President Wheelwright, university faculty and staff, students and friends, I am grateful for the opportunity to speak to you today. I pray the Lord’s blessings will be upon me as a speaker and upon you as listeners that we may all be edified and feel the spirit of the Lord in our short time here today.
I have had the great privilege of serving on the Polynesian Cultural Center Board for the past six years. It has been a wonderful experience to be a small part of some of the great things that are happening here in this part of the Lord’s vineyard. Sometimes the word ‘idyllic’ is used to describe the paradise we call Hawaii. To me it means that and much more. Idyllic describes students here in Laie. It also describes the environment in which you are a learner of things both secular and spiritual. It describes the spirit of Aloha here on this campus. This is a wonderful time in your lives to learn and develop attitudes of Godliness. Your experiences here in an environment where the Church is strong will become a foundation for you to build upon when you leave campus and begin your lives with professional, family, and church responsibilities.
I have always thought the three BYU campuses – one in Laie, one in Rexburg, and one in Provo – are to the Church what the three United States Service Academies are to the country. Just as West Point, Annapolis, and Colorado Springs are the military academies which provide for the training of officers for the US Military, so also are the three BYU campuses a training ground for future Church leaders. Many of the admirals and generals in our armed forces trace their military roots back to the academy they attended, so also are many leaders of the Church products of all three church schools. This is an awesome sight to me this day – looking at future leaders of the Church.
Some people describe my generation as the Baby Boomer generation. I was born in the 50s and grew up in the 60s. As a result I have a fond affection for music of that era. Even today as I drive around in my car I frequently listen to music of the 60s. Some of you might describe that music as the ‘golden oldies.’ My children often describe me with the same moniker – A Golden Oldie! One of the songs I like to listen to is Frank Sinatra’s “That’s Life.” Today I would like to speak to the topic “That’s Life.”
In 1999 President Gordon B. Hinckley said, “There was never a greater time in the history of the world to live upon the earth than this. How grateful every one of us ought to feel for being alive in this wonderful time with all the marvelous blessings we have” (Gordon B. Hinckley, Church News, August 14, 1999). We should feel good about who we are, but often we don’t. Remember the opening words of the Charles Dickens’ Novel A Tale Of Two Cities: “It was the best of times. It was the worst of times. It was the season of hope. It was the season of despair. We had everything before us. We had nothing before us.”
It is my desire that together we will come to a better understanding of why we are here on earth, and why we face challenges at almost every turn. At the turn of the 20th Century, J. Paul Getty was the richest man in the world. He made a good part of his fortune in the oil business and was one of the great philanthropists of all time. In the twilight of his life he was asked by a young reporter what counsel he would give to young people beginning their careers. His answer was simple and straight-forward. “There are three things to remember,” he said. “First: Get up early. Second: Work hard. And third: Find oil.” I believe this is good counsel for us at the beginning of the 21st Century as well. Getting up early and working hard make sense and are easy to understand. We instinctively know the discipline required to get up and work hard. Finding oil may be a little more difficult. To him, oil was a black, slippery substance which was pumped out of the earth and refined for various energy- related applications. To you and me, finding oil takes on an entirely new dimension. It could mean being successful in your chosen profession, but the real meaning, I think, is much deeper than that. It is finding happiness in friends and family. It is the meaning the Savior talks about in the Parable of the Ten Virgins which many have equated to personal worthiness or individual preparation.
In the book of Moses in the Pearl of Great Price, the Lord gives us His mission statement that applies to everyone who has ever lived upon the face of the earth. Said He, “For behold, this is my work and my glory – to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man” (Moses 1:39). I love this scripture because it tells me that not only does God have a purpose for creating this earth, but also a purpose and goal relating to you and me. It is to live with Heavenly Father forever. Perhaps our goal in life should be the inverse: to prepare in every way we can to live with Him forever. Our goals would match up and both sides of the veil would then be working for the same outcome. This would give us an overarching objective as to how we live our life and make decisions.
