28 February 2022

Ministering to the sheep of the flock through interviews

For many years from at least 1982 there was emphasis on the three-fold mission of the Church and I sensed somewhat of a compartmentalisation by some leaders, and by myself, of Proclaiming the Gospel, Perfecting the Saints, and Redeeming the Dead.

While serving as a ward mission leader in about 1994, some 12 years later, I was taught by the Spirit as I worked with the Member Progress Record. Details were recorded for a new or returning member of how they were taught the basic gospel principles, helped to receive a temple recommend so that they could perform baptisms for the dead as soon as possible, guided to research their family history so that they could provide ordinances for their relatives or others beyond the veil, and then getting them ready to go to the temple once they received a recommend for living ordinances after being a member for at least a year. I realised that as a ward mission leader, focused on Proclaiming the Gospel, I was actually involved in one work and not three separate missions (what in the business world might have been described as three 'silos').

As we teach basic principles to the prospective, new or returning member, we are proclaiming the gospel. This leads naturally to perfecting the saints as we prepare them to be worthy to enter the house of the Lord and issue a temple recommend to do baptisms and to later receive an endowment from the Lord. Then, as they can only do an ordinance once for themselves, every time that they return and perform baptisms, initiatory, endowment or sealing ordinances, they will do them in behalf of a deceased individual, thus redeeming the dead. As they serve as proxy for someone else, the Spirit will give them further insight regarding the ordinance, or the gospel, that will continue to proclaim the gospel to the individual, perfect the member as a saint, and redeem someone beyond the veil. All part of one journey.

I am always impressed that while interviewing a youth or adult - whether a new or returning member - to serve in a responsible calling, it is an ideal time to reassess their foundation by conducting a temple recommend interview and, hopefully, issuing a temple recommend if they do not have a valid one. If they are not worthy to be handed a temple recommend, they will have been searching their soul and the Spirit will have been touching their heart.

The temple recommend interview is not a chimney pot to put on once the building is complete, but part of establishing the foundation. I appreciated a comment by brother Taona Jiri as I mentioned this to him as a member of the bishopric during my recent interview to renew my own temple recommend. He suggested that this helps to make sure that the chimney is well built and that smoke does not spread through the building. The member will feel the Spirit very strongly as the leader works through each and every question, not stopping at one where they 'fail', but working faithfully on strengthening the entire foundation. Then, in the following interview by president Emmanuel Danso of the stake presidency, he pointed out that the temple recommend details are now available for all the world to see and they can then look at Emmanuel Danso, or Les Powrie, and say - I know your Church, the standards, and that you have a temple recommend and so I can expect you to be this kind of person. What an opportunity to be a light, leaven or salt in the community!

Perhaps if you are interviewing a brother for welfare needs, someone who is dependent on Zion, if you reviewed the ten commandments or the thirteen articles of faith with him, it would help him to become less dependent and move towards being independent, then onwards to being interdependent and building Zion. Is being dependent maybe telestial, becoming independent could be terrestrial, and interdependent, the opposite of dependent, or building Zion is perhaps celestial? Perhaps the reason that Moses was instructed to not accommodate any blasphemers, breakers of the law of the Sabbath or chastity in the Camp of Israel was because they were like parasitic cancerous cells that needed to be removed, not mollycoddled. He took people who were dependent on the fleshpots of Egypt and was trying to build them to be independent and then to go into the promised land that was similar to the desert-like Karoo, through which we drove every year with our family to get to the Johannesburg temple, to the point that they would make their promised land desert to blossom as the rose, building a Zion or more Celestial community. See a summary of Covey:

"Acquiring the seven habits of effectiveness takes us through the stages of character development. Habits 1 through 3 make up the “private victory” - where we go from dependence to independence by taking responsibility for our own lives. Acquiring habits 4 through 6 is our “public victory”: Once independent, we learn to be interdependent, to succeed with other people. The seventh habit makes all the others possible - periodically renewing ourselves in mind body, and spirit."

