President & Sister Kusch
Thank you very very much, that was beautiful and I am thrilled to be here with you today. I appreciate this opportunity. I’m just thinking as President Kusch announced me and talk about the speaker next week, I bet you last Tuesday when President Eyring was here up on the stand and he announced the next week, – James Tidwell, accountant will be here – that sent a wave of excitement like no one could believe as you were waiting for President Eyring to speak.
I’ve known President Kusch for a long time and I love him, he is a great man, very humble, inspired and talented man. He is your friend, you’re blessed to have him as your president. You do well to carefully observe and follow his example and the example of his wife, Alynda.
My Wife, Anna, and Family
My wife, Tomi – this is not my wife, – is sorry she could not be here today. She is in Kentucky helping to care for three of our grandchildren, while our 42-year-old son rehabilitates from a very serious accident. We are grateful he survived the accident and we marvel at his perfect brightness of hope. I am eternally grateful for my incredible wife and her pure goodness. I’ve been blessed with amazing parents who still live on their own at 93, we have four wonderful children with equally wonderful spouses, we are especially grateful for our 13 grandchildren, and one grandson-in-law who is wonderful.
One of these grandchildren, the talented and beautiful Anna Mortensen, came with me today so I wouldn’t be scared, she lives in Syracuse and turns 16 in a few weeks, she came down to Sandy last Sunday with her family to attend my stake conference. Afterward she told me how great the stake conference was, and she asked me: “grandpa, do you realize how many times speakers pause and say ‘um’ during their talk?” I said “no, do you count them?” she says, “yeah, usually and it’s a lot!” I hesitated and then I asked: “Ana, how many times did I say ‘um’?” She quickly answered “oh grandpa, I don’t count yours.” It’s nice to have a fan club, even of one member.
My wife and I, as president Kusch said, meet at the University of Utah at institute. We were born just four days apart and in those days people stayed at the hospital a lot longer when they had a baby. And we were both in Salt Lake City, we would have been in the newborn nursery together, but our mothers went to different hospitals. So I missed finding her in the nursery, but our paths crossed again 18 years later at an Institute of Religion activity. My advice to you is to get engaged with Institute. You will not only find it engaging, you might find yourself engaged.
What does it mean to be engaged?
The word engaged mean betrothed, pledged, oddly enough involved in conflict or battle, or employed, occupied, or busy (American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language). All of these definitions imply a high degree of commitment. Being fully engaged in something includes being absorbed and taking initiative.
Why Should We Get Engaged?
All of us need to get engaged especially some of you young men who need a bit more focused direction and female guidance in your lives.
We are commanded to be anxiously engaged in a good cause
God expects us to get engaged. In a well-known and often-quoted scripture the Lord says,
“For behold, it is not meet that I should command in all things; for he that is compelled in all things, the same is a slothful and not a wise servant …
Verily I say, men should be anxiously engaged in a good cause, and do many things of their own free will, and bring to pass much righteousness” (Doctrine & Covenants 58:27-28).
Our Heavenly Father has given us agency to make our own choices. We are free to choose and to act, without being compelled. He expects us to take initiative and do many good things of our own free will. He does not want us to wait around to be told what to do.
God commands us to not be idle
The Lord makes it clear in several sections of the Doctrine & Covenants that we are not to be idle – which is the opposite of being engaged, at least in my mind.
Cease to be idle (D&C 88:124).
Thou shalt not be idle (D&C 42:42).
I, the Lord, am not well pleased with the… [idlers in Zion] (D&C 68:31).
The idler shall not have place in the church, except he repent and mend his ways (D&C 75:29).
This warning against idleness is found in ancient scriptures as well:
The Book of Mormon Alma told his son, Shiblon, to “refrain from idleness” (Alma 32:12).
And in the Bible, the prophet Ezekiel compared Jerusalem to Sodom, whose iniquities included an “abundance of idleness” (Ezekiel 16:49).
And in the parable of the talents the Lord condemned the wicked and slothful servant for being idle and hiding his talent (See Matthew 25:25-26).
The Lord clearly wants us to be busy, to be ‘up and doing’ as my mom likes to say, that’s her favorite phrase, I think, ‘being up and doing.’
Getting engaged in good causes is key to our growth and happiness
Besides being engaged because we are commanded to, we should do so because we need it. Being fully engaged is fulfilling and brings satisfaction to all humankind.
In 1943, a psychologist named Abraham Maslow published a scientific paper called “A Theory of Human Motivation.” Over his lifetime he refined that theory ultimately settling on a hierarchy or pyramid of five levels of human needs.
