Strength and Safety Through Gathering | Stephen W. Owen

Strength and Safety Through Gathering | Stephen W. Owen

Brothers and sisters, you are an impressive
sight. I commend you for taking the time from your
busy schedules to participate in this devotional. Members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day
Saints have a strong tradition of gathering together to be uplifted and inspired. The semiannual general conference we enjoyed
earlier this month is a good example. For more than 130 years, the Church’s general
conferences were held in the Salt Lake Tabernacle, which seats about 6,000 people. In 1996, President Gordon B. Hinckley noted
that the Tabernacle was getting too small to accommodate those who wanted to attend
conference. That is when President Hinckley announced
plans to build the 21,000-seat Conference Center. Why go to all that trouble—especially with
technology emerging that would allow general conference to reach more and more people in
their homes? Well, it seems that gathering is important
to the Lord. As President Hinckley later said: The building of this structure has been a
bold undertaking. We worried about it. We prayed about it. We listened for the whisperings of the Spirit
concerning it. And only when we felt the confirming voice
of the Lord did we determine to go forward. Now we can hardly imagine general conference
without the Conference Center. Any of you who have attended general conference
know that there is something powerful about being in the Conference Center with 21,000
other Latter-day Saints—just as there is something powerful about this gathering at
today’s devotional. Clearly, both general conference and BYU devotionals
are about more than just receiving a spiritual message. If that were their only purpose, speakers could simply prepare their messages and have them published. But part of what makes general conference
and BYU devotionals so meaningful is that they involve gathering—in the Conference
Center, here in the Marriott Center, and in many locations worldwide. I also find it interesting that the Church’s
revolutionary PathwayConnect program, which uses the internet to bring the blessings of
education to people around the world, includes weekly gatherings at a local Church facility
in addition to online coursework. These gatherings are considered a vital part
of PathwayConnect—and many students report that it’s their favorite part. I believe something powerful happens anytime
we gather as God’s covenant people anywhere in the world, no matter how many people the
gathering may include. That power can be difficult to describe, but
perhaps these words of the Savior explain it best: “Where two or three are gathered
together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.” Our Father in Heaven wants to gather us because
there is great strength and safety in gathering. He has said “that the gathering together
upon the land of Zion, and upon her stakes, [is] for a defense, and for a refuge from
the storm”. “[I will] gather you,” He has promised,
“as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, if ye will repent and return unto me
with full purpose of heart”. The adversary, on the other hand, seeks to
isolate us and divide us, because just as gathering brings strength and safety, division
brings weakness and danger. President Russell M. Nelson recently put the
topic of gathering on all of our minds when he spoke to the youth—and then again to the women—of the Church about the latter-day gathering of Israel. He called it “the most important thing taking
place on earth today.” He said, “Nothing else compares in magnitude, nothing else compares in importance, nothing else compares in majesty.” In the spirit of President Nelson’s stirring
words, today I would like to explore with you three ways in which the Lord gathers His
people: He gathers us in families. He gathers us with fellow Saints. He gathers us to Him and to His gospel. First, we gather in families. It is true that we all “work out [our] own
salvation” before the Lord Jesus Christ. Most of the covenants we make are personal,
between an individual and God. And yet, as President Nelson explained, while
“salvation is an individual matter; exaltation is a family matter.” The highest covenant we make here on earth—the
covenant of eternal marriage—is the only one that we cannot enter into alone. We must make and keep this covenant together
with our spouse. Our Father did not send us to earth alone, and He does not intend for us to try to make back to Him alone. President Henry B. Eyring explained: [Heavenly Father] wants His children to come
to earth, following the eternal pattern of families that exists in heaven. Families are the basic organizational unit
of the eternal realms, and so He intends for them also to be the basic unit on earth. Though earthly families are far from perfect,
they give God’s children the best chance to be welcomed to the world with the only
love on earth that comes close to what we felt in heaven—parental love. It is easy to see why the Lord’s Church
is so committed to building and strengthening ­families—and why Satan would try to disintegrate
them. If he can, the adversary will try to convince
you not to get married and start a family. If he can’t do that, he will try to convince
you to put it off at least until after you have had a chance to enjoy independence for
a while. Then, when you are married, he will try to
stir up contention, pride, selfishness, and hurt feelings to prevent your family members
from being truly united. At the same time, he will whisper his message
that families are outmoded and unnecessary, that ­people are just fine—better, in fact—when
