Category Archives: Mormon

The 25th Anniversary of Starting My Mormon Mission…

It has been 25 years, today.

mtcprovoJuly 3, 1991…I was 19 years old and my parents and brothers and I were at the Missionary Training Center (MTC) in Provo, Utah, saying our goodbyes. They were going to drive off and leave me there…

I had never lived away from home up to that point since my first year of college was spent at a local college. I don’t think I had been east of Utah in my life. Being the oldest, our family had never sent a missionary off. I was nervous. I’d imagine my parents were nervous. This was new territory. After a short presentation by the staff and leadership of the MTC, I hugged everyone, cried, and walked into a hallway with hundreds of new missionaries while my family walked back to the car with hundreds of families in similar situations.

First thing I learned as a missionary: I loved my family.

Then I hauled my bags to my room. Then I met Elder Evans who I would grow to love like a brother. Then I met the other missionaries going to my mission, and a few others going to other missions. I spent about three weeks in the MTC, learning, studying, playing basketball, eating (and immediately using the restroom), praying, praying…And eventually traveling to Texas where I served as a representative of my family, my church, and my Savior in bringing the restored gospel of Jesus Christ to anyone who would listen.

It has been 25 years since I embarked on that adventure. I served for two years. I’ve had 23 years to think about it. Here are some of the things I learned:

I learned that I could get along with anyone. I didn’t have to just stick with my friends like I thought I needed to do in high school. The mission president could stick me with any missionary companion and it wouldn’t be long before we were laughing and joking and working together. I even had one companion who didn’t speak any english (and I didn’t speak his language). We got along great!

I learned that I could work hard. I didn’t grow up on a farm or as an olympic athlete. It is doubtful that I would be remembered in high school as any other than an average worker. But very quickly I learned that I could go all day, so to speak. We were up at 6:30 AM, out the door by 9:00 AM, and gone all day until 9:00 PM that evening. And I liked it. I really enjoyed it. It was tiring, and could be discouraging, but we found ways to enjoy just working.

I learned that my intestines didn’t like 32-Bean-Soup.

I learned that my Samoan companion punched a lot harder than I did.

I learned that when you sense that a dog is going to try to bite you, it is because it really is going to try to bite you.

I learned that not everyone likes Mormons.

I learned that there was beauty and truth and great people in every religion.

I learned that there were incredible people who weren’t religious at all.

I learned to enjoy the friendship that developed with other religious leaders.

I learned that I enjoyed attended the Jewish Synagogue, Catholic Mass, and Baptist worship meetings.

I learned to let rejection, disappointment, and frustration bounce right off of me.

I learned that I could choose to be happy regardless of my circumstances.

I learned to get off of my bike, get out of my car, and get out of my routine to help strangers with no expectation of repayment. A person didn’t need to listen to our message to receive our help.

I learned to follow those quiet promptings, impressions, and feelings that come from a loving Heavenly Father.

I learned that obedience isn’t limiting or oppressive. Following the council of leaders doesn’t require that I become un-thinking or un-feeling. Just the opposite. And blessings and protection seem to follow.

I learned that Joseph Smith did, in fact, see God the Father and Jesus Christ. And that there was a lot to learn about that experience and from that experience.

I learned of the power of the word of God and the special relationship between the Bible and the Book of Mormon.

I learned that Jesus Christ really did live and die for all of us. He was resurrected and lives today.

I learned that God knew me very personally, and knows me today.

There’s certainly a lot more. Lessons were learned everyday. Over the last 23 years, since returning home and moving on with life, I’ve also learned that those two years as a missionary were not the best two years of my life. They set the stage. The mission ended up teaching me the patterns I would need to understand to make the next 23 years wonderful.

I will forever be grateful for parents and church leaders who encouraged me, but didn’t force me to serve as a missionary. I could have not served in that way and everyone would’ve loved me just fine. I had friends who didn’t go as full time missionaries and they were loved as much as me. So I learned that being a missionary didn’t make me any more special or loved by others or God.

But I’m grateful I went. I would go again. We’re encouraging our children to serve as missionaries because of the blessings and lessons that come. Those two years were critical in becoming who I am today.

Be encouraging…

BJM

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What is Happening When God Doesn’t Answer…

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The Woman of Canaan, by Michael Angelo Immenraet, 17th century

Typically, when I text someone with a question and I don’t get a response, I assume that either they didn’t see the text or they’re dodging me. I sometimes feel a bit impatient and I suppose there have been moments when I’ve felt a little offended. Same with a voice message. Or a Facebook message. Or en email (for those of you born after 1999, here’s what an email is).

