Saturday, August 6, 2016

Attempted Robbery

In my last post I mentioned that in the week before my baptism, several events occurred that I believe were intended to distract me from my purpose. I was able to recognize and reject those temptations because I had been forewarned by the wise counsel of Bishop Lawson. In addition, he also warned me that throughout my life Satan would try to distract, divert and derail me in my progress in returning to Heavenly Father. That it was a lifelong battle I was now engaging in. He pointed out that Joseph Smith talked about that people who have not heard the Gospel are on neutral ground and the adversary doesn't much care about us at that point, but once we hear the Gospel and accept it, we leave neutral ground and can never regain it. (reference) He (Satan) will work on someone who has left neutral ground until he has drawn that one to his side in the war that began in heaven and continues down here. Over the ensuing days, weeks, months and years, my appreciation for that counsel has grown. Not only did I have the direct temptations to do wrong things that week, but after my baptism, the challenges entered entirely new areas.

The day after my baptism, I was talking to a friend, a good Catholic girl that I had met in a college class. When I told her about my baptism, she expressed her disappointment with me, asked me not to call her again and hung up. Many of the friends of all religions that I had made while searching for the truth gave me similar treatment. With one exception, none would talk to me and I was essentially left with just the few friends I had made in the LDS Church. The one exception was a former co-worker who was studying at LA Baptist to be a pastor. He eagerly wanted to meet with me, so we arranged to meet at a place called "Sambo's". His whole purpose for the meeting was to give me a stack of anti-Mormon literature about 6 inches tall. In essence he said that after I read all that I would come to my senses and then he would be glad to talk with me again, but don't bother calling him if I didn't see the error of my ways.

I had already read about half of the material he gave me while I was looking into the Church. For me, the amount of literature specifically against the Church was a sign that there was more to the Church than I had originally thought, and it had actually motivated me to look deeper. Before I joined the Church, when I found literature in the library that brought up questions, the Andersons and Bobby Apperson had been able to give me answers that satisfied me. However, some of the material my "friend" had given me was very disturbing, and I didn't want to burden the Andersons nor Bobby with these things. However, I also wanted to cling tightly to the Gospel which had brought me so much joy, so I needed answers. Perhaps I should have gone to my bishop with these things, but I hadn't really met him. I started attending the Van Nuys 2nd Ward the day after my baptism because I moved into those boundaries, but they did not received my records for another 7 months, so they didn't really know about me. I am naturally very shy, so I would show up for my meetings, sit in the back for priesthood Sunday School and Sacrament (3 separate meetings on Sunday in those days) and then leave immediately after the closing prayer. I didn't talk to anyone and no one talked to me.

After my baptism, in addition to Group, which I continued to attend, I also started going to meetings called "Institute". These meetings were for the "Young Adults" in the Church (single members aged 18-30) and consisted of a short lesson on religion, followed by a small social activity (dancing, games, snacks, etc). There were 2 colleges in the area that I attended Institute in, Cal State Northridge and LA Valley CC. Those programs were each run by an employee of the Church Educational System, and both men were very knowledgeable and extremely approachable. I took my questions to those 2 institute directors, and they always had answers for me, and books that I could read answers from. Both of them gave me some very wise counsel also, I always remembered it, although it took me a few years to actually follow: spend time each day prayerfully studying the scriptures, learn to recognize the Holy Ghost and when I read or hear anything else, see if the Holy Ghost is confirming what I was learning--if not, the things were false.

I didn't realize it at the time, but I was actually suffering from a severe handicap my first 7 months as a member of the Church. As I stated, my ward had no idea who I was, but more importantly, they did not know I had not been ordained to any priesthood office. As a result, I was not given the opportunity to home teach, hold a calling or have the strength that ordination brings. I found all this out because Bobby Apperson, the leader of Group asked for me to called and set apart as his 1st counselor. That was a regional calling that required the Melchizedek Priesthood, so the Regional Representative went to my Stake President, who went to my Bishop, and they found out that no one had my records. When they got them, they found out I had not been ordained at all, but because of the calling, my Stake President interviewed me, walked me over to the High Council meeting, got their sustaining vote and then conferred the Melchizedek Priesthood and ordained me an Elder right there. That night I was sustained in Group meeting and set apart. I did notice that my studies became more effective once I had priesthood and a calling, and the answers to a lot of the questions people raised came much more freely, without having to talk to people about them.

On those questions: Group was originally set up as a place for Bishops in the Region to send Mutual-aged (12-17) kids in the Church who had problems with drug, alcohol and tobacco usage. We followed the 12 steps of AA, just like the Church's Addiction Recovery Program does now for adults. Over time, some of the Group attendees continued hanging around even after they were too old for Mutual, and some of the Bishops were sending kids that had other problems with their faith besides addictions. Many of the kids who were attending had friends who had given them anti-Mormon literature, so my exposure to that material before had put me in a good position to help them, even when they got material I hadn't seen yet. The kids soon learned that I would not get defensive or argumentative when answering their questions or referring them to people who could answer them. As a result, I was forced to keep a close relationship with Heavenly Father to keep the joy in my life in the face of all that negativity.

This relationship with God has blessed me so many times. In 1974, when I was first accepted into BYU, I got a revelation that I needed to put that on hold, go home and save up to serve a mission. I felt so in tune when my first Sunday home, after talking with the Bishop and setting up a plan to get on a mission, that afternoon, President Kimball announced that all worthy and able men should serve a mission. On my mission that relationship continued to help as companions, missionaries in my district, local members and investigators had questions that challenged their faith, I was able to find answers that soothed their souls.

For the next few years, I really didn't have much come up that challenged my faith, other than my own lack of faithfulness. As I said, the two institute directors that helped me so much had recommended I prayerfully study the scriptures daily. I was not as faithful at that as I could have been. I would go in spurts where I would be really faithful, and then weeks or months at a time where I would not even crack open my scriptures. As this happened, I began to notice a pattern: when I wasn't studying as I should, I would sometimes feel that my membership in the Church was a burden, that the commandments seemed hard, that I just wasn't measuring up. I began to see that I was much happier when I was in the scriptures regularly. Even so, studying regularly was proving to be a hard habit to start. Fortunately, an article ran in the Ensign magazine in September of 1984 that talked about a family who set up a competition to see who could read the scriptures the most days in a row. One family member went for 440 days. I am very competitive, so I immediate said, "I can beat that." and sure enough, since that day I only have missed one day of scripture study. Not that this is any big deal, but later, when I had to delve into anti-Mormon literature to help loved ones, the strength of having that familiarity with the scriptures helped me tremendously.

When my own children reached their teenage years, some (all?) of them had questions about the Church. Some of my kids came to me, others did not. Some let those questions hurt their testimonies, others let finding the answers. But given some of these questions, I felt the need to review the criticisms they were seeing so that I would have answers should they ask. I came upon the Mormon Apologetics web site which is now called FairMormon. Nowadays, many people do not know what apologetics are. It is a branch of philosophy that deals with false allegations against a philosophical position. It has nothing to do with apologizing. For those things which I had not been exposed to before, this gave me a lot of good background. But the most important way for me to deal with anti-Mormon literature a websites is:
1) Remember the happiness the Gospel brings
2) Remember the feeling of the Holy Ghost confirming truth
3) Keep in the scriptures daily
4) Bear testimony frequently
5) Pray morning, noon and night, more if necessary
6) Find joy in service

There will always be people who want to steal the joy of others. Those people have succumbed to the influence of Satan. True friends will help you find joy.