I love the story of a sister who was not living the word of wisdom and so was not given her temple recommend, but she returned to her bishop about two weeks later saying that she was now ready to have the interview again because she realised that the word of wisdom was not the problem. I guess that we often address symptoms and ignore the underlying problems and a temple recommend interview can help the member to feel the Spirit guiding them to sort out problems and the symptoms will then go away by themselves as the member adjusts course. I would often challenge a member to change and put in place something that was not in order, and if they were willing to commit to repent, I would seek the confirmation of the Spirit that I could give them a recommend based on their commitment rather than on their track record, or set a time within a few days or weeks for me to do so.

I recently realised that someone preparing to receive a patriarchal blessing is required to be worthy to hold a temple recommend. I then learned through the whispering of the Spirit that they, or I, cannot fully benefit from the patriarchal blessing as the years pass unless we remain as worthy to read it as we needed to be to receive it.

When the member is in any interview, the leader can help them to consider their next step like priesthood, patriarchal blessing, or temple. The leader thus gets to discuss these with them at the same time as the Spirit is touching their hearts.

I love the opportunity that is stressed now that no adult should be alone teaching children or youth, but should be accompanied by either a spouse or a member of the same gender. I am concerned that some feel that this is not feasible, impractical, or a nuisance. But what better opportunity is there to give a new or returning member the opportunity to relearn the basic gospel principles as he or she hears it taught to children or youth? Before long he or she will be ready to participate in the teaching, and maybe even to teach a lesson or two. This is strengthening their spiritual foundation. What a simple solution to our ongoing problem of people not attending their meetings! We are giving them a real reason to prioritise being at their meetings while giving them a chance to fill an essential but non-threatening position and they are being strengthened and blessed by being there. I love our prophetic leadership in the Lord's work.

Blessings on our ward and organisation leaders as they serve as true under-shepherds to the Lord's children in these simple and foundational activities of ministering to the sheep of their flock through taking opportunities for doing things such as inviting members to participate in interviews. Members of a bishopric can conduct temple recommend interviews, but other organisation leaders can invite members to an interview where they discuss simple and basic topics using the temple recommend questions as a basis, not to determine worthiness, but to help the member to feel the Spirit that will change their hearts and bring them closer to the Lord. Perhaps an interview conducted by a Young Women president will be a real contributing landmark in the life of a young a sister that helped her to be ready to receive a Temple Recommend to marry in the Temple. We might often be the leaven in the loaf that makes a significant difference in someone's testimony and we may never even realise what an impact that action of ours had, but I have a special conviction that the Lord will know, and He will bless us eternally for our simple efforts.

Me - help to make the desert blossom as a rose?

I am always amazed at God's dealings with His covenant people - And we can extrapolate from that how He will work with you and me. 

Sally and I have driven through many barren areas like this that have become fruitful because of the enterprising efforts and determination of the seed of Abraham.

These pictures of Utah, Sally and me at Bingham Copper mine in 1981 and Ken Powrie in 1971

His Promised Land was a barren area with occasional fertile spots, but He helped His children in Israel and Utah to cause the desert to blossom as a rose. It took courage, work, determination, endurance, sacrifice, but look at the results. Truly remarkable. 

I appreciate an insight shared by Jared Halverson that God gives His chosen people such arid lands that are dependant on rain rather than rivers because He will provide rain as we remain faithful. That adds insight to the promise in Malachi 3:8-12, repeated by the Lord Himself in 3 Nephi 24. It is unlikely that one will have a blessed land in and arid area, but the Lord can make it blessed. Hosanna to the Lord, the most high God; for He is God over all the earth, yea, even above all.

He gave a barren woman to each of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, and promised each innumerable posterity. From those barren women have come innumerable posterity, those very people who have made those deserts to blossom as a rose. As they sacrifice themselves, their time, their talent, and everything with which the Lord has and does bless them, with a broken heart and a contrite spirit, they are used by the Lord as instruments - as leaven in the loaf; a light to the world; or as preserving salt - to make barren families, communities, and nations blossom in remarkable and wonderful ways. He provides the rain that is so essential in the otherwise barren situations.