It is a little different when God doesn’t seem to be answering.

Simply, we’ve been invited to ask Him for help through prayer. I know there’s more to it, but that is the bottom line. So, it is often confusing when we feel like there is no answer, and that may feel like it happens regularly. In fact, you may feel as though you’re in the middle of that situation right now. In a lesson I participated in today a thought occurred to me that helped me gain a little understanding into this oft-repeated situation, and it stems from a well-known story in the New Testament.

When Jesus had arrived in the coastal area of Tyre and Sidon (a non-Jewish community) he was met by a Canaanite woman who needed help. Her daughter was in trouble and she was asking Jesus to bless her, to help her, to heal her. Here is what followed her pleading:

“But he answered her not a word…” (Matthew 15:23)

So her prayer was met with…silence. Can you imagine her thoughts?

Did he hear me?

Should I repeat my question?

Is he paying attention to me?

Am I not good enough for him?

Am I not asking correctly?

Am I not using the right language?

Is there some secret code I don’t know?

Is he pre-occupied?

What is his problem?

Does he not love me and my daughter like he seems to love everyone else?

But I wonder if Jesus was teaching. Teaching her. Teaching his disciples. Teaching us. His disciples arrive on the scene (from either close by or far away) and think she should be dismissed. That would’ve discouraged her I’d imagine. I wonder if Jesus, upon hearing the disciples’ dismissive tone smiled a little and thought here’s a good teaching moment for both the woman and for my disciples

He doesn’t respond the disciples’ request either, which I find interesting. He converses with the woman, maybe discerning her faith through conversation as she makes her case that, yes, Jesus wasn’t really there to minister directly to the Gentiles, but that maybe there was still a blessing for her (which she rightly surmises). He may have been helping her strengthen her faith by exercising it. He also may have looked over at the disciples after healing the woman’s daughter as if to say, “We’re not here to dismiss anyone who approaches us in faith. We’re healers. We’re teachers. We’re hear to bless. One day you’ll be in the position I was in today and I don’t want you to be dismissive…”

The point, I suppose, is that Jesus wasn’t doing nothing when he didn’t immediately answer the woman in verse 23. There was always a plan even if it wasn’t obvious to the woman. But there was more to it than the woman probably was aware of.

There is a plan for you, too. Yes, God hears you. He wants to teach you and strengthen your faith. He wants to teach those around you and strengthen their faith. But that takes time. He may answer you “not a word” today. And tomorrow. And this year. But He is working on things, I promise…

Be encouraging…

BJM

She Wasn’t the Only One Who Touched the Savior’s Robe…

Notice how narrow the streets of Jerusalem are in the older parts of the city. And since many of the streets in the ancient parts of town haven’t shrunk, it makes sense that the streets in the Savior’s time would’ve been quite narrow as well. My guess is, walking up and down these streets would’ve been a pretty intimate experience.

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Had you lived in Jerusalem 2000 years ago, you would’ve bumped into others often as you travelled through the winding streets of town. Your shoulders would have jostled people’s carts or you would’ve mistakenly stepped on someone’s sandals. Surely you side-stepped people or brushed up against them and their belongings regularly.

And that idea begs a question: Was the woman with an “issue of blood twelve years” and who reached out to touch the Savior’s clothes as he passed by the only person to touch his clothes that day? If so, why weren’t more people healed that day?

Short answer: Of course she wasn’t the only person to touch Jesus that day. Many people brushed up against the Savior and His clothing before and after she did. Most didn’t even realize that had touched Him. He may not have known that He had been touched by the others. But He knew that she had touched Him.

So, if touching his clothes healed the woman, why weren’t others healed that day as well? Short answer, again: Intention. Faith. Purpose. The woman who was healed touched the Savior as an act of faith. She intentionally reached for Him. She acted in faith and with purpose.

Thousands of people read the scriptures each day, but only a small percentage are “healed”. Countless people will pray this evening, but only a small percentage will be “healed” as a result. Many members of the LDS Church will partake of the sacrament on the upcoming Sabbath but only a small number will feel the cleansing power of the Atonement as part of that sacred ordinance. Many will look like they follow the Savior today, but only a handful of them will reap the blessings of obedience and love. Why? Because only a few will do these things on purpose and with intention.

Principle: When we act in faith with purpose and intention God can bless us in healing, powerful ways. When we go about our day with little intention or purpose, going through the motions, as it were, we miss connecting with Heaven. There is a difference between brushing up against the Savior because the streets are narrow and reaching out to Him with purpose, faith, and intention to obtain needed blessings.

