Tuesday, June 17, 2014

In a Nutshell

Sometimes, in order for me to understand something, I need to hear it "in a nutshell." Break it down for me to the essential basics. In the Book of Mormon, The Lord does that for us. The prophet King Benjamin tells us what God wants us to do, in a nutshell:

"And behold, all that he requires of you is to keep his commandments;"

That's it.

Then the blessings we are promised:

"...and he has promised you that if ye would keep his commandments ye would prosper in the land; and he never doth vary from that which he hath said; therefore, if ye do keep his commandments he doth bless you and prosper you." (Mosiah 2:22)

There ya have it. That's all we're asked to do, in a nutshell. Be obedient.

Most of you who are reading this are probably familiar with missionary life, and know about all the rules we abide by. For those of you who are unfamiliar with missionary life, let me tell you a little bit about those rules. We have rules for everything. We're on a very precise schedule; we get up at 6:30, study at 8:00, go out and teach at 10:00, etc. We don't participate in worldly entertainment; no movies, no radio, no TV, and very limited use of the internet. We don't drive in reverse unless our companion is outside the car backing us up. We don't leave our assigned area without permission. We don't let our sideburns grow too long. The list goes on. I knew that I would be expected to be obedient to these rules before I became a missionary. In fact, one of the goals I set before my mission was to be 100% obedient to these rules.

Why is exact obedience so important?

I can tell you why it's important to me. I think there are two main reasons. Reason number one is that I know when I am obedient to God's commandments, He has promised that He will bless me. I know if I'm being exactly obedient, then I'm doing all I can. I know that if I'm being exactly obedient and something still doesn't go quite right, then I know it was beyond my control. On the other hand, if I'm NOT being obedient, and something doesn't go right, then I'm left to wonder if it would've gone right, had I been obedient.

As missionaries, we teach a LOT of people about the gospel. Most people we talk to don't end up getting baptized, and I understand that. But my goal with everyone I talk to is that if they don't get baptized, it won't be because of something I didn't do. That's why I strive to be obedient.

The second reason I strive to be obedient is because it makes me happy! Preach my Gospel puts it this way:

"God gives us commandments for our benefit. They are instructions from a loving Father in Heaven to help us have happy lives." (PMG pg 72)

This is truth. Usually keeping the commandments involves the principle of sacrificing a little bit of momentary pleasure now in order to receive more and greater happiness later. When you start doing this all the time, you'll find that your life is overall better. The difference between the life of someone who keeps the commandments and someone who doesn't is like night and day.

God wants us to be happy, so He's told us how. Now it's just up to us.

I have a very strong testimony of the principle of obedience. I know from experience that blessings, miracles and happiness come in greater measure when we're obeying every commandment, even when it's inconvenient. My invitation today is to have the courage to keep all of God's commandments, at all times. You'll never, ever regret it.


mormon.org

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Step Up

Do you ever wonder if you're doing good enough? I know I do. I wonder if I'm doing everything Heavenly Father wants me to do, or if I'm way off course. It's not always easy for me to tell either. We're often told "just do your best", yet we're always being asked to do better. As missionaries, we are constantly being taught and encouraged to do more and improve. We're asked to be exactly obedient, to be completely diligent, to use our time wisely, and to listen to the Spirit. For some, including myself, this never ending expectation of improvement can become overwhelming, and even disheartening.

In order to overcome those feelings, I had to understand this: Just because someone encourages you to improve, doesn't mean you are failing right now. Whenever I heard "you can do ________ better," in my mind I also heard "you're not doing ________ good enough." I figured if I'm being asked to improve, that must mean right now I
stink. If I were doing things right, then I wouldn't be asked to do better. This is DANGEROUS thinking. This is a quick path to living a very miserable life. We must learn that "here's a way you can improve" does not equal "you aren't doing a good enough job."

The prophet Alma had to learn this same lesson. After entering the city of Ammonihah, he was rejected and cast out. Feeling defeated, he left the city. I'm sure he considered himself a failure at that point. But then, an angel appeared to him with this counsel:

"Blessed art thou, Alma ; therefore, lift up thy head and rejoice for thou hast great cause to rejoice; for thou hast been faithful in keeping the commandments if God from the time which thou receivedst thy first message from him..." (Alma 8:15).

