Sunday, July 19, 2009

He Gave Me the Gift of Charity

This morning I woke up at 4:00 a.m. to the sounds of my roommate throwing up. I got up and got him a bowl and did the best I could to make him comfortable. I didn't want him to feel that he was alone in going through this ordeal. I spent the rest of the morning in a cycle of going back to bed and waking up to empty his bowl for him.

Later another one of my roommates commented about the great sacrifice I had made to help the other. Tears of gratitude came to my eyes. Though I had missed a lot of sleep and was exhausted today, it hadn't seemed like a sacrifice; it had been a natural response.

There's something you need to understand about me to recognize the miracle and understand why I cried tears of gratitude. By nature, I am quite selfish and am reluctant to do anything that doesn't have some kind of benefit to me. A long time ago I was struggling with many things, and life was very dark. I reviewed many events of my life with the Lord and he revealed to me several of my weaknesses that were causing my struggles. One of these was quite shocking: I didn't see value in others. I questioned the Lord if this was a real weakness I had, but again the confirmation from His Spirit came. Shortly thereafter I began to see how this weakness had subtly permeated many areas of my life and I was brought to my knees in humility.

I cried mightily unto the Lord for Him to open my eyes to see the value in others. I asked Him to help me see what He saw in them. I prayed to be filled with His love that I might help others feel His love for them.

As I look back I can see that the Lord has answered my prayers. Though I do not yet have the full measure of the Love Christ has for others (John 13:34), He has worked a miracle in my life. He has given me the gift of charity. He has helped me to see that others deserve to be happy. My life has been enriched as a result, and I continue to pray for the love within me to grow.

The following scriptures have literally been fulfilled for me:

"And if men come unto me I will show unto them their weakness. I give unto men weakness that they may be humble; and my grace is sufficient for all men that humble themselves before me; for if they humble themselves before me, and have faith in me, then will I make weak things become strong unto them" (Ether 12:27).

"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" (Moroni 7:48).

It is a powerful, yet humbling thing to have the Spirit witness to me that I am now a true follower of Jesus Christ. Despite the many ways that I fail to follow Him and look to Him in every thought, I am a true follower of Jesus Christ. This gives me hope that I can overcome all things through His strength. I know that He will continue to turn other weaknesses of mine into strengths as I walk in humility before Him.

Elder Wirthlin once said:

“True love lasts forever. It is eternally patient and forgiving. It believes, hopes, and endures all things. That is the love our Heavenly Father bears for us. We all yearn to experience love like this. Even when we make mistakes, we hope others will love us in spite of our shortcomings—even if we don’t deserve it. Oh, it is wonderful to know that our Heavenly Father loves us—even with all our flaws! His love is such that even should we give up on ourselves, He never will. We see ourselves in terms of yesterday and today. Our Heavenly Father sees us in terms of forever. Although we might settle for less, Heavenly Father won’t, for He sees us as the glorious beings we are capable of becoming.

The Savior has helped me to love others more like how God loves them. He helps me to look beyond the day to day interactions I have with others, and instead see their divine potential. He has helped me to loved others enough not to give up on them, or label them as "lost causes".

Going back to this morning with my roommate, I see it as a miracle that I naturally came to his aid without any selfish reasons. Blessings have followed. I think some of the most joyful moments of my life have been when I have ministered to another the same way the Savior would have done had he been in my shoes.

Another blessing I have seen was promised by Elder Jeffrey R. Holland, a modern day apostle. Speaking of Moroni 7:48 he said:

Soon, with that kind of love, we realize our days hold scores of thoroughfares leading to the Master and that every time we reach out, however feebly, for Him, we discover He has been anxiously trying to reach us. So we step, we strive, we seek, and we never yield” (“Broken Things to Mend,” Ensign, May 2006, 69–71).

I am beginning to see my Savior everywhere around me, in the people that I pass by every day. Ministering to them is equivalent to ministering to Him (Matthew 25:40). He feels close when I'm helping another.

