Ensign College Devotional
He served as mission president of the California San Fernando Mission and then served as a member of the Presidency of the Seventy from 2007 to 2012. During that time, Elder Snow had supervisory responsibility for the Utah Areas as well as the North America Central Area.
He has also served as Executive Director of the Priesthood and Family Department, as President of the Africa Southeast Area, as Church historian and recorder, and as the Executive Director of the Church History Department.
Elder Snow and his wife, Phyllis Squire, also of St. George, Utah, have four sons and seventeen grandchildren. He now serves as the Elders’ quorum instructor.
Stepping Stones and Stumbling Blocks
Good morning. It’s so wonderful to be here with you this morning and thank you for that beautiful music. That really invited the Spirit. I’m glad we can meet in this beautiful Assembly hall. This was originally built as a tabernacle when the Saints first arrived in the valley. Anywhere else in the church, if this was in any community in the church, here in the west particularly, this would be revered as a beautiful tabernacle, but it’s a little bit overshadowed by the wonderful temple next door. I’ve always loved this building and I’m grateful we could meet here.
I’m grateful for President Kusch and Sister Kusch. It’s wonderful to be here with you. I had to smile when he introduced us. I’m glad he introduced my wife as Phyllis. Often over the years she has been introduced as “his lovely wife”. Years ago we had a Stake Conference in Provo at a BYU stake. We had dinner with the Stake President and his family the evening before and he asked Phyllis how she enjoyed the calling. She said, “It’s great. I love going with President Snow. It’s just wonderful. The only thing I don’t like is I don’t like to be introduced as ‘his lovely wife’.”
So, the next day we were in the tabernacle in Provo, that’s how long it has been—it was still being used as a tabernacle—and President Roney stood up and said, “We’d like to welcome Pres. Snow and his l…” and then he stopped and then said, “We’d like to welcome Pres. Snow and his drop dead gorgeous wife.” I’ve always liked that. Well, it’s just great to be with you.
During the summer of 1973 I was stationed in Ft. Lewis, Washington for Army officer training. One part of our training included a nighttime exercise in unknown and “hostile” territory. Our platoon was dropped off at sunset by a Chinook helicopter and ordered to march 17 miles cross-country through the forests of western Washington to an agreed upon rendezvous point. There we were to meet up with other units for a simulated pre-dawn raid on the so called enemy.
We had been training for several weeks, we were in good shape and a seventeen-mile hike in full pack was not too intimidating. At first the going seemed rather easy. But as the light faded and we entered the darkness of dense forest, it was another story. There was to be no source of light and the only way you kept track of your buddy in front of you was the small piece of reflective tape stuck on the back of his helmet.
That night we stumbled through fallen trees, rock slides, even swamps before arriving at our rendezvous point in the early hours of the next morning. The seventeen-mile hike which would have been tolerable on a road or trail, became an ordeal with many hidden obstacles. Our shins and ankles ached for days because of the stumbling blocks which were strewn along our path.
The scriptures refer to stumbling blocks, and when I read those passages, I remember that rough hike that long night at Ft. Lewis so many years ago.
During the westward migration, early pioneers encountered landmarks which marked the progress of their journey west. Prominent rock formations such as Chimney Rock and Independence Rock are examples of such landmarks.
Such features have special prominence in our own Church History. Rocky Ridge and Rock Creek Hollow have deep meaning for the handcart pioneers who struggled across the high plains of Wyoming in early snow storms that terrible winter of 1856.
Hole-in-the-Rock and Dance Hall Rock bring to mind the tenacious faith of those called to settle Southeastern Utah. Their expedition stymied by towering cliffs overlooking the Colorado River, these courageous settlers built a road through a cleft in the cliff wall which even today seems to defy possibility.
My remarks today involve other kinds of rocks. I would like to speak of the stepping stones and stumbling blocks which define our own spiritual journey through life.
