Thursday, June 21, 2007

The United Herd

Thursday, June 21, 2007
The Power Of The United Herd

Several Sundays ago as my good friend Brian McInnis was conducting fast and testimony meeting as a counselor in the bishopric, he said something in his testimony that I thought was a very profound truth concerning life.  Brian loves to watch the Discovery Channel and especially the programs about nature and wildlife.  He told us about a program he had recently watched about a herd of Water Buffaloes in Africa.  The herd was on its way to a watering hole and just as they got there several lions leapt out of the heavy brush and attacked a small calf which was the smallest Buffalo in the herd. The Lions had probably been stalking the herd for miles determining which water buffalo was the most vulnerable, and would provide them with the best lunch.

The lions inadvertently dragged the calf down into the water and as they were attempting to kill it several alligators came up out of the water and grabbed onto the calf as well.  The poor thing was probably wondering why he had ever bothered to get up that day.  Do water buffaloes sleep lying down?  I don't know.  Anyhow, the calf was having an unusually bad day.  As the tug-of-war between the lions and the alligators persisted and became more intense, suddenly the father and mother buffalo -- bull and cow -- charged with all their might and were able to drive off a lion or two.  They however, were no match for all the lions and alligators that had attacked their child, but unexpectedly the entire herd gathered together and as a group charged the lions and the alligators and with horns and hooves drove off the enemy and saved the little calf's life.

Mom and Dad could not, by themselves, have saved their child from the lions and alligators; it took the entire united herd to do the job.  Families, extended families, the inspired organization of the Church that includes home and visiting teachers, bishops and stake presidents, youth advisers, and seminary and institute teachers and classes, constitute our "united herd" and are absolutely essential to save our vulnerable children from the spiritual lions and alligators stalking them and us.

There are spiritual predators -- as cunning and ferocious as physical lions and alligators -- stalking us today and seeking to devour the most vulnerable among us.  Our spiritual predators or enemies today, I believe, are more dangerous to us ultimately, than Al Qaeda, Hamas, and other predatory terrorist groups that seek to blow up and destroy our physical bodies.  What are some of these spiritual predators or terrorists?  As you think about it you will undoubtedly create your own list, but I think they must include many of the false precepts of men that Nephi saw in vision would corrupt churches and people in our day: "... they have all gone astray save it be a few, who are the humble followers of Christ; nevertheless, they are led, that in many instances they do err because they are taught by the precepts of men."  [2 Nephi 28:14]

It is not my intent to give you my complete list of the false precepts of men but they would include false religious precepts, false educational precepts, false political precepts, and false moral precepts with which we are bombarded almost daily.  Tragically, as Nephi envisioned our day, he saw that most people had gone astray save it be a few who were "the humble followers of Christ," and even many of them were blown up spiritually so to say, because they hearkened to these precepts of men. 

And then, of course, some of the spiritual artillery and land mines used by the Adversary includes such things as illegal drugs, alcohol, tobacco, and pornography.  All of these things can be addictive and can result in our being eaten alive spiritually.  It takes the united effort of family, good friends, and Church to protect and also help deliver those who are already in the jaws of these spiritual alligators and Lions before they are destroyed.

Many years ago while serving as a bishop, a good visiting teacher discovered that a young married woman with two sweet children that lived in our ward was being abused verbally and physically by her husband.  He had become involved in, and addicted to, pornography and had been very unfaithful to his wife.  He was involved in many wicked practices that had driven away the Spirit from his life and he was a danger to his wife and children because of it.  After a brief visit with her, she gave her consent for me to call her father who lived in a distant state.  After explaining to him what was happening to his daughter and grandchildren he caught a flight that night and arrived in Orange County the next morning, took his daughter and two grandchildren immediately back to the airport, and flew them home.  He acted very well the part of the bull water buffalo charging onto the scene to save his daughter.

About two years ago I received a letter from this now older middle aged woman who wanted to tell me the rest of the story.  She had been granted a divorce from her abusive husband, had married a very good man, and now had four or five children who were doing very well in life having served missions and married in the temple.  She just wanted to express her appreciation and gratitude for the love and support manifested to her from the members of our ward at a very critical time in her life.  What might have happened to her and her children had it not been for loving friends and a father who were willing to do battle in her behalf to release her from the very dangerous circumstances of her life?

Sickness, disabling accidents, and the death of a loved one can also inadvertently become spiritual alligators or lions that can drive us away from our Heavenly Father through depression and a loss of faith.  When I was injured almost 19 years ago now, I was overwhelmed at the support given to me, not only by my family, but by so many others as well.  For the month following my accident, fellow high priests took turns sitting with me through the night, reading scriptures to me, talking to me, singing hymns, and just being there.  I cannot describe what a comfort this was to me at that trying time.  Sunday after Sunday while I was in the rehabilitation hospital, 30 or 40 friends would stop by during the day to visit.  I enjoyed every minute of their visits and was strengthened and buoyed up by their love and support.  This love and concern has endured 19 years now and has enabled Jo Anne and I to press forward knowing that we are surrounded by a loving "herd."

"And the Lord called his people ZION, because they were of one heart and one mind..." [Moses 7:18]


Friday, June 8, 2007

Enduring it Well

Last week Jo Anne hosted a bridal shower at our home.  One of the ladies who attended brought her son to visit with me while the shower was going on.  This was such a great blessing to me to be cloistered away in my bedroom with some male companionship and protected from the girlish fun, festivities, and chatter that 40 women inevitably bring with them to a bridal shower.  I was not reluctant however, to partake of the good food and dessert I must admit.