So when I hear others comment about the love I have shown another, tears of gratitude come to my eyes because I see the miracle that Christ has accomplished, that I never could have done on my own. What once had been a great weakness of mind, has now become a great strength. It is impossible for me to look at how I've changed and believe that I did it on my own, of my own will and power. He worked the miracle, and the words of Nephi are as true in my situation as for someone who was recently baptized:

"And now, my beloved brethren, after ye have gotten into this strait and narrow path, I would ask if all is done? Behold, I say unto you, Nay; for ye have not come thus far save it were by the word of Christ with unshaken faith in him, relying wholly upon the merits of him who is mighty to save. 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. Wherefore, if ye shall press forward, feasting upon the word of Christ, and endure to the end, behold, thus saith the Father: Ye shall have eternal life" (2 Nephi 31:19-20).

I acknowledge that all growth of my character is a blessing from Him, and I need to continue to rely wholly upon his merrits.

Your weaknesses may not include a lack of love for others, but the principle of coming to Christ and being transformed by His touch is still a valid solution. I testify that we all can come unto Him and be empowered and changed by His atonement.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Daughters of God

The Lord has blessed me with many wonderful women in my life. As I’ve thought on how they have blessed me, I have recognized many divine attributes of daughters of God.

I have seen their inherent interest in and concern for others as they have reached out and talked to me after sensing that I was feeling down. I think of all the times they have seen more in me than I’ve seen in myself and helped me to improve. I have seen their inclination for deep spirituality as I have heard them bear testimony of our Savior and lived their lives in a Christlike way. I have seen their selflessness as they have put the comforts and goals of others before their own. I am not alone when I say that the righteous examples of daughters of God have made me want to be a better man so that I can one day be a worthy husband and father.

The lies of Satan

Satan understands the worth of God's daughters, and their importance in the plan of Salvation, and so he tries to attack them and everything Daughters of God are and stand for. You know what I’m talking about. The Media spreads many lies about women—how they should act, what they should look like, what they should be interested in. The divine attributes of daughters of God are denied and mocked openly almost everywhere we look.

The world would have them focus on themselves, their appearance, and their insecurities, instead of focusing on their real divine attributes, on their selflessness and divine worth. As Sheri Dew once said:

“No amount of time in front of the mirror will make you as attractive as having the Holy Ghost with you” (Sheri L. Dew, “It Is Not Good for Man or Woman to Be Alone,” Ensign, Nov 2001, 12).

Satan bombards us with lies about women, but just knowing that something is a lie doesn’t mean we don’t believe it or don’t listen. The lies of Satan can only be overcome by replacing them with divine truth. Nephi said it this way:

“And I said unto them that it was the word of God; and whoso would hearken unto the word of God, and would hold fast unto it, they would never perish; neither could the temptations and the fiery darts of the adversary overpower them unto blindness, to lead them away to destruction” (1 Nephi 15:24).

Replacing lies with truth

We can replace the lies with divine truth as taught by the Lord through His prophets. Speaking to women, Elder Holland said:

“I want you to be proud you are a woman. I want you to feel the reality of what that means, to know who you truly are. You are literally a spirit daughter of heavenly parents with a divine nature and an eternal destiny. That surpassing truth should be fixed deep in your soul and be fundamental to every decision you make as you grow into mature womanhood. There could never be a greater authentication of your dignity, your worth, your privileges, and your promise. Your Father in Heaven knows your name and knows your circumstance. He hears your prayers. He knows your hopes and dreams, including your fears and frustrations. And He knows what you can become through faith in Him” (Jeffrey R. Holland, “To Young Women,” Ensign, Nov 2005, 28).

