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Parallel Indexing, Celestial Navigation and Eternal Happiness

David Channer
January 30, 2024 11:15 AM

"In other words, key decisions in life should not be made solely by asking ourselves if we have distanced ourselves adequately from the standards of the world. The world’s standard will never be a safe measure because it increasingly diverges from the unchanging, polar star that we have in Jesus Christ."
“Behold, I am God; Man of Holiness is my name; Man of Counsel is my name; and Endless and Eternal is my name.” [i] And again,

“Behold, I am Jesus Christ, the Son of God. I am the life and the light of the world. I am the same who came unto mine own and mine own received me not; But verily, verily, I say unto you, that as many as receive me, to them will I give power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on my name.” [ii]  

I bear solemn testimony that true happiness is found only in, and everlastingly through, the Savior Jesus Christ. This IS His Church and Kingdom! Joseph Smith WAS and IS the prophet of the Restoration. The Book of Mormon IS divine! And we ARE led by a living prophet of God today! 

In the name of Jesus Christ, amen. Before I begin, I want to thank Encarnacion for his testimony and sisters Davis and Togashi for the beautiful music that has been rendered.

Cindy and I are truly grateful and honored to be in your presence today! Merely by looking into your faces, I know that as a new year begins you are full of enthusiasm, hope, faith and excitement for what the future holds. I commend you, and with all the energy of my soul, I encourage you—stick with your studies, press forward regardless of the length and pitch of the road, and there will be a reward at the end—if only (and likely most importantly) the strength of character that you develop in pursuing your educational and professional goals.

I want you to know how much I respect and admire President Kusch. Our paths first crossed in earnest about 6 years ago when he was installed as president of this wonderful college. For the past 6 years we have counseled together monthly. I can say that I know him, his heart, his love for you, and his commitment to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and to Ensign College. Thank you, President Kusch for this opportunity to speak today.

Finally, before I begin, I wish to express my love, in your presence, to my dear spouse. I think she must have had faith almost as great as Moses when she squared her shoulders and hitched her star to our wagon almost 44 years ago! She is a woman of great spiritual strength, warm friendship and endless capacity to love those around her. I freely acknowledge that without her, I am nothing.

Today, I wish to talk about choosing happiness. I fully realize that the topic of happiness is one that others, far more qualified than I, have addressed on multiple occasions and in various settings. No doubt, they addressed the topic from their experience, but today, I ask for your patience as I share a few thoughts on happiness borne of my life’s experience. I offer five keys, they are not exclusive, but I offer them because they have been important to me as I have chosen happiness along the path of life, and I pray that my thoughts may allow the Spirit to speak to you in ways that will benefit you along your path of life.

First, if you would be happy, then you must choose to pursue that path that leads to it. 

I invite you to seriously study and ponder the five characteristics that the prophet Joseph Smith identified in his now famous quote: “Happiness is the object and design of our existence; and will be the end thereof, if we pursue the path that leads to it; and this path is virtue, uprightness, faithfulness, holiness, and keeping all the commandments of God.” [iii]

The capstone on the list is “keeping all the commandments of God.” Obedience to God’s commandments is the key to happiness. The ancient prophet Helaman taught, “…yea, for ye have sought all the days of your lives for that which ye could not obtain… ye have sought for happiness in doing iniquity, which thing is contrary to … that righteousness which is in our great and Eternal Head.” [iv] . I have found in my own life, there is no other way.

I am reminded of a dear man who lost his family, his children, his priesthood and his membership in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints due to certain choices. At the time, I was serving as his bishop. Years later, he looked me up. He had remarried and regained his membership in the Church. Though he lived far away, he brought his new spouse so I could meet her. In our pleasant discussion I asked him, “What brought you back? What have you learned”. His answer was and is monumentally important. “Bishop, I learned that if nothing is wrong —just do whatever you want—then nothing is right. And if nothing is right or wrong in life, then life has no meaning. I wanted to have meaning again in my life.” You see, we must have commandments to be truly happy. No truer words were ever spoken than those spoken by Lehi to Jacob: “And if there be no righteousness there be no happiness.” [v] Or, consider the words that we tend to hear more often that teach the same truth but from the opposite angle. Alma pleading with his son Corianton to understand basic truths said, “Wickedness never was happiness.” [vi] Finally, Elder Spencer W. Kimball, while serving in the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, explained it this way: “What is the price of happiness?” “One might be surprised at the simplicity of the answer. … happiness is unlocked to those who live the gospel of Jesus Christ in its purity and simplicity.” [vii]

So, if you would choose to be happy, I plead with you dear students, choose to keep the commandments of God.  They are the path to happiness!