I take great pleasure in reading the story of Moses, again out of the Pearl of Great Price. Chapter one, verse six states, “And I have a work for Thee, Moses, my son; and Thou art in the similitude of mine Only Begotten….” Careful reading of this verse tells us several things: First, the Lord had a work for Moses. I think it is fair to say that the Lord has a work for us as well. J. Paul Getty referred to it earlier as finding oil. We must determine through fasting and prayer throughout our lifetimes the work each of us has to do. Secondly He refers to Moses as His son. He said, “Moses, my son” three times in succession over three verses to remind Moses he is a son of God. It is personal and intimate. It is my testimony to you today that each of us are sons and daughters of the Most High God. He is the Father of our spirits. He knows us and He knows our names. In the awful arithmetic of billions of spirits who have lived and who are yet to live, it is encouraging and even exhilarating to know that God knows us and that He loves us. Finally, we are told that we are in the similitude of his Only Begotten, even Jesus Christ. I testify to you that Jesus is our Brother and our Advocate with the Father.
This is pretty heady stuff when you think about it; sons and daughters of God with a customized work for us to do. It personalizes our relationship with God, tells us the direction in life we should take, and reminds us that He wants us to return and live with Him forever. So what is not to like about that?
It is a wonderful plan but each day obstacles in our lives get in the way and sometimes keep us from accomplishing our objectives. We all have crises that we will face over our time on earth. Some are large and some are small. A small crisis may be running out of gas on a busy road. A large crisis may be the loss of a loved one, a crippling accident, or a family crisis. Some crises we bring on ourselves through disobedience to the laws of God or man. Some come upon us through no fault of our own. I suspect most of us have experienced both self-inflicted challenges as well as some that could be termed the ‘bad bounces’ of life. Anyone who has ever played a game in which a ball is involved knows all about bad bounces. They are part of the game. They are not predictable in either their size or frequency. Everyone, over time, has them. While they are not always welcome, the best players are able to take advantage of these bad bounces and turn them into opportunities to score. In order to return to Heavenly Father and stay true to our desire to live with him again, we must find a way to work through these obstacles and discover what is really important to us in life. Let me give you a couple of examples of real life that may be helpful.
In The Book of Mormon when Nephi’s bow is broken in the wilderness, the family confronted the real possibility that they might starve. “And it came to pass that Laman and Lemuel and the sons of Ismael did begin to murmur exceedingly, because of their sufferings and afflictions in the wilderness; and also my father began to murmur against the Lord his God; yea, and they were all exceedingly sorrowful, even that they did murmur against the Lord” (1 Nephi 16:20). This is the only account we have of Lehi losing faith. It happens even to the most righteous. It was Nephi that worked through a potentially fatal experience and it was at this time Nephi became the leader of this nomadic family. That’s life.
When our only daughter, Lindsay, was young, she and I enjoyed watching movies together. One that we enjoyed immensely and watched together many times was an animated film called “Finding Nemo.” In this movie Nemo, a fish, is caught by a fisherman and taken from his father, Marlin, and put in a fish tank in a dentist’s office. Marlin is determined to find Nemo. In that journey he meets another fish named Dory. Obstacle after obstacle happen as these two try to find Nemo. On occasion the obstacles they faced were big ones. Dory’s message to Marlin was the same, “Just keep swimming — just keep swimming.” Lindsay and I made a game of it and would try to sound like Dory as we said, “Just keep swimming – just keep swimming.” Several years later she was serving a mission in Santiago, Chile’. Missions are hard. Disappointments are many. Each week I wrote her a letter and at the end I wrote, “Just keep swimming, Love Dad.” She is now expecting her second child and recently found out that the unborn baby has a hole in his heart and has Downs Syndrome. Once again as I write her trying to help her get through a very difficult time in her life, I close the emails with “Just keep swimming.” I think that is a good message for you and me. Obstacles come into each of our lives, but in order to get where we want to go we must keep swimming. That’s life, also.
