Thursday, December 30, 2010

New Year, New Beginnings

This is always an interesting time of year, with the holiday rush still winding down, and the new year looming before us.  It's somewhat intimidating to realize how quickly each year passes by, bringing new adventures and challenges to life.  Many people use this time of year to reflect on the past twelve months, and set goals and resolutions for the upcoming year.  Whether or not those resolutions last beyond the first week or two is often an entirely different story.

So what is it this year that I will focus on?  For me, I look back over the last year, and I'm simply amazed at what has happened.  For the last calendar year, and a little bit more time before, I have been serving as a full-time missionary for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.  It has been an incredible year of growth and learning for me, and I've come to more fully realize who I am as an individual, and who the Lord wants and needs me to be. 

Has this last year been perfect?  Of course not.  I've had many shortcomings and hard times, and I haven't always responded the way I should have to them.  So one of my resolutions for the upcoming year is to rely more fully on the Lord, and trust that He knows what is best for me, regardless of whether or not I can see it all at the time things are happening.

Another resolution of mine is to continue my daily scripture study and personal prayer.  I never fully understood the importance of those simple actions until I began serving as a missionary.  Before then, I didn't really study my scriptures as often as I should have, and I realize now how much I was holding myself back.  There have been many mornings that I have received answers to my questions as I have prayerfully studied the revealed word of God.  And even when I haven't received as direct of answers, showing Heavenly Father that I'm willing to put Him first in my day has helped me to invite the Spirit into all that I do.

As we face this new year, filled with hope, anticipation, perhaps a little anxiety at times, it is my prayer that we do all we can to be obedient to the Lord and turn our lives over to Him.  In closing, I'd just like to share a statement made by President Henry B. Eyering, First Counselor in the First Presidency of the Church, when he said,
“We cannot see the future with precision, but we can know what the Lord intends and what it will take [for] each of us to qualify personally to participate.”

Thursday, December 9, 2010

'Tis the Season

Now that December is here, snow has finally decided to fall on the ground.  All the students here on campus are busily preparing for the stress of Finals Week, and the following joy of Christmas break.  This time of year always brings a lot of excitement, stress, and hurry into seemingly everyone's lives.

But at the same time, the Christmas season also brings a feeling of peace, and reverence, of closeness with family and loved ones.

President Thomas S. Monson, then a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, said in December 1998, "This is a glorious time of the year, simple in origin, deep in meaning, beautiful in tradition and custom, rich in memories, and charitable in spirit. It has an attraction to which our hearts are readily drawn. This joyful season brings to each of us a measure of happiness that corresponds to the degree in which we have turned our mind, feelings, and actions to the spirit of Christmas."

I've been thinking a lot this season about what Christmas truly means.  I think that everyone starts to think, at least a little bit, about what lies beneath the hustle and bustle, the rush to get the right gifts, about what the true "reason for the season" is.  As I've done so, I've come to a much better understanding of what it means to give.  Sure, it is a lot of fun to give or receive toys, or games, or clothes, or whatever it might be.  Far more meaningful, however, is the gift of ourselves.  This may be given in the form of time spent together, kind words spoken, love or gratitude expressed, and many other forms.  I look back over the many years, and in all honesty, I remember very few of the gifts that I received wrapped in paper.  But I will never forget the times that my family spent with me, the fun memories we share, and the love that is always present this time of year.

Dr. Seuss, in his classic Christmas story, tells of the Grinch who hated Christmas.  The Grinch did everything he could to stop Christmas, but even after he had stolen the gifts and trees and decorations, the Whos down in Whoville still celebrated Christmas.  The story follows:

"And the Grinch, with his Grinch-feet ice cold in the snow, stood puzzling and puzzling, how could it be so? It came without ribbons. It came without tags. It came without packages, boxes or bags. And he puzzled and puzzled 'till his puzzler was sore. Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn't before. What if Christmas, he thought, doesn't come from a store? What if Christmas, perhaps, means a little bit more?"
To me, that little bit more is the love that we feel for those near to us, and most assuredly our love for our Savior, Jesus Christ.  What things can you do this year, to show that love, to truly give of yourself?

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

"Pure love of Christ"

One morning last week, I was reading through and studying Moroni, chapter seven, in the Book of Mormon.  In this chapter is a great address given by the prophet Mormon to the people.  There is so much contained in this address, there isn't a chance that I could discuss it all in one post.   Perhaps I will get to some of the rest of it at a later time, but something really stuck out to me that I wanted to write about today.

