Thank you, Brother Decker and BC Voices, that was beautiful. Ephraim, thank you for that wonderful testimony.
It is truly an honor and a privilege to be here this morning with each one of you, to have this opportunity to be with you today in this devotional setting. Surprisingly, I did have some family show up, and I think they just wanted to see if I really, actually, did work for an institution of higher learning, which was probably never in anyone’s thoughts that this would ever happen. I am grateful for them being here and for each one of you. I am grateful for feeling your love and am grateful for your example and influence in my life.
I am particularly grateful for those of you who are members of the City Creek 2nd Ward. Words cannot express how much my wife and I love each one of you and how you bless our lives on a daily basis! I am also confident that you are now tempted to leave thinking, “I have had enough of Bishop Richards!” If there is a mass exodus, it would not be surprising.
I’m grateful for the counsel we received last week from Elder Soares. Each of us does have access to that GPS that he referred to. That GPS will not lead us astray.
A theme that we have in our ward is to help everyone feel the love of Christ. In Matthew, the Savior teaches us this great example and this principle. He says (Matthew 18:11-14):
11 For the Son of man is come to save that which was lost.
12 How think ye? if a man have an hundred sheep, and one of them be gone astray, doth he not leave the ninety and nine, and goeth into the mountains, and seeketh that which is gone astray?
13 And if so be that he find it, verily I say unto you, he rejoiceth more of that sheep, than of the ninety and nine which went not astray.
14 Even so it is not the will of your Father which is in heaven, that one of these little ones should perish.
In today’s world, we get caught up, and it is easy to get caught up in the mindset of self-gratification. As I meet with returned missionaries who find themselves struggling, together we frequently discover that one of the main causes of their struggles is that they have forgotten their purpose.
A missionary’s purpose is “to invite others to come unto Christ by helping them receive the restored gospel through faith in Jesus Christ and His Atonement, repentance, baptism by immersion, receiving the gift of the Holy Ghost and enduring to the end.” Everything that one does as a missionary truly represents what it means to be that capable and trusted disciple of Christ. Your focus in prayer, study, fasting and work is singular and always on others.
When we return from our missions, all of the sudden we feel it necessary to focus on ourselves. Who should I date? Where should I go to school? What should I study? What career path do I want to follow? And, while each of these questions are important and essential to answer, we forget that the purpose behind the achievement of each one of these items is to become capable and trusted disciples of Christ, and to be able to serve the Lord by serving our fellow men and women.
I would like for each one of us to look around the congregation this morning. As you look around, I would ask you to consider those that you know who may not be here, yet they could be here. Or maybe who should be here. Who would benefit from feeling the Spirit in their lives? Do we truly strive to be capable and trusted disciples of Christ by following His example and always looking out for those around us?
If I may, I would like to share a personal experience that had a significant impact on my life. I was born in Spokane Washington. Our family had lived in Spokane for a number of years and never imagined that we would ever move from Spokane. To me, it was the Celestial Kingdom on earth!
I had wonderful friends. I had grown up with them literally from the ages of 2 and 3 years old. We were inseparable. If there was fun to be found, we found it. Likewise, if there was trouble to be found, we found that as well!
At the age of 13, between my seventh and eighth grade years of school, my father was transferred to the corporate headquarters of Caterpillar tractor. Their headquarters were in Peoria, Illinois.
When I received word that we were moving, it was one of the saddest days of my life. While I was only 13 years old, my entire life experience to that point had occurred in Spokane. Great friendships, wonderful associations and all of those experiences that you can only experience as a young boy, I experienced in Spokane.
The vast majority of my time was involved in athletics. I loved sports and was actively engaged in baseball and basketball. I remember I could not wait for the fall of my eighth-grade year where I would have the opportunity to play football for the first time. In Spokane, there was no organized football until the eighth grade. Now even that opportunity was taken away.
Not only were we going to be moving more than 1,000 miles away from my comfort zone, I felt like my dream of playing football with my friends was crushed. For the first time in my life, I felt so alone. I can still clearly see the vision that I had while looking out of the back window of our car as we drove away from our home in Spokane, seeing all of my friends on their bikes waving goodbye, with each one of us crying.
