Hearken unto the Word of God
Good morning, my dear brothers and sisters and friends. What a glorious morning! Thank you for coming to this beautiful, holy, and sacred building to be a part of this devotional today. For those who are visiting here on Temple Square and have joined us, we also welcome you and hope you enjoy the Spirit that has been invited here this morning. I’m grateful for the warm welcome and the generous introduction from your beloved President Richards. What a great friend, what a great example he has been to Elizabeth and myself and our family for many, many years. I am grateful for his sweet companion as well. I’m grateful for your administration and your faculty, and for each of you making a special decision to come and to feel of the spirit that is associated with the LDS Business College, to be educated and to learn those things that are important in your lives and that will make all the difference as you go forward in the future. I’m honored to be here and to be a part of this special devotional here this morning.
Some three months after the Israelites fled out of Egypt with the help of the Lord, Moses ascended up Mount Sinai, where he received revelation. There a marvelous thing transpired. The Lord allowed the people not only to see His fire and His smoke but also to actually hear His voice. Now, wouldn’t we all agree that this would have been a life-changing experience? Can we imagine being an eye-witness to what occurred? Surely, the instruction given would have been something that none of us could ever forget.
And yet, when Moses returned the second time to be tutored for forty days on the mount with the fire and the smoke still in sight, the people choose this time to gather up precious gold earrings and to melt them down and to fashion them into a golden calf to worship. This they did directly rejecting the Lord’s own words to them and His commandment that they had just received from Him: “Thou shalt have no other gods before me.”
How could this have happened? How could what they had seen and heard just days before not been able to be internalized into their minds and hearts? We read of this account and shrug our shoulders, saying, “How could this have happened? How could these people have been so foolish and short-sighted?” But is it any wonder that the Lord would have His people wander in the wilderness for the next forty years to change their eyes and ears and minds and hearts?
How like the children of Israel are we? Receiving instruction and commandments from the Lord, we bristle at correction. We give our own counsel in response. We question the instruction, deciding we have a much more enlightened view. Jesus said, “Perceive ye not yet, neither understand? have ye your heart yet hardened? Having eyes, see ye not? and do ye not remember?”
My wife, Elizabeth, remembers when she was growing up, her father would often wink at her as she was about to leave their home and he would say, “Don’t take any wooden nickels.” As a young girl, this used to bother her because she didn’t know of any other family that parted in this way. She was aware that other families had mottos that they repeated as they would come and go such as “Remember who you are and what you stand for,” or “Do your best.” However, later in life, she found out what a wooden nickel was and what her father’s gentle warning was all about.
You see, during the great depression, some people took simple wood and carved it into the shape of a coin and painted it silver. They tried and often succeeded in passing off worthless wood scraps as something of real value.
My father-in-law’s counsel, “Don’t take any wooden nickels,” is worth internalizing. My wife, Elizabeth, and I now know more of what he was trying to tell us. Be on the lookout for that which is false. Be vigilant and on guard against anyone who would deceive you. Do not accept or hold the counterfeit. Don’t take any wooden nickels. Instead, seek that which is true. Accept and hold onto that which is of real and lasting worth.
As we study the Master’s life, His teachings and example, we see that He has given us all things that pertain unto life and godliness. Jesus Christ has called us to glory and virtue and has given unto us exceeding great and precious promises, that by these . . . we might be partakers of the divine nature.
It was the Apostle Paul who recorded the words of the living Christ in a letter to the Hebrews, where the Lord again spoke to the House of Israel and the House of Judah saying,
When I took them by the hand and to lead them out of the land of Egypt; because they continued not in my covenant . . . I regarded them not
This is my covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days. . . I will put my laws into their mind, and write them in their hearts: and I will be to them a God, and they shall be to me a people.
Words mean something. The law means something. What is in our minds, what is written in our heart, and how we choose to act mean everything.
I would like to tell you about a man who worked all his life with words and valued them greatly. His name was Noah Webster, and you may have already heard about him. Noah Webster was a brilliant mind and a brilliant educator who knew 27 languages. As a journalist and a lawyer, he knew the importance of words and their shared understanding in order to make communication most effective. It was Noah Webster that worked to compile his 1828 dictionary entitled An American Dictionary of the English Language. There, in this two-volume dictionary, were 12,000 words and 40,000 definitions. However, within this huge undertaking, there was only one word that Noah Webster ever claimed to have coined himself. That word was demoralize, and he defined it as “demoralize: to corrupt or undermine the morals of; to destroy or lessen the effect of moral principles on; to render corrupt in morals.”
