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Sunday, February 28, 2010

Missionary Work

Missionary work is the past, present, and future of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. When the Master commanded His Apostles to go out into all the world, He was speaking not only to them, but to you and I. The Standard Works are chocked full of stories, examples, and miracles resulting as a result of missionary work. It is one of the three-fold missions of the Church (which are in fact one mission, salvation for all, broken into three parts). I think a lot about missionary work, and I consequentially think of the people that I have taught, fellowshipped with, and shared the joy of the Gospel with. But there’s another side to sharing the Gospel that is an absolute reality to each person involved: it is hard. It is emotionally, physically, mentally, and spiritually exhausting.
This shouldn’t really surprise anyone, the Lord never promised that it would be unimportant, inconsequential, or passive. This is something that I think I was fully at grips with when I was serving full-time. I loved focusing on how demanding it was, that only those that worked the hardest, or took it the most seriously would prosper, and be able to further the work at a great place. Hard work is essential, but willingness and faith to do the work are vital to successful missionary work. Faith+willingness=hard work and success.
And now as I try and share the gospel with those that I know and love, I wonder why I don’t seem to have the earth-shaking experiences that some members had in my mission. Doors seemed to be open, at least once a transfer, that would lead to a baptism, but more importantly, a conversion. But almost every time I had a dinner appointment with members, the members would get sick of us asking for referrals, I would feel awkward asking for them, and there wouldn’t be any referrals. It seemed like members, for all the hard work they were anxious and willing to do, felt guilty for not knowing someone that we could teach and baptize that weekend. The Lord would never force His children to choose happiness, even when there are friends, family, and acquaintances around them that want them too. Not every person that we talk too will want to learn more.
In the Lord’s plan, requiring agency, each person seeking to do missionary work can only do so much. Remember the Lord’s invitations to “come and see” and “follow me.” Ask others to come and see, through inviting them to activities, not necessarily sacrament meetings, or invite them to dinner when the missionaries are over. Have or as your home page. Live your life in a way that you can feel comfortable asking others to learn what you love and live.
I spent so much of my time as a full time missionary thinking I wasn’t doing enough, that I wasn’t doing every single things I possibly could. I still fall into this trap, especially in areas of my life that I can’t control. But I know that the only way for the Lord’s work to move forward is in His time, way, and will. Instead of focusing on the things that we do wrong, let’s focus on the things that we do right. We read our scriptures, talk about Church activities, even something as little as putting what our religious views are on a facebook page. And no matter how frustrating or fruitless are efforts may seem, remember that each person the Lord invites to “come to Him” does not heed his call. How can we expect 100% success if we remember that Father's plan relies on the ability to choose? Remember the words of Elder Jeffrey R. Holland:

“Anyone who does any kind of missionary work will have occasion to ask, Why is this so hard? Why doesn’t it go better? Why can’t our success be more rapid? Why aren’t there more people joining the Church? It is the truth. We believe in angels. We trust in miracles. Why don’t people just flock to the font? Why isn’t the only risk in missionary work that of pneumonia from being soaking wet all day and all night in the baptismal font?

You will have occasion to ask those questions. I have thought about this a great deal. I offer this as my personal feeling. I am convinced that missionary work is not easy because salvation is not a cheap experience. Salvation never was easy. We are The Church of Jesus Christ, this is the truth, and He is our Great Eternal Head. How could we believe it would be easy for us when it was never, ever easy for Him? It seems to me that missionaries and mission leaders have to spend at least a few moments in Gethsemane. Missionaries and mission leaders have to take at least a step or two toward the summit of Calvary.
Now, please don’t misunderstand. I’m not talking about anything anywhere near what Christ experienced. That would be presumptuous and sacrilegious. But I believe that missionaries and investigators, to come to the truth, to come to salvation, to know something of this price that has been paid, will have to pay a token of that same

For that reason I don’t believe missionary work has ever been easy, nor that conversion is, nor that retention is, nor that continued faithfulness is. I believe it is supposed to require some effort, something from the depths of our soul.
If He could come forward in the night, kneel down, fall on His face, bleed from every pore, and cry, “Abba, Father (Papa), if this cup can pass, let it pass,” then little wonder that salvation is not a whimsical or easy thing for us. If you wonder if there isn’t an easier way, you should remember you are not the first one to ask that. Someone a lot greater and a lot grander asked a long time ago if there wasn’t an easier way.

