President David A. Bednar
President of Ricks College
Bio not available
"TEACH THEM TO UNDERSTAND"
Ricks College Campus Education Week Devotional
Brothers and sisters, it is wonderful to be here with you today. A few ground rules as we begin: First, this will not be me talking at you as much as I hope it will be an invitation for the Spirit of the Holy Ghost to teach all of us. Second, if you have your scriptures, the rustling of the pages is sweet music to my ears. I recommend that if you have your scriptures you put them on your lap. You may even want to have a piece of paper and a pen--not to write down anything I will say, but to pay particular attention to and note the thoughts that will come to your mind and the feelings that will come to your heart. The Lord indicates in Section 8 of the Doctrine and Covenants that revelation frequently comes as thoughts to the mind and feelings to the heart. So listening to me is not important, but paying attention to the promptings of the Holy Ghost is very important.
Please turn with me to Section 50 in the Doctrine and Covenants, verses 13 and 14: "Wherefore, I the Lord ask you this question--unto what were ye ordained? To preach my gospel by the Spirit, even the Comforter which was sent forth to teach the truth." I would draw your attention to a very important distinction in verse 14. When you and I are called to a position and set apart to serve in the Church, our responsibility is not to teach. It is to preach. The word preach in our contemporary vocabulary has some negative baggage associated with it. We think of people ranting and raving and pounding the pulpit; that is not it at all. Preaching is explaining and articulating the doctrine of Christ by the power of the Spirit. If you and I, as we are properly set apart, fulfill that responsibility, who then does the teaching? The answer is found in verse 14: "Even the Comforter which was sent forth to teach the truth." We are taught by the third member of the Godhead, even the Holy Ghost. That is why it is so important when we are assembled in a setting such as this to remember and heed the thoughts that come to our minds and the feelings that come to our hearts. They are put there by the Spirit of the Holy Ghost. That is the teaching we should respond to. So I invite that spirit and pray we will have the companionship of the Holy Ghost. I ask you to pray for me, even as I now pray for you, that we can have that spiritual gift as we are together during this period of time.
Every Home is a House of Learning. As I have reflected on that theme from Elder Wirthlin, the question has come to my mind: "Why is the home so crucial for gospel instruction?" I think we would all agree that the home can and should be the most natural and the most effective setting for learning the gospel. I would simply pose this one question: "Why?" Let me suggest a few thoughts that have come to my mind as I have reflected on this question.
The first reason is the home is the only place where we cannot hide from who we really are. Brother Mack Shirley said some very kind things about Sister Bednar and me today. I work with Brother Shirley; I sign his checks. He has to say nice things about me. Now, I will tell you what the natural man in me would love to believe. I would love to believe that Brother Shirley is exactly right in all of those nice things he said. However, when I return to my home and talk with my wife or my 16-year-old son, they help me remember things as they really are.
More than a year ago I received a phone call from Elder Henry B. Eyring. During the conversation he asked me this question: "Elder Bednar, we are in the process of identifying a new president for Ricks College. Would you be interested in being considered?" I said, "I would be delighted to learn about the position and be considered." He then said, "Good. Let's get right to business. You and your wife need to be in Salt Lake City tomorrow." I called my wife and said, "Susan, I just got a call from Elder Eyring. We have to be in Salt Lake City tomorrow." She said, "David, for 23 years you have been teasing me. This is the biggest hoax you have ever tried to pull, and I am not buying it!" It took me almost 15 minutes to convince Susan that I was not kidding and that we really had to make arrangements to get to Salt Lake City. That evening at dinner I said to our youngest son, "Jeffrey, I received a call from Elder Eyring today. Mom and I will be traveling to Salt Lake City to be interviewed about the possibility of moving to Rexburg, Idaho, to become the president of Ricks College." He took about five seconds, looked at me, and said, "Dad, there have to be a lot of men in the Church better qualified for that job than you!" Other people who do not know me well might have thought, "He seems to be a likely candidate for that job." My son was saying, "Are you kidding me? My dad?"
What does this experience illustrate about learning gospel principles in the home? Truth is knowledge of things as they really were, as they really are, and as they really will be. You learn the truth about yourself in the home, and you cannot hide from the truths that you do not want to see and that you do not want to be reminded of. Sometimes that can be very painful. Sometimes we do not deal with that reality very well. But in the home we cannot hide from it. Consequently, confronting truths about ourselves that we might prefer to avoid nurtures the process of continuing individual repentance.
