Thursday, February 27, 2014

Immediately Jesus stretched forth

Those Hands
2000 years have come and gone since that silent and holy night.
The eve of the birth of our Savior, a day that would bring new light.
There sat Mary in the quiet stable, caressing her newborn babe.
Hardly more than a child, herself, giving birth in a cold, dark cave.
Gently unwrapping the little boy, unwinding swaddling bands.
His tiny fingers encircled her own as she stroked his little hands.
She must have asked herself and smiled, "What will these hands do someday?"
"Will they farm the earth or build a house? Will they work with chisel or clay?"
How could she know as she tickled his fingers and counted them, one to ten.
The things they would do, in a few short years, to bless the lives of men?
The angel had told of His deity and His part in God's sacred plan.
But she couldn't know just where He would go or what He would do with those hands.
As a boy in Joseph's carpenter shop, they would use a hammer and saw.
Then on the shores of Galilee, break bread as He taught God's law.
How many times from cradle to cross would those hands change the lives of men.
As He healed from the bed and raised from the dead and forgave them, time and again.
He would use His grown up hands to pull a child to His knee.
Fingers would wipe a tear from an eye, apply mud so a man could see.
Those hands would be clasped in tearful prayer in Gethsemane's Garden, alone.
Then nailed to a cross on Calvary's Hill, His endless love to show.
To save us from death, He'd give His life. His innocent blood would spill.
He would cross the veil to His father's arms, His part in the plan fulfilled.
At Christmas time and all year through, remember who set us free.
With broken heart and outstretched hands, He bids us, "Come to me."
Just as doubt, despair, and desensitization go together, so do faith, hope, and charity. The latter, however, must be carefully and constantly nurtured, whereas despair, like dandelions, needs so little encouragement to sprout and spread. Despair comes so naturally to the natural man! “
Neal A. Maxwell
And immediately Jesus stretched forth his hand, and caught him, and said unto him,
O thou of little faith, wherefore didst thou doubt?
Matthew 14:31

"Tell them, Dad. Tell them about Jesus."

