You are here

In the Book Episode 10: "Weak Things Become Strong: Stephen Jones"

Episode Transcript

“Weak Things Become Strong” with Stephen Jones

[00:00:00] Stephen: Okay, so imagine you're in the grocery store in the south. Okay, this is the 1980’s and you got these five little chocolate colored skin kids with a white woman as my mom, right? But this wasn't really a popular thing in the eighties. It wasn't even legal to be married to someone of the opposite race until the late sixties. So we're talking 10 to 15 years after that.

I always joke around and I'm like, “My mom's white, my dad's black. Close your eyes real quick. I'm like, that's how dark my dad is. Like, my dad is dark, not just chocolate, but he's dark dark.

[00:00:34] Rebecca: Stephen Jones is an American actor, comedian, host, and educator. His entertainment career began as a university mascot at Brigham Young University and a standup comedy club headliner, and it was at BYU that he starred in an Old Spice parody video that went viral on YouTube, and that's where I first saw him myself.

He has hosted BYUTV's Random [00:01:00] Acts and taught high school seminary. He is the host of the Let's Get Real with Stephen Jones podcast here at Scripture Central. Stephen is from Tallahassee, Florida and is a husband and father of five, and has a passion for making people smile and finds joy in doing things that really matter.

We're going to take a trip to the South and see how five seconds a day reading from a book can fuel a testimony for a boy who doesn't like to read, and where turning to the Lord can change everything amidst preconceived notions, despite illiteracy or even in a jail cell.

 I'm Rebecca Devons, and this is In The Book.

This is a podcast where we flood the earth with testimonies of the Book of Mormon.

[00:01:58] Stephen: Parents they meet [00:02:00] at - they both worked at McDonald's, okay, random.

They got married and this is in the middle of like the South, right. So this was not a popular thing to do, but it gives you context that my dad didn't care what anybody thinks. And they joined the church in 1979 and my dad knew nothing about race and the priesthood, and if he did, he wouldn't care.

I like to say my dad is aggressively passive aggressive, you know what I mean? Like, my dad is this 5’6”. He was like a power lifter. He was 165 pounds and he could bench press 475 pounds. 475 - that’s insane, right? Most people would be proud for 225. He's bench pressing 475. And so he's short, but he's really muscular.

But back in the day, he said, “I was mean, man, I was really mean.” But when he joined the Church, it like changed everything for him. Like people noticed; they were like, [00:03:00] “What happened to you? What happened?” Like when he joined the Church, everything changed.

And mind you, this is in the South, okay? Now things have changed, but when he joined the Church, there were some members of the ward that stopped coming to church, and then people wouldn't home teach with him at the time.

[00:03:19] Rebecca: That didn't stop his dad from going to church, however, but when it came to reading the Book of Mormon, he ran into an obstacle.

[00:03:26] Stephen: When I was a kid, I would write checks for my dad. Like he graduated high school, but he wasn't really that literate. He couldn't read that well; he couldn't really even write that well. I would write the check for him in the in the grocery store. I remember going back when people used to do that, right? I would go in the grocery store and write the check.

And so there was a time when my dad was like, “I’m gonna learn to read.” And so what he would do is he would go to the library. They would have tutors there for free and he would just bring the Book of Mormon and the Bible, both, and he would just sit there and that's how he learned to [00:04:00] read was by reading the Book of Mormon and reading the Bible.

Isn't that cool?

In his forties, in the library, as humble as can be; with his little glasses reading the Book of Mormon. Isn't that cool?

Rebecca: So cool.

Stephen: And so I can't remember when he told me that wasn't that cool. Like he learned how to read by reading the Book of Mormon

 

[00:04:26] Rebecca: How did his dad's choice to accept the gospel of Jesus Christ impact Stephen's life?

[00:04:31] Stephen: Somebody could be born and say, this is just by coincidence that I was born into the Church. I don't believe that.

Like when President Nelson talks about the House of Israel, like I feel something in me.

And I feel like at this time of the history of the earth, I feel like for me, personally, my dad was a pioneer in the gospel.

There are people in my family that you look at on records on my dad's side who are slaves; they don't even have names. They [00:05:00] have numbers. And I feel like my dad is the linchpin. He's the one turning this whole thing around.

[00:05:07] Rebecca: One person's choice really can change the course for generations to come.

Accepting the gospel of Jesus Christ isn't a guarantee of smooth sailing for anybody, however, including those families who embrace it.

[00:05:27] Stephen: I mean my mom and my dad, they're amazing people. They ended up getting a divorce when I was six.

My dad grew up in the projects. guy. He used to do custodial work for the Church.

My mom worked for my elementary school so she was always running the after school program. And so the cool thing was, even though my parents were divorced, I still was around my mom a lot because she always worked at the school that I went to, which was a huge blessing.

And my dad, he would always come around because he didn't even meet his dad till he was 16. And I didn't even know this until like recently; like, I wanna say like [00:06:00] within the last five years or so. I didn't even know. I was like, “What? You didn't know your dad until you were 16?” And so my dad was like, “I'm gonna be around my kids.”

