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Devotionals

President Larry Richards

The Caravan

Melissa, thank you very much for sharing your talent. Let’s get out our phones—while you’re looking up the lyrics to “How Firm a Foundation,”[1] because I am an ex-banker, I am hacking into Sister Carey’s bank account. Her introduction went five minutes, and I figure at $100.00 a minute, I’m going to withdraw $500.00 from her account and transfer it to the needy scholarship fund. All in favor, manifest it by the uplifted hand.

We did this last week, and the Nickels—Brother and Sister Nickel—let’s open up the doors to the outside, and—all the way. And Andrew, can you hear me? Remember how last week we did “How Firm a Foundation” a capella? It’s number 85, but if you just Google “How Firm a Foundation”—how many of you were here last week? Was it awesome? It was awesome. I think we do it again for those who weren’t here. Verses, 1, 3, and 7. Andrew is going to play a little introduction, and I’m going to invite you to stand and sing your guts out.

This is a sacred building; apostles and prophets have spoken here, and the Saints have met here. The early Saints have met here. And I invite you to sing your guts out. And if you do with your heart, two things will happen. Number one, we might attract some people from Temple Square, which would be cool. But number two, you sing that song with heart, and angels will attend us today. Angels will attend us. You sing from your heart, and we will raise the roof, or bring it down, or whatever you do to roofs. Everybody stand up. And it’s going to be awesome.

[Singing.]

Oh. my goodness. You are wonderful. You really are. That’s right—and no organ required. How many of you have pioneer heritage, that literally came? [Audience members raise their hands.] They heard you today. How many come from pioneer heritage from other parts of the world? [Audience members raise their hands.] They heard you today.

Oh, my goodness—the College—130 years ago we started. This is our 130th year. Hard to believe. It’s been ten years since the College moved from South Temple down here, and it was an interesting kind of event. We moved the library—we moved the library in handcarts. Is that awesome or what? And you can see, we even had police escort. We came down the street with the library in handcarts, and it was great. And it was authentic because one of the handcarts broke down and the wheel came off. And it was a summer day, and by the time we hit about 2nd West, we were feeling somewhat like the Willie and Martin handcart companies.

Before we left the building, on our very last day of Commencement, all the faculty and staff held hands, got around the old campus, and we hugged the building goodbye. And we started off down the street on a new journey. It was a new adventure, and I will tell you, brothers and sisters, none of us had any idea of what Heaven would do for us over the next ten years. We’re just glad that Heaven did it and attracted you and brought you here to the campus. We’re grateful to have you here.

And so, we’re in this building—a historic building built by the pioneers who came seeking a better opportunity in life, who came seeking to build something. They came here to promote the cause of Zion, just like you. And so, for a moment, I want to talk a little bit today about how they got here.

I don’t think—and I’ll defer to any historian in the Church or hobbyist historian in the Church—I don’t think we have a record of anyone coming to this valley in a wagon or a handcart who came by themselves. They came in caravans. Why? Because in caravans there was safety from the elements and the things along the trail, and there was support for each other. And so, I want to talk to you a little bit about what we might consider for a moment about this college and about The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints being a caravan.

What do we know about this caravan and where it is going? Let me give you a little scripture—this is another metaphor, an analogy that comes close to the principle of a caravan that is The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, of which you are a part. Doctrine and Covenants 65:2. Here it goes: “The keys of the kingdom of God are committed unto man on the earth, and from thence shall the gospel roll forth unto the ends of the earth, as the stone which is cut out of the mountain without hands shall roll forth, [and it shall fill] the whole earth.”

Now, Joseph Smith:

No unhallowed hand can stop the work from progressing. . . . The truth of God will go forth boldly, nobly, and independent, till it has penetrated every continent, visited every clime, swept every country, and sounded in every ear, till the purposes of God [are fulfilled and] . . . accomplished, and the Great Jehovah shall say the work is done.[2]

Now, President Gordon B. Hinckley:

This Church is true. It will weather every storm that beats against it. It will outlast every critic who rises to mock it. It was established by God our Eternal Father for the blessing of His sons and daughters of all generations. It carries the name of Him who stands at its head, even the Lord Jesus Christ, the Savior of the world. It is governed and moved by the power of the priesthood. It sends forth to the world another witness of the divinity of the Lord. Be faithful, my friends. Be true. Be loyal to the great things of God which have been revealed in this dispensation.[3]

Brothers and sisters, can there be any question about both the direction of this caravan that you are on and its destination? For a moment, let’s consider different types of groups that are associated with the caravan, and let’s look at what the Lord’s invitation is. And the question to you, quite frankly, is how close are you physically and spiritually to caravans of today, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints?

