Friday, November 7, 2014

Week Seventy

WEEK SEVENTY November 3, 2014

I have tried over the years to understand how grace is manifest in us, just what this “born again” process of being baptized or purified with fire really is all about. How does it work? This is what I have noticed.

The heart is the central element in our conversion from fallen mankind to becoming holy beings—for the heart reveals not the avowed man but the true man. We build a heart acceptable to God though our faith in Christ, and as we willingly come unto Him our hearts are "changed through faith on his name" (Mosiah 5:7).

As our hearts are changed within us, we become born again and our "souls [become] illuminated by the light of the everlasting word" (Alma 5:7). We then begin to see and feel—to sense, then to know, and finally to understand—the verities of eternity. The process of being born again itself causes our souls to be filled "with joy and consolation" through the redemptive power that is in Christ, which power purifies and sanctifies our hearts in an ongoing process of perfection that remains viable in us only as we continue yielding our "hearts unto God" (Helaman 3:35). 

In yielding our hearts to God we enter into additional covenants "with our God," bringing an ever refining fire into our souls which encourages us "to do his will, and to be obedient to his commandments in all things ... all the remainder of our days" (Mosiah 5:5). As the reality of these covenants empower us, we become the sons and daughters of Christ, being "spiritually begotten" of the Redeemer (Mosiah 5:7).

With changed hearts, and as evidence of the covenants we have now entered into, we willingly accept the changes that Christ works in us and the cardinal virtues—exemplified in those who live exalted lives—become part of us as well. Thus we willingly yield to the "enticings of the Holy Spirit;" putting "off the natural man" or woman; becoming a "saint through the atonement of Christ the Lord;" and becoming "submissive, meek, humble, patient, full of love." In so becoming, we begin to sense the common thread of those who are born again is a willingness "to submit to all things which the Lord seeth fit to inflict upon" them (Mosiah 3:19).

As our will becomes one with God, we are freed from the "bonds of iniquity" and the "gall of bitterness." Leaving the "state of nature" even the "carnal state" introduced through mortality at the time of the fall—a state which is "contrary to the nature of God"—we become changed in Christ and enter into a state in harmony with the "nature of happiness" (see Alma 41:11).

We begin to enjoy the "happiness which is affixed" to the atonement and are freed from the punishment affixed in opposition to the law (2 Nephi 2:10). Our hope is illuminated and brightens within us as we see and comprehend with our spiritual eyes that we will be "raised to endless happiness." We know that "endless happiness" comes only "according to [our] desires of happiness, or good according to our desires of good" which have been carefully nurtured within our heart. Thus having come unto Christ and allowing ourselves to become one with Christ, we are changed in him. We now accept of the divine within us and begin the process of becoming "redeemed of the Lord" (Alma 41:4, 5, 7) which fills us with "hope through the atonement of Christ and the power of the resurrection, to be raised unto life eternal, ... because of [our] faith in him according to the promise" (Moroni 7:41).

The words Mormon uses resonate with me as he illustrates how the Holy Spirit effected the necessary change in King Lamoni’s heart. “Under the power of God … the dark veil of unbelief was … cast away from his mind, and the light which did light up his mind, which was the light of the glory of God, … was a marvelous light of his goodness—yea, this light … infused … joy into his soul.” Light infusing joy into one’s soul certainly evokes thoughts of increased desire and understanding borne of the Spirit, and then “the cloud of darkness [was] dispelled, … the light of everlasting life was lit up in his soul” for he was filled with hope being “carried away in God.” (Alma 19:6)

Brother Two is out of town on business for the next several weeks so I have tried to stay in touch with him by text messages every day or so. Our hearts were filled with this exchange: “I read 1 Nephi 8. It was so full of truth. Godly truth. I know that repentance and baptism was when I took hold of the iron rod and began to follow the narrow path. What is it that we do that represents eating the white fruit from the tree of life? Is that in the future? I know it’s essential. Lehi’s vision with the white fruit isn’t literal is it?”