As we traveled to Peoria, I remember experiencing humidity for the first time in my life as we stopped for gas in Des Moines, Iowa. It hit me like a ton of bricks. That was only the first of many experiences that would I was about to have in my new world.
A few weeks after we arrived to our new home in Peoria, I found out that they had organized football, similar to Little League baseball or soccer, not associated with the school. Finally, I felt I had something to be excited about.
On the day that we could sign up for football, my parents took me to our school gym where we filled out all of the paperwork, collected all of my football gear, and I couldn’t wait to get started. As we were walking out of the gym with all of my equipment, my mom noticed the game schedule on the table near the exit. She went over and picked up the schedule.
As we continued walking to the car, my mom noticed that each one of our games was on a Sunday. When this was discovered, we stopped, and my parents looked at me and asked the question that all of us dread as children when we already know the answer we are supposed to give. They said, “Mark, what do you want to do?” I obviously wanted to play. And, I knew the choice I had to make.
My parents had always taught us correct principles, and they also allowed us to exercise agency. I now know what a difficult thing that can be as a parent. In fact, I remember thinking for a split second how much fun it would be to play football and truly have a dream come true. And then I turned around, walked back into the gym, returned all of the equipment that I had just checked out, picked up the check we had just given to the organization to pay for the football season, walked back out to our car, began to cry, and drove home with my parents.
I know that there are actually many among us who feel as I felt. You have left your homes, your countries, your culture. You may feel completely lost in a new environment and that many of your dreams may not be recognized that you grew up with. As if I had left all of my dreams in Spokane for a very unknown and uncomfortable future, I know that often times you too may feel that way.
Knowing that I was not able to play football, I decided I would now wait to try out for the basketball team. At that time, the competitive difference between basketball in Illinois versus that in Spokane, Washington, was pretty dramatic.
In Spokane, as a seventh grader, I was able to compete relatively well with the sophomores in high school. That doesn’t say a lot about the talent of sophomores in high school in Spokane, but I share that as a benchmark for comparison. In Illinois, some of the best basketball players in the nation were produced. There was a dramatic difference from that I experienced in Spokane.
I remember when school started and I had no friends. I literally knew no one in the school, and I would sit in my classes feeling lost and alone.
One day, at the end of my geography class, my teacher, Ray McCabe, approached me. He asked me if I had a minute to visit. He noticed that I always seemed to be by myself and asked how I was settling in to the new school and the new environment. I told him that since our move from Spokane I really had not had the opportunity to meet many of the kids, and that the adjustment had been fairly difficult, but I was making progress. He asked me if I liked sports. I told him that I loved sports. He said, “You look athletic, why are you not playing football?” I responded by saying, “I would love to be playing football, but, I am a Mormon, and we don’t play sports on Sunday.”
He then asked me if I played basketball. I responded by telling him that I did. He asked me if I was planning to try out for the school’s basketball team, and I told him that I was. He then asked me what I knew about Illinois basketball. I told him that the only thing I knew was that Illinois produces some of the best basketball players in the country.
He confirmed what I already knew and that is that the level of competition was very high and asked me if I would like some help preparing for tryouts. I told him that I would love any help possible. He would probably be arrested for this now, but he offered to meet me in the gym every day after school to work with me on a variety of drills.
Each day after school Mr. McCabe would meet me. He would meet me in the gym and we would spend an hour everyday, and he would feed me the ball for jump shot, after jump shot, after jump shot. He ran me through defensive drills that I never knew existed. He also introduced me to lifting weights, which was unheard of in Spokane.
Over the course of the two months that I spent with Mr. McCabe in the gym preparing for tryouts, my knowledge of the game, and how to truly improve my skills, dramatically changed. I also felt like I finally had a friend, other than my parents, who I could connect with. Unfortunately, he was many years older than I was!
Finally, in November, basketball tryouts started. Many of the players on the basketball team were also on the football team, and I really didn’t know many of them because they were so busy playing football. But, they were also excellent basketball players.