And when the devil lies to women that you are not beautiful, I hope that they will remember this:

“Of all the creations of the Almighty, there is none more beautiful, none more inspiring than a lovely daughter of God who walks in virtue with an understanding of why she should do so, who honors and respects her body as a thing sacred and divine, who cultivates her mind and constantly enlarges the horizon of her understanding, who nurtures her spirit with everlasting truth.” (“Our Responsibility to Our Young Women,” Ensign, Sep 1988, 8).

My own mother

Now may I share some thoughts about my own angel mother. The Savior said:

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

This is what you did for me mom. Instead of living your own life, doing solely the things you wanted to do, you dedicated your life to your family, staying home to raise me and my brother. When I think of the all of the sacrifices you have made for me, I am overwhelmed. You sacrificed any personal ambitions you had, to give me the life I have now. Mom, you’ve always believed in me, and taught me to reach for my dreams. I love to see your joy when you hear of my successes.

Over the years you have taught me many things:

You taught me selflessness, by your example.

You taught me to love life, by your example.

You taught me to forgive, by your example.

You taught me courage, by your example.

You taught me how to be resilient, by your example.

You taught me how to smile through the hard times, by your example.

You taught me to have faith, by your example.

You taught me the importance of family, by your example.

You taught me how to love, by your example.

Mom, as well as what you did, it is who you are that has helped me to be who I am. Thank you for embracing your divinity as a daughter of God. I hope you know how important your life’s work has been to raise me and my brother.

I will be forever grateful to my mother for her sacrifice to stay at home and raise me. I hope to show her my gratitude, not only in words, but by the way I live my life.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

I Know the Scriptures are True (Ether 4:11)

As a missionary in Texas, I asked many Christians why they believed the Bible was true, in hopes of helping them understand that they could gain a testimony of the Book of Mormon in the same way. Instead of hearing faith filled testimonies about how the Bible had changed their lives or how they had received a witness from the Holy Ghost, most people responded that they did not know why they believed it. It was just something they had grown up with or that everyone else around them seemed to believe. These responses made me sad. To think that so many people who wanted to follow Christ did not even know why or if they really believed His words.

This morning I rediscovered one of my favorite verses in the Book of Mormon about how we can come to know the truth of the scriptures for ourselves. Many wonderful memories and experiences came back to me and I wanted to share some of my thoughts. Speaking of the Book of Mormon, the Lord said:
"But he that believeth these things which I have spoken, him will I visit with the manifestations of my Spirit, and he shall know and bear record. For because of my Spirit he shall know that these things are true; for it persuadeth men to do good (Ether 4:11)."
This verse teaches some essential principles of the Gospel and gives some powerful promises. Those who believe the words of the Lord found in scripture, by both reading and living his teachings, will have the fruits of the Holy Ghost manifested in their lives. Though the Lord was specifically talking about the Book of Mormon with the aforementioned verse, I believe that this blessing applies to the Bible and all other scripture He has revealed. There are hundreds of ways that the Holy Ghost manifests Himself to us and will bless us as we seek to live the Lord's teachings. Last week I mentioned how I received physical strength from having the Holy Ghost with me. A simple list is given by Paul:
"But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, Meekness, temperance (Galatians 5:22-23)."
As we have our hearts open to the Spirit of God, we will feel and see and the manifestations of the Holy Ghost in our lives in the form of peace, light, charity, strength, etc. I saw this time and time again as a missionary. We would ask people to read passages from the Book of Mormon before our next visit. When we would come back, it was easy to tell who had read and who had not. Those who read had more light in their countenances and there was a better spirit in their homes than had been before. When people would come to church for the first time, they would see the influence of the Holy Ghost in the lives of the members. The most common comment people made after coming to church for the first time was "I have never seen so many loving fathers in one room before."

One experience of the power of the scriptures I saw on my mission will forever remain with me. A young couple had a child pass away tragically. I had never seen so much pain in someone's eyes before. Though I do not have any children, I can see that losing a child is one of the hardest challenges we could ever face in this life. We testified to this poor couple that because of the sacrifice of Jesus Christ they could be sealed by the Priesthood and be an eternal family; that their daughter was not lost to them; that she would live again. At first our testimonies had little impact on them. They were broken people.