they are single and independent. He does all this because he knows that the
children of God are weaker and more vulnerable when they are isolated. Through His servants the Lord teaches eternal
principles upon which successful families are built and maintained. Through Elijah,
He is turning “the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children
to their fathers”. Through Joseph Smith, the Lord has restored
doctrines and ordinances and priesthood power so that “fam’lies can be together forever
Through Heav’nly Father’s plan.” Now when we speak of eternal families, some
of you may be painfully reminded that you come from a family situation that is less
than ideal. I want to assure you that regardless of your
background or your home circumstances, you have a home—a heavenly home. And you have a ­family—a heavenly family. I invite you to come often to the house of
the Lord. This is where Heavenly Father gathers His
family. This is where you will find the strength that comes from gathering in a way the world cannot duplicate. The gathering, as President Nelson has taught
us, takes place “on both sides of the veil.” Nowhere is this more true than in the temple. Heavenly Father’s plan is to gather and
unite not only a husband, wife, and children but multiple generations in the great family
of God. This is why He invites us to search out our
ancestors, learn about them, and receive sacred ordinances in their behalf in the temple. Temple and family history work provide what
Joseph Smith called “a welding link . . . between the fathers and the children. . . . For we without them cannot be made perfect;
neither can they without us be made perfect”. We need each other! It has become popular in recent years to give
names to the various generations. You have heard them—the greatest generation,
the silent generation, the baby boomers, Generation X, the millennials, and so on. Usually these labels are used to highlight
differences between one generation and another. Unfortunately, the result is that we focus
on what divides us rather than on what unites us, and that causes what we sometimes call
“generation gaps.” God’s plan of happiness bridges all generation
gaps. It doesn’t matter if you were born in medieval
China or postwar Germany or twentieth-­century Ghana. The plan of salvation is for everyone. It helps us feel a closeness and unity with
all generations, for together we are all part of Heavenly Father’s great eternal family. I invite you to make it a high priority to
build your family, to mend any divisions that have arisen in your family, and to turn your
hearts to your family of previous generations. Receive the blessings of safety and strength
that come when we gather in families. We live in a society that focuses on the “now.” The gospel invites us to make choices and develop habits that prepare us and our families for eternity. Remember, you are part of the great family
of God. In the beginning, we all chose to follow His
great plan of happiness. Our greatest desire was to return home together,
as families. Let your daily decisions reflect that desire. In addition to inviting us to gather in families,
the Savior gathers us with fellow Saints. He has given us His Church, The Church of
Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The Church affords us multiple opportunities
to gather with other believers. Many people, especially young people, question the need for a church, what they call “organized religion.” Often they consider themselves spiritual and
even religious, but they prefer to exercise their faith privately and independently. Of course there is nothing wrong with worshipping
God in private. But consider the great blessings that come
from gathering frequently with other Saints. Moroni said of those who were baptized in
his day: (Reading the above scripture.) You will notice that some of these blessings
of gathering relate to our Sunday meetings: we gather to fast and pray together and to
partake of the sacrament. But most of what Moroni described is much
broader than a weekly meeting or class. To “be remembered and nourished,” “to
keep [each other] in the right way,” to look after “the welfare of [our] souls,”
we need more than a hi and a handshake in the hallway from fellow Saints on Sunday. I find it very revealing that right on the
heels of our prophet’s invitation to take our ministering to “a newer, holier” level,
the Lord has also reduced the time we spend in meetings and classes on Sunday. Clearly, gathering together with our fellow Saints is not just about being in the same room together. It is about building relationships and friendships,
and that can and should happen in a thousand ways throughout the week, not just on Sunday. I am not sure we are taking full advantage
of the opportunities we have to strengthen—and receive strength from—our fellow Saints. Maybe we don’t think we need anyone’s
help. Maybe we think they don’t need us. Or maybe we don’t fully realize the difference
we could make in someone’s life. When you and I were baptized, we entered “the
fold of God.” We became “his people.” And that means we “are willing to bear one
another’s burdens, . . . to mourn with those that mourn; yea, and comfort those that stand
in need of comfort”. In other words, when we joined this church,
we pledged that we would no longer be concerned only about our own comfort and problems. We committed to uniting with a people who
take care of each other. I have always loved this poem—entitled “Your
Friendship Means So Much to Me” by Jean Kyler McManus—that to me describes the kind
of relationship the Lord wants among His people: Some friends are Summer friends
Fragile as flowers They are delightful in life’s milder hours. . . .
