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Devotionals

Bruce A. Schreiner

Our Legacy of Learning

 
What an honor it is to be with you today.  Actually, I am somewhat amazed that there are so many of you here today, after having seen the frightening picture of myself on the posters advertising today’s devotional.   I admit that I would feel much more comfortable seated in the congregation with you.    I consider myself a student, like you, and that is the basis of the topic that I feel inclined to address today.
 
Perhaps I could introduce my theme with a true story.  Valerie and I had been home from our mission assignment for just a brief time when we were called to fulfill a rather unusual church assignment.  One of the wards in our stake had been through great trauma.  The bishop had been excommunicated, along with some of the prominent sisters.  It is hard to describe the damage such serious sin can cause to individuals, families, and also to a ward in general.  The faith of many ward members had been horribly shaken.  Sacrament meeting attendance and other measures of activity had collapsed.  In a ward of about 600 members, routine Sabbath-day attendance was averaging about 50-60.  People were walking away from their callings and refusing to return to church.  Some of the families in the ward were torn apart.  It was a terrible tragedy.  Geographically, the ward was the largest in the stake, almost 10,000 square miles of mostly pine trees and sagebrush.  People could easily disappear in 10,000 square miles!
As a member of the high council at the time, I had participated in many tearful and drawn-out meetings, seeking the Lord’s guidance, to rescue this devastated ward.  At the conclusion of one of those meetings, the stake president asked me to remain for a few minutes.  Knowing I’d served as a stake president before, he wanted my personal thoughts about what could be done.  Priesthood leadership in this struggling ward was sorely lacking.  The stake presidency had tried for weeks to determine who the new bishopric should be.  I suggested a possible course to take.  “Call a worthy high priest from the ward to serve as bishop, and call me to serve as a counselor (temporarily) to help train him and the local brethren until they were ready to stand on their own. Big mistake on my part!
 
A couple of weeks later, the stake president visited our ward and took Valerie and me out of Sunday School class for a little chat.  Although the faltering ward was about 30 miles from our home, I was called to serve as the bishop.  The stake president had already had our records transferred there.  I was to be sustained the following Sunday.  The stake president suggested that I nominate counselors from other, healthy wards in the stake, but I just didn’t feel very good about that.  It was going to be hard enough on our new ward to have an outsider as their bishop.  Someone sent to “fix” them, because they couldn’t do it themselves, so to speak.   Counselors were selected from the struggling ward.  The next Sunday, we arrived.  To our amazement, we were welcomed with open arms.  The members of the ward greeted us warmly and with great love.  They were wonderful.  We immediately fell in love with them, too.
 
We had a ward clerk in place but no executive secretary.  I tried for weeks to find the right person.  Finding someone worthy and active was proving to be quite a challenge.   The youth of the ward had also suffered from all the heartbreak and confusion that their parents had been through.  The first mutual night there were about six young women and one young man in attendance.  As president of the Aaronic Priesthood, I looked over my flock, a couple of deacons, 2-3 teachers, and about the same number of priests.  It was pretty discouraged.  It was hard to even track these kids down.  I needed an executive secretary.  But who? 
 
A crazy thought kept coming to my mind as I pondered and prayed about this problem.  Crazy thoughts seemed to be the status quo for this calling anyway!  But the thought was just too bizarre, even for me!  So I kept pushing it out of my conscious thought.  But it kept coming right back.  One of the members of my new priest’s quorum was sort of active.  He was 18, had dropped out of high school a year prior.  He sat around the house playing video games.  What if I called him to be the executive secretary.  The idea was nuts…. No, it was insane!  But it just wouldn’t go away.   Finally, I gave in to the impressions and recommended his name as executive secretary.  I guess the high council thought the idea was nuts, too.  Take a do-nothing, lazy high school dropout, ordain him an elder, call him to one of the more responsible ward leadership positions in a ward that is struggling?  That’s just crazy!  The discussion over my recommendation occupied the bulk of two separate high council meetings, and was only decided when the stake president got a bit tough and said, “Look brethren, we sent the bishop down there to develop leadership, so let’s let him develop some leadership.”
 