Mormon talks about the importance of faith, hope, and charity, and how one must possess all of these attributes to come closer to God and find true happiness.  Towards the end of his address, Mormon focuses on charity, and he said something very interesting.

"Wherefore, my beloved brethren, if ye have not charity, ye are nothing, for charity never faileth. Wherefore, cleave unto charity, which is the greatest of all, for all things must fail—

"But charity is the pure love of Christ, and it endureth forever; and whoso is found possessed of it at the last day, it shall be well with him."  (Moroni 7:46-47)

I've quoted these verses in an earlier post, but something I learned something very different this time.  The Book of Mormon has footnotes, with further explanations and cross references to verses in the Bible and Book of Mormon.  In verse 47, it has a footnote on the word "love", which directed me to the Old Testament, specifically Joshua 22:5, which reads:

"But take diligent heed to do the commandment and the law, which Moses the servant of the Lord charged you, to love the Lord your God, and to walk in all his ways, and to keep his commandments, and to cleave unto him, and to serve him with all your heart and with all your soul."

What I felt impressed with is that charity is not only the pure love that Christ has for all men, that we can be given, but also our love for our Savior, Jesus Christ.  As I thought about this concept, a flood of verses came to mind.

"Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends." John 15:13

"Wherefore, ye must press forward with a steadfastness in Christ, having a perfect brightness of hope, and a love of God and of all men." 2 Nephi 31:20

"Inasmuch as ye have done it to one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me."  Matthew 25:40

"If ye love me, keep my commandments" John 14:15

If we truly and purely love Jesus Christ, then we will strive to lay down our lives for His sake, and we do this through service to others and keeping the commandments He has given us.  The more we come to love Him, the more His light will shine through us in lifting up those around us.  The rest of charity just falls into place when we have Jesus Christ as our example and focus.

I thought it was pretty neat, and it really helped open my eyes to the driving motivation behind true charity.  What do you think?

Thursday, November 11, 2010

"The worth of souls..."

In the book of Luke, chapter eight, is one of my favorite stories in all of scripture.  Jesus Christ is approached by a man named Jairus, whose daughter was dying.  Jairus pleaded with Christ to come and heal her, and the Master agreed.  He began to follow Jairus through the city, and as it states in verses 42 through 48:

"But as he went the people thronged him.

"And a woman having an issue of blood twelve years, which had spent all her living upon physicians, neither could be healed of any,
"Came behind him, and touched the border of his garment: and immediately her issue of blood stanched.

"And Jesus said, Who touched me? When all denied, Peter and they that were with him said, Master, the multitude throng thee and press thee, and sayest thou, Who touched me?     UAdd a Note 
"And Jesus said, Somebody hath touched me: for I perceive that virtue is gone out of me.
"And when the woman saw that she was not hid, she came trembling, and falling down before him, she declared unto him before all the people for what cause she had touched him, and how she was healed immediately.
"And he said unto her, Daughter, be of good comfort: thy faith hath made thee whole; go in peace."

This story is so incredible to me, for many reasons, but the one that has really stood out to me lately is how personally Christ knew everyone, including this woman.

Each one of us truly is a son or a daughter of God, and He knows us perfectly.  He knows those things that we struggle with, along with the things we find joy in.  He knows what we stand in need of, and wants to bless us with everything that we need.

I have found, though, that not only am I a child of God, but so is everyone around me.  Often times, the way that God reaches out to His children is through others, already here on Earth.  As we focus our efforts on those around us, rather than ourselves, we can feel God's love for them, and have a greatly increased desire to help and assist them in any way possible.

The scriptures are full of many stories, and Elder Dennis B. Neuenschwander said, in April 2008,

"In reality these stories are not about crowds but individuals among those crowds. They are really about you and me. All of us are among the crowds of this world. Almost all of us are like the woman who, despite the crowd, comes to the Savior. We all have faith that just a touch will bring healing to our aching souls and relief to our innermost needs."

How often do we see someone around us who is struggling, and yet we do nothing to help ease their burden or lighten their day?  I struggle with that so often, that for whatever reason, I don't feel it is my place to step in.  Of course it is, though!  Jesus Christ, although He was always busy and about His Father's business, found time to reach out to the individual, to comfort them and address their needs.  I think that is largely because Our Father's business is entirely focused on the one, that everything He does is to help an individual, at times many individuals, to come closer to Him and make those changes in their lives that will allow them to receive more happiness.

