Elder Vern P. Stanfill
General Authority Seventy
Elder Vern P. Stanfill was sustained as a General Authority Seventy of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints on April 4, 2015. At the time of his call, he had been serving as a member of the Sixth Quorum of the Seventy in the North America Central Area. After his call as a General Authority, he served as Second Counselor in the Africa West Area Presidency from September 2015 to May 2017. He previously served as an area assistant in the North America Northeast Area at Church headquarters in Salt Lake City from June 2017 to July 2018. He is currently serving as First Counselor in the North America Southeast Area Presidency and in a number of committee assignments at Church headquarters.
Elder Stanfill received a bachelor’s degree in agricultural economics from Brigham Young University in 1981. He started his career managing his family’s ranch, which involved large cattle, hay, and grain operations. He sold this business in 1998 and became involved in managing family assets and trusts. He has managed a portfolio of real estate and financial instruments and structured philanthropic and estate matters. As an aircraft pilot, Elder Stanfill holds both commercial fixed wing and rotorcraft ratings and has been involved in aviation for both business and pleasure.
Elder Stanfill has served in a number of Church callings, including full-time missionary in the France Toulouse Mission, executive secretary, elders quorum president, counselor in a bishopric, bishop, high councilor, counselor in a stake presidency, high priests group leader, and stake president.
Vern Perry Stanfill was born in Townsend, Montana, on August 8, 1957. He married Alicia Cecile Cox in December 1980. They are the parents of four children.
Please respond to the question below on the devotional discussion board:
How do you establish a deep foundation to guide you on your path?
The storms are increasing. Are you being tossed in the wind?
Why is it important to choose your path in life now?
Dear brothers and sisters, it is a privilege for me to be here again on your campus. To be with President and Sister Eyring and each of you is a rare and cherished opportunity. I have thought deeply about what the Lord wants me to teach today and pray that the Spirit will be with me and with you as we learn together.
I feel a great responsibility to share what may help you not only in this important period of your lives but throughout your earthly experience. Perhaps, as you reflect on what we discuss today, you will decide to choose a path through your life that will bless you and those around you. Perhaps there will be some of you who will alter your course to place yourselves more clearly on a path back to our Heavenly Father.
I will start with an experience from my “before General Authority” life. I planned a trip that required me to fly a beautiful, high-performance airplane from Kalispell, Montana, to Las Vegas, Nevada. My highly experienced copilot and I were excited to make the flight. We made our preparations for the trip.
We filed an instrument flight plan from Kalispell to Las Vegas and climbed into the airplane, anticipating a beautiful, quiet, and uneventful flight. The aircraft was sophisticated and state of the art, all weather was checked, flight plans were filed, and the night in Kalispell was crystal clear. All was in order. It rarely gets any better than that for the crew of an aircraft. The skies at altitude were clear and cold, making the ride smooth and breathtaking.
As we approached the Las Vegas area, air traffic controllers gave us preliminary instructions for our descent and arrival into the area. We had been monitoring increasingly bad weather developing far beneath us along the route. As we started our descent, we entered a bizarre weather phenomenon. It was snowing heavily in the clouds, and we could see lightning all around us. The aircraft started to glow an eerie blue color from the electricity in the air.
This was a new experience for both of us—even with our combined 60 years of experience in the cockpit. Suddenly, the static electricity overwhelmed the sophisticated radios in the aircraft, and we could hear nothing but loud, scratchy static. We were now descending into some of the world’s busiest airspace without being able to communicate with those who were controlling all of the other air traffic. They were ready to direct us, but we could not hear their instructions. We were being heard, but we could not hear. What was going to guide us to safety now?
Let’s leave that experience for a while and turn our attention to a beloved scripture. I have asked Emma Anderson, Benj Thiriot, and Siearra Rowlan to read some of the scriptures I want to share with you today. Emma will go first.
And now, my sons, remember, remember that it is upon the rock of our Redeemer, who is Christ, the Son of God, that ye must build your foundation; that when the devil shall send forth his mighty winds, yea, his shafts in the whirlwind, yea, when all his hail and his mighty storm shall beat upon you, it shall have no power over you to drag you down to the gulf of misery and endless wo, because of the rock upon which ye are built, which is a sure foundation, a foundation whereon if men build they cannot fall.
