Tuesday, November 30, 2004

Brian Letter 11-23-04

Dear Family,

The MTC is incredible. We had a fireside tonight and our speaker works as an institute teacher at UVSC, and his talk was AMAZING. I haven't felt the Spirit like I did tonight in a long, long time. He talked about gratitude, and I came away with the strongest feelings that God loves us. I have no doubt of that. I realized tonight that I don't express nearly enough how grateful I am for the Gospel in my life and for my family. It's really good to know that we can be together forever, and that's what I am going to teach. I'm not grateful enough for the knowledge that I have, the world needs the gospel of Jesus Christ. I'm glad that I have the opportunity and calling to be a full time servant of the Lord. I love the MTC. I am learning so much, and I'm growing so much.

Update - 11/24: I'm doing laundry now. It's my first P-day. It's only 7 am. It's kind of nice to have some time to finally go get some sticky notes and note cards and things. There is honestly only about half an hour of personal time every day. But on the other hand, it's nice to have class tonight. P-Day ends at 6:00 and then we get to learn again. Yay!

I've been here a week, and Spanish is coming along really well. Everyone in my district asks me things when they don't know. I think they think I know everything. Sometimes that gets annoying, like last night when the branch presidency came and some of the elders in my district said that I was better than all of them. I don't mind if they think I'm smart but it's kinda awkward when they say so. I still feel like I'm not picking it up fast enough, and I hate making mistakes.

Oh, I need to mention that my companion is district leader, so I'm assistant DL. We didn't find out until Sunday because our branch president wanted to interview everyone before making a decision. My compañero is pretty cool, he's a lot more reverent than the rest of my district. Some of them get pretty excited sometimes. They're fun, but I'm glad my comp is one of the more subdued elders.

I just inherited a wall full of verbs. Some of the elders that are ready to leave gave us their vocabulary sheets, it's awesome… or I should say, "imponente!" Yah, it's 13 pages. I hope I can learn them all. I hung them over my desk.

My companion likes Hanes socks, and also Foot Locker. But he likes my Florsheim socks more. He wants to buy some from me. If I had a way to replace my socks I would give him some.

Do you still have my journal? I'm pretty sure I left it in the car when you left. Maybe I just lost it here or something. I don't think I have a picture of The Wessman's either. I know Julie gave me one, but I can't find it. I'll look for those again, but if you have them, would you mind sending them to me?

Well I have to go now. I'm out of time again. Have a good day, I hope to hear from y'all soon!
Happy Birthday Michael! ☺

Elder Brian D. Harris

Ps- I have a pair of slacks with a broken zipper. Should I send them home or try to get them fixed in Venezuela?

Wednesday, November 24, 2004

Brian's First Letter--11/17/04

Dear Family,

Well, it’s my first day and I’ve been here about 10 hours now. It’s pretty exciting and really fast moving. I haven’t wasted any time yet and I don’t think I’d even have a chance to if I wanted. The MTC is such a cool place, and everyone here is so committed to following the rules and getting along and loving everyone. My branch president is nice, (I already had an interview with him) and the APs said that our branch is really great and that there is good synergy. I don’t have any experience with them yet. I hope it is as good as it sounds.

My companion is really nice. He lived on a dairy farm in Rexburg and he seems like the Kind of Elder that will follow the rules. He seems really compromising as far as trivial things go, he should be easy to get along with.

Every week, we are expected to write a short talk, and our Sunday meetings are mostly just asking people to talk at a moment’s notice. This week’s topic is gratitude. I think it’s a pretty good idea because this way, everyone gets to add their five minutes and you get to hear more varied testimonies.

I am in District D. District B also is new today, but I haven’t met anyone from A or E yet. There are no sisters in my district, we just have 7 Elders. My companion and I live with two other Elders, and next door is a threesome. I’m pretty sure one of them will be leaving soon for another MTC. He is going to the Dominican Republic. The other two are going to Caracas, and all four of us in my room are going to Maracaibo.

I’m hearing a lot of Spanish in my residence Hall and in the cafeteria. I haven’t had any lessons yet, so I only understand things like “mi familia”, “dos otros hermanas” and “Salvador” and things like that. The easy stuff. I had a couple of meetings today. They were excellent. I took lots of notes. The Spirit is really strong here, everyone is trying hard to keep it that way. I haven’t seen any missionaries yet who really act like slackers, I like my district. I can’t wait to speak my language. One of the other Elders from my branch says that the teachers don’t teach as much as they used to, that we have to work harder if we want to learn. That’s probably good. Well, goodbye, I love you all.