The gospel of Jesus Christ is not a blanket statement, something that everyone has to conform themselves to in order to be happy.  Rather, it is a means for each individual to reach out to God, to have their questions answered, their concerns and burdens lifted, and to ultimately find true happiness.  There is a pattern set for us, but in the end, we all have to find our personal connection with God.

I know that God is there, and that He loves us.  I have felt His influence in my life, and I have seen how He has blessed me and others around me.  I know that each of us is a child of God, and that He knows us perfectly.  Part of what we are here to do is to learn to love as He loves.

"Remember the worth of souls is great in the sight of God."

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Seeking Spirituality

Last week, we were invited to do somewhat of a presentation at a local college for one of their religious groups, called "Seeking Spirituality".  I guess the group gets together a couple of times a month, and talks amongst themselves, or invites people from congregations in the community to give their thoughts and opinions.  They asked us how we, as member of our church and as individuals, sought spirituality.

Preparing for this opportunity, I thought a lot about what spirituality even meant.  I came to the conclusion, that for me, "spirituality" was having the Holy Ghost with me at all times.  As members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, when we are baptized and confirmed members, we are blessed with the gift of the Holy Ghost, which means that we have the opportunity to have the presence of the Holy Ghost with us at all times, as we live worthily.

This gift is truly immeasurable.  Before we are baptized, we can feel the influence and power of the Holy Ghost.  He helps us to come to the knowledge that Jesus Christ truly is the Savior of the world, that we have a Father in Heaven who loves us and wants the best of us, and the Holy Ghost testifies of truth to us.  But to have a member of the Godhead with us, always, is an amazing promise.  We cannot become converted without His influence.  Conversion is a lifelong process, one at which we must always be working.

Elder David A. Bednar, of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, taught in the last General Conference,

"We more readily receive and recognize the Spirit of the Lord as we appropriately invite Him into our lives. We cannot compel, coerce, or command the Holy Ghost. Rather, we should invite Him into our lives with the same gentleness and tenderness by which He entreats us (see D&C 42:14).

"Our invitations for the companionship of the Holy Ghost occur in many ways: through the making and keeping of covenants; by praying sincerely as individuals and families; by searching the scriptures diligently; through strengthening appropriate relationships with family members and friends; by seeking after virtuous thoughts, actions, and language; and by worshipping in our homes, in the holy temple, and at church. Conversely, casualness about or the breaking of covenants and commitments, failing to pray and study the scriptures, and inappropriate thoughts, actions, and language cause the Spirit to withdraw from or to avoid us altogether."

As we do things things, and invite the Holy Ghost into our lives, we can be blessed with His guidance and comfort.  I know this is true, because I've seen it in my own life.  During times when I have felt lost and confused, as I turn to God in prayer and scripture study, I have felt His love and the guidance of the Holy Ghost.

How has the Holy Ghost helped you in your conversion?

Monday, November 1, 2010

"Charity Suffereth Long"

Charity is one of the most frequently talked about attributes or personality traits that we should have.  And yet at the same time, it can be one of the most difficult traits to develop.

What exactly is charity?  Mormon, a prophet in ancient America, taught the people about charity when he said, "Wherefore, my beloved brethren, if ye have not charity, ye are nothing, for charity never faileth. Wherefore, cleave unto charity, which is the greatest of all, for all things must fail— But charity is the pure love of Christ, and it endureth forever; and whoso is found possessed of it at the last day, it shall be well with him." (Moroni 7:45-46)

The pure love of Christ.  As missionaries, we talk to many different people, and the topic of Jesus Christ's life often comes up.  I've noticed that the most common thing that people think about when they think of Our Savior's life is His love, His compassion, or the way that He treated all around Him.  And rightfully so.  No matter who came before Him, He found the perfect way to love them and serve them, and it changed the lives of those who were with Him.

The apostle Paul taught much about charity as well, one of his more famous teachings being found in 1 Corinthians 13.  There is so much from this chapter that could be discussed here, but I want to focus on just the first verse for now.

"Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal." (1 Corinthians 13:1)

Right now, I am serving as a leader over several missionaries.  Often I wonder how it is that I can best help these missionaries to be the best they can, and to do things the right way.  I think that all throughout our lives, we see people that we love dearly who are making choices that are leading them on a pathway that we can see will not lead to the best of results.  This is a hard thing to watch, and I always wonder how to help them see that there is an easier way.  I've been thinking a lot about that lately.

This morning, we had a leadership meeting, and a light turned on for me.  I could stand up and call people out all day, and probably never make very much of a difference, other than probably making them more resolute to not change.  If we merely tell people what they are doing wrong, that doesn't help at all.  No one likes being told that they are doing something wrong.  It makes us feel like we are being looked down upon, that the other person has a "holier than thou" view of us.  No fun.

