Monday, November 21, 2016

Speaking in Church

     A few weeks ago, Linda and I both spoke in church.  As members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, also known as Mormons, we have no paid clergy.  Various members of the congregation are given opportunities to speak each Sunday, usually on an assigned topic. Linda and I were both assigned to speak on recognizing and following personal revelation.  One of my daughters has since requested we provide copies of our talks for her children.  Since communication with my grandchildren is one of the primary purposes of my blog I thought I might as well just include it in the blog.  I'm somewhat inclined to ad-lib so I usually don't give a talk exactly how I wrote it.  However, in this particular case I followed my written remarks fairly closely.  After all of that preamble, what follows is the talk I gave in the Desert Hills Ward on October 24th, 2016:

     Since we are relatively new to the ward I thought I should give you a brief introduction to our family. Linda and I both grew up in Richland and graduated from Richland High School. In fact, we met in the Carmichael Junior High School orchestra.  I served a mission in Northern Italy and we were married about four months after I got home from my mission. We moved away about a year after we were married and then spent seven years in the Air Force living at various times in Monterey, California, San Angelo, Texas, Bellevue, Nebraska, and Eielson AFB, Alaska near Fairbanks.  I then was hired by the FBI and we spent 9 years in Houston, Texas followed by 13 years in the Seattle Division where I retired in 2006. For the past ten years I have owned a beekeeping supply store in Snohomish, Washington which hopefully will be sold by the end of the year.

     We have 25 grand children, soon to be 26 grand children.  I tell people that I am wealthy beyond my wildest dreams. I would refer you to Proverbs 17:6   "Children are an heritage of the Lord....As arrows are in the hand of a mighty man...Happy is the man that hath his quiver full of them."  My mother, Cozette Tunnell, has lived with us for the past ten years or so. I keep telling Linda that I should get one of those T shirts that says "I still live with my mother." One of the remarkable coincidences in our family is that not only do I share my mother's birthday, but we have two grand daughters who also share our birthday.  some of this brief bio actually has some relevance to the topic Linda and I have been asked to address, which is  recognizing and following personal revelation.

    I would like to start with a little foundational material, quoting from the second paragraph of the Family Proclamation..."All human beings - male and female - are created in the image of God. Each is a beloved spirit son or daughter of heavenly parents, and as such, each has a divine nature and destiny."  We can learn a great deal from this short quote.  First note that it says "beloved spirit son or daughter". So we are the spirit children of heavenly parents who love us and we have a divine nature and destiny.  I would offer that divine destiny means there are important things that God wants us to accomplish in this earth life.

   I would also refer you to 2 Nephi 2:25  "Adam fell that men might be and men are that they might have joy."  So not only are there important things God wants us to do in this earth life, part of that divine destiny is having joy.  So God wants us to be truly happy.  Not the fleeting happiness that the world seeks, but that abiding joy that comes when we live our lives in accordance with God's will and do our best to follow his counsel.

    Then I would refer you to the numerous scriptures where we are commanded to pray and to seek knowledge, understanding, and guidance from our loving Heavenly Father.  One of my favorites being James 1:5 "If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him."

     So the basic principles are pretty simple. Let's review them once more.
1. We are the beloved spirit children of heavenly parents.
2. We have a divine nature and destiny.
3.  That divine destiny means there are important things we are supposed to accomplish during our earth life.
4. That divine destiny also means we are intended to have joy.
5. We are commanded to ask God for guidance and direction and we are promised that He will give us wisdom liberally.

     I would suggest that a great place to start following personal revelation is to read your Patriarchal Blessing.  If you don't have one, talk to the Bishop and do whatever it is you must do to be worthy of a patriarchal blessing.  I know that there is a younger age limit in that the Bishop has to determine you are mature enough to be ready to receive a patriarchal blessing. apparently the only upper age limit to receiving a patriarchal blessing is that you aren't dead yet.

     My patriarchal blessing has been very helpful to me in that it has functioned as a road map to important life goals, such as serving a mission and marrying the right person in the right place. Linda isn't mentioned by name in my blessing, but I was promised that I would find a good girl who was willing, able, and prepared to go to the temple.  I feel very strongly that marrying Linda was an important part of my life's mission. I prayed about that decision and realized that I wouldn't find anyone who would be a better mother to my children. That important prayerful decision has payed enormous dividends in my life as so much of my present happiness stems from it. If you have made a prayerful decision regarding marriage it also makes it much easier to persevere through the difficult times that happen in most marriages. I am not saying that it is church doctrine that there is only one right person for each of us to marry.  I just know that I was supposed to marry Linda and my life has been blessed because I followed the Lord's counsel in that decision. My patriarchal blessing also contained important counsel about obedience and following the counsel of church leaders as well as accepting assignments to serve in the church. I have never turned down an assignment to serve in the church and I know I have been blessed because of being willing to serve.

     The principles may be simple, but the application of the principles can be difficult at times. Linda and I have tried to seek direction from God in our lives.  I think in general we have done a pretty good job of getting direction from God in all of the important decisions we have made in our lives and in following His counsel. At times though it can be really difficult. We truly are like little children compared to God. He understands everything while we understand relatively little by comparison.  As a result we often don't ask the right question.  Linda gave one personal example of this regarding our transfer back to the Pacific Northwest.  In that case we got the right answer, but not for the reason we thought.  I'd like to give you another one where I received an important answer to prayer that didn't mean what I thought it did at first.

