Wednesday, November 25, 2009

LDS Fireside Chat #2

I arrived at the church far earlier than I'd anticipated. While the fireside was scheduled to start at around 7:45, I was there shortly after 7:00. Upon finding my way to the room where it'd be held, I struck up a conversation with a Swedish missionary whom I'll call "Tiresias". I'd met him before. After a little while, a missionary on crutches whom I hadn't met previously (I'll call him "Solon") approached me and began talking to me in Greek. We carried on a little discussion in that language for perhaps a full minute or so before I came across something I couldn't clarify sufficiently in Greek, so I reverted to English. He was rather surprised; evidently, my bearded visage and voice had led him to believe that I was, in fact, a Greek. Solon and I chatted for a bit before he had to keep moving on. I learned later from Creon that Solon had injured his ankle playing football just a little while ago, with just four weeks left in his mission here. Tiresias and I resumed our conversation, which ranged over a number of subjects from names (particularly surnames involving patronymics and also theophoric given names) to differences between the Latter-day Saint movement and other Christian traditions.

As I took a seat near about halfway back, though near the back of the occupied seating area, I met another elder from Italy whom I'll call "Kostas". He didn't speak English fluently, and his accent was rather thick, but we had a good chat anyway. Eventually, the fireside kicked off with hymn #241, "Count Your Many Blessings"; Alcestis was the chorister. Most of the people there sang it in Greek; I may have been among the rare few singing in English. After an opening prayer in English, it was time for a mixed men's quartet comprised of Creon, Orestes, Ajax, and "Cleisthenes", a Latter-day Saint whom I'd met several times previously. I think he may be Ajax's ministry partner. Anyway, they did a good job with the song, "I Marvel at the Miracle", which Alcestis accompanied on the piano. I couldn't hear Creon or Orestes very well, though.

Finally, there was nothing standing in the way of the main event, the talk by Elder Gerald J. Causse, a member of the First Quorum of the Seventy. He had previously served as president of the Paris stake and later an Area Seventy for the Europe West area, just as Elder Johann Wondra from the previous fireside was an Area Seventy for the Europe East area. Causse is now the first French member of the First Quorum of the Seventy. To the best of my ability to preserve it, here is what he said in his talk:

Dear brothers and sisters, it is a joy for me to be with you today. Thank you for coming. Thank you for taking this time. I know that Athens is a very big town, big city, and maybe you had to travel a lot (?) for a long time to come here, and I want to thank you all for this special opportunity for me to meet with the Saints of Athens. I would like to congratulate Mark for his decision to be baptized. We-- I don't know you, this is the first time we meet each other, but you will be soon a part of this big family, this large family that goes beyond the sea to every country and all over the world. Millions of people will make the same kind of decision that you did, to follow [or: join the fold of] Jesus Christ. I hope you feel like a member of this large family.

I would like to talk about it, large family. [I live in] France, I have a brother who lives in Canada, another sister who lives in the United States, and we all feel that when our parents met (?) the Church, it all changed our lives for the better. I will always be grateful for the decision my parents, my father and mother, did in 1963 when they joined the Church.

We live in a very difficult world. Whatever country we live in, we live in the middle of a storm. This is a storm about moral values, this is a storm about principles, about the way people act, about their honesty, about their principle of life, about family values, and all around us we have these difficulties that we can see. We know that we are in the latter days, and-- because we are Saints of-- we are Latter-day Saints, Saints of the latter days. We are the same church as the one that was started by Jesus Christ centuries ago, but we are in the latter days, meaning that Satan has never been so powerful than at this special time in the history of the world. So, so these are challenging times, and we know that in the future Satan will even have more power over mankind, that [or: and] many of the members of the Church will be tempted to just give up and go somewhere else, because they will feel that being a member of the Church is highly (?) [. . . burden (?)] because they are so different from the other people, and I know here in Greece that being a member of the Church is sometimes a challenge because you may feel that you are different from the society that only accepts a certain kind of church and tradition, and you are not in, within the tradition or accepting the tradition, and you may be almost persecuted or even rejected.

