Some of you don't know me (and many more rarely hear from me!). I am Elder (Joe) Nemrow's father's brother (I know, that makes me his uncle, but I thought explaining the connection would be more useful) and it has been both pleasant and harrowing to hear his missionary experiences and be reminded of my own mission, 20 years ago.
I am so impressed to hear Elder Nemrow talk about wonderful inspiration that he and his companions are already acting upon, insights that I don't think 2 years of missionary service and many of these 20 years of church service afterwards had quite gotten into my head! It is a testimony to me of the blessings that come from being raised in the Gospel that builds generation upon generation. I can only watch with awe (and be inspired by) the wonderful things coming from this rising generation and what amazing insights and actions will come from their children!
I hope I don't offend anyone by sharing something that I have pondered recently that has a bit to do with Elder Nemrow's current circumstances. Maybe in some small way even us "old timers" can still offer something that these wonderful young people can snatch up and run with!
A few months back, President Eyring spoke of slowing down with scripture study and I have been doing that, moving sometimes only a verse or two a day as I ponder what is written. I can certainly testify that President Eyring is very right in offering this idea.
A few days ago, my day's reading was Enos, verses 22 and 23. Now, like most people familiar with the story of Enos, I tend to concentrate on his "hunting trip" where he had his great spiritual "Come to Jesus" meeting (please excuse the Pentecostal terms, I am surrounded by them!) and say "Yeah, I know about Enos." These verses are from his later life and experience, when he was sharing the Gospel with others, like Elder Nemrow is doing full-time, and as we are asked continually to do (even in the January First Presidency message). Here are the verses:
22 And there were exceedingly many prophets among us. And the people were a stiffnecked people, hard to understand.
23 And there was nothing save it was exceeding harshness, preaching and prophesying of wars, and contentions, and destructions, and continually reminding them of death, and the duration of eternity, and the judgments and the power of God, and all these things—stirring them up continually to keep them in the fear of the Lord. I say there was nothing short of these things, and exceedingly great plainness of speech, would keep them from going down speedily to destruction. And after this manner do I write concerning them.
The first thing I noticed was that this was NOT a reference to the Lamanites (the traditional "bad guys" that were often preached toward) being stiffnecked, the stiffnecked here were the Nephites, Enos' own people, "the followers of Christ".
The second thing I noticed was the phrase "hard to understand". At first, I thought that perhaps the Nephites were not understanding Enos' teaching. But I thought also about the word "stiffnecked" and my concept is that being stiffnecked has nothing to do with a lack of understanding - it has everything to do with an *unwillingness* to change, which Elder Nemrow is facing right now. Not understanding is a lot different than not being willing. I think Enos meant that *he* found it difficult to understand that his people, the Nephites, could be so stiffnecked, given all the wonderous miracles that had come to their family just a few years before.
Remember, Nephi was Enos' *uncle* and Lehi was Enos' *grandfather* - it would be like Elder Nemrow rejecting something that had happened to me (his uncle) or to his grandfather (who is very much alive and serving a mission today in Uruguay). While it is easy to reject things that happened hundreds of years ago to people long dead, it is more difficult to reject the happenings of people you have met personally and lived among. The Nephites were already stiffnecked and only a generation or two from the miraculous journey from Jerusalem to the Promised Land!
The third thing I noticed was that Enos was pulling absolutely no punches here in saying exactly how he and other Gospel teachers worked with their own people. These are not kindly words and not loving concepts being presenting. Death. Judgment. Harshness. Destructions. He says himself that he was trying to get them to fear God and what they should expect if they didn't do what God wanted. This doesn't sound like a genteel kindly preaching. This does sound like the words of someone that will get to you one way or another (much like I have found the Lord to be).