The first level is for basic things, they are physiological---the need for air, food, water, etc.
The next level is the need for security and safety,
Followed by the need for social belonging.
The fourth level, moving up the hierarchy, is the need for self-esteem and respect.
Interestingly, the pinnacle of human needs according to Maslow is the need for self-actualization. Maslow described this level as the need for reaching one’s full potential in life. He stated, “What a man can be, he must be.”
And while the specific elements and prioritization of levels of Maslow’s theory are sometimes debated, it has had widespread acceptance. Endowed members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints should certainly identify with Maslow’s highest order of need, that of striving to reach one’s full potential in life. There is something innate and God-given in virtually all people, that we want to grow, we want to excel, we want to improve, and progress.
If reaching our potential, it is universally a top tier human need, we should all be striving to maximize that growth and progress. Taking initiative and acting rather than always reacting, are important principles of the gospel of Jesus Christ. We all need to get anxiously engaged in doing the very best things. How much correlation is there between full engagement and high achievement? In The 7 Habits of Highly Effective people, Stephen R. Covey states, “The difference between people who exercise initiative and those who don’t is literally the difference between night and day.” He continues, “I’m not talking about a 25 to 50 percent difference in effectiveness; I’m talking about a 5000-plus percent difference…” (The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, p. 76).
When we take initiative and fully engage in what we choose to do, it unleashes enormous power to accomplish amazing things. When we truly engage in good causes, we can “bring to pass much righteousness.”
Tendency to sometimes hold back and just “show up”
We sometimes, maybe often avoid getting fully engaged for fear it will consume too much of our discretionary time, becoming too busy could limit our ability to be spontaneous and have fun. We don’t want to be idle, but neither do we want to be so committed. We just “show up” to often and try to not get involved. Some young men approach dating this way.
Ironically, many years ago I gave a devotional talk at BYU-Idaho, on the importance of just “showing up.” I felt at the time that if we would just respond to assignments and requests for help, Heavenly Father would put us to work and provide on-the-job training to help us succeed. It seemed to work for me much of my life. As a young man, I would usually just “show up” for Aaronic Priesthood assignments. I showed up for my mission. Sometimes in school or even at work, I would just show up and made the most of whatever presented itself that day. So what’s wrong with this? For thing is being acted upon, rather than acting.
The world is far more competitive and far more demanding today than it was when I was your age. There are no “show up” missions today. If you aren’t prepared for missionary work from day one, you are a drag on missionary work. There are no “show up” classes at the Business College. Not if you really want to learn and do your part to help others learn. There really are no long-term good “show up” jobs. The market place will eventually merge or eliminate such positions, or downgrade them to a less than an acceptable wage.
There should be no “show up” sacrament meetings. Think about the difference in just showing up on Sunday to take the sacrament, versus truly honoring the Sabbath by reviewing beforehand, our week’s personal performance and sincerely trying to repent of our mistakes before we go to sacrament meeting. If we just show up, how likely will the sacrament deepen our conversion to the Savior and increase our appreciation for His infinite Atonement? If we are not ready and prepare to focus on Jesus Christ during the sacrament, can we really expect to always remember Him, and have his Spirit to be with us? Wouldn’t taking the initiative to prepare, to repent, to reflect on the Atonement of Jesus Christ, increase the effectiveness of this sacred ordinance by 25 or 50 percent, or as Brother Covey indicated, by many times more, perhaps 5000+ percent, than we might otherwise experience by just showing up?
The power of gathering
Several months ago in Priesthood meeting, I observed two elders in their mid-twenties looking at their smartphones the entire time. I could not see what they were looking at, but I could tell it had nothing to do with the gospel discussion that there was going on. They were not engaged in the discussion. They contributed nothing. They gained nothing.
It takes work to effectively engage in meaningful conversations, especially gospel conversations. It takes work to listen to other people’s views and to know when and how to contribute to the dialogue. If we want to progress spiritually, mentally, and socially, we need to gather with others who share our same values and our core beliefs, but don’t necessarily share our same priorities, preferences, insights, or experiences.
When I was your age, there was a very popular novel about the legend of Camelot, called The Once and Future King. In it the wise wizard, Merlyn, teaches a young boy, who would later become King Arthur, to be a great king by turning him into a bird, a goose, a fish, a badger, and even an ant. Merlyn did this so the boy could learn to see the world from different perspectives. It made Arthur empathetic and wise beyond his years.