So, today, look up and reach out in faith.

As always, be encouraging…

BJM

 

If You Really Want to Be the Good Samaritan, You’d Better Consider This…

samaritan2The story of the Good Samaritan as found in the Bible is, for good reason, a favorite of so many. I’m not going to do a play-by-play of the story since you can read for yourself. I just want to point out a small, but significant, observation that may be helpful.

There seem to be two main ways to look at this story:

1. We should help those that we would not normally help. The people listening to Jesus tell this parable would have been surprised to have the Samaritan being the hero, especially if he was helping a Jew. The Samaritan’s willingness to bless another is inspiring.

2. According to John Welch, this story may have originally been a vehicle for teaching the Plan of Mercy and the mission of the Savior. I’ll let you study that one out, but I love this interpretation.

Both interpretation #1 and #2 can be correct. They probably both are. There is one other small point I think we should focus on:

If the Samaritan hadn’t had oil, wine, a donkey, and some money, this wouldn’t be much of a story.

It is almost as if the Samaritan assumed he would cross paths with someone who was in the middle of a struggle, so he prepared himself to be helpful. The path on which this story takes place is actually named “The Way of Blood” because of the frequency of attacks that happened along the route. If the Samaritan was familiar with the path and the likelihood of happening upon a person who had suffered an attack, the wisdom of carrying oil and wine (for healing purposes), bringing a donkey (for transportation purposes), and carrying some coinage (for lodging purposes) are obvious and well thought out.

I don’t know why the priest and Levite weren’t as well prepared and were unwilling to help. There may be some cultural reasons that I’m not aware of. And I don’t really know exactly why they chose not to stop and help the suffering man though that item has been addressed by others. What I do know is that the Samaritan not only desired to help the sufferer, but was prepared to help the sufferer.

President Henry B. Eyring shared the following:

When I was a young man, I served as counselor to a wise district president in the Church. He tried to teach me. One of the things I remember wondering about was this advice he gave: “When you meet someone, treat them as if they were in serious trouble, and you will be right more than half the time.”

I thought then that he was pessimistic. Now, more than 40 years later, I can see how well he understood the world and life. (“In the Strength of the Lord”, April, 2004)

If more than half of those you meet each day are in some kind of need, wouldn’t it be wise to stock up on oil, wine, money, and donkeys as you make your way out of bed, out the door, and out into the world each day?

How can I help others today if I’m nothing bringing my testimony with me, out the door, and ready to share. What if I’m not bring charity–the pure love of Christ–with me as I start of the “Way of Blood” we refer to as life? Physically, can I help a stranded motorist if I don’t have jumper cables or a jack?

Physically and spiritually, we can gear up for our trip down “The Way of Blood”, where, surely, we are going to cross paths with someone in the middle of a struggle. Are we prepared to bless them? What can I do, today, to be more prepared, physically and spiritually, the help others?

Be Encouraging…

BJM

Why I’m Cutting Joseph Smith Some Slack…

Joseph_Smith,_Jr._portrait_owned_by_Joseph_Smith_IIILet me start with a disclaimer: I believe Joseph Smith was called as a prophet of God. I believe he saw God the Father and Jesus the Christ in a grove of trees when he was a young man. I believe he was the instrument used to restore the fulness of the gospel of Jesus Christ, along with the organized church of Christ, in these days. I believe all of that.

So, with that said, let me also say this: I doubt Joseph was perfect. I bet he lost his temper at times when he probably shouldn’t have. I would imagine he had some lazy days when he didn’t work as hard as he should have. There may have been moments when he answered a question someone asked him and then later in the day, after some thought, realized that he answer wasn’t entirely honest. I also think there were moments when he thought he was following the direction of God and he wasn’t, and times when he didn’t realize that the Lord was trying to guide him but he wasn’t listening. And there were probably moments when he was following God’s will, but not exactly in the best, wisest way possible. There may have been room for improvement in some categories.

The reason I think those things is because he was just a normal human. Yes, his calling on earth was incredible, but God was calling a normal human to do an incredible thing. Some detractors to the Church spend much time discussing, bringing to light, and celebrating the moments in Joseph’s life when it would be easy to question his decisions, actions, or inspiration. I bet there is a precedence for this, too, scripturally.

Can you imagine what was whispered about Moses by some of the Israelites?

In whispered tones: “So, have you heard about Moses killing an Egyptian years ago? He sure doesn’t say much about it now? I mean, what really happened back then? Do you think we’ll ever really know? Why doesn’t he say more about that to us now? What is he afraid of?”