A week later we came back and as soon as we entered their home we could tell that something was different. Where there had once been a dark cloud of despair, a spirit of healing was present. I will never forget the feeling of peace that was there. I knew I was on sacred ground. The parents were changed as well. Instead of intense pain, their eyes were filled with light. I wondered what could have possibly brought about such great change in their lives in such a short amount of time.

They answered the question for us before we could even ask it. Instead of watching television, they had read the Book of Mormon together for an hour every night. It made sense. As I looked at the changes in them, I could see the manifestations of the Lord's Spirit, and it gave me a renewed testimony of the Book of Mormon and how our lives can be filled with the blessings of the Holy Ghost as we embrace the scriptures.

Sadly, so many people try to prove that the scriptures are true and that Christ lives through physical means and processes. But the only way that we can really know what is true is through the Holy Ghost. Paul put it this way:
"Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the spirit which is of God; that we might know the things that are freely given to us of God.... But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned (1 Corinthians 2:12,14)."
There are many degrees between believing something to be true and knowing that it is true. In Ether 4:11, the Lord promises us that he will turn our belief in the scriptures into knowledge that they are true through His Holy Spirit.

At the end of Ether 4:11, the Lord says that we will know the scriptures are true because they persuade us to do good. This is a point of counsel, and at the same time it is a promise. We can know that the scriptures are true because we will find greater power to change our lives. This happened to the people of King Benjamin. After delivering most of his sermon, King Benjamin wanted to know if the people believed his testimony of Christ. The people's reply was:

"Yea, we believe all the words which thou hast 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)."

This is the main way that I received my testimony of the scriptures. I know that the Bible and the Book of Mormon are true because they have changed my life. When I consistently read them and seek to apply their teachings, something happens to me. I find my unrighteous desires fading away and my desire to do good increases. I begin to see more ways that I can serve my fellow man. Weaknesses that once were impossible to change are now possible to change. I love the scriptures and know that they are true because they have helped me to know my Savior, which has been the greatest blessing of my life. I will end with these words of Ezra T. Benson, a Prophet of God:
It is not just that the Book of Mormon teaches us truth, though it indeed does that. It is not just that the Book of Mormon bears testimony of Christ, though it indeed does that, too. But there is something more. There is a power in the book which will begin to flow into your lives the moment you begin a serious study of the book. You will find greater power to resist temptation. You will find the power to avoid deception. You will find the power to stay on the strait and narrow path. The scriptures are called “the words of life” (D&C 84:85), and nowhere is that more true than it is of the Book of Mormon. When you begin to hunger and thirst after those words, you will find life in greater and greater abundance.

-Ezra Taft Benson, “The Book of Mormon—Keystone of Our Religion,” Ensign, Nov 1986, 4

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Strengthened by the Holy Ghost

My testimony of the strength that we can receive when we are filled with the Holy Ghost was renewed today. I did not take very good care of my body this past week, and it all caught up with me this morning. When I woke up I was physically drained.

I am the Sunday School President in my ward and this morning I taught a "Teacher Improvement" class. Though I was physically drained, I was filled with the Spirit and I was able to stand and instruct the teachers with clarity and power. It was a miracle, and we all were edified.

Yesterday one of our Sunday School teachers fell on the ice and got a concussion, so she was not able to teach today. I taught in her stead, and again was blessed by God to be filled with the Holy Ghost and given the strength to stand. Though I was still physically drained, I was able to stand and testify with power of the reality of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Though I had little time to prepare for the lesson, the Lord filled my mouth and gave me the words to speak. Questions and stories were brought to my mind, and the class members responded with their testimonies. I love to bear testimony of my Savior, and I am most grateful that I was given the strength to stand and do so today.