We all have had quite different experiences in life. We can learn much from one another’s viewpoints and opinions. While we certainly need quiet time alone to study and to ponder, we also need to regularly gather to teach, lift, and inspire one another. It’s a powerful thing to feel the warmth of the Holy Ghost when we are alone studying or praying. But it is equally as powerful and unique to feel the power of the Holy Ghost simultaneously with someone else. This is one reason why missions are so powerful. My mission was filled with almost countless opportunities to learn and teach on moments when I felt the unforgettable burning witness of the Holy Ghost at the same time as my companion and our investigator. This shared experience had a “multiplier effect” which resulted in deeper learning and in deeper conversion. “For where two or three are gathered together in my name,” said the Savior, “there am I in the midst of them” (Matthew 18:20). This does not happen when two or three are gather together to surf the web or to text.
Identifying a major modern challenge
The experience I described earlier about misusing smartphones in priesthood meeting is unfortunately all too common, especially with the rising generation who have grown up with these tools. Smartphones are absolutely miraculous instruments, but they need to be carefully controlled. Earlier this year, some members in my stake appealed for help to increase the Wi-Fi bandwidth in one of our meetinghouses. The ward clerks reported there wasn’t enough bandwidth to do their records processing and submit their donations reports on Sunday. Some members were frustrated that they could not access digital gospel resources on Sunday. An audit of internet usage in the building revealed the real problem. Nearly half of all internet usage in that building involved online shopping sites. Followed closely by sports-related web sites. I suspect the results of such an audit might not be too different in other meetinghouses.
Today’s great challenge to full engagement
The unwise use of technology today takes a tremendous toll on our ability to engage in the things that matter most. We are continuously interrupted and distracted by emails, text messages, robotic calls, social media postings, etc. Living with today’s technology can be like living with a powerful genie or the Incredible Hulk—they make wonderful servants, but terrible masters. I realize I don’t need to convince anyone here how distracting smartphones can be. We get beeped, vibrated, and sung to all day long---each one is a demand that someone wants our attention, our praise, or our money.
The scriptures call this being acted upon. In 1 Nephi 2:14 it says that “God….created all things,…. both things to act and things to be acted upon.” People were meant to act. Smartphones were meant to be acted upon--- not the other way around. If we are to get engaged, we will need to act, and not be acted upon. We need to become the masters of technology, not the servants.
How can we know what we should anxiously engage in?
I have been talking about something we might do less of, paying endless attention to our smartphones, in order that we might get be engaged in better things. I now want to suggest something specific we can do more of if we want to be engaged in the best causes. We each have different talents and different interests. My best causes are not necessarily yours. With so many choices available today, we will surely burn out if we all try to get involved in the same causes. How can we determine what the Lord would have us engage in?
The Scriptures will tell us what we should do
We all have almost instant access to the Holy Scriptures. When we are baptized and receive the Gift of the Holy Ghost, we enter the gate to what President Russell M. Nelson frequently calls the Covenant Path. Once we have committed to walk this Covenant Path, we must then press forward with a steadfastness in Christ, doing the same things that got us into the path: (1) acting in faith, (2) repenting when we stumble, (3) renewing baptismal and temple covenants by taking the sacrament, and (4) seeking to continuously have the Holy Ghost to prompt us. If we so live to have the Holy Ghost with us, it will guide us to know what we should do, which good causes we should engage in. If we ask in faith and with real intent, the Holy Ghost will prompt us, often using the very words of Jesus Christ as found in the Holy Scriptures.
The prophet Nephi said, “Angels speak by the power of the Holy Ghost; wherefore, they speak the words of Christ. Wherefore, I said unto you, feast upon the words of Christ; for behold, the words of Christ will tell you all things what ye should do” (2 Nephi 32:3).
Adam S. Miller, a respected philosophy professor, issued this challenge in very plain words and picturesque images to help young members of the Savior’s Church to diligently study the scriptures:
“Get close to the scriptures. Do anything you can. God is in there. Moses told his people to put bits of scripture in little boxes and, when praying, to tie one box to their arm and the other to their head. Strap the Bible to your forehead. Wear the Book of Mormon on your sleeve. Sleep with your scriptures under your pillow. Tape [verses] to your bathroom mirror. Underline everything. Pack your margins with notes. Read Paul out loud like poetry…… Squeeze their verses like oranges. Know Isaiah by heart. Love Matthew like a brother. Sing the psalms as your prayers….. Do like the Lord told Ezekiel: “Son of man, eat this scroll I am giving you and fill your stomach with it. So I ate it, and it tasted as sweet as honey in my mouth” (Ezekiel 3:3 NIV). Don’t just read the scriptures. Eat them. Get them not only into your head but down into your gut.”