Brother Shirley may say, "Elder Bednar does a particular thing very well." Yet my wife knows I did not do that particular thing very well this morning. Knowing that I cannot hide from who I really am when I am with my wife and my children produces in me a desire to be better than I would ordinarily be.
So why is the home potentially the most natural and most effective setting for learning the gospel? Because there we find the truth about ourselves, and we cannot hide from it.
We are going to spend some time in the scriptures to identify the second reason why the home is the best place to learn gospel principles. The Savior emphatically emphasized the home as a special setting for the learning of gospel doctrine and principles. Please turn to 3 Nephi, Chapter 17. As we go through this series of verses, we are going to focus on a word. I will highlight that word when we get to it. You will recall that in Chapter 17 the Savior is teaching the people in the Land of Bountiful near the temple. This is one of the most powerful chapters in all of holy writ. Beginning in verse 1:
Understand is the word I want to draw to our attention. Notice that the Savior, even in the midst of his preaching, was aware that the people could not understand all that was being presented.
What a marvelous formula! (1) Go to your home, (2) ponder upon the things that have been said, (3) ask of the Father in Christ's name that you will understand, and (4) prepare your mind for additional instruction.
Even though the most powerful teacher who ever lived was in their midst and instructing these people, yet He, Jesus Christ, recognized that true understanding would come in the home. I find it powerful and significant that Christ emphasized the setting of the home as the place for understanding the doctrines of the gospel.
Now turn to Section 68 in the Doctrine and Covenants. I want to link together a series of verses that we all know and are familiar with. Perhaps we have not examined carefully the word understand in these verses. Brace yourself, because I am about to preach a hard doctrine.
Here is the hard doctrine. It does not say to teach our children. Teaching is an activity. It says that we should teach them to understand. Understanding is an outcome; it is a result. It is easy for us to say, "I teach my children in the home." That is not the job we have been assigned. That is not the admonition. It says that we are to teach them to understand.
Here is the question that follows this hard doctrine. "Can any parent ever ensure or guarantee that a child will understand?" The answer is, "No." Let's go back to Section 50 and continue with what we have read about the process of learning by the Spirit. We have already read verses 13 and 14. This entire section describes the process whereby he that preacheth and he that receiveth, when they do so under the influence of the Holy Ghost, are edified and rejoice together. There is one other important outcome. Can you guess what it is? They understand each other. Let's go to verse 17 in Section 50:
I believe, brothers and sisters, that Section 68 verses 25-26 are an admonition for parents to create a home that is a house of learning wherein the Spirit of the Holy Ghost can reside. In such a home the Holy Ghost can teach the children to understand. It is not the parents who do the teaching. The parents have a role; they create, invite, and facilitate. But who ultimately is the teacher? The Spirit of the Holy Ghost. And it is teaching by the Spirit that produces understanding.
I think each of these scriptures points to the home as a context for teaching by the Spirit of the Holy Ghost. Within a Christ-centered home, love, trust, and confidence invite the Spirit of the Holy Ghost. I believe these scriptures highlight the importance of creating a home wherein the Holy Ghost can do the teaching. As parents we have the responsibility to establish that type of house of learning.
I would like to draw your attention to the second chapter of Mosiah. Before we read these verses, I would ask you to think about King Benjamin. As people came to hear him preach, how were they organized? They were in their families. Isn't that interesting? Let's look for a pattern. The Savior said, "Go to your homes. Ponder." I believe the pattern includes discussion in our families about the things that have been preached. The admonition in Section 50 is to preach by the Spirit. The instruction, even the commandment, we receive in Section 68 is to teach our children to understand. Both passages highlight the same pattern of creating a Christ-centered, spirit-filled house of learning so that the Holy Ghost can teach and testify.
Let's read Chapter 2 in Mosiah beginning with verse 5:
In the home, where you cannot hide from who you really are, where love and confidence and trust invite the Spirit of the Holy Ghost, our ears can be opened that we may hear, our hearts may be opened that we understand as we are taught by the Spirit of the Holy Ghost, and our minds are opened that the mysteries of God may be unfolded to our view. Is it a coincidence that Section 8 of the Doctrine and Covenants emphasizes revelation coming to the mind and the heart and here King Benjamin says that our hearts and our minds will be opened to behold the mysteries of God?
Brothers and sisters, I think opening our minds and hearts is part of the emphasis Elder Wirthlin has suggested in our theme, Every Home is a House of Learning. May I suggest just a few things that we can do to create that kind of home.