So I know that this is sometimes some pressure on the members of the Church and [remember that (?)] the Church of Jesus Christ has to, just as in the first days when Jesus organized his church in these countries like Greece and in other countries around the Mediterranean Sea, being a member of the Christian church, a follower of Jesus Christ, was a challenge, and it was maybe even more than a challenge because in our days we don't have to, to be put in the circus [. . .] Roman [. . .] emperor and be eaten by wild beasts, but that is what they had to go through at this time. But these are challenging times for all members of the Church, all over the world. At the same time we know - and this is very positive - a promise I would like to share with you. We know that in these last days this Church will be the only church, we are teaching and preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ, it will be the only safe place that people could find, will be able to find on the earth. And more and more people will just join the Church because he will like to, to find and he will be seeking a safe place, safety, surety in their life.

I love-- Do you have in Greek this hymn, umm... "Master, the Tempest is Raging"? Does it exist in Greek? Okay, only in English, I'm sorry. It was my favorite-- well it is also in French. It was my favorite hymn when, when I was a boy, I love playing it on the piano. And it's about the story of Joseph Smith-- uh, ah, of Jesus Christ, sorry-- and Jesus Christ was on this boat in the middle of a storm, and with the disciples, and maybe you remember that the disciples were afraid, that they could sink and that the boat would sink into the sea. And what was Jesus doing? Do you remember? He was asleep! On a pillow, in the middle of the storm. You just imagine the image of, of Jesus on this boat that was shaken by waves. And the disciples, they, "Wow" (?), so they awoke Jesus and they said, "Do something about the tempest, we are having to die, we are going to disappear into the, the waters!" And he stood up and he, he rebuked the winds, and he said, "Peace, be still", and the water was calm again, the water was calm again. And then he turned to the disciples, and--you remember what he said? "Why are you so fearful? Why do you have not, no faith?" He was talking about their faith, about their fear, and we know that if we have faith we have no fear.

And then what's basically his message to, to these disciples? Brothers and sisters, we are in the boat of the Church. This boat is in the middle of a tempest. This boat is shaken by waves. It's not easy to be a member because, you know, there's a storm outside, okay? It's not easy. Well I don't know if we have any seamen in the congregation, unless you have ever been to, on a boat, maybe in Greece, it's kind of important [. . .] from time to time; you have the sea everywhere around-- I've been on boats, not in middle of tempest but it was shaking enough for me to be sick. And when you are in middle of tempest on a boat, what do you want to do? Do you want to jump overboard and try to swim to escape the tempest? Is this something you want to do? Doesn't work. And we have so many of people today in this storm who say, "Okay, we prefer to swim, don't want to be with the only man who can do something about the tempest." So many people who think that when they have troubles and challenge in their life, they should just walk away from God. But we know that this Church is a safe place, because of its principle, because Jesus - being at the center of the Church - is the captain of the boat. And we want to be with the captain who can lead the boat and say to the tempest, "Peace, be still." We don't want to jump away from, from him. He's the only man who can do anything about this, and it is the best thing [or: blessing] (?) about [or: of] being in the Church.

I have another friends who are not members of the Church, and sometimes they just ask us about our family. And they say, "Well, you know, you have a beautiful family, what do you do?" They just feel a special spirit in our home, and they say, "What, how do you do this?" And then we talk about principle, we go to church every Sunday. And they just say, "Well, okay, no, church is not for me." And then sometimes some of them, they will say, "Yes, church is for me", but a lot of people say, "We want to have the peace and the safety, but we don't need any constraints. We don't want to make efforts, so give us a free peace, and then we'll be better off." But peace is not free, peace requires some efforts, and we know it! But these are joyful efforts, with our joyful actions and trials, in same [or: some] way being member of the Church.