For the first time since we had moved, I was now exposed to a much higher level of competition than I had ever experienced before. These players were quicker, stronger and simply more athletic than any players I had ever played against. About a month into the season, after a lot of hard work - first I made the team fortunately, thanks to Ray McCabe’s help - and about a month into the season, I became a starter on the team and was once again in heaven!
I truly believe that none of this would’ve been possible without one reaching out to a young man who was struggling, offering friendship and assistance to help me feel welcome. Ray McCabe changed my life!
I have never stopped thinking about Ray McCabe and the impact he had on my life. In fact, about five years ago I was sharing this experience in a stake conference and I had tried multiple ways to reach Ray McCabe, just to express to him how grateful I was for the influence he had on me in my life, but I was never successful in actually finding Ray McCabe.
The next morning was a Monday morning, I showed up at the Mission Office and on my desk there was an envelope that just said President Richards on the front of it. I opened the envelope and it was a printout from a search for a Ray McCabe in Peoria, Illinois. On the printout there were four or five phone numbers, and all of the personal information that I saw looked like it might be the same Ray McCabe.
Later that day as I was driving, I decided to call some of those numbers to see if perhaps I might be able to reach him. The first three numbers no longer existed. But, when I called the fourth number an individual answered the phone. I asked, “Is this Ray McCabe?” He said that it was. I asked him if he was the same Ray McCabe that taught geography at East Peoria junior high in the 70’s? He said that it was. I said to him, “You probably won’t remember me.” When I paused he said, “You are Mark Richards.” I asked him in amazement, "How did you know?" He responded by saying, “I have caller ID!”
At that point I got very emotional, and I expressed my appreciation for all that he had done for me as a young man. I told him that I thought of him frequently and have never forgotten the influence for good he had in my life at a time when I felt so lonely, and so lost.
He responded by saying, “Mark, my wife and I frequently think of you and your family as well. The example that you and your family set for us through your commitment to your religious beliefs is a story that I too have shared.” Ray and his wife were devout Catholics and truly lived their religion. Wonderful people.
A few weeks ago, our daughter Josie was sealed in the Draper Temple. The council that was given to each one of us who were present was such a great reminder of who we are. Elder Donald Hallstrom performed the sealing, and he reminded each one of us that above all else, we are a child of God. And, remembering who we are should influence the choices we make in every area of our lives. And when we do feel down, recognizing that He is there and mindful of us.
When we were baptized, we received the marvelous blessing of forgiveness of those mistakes which we had made in the past, and we were symbolically reborn as we came up out of the water. We were a new, and completely clean individual in the eyes of our God.
Additionally, we made covenants at that baptism. We made a covenant with our Heavenly Father to take upon ourselves the name of Jesus Christ, to recognize Jesus Christ as our Savior and Redeemer, and follow Him by keeping his commandments for the rest of our lives. Each Sunday, we have the opportunity to renew those covenants by partaking of the sacrament. In fact, the ordinance of the sacrament is the only ordinance which we repeat for ourselves each week.
Frequently, individuals will say that we are a volunteer church. I too believe that we are a volunteer church. We volunteered to be baptized. When we volunteered, and when we were baptized, we made a covenant to take upon ourselves the Savior’s name and keep his commandments.
In fact, I would suggest that we aren’t really a volunteer church. I believe we are a covenant making people. Once we became that covenant individual, we no longer necessarily remained volunteers to build the kingdom of God. We made covenants that we would do so by following our Savior and keeping His commandments.
In fact, for those who have been Endowed, we have made the covenant to give all of our time, and our talent, and everything that the Lord has given us towards the building of the kingdom of God. As we think of those covenants, we are reminded of the importance of becoming like the Savior. It is our duty!
In chapter 6 of Preach My Gospel, we study the attributes of the Savior. To keep the covenant to follow Him, it is important for us to recognize the attributes that we can incorporate into our lives to become like Him.
Those attributes include having faith. Faith that Jesus Christ truly is our Savior and Redeemer, and that our Heavenly Father‘s plan actually applies to each one of us. We also are reminded of the attribute of hope, which creates that constant desire to do good, and that the Lord will fulfill the promises he made to us in those covenants we have made.