[00:06:11] Rebecca: Then something happened when Stephen was about 14 or 15 years old.

[00:06:15] Stephen: My dad was in jail.

I can't believe I forgot about this. So my dad, he was in jail. And I know that my dad's a good guy, so this is not one of those stories. This is endearing to me. He’s in jail and I'm just like him, I get cabin fever really easy, but he's like this bodybuilder lifting weights guy and can't lift weights. He's in this little cell, he can't move. And I remember him telling me that he would get anxiety really bad. Like, he had like a panic attack a few times because he just felt so locked down. But he started in the Book of Mormon again.

All the people in the jail - he would start teaching them the book about the Book of Mormon. And he told me the other day that he ran into [00:07:00] somebody who like remembered, and he said, “Oh, that's the preacher man!”

But my dad has no shame to talk about the gospel and to talk about the Book of Mormon.

Rebecca: Throughout the scriptures, there are accounts of people who, in times of bondage, have been able to draw heavenly strength, even work mighty miracles.

The power of God knows no bounds, even those of a jail cell, as Stephen's dad saw when the Book of Mormon shaped his experience there and that of those who listened to him teach from it.

Stephen himself got to know the Book of Mormon a few years before that.

[00:07:34] Stephen: And I remember when I was at my dad's house, I was 12 years old, and I had this youth advisor. And I remember they had this program that they created called the “Sons of Helaman”. And so they did this incentive, and he like slapped this Book of Mormon on the table and he's like, “Hey, I got a challenge for you.” I'm like, “What?”

Now, mind you, I'm this kid and if you could ask anyone in the world if they hate reading, I [00:08:00] hated reading. I hated reading. Like I loved to learn, but I hated reading so bad. Like when we would do reading time, I would be reading the, what do you call it? The uh, Guinness Book of World Records, cause of all the pictures, you know? All the other kids are reading like, The Boxcar Children. Cuz I hate reading, I'm not even reading anything. I'm just looking at the pictures, right?

And and so he puts this little book on the table and he's like, “Hey, I’ve got a challenge. I challenge you to read this entire book.”And I was like, “You could have said, I'll give you a million dollars, and I'd be like, ‘Good! Don’t need it!’”

He said, “Wait, now hold up. Now if you read two pages a day, two and a half pages a day, you can finish the whole Book of Mormon in a year.”

There's a friend of mine named Logan. He had one of those little like watches back in the day that had the calculator on it, right? And so he's like, “Logan, I want you to time this.” He said, “How long do you think it would take to read a verse?” And I was like, “I don't know, a couple seconds, right?”

So he goes, Logan, “I want you to time him. Stephen, I want you to pick up the book. Just read a verse.”

And I was like, “Okay.” So he said, “Go!” All [00:09:00] right. I don't even remember the verse. I just opened up to a read a verse and it came to pass, da da da da da.

He’s like, “How long was that?” Logan was like, “Five seconds.” I was like, “Okay, cool.”

“Now wait. Read another verse. Find another one.” Found another one. And he said, “Read it.” And I was like, “Okay. Logan, you got the time?” He's like, “Yeah.” Logan hits the watch. Here we go. I'm reading.

He said, “Stop. Logan, how much time was that?”

He's like, “Uh, about six seconds.” Anyway, I do this another time. It was another five. He's like, “Okay, so on average, what's that?” He's like, “Five seconds.” He's like, “So you mean to tell me that you don't have five seconds in your day?” And I was like, “I got five seconds! Yeah, I got five seconds!” Right?

So I literally started doing that. I started reading and I'm 12 years old. I'm opening up the Book of Mormon, and I’m like, “Okay, I'm gonna read a verse.”

The next day, I read a verse one verse, led to two, two led to a column, a column led to two columns. Now I'm reading one page, now I'm reading, oh shoot, I'm reading a whole page a day. Which I never would've thought, but when I started reading the book, I'm telling you, it wasn't even about the pages, but I wanted to keep reading it because it was so powerful.

[00:09:57] Rebecca: Now we'll go into [00:10:00] the studio to hear more of my conversation with Stephen.

[00:10:03] Stephen: I remember I was at my dad's house and my dad had just moved and I remember just being on the bed and he didn't have any AC; it was so hot in the middle of Florida.

And I remember my whole family was watching some random movie. I don't even know what it was. And I was just sitting with a fan, passing by me every two seconds, like every second like, “Hold up fan! Come on back!” You know?And I remember reading and just being like, “Man,” and I don't even remember what verse it was, but I was like, “This book is true.”

And I hadn't even finished it yet.

But anyway, I kept on reading and I finished it. I finished it in a year. So like, I started reading more pages than two and a half to catch up. But it wasn't even about catching up anymore. It was because when I would pick it up, I could just feel something different.

[00:10:44] Rebecca: Can you describe that?