The Atonement will carry the missionaries perhaps even more importantly than it will carry the investigators. When you struggle, when you are rejected, when you are spit upon and cast out and made a hiss and a byword, you are standing with the best life this world has ever known, the only pure and perfect life ever lived. You have reason to stand tall and be grateful that the Living Son of the Living God knows all about your sorrows and afflictions. The only way to salvation is through Gethsemane and on to Calvary. The only way to eternity is through Him—the Way, the Truth, and the Life.

I bear witness that He came from God as a God to bind up the brokenhearted, to dry the tears from every eye, to proclaim liberty to the captive and open the prison doors to them that are bound. I promise that because of your faithful response to the call to spread the gospel, He will bind up your broken hearts, dry your tears, and set you and your families free. That is my missionary promise to you and your missionary message to the world.”

And remember, remember, “if ye know these things, see that ye do them.” Miracles will happen!

Sunday, February 21, 2010

The Master Gardener

I usually write about things that have already happened, and about how through the grace and Atonement of Jesus Christ, a way was provided for me to follow. This week has been something different for me. I’ve been struggling with decisions and relationships, promises and promptings, that I don’t know how to respond too. I’ve felt uneasy about things that others have felt, and wondered how the Lord can give people different promptings about the same things. And I’ve wondered why things aren’t easy for those who are doing the right things.. I don’t really have an answer, other than you “don’t receive a witness until after the trial of your faith.” But I know that everything will work together for my salvation, and my happiness, and those that I pray for and about. Dallin H. Oaks has taught:

“A desire to be led by the Lord is a strength, but it needs to be accompanied by an understanding that our Heavenly Father leaves many decisions for our personal choices. Personal decision making is one of the sources of the growth we are meant to experience in mortality. Persons who try to shift all decision making to the Lord and plead for revelation in every choice will soon find circumstances where they pray for guidance and don't receive it. For example, this is likely to occur in those numerous circumstances where the choices are trivial or w here either choice is acceptable. We should study things out in our minds, using the reasoning powers our Creator has placed within us.”

Furthermore, in one of my favorite talks of all time, Elder Hugh B. Brown, in which he talks about what the Lord wants, versus what we want.