Second, if you would be happy, then you must choose to give of yourself and to serve others. 

The Savior commanded his disciples as follows, “Give, and it shall be given unto you; good measure, pressed down, and shaken together, and running over, shall men give into your bosom.” [viii] And isn’t that how we want it? When we buy a bag of buttered popcorn or a cup of ice cream, do we want it only ¾ full, or do we want the full serving-- pressed down, shaken together and running over? Well, the Savior teaches us that if we give service in life with full measure, we will receive full measure in return, pressed down, shaken together and running over!

I’ve not looked for studies on happiness, but I do not doubt there are myriads of them. [ix] And I suspect if I were to check, they would confirm my own personal experience—that choosing to give of oneself, to focus on and serve others, brings happiness. It is an absolute key to happiness to be focused on the needs of others! I am certain this is why, in part, my spouse, Cindy, who is with us here today. is such a happy person. She does not know that I am going to talk about her for a couple of minutes. I actually would not let her read my talk because I thought she wouldn’t let me share this. But she really is the most Christ-like person I know. She gives of herself by thinking about and serving others daily. This is not a passing thing—it is woven into the very fabric of her soul.

A few years ago she and I were sitting in a fast and testimony meeting; the testimonies were wonderful. As is often the case, during the meeting several members shared how they had been helped by the Lord in difficult times and testified of His goodness. Later that night as we knelt in companion prayer, I was exhausted, and I selfishly thought about saying the prayer myself. I thought that if she were to pray, the prayer might be really long. Some of you may have had similar experiences with your better half! Nevertheless, we knelt together, and I asked her to pray. It was not long before, with humble, sincere and heartfelt words, she began to remember the precious members of our ward to Heavenly Father, those who had offered testimonies earlier that day, and who were going through difficult times. In one case, she pleaded that Heavenly Father would help a person find employment; for another, she sought a blessing of health, and in the case of a third, she petitioned for strength on behalf of a member who was recovering from a recent divorce. As she prayed, I was ashamed to be at her side. I was ashamed to know that she was praying for everything I wouldn’t have prayed for that night. I hadn’t even thought about these dear ward members after I had left sacrament meeting that day. As I knelt, I was concerned with myself, falling to sleep and having a restful night; As she knelt, she was concerned with others, that sleep would even come to them, that they would find rest in the Lord. As we arose, her heart was full of happiness; mine was full of shame and regret.

So, if you would choose to be happy, then choose to give of yourself to focus on and serve others!  It will be a key to your happiness.

Third, if you would be happy, choose to be patient with the Lord in the challenges of life that will surely come.  Choose to humbly accept His will, and the timing for the bestowal of His tender mercies.  

I am a firm believer, born out of a lifetime of experience, that God will not withhold anything that is righteous and expedient for our salvation. That said, neither does he override our moral agency or that of others. He will provide what we truly need for our eternal good at the appropriate time, whether now or in the hereafter! We can trust the promise of the Savior. The Father will deliver bread and fish to preserve our eternal souls! He will not give us stones that are useless or serpents that are harmful! [x]

I love the beautiful words of the Psalmist:

Delight thyself also in the Lord: and he shall give thee the desires of thine heart. Commit thy way unto the Lord; trust also in him; and he shall bring it to pass. … Rest in the Lord, and wait patiently for him. (Emphasis added) [xi]

Life is chock full of unfairness and heartache, disloyalty and rejection, debilitating illness and other challenges, but when life events are hard, unfair, unexpected, and undeserved, I pray that you will remember the Savior. He descended below all these for you and me. [xii] He not only drank of the “bitter cup,” but it was the bitterest of all cups, and He drank not only from it, but he drank every drop of it, and I am quick to add, that He drank it alone. [xiii] He invites us to understand, however, the great truth that if “…[we] never should know the bitter [we] could not know the sweet…” [xiv] Yes, if we are to know happiness, we must come to face-to-face with sorrow and pain.

A number of years ago, our oldest son served in the U.S. military, more specifically, the U.S. Marine Corps. Following boot camp, he was sent to the mid-East where he was staged about 800 yards from the border between Kuwait and Iraq, ready to enter Iraq at moment’s notice. Ultimately, our son served three tours of duty in Iraq, and we will forever be grateful to Heavenly Father for his safe return.