Just to share with you something about friends, um, a little story: Two years ago-- I have five children, and, uh-- four girls, one boy-- and one of our girls was three years old at that time, she was a young girl, she was going to the preschool, and, uh-- two or three days a week, and she had a wonderful teacher there. We didn't know her very much, um, we only had a few messages from time to time that were written on the notebook that she would take back home every day. And one day we looked at the notebook, we opened it and there was a message for us, saying, "Could you put a picture of your family on the notebook?" We say, "Okay." So my, my wife selected a beautiful picture and put it on the notebook. Two days later, my wife arrived at school to pick up my daughter, and the teacher was there standing, waiting for her. And she said, "I see in the picture of your family", and she was very direct. "There must be something about your family, I want to know. Tell me." She said, "You know, I feel something special about your family. I want to know." Well, maybe it wasn't just the picture, maybe she had observed and watched my daughter, I don't know. And my wife said, "The gospel of Jesus Christ." And she said, "Well, I want to know." And my, my wife invited her over for dinner with her husband and her daughter, and we had a nice dinner at home, and we talked about love but not very much about the Church. I don't know why, I'm ashamed of it, but it was what happened. And they didn't ask any questions, and so we didn't maybe want to talk too much about the Church.

And the day after, she called my wife again, on the phone, and she said, "We had a wonderful dinner, thank you very much, the food was good. But we came to your home because we wanted to know about your gospel and your Church! You didn't tell us." And my wife says, "Okay, we'll invite two missionaries and you will be back." Okay, so the next Sunday they were back for Family Home Evening with two missionaries, and it was a wonderful time that we had. [. . .] She was following all the commandments already, she was following everything about the Plan of Salvation by herself, just [. . .] trying to find her own revelation. And she just [. . .] "Okay, I know you, I know your Church, it's the church I've been looking for for years and years." And she was baptized with her daughter, five years later. Long time [. . .]. She had missionaries at home very often, she felt she was not ready for it, then one day she called and she said, "I want to be baptized." [. . .] and we congratulated her very much and we said, "We want to be at your baptism service", and then I said, "You know [. . .] your little daughter, who was three years old, five years later she's eight. Why (?) do you want to be baptized next month [. . .] a baptismal service for the two of you?" And they were baptized the same day, at the same service, the teacher and the daughter.

And, um, I tell this story because it shows about peace, it shows that the light of Christ can touch the people who are prepared. And, some of you have the stories (?), and you wonder [or: enter] (?) about (?) water baptism, and it was like, you wake up (?) [. . .] the Church [. . .] yours. I want to be known to the fold of Jesus Christ, I want to be part of-- it's not only a church, because a church is an organization, this is the family of the followers of Jesus Christ [. . .] followers, not just people with traditions, but people with a strong belief and that act every day of their life to be disciples, true disciples of Jesus Christ. You are a member of this great family. Of this family it is said in Ephesians, chapter 2, "Now, therefore ye are, ye are no more strangers and foreigners, but fellow-citizens with the saints and of the household of God." So this is the message: wherever you live, you may be in a [. . .] big (?) ward or you may be in a small branch in Greece, or you may be in the islands of the sea where maybe there are only ten members [. . .] any time, you are full, 100% citizens, fellow citizens, with the saints and of the household of God, because you are built upon the foundation of the apostles and the prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief cornerstone. Being a member of the Church, being active in the Church, has nothing to do with the size of the branch you belong to. I hope you, you feel the same member as any other members. You are members of the Church of Jesus Christ, you have made covenants in the waters of baptism.

I remember a story I [was (?) told by President Packer. President Packer is the quorum, the president of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, so he is the senior apostle in the Church, and he told us the following story. He was at a stake conference in a big meeting - in the United States, I think - and he noticed that in the congregation there were several hundreds of people in the stake, and he noticed there were a lot of gray hairs. People were [. . .] older people, and he turned to the stake president and said, "You have a lot of elderly people in your stake", and the stake president said, "Yes, that's a problem. Because these people, you know, we can't ask them to do a lot of things, they are not very active in the Church, they can't do a lot of [. . .]." And then President Packer turned to him and said, "President, are they active in the gospel?" What is important? Is it being active in the Church or active in the gospel?" Of course we are active in the Church, but even more important, are we active in the gospel?