Later today I went by to see the teacher who had the concussion, and you will be glad to know that she is doing much better and is on her way to a full recovery.

While teaching today I shared a quote by Elder Corbridge, and today I feel like I received a renewed testimony of His words:

"Nothing in this life is of greater worth than the supernal gift of the Holy Ghost. It is the source of joy, peace, knowledge, strength, love, and every other good thing. With the Atonement, it is the power by which we may be changed and made strong where we are weak. With the priesthood, it is the power by which marriages and families are sealed together eternally. It is the power by which the Lord makes Himself manifest unto those who believe in Him. Every good thing depends on getting and keeping the power of the Holy Ghost in our lives. Everything depends on that."

-Lawrence E. Corbridge, “The Way,” Ensign, Nov 2008, 34–36

I have not always been worthy to have the Holy Ghost with me, but I can testify of how wonderful life is when I am filled with the Holy Ghost. I am grateful for my Savior for giving me the power to live my life in such a way that it can be filled with the peace and joy of the Holy Ghost.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Nephi Prayed

A conversation with a friend this week taught me a lessons about Nephi and his brothers and how their story applies to me. Nephi and his brothers, Laman and Lemuel, had been commanded by the Lord through His prophet to obtain the brass plates (the scriptures) from a wicked man named Laban who was rich and powerful. After risking their lives and failing their quest twice, Laman and Lemuel became angry with Nephi for wanting to try again and began to beat him up. An angel from God came and commanded them to stop the beating and testified to them that the Lord's promise was still in affect that they would be able to obtain the brass plates. The record then states:

"And after the angel had departed, Laman and Lemuel again began to murmur, saying: How is it possible that the Lord will deliver Laban into our hands? Behold, he is a mighty man, and he can command fifty, yea, even he can slay fifty; then why not us (1 Nephi 3:31)?"

Though Laman and Lemuel doubted, Nephi's response was quite different:

"And it came to pass that I spake unto my brethren, saying: Let us go up again unto Jerusalem, and let us be faithful in keeping the commandments of the Lord; for behold he is mightier than all the earth, then why not mightier than Laban and his fifty, yea, or even than his tens of thousands (1 Nephi 4:1)?"

I can understand where Laman and Lemuel were coming from and I must admit that had I been in their shoes I would have likely said the same thing that they said. I say this because there are many times when the Lord has given me a promise and I have doubted that it would actually happen because of past experiences. For example, I sometimes have doubts that certain aspects of my character can actually be changed, having tried but failed 50 or ten thoughsand times.

But I have to ask myself, as my friend asked me, "What made the difference between Nephi and His brothers?"

Nephi prayed. He truly prayed to His Heavenly Father. Nephi recorded his first prayer when he truly humbled himself before God and put his trust in Him:

"And it came to pass that I, Nephi, being exceedingly young, nevertheless being large in stature, and also having great desires to know of the mysteries of God, wherefore, I did cry unto the Lord; and behold he did visit me, and did soften my heart that I did believe all the words which had been spoken by my father; wherefore, I did not rebel against him like unto my brothers (1 Nephi 2:16)."

Nephi, like me, sometimes struggled with change, but I admire his faith and trust in the Lord when change did not happen as expected. At one of these times Nephi recorded:

"Nevertheless, notwithstanding the great goodness of the Lord, in showing me his great and marvelous works, my heart exclaimeth: O wretched man that I am! Yea, my heart sorroweth because of my flesh; my soul grieveth because of mine iniquities. I am encompassed about, because of the temptations and the sins which do so easily beset me. And when I desire to rejoice, my heart groaneth because of my sins; nevertheless, I know in whom I have trusted (2 Nephi 4:17 - 19)."

