Sunday, October 11, 2015

Highlights from Nauvoo

Following is a synopsis of our mission in Nauvoo as reported in sacrament meeting on October 11, 2015.

I’ve been asked to speak to you on inspiring and faith promoting experiences that we had while serving a mission for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I could go on and on with that topic but for your sake I’ve selected five examples.

As I speak, I invite you to ask yourselves, “What lack I yet?” What one thing does the Savior want you to change to help you in your life long quest of preparing to meet God? You may be inspired by something I say, or simply by random thoughts that come to you which (if they draw you closer to Christ) are the soft sweet whisperings of the Holy Ghost.

The first experience I want to share with you is evidence of just how directly we can receive revelation and guidance from the Holy Ghost.

During the pageant season in Nauvoo, there are a number of detractors who plague the community with their outward objection to something. I never really figured them out--why they want to bother us, but they are there every year, and we do our best to keep them from antagonizing the guests.

Anyway, the first summer we were in Carthage, I had an angry soul come on one of my tours. He was harmless until while in the debtor’s cell I began telling the events surrounding Joseph and Hyrum Smith’s martyrdom. When using Joseph’s name for the first time, I heard him scoff loudly. Assuming I had misspoken in some way, I looked at the man to address what was wrong. As I did, the Spirit withdrew and my mind went completely blank. All I could do was silently pray and ask for assistance and knowledge on how to respond.

I received an answer immediately with distinct instructions…"don’t look at him". The delay was only a few seconds and I obediently proceeded first talking to one side of the room, skipping over the angry guy and addressing the group on the other side of the room. 

However, with every sentence that I said after that, I heard a loud obnoxious groan. Fortunately, I was blessed to be able to completely ignore his annoying sounds. The man left before I was finished so the other guests were able to hear my final summation and testimony without his commentary.

 Through this experience, I learned that there is both good and evil in the world, and the Lord will not abandon us when we’re doing His work.

The second experience I’m going to relate stood in stark contrast to the first. Again while serving in Carthage, an older gentleman came to visit the jail. He looked down trodden even broken from the onset. In talking to him, I learned that he was born and raised in Carthage, and this was his first visit to the jail. That’s all I knew about him.

Elder Johnson and I were giving the tour together this time, and it gave me time to observe his reaction to the information. I had a feeling that I should bear testimony of Christ and the power of the atonement. As I did, I noticed him in the corner literally sobbing.

I didn’t know this man, I hadn’t served him long or even individually, but I felt deep love and abiding respect for him. I saw this man through God’s eyes and I loved him. I understood that Heavenly Father loved him too and that he needed to know that through the atonement of Christ, he could be forgiven of whatever plagued him.

I also realized how much all of us are loved even the angry mob that took Joseph’s life. The atonement is for everyone and it is the healer of all wounds.

Third, in our last interview with our mission president, President Gibbons, asked us what we learned that surprised us or that we were not expecting.  So that’s what I want to tell you about next.

When first called to Nauvoo, I was excited to learn more about Joseph Smith. In fact, many historians call Nauvoo, Joseph’s city, Joseph’s temple, Joseph and Hyrum’s final resting place. 

Our first assignment was to serve in Carthage as I mentioned earlier. This is where the old historic jail still exists and where Joseph was killed. For months, we studied everything we could get our hands on concerning the events that led to their deaths and the aftermath.

Everyday we related this information to guests. Every day we bore testimony that Joseph was a prophet of God because over and over we felt the Spirit confirm that fact.

The surprising part was that through it all, I came out feeling the love of who? ...not Joseph Smith but Christ.

The story goes on…

...After four months in Carthage we were asked to serve in Nauvoo. There are about twenty- five different sites there each with different stories to tell. As I read and studied the material to present, again I was enthralled with the opportunity to come to know these great people who were willing to sacrifice their lives and homes for the gospel’s sake.

It was inspiring to think of their faith and sacrifice and wonder if I could follow their legacy if the need arose.

Again, however as I studied and pondered the circumstances and stories of these great people, I came away feeling ….the Savior’s love… and the undeniable fact that the Savior lives and loves each of us.

In essence, I came to understand that the reason for the shift is that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is not Joseph’s church nor is it any other man or woman’s church regardless of the sacrifices they made for it.

It belongs to the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. He is the chief corner stone. It is His priesthood and His Church that have been restored upon the earth. He personally directs the affairs of this church through apostles and prophets starting with Joseph Smith and it continues today through President Monson.

Therefore, no matter where missionaries of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are asked to serve, it is the Savior, Jesus Christ, who they will ultimately come away knowing and having a stronger love and testimony of as they embark in His service.

Fourth, while working as a Nauvoo Site missionary, we had to learn to collaborate. With hundreds of thousands of guests each year, it took teamwork and cooperation to help so many people have a good experience.

President Uchtdorf gave an excellent example of how to do this in conference a few years ago.  (See Lift Where You Stand) He compared cooperation to the lifting of a grand piano. The most effective way he said, is for many people to stand close together and lift. It doesn’t really matter who stands where but they need to do their part and all do it at the same time.

The adversary uses derision to block our ability to work effectively together, and we have a tendency to, among other things be clumsy in our relationships with others even gossipy, selfish, and judgmental.  So it is important that we fight those tendencies.

In  D&C 38:27 Christ says, “If ye are not one, ye are not mine.”

