Monday, December 14, 2015

Homecoming Talk

 Being a full-time missionary was the hardest thing I’ve ever loved to do.

The last area I was given the opportunity to serve in we encountered a person that I will never forget. I have no idea what his name is, but from this man I received one of the most marked teachings from the Spirit. Along a main road where we often had to go walking past there was a constant, repetitive clanking noise—it came from a man who sat outside from the moment the sun came up to about 9:00 at night tapping a little hand garden shovel. We tried to talk to him, but it seemed that his circumstances in life had left him basically unable to communicate past a simple greeting.

Every day we walked past that house, and heard his hand shovel “clank.” For being something so “insignificant” I was honestly troubled.

“And the days of the children of men were prolonged, according to the will of God, that they might repent while in the flesh; wherefore, their state became a state of probation, and their time was lengthened, according to the commandments which the Lord God gave unto the children of men. For he gave commandment that all men must repent; for he showed unto all men that they were lost…” 2 Nephi 2:21

Truly,”…this life is the time for men to prepare to meet God; yea, behold the day of this life is the day for men to perform their labors.”
Alma 34:32

Our only day to perform our labors… and this man sits there tapping.

Now, I have no idea what his background was, and quite possibly, tapping, could have been the only thing he was left able to do at this point in his life. That’s fine. However, as a result of seeing this man, I began to see other “tappers.” Parents yelling at or ignoring children, people spending uncontrolled time on electronic devices, sleeping excessively, procrastinating, anyone who chooses not to accept the gospel for whatever motive, not participating in family activities, church activities, or other meaningful events, children who do not honor their parents, peers, or themselves and instead waste away their youth and are left without options…

When considering the above, is it any better than sitting there tapping away your days on a wooden box?

In an inspired question from the Lord, He asked, “Is it not written in your law, I said, Ye are gods? “ John 10:34

That knowledge and understanding of who we are and who God is, is essential to our salvation. To prepare to meet God, we have to know whom we’re preparing to meet. In order to really have faith, the basic molecule of the gospel of Jesus Christ, we must first have a correct understanding of Him, incomplete as it may be.

The Prophet Joseph Smith said,

“There are but a very few beings in the world who understand rightly the character of God. The great majority of mankind do not comprehend anything, either that which is past, or that which is to come, as it respects their relationship to God. They do not know, neither do they understand the nature of that relationship; and consequently they know but little above the brute beast, or more than to eat, drink and sleep. This is all man knows about God or His existence, unless it is given by the inspiration of the Almighty.

“If a man learns nothing more than to eat, drink and sleep, and does not comprehend any of the designs of God, the beast comprehends the same things. It eats, drinks, sleeps, and knows nothing more about God; yet it knows as much as we, unless we are able to comprehend by the inspiration of Almighty God. If men do not comprehend the character of God, they do not comprehend themselves.“ Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 39-40

The process of teaching people about God was humbling and sweet. People think He is a cloud, that He is energy, that there is only one Being, that He is in our hearts but nowhere in particular, and they definitely don’t know what He expects. The gospel truths shed light and wisdom on those who seek to know.

One day my very new companion and I received a phone call from the assistants to the president. “Sisters, we have someone for you to teach. We’ll meet you there.” They gave us the address, and hung up. I was in a new area, training a brand new missionary, and that day we were scheduled to have companion exchanges. So when the evening appointment came, I felt extremely out of my element as I was introduced to Licia, an 80-year-old half-paralyzed angel.

It would be impossible to describe how I felt during that lesson, teaching with elders and a stranger companion, while Licia’s member-friend, Eve bounced around so excited that after so many years, Licia finally wanted to accept the gospel. The way in which the Spirit led all four of us while we taught about the Restoration is too tender for me to be able to explain. But I will never forget when Elder Hale taught about the loving nature of

God with these words, “Licia, this experience that Joseph had is proof that God loves us. It is proof that He has forgiven the world for what it did to His Son.” That is the only experience in my life where I had been present while hearing missionaries, apart from my companion and myself, teach. It left a profound mark on my heart, and a testimony by the Spirit of the truth.

Licia truly is an angel, and without making excuses for her difficult circumstances, chose to be baptized three weeks later with the help of three of her nephews to lower her into the water. She and her sister were the only ones of their entire extended family who had not been baptized, and it was a celebration oh so sweet to see over 60 family members so united for the salvation of one soul. Licia was someone who wanted to know who God was, and upon knowing, was willing to follow His Son.