Thank you, Emma. We are taught through the counsel of Helaman to his sons that we must build our foundation “upon the rock of our Redeemer, who is Christ, the Son of God.” Our Heavenly Father and His Son have a plan for us. The purpose of that plan is for us to return to Them and enjoy eternal life in Their presence. It is, however, much more than just returning to their presence—it requires growth, development of character and soul; it requires the acquisition of experience and judgement; it requires a change of heart so not only are we forgiven but have no more disposition to do evil. In short, it requires all which will refine us and make us more like God so when we return to Him, we are so much more than we were when we left His presence.
While that is God’s plan for all His children, we must remember that it is our agency that determines our course through the eternities. We chose to follow our Heavenly Father and His Son before coming to this earth, and here we must choose again for ourselves to obtain eternal life through our Redeemer, Jesus Christ—or not. It is our choice to be disciples of the Savior—or not. It is very simple, a choice of anything less than discipleship is a choice not.
Our Heavenly Father and His Son’s infinite love for each of us requires that agency be respected. Without it, we can never become like Them. Our righteous choices through this difficult earthly experience will bring us back to the Savior so He can sanctify us and bring us back into God’s presence. We must choose to build our foundation upon the rock of the Redeemer, who is Christ, in order to withstand the adversary and benefit from the trials of this life. There is no other way than Christ.
You each have the power to choose your eternal destination now. So how do we choose to be disciples? It sounds like something much easier to say than to do. Perhaps we can look at a few basic steps that will help. I will illustrate with another experience.
Several years ago, my wife’s family had the opportunity to acquire a piece of property. The property had about 500 large and beautiful cherry trees on it. It also had old engine blocks, cars, batteries, car parts, buildings, hundreds of old tires, and other junk that rendered it unsightly and of little value to us. It had been used as a junkyard for many years. So we had to make some difficult decisions. First, were we going to purchase the property, recognizing that it had some potential, but it also had a lot of problems? Second, if we did purchase it, what did we want it to be, and what were we willing to do to realize its full potential?
In the end, we made the choice to purchase the property, to clean it up, and to purge it of all the junk. It was not easy. It took months of hard labor.
Cars were removed, and wire, batteries, tires, and literally hundreds of loads of trash were hauled away.
Old buildings and sheds were torn down and removed.
When we were done, it was beautiful. We turned our attention to the trees and the orchard. We pulled stumps and mowed and prepared the orchard in every way.
That spring, the weather was beautiful. We anticipated a great harvest of cherries. Fruit did come, but those who knew much more about the care of trees than we did said that the trees were in need of attention and that we would need to prune them to improve their yield. My first reaction was, “Wait, they are beautiful, and all is well in the orchard.” However, we listened because we desired that the orchard be as good and productive as it could be, fulfilling its full potential.
So, the next spring we undertook the job of pruning the trees. When we were finished, I wondered, “What have we done? These trees will never thrive after having undergone such devastation. How will they ever produce more fruit than before?”
But as spring progressed, they did become beautiful, and the harvest was bountiful. Now the orchard had reached its full potential.
In order to complete the illustration, let’s look at each part of the experience and relate it to our lives.
We have been presented with an eternal opportunity. Starting today, you can determine your destination. You can place yourself firmly on the path. President Russell M. Nelson refers to it as the covenant path, and it leads back to our Heavenly Father. What is the covenant path? It is sacred covenants we make with God, which if kept, enable us to return to His presence and become like He is. Covenants are binding promises—promises of obedience made by us to our Heavenly Father, and promises of blessings from our Heavenly Father to us. There are a few principles you should know about the covenant path.
- It is the same for all of God’s children. God sets the terms of the covenant. It has always been the same and does not vary because of culture, time in history, or current prevalent thinking. It is not negotiated or ever defined by our will. There simply has never been nor will there ever be another path back to our Heavenly Father other than through the making and keeping of sacred covenants with Him.
- Circumstances, situations, events, and experiences along that path are individual and become the refining process for each of us as sons and daughters of God to become more like Him. These experiences involve successes and failures, joy, pain, adversity, transgression, and repentance, and triumph over opposition.
