Monday, November 4, 2013

A Departing Testimony

I considered naming this post "A Final Testimony" but I realized that just because my time as a full time missionary is nearly over, I will never stop sharing my testimony of what I know to be true.

I know through the power of the Holy Ghost that the Book of Mormon is true.  That book has the power to change lives.  It has changed mine.  I know that Joseph Smith translated it through the power of God.  And I know that he was truly called of God to be a prophet.  He restored the true Church of Jesus Christ on the earth.  There has been an unbroken chain of prophets since the time of Joseph Smith and I know that Thomas S. Monson is our living prophet.

I know that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.  Our loving Heavenly Father sent Him to be our Savior.  I know that through the Atonement of Christ we can be made clean and whole.  I know that He overcame sin and death.  I know that He lives.

I am grateful that I have had the opportunity to testify of these things for the last 18 months of my life.  My mission has been the greatest experience of my life.  I have drawn closer to my Heavenly Father as I have learned what it really means to pray.  I have learned more about my Savior as I have read and reread the scriptures.  And I have come to love deeply the people of Tennessee and Kentucky.  I have come to realize how special and precious each child of God is.

I have learned that I am and always will be an "unprofitable servant."  King Benjamin in the Book of Mormon said,
"I say unto you, that if ye should serve him who has created you from the beginning, and is preserving you from day to day, by lending you breath, that ye may live and move and do according to your own will, and even supporting you from one moment to another—I say, if ye should serve him with all your whole souls yet ye would be unprofitable servants." (Mosiah 2:21; also read verses 22-24)
For the past 18 months I have tried to serve God by serving His children.  But I am still completely indebted to Him because He has blessed me more than I will ever be able to repay Him.  And it will always be that way.  Any time we keep one of God's commandments, He blesses us immediately (see Mosiah 2:24). 

However, I have decided that I want to be the most profitable "unprofitable servant" I can be.  In everything I do, I want to do His will.  I want to "seek to bring forth and establish the cause of Zion." (see D&C 12:6)  I want to become the most capable servant I can, not so I can be recognized by others, but so that I can better build God's kingdom.

At the close of my mission, the words of the prophet Alma come to mind: "I say unto you, can you imagine to yourselves that ye hear the voice of the Lord, saying unto you, in that day: Come unto me ye blessed, for behold, your works have been the works of righteousness upon the face of the earth?" (Alma 5:16)

I hope that at the end of my life, and now at the end of my mission, I will have been faithful enough for it to be said of me, "Well done, thou good and faithful servant: thou hast been faithful over a few things....enter thou into the joy of thy Lord." (Matthew 25:21)

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Worn Out in the Service of God

About 6 months ago I bought a new pair of shoes.  I was doing everything I could to hold off on buying them because I really liked my old pair.  But they were getting pretty worn out and the members where I was serving would ask me every time they saw me if I had invested in a new pair of shoes yet.  When a big chunk of the sole of my left shoe fell off I decided I should probably buckle down and buy a new pair.

It was exciting to have a new pair of shoes to walk around in.  I no longer had to worry about my feet getting soaked when it was raining outside because for some reason holes in the bottom of your shoes have a way of letting water in.  And I found that the new pair of shoes was much better on my back.

One day my companion and I probably walked 4 or 5 miles.  Usually that isn't that big of a deal but my feet were killing me because my new shoes hadn't been fully broken in yet.  Every step was painful.  Suddenly all I wanted was to wear my old pair of shoes.  I ended up with some pretty good blisters on my feet by the end of that day.

As I was walking around that day I came up with a parable or an analogy of sorts involving my new pair of shoes.  I decided that embracing the gospel and making it a part of your life is kind of like getting a new pair of shoes.  At first you are so excited and you can see some immediate differences in your life because of it.

But you quickly get a reality check.  Living the gospel of Jesus Christ requires a lot of us.  In fact, it requires our all.  We have been taught through the Prophet Joseph Smith that as we "embark in the service of God" we must "serve him with ALL your heart, might, mind strength."  (see D&C 4:2)  Whether my all is as much as your all, it doesn't matter.  There's a great equality in what is asked of every single disciple of Christ, and that is their all.

Giving our all is difficult.  It initially may be a little painful for us, just like blisters from a new pair of shoes is painful.  But over time, as we consistently live the gospel we will find that we are much stronger.  Figuratively we have broken our shoes in and have callouses instead of blisters. 