[00:10:45] Stephen: It feels like I'm sitting with God. I feel like that's what it feels like to me. I can't see him. I've never seen him. I don't know what he looks like, but there's just like this assurance and peace. Because if you open the book, every story - story [00:11:00] after story, chapter after chapter, it's that same doctrine of Christ: faith, repentance, baptism, Holy Ghost. You see it over and over and over again. One case study after the next of somebody who thought everything was lost and he is like, “No, no, no, it's not. It’s not lost.”

[00:11:19] Rebecca: Can you give an example of a case study in the Book of Mormon that has impacted you?

[00:11:25] Stephen: 2 Nephi 4. This is when Nephi is like, man, I am a terrible person. In fact, he uses the word wretched, right?

He says, “Nevertheless, notwithstanding the great goodness of the Lord in showing me his great and marvelous works, my heart exclaimeth, O wretched man that I am, yea, my heart sorroweth because of my flesh. My soul grieveth because of mine iniquities. And I am encompassed about because of the temptations and sins which do easily beset me. And when I desire to rejoice, my heart groaneth because of my sins. Nevertheless, I know in [00:12:00] whom I have trusted.”

And it's powerful. So when he says, “My God has been my support. He has led me through my afflictions in the wilderness, and he has preserved me upon the waters of the great deep,” he's getting this assurance back. He's like, Oh, he's helped me before and he can now help me again.

And so it's one that I that I look to a lot because I feel like that is something that I feel many of us struggle with. Everybody has something.

[00:12:27] Rebecca: Do you have a specific story where you felt like Nephi?

And how do you trust?

[00:12:33] Stephen: Yeah…

[00:12:34] Rebecca: How have you put your trust in God after you've felt like, man, I'm a mortal; this weak mortal person?

[00:12:42] Stephen: I've been a bishop for the past three years, and I'm telling you, it is the weirdest thing because I've felt closer to God and farther from God than any time in my entire life. I don't even know how to explain it. It's not like I'm far from him, but it's almost like you need the Holy Ghost so much so you can help, and you notice every little thing [00:13:00] that you do. It's like, “I'm gonna be talking to these people tonight. I need the Holy Ghost,” and so, “Oh shoot, that happened,” right? And you know, nothing crazy. But over the past three years, I've read that chapter I don't know how many times. I don't know how many times. And it's that verse, 19, “And when I desire to rejoice, my heart groaneth because of my sins. Nevertheless, I know in whom I have trusted…” I'm doing this for him. It's not about me; I’m not doing this for me.

And the fact that I am weak is what literally is what I feel like helps me to know how to help other people, because I’ll be sitting in the same room with someone else and God's like, “Yeah, one more decision, that’s you. That could be you!Right now!” And no judgment on any person. But I'm just saying that circumstance; that could be you. We all need him, everybody.[00:14:00]

It is the most humbling thing I've ever done in my life. And I can just relate to that. I can just relate to this man. Everybody's looking at him like, “Oh, Nephi's got it all together.” And he is like, “I don’t! I don't have it together!” And I need Him just like Nephi did.

[00:14:13] Rebecca: What would you say to somebody who does not have a testimony of the Book of Mormon?

[00:14:19] Stephen: When Joseph Smith went into the grove, he didn't want to just know what church was true. He wanted to know where he could get redemption. That's the question that I think it's important to ask.

Is it really true that there is a God who is that merciful, that he's willing - to the third and fourth generation - redeem his people?

Is it really true that there's a God who keeps promises like that?

Are we like that? No. But is he like that? Yes.

And I would say, the only way to know, like Moroni says, I think it's deeper than just, is the book true? Is his covenant promise true? That if it be [00:15:00] wisdom in God that you shall receive his covenant, I ask you to ask God; ponder: is it really that deep of love that exists?

Maybe not to just ask, is the Book of Mormon true? But is it true that there's a covenant with the love that profound and deep?

[00:15:21] Rebecca: As we wrap up, I want to replay something Stephen said.

Stephen: One case study after the next somebody who thought everything was lost and he is like, no, no, no, it's not. It’s not lost.

Stephen's dad went from rough to refined, from illiterate to humble learner, and from inmate to missionary, all because of Jesus Christ.

Stephen went from being that kid who disliked reading to the boy who couldn't put the book down, and the bishop who now draws strength from the psalm of Nephi, a prophet who felt the weight of his mortality.

Christ himself [00:16:00] told Moroni, “If men come unto me, I will show unto them their weakness. And I give unto men weakness that they may be humble and my grace is sufficient for all men that humble themselves before me. For if they humble themselves before me and have faith in me, then will I make weak things become strong unto them.”

We are all subject to weakness in mortality, and not only weakness, but like Nephi laments, sin and temptation.

We may feel we have an unchangeable weakness.

We may feel we're too far from redemption because we've fallen again,

Or we may face the same temptations over and over,

And yet, because of Jesus Christ, everything is not lost. Turning to Christ can turn everything around.

[00:16:53] Rebecca: Has the Book of Mormon changed your life? Send your story to inthebook@scripturecentral.org.

This is a Scripture Central podcast directed by James Dalrymple, and I produced this episode with script contributions by Ryan Kunz. I'm Rebecca Devonas, and this is In The Book.