Brother Miller continues, “The restoration restored scripture... When he appeared in the sacred grove, Jesus quoted scripture. When Moroni appeared in Joseph’s bedroom, he quoted scripture and then sent Joseph to unearth more. Joseph translated the Book of Mormon. And then he retranslated the Bible. And then he revealed the Book of Abraham. Then Joseph went back and started again. He never stopped working on his translation of the Bible” (Adam S. Miller, Letters to a Young Mormon, pp. 25-26).
If we want to discover the specific good causes for us to individually engage in, we will need to be feasting daily on the scriptures so that the Holy Ghost can tell us all things that we should do.
Living Prophets help us to know
If we want to know the importance of overarching good causes that we all need to engage in, living prophets can tell us. We have recently received a deluge of revelatory adjustments to important Church practices and policies. Those who have eyes to see and ears to hear, recognize that these adjustments are heaven’s priorities, as revealed by prophets, seers, and revelators. The recent adjustments to priesthood quorums and relief society, and home teaching and visiting teaching, gospel curriculum, the Sunday meeting schedule are all part of a carefully integrated design to strengthen our faith in Heavenly Father and His plan and in His Son, Jesus Christ, and His Atonement.
In his closing talk at the last General Conference, President Nelson made three distinct promises to us if we will engage in the following three things:
President Nelson promised dramatic sustaining changes in our family if we’ll conscientiously and carefully work to transform our home into a sanctuary of faith and a center of gospel learning. Over time our Sabbath days, he promised, will truly be a delight, our families will be excited to learn and to live the Savior’s teachings, and the influence of Satan in our time and in our home will decrease.
He asked us to resolve to honor the Lord Jesus Christ every time we refer to the name of His Church, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. He promised that doing so will lead to increased faith and access to greater spiritual power.
President Nelson pleaded with us to take a prayerful look at how we spend our time. He promised that the Lord will bring the miracles He knows we need as we make sacrifices to serve and worship in His temples (see November 2018 Ensign, pp. 111-112).
Engaged in the Best of Causes
I have talked this morning about getting anxiously engaged in good causes and doing many things of our own free will, that sounds like ministering to me. I have expressed the need to purposely reduce the distractions that prevent us from getting engaged--- particularly the critical need to monitor and master technology.
I have mentioned the power of regularly gathering with friends and colleagues to lift and reinforce deep learning and to opportunities to jointly feel the influence –the lasting influence of the Holy Ghost.
And I have discussed how we can determine which good causes we should engage in. By living worthily and feasting daily on the words of Christ, I testify the Holy Ghost will guide us to those specific causes, to those people, to those places, to those experiences that our Heavenly Father has prepared for us individually. By carefully studying and heeding the words of our living prophets, we will know the prophetic priorities that we all need to be anxiously engaged in.
The Lord and His leaders have great trust in you. As you progress through life, anxiously engaged in those causes that the Lord will reveal to you, you will bring to pass much righteousness. As you minister to God’s children in a higher and holier way, you will help prepare the world for the glorious return of the Savior Jesus Christ. I pray that we will all get anxiously and fully engaged in this most wonderful of all causes. In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.
James E. Tidwell II works in the Office of the Commissioner of Church Education as the Director of the Global Education Initiative. In this assignment, Brother Tidwell directs a small team of talented educators who are exploring ways to leverage the Church’s educational resources to bless members everywhere the Church is organized. As part of this assignment he has worked with Church leaders and members in Ghana, Haiti, Papua New Guinea, Vanuatu, Samoa, Mexico, and Guatemala. He loves working with these amazing people and has been deeply inspired by their abiding faith in Jesus Christ.
Prior to his current assignment, Brother Tidwell worked as Director of Finance for the Church Educational System, the Church Budget Office, and the Central America Area. During the 25 years he fulfilled these assignments, Brother Tidwell regularly attended meetings of the Church Board of Education and the Church Budget Committee. Prior to Church employment, he spent eight years working in public accounting for Deloitte.
Brother Tidwell was born in Salt Lake City, but as part of an Air Force family he moved every few years and grew up in many wonderful places, including Germany, France, South Carolina, Alabama, and Utah. He served a Spanish-speaking mission in the Delaware-Maryland Mission. He earned a bachelor’s degree in accounting from the University of Utah and is a licensed Certified Public Accountant.
Brother Tidwell met his wife, Tomi Lynn Chamberlain, at an Institute of Religion activity during their first few weeks of college. When their family was young, they enjoyed living with their four children in Costa Rica and Guatemala. Today, Brother and Sister Tidwell have 13 grandchildren and reside in Sandy, Utah, where he serves as a stake president.