Instead of calling people out, we should first explain to them why we are trying to help them.  We need to let them know that we care for them, and that we are simply trying to help.  As they understand that, those we are trying to help will begin to see our comments not as tearing criticism, but as positive and constructive feedback.  It's certainly not an easy thing to do, but I truly believe that as we let them know how much we love them, it will help to smooth things over.

In the year 1839, the prophet Joseph Smith was being held captive in Liberty Jail, Missouri.  He and those with him had been held for several months in brutal conditions, and Joseph cried unto the Lord, asking for His hand to be shown unto them in some form.  The Lord told them that their afflictions would be for a small moment, and that through our trials we can learn to trust God.  As part of this revelation, Joseph Smith received instructions pertaining to leadership, and how one can righteously serve and guide.  Part of this revelation is as follows:

"No power or influence can or ought to be maintained by virtue of the priesthood, only by persuasion, by long-suffering, by gentleness and meekness, and by love unfeigned;
"By kindness, and pure knowledge, which shall greatly enlarge the soul without hypocrisy, and without guile—
"Reproving betimes with sharpness, when moved upon by the Holy Ghost; and then showing forth afterwards an increase of love toward him whom thou hast reproved, lest he esteem thee to be his enemy;
"That he may know that thy faithfulness is stronger than the cords of death."

Basically it's saying that we cannot force anything on anyone, but we need to serve in love and let people know we truly care about them.  The part I wanted to point out was there towards the end, that at times, we may need to be sharp and honest with people, but we need to afterwards let them know even more that we care about them, and just want them to be successful and safe.

My dad is one of the greatest examples of this to me.  He would often have to call me out on something that I was doing wrong, and that would frustrate me.  As I would be sitting there, wanting to be mad at him for pointing out my flaws, he would tell me he loved me, or say something totally goofy, or just whatever, and I would know that he wasn't mad at me, and he didn't want me to be mad at him either.  I still don't know fully how it worked, but somehow that action would always make it so that I couldn't be mad at him anymore, unless I tried really hard.  And trying really hard to be mad at someone isn't exactly the most productive way to spend time.

I guess what I'm getting at is that today, this really hit home with me.  As we show forth Christ-like charity, and truly love those around us, they will come to understand our reasoning for guiding them and trying to help them.  We need to pray for charity, and as we strive to show forth that love, we will be blessed with the ability to do so.  I'm definitely not perfect at it, but I am striving to live worthy of that blessing, and will make a greater effort from this time forward.

Mormon, the prophet, closed that same address quoted above with these words, which I close with.

"Wherefore, my beloved brethren, pray unto the Father with all the energy of heart, that ye may be filled with this love, which he hath bestowed upon all who are true followers of his Son, Jesus Christ; that ye may become the sons of God; that when he shall appear we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is; that we may have this hope; that we may be purified even as he is pure. Amen."

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

"My Soul Hungered"

The last few days have been really interesting for me.  It was a little difficult for me to find motivation and to do the things I knew I should do.  I just felt tired and weary, and I wanted some respite from the troubles and worries of life.  I'm sure you've gone through times where you've felt the same way.  It's not a very fun feeling, and it can make it rather difficult to want to do anything worthwhile.

I did my best not to shrink into a puddle of self-pity and sorrow, and I tried to keep a positive attitude about the things that were going on.  But like I said, it wasn't easy.  I found as I kept focused on the things that matter most, and looked for good things around me, I was able to make it through alright.  I was still looking for something more, though.  I didn't want to just make it from day to day, barely hanging on to a little bit of happiness.  I wanted to find true joy again, to have the promise given in Isaiah 40:31 fulfilled, where it says, "they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint."

I wasn't finding that kind of strength in the things I was doing, so I figured that I would need to try something more.  I had been praying, but I hadn't been making them as meaningful as they could have been.  Sometimes it's easy to slip into a habit of making prayers almost part of a checklist, of sorts, where you say them mostly just to say them.  I sincerely desired the answers to my prayers, but I wasn't making a sincere effort to listen or to let Heavenly Father know that I did need and want His divine help.

I made an effort that night, to truly pour out my soul to God, and simply let Him know that I was having a hard time.  I knew that I couldn't overcome my struggles on my own, but I trusted that He could guide me through them.  I felt peace in my heart as I climbed into bed, and a sense that everything would turn out alright.  Since then, I won't say that everything has magically fixed itself and life no longer throws a wrench or two in the cogs of my day, but I have noticed a significant change.  I have been able to find greater joy again, and to not be so worried about all of the little things that were bringing me down before.

