Tuesday, April 21, 2015

April 2015

     In April we said goodbye to these beloved missionaries--front: Elders Kim & Benton, with Pres. & Sis. Eaton, and Sis. Cass; back: Elders Turney, Benhoff, Dawson, Thomas, Erekson, and Kim.

     We said hello to--front: Elder Clayburn, with Pres. & Sis. Eaton, Sisters Cole, Lyman, and McMakin; back: Elders Christiansen & Saydyk, Sisters Worthen and Stewart.

     For this month's update, I've included President Eaton's summary of the training emphasis for the last quarter.

           Before we move on to a new quarterly emphasis in May, I want to pause to reflect on some of the things we’ve learned since zone conference in February.  Few things are as important in missionary work as having the companionship of the Holy Ghost and teaching with the power that brings.  The Lord put it bluntly:  “If you receive not the Spirit, ye shall not teach” (D&C 42:14).  My prayer is that teaching and being guided by the Spirit will become a lifelong part of your fabric, not just a flash in the pan.

President Eyring taught priesthood holders last week that they have received “the right to speak and to act in the name of God,” but he cautioned, “That right will become a reality only as you receive inspiration from God. . . . The power to speak and act in God’s name requires revelation.”  Such revelation, President Eyring taught, comes when the Holy Ghost is our “constant companion.”  Similarly, all members of the Church have been granted the gift of the Holy Ghost, but receiving the Spirit is another matter.  And all of us have been set apart as full-time missionaries, but only with inspiration from the Holy Ghost can we truly do what we’ve been set apart to do: represent Jesus Christ.

President Eyring taught that receiving the Spirit and the revelation He brings requires much more than a casual interest on our part.  “You will not survive spiritually without the protection of the companionship of the Holy Ghost in your daily life.”  That reminds me of Elder Holland’s probing question:  “Was the Holy Ghost the senior companion today, the junior companion, or was He even in our companionship today?”  I invite you to reflect on what you have learned since last zone conference about inviting the Holy Ghost into your companionships and teaching with the power necessary to help bring about lasting conversions.

            Many of you have learned that the prayer of faith is a crucial part of the price we must pay to receive the Spirit.  As the Lord himself said:  “And the Spirit shall be given unto you by the prayer of faith” (D&C 42:14).  (Note for perfectionists: please don’t feel bad if you cannot yet recognize the promptings of the Spirit as clearly as you would like.  You’re doing great.  Keep studying, praying and teaching, and your ability to recognize promptings will grow little by little, line upon line.)

What does the prayer of faith look like?  Quoting President Joseph F. Smith, President Eyring taught, “You pray that God may recognize you, that he may hear your prayers, and that he may bless you with his Spirit.”  In his own words, President Eyring further described the mentality of someone who offers a prayer of faith:  “It is not a matter so much of which words to use, but it will take some patience. It is an approach to your Heavenly Father with the intent to be recognized by Him personally. He is the God above all, the Father of all, and yet willing to give undivided attention to one of His children.” 

Those words pricked me as I heard them.  Too often my prayers, especially my evening prayers, are rushed and lack focus.  Imagine that you had a chance to speak with your favorite apostle at the end of the day for a few minutes.  How much more focused, respectful, and less hurried would that conversation be than the ones we get to have with the Almighty God?  I have vowed to improve the quality of my prayers—to more fully take advantage of the fact that Heavenly Father himself is granting me his undivided attention.  I am going to seek to pray with greater faith, patience, reverence, and specificity.

In addition to the prayer of faith, we can more fully enjoy the companionship of the Spirit as we study and teach from God’s word.  “Getting that guidance will take more than casual listening and reading,” President Eyring taught.  “You will need to pray and work in faith to put the words of truth down into your heart. . . . The Holy Ghost will be your guide as He reveals truth when you study the words of prophets.”

I am so grateful that so many of you have taken to heart the very specific counsel I felt inspired to give you to study the Book of Mormon daily.  I have asked you to go far beyond casual reading as you basically ask these two questions as you study the Book of Mormon each day:  (1) How can I come more fully unto Christ?  (2) How can I use the principles and doctrines I study to help others more fully come unto Christ?  As you actively search for answers to those questions and record them in some kind of study journal, you are seeking learning by faith.  Your scripture study is becoming more active and less passive and your testimonies are being strengthened. 

As you use the scriptures generally and the Book of Mormon particularly in finding and teaching, you are also discovering that you teach with greater power.  As Elder Wade Johnson wrote me, “I have loved contacting using the Book of Mormon. . . . I wish I would have figured this out sooner. There is no more awkward connecting with no direction, but good questions that lead to powerful points taught in the Book of Mormon!”

            As we have the Spirit with us, we are also able to have greater discernment and inspiration to teach people rather than merely cover material.  We will come to know their true doctrinal needs and be inspired with questions that help them discover those doctrines for themselves.  Recently, I was teaching a young man with two of you.  Based on the investigator’s previous comments, we had assumed his doctrinal need was a willingness to walk in faith.  He seemed to want a clearer answer before committing to baptism, even though he’d already had the Spirit bear witness of Joseph Smith.  But during our lesson, one missionary asked an inspired question: “Which commandment will be most difficult for you to keep?”