Noah Webster knew the importance of understanding the meaning of words. In Jacob 4 we read: “For the Spirit speaketh the truth and lieth not. Wherefore, it speaketh of things as they really are, and of things as they really will be.”
Noah Webster defined the word truth in 1828 as “conformity to fact or reality; honesty; virtue; exactness; conformity to rule.” To do truth is to practice what God commands. Today, however, if we pull up the definition of truth from, say, the Urban Dictionary on our phone or computer, the definition pops up as follows: “Truth: something which would probably upset a great many people if it were made known and made public. [Example:] Truthfully speaking, most people have no idea of what the truth actually is.”
Some 33 years ago, during the harsh winter of 1983, the snowpack levels were at a record high and the temperatures were at a record low. Just months before, we had moved into our home in the foothills of the Salt Lake Valley. The deer and elk herds were starving to death from exhaustion and lack of food. A call went out from the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources for anyone that could assist to feed the weakened animals, with one requirement: once you started feeding them, you must continue throughout the winter.
It was not uncommon to drive our neighborhood streets and see hay bales that had been placed on corners for the starving animals. Yet, these food stations often lured the animals out of the hills where they became easy prey for healthy dogs to chase them down.
Now, I spent a lot of time in my youth on my grandparents’ farm, so I spoke with my wife, and we agreed on a plan to build two large troughs wherein we could place feed material high up on the mountainside. At this time, we had a herd of over 70 deer literally camped behind our home. There were dozens of does, fawns, and bucks.
And then something wonderful happened. A neighbor, hearing of what we had undertaken, offered to bring one of his commercial feed trucks with a front-end boom discharge. He filled the entire back of our garage with feed pellets. Every morning and night, my wife and I shoveled and then dragged over 200 pounds of pellets up the hillside to the troughs for the waiting, weakened deer. That was one of the longest winters of my memory, driving down the hill and seeing the Wildlife personnel picking up the frozen dead animals. But of our little herd, we didn’t lose one—not the buck with five points on one side of his rack and six points on the other side, or another buck missing half his front left leg; not the does, some of which were so weak that at first they laid next to the troughs and never even moved as we poured in the feed pellets. Gradually, they all grew stronger, and as the harsh weather subsided, they returned to the mountains.
Now, for the rest of the story. About one and a half years ago, I learned that in the Salt Lake Valley in 1983, only two deer herds survived, ours being one of them. The Division of Wildlife had conducted dozens of autopsies on the dead animals from other herds, and this is what they found: the majority of animals had died with their stomachs full. Hay had filled them but not sustained them. These animals were satiated, yet they had not been nourished. They had left the safety of the mountains only to perish below.
Now, as the storms rage around us and Satan amasses his forces, you and I must see things as they really were, and are, and will be, in order that the things we partake of and the places where we stand will not lead us to perish. We need to guard ourselves against filling our lives with emptiness or that which is of no worth. We must watch that we are not deceived. Instead, we must choose to live a life filled with the Spirit, feasting on the word of God, focusing on eternal truth, and worshipping in the mountain of the Lord.
Our beloved President Boyd K. Packer testified:
I seldom use the word absolute. It seldom fits. I use it now–twice. Because of the Fall, the Atonement was absolutely essential for resurrection to proceed and overcome mortal death.
The Atonement was absolutely essential for men to cleanse themselves from sin and overcome the second death, which is the spiritual death, which is separation from our Father in Heaven. For the scriptures tell us, seven times they tell us, that no unclean thing may enter the presence of God.
How many times has the Savior said, Come, “follow me, and do the things which ye have seen me do?” Do you remember these words?
“Feast upon that which perisheth not.”
“Press forward, feasting upon the word of Christ.”
If men keep God’s commandments, he nourishes them. God strengthens them.
“Blessed are all they who do hunger and thirst after righteousness, for they shall be filled with the Holy Ghost.”
“And all thy children shall be taught of the Lord; and great shall be the peace of thy children.”
Amos, an Old Testament prophet, spoke to the people of his day, pleading with them to remember God and keep His commandments. Instead, they loved riches and oppressed the poor, and nothing seemed to humble them. Finally, these are the words he prophesied, recorded in Amos 8: “Behold, the days come, saith the Lord God, that I will send a famine in the land, not a famine of bread, nor a thirst of water, but of hearing the words of the Lord.”