Prayer is such an amazing gift, one that I often find myself not fully utilizing.  We have the opportunity to talk with Our Father in Heaven, to let Him know what we are thankful for, and the things that we stand in need of.  Truly "the Father knoweth what things ye have need of, before ye ask him." However, He asks us to prove to him that we truly desire those things, and one of the ways that we can show that desire is through sincere, humble prayer.  Prayer is a form of work, and is an appointed means for obtaining the highest of all blessings.

As I have recognized God's answer to my prayer, and His love for me, I have felt somewhat like Enos, a man in the Book of Mormon.  Enos was the son of a prophet, who had often heard the things is father taught.  He, for whatever reason, had never really paid full attention to what those prophesies and teachings meant to his life.  One day, while Enos was hunting in the wilderness, he reflected upon the things his father had taught, and as he says, "the words which I had often heard my father speak concerning eternal life, and the joy of the saints, sunk deep into my heart."
"And my soul hungered; and I kneeled down before my Maker, and I cried unto him in mighty prayer and supplication for mine own soul; and all the day long did I cry unto him; yea, and when the night came I did still raise my voice high that it reached the heavens." (Enos 1:3-4)

As Enos prayed, he came to know that God truly was there, and that the things which his father had taught him were true.  Through my prayer, I have also come to know that God is there, and the He loves us, more than we can ever imagine.  I've felt His love in my life, and especially in these last few days, as I have turned to Him for my guidance and strength.  My soul hungered for assistance beyond what any mortal could give, and as I humbled myself before God and offered the desires of my heart to Him, He listened.  Because He lives and loves us, He listens to and answers our prayers.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

"All things denote there is a God..."

It's that time of year again, when the leaves begin to change color and fall from the trees.  I've always loved the autumn season.  It's the perfect weather, not too hot, but not freezing cold, and there's just something in the air.  Maybe it's the football season, or maybe it's that Thanksgiving is shortly around the corner.  Whatever it is, I really enjoy this season!

There's always something in every season that makes me stop and think, whether it's the intricacy of new leaves budding on tree branches, the crystallized architecture of a snow flake, or the vast array of painted leaves.  It just doesn't seem like those things could just be an accident to me.  To think that somehow, by mere coincidence, our planet ended up just the right distance away from the sun, and had just the right combination of gases and elements to sustain complex life forms, is unfathomable to me.  That trees and mountains and birds and animals just somehow appeared.... I don't get it.  Then you take into account the human race.  An organism so complex that not only can we survive on carnal instincts, but we can reason and create, feel and comprehend.

There was a man by the name of Korihor in the Book of Mormon who traveled among the people, trying to convince them that a belief in God was a foolish thing.  Alma, the prophet and the time, and Amulek, a great missionary, were spreading the word of God amongst the people, and ran into Korihor.  Korihor tells them that unless he is shown a sign, that he felt there was no reason he should believe in God.  Alma explains to him that "all things denote there is a God; yea, even the earth, and all things that are upon the face of it, yea, and its motion, yea, and also all the planets which move in their regular form do witness that there is a Supreme Creator."

I know that there is a God out there, and that He loves us.  I've seen evidences of His love in my life, and in the lives of those around me.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

General Conference Individually

General Conference!  Every six months, the prophet, apostles, and other leaders of  The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints gather to speak.  Their words are broadcast by radio, internet, and satellite all around the world.  In preparation for these talks, the assigned speakers prayerfully consider the message that God would have them present to the masses.  And yet, somehow, in the midst of all of the grandeur, they reach out to the one.

I've noticed, especially over the last few years, that every time I listen to General Conference, something is said that is meant just for me.  Sometimes I don't even realize that I am in need of whatever is said until it leaves their mouths and hits me like a ton of bricks.  My questions are answered, and I have a renewed desire to follow the commandments of God and the counsel of His servants.

This last Saturday and Sunday were the General Conference broadcasts, and they couldn't have come at a better time for me.  I received a call from my mission president Saturday morning, letting me know that my grandpa had lost his battle with cancer early that morning.  It wasn't unexpected, he'd been suffering from it for a long time, but it still wasn't easy to hear.  I called home right before the broadcasts began, and I was able to talk to my mom.  She said that it definitely wasn't an easy thing for them either, but that they were doing alright.  One of the joys of the gospel is knowing that this life is not the end, that there is more after we pass on.  But I was still kinda having a hard time accepting the fact that my grandpa was gone, and I was in definite need of some peace and comfort in my life.  I wasn't really sure how to move on, what would be the best course of action.

