seen. His fear of speaking to others was no longer visible.

Russ—I like the way you put that. Because he would still not be considered the most outgoing missionary in the mission—he still had a tendency to be quiet. But the Lord helped him move beyond his weakness. When we find ourselves in any one of three negative boxes—hypocrite, rebel, or natural man—we need to draw heavily upon the redeeming power of the Atonement of Jesus Christ. But the more we become disciples, the less we must rely on the redeeming power, and the more we need the strengthening power of the Savior’s Atonement, just as our missionary did.

Lolly—What we’re saying is that no matter where we might find ourselves we can become disciples. We can give up the old way of acting and put on the new way. If that old way is sin, then we need to repent and draw upon the Lord’s redeeming power. But if it’s not sin—if it’s simply a weakness we have as our missionary had, then we need the Lord’s strengthening power, so that we can grow, just as Jesus did when He was here upon the earth—from “grace to grace.”

Russ—And while I like the image of a box for the three negative boxes—because sin always boxes us in—the disciple area is not limiting. Discipleship is never confining, only liberating. In fact, it is infinitely liberating. Discipleship is where we soar, where we draw upon God’s grace—his strengthening power—to lift us higher than we ever thought possible.

Lolly—I like to think of mercy as the redeeming power of the Savior’s Atonement and grace more as the strengthening or enabling power. Elder David A. Bednar has said that in his personal scripture study, he “often inserts the term enabling power whenever [he] encounters the word grace (Bednar, D. A., “In the strength of the Lord, BYU Speeches, 2001).

Russ—An example of this might be when Alma testified that the Only Begotten of the Father is “full of grace (the enabling power) and mercy (the redeeming power)” Alma 5:48)

Lolly—God’s grace is the greatest power in the universe. It is the power that saves us, the power by which we are resurrected—for that matter the power by which everyone is resurrected.

Russ—Even the most unrepentant sinner will be resurrected—all through the power of God’s grace. God’s mercy redeems us from sin, but His grace gives us the strength and courage to change—to become a “new creature” (Mosiah 27:26).

Lolly—Then His grace does even more. It empowers us to keep improving, to keep trying, to keep reaching for the thing that seems unreachable. Grace is the power that helps us do better and be better, as our prophet has taught (Nelson, Russell M. April 2019, We Can Do Better and Be Better).

Russ—It was by the Lord’s grace that our missionary was able to learn how to teach the gospel to anyone who would listen. It was by grace that he was able to do something that once seemed impossible to him. Like Jesus when he was here on the earth, our missionary “grew from grace to grace” (D&C 93:13). That grace is found most assuredly in the temple. The temple is where we learn to make and keep covenants. And it is in the making and keeping of those covenants that we become attached to the Lord in a way that frees us from the forces of the world that would hold us down or hold us back. In the temple we experience the power of godliness—the power to become like God (D&C 84:20-21), the power to acquire the characteristics of holiness.

Lolly—Everything in the temple, every covenant, every ordinance, every law—each one helps us move closer to the Lord—to become more like Him. I like to reflect on how often the word “blessings” occurs inside the temple. The Lord is blessing us at every turn. Through His grace He’s endowing us with the power to become like Him. When we partake of the sacrament each week we again receive that same power of godliness—the power to become like Him—as we recommit ourselves to keep His commandments and follow his example.

Russ—The overarching purpose of temple worship is to help us learn our way back home. President Nelson has taught,

One goal and one goal alone, should become your greatest goal. What is that? It is the goal of eternal life. That goal is God’s goal. That goal is God’s glory. The Lord has decreed that “eternal life…is the greatest of all the gifts of God.” (Russell M. Nelson excerpted from Accomplishing the Impossible as printed in LDS Living December 28, 2019)

Lolly— President Nelson goes on to explain that this gift is obtained in the temple with the endowment and sealing ordinances. It is only through the ordinances of the temple that we can truly find our way back to our heavenly parents—just like our six-year-old neighbor Lisi reminded us. She knew that if she could get to the temple, she could find her way back home.

Russ—Our witness is that we can all learn our way back home, no matter where we are on the covenant path. If we find ourselves doing things with impure motives, we can call upon the Lord, and he will change our heart. If we get a little rebellious from time to time, we can open ourselves to God’s redemptive power, knowing that he is eager to forgive. And when we’re really trying to do our best but make mistakes, as we all do, we can quickly learn from our mistake and continue our quest to be true disciples.

Lolly—These principles affect us every day, whether we’re students, teachers, parents, or friends. Regardless of our current circumstance, we all need the Lord’s help to stay close to Him, to become more like Him. And we need to help each other along the path. I know that through his strengthening power we can do it.

Russ—I also know that we can do it. Too often we sell ourselves short.

Lolly—We think we’re not good enough or not smart enough, but when we look at everyone here, we know that your potential is far greater than you think.

Russ—When we teach you in our classes and read your assignments and listen to your responses all we can see is your great potential that is far greater than you might imagine.

Lolly—When we see you in the temple as workers or patrons, we thrill to experience the Lord’s house with you as we both contemplate God’s plan for each of us as we find our way back home strengthening each other as we go.

Russ—We bear witness that by God’s grace, you will achieve your highest hopes, your most treasured dreams.

Lolly—You will be able to reach what now may seem unreachable.

Russ—We know the Lord lives and that he will help us every step of the way as we strive to be like Him and find our way back home, in the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.