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Elder David S. Baxter

Shield of David Offers Guidelines for Disciples

Dear Fellow Disciples,

I am immensely grateful for this opportunity to be with you; just to be in your presence, in this historic location, is inspiring.

This building, the second to be constructed on Temple Square, after the Tabernacle, was completed in 1879.  It is something of a Gothic cathedral, laid out in cruciform style, using stones from the same quarry as those for the adjacent temple.  Prophets and apostles have spoken from this pulpit, and above each entrance we find a Star of David motif.

The Star of David, long established as the symbol of Judaism, the Children of Israel, and thus the State of Israel, is also known as “The Shield of David,” a term used to denote the God of Israel.

Today, I will use the concept of “The Shield of David” and its six points as the reference of my remarks.

The first point, and by far the most significant, is my witness that there is a God in Heaven.  He is our Eternal Father, and we are his spirit offspring.  Before our birth into mortality, we lived in his presence and enjoyed daily communion with Him.  We desired to become like Him, and that is also His desire for us.  That is our divine destiny, and is why we came to earth.  It is the very purpose, the “measure,” of our creation.

We came to gain a physical body, as He has.  We came to develop the power of faith, through which the powers of Heaven operate.  We came to demonstrate our loyalty and obedience to Him, even when out of His presence.  He is the epitome of disciplined behavior, and we must have developed the same self-discipline if we are to become like Him.

We came to gain experience, good and ill, that would shape our character, develop emotional, mental and spiritual maturity and sound judgment, and show that we can act, not just be acted upon, for these are all part of God’s character, in his DNA as it were.

We came to establish our own eternal family, as He has done.  This means marriage between a man and a woman, the bringing forth of children, who are also His, as we are.  These spirit children for whom we provide physical bodies, are entitled to birth to a father and mother, and to a family which epitomizes love, goodness, respect, and righteous living.  This is part of becoming like God, our Father.  We are, in effect replicating who He is and what He has.

Committing ourselves to such a family relationship, and giving it eternal efficacy, requires the making and keeping of supernal covenants, which is what we do in a holy temple and why we are so focused on constructing more temples around the world to be readily accessible to more of Father’s children.  In the final analysis, that is the mission and purpose of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

We are intent, using the pattern established by God and His Only Begotten Son in the Flesh, to teach, guide, support, and provide, through Jesus Christ, the means of leading Father’s children back to Him.  This is His plan, and there is no other way back than through His plan.  It is the plan that provides the framework for all of our teachings, practices, our doctrine.  It is the reason why we take the positions we do, and do what we do, however unpopular they may be, or out of fashion they may become.  Frankly, we can do no less.

Wonderfully, Father’s plan does not only hold out the promise of eternal glory, as we become as he is; it also brings the highest degree of happiness and joy we can possibly experience while on earth.  This is why the plan is often referred to as the Plan of Happiness.  The simple truth is that we can only be truly, all-consumingly, happy in this life, if we follow Father’s plan for the happiness of His children.  Of course, it is not easy to do, goodness knows, but it is doable.

As we, step by step, overcome the world, we access the divine source of happiness and goodness.  We drink from the fountain of living water, even the supreme love, the all- embracing strength and support of Jesus Christ, who saves us on earth and in heaven.  This is why we are Christian—true blue, through and through.

Knowing the plan, and following it, provides for us and our nations the greatest pathway to freedom and peace, and strength.  It is, indeed, a fundamental part of the Shield of David, reflecting the reality of the God of Israel, of our God.  Our loyalty and devotion runs first to Him, as was so magnificently patterned by Jesus Christ.

The second part of defense in our “Shield of David,” is to stay true to what we know to be true, come what may.  One great lesson from the account of the children of Israel escaping Egyptian captivity is that it is not enough to leave Egypt, we must also travel to the Promised Land.  Such travel is not easy.  It requires faith, courage, and perseverance.

It took the children of Israel 40 years to journey to the Promised Land.  Now, I have been there; it would not take 40 years, even were you to hop on one leg all the way.  Their problem was that they had a tendency to lose heart, stop, set up camp, and settle.

They moaned and complained at every juncture.  Despite all the miracles they had seen, as soon as anything went wrong, whenever they felt uncomfortable or under attack, they berated poor Moses, “Why have ye brought up the congregation of the Lord into this wilderness. . .wherefore have ye made us to come up out of Egypt to bring us to this evil place?  (Number 19:4,5); causing Moses, at one point, to refer to them as rebels (Numbers 19:10).

We would each do well to ask ourselves how we are faring on our journey.  Have we truly left Egypt behind, or are we still caught up in the captivity of the world?  Are we held captive by our own indecision, or are we liberated by righteous determination?  Looking down, or looking up?  Do we still have one foot in the world, and the other tentatively on the gospel path?  Sitting on the fence is always uncomfortable, and often downright painful.  Or, are both feet firmly set on the way of discipleship, the road of righteous living, pressing forward with faith and hope?