Between his second and third tours of duty, he married a lovely young woman whom he had first met in high school. Two weeks after returning home from his third and final tour, one evening, he and his buddies had gone to dinner with their spouses and friends. At one point after dinner, and while walking toward their vehicle, his spouse tripped, fell, and hit her head on a concrete parking strip. The blow was severe, and from that moment onward, she never regained consciousness. She remained in a comatose state for years, during which time my son, and our family never gave up. Every fast Sunday, and on many other days, we fasted and prayed for her recovery or, for her passing, whichever the Lord would deem appropriate with His greater knowledge. These were challenging times. Times of sincere prayer. Even times when I often lay prostrate, begging the Lord for the exercise of His goodness and mercy to raise her up, or let her go. A little over seven years after her accident, she passed to the next phase of her eternal existence.

Elder Orson F. Whitney once wrote:

“No pain that we suffer, no trial that we experience is wasted. … All that we suffer and all that we endure, especially when we endure it patiently, builds up our characters, purifies our hearts, expands our souls, and makes us more tender and charitable. … It is through sorrow and suffering, toil and tribulation, that we gain the education that we come here to acquire.” [xv]

I hope you can see that we have a choice: we can substitute our will, our timing, our finite wisdom over that of the Lord, and become bitter and unhappy, or, we can choose to trust in the Lord, the One  who took upon Himself all bitterness, be patient in our trials, and choose happiness by being faithful to Him in our trials. 

Fourth, if you would be happy, choose to be grateful for what you have—count your blessings in the moment—and don’t compare your circumstances to those of others.

When I was very young, I had a hard time understanding why the Ten Commandments included the following, “Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s house, thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s wife, nor his manservant, nor his maidservant, nor his ox, nor his ass, nor any thing that is thy neighbor’s.” [xvi]

I was taught in my youth that it was a commandment designed to “school my thoughts” or, in other words, “discipline my thoughts.” If I dwelt on such things, I might be tempted to steal another’s possessions, or engage in immoral behavior. My youthful understanding seemed corroborated by the Psalmist, who declared, referring to man, “For as he thinketh in his heart, so is he.” [xvii] Later in life, however, I felt there was another reason for this commandment: the spirit of covetousness is lethal to the spirit of gratitude, and the Lord has commanded us to be grateful. [xviii]

The commandment to not covet IS designed to help us school our thoughts—but it has two parts. If we want to be happy, first, we should not dwell on things which, if acted upon, will only bring unhappiness. Second, we should not dwell on what we don’t have and what others do have, because that, too, will bring only unhappiness. If we are constantly looking at others, what they have by way of money, beauty, power, or prestige, we will never be happy. I hope we can all see that happiness will never come by comparing ourselves to others (for obvious reasons). Happiness is found in our choosing to be grateful for God’s current blessings and the list of His blessings is endless, much of what we take for granted.

Years ago, one of my children left the house early for school after I had specifically asked him to clean up breakfast. Cindy was out of town. When I returned to the house that evening I went into the kitchen, only to see a splotch of ketchup, a little larger than a quarter dollar dried hard on the kitchen counter. I went to the kitchen sink, put water on a dishcloth, and began to rub the dried ketchup. It was surprisingly stubborn, and the more I rubbed it, the more frustrated I became with this child. In the very midst of rubbing that spot, and at the very moment I was beginning to think of what I might say in an uncharitable spirit to my son when he arrived home, the telephone rang. The person identified himself as a police officer in the city where we lived. He asked if I was the father of this particular child. I said, “Yes”. He then told me that my son had been involved in a pedestrian-vehicle accident and that I should come immediately. He said things looked “very grim.” A small child had darted across the entrance of our subdivision and had been struck by my son’s vehicle. The little boy was being taken to the hospital and the police were talking to my son and nearby witnesses. I told the officer I would be there within two minutes. As I hung up the telephone with one hand, I realized I was still holding the dishcloth in the other. There, right beneath my eyes, which were filling with tears, was that small blotch of dried ketchup. Immediately, the thought came to me, “What would I give for a dried- blotch of ketchup to be my only concern?” I dropped the dish cloth and ran out the door to find and comfort my son for whom I was and am eternally grateful. The young boy lived with some complications that will be challenges for him in his life. But just this last Thanksgiving, he dropped by to share in our Thanksgiving meal. It was good to see him. We love him.

