Sunday, September 30, 2018

My Journey to Become a Man of GodTalk at Frisco 5th Ward

Talk given at Frisco 5th            Sept. 30, 2018

I grew up in a small town in Southern Utah.  As a boy, I rode horses, hunted, and drove a tractor when I was still too small to reach the pedals - I had to get off the seat to press the clutch and brake. 
I milked the cow and we made our own butter, ice cream, whipped cream, and lye soap.  We had a quarter acre of garden, and a couple dozen fruit and nut trees.   We butchered our own meat, and bottled hundreds of quart jars of fruit and vegetables each fall.
Mom came from Mormon Pioneer stock, but Dad was not affiliated with any church.  He encouraged us to go to church and supported the idea of my siblings and I getting baptized when we were 8 years old.  However, on Sundays he often wanted to go up to the mountains or out to the desert and he wanted us to go with him, which we usually did.  So there was always a hint of conflict about the church.
My best friend, Rex, was in the exact same situation.  His father was not a member of the church either, and his mother was.  His, and my, siblings had to choose individually whether to become active. 
When we were 16, Rex and I returned from an afternoon washing his big Pontiac.  When we got to my house, we talked for a couple of hours about what we were going to do about the church.  Many of our peers didn’t give a hoot  about the church, even though they were members.  Rex said he didn’t want to be wishy-washy.  He wanted to be all in, or else he wanted to be all out.  I agreed.   We talked about both sides, but by the end of the evening we had decided we wanted to be all in.  It was Saturday night, so we decided to meet in the morning and go to church together.
This illustrates how important it is to pick the best of your peers to be your friends.  Rex was a tremendous positive influence in my life, and I think I was the same in his.   After that, the two of us remained active in the church.  We even shared a dorm room at BYU until he left on his mission.
Early in my 3rd year at BYU I met Liz, a lovely girl that I adored.  I still do.  She grew up in a suburb of Chicago, and her entire family had joined the church when she was 12.  To her dismay, when we met I had already enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps and was just waiting to report to boot camp.  The Viet Nam War was at its peak at that time and that loomed over us.  But we had a couple of lovely months together before I left, and then we had a courtship by mail and phone.  After a year of that, with the knowledge that I was NOT going to be sent to Viet Nam, we were married in the Manti Temple.  We have been active in the church continuously.  This illustrates how important it is to pick the best of your love interests to be your spouse.  Your best friend and your spouse have tremendous influence in how you will live your life, including your relationship with God.  Liz has been an unshakable support to me in my spiritual life.
We have 6 children, 3 boys and 3 girls.  Four of them served missions.   And we have 20 grandchildren – the joy of our lives.   We love them all, and wish more of them were near by.
We moved to Plano about 27 or 28 years ago,   and  recently bought our townhouse in the Hemingway development.
So that’s the short version of our background.  Now I’d like to tell you about my journey to become a Man of God.
Several years ago, I drove up to Utah.  I was going alone on that trip, so I had 4 conferences on CD to listen to as I drove.   In one of the talks the speaker was talking about The Savior’s encounter with the rich young man.  His meeting is described in the books of Mark and Luke.   Mark didn’t give him any kind of title, but Luke called him a “ruler”.  Both described him running after Jesus and asking, “Good Master, what shall I do that I may inherit eternal life?” 
Jesus first objected to being called “Good”, and then he gave the 25 cent answer to the man’s 25 cent question:  “Thou knowest the commandments, Do not commit adultery, Do not kill, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Defraud not, Honour thy father and mother.”    
At this point, it seems like Jesus considered it to be just a casual conversation, a no brainer - but the rich young man took it to another level:  “And he answered and said unto him, Master, all these have I observed from my youth.”  This phrase really struck me – all these have I observed from my youth.   I too have observed the commandments from my youth. 
Mark then describes something curious:  “Then Jesus beholding him, loved him”.  It’s like Jesus hadn’t even noticed him - until he asked the follow-up question.  And taking a second look, he liked what he saw in this young man’s soul.