On October 19th, 1856, nearly two weeks before the terrible days at Martin’s Cove, the Martin Handcart Company faced the prospect of making their last crossing of the Platte River. Extremely low on food and supplies, they also faced the prospect of crossing the icy river during a fast-approaching storm. Because of the weakness of the teams which pulled wagons accompanying the Handcart Company, all of the sick who were able to walk were required to enter the icy water. Thomas Durham recorded, “All the sick that could walk at all had to get out of the wagons and walk through the river, some of them falling down in the river several times, not being able to stand up in it being so weak.”
While the place of crossing was a known location to ford the river, the freezing water was at least waist deep to most of the 200-300 souls who waded and swam the river.
Josiah Rogerson recalled the experience years later by writing, “I rolled up my trousers and waded that cold river, six or eight rods wide, slipping betimes off the smooth stones and boulders into deeper water.”
Between the last crossing of the Platte River and the arrival of the advanced party of rescuers, fifty-six members of the Handcart Company would perish. Many more would lose their lives during those horrible days at Martin’s Cove as they waited for the main rescue party.
Because of the horrible suffering experienced by the Willie and Martin handcart companies, a few of the survivors lost their faith and left the Church. But to many who suffered, this experience proved to be the refiner’s fire.
Forty-eight years later in a Sunday School class in Cedar City, Utah, class members were offering criticism of the Church and its leaders for permitting the handcart companies to cross the plains so poorly equipped and so late in the season. Francis Webster, now an old man, listened as long as he could and then stood and said the following:
“I ask you to stop this criticism. You are discussing a matter you know nothing about... Mistake to send the Hand Cart Company out so late in the season? Yes. But I was in that Company and my wife was in it. . . We suffered beyond anything you can imagine and many died of exposure and starvation, but did you ever hear a survivor of that company utter a word of criticism? . . . every one of us came through with the absolute knowledge that God lives—for we became acquainted with him in our extremities.”
“Was I sorry that I chose to come by hand cart? No. Neither then nor any minute of my life since. The price we paid to become acquainted with God was a privilege to pay and I am thankful that I was privileged to come in the Martin Hand Cart Company. (Palmer, “Francis Webster”, radio address, 1-2; Palmer, “Francis Webster,” Instructor, 217-18, “Pioneer Women,” 8)
How can there be different responses from individuals who undergo difficult and trying circumstances in this mortal existence? Why do some “wander off and are lost” or “are ashamed . . . and fall away into forbidden paths and are lost”? (1 Nephi 8) Others, however, like Francis Webster, find their faith strengthened and their devotion increased.
How do we turn adversity into a stepping stone and not a stumbling block?
How can we make a bad experience become a learning experience? Part of the answer lies in perspective. How we choose to lead our lives and how we make faith part of our lives, ultimately helps us face the challenges which come to everyone in this earthly existence.
In Hebrews 11: 1 we read:
“Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.”
The Joseph Smith Translation gives us further insight into this scripture. The Prophet teaches us faith leads to an assurance. This assurance begins with a belief, or as Alma describes in the Book of Mormon, “a desire to believe”. In order for belief to become assurance, it requires action on our part.
Every missionary, and I understand that there are a large number of missionaries here at the college, knows an investigator must take action before obtaining a testimony, even if that investigator has a strong desire to believe. Someone who hears the gospel for the first time must not just believe but must take action for there to be a witness or assurance. For a new investigator this means study, prayer, and attending Church. Only after making commitments and acting upon them does an investigator obtain a testimony of the restored gospel. These actions become a series of stepping stones which lead to a testimony.
The pattern is the same with those of us who have been in the Church for many years. We must continue to step forward on the stepping stones which will increase our faith. As our study and prayer continue, we accept new callings in the Church which cause us to stretch and grow. We serve others through ministering. We prepare for and keep covenants made in the temple. As we continue on this path of learning, serving, and growing, we touch on the stepping stones which strengthen our faith and ultimately lead us to an assurance or witness of truth.
From this spiritual growth we are then more prepared to face and overcome the adversity which is part of our mortal probation.