Even though we have hills to climb, and at times our shoes get muddy, or we trip and fall, we know that it is only through a life of true discipleship that we can return to our Heavenly Father because our Savior is the one helping us up that hill, who cleans our shoes when they get muddy, and who picks us up when we fall.  We continue down the gospel path because we know that Christ is "the way, the truth, and the life." (John 14:6)

I love this story told by President Thomas S. Monson about President Spencer W. Kimball:
"One day I was sitting in the temple near President Kimball. As I looked down, I noticed that he had a large hole in his shoe. And I mean large! His stocking showed through. After the meeting I said to Arthur Haycock, President Kimball’s secretary, 'Arthur, you can’t let the President wear those shoes.'
"Arthur responded, “Has he got that pair out again? He has many pairs of shoes, and I frequently hide that pair, but he searches and finds that particular pair most of the time.”
"President Kimball was known for his statement showing his humility: 'My life is like my shoes—to be worn out in service.'"
We learn from the scriptures that when we serve others we are also serving God. (see Mosiah 2:17)  Our shoes can figuratively be "worn out in the service of God" as we live the gospel with complete dedication and devotion.

Friday, November 1, 2013

We Value People (part 6)

The final part of my family motto talks about what our ultimate goal is: eternal life.  Through empathy for others and enduring to the end, despite our struggles, we can receive exaltation and eternal life.

Empathy comes from charity, the pure love of Christ.  When we have empathy for others we feel compassion and understanding for whatever situation or trial they may be going through.  Having empathy for others will come as we strive to develop charity.  The Book of Mormon prophet Mormon taught that we must "pray unto the Father with all energy of heart, that [we] may be filled with this love, which he hath bestowed upon all who are true followers of his Son, Jesus Christ." (Moroni 7:48)  Developing charity is so important that the prophet Moroni, Mormon's son, said, "Except ye have charity ye can in nowise be saved in the kingdom of God." (Moroni 10:21)  If our goal is to live with our Father in Heaven again we must be filled with charity. 

Enduring to the end means that we remain firm and steadfast to God's commandments even though we may face temptation, opposition, and adversity.  It is a life of consistent gospel living.  It requires a lifetime of devotion to the Lord Jesus Christ.  The Savior said to His apostles, "He that endureth to the end shall be saved." (Matthew 10:22)  Christ also said, "Behold, I am the law, and the light. Look unto me, and endure to the end, and ye shall live; for unto him that endureth to the end will I give eternal life."  (3 Nephi 15:9)  

Exaltation or eternal life is to live in God's presence and to continue as families.  The whole purpose of our Heavenly Father's plan for us is to gain a body and have experiences so that we can become like Him.  He wants us to live with Him again and because He knew we would make mistakes He sent His son Jesus Christ to pay the price for our sins.  Through His infinite atonement we can be made clean and pure so that we may be worthy to enter God's kingdom.  

Exaltation and eternal life is our goal and through charity and enduring to the end and because of the Atonement of Jesus Christ we can live with our Father in Heaven and our families for all eternity.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

We Value People (part 5)

The fifth part of my family motto teaches what we can do to strengthen our family relationships.  Through loyalty, laughter, and love we can more fully nurture and enjoy the relationships we have with our families.

Elder Jeffrey R. Holland taught that "the crowning characteristic of love is always loyalty."  Our loyalty to our family is a manifestation of our love.  When we are loyal to someone it means that we are faithful and committed to them.  In the context of family relationships, loyalty means looking out for and standing up for your family.  It means being there for them when they are struggling and when they need help.
There is an excellent article in the September 2007 Ensign that talks all about the power of laughter.  (I would encourage all of you to read it!)  In this article the author says, "I have learned that the ability to laugh at everyday family difficulties helps keep life in perspective.  If we will learn to laugh and play more with our families, not only will we feel better but so will they."  One of my very favorite things to do with my family is to just talk and visit because I know we are without fail going to end up laughing.  Laughter bonds us as a family and it makes life more enjoyable all around.

Okay y'all I have something really embarrassing to admit.  You may wonder how this applies to my family motto, but I promise it relates.  As missionaries we don't get to listen to a large variety of music.  Because of this limitation, my companion and I have resigned ourselves to listening to the Mormon Tabernacle Choir.  (It's really not that bad.)  One of the CDs we have been listening to is their 'Showtime' album.  And on that CD there is a song called "Fill the World with Love" that I'm kind of obsessed with.  It drives my companion crazy.  Here's a video of MoTab singing it:

I don't know why, but I am so inspired by this song.  I guess because I want to be able to say at the end of my life that I "filled the world with love my whole life through." We can each do this by speaking kind, uplifting words to others and serving others in thoughtful, meaningful ways.  Elder M. Russell Ballard said:  "There is power in our love for God and for His children, and when that love is tangibly manifest in millions of acts of Christian kindness, it will sweeten and nourish the world with the life-sustaining nectar of faith, hope, and charity." 

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

We Value People (part 4)

My family motto continues on by teaching us about three guideposts we can follow in our lives so that we can someday return to live with our Heavenly Follow.  These three guides are prophets, the prinicples of the gospel, and the promises we make with God.