Are we weakened by fear and doubt, or growing stronger in the faith, through relentless resolve, fortified faith, constant courage, decided determination, and solid steadfastness, whatever our circumstances may be; whatever obstacle we face.

Are we faint hearted, and lily-livered, or grounded and settled, constant and immovable, not easily “moved away from the hope of the gospel, which he have heard” (Col 1:23)?

Discipleship is not a summer camp, it is a lifelong hike through thick and thin, joys and pains, successes and disappointments, gladness and grief, understanding and uncertainty, determination and doubt, sometimes friendless, sometimes alone.

Along the way, it is easy to become distracted, derailed even, by the “voices off.”  Lehi’s vision of the Tree of Life, recorded in the Book of Mormon, spoke of those who lost their way because of the ridicule and derision of those identified as being in an “attitude of mocking and pointing their fingers” toward those who were partaking of the fruit, those who were following the path of the gospel, the fruit, the love of God.

Such derision, echoing from the pride of the world, from those whose hearts are not pure, has always been the case.  Alma records that members of the Church in his day were afflicted “with all manner of words,” he called it persecution, from those who were not members of the Church but who resented the humility and progress of those who were (Alma 1:19-21).

So it is today.  We are not only surrounded by the pollutions of the world, we also have detractors, who waste their lives lambasting us with “all manner of words.”  They are the purveyors of hate, deriding our beliefs, our leaders, our history, seeking to lead the humble followers of Christ astray.  They make much noise but achieve so little.  Scripture refers to them as “the servants of sin.”  It is not new, of course.  It is what happened in the pre-mortal realm, and from the very dawn of time.  As history unfolds, none of them will be remembered.  Eternal glory is a high price to pay for their 15 minutes of fame.

There will come a time when they will have to face the tragic truth:  that all along they have been rushing down a dead-end street, on the wrong team, batting for the other side.  Meanwhile, as they do their worst, we, the humble followers of Christ, will continue to do our best, and our Church carries on with its mission.  Brigham Young said, “Every time you kick ‘Mormonism’ you kick it upstairs, you never kick it downstairs” (DBY, 351).  Despite it all, please stay true to the faith; don’t let go.

Perhaps the most poignant verses in all of scripture are those found at the close of the sixth chapter of John.  Thousands of followers had just been miraculously fed, and Jesus then described himself as “the Bread of Life,” teaching that true disciples would never again experience spiritual hunger.  Some found it to be a hard doctrine, perhaps feeling they could not live up to the expectation of discipleship, perhaps some felt it was blasphemy.

Whatever the cause, we read that, “from that time, many of his disciples went back, and walked no more with him.”  Then, and here is the poignancy, said Jesus to the Twelve, “Will ye also go away?” In other words, are you going to desert me too?  Simon Peter magnificently replied, “Lord, to whom shall we go?  Thou hast the words of eternal life.  And we believe and are sure that thou art the Christ, the Son of the Living God”(John 6:66-69).

Peter is often remembered for his denial of Jesus, on the darkest of nights, but I prefer to remember him for this statement of loving loyalty.

President Gordon B. Hinckley related the story of a conversation with a new convert, a handsome, accomplished young man, who tearfully described how he had lost everything when he joined the Church: position, status, employment, family and friends.  Elder Hinckley, as he then was, asked why he remained in the Church if he had lost so much.  The young man said, “Well, it’s true, isn’t it?”  Elder Hinckley responded, “Yes, it’s true,” to which the young man replied, “Then, what else matters?”

As the children of Israel arrived in the land chosen for them, Joshua who had replaced Moses as the Lord’s prophet said, “Now therefore, fear the Lord, and serve him in sincerity and in truth; and put away the gods which your fathers served on the other side of the flood, and in Egypt; and serve ye the Lord.  And if it seem evil unto you to serve the Lord, choose you this day whom ye will serve, whether the gods which your fathers served that were on the other side of the flood, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land ye dwell; but as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord” (Joshua 24:14,15).

“And the people answered and said, God forbid that we should forsake the Lord, to serve other gods. . .The Lord our God will we serve, and his voice will we obey”  (Joshua 24:15,24)

It was the same sentiment to be echoed centuries later by Peter, “to whom shall we go,” and by the young man to Elder Hinckley, “It’s true, isn’t it: then what else matters?”  For each of you, this is the penetrating time of decision.  If not this, what; if not here, where; if not this church, what church; if not Jesus, who; if not this path, which path; if not Father’s Plan, whose plan?

