Thou Art Still Chosen
Brother Adam D. Garland has been the Dean of Students at Ensign College since January of 2022. Prior to accepting this role, he served as Manager of Counseling at the College. Brother Garland is a licensed psychologist and was previously employed in Brigham Young University’s University Accessibility Center and in Wasatch Behavioral Health’s Psychological Assessment Services. He has a bachelor’s degree in psychology from the University of Texas at Tyler and a doctoral degree in clinical psychology from BYU.
Brother Garland currently serves as an advisor to the priest quorum in his ward. Other church service includes full-time missionary in the Colorado Denver South Mission, Elders quorum president, counselor in an Elders quorum and young men presidency, gospel doctrine teacher, assistant ward clerk, and ward missionary.
Brother Garland was born and raised in Texas. He met Keilani Stolk while attending a single’s ward at BYU. They became great friends and were sealed in the Provo Utah Temple in 2014. They are the parents of four children and currently reside in Pleasant Grove, Utah.
Thou Art Still Chosen
Good Morning my dear friends. It is a humbling experience for me to stand before you today in this sacred Assembly Hall. I’m reminded of an experience I had with my family this last Christmas season. We were singing Christmas songs and other church hymns as we looked at Christmas lights on our ride home from an extended family dinner. I was riding in the back of our van with my six-year old son, Joshua. We had just begun the chorus to the beloved song, “I Am a Child of God.” I didn’t know it at the time, but Joshua had incorrectly learned some of the lyrics to the song. I think his version of this song captures well a couple of urges I’ve felt today. As he began the chorus, he sang, “Lead me, guide me, walk beside, help me ‘fly’ away.”
No, in truth, I am deeply grateful for the opportunity to be with and address you. There is no other place I’d rather be today. And, I pray that the words of that sacred hymn will be true for us, that we might be led and guided by the teacher of all truth, the Holy Ghost.
My friends, I have fasted and prayed oft that I might know what message our campus needs to hear today. We live in a day that has long been foreseen and prophesied of. A day that Nephi described as one being filled with “wars and rumors of wars.” A day in which the devil gathers together multitudes to fight against the Lamb of God.1 But in the midst of that bleak description, Nephi had hope. He declared:
And it came to pass that I, Nephi, beheld the power of the Lamb of God, that it descended upon the saints of the church of the Lamb, and upon the covenant people of the Lord, who were scattered upon all the face of the earth; and they were armed with righteousness and with the power of God in great glory.2
My friends, I can think of no other time in the history of the world when we need to be armed with righteousness and with the power of God. Indeed, President Russell M. Nelson has taught that “You were sent to earth at this precise time, the most crucial time in the history of the world, to help gather scattered Israel.” As I’ve considered this responsibility given to you and to me, I confess that there are times that I feel overwhelmed. Maybe, like me, you too have felt overwhelmed by the responsibilities given to you. Reflecting upon these feelings, an account from the Old Testament came to mind of another youth, who once, too, felt overwhelmed by the responsibility given to her:
In the Old Testament we read the account of Esther3. Esther is described as fair and beautiful—but no stranger to difficulty and hardship. In her youth, she lost both her mother and father and was raised by her uncle, Mordecai, who worked in the king’s palace. As a young maid, Esther found favour in the sight of the king and the “king loved Esther above all [other] woman.” 4 The king later made Esther his queen.
Meanwhile, Haman, a leader in the king’s court, became angry with Mordecai because Mordecai would not bow before him or pay him reverence. Haman sought to destroy Mordecai and all of his people—the Jews.
Realizing the danger for his people, Mordecai pled with Esther to seek help from the king. He declared that she could choose to hold her peace if she wished, but that he knew that God would find a way to deliver his people. Then he suggested to her “…who knoweth whether thou art come to the kingdom for such a time as this?” 5
Consider Esther’s situation. It was against the law to approach the king without being summoned. As others had found, this action was punishable by death. Esther could have chosen to bury her head in the sand, and likely enjoy a life of luxury and ease. She could live the life of a queen or risk her life to save her family and her people. I can only imagine how Esther must have felt. With faith, she chose to heed the call from Mordecai and the Lord.
We know the end of the story now. Esther went into the king’s court. Haman’s plot was unveiled, and her people were saved. Esther, who was born for such a time as this, saved her nation.