I shared my thoughts that the tree of life and its precious fruit are symbols of Christ's redemption. It is a symbol of God's love and Christ's atonement. In 1 Nephi 15:36 we see the fruit is the culmination of God’s love and Christ's atonement and they even imply eternal life being the greatest of all the gifts that God can give. Once you partake of the saving ordinances, i.e. Baptism and confirmation, priesthood, and temple ordinances, then you have partaken of the atonement and have done what is necessary to receive the gift of eternal life if you remain faithful. Brother Two replied, “Makes good sense! I just got thinking about Lehi’s vision and wanted to create a more personal sense of it.”

Sister Two in her anxiety to get back to the temple with us, obtained a reservation for the Spanish session this week, which gave me some concern how she would handle that. But because of the way she prepared the print outs, instead of participating in the endowment session she performed female baptisms for the dead and then we did the initiatory work, both male and female that she had ready. It was a sweet experience reminded us all of the importance of this work and our own sacred covenants.  

We had our last transfer meeting today before we ourselves leave and hurried over for our meeting with the Four family. When Brother four opened the door with the Laker basketball game blaring he said, “Didn’t my wife call you? She said she was going to call you” We told him she had not. Apparently she had to work tonight and was going to call telling us not to come. Brother Four invited us in anyway and turned off the TV. We shared a little pamphlet on the Book of Mormon timeline, left a copy of the Jeffrey R. Holland general conference address we are going to discuss at the next visit, and enjoyed a nice discussion, answering a number of questions. In fact as we left, I noted to Sister H. how happy I was his wife had not called as the spirit of the discussion and its direction were really positive. I offered to wrap things up after about 20 minutes so he could get back to his game. “No,” he said, “This is good. Let’s keep going.”

In the course of the conversation, I asked about the comment directed at Russell Wilson, the quarterback for Seattle, that he was “not being black enough.” Apparently, according to Brother Four, there is a little of the lobster trying to get out of the pot and being pulled back in with the black community. So if someone cleans up their language and manners they are considered being white and not black enough. “It’s a term of derision, although sometimes it arises out of jealousy and envy.” Then he said, “I could tell, just looking into your eyes when we first met, that you had no issue with my blackness. You saw me only as a man. I could see it in your eyes. I could trust you. You truly cared about me as a person.”

He also told us a story about being asked by his wife to check the oil in her car, but he had forgotten. With the need to drive to Long Beach tonight, she asked him if he had done so. He told her he had forgotten but would come right over to her work and do it. He picked up three quarts of oil. Checked the oil gauge, looked bone dry to him, added two quarts but then didn’t check the gauge a second time. Decided to add the third quart to make sure. She got a few blocks from work and called, she was smoking so badly she couldn’t see in her rearview mirror. He then realized he had put in too much oil. So they parked the car and he drove her to Long Beach arriving home just before we knocked on his door.

I sent a note to Brother Four the next day to see if he got his wife’s car taken care of or needed some help from us. He replied, “Yes, we drove it to Walmart and left it in the parking until we were able to get the oil change. Again, the Lord supplied our need. Hallelujah! Blessed be the name of the Lord. Thanks for caring. Love you both and you know what? Ain't a Thing you can do about it! Have a blessed day.” This constantly being reaffirmed in our service can get intoxicating.

Have been trying for two weeks now to set up a baby blessing, girls 5 and 3, for the Twenty-one family. But date after date didn’t work and then this week, the 3 year old got sick and we had to postpone to another week.

We have also tried for several weeks to meet with the Seventy-five family but they have never answered the door for us. We have tried mornings, afternoons and evenings all to no avail. So today I had the bright idea to go by dressed in our P-day clothes. However, even this novel idea failed. The door remained closed to us.

Tongue in cheek I sent to a granddaughter a note “the day after tomorrow you are a young woman. Isn't that a scary Halloween thought?” Missing the humor entirely she replied that “now I get to go to the temple. We already have it lined up. I’m going with my dad on my birthday.” Our grandchildren continue to be blessed in eternal ways as we serve, for which we are and will be forever grateful.