I hope that I can offer Him a broken heart and a contrite spirit, saying 'not my will, but Thy will be done' and then help Him to let my family, community and maybe even in some way my nation, to be better than it would be without my small (preferably behind-the-scenes πŸ˜‰) leavening, light and salt πŸ€”πŸ˜Š

What can you help Him to do in your family, community and nation πŸ˜‰?

21 February 2022

A promise of an eternal marriage for LGBTQ+ individuals - well, for anyone

I was thinking as I prayed this morning about what I wrote to someone who had shared his concerns about eternal marriage since he feels attraction for men rather than for any girl that he has dated with a real desire to marry according to God's plan. He desired to marry as God expected him to do, but his dates simply did not fill him with the joy that he was hoping to receive. I referred him to my blog post written some 8 years ago in 2014! But this morning I felt as I prayed that I should add some more thoughts.

The newlyweds on the steps of the Salt Lake Temple in 1981

I love the journey of discovery depicted in Fiddler on the Roof when Tevye and Golda discover that they love each other after years of being in an arranged marriage. I think that there is a really important lesson in this. It suggests to my mind that attraction is not as important in marriage as is commitment, friendship, companionship, love.

I love my neighbour as myself - male and female. What I do know is that I am devoted to my wife of more than 40 years. I chose her after dating many young ladies, without being very affectionate with any one of them, not holding hands, kissing or embracing, but developing and feeling friendship. After many dates I identified some characteristics that appealed to me and some that I rather hoped that my wife would not have! 

I slowly came to the realisation that one friend had many characteristics that made me feel really comfortable when I was with her, and that I desired to be in her company whenever she came from medical school in Cape Town where her father lived to visit her mother who lived close to Johannesburg. I lived near Johannesburg and had met her there before she went to study nearly 1500 km (about 900 miles) away. It took me about 5 years, and a cancelled engagement before I realised that my friendship with her was actually something that I would describe as love and that I would really like to have her by my side for eternity. 

Whenever I could, I would spend time with Sally. I recall walking in the hills near her home in Krugersdorp and telling her about the cabbage tree Cussonia panniculata, and her thinking there were painted rocks, but that it was actually lichen on the rocks. She went with me on the back of my scooter to play badminton with me, and I remember her holding on to me as we went around corners - I enjoyed that πŸ˜‰. She went with me to have a fondue dinner with friends before we went to participate in a Spring Sing or something in a ward activity. I drove her to her home before she left to return to Cape Town and I would give her a priesthood blessing for the start of a new academic year. We went ice skating - and we held hands on the ice because neither of us is particularly stable on the ice πŸ˜‰. During one drive to take her home my old car's radiator hose burst and I had to tape it up, then drive with lots of spray on the windscreen and very frequent stops to refill the radiator. I was once delighted to have her approach me during the interval of a dramatic presentation, I think it was Saturday's Warrior, and it was unexpected and such a joy to see her there.

I would write to Sally twice in the first year and that increased to several times each year and she would write back immediately and make sure that it got in the mail the next morning. She would eagerly look in the mailbox every day hoping for a letter from me. Some of my letters were saddening to her as I talked of going out with other girls, and one particularly hurtful when I became engaged to someone else, the only one to which she did not reply immediately. She so wished for very regular letters that would delight her, but I did not write as often as she hoped and not always as delightful a message as she hoped.

I once asked Sally if she could spare time at the weekend to take a friend around the Cape and when she said that she could, that was put in place. She recalls wondering - very hopefully - when my brother fetched her, if that friend might just be me - and it was πŸ˜‰. We sat in her old Morris 1100 on Tafelberg Road, looking out over Cape Town in the evening, and the wind whipped the wiper blade off the windscreen and disturbed our special time enjoying each other's company. We dozed off on the rocks of Noordhoek beach and got a bit more sun that we might have intended. I stayed at her home one of the nights and got to meet her father. We had a very brief embrace at the airport before I left to return home and just a few weeks later I asked her father if I could marry her and it was good that I was not a total stranger to him! And so, we prepared so very slowly for the wonderful 40 years that we have been married and eternity that we look ahead to devoted to each other. Our marriage was based more on friendship than on courtship, and I highly recommend that to others. but Sally wishes that there had been a little more affection during our long courtship... 