I Choose Joy
Christopher W. Moore
…………In that moment, the Savior demonstrated pure charity.  He showed his love for his fellow man as He taught them about the Holy Ghost.  “I will pray to the Father,” the Savior tells them.  “And He shall give you another Comforter, that he may abide with you forever.”  Then, again I believe in an act of pure love and kindness, the Savior stated, “I will not leave you comfortless, I will come to you.”
Elder David A. Bednar taught us that often one way that the Lord will come to us, or answer our prayers, or give us comfort is through those around us.  These people will come through the tender mercies of the Lord.  They will build us up, prompt us to think, and will give comfort.  Often these experiences are simple and quiet, yet quite powerful.
Let me give you an example.  About four years ago, I had such an experience.  My lesson came late in the night one Saturday night from a very pure source.  On that day, I was called to serve as the stake president of the Rexburg Idaho North Stake.  In the morning, two stakes would come together to become three in a gathering so large it was moved to the Hart gym here on campus.  I would be sustained and set apart as a stake president.  As you can imagine, it was a fairly restless night.  I tried to go to sleep that night, but it was useless.  I got up and sat on the couch in my front room.  I thought about what all this would mean.
Then came the questions.  Why me?  Did Heavenly Father really know what he was doing?  Did he know what this was going to mean for me and my young family?  I was sure I was not qualified to be a stake president; I was going to need to make some changes.  Changes I wasn’t sure I wanted to make.  Nothing major of course, after all I was serving as a Bishop, but I could do much, much better.  As a sat pondering all these changes, my then four-year-old daughter, noticing that the light was on, crawled out of bed, came into the front room, and sat on my lap.  Wiping her eyes she gave me a look as if to say, “Well, I’m here, now what?”
So, I began to explain my problem to her. “Hallie, Daddy’s got a problem.  You see I have to talk in church tomorrow to a lot of people, and I’m not sure what to say.  But I want to sound smart and maybe just a little funny.  I want to say something that they are going to remember, so what should I say?”
(All good questions for a four year old at 1:00 in the morning.)  She took my question seriously.  She, too, pondered for a moment.  She scratched her head, she thought hard, and then it came to her.  She pointed at me with her little finger and said, “I know, I know, Dad. Tell them about Jesus.”  (Not a bad response).  I didn’t say anything, I just looked at her and thought, “You are one smart little girl. You must get that from me.” (The whole humility thing hadn’t quite set in yet.)
Apparently, I wasn’t convincing enough for her because she then took my face in her hands and said, “You know dad, He lived. Then He died. Then He lived again.”
“That is right, sweetheart.  That is right.  We call that the Resurrection.”
“Oh,” she replied, “I didn’t know that.”  She nestled down in my lap and went back to sleep.  As she dosed off, she again offered one more reminder, “Tell them, Dad. Tell them about Jesus.”
A simple reminder of the power of choices that we make and where true joy comes from.  A reminder that if we want to find joy often we need to set our own concerns aside, and find our Savior.
Sisters, may I take just a minute here to address you?  I have three daughters.  They are 5, 8, and 13.  When I ask my five-year-old what she wants to be when she grows up, or even what she is today,   without hesitation she proudly declares, “A princess.”  If I were to ask my eight-year-old the same question, I’m quite positive I would get a very similar response; however, there would be a bit of doubt in her eyes.  She might even hesitate when she says it, wondering if she’s really going to be a princess when she grows up.
My thirteen-year-old is different.  She is smart, talented, worthy—but something happens.  Once you start your teenage years, something happens that I know continues well into adulthood and throughout your life.  Satan happens.  Self-doubt, self-consciousness and the pressures of this world all combine to mask our real selves and try to make you forget who you really are.  It becomes a daily fight to remind my oldest daughter, you, and all the women in my life, that you are still princesses.  Sisters, I testify that you are daughters of our Heavenly father.  He loves you and you love Him.  He is the Most High God, and as His daughter, you are a princess.  Please never forget that.  Please never stop acting like the princess that you are and will become.  Not a princess as the world would define, but something much greater, a princess of our Heavenly Father.
From a four-year-old princess, “Tell them, Dad. Tell them about Jesus.”
You will remember the Savior in 3 Nephi as He taught His people.  He tells them to go home.  He tells them to ponder upon these things that He has just taught them.  Before He leaves He blesses them.  He gathers them around him and asks, “Have ye any that are lame, or blind, or halt, or maimed, or leprous, or that are withered, or that are deaf, or that are afflicted in any manner? Bring them hither and I will heal them, for I have compassion upon you; my bowels are filled with mercy.”
Truly, isn’t that all of us? Is there anyone in this great assembly hall today that does not have an affliction, a moment of self-doubt, a weakness or heartache or sin?  The miracle and the comfort of this scripture is found in verse 9 in these simple words as we are told that, not only did He say that He would heal them, but “he did heal them, every one.”
So, too, He will heal you.  After the Savior healed these people, He prayed with them.  When He arose from His prayer and beheld the joy of the multitude, He wept as He declared, “My joy is full.”
Brother and Sisters, this joy can be ours, too.  This joy will be found as we make correct decisions—as we make decisions to follow our Savior, and listen to that still small voice.
Of course, with agency come consequences.  Not all trials and tribulations come because Heavenly Father wishes to try us.  Sometimes, our trials come because of our own foolish decisions and behaviors.  It is in those times that we need to resist the temptation to blame or curse others, but to look at ourselves first and ask the hard questions.
