Church Membership is a Gift
Thank you, choir. I think that it’s early enough in the Christmas season that to hear those beautiful Christmas carols just fill us with the Spirit. It’s wonderful to be at a time of year where we hear Christmas carols even over the radio. We hear songs about Christ and songs about the Atonement, even over the airways. And it’s beautiful to hear you sing those for us. Tianna, thank you for your thoughts today. I hope that we’ll all remember to appreciate the gifts that we’ve been given. Thank you for sharing that testimony with us.
It’s nice to be here with you. I see Randy Beckham, my good friend, and old friend from high school. And he’s working with recruitment here at LDSBC, and I just love the work he’s doing. I love the wonderful contribution that this school is making in your lives and that you are making in the community—not only the community of Salt Lake, but also in the community of the Church. Thank you for your sacrifices and for the good that you’re doing. I appreciate your attendance today.
We sang “Noche de luz, Noche de Paz”: Night of light, night of peace. It’s not a direct translation, but it adds beautiful meaning to what the song is about. In fact, if somebody who’s working the computers is still there, maybe you could throw that last verse that we sang up. Is that possible, to pull that up again? Because I wanted to point out a few things. This verse of that song is actually a prayer that we’re singing to Christ. You know, people say, “Why do we pray to Heavenly Father?” Well, we pray to Heavenly Father and not Jesus because that is the way that Jesus taught us. He taught us to pray to the Father in His name, and so we do that in obedience to Him. But it’s not inappropriate to sing prayers to Christ, and our hymnbook is full of prayers to Christ. And this is a prayer to Christ. “Silent Night” (Hymns, no. 85) says, “Silent night! Holy night! Son of God.” We’re addressing Him. “Love’s pure light.” I always thought that meant Jesus loves light. But it’s not. It’s “love’s” with an apostrophe. Jesus is “love’s”—He belongs to love. “Love’s pure light Radiant beams from thy . . .,” we’re addressing him, “ . . . thy holy face, With the dawn of redeeming grace.” Truly a gift that we receive, not that we earn. A gift that we receive; an unearned gift that we can be grateful for.
Brothers, sisters, I’m so grateful that Jesus is the Lord. That’s not a term that we are familiar with in American English as much as those who speak British English. See, for us, we don’t really know exactly what “lord” means until you think of the term “landlord.” And when you hear that term, you realize we’re talking about one who owns and one who is in charge, or one who cares for. So when we say Jesus is the Lord, then He is one who owns us. He cares for us. We do not belong to ourselves. We belong to Him. He is the Lord at His birth, and the Lord forever.
I am so grateful for that beautiful prayer that we sing to Jesus and for the grace that He has given us. Not just the grace that ensures that we will be able to live after we die, as beautiful as that is. Not just the grace that assures that we can be forgiven for sins, as wonderful as that is. And not just the grace that allows for comfort and consolation during trials and hardships, as great as that is. But the grace, that through all of that, allows us to be changed; allows us to be transformed; allows us to make what is bad about us good, to make what is good about us better, and to truly see our natures change so that like Christ—who has that light radiating from Him—we also can see that light radiating in our own lives. As you go through the Christmas season, I hope that you’ll think about the light of Jesus Christ, His grace, this beautiful unearned gift.
Well, Christmas is a fun time in our house because I was born on Christmas. I was born on December 25th, so my mom was always afraid that I’d grow up warped because I had a Christmas birthday. She’d heard all these stories about how children feel neglected, so she wanted to make sure that I wasn’t neglected. So in our house there were two Christmas trees, one for Jesus and one for Brad. Whenever somebody said, “Merry Christmas,” they had to follow it with a “Happy Birthday.” So, in our house, my brothers would sing “Happy birthday to Jesus and to Brad” so that way I wasn’t left out. My brothers had to actually buy me a gift for the Christmas tree and a gift for the birthday tree. And that way my birthday wouldn’t be forgotten. Well, it worked great until my older brother bought me a pair of mittens. And he put one under the Christmas tree and one under the birthday tree, and I’ve been warped ever since. My cousin gave me a Christmas card one year that said, “Being born on Christmas is quite unique because you never knew who brought you, the stork or Santa Claus.” So, I’ve been figuring that out for many years now. But it’s wonderful to share a birthday celebration with the Lord, and it makes for a fun time in our house, where we still put up a Christmas tree and a birthday tree every year. It’s tradition.