You sometimes wonder whether the Lord really knows what he ought to do with you. You sometimes wonder if you know better than he does about what you ought to do and ought to become. I am wondering if I may tell you a story that I have told quite often in the Church. It is a story that is older than you are. It’s a piece out of my own life, and I’ve told it in many stakes and missions. It has to do with an incident in my life when God showed me that he knew best.
I was living up in Canada. I had purchased a farm. It was run-down. I went out one morning and saw a currant bush. It had grown up over six feet high. It was going all to wood. There were no blossoms and no currants. I was raised on a fruit farm in Salt Lake before we went to Canada, and I knew what ought to happen to that currant bush. So I got some pruning shears and went after it, and I cut it down, and pruned it, and clipped it back until there was nothing left but a little clump of stumps. It was just coming daylight, and I thought I saw on top of each of these little stumps what appeared to be a tear, and I thought the currant bush was crying. I was kind of simpleminded (and I haven’t entirely gotten over it), and I looked at it, and smiled, and said, “What are you crying about?” You know, I thought I heard that currant bush talk. And I thought I heard it say this: “How could you do this to me? I was making such wonderful growth. I was almost as big as the shade tree and the fruit tree that are inside the fence, and now you have cut me down. Every plant in the garden will look down on me, because I didn’t make what I should have made. How could you do this to me? I thought you were the gardener here.” That’s what I thought I heard the currant bush say, and I thought it so much that I answered. I said, “Look, little currant bush, I am the gardener here, and I know what I want you to be. I didn’t intend you to be a fruit tree or a shade tree. I want you to be a currant bush, and some day, little currant bush, when you are laden with fruit, you are going to say, ‘Thank you, Mr. Gardener, for loving me enough to cut me down, for caring enough about me to hurt me. Thank you, Mr. Gardener.’ ”
Time passed. Years passed, and I found myself in England. I was in command of a cavalry unit in the Canadian Army. I had made rather rapid progress as far as promotions are concerned, and I held the rank of field officer in the British Canadian Army. And I was proud of my position. And there was an opportunity for me to become a general. I had taken all the examinations. I had the seniority. There was just one man between me and that which for ten years I had hoped to get, the office of general in the British Army. I swelled up with pride. And this one man became a casualty, and I received a telegram from London. It said: “Be in my office tomorrow morning at 10:00,” signed by General Turner in charge of all Canadian forces. I called in my valet, my personal servant. I told him to polish my buttons, to brush my hat and my boots, and to make me look like a general because that is what I was going to be. He did the best he could with what he had to work on, and I went up to London. I walked smartly into the office of the General, and I saluted him smartly, and he gave me the same kind of a salute a senior officer usually gives—a sort of “Get out of the way, worm!” He said, “Sit down, Brown.” Then he said, “I’m sorry I cannot make the appointment. You are entitled to it. You have passed all the examinations. You have the seniority. You’ve been a good officer, but I can’t make the appointment. You are to return to Canada and become a training officer and a transport officer. Someone else will be made a general.” That for which I had been hoping and praying for ten years suddenly slipped out of my fingers.
Then he went into the other room to answer the telephone, and I took a soldier’s privilege of looking on his desk. I saw my personal history sheet. Right across the bottom of it in bold, block-type letters was written, “THIS MAN IS A MORMON.” We were not very well liked in those days. When I saw that, I knew why I had not been appointed. I already held the highest rank of any Mormon in the British Army. He came back and said, “That’s all, Brown.” I saluted him again, but not quite as smartly. I saluted out of duty and went out. I got on the train and started back to my town, 120 miles away, with a broken heart, with bitterness in my soul. And every click of the wheels on the rails seemed to say, “You are a failure. You will be called a coward when you get home. You raised all those Mormon boys to join the army, then you sneak off home.” I knew what I was going to get, and when I got to my tent, I was so bitter that I threw my cap and my saddle brown belt on the cot. I clinched my fists and I shook them at heaven. I said, “How could you do this to me, God? I have done everything I could do to measure up. There is nothing that I could have done—that I should have done—that I haven’t done. How could you do this to me?” I was as bitter as gall.
And then I heard a voice, and I recognized the tone of this voice. It was my own voice, and the voice said, “I am the gardener here. I know what I want you to do.”
Answers to prayers unfortunately have to be “no” sometimes. I know with all my heart that this is true. But that God IS the gardener here. And He knows what He wants you and I to be. I just received the hardest “no” that I think I may ever receive. But I know what that means…find the meaning in it, and move forward.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