So how do you and I have faith like Esther? How do we fulfill the prophetic missions and assignments we have been sent to this earth to fulfill? How do we call down the powers of Heaven that we, too, might be “armed with righteousness and the power of God?” Please allow me to share three principles that I testify will empower you as you seek to do the will of Him who has called you.
Principle #1: Recognize that God has called you
In a 2014 Christmas Devotional, Elder D. Todd Christofferson taught that “ although we are not begotten of God in the flesh, we are, just as Jesus, the spirit offspring of God. Thus, our birth into mortality is also something of a condescension, and like Christ’s, it has a noble purpose. Just as Jesus, we came down from heaven to do the will of Him that sent us…” 6
Now some of you may have the thought that such high and holy callings from God only come to the very elect—maybe prophets and apostles, queens like Esther, General Authorities, or General Officers of the church. Certainly not someone like little old me or little old you. My friends, I bear solemn testimony to you that such thoughts come from the great deceiver. I bear witness that God has called you! To do big work and to do small work for Him. In True to the Faith we read:
The doctrine of foreordination applies to all members of the Church, not just to the Savior and His prophets. Before the creation of the earth, faithful women [and men] were given certain responsibilities... Although you do not remember that time, you surely agreed to fulfill significant tasks in the service of your Father. As you prove yourself worthy, you will be given opportunities to fulfill the assignments you then received. 7
Now, I readily acknowledge to you that I have not had an experience like Isaiah where I have audibly heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send?” However, I testify to you that God calls you and He calls me every single day. President Spencer W. Kimball once taught, “We must remember that those mortals we meet in parking lots, offices, elevators, and elsewhere are that portion of mankind God has given us to love and to serve. It will do us little good to speak of the general brotherhood of mankind if we cannot regard those who are all around us as our brothers and sisters.” 8
Allow me to share an example from my own life of one who exemplified regarding me as their brother. Throughout most of my life, I have been an active member of the Church. However, just after graduating high school, I was employed at a local grocery store. I began being scheduled to work more frequently on Sundays which required me to miss sacrament meeting. This disconnect from church attendance was an outward expression of an inner drifting I experienced from my covenants. However, I didn’t admit that drifting to anyone and instead utilized the excuse of work for my lack of Sunday worship.
During that crucial season of my life, one experience sticks out. A former scoutmaster and young men’s leader of mine came to visit me at the grocery store one afternoon. I don’t remember all that he said, but what I do remember is his arms around me. I remember him telling me he loved me and that he missed me. I’m sure he would have loved to see me come back to Church the next Sunday—I didn’t. However, the love I felt from him was genuine, and I still feel it today. When I was ready to come back, it was easier, because I knew I had a friend who would support me. He may not have thought of it this way then, but I testify that the God of Heaven called him to help rescue me that day. Sure, maybe it was a small thing to him, but it was substantial to me and it blesses my life and my family’s life today.
My friends, God is calling you every single day. You likely will not hear His voice. However, if you pray to have eyes to see, ears to hear, and a heart to feel, you will recognize that God is calling you. And, most likely, He is calling you to lift those whom He has put in your path. When you get on the elevator, when you walk the stairs, when you are standing in line at the Grill, you are surrounded by people who are suffering and need help. They won’t tell you, but the God of Heaven knows. God’s call to you may be to smile, to say hello, to give a compliment. It may be to serve in a deeper, more meaningful way. I invite you to pray to hear, see, and feel God’s individual call to you. I testify that as you do so, you, like Nephi of old, will be empowered to accomplish the things which the Lord has individually called you to do. I bear witness that He will prepare the way.
In Section 121 of the Doctrine and Covenants, the Lord provides an additional caution to me and to you. We read that “there are many called, but few are chosen. And why are they not chosen? Because their hearts are set so much upon the things of this world…” 9 My dear beloved friends, I plead with you to recognize God’s call to you. Do all you can to the avoid the distractions of this world. I caution you against excessive use of social media, gaming, or other forms of entertainment. These mediums can distract you and numb you from feeling the influence of the Holy Ghost. As you set your heart upon the things of God, I testify that you will feel Heaven’s individual call to you.