Well, my sort-of-active, mind-numbed video-game-playing priest was ordained to the Melchizedek Priesthood and called to serve as the ward executive secretary. He wasn’t that hot of an executive secretary, but he did come to meetings more regularly.  And he did get the spirit of the gospel, and he did get the spirit of service, and he did get the spirit of missionary work.  That young man, with the help of the Lord, pulled himself out of a life of wasted time and mind-numbing video games, and served a full-time mission for the Lord.  He became a converted, born-again saint and servant of the Lord.  He was a faithful and obedient  missionary.  He studied the gospel every day.  Learning became exciting and precious to him.  He developed a deep yearning for knowledge.  Following his mission, with his freshly minted GED and his new-found quest for learning, he worked his way into college, university, graduate school, and now has completed his PhD in languages.  And he and a wonderful girl from that stake went to the temple and created their own, new family in the gospel.
 
Now that’s a long way to get to this point of doctrine.  Something changed in the life of my young friend.  The first thing that really happened to him was his conversion.  He became converted to the gospel of Christ.  When we are truly converted, something happens to all of us as it did to him.  President Henry B. Eyring addressed this when he said:
 
“From the time of Joseph Smith to our own day, you can see evidence that conversion to the gospel of Jesus Christ brings a desire to learn.  Joseph Smith, as a very young man, translated the Book of Mormon from plates inscribed with a language no one on earth understood.  He did it by a divine gift of revelation.  But he later hired a tutor to teach him and other leaders of the Church ancient languages.  Joseph Smith had essentially no formal schooling, yet the effect of the gospel on him was to make him want to learn so that he could be more useful to God and to God’s children.”
 
President Eyring continued:
 
“When the Latter-day Saints were driven from Missouri by mobs, they built a city called Nauvoo on the banks of the Mississippi River.  In poverty and living in the frontier, they still formed a university, “for the teaching of the arts, sciences and learned professions….”
 
“the first academic year in Nauvoo was that of 1841-42.  The university probably was among the first municipal universities in the United States… The curriculum included languages (German, French, Latin, Greek, and Hebrew), mathematics, chemistry and geology, literature, and history…”
 
“The charter of the University of the City of Nauvoo served as the foundation for the University of Deseret (now the University of Utah), established by Brigham Young in Salt Lake City in 1850.  ‘Education,’ he once told this school’s Board of Regents, ‘is the power to think clearly, the power to act well in the world’s work, and the power to appreciate life’  When the Saints in Utah were still struggling to produce enough food, they started schools.  They felt driven to lift their children toward light and to greater usefulness by education.  That drive is more than a cultural tradition.  It is the natural fruit of living the gospel of Jesus Christ.”
 
You see, that is what happened to my young high school dropout, mind-numbed, video-game-playing executive secretary, returned missionary, PhD friend.  He began to live the gospel, the “natural fruit” of which is a quest for learning.  And it has been this way since our first parents were placed upon the earth.  The saints of all ages have felt its pull.  Abraham described it in these words:
 
“having been myself a follower of righteousness, desiring also to be one who possessed great knowledge, and to be a greater follower of righteousness, and to possess a greater knowledge”
 
Subsequently, we find Abraham peering into the Urim and Thummim to view the stars and planets far beyond our current optical capability, and in much greater clarity.  His knowledge of the order of our universe exceeds any of the secular knowledge of today.  Move over Stephen Hawking!  Oh, and by the way, you’re wrong about the origin of the universe pal!
 
The legacy of learning is divinely inherited.  It is a gift of our heredity, from our divine Father in Heaven, and is quickened, or re-awakened, when we become Saints, live the gospel of Christ, and desire to serve Him.  It is a legacy, alive in the Church of Christ in all ages.  It is a legacy that each one of us should establish and nurture carefully in our families and future families. 
 
Of course, there is a doctrinal basis for this yearning.  One of the most precious revelations of the restoration came from the Lord shortly after the Christmas of 1832.  Joseph called it “the olive leaf…plucked from the Tree of Paradise.”  It is a revelation that contains layer upon layer of revealed truth and presents some of the most exalting joys that can be ours.  Embedded carefully in this revelation are these words:
 
“I give unto you a commandment that ye shall continue in prayer from this time forth.
 
And I give unto you a commandment that you shall teach one another the doctrine of the kingdom.
 
Teach ye diligently and my grace shall attend you, that you may be instructed more perfectly in theory, in principle, in doctrine, in the law of the gospel, in all things that pertain unto the kingdom of God, that are expedient for you to understand;
 
Of things both in heaven and in the earth, and under the earth; things which have been, things which are, things which must shortly come to pass; things which are at home, things which are abroad; the wars and the perplexities of the nations, and the judgments which are on the land; and a knowledge also of countries and of kingdoms—
That ye may be prepared in all things when I shall send you again to magnify the calling whereunto I have called you, and the mission with which I have commissioned you.”
President Spencer W. Kimball expanded our view of this great revelation. 
 