It’s wonderful to be able to contemplate the gifts that we’re given at Christmas time and also the gifts that we receive for being members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. This morning, I would like to talk a little bit about what we get for being Mormons..
One time two missionaries came to me. They had met a lady who they wanted to talk to about the Church but found out that this lady had already been a member. She’d been a member for many years; she’d just been inactive for many years. So as they invited her to come back to Church, with her she brought her son, who was about 14 or 15. This boy had never been to Church and he loved it. He loved going to seminary; he loved the youth programs; he loved reading the Book of Mormon. . . . He just loved jumping into the Church.
Well, it wasn’t long before he wanted to be baptized. The mom thought it was a great idea, but the dad said, “No way.” He said, “If my wife wants to be a member of that crazy North American church, then that’s her deal. But I don’t want my son involved.”
The missionaries came to me and said, “Please President, could you talk to this father and convince him that it would be okay for his son to join the Church?” I said, “Look, I’ll do what I can.” So they set up a meeting.
I shook his hand, and the first words out of his mouth: “So what does my kid get for being a Mormon?”
I said, “Salvation.”
He said, “Don’t talk to me about salvation. Any church can promise salvation. Any church can promise mansions in heaven and streets paved with gold. Nobody knows who can deliver and who can’t deliver. So don’t talk to me about salvation. Talk to me about right here and now. What does my kid get for being a Mormon?”
I said, “Look, the blessings of being a member of the Church are spiritual. But,” I said, “I know where you’re coming from. So let’s just tuck those aside, and let’s talk about what Elder Ballard has called the fruits of being a member of the Church—the temporal blessings of being a Church member.”
What do you get for being Mormon? Well, you get a longer life. I don’t know if you knew it or not, but you will live longer than people who are not LDS. It has been shown in research study after research study. Most people conclude about 10–11 years longer. If you don’t believe me, think about our prophet: eighty-seven and going strong. Then think about Elder Packer: he’s 90. Think about Elder Perry: he’s 92. Think about Elder Nelson: he’s 90. Good grief, Elder Oaks is in his early 80s, and he seems like a teenager. Yeah, we live longer than others. Why? Who knows? Maybe it’s because we have a health code. Maybe it’s because we try to keep a positive attitude. Maybe it’s just because we’re too busy to die. “I can’t die today; I’ve got three more meetings to go to.” I mean, it’s true. Most people retire in the Church, and they get busier. We’ve got couples who are retired who are waking up at 4 in the morning to go serve in the temple. They didn’t even do that when they were working. I mean, consider: for whatever reason, we live longer. And if you don’t believe me, you just think of Michael Jackson. He’s dead. Donny Osmond—he’s dancing with the stars. Yeah, we live longer.
But along with a longer life, we also have a better quality of life. And that quality of life comes through education. Mormons are better educated than non-Mormons. It’s true in the United States, it’s true in Asia, it’s true in Europe, it’s true in Canada, and it’s true in Mexico. Members of the Church are 30% more likely to have an education than someone who is not a member of the Church. What do you get for being a Mormon? School, school, and more school. Now, you may not feel like it’s a blessing as you trudge back after Thanksgiving, cursing that you still have two more weeks before you can finally get out. I know—it was hard for all of us. But actually, school is a blessing. It’s kind of like mom’s socks, you know? It’s a blessing. And it’s something that’s very unique to us in our LDS culture. Most people look at getting an education as something that they have to do to earn a better living. Not Mormons. We see it as a way to make a better life. And that’s why we pursue education at all ages, in all stages.