In 1910 a young Italian preacher in New York City named Don Vincenzo di Francesca found a book on top of a barrel of ashes. Curious, he says,
I picked up the book, and knocked it against the side of the barrel to shake the ashes from its pages. As I stood there with the book in my hand, the fury of the wind turned the pages, and one by one the names of Nephi, Mosiah, Alma, Moroni, and Isaiah appeared before my eyes.
Since the cold wind was bitter, I hurriedly wrapped the soiled book in a newspaper and continued my journey. Back in my room, I carefully turned the torn pages. What could be the name of the church that taught such doctrine in words so easily understood? The cover of the book and the title page were missing. I read the declaration of witnesses in the opening pages and was strongly impressed by the strength of their testimonies. But there was no other clue to the book’s identity.
I purchased some rubbing alcohol and cotton from the drug store beneath my lodging, and began cleaning the soiled pages. Then for several hours I read what was written in the book. When I had read chapter 10 of the book of Moroni, I locked the door of my room and with the book held in my hands, I knelt down and asked God, the Eternal Father, in the name of His Son Jesus Christ, to tell me if the book was of God.
As I prayed, I felt my body becoming cold, then my heart began to pound, and a feeling of warmth and gladness came over me and filled me with such joy that I cannot find words to express. I knew that the words of the book came from God. I continued my services in the parish, but my preaching was tinged with the new words I had found in the book.
The members of my congregation were so interested in my words that they became dissatisfied with the sermons of my colleagues, and they asked them why they did not print the sweet arguments of Don Vincenzo. This was the beginning of troubles for me. My colleagues became angry with me.
Don Vincenzo was called before a Committee of Censure for disciplinary action. They instructed him to burn the book, saying it was of the devil. Don Vincenzo replied that the book was the word of God. He declared, “If I were to burn the book, I would displease God. I would rather go out of the congregation of the church, rather than offend Him.”
The council dropped the matter until 1914, when he was again instructed to burn the book.
In reply, I stated I could not deny the words of the book, nor would I burn it, since in doing so I would offend God. I said I looked forward with joy to the time when the church to which the book belonged would be made known to me and I would become part of it.
The council responded by stripping him of his position of pastor of the church. Three weeks later, he was excommunicated. In 1914, he was drafted into the Italian army, and he was involved in action during World War I in Europe.
Remembering the lessons of the book I had read, I related to some of the men in my company the story of the people of Ammon, how they refused to shed the blood of their brothers and buried their arms, rather than be guilty of so great crimes. The chaplain reported me to the colonel, and as a punishment, I had a ten-day sentence of bread and water with the order that I was to speak no more of the book and its stories.
Don Vincenzo was readmitted into his church back in New York after the war. They sent him to New Zealand and Australia on a mission. As he taught the people there, he continued to share the truths from the book without a cover. His companion reported him, and “I was cut off from the church forever. Soon after, I returned to Italy.”
In 1930, he accidentally saw an entry in a French dictionary. It was for the word Mormon, and he read the entry carefully. It stated that a Mormon church had been established in 1830, and that this church operated a university at Provo, Utah. That was all. But it was the first clue of where the book without a cover might have come from.
Don Vincenzo wrote a letter to the president of the university, which later brought correspondence from President Heber J. Grant and Elder John A. Widstoe, who was president of the European Mission. They sent Don Vincenzo a Book of Mormon in Italian, and a pamphlet telling the story of Joseph Smith and the Restoration.
At long last I had learned the rest of the story begun so long ago when, guided by the hand of God, I found the torn book lying on top of a barrel of ashes on a street in New York City.
Don Vincenzo sought baptism, but missionaries were unable to reach him because of the war that now was raging in Sicily and would later be in Europe. For the next 13 years he had no contact with the Church, but he remained faithful and continued to share his understandings from the scriptures with others. Finally, in 1951, 41 years after picking up the book without a cover, he was baptized. It was the first baptism in Sicily, as far as we know.
Five years later, he was able to receive his endowment in the Swiss Temple. “At last to be in the presence of my Heavenly Father,” he testified, “I felt I had now proved faithful in my Second Estate. After having searched for and found the true church, by means of an unknown book that I found so many years ago, lying on an open barrel of ashes in the city of New York.”