One evening we had our first meeting with Sixty-eight family. Also their married daughter and her husband, the Sixty-ninth family and another daughter, the Seventieth family. Both daughters are expecting any day now. The bishop asked us to “do what you do.” So we just sat down and had a good and fun visit. All of their eight children’s first names start with the letter “J” so they were tickled when they learned we were “Jerry and Jan.” We had a sweet discussion, uncovered some things they would like to discuss with us, and said they really enjoyed the visit and wondered if we could meet with them weekly. I sent by email some information to them on patriarchal blessings they had requested. They immediately responded, “Thank you for sending the articles, we look forward to reading them and to our next visit with you and Sister Haddock. Thank you again for visiting with us this evening. Have a great week.”

Three new families. Wow! At church Sunday we met the grandmother. She told me she had seen us frequently in the ward, but with nearly 800, we had never formally met. She too invited us to come over and visit with her.

We also met with the Seventy-three family this week. He is a member and she is not. She is from Mexico and has in the past met with Spanish missionaries. Oh did we get along well, shared a good gospel message and were invited back next week. Found no difficulty in communicating English and Spanish. In fact her answers in English were more thoughtful and reasoned than those in Spanish. She is the manager of the bakery at a Stater Brothers store.

The bishop, at ward council Sunday morning had requested that we go by and meet them. Later at the start of Sacrament Brother Seventy-three entered the chapel standing as if he was lost. I went up to greet him and he told me he was looking for the bishop’s wife and family to sit with them. Noting they were not there he asked if he could sit with us to which I readily agreed. I told him the bishop had asked us to drop by and we then and there were able to set up the appointment for our visit. Sure makes it easy when the Lord is doing the arranging.

I reported to the bishop, “We had a very nice discussion with them, discussing in detail Alma 5:6-15. I learned some Spanish words from her and she some English words from me. Her English explanations of what certain Spanish phrases meant was terrific. In fact, more thought out than hers in Spanish. I don’t think there is any problem in her learning or understanding the gospel in English. Her husband’s contribution and testimony was spot on, which I hadn’t expected. He was very vocal. I asked him to get with you to learn the steps he needs to take to be ordained to the office of a priest. He is very happy that you are his bishop. He also had some questions about patriarchal blessing and I'll get him some materials on that which I have found useful. They asked if we could get together next week and we were happy to meet their request, so we are meeting with them next Friday.”

Received a request from a brother concerned about being double-minded. His concerns stemmed from not yet being perfect and concerned over why that had not transpired subsequent to his baptism a little over a year ago. “If I was perfect, then I would be doing everything I believe and I am not.” So he has decided he is double-minded and therefore not fit to be with the Lord. I suggested that the term “double minded” only appears twice in the scriptures, both times in the Book of James. In James 4:7-8 it is used similar to the Savior’s use, describing f our inability to serve two masters simultaneously (Matthew 6:24) “Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw nigh to God, and he will draw nigh to you. Cleanse your hands, ye sinners; and purify your hearts, ye double minded.”

The second reference is in James 1:5-8, indicating one cannot doubt and have faith at the same time, “If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him. But let him ask in faith, nothing wavering. For he that wavereth is like a wave of the sea driven with the wind and tossed. For let not that man think that he shall receive any thing of the Lord. A double minded man is unstable in all his ways.”

I pointed out that neither of these definitions are reflective of the description he is applying to himself.  I suggested he forget about himself, his weaknesses and short comings. Rather he should focus on what he may someday become as promised by the Lord. For now, he needs to give himself to the Lord, patiently and willingly allowing the Lord to change and fashion him into the person the Lord wants him to be. There is no station to which he must arrive. He is in the process of becoming like unto God. No he has not arrived but neither will he arrive during his mortal journey. His mortal journey is a transformational stage of his eternal journey. His objective now is to choose to allow God’s grace to work in him. This he did when he made sacred covenants with God as he was baptized and when he received the Melchizedek priesthood. Now, I said, be patient, let His grace work in you. I asked him to study and ponder Mosiah 5:2-5 and share with me his feelings about what those verses speak to him.