Now, my dear friends, if you would choose to be happy, learn how to appreciate and be grateful to the Lord for what you have today, for the here and now—for all your blessings, even “the multitude of his tender mercies”. [xix]

And I beg you to please stop comparing your situation to the money, beauty, physique, power, or prestige of others. I love Amulek’s teaching in the Book of Mormon that we should “live in thanksgiving daily. [xx] ” In a wonderful and eternal truth, Elder Russell M. Nelson as President of the Quorum of Twelve Apostles taught in the October 2016 general conference, a quote you are all familiar with. "My dear brothers and sisters, the joy we feel has little to do with the circumstances of our lives and everything to do with the focus of our lives.” [xxi] It is the One True Focus of our life, that I now wish to address in my final key to happiness.

Fifth, if you would be happy, then choose Jesus Christ as your means of “Celestial Navigation” at all times, in all things and in all places.  

I suspect that I would be a poor lawyer if I didn’t include in my remarks today a lesson that wasn’t tied in some fashion to the law or to our legal system! I am indebted to my life-long friend and fellow attorney within the Church’s Office of General Counsel, Richard Page, who first taught me about the subject of parallel indexing and shared his wisdom and insights with me. Rick and I initially practiced law together in Houston, TX, beginning in 1985 (almost 40 years ago). We drove to work together for several years and enjoyed many gospel discussions. Not long ago, Rick shared a legal controversy with me that our former law firm argued before the U.S. Supreme Court in the mid-1990s. Rick was part of that team that argued the case. The name of the case was Exxon Co. v. Sofec, Inc. [xxii] What I share next is a matter of public knowledge and summarizes the facts of the case found in court records and decisions reached in the case. [xxiii]

On the afternoon of March 2, 1989, an oil tanker, the Exxon Houston, was offloading crude oil at an offshore facility near the island of Oahu, Hawaii. A violent storm arose, known locally as a “kona” storm, bringing heavy seas and gale-force winds. At 5:28 p.m., the oil tanker broke loose from its mooring buoy taking with it two hoses through which crude oil was being pumped into a submerged pipeline. Although the first hose was a nuisance, the second hose, approximately 800 feet long, posed a serious hazard to the tanker and crew. If the Houston were to move forward, the hose might easily become entangled in the vessel’s propeller and rudder. One option available to the captain was to drop anchor with sufficient chain to hold the vessel in place. This the captain attempted to do, but at 5:40 p.m., twelve minutes after breaking loose from the mooring, the attempt to stabilize the Houston by anchor and chain was unsuccessful. Next, the captain determined to back the tanker away from the shore and the shallows – and to give the crew and assisting vessels time to secure control of the two hoses. This maneuver was hindered by the powerful and violent “kona” storm that was driving the ship toward the shore. Ultimately, however, at 6:03 p.m., an assist vessel, the Nene, managed to bring the end of the longer hose under control.

Between 6:03 and 6:30 p.m., the Houston and the Nene worked their way to deeper water. By 7:50 p.m., a little more than 2 hours after the ordeal began, the ship was in deeper water, all obstructions removed, and steaming forward with the crisis apparently averted. Six minutes later, at 7:56 p.m., the captain ordered a right turn. At 8:04 p.m., nine minutes into the turn, the captain ordered a navigational “fix” or, in other words, a determination of their location. The navigational fix showed the Houston in imminent danger of a charted reef. Five minutes later, at 8:09 p.m., the Houston ran hard aground. The damage from the stranding resulted in a total loss, and the ship was thereafter sold for scrap.

Approximately one year later, in April of 1990, Exxon brought a lawsuit in admiralty against multiple defendants in an attempt to recover its losses. At trial, the federal district court found that the captain had been “extraordinarily negligent” in his handling of the situation. Exxon could not recover its losses.

The decision at trial was appealed, first to the United States Federal Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit and then to the United States Supreme Court. Each time, the decision of the trial court was upheld. Why? Principally, because during the entire emergency, the captain had navigated the Houston by “parallel indexing” only. This means that, by use of radar and other means, he worked to ensure that the ship maintained a certain distance from the shore. The captain had no precise notion of where along the coastline he was, or of his direction. He only knew that as long as he maintained a certain minimum distance from the coastline, he should be safe. He negligently navigated by parallel indexing alone in this dangerous situation.

What the captain should have done – and what he did not do until approximately 8:04 p.m. – was to “plot and fix” his position, so he would know exactly where he was. Had he ordered several navigational fixes and plotted them, he would not only have known his exact position but also his direction of travel. He would have known how close he was to a charted reef. As soon as he finally knew precisely where he was, he knew immediately that he was in trouble.

If you would be happy, it is vital or critical that you choose to avoid making short-term decisions and long-term plans based on spiritual “parallel indexing.”