So Jesus said, One thing thou lackest: go thy way, sell whatsoever thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come, take up the cross, and follow me.” 
Jesus used similar words when he called his apostles – “Come!  Follow me.”  I think that is significant.  The man had potential.
But this young man came up short.  Mark continues, “And he was sad at that saying, and went away grieved: for he had great possessions.”  Well.  So much for the rich young man.  He walked away into obscurity.  We do not hear of  him again.
Back to my trip to Utah.  As I listened to the account in the conference talk, it struck me very forcefully that “Yet lackest thou one thing” could apply to me, personally.  I’d heard, and read, that story many, many times, but this time I heard it as if it was me in the story.  I turned off the recording and thought about it as I drove.  I too had observed the commandments from my youth, and I too lacked things.  As I was thinking this the sprit said, “Yet lackest thou one thing” and as I heard him, I knew the one thing I was lacking most.  I didn’t hear a physical voice, but it was very clear in my mind and couldn’t be ignored.  The one thing I lacked: My personal prayers had gotten lax – too casual, and of little consequence.  They were 25 cent prayers.   I needed to up my game and have constant prayer,  - and bless every meal,  - and have more consistent prayers with my wife.  If I wanted million dollar blessings, I couldn’t say 25 cent prayers.  I needed to do just that one thing:  Significant Prayer.
As I drove along, I made a commitment to do my one thing and make it a permanent change.  I kept it in mind for the duration of my trip and when I got back home I kept at it.  I was amazed at the difference it made.  My prayers became something much more than they’d been.  And as I said more significant prayers, I learned how to make them even better.
After a week or two with prayer in my life more fully than it had been, it occurred to me that I was on the right path with prayer.  As I had that thought the spirit said, “Yet lackest thou one thing.”  Again, I knew exactly what my next one thing was.  I needed to spend more time reading and studying the scriptures.  I’d been putting in a 25 cent effort to read the scriptures.  So I went to work on that. 
When I was settled in to reading the scriptures every day I heard it again: “Yet lackest thou one thing.”  This time I needed to see everybody else the way Jesus saw people, and love them.  This one thing was harder.  I started going out of my way to give a smile and a friendly, “Hello,” to people who seemed down.  I started seeing them as my own, personal brothers and sisters. 
There was one woman I specifically remember from the office.  She walked along the halls with her head down, never making eye contact with white people.  So I deliberately walked into her path and just before we bumped into each other she looked up.  I gave her my biggest, friendliest smile, and said, “Hello.”  She was startled, but she said Hello back.  I went on my way.   But when I looked back she was holding her head up as she continued on her way.   For a guy who used to be too shy to ask for second helpings at dinner, that was pretty bold of me.
It occurred to me that Jesus wouldn’t let little things like terrorists affect how he treated people from the Arab World.  So I made that transition.  In fact, He wouldn’t see any races.  He would treat all people the same.
I worked on changing my attitude about other commuters, especially the ones who did really stupid things on highway 75.  That part of my one thing was especially difficult for me.  It still is.  I have to continually watch that carefully and I still slip up and think negative thoughts about other drivers some times.  And then I have to repent and re-commit to seeing them like Jesus would.
This process has been repeated many times.  I work on being a better person and when I think I’m doing good, the spirit whispers, “Yet lackest thou one thing.” And I get another thing to work on.  How humbling that is.
You might think that would get to be tiresome.  But it’s not!  It is glorious!  The feeling it gave me to be on the path to being a Man of God is hard to describe.  Happy, warm, excited are all part of it.   But mostly happy.
Right from the beginning of my journey I thought of it as learning to become a Man of God.  I WANT to be worthy of that title.   I have a long way to go, but I can see now, how to get there.
As this was going on, many blessings began to come our way.  Not too long after I started on my journey, Liz and I got a call from the temple to come down and visit with the president.   He called us to become temple ordinance workers.  What an enormous blessing it has been to be able to serve there.   I began to feel even closer to the spirit during our service at the temple and it lasts from week to week.  There is no way the temple president knew of my personal journey, but I know that calling came about because I was on the right path, and it blessed both of us.