I love the Winter friends. . . .
Sturdy as evergreen—wind-tossed They bow, but do not break
Nor lose their luster in the snow and frost. When I was called to serve as a mission president
in Arcadia, California, we brought our youngest daughter, Jessica, with us. She turned thirteen two days after we arrived. We had left a strong community here in Provo,
where Jessica had been surrounded by many good friends and extended family members,
so we knew the transition would not be easy for her. The first few weeks were the hardest. We arrived in the middle of summer, so while
my wife and I were extremely busy in the mission, Jessica didn’t have much to do other than
miss her friends back home. One day, only about three weeks into our mission,
I pulled into the driveway of the mission home after a long, busy day, and I saw that
someone had written with marker on the living room window: “I hate California. I miss Utah. I want to go home.” I went inside to find Jessica sitting alone
on the couch, watching TV, and crying. I took my daughter in my arms and said to
her, “Jessica, no one in this world is as important to me right now as you are. Do you think we should go back to Utah?” “No, Dad,” she replied. “You and Mom can stay. But I need to go home.” Later that night, my wife and I counseled
together and agreed that it was important that Jessica stay with us on our mission. But we thought it would be okay if she flew
back to Utah for a weekend. So we sent her to stay with some family members
there, with the plan that she would fly back to California on Monday morning. That Sunday happened to be fast Sunday, and
in the evening I received a phone call from Jessica. “Dad,” she said. “I’ve been fasting today, and I have received a revelation that I should not fly back to California tomorrow. I am supposed to stay here in Utah.” “That’s interesting,” I replied. “I’ve been fasting too, and I have received
a revelation that you need to get your tail on that plane!” Well, she did get on the plane, and she did
come back to California. Within a few weeks she was befriended by the
young women in our ward and in seminary. She even made some friends who accepted her
invitation to learn about the gospel and be baptized. Three years later our mission was coming to
an end. As I drove into our driveway on the last day
of our mission, I saw that Jessica had written with marker on the living room window: “I
love California. I don’t want to move!” Jessica learned—and so did I—about the strength that is available when we gather with fellow Saints. Looking back on this experience, I believe
the Lord was preparing Jessica for other times in her life when she would need that strength. One of those times came just a few years ago
after the birth of Jessica’s first child, a precious daughter named Annie. Annie was born two months early, and she had
a rare genetic disorder that caused her muscles to violently contract. This would happen sixty to seventy times a
day, inhibiting her breathing, while her parents and doctors could only watch helplessly. After fighting through a short but difficult
life of only four and a half months, Annie died. Jessica later said, “My husband and I definitely
couldn’t go through this hardship alone. . . . The relationships that we have with
our family and friends have strengthened us through this trial.” You might say that Jessica had learned the
importance of “winter friends.” My dear brothers and sisters, when you go
through dark days—and all of us do—you will need winter friends. Who will you rely on? Or better yet, who will rely on you? Who considers you a winter friend? Here at BYU you have a multitude of precious
opportunities to gather with people who—though they may come from different backgrounds—share
your values and standards. Please don’t neglect these opportunities. In addition to attending sacrament meeting
and other Sunday classes, go to your ward activities. Attend family home evening groups. Take your ministering assignments seriously. Build strong relationships with your roommates. And reach out to people around you. This is where you will find lifelong winter
friends. You won’t find them in online video games. You won’t find them in social media feeds. This kind of deep, lasting relationship happens
only when we gather. We have talked about how the Lord gathers
us as families and as fellow Saints, but perhaps our most important gathering is to the Savior
Himself and to His gospel. People can gather and unite around all kinds
of worldly causes or purposes. But as Elder Quentin L. Cook recently told