The disciples of the Savior gave us a great example of this.  Again, we return to the scene of the last supper.  The Savior informs His disciples that one of them will betray them.  Their response according to Mathew has always intrigued me.  Mathew 25:21 states, “Verily, I say unto you, that one of you shall betray me.”  The response from the disciples is recorded in the next verse, “And they were exceeding sorrowful, and began every one of them to say unto him, Lord, is it I?”
Think about that response.  Lord, is it I?  Is that how you would respond?  I know exactly how I would have responded.  I would have been the first one to jump up and say, “Not me, Lord. In fact not only is it not me, but I’m pretty sure it’s that one over there.  Never really trusted him.”
Of course, that’s not what they said.  Sometimes, it really is us.  Then the question becomes, “Father, is it I? Father, what is it I need to change?  Father, what is it I need to cast away, lay upon the alter, or fix, or repent of?”  Sometimes, in order to have joy, we need to make changes about ourselves.  Remember, not only did He say He was going to heal all those that were afflicted, but he did.  Everyone.  And he can heal you, too.
When those times happen, we need to repent and repent immediately.  If you have said something offensive or been offended, be quick to forgive.  After all, if you haven’t offended anyone in this church or been offended, you simply haven’t lived long enough.  So forgive, and allow yourself to be forgiven.
If you need to go see your bishop, go see him.  His doors are open to you.  As one who has served as a bishop, I testify that we rejoice when you come.  We know the burdens that will be lifted; we know the joy that will come into your life if you will simply act.
Another favorite scripture of mine is found in Alma, Chapter 56.  You know the story well.  It’s a story about a group of young men who decided to fight.  It’s a story about righteous parents who made a covenant to their Father in Heaven, and they would not deny that covenant.  It’s a story of another people who were humble enough to stand for their brethren and say, “We will fight for you.”  It’s a story of the sacrifice of parents and the testimony of mothers shared with their sons.  It’s a great story!
It is the story of Helaman.  Under the leadership of Helaman, these young men take up arms to defend their land, their families, and their liberties.
The part of the story that I would like to share with you today is the story of their battle by the city of Antiparah.  This is found in chapters 56 and 57 of Alma in the Book of Mormon.  As you will recall this small band of brethren led by Helaman were used as a decoy.  It was their job to march past the city of Antiparah, which at the time was a Lamanite strong hold, housing the strongest army of the Lamanites, in hopes to lure the Lamanites out of the city.
After a few days, the Lamanites stopped their pursuit of Helaman and his sons.  The scriptures tell us that Helaman didn’t know for sure if Antipus had caught the Lamanites and a battle had begun, or if the Lamanities in the cunning ways had simply stopped pursing Helaman and his warriors in hopes of luring them into a trap.  Either way, Helaman had a choice to make.   Was he going to continue his march away from the Lamanites—away from danger, away from heartache and despair?  Or, was he going to turn and face the adversary head on?  Although the leader of this group, Helaman knew it was not his decision to make, so he turned to his sons and asked this very simple question, “Therefore, what say ye my sons, will ye go against them to battle?”  With one accord, these young yet courageous men exclaimed, “Father, behold our God is with us, and he will not suffer that we should fall; then let us go forth.”
Brothers and Sisters, every day when you rise from your beds and face this battle we call our mortal existence, you make a choice.
Will today be the day that the adversary convinces you to lower, ever so slightly, your personal honor.  Perhaps it’s a blouse that is not really that immodest.  Or flip-flops or shorts, or some other clothing that doesn't fit in the dress code, only to justify ourselves by saying, “Oh, I’m just walking across campus, it doesn’t hurt anyone.”  Maybe it’s the day you take a double take at that girl that always wears that blouse that’s really not that immodest, or an extra click of a mouse that takes you to a site to you may say isn’t really pornography, or that song or movie that has just a few bad words, but other than that it’s okay.
Or is today that day that you exclaim to your Father in Heaven, “Father, I choose joy. Today I will go to this battle.  I know it won’t be easy.  I pray for help. I pray for messengers and for the Comforter to come in all its many ways.
“Today is the day that I will choose to fight.  Today, I will stand for Truth and Righteousness; I will be an honorable priesthood bearer.  I will be a disciple leader.  Behold Father, I know you are with me, so I will go forth and you will not let me fall.  Today, I choose joy!”
About two years ago, I received another call from that same elderly couple I mentioned earlier.  They had moved to Idaho Falls to a nursing home.  For the first time, the Brother seemed a little anxious.  There was a concern in his voice.  He wanted to meet as soon as possible.  When we arrived at their home, we quickly sat down and he quizzed us thoroughly.  Would we promise them that his wife would be protected?  Had he done enough to take care of her?  Would we help oversee their funds to make sure that she would have enough?  We assured him that he had been frugal and smart, that she would be fine.  We promised that we would come and sit and talk, that we would always be there.  When we were done, he didn’t have to say it.  But I’m sure I heard it.  I’m certain he whispered, “Chris, my joy is full.”
Two days later, he passed away.  He fought his fight, and he chose joy.
Brothers and Sisters, it is my prayer that we will join in this fight together, that we join our Heavenly Father in accomplishing his greatest desire to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man.  That fight is worth fighting for.  You fight for that, and you will have joy.
“Tell them, Dad. Tell them about Jesus.”  He lives!  And because He lives I will choose joy, and I will have joy.
In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Every. Single. Day. Expect Great Things