My other callings took on a more serious note,  with increasing responsibility.  I count it a blessing that I was able to serve with some of the most inspiring men in the Plano Stake.  We developed strong bonds of brotherhood.  Much of my work was behind the scenes, doing things most people never hear about.   I am a strong introvert, so that was fine by me.  At the same time, some things were stretches: issuing callings, doing sustainings and giving talks from the pulpit, etc.  Just the things a man trying to become a Man of God would benefit from.
During all this time, I didn’t say anything to anybody about what I was trying to do, except for my wife, and I didn’t even share all of it with her.  She knows my faults very well, so I think she was sometimes puzzled about it when I told her certain things about my journey.  OTOH, she definitely noticed the change in me.  Our marriage is better, we are both happier, and we love serving others together.
Then I had a firm affirmation of the concept of becoming a Man or Woman of God during the  October 2015 Conference.  President Nelson   gave a very interesting talk entitled “A Plea to My Sisters” during the Sunday morning session.  He told some very touching stories about the strength of certain women leaders in the church.  He said, “We know that the culminating act of all creation was the creation of woman!   We need your strength!”  And then he went on to list the kind of spirit-building things the strong women in the church can, and should, do.
He ended by saying, “So today I plead with my sisters of The Church . . . to step forward!   Take your rightful and needful place in your home, in your community, and in the kingdom of God—more than you ever have before . . . .  And I promise you in the name of Jesus Christ that as you do so, the Holy Ghost will magnify your influence in an unprecedented way!”
As I listened to that talk, it suddenly occurred to me that he was describing exactly what I was doing.  He was asking the women of the church to become Women of God in the same way I was trying to become a Man of God.  He never explicitly said so at that time, though, so I kept that thought to myself.
Then in the April Conference in 2016, (the very next conference) he gave a talk during the Priesthood Session, entitled “The Price of Priesthood Power”. 
He started his talk by saying, “Six months ago in the October … general conference, I spoke to the sisters of the Church about their divine role as women of God.   Now I wish to speak to you brethren about your divine role as men of God.”
I was so excited to hear this!  He continued, I urgently plead with each one of us to live up to our privileges as bearers of the priesthood.   In a coming day, only those men who have taken their priesthood seriously, by diligently seeking to be taught by the Lord Himself, will be able to bless, guide, protect, strengthen, and heal others.   Only a man who has paid the price for priesthood power will be able to bring miracles to those he loves and keep his marriage and family safe, now and throughout eternity.
President Nelson  loves to give lists he has developed through his own personal study.  He shared a list of questions for those men who want to become Men of God, and since he’s linked his two talks together, I think this applies to Women of God, too. 
1.      Are you willing to pray to know how to pray for more power? The Lord will teach you. 
2.      Are you willing to search the scriptures and feast on the words of Christ—to study earnestly in order to have more power? 
3.      Are you willing to worship in the temple regularly? The Lord loves to do His own teaching in His holy house. 
4.      Are you willing to follow President Thomas S. Monson’s example of serving others? 
5.      And if you truly want more priesthood power, you will cherish and care for your spouse, embracing both her and her counsel.
And then he summarized by asking:  “Are we willing to pray, fast, study, seek, worship, and serve as men (and women) of God…?”     Today, I am telling you about my journey because I have a testimony that anybody who wants to feel the power and authority of God, live a more Christ-like life, and become a Man or Woman of God, can do so.  It is not hard,     although it takes a strong commitment to continually ask the questions that lead to the spirit telling you, “Yet lackest thou one thing.”
And I want to tell you that taking that journey is very, very worth it!  It is a wonderful thing to experience.
I pray that we can all overcome and do that one thing that will lead us forward  -   towards becoming a man or woman of God.  
And that we will have the courage to ask, again.    And again.    And again.
And I say this . . . .

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