The next attribute that we study is that of charity and love. We are taught that Charity is “the pure love of Christ” (Moroni 7:47). It includes God’s eternal love for all of His children. We are to seek to develop that kind of love. When we are filled with charity, we obey God’s commandments and do all we can to serve others.
We are also taught that as we serve others, we are serving our Lord and Savior. As we engage in the work of salvation, we recognize our roles and responsibilities, to build the kingdom of God through loving and accepting those around us.
President Hinckley taught this principle as he shared a story from a new member of the church. He indicated that each one of us needs to be nourished, befriended and given an opportunity to serve. That principle also applies to each one of us to help us feel needed and loved!
Too often we don’t recognize how simple it is to reach out and let others know that we do love them, and that the Lord is mindful of them and aware of their challenges. Often times we can do this through a simple text, a phone call or putting our arm around them and letting them know we are there for them.
Just as Alma had the desire to be an instrument in the Lord's hands to bring some soul to repentance, each one of us can also be an instrument in bringing souls closer to their Savior.
President Hinckley shared the following story:
“I received the other day a very interesting letter. It was written by a woman who joined the Church a year ago. She writes:
“My journey into the Church was unique and quite challenging. This past year has been the hardest year that I have ever lived in my life. It has also been the most rewarding. As a new member, I continue to be challenged every day.”
She states that “Church members don’t know what it is like to be a new member. . . . Therefore, it’s almost impossible for them to know how to support us.”
President Hinckley states, “I challenge you, my brothers and sisters, that if you do not know what it is like, you try to imagine what it is like. It can be terribly lonely. It can be disappointing. It can be frightening. We of this Church are far more different from the world than we are prone to think we are.”
This woman goes on: “When we as investigators become members of the Church, we are surprised to discover that we have entered into a completely foreign world, a world that has its own traditions, culture, and language. We discover that there is no one person or no one place of reference that we can turn to for guidance in our trip into this new world. At first the trip is exciting, our mistakes even amusing, then it becomes frustrating and eventually, the frustration turns into anger. And it’s at these stages of frustration and anger that we leave. We go back to the world from which we came, where we knew who we were, where we contributed, and where we could speak the language” [Ensign, May 1999, 108].
How many of us have ever felt as this good sister felt? How many of us DO feel as this good sister felt?
Reaching out to these individuals can be a very simple gesture. A smile, a handshake or fist bump, an appropriate hug. Think of how that simple gesture can help change their mindset as maybe it has yours. How many of us have been on the receiving end of those gestures, and how did it make you feel?
In Luke we are taught that, “They that are whole need not a physician, but they that are sick.”
We can be the Lord’s instruments. He is the ultimate physician, and we are His interns or residents.
Each one of us has a unique opportunity because each one of us is unique. We have unique needs, and we have unique offerings and gifts of the Spirit.
We too can know the needs of those around us if we will listen to the Spirit and follow those promptings. As Elder Soares reminded us last week, that as we follow that GPS, we can bless those lives.
In closing, I would like to share these comments from Elder Joseph B. Wirthlin from an April 2005 General Conference:
“Kindness is the essence of greatness and the fundamental characteristic of the noblest men and women I have known. Kindness is a passport that opens doors and fashions friends. It softens hearts and molds relationships that can last lifetimes…Kindness is the essence of a celestial life. Kindness is how a Christlike person treats others. Kindness should permeate all of our words and actions at work, at school, at church, and especially in our homes.
As we begin this New Year and new semester I would invite us all to keep this counsel close to our hearts and minds. There undoubtedly are challenges – those we may know about and others we know nothing of – that many fellow students and co-workers are facing. A kind word, a smile, a soft answer in a tense moment, will do more good than we can possibly imagine. We can also seek the guidance of the Spirit to know who else might need a little lift in a moment of need or even despair. Surely, God knows and we can be His hands and His instruments to perhaps be the answer to someone’s fervent prayer.”
I would like to bear my testimony that I know that God lives, that Jesus is the Christ, the Atonement is real. I know that as we reach out to those around us and help them feel the love of Christ, the Lord will bless not only their life, but also ours. I pray that each one of us can be a Ray McCabe in someone else’s life. I say that in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.