Enter General Conference.  The very first broadcast, on Saturday morning, I think was specifically for me.  Elder Jeffery R. Holland, one of the apostles, talked about the worth of individuals, how everyone was so important to God.  That really helped me to realize again that even though I was struggling, I was not alone.  Then President Uchtdorf, a member of the First Presidency, spoke.  His talk was exactly what I needed to hear.  He spoke about struggles in life, how they will come, but how we can weather the storm.   As I listened to his message, I just felt this wonderful feeling of comfort come over me.  I knew that things would be alright.

When hardships come up in life, my natural tendency is to forge full-speed ahead and see if I can just cruise over whatever roadblock is in front of me.  That was my basic game plan for this situation as well.  If I could keep myself busy enough that I wouldn't have to think about my grandpa's death, then I wouldn't have to deal with it, right?  Well, not quite.  I realized that I needed to take time and come to grips with the loss, and then I would be able to more effective go about life.  I've seen since that had I not taken that time to fully comprehend the situation, that later on, it could have caused some pretty big problems.

It's so amazing to me that God knows exactly how to meet each one of our needs perfectly.  I'm not saying that it surprises me, but it never ceases to amaze me.  He knew that I would need to hear that message long before I did, and prepared a way for me to hear it. "[F]or your Father knoweth what things ye have need of, before ye ask him." (Matt. 6:8)  Even though the broadcast was watched by several million viewers, it spoke directly to little old me.  I was in dire need of those words of counsel and strength.

What lessons spoke directly to you?

Friday, October 1, 2010

The Ministering of Angels

This post is a long time in coming, so hopefully I can remember everything that I wanted to say.  It's been quite a hectic week, and I haven't had the time I wanted to be able to pull my thoughts together, but I will do my best.

On Sunday, one of the members of the congregation gave a talk on faith, but she focused her comments on the ministering of angels.  In the Bible and Book of Mormon, there are accounts of angels appearing and directly ministering to many different people, such as the angel Gabriel appearing to Mary to announce the upcoming birth of Christ.

As she was speaking, I started to think to myself.  "Wouldn't it be something, if an angel were to appear to me?  Then I could know that everything was true."  But, as is shown all throughout the scriptures, God asks us to "walk by faith, not by sight." (2 Corinthians 5:7)  We have to exercise our faith even though we may not have seen all things, and act according to the things we have come to understand.

So often in life, there are times when I've felt that I could really use an angel right by my side, wielding the sword of God and taking away all my troubles and woes.  As I was thinking about those times, the speaker brought up a wonderful account given in 2 Kings 6:15-17. 

"And when the servant of the man of God was risen early, and gone forth, behold, an host compassed the city both with horses and chariots. And his servant said unto him, Alas, my master! how shall we do?

"And he answered, Fear not: for they that be with us are more than they that be with them.

"And Elisha prayed, and said, Lord, I pray thee, open his eyes, that he may see. And the Lord opened the eyes of the young man; and he saw: and, behold, the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire round about Elisha."

As she read through and talked about this account, it really struck home deep within me.  How often do we find ourselves looking at a situation in life, wondering how we will ever make do or come out on top, and begin to despair?  I know that I have been there several times myself.  But all we need to do is remember that God is always on our side, and that "they that be with us" truly are "more than they that be with them."

An overwhelming feeling of peace and comfort filled me as I pondered the fact that maybe during all those times when I needed help, that I had received it.  Just because I hadn't opened my eyes to see the strength and support that was there doesn't mean that God hadn't given it to me.

Sometimes in life, the "angels" that God sends to us are not necessarily unseen messengers from heaven, but can often be those people around us.  A smile from a stranger, a conversation with a good friend, or a comment of praise from a mentor can be a saving grace from many a difficult day.

One of my favorite scriptures in the Book of Mormon is in Alma chapter 29.  Alma was a wonderful missionary, but felt, as I think everyone does, that sometimes his good deeds went unnoticed, or at very least unheeded.  He writes, "O that I were an angel, and could have the wish of mine heart, that I might go forth and speak with the trump of God, with a voice to shake the earth, and cry repentance unto every people!"

I feel that there have been several times that I could have been a "ministering angel" to someone in their time of need.  I don't say that to vaunt myself, but merely to point out the fact that we do not always know the significance of our actions.  We never know how much we can bless someone's life with the small things that we do.