These are actual facts that I’m giving you from research studies. Mormons have more books in their homes than non-Mormons. How many know what I’m talking about? Mormons free-read and buy more books for enjoyment than non-Mormons. How many know what I’m talking about? Mormons have more musical instruments than non-Mormons. How many know what I’m talking about? Mormons take more music lessons than non-Mormons. How many know what I’m talking about? You guys, it’s part of our culture. It’s part of who we are. Even families who are scraping by, living from month to month, find enough money to pay for piano lessons. They’ll do it because it’s part of who we are. We seek education to enrich our lives at any stage, at any age, and it’s a wonderful, wonderful thing that we have.
You know, you recognize Joseph Smith is a prophet, but there are those that don’t recognize him as a prophet. But they do know that he is something. What? The founder of adult education in America. Joseph Smith. The same person we revere as a prophet; the same person we read horrible things about on the Internet. The same person. The founder of adult education in our country. Why? Because they cannot document a school earlier than the School of the Prophets. That was for adults. It wasn’t for kids; it wasn’t for teenagers—it was for grown-ups. And they didn’t just study religion; they studied culture and languages and history and philosophy. Men and women attended. Joseph Smith is listed in educational textbooks as the founder of adult education programs. Any of you who are non-traditional students, coming back to pursue an education at a little older age? Well, hats off to Joseph Smith. He’s the one who started all that. And Brigham Young picked up where he left off. Brigham Young said, “All right, we’re moving west. Bring seeds, bring tools, anything that can be used for survival.” And you’d think school could wait. I mean, good grief, you’d think we could wait for a little while. We had to build homes, we had to gather food, we had to protect ourselves, and you’d think it could wait. No, the Saints arrived the 24th of July in 1847, end of August to end of September, and Mormons were in school. Two months after the first company arrived, and Mormons were in school. And we’ve been in school ever since.
What do you get for being a Mormon? You get a better education. And what that brings with it, for us, is quite unique. Stan Albrecht, who was once the Vice President of BYU, conducted a study in which he looked at all the major world religions. And he found that as people gained more degrees Bachelor’s, Master’s, Doctorate degrees—they became less religious. And he measured that by public religiosity (going to church) and private religiosity (saying prayers). More education meant less religion and less faith. The only church where that was different was us. This is the only church in which as people gained more education, they became more faithful. We were the only one. Why?
Well, because our doctrine includes all truth. What do you believe? All truth. That’s a huge Article of Faith. I mean, you know, Article 14. We believe in all truth. So what are you going to be able to learn in depth that’s going to pull you from a testimony of the gospel? Oh, sure, your friend might send you some email that says, “Joseph Smith married a 14-year-old girl,” who he married for eternity and not for time, verifying that he probably never had relations with her. But your friend sends you that, and half of your friends go inactive in the Church all the young adults’ testimonies all over the Church were shaken. . . .Come on—learn in-depth. Read the essays the Church itself has published on these topics. And when you learn something in-depth, there’s nothing that you learn that pulls you from the gospel. Rather, it strengthens your testimony. There’s nothing you could learn inside the Church, or outside the Church, that doesn’t ultimately point you toward God and toward the wonder of His eternal plan. We get educated, and we become more faithful. Who struggles in the Church? Those who are illiterate, those who can’t read, or those who won’t read. They’re the ones who struggle with their faith because they refuse to nurture or they’re incapable of nurturing their testimonies through study. But the rest of us get stronger and stronger as we learn more and more.
When I served my first mission in Chile I met a lady called Anna Delgado. She had 13 siblings, and her whole family was illiterate. The way they got by was all the kids would work cleaning homes or cooking food. She didn’t read and didn’t see any reason to read. How does reading help you clean a toilet? Why do you need that? When she met the Mormon missionaries things changed. She wanted to learn to read. She wanted to read the Book of Mormon. She wanted to read the Bible. Missionaries helped her, members helped her. She learned to read and when she joined the Church, she vowed that her own children would not just learn to read, but they would graduate from college. Now, in your world, that’s a very realistic goal. But in her world at that time, not a realistic goal.