The young man I was privileged to visit with was badly injured in the mission field while riding his bicycle.  His pancreas was severely damaged and his life was in jeopardy for some time.  For months he was unable to eat and consequently lost about 50 or 60 pounds.  After many priesthood blessings, fasting and prayer on behalf of many, and skilled doctors performing a delicate surgery, he once again is beginning to be able to eat and is regaining his health and strength.  Hopefully if everything keeps going well he will be able to return to his field of labor in another six months. 

He is a wonderful and special person.  He was attending USC on an academic scholarship before entering the mission field, and is a young man of great potential and promise.  Having been very successful in life before his mission he was also being very productive and effective as a missionary, and then came this unfortunate accident which could easily have cost him his life.  What has happened to him, I am sure has caused him much serious reflection. 

He had many questions he wanted to ask me about a variety of things and I truly had a delightful time visiting with him.  Toward the end of our conversation he asked what I thought was a question for the ages.  He said, "Brother Rushton, what do you think I should learn from this experience?"  It seems like such a simple question and yet at the same time it is so very profound.  In asking the question I knew he had been doing a lot of soul-searching regarding why he would ever have had to experience this kind of problem while serving the Lord with all his heart in the mission field.

What follows is, in essence, what I tried to share with him that evening, but in more detail, as I have had time to reflect on it for a few days.  The first thing that came into my mind was that hopefully he would learn patience.  However, in saying patience I really mean much more than just patience.  The Scriptures would call it learning to "endure."  But it is more than just learning to "endure."  When my own accident occurred I was 50 years old, had served a mission, married in the temple, had served as a bishop and stake president, and with all that experience behind me felt that I was strong enough to endure what had happened to me.  In my mind I would say to myself "Jack, you can get through this.  It won't be easy but you can do it.  Just gird up your loins and gut it out."  And so, like a man in a cold wind and rain storm, in a sense I turned up the collar of my coat, turned my back to the storm, gritted my teeth and endured.  Guess what?  It didn't work!  I was miserable, my family was miserable, and I began to learn that apparently just enduring was not enough.  It was then I stumbled upon a great truth I had read for years but had not registered with me.  In Doctrine & Covenants 121 as Joseph pled with the Lord to find some meaning to his own brand of adversity the Lord said to him: "And then, if thou endure it well, God shall exalt thee on high; thou shalt triumph over all thy foes."  [Doctrine & Covenants 121:8] [emphasis added] Of all the Scriptures that admonish us to endure to the end, this is the only verse I can find that tells us how to endure -- "endure it well."  For someone in my situation this was an important revelation.  I came to learn that it is not enough just to endure but we must endure it well.  If we endure it well we won't just be gritting our teeth and turning up our collar against the storm, but we will be experiencing peace and joy that will enable us to be productive, to serve others, and to especially be a blessing to our loved ones.

You are probably saying, "Well, Jack, that is all well and good but how do you get to that point in your life where in the midst of adversity you are able to rise to a level beyond just enduring, but enduring it well?"  Again, the answer came to me personally from the Scriptures.  It comes from that same context of Joseph learning great lessons about the purpose of adversity while incarcerated in Liberty Jail.  The Lord went on to tell him, after listing many of the trials Joseph had already suffered, the following: "... and above all, if the very jaws of hell shall gape open the mouth wide after thee, know thou, my son, that all these things shall give thee experience, and shall be for thy good."  [Doctrine & Covenants 122:7] [emphasis added]

For some time, but especially after my accident, I pondered upon that verse a great deal.  I would often ask myself, "Why are terrible things that happen to us supposed to be for our good?"  I just didn't get it!  Yes, I know they give us experience but is that all?  Was being paralyzed from the neck down and living on life support the rest of my life for my good?  Was it for the good of this young missionary to almost lose his life in a bicycle accident while serving a mission for the Lord?  Finally after really many years of pondering I think I finally got it.  You all probably are not as dense as I am and undoubtedly already have it. 

All of the horrible things that can happen to us in mortality will only be for our good if they humble us, drive us to our knees, and make us more dependent upon the Savior and less dependent upon the arm of flesh.  Adversity can either drive people away from faith in Christ or to an increased faith in Him.  When one comes to understand that he is not strong enough, smart enough, talented enough, etc. to make it on his own through this mortal experience and comes to Christ with a broken heart and a contrite spirit, then the Savior can strengthen the individual through the healing power of the atonement to "endure it well".  Then the adversity truly will be for our good.  I think I also have a deeper feeling for what King Benjamin said about mankind since coming to the realization I can't do it on my own.  "... I would that ye should remember, and always retain in remembrance, the greatness of God, and your own nothingness, and his goodness and long-suffering towards you, unworthy creatures, and humble yourselves even in the depths of humility, calling on the name of the Lord daily, and standing steadfastly in the faith of that which is to come... And behold, I say unto you that if ye do this ye shall always rejoice, and be filled with the love of God..." [Mosiah 4:11-12]
And so my young friend, hopefully you will learn to "endure it well" and turn to the Lord with a broken heart and a contrite spirit, casting your burden upon him with complete trust and faith in his goodness. If you do so, I believe I can promise you, because of my own experience, you will always be able to rejoice and be filled with the love of God regardless of what life may bring your way.