Elder Boyd K. Packer has said, “[Today’s children] will see many events transpire in the course of their lifetime. Some of these shall tax their courage and extend their faith. But if they seek prayerfully for help and guidance, they shall be given power over adverse things. Such trials shall not be permitted to stand in the way of their progress, but instead shall act as stepping-stones to greater knowledge.” (Boyd K. Packer, “Do Not Fear,” Ensign, May 2004, pg 77)
So in a marvelous way, by using the stepping stones of faith, prayer, study, and service we prepare ourselves to overcome the challenges and trials life undoubtedly holds in store for all of us.
The scriptures often refer to these challenges and trials as stumbling blocks.
In Isaiah we read: “. . . Cast ye up, cast ye up, prepare the way, take up the stumbling block out of the way of my people.” (Isaiah 57:14)
As we contemplate the straight and narrow path which returns to the presence of our Heavenly Father, invariably that path will contain stumbling-blocks which can, if ignored, become trials, even crises in our lives. Now please understand; the trail of life is strewn with stumbling blocks placed there to test us and to try us. Sometimes it seems we are literally stumbling through life as we deal with the challenges and trials of this mortal existence. The stumbling blocks of which I speak are those which we can avoid if we are obedient, plan ahead, and remain vigilant.
My list is only a short one and does not begin to include the many stumbling blocks the adversary has stored in his quarry of sin and misery. The ways he can trip us up is limited only by our imaginations. Nonetheless, here is a list of stumbling blocks you will want to avoid.
First, beware of the stumbling-block of pride. While we are proud of you and we hope you take pride in your accomplishments, it is important to not be prideful.
Pride can blind us from danger. If we are caught up in ourselves and our own well-being, we become more susceptible to the enticing of the adversary. Pride prevents us from serving and giving and causes us to become self-centered and demanding. Pride interferes with relationships between husbands and wives, parents and children, friends and loved ones. No one cares to be around a truly selfish person.
Nephi wrote: "And the Gentiles are lifted up in the pride of their eyes, and have stumbled, because of the greatness of their stumbling block, they put down the power and miracles of God, and preach up unto themselves their own wisdom and their own learning, that they may get gain and grind upon the face of the poor." (2 Nephi 26:20)
Nephi taught twenty-five hundred years ago that the prideful forget the poor, fail to serve, and only seek gain.
In our time Elder Neal A. Maxwell wrote that “meekness helps us to surmount the stumbling blocks so that we are prepared to receive a deeper and wider view. Obviously, Philip has such meekness when he recognized Jesus as the Messiah of whom Moses had spoken. (John 1:45) Obviously, Paul had the broad view when he described Moses as having, by choice, forgone life in Pharaoh’s court for a life of service to Jesus. (Hebrews 11:24-27) Nevertheless, the stones of stumbling are real. In fact, these offending rocks prove insurmountable unless we have the attribute of meekness.”
Second, be aware of the stumbling blocks of negativity and pessimism. While there are challenges and difficulties we all face, it is important to maintain an eternal perspective. Life is sometimes hard because it is supposed to be. The great Plan of Happiness provides for a mortal existence where we can come to learn to overcome hard things. If we tend to focus on only those things in our lives which do not go as we intend, we will miss the marvelous blessings we otherwise enjoy.
Be optimistic. The glass really is half full. President Gordon B. Hinckley said it best, “Save your fork, the best is yet to come!”
The story is told of a traveler in the Ozarks who passed by a general store. A hound dog was sitting out front howling his head off. The traveler stopped and asked, “Why’s that ol’ hound dog howling so much?” The man standing by the store said, “Because he’s sitting on a thistle.” The traveler asked, “Well why doesn’t he just sit somewhere else?” The man answered, “Because he’d rather howl.”
Don’t howl and whine. Choose to be optimistic. Being optimistic is good for you. Dr. Martin Siligman, a psychologist from the University of Pennsylvania did more than a quarter century of research on this subject. Among his conclusions: Optimistic people are happier, healthier and more successful than those with a negative outlook on life. Optimism results in less depression, higher achievement and a stronger immune system.