At the first block we saw something in the program I don’t remember ever seeing before. Following the Sacrament it read, “Bearing testimonies of Jesus Christ.” I was reminded of a prompting I had last month when I bore my testimony and what the Lord had asked for me to do the next two Fast Sundays as well. The subject this week was to be on Christ. I arose and started by quoting 3 Nephi 5:13 “Behold, I am a disciple of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. I have been called of him to declare his word among his people, that they might have everlasting life.” This surprised me as I had not memorized that verse. I spoke only of the Savior and it was interesting to me what the Lord had me focus on. Brother Bob Adams came us afterwards and said, “Great testimony. Powerful!” I confessed to Jan as I sat down, “Well those words didn’t come from me.”

Attended the second block at the Aliso Creek ward and then off to our discussion with the Six family. They were watching the Denver Bronco’s game, his favorite team. It was near half-time and when half-time started I asked if I could share a message. They politely turned off the TV and I shared the following: PROVERBS 8:17-36, then this quote—

“There is something to predispose us to a life of faith or a life of disbelief. There is a heart that, in these conditions of equilibrium and balance, equally “enticed by the one or the other,” is truly free to choose belief or skepticism, faith or faithlessness.

“The call to faith, in this light, is not some test of a coy god, waiting to see if we “get it right.” It is the only summons, issued under the only conditions, which can allow us fully to reveal who we are, what we most love, and what we most devoutly desire. Without constraint, without any form of mental compulsion, the act of belief becomes the freest possible projection of what resides in our hearts. Like the poet’s image of a church bell that only reveals its latent music when struck, or a dragonfly that only flames forth its beauty in flight, so does the content of a human heart like buried until action calls it forth. The greatest act of self-revelation occurs when we choose what we will believe, in that space of freedom that exists between knowing that a thing is, and knowing that a thing is not.

“This is the realm where faith operates, and when faith is a freely chosen gesture, it expresses something essential about the self... If we linger in indecision, as does Buridan’s beast, we will not perish. We will simply miss an opportunity to act decisively in the absence of certainty, and show that our fear of error is greater than our love of truth….

“… [E]very time we turn our hearts and minds in the direction of giving meaning to our experiences, we are merely—and yet profoundly—arranging the evidence into a pattern—the pattern that makes the most sense to us at a given point on our journey. Evidence does not construct itself into meaningful patterns. That is our work to perform. (The God Who Weeps: how Mormonism makes sense of life, Terryl L. Givens; Fiona Givens [Ensign Peak; Crawfordsville, IN, 2012], 5-6, 9)

Then 1 KINGS 18:17-21 and ALMA 22:18. Also page 17, discussion pamphlet 3, about getting answers to prayer, testified to the young Sister Six that she could do the same and she committed to pray as we had outlined, to learn for herself. It was a wonderful discussion. I told Sister H as we drove away that the richness of the confirming witness of the Spirit today was similar to those special occasions I enjoyed as a young missionary.

During our Zone meeting on Monday I had an overwhelming feeling to send a text to Sister Six which was a follow-up to my feelings that morning as I prayed—As we had our prayers this morning we felt that we should pray with you each day this week that you might receive an answer to your prayers about the truthfulness of the restored gospel. That witness to us has brought incalculable joy and we know it would do the same for you. You will receive an answer from Him Who loves you more than you can imagine.” She replied with profuse thanks and that she has now finished the first two books of the Book of Mormon.

Monday we had Zone Conference, the entire mission as Elder Wilford W. Andersen and his wife were on a mission tour. It lasted from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Then again the next day at lunch and evening. Since the meetings transcended our week, I’ll share that in next month’s blog.

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