You and I have access to the words of the Lord and the truth therein. In Doctrine and Covenants 123, you and I have been instructed, “It is an imperative duty that we owe to all the rising generation, and to all the pure in heart—For there are many yet on the earth . . . who are only kept from the truth because they know not where to find it.”
You and I do not have to rely on the changing re-definitions of the world. In Doctrine and Covenants 5 we read: “Whosoever believeth on my words, them will I visit with the manifestation of my Spirit; and they shall be born of me, even of water and of the Spirit.”
You and I can read the words in Helaman 5: “And they did remember his words; and therefore they went forth, keeping the commandments of God, to teach the word of God among all the people.”
It was five years after Noah Webster published his 1828 dictionary that the Lord revealed to the Prophet Joseph Smith His definition of truth as recorded in the 93rd section of the Doctrine and Covenants:
And truth is knowledge of things as they are, and as they were, and as they are to come. . . . The Spirit of truth is of God. . . And no man receiveth a fulness unless he keepeth his commandments. He that keepeth his commandments receiveth truth and light. . . . The glory of God is intelligence, or, in other words, light and truth.
Joseph Smith, the prophet of the Restoration, in wanting to know the truth, went to the source. Having faith, he prayed to God. You and I can do this also, with a promise that our prayer will be heard and answered.
I testify that we can hear the word of the Lord from our living prophet, Thomas S. Monson, who has taught: “As the Savior instructed His early Apostles, so He instructs you and me, ‘Follow thou me.’” President Monson continued:
The knowledge which we seek, the answers for which we yearn, and the strength which we desire today to meet the challenges of a complex and changing world can be ours when we willingly obey the Lord’s commandments. . . . “He that keepeth [God’s] commandments receiveth truth and light, until he is glorified in truth and knoweth all things.”
You and I can obtain this light and truth following the promise from an ancient prophet, one who had selflessly served, had been hunted, and had seen his people destroyed. Moroni’s words to you and me are as follows:
And when ye shall receive these things, I would exhort you that ye would ask God, the Eternal Father, in the name of Christ, if these things are not true; and if ye shall ask with a sincere heart, with real intent, having faith in Christ, he will manifest the truth of it unto you, by the power of the Holy Ghost.
And by the power of the Holy Ghost, you may know the truth of all things.
I humbly add my testimony and witness that God is our eternal, loving Heavenly Father. He sent His Only Begotten Son, our Savior and Redeemer, to this earth to descend below all things and to rise above all things through His atoning sacrifice, to give us the greatest of all gifts—salvation, exaltation, and eternal life—through His merits, His mercy, and His grace.
God has placed prophets on the earth to instruct us in all dispensations of time. I testify that Joseph Smith was the prophet of the Restoration, who restored The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and brought forth the Book of Mormon: Another Testament of Jesus Christ, which contains the words of the Lord.
I testify that we have a living prophet today, President Thomas S. Monson, who holds all the keys to lead, guide, and direct Jesus Christ’s Church here on the earth today. Each of us has the privilege to invite others to come unto Christ by helping them to receive the restored gospel through faith in Jesus Christ and His Atonement, repentance, baptism, receiving the gift of the Holy Ghost, and enduring to the end.
As we prepare for this upcoming general conference, we have the opportunity to hear the words of the Lord from prophets, seers, and revelators. Let us have eyes to see and ears to hear and hearts and minds that align with the will and the words of the Lord. I say these things humbly and gratefully in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.
 Exodus 20:3.
 Mark 8:17–18.
 Hebrews 8:9–10.
 Jacob 4:13.
 Boyd K. Packer, “Atonement, Agency, Accountability,” Apr. 1988 General Conference.
 2 Nephi 31:12.
 2 Nephi 9:51.
 2 Nephi 31:20.
 See Jacob 5:75.
 3 Nephi 12:6.
 Isaiah 54:13.
 Amos 8:11.
 Paraphrase of the story. See Vincenzo di Francesca, “I Will Not Burn the Book!” Ensign, Jan. 1988.
 Doctrine and Covenants 123:11–12.
 Doctrine and Covenants 5:16.
 Helaman 5:14.
 Doctrine and Covenants 93:36.
 Thomas S. Monson, “Obedience Brings Blessings,” Apr. 2013 General Conference.
 Moroni 10:4–5.
 See Kim B. Clark, “Eyes to See and Ears to Hear,” Oct. 2015 General Conference.