Let us remember… “Each day is a day of decision, and our decisions determine our destiny.”
“Pray to your Heavenly Father. …He will guide you in what to do.
He will open doors, remove roadblocks, and help you overcome obstacles.”
Neil L. Andersen
"You may sometimes be tempted to say, 'Will my influence make any difference? I am just one. Will my service affect the work that dramatically?' I testify to you that it will. You will never be able to measure your influence for good."  
Thomas S. Monson
"Sometimes a Single Phrase of Testimony can set events in motion that Affect Someone's Life for Eternity."
Dieter Uchtdorf
Every. Single. Day.
Expect Great Things
Start each day with a grateful Heart.
"Life has to be lived in the present tense. The current hour is the only one we have."
Jeffrey R. Holland
"He cannot help us remember things we have not labored to learn."
David A. Bednar
Be patient with yourself, Be happy now, the "why" of the gospel will uplift you, Heavenly Father loves you!
Jesus He is as close as the mention of His name.
The Lord is good, a strong hold in the day of trouble; and he knoweth them that trust in him.
Nahum 1:7
Spiritual illumination and perspective are poured out through the windows of heaven
and into our lives as we honor the law of tithing."
David A. Bednar


Tuesday, February 25, 2014


02.17.14  GO PRO
by Emily Freeman
My son, my second son Joshua, who I love…
He came home on Friday.
Fresh off a flight from Atlanta that we had been waiting on for 29 hours because the whole South froze over.  So we waited here at home, and he worked with his whole heart.  What’s one more day after 730?
When it was 7:15pm I watched the top of those escalator stairs for black slacks like a hawk, never taking my eyes off of the moving, waiting to see the boy I haven’t seen for these two years.
My heart pounding and then leaping right out of my chest when Grandma Les yelled “Josh”, and there he was.
The huge smile.
The laugh.
The love spilling out.
I didn’t realize how much I had missed him these two years until I saw him there. How did we make it? And then, with one embrace it was as if the 730 days had never happened.  It’s amazing how time works.  In those two years so much growing and not an ounce of forgetting.
These two, separated for three and a half years, have become inseparable.  Never more than a shoulder length away all weekend.  Their conversation picked up right where it left off in August of 2011.
My eyes drink in the reality of him.  They have all weekend.  My heart full to the brim with the coming home, the four kids under one roof just for a minute, the filling of every gap.
Maybe he is taller, they say.  Maybe he is skinnier.  Has he changed at all, they wonder?  It’s when I listen to him talk that I recognize the growth.
His heart has been molded.  Defined.  Chiseled in ways that can only come from pure sacrifice. From consecration.  
From living charity.
In the leaving he came to himself.
He saw the definition of who he could become.
He is committed to living that potential.
On his right hand he wears a silver ring with three letters imprinted there.
It’s message is a simple reminder.
Every day.
Prayer is intended to be your first priority…not your last resort.
Read until you feel the Spirit…and then some.
Never stop doing your best just because someone doesn’t give you credit.
He’s been doing that for two years.  It’s what helped mold him into the man he wants to be.
Those three habits qualify him for the Spirit.
That Spirit which helps to define, mold, commit, change.  That Spirit which causes the growth to come.
I realize that I can do those three things every day.
I don’t have to go far away for two years, I can do it right here in my home.  It won’t require the sacrifice Josh gave, but it will require some.  Not the same level of consecration, but I will have to set apart time.
I can commit.
Everyday.  This week’s challenge.
Will it change you?

Monday, February 24, 2014

Go forth in the power of my Spirit,

Go forth in the power of my Spirit, preaching my gospel, two by two, in my name, lifting up your voices as with the sound of a trump, declaring my word like unto angels of God” And… I will go before your face. I will be on your right hand and on your left, and my Spirit shall be in your heart, and mine angels round about you, to bear you up”

The scriptures hold the keys to spiritual protection

The scriptures hold the keys to spiritual protection.
“At times we may feel insignificant, invisible, alone, or forgotten. But always remember you matter to Him! God will neither forget nor forsake those who incline their hearts to Him. The most powerful Being in the universe knows you and loves you with a perfect love. He sees you as you are capable and designed to become. May we ever believe, trust, and understand our true eternal worth and potential.”
Dieter F. Uchtdorf


His word is to be found all things

Backyard Sermons


B.J. Rowe

While speaking in the October 2001 General Conference of the Church, Elder Steven E. Snow of the Seventy told of an experience his younger brother, Paul, then 18, had while working in a gas station in St. George, Utah.

