Spoken Word Messages

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It’s been said that “getting there is half the fun.” That’s true of vacations and road trips, and it’s even more true of Christmas. It’s as if Christmas is so full of joy and cheer that one day simply isn’t big enough to hold all of it. Almost unavoidably, the bright lights, the colorful decorations, and the spirit of sharing spill over into the weeks preceding December 25th.

Even during difficult times, perhaps especially during difficult times, we need the blessing of gratitude. Consider this invitation from President Russell M. Nelson: “Our first noble deed of the morning should be a humble prayer of gratitude.”[1]

On the western bank of the Hudson River, 40 miles north of New York City, stands the United States Military Academy at West Point. For over 200 years, this well-known institution has emphasized the values behind a simple and inspiring motto: “Duty, Honor, Country.” 

The word strive means something slightly different from the word try. To strive suggests purposeful effort. To try, on the other hand, connotes something a little less certain. You try something when you’re still exploring whether success is possible or even desirable. If it doesn’t work out, well, at least you tried. But when you strive, you keep going, no matter what. In the effort to overcome our weaknesses and change for the better, we don’t just try; we strive.

With good reason, we often admire people who are persistent, resilient—those who face hardship but simply refuse to quit. We stand in awe of their grit and self-confidence, and we say to ourselves, “If only I had that kind of willpower.”

Many years ago, a family experienced a little annoyance (like the kind we all face)—they had a leaky pipe in the bathroom ceiling. Drip, drip, drip, until a plumber was called, and the leak repaired. To access the broken pipe, the plumber had to cut a hole in the ceiling. As he finished his work, he instructed the family to wait several days for everything to dry before patching the hole.

I’m standing in front of a home called “The Kilns,” located in Headington just outside of Oxford, England. The home got its name from the fact that it was built on a brickworks site long ago. It’s a lovely house surrounded by beautiful gardens, but it would be unremarkable except for the fact that the beloved writer and Oxford University professor C. S. Lewis lived here for more than 30 years until his death in 1963. He wrote his most notable books here, including The Chronicles of Narnia, The Screwtape Letters, and Mere Christianity to name a few.

Over the past year, a loving niece has regularly called her widowed, 94-year-old Aunt Helen. They smile, laugh, even shed a few tears together as Aunt Helen recounts her life while her niece records the conversation for posterity. Over the course of these visits, the niece has been struck by how clearly Aunt Helen remembers people and experiences from so many years ago. In particular, she seems to remember best those who were kind to her. Of course, she also remembers some hard times, but in recalling her life, she talks most vividly about moments of joy and acts of kindness.

A university student recently had a life-changing insight. But unlike most things he was learning as a student, this insight didn’t come from a lecture or a textbook. In fact, it was sparked when he forgot something from his textbook.

A family recently went on vacation together. The hope was to create lasting memories and opportunities for family bonding. But, as with most family vacations, those high hopes were soon tempered by reality. There were good times, but there were also unexpected delays, noisy crowds, and hidden expenses that disrupted the family’s carefully laid plans. Not surprisingly, this led to some frayed nerves, miscommunication, and discord among family members. At times, it was tempting to wonder whether the vacation was even worthwhile.

Here in Northern Ireland, the countryside is famously green and fertile, nourished by beautiful rivers and lakes. But sometimes when a coastal fog settles in, even locals lose sight of familiar landmarks. At such times, we are reminded that faith is believing in things we cannot see.[i]

Some days, reading the news feels like reading those prophecies in the Bible about the end of the world. “Perilous times,” the Apostle Paul called them[1]—when peace would be taken from the earth,[2] when the heavens and earth would shake,[3] and when hearts would fail with fear.[4] Even if it’s not quite the end of the world, feelings of fear and anxiety plague us. What’s worse, too often these feelings come to the surface in the form of anger and hostility toward others. All of this stress is having a profound effect on the health and well-being of so many of us.

Some believe that the greatest goal in life is to avoid work. It might sound appealing, but sooner or later, experience teaches us that leisure is not the same thing as happiness. Honest labor is an essential part of a healthy, happy life. Even when work is not a financial necessity, it is a spiritual necessity.[1]

Over a decade ago, some friends got together to make music. They called it “an experiment in a new way to produce music visually.”[1] It started out small but has now grown in unexpected ways as these friends have performed all over the world together, and their YouTube videos have over two billion views and millions of subscribers. These friends are known as the Piano Guys, and their music, also in unexpected ways, mixes modern and classical music in what could be described as a beautiful conversation between a piano and a cello.