So first, here’s a group. It’s all of you who have been steadfast from the beginning of your lives, and you have pushed and you have pulled over dusty trails and high mountains and low valleys. You are the ones who have stood watch at night and given service during the day. To you, here are the comforting words of the Savior as you travel with this caravan: “Be not be weary in well-doing.”[4] And from today’s current wagon master, President Monson: “When we are on the Lord’s errand, we are entitled to the Lord’s help.”[5] And again, the Lord shapes the back for the burden that He places upon it.[6]

And so, you who are of this group, you—keep watching at night, and you keep serving during the day. You keep pushing and pulling up hills and across rivers. You are on the right path. You are moving in the right direction. And the blessings of the destination will be yours if you stay in the wagons and keep pace.

Now, there is another group. These are those—maybe some of you who have wandered emotionally or physically away from the caravan a bit. And now you are kind of forced to walk by the light of your own campfire, by the light of the sparks that you have kindled. I would say to you as a friend, there is no safety grazing at the edge of the caravan. That is where the wolves and the barking dogs do their very best work. It is neither fashionable nor intellectually safe nor spiritually sound to hold onto the iron rod with fingertips and see how far you can swing your legs out over the slippery slope.

Only rarely do we see members of this group leave the caravan at a right angle. Most of the time it is slow. And so, I give you the counsel of President Uchtdorf: “Doubt your doubts before you doubt your faith.”[7]

Let me tell you the story of a neighbor of mine who had a young boy—a very tiny boy, just big enough to be in his own bed without the sidebars on the bed. And late one night the boy came in to my friend’s room crying. And my friend said, “Joey, what’s wrong?” And Joey said, “Well, I fell out of bed, Dad.” And Joey’s father said, “How did that happen?” And Joey said, “I guess I wasn’t in far enough.”

Brothers and sisters, there is safety in the center of the caravan. Come to it and find the peace and the confidence for which your spirit longs. So, to you who may be in this group, we invite you to stop wandering. We need you, and you need us. There is a place for you. There is a duty for you to perform in this caravan. We invite you to come back to the center.

Now, there is a third group. This is a group of you who are weary in the travel and believe that being part of this caravan can just be too doggone hard. To you, remember that the Lord has promised that He “will be on your right hand and on your left,”[8] that He will “go before your face,”[9]  and that He will be in your rearward.[10] So this invitation to you: trust in the promise. As the pioneer song states: “Gird up your loins; fresh courage take. [Your] God will never [you] forsake.”[11]

The fourth group—this is a group of you who have recently joined the caravan. You may be still somewhat new to the Church and the processes and our history. We invite you to watch the seasoned travelers, especially the trail master and those who have been appointed to be captains over hundreds and captains over fifty. Take their counsel. Do what they do. Stick to the rules of the caravan. They are the result of many who have traveled this path before.

As I heard one apostle say on a different occasion regarding the missionary “white bible”—he said it was not made by a bunch of old men sitting up late at night saying, “How can we get them? How can we make life tough for them?” The rules are there, brothers and sisters, because they have journeyed our path before and they truly do know the way.

Now, there is a fifth group. These are those of you who feel somewhat lonely, and you walk alongside the caravan but you’re not quite in the wagons. You may do it because you feel like you don’t fit the mold of the other travelers. You see yourself and your differences as something that perhaps others will not or do not value. And you long for a sense of belonging, but at times you just feel like you don’t fit in.

Here’s the invitation: come closer. Look inside the wagons. They are full of all kinds of people possessing a range of ideas; a range of strengths; a numerous variety of weaknesses, talents, gifts—and yet they are bound together by a knowledge of where the caravan is going and a desire to be at its destination. The strength of the caravan is in the diversity of the character and the talents of those who are in it.

Now, there is a last group. This is a group that periodically follows the caravan within eyesight, but, oh, they keep their distance. They think they know what happens in the caravan, but because of their lack of vision to see things as they really are, they mock those of you who are in the caravan and they reject both the direction the caravan is heading and the destination which we have chosen.

Their voices are loud, and they sometimes can drown out the call of the trail master and the captains. Unfortunately, they do, every once in a while, pull people away from the caravan, and they are spiritually lost. But as the old Arab proverb states: “Though dogs bark, the caravan moves on.”