What about this: “Did you hear that Moses’s father in law had to come and show Moses how to run this organization? Jethro thought Moses was doing such a poor job he had to come all the way here and give Moses a ‘Leadership 101’ course. If Moses can’t even be an effective leader, what else is he messing up? Should we really be putting that much stock on what he is teaching us?”

It doesn’t stop with Moses. What would people have said about Paul? Paul certainly had a list of poor choices prior to his call as an Apostle, and I’d bet he made a few poor choices after his call. What about Jonah? What about Peter? What about Nephi. I mean, we have record of him taking someone’s head off early in his life. What do you think people thought of that? Did they buy the idea that he was just following a prompting?

You see, I believe that I am being asked to sustain a prophet who is made out of the same material as I am. And I don’t always know whether it is the Spirit of God prompting me or if it is just my own thoughts. I doubt that I’m alone in that quandary. At some point, after I’m dead, I’m sure a number of things will be explained to me about my life choices and I’ll have a few moments of “Ooooh…Yep, I didn’t get that quite right…” Maybe Joseph Smith will have a few moments like that in the spirit world, too.

I believe God can and does work through imperfect, well-meaning, learning, growing, endlessly flawed humans. Even his prophets. I don’t spend a lot of time focusing on those imperfections and mistakes, and not because I’m burying my head in the sand. I know about those possibilities. It is mostly because I appreciate that people have overlooked my mistakes during the few moments I’ve had to serve as a leader in the church. I and they know I’ve made mistakes, but we don’t spend too much time celebrating them. We’ve too much work to do…

Be Encouraging…

BJM

The Power in the Word “And” in the Scriptures…

changeIf I asked ten people what the most significant word in the scriptures was, surely I’d hear about ten different answers. I couldn’t even guess what you’d share, and the possibilities are endless. But I’d bet that no one answered with the words “if”, “but”, “as”, or “and”. But can I make a case for “and”? Give me a couple paragraphs and see what you think.

Most Mormons have hear of Zeezrom from the Book of Mormon. He’s the one who argued with Alma and Amulek all through Alma 10-14. He’s remembered as the guy who was getting in the way of preaching. As briefly as we can, let’s just walk through a few highlights from Zeezrom’s life, and you’ll see the word “and” rise up as a champion word:

  • Alma 10:31 Zeezrom is the leader of those who were verbally attacking Alma and Amulek. And he was good at it.
  • Alma 11:21 Zeezrom is asking questions of Alma and Amulek, but his purpose is to wreck their efforts.
  • Alma 11:46, 12:1 Zeezrom begins to “tremble” as his guilt settles in. He hasn’t changed, but he has recognized that he’s caught and wrong.
  • Alma 12:7-8 Realizing that he has been on the wrong side of things, Zeezrom begins to “inquire diligently” regarding the kingdom of God. This is a good sign. A very good sign.
  • Alma 14:6 Zeezrom recognizes that his poor actions have had a negative effect on others. This is another really good sign.
  • Alma 14:7 Zeezrom desperately beings to try to fix things. He tries to convince others that Alma and Amulek weren’t wrong after all.
  • Alma 15:3-12 Zeezrom declares faith in Christ, is healed of his sickness, enters the waters of baptism, and begins preaching the gospel

Helaman 5:41 Ok, at this point, Zeezrom isn’t around. He may be deceased. He may be retired. I don’t know. But he is mentioned in Helaman 5. Let me show you how:

And Aminadab said unto them: You must repent, and cry unto the voice, even until ye shall have faith in Christ, who was taught unto you by Alma, and Amulek, and Zeezrom; and when ye shall do this, the cloud of darkness shall be removed from overshadowing you. (Helaman 5:41)

Notice the word “and” in this verse? (You should…I underlined it and bolded it) It isn’t “Alma and Amulek versus Zeezrom any more. It is Alma, and Amulek, and Zeezrom. Zeezrom is grouped with the missionaries. He was on the list of those who taught faith in Christ. the word “and” links Zeezrom with other great, faithful, powerful people–people who are just like him.

Zeezrom had changed.

Anyone can. Your spouse can. Your children can. Your grandchildren can. You can. I can. One of the great gifts we have, and it must be part of being the offspring of Diety, is that we have the infinite capacity to change, grow, repent, and be reborn. Anyone. Everyone.

Don’t lose hope just yet. People can change. Zeezrom’s wife/mother/father/grandparent/children/friends/teachers must have been so thankful…

Be Encouraging…

BJM