Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Week Twenty-Eight

WEEK TWENTY-EIGHT January 13, 2013

We have been wrestling for some time now seeking direction about what we can pray for as missionaries. Clearly any prayers requiring the subverting of another’s agency, such as praying someone will accept the gospel message, enter the waters of baptism, or even listen to the message of the restored Gospel, implies limiting another’s agency either by blocking alternative thoughts or enlisting some compulsion beyond the scripturally specified enticing. Too often it seems we override this truth with a rationalization built upon it being in the best interest of the individual we are praying for. But Elder Dallin H Oaks statement, that “a missionary's goals ought to be based upon the missionary's personal agency and action, not upon the agency or action of others” (“Timing.” BYU Devotional Address, 29 January 2002) defuses such rationalizations even when we think they are consistent with God’s will. Happily we have settled upon a theme that gives us comfort, allows us to supplicate the Lord with faith and energy, and still fits within the framework necessary to sustain the freedom of choice agency advocates. So for us, along with prayers that the Lord will accomplish His purposes through us, regardless of whether we become aware of those purposes or not, we pray that those whom we meet and teach might understand the truthfulness of the message to which we bear humble witness.

Some months ago in meeting with Brother Four, the former Evangelical minister who has moved from South Carolina to California, following a couple of hour discussion between us, I had asked him to pray about whether Joseph Smith was a prophet of God. He had agreed to do so but when I texted him a few days later to inquire about the result he said he had not prayed as he had promised having decided to be “non-denominational in his beliefs.” I replied that I was non-denominational in my friendship and wondered if he felt the same. He assured he that he did.

Well following a wonderful southern dinner with he and his wife on a Saturday evening and a spirited gospel discussion he commented privately to me, “There are some things I would like to discuss with you alone. Would you be willing to meet with me?” I told him I would, wondering what he had in mind with Sister H coming to the conclusion that he was going to ask for money, and we set a date for Monday morning at 10 a.m. at his home. That morning Brother Four said that he was feeling at a dead end no longer having a congregation, preparing and performing his ministry, and generally feeling left out. I pointed out that we could take care of that quickly with his baptism and give him all the work he could handle. He laughed. On top of those feelings two weeks ago he was laid off, his car was broken down and he needed a hernia operation. He laid out an elaborate plan involving the various churches in the area to feed all the homeless and hunger in southern Orange, County. We spent considerable time evaluating how to do so, who would have to be involved and who I knew in the church that we would have to run the plan through. I promised to contact those individuals and to do his part. As we concluded I extended the invitation for him to inquire of the Lord to learn if the wonderful spiritual experiences he has enjoyed these many years weren’t his for the Lord’s purposes of preparing him to receive the further truth of the Restored Gospel? He looked me in the eye and said, “Yes, I will do that.” We joined hands and prayed together followed by a long-lasting hug and tear in both our eyes. He walked me to the car. As I was getting in I reminded him of his promise to offer that prayer and he said, “That is something my wife is hoping for.” Later in the day Thomas sent me an article he wrote entitled “A Firm Foundation,” asking that I read, take notes and get back to him as soon as possible.

I contacted the appropriate mission personnel extracting a promise for all to complete their assignments but ten days later learned that the key service individual in our mission had yet to do so even after explaining how crucial our followup on this would be for this brother. Interesting in visiting with the Stake President later I learned he had the same idea and was working through some red tape and if he can pull it off there will be such a feed in March. I told him about Brother Four and he promised to let me know if it was coming off and include Brother Four in the process. Later I discovered an interfaith food pantry sponsored by the Santa Margarita Stake and two other interfaith activities that I shared with Brother Four.

The California Irvine Mission choir, all 80 strong, performed the Sacrament meeting in the Aliso Creek Ward Sunday. There were a lot of smiling faces and teary eyes including the Twenty-first family who was there with us. Overheard the following two comments: One older gentleman in the HP group said, "I had a lump in my throat the entire Sacrament meeting." One sister told me, "I don't know why I put on mascara. I cried the whole meeting."

Speaking of the Twenty-first family we left copy of the Book of Mormon for Children on their doorstep for their 4 year old to learn about the Book of Mormon. When they returned from their Saturday trip they texted us how grateful there were for the book and announced that Emily had already read the first chapter. The father than confided to me, “It was easier for me to understand too.”