The barking is often criticism because there is dust on your wagons, or the wheels seem wobbly from the long journey, or one of the wagons follows the wagon in front of them seemingly blindly—or that those of you who are walking the trail and hold your heads up high do so with shoelaces untied. Or they are critical because of where the caravan may have been at some other time.

These who bark were seen long ago by Lehi and Nephi in a large building that was spacious, full of people.[12] They really are sons and daughters of our Heavenly Father, but they too are desperately seeking meaning in an ever-darkening and conflicting world.

So, our invitation to them is to come, to join us in some “tree of life experiences” and to be intellectually honest enough to not knock it before you have truly and sincerely tried it.

Our caution to you who are in the caravan is that sometimes you take your eyes off the trail to see what they are barking about. I would remind you that it is silly to Google the “great and spacious building”[13] to find out what you believe. Remember Lehi, in Lehi’s dream: as long as the family was partaking of the tree of life, they gave no heed. Those that fell away, they are described as having partaken, or partook of the fruit.[14] That is something worth contemplating in your life.

So, to be sure about this last group—they are very different from those of you who may have honest questions. This caravan in this dispensation was started by one who had an honest question. And so, we welcome questions; we welcome considered thought. We welcome that you take those questions to the Lord with a promise that He has said that He will not upbraid you.[15] Honestly acknowledge your questions and your concerns, but first, as Elder Holland said, “Fan the flame of your faith.”[16]

So, what can we say about caravans? It is The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and somewhere in one of those groups, you find yourself. Sometimes, we jump from group to group, depending upon the day or our experiences. My counsel to you is this: if you are trailing the caravan, catch up. If you are uncertain about the caravan, get certain. If you are weary, don’t wander or totter, for the Lord is there and He will push your wagon and help pull your cart. And if we let Him, we can be yoked to Him and He to us.[17] And if you are walking at the edge of the caravan, come back to the middle. Get in the wagons; take the seat that God has prepared for you.

And if you are hungry and you are thirsty, in this caravan is the Bread of Life and wells of living water. So, listen to the voice of Him who really owns this caravan:

For I, the Lord, have put forth my hand to exert the powers of heaven; ye cannot see it now, yet a little while and ye shall see it, and know that I am, and that I will come reign with my people.[18]

For I go before your face. I will be on your right hand and on your left, and my Spirit shall be in your hearts, and mine angels round about you, to bear you up.[19]

Well, we have a few more minutes. I want to talk to you about a flower. Let me get to it. How many of you know what kind of a flower that is? [Audience members raise their hands.] It is a hibiscus. How many of you come from a country or a part of the U.S. where these grow magnificently? [Audience members raise their hands.] Be proud.

I want to tell you a story about a hibiscus. Julie and I—Sister Richards and I—we love to travel, and before we had children, we traveled more. Only you who have children are laughing. I understand. And my wife used to own a clothing store, and we would take her paycheck, and we would put it away. And a couple of times a year, we would go to Hawaii. There was a favorite little hotel that we had, and on the beach at that favorite hotel was a favorite little tree. And we would go for a week, and we would sit under that tree, and we would basically do nothing. Nothing. Except first thing in the morning before it got hot, we would get up and we would take a walk on the road that leads to this hotel. And on the way to a hotel, because it’s Hawaii, people have hibiscus hedges. In Utah, we have fences. There they have hibiscus hedges that block off the properties, full of these wonderfully gorgeous flowers. And every morning when we would walk, we would stop and comment. When there were no cars on the road, I would pick one, and I would put it in her hair. Ahh, yes. And then she would hold my hand while we walked. Ahh.

One year when we came home, we went to a gardening store. And there in this little pot in Salt Lake City, Utah, was a hibiscus plant. And it just had my wife’s name on it. So I bought it, and we took it home. And during the summer, we put it out on our back porch that had an east exposure, and oh, my goodness. We would go out there in the early morning, and we would have breakfast on our back porch, and we would look at that hibiscus plant. And it would remind us of our beach and our tree in Hawaii, and we would smile. And then in the winter time, we would bring it inside. And in the summer, it would just bloom, just like this. And in the winter time, we would bring it inside. We would open the windows so it got plenty of light, and every once in a while, a little yellow flower would come out. It would be February, and I would come in from shoveling the front walks, and I would sit, almost kind of Buddha-style, in front of the one little flower on our hibiscus. We loved it.

