Sunday, September 7, 2008

If You Can't Take the Heat Stay Out of the Kitchen

When a missionary goes on a mission he or she will inevitably encounter people who don't agree with their perspective. Missionary are to teach with pure love the gospel of Jesus Christ. On a few rare occasions a spirit of contention enters in. Usually this happens when they or the person they are teaching have differing opinions on a gospel topic.

I discovered on my mission that seldom did a person change their opinion once the spirit of contention entered in. I learned early in my mission that a man or woman convinced against their own will remained of the same opinion still. The only way to overcome an objection was to have an open discussion free of contention so the Holy Spirit could be there and touch the hearts of those present.

If I didn't feel the spirit when I was teaching or testifying then usually not much conversion was happening. A lot of times conversion happened all the way around as I reinforced a principle or learned something as did my companion and our new found friend.

It finally dawned on me after a little bit of experience if the discussion was heading south that I needed to end the discussion and go and get in a better frame of mind by researching what they had brought up. Good missionaries will genuinely take the matter to the Lord.

When you teach others it is not because you are in a superior position it is because discussing the gospel is a way for the Holy Spirit to enter in and touch the hearts of the two or three that are gathered together in his name. That people accept your invitation to baptism on a few occasions is the fruit of that relationship.

From time to time I would encounter people who were highly religious who would testify to us as missionaries about their beliefs from the Bible. I found that the only way I was able to join in the discussion was to immerse myself in the cannon in which they were discussing.

Otherwise I would have a stupor of thought. On a few rare occasions I was silenced as they quoted a verse from the Old Testament or New Testament. That usually happened when I lapsed in my reading of the scriptures for a few days. A couple of times once with a Jehovah's Witness and another time with a Evangelical Christian I didn't have a clue of the scriptures they were using.

It wasn't that I was totally unfamiliar with the scriptures but I just didn't have the right framework to respond to them at the time. From the age of sixteen until my mission I had read the New Testament twelve times. The New Testament is still my favorite book followed closely by the Book of Mormon. When I was in my teens I was an avid reader and could complete it in two or three nights whereas the Book of Mormon might take me a week or two. The Old Testament which I read about four times before my mission took me about a month to read with consistent attention.

I remember those two times in which I was honestly humiliated in my attempt to teach these two men and their families. I went back to my missionary apartment and reacquainted myself with the scriptures. Unfortunately it usually took me a couple of weeks to come to a clear understand where I could return to try to respond to the people with a humble enough mindset.

Not every missionary has a diversity of religious experience before their mission to have read all the standard works four times. Even that many times didn't make me an expert. It did give me familiarity with what was contained in the New Testament. Looking back I had a companion who had read the Vedic literature, Koran, and a few other Eastern religions. Missionaries should be prepared before their missions by reading all the standard works. I don't guarantee that you will master them but gaining a familiarity with them will help you so that you can discuss scriptures that outside of the Prepare My Gospel manual.

People don't like it when you are like a robot and can't reason together. In Acts 17 the apostle Paul set an example that I always used as an example:

2 And Paul, as his manner was, went in unto them, and three sabbath days reasoned with them out of the scriptures,
3 Opening and alleging, that Christ must needs have suffered, and risen again from the dead; and that this Jesus, whom I preach unto you, is Christ.
4 And some of them believed, and consorted with Paul and Silas; and of the devout Greeks a great multitude, and of the chief women not a few.

It took Paul three days to expound to them so I didn't feel it was unreasonable that sometimes patience was a virtue. Just because the person got the better of me as a missionary didn't mean I didn't have the truth of the gospel. It just meant that I had some improvement to do as a vessel of the Lord.

I remember on one occasion where I was pretty discouraged and thought about quitting because I didn't feel I was having much affect and was weak in faith. The only thing that sustained me was the fact that Christ taught that he would use the weak and the foolish to teach his gospel.

A few suggestions I have to make for handling gospel discussions that are over your head are:

Go to the Lord in prayer and ask for his direction since you are his representative.

Stop the discussion and go home that night and take the time to find out the answers to the investigators concerns from an immersion in the scriptures.

Ask your companion, district leader, or zone leader for their perspectives on the scriptures or concepts sometimes other people act as angels in giving us revelation.

Sometimes you experience failure as a wake up call that you need to be more humble and trust more in the Lord. Sometimes answers come after the trial of faith.

Remember you can't always answer every concern to the satisfaction of the person. Many times scriptures are subject to interpretation. An argument that is circular made by a lot of Christian people is that your interpretation is incorrect if it doesn't agree with their own. Remember when you discuss religion a lot of heat is generated so be prepared and you will be a more effective instrument in the hands of the Lord. Not everyone will agree so be cheerful and accept that you did the best you could and move on. You are called to gather out the elect and be hunter and fisher of men. Everyone has a different spiritual journey so leave your warning in a loving manner and move on. Contention is not the best approach the best approach is to be knowledgeable so you can handle the heat.

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