Elder Brian D. Harris

P.S. One of my roommates sticks silverware up his nose. I got a picture that I’ll send later.

Tuesday, November 16, 2004

Brian leaves for the Empty Sea...

Brian left Boise for Utah today, I have to stay home for school so I don't get to see him go to the MTC. I'm sad he's gone, but I'm glad he is serving the Lord and doing what he should. I (or Andy, or someone) will be posting his mission letters as he writes them, so you can stay in touch. And now, without any further ado, we will get on with the show...

Monday, November 15, 2004

Farewell Talk

Here is the talk I gave in today's Sacrament Meeting. I wasn't able to say the whole thing because I was the last speaker and we ran out of time. So you get the full deal instead of the 5 minute condensed version like my ward got. Enjoy!

There is a song that I was taught in Primary called, "Choose the Right Way". The words are, "There’s a right way to live and be happy, it is choosing the right every day. I am learning the teachings of Jesus, they will help me and show me the way. Through the Gospel I learn to be prayerful, to have faith, to repent, to obey. And I know if I live by these teachings, I will truly be happy each day. "

One of the main purposes of this life is to learn how to make correct decisions that will bring us the most happiness. The prophet Lehi tells us, "they are free to choose liberty and eternal life, through the great Mediator of all men, or to choose captivity and death, according to the power and captivity of the devil: for he seeketh that all men might be miserable like unto himself."

Obviously, since Satan wants to make all men miserable, we will be much happier choosing liberty and eternal life, through the plan of Jesus Christ our Redeemer. In the Book of Mormon, Alma counseled his son, Helaman to "Learn wisdom in thy youth; yea, learn in thy youth to keep the commandments of God." Alma understood the importance of making correct choices.

Sometimes it might seem that we can find happiness more easily by sinning than keeping God’s commandments. Every time it seems like it will be more fun, or easier to sin than to be obedient, we are being tested. Satan offers us appealing lures in the hopes that we will choose sin over righteousness so that we will be miserable. In 1 Corinthians 10:13, Paul tells us that God will not allow us to be tempted above that which we are able to bear. He will "with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it." He always provides a right choice in contrast to Satan’s poor choice, and He hopes that we will prove our commitment to Him through our actions. Christ said, "If ye love me, keep my commandments." It is our duty as Saints of the Lord to show our loyalty to God by doing the things He asks. True disciples are obedient because they love God and want to glorify Him.

When Christ said, "keep my commandments", He did not only refer to The Ten Commandments found in Exodus. His commandments come in many forms. For instance, His teachings while He ministered among the Jews are scripture and are commandments. We are expected to obey the things He taught his disciples, things like, "Judge not according to the appearance, but judge righteous judgment", "love thy neighbor as thyself", "Take heed and beware of covetousness", and so forth. His commandments also include His counsel to us through the prophets, both ancient and modern.

Malachi wrote, "Bring ye all the tithes into the storehouse, saith the Lord." Paul wrote to the people of Ephesus, "Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right." And in his epistle to the Phillipians he counseled the people to look after each other and to not worry so much about their own possessions. The Lord, through revelation, has said, "Pray always, that you may come off conqueror." Any guidance the Lord gives us is to help us to make good choices, and even though they might not be labeled "commandments", we are expected to obey. President Gordon B. Hinckley said, "People argue whether some thing is simply the word of the Lord or a commandment. What difference does it make? The word of the Lord becomes a commandment to me." Doctrine and Covenants 84:44-45 reads, "You shall live by every word that proceedeth forth from the mouth of God. For the word of the Lord is truth, and whatsoever is truth is light." Ecclesiastes 12:13 states, "Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God and keep His commandments: For this is the whole duty of man."

Another example of a commandment is the keeping of covenants that we make with the Lord. The Lord always keeps his part of the agreement, and it is our sacred responsibility to uphold ours. At baptism, we covenant and commit to glorify God, to be His disciples and stand as His witness. The covenants made in the temple are important enough to be considered as commandments; a failure to keep our covenants will result in serious consequences. By treating our covenants with the Lord lightly, we endanger our salvation and eternal life.

The blessings that come from keeping the commandments sometimes include specific blessings. In the scriptures, we often find examples of if-then clauses, where a blessing is offered if we are obedient to a certain principle. Exodus 20:12 gives the promise of our days being long upon the land which the Lord has given us, if we keep the commandment to honor our parents. Section 89 of the Doctrine & Covenants gives the promise that we "shall run and not be weary, walk and not faint" if we obey the Word of Wisdom. The Book of Ether makes it clear that if we humble ourselves before God, He will make our weaknesses strong.