Principle #2 Persevere through difficult times
In Isaiah 55 we read, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts.” 10 As I read this verse aloud, I’ve wondered if some of you may question, “what in the world does this have to do with persevering through difficult times?” Let me illustrate with a story from my own life:
As the capstone experience for pre-doctoral training for clinical psychologists, graduate students are required to participate in a yearlong internship. There is a match process that students go through that is similar to the match for residency programs for medical doctors. This is a process that is a year in the making. It begins with a search for potential sites and includes writing essays, cover letters, seeking letters of recommendation, traveling to and interviewing at sites across the country, and ranking your preferred choices. It culminates on Match Day where individuals are emailed their internship “match.” During this process for me, I had interviewed at multiple sites with two in particular sticking out: a community mental health site in Los Angeles, California and one in Dallas, Texas. It just so happened that my parents lived in the Dallas area and my wife’s parents lived in the LA area at the time. I suspect you can guess where each set of parents was hoping we would match.
The long-awaited match day came. I woke early in the morning and repeatedly checked my inbox to see if my match result had arrived. Finally, at about 5:00 AM my email dinged, and I received my match result. I quickly opened the email to read the words, “we regret to inform you that you did not match.”
I confess that this was a major blow to me. I could not graduate without an internship, and I immediately began feeling insecure about my own competency and ability to provide for my family. I had felt called to receive training in psychology and felt that I was following the Lord. And, at the same time, this major hurdle had occurred. Why, when I was trying to do what I felt I was inspired to do, did I have this experience? At that time, I did not understand what I now know. However, the Lord blessed me to continue to trust in Him and to persevere through this difficult time. Ultimately, I was able to obtain an internship at a great site in Provo, UT, and the training I received there continues to bless my life today.
What I didn't know then was that our sweet son would soon begin to exhibit symptoms of an autism spectrum disorder later that year. We had identified some sensory seeking and repetitive behaviors early in his life; however, shortly after his 18-month mark, Joshua experienced a language regression. This was devastating for our family, and we ached for what this would mean for our son. Having been trained as a psychologist, I knew a little bit of what an individual with autism would need for treatment. The gold standard treatment is early intervention ABA therapy that is critical in the early years of life—typically between the ages of two and five. However, these services are expensive and often there is a wait list to get into them. What I didn't know then was that the Lord had put me at an internship site, the only internship site that I applied to, that provided such intensive, early intervention ABA therapy for autism. Because I worked for that organization, my sweet son was able to receive two years, 32 hours a week, of these services free of charge.
My friends, these services have made all the difference in his life. Most individuals who meet him have no idea he has autism. At the time, what felt like the greatest disappointment in my professional life has led to the greatest blessing of our married life. When difficulty and disappointment come, and they will come, I testify that these difficulties are consecrated for our gain. I bear witness that each of us, like Esther, will be empowered to fulfill our missions here on earth as we persevere in faith and remain valiant to our covenants through challenging times.
Principle #3 Thou art still chosen
My friends, among us today are those who feel that they have sold their birthright. Who mistakenly believe that they are too far gone—that the promises, the commissions, the assignments that the Lord has given them are forfeit because of their iniquity. In fact, just this last semester I met with one of your peers who found himself in this very situation. I’ll call his name John.
John was in his early 20’s. He hadn’t served a mission and had become estranged from his family. During his early adulthood, he had fallen into all types of iniquity and felt trapped. However, he had worked with his Bishop to correct some of his past challenges and had come to the College with a desire to change and become better. Unfortunately, John fell back into old patterns that drove the Spirit out of his life. He reported feeling hopeless and unworthy—disconnected from God and the promises made to him.
One Sunday, John attended Sacrament meeting and then stayed in the chapel during the second hour. He was reflecting on his situation when a member of his bishopric sat down next to him. In their conversation, this bishopric member was inspired to share thoughts that directly echoed counsel and promises previously given to him. John felt drawn to chat with his Bishop who visited with him that very day. John got right with the Lord and made changes in his life to stay right with Him. In the course of only a few weeks, his life was transformed. Transformed because one person answered Heaven’s call to reach out to a troubled soul in need.
You should know that I, too, am not immune to experiencing these same shortcomings and failings. I have had times in my life where I have felt fallen and lost. Where I have felt that my choices have disqualified me from my birthright and my promised blessings. To you and me I share an account from the Prophet Joseph’s life. Recall with me his story of the lost pages of the Book of Mormon.