Heard from the high councilor over missionary work that he and the stake president were pleased with the focus on inviting I had put in the email to the bishops. Always good to know you are on the same wave length as your priesthood leaders. Shared with the bishop of the Lake Forest Ward: In my study this morning came across this quote very close to Einsteins: "To reach a goal you have never before attained, you must do things you have never before done." (Elder Richard G. Scott, "Finding the Way Back," May 1990.)

Received a request from our niece for some information on Heavenly Father which she wanted for a Relief Society class she was teaching the next day. I sent what I could that evening. However the next morning early I had a prompting to send something about visualizing God before visiting Him in prayer which I put together and sent not knowing if it would arrive before she left to teach her class.

One of the things I have learned that greatly assists me in approaching God in prayer and allows me to feel what is going on about me, is to visualize God as I approach Him. Because our mortal sojourn is primarily for us to learn to walk by faith, our memory of our pre-life existence has been largely forgotten. But we don’t have to remember what God looks like to visualize Him. In your mind’s eye, make Him look like what you want Him to look like. Further in your visualizing, place Him and yourself in some environment that is comfortable to you. You might see yourself visiting with him under a spreading tree on the 18th hole of a golf course, sitting and communicating with Him on a floating cloud, on the beach looking out over a beautiful vista, in some mountain glade or on top of a mountain peak. It is all up to you. Use your imagination. For some reason, such visualization fixes our thoughts, keeps them from wondering, refines focus and sharpens our ability to feel.

In approaching God in this way, you will find yourself focusing on the “little things” in life more clearly. You will recognize that God is truly in your life from these “little things” and come to see what He does for you, in a very intimate way, on almost a daily basis. These “coincidences of life” I treat as packets of sunshine and happiness that my Father in Heaven bestows upon me regularly to remind me of His love for me individually and His interest in my life and living. What I do is look for these packets of happiness each day and really enjoy them and then give appreciation and gratitude to Heavenly Father each time I recognize them. I have been doing this for so long now I never see anything as a coincidence anymore. Everything is always a love note from my Heavenly Father. This expression of love emboldens and fortifies me against the world’s onslaught and helps me maintain perspective.

Clearly that brief message was something the Lord wanted her to have in her mind during her class for I received from her this note—“In opening my lesson I asked if anyone wanted to share experiences praying to Heavenly Father that are similar to Joseph Fielding Smith, who according to his grandson ‘prayed as though he was talking to a friend’. A sweet elderly sister commented that she pictured Heavenly Father as she prayed to him. What a great segue into the info you sent me. I shared your thoughts and we had conversation. Went great from there.”

Had to bear down in boldness with Brother Two who is struggling with moving ahead in receiving the Melchizedek Priesthood. We had quite a discussion Sunday evening following our meetings and other discussions and the next morning he called to ask what he had to do to set up an appointment with the Bishop. This is a wonderful young man whom the Lord needs on the battle line.

Monday, January 13, 2014

Week Twenty-Seven

WEEK TWENTY-SEVEN January 6, 2013

Had an interesting experience I am anxious to see how it plays out. While buttoning my shirt one morning I received an impression to get on my knees and pray. I was given no suggestion as to what I should be praying for or about. I had down two buttons and proceeded to the third when the impression forced me to my knees. As I began praying the Nineteen family came to my mind and the entire prayer was about them. We have no idea why or for what purpose we were so impressed but are anxious to learn the rest of the story if we are permitted to so learn.

In presenting our Bible Study group’s discussion this week seemed to see for the first time how much of Paul’s writings deal with an apostasy that was already underway. In other words the New Testament itself not only foreshadows the apostasy but provided evidence of its searing effects even during the life of Paul

We have spent considerable time the past few weeks in prayer and assessing missionary activity in the two wards to which we have been assigned. Over the years we have frequently heard two reasons given for the lack of missionary success in a ward: 1) failure of the ward mission to function as it should, including lack of appropriate leadership; and 2) failure of the ward members to exhibit the ward spirit necessary for the Lord to trust the ward with those He has prepared.

We prayerfully concluded that in both wards the ward mission leader and ward missionaries were quite exemplary and the welcoming and including spirit of the ward member’s was outstanding.