So, I left Johannesburg and moved to the Fairest Cape to marry my Fairest Bride in 1981.

I eventually developed the courage and determination to ask her to go with me to the Temple in Salt Lake City. She reckons that I did not propose to her, or ask her to marry me, but that I simply asked her to go travelling to the Temple with me! I guess I blew it, but she was gracious enough to agree to go with me once I assured her that I wanted her to marry me. She is my best friend, my precious eternal pal and partner. 

Heavenly Father has helped Sally and me to have a wonderful marriage despite the abundant challenges of mortality. I know that He will help each and any one of you to have a wonderful marriage according to His plans for you. All we need is a broken heart and a contrite spirit to accept His will for us.

This past week we have read in Come, Follow Me about Abraham and Sarah who were married for decades and desired children, but none came. Then in their nineties they were promised a son with posterity as numerous as the stars in the sky or the sands on the seashore - in other words, one ought not consider trying to number them! Then, in a devastating interview, God challenged Abraham to offer Isaac as a sacrifice in a burnt offering - and possibly Sarah was also involved - and Abraham evidently did not question, argue, debate, or search for reasons to not do such a difficult thing despite the logic that would scream to not do it! This week we are pondering how Abraham arranged a marriage for his son Isaac, so it would not surprise me if Abraham's marriage to Sarai had been an arranged marriage. I was impressed this morning by the talk referenced in Come, Follow Me, given in 2015 by Elder Christofferson. What struck me the most is how the thoughts that I share in this blog are in harmony with what he taught. For example, he quotes “Marriage is more than your love for each other."

To anyone reading these thoughts of mine, whether in a loving and happy marriage, feeling same gender attraction, feeling confused about marriage, being wary of marriage, or whatever, I unreservedly offer a promise of a wonderful heavenly marriage if one looks beyond attraction and tries to keep an eternal perspective on marriage as being more than just a temporal union of two people who love each other, as lovely as that is in and of itself. The Saviour pleaded in John 17 for us to be one, and I suggest that maybe sometimes that includes being one flesh, but always means seeking to have a Zion spirit in our homes. Rather than simply thinking of being attracted to one another, we can focus on home being a bit of heaven on Earth, Zion-like, despite the shortcomings, weaknesses and failings of self and partner.

I am still far from competent in this regard, but I propose that it is important to never let any attraction - to man or woman, sport, politics, entertainment, work, or anything - undermine that focus on home being a bit of heaven on earth. Strive for celestial marriage rather than simply marriage. As you do this, you will find that the most delightful thing that you can ever imagine is to consider being one with each other for eternity because you are one with each other in time. In essence, as Dallin H Oaks said, "Concentrate on [getting to the Celestial Kingdom]. If you get there, all of it will be more wonderful than you can imagine."

I suggest that if I were presently at that stage of life where I was looking for an eternal marriage partner, it would be best for me to offer to God a broken heart and contrite spirit, asking Him what marriage He wants for me rather than insisting that I know what marriage I need and want! Like Abraham might have had all sorts of arguments against the instruction to offer his son as a sacrifice after Abraham had been offered as a sacrifice by his own father, and after Abraham had been promised that Isaac would be the father of innumerable posterity, and that God must therefore wake up and realise the folly of the command that He was giving! I need to not argue, debate, or look for reasons to not follow God's will - those will be so easy to find, especially with Google in 2022! It might even have been a relief to have lived in a culture where one's parents arranged one's marriage! I need to simply have a broken heart and  a contrite spirit and follow exactly what the Spirit guides me to do and then walk, as it were, into the water carrying the ark of the covenant and anticipating that the waters will part as they did for the priests in Joshua 3:14 - 17. Wonderful blessings flow as we step forward in faith with a broken heart and a contrite spirit.

I felt impressed add more thoughts that you might be interested in reading. See 

Some thoughts regarding love and same gender attraction