The angel tells Alma he's doing a GREAT job! He gives him a pat on the back (so to speak) and says that he is doing exactly what God wants him to do. But then, he gives Alma some direction on what he needs to do to improve:

"And behold, I am sent to command thee that thou return to the city of Ammonihah, and preach again unto the people of the city; yea, preach unto them. Yea, say unto them, except they repent the Lord God will destroy them" (Alma 8:16).

See? Alma was doing what God was asking him to do. Heavenly Father was proud of him and approved of what he was doing. But he was still encouraged to improve. But if we're doing well, then why are we asked to improve?

My home Bishop gave me this counsel. Each day, we can either take a step up, or a step down. Staying on the same step is not an option. I've seen that this is true. The minute I start to relax and entertain the thought that I'm doing everything right is the minute I begin to backslide. Improvement is the only way to keep from getting worse! I've come to know that the only way I will be able to become the person God wants me to be is if I keep trying to do more and improve.

So take a minute to give yourself a pat on the back. Think about all of the good things you're doing. Recognize that Heavenly Father is proud of you. And then, with that in mind, figure out how you can do better today than you did yesterday.
mormon.org

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Love Unfeigned

I recently took the time to look back over my life, and identify some of the times when I was the most happy. There have been really fun memories, such as family vacations I've been on and summers with my friends in high school. There have been fulfilling moments of accomplishment, such as musical performances I took part in and successes in academics. There have also been experiences of spiritual growth, such as camps with my church youth groups, gospel study in my home, and miracles as a full-time missionary. These are the moments of time in my history that stand taller than the rest. Why is that? What is it that these experiences have in common that have caused them to be so joyful to me?

The answer I arrived at was this: people. The sweetness of these moments came from the dear people I shared them with. It wasn't so much about WHAT I was doing, but who was doing it with me. I've come to the conclusion that people are one of the greatest, if not the greatest, sources of my joy.

The Lord's prophet, Thomas S. Monson, emphasized that in our lives "what is most important almost always involves the people around us(President Thomas S. Monson, "Finding Joy in the Journey," October conference, 2008). As I have personally come to this realization, my relationships have become extremely precious to me. I want to make the most of every moment with people. I want them to know how much they mean to me. I want to love.

This is extremely easy to forget. Often we go through our lives, and get very caught up in WHAT we're doing, whether that's work, school, or in my case, daily missionary to-do's. We don't spend time with those we love, or if we do, we don't cherish that time.

For the past 6 weeks, I have been working with Elder Arnett as my mission companion. Elder Arnett has been one of my favorite companions. Over this past while, he has become one of my closest friends. Only a few days ago, we received the unexpected news that Elder Arnett would be transferred to a different area. It was hard for me to hear. I felt like I had not yet spent as much time with him as I would have liked. I was still looking forward to future experiences and time spent together. After hearing that he was leaving, I was inclined to ask myself, "Did I make the most of the time I had to serve with Elder Arnett? Does he know how grateful I am for his friendship? Was there more I could've done?"

I believe that this small experience is a microcosm of our entire earthly life. For each of us, there will come that time when our allotment of years on the earth will run out, and our opportunities to spend time with our loved ones, at least while in this life, will have passed. At that point, we will be left with the results of the choices we have already made, whether they be sweet or bitter.  President Dieter F. Uchtdorf of the First Presidency of the church reminded that "If we fail to give our best personal self and undivided time to those who are truly important to us, one day we will regret it. Let us resolve to cherish those we love by spending meaningful time with them, doing things together, and cultivating treasured memories. (Dieter F. Uchtdorf, "Of Regrets and Resolutions" October conference, 2012).

Surely we can also find lasting peace in knowing that this short time spent on earth is not all we get. Because of the Atonement of Jesus Christ we may live with our loved ones in the next life as well, and for all eternity. But these years of earthly experience are extremely precious, and we will never be able to live them again. Let us savor each second we have with our friends and family, that when our time does come, we may leave the earth with peace in our hearts and a smile on our face.

