When I tell you that I played football in high school, it is not a boast. It is more of a confession.
You see, football came to our country town later than most. The school board had neither the money for equipment nor for a coach. Instead, we all played basketball. The only equipment you needed was a pair of shoes.
Finally, our principal saved enough to buy 12 inexpensive football outfits, not including shoes. The cleated shoes were too expensive, so we used our basketball shoes instead. Our coach was recruited from the faculty. He was selected because he had once watched a football game. We learned a few simple plays. We learned how to tackle—or so we thought. Then we set off for our first game with Twin Falls, the previous year’s Idaho state champions.
We dressed and went out to the field to warm up. Their school band started to play. They had more students in the band than we had in our entire high school! Then through the gates came their team. Our team of 12—a full team of 11 plus one all-around substitute—watched in amazement as they kept coming through the gates, all 39 of them in full uniform.
The game was most interesting. To say it was a learning experience is rather mild. After two plays we didn’t have any desire to have the ball, so we would kick it away, and soon they would score. Our main problem was how to get rid of the ball. It was less punishing for us when we weren’t being tackled!
In the final minutes of the game the other team became a little reckless. A wild pass fell into the arms of Clifford Lee, who was playing halfback with me. He was startled. He didn’t know what to do until he saw what seemed to be the San Francisco 49ers thundering after him. Then he knew what to do! He was not interested in six points. He ran for his life.
He was fast. He made a touchdown, and we finally got six points on the board. We really didn’t deserve the six points, but with our torn shirts and socks and our bloody shins, we took them anyway. The final score: 106 to 6!
That game was definitely a learning experience. I learned that a team (or an individual) must be prepared. Success in all things depends on preparation.
As I look at a map of the world and consider its vastness, its billions of people, and ponder the responsibility our Lord has placed upon the young Aaronic Priesthood bearers, I marvel at how the Lord has placed each of you in families or special circumstances at this particular time.
Every country in the world desperately needs a young generation of champions—champions of truth, of honesty, of purity, of high moral standards, of faith in a living God. Through the Aaronic Priesthood, the Lord is preparing you to be such champions. You hold sacred priesthood keys, rights, and responsibilities. A troubled world is waiting to hear from you. The Lord has placed in our hands the divine power and authority to act in his name, to preach the gospel and perform the ordinances of salvation by which men and women are sealed up into eternal life. You are different from the rest of the world.
While Joseph Smith was translating the Book of Mormon with Oliver Cowdery as the scribe, they went into the woods to pray. While calling upon the Lord, “a messenger from heaven descended in a cloud of light” and laid his hands upon them and ordained them, saying:
“Upon you my fellow servants, in the name of Messiah, I confer the Priesthood of Aaron, which holds the keys of the ministering of angels, and of the gospel of repentance, and of baptism by immersion for the remission of sins” (JS—H 1:68–69).
Joseph Smith received direction to baptize Oliver Cowdery and Oliver to baptize Joseph. Then the heavenly messenger “said that his name was … John the Baptist, … and that he acted under the direction of Peter, James, and John, who held the keys of the Priesthood of Melchizedek, which … would in due time be conferred on” Joseph and Oliver (see JS—H 1:72).
You hold the same sacred authority to declare repentance, to baptize, to administer the sacrament, to assist the bishop, and to be concerned for those needing special encouragement.
My father was our bishop, but he died before I received the priesthood. I remember so clearly being ordained a deacon. A new world opened up for me. I was now living on a higher plane. As I would hear people say, “You hold the priesthood,” it was not easy to fully comprehend. But with humble leaders, we began to understand that as deacons we had been given blessings and authority to do sacred things.
As quorum officers we accounted for all of our members and would see that they were all at church. We enjoyed being together. We helped the elderly and the widows. We cleaned the meetinghouse and raked the grounds. We made sure that the sacrament trays and sacrament cloths were clean and fresh. We were part of the Church, and the Church was part of us. We knew it; we felt it! We held the priesthood of God! Understanding leaders guided us and helped us broaden our vision and our ever-expanding role as young men; but more important, they helped prepare us to be called in our youth to be servants of our Savior. He needs every one of you young men. In fact, young men your age have served in many miraculous ways. Jesus taught and confounded the priests in the temple when he was only 12. With complete faith in the Lord, David, the young shepherd boy, met the Philistine giant, Goliath, on the battlefield. Joseph Smith at age 14 read in James: “If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, … and it shall be given him” (James 1:5). Later he said:
“Never did any passage of scripture come with more power to the heart of man. … It seemed to enter with great force into every feeling of my heart . …
“I retired to the woods . …
“I kneeled down and began to offer up the desire of my heart to God” (JS—H 1:12, 14–15).
As an Aaronic Priesthood holder, you are on a team, just like I was on a team for high school football. But you have a great guarantee, one that our team did not have. You are on the Lord’s side, and the Lord will not lose. If you let him, he will help you grow into a powerful servant.
Just as with any team, there are rules you must follow. Resist the temptations and pressures of those who might urge you to stray, to use drugs or alcohol. You understand how deadly they become to your body and then to your spirit. You must not succumb. You are different. Pornography, filthy literature and movies, vile language, and suggestive music are not part of your life. They can destroy you.
Live so your memories can bless the full length of your life. Live for that glorious day when you will go to the holy temple for eternal blessings and joy. Develop the strength to defer gratification—to understand there is a time and season for everything and a maturing process that is part of God’s plan. Remember that the values and truths of the gospel are ageless and eternal. Your character is yours alone to build. No one can injure your character but you.
Life is a competition, not with others but with ourselves. We should seek each day to live stronger, better, truer lives; each day to master some weakness of yesterday; each day to repair a mistake; each day to surpass ourselves.
Beloved young friends, much of our future rests with you. You are needed—not to be weak, but to be strong. We believe in you. We understand your challenges. We know that you can hold high the beacon of light in a darkened world as you testify of a living God. Start now and prepare yourselves, for you are truly needed.