“One summer day, a car with New York license plates pulled in the station and asked for a fill-up…While Paul was washing the windshield, the driver asked him how far it was to the Grand Canyon. Paul replied that it was 170 miles. “I’ve waited all my life to see the Grand Canyon,” the man exclaimed. “What’s it like out there?”

“I don’t know,” Paul answered. “I’ve never been there.” “You mean to tell me,” the man responded, “that you live two and a half hours from one of the Seven Wonders of the World and you’ve never been there!” “That’s right,” Paul said. After a moment, the man replied, “Well, I guess I can understand that. My wife and I have lived in Manhattan for over twenty years, and we’ve never visited the Statue of Liberty.” “I’ve been there,” Paul said.

Isn’t it ironic…that we will often travel many miles to see the wonders of nature or the creations of man, but yet ignore the beauty in our own backyard?”

Today I wish to speak concerning one of these oft-ignored forms of backyard beauty. I will refer to them as “backyard sermons.” Let me explain what I mean by the term “backyard sermons”: While the “sermons” I share with you today were literally taught to me while working in my own backyard, I want to make it clear that these sermons are not solely delivered in backyards any more than Elder Snow meant for us to understand that the Grand Canyon was literally situated behind his house when he referred to it as being in his backyard. By referring to these sermons as “backyard,” I simply wish to point out their universal and accessible nature.

Secondly, I refer to them as sermons because they are while generally inaudible to our physical ears very real and very carefully packaged, individualized messages from God that can be perceived only through our spiritual ears. Certainly in these sermons we find an application for the Savior's words, "He that hath ears to hear, let him hear." In my opinion, it was to backyard sermons that Alma was referring when he testified to Korihor:

I know there is a God, and also that Christ shall come...behold, I have all things as a testimony that these things are true; and ye also have all things as a testimony unto you that they are true... ye have the testimony of all these thy brethren, and also all the holy prophets...the scriptures are laid before thee, yea, and all things denote there is a God; (denote means signify, demonstrate, show, and all things means all things the people we meet, animals, plants, rocks, experiences) yea, even the earth, and all things that are upon the face of it, yea, and its motion, yea, and also all the planets which move in their regular form do witness that there is a Supreme Creator.

Alma here testified to Korihor that both he and Korihor had been the recipients of backyard sermons. We can take Korihor’s later confession that he “always knew that there was a God” as evidence that he had indeed heard but disregarded these backyard sermons.

To further understand backyard sermons, we can look in the preface of the Doctrine and Covenants, where it states, “the voice of the Lord is unto the ends of the earth, that all that will hear may hear.” Given that the missionaries and the words of the prophets have yet to reach all the ends of the earth, I submit that one way that the voice of the Lord is unto the ends of the earth is through these backyard sermons—messages from God found in our everyday world. The Lord further elaborated on this means of communication by saying,

“How oft have I called upon you by the mouth of my servants, and by the ministering of angels, and by mine own voice, and by the voice of thunderings, and by the voice of lightnings, and by the voice of tempests, and by the voice of earthquakes, and great hailstorms, and by the voice of famines and pestilences of every kind,…and by the voice of judgment, and by the voice of mercy all the day long…, and would have saved you with an everlasting salvation, but ye would not!” An additional witness of backyard sermons as a divine form of communication is found in hymn eighty-seven in our hymnbook, which we will sing at the conclusion of this meeting, which states:

“Earth, with her ten thousand flow'rs,

Air, with all its beams and show'rs, Heaven's infinite expanse,

Sea's resplendent countenance

All around and all above Bear this record: God is love.”

I would echo that the message “God is love” is certainly one of the most prevalent themes in backyard sermons.

Now that I have certified scripturally the existence of what I call backyard sermons, I wish to share a few recent ones from my own personal experience to give further evidence of their existence.

Sermon 1: Mortality is messy, but God has made the necessary arrangements to clean up the mess.

Not infrequently I will venture out my back door into the yard and think to myself, "Whoa! 
What happened here? Didn’t I just mow that grass? It needs it again already? And those weeds? I swear that I just pulled those a couple days ago.” I have learned firsthand that the Lord wasn’t kidding when He told Adam, “cursed is the ground for thy sake in sorrow shalt thou eat of it all the days of thy life; 
Thorns also and thistles shall it bring forth to thee…
In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread.” In fact, it has always seemed to me that the curse of the fall
was particularly pronounced on my property.