I want to take a moment to express my love for all of you. Each person I've met, whether close family or just met once on the street, has enriched my life--and I truly mean that. Nothing means more to me than my relationships. Nothing brings me more joy. YOU are the reason I live the gospel--so I can be with you forever.

mormon.org

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Anchors

We've all heard the expression that life is a roller coaster, and that is definitely the truth. Life is full of ups and downs. God planned it that way. We need that. It's the lows that give us the strength to get to the highs, for it is when we are lowest that we become stronger. Plus, if it weren't for the lows, the highs wouldn't even be highs. It would just be a boring, flat roller coaster.

More specifically, our testimonies of the gospel go through the same roller coaster. I often see this as I go about my missionary service. I've met members of the church--particularly new members--whose testimonies are sure and firm. These people are at a high. On the opposite end are those who doubt the conviction they once had. Their testimony is weak, and things they once knew to be true are now a little hazy. These people are at a low.

The question I want to pose is this: how do we keep our testimonies constant? How do we avoid this weakening of conviction?

The first answer is activity. We must be actively involved in the church, and actively LIVE the gospel. President Gordon B Hinckley taught this concept so well. In a February 1999 broadcast, President Hinckley said "Activity is the genius of this Church. It is the process by which we grow. Faith and love for the Lord are like the muscle of my arm. If I use them, they grow stronger. If I put them in a sling, they become weaker."

I know this to be true. We must be actively involved and immersed in the gospel in order to maintain a firm testimony.

So is that it then? If we live the gospel each day does that mean our testimony is invincible and we will never again experience any "lows?" From my experience, the answer is no. Even as I strive to live the gospel to the best of my ability each day, I find that my testimony is still tested, attacked, and at times, shaken.

Elder Jeffrey R Holland, of the quorum of the 12 apostles, confirmed the fact that everyone will at some point in their lives experience a testing of their testimony. He tells of when Christ casted a "dumb spirit" from a man's son (Mark 9:17-27). Elder Holland emphasized that this father, though believing, still did not have an unshaken conviction. The father plead with the Lord, "help thou mine unbelief" (Mark 9:24).

This applies to each of us when we experience doubts and questions. Elder Holland taught "In the growth we all have to experience in mortality, the spiritual equivalent of this boy's affliction or this parent's desperation is going to come to all of us."

Then the solution:

"When those moments come and issues surface, the resolution of which is not immediately forthcoming, hold fast to what you already know and stand strong until additional knowledge comes" (Elder Jeffrey R. Holland, "Lord, I Believe," April conference, 2013).

When I think of holding fast to what I already know, I think of what I call my "anchors." My anchors are powerful, spiritual experiences from my past that I hold to, especially when my testimony is tried. There were times when I felt a strong feeling, and I KNEW that feeling was coming from God. There have been times where I've felt I should do something, but didn't know why. Then, after doing it, I realized that without a doubt that feeling was an impression from the Holy Spirit.

I believe that Heavenly Father gives us these sacred experiences as anchors, to keep us firm in times of trial. I experienced this not too long ago. As I was going through my days as a missionary, things began to get difficult, and I began to get discouraged. Each day it compounded, until eventually I was doubting just about everything I thought I knew. It was one of the scariest feelings I'd ever felt. I felt like I was free-falling, lower and lower, and I was grasping for anything that would save me from crashing to the bottom. Nearing the point of desperation, I plead for help in prayer. The spirit reminded me of a general conference talk, "Lord, I Believe" by Elder Holland, which is the talk I quoted above. As I read it, I found great solace as I was reminded to hold to the faith I already had. The way I did that was by remembering my anchoring experiences, and how undeniable the spirit was in those moments. As I did this, I caught hold of the branch of safety that I was wildly flailing for. I was anchored, and could now weather the storm. With some time, the doubts left me, and I found myself with an unbroken, unmoved, deeply-rooted conviction that I knew God was there, and that the gospel I live and teach came from Him.

Now, when I begin to have doubts, I bring to my mind these experiences. These undeniable, anchoring experiences are what hold my conviction firm and steadfast. No matter what is thrown at me, my firm knowledge will never be moved. Tried, yes. Even shaken. But never moved.