Not many people get to go back to the same country on a mission, but I had that opportunity. And we looked up Anna Delgado. She’s a grandmother now. But she still has her little reading glasses. She’s got a stack of books by her bed. She’s reading up a storm. Her husband’s still never has joined the Church, but Anna’s still going strong. And I asked her, “How’d you do on your goal?” She said, “All my children have graduated from college.” And her first granddaughter was going to be graduating the following summer as a medical doctor.
Now, if you want to take all spirituality out of it, you want to take all testimony out of it, that’s the Mormon Church, right there. From illiterate grandmother to college graduate child to a medical doctor granddaughter. That’s the Mormon Church. And you are living that story. Some of you have heard that story lived as you look at your ancestors. Some of you are in the middle of living that story right now. How many are among the first in your own families to be pursuing a higher education degree? [Audience members raise their hands.] Okay, now look at that. Keep those hands up, look around. Anna’s story is not just something that’s happening in Chile. It’s something that’s happening right here. God bless LDS Business College, and God bless you for living that LDS story, for making that possible. What do you get for being a Mormon? You get a better education. And that education leads to an improved quality of life. I’ve seen it all across the world, and I see it right here.
What else do you get for being a Mormon? Well, you get an international network of friends. It’s amazing—anywhere you go, you have instant friends. Even other religious people don’t get this benefit. See, they move, and they’ve got to start finding their spiritual home. They have to start going from church to church, and minister to minister, and pastor to pastor, and congregation to congregation, and denomination to denomination, as they try to find where they fit. Mormons don’t do that. When you move, all you have to do is look up on the Internet, find out where the nearest chapel is, find out when the block starts, and you show up. Five minutes later, you’re just been sucked into the circle. Five minutes, and they’re telling you who your doctor should be, who your dentist should be, which teachers to avoid at the high school. And this sense of community is instant, in a world that’s losing a sense of community; in a world where people are writing books like Bowling Alone (Robert D. Putnam, 2001), talking about how Americans are no longer getting involved with Lions Club, or Boy Scouts of America, or PTAs. No, Americans are living a solitary life where they don’t want to interact with neighbors. And while we’re losing this sense of community in the world, in the Church we have it. We have not lost this sense of community. We still have it. And anywhere you go, you’ve got instant friends.
I took my kids down to California to go to Magic Mountain so they could ride the roller coasters. We’re walking up to the gate, and there’s some girls out there doing surveys. “How did you know about the park?” “Is this your first visit?” Blah, blah, blah. I’m walking up, and I have three letters on my shirt: EFY. Three letters on my shirt, and all of a sudden this girl starts screaming, “NO WAY!!! EFY!!!” And she comes up, and we’re hugging each other. And I’ve never seen her before in my life, but we’re hugging each other and I’m asking her which session she went to and who her session director was, and we’re just going on and on about who her counselor was, and . . . three letters. Did anybody greet the Baptist kid? “NO WAY!! You’re BAPTIST!!” No. It was the Mormons. And there we were: instant friends.
Sometimes we’re the ones who make the casseroles to welcome the new members; sometimes we’re the ones who get the casseroles that have been made by others. But we’re all part of a community, and it’s a very real force in our lives. When we moved to Wyoming when I was getting my Doctorate, we moved into a house, and about a half hour later (we’ve got the U-Haul out front), some brethren from the ward come over and start helping us unload.
And a little while later, the new neighbor came over. And he said, “Have you lived here before?”
I said, “No.”
He said, “Who are all these people?”
I said, “I don’t know. But they’re from my church.”
He said, “Oh. Well, I just came over to tell you that some lady drove off with your children.”
I said, “I know.”
He said, “Do you know her name?”
I said, “No. But she’s in the Primary presidency, so if I don’t get them tonight, I’ll just pick them up on Sunday.”
He’s like, “Somebody just brought you food.”
“Are you going to eat it?”