About two years later, things were going so well I went to another gardening store, and oh, my goodness, there was a five-foot tall hibiscus tree. I figured if that little plant got me some points at home, a five-foot tree . . . So we bought it. It was in a plastic pot, and I spent all my money buying the tree so we couldn’t put it in a good pot. We just left it in its plastic pot. And we loved that tree, and it bloomed red, just like this one. And every once in a while, I would pick a flower off and put it in a little cup, put it on Julie’s dressing table with a little note under it that said, “I love you.” Honestly, I’m making that part up. But in the moment, it sounded so good, and it’s something I should have done, but I was busy.

So, this beautiful five-foot tree was out on our back deck. In summertime, we like to go to Bear Lake, so we went to Bear Lake for a weekend. We came home and went out on the back deck. I had watered that hibiscus well so it would do well in the summer over the weekend. I came back, and the hibiscus plant was tipped over. And that black plastic pot that held the roots had baked in the sun for three days.

That little tree tried to do its very best to survive it. All its flowers closed up tight to retain the moisture—so did the leaves, actually, to retain the moisture. But it was exposed to elements that it could not withstand for too long of a period. I uprighted it; I tried to nurse it back, fertilized it. And then I put it in a better pot. But we lost the tree. And we lost the tree because the roots got exposed.

Brothers and sisters, there are some wonderful scriptures. Let’s go back to them. I invite you to write these down, and you go and look at them. The first one is Jeremiah 17:7–8. All of these scriptures have to do with rivers of pure water and with trees. I’ve highlighted here in gold some of the important parts. You can see on this one that Jeremiah saw that there were trees planted by water, and look where they spread their roots: by the river, and therefore, they neither ceased to bear fruit.

And if we go to Doctrine and Covenants 97:7–9, and we look at the first two verses—you can scan those. Look at the last verse; that is where the highlight is: “For I, the Lord”—and He’s talking about those of you who are faithful, who come to Him with broken hearts, and are honest and contrite spirits. Those of you who are willing to observe the covenants by sacrifice—the sacrifice of things you might have done but that you choose not to because of the caravan you are in. Look what He says: “For I, the Lord, will cause them to bring forth as a very fruitful tree which is planted in a goodly land, by a pure stream, that yieldeth much precious fruit.”[20]

And now, the last one comes from Ezekiel 47. We start in the very first verse, but we get up to verse number 12. And this is Ezekiel, who had a great vision about a river that came out from under the temple on the south side by the altar, the right-hand side of the altar—for those of you who can picture that in sacred places, and who sits on the right side of altars. And the water flows forth—Ezekiel says that every place the water goes, it heals. It even says that it rolls out from the east under the temple. And if you roll out east from under the temple in Jerusalem, you go over the mountain down to the Dead Sea. Ezekiel saw that river flow into the Dead Sea and heal it.

I invite you brothers and sisters to think that the gospel of Jesus Christ, as Elder McConkie says, is that river of water. It is the gospel. It is the covenants. It is the priesthood power. And think of yourself as the true. Like my little five-foot hibiscus tree, how are your roots doing? Are they growing near the river of pure water?

I pray, brothers and sisters, that this semester you will choose to send your roots near rivers of pure water, that when the south wind blows, you will not tip over because you are firmly planted. You are in the center of the caravan. May the Lord bless you this semester to do so, is my prayer, in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.

 

[1] “How Firm a Foundation,” Hymns, no. 85.

[2] History of the Church, 4:540.

[3] Gordon B. Hinckley, “Keep the Faith,” Ensign, Sep. 1985.

[4] D&C 64:33.

[5] Thomas S. Monson “To Learn, to Do, to Be,” Oct. 2008 General Conference.

[6] See Monson, “To Learn, to Do, to Be.”

[7] Dieter F. Uchtdorf, “Come, Join with Us,” Oct. 2013 General Conference.

[8] D&C 84:88.

[9] D&C 84:88.

[10] D&C 49:27.

[11] “Come, Come, Ye Saints,” Hymns, no. 30.

[12] See 1 Nephi 8:26–28.

[13] 1 Nephi 8:26.

[14] See 1 Nephi 8.

[15] See James 1:5; D&C 42:68.

[16] Jeffrey R. Holland, “‘Lord, I Believe,’” Apr. 2013 General Conference.

[17] See Matthew 11:29–30.

[18] D&C 84:119.

[19] D&C 84:88.

[20] D&C 97:9.

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