So that is my invitation to you. Live a life of activity in the gospel, and as you do you will be given spiritual experiences. Then, when your conviction is tested and doubt creeps in, these "anchors" will save you from the storm. And when the storm clouds fade, you'll find that you are stronger, your faith is greater, and your conviction more sure.

"Wherefore, whoso believeth in God might with surety hope for a better world, yea, even a place at the right hand of God, which hope cometh of faith, maketh an anchor to the souls of men, which would make them sure and steadfast, always abounding in good works, being led to glorify God" (Ether 12:4).

Mormon.org
 



Thursday, February 20, 2014

Everyone is Welcome


Growing up in church, I've always been taught about the Savior's grace. I had learned about grace a million times, but was still a little unsure about what grace really is, and how it really works.

There's a story I was often told to illustrate the Savior's grace. In the story, a young boy sees a bicycle at the store, and he asks his father if he can have it. The boy's father looks at the price tag, and sees that the bike costs $100. The father then says, "Son, I'll tell you what. You save up all your money for the next month, and then we will come back, and you can get the bike." So the son works his very hardest to save all his money. After a month of working, the father and son return to the store. The father says to his son, "Alright, the bicycle costs $100. Do you have the money you saved?" Sadly, the son reports that he doesn't have enough money. "How much do you have?" the father asks. The son holds up his month's earnings: a meager 65 cents. "Give me all that you have," the father says, "and I will make up the difference."

This is not how grace works.

Though this is a touching story, it's a little inaccurate in its portrayal of the Savior's grace. We do not pay for ANY of our own salvation--not even 65 cents worth. The Savior did not sacrifice himself for all my sins except for one or two. He paid the price in full. The whole $100. It is only through His grace that I have the opportunity of salvation. Just as Paul wrote to the Ephesians, "For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: It is the gift of God" (Ephesians 2:8).

Does this mean we don't have to do anything to receive all the blessings that come from the Savior's grace? Obviously it does not. The words of Christ are full of admonitions of things we must do and be: "keep my commandments" (John 14:15), "repent, and be baptized" (Acts 2:38), "love one another" (John 13:34), "teach all nations" (Matthew 28:19), "give to the poor" (Matthew 19:21), and even "be ye therefore perfect" (Matthew 5:48). We must constantly strive to do God's will and to follow Christ's example.

But if our salvation comes from His grace alone, and not of ourselves, then why do we have to do all of that stuff? Here's why:

The blessings of Christ's Atonement are available to every single one of us. In the Book of Mormon, Nephi teaches that "[Christ] commandeth none that they shall not partake of his salvation" (2 Nephi 26:24). But when given a gift so great as this, we will only feel comfortable in the Lord's presence if we have fully appreciated His gift by using it to its fullest extent, as well as showing our appreciation for the gift through our actions.

Imagine this: your good friend sends you an invitation to a party he's having. It's going to be a lot of fun, and everyone will be there. The invitation has been extended to you; you are welcome to be there. The day of the party arrives. You spend the morning and afternoon lounging around in an old, wrinkly, smelly t-shirt and a pair of sweat pants. You're sitting on the couch watching tv with a bag of potato chips, when you suddenly realize the party starts in 10 minutes! You quickly get up, head out the door, and run to the party. You approach your friend's house, sweaty and disheveled, and walk through the door. When you enter the home, you see that your friend's house is in immaculate condition. The very best food is being served, on his best china. You are surrounded by men in crisp tuxedos and women in fancy dresses. How do you think you would feel, standing there in your t-shirt and sweats, barely on time? You had an invitation to be there, but would you feel comfortable? Would you even want to stay?

That is the gift of grace. The Lord's mercy has been extended toward all of us, and we are all welcome to come into His presence. Unfortunately, not everyone will feel comfortable in His presence. Mercifully, God has provided a place for those who fall into this category; a place where they can be comfortable. No, they will not dwell with God. Yes, there will be regret, knowing what they could've had. But they will be comfortable, knowing the amount of glory they were given was the amount their works merited.