In the summer of 1828, Joseph had completed translation of the first 116 manuscript pages. Martin Harris repeatedly begged to be able to show these pages to others and, ultimately, the Lord granted Joseph permission to give them to Martin with strict instructions on who could see them. You know how the story went—the instructions were not followed, and several consequences occurred culminating with Joseph’s loss of the interpreters and a stern rebuke from the angel. Recall with me Joseph’s words of anguish during that season, “…my God, my God. All is lost…Must I return to my wife with such a tale? And, how shall I appear before the Lord?” 11 Well, we all know how he appeared before the Lord. He appeared like you and I often appear.
In Section 3 of the Doctrine and Covenants, the Lord tells Joseph “…you should not have feared man more than God. Although men set at naught the counsels of God, and despise his words—Yet, you should have been faithful…Behold, thou art Joseph, and thou wast chosen to do the work of the Lord, but because of transgression, if thou art not aware thou wilt fall.” 12
As I read these words, I can almost feel the anguish Joseph must have felt. But as exquisite as that anguish had to have been, I can think of no more joyful words than what the Lord told him next. His words were true for Joseph then and they are true for each of us today. He said, “But remember, God is merciful; therefore, repent of that which thou hast done which is contrary to the commandment which I gave you, and thou art still chosen…” 13
To every single person who hears these words, I testify that Jesus the Christ truly has descended below all things…[and] that he comprehendth all things…and [that] through all things [he is] the light of truth.14 I add my testimony to the ever eloquent words of Elder Jeffrey R. Holland that, “however late you think you are, however many chances you think you have missed, however many mistakes you feel you have made or talents you think you don’t have, or however far from home and family and God you feel you have traveled, I testify that you have not traveled beyond the reach of divine love. It is not possible for you to sink lower than the infinite light of Christ’s Atonement shines.” 15
A dear friend and former bishop of mine would often quote Elder D. Todd Christofferson to our congregation saying, “the invitation to repent is an expression of love”16 and then go on to invite our ward to repent. I offer that same invitation to each of us today. My friends, if you feel unworthy, if you have lost hope in the promises God has made to you, I plead with you from the depths of my soul, repent. Repent, and “thou art still chosen.”
As I conclude my message today, I testify that our Father in Heaven is a God of Mercy. That it is not possible for you to travel beyond the reach of His divine love. To the humble Zoramites, Amulek said, “if ye will repent and harden not your hearts, immediately shall the great plan of redemption be brought about unto you.” 17 I testify that there is no waiting period to draw down the power of Jesus Christ into your life. To every one within the sound of my voice, I invite you to repent. Repent, and “thou art still chosen.”
My friends, there is no doubt we live in difficult times. But these are times that have been foreseen. You have been prepared for this very season of the earth. I plead with you to be hopeful through the challenges that have come and will continue in the coming days. As you persevere in faith and remain valiant to your covenants, I testify that you will be “armed with righteousness and with the power of God in great glory.”
Lastly, I bear my witness that, like Esther of old, you have been called for such a time as this. God has called you—for big things and small things! You likely will not hear an audible voice. But if you seek for the gift to have eyes to see, ears to hear, and a heart to feel, you will recognize God calling you every single day. I testify that He has placed individuals in your path, and in mine, who need help. Who in their hearts pray for someone to notice them, to love them, and to lift them. And the God of Heaven calls out, whom shall I send? I bear my solemn witness that there is no greater joy than to humbly respond, “here am I, send me”—in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.
1) 1 Nephi 14: 13, 15
2) 1 Nephi 14: 14
3) Esther 2-4
4) Esther 2:17
5) Esther 4:14
6) D. Todd Christofferson, “The Condescension of God and Man,” (2014) First Presidency Christmas Devotional
7) True to the Faith (2004), 70.
8) The Teachings of Spencer W. Kimball, ed. Edward L. Kimball (1982), 483.
9) Doctrine and Covenants Section 121:35
10) Isaiah 55:8-9
11) Lucy Mack Smith, History, 1844–45, book 7, –.
12) Doctrine and Covenants 3:7-9
13) Doctrine and Covenants 3:10
14) Doctrine and Covenants 88:6
15) Jeffrey R. Holland, “Laborers in the Vineyard,”(2012) November Ensign or Liahona
16) D. Todd Christofferson, “The Divine Gift of Repentance,” (2011) November Ensign or Liahona
17) Alma 34:31