The gospel of Jesus Christ teaches these same principles. When we say, “It’s impossible”, the Lord says, “. . . The things which are impossible with men are possible with God.” (Luke 18:27)
When we say, “I’m too tired”, the Lord says, “. . . I will give you rest.” (Matthew 11:28-30)
When we say, “Nobody really loves me”, the Lord says, “I love you”. (John 13:34)
When we say “I can’t do it”, the scriptures teach us “I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me.” (Philippians 4:13)
When we say “It’s not worth it”, the Lord reminds us it will be worth it. “And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.” (Romans 8:28)
When we say “I’m not smart enough”, the scriptures remind us that God gives us wisdom. (1 Corinthians 1:30)
When we say “I can’t forgive myself”, we are reminded that He does forgive us. (1John 1:9)
When we say “I don’t have enough faith”, he reminds us in scripture “God hath dealt to every man the measure of faith”. (Romans 12:3)
The gospel of Jesus Christ is the “good news”. It is for good reason we often refer to the Plan of Salvation as the Plan of Happiness. In spite of the challenges and trials of life, we must look forward with hope. As members of the Church of Jesus Christ, we have within us the hope Peter refers to in the New Testament. “But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts: and be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness and fear.” (1 Peter 3:15)
So choose to be optimistic. Choose to look on the bright side. As you go about your day’s activities, expect the best.
This is perhaps best illustrated by the following anecdote.
A little boy was overheard talking to himself as he strode through his backyard, baseball cap in place and toting ball and bat. “I’m the greatest baseball player in the world,” he said proudly. Then he tossed the ball in the air, swung and missed. Undaunted, he picked up the ball, threw in into the air and said to himself, “I’m the greatest player ever!” He swung at the ball again, and again he missed. He paused a moment to examine the bat and ball carefully. Then once again he threw the ball into the air and said, “I’m the greatest baseball player who ever lived.” He swung the bat hard and again missed the ball.
“Wow!” he exclaimed. “What a pitcher!”
Choose to look on the bright side.
Before I move on, let me leave a word of caution and advice. No time in the history of the Church has our religion received the attention it does today. Men of our faith have run for president of this country, a senator from Nevada, Harry Reid, was the majority leader of that august body. His passing has been marked in services held just this past week. The Broadway musical “The Book of Mormon” has brought a great deal of attention to our faith, most of it not positive. This unprecedented attention on our Church and our beliefs has had a downside. Never before have we received such scrutiny. Some of our beliefs, which to some may seem peculiar, have been ridiculed by a few. The ability to transmit information through the internet and the media is unparalleled. The words of a bitter or disrespectful critic are magnified many times through use of social media. This was a platform not available to our critics just a generation ago.
Our responsibility is to appropriately filter this rhetoric and attempt to understand why such things are said. For some critics, their crude utterances are made for political gain or entertainment. But please understand, the followers of the Savior have always been in the minority and often in history have suffered more than the simple sting of unkind and cruel words.
For a few, these verbal assaults on our religion have created a crisis of faith. They wonder if such things are true and if so, how could this possibly be. Our history as a Church is a rich tapestry woven with beautiful threads of sacrifice, service, and devotion. The stories of early Church leaders and members are motivating and compelling. Their accounts of the remarkable and the mundane inspire us to accomplish difficult tasks. But like all of us, they were not perfect. It is important to view the entire tapestry of our history and not just individual threads which may seem to strike us as too peculiar if not viewed in the context of time and place.
I can testify the more I learn of our Church, its doctrine and its history, the stronger my testimony becomes. To achieve a proper balance I encourage you to continue to pay attention to your spiritual well-being by praying, studying the scriptures, and keeping the commandments. Touch upon the stepping stones which will build your faith. Then when the winds of discontent blow, you will be protected from the storm.
While there are many stumbling blocks along our path, let me name another. Stumbling blocks are often cleverly disguised. Let the advancements of today's modern technology be a springboard in your lives, not a stumbling block. Never have we been blessed with so many tools to perform the purposes of the Church. Social media can be an effective way to share the gospel. New Family Search has revolutionized our ability to do Family History. Instantaneous communication is achieved around the world with member and non-members.