On one occasion as I was feeling these frustrations with my fallen, telestial terrain, a backyard sermon began. It was from the perspective of God, but interestingly, it came in the words of Mr. Incredible (you know, from the animated motion picture) when he said, "No matter how many times you save the world, it always manages to get back in jeopardy again. Sometimes I just want it to stay saved! You know, for a little bit? I feel like the maid; I just cleaned up this mess! Can we keep it clean for ten minutes?"

It came to my mind that the great Gardener, God, could possibly look at us as mortals at times and, in exasperation think to Himself, “didn't I just clean up this mess?  Didn't I already eradicate that particular weed from your life? Didn't I just mow you down to help you become the beautiful lawn I intended you to be a week ago and yet here you have raised your haughty head again?” Particularly in the case of lawn mowing (which is more or less a weekly activity), I find an interesting parallel to the sacrament—our weekly spiritual “lawn mowing”.  Fortunately, the Gardener is more patient than Mr. Incredible and doesn’t seem to get too tired of cleaning up our messes; on the contrary, He seems to derive a great deal of pleasure from it—after all, our salvation and exaltation are not just His work, but His glory. 

He enjoys the yard work.

So the next time we feel particularly messy and mortal and frustrated with our personal progress knowing that we are full of weeds and feeling like we can’t look the Gardener in the face we should take heart in remembering that the Gardener knew we would require frequent maintenance.

I am reminded of an experience with my earthly father. My brother, a friend and I had been fishing early in the spring at Hawkins Reservoir near my boyhood home in Marsh Valley.  After an afternoon of fishing, we had decided to take a more scenic, adventurous dirt road that weaved its way through the mountains to get home instead of the safe, certain paved road that went around the mountains, which we had taken to get to the reservoir.

Spring had not yet melted all of the snow at those high elevations and as we made our way through the mountains, the drifts became progressively deeper and deeper as we climbed higher and higher. Several times my brother hinted that he, as the driver, thought it best to turn back and take the safe route but then I or my friend would simply say something like “Yeah. It’s okay. We didn’t think your Jeep could make it.” These well-placed, foolish taunts were all that were needed to compel my brother forward with each drift of snow getting deeper than the last until eventually we made the capstone of foolish decisions: We came to a point where the snow was very deep on the road, so naturally we chose to leave the road and drop into a valley which we knew met up with the road again on the other side of the valley.

There we met our Waterloo. We sped down one side of the valley in the Jeep, but the very momentum that we hoped would carry us through the little valley full of snow to the road on the other side only served to embed us completely and thoroughly in deep, drifted snow. We dug for several hours but eventually realized we were not getting the Jeep out of that valley that day. We had also become very wet and cold. Ultimately, we decided to just build a fire, spend the night there and hike out in the morning.

After a few hours spent drying out, we climbed in the Jeep to sleep until daylight, and, in spite of the cold, we fell asleep. To our surprise, however, at about 4 a.m., we awoke to a flashlight shining in the Jeep window. It was my Dad. (My Dad had arrived home at midnight after working the swing shift at the local plant to find my mother panicking that her two boys were missing).

Now while we were glad to see him, my brother and I had been on the receiving end of his discipline enough times that we were not too eager to see him and we knew he would not be pleased with us, so little was said as we began to hike out. Eventually, however, my curiosity got the best of me because we hadn’t told anybody where we were going—family members knew we had gone fishing and that was about it. So eventually I mustered the courage to ask “How did you find us, Dad?” His response has stuck with me to this day: “I just looked for the stupidest road around and knew you boys would be up it.” (What’s worse is that he said it with a completely straight face!)

Similarly, God, in His omniscience, knew that we were going to take some stupid roads; and, like my father, He is willing to go up those roads to rescue us. Furthermore, God knew that one rescue or cleaning up would not suffice. The very institution of the sacrament as a weekly ordinance should serve as a reminder that the Great Gardener, in His infinite foreknowledge, knew that we would require not just one cleaning up but frequent maintenance in order to get us ship-shape and worthy for His kingdom and therefore He provided the Atonement of His Beloved Son and the Holy Sacrament as a means for us to have frequent, even weekly, access to that Atonement.