us, “The unity we seek is to be unified with the Savior and His teachings.” In inviting the youth of the Church to help gather Israel, President Nelson taught us what it means to gather. “When we speak of the gathering, we are ­simply
­saying this fundamental truth: every one of our Heavenly Father’s children, on both
sides of the veil, deserves to hear the message of the restored gospel of Jesus Christ. Anytime you do anything that helps anyone—on
either side of the veil—take a step toward making covenants with God and receiving their
essential baptismal and temple ordinances, you are helping to gather Israel. It is as simple as that.” In other words, we gather to Christ and His
gospel through sacred covenants and ordinances. This is the way, and it is the only way. “All men must come unto him, . . . and they
must come according to the words which shall be established by the mouth of the Lamb”. The world would have us believe that we can
choose our own plan. “Be yourself” and “Do your own thing”
are messages we often hear. The Book of Mormon, on the other hand, counsels
us to “feast upon the words of Christ; for behold, the words of Christ will tell you
all things what ye should do”. With President Nelson, I testify “that the
­heavens are open and that God speaks to His children.” He knows the next step that you need to take
to come out of the world and be gathered to Christ, and He will help you. In fact, if you look back on your life with
an eye of faith, I believe you will recognize many instances when the Lord has reached out
to gather you into the safety of His gospel and His love “as a hen gathereth her chickens
under her wings”. He will continue to do so if you are willing
to be gathered. I remember one such experience from my life. It happened when I was a young boy, and I
believe it was a gift from my loving Father in Heaven to me to help me throughout my youth. To this day I can remember vivid details of
the experience. I even remember the color of the shirt I was wearing and what I had eaten for breakfast that morning. I believe I was seven years old at the time. It was a summer morning, and I was with my
parents and my two little brothers and sister in a pasture at our ranch, trying to round
up our horses. It was a large pasture, so we were spread
out. I remember watching my dad and my little brothers
as I walked in the pasture. The sky was blue, the sun was bright, the
grass was green and lush, and there was a little breeze in the air. As I stood there, I looked up to the sky and
the mountains and had an overwhelming feeling that Heavenly Father had created all of this
and that He loved me. At that age, I had not read the Book of Mormon;
my understanding of the gospel was limited. And yet I felt something very real, and it
went deep into my heart. It was a warm, gentle feeling, and I captured
it and have remembered it to this day. As I grew and learned more about the gospel,
faced temptation, and even made some poor choices along the way, I thought back on how
I had felt as a young boy in that pasture, and I knew that Heavenly Father is real. That experience and other faith-building moments
throughout my youth—such as praying, reading and studying the scriptures, bearing my testimony,
serving others, attending church, and repenting—have truly helped me come unto Christ. I bear testimony that our Heavenly Father
knows us and is aware of each of us, our needs, and our concerns, and He wants to bless us. Think about the spiritual experiences you
have had. When have you sought to “draw near unto
[the Lord]” and felt Him “draw near unto you”? Where were you? What were you doing? How have those experiences changed your life? When Alma fled King Noah’s court and began
privately preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ, “many did believe his words”. But the world around them was hostile toward
their faith, so they gathered in a place of safety known as the Waters of Mormon. There they heard the word of the Lord from
Alma, made covenants to serve God and become His people, and bore witness of their commitment
by being baptized. They “were filled with the grace of God”
and “their hearts [were] knit together in unity and in love one towards another”. This place was beautiful to them, because
there they “came to the knowledge of their Redeemer.” My dear friends, each of you likely has a
place in your memory that is like the Waters of Mormon to you—a place that is beautiful to you because there you came to the knowledge of your Redeemer. For me, some of those places have included
the green mountain pasture from my childhood and a friendly, welcoming ward in Arcadia,
California. I encourage you to seek Waters-of-Mormon experiences