Third in the “Star of David,” the “Shield of David” is obedience to the laws, doctrine, and commandments of the Lord.  The Primary children’s song, “Keep the Commandments” provides this insightful assurance, “In this there is safety, in this there is peace.”

Obedience is one of the laws of Heaven, alongside the virtue of faith.  Echoing from eternity are the commands:  Believe, and, “Obey.”

Speaking of obedience, President James E. Faust, a former member of the First Presidency taught, “In today’s society, the difference between right and wrong is being obscured by loud seductive voices calling for no restraints in human conduct.  They advocate absolute freedom without regard to consequences. . .such behavior is the high road to personal destruction. . . Obedience leads to true freedom.  The more we obey revealed truth, the more we become liberated.”  (General Conference, April 1999)

Further, President Faust stated, “We hear many persuasive voices demanding freedom from restrictions, particularly from moral restraints.  However, we learn from the history of the earth that any successful society has had boundaries. . . Obedience helps us develop the full potential our Heavenly Father desires for us in becoming celestial beings worthy someday to live in his presence.”  (Ibid)

President Thomas S. Monson, in last year’s April General Conference, taught, “There is no need for us, in this enlightened age when the fullness of the gospel has been restored, to sail uncharted seas or to travel unmarked roads in search of truth.  A loving Heavenly Father has plotted our course and provided an unfailing guide—even obedience.  A knowledge of the truth and the answers to our greatest questions come to us as we are obedient to the commandments of God” (General Conference, April 2013).

Some say it is sufficient to simply believe in the Lord, that works are corrupt and not required.  They advocate the faith part of the heavenly equation; Believe, while ignoring the second part, which is the first law of Heaven:  Obey.

It is hard to understand how such a conclusion can be drawn from the very teachings that fell from the lips of the Savior himself.  It was He who said, “If ye continue in my word, then ye are my disciples indeed” (John 8:31).  He also taught, “If any man will do his will, he shall know of the doctrine, whether it be of God, or whether I speak of myself” (John 7:17).  In brilliant clarity, and in words that should remove all doubt, in his magnificent Sermon on the Mount, he taught “Not everyone that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the Kingdom of Heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven”  (Matt 7:21).

As we prove to be obedient, we are entitled to all of the blessings of Heaven.  There is no substitute for straightforward, non-compromising obedience to God’s law.  In this there truly is safety and peace.

The fourth point of our star, our “Shield of David” is, I would suggest, living good and productive lives.  The world should be a better place because you are in it.  Our hope is that academic excellence—“the glory of God is intelligence, or in other words, light and truth” (D&C 93:36)—matched with discipleship, doing good and being good will become the golden threads that will be woven through the tapestry of your lives.  Gospel-centered education makes all the difference in the world.

We are each blessed with talents, capacities, abilities, and power.  The success of our individual lives depends on how we use them, not for the benefit of ourselves alone but for the blessing of all mankind.

Fifth:  Welcome Adversity

A favored hymn asks, “Have I done any good in the world today? Have I helped anyone in need?  Have I cheered up the sad and made someone feel glad? If not, I have failed indeed” (Hymns, 223).  These are good questions to ask of ourselves.

We would do well to not let the vicissitudes of life overwhelm us.  Not everything we want will happen; we will have failures.  Our reactions to life’s events not only demonstrate our character, they also determine our future, they shape our lives.

Some years ago I had the privilege of working with Benjamin Zander on leadership development.  He is the founder and conductor of the Boston Philharmonic Orchestra and teaches young musicians.  At the beginning of each year, he tells his students that they already have an A, and what happens after that is up to them; they should each consider themselves to be A students.  He also encourages them to embrace what he calls, “the art of possibilities,” using adversity and mistakes to develop our capacity.  For example, he teaches young musicians to react to an error by saying “wonderful” – “fantastic” and then use it to sharpen their performance.  He speaks of one young cellist who came to him in tears, distraught at having been deserted by her boyfriend, the “man of her dreams.”  His reaction was to throw up his hands and say, “Wonderful, now you will be able to play [a certain piece of music] with the needed empathy and feeling.”

Being successful and productive in life is not dependent on what we do when all is going brilliantly well but what we do when challenges come our way.  Life is full of disappointments, but that does not mean you have to be one of them. American author, Zig Ziglar wrote, “Your attitude, not your aptitude, will determine your altitude.”

My wife and I grew up in the same small poor little branch of the Church in England.  When she was 16 she looked around at the available boys, and felt that the probability was that she would not be married, or have children; she somehow missed me.  Then, a fundamental, life-changing decision, in her own words, she determined, “If it is my blessing to remain single, rather than my blessing to be married, I will be the happiest, most positive, single woman in the Church; if it is my blessing to remain childless, rather than my blessing to bear children, I will be the best mother I can be to other people’s children.”  She later made the astute observation that, “If you are miserable outside of marriage, you will be miserable in marriage.”