In today’s world, we are surrounded by noise. Some of it is welcome—noise we have chosen. And we have so many media tools, we could fill every second of the day with sounds. But life is also full of unwelcome noise, and all the commotion leaves so many feeling stressed, anxious, and unsettled. We struggle to find a moment of silence. And even when we do, often the internal sound of our thoughts and worries presses upon us, disrupting our lives and making us uneasy.

If you’ve ever been to a talent show, you may have noticed that certain talents are easier to notice—and easier to “show”—than others. The talents that get the most applause tend to be talents in music, dance, or visual arts. Those who are skilled in sports and academics are also well recognized. If we lack such wonderful abilities, we may conclude that we simply are not talented.

When we look at other living things, we expect that they will grow and change over time. No one assumes that a seedling will stay small and fragile—we know that it is destined to grow into a strong and mighty tree. When we see a calf or a cub, we also see its potential to become a full-grown animal.

Wales is known as the land of song, and the roots of The Tabernacle Choir at Temple Square run deep here in this beautiful place. In 1849, a talented musician named John Parry, who had emigrated from Wales to the Salt Lake Valley in the American West, organized a group of 85 fellow Welsh singers to perform at a church service. That choir formed the foundation of today’s Tabernacle Choir, and John Parry was its first conductor.

Most of us want to love our neighbor. And yet, for some reason, it often seems easier to do that when the “neighbor” lives far away, perhaps in another country. But what of the neighbors who live close by, even in our own household? In many cases, that’s where our love is needed the most—and where it can do the most good.

Today, we begin our 94th year of continuous weekly broadcasting with an observation about the way each of those weekly broadcasts ends. For nearly all its history, Music & the Spoken Word has concluded with a signature theme, performed by the organist. The tune was written by Joseph J. Daynes, a tabernacle organist who began playing for the Choir when he was just 16 years old and accompanied the Choir for 33 years in the late 1800s.  

The story of the good Samaritan was first told as an answer to a question. A certain lawyer, who seemed to want clear lines marking the boundaries of his moral obligations, asked Jesus of Nazareth, “Who is my neighbour?” Jesus’s answer was the now-familiar story of a traveling man who “fell among thieves,” was robbed and beaten, and was left “half dead” by the side of the road.

For over 40 years, Richard L. Evans was the voice and writer of Music & the Spoken Word. In 1959, he delivered a message that, today, feels as timely as ever. He began by quoting a line from a well-known patriotic hymn: “Confirm thy soul in self-control, Thy liberty in law.”[1] He then made keen observations about the relationship between self-control, liberty, and law:

Years ago, a man learned a life-changing lesson after starting a new job. He wanted to connect with some of his coworkers, particularly with a group of employees who seemed friendly and fun. One day, someone in this group invited the new hire to join them for lunch, and soon he was a regular in their lunchtime conversations.

Perhaps the best-known prayer ever uttered, the Lord’s Prayer, begins: “Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name” (Matthew 6:9). To hallow is to make sacred or holy, to revere and respect, so the prayer opens in reverence for the name of God. There are many names and titles we can use to refer to God, all of them hallowed and worthy of reverence, but it’s significant that the name we’re invited to use in this prayer is “Father.”

Long ago, a lawyer asked Jesus which of the commandments is the greatest. He certainly had many to choose from, among hundreds of decrees from scripture and the law. With clarity and wisdom, Jesus responded: “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself” (Matthew 22:37–39).

Because God loves His children, He has filled this world with goodness and beauty that proclaim His love. Among those good and beautiful things are the kind acts of caring people and the simple and majestic wonders of nature. All of this brings hope and joy to life and encourages us to live with confidence and contentment, without fear.

Dale Adams has an unusual hobby—one that has brought meaning and perspective to his life while also honoring those who have gone before. Dale reads and preserves obituaries.

Not long ago, a university researcher decided to conduct an experiment on gratitude. But her motives weren’t purely academic. This researcher is also a mother of four teenagers. She explained, “I wanted to learn more about how I can raise my kids to be more grateful in an era of entitlement.”

God gives each of us a limited supply of time, and for the most part, we choose how to use it. The writer E. B. White once said, “One of the most time-consuming things is to have an enemy.”1 And yet, we get very little good in return for nursing a grudge or ruminating over a past offense. Surely there are many more positive and productive ways to spend our time. 

A novel by French writer Victor Hugo tells of a small group of soldiers who met a starving woman and her children in the woods. Moved with compassion, the sergeant handed her a piece of bread from his rations.