- The covenant path does not end at death’s door. Death is merely an event along the path that becomes insignificant in the eternities. The covenants that we make span all time, and the promised blessings cannot be limited to this life. A blessing for one during this life may be reserved for another after death. Because death separates what we can see from what we cannot see, it is natural for us to place far too much significance upon it.
There may be things we need to change in order to put ourselves on the covenant path. You may need to go through the hard work of repentance. You may need to change habits that, while not necessarily unrighteous, are not leading you back to our Heavenly Father. You may need to clean up. It is a process that always starts with the first step.
In the orchard, there was the first old battery, the first old car, the first old tire that needed to be loaded onto a truck. It could have been discouraging because when one piece of junk was removed, another seemed to be lying right underneath, but eventually the land was clean. As we make needed changes, little by little, we can see the difference in our lives.
President Nelson has taught that there is great joy in this process. Every step we take that brings us closer to Christ will bring us satisfaction and encouragement. In fact, as our dear prophet has lovingly taught us, this gift of repentance, of change, is one of the greatest gifts extended to us by our Heavenly Father and His Son. We must choose to accept this gift. In choosing to repent, we are setting a course for our lives. There is no sin or transgression that you may have committed that cannot be forgiven. With the Savior’s help we can all change. We all need the gift. It is wrong to assume that some need the Atonement of Jesus Christ more than others. Not one of us will be saved without Him. We must decide to seek the grace that the Savior has offered us through the Atonement. Moroni 10:32–33 teaches us the incredible relationship between agency and grace. Will you please read this scripture for us, Benj?
Yea, come unto Christ [we choose], and be perfected in him [His grace], and deny yourselves of all ungodliness [we choose]; and if ye shall deny yourselves of all ungodliness, and love God with all your might, mind and strength [we choose], then is his grace sufficient for you, that by his grace ye may be perfect in Christ; and if by the grace of God ye are perfect in Christ, ye can in nowise deny the power of God.
And again, if ye by the grace of God are perfect in Christ, and deny not his power [we choose], then are ye sanctified in Christ by the grace of God, through the shedding of the blood of Christ, which is in the covenant of the Father unto the remission of your sins, that ye become holy, without spot.
Thank you, Benj. After we had cleaned the junk out of the orchard, a part of us felt we were done. The orchard was now beautiful, and it bore fruit. Yet in order for the orchard to be everything it could be, the trees had to be pruned. We will be tested, even sanctified, by difficult experiences in this life—even as we make our best efforts to get on and stay on the covenant path. However, the difficulties of this life will refine us if we turn to the Savior for strength and guidance. Siearra will read to us from John 15.
I am the true vine, and my Father is the husbandman.
Every branch in me that beareth not fruit he taketh away: and every branch that beareth fruit, he purgeth it, that it may bring forth more fruit.
Now ye are clean through the word which I have spoken unto you.
Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, except it abide in the vine; no more can ye, except ye abide in me.
I am the vine, ye are the branches: He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without me ye can do nothing.
If a man abide not in me, he is cast forth as a branch, and is withered; and men gather them, and cast them into the fire, and they are burned.
If ye abide in me, and my words abide in you, ye shall ask what ye will, and it shall be done unto you.
Herein is my Father glorified, that ye bear much fruit; so shall ye be my disciples.
As the Father hath loved me, so have I loved you: continue ye in my love.
If ye keep my commandments, ye shall abide in my love; even as I have kept my Father's commandments, and abide in his love.
These things have I spoken unto you, that my joy might remain in you, and that your joy might be full.
Thank you, Siearra. We should never equate the trials and difficulties of this life with a lack of love from our Heavenly Father. This scripture teaches us that trials and difficulties will sanctify us and bring us closer to God if we abide in Christ.
To abide in this way, each of us will need to develop a strong and deep foundation to protect us against the adversary so that “when all his hail and his mighty storm shall beat upon you, it shall have no power over you to drag you down to the gulf of misery and endless wo.”
We must abide in Christ. Sometimes that requires us to reach, to stretch far beyond what is comfortable.
I am reminded of a huge cottonwood tree located on the property of a close friend. Recently, this 100-year-old tree succumbed to a vicious windstorm.