First, understand and love the doctrine of Christ. As I travel around the Church, I find the word "doctrine" is not very well understood. Sometimes we think doctrine refers to weird, abstract, mysterious subjects in the gospel of Jesus Christ. As I refer to doctrine, I am not talking about how many light-years it is to Kolob and who lives there. Rather, doctrine refers to the eternal, unchanging, and simple truths of the gospel of Jesus Christ. There are several key words in that definition: eternal, unchanging, simple, and truth. Doctrines are never altered. They never vary. They will always be the same. You can always count on them. There is, for example, the doctrine of the Atonement. There is doctrine related to priesthood and priesthood keys. There is doctrine related to continuing revelation and the pattern whereby our Heavenly Father communicates with us and we communicate with Him. These are eternal, unchanging truths of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
There are also principles. Principles are doctrinally based guidelines for what we ought to do. Therefore, if there is a doctrine of the Atonement, then the first principle of the gospel is faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. Repentance is the second principle or doctrinally based guideline for how we should live. Both of these principles are linked to the doctrine of the Atonement. Brothers and sisters, doctrine answers the why questions of our lives. Principles provide us with direction about the what and the how. May I suggest that in the times in which we live, only the restored gospel of Jesus Christ has the answers to the why questions that matter the most.
Susan and I have lived in the mission field all of our adult lives, and we have encountered marvelous people in other denominations who do many of the right things but do not fully understand why. It concerns me as I see young people in our Church who know all the correct things they should do and do not have a clue as to why. They have a check-list mentality. "Say my prayers morning and night. Read the scriptures." Why do they do these things? "Because I am supposed to. Because the prophet said. Because my mom and dad will jump my case if I don't." May I suggest that each of these activities is related to the doctrine of revelation. We pray every morning in a meaningful way to invite the companionship of the Holy Ghost. At the end of the day we report and give an account of our stewardship in our evening prayer. We express gratitude for the companionship of the Spirit and the direction we received. We also study the scriptures daily to feast upon the words of Christ, to again invite the Spirit, and to receive instruction and direction. These things are related to the doctrine of receiving revelation. But do we do these things without an understanding of what they are linked to doctrinally? Do we understand why? If we do not understand the why, then the power available to us through the doctrine of Christ will not be evident in our lives.
This is particularly true with young people pertaining to the law of chastity. They know they shouldn't, but do they know why they shouldn't? Where is the best place to teach the why of chastity? In our homes.
Here is another hard doctrine. Maybe you and I do not "preach" doctrine in our homes as frequently or as effectively as we should because we do not know the doctrine as well as we should.
I do not know a young person who truly understands the doctrine related to "the seed of Abraham" who would violate the law of chastity. We were foreordained in the premortal existence to the blessings associated with birth through a particular lineage, even the chosen lineage of Abraham--not because we are better, not because we are more special, but because we have particular responsibilities that we covenanted we would fulfill. Therefore we came to the earth through a lineage with the birthright blessing of the priesthood. Every man who holds the priesthood was foreordained to that very responsibility in the premortal existence. Does a young man who understands that doctrine have a choice to go on a mission? He made that choice before he was ever born.
We come to the earth as the seed of Abraham to participate in blessing the families of the earth. Father Abraham was given the promise that through him and through his posterity, which is us, all the families of the earth would be blessed. How? By our bearing this ministry, which is the responsibility to proclaim the gospel, and this priesthood, meaning the saving ordinances of the gospel of Jesus Christ. We have promised that we will carry this message to the nations of the earth. Brothers and sisters, you and I were born to spend our lives proclaiming the gospel and serving others. Might I suggest that if you are 65, retired, and thinking about serving a mission, you made that choice before you were ever born. It is through the lineage of Abraham that we came to the earth. Blessing others by proclaiming the gospel is what we were born to do.
As I have opportunities to visit with young people, I like to talk about what it means to be the "seed of Abraham." Hoping that the Spirit of the Lord will touch their hearts, I highlight the story of Jacob and Esau. Esau gave up his birthright blessing for a bowl of red bean soup. Now a question directed to the young people: Would you really want to forfeit your birthright as the seed of Abraham--foreordained in the premortal existence, living on the earth at this particular time to bless the families of the earth, the most glorious spiritually destiny you could ever hope for? Do you really want to give up those blessings and opportunities for a few minutes of messing around? If we understand the doctrine of who we are and why we are here, then that understanding changes the way we do things.