Unlike even a generation ago, it is impossible for you to successfully complete your studies without ownership or easy access to a computer. Cell phones and texting have changed the way we communicate. Based on its membership, Facebook is now the third largest country in the world. The internet with its use of social media has contributed to revolutions in the Middle East. It is an absolutely fascinating time and we are just seeing the beginning of this information revolution.
Unfortunately, all of this technology does have a downside. We should not be surprised Satan has figured that out so quickly. Resist the urge to spend too much time on video games and avoid violent and inappropriate games altogether. This kind of entertainment can become strangely addictive. In ten years we do not want to find some of you bright young people living in your parents’ basements playing video games and surviving on Cheetos. Life does have greater meaning than the latest and greatest game.
Avoid on-line pornography at all costs. There has been a clarion call from our prophets on this matter and you will be wise to pay careful heed to their warnings. To not do so can lead you to become ensnared in your own personal hell. Stay away from pornography.
While I appreciate the economy and efficiency of texting, don't give up on personal face to face communication. You don't need a battery, you don't need a signal, and you don't need a handheld device. You will be surprised what can come from a real live conversation. Let's embrace the technology, but let's not forget the importance of personal communication. Try it, you might like it.
Finally another stumbling block to avoid is the stumbling block of excessive debt. Debt can become a plague in your lives. It will pursue you and hound you. Live within your means and do not spend more than you earn. Exercise faith, pay a full tithe and manage your money, don’t let excessive debt manage you.
During the depths of the Great Depression in 1938, President J. Reuben Clark, a member of the First Presidency, taught the Church in General Conference the following: “It is a rule of our financial and economic life in all the world that interest is to be paid on borrowed money. . .”
“Interest never sleeps nor sickens nor dies, it never goes to the hospital; it works on Sunday and holidays; it never takes a vacation, it never visits nor travels, it takes no pleasure; it is never laid off work nor discharged from employment; it never works on reduced hours. . . .Once in debt, interest is your companion every minute of the day and night; you cannot shun it or slip away from it; you cannot dismiss it; it yields neither to entreaties, demands or orders; and whenever you get in its way or cross its course or fail to meet its demands, it crushes you.” (April General Conference 1938)
I understand the desire to acquire many of life’s creature comforts. You will find after years of schooling it is natural to want to enjoy the fruits of your accomplishments. I too remember living on venison and macaroni and cheese and hoping our final ten dollars would somehow last through the end of the month. But now, and in the future, don’t be too hasty in borrowing all those things you supposedly deserve. I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but regardless of what you make, there will never be enough. A basic principle of human nature is: human wants are unlimited. It doesn’t matter how much you make, it matters how much you spend.
In Ezekial we read: “They shall cast their silver in the streets, and their gold shall be removed: their silver and their gold shall not be able to deliver them in the day of the wrath of the Lord; they shall not satisfy their souls, neither fill their bowels; because it is the stumblingblock of their iniquity.” (Ezekiel 7:19)
Be financially prudent and fiscally conservative when it comes to managing your money. You will enjoy a peace of mind that will bless you and your family many years into the future. Eventually, with planning and saving you will be able
to acquire more than enough for your creature comforts.
Avoid the stumbling block of unnecessary and excessive debt.
Well, brothers and sisters, there are many other stumbling blocks which will undoubtedly threaten your future progress. Some you will need to maneuver around or laboriously push from your path. You will avoid many stumbling blocks by living wise, obedient lives and by paying attention to the stepping stones which will build your faith. But the challenges and trials will nonetheless come. When they do, if you have prepared, they will become seasons of learning in your life. Rather than times of setback and loss of faith, these experiences themselves will become stepping stones of spiritual strength for your eternal progression.
Be meek, humble, strong and wise. The future is bright, and you, the rising generation, will determine our course. It has ever been so. Being with you today, convinces me our future has never been in better hands.
I wish you the Lord’s choicest blessing as you continue forward on this magnificent journey known as mortality. This I say in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.