So let us choose to prepare, that we may feel confident and comfortable in the Lord's presence. Let us do our best to keep His commandments, to continually repent of our shortcomings, and to be an example, as we follow the example of the Savior. And let us always remember and be grateful for the Lord's sacrifice for EVERY one of us. "The miracle of the Atonement is not just that we can go home but that--miraculously--we can feel at home there." (Brad Wilcox, "His Grace is Sufficient", Ensign, September 2013.)


For more on this topic, click this link to read Brad Wilcox's "His Grace is Sufficient" from the September 2013 ensign: https://www.lds.org/ensign/2013/09/his-grace-is-sufficient?lang=eng

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Jump the Wake

A few summers back, I learned to wakeboard. Wakeboarding has since become one of my favorite things to do in the summer. I love it. I'm far from great, but I've improved a lot since I first learned. As I got a little bit better, I started to jump. I'd steer out away from the boat's wake, then turn and head back toward it. When I came to the "ramp" that the water made, I'd jump and catch a little air. Nothing special. I eventually got to the point where I wanted to jump across the entire wake and land on the other side. That became a goal of mine.

So I'd try and I'd try. I'd lean out as far as I could from the wake, then quickly change direction and head back toward it. When I got to the edge I'd jump as high as I could, only to crash, or, if I was lucky, land the jump but come up short of clearing the whole thing. I remember trying this for two summers, never successfully reaching my goal.

One summer day, not too long before I left Utah to serve my mission, I was out on the lake with my family on my uncle's boat. I was pretty determined that it was going to happen that day. I was going to jump the wake.

The water was smooth enough. I didn't have any excuses there. I was using a great board and boat, and my uncle was driving like a pro. There was no reason I shouldn't be able to jump the wake. So I started to go for it. I'd go out, then come in, jump in the air, and land inside the wake. I repeated the process, always with the same result. I was coming up short of my goal. I tried and tried, and eventually got to the point where I was so close, yet unsuccessful.

Then my cousin Trevor gave me the advice I needed. He told me that I was holding back, just a little. It wasn't much, but every time I'd shoot in toward the wake, I'd hesitate ever so slightly as I took off. He told me I just had to go for it, and to quit holding back. He was exactly right.

So out I went. I leaned as far away from the wake as I could muster. Then, I leaned the other direction, and sped toward the wake as fast and hard as I could possibly go. I went all out. I didn't care if I lived or died (a little dramatic, but that was my mindset ;) ). When I came up over the wake's edge I launched myself as far as I could. When I landed, I felt smooth water underneath my board, rather than the rough, disturbed water that I was used to feeling when I landed inside the wake. I'd done it. The wake had been successfully cleared.

I couldn't believe it. That ounce of fear was the difference between success and failure. That tiny hesitation, that was more mental than physical, was my roadblock. It was so slight that I had even convinced myself that it wasn't there. But it was there, and that was the difference. The difference between giving 99.9% and 100% was the difference between failure and success.

I've applied this story to my work as a missionary. I live day in and day out with the expectation that I give everything I have to my work, and that is my desire. I strive to keep the commandments and the mission rules with exactness. I strive to talk to every person I can, and to give them an opportunity to hear the good news of the gospel of Jesus Christ. I attempt to channel not only my actions, but my words and thoughts toward furthering the Lord's work. In short, I'm trying to give 100%, withholding nothing.

A man named Amaleki, a descendant of Lehi, gave these words of exhortation, recorded in the Book of Mormon:

"And now, my beloved brethren, I would that ye should come unto Christ, who is the Holy One of Israel, and partake of his salvation, and the power of his redemption. Yea, come unto him, and offer your whole souls as an offering unto him, and continue in fasting and praying, and endure to the end; and as the Lord liveth ye will be saved" (Omni 1:26).

The Lord doesn't expect us to be 100% perfect, but he does expect us to give 100% of our efforts. This was taught by Nephi, a prophet in the Book of Mormon. He said "it is by grace that we are saved, after all we can do" (2 Nephi 25:23). But I often confuse doing my best with being perfect. Remember, they aren't the same thing. Perfection is impossible at this point. So don't get discouraged when you aren't perfect. But never stop trying.