When we are obedient to the commandments of God, we are blessed with an increase in our ability to feel the power of the Holy Ghost. This is a blessing that is given to us no matter what other specific blessings are offered. Elder Henry B. Eyring said, "The fruit of keeping covenants is the companionship of the Holy Ghost and an increase in the power to love." If we continually listen to the promptings of the Holy Ghost, we will also continually improve our lives. The more we are obedient, the more we will desire to be obedient, and we will progress. Likewise, the more often we disobey the commandments of God, the less we will feel the Spirit in our lives.
President George Albert Smith said, "If you cross to the devil’s side of the line one inch, you are in the tempter’s power, and if he is successful you will not be able to think or even reason properly, because you will have lost the Spirit of the Lord." When the Spirit withdraws from us, that is Heavenly Father’s way of telling us that our lives are out of line, and that we need to change. We will notice a change in our lives, we might notice ourselves being more irritable than we were before our transgression, or we might notice that we are less cheerful, or that we are not comfortable in places where the Spirit is strong. The best way to avoid these negative feelings is to make good choices.

But everyone sins. Each of us is imperfect and has made decisions contrary to the will of the Lord, and have resulted in sorrow for ourselves, others, and the Lord. We are all unclean. Christ has said that no unclean thing can enter into His kingdom. Does that mean that none of us is eligible to live with our Heavenly Father again? Of course not. But we do have to do some things first. The work and glory of God are, as we find in Moses, "to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man." He wants for us to be exalted. He wants for us to be made clean. Our Heavenly Father in His wisdom, knowing that we would all make mistakes, provided a way for us to be washed clean.

President Boyd K. Packer once said, "The discouraging thought that a mistake (or even a series of them) makes it everlastingly too late does not come from the Lord. He has said that if we will repent, not only will He forgive us our transgressions, but He will forget them, and remember them no more… Repentance is like soap; it can wash our sins away. Ground-in dirt may take the strongest detergent of discipline to get out, but out they will come."

The Doctrine and Covenants tells us, in section 19, that Christ suffered all things so that anyone who repents would not have to suffer like He did. His atonement in Gethsemane and on the cross makes it possible for us to return to live with our Heavenly Father.

To begin the repentance process, after realizing our mistake, we must forsake it. Once we know we have made a wrong choice, it would be foolish to choose it again. Joseph Smith said, "God judges men according to the use they make of the light which He gives them." After we make a mistake and realize that we were wrong, we will be judged more harshly if we fall to the same temptation.

Then we must confess our sin. In order to feel the remorse necessary for repentance, we must first confess to ourselves; it is important to be honest and to not diminish the sin. We must confess to ourselves and to the Lord accurately. Sometimes we must also confess to others. If we have offended someone else, we should apologize and try to make things right with them. It is always appropriate to ask their forgiveness, and then do whatever is necessary to re-establish good feelings. In some situations, priesthood guidance is required before we can become clean. In these cases, we should confess our sin to the bishop. He is called to be a "judge in Israel" and is entitled to inspiration from the Lord to help us to recover. If you are unsure whether or not you need to confess something to the bishop, pray and ask God if it is necessary, and remember that it doesn’t hurt to confess too much.

To complete the repentance process, we must commit ourselves to living the Gospel the way God has outlined it for us. Resolving to keep the commandments more faithfully in the future is an important step that shows the Lord that we really did feel remorse for a wrong decision. Elder Joseph B. Wirthlin said, "We do not have to be perfect today, we don’t have to be better than someone else. All we have to do is be the very best we can." We don’t have to try to make every part of our lives perfect all at once, we just have to try to improve, and not repeat our mistakes.

With the repentance process complete, our wounds are healed and we are clean in the sight of the Lord. The Spirit of God can return to us to be our companion and guide. President Hinckley said, "Our safety is in repentance, our strength is in obedience to the commandments of God. There is no need to fear, we can have peace in our lives and peace in our homes." As we make mistakes and repent, we learn. We learn not to repeat poor choices and we become wise. We learn to keep the commandments of God. We learn that we are happier when we obey the counsel of the prophets, and when we keep our covenants. Whenever I repent, the Lord always shows me how much He loves me. The Holy Ghost carries the love that my Father in Heaven has for me, and I know that He loves me, and is proud of me for again choosing to come to Him. He knows who I am, He knows my weaknesses, and wants to help me turn them into strengths. He loves me, even though I am not perfect. Through the power of Christ’s atonement, we can all be made clean, Christ suffered for each of us individually. He knows what each of us is going through, and He knows how to help, and He will help. I know that He lives, and has given us His commandments so that we can more easily choose the right way, and be happy.