There is only one objective in this life:

“That they should seek the Lord, if haply they might feel after him, and find him, though he be not far from every one of us:

For in him we live, and move, and have our being; as certain also of your own poets have said, For we are also his offspring.” Acts 17:27-28

I have noticed that people fail to “prepare to meet God” for a lack of the first two steps of the repentance process—that of recognizing, and then feeling. Two fundamental elements that make us like our Father Creator.

I sense that many “[look] beyond the mark” (Jacob 4:14) of repentance, thinking of confession and change, but it is impossible to ever arrive at that point without first noticing what needs to be confessed and changed and feeling it is necessary. As Elder Bednar stated, “Guilt is to our spirit what pain is to our body—a warning of danger and a protection from additional damage.” That ability to feel and reason is what makes us “labourers together with God.” Paul taught the Corinthians, “ye are God’s husbandry, ye are God’s building.”
1 Corinthians 3:9

What is God “building” through you? Are we sufficiently astute to lend attention to the subtle thoughts and feelings that, if heeded to, will provide the necessary guidance to recognize and feel? I believe that apathy is more destructive than any other known calamity. Those who just don’t care.

For example, one man’s point of view reflects a challenge we faced every day. We called at a door, and offered a pass-along card that said, “how can I find peace and happiness in this life?” The man read the card, took a significant pause, and then nodded and said, “wouldn’t that be nice?” It’s easy to see the little “spiritual cogs” running in peoples’ heads. That was one of those moments. It is also easy to see the power of agency. We asked, “are you happy?” “No.” “We can help you learn to be happy… the Lord loves you and wants to help you be happy… would you like to be happy?” Long pause… “no, actually, I think I’d rather just stay how I am.”

What can I do with that?! How can the Lord motivate someone completely apathetic?! Someone who just “doesn’t care.”

We are not even our own, “ye are bought with a price.” (1 Corinthians 6:20) Yet our Heavenly Father is so merciful that He lets us have free reign of everything, just to see what we will do.

“And we will prove them herewith, to see if they will do all things whatsoever the Lord their God shall command them.” (Abraham 3:25)

That price… I have thought much of the price of my soul. How much do I cost? One soul. The world frames everything in terms of money, but they are barely off—the true value is not money, but cost. I cost, with my imperfections, one soul, to be made perfect. That cost may only be paid by one perfect soul. The only perfect soul this world has ever known.

He will not do much, or anything, to change us without our permission. That is also necessary to understand about His nature. He is the perfect Respector of agency, but that will never eliminate our responsibility.

Camila and Ignacio, two investigators, taught me this principle. We were teaching about baptism to these cute young siblings, ages 18 and 9. Ignacio, upon understanding that baptism was a commandment, looked at his older sister and asked, “so then God is basically forcing us to be baptized?” Camila thought for a second, and then responded, “what is the difference between being forced to do something, and it being your responsibility to do it?” Ignacio understood: He doesn’t force us to do ANYTHING, but He commands and invites us to be like Him.

There is a beautiful hymn that is very seldom sung:

Know this, that ev'ry soul is free
To choose his life and what he'll be;
For this eternal truth is giv'n:
That God will force no man to heav'n.

He'll call, persuade, direct aright,
And bless with wisdom, love, and light,
In nameless ways be good and kind,
But never force the human mind.

Freedom and reason make us men;
Take these away, what are we then?
Mere animals, and just as well
The beasts may think of heav'n or hell.

May we no more our pow'rs abuse,
But ways of truth and goodness choose;
Our God is pleased when we improve
His grace and seek his perfect love. (Hymn 240)

I’m not sure which of my little brothers put it there, but the first thing I saw when I opened up my computer was a quote from Gandalf:
“All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.”

We can spend it tapping or building. Wasting or recognizing. Existing or feeling. Wondering or believing.

In a world filled with chaos, we must remember that we worship the Prince of Peace. Have a little faith.

“Wherefore, ye may also have hope, and be partakers of the gift, if ye will but have faith.” Ether 12:9

Manuel was a miracle. We found him during the month completely absorbed in Chile’s soccer tournaments in preparation for the American Cup, it is extremely trying to find people to teach. As we taught this young man, it was clear that the Lord had prepared him, and he was willing to prepare himself as well. Right before his baptism we wanted to make sure that he really had a firm testimony of the Book of Mormon and the prophet of the restoration. Being baptized and going inactive soon after is very common in Chile. He looked at us and said, “sisters, don’t worry. It’s like me looking at my shirt and knowing it’s white. No one could make me think otherwise. I know it’s a white shirt. I know this Book is true.”