“Of course we’re going to eat it.”
“You don’t even know what’s in it.”
I said, “Oh, all those casseroles are the same.”
See, he couldn’t understand how we could be there for 45 minutes and have more friends than he had. Now, what did I do over the next few months? Yes, I wanted to share the gospel with him. Yes, I wanted him to know about the blessings of the gospel. But I also wanted him to know how good it felt to just have a community, to have a whole group of people that can be instant friends. And that group, that community, extends internationally.
When we were in Chile a young man joined the Church. He was about 23 or 24. About a month after his baptism, he got a visa to go to New Zealand to study English—a great opportunity for this kid. I pulled him aside after a meeting, and I said, “Who’s picking you up at the airport?”
He said, “Nobody.”
I said, “Well then, where are you going to stay?”
He said, “I don’t know.”
I said, “Do you have any money?”
He said, “No.”
I said, “Do you speak one word of English?”
He said, “No.”
One phone call from Santiago, Chile, of all places, to Auckland, New Zealand, of all places, to a bishop Anthony Wilson. “Bishop Wilson, there’s a young man here who joined the Church about three weeks ago. He needs somebody to pick him up at the airport.”
“No worries,” he says.
I said, “Bishop, he doesn’t have a place to stay.”
I said, “Bishop, he doesn’t have any money. He doesn’t speak any English.”
Can you really point me in any direction where that happens? Where it happens with the consistency that it happens inside the Church? Can you really point me anywhere where that is a common occurrence?
I spoke to a group of young single adults in Salt Lake, and I said, “How many of you have jobs that you got through some Church connection?” And I thought maybe half the hands would go up. No—almost every hand. Everybody had a job because somebody’s brother, sister, former mission companion, bishop, home teacher, needed somebody. And if you think about it in your own life, you’ll realize that those Church connections have worked for you, and they will continue to work for you. The network you’re building right now, here at LDSBC, is a network that will bless your life forever.
Well, what else do you get for being a Mormon? You get a stronger marriage; you get a stronger family. And I know you don’t believe me because you’re thinking about your own family, and you just spent Thanksgiving with them, and you’re like, “They’re the weirdest people on the planet.” I know. You just came away thinking that every family must be as screwed up as yours. But you know what? As a whole, Mormon families are doing better than many. They say in the United States that the divorce rate is about one in two: 50%. When two people are members of the same faith, even if they’re not practicing (two Baptists, two Jehovah’s Witnesses), if they share the same faith, the rate jumps to about one in four. When two Mormons get married, it goes to about one in six. When two Mormons get married in the temple, it goes to about one in twenty. Now, one in twenty isn’t anything to brag about. But it’s sure a lot better than one in two.
So yeah, we may have our struggles and we may have our problems. But you also have a hope, when other young people your age have given up completely. Everybody out there is busy trying to redefine marriage at best, and completely eliminate marriage at worst. They see absolutely no place or purpose for it anymore in our modern world. And yet you keep inside of you a hope that one day you can have a happy marriage and a happy family. Where do you get that hope? Well, maybe it comes from our doctrine, our spiritual perspective. But we’re not talking about spiritual things today. We’re talking about temporal blessings. So where does that come from?
Maybe if your own parents haven’t been able to get two and two to add up to four, you’ve got other role models that you know very well who have. You can look around you, and you can say, “Gosh, I know a bishop who loves his wife. I know a Young Women president who loves her husband. I know a mission president who’s crazy about his wife. I know a prophet who loved his wife dearly.” Do you remember what President Monson’s first words were to us when he spoke to us for the very first general conference after President Hinckley died? When I tell you, you’ll probably remember this. He scared the translators to death, blew them out of the water, because he totally left the script. There he is in conference, and he leaves the script. He walks away from the teleprompter. All of the translators are in the back going, “Ahhhhh!” And what were his first words to us? “I love my wife. She’s a good Swedish girl. I joined the Navy because she thought I’d look good in a uniform.” What? Yeah, you’ve got prophets who love their wives, and you’ve got women leaders who love their husbands. And somehow those role models work for you, even if immediate role models have let you down. Shame on my generation. Shame on us. No wonder you’re all terrified of marriage. No wonder you’re all scared. No wonder you look at marriage as some kind of burden or obligation. Why? Because my generation has failed you miserably. There are so many who have shown you nothing but bad examples. But look beyond those bad examples, and you will find a few role models who can kindle in you that hope that other young people just don’t have—that yes, marriage can be a joyous thing, and yes, marriage can be a happy thing, and yes, marriage can have a wonderful benefit in your life. Look to those role models.