As both wards are considering goals and there seems to be a feeling to do something different to achieve a different result, we came up with a suggestion. I wondered as a young missionary how I could be asked to set a baptism number goal for another person when I clearly understood the conversion process was between them and the Lord and not me. Such a “goal” seemed to involve me stepping on the agency of others or me being held accountable for something I had no control over. So I was thrilled years later when Elder Dallin A. Oaks stated our goals should not be based on the agency of others but rather upon our personal agency and action:

The achievement of some important goals in our lives is subject to more than the timing of the Lord. Some personal achievements are also subject to the agency of others. This is particularly evident in two matters of special importance to young people of college age—missionary baptisms and marriage.

Last summer Sister Oaks and I were in Manaus, Brazil. … I reminded the missionaries that some of our most important plans cannot be brought to pass without the agency and actions of others. A missionary cannot baptize five persons this month without the agency and action of five other persons. A missionary can plan and work and do all within his or her power, but the desired result will depend upon the additional agency and action of others. Consequently a missionary's goals ought to be based upon the missionary's personal agency and action, not upon the agency or action of others. [Elder Dallin H. Oaks, “Timing.” BYU Devotional Address, 29 January 2002.]

In the October issue of the Ensign, in the article beginning on page 36 and entitled, “Hastening the Work of Salvation” there is suggested along with this new emphasis, a different key indicator—invitations. The article states on page 39:

As Latter-day Saints we are blessed to be living in this time when the Lord is hastening His work. Because God has a purpose in placing us on earth at this time, we have the capacity to do more than we think we can. As long as we reach out in kindness and love to those who need our friendship and help, we will not fail. Missionary success comes by following the inspiration that flows into our minds and hearts and simply inviting others into our gospel-centered lives. The invitation is the mark of success, not whether people get baptized or become active in the Church. As Elder Jeffrey R. Holland of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles said of the great army of missionaries now entering the mission field: “The hour is upon us in which we must now say, ‘Here they come.’ All of us must plan for and use this heaven-sent resource in the most productive way possible.”

It is time for all of us to understand more clearly our role in hastening the work of salvation. As we make member missionary work, convert retention, activation of less-active members, temple and family history work, and teaching the gospel a natural part of our lives, we will experience great joy and be endowed with the spiritual gifts we need to strengthen the Church in the 21st century. [Emphasis added]

This caused us to wonder if a baptism number goal was really the ideal, or should we consider an invitation goal if that is the “mark of success”?

A baptism goal doesn’t involve the ward members on a daily basis as does an invitation goal. Praying for opportunities to extend an invitation once a week (or whatever time period is chosen) is personal allowing each of us to be fully engaged. It makes us look throughout each day for opportunities that might occur. It’s a goal we can set and achieve on our own without relying on someone else’s actions. “I can do this, I don’t have to go around feeling guilty.”

The number and kind of invitations seem pretty much infinite: One could invite someone to accept a pass-along card, attend some function, come to a FHE, have a discussion with you, or meet with the missionaries. For a less active member, all of the above invitations would work as well, including more personal ones such as accepting an invitation to prepare to receive the Melchizedek Priesthood.

If one of the objectives of Hastening the Work is the get the members and full-time missionaries working together as a team, invitations seems to be a seamless way of jump starting that relationship.

If a ward had only 100 active families and a goal of only one invitation per week per family (this is for illustration only as the goal should be prayerfully determined by individuals and families) that would be 5,200 invitations a year which is casting a pretty wide gospel net to accept those the Lord has prepared.

Others must be having similar thoughts as the Spirit promotes Hastening the Work. We heard from Bishop Nathan Myres, “I asked, according to whisperings for each family, that they prayerfully consider individuals in their sphere of influence each day, to invite someone to learn more about the Restored Gospel of Jesus Christ. We have had a great response. As we desired to just try, Father in Heaven does the things only a God can do and puts those ready and willing in our paths.”

Saturday, January 4, 2014

Week Twenty-six

WEEK TWENTY-SIX December 30, 2013

For those in the frigid country back in Utah, struggling to get the thermometer into the teens, Sister H and I were reminded again of our Christmas days in Encinitas, for on Christmas morning we had breakfast with the Thirty-Fourth, Thirty-Fifth and Thirty-Six families, all related to the One Family, and at their request, in a Newport Beach backyard with the thermometer hovering at a delightful 83 degrees. Sister Thirty-Fourth looked so much like our daughter-in-law we did a double take. Said she, “I just must have one of those faces everyone if saying I look like someone they know.” When we showed the picture of our daughter-in-law she exclaimed, “Oh she looks like Princess Diana,” and was quick to confirm “there must be a resemblance to me.”