“It is clear that the Lord expects his people to have a wide variety of information so that we might have breadth and depth in our lives.
 
‘Things in heaven’ might be the study of astronomy and related subjects
 
‘Things in the earth’ echoes the commandment given to Adam and Eve to replenish the earth and subdue it.  The Lord has also said in these last days, ‘The fullness of the earth is yours.’
 
‘Subduing the earth’ also involves the engineering sciences as well as biology, geology, and other sciences that study the earth’s land, air, and water.   The study of land and water must also consider that which is ‘“under the earth.’
 
To study ‘ things which have been’ is to delve into history, a lifetime challenge.  In addition, current events, or history in the making, should give us concern for careful study
To learn of ‘things which are at home’ could mean a great invitation to all Latter-day Saints to become masters in the science and art of homebuilding and homemaking; husband and wife relationships; parent and child relationships, training, leadership, teaching, and felicity
 
The ‘wars and perplexities of the nations’ is a great concern to us now that the world is a large community
 
Gaining ‘a knowledge of countries and kingdoms’ will be found in the study of political and physical geography, languages, and customs.
 
There should also be no people who are in a better position to obtain truth and apply it in their lives.  For we have the gift of the Holy Ghost, that wondrous gift of our Heavenly Father given to all who take upon themselves worthily the ordinances of salvation.  Jesus taught, ‘The Spirit of truth…will guide you into all truth.’  And the prophet Moroni speaking to our day, advised us that ‘by the power of the Holy Ghost [we] may know the truth of all things.’ “
 
As saints of the Most High, this kind of learning should be our heritage.  Brigham Young said:
 
“There is [not] another people in existence more eager to see, hear, learn and understand truth.”
 
President Eyring continued this thought:
 
“Our education must never stop.  If it ends at the door of the classroom on graduation day, we will fail.  And we will need the help of heaven to know which of the myriad things we could study we would most wisely learn.  We cannot waste time entertaining ourselves when we have the chance to read or to listen to whatever will help us learn what is true and useful. Insatiable curiosity will be our hallmark . . .
 
It takes neither modern technology nor much money to seize the opportunity to learn in the moments we now waste.  You could just have a book and paper and pencil with you.  That will be enough.  But you need determination to capture the leisure moments you now waste.”
 
Elder Dallin H. Oaks admonished us:
 
“Our quest for truth should be as broad as our life’s activities and as deep as our circumstances permit.  A learned Latter-day Saint should seek to understand the important religious, physical, social, and political problems of the day.  The more knowledge we have of heavenly laws and earthly things, the great influence we can exert for good on those around us and the safer we will be from scurrilous and evil influences that may confuse and destroy us.”
 
But when we leave our institutions of formal education, we can all-too-easily become caught up in the process of living, with its constant demand for our attention.  Raising families, earning a living, serving in our communities and in our church callings, all can and should require our time.  It is easy to use all of these good things as excuses to put aside our learning. 
 
Elder Marion D. Hanks tells the story of Louis Agassiz, a naturalist of great renown.  He was approached by an old spinster who complained about her mundane life that did not allow for time to learn.  Dr. Agassiz asked her to consider a few things:
 
“What do you do?
 
I skin potatoes and chop onions.
 
Where do you sit during these interesting but homely duties?
 
On the bottom step of the kitchen stairs.
 
Where do your feet rest?
 
On the glazed brick.
 
What is glazed brick?
 
I don’t know, sir.
 
How long have you been sitting there?
 
Fifteen years.
 
Madam, here is my personal card.  Would you kindly write me a letter concerning the nature of glazed brick?
 
She read all she could find about brick and tile, and prepared a 36-page paper on the subject of glazed brick, then sent it to Dr. Agassiz.
 
Back came the letter from Dr. Agassiz:  ‘Dear madam, this is the best article I have ever seen on the subject.  If you will kindly change the three words marked with asterisks, I will have it published and pay you for it.’  A short time later there came a letter that brought $250, and penciled on the bottom of this letter was this query:   ‘What was under those bricks?‘   She had learned the value of time and answered with a single word:  ‘Ants.’  He wrote back and said, ‘Tell me about the ants.’…
 
After wide reading, much microscopic work, and deep study, the spinster sat down and wrote Dr. Agassiz 360 pages on the subject.  He published the book and sent her the money, and she went to visit all the lands of her dreams on the proceeds of her work.”
 