God is watching over us in all that we do, and He knows exactly what kind of help we stand in need of.  Knowing that we do have ministering angels, both seen and unseen, who are sent to watch over us and guide us is such a reassuring, comforting thing to me.  All I have to do is remember those times that there is absolutely no reason or way that I should have been able to come out of a situation the way I did, and I feel so much of God's love for me.

I hope that we all can open our eyes more fully, "that we may see."  As we do so, we will recognize the hand of God in our lives, and know of the ministering angels, mortal or otherwise, that He has and will send to us.

Friday, September 24, 2010

"... things don't just happen..."

Yesterday I probably had one of the most amazing experiences I can remember in the last year, maybe even longer.  We were on exchanges, and Elder Sneed was working with me for the day.  We'd had several appointments fall through, even some that we'd set up just earlier that morning.  On our way off of campus, heading over to another appointment, we passed an old Jeep in a parking lot.  We walked past, and after we got maybe twenty yards past, the driver tried to start the car.  It was turning over, but it wouldn't fire up.

I don't know anything at all about cars, so I felt that I really couldn't do much to help with the situation.  Elder Sneed had worked at a car dealership before he came out on a mission, so he knows a little bit about cars, and decided to go back and see if we could help.

We talked to the girl who was trying to start the car, and she said that sometimes it just won't start.  They popped the hood and fiddled around with a few things (I have no idea what), and Elder Sneed tried starting the car up.  Still nothing.  So we were looking at the car, and this guy walks past, and yelled out, "I'd blame God that it's not starting!"  Tonya, the girl, was kinda confused until she looked at our tags again and realized that we were missionaries.

The guy's comment really got to Elder Sneed, though.  He climbed back in the Jeep to start it up, and as he was getting in, he said to me, "I'll show him the power of God."  He turned the keys, and it started to turn over again.  Then, all of the sudden, it fired right up!  As he was getting it started, Tonya asked me if we were students at Western, and I explained that we are full-time missionaries, and we go around and talk to people about some of life's greater questions.  This was right as it fired up, so she was very thankful about that.

Elder Sneed climbed out of the Jeep, and Tonya turned to us and said, "So, you guys would be the ones to ask questions to, right?"  And of course, we said yes.  She told us that she had been atheist for her whole life, but that there were several times where things would happen that really start to make her wonder.  "Like, for instance," she said, "you guys were right here, and were able to start my car.  Things like that don't just happen..."

I bore my testimony to her that she was right, that things like that don't just happen, but that God has a plan for each of us, and He gives us opportunities to come to know that He really is there.  The Spirit was so strong, and she said that she really wanted to find out if there was a God out there, and we were able to get her information to get a hold of her.

I don't know, maybe it's not as neat when you just read through the account.  But I felt such a strong Spirit yesterday, and I knew that God was working miracles through us to reach out to one of His children.  I know that there are no coincidences in life, but that God puts us where we need to be, if we will simply follow the promptings we receive.  Things don't just happen.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Preparations for War

This morning I was studying in the Book of Mormon, specifically the book of Alma, chapters 47-57.  These used to be the chapters that I would often skip over, because I was pretty tired of reading the book of Alma.  There's like, five hundred million chapters, or so it used to seem.  And besides, they didn't really seem to have a lot of spiritual significance to me, so I didn't pay them much attention.

These chapters are, for the most part, taken from an account written by a man named Helaman, who was a missionary, a prophet, and a leader.  The Lamanites, who were wicked, came up against the Nephites, who were righteous, with the intent of overtaking and destroying them.  The Nephites merely wanted to protect their lands, their wives, and their children, and ensure that the people would be free to believe whatever they wished to.  Many fierce battles followed, and as I read through the accounts this morning, some very interesting things kept standing out to me.

Whenever the Nephites would begin to rely on their own strength or disobey God's commandments, the Lamanites would begin to have victories over them.  This taught me that I should never start to think that I can do things on my own.  God has given me the strength and ability to do all things that He needs me to do, but I have to always remember that those absolutely come from Him.

A man named Moroni was the leader of the Nephite forces throughout the land, and he did his very best to make sure that the people were prepared to defend themselves.  He would instruct them in the ways that they should raise up fortifications around the city, and he taught them to rely upon God for their deliverance.  This is the part that really hit me pretty hard.  So often in my own life, I take a "I'll cross that bridge when I come to it" attitude, and so when difficult times or temptations cross my path, I may have to scramble or struggle to overcome those.  But when I am prepared, I never have to worry.