This is the kind of attitude that determines altitude. 

In a commendable book of the same name, authors Paul Stoltz and Erik Weihenmayer set out the principles of what they call, “The Adversity Advantage.”* They write of how some levels of high attainment are only obtained by the overcoming of some great adversity.

They share the inspiring accounts of those beset by adversity that would cause most men to shrink, who nevertheless went on to do incredible things:  Terry Fox, whose right leg was amputated due to bone cancer when he was 18, yet ran across Canada to raise money for cancer research.  There is Erik Weihenmayer, one of the authors, who despite being blind, became an accomplished mountain climber, including ascending 20,000 feet to reach the peak of Mount McKinley in Alaska.  He said,

“To be blunt, adversity is utterly heartless.  It is completely indifferent to our success or failure.  It does not care about our human definition of fairness or justice, and it would just as soon crush us as propel us through its gauntlet. Or, if harnessed, it can take you farther than you could otherwise go.  The exciting news is that no matter how mundane or irritating your hassles may be, they can be used for dramatic gains.”  (pxxx)

These words from George Bernard Shaw are quoted, “This is the true joy in life. . .being used for a purpose recognized by yourself as a mighty one. . .being thoroughly worn out before you are thrown on the scrap heap. . .being a force of nature instead of a feverish little clod of ailments and grievances complaining that the world will not devote itself to making you happy.”

Vince Lombardi said, “I firmly believe that any man’s finest hour, his greatest fulfillment to all he holds dear, is the moment he has worked his heart out in a good cause and lies exhausted on the field of battle victorious.”

Stephen Covey’s foreword includes the statement, “Setbacks are inevitable, but misery is a choice.”  Covey also quotes this statement from Dr. Viktor Frankl:  “Between stimulus and response, there is a space.  In that space lies our freedom to choose our response.  In those choices lie our growth and our happiness.”(ix,xii)

Britain’s wartime prime minister, Winston Churchill, said, “Success is never final.  Failure is never fatal.  It is courage that counts,” and, “Never, never, never give up.”

We do not generally welcome adversity, but we can determine what to do when it comes.  Four years ago, I was diagnosed with two sizable brain tumors, one the size of a tennis ball, which had to be surgically removed, followed by radiation and later chemotherapy.  It was sudden, unexpected, and life-changing.  I was frustratingly out of commission for the best part of a year.  There was melancholy and dismay, even despair at times.  Some cognitive capacity was lost, including the hundreds of scriptures and thoughts I had memorized over the years.  I had to rememorize, retrain and reprogram my brain, which is still a work in progress. 

I would not have chosen any of this, but it has also been a rich learning experience.

I have come to develop greater understanding of the Savior’s Atonement, recognize miracles, attach greater value to relationships, embrace a new sense of ministry, of being a shepherd more than an administrator, and much, much more.  Along the way, I was inspired to write two books, on hope, and on peace, both lent a greater degree of authenticity because of my own experiences.

A favored quotation comes from Michelangelo.  When asked how he had managed to produce a magnificent statue of an angel out of marble, he said, “I saw the angel in the marble, and carved until I set him free.”

If we allow him to do so, the Lord will use our life challenges to shape our character, to carve until our divine potential is set free.

So, determine to be productive in life; resolve to use your education and spiritual experience to make the world a better place; work, work, work:  be a giver, not a taker; welcome and learn from every adversity.  Be strong; it is a very sure defense.

The sixth, and final, point of our “Star of David,” the “Shield of David,” I would suggest is the absolute necessity of following Jesus Christ in every aspect of life.  He is our pattern; he showed the way.  His invitation to the first disciples, later apostles, Peter, Andrew, James and John, was “come, follow me!”  This was not a vague invitation to fall in behind and walk in his general direction.

It was a divine call to be as he is; to think as he thinks; to act as he acts; to speak as he speaks; to strengthen and bless others and establish the Church, as he has done; to put God first in everything, as he has always done; to work, serve and function not for our own status, position, and glory but to accomplish the Father’s purpose in bringing about the salvation of all mankind, with all glory going to him.  That is what Jesus has devoted all, his entire life, his entire interest to accomplish.

We are under obligation to do the same.

Dear young people, fellow members of Father’s family, your lives will be greatly enhanced, you will find hope, peace, and safety as you remember who you are, who and what you represent, and act accordingly.

Be loyal to the God who gave us life, and fulfill his plan; fill the measure of your creation; be constant and true, come what may; obey the commands and demands of the gospel; lead productive lives, strengthened by adversity; and follow Jesus Christ in all things.  Then, you will be blessed by the Shield of David, the Star of David, even the God of Israel.

*The Adversity Advantage,  Simon and Schuster, New York, 2010.


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