One missionary in Nauvoo had three simple rules:

Don’t let yourself be offended –just refuse to pick it up, don’t judge others unkindly since you really don’t know all the circumstances anyway, and be forgiving--in your mind and also in your heart.

When I find myself needing an attitude adjustment, it helps me to remember another of President Uchtdorf’s talk not to judge others for sinning differently than you do. Maybe, you would never do what so and so did, but you are certainly doing other less than perfect things that so and so would never do.

When we are judgmental, we block the Holy Ghost from being able to communicate with us. When we see others through God’s eyes, we invite the Holy Ghost to be with us and guide our thoughts and actions.

I exhort you to catch yourselves when you are feeling critical of others and just…….stop it.

Have you heard of the Pygmalion Effect? The Pygmalion Effect was discovered in the 1950's when an experiment was done. Teachers of youth were told that certain children were brilliant. Truth was, these children were chosen randomly, but the result was after years of teaching the selected children outperformed the other students in response to their teacher's optimistic view of their potential.

Thus we see that if we treat others as if they are already the people they can become, we can all be more successful.

Choose to see the best in others. Treat them as they may become and not how they currently are. Find their strengths and focus on those. Love, nurture, empower and then you'll be one with them and the Savior will claim you and be at your side.

Fifth and last, I’m going to talk about some of our trials. However before I do, you have to know how much fun we had. Our mission was a great opportunity to develop our talents and skills which included giving presentations to both large and small groups, singing, performing, and playing the piano. All of our prior skills were enhanced as a missionary. A fun side of both of us came out that we didn’t even know we had. While being relaxed and serving others, we could put away the worries of the world and just enjoy the guests. I could tell from another room when Brother Johnson was giving a tour because I heard laughter. Guests told me often how they enjoyed his tours. Life was very different, not mundane but full of variety and adventure, and everything we did had purpose and felt productive. As a side benefit, we met many wonderful missionaries that will most likely be lifelong friends.

Now that you know that, I can say that It was not always easy and fun. While in Nauvoo, we had to be okay with many things that we were not used to like being told where to live, when to move, what furniture and supplies we can borrow and what we couldn’t, what sites to work at on what days and what hours, what meetings to attend, and how to assist at those meetings. Basically, our time was not our own. All responsibilities were considered mandatory. As missionaries, we joked that the only exceptions might be eating and sleeping.

Time and time again as we chose to be obedient and not let the circumstances bother us, our hearts were softened and we felt surprisingly comfortable with the demands. For example, for the evening show Rendezvous in Old Nauvoo, we were asked to take the roll of George and Agatha—the hen pecked husband and the lady with no filter on her brain—the one role I hoped I’d never have to perform. Fortunately, the Lord qualifies those who he calls and as we put our hearts into the rolls, we found a new way to make it fun and rewarding.

Some of our trials we describe as the refiner’s fire. As we were asked to do things that we’d never done before there was of course a learning curve. Sometimes we excelled and other times not so much.  It’s never fun to have your weaknesses exposed, but it was and still is a necessary part of the process.

 Whether it’s trying to develop our talents, communication skills, or interpersonal relationships, we must first see our short comings from someone else’s perspective before we can take measures for improvement.

There is a scripture in the Book of Mormon found in Ether12:27 that sums up the solution:

And if men come unto me I will show unto them their weakness. I give unto men weakness that they may be humble; and my grace is sufficient for all men that humble themselves before me; for if they humble themselves before me, and have faith in me, then will I make weak things become strong unto them.

Even though it was painful, I am grateful for the opportunity to learn that in our extreme humility the Lord is always there to comfort and strengthen us and give us motivation to hang in there.

Ultimately, we loved being a tool in the Lord’s hand which happened as we got out of our comfort zone, and willing did what we were asked to do … say what we were inspired to say—and have a good attitude about it.

We sometimes reminded ourselves that anything we were asked to do was far easier than what was required of the early saints in Nauvoo. That thought became a great motivator.

In conclusion:
Being rooted in the gospel of Christ is a life long process. We can never retire from it. I will be eternally grateful for my experience as a full time missionary. I shudder to think how close we came to not going at all or cutting our mission short.

I, like most of you like to see the end from the beginning. This time, we had to trust the Lord that things would work out as we left our business and home in the hands of others not knowing for sure how it would work out. There were trials along the way, but the Lord inspired and directed us and others and the holes that opened up in Arvada were consistently filled. But, we had to trust the Lord and His time table.

What wonderful lessons to learn in 18 short months. How else could we have learned these principles so quickly and so thoroughly?

I stand before you today a different person than I was 18 months ago being filled with the knowledge that God lives. His son, Jesus Christ, is our advocate with the Father. Christ is the light, the life, and the hope of the world. His way is the path that leads to happiness in this life and eternal life in the world to come.

He has indeed removed the sting of death. The atonement is real and powerful enough to bring us back into Heavenly Father’s presence if we will simply choose His path for we are loved by Diety more than any of us are capable of or can imagine.

I went on a mission hoping to bring the truth of the gospel of Jesus Christ to others, and the greatest good I accomplished was in strengthening my own testimony.    

I invite you to think about my initial invitation to you and consider what you have been inspired to do differently and then…act on it. Allow the Spirit of God to work within you and move you to a closer relationship with Him.

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