In other words, key decisions in life should not be made solely by asking ourselves if we have “distanced ourselves adequately” from the standards of the world. The world’s standard will never be a safe measure because it increasingly diverges from the unchanging, polar star that we have in Jesus Christ. [xxiv] If we intend to merely maintain a minimum distance from the world’s standards, we will slip right along with them.

The only safe approach in navigating the seas of life, is to plot and fix our position in regular intervals, using Jesus Christ as the charted object, thereby knowing with precision where we stand with the Lord, and what our true bearing is, and thus our ultimate destination.

The scriptures are legion in calling for this celestial navigation – of looking to the Savior, his constancy, His teachings and His example. I close with a few.

He unequivocally states: “I am the Way, the Truth, and the life. No man cometh unto the Father but by me.” [xxv] And again he says:

"I am the Only Begotten of the Father from the beginning, henceforth and forever, that as thou hast fallen thou mayest be redeemed, and all mankind, even as many as will.” [xxvi] And again,

“Behold, I am God; Man of Holiness is my name; Man of Counsel is my name; and Endless and Eternal is my name.” And again,

“Behold, I am Jesus Christ, the Son of God. I am the life and the light of the world. I am the same who came unto mine own and mine own received me not; But verily, verily, I say unto you, that as many as receive me, to them will I give power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on my name.”

I bear solemn testimony that true happiness is found only in, and everlastingly through, the Savior Jesus Christ. This IS His Church and Kingdom! Joseph Smith WAS and IS the prophet of the Restoration. The Book of Mormon IS divine! And we ARE led by a living prophet of God today!

In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.

[i] Moses 7:39.
[ii] Doctrine and Covenants 11:28-30.
[iii] Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, Joseph Fielding Smith (1976), p. 255–56.
[iv] Helaman 13:38.
[v] 2 Nephi 2:13.
[vi] Alma 41:10.
[vii] The Miracle of Forgiveness, Spencer W. Kimball, 1969, 259.
[viii] Luke 6:38.
[ix] For an insightful and delightful presentation on happiness and charitable giving, see “Why Giving Matters” by Arthur C. Brooks, given February 24, 2009, at Brigham Young University, Provo, Utah.
[x] Matthew 7:9-11.
[xi] Psalm 37:4-7.
[xii] Doctrine and Covenants 88:6.
[xiii] Doctrine and Covenants 19:18; 76:107; 3 Nephi 11:11. See also, Jeffrey R. Holland, “None Were with Him” Ensign, May 2009, 88.
[xiv] Doctrine and Covenants 29:39.
[xv] Quoting Orson F. Whitney, Faith Precedes the Miracle, Spencer W. Kimball, 1972, 98.
[xvi] Exodus 20:17; Mosiah 13:24.
[xvii] Psalms 23:7.
[xviii] 1 Thessalonians 5: 16-18. See also, Doctrine and Covenants 59:21, in which the Lord declared to Joseph Smith, “And in nothing doth man offend God, or against none is his wrath kindled, save those who confess not his hand in all things, and obey not his commandments.”
[xix] 1 Nephi 8:8.
[xx] Alma 34:38.
[xxi] Russell M. Nelson, “Joy and Spiritual Survival” Ensign, November 2016, 82.
[xxii] Exxon Co. v. Sofec, Inc. 517 U.S. 830 (1996).
[xxiii] Exxon Co. v. Sofec, Inc. 517 U.S. 830 (1996); See also Exxon Co. v. Sofec, Inc 54 F.3d 570 (9th Cir. 1995). The summary provided comes from publicly available published decisions and defendants brief in the United States Supreme Court.
[xxiv] Gordon B. Hinckley, “We Look to Christ” Ensign, May 2002, 90.
[xxv] John 14:6.
[xxvi] Moses 5:9.

About the Speaker

David Channer

David has served as Associate General Counsel of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints since March 2016. He is responsible for the oversight of legal affairs of the Church in the United States and Canada. Prior to this assignment, he served as Area Legal Counsel for the Mexico Area for four years (living in Mexico City), and as Regional Legal Counsel for 10 of the Church’s 13 ecclesiastical areas.

David has practiced law for 38 years, both in private practice, beginning with the international law firm of Vinson & Elkins in Houston, TX, and later in-house with both publicly traded and privately held companies.

 David graduated cum laude in 1985 with a J.D. degree from the J. Reuben Clark Law School at Brigham Young University where he served as Articles Editor of the BYU Law Review. He graduated magna cum laude in 1981 from Brigham Young University with a B.S. degree in business management.

He is married to Cindy Green from North Carolina, and they have 8 children and 22 grandchildren. As a young man, David served a full-time mission to Spain, Barcelona.
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