Let me tell you the story of a man who was not active in the Church but was active in the gospel, because that was his circumstances. But he's a true example to me. A few months ago I, I made a tour of the Arabic Peninsula--so, the gulf, the states in the gulf like Kuwait, Abu Dhabi, Dubai, all these Muslim countries. And with Elder Holland, a member of the Twelve, and we toured, um, this stake, it's a big stake, covering seven or eight countries, and in these countries you have no missionaries, because it's not authorized, there's no way you can go out and proselyte [sic], so you just have the members who live there, most of them are Filipinos or Americans or neutral, people coming from all kinds of countries, Indians, Pakistanis, and they come and the only way you, you can convert people is just members talking to other members, it's the only way you can. And it's very difficult to find where the chapels are, because you have no right to advertise where the chapel is, and so there's no announcement in the newspapers, no information about the growth of the Church, so unless you have a computer - but most of the people don't have computers there, especially those who are workers. They have no access to computers, so they don't know where the church is, and we know that there are thousands of people in Saudi Arabia, in other of these countries, who are members of the Church who just don't know where the church is.

And Elder Holland went to Saudi Arabia, and he told me this story of a man he, he met. This man was a Filipino, so from the Philippines, he was a member of the Church and arrived in Saudi Arabia, and he was living in one of the cities of Saudi Arabia. And he looked for the church, couldn't find it, he didn't know where the church was, no way, there's no sign even outside of the church, so you have no information about it, there's no way you can find it. What he decided to do every Sunday-- not every Sunday, on Friday, because Sabbath day is Friday in these countries-- every Friday, it was the only day off he had, he would walk on the street, go to the next shopping center or, I don't know what place, and he would walk and hum, sing, [Elder Causse hums the tune of some LDS hymn], hoping that someone would cross his way and say, "Ohh, you're a member of the Church! I know where the church is, I will tell you." And Elder Holland told me that he did that for seventeen years before he could find the church. Well, this man was not active in the Church, right? He was not going to meetings. Was he active in the gospel? I think yes. And he was a great member of the Church, I'm very impressed in his example of persistence in his case, in the Lord Jesus Christ, in his willingness to be an active member. And I'm sure that the Lord received his gift of all these efforts trying to find the church.

Well, he's now a full, active member of the Church, but what is being active in the gospel? We can go every Sunday to, to meetings; we can be members or non-members or just come because we love missionaries or because we love the spirit or because we love going to meetings and we love to be around and have friends, but are we active in the gospel just because we go to meetings? Is going to meetings the only characteristic of an active member, of being active in the gospel? Well, how do we know if we are active in the gospel? How can I know I'm active in the gospel? Is there a way I can learn about this? May I propose you something very simple? I know that I am active in the gospel if I feel the Holy Ghost as often as possible, as a constant companion, as it is we read in the Scriptures. Having the companionship of the Holy Ghost is a true test of our discipleship. Having the company of the Holy Ghost is really the greatest gift that we can obtain in this life, because if we think about it, the Holy Ghost can comfort us when we have difficulties, when we have sad moments in our life. We can receive this peace, special peace in the middle of the storm [. . .].

Second, we can be guided in our decisions, when we have tough decisions, "What should I do? What kind of work?", or we can be led to some work. We can maybe find a new apartment that we are looking for, or we can find missionaries when looking for, for those who are non-members. Or we can be led in the way we approach our friends, we can be led and guided in the love (?). We can and-- this is probably the most important principle about the Holy Ghost. The Holy Ghost is a cleanser, it's a cleansing agent. This is the agent of repentance. If we need to repent, this is by the Holy Ghost that we will feel that we have been forgiven. This is through the Holy Ghost that the atonement of Jesus Christ is real in our life, that we can feel the power of the atonement in our life, that we can receive hope in ourselves.