So, there are really few excuses for failing to learn.  We can all learn, and we have been commanded to learn, and we have been taught that learning from the best materials and experiences will prepare us in this mortal realm, and in our eternal lives.  Brigham Young taught us:
 
“I shall not cease learning while I live, nor when I arrive in the spirit world, but shall there learn with greater facility; and when I again receive my body (in the Resurrection), I shall learn a thousand times more in a thousand times less time; and then I do not mean to cease learning but shall still continue my researches.”
 
Can you sense the enthusiasm for learning President Young possessed?  There was a divine drive within his core to learn everything he could about the things and places and history and everything above, upon, and beneath God’s earth.  We too should develop an enthusiasm for learning.  The French chemist Louis Pasteur said:
 
“The Greeks have given us one of the most beautiful words in our language, the word enthusiasm, which means ‘a God within.’  Happy is he who bears a God within!”
 
That yearning to learn, that quest for knowledge, that enthusiasm for understanding is divine.  It is Godly.  It is clear evidence of our heritage and our potential.
 
About 25 percent of the missionaries sent to us were not English-speaking.  One of our very shy and humble new missionaries was from a tiny farm in Mexico.  He spoke no English.  Communicating with him was nearly impossible even with a translator.  He was so shy.  From his mission application, and from conversations with his stake president, we found out that he was the only member of the Church in his family and had come on his mission under great persecution from his parents, his mother in particular.  He could hardly read (in Spanish) and had roughly the equivalent of a grade-school education.  A couple of weeks after he arrived, we had to hospitalize him.  His body was riddled with parasites that were robbing him of precious nutrition.  As soon as he was healthy again, we put him back into the field.  He went to work in our Spanish-speaking program.  Within weeks he began to find investigators.  As the months progressed, he became a great missionary and effective leader.  The mission rules require daily gospel study.  He was an obedient missionary and studied hard.  The missionaries loved him.  The investigators loved him.  The members loved him.  Soon he was called as a zone leader.  A year into his mission he was called to serve as a zone leader in an English-speaking zone.  He met that challenge with enthusiasm and energy.
 
I remember watching him at a zone conference as he taught his English-speaking zone members in clear and intelligent English some doctrinal points of missionary work.  He wrote on the chalkboard in well-crafted sentences, in English.  He served the last several months of his mission as one of my assistants. 
 
After his mission, he studied hard and earned his electricians license and his contractors license, started his own company and employs many people. 
 
Again, living the gospel, serving the Lord, becoming a saint awakened the inborn legacy of learning in this wonderful young elder. 
 
Some of you , like him, will be the first members of your family, perhaps in your entire ancestral line to earn a college degree.  From a position of formal education, you are the pioneers.  Let this begin your own family legacy of learning.  And let it expand from here forward without end. 
 
Some of you come from families where that legacy was established and still flourishes.  My parents were educated people.  My father attended this very institution when it was a high school.  He later attended Utah State.  Mother graduated from the U of U and BYU.  Her father, my maternal grandfather, attended this institution when it was a university.  His name was James Nephi Astin.  He had an older brother by the name of John who also graduated from LDS University.  Some of you may have heard of his great grandson, Sean Patrick Astin.  He played characters such as Daniel E. 'Rudy' Ruettiger in “Rudy,” Mikie in “The Goonies,” Marcus the social worker in “Forever Strong,” and Samwise Gamgee, the sidekick of Frodo, in “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy.  Our common ancestor was a man of great integrity and a thirst for knowledge, and he and his wife, my great grandmother, instilled it deeply into the hearts of their posterity.  Never stop learning.
 
My father and mother led by example.  My father was well-versed in the scriptures, history, mechanical engineering, music, etc.  Mother was a student of the arts, music, drama, early childhood education, etc.  Their leisure time was normally spent reading from a constantly growing home library.  And they “encouraged” us to do the same. 
I am grateful for the legacy of learning handed down through the generations by my progenitors.  Valerie and I have tried to foster this legacy with our family.  All of our children have college degrees; some of them have advanced degrees as well.  But for us, one of the precious rewards of parenthood is watching our children instill this legacy in their children, our grandchildren. 
 
Recently, our little 4-year-old, Mia, read some books to her grandpa (me!), and she really “read” them.  A 4-year-old phonetically sounding out the words and then giggling at the humorous story line.  Wow.  I don’t think I could have identified any words or even letters when I was 4.  If you would ask my brother, who is here today, he’d probably tell you that I’m still functionally illiterate right now!
 