So when you feel messy and frustrated with your ability to maintain yourself in good condition from one weekly sacramental mowing to the next, take heart and remember the words of Elder Packer, who said, “Repent, and, if necessary, repent again and again and again and again until you—not the enemy—are in charge of you.  Life turns out to be a succession of trials and errors. Add ‘repent often’ to your list of things to do.”

One last cautionary thought from this sermon: God is the Gardener and His work and His glory is to bring to pass our immortality and eternal life and to clean up our mortal messes but this does not give us carte blanche to go seeking out stupid roads or to recklessly say of our spiritual selves, “I can make any mess I want and God will clean it up later.” Unlike a lawn, we have our agency to determine what we will become and God honors that agency. If we make telestial or terrestrial choices with our terrain, He will not do celestial maintenance on it.

Sermon 2: Creation is Generally Pain-stakingly Slow But Rewarding; Destruction is Quick But Unfulfilling.

This sermon was taught to me earlier this summer when I cut down two large pine trees in my backyard that were approximately twenty-five and forty feet in height. I enlisted the help of a “crack” team of veteran lumberjacks to help me with the project (my children). The trees had probably been planted when the home was newly built in 1973.

The thought occurred to me in the middle of the process that literally in a matter of hours I was destroying what had taken forty years to create. (Another backyard sermon was under way). To my mind came other things which had been built laboriously over time only to be destroyed in moments.

I thought of King David’s marriage, kingdom and exaltation all consumed in his lust for Bath-Sheba; Abel’s mortal life and Cain’s eternal prospects were quickly dispatched in that first case of fratricide; and Thomas B. Marsh’s standing in the Church was quickly diminished due to one little milky mess. Surely we can all think of instances in our personal lives or the lives of those dear to us where years of building have been destroyed in moments.

As I continued to work towards toppling the trees I thought of the precious shade, life-giving photosynthesis and two big, beautiful conifers that were home to squirrels and birds that would now be gone. The destructive consequences of my actions became particularly poignant when, upon finally getting to the lower branches of one of the trees, I watched a dove fly out of her nest as it tumbled from its resting place and her eggs broke upon the ground—the mother had waited until the last possible moment to abandon her nest and eggs.

I still stand by my decision to cut the trees down, but in that moment I felt the Spirit reminding me
that there are always victims left in the wake of destructive actions and that few worthwhile things are ever accomplished overnight or in an instant. It should be a great life lesson to all of us that God’s works including Creation,
Atonement, Exaltation and Salvation require painstaking, deliberate effort and that they take place over time in perfect order until all is finally in place.

Similarly, in our lives, corn is not planted and then harvested in a single day and eternal families aren’t created in one FHE. Being a builder and a creator and emulating The Creator in this life generally means steady, patient, laborious work. Conversely, those who want everything now and are willing to take shortcuts are not true builders.

Satan is the king of shortcuts. He is the ultimate embodiment of wanting it all now without paying the proper price, as found in his proposal to “redeem all mankind,” by “destroying the agency of man” and his demand to the Father, “give me thine honor” He wanted to shortcut the way to godhood and exaltation.  Satan didn’t comprehend the truism: 
There are no shortcuts.

Activities like cheating, drug abuse, fornication, participating in get-rich-quick schemes, and even—my personal favorite shortcut in which to indulge—eating fast food, provide quick or instantaneous satisfaction and, ostensibly, happiness. But the destructive nature of these shortcuts soon reveals itself to those who have allowed themselves to be deceived by them. My young brothers and sisters, be builders and creators and be patient in “waiting upon the Lord” for the results of your labors. Don’t be destroyers and don’t get duped into taking shortcuts.

Sermon 3: By Small & Simple Things Are Great Things Brought To Pass.

Not long ago my daughter, Gracie, pointed out the carcass of a dead wasp moving across our driveway. Upon closer inspection, we discovered a tiny ant—completely eclipsed by the body of the wasp—to be trudging along, bearing the weight of a creature that appeared to be more than ten times its size! I stood in awe, watching this exhibition of strength, determination and grit. (By the way, you may be interested to know that according to Arizona State University’s “ask a biologist” an ant can lift from ten to fifty times their own body weight).

As I observed this little titan at work, another backyard sermon was instantly under way as I had come to my mind the words: “Why should you wonder at this? God has always used those that would be classified by the world as ‘small and simple’ or ‘weak things’ to ‘bring to pass His great and eternal purposes’ and to ‘thresh the nations.’” For examples of little individual ants carrying immense loads and accomplishing incredible tasks, one needs look no further than Abinadi, Nephi, or the Prophet Joseph Smith.