Some people think-- okay, let me give you an example. I had a good friend in France, got baptized a few years ago. After one or two months, she had a sad face one Sunday morning at church. I stopped her and I said, "Well, Linda, I notice you are not be doing well, what, what's the matter with you, what's the problem?" And she said, "Well, I was baptized two months ago" - I tell Mark this story of mine - "I was baptized, I was baptized two months ago, and well, you know, members, they are all-- the members of the Church, they are all perfect. They know everything. They know the Scriptures, they know what to do, they do all things well, they have beautiful families [. . .] I feel I can't be perfect like them. [. . .] I'm a divorced woman", she said, "I still struggle in my life [. . .], I need to improve myself... I don't feel like I'm perfect enough to be a member of the Church." I said, "Well, [. . .] perfect people. The Lord Jesus Christ didn't come for people who didn't need him, he came for people who had needs in their lives."

You remember the image of Paul in Corinthians when he compares the Church to a body? He said in the body you have different members: the nose, the eyes, the legs, the hands, and he says, well, all members are different. Don't expect that in the body all members are the same, I hope that we don't have only legs or only hands. Every member has his own function, his own purpose, and the whole of it makes the Church. And sometimes the hand is pain, we have pain with hands or pain with the eyes or, like me, I should wear glasses now. And when one of the members is suffering, the whole body suffers. And Paul says, well, the weakest members are needy, are needed in the Church. They are very important members, we need them. Don't feel because you should have some problems that you don't belong to the Church because you are not being a member of the Church. You are blessing, a blessing to all the members because you provide opportunities for others to serve you, to help you.

And so we need from time to time to have, you know, sometime when I-- two years ago when I was called as a Seventy, I was-- it was-- I was called, that I would leave my family-- not my family, but my house and my country, and I will not live there in my country for the next 25 years of my life. I knew it. [. . .] and although I consider myself to be a strong member of the Church, it was really something difficult, it was tough. And the first thing I did was, I took my phone, I called one of my good friends of the quorum, and I said, "Well, will you come? I need a blessing." And he came, and he gave me a blessing, and we gave blessings to all members of my family, and it was really the starting point of a lot of blessings in our life. So we may be strong [some of the time (?)] and weak other days, sometime we need something from others and sometime we give something to others, but this is what the Church is. We are all trying to do our best and to be faithful, and without help each other - and this is really the basics of the covenant that we make as members of the Church.

In Mosiah, chapter 18, verses 8, 9, and 10, it speaks about the covenant of baptism. So this is the covenant of your baptism. "And now, as ye are desirous to come into the fold of God, and to be called his people"--so this is this family that I was talking about, the family of people who are on the boat, shaken by waves, but with a captain who can do something about it, okay? So, "to be called his people, and are willing to bear one another's burdens, that they may be light; yea, and are willing to mourn with those that mourn; yea, and comfort those that stand in need of comfort, and to stand"--so, we hear, members of the same family, to help each other, to share our burdens, our difficulties, and at the same time lift up each other, and stand, "to stand as witnesses of God at all times, in all things, in all places"--this is another part of the covenant of baptism. We promise that we'll be witnesses of Jesus. It isn't always easy, because when we stand as witnesses we just [. . .] we declare the gospel and we preach the gospel.

"In all places that ye may be in, even until death, that ye may be redeemed of God, and be numbered with those of the first resurrection"--"Now I say unto you, if this be the desire of your hearts, what have you against being baptized in the name of the Lord, as a witness before him that ye have entered into a covenant with him, that ye will serve him and keep his commandments, that he may pour out his Spirit more abundantly upon you?" So if we say "the Spirit", the Spirit is really the promise of the covenant, you know, we say we do a number of things, we are witnesses, we follow the commandments, and then we get the Spirit with us. And every Sunday when we partake of the sacrament, in the prayer of sacrament there is a wonderful promise that we may receive his Spirit. So every Sunday we renew this, we renew this promise so that we have the Spirit as the constant companion to help us every day of our life, of our lives. Getting the Spirit is [contingent (?)] very much to our obedience, to our following the commandments. Can we receive the Spirit if we are not worthy his being in our temple, preaching the temple of our body? Are we holy temple enough, are we being the temple enough, to receive the Holy Ghost?