But the great purpose of a legacy of learning is threefold; first, to arm us with truth. Truth shines through the darkness of ignorance.  Truth crowds out the evil, confusing lies of the great deceiver.  Truth cleaves to truth.  Truth cannot be denied.
 
Second, learning prepares us for the service the Lord intends for us to perform in this life.  The more learning we obtain, the more useful we can become.  Learning invites knowledge, and knowledge can lead to wisdom.  How desperately we need wisdom today, wisdom in our government, in our public, daily lives, in the Lord’s service, and in our homes and families. 
 
Proverbs 4:
 
Get wisdom, get understanding … forsake her not, and she shall preserve thee:  love her, and she shall keep thee.  Wisdom is the principal thing; therefore get wisdom:  and with all thy getting get understanding.  Exalt her, and she shall promote thee:  she shall bring thee to honor, when thou dost embrace her.  She shall give to thine head an ornament of grace:  a crown of glory shall she deliver to thee. 
 
Third, learning is for our eternal welfare.  Remember Brigham Young’s enthusiastic comment?
 
“I shall not cease learning while I live, nor when I arrive in the spirit world, but shall there learn with greater facility.”
 
President Spencer W. Kimball said:
 
“Of all the treasures of knowledge, the most truly vital is the knowledge of God, of his existence, his powers, his love, and his promises.  Through this knowledge, we learn that our great objective in life is to build character.  In fact, we learn that the building of faith and character is paramount, for character is higher than intellect, and perfect character will be continually rewarded with increased intellect.
 
Thus, our real business on earth is to master self.  And as we master ourselves, we will learn to master the earth and its elements.  Most important, we will learn how to help others overcome and perfect themselves in all ways of living.”
 
President John Taylor prophesied of our legacy of learning with great clarity and power when he said:
 
“You mark my words, and write them down and see if they do not come to pass.  You will see the day that Zion will be far ahead of the outside world in everything pertaining to learning of every kind as we are today in regard to religious matters.”  (Sermon, 20 Sept 1857)
 
So brothers and sisters, as children of the Most High God, we have within us the inherited, genetic proclivity to continually learn.  As members of his Church, we bask in a rich legacy of learning, even in our poverty.  As Latter-day Saints, we enjoy unprecedented access to information that, properly used, will sustain a lifetime of learning, and quickened by the gift of the Holy Ghost, we can learn at an ever-increasing pace.  And if we are wise, we will carefully transfer to our children and their children without end this precious legacy of learning given to us.
 
May we do this, and by doing so, greatly please the Lord.  I testify that the Lord lives, that we are blessed to bask in the light of the restored gospel and enjoy the unbroken order of the prophets from Joseph Smith to Thomas S. Monson, the Lord’s prophet upon the earth this very moment.  May learning be our legacy is my prayer, in the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.
 
President Henry B. Eyring, “Real-Life Education,” from “Education for Real Life,” Ensign, Oct. 2002
President Henry B. Eyring, “Real-Life Education,” from “Education for Real Life,” Ensign, Oct. 2002
The Book of Abraham 1:2
Doctrine and Covenants 88:76-80
President Spencer W. Kimball, First Presidency Message “Seek Learning, Even by Study and Also by Faith,” Ensign, Sept. 1983
Remarks by President Brigham Young, Deseret News, March 14, 1860.  Quoted by Elder Dallin H. Oaks and Kristen M. Oaks, “Learning and Latter-day Saints,” Liahona, April 2009
President Henry B. Eyring, “Real-Life Education,” from “Education for Real Life,” Ensign, Oct. 2002
“Elder Dallin H. Oaks and Kristen M. Oaks, “Learning and Latter-day Saints,” Liahona, April 2009
“Good Teachers Matter,” Ensign, July 1971
Teachings of Presidents of the Church:  Brigham Young [1997], 195.
Rene J. Dubos, Louis Pasteur: Free Lance of Science (Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1950), page 392
Proverbs 4:5-9
Remarks by President Brigham Young, Deseret News, March, 14, 1860.  Quoted by Elder Dallin H. Oaks and Kristen M. Oaks, “Learning and Latter-day Saints,” Liahona, April 2009
President Spencer W. Kimball, First Presidency Message “Seek Learning, Even by Study and Also by Faith,” Ensign, Sept. 1983

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