My wife and I live in Provo. We have a wonderful little retirement community in our ward. And this community has the cutest couples in the world. They’ve moved there from all over the Church. They have white hair, they work at the temple, they’ve been on 90 missions, and they come to Church walking, holding hands, dragging oxygen behind them. And they’re so cute. My wife and I look at them, and we say, “That’s what we want to be when we grow up.” Now, if we’re looking at them as role models, you can also find role models that can bless your life.
Well, what do you get for being a Mormon? A longer life, a better quality of life through education, an international network of friends, and the hope of a stronger family, a stronger marriage.
And, after telling this to that father, whatever I had said, the guy must have liked it because he let his kid join the Church, let his kid get baptized. And not only that, but he went to the baptism. I got there, and there was the mom, there was the kid getting baptized, there was the missionary doing the baptism, and there was the dad. And as he watched that little boy make covenants with God, he wasn’t thinking, “Now my son’s going to live longer. Now my son’s going to have an international network of friends and a better education. Now my son’s going to have hope for a better marriage and a better . . . ” No, he wasn’t thinking that. He was feeling. And suddenly the Spirit touched his spirit, and it touched him so deeply that the next time the missionaries came over, he didn’t run away. He didn’t hide in the back room and pretend like he wasn’t home. He didn’t take off. He listened to them. And the next time, they challenged him to read the Book of Mormon, and he didn’t make a joke out of it, he didn’t blow it off, he didn’t just laugh it off. He did it. And it wasn’t more than a couple of months later that I was back in the same chapel for another baptism, and it was his—the dad’s. And I walked right up to that man, and I said, “What do you get for being a Mormon?” And he looked at me, and he says, “Salvation.” We got right back to where we started.
As you ponder the wonderful gifts that you’ve received, will you please remember that your membership in the Church is a gift, that you get blessings—temporal blessings, spiritual blessings—and that you get so much for the choices you are making to stay strong when so many around you are slipping and falling. Will you please remember so that you get something out of this? Have a wonderful Christmas season, a season full of light, full of grace. “Silent night! Holy night! Son of God, love’s pure light” (Hymns, no. 204). The pure light of love—the love that is manifest in the Atonement of Jesus Christ, for which He was born and for which we will forever be grateful. And I bear testimony of that reality in the name of the Son of God, Jesus Christ, amen.
Introduction: Chief Information Officer, Mark Aughenbaugh
Let me tell you a little bit about Brother Wilcox. Brad Wilcox is an associate professor in the Department of Teacher Education at Brigham Young University, where he also enjoys working with such programs as Especially for Youth, Women’s Conference, and Campus Education week. He is the author of the book The Continuous Atonement, among other books, and the BYU Devotional “His Grace is Sufficient.” Brad grew up in Provo, Utah, except for childhood years spent in Ethiopia, Africa. He served a mission for the Church in Chile and later returned to that country to preside over the Chile Santiago East Mission from 2003–2006. He and his family have also lived for a time in New Zealand, where he directed the study abroad program for Brigham Young University. Brad has served as a member of the Sunday School General Board. He and his wife, Debbie, have four children and three grandchildren. Reading, writing, teaching and travelling are some of his favorite things. He loves peanut M&M’s (so do I) and pepperoni pizza (so do I), but he realizes that doesn’t sound too healthy, and so he’s really trying very hard to learn to love salads. I am not.