            “The law of chastity,” answered the young man, without hesitation.  “I’m 18.”  As we talked, we quickly realized that what had been holding him back from firmly committing to baptism was not wanting a clearer answer.  Instead, it was that he knew he wasn’t ready for baptism because he wasn’t yet living the law of chastity.  After we helped him discover the importance of the law of chastity and the faith to keep it, he then committed to baptism.  That is why, as President Eyring taught, “you will pray for the way to know their hearts, to know what things are amiss in the lives and the hearts of people whom you don’t know well and who are not anxious to have you know them. You will need to know what God would have you do to help them and to do it all, as nearly as you can, feeling God’s love for them.”

            Many of you have discovered that receiving such inspired insights into people’s needs and teaching to those needs requires better planning and a different kind of planning.  There is nothing mechanical about Spirit-led planning.  Instead, as you prayerfully ponder the needs of individual investigators and how to study for them and teach them, planning and companionship study and personal study become revelatory experiences.  Even finding becomes an exercise in inspiration.

            Finally, you may wonder how the doctrine of Christ training fits in with this quarter’s emphasis on the Spirit.  Only as we exercise faith in Christ, repent of our sins, and renew our baptismal covenants by partaking of the sacrament meaningfully can we fully receive the gospel of the Holy Ghost, which gives us power to endure faithfully to the end.  Without these first three steps that culminate in baptism, neither we nor our investigators can receive the companionship of a member of the Godhead, which prepares us for eternal life with God the Father.

Indeed, the Holy Ghost is not only crucial to our quest to receive eternal life, but enjoying his companionship gives us a small taste of what eternal life will be like.  In 2 Corinthians 5:5, Paul writes that God has “given unto us the earnest of the Spirit.”  Many translators render the Greek word translated as “earnest” (like “earnest money”) in the King James Version as down payment or guarantee.  I especially like the Weymouth translation.  In verse 4 of that translation, Paul speaks of our desire to have our mortality “absorbed in Life.”  In verse 5 Paul then adds, “And He who formed us with this very end in view is God, who has given us His Spirit as a pledge and foretaste of that bliss.”

            I testify that as we and those we teach exercise faith in Christ, repent, and make or renew our baptismal covenant, we will enjoy that the companionship of the Holy Ghost, which is, indeed, a foretaste of that bliss that is to come in eternal life.

Friday, April 10, 2015

March 2015

We said good-bye to these beloved missionaries on March 2nd--Front: Elders Brown & Peay, with Pres. & Sis. Eaton, and Elder Gardner; Back: Elders Curtis, Cook, Nebeker, Maxwell, Anderson, and Taylor (missing Sister Moore who had to leave early to catch her flight).
     On March 3rd, we were joined by these wonderful missionaries--Sisters Palmer, Williams, Linker, Bailey, Sis. & Pres. Eaton, and Elder Cabrera; Sister Tremmel is in the tree.  Notice anything different about the pictures?  You can tell we had to close some areas to elders and replace them with sisters.

     President Eaton and I regularly send out "blasts" to the missionaries.  These are voice mails sent to all the missionaries by telephone.  Once a week I share an insight I gained from my study of the Book of Mormon to encourage personal study of that marvelous work and wonder.  For this month's blog post, I thought I would include one to illustrate this part of the mission experience.

     In Alma 23 we read about the Lamanites who were converted by some extraordinary missionary efforts.  In verses 16-17 we read about their decision to take on a new name—Anti Nephi Lehis—to distinguish themselves from their brethren the Lamanites.  That got me thinking about opportunities we have to take on new names. 

     New names can help us make changes, to think of ourselves differently.  When I married President Eaton, I took upon me his name, signifying the formation of our new family and our commitment to one another.  At baptism we each took upon ourselves the name of Christ, repenting of our sins and seeking to follow him.  We received a new name when we accepted a mission call.  It seems to me to be sort of an extension of our baptism, but now we are a recognized representative of Jesus Christ and all that we do, say, and even wear should reflect that.  That new name sets us apart and helps us live a higher standard.

     In D&C 130:11 we read about the need to receive a new name to enter the kingdom of God: “And a white stone is given to each of those who come into the celestial kingdom, whereon is a new name written, which no man knoweth save he that receiveth it. The new name is the key word.”  I feel there is more to it than simply receiving the name.  I think it is in allowing ordinances to change our nature and overcome Satan that we truly receive new names in a spiritual sense.  In Revelation 3:12 we read, “Him that overcometh will I make a pillar in the temple of my God, and he shall go no more out: and I will write upon him the name of my God, and the name of the city of my God, which is new Jerusalem, which cometh down out of heaven from my God: and I will write upon him my new name.”

     My goal is to be with each of you in the kingdom of God one day, to go no more out.  I’m grateful for the new names that I have received that are stepping stones to that destination.  In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.