One of my favorite parts of all scripture is the 121st Section of the Doctrine and Covenants. It is a wonderful narrative in which Joseph Smith begins in the depths of despair and rises to celestial heights. This section of the Doctrine and Covenants was originally a letter from Joseph Smith to his wife, Emma, from Liberty Jail in Missouri. The letter in its entirety includes the 121st, 122nd, and 123rd sections. To better understand these great revelations, we should put them in their proper context. Joseph and a few of his followers were prisoners in the county jail at Liberty, MO, from December 1838 until April 1839. In other words, they were in prison during the winter. There was no heat and the food was barely edible. In fact, on one occasion, they had been served human flesh. They were in a basement dungeon with a dirt floor and a ceiling so low they could not fully stand up. The Saints had been driven from their homes, property stolen, and livestock seized. The men were being hunted and women feared for their lives and all that they held precious. In the midst of this upheaval, Governor Lilburn W. Boggs, the Governor and Chief Executive of the State of Missouri, issued an extermination order, which in effect declared open season on the Saints in Missouri. So begins the 121st section. Joseph says in verse one, “Oh God, where art thou, and where is the pavilion that covereth thy hiding place?” Remember, this is the same Joseph Smith that we believe had heavenly visitations from God the Father, Jesus Christ, Moroni, John the Baptist, Peter, James and John, and others. Is it as interesting to you as it is to me that even Joseph Smith, of whom Brigham Young stated, Jesus Christ excepted, was the greatest man to ever live on the earth, would have enormous challenges in his life to the point that he would ask, “Where is God?” It gives me hope that even Joseph Smith had some very bad days and very large obstacles. Shortly after his interrogatory statement in verses one and two he expresses his frustration to the Lord and in verse 5 his passions come to a boil when Joseph says, “Let Thine anger be kindled against our enemies; and, in the fury of thine heart, with thy sword avenge us of our wrongs.” It is followed in verse six, “Remember the suffering Saints, Oh, our God; and thy servants will rejoice in thy name forever.” In verse seven the Lord responds to Joseph’s outpouring by saying, “My son, peace be unto thy soul; thine adversity and thine afflictions shall be but a small moment.” In other words the Lord says to Joseph, in todays’ vernacular, “Joseph, Chill. Everything will be ok. I am in charge. This is my work and all is going according to my plan. Relax.” Or in my music of the sixties, the Beatles’ song “Let It Be.” Often we need to hear those same words when we face obstacles that seem overwhelming. The Lord then teaches Joseph a wonderful principle. As I said earlier, in verse six Joseph stated, “Remember the suffering Saints, Oh, our God; and thy servants will rejoice in thy name forever.” In other words, if you will remove these obstacles we will rejoice in thy name forever. The Lord corrects him in verse eight when He says, “And then if thou endure it well, God shall exalt thee on high; thou shalt triumph over all thy foes.” The message is straight forward and succinct. Whereas Joseph had asked God to remove these obstacles and says the Saints will worship God forever, the Lord responds by saying if you endure it well, THEN you shall triumph over all your foes. The take-away for us then is that we should not expect the Lord to remove our challenges by promising Him that we will always be faithful if He does. That sounds very much like a foxhole prayer to me. During a time of war soldiers in foxholes will pray, “If you save me, God, from my enemy I will be good always.” Rather the principle is to endure well and THEN you will be blessed. That is a marvelous life lesson for each of us.
Greater instruction comes from verse 10. The Lord gives Joseph what I would call a little ‘dig.’ “Thou art not yet as Job; thy friends do not contend against thee, neither charge thee for transgression, as they did Job.” This intimates that Job had a tougher time of it than did Joseph Smith. Remember the story of Job. Job was described as “the richest man of all the East” (Job 1:3). He lost all he had. His wife told him to curse God and die, and yet Job said, “I know that my Redeemer liveth” (Job 19:25). Before Job died the “Lord gave Job twice as much as he had before” (Job 42:10). As much as Job suffered, we are told “The Son of Man hath descended below them all. Art thou greater than He?” (D&C 122:8).
Section 122 is complementary to the 121st. I call it the “if” section. Fifteen different times the word “if” is used. For instance verse five says the following, “If thou art called to pass through tribulation; if thou art in perils among false brethren; if thou art in perils among robbers; if thou art in perils by land or sea.” And this continues fifteen times. These phrases might not have much meaning, but if we substitute issues which we face in a modern world, perhaps we can learn something; such as if I have a death in my family, or if my girlfriend dumped me, or if I have financial burdens, or if I were smarter. These are ‘that’s life’ examples of what we might encounter. You can customize this by substituting challenges you are having in your life. Fill in the blank. Use the word ‘if’ followed by your own personal challenges. “IF blank, blank, blank.” From verse seven, “….know thou my son (or daughter), that all these things shall give thee experience and shall be for thy good” (D&C 122:7). In other words the challenges we have in life are ultimately helpful and even essential, as distasteful as they may be, but they are for our own good. Verse 17 of Section 123 completes the Lord’s teaching to Joseph, “Therefore, dearly beloved brethren, let us cheerfully do all things that lie in our power; and then may we stand still, with the utmost assurance to see the salvation of God, and for His arm to be revealed.” Such is life for you and me.