Listen to this statement from President Boyd K. Packer: "True doctrine understood changes attitudes and behavior. The study of the doctrines of the gospel will improve behavior quicker than a study of behavior will improve behavior" (Boyd K. Packer, "Little Children," Ensign, November 1986, pg. 17).
I do not intend to be harsh, but in Relief Society, priesthood, Young Men's, and Young Women's we sometimes have lessons on topics such as self-esteem, self-worth, and goal setting. Such instruction indeed can be good and valuable. But you can get the same information at the Rotary Club or a number of other secular organizations. However, at the Rotary Club you cannot get the pure, simple doctrine of the Atonement of Christ. And self-esteem and the ability to effectively set and accomplish goals ultimately comes from understanding doctrine, not just the mechanics of application.
Listen to this statement from President Ezra Taft Benson:
As parents, how do we get inside? This is the challenge because we have the responsibility to teach our children to understand. If the Lord works from the inside out, can a parent get inside? The answer was found in Section 50. You and I preach. And I do not mean rant and rave and pound the pulpit. We articulate, we explain, we set a worthy example, and we testify of the simple doctrine of Christ--particularly in our homes--so the Spirit of the Holy Ghost can teach, bringing thoughts to the mind and feelings to the heart. That is how the Lord gets inside. In essence, you and I have the opportunity to be the vessel or vehicle through whom the Spirit can come and touch the hearts of those whom we love.
Finally, this statement from President Marion G. Romney:
If they know the why, they will quickly learn the how. Am I suggesting that we never discuss the how? Not at all. I am suggesting that perhaps we do not spend as much time with the why as we need to. As a stake president, I interviewed many, many people about their family home evenings and what they did during that time together. For many members, it was Monday night football and donuts. They would talk in our interviews about the wonderful, fun activities they had together as families. Having fun activities is right, and good, and true. But it is not enough. Anybody can have fun as a family. Anybody can go to the park. But if with small children in the park there are even two or three minutes devoted to a simple illustration about a doctrine or a principle and a pure testimony expressed by a parent, there comes into the mind and into the heart of those children understanding that will bear eternal fruit. I fear there is not enough focus on doctrine in our homes. We should each evaluate our ability to preach the doctrine more effectively to our families in our homes.
As I interviewed members of the Church, frequently I would inquire, "Tell me about personal and family prayer in your home." "Well, President, we know we should do that but we don't do it as consistently as we ought to." "How about family scripture study?" "It just seems that with our hectic schedules as we all go in different directions, we just never seem to get that done." Then, without trying to be too biting or too pointed, I would ask, "Please help me understand what it is in your life that is so important that you cannot make time for these spiritually essential activities." These activities invite the Spirit of the Holy Ghost. It is not just a matter of checking them off a "to do" list so we do not feel guilty. It is a matter of inviting the spirit of revelation and the protection of the Holy Ghost for me, for you, and for our children.
Brothers and sisters, think of the total amount of time in a week devoted to doctrinally based, spirit-filled instruction for our young people through the programs of the Church. Let's assume they go to seminary. That might yield three or four hours of quality instruction during the course of the week. What would they receive in church on Sunday? Thirty minutes in sacrament meeting; thirty minutes in Sunday School; and thirty minutes in Young Men's, Young Women's, or Gospel Doctrine. A total of maybe five, six, or seven hours for the entire week, if we are optimistic. Think of the evil influences in the world. Will the Church and its programs alone safeguard you and me and our children in an increasingly wicked world? The answer is no. Please do not misunderstand this statement--I would not trust my children exclusively to the programs of the Church. I love the Church, but the Church operates as a support to you and to me as we create a home that is a house of learning. First and foremost, the responsibility is ours as parents to create a Christ-centered, spirit-filled home environment where the Holy Ghost can teach and testify to our children. If they know the why, they will quickly learn the how.
Brothers and sisters, with all the energy of my soul, I express appreciation for being here with you today. I have gained much from your faith as you have assembled here. I hope the Spirit has instructed each of us in things we can do better to follow the admonition of Elder Wirthlin to create a home that is a house of learning.
I testify that Jesus is the Christ. I know He lives. I know He appeared with his Father to the boy prophet Joseph Smith. And I testify the living Savior directs the affairs of His living church through apostles and prophets in these latter days. I so testify in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.
A House of Order
Dr. Mack G. Shirley gave the devotional address at Ricks College on November 24, 1998.