Let me talk a bit about commandments, receiving and following the commandments. I know it's not always easy to change life and to, you know, to doing the right thing, to be, um, to stop smoking for someone, or for others going to church every Sunday, or [. . .] something else, to pay tithing, or these kind of things. When we think about it, obedience is linked to love. There is a very close relationship between love and obedience. Jesus said, "If you love me, follow my commandments", or "keep my commandments" [. . .] "If you love me, keep my commandments." Have you ever thought that obey (?) commandments was using (?) the love that we have for God and Jesus Christ? I really believe that the more close, the closer we are to Jesus Christ, the more easy we find it to follow the commandments. And that should be an invitation to you, that you would read the scriptures every day of your life, you would pray, you would be so close to Jesus Christ that you develop your love for him. And the more you will love Jesus Christ, the more you will like to please him, to be one with him, and to obey the commandments. And that you will obey, not because of force or because you just make the commitment to doing, but--not only this, but because of your pure love for Jesus Christ, you will just want [. . .] obedience as a gift to him, to express gratitude for Jesus and what he did on the cross.

[. . .] I would like to finish now because I see that the time is almost over and we need to go to the airport and we are flying tonight to Cyprus [. . .] and Friday we'll be back in Athens. But let me just share [. . .] with you. When I first read that verse (?) many years ago, I was a small baby, I was raised in this Church, and I was not always aware of how blessed I was to belong in the Church, because sometimes you meet the Church only when you are forty years old, [. . .] 45 or 46. I was in the Church now, I was [. . . .] options, but I had the privilege of changing them [. . .] in a very small way over my childhood, and I could receive all this gospel teaching. But I will always be indebted to my parents because they made that decision. When I turned twenty years old, I was an adult and had to make a lot of decisions of my own, usually [. . .] about the future, what [. . .] you want to be, what kind of job, [. . .] find someone to marry [. . .]. And at that time I made a lot of decisions, always based on the gospel of Jesus Christ [. . .].

[. . . . .] The atonement of Jesus Christ is powerful, he changes lot of people. Don't ever say, "We don't need the atonement of Jesus Christ", don't ever say, "It's not for me", it is for you. This is a free gift of Jesus Christ [. . .] he's our Savior, he's our Redeemer, he gave his life for us, he's [. . .] for us. He is part of the Great Plan of Happiness that your salvation is, salvation is happiness, it is the same. The Church of Jesus Christ, his church, has been restored on the earth. It's not a religion, it's not a tradition, it's not a culture, it's not all this; it is the true gospel, it's the living gospel, this is a living way of life that we have in our lives and that blesses our life every day, every minute of our life. This is what is our [. . .] activity in the gospel, in the strength [. . .] proclaim the gospel, in the joy [. . .] members of the Church [. . .] and active in the gospel. I pray this with all my heart and in my love for you, in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.

Allow me to just say, first of all, that after trying to get all that to repeat here, I now have a profound respect for those who compiled the Journal of Discourses. It's no easy task to reconstruct an entire talk or sermon, and this one was 38 minutes and 14 seconds long. That aside, it was a fairly fine talk in terms of content and delivery. After it was over, we all sang hymn #58, "Come, Ye Children of the Lord", and again most were singing in Greek. There was a closing prayer in Greek, and then the event proper was over. I had hoped to catch Elder Causse quickly before he left, but he was gone pretty much immediately, and I was trapped in conversations with others. At any rate, I stayed around for a while and complimented Ajax and Cleisthenes on their performance in the mixed men's quartet earlier. To my recollection, not much worthy of note happened before I left for the evening.

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