here at BYU. Like the people of Alma, come out of the world,
gather with fellow believers, and seek to know your Redeemer better. Come unto Him and renew your commitment to
serve Him and be part of His people. I bear testimony that when we gather together
as disciples of Jesus Christ, we not only join the great cause of gathering Israel but
also strengthen one another in our journey toward eternal life in the presence of our
Heavenly Father. May we all accept His invitation to “assemble
yourselves and come; draw near together” that we may receive His promised blessings
of peace, strength, and “refuge from the storm.” In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.

2 Replies to “Strength and Safety Through Gathering | Stephen W. Owen”

  1. LOVE ! #Strength 😢 😢😢☝️☝️☝️❤❤❤❤🙏🙏🙏☝️☝️💪💪I'm in tears! I am very grateful 4 the testimony that you just gave! I have never been happier in my faith! As I have always been a Christian from the time I can remember as a little girl growing up in the church and non denomination, Baptist, Lutheran, Methodist, non denomination has been the majority of my 48 years of life on Earth! Until March 24th 2018 I was baptized in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and coming from baptisms and non denomination 2 baptism in the True Church of God I have miraculous feelings that just keep getting better and better! The best choice the best decision I ever made in my life was to convert to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, for many many years I have stereotyped this church and I have seen missionary walking up and down the street thinking they were Jehovah's Witnesses and never even looking at the name tag or asking because I was to believe in the Bible in the Bible only that's the way I was raised! I was a military wife during the Gulf War living in Germany when I was introduced to the Book of Mormon for the first time, I was babysitting another military wives little children while she went to the temple, because at that time our husbands were in Iraq, and needless to say hours later she returns, she also left with out the Book of Mormon that she left me and without the video that she left me of Saturday's Warriors 1989 version and I love that as I watched it over and over again with my daughter if she was just a little one at that time, but I open the Book of Mormon a couple of times and then just let it sit there and collect dust! Once again believing in the Bible only and telling her to not push the anything on me but the Bible! She said it's just another added version of the Bible, I still said no thank you, however years later, my younger sister married a Mormon man, my twin and I thought that my little sister was just playing house with him and having the perfect little family that goes to church and what not while we were still not understanding the choice that she made, however we didn't judge it either, and I still never asked any questions until years later that would have been in February very first day of February I remember it like it was yesterday, I asked her what is the big deal about this Temple? She explained baptism of the dead to me and from that moment I said, I knew there had to be more! I knew it! The feeling I had at that moment was so powerful! That I instantly knew that this church was truth is truth and always will be truth and that this faith is miraculous in me even more now than anything! I actually started out asking her if the missionary girls could come over and talk to me and pray with me because she was leaving to Fort Bragg and I knew I would be sad the day she left, she said yeah the sisters will come over, I said oh their sisters LOL that's the same response she gave me LOL but they came over and asked me to pray for myself 2 no and get an answer if this is truth, and I looked at the both of the girls which I now call my misionary daughters and every turn around I get new missionary daughter as I am the missionary mom at the Janesville Wisconsin Ward anyway I looked at both of them and I said I already know it's true without even praying about it! I know they were thinking wow! Then they asked about being baptized and I said yes immediately! They looked at me with a book that I will never forget! I could see the spirit through each one of us circle around us of happiness and I never felt more sure of anything in my entire life! And my sisters and I were in an abusive situation growing up in a foster home I will just say that I have been sexually and physically neglectfully any form of abuse you can think of we have been through it, male and females, I have forgiven and I do not let that be a part of me