Preparing ourselves against temptation isn't nearly as difficult as preparing a city for war.  We do not have to build mighty walls of stone and earth, nor do we need to raise tall watchtowers to spy on the enemy.  Our preparation, rather, is that of simply reading the scriptures, praying to God for understanding and strength, and heeding the words of His servants, the prophets.  As we do those things consistently and with full purpose of heart, we will be more than prepared to face anything that comes our way.

"There hath no temptation taken you but such as is common to man: but God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it." (1 Corinthians 10:13)

What sort of things can you do in your life to fortify and prepare yourselves?  Why not get started today?

Monday, September 20, 2010

The Sabbath Day

This whole past week, I've kinda felt like things have been weighing me down, kinda like something's been on my shoulders, you know?  I would be a little grumpy and irritable for no reason at all.  I'm still not sure what caused it, but I definitely know what fixed it.

Attending church every Sunday has definitely become one of the highlights of my week now.  As a kid, I grew up going to church every week.  It was just the thing to do in my family.  I didn't really understand the importance of it, and while I learned good things, I didn't let it sink in to my heart as well as I could have.

Coming out on my own, being away from family, has really changed that.  I no longer have my parents to lean on for everything, and I've for sure realized that the world can be a cruel place at times.  We go throughout our weeks, with varying degrees of success and incredibly varying types of reactions from people.  At times it can be easy to become discouraged or downhearted, and in those times, I begin to wonder.  Doubt and fear can so easily creep into our lives, and we truly need the edification and help that attending church can bring us.

"Six days thou shalt labour, and do all thy work: But the seventh day is the sabbath of the Lord thy God..." (Exodus 20:9-10)  I definitely know that this is true with all my heart.  Throughout the week, we so often get caught up in the things of the world that we don't pay as much attention to the things that God has for us.  We don't always completely forget Him, but I find myself at times not always remembering everything I should, and beginning to rely upon myself instead.

As I sat in Church and listened to the talks that were given on faith, and how we can increase our faith, I just felt all my worries and things that were weighing me down lifted.  I felt rejuvenated and ready to face another week of whatever the world has to throw at me, because I know that my Savior lives, and I know that through Him, we can do all things that are expedient for us to do.  My heart and soul truly were lifted, and I know that it was only done because I had taken that step of faith and attended church, and I had opened my heart to the healing power of Christ's atoning sacrifice. As it says in Mosiah 14:4, "Surely he has borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows."  He knows what we are going through, and he knows exactly how to heal us, if we but let Him.

So let Him.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

" faith, not by sight."

Yesterday we had a really interesting experience.  We were out going door-to-door in an apartment complex here in Kalamazoo, and we ran into this really neat guy.  He was super friendly, and very open to discussing his beliefs with us and all that.  So we sat and chatted with him for a while about the things we share with people.  It was going pretty well, and it seemed like things might be making sense to him.  But at one point in time, he stopped us, and asked, "How do you guys know those things are true?  A lot of those things you are talking about happened hundreds of years ago.  You weren't there to see them, I wasn't there to see them.  Who's to say that they aren't just stories that are passed on from generation to generation?"

We tried to help him understand that faith has to play a huge part in coming to believe in things.  I was that way for a while as well.  I wasn't really to sure what all was true.  I'd grown up going to church, and being told all the stories and everything, but it got to a point where I had to find out for myself.  I really had to study the scriptural stories, and the accounts of the life of our Savior Jesus Christ and come to find out for myself if it was true or not.  And because the Holy Ghost has testified to me of the truthfulness of those things, in my mind and in my heart, I don't have to see everything to believe.

Certainly, I think it would be amazing to see the Red Sea parted and the children of Israel walk through on dry ground, or to see Lazarus raised from the dead.  But the testimony I have is founded upon faith, upon just believing that those things are true.

In the Book of Mormon, it talks about how we can exercise our faith to come to know if something is true or right in our lives.  The prophet Alma is preaching to the people, and they are wondering how they can know if God is there, and how they can build their faith in Him.  Alma tells them that "faith is not to have a perfect knowledge of things; therefore if you have faith you hope for things which are not seen, which are true."  He goes on to explain that as we exercise our faith and test the word to see if it is true, we can find out for ourselves that it is true.  And then we can know that the things we are learning or feeling are good, because they begin to enlighten our minds and enlarge our souls.  As we come to know these things, then we no longer have to wonder if the stories we read or hear about from the scriptures are true, but we can know, not because we've seen them, but because we've felt that they are true and right.