Indeed, President Hinckley taught that “The major work of the world is not done by geniuses. It is done by ordinary people, with balance in their lives, who have learned to work in an extraordinary manner.” 
Or in other words, most of the world’s work is done by ants.

I would further testify that the mission of BYU-Idaho as outlined by prophets and Church leaders is to create an army of these ants, people who can do more with less—ordinary people who have learned to work in an extraordinary manner. So I guess that makes BYU-Idaho an anthill! Listen to the words of President Eyring as he spoke to BYU-Idaho students in a devotional here at the anthill. He said about you:

I hope I live long enough to someday meet some employer who employed one of you and says, “Where did that come from? I’ve never had such a person. Why, people just flock around that person. And they want to follow. They don’t have to be led; they’re seeking to go where that person wants to go. And they come up with new ideas. I don’t know where that comes from. They seem to find a better way, and the budget doesn’t go up. I can’t understand it.”
And I’ll smile and say, “Well, come with me to Rexburg.”

My friends, this is the Lord’s anthill and to each one of you I say, “Be an ant.”

Now I thank you for indulging me and letting me share a few of my backyard sermons with you. 
 But before I conclude, I wish to discuss one more backyard sermon this one is
from the scriptures and Moses was the recipient. In Exodus 3, it reads:

“And the angel of the Lord appeared unto him in a flame of fire out of the midst of a bush: and he looked, and, behold, the bush burned with fire, and the bush was not consumed. And Moses said, I will now turn aside, and see this great sight, why the bush is not burnt. And when the Lord saw that he turned aside to see, God called unto him out of the midst of the bush, and said, Moses, Moses. And he said, Here am I. And he said, Draw not nigh hither: put off thy shoes from off thy feet, for the place where on thou standest is holy ground. Moreover he said, I am the God of thy father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.”

Please make note of two things from this account:
1) Moses had to turn aside, or to go out of his way, or make an effort, to hear this backyard sermon the “burning bush” experience that was his call as the prophet of the Exodus and the great Lawgiver of Israel.
2) It was not until God saw that Moses turned aside that He called to Moses.

May I just suggest that “backyard sermons,” while universal and accessible for all of mankind, do require a turning aside from our daily routines? Just as God will force no man to heaven, He will force His word into no man’s life. The Holy Ghost will carry the word “unto but not necessarily into the heart” of individuals.

May I also suggest that the more we show God that we will turn aside and acknowledge backyard sermons in our lives, the more God will speak to us? The poet, Elizabeth Barrett Browning knew about “backyard sermons” and understood their accessible yet ignored nature when she penned the lines:

Earth’s crammed with heaven,
And every common bush afire with God;
But only he who sees, takes off his shoes,
The rest sit round it and pluck blackberries.

I testify that Earth is indeed crammed with heaven! There is heaven in every plant and every animal and every rock and every individual—remember all things denote there is a God—and that includes people. Think about it—every person you meet is a testimony that there is a being in whose image they are created! Every common bush is afire with God, but mankind, like Korihor, rarely sees beyond the blackberries. We live in a world of wonder that shouts to us that God lives and that He is in control and that His plan is at work in nature and in mankind.
Listen to the Prophet Joseph’s plea for more backyard sermons:

Let the mountains shout for joy, and all ye valleys cry aloud; and all ye seas and dry lands tell the wonders of your Eternal King! And ye rivers, and brooks, and rills, flow down with gladness. Let the woods and all the trees of the field praise the Lord; and ye solid rocks weep for joy! And let the sun, moon, and the morning stars sing together, and let all the sons of God shout for joy! And let the eternal creations declare his name forever and ever!

I testify that the eternal creations are declaring His name forever and ever and I pray that we may be tuned into those declarations, those backyard sermons. I cannot testify strongly enough to you, my young brothers and sisters, that God is constantly trying to communicate with us—to send us messages that will aid us in our mortal journey. May we have eyes to see and ears to hear when a backyard sermon is being preached and when we recognize one, may we do as Moses and turn aside from the mundane and “put off our shoes” that the Lord may speak to us. May we know that we don’t have to wait our whole lives or travel great distances in order to have a spiritual experience or to receive God’s word in our lives, because His word is to be found everywhere…in all things…even in our own backyard.