All of this seemed to be amplified in my mind by President Eyring's (he is the #2 leader in the LDS Church for any of you that don't know) message in the January Ensign/Liahona. Although it was a message mostly about sharing the gospel with those around us, the title "The Warning Voice" made me think of Enos. Enos was warning his people about the destructions that await those who remain stiffnecked and chose not to follow the teachings of the prophets of God. In using the phrase "warning voice", we are reminded that some people will not respond to the "good news" that is the Gospel, but must be presented with information that "(stirs) them up continually to keep them in the fear of the Lord." It sounds sad to me, and I am sure Enos would have preferred to talk about the love of the Lord and the wonderful blessings possible through following Him, but he had to talk to his people in a way that motivated them into action. Perhaps we are in the same circumstance and that requires us to use the same methods that Enos employed.
Elder Nemrow speaks of the frustrations of meeting people who, even after hearing of modern prophets and other truths, cling tenaciously to old, familiar traditions that keep them from obeying God more fully. They are content with what they have and, as Elder Nemrow says: "they don't want to change." We are surrounded by people, both Latter-Day Saints and those of other faiths, who feel happy where they are, even though it is NOT where God wants them to be. I think if Enos were in these circumstances, he would repeat his words as he wrote them in v. 23 and offer them as a recommendation to Elder Nemrow and to us.
Of course, I am not Elder Nemrow's mission president and neither is Enos. I don't know if now is the time for him to talk of punishments and hard times incident to a content/stiffnecked Guatemalan's rejection of prophets and the Book of Mormon. For myself, I have decided that the words "content" and "stiffnecked" are synonymous in at least this way: an unwillingness to change course. The "warning voice" is to let people know, after they have heard the "good news" of the Gospel, that God will punish their "contented" inaction. The Lord first employs the carrot, then the stick, in gathering his flock and it is our duty is to be completely honest in telling everyone that the punishment is coming if the Gospel is not embraced fully, including that strange "Joseph Smith"/"Book of Mormon"/"Prophet Monson" stuff. To put it very simply, no other version of the Gospel will free anyone from the terrible destructions that have been prophesied for the disobedient in the world to come, no matter how that disobedience is worded.
Times are getting difficult for many people in this world. We know, through the words of our modern prophets, that they will get a good deal worse. They will be particularly hard for those who choose not to *cling* to the teachings of our modern prophets and apostles. These present hard times will be softened for those who listen and follow the counsel of the present prophet and the present apostles. Today's circumstances absolutely pale in comparison to the afterlife conditions that face those who reject the words of the prophets in the Book of Mormon and the words of prophets that walk the Earth today. When those people turn Elder Nemrow and his companions from their door, pleading that they are content with what they have, those people reject Joseph Smith and the restored Gospel, a rejection of and an ingratitude toward Christ that they will surely be punished for in the hereafter. We must warn them of that reality, just as we hopefully share the sweet fruit of the Lehi's "tree of life", or we are not telling them the whole truth.
I worry that we will be held accountable by the Lord for only sharing the *nice* parts of the Gospel and letting ourselves be dismissed out the door by our contented/stiffnecked neighbors before we can *warn* them about the punishment that will follow a consistantly closed door. Although everyone has their free agency, I, like Enos, find it "hard to understand" that anyone with half a brain in his head would choose not to at least attempt to pursue the sweetness of the true and restored Gospel when the explained alternative is a very painful and horrific period to live through both before and after their death. However, I am always saddened by the number of people prepared to queue up to the suffering counter. I would only be comfortable in letting them do that if I was sure that they had been warned about what awaited their rejection of the restored Gospel.
Of course, I am not a wonderful example. I am a poor representative of Christ at best. I hope to take the counsel of President Eyring and the writings of Enos to heart better than I have previously, to share the loving promise of the Gospel and also the "warning" of what awaits those who choose to be "stiffnecked". May we all do better in sounding loud our "warning voice", just as our wonderful Elder Nemrow and others are doing so diligently!
I have to add a bit here at the end, after so much "harshness", as Enos called it. God loves us. The plea of the Savior Jesus Christ to us is that, through his Atonement, we may escape much of the troubles that will face us in this life and completely avoid the punishments that await the wicked in the world to come. As we turn to him and his servants that labor among us, we will taste the joys of Christ, which has been compared with a most desirable and sweet fruit. May we all seek after that fruit and share it with those around us!