Based on my experience as a young missionary I had not expected much activity for us on Christmas Eve or on Christmas Day but we were surprised with the number of invites on each, accepting one on Christmas Eve and three, brunch, lunch and dinner on Christmas Day. However the rest of the week was largely as I had expected.

During the week we blessed a non-member family member of one of the families we are teaching and were reminded again of the blessings of always making good decisions and relying upon the Lord.

On Christmas Eve we had dinner and participated with the Thirty-Eight family in their family traditions, we three generations of the family. Four of their six adult children were present and I found myself thinking what a great addition they would have been to our BYU 3rd Ward when I was bishop. The father of the family served in Wales on his mission and told us at his first door he remarked how wonderful it was to be here in the British Isles whereupon he received a good dressing down and had the door slammed by a Welshman. He told us that when you enter Wales the signs are in English with Welsh names underneath, as you get further into Wales they reverse with the Welsh being on top and by the time you get mid Wales the signs are only in Welsh. He said the town my family is from, Merthyr Tydvil, was where the Church built the first chapel in Wales. I sure hope the opportunity comes for us to visit Wales at some time.

We returned home in time to receive a call from our son Chip and learn of the Lord’s saving intervention in a surgery Chip had participated in receiving the praise of the doctor, “I don’t know of anyone else who could have kept that person alive.”

At our Christmas Lunch, with the family of the Bishop of the Aliso Creek Ward we had a ginger beer taste off following the meal. He had learned earlier that I liked ginger beer, as does he, and had purchased seven different offerings which we sampled and rated.

Our Christmas dinner was followed by a blessing to the husband who was going in for cancer surgery the next day. He called following the surgery the next day to share this: "As soon as you spoke my name a powerful, all-encompassing feeling of warmth and comfort settled upon me and I knew everything was going to be alright. You hadn’t even said one word of the blessing yet." This experience illustrates a principle relative to priesthood blessings, the words the priesthood holder speaks are not what is important. It is the performance of the ordinance itself that initiates the flow of the spiritual blessing the Lord is willing to impart. Here is an example where no words other than the ordinance itself were necessary for this good brother or for the Spirit to communicate.

This week a sweet sister (Thirty-ninth family) whom we had given rides to and from Church, elected to enter the waters of baptism and invited me to confirm her a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Her fifteen year old son was walking out of State Bros. and someone, he can’t remember who, handed him a pass along card. For some unexplained reason he took it home. His mother, who unknown to him was searching at the time for something missing, picked it up and called the number which in turn brought the missionaries to her door. She shared her testimony at the baptism, saying: “Today is my special day because of unexpected circumstances. Heavenly Father used my Son as an instrument to bring me the gospel of Jesus Christ and His restored Church. I was baptized twice and I am still happy. Elders so helpful. I didn’t even know the Bible before. Now ready for my purpose in life. I feel lively with a belief in God, my God, and a faith that will not be shaken by other churches. I am glad to be one of you. I feel like I belong to a big family.”

At the baptism I felt impressed to express just what a good man the Ward Mission Leader is. Every time we interact his genuine wholesomeness and sincere desires to fulfill what the Lord seeks of him comes through. I told him meeting him was a good enough reason for us coming to this mission and was surprised when he said he’d told his wife he thought we were assigned to this mission just to train him.

We took the sisters out for lunch one day and one asked what our typical day was like. When we got home I forgot to add, one or more doctor visits each week, naps, grocery shopping, cooking and cleaning, and dealing with the car. Monday morning I spent three and one-half hours at the Hyundai dealership just to have an oil and filter change and a 7,500 miles inspection.

Lastly, we weren’t missed for Christmas as each of the families of our children sent along fun gifts and along with a tree decorated by granddaughters Mya and Taylor we had a little Christmas spirit in our apartment. We even received a handmade gift from the Sixth family, two trivets made from curly maple and dark walnut.

Below is shot out our back window on Christmas day and our trivets.