A good friend of mine that I met here on my mission taught me this: There are two types of pain. The first is the pain of sacrifice. It's the pain that comes from going the extra mile, going out of our way, and doing things even when we don't want to do them. As a missionary, it's the pain that comes from riding my bike up a big hill even when I'm pretty sure the person we're going to visit won't be home. It's going out to talk to people, even when it's freezing cold. That's the first type of pain. The second type is the pain of regret. That's the pain of guilt that comes when we know we didn't do as much as we were capable of. It's when we could have done better, but we chose not to. As a missionary it's when I let somebody pass by me on the street, instead of stopping them to share the gospel. It's when I take a few extra minutes of lunch time instead of getting out to work right on time. These are the two types of pain. The difference is, the pain of sacrifice weighs in ounces. while the pain of regret weighs in tons. You will always be glad you chose the pain of sacrifice over the pain of regret. Always. There are no exceptions.

My invitation to you is to be your absolute best. Give 100%, not 99.9%. Have No Regrets.
mormon.org

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Changing Nature

Nature: 1) basic quality of a thing. 2) inborn character. 3) kind; sort.

These are the first three definitions of the word "nature" in our little dictionary we have at our apartment. I've been thinking a lot about my nature lately. What is it?

My nature is me. It's who I am. It's not what I say or what I do. It's not who I want to be. It's the "inborn character" inside me. It's my talents and strengths, but it's also my weaknesses and flaws. It's deeply ingrained, and it's not easily changed. Which leads me to my second question:

How do I change it?

One of the most powerful speeches ever given was spoken from the top of a tower by Book of Mormon prophet, King Benjamin. Part of his sermon is one of the most famous and most quoted verses in the Book of Mormon:

"For the natural man is an enemy to God, and has been from the fall of Adam, and will be, forever and ever, unless he yields to the enticings of the Holy Spirit, and putteth off the natural man and becometh a saint through the atonement of Christ the Lord, and becometh as a child, submissive, meek, humble, patient, full of love, willing to submit to all things which the Lord seeth fit to inflict upon him, even as a child doth submit to his father" (Mosiah 3:19).

Human nature isn't always bad. It's often very good. It's good to be good-natured :) But I'm not talking about that right now. I'm talking about the natural responses and qualities in me that are selfish, crude, covetous, and carnal in nature. The weaknesses of man that are in each of us. Things that are ungodly. Things that need to change.

It's hard to change a nature! I don't know if you've ever tried it, but I've been trying and it is HARD. You can't just decide to change your nature. You can't even just start doing things differently and hope eventually it'll become a part of who you are. So how do we do it?!

In another Book of Mormon story, King Lamoni's father asks this very question: "...What shall I do that I may have this eternal life of which thou hast spoken? Yea, what shall I do that I may be born of God, having this wicked spirit rooted out of my breast, and receive his Spirit, that I may be filled with joy, that I may not be cast off at the last day? Behold, said he, I will give up all that I possess, yea, I will forsake my kingdom, that I may receive this great joy" (Alma 22:15)

I invite you to watch this video, and listen for the answer in the words of the living prophets:

video
 
 
 
The Atonement. Repenting, and aligning our will with His. That's the answer. The Atonement of Jesus Christ has the power to literally change us into "new creatures" (Mosiah 27:26). The Atonement has the power to change our nature. It does not happen overnight and it is not easy. There will be setbacks along the way. But it can be done. When we rely on Christ's Atonement, we can become the person that we want to be, which is the person that God wants us to be. That's what King Benjamin taught in Mosiah 3:19. After his sermon, this was the response of his people:
 
"And they all cried with one voice, saying: Yea, we believe all the words which thou has spoken unto us; and also, we know of their surety and truth, because of the Spirit of the Lord Omnipotent, which has wrought a mighty change in us, or in our hearts, that we have no more disposition to do evil, but to do good continually" (Mosiah 5:2).
 
Their natures had been changed.
 
I believe the Atonement of Jesus Christ can change a person's nature. That's a big thing to do. My nature is so deeply ingrained in me that it's literally who I am. My nature is what I do without even thinking about it. My nature makes me do things even when I don't want to do them. My nature is a force to be reckoned with. It's a beast that does not want to leave, change, or be moved. But I believe the Atonement is stronger. The Atonement can win out. So that is now what I have set out to do: To, through the Atonement, change my nature.