Tuesday, June 29, 2010

A New Way of Ranting

For some time I have felt that my personal scripture study has been stagnant, and none of my efforts have made a significant difference. At our ward conference in January, our bishop specifically asked us to make daily scripture study a priority in our lives, and he promised that doing so would have positive effects in our lives and families. So, when my brother-in-law emailed me last week with some thoughts on 2 Nephi chapters 31 and 32. After some back and forth discussion via email, Stew proposed that we move the conversation to the blogosphere, and, since I'm not ranting very much these days, this seemed a good venue for the dialogue.

So here's an opening salvo, drawn directly from this past weekend's stake conference. The one message from the six hours of meetings I attended over the weekend that stands out to me the most was the first one, from our stake president. He emphasized the importance of each member of the stake making a concerted effort to share the gospel with others, and he reminded us of the challenge he gave at the last stake conference for each family to share the Book of Mormon with a friend or neighbor.

Then he spoke of how using Preach My Gospel as part of daily scripture study will help us be more capable of and committed to sharing the gospel. In particular, he promised us that studying chapter 6, which focuses on developing Christlike attributes, will help us be more holy, more prone to receiving promptings that will bless the lives of others.

(As a sidenote, last week a member of our ward sent me the network access key to the wireless network in our stake center, so as our stake president spoke, I accessed PMG online, saved a PDF version of the book, and began to download audio files of the missionary manual (I'm listening to chapter 1 while I write this).)

So, in reading through chapter 6, I found a scripture reference that has great meaning for me, and which takes on a new significance to me as I think of it in terms of becoming more like Christ and thereby being more able to share the gospel. Moroni 8:25-26 come at the end of Mormon's epistle to Moroni regarding infant baptism. Here's the text:

"25 And the first fruits of repentance is baptism; and baptism cometh by faith unto the fulfilling the commandments; and the fulfilling the commandments bringeth remission of sins; 26 And the remission of sins bringeth meekness, and lowliness of heart; and because of meekness and lowliness of heart cometh the visitation of the Holy Ghost, which Comforter filleth with hope and perfect love, which love endureth by diligence unto prayer, until the end shall come, when all the saints shall dwell with God."

As I came to the end of my mission, I had a profound experience with this scripture. Elder Neil Anderson, then of the seventy, was touring our mission, and at a zone conference in Verona, he ran us through an exegesis of this chapter. His argument went something like this: Moroni 8 is not just about one particular doctrinal issue (baptism and accountability--does a child need baptism?), but the more broad principles of repentance and salvation.

These two verses form the core of this argument: baptism is a result of faith and repentance, and through it, we begin the process of becoming meek, which ultimately allows us to learn and develop Christlike attributes. As we develop faith and desire to change, we come to the moment of truth, when we must decide to act on that new-found faith; baptism becomes the key choice, and through baptism we become eligible to receive the gift of the Holy Ghost, whose guidance gives us hope, an assurance of the truth.

But even more meaningful to me, both as a result of where I am in my life and building on the email dialogue with Stew last week (I'd like to see you post a continuation of your insights into Nephi's discussion of enduring to the end), is the very end of verse 26. Our hope fills us with divine love—for God and for His children—and it is this love that allows us to overcome the challenges of life. Enduring through the power of prayer—a reliance on the higher power that first filled our souls as we began the process of conversion—is therefore the key element of our long-term efforts to become more like the Savior.

As I sat there that June day in 1997, I was feeling a turbulent mix of emotions. I knew that within weeks I would return home, take off the name tag, go back to college, and have to reinvent myself. I was grateful for the great experiences I had been privileged to have as a missionary, and I felt unworthy of those blessings. More poignantly, I felt a sense of sorrow, questioning if I had done enough with the two years I had been given. My mission was not wildly successful by most of our criteria—baptisms, growth of wards and branches—and a sense of regret, mingled with the joyful feelings I had in light of the life-alteringly good experiences I had enjoyed, left me feeling confused.

And then Elder Anderson read the final words of the passage: “ until the end shall come, when all the saints shall dwell with God.” In the margins of my English-language scriptures I wrote “even little old me.” In that moment I saw something of my place in the great plan; in the world of the mission I was a mid-level manager, a career district leader who never served in the upper echelon of zone leader or assistant to the mission president, but this passage spoke to me. I do not expect a life of fame, wealth, or renown, and in that moment, I realized that doesn't matter. If I am to endure, to work through the struggles of life, finding joy in the work I do and in the relationships I form (I had no idea on that day 13 years ago that less than one year later I would married, let alone to a woman as wonderful as Summer), I am just as eligible of the great gift of eternal life as any other.

Looking back on this experience, I recognize how the promise given by Mormon has been fulfilled in my life: I have been blessed with a happy marriage, wonderful children, and a life that, while not easy, is full of joy. I have learned to love my wife and children and those I serve in ways that I would not have expected in 1997. And the realization of that promise gives me greater faith that the ultimate promise,a surety that even I can “dwell with God.”