Through these three sections of Holy Scripture we are taught that life is full of obstacles, some of which seem insurmountable. All must be endured cheerfully. By so doing we will ultimately return to live with God forever.
Of course the greatest example we have is the life of the Savior. He who lived a perfect life was born in the humblest of circumstances. The Scriptures teach us that He “increased in wisdom and stature and in favor with God” (Luke 2:52). He began his prophetic mission at age thirty and set examples for us to live by. He taught that the worth of individuals is great. The Atonement required that Christ must descend below all things and offer his perfect life in our behalf. In descending below all things he had to experience all of life’s misfortunes and problems, to which he said, “which suffering caused myself, even God, the greatest of all, to tremble because of pain, and to bleed at every pore, and to suffer both body and spirit” (D&C 19:18). Jesus knew what was required of him, and he hesitated. He said in a very human way, “O, Father, if it be possible let this cup pass from me; nevertheless not as I will, but as Thou wilt” (Matthew 26:42). The great example is that even Jesus asked to be absolved of his responsibility but He was willing to do His Father’s will and endure all things to bless His Father. The Atonement in which he fulfilled the will of the Father makes it possible for us to live with the Father and Son forever. What a great example of endurance for you and me.
Please forgive the personal nature of this story, but I think it highlights a message that I would like to leave with you. The business I own today was founded by my father, Ted Lansing, some 57 years ago. He died in 1980 from a terrible illness, ALS, better known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease, at the age of 57. I was the only family member involved in the business. At the young age of 30 I was probably not ready to take the helm of the company. The country was in a recession. In those early years, situations would come up that required me to make decisions which could affect the future existence of our frail business. In those years I worked hard to act as my father would have acted, and I spent a great deal of time on my knees, trying to discern his will. In all those decisions, I never once felt his calming influence or any direction one way or another. I would ultimately do what I thought was best and move on. But I confess that I was a little disappointed that I had not been able to get any confirmation of my actions.
One night my father came to me in a dream. It certainly wasn’t a vision or anything like that; he was just in my dreams. When I saw him, I first told him how good he looked and how peaceful and happy he appeared. But then I began to chide him for his insensitivity to me when I had needed him most. My father said he was aware of the situation, but that he was too busy with his responsibilities where he was and that he didn’t have time. This wasn’t the answer I had wanted. I told him that I had been afraid for the business and had really needed his help. His answer to my criticism was what President Hinckley would have called a “soft answer.” He said that where he was, the business was not terribly important and that he had assignments elsewhere. Again I asked him how he could be so insensitive. Finally, he said, “Chris, we really don’t care about the business up here. What we care about very much is what you become because of your business.” What a great lesson for me, one that I hope I never forget.
The message that my father brought to me is as pertinent to you as it was to me. The Lord has given you much. What you get is inconsequential. What you become makes all the difference.
Sometimes we forget that in the pre-mortal life two plans were brought forward. One was the plan of God, the Father, which was to be executed by his son, Jesus Christ. The other was Lucifer’s plan. The Father’s plan was based upon the principle of agency, which meant we would have choices and problems in our life. Lucifer’s plan was based without agency, meaning there would be no challenges. Sometimes we must be reminded that you and I fought alongside the Savior in defense of the Father’s plan. We won! Lucifer and his followers were expelled, and we, as a consequence, were given the opportunity to experience the life that we fought for in the pre-mortal life. The Father’s plan also included the Atonement, which Jesus Christ has purchased for each of us that has lived or will ever live. Our job is to face our challenges, as difficult as they may seem, and endure them well. By doing this the Atonement has meaning in our lives and we will fulfill the Lord’s mission statement to us for immortality and eternal life with God the Father.
As a Seventy I bear my “special witness” that Jesus is the Christ. He is the Savior of the World. He is the Prince of peace and our Advocate with the Father. I bear sacred witness that God loves us; He knows us by name, and that He loves us in spite of our imperfections. He has prepared a place for those who are faithful and endure to the end. Of this I bear witness, in the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.