Because our Heavenly Father loves all of His children, He has consistenly sent, throughout the history of the earth, prophets to guide and teach us.  We can learn from ancient prophets as we study the scriptures.  As I have studied the Bible and the Book of Mormon, I have found answers to my questions and direction and guidance for my life.  And we are extremely blessed today to have a living prophet and apostles who continue to teach us and counsel us.  (Click here to read what the living prophet, Thomas S. Monson, shared just a few weeks ago.)

A principle is a basic doctrine, truth, or law.  In the fourth Article of Faith we learn that the first principles of the gospel are faith and repentance.  What is faith?  I have learned that faith in Jesus Christ means that we trust Him and we put our confidence in Him.  Our faith will grow as we read the scriptures and pray because we will come to know Him better and realize that we can absolutely, without hesitation trust Him.  As our faith in Christ grows, we recognize our need to repent.  Because of the Atonement of Jesus Christ, we can be completely forgiven of our sins. We will experience lasting peace in our lives as we diligently exercise our faith in Christ and as we daily repent of our sins and shortcomings.

When we are baptized we make certain promises with God.  These promises are also known as covenants.  At baptism we specifically promise that we will take upon ourselves the name of Jesus Christ, always remember Him, keep His commandments, and serve Him to the end.  As we keep this covenant or promise, Heavenly Father promises us that we will always have the companionship of the Holy Ghost.  It is a sacred privilege and responbility to make covenants.  In temples we have the opportunity to make more promises with our Heavenly Father.  Temples are holy places and are a source of great joy and peace in our lives.
Following ancient and modern prophets, the principles of the gospel, and the promises we make through sacred ordinances will bless our lives.  Our goal is to return to live with our Heavenly Father and following these three P's will guide us and keep us on the path that leads us back to Him.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

We Value People (part 3)

The "O" of my family motto has taught me about three very specific characteristics that are important to develop: obedience, openness, and optimism.

Obedience is such a vital attribute to develop.  Through our obedience we are able to demonstrate our love for the Savior.  Christ said, "If ye love me keep my commandments."  And President Ezra Taft Benson : "When obedience ceases to be an irritant and becomes our quest, in that moment God will endow us with power."  So obedience is not only a manifestation of our love but it is also a source of power.

I have learned that open communication and service are essential to having a happy, rewarding relationship.  Whether you are trying to improve your relationship with your mom, dad, brother, sister, friend, significant other, mission companion, neighbor, whoever, one of the best things you can do is to serve them.  And there won't be nearly as many misunderstandings and incorrect assumptions if we will take the time to openly communicate about our feelings, concerns, and frustrations.

Elder Jeffrey R. Holland shared this about optimism and hope:
"I love what Elder Orson F. Whitney once said: 'The spirit of the gospel is optimistic; it trusts in God and looks on the bright side of things. The opposite or pessimistic spirit drags men down and away from God, looks on the dark side, murmurs, complains, and is slow to yield obedience.' We should honor the Savior’s declaration to 'be of good cheer.' (Indeed, it seems to me we may be more guilty of breaking that commandment than almost any other!) Speak hopefully. Speak encouragingly, including about yourself."
Life is much more enjoyable when we have an optimistic, hopeful attitude and outlook.  President Thomas S. Monson, our living prophet, has said, "Be of good cheer. The future is as bright as your faith."  When our lives are founded upon the gospel of Jesus Christ, we can be optimistic about our future because our faith leads us to act. 

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

We Value People (part 2)

The second part of my family motto emphasizes personal growth and development.  An important aspect of our purpose here on earth is to learn and become more like our Heavenly Father.  Our Father in Heaven has a plan for us, a plan for our salvation and for our happiness.  In this plan, He provides us with countless opportunities and experiences so that we can achieve the potential that He sees in each of us.

The Lord has said, "Seek ye diligently and teach one another words of wisdom; yea, seek ye out of the best books words of wisdom; seek learning, even by study and also by faith." (D&C 88:118Lifelong learning is a hallmark of disciples of Christ.  As we continue to learn by study and by faith, we will be better prepared to face challenges in our lives and we will draw closer to the Lord.

This video demonstrates well the daily need to strengthen ourselves physically and spiritually.  Just as our bodies require sustenance each day, our spirits need the day to day nourishment we can only obtain through personal prayer and scripture study.

I absolutely love this quote by President Gordon B. Hinckley
"This is the great day of decision for each of us. For many it is the time of beginning something that will go on for as long as you live. I plead with you: don’t be a scrub! Rise to the high ground of spiritual, mental, and physical excellence. You can do it. You may not be a genius. You may be lacking in some skills. But so many of us can do better than we are now doing.  ...We are people with a present and with a future. Don’t muff your opportunities. Be excellent."
We are so blessed to live here on this earth at this time of great opportunity.  We don't have time to be lazy.  We can't just settle for being average or mediocre.  Our potential is so much greater than we can even imagine.  Our Heavenly Father will provide us with opportunities for education, for physical and spiritual growth, and for excellence as we diligently seek for such.