When I struggle with doubt, wondering if the future can really be different than my past experience, I can pray like Nephi. I can humble myself before the Lord and put my trust in Him and remember the testimonies of His servants. I'll finish this post with a quote by our prophet:
"The passage of time has not altered the capacity of the Redeemer to change men’s lives—our lives and the lives of those with whom we labor. As He said to the dead Lazarus, so He says today: “Come forth.” Come forth from the despair of doubt. Come forth from the sorrow of sin. Come forth from the death of disbelief. Come forth to a newness of life. Come forth."

-Thomas S. Monson, “To the Rescue,” Ensign, May 2001, 48

Saturday, January 3, 2009

The Pure In Heart

The Savior said "Blessed are the pure in heart for they shall see God" (Matthew 5:8). I have been privileged to have known several people who are pure in heart; I can see light shining from their eyes and countenances; I feel closer to God when I am around them. And they see God everywhere. They see God's influence in their lives everywhere they look. They look for the good in everything and give their gratitude to God. They are quick to point out the tiniest blessings, which in turn fuels their happiness and optimism. They can see God's merciful hand in the midst of adversity. They see the Savior in others and try to treat them accordingly (see Matthew 25:40).

I am grateful to have known these special people, whose hearts have been cleansed and purified by the atonement of Jesus Christ. I know that this blessing promised by Jesus is real and can be obtained by all through His mercy.

Friday, January 2, 2009

To Know God

This morning as I was studying my scriptures I came across the story of the repentance of King Lamoni’s father (see Alma 22). This man had learned the gospel from missionaries and wanted to have its promised blessings for himself. I was touched by the words of His first prayer when he said “I will give away all of my sins to know thee” (Alma 22:18).

I pondered his words of coming to know God through repentance. It makes sense because the best way to know someone is to be like them, to walk the path they walk. The end goal of repentance is for us to be changed to be and act more like God—to be loving, merciful, patient, wise, happy, peaceful, and so on. I found various scriptures which teach that a key to truly knowing God is repentance and becoming more like Him.

When King Benjamin’s people repented they personally knew who God was because they had experienced His attributes of goodness, power, wisdom, patience, longsuffering, and love (see Mosiah 4:6, 11).

When Alma taught his son the importance of the scriptures to help others repent: “These records and their words brought them unto repentance; that is, they brought them to the knowledge of the Lord their God, and to rejoice in Jesus Christ their Redeemer” (Alma 37:9).

“And hereby we do know that we know him, if we keep his commandments” (1 John 2:3).

“Beloved, let us love one another: for love is of God; and every one that loveth is born of God, and knoweth God” (1 John 4:7).

“Add to your faith virtue; and to virtue knowledge; And to knowledge temperance; and to temperance patience; and to patience godliness; And to godliness brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness charity. For if these things be in you, and abound, they make you that ye shall neither be barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 1:5-8).

While pondering these scriptures, I thought on my own experiences with repentance. As the Lord has helped me to change I have come to know Him better. The happiest times of my life have been when I have repented. The times when the Lord has helped me to overcome sins and weaknesses impossible on my own, are the times when I couldn’t stop smiling. There have been special times when I have been able to stand transparent before the Lord, having joy from knowing that He finds my life acceptable. Thinking back on those experiences gives me renewed desire to further repent of my sins.

Through the experiences I have had with repentance, the testimony of Elder Richard G. Scott has become my own: “I cannot comprehend [my Savior’s] power, his majesty, his perfections. But I do understand something of his love, his compassion, his mercy. There is no burden he cannot lift. There is no heart he cannot purify and fill with joy. There is no life he cannot cleanse and restore when one is obedient to his teachings” (Richard G. Scott, “True Friends That Lift,” Ensign, Nov 1988, 76).

I look forward to the day prophesied of in Jeremiah 31:34, “And they shall teach no more every man his neighbour, and every man his brother, saying, Know the LORD: for they shall all know me, from the least of them unto the greatest of them, saith the LORD: for I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.”

I know that these miracles—the miracle of forgiveness and the miracle of knowing the Lord—can happen to all of us because of Jesus Christ.