     Before we left Texas, my oldest son went through chemotherapy treatments for cancer.  The chemotherapy did a fine job of kicking the cancer to the curb, but it was very hard on him and damaged his immune system. Jonathan was a very smart boy. He was a National Merit Scholar and had earned a free ride scholarship to the University of Texas. It was his heart's desire to use that scholarship to attend the University of Texas.  All of this happened and then I finally got the transfer orders sending us back to Seattle.  It was very difficult for us to let him go away to school at the same time that we were moving, but it felt like it was the right thing to do.  A month or so after we left Texas, Jonathan fell ill and Linda flew down to Austin, Texas.  I followed a week later and I was able to see my son right before he died.

     When Jonathan was so sick I had earnestly prayed to my Heavenly Father and asked if he would be okay.  I received a very powerful answer that my son would be okay.  It was like being wrapped in a warm blanket of God's love.  It was very comforting and I assumed it meant that Jonathan would be healed and recover from his illness. But that wasn't the question I had asked.  I later realized that from God's perspective this was not a tragedy.  Jonathan was a very good young man and he was more than okay. Even if I had initially misunderstood the meaning of the answer to my prayer, it was very comforting to feel God's love.  I knew that He was mindful of us and the pain of our loss, but that our son was where he was supposed to be.

    At times I have been inspired to do things that were important for me to do, but I didn't realize it was inspiration at the time.  This is sort of like Christopher Columbus being inspired by the Holy Ghost to seek out the new world.  We know from one of Nephi's visions in the Book of Mormon that Columbus was inspired by the Holy Ghost, but I suspect Columbus may not have realized the source of his obsession at the time. My enlistment in the Air Force falls into this category. Linda's brother had joined the Air Force and I had given him a very bad time about that decision. Then, within a year, I did the very same thing. I could offer no logical explanation at the time for my flip flop.  As I look back on my life I now realize that I was supposed to do that and I can see how it impacted the rest of my life. I went into the Air Force with a guaranteed job as a linguist. That is how I learned to speak Russian, which subsequently helped me get hired as an FBI Special Agent.  I can't take much credit  for making that decision other than I did have a strong desire to do the right thing.  I was living the gospel and doing my best to keep God's commandments. Maybe the Lord knew I wouldn't be able to understand why I needed to do that so He just gave me a desire to do it and let me figure out the why when I was ready.

    So God cares about where we live, who we marry, what we do for a living, how we serve in the church, and a good many more things. He even cares who leads the music in the Primary. I served in the Bishopric for a while in our prior ward.  One of my responsibilities was the Primary.  Staffing is sometimes a problem in Primary as not everyone seems to realize what a special privilege it is to serve the children of the ward.  So one Sunday morning in Bishopric Meeting I was making recommendations to the Bishop regarding staffing the Primary.  I also suggested that I should inquire about a particular sister's music background in order to determine whether she might be a good choice to serve as the Primary Music Leader.  Our Bishop was very particular about making prayerful decisions about callings. He would usually prayerfully ponder names for weeks before making a decision to extend a calling. In this particular instance he surprised me and approved the name on the spot, directing me to extend the call.  When I met with the sister a week later, I extended the call and she readily accepted.  I then asked her about her music background and learned that she knew three chords on the guitar and could play "Hot Cross Buns". However, a week earlier she had the thought come into her head that Primary Music Leader would be a fun calling. She put a lot of effort into learning her calling and was a wonderful Primary Music Leader.  The children readily responded to her kind gentle demeanor.  I consider her to be a great example of a woman of faith.  She had every excuse available to decline the calling, but accepted it without hesitation.  She understood that who the Lord calls, He qualifies.  She had the faith that she could learn whatever skills she needed to serve effectively in that calling.   As I have thought about this since, I think I now realize why the Bishop was inspired to immediately approve the calling when I had merely suggested that I inquire about her music background.  If I had known that she had so little music background, I probably wouldn't have suggested we consider her for that calling.

    When we pray for guidance it is critically important that we pray with real intent.  That means we have to be willing to act on the answer.  He doesn't answer our prayers for guidance because we are merely curious.  With this in mind I would like to tell you the story of how we ended up moving to the Desert Hills Ward.  Linda is the one who received the initial spiritual promptings that we needed to move back to the Tri-Cities. I'm sure the Lord told her first because she was more willing to listen. I was quite content living where we had lived for the past 24 years.  I had lots of friends from church and from the community.  I had a big vegetable garden, my grape vines that I had started from cuttings, and fruit trees that I had grafted. I'm the sort of person who puts down deep roots. I was serving as a family history consultant in our ward which is a dream calling for a family history geek. I felt like I was making a serious difference in that calling.

    When Linda first brought up the idea of moving back to the Tri-Cities I was somewhat skeptical and even a little grumpy about it.  Okay, maybe I was a whole lot grumpy about it. However, she persisted and even pulled out the "I let you buy a bee store ten years ago" card and I had to agree that it truly was her turn to get to do something she wanted to do. However, just because I had agreed to it doesn't mean I had a good attitude about it. However, I also agreed that I would make it a matter of serious prayer. I think I prayed about it for more than a month before I received an answer.  We had come over to visit Linda's sister Liz, who lives in Richland.  While we were there the Spirit confirmed to me that we were indeed supposed to move back here.  With a very clear confirmation from the Spirit my attitude about moving changed significantly.  The move was still very painful and a great deal of work. It is just so much easier to do hard things  when we know that they are also the right things.  I still don't know all of the reasons we were supposed to move here, but I do know some of them. I'm sure I'll understand more with time. I always seem to understand life better through hindsight. However, it is a very good feeling to know that you are where the Lord wants you to be. It is also a wonderful feeling to know that He cares about where we live and that He still has service He wants us to perform and things He wants us to accomplish.


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