Notice how shallow the roots were. The rains come often in northwest Montana, and the roots of this tree had not stretched deep enough into the soil to secure the massive tree in the storm.
My wife and I have a home in the desert and recently were doing some landscape work. The landscaper told us that the irrigation lines for the new trees would not be placed on the surface but would be placed through a pipe deep in the ground, far below the root ball of the tree. The roots will need to grow deep to reach the water. He said, “This way they will be ready for the winds that often blow here.”
Many of you have taken time to ponder and respond to the following questions:
How do you establish a deep foundation to guide you on your path?
The storms are increasing. Are you being tossed in the wind?
Why is it important to choose your path in life now?
Thank you, brothers and sisters, for taking the time to ponder these questions. I pray that in your personal reflections you have felt peace and guidance. I would like to add some additional caution. Remember what defines the path?
Please be careful not to define your path by events that may occur on that path. Let me explain. One may define his or her path by saying the following: “I will serve a mission, meet that perfect someone, marry in the temple, and have five children who will all embrace the gospel and live its teachings.”
While these are worthy goals, you do not completely control whether you achieve them or not. For instance, if health will not allow you to serve a mission, you must not tie that experience to your personal expression of faith or to your belief that our Heavenly Father loves you. If your children stray, you must respect their agency as your own without allowing such heartbreak to affect your commitment to the Lord. Perhaps you will not have the opportunity to marry or bear children in this life. This circumstance does not mean that abiding in Christ is any less important or that He cares any less about you and your exaltation.
What is most important is that you plant yourself firmly in the middle of the covenant path, facing forward and ready to receive the blessings of eternal life with our Heavenly Father. Our quest for exaltation is personal. It is something that we engage in as individuals. While we can gain support from family and friends, we must be personally engaged with the Savior. We must accept His atoning sacrifice for ourselves. We must seek personal revelation to know what our Heavenly Father would have us do and how to do it. We are not able to see all that will be in our lives, nor are we able to choose the experiences that will mold us. Recently, in a meeting with Elder David A. Bednar, he taught some very important principles of revelation. I have his permission to share this example.
Elder Bednar recounted the experience of receiving a phone call from President Gordon B. Hinckley. President Hinckley said, “David, I have been thinking that now is the time to make Ricks College a four-year university. And we will name the new school Brigham Young University-Idaho.” Elder Bednar asked President Hinckley what he would have him do. President Hinckley simply responded, “Make it happen.”
Elder Bednar explained to us how heavy his heart was after that conversation. He wondered how this enormous task would ever be done. The next morning, he woke up and felt the Lord leading him in identifying one or two things that first needed to be accomplished. He did those things, and then another two or three things were made apparent. A true miracle occurred “line upon line and precept upon precept” over time under the Lord’s direction.
Brothers and sisters, we also will see miracles in our lives as we learn to follow the Lord’s direction one or two things at a time. What is important is that you are firmly standing on the covenant path. As you seek the Lord’s direction, you may have periods of time in your life when the answers don’t come easily, but if you have made the decision to love the Lord, have faith in Him, and do His will—even one or two things as they are revealed to you—eventually all will be right with you.
There are those on the ground who will keep you safe if you follow the rule. We followed the previous instructions of the air traffic controller and our flight plan route and soon flew out of the storm, regained radio contact, and landed safely.
Even in times of darkness or what seems like silence from above, when you may feel abandoned, what you decide to do today can guide you through the darkness to the light. The Lord is always there. He is always there. If in the storms of life you feel you can’t hear His direction, stay true to the covenants you promised to keep. If you are true to your love of the Savior and covenants with Him, you will be blessed. If you find yourself in difficulty and things don’t seem right, persist in righteousness. Storm clouds will clear, clarity will come, and peace will return. Decide now, today, this very instant that you will remain faithful, in the center of the covenant path, constantly expressing love and gratitude to our Heavenly Father and His Son, Jesus Christ. Decide now.
I bear humble testimony of God’s love for us. I testify of His Son, our Savior, our Redeemer, our friend.
 Helaman 5:12.
 Moroni 10:32–33.
 John 15:1–11.
 Helaman 5:12.
Choose Discipleship Now!
Audio of Elder Vern P. Stanfill's BYU-Idaho devotional address, Fall 2019