A Year and A Day

I have been home from my mission for 366 days now. 1 day more than a year. And what a year it has been! I remember sitting in the dining room of the Oregon Portland Mission Home, 368 days ago. I told my mission president that I was scared of going home, and that I didn’t want too. I know, I’m a pansy, but that’s beside the point. I was afraid of returning home, where my best friends were married, getting married, or not active in the church, the job market was terrible, and I didn’t know what I wanted to major in. In short, I had no idea what to expect, or what to do when I got home. President Dyches told me that these fears were common, and that as I did the things that I knew that were right, I would feel right about being home. Later in the evening, I looked into the eyes of the Elders that I was going home with, and saw the uncertainty in their eyes when they talked about going home, but the light in their eyes burn bright when they spoke of “doing all I could”, “seeing miracles”, and “knowing that the Church was true.”
Sure enough, it took a good 6 weeks before I watched a movie, 7 to go on a date, and 7 or 8 months before I felt confident socially, but I got there. Were there a lot of the highest highs and lowest lows that I’ve ever felt? Sure. Were there times when it didn’t seem like it was worth it to move forward? Absolutely. But those times of doubt were always followed by times of reassurance, of peace, and of new opportunities. And with new opportunities, came new decisions to be made, and outcomes to weigh. I think I’ve been more susceptible to doubt this year, than in any year previous. This is what will almost always happen when new and worthwhile things begin. Elder Jeffrey R. Holland has taught:
“This opposition [to truth, new things] turns up almost anyplace something good has happened. It can happen when you are trying to get an education. It can hit you after your first month in your new mission field. It certainly happens in matters of love and marriage. It can occur in situations related to your family, Church callings, or career.
With any major decision there are cautions and considerations to make, but once there has been illumination, beware the temptation to retreat from a good thing. If it was right when you prayed about it and trusted it and lived for it, it is right now. Don’t give up when the pressure mounts. Certainly don’t give in to that being who is bent on the destruction of your happiness. Face your doubts. Master your fears. “Cast not away therefore your confidence.” Stay the course and see the beauty of life unfold for you.”
Try and picture the eyes of those Elders in that kitchen, barely more than a year ago. Maybe picture your loved ones around you, as you talk fearfully, cautiously of things that are going on in the world, or in your family. And then, remember how doubt and fear were replaced by a burning faith, an almost fierce assurance that what has happened, and what will happen, is true, worthwhile, and for our good. Keep things in perspective, and “all these things shall give thee experience, and shall be for thy good.”

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Sunday Will Come

Last week’s blog post was written before I learned of the 2 Romainian Elders who died, due to a gas leak in their apartment. Elder Davis and Elder Burrows have weighed on my mind this week, as I think of not only friends and family that have passed on, but of the friends that are still here, that I love more than I can say. I can’t say any more than what Joseph B. Wirthlin said on October 2006, a talk entitled “Sunday Will Come.” I’ve been trying to insert my own thoughts, but nothing comes to mind, and only spirals into thoughts of what could happen, and what has happened. Words are something that I’m generally good at using to express my feelings…but not today. Enjoy 

“In all the history of the world there have been many great and wise souls, many of whom claimed special knowledge of God. But when the Savior rose from the tomb, He did something no one had ever done. He did something no one else could do. He broke the bonds of death, not only for Himself but for all who have ever lived—the just and the unjust.6
When Christ rose from the grave, becoming the firstfruits of the Resurrection, He made that gift available to all. And with that sublime act, He softened the devastating, consuming sorrow that gnaws at the souls of those who have lost precious loved ones.
I think of how dark that Friday was when Christ was lifted up on the cross.
On that terrible Friday the earth shook and grew dark. Frightful storms lashed at the earth. Those evil men who sought His life rejoiced. Now that Jesus was no more, surely those who followed Him would disperse. On that day they stood triumphant. On that day the veil of the temple was rent in twain. Mary Magdalene and Mary, the mother of Jesus, were both overcome with grief and despair. The superb man they had loved and honored hung lifeless upon the cross.
On that Friday the Apostles were devastated. Jesus, their Savior—the man who had walked on water and raised the dead—was Himself at the mercy of wicked men. They watched helplessly as He was overcome by His enemies. On that Friday the Savior of mankind was humiliated and bruised, abused and reviled. It was a Friday filled with devastating, consuming sorrow that gnawed at the souls of those who loved and honored the Son of God. I think that of all the days since the beginning of this world’s history, that Friday was the darkest.
But the doom of that day did not endure. The despair did not linger because on Sunday, the resurrected Lord burst the bonds of death. He ascended from the grave and appeared gloriously triumphant as the Savior of all mankind.
Each of us will have our own Fridays—those days when the universe itself seems shattered and the shards of our world lie littered about us in pieces. We all will experience those broken times when it seems we can never be put together again. We will all have our Fridays.
But I testify to you in the name of the One who conquered death—Sunday will come. In the darkness of our sorrow, Sunday will come.
No matter our desperation, no matter our grief, Sunday will come. In this life or the next, Sunday will come.”