Sometimes we lack that simple faith. Let us remember that it is not our belief that defines truth. Truth is. It is our privilege to know it is the truth.

I love these words from Brigham Young, I echo them as my own: “I testify that Jesus is the Christ, the Savior and Redeemer of the world; I have obeyed His sayings, and realized His promise, and the knowledge I have ofHim, the wisdom of this world cannot give, neither can it take away.”

Our Heavenly Father knows this life is hard. He is watching us. Let us not be discouraged, or “wearied in well-doing, for ye are laying the foundation of a great work. And out of small things proceedeth that which is great. ”
(D&C 64:33)

Let us recognize and feel. Let us have faith and be believing.

We are our own agents. We must choose the right things ourselves.

 26 For behold, it is not meet that I should command in all things; for he that is compelled in all things, the same is a slothful and not a wise servant; wherefore he receiveth no reward.
 27 Verily I say, men should be anxiously engaged in a good cause, and do many things of their own free will, and bring to pass much righteousness;
 28 For the power is in them, wherein they are agents unto themselves. And inasmuch as men do good they shall
in nowise lose their reward.
 29 But he that doeth not anything until he is commanded, and receiveth a commandment with doubtful heart, and keepeth it with slothfulness, the same is damned.
 30 Who am I that made man, saith the Lord, that will hold him guiltless that obeys not my commandments?
 31 Who am I, saith the Lord, that have promised and have not fulfilled?
 32 I command and men obey not; I revoke and they receive not the blessing.
 33 Then they say in their hearts: This is not the work of the Lord, for his promises are not fulfilled. But wo unto such, for their reward lurketh beneath, and not from above.
(D&C 58:26-33)

Talking to people in the street is just my favorite thing to do. They say the ….most interesting… things. “We just need to love our neighbor and be a good person.”

That’s not good enough. “The power is in them.” Being a good person is not the objective. Paying tithing is not the objective. Church attendance is not the objective. Come to know Heavenly Father through faith, and then align your life with what He wants. “The power is in [us]” to do that. The power is in us because the Savior gives us the opportunity to everlasting life.

And we are so slow to just do it. We might do what He asks if we know how long it’s going to take, who else is coming to help, and if refreshments are going to be served afterwards. We have to be anxiously engaged, our own agents. May we no more our powers abuse, even in the sight of temptation, distraction, and many times as with full-time missionaries, exhaustion.

Young men, let me tell you something. If I were you, I wouldn’t bother asking the Lord if you should serve a mission. I wouldn’t even let that thought come into your head. The Lord has commanded, you must obey. Yes, you should serve a mission, and it will not be a sacrifice—it will be a merciful opportunity.

It is a dangerous practice to try to be the exception to the rule in any circumstance. Recognize, feel, have faith.

It is hard to love people who don’t love you back. It’s painful. Sometimes I thought, “it hurts so bad to love

these people who don’t love themselves, and don’t want to change.” I suffer. But that feeling is what is called charity. A tiny touch of what the Lord has felt and feels. It is a blessing to have that feeling. We need that feeling. That is why “every member a missionary.” All I want is to be charitable.

I prefer to suffer and learn than to remain in ignorance, because it is through that suffering that we might also begin to tap into what one day will become a fullness of joy (3 Nephi 28:10).

That is also why Heavenly Father gives us the opportunity to have families. Many of those emotions are experienced especially by parents I believe. I give thanks every day that I have a family of ministering angels.

My parents are beyond description. My family is my joy, and I love to see it grow. That is not out of reach to anyone who is willing to base his or her life in the eternal truths aforementioned.

And now, my beloved [brothers and sisters] let us labor diligently; for if we should cease to labor, we should be brought under condemnation; for we have a labor to perform whilst in this tabernacle of clay, that we may conquer the enemy of all righteousness, and rest our souls in the kingdom of God.
Moroni 9:6

That was a scripture that my first mission president shared once with us. I revere greatly the two men who were called as presidents during my time in Vina del Mar. President Kahnlein taught me that all things are spiritual,

that sometimes there are moments of crisis, but it is always better to be obedient. Strive for excellence in all you do. Never underestimate the importance of having fun. Have an attitude of, “I can!” And don’t make excuses.

President Diaz taught me that there is no such thing as a bad day, that we are all just people, and that we can choose to be chosen by the Lord.

I know that Jesus Christ is our Savior and Redeemer, and that our loving Heavenly Father has a perfect plan for us. "After all that has been said, our most important duty is to preach the gospel." (Joseph Smith). I love to serve the Lord. I know that the Book of Mormon is true.

In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.

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