in a way that it affects my life in a negative way, I use it as a testimony to help others as it strengthens my testimony, I am also terminally ill and was told it would make the age of 30 as my twin and I were born with a tumor disease, and I could write a book of books of testimonies here I will just say that unexpectedly my twin died 4 years ago during an app that we are both taking and I was at a friend's house and we were to call each other when we woke up, when I woke up I told my friend about my dream that I had, riding dolphins with my twin holding hands and feeling the best feeling in the world laughing together, as I was getting ready to call my twin, instead I got the phone call from my mom saying that she was gone that she had died in her sleep during that nap, and there's so many things I could say right now again a book of testimonies, I am grateful that I can use my testimonies to help others! I've never been happier in my church and my calling in primary my temple recommend patriotic a blessing and going to the temple I can't wait and I was supposed to go long time ago but I've been sick, my health has been declining and I have yet to make the temple and I want to more than anything! I'm looking forward to it and I'm keeping my faith strong, I was going to go to the temple the day after my temple recommend cuz I was so excited! That same day was my calling and primary, actually after Relief Society that day I was going to talk to the bishop about adding my name to the substitute list for primary, and then I was called into The Bishop's office and I said oh this is a coincidence, I was actually going to ask if I could put my name on the Substitute list for primary and he said, this is actually why you are in here, and that's when I got my calling and primary and my temple recommend and my information for my patriotic a blessing, I remember thinking I need my house to be healthy to make it to church every single Sunday like I had been, and I did make it to church every Sunday and on fast Sunday I gave my testimony saying what a miracle it was for me to make it to church every Sunday as I stay up for 24 hours to make it to church because my sleeping schedule I was not good and I knew I would hit snooze too many times lol so I stayed up for 24 hours to make it to church on Sundays, the past month I have been sick and between being sick and conferences I've missed a month of church and it's been upsetting me so much but I've had the Great Hearts my church help me by bringing food over visiting me in the hospital priesthood blessings and again I could go on and on with so many different testimonies here I'm just going to leave you a thank you so much for sharing I am sorry for the loss but yet we all know that we're going to be Infinity together forever and I know that we are here on this Earth for a reason and that is 2 help others and do as children of God for Heavenly Father, his will for us we know it down deep in our hearts even at the worst of times, when I'm physically bedridden it hurts and emotionally missing my own kids above miles away and I lost my careers because of my illnesses, but my thought process is in my heart and it speaks loud and clear and in my spirit it is not about me, it is about what can I do to help my heavenly father on Earth to help others and you Heavenly father's will in the name of his son Jesus and all that has been done for us through the atonement and leaving the gifts of the holy spirit for us as well as modern day prophets and apostles that is another truth I believe because it does say that in the Bible, what he left for us but he did on this Earth is in the now and I believe and testify in my heart that I truly believe that this is the True Church of Jesus Christ and I'm not saying it verbatim I'm saying it with my heart! I love loving Heavenly Father in the name of Jesus his son our brother as we are all children of God and today's world is so crazy we all need to stay strong together as one, no matter how bad it gets we need to keep our faith strong and know that we are here for a reason and we will all be together in Infinity and I thank heavenly father in the name of Jesus for the gift of discernment as well as the miraculous gifts I feel in my faith and no matter how bad I feel physically and sometimes emotionally it gets pretty bad but I still keep my faith very strong and continue testifying and knowing that everything I go through will strengthen that testimony for somebody! Thank you so much God bless you and all of your family love and hugs your sister in Christ🙏☝️❤✌☝️💪☝️

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