Friday, December 30, 2011

Remember This...

Have you ever left an enlightening conference or meeting wishing you could remember every little thing you'd learned? I have.

Over the years I've attended thousands of conferences, symposia, classes and meetings of both a secular and spiritual nature. While I've been uplifted at each of these meetings, I've always left frustrated at my inability to remember every little thing I've learned. In recent weeks I've been to several missionary meetings. These same feelings of frustration return as I quickly forget the details of my spiritual experiences.

We may not be able to remember all things—indeed, we should not be frustrated with ourselves when we don't—but there are a few imperative things we must remember.

President Dieter F. Uchtdorf touched on five of these key things—these "forget-me-nots"—in a recent General Conference address—

God is fully aware that we are not perfect. He loves us anyway
1) Forget not to be patient with yourself. God is fully aware that we are not perfect. Many are endlessly compassionate and patient with the weaknesses of others. Remember also to be compassionate and patient with yourself.

2) Forget not the difference between a good sacrifice and a foolish sacrifice. An acceptable sacrifice is when we give up something good for something of far greater worth. There are so many good things to do, but we can’t do all of them. Our Heavenly Father is most pleased when we sacrifice something good for something far greater with an eternal perspective.

3) Forget not to be happy now. Never stop striving for the best that is within you. Never stop hoping for all of the righteous desires of your heart. But don’t close your eyes and hearts to the simple and elegant beauties of each day’s ordinary moments that make up a rich, well-lived life. The happiest people I know are those who, while in pursuit of worthy goals, discover and treasure the beauty and sweetness of the everyday moments.

4) Forget not the “why” of the gospel. When we understand why our Heavenly Father has given us the gospel as a pattern for living, when we remember why we committed to making it a foundational part of our lives, the gospel ceases to become a burden and, instead, becomes a joy and a delight. It becomes precious and sweet.

5) Forget not that the Lord loves you. Wherever you are, whatever your circumstances may be, you are not forgotten. No matter how dark your days may seem, no matter how insignificant you may feel, no matter how overshadowed you think you may be, your Heavenly Father has not forgotten you. In fact, He loves you with an infinite love. Just think of it: You are known and remembered by the most majestic, powerful, and glorious Being in the universe! You are loved by the King of infinite space and everlasting time!

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Forgiveness Flour

The Christmas season is a perfect time to reflect on our Savior's love for us. One of the greatest gifts He has given us is forgiveness. Whether we are on the giving or receiving end of forgiveness, we are blessed with peace and understanding when we apply the atonement in our lives.

We're all familiar with the popular saying, "To err is human; to forgive, divine." Too often we fall far short of divinity when we shamefully hold grudges, harbor resentment, foster hate and refuse to show or receive kindness.

My aunt made me aware of a wonderful story that expresses this concept so well:

Marguerite Stewart

When I went to the door, at the whisper of knocking,
I saw Simeon Gantner's daughter, Kathleen, standing
There, in her shawl and her shame, sent to ask
"Forgiveness Flour" for her bread. "Forgiveness Flour,"
We call it in our corner. If one has erred, one
Is sent to ask for flour of his neighbors. If they loan it
To him, that means he can stay, but if they refuse, he had
Best take himself off. I looked at Kathleen . . .
What a jewel of a daughter, though not much like her
Father, more's the pity. "I'll give you flour," I
Said, and went to measure it. Measuring was the rub.
If I gave too much, neighbors would think I made sin
Easy, but if I gave too little, they would label me
"Close." While I stood measuring, Joel, my husband
Came in from the mill, a great bag of flour on his
Shoulder, and seeing her there, shrinking in the
Doorway, he tossed the bag at her feet. "Here, take
All of it." And so she had flour for many loaves,
While I stood measuring.

Madison U. Sowell, in an October 1996 BYU devotional, commented—

The phrase "While I stood measuring" characterizes too many of us too much of the time. We metaphorically "measure flour" in an attempt not to be overgenerous in our mercy. At the same time we pray that God will throw a bag of flour at our feet--that is, that he will be boundless in his mercy toward us.

This Christmas season and always, let us be merciful and forgiving toward others that God may be merciful and forgiving toward us.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Away for Christmas

For years I've listened to—and loved—the Christmas classic "I'll Be Home for Christmas." You know the familiar tune:

I'll be home for Christmas,
you can count on me;
Please have snow and mistletoe
and presents on the tree.

Christmas eve will find me
where the lovelight gleams;
I'll be home for Christmas
if only in my dreams.

Until this year, I never had to wonder what it would be like to be away for Christmas; I've always made it home. Until this year, Christmas meant turkey dinner at Grandma's house with all of my aunts, uncles and cousins. It meant giving and receiving presents from friends and family. It meant a flurry of snowstorms and frozen ground, sparkling lights and events downtown. It meant a healthy dose of my favorite music, from Handel and Bach to Karen Carpenter and Mannheim Steamroller. It meant wassail and egg nog and cookies and caroling.

The best Christmas album of all time: Christmas Portrait by the Carpenters
But this year Christmas means something different. You see, I won't be home for Christmas. I'll be away—by choice—and home will be just a dream. That's because I'm serving as a full-time missionary in the Nashville, Tennessee area. I'm spending time away from my family so that I can share a message about eternal family relationships with people I do not even know. My understanding of God's plan is so important to me that I want to share it with everybody I can, even if that means passing up Grandma's cooking.

What I've learned is that is doesn't matter so much where I am for Christmas as it does who is in my heart at Christmas. At home or away I'll still be thinking about my family. I'll still reflect on memories with friends. And yes, I might even start humming a Karen Carpenter tune or two.

But this year I get the added bonus of sharing a message about the Savior with my new friends. I may not know them yet, but I love them.

To love another person is to see the face of God.

So said Jean Valjean in the timeless drama Les Miserables.

I've seen the face of God many times over in Tennessee.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

What Are You Thankful For?

Thanksgiving season is prime time to ponder what we're grateful for. It's remarkable to think about the things a loving Father in Heaven has blessed us with. I will list just a few:
  • Seasons. I love fall. I also love winter, summer and spring. The changing seasons bring renewal and excitement. They symbolize eternal things. They remind me that God is always watching over us. Sometimes the best answers to prayer come directly from His creation—a warm ray of sunshine across my face, a flurry of white snow, a cool spring rainstorm. Truly He sent us to Earth to find joy in His handiwork.
  • Food. Nobody likes to go hungry, but billions across the world do every day. I'm grateful that I've never had to worry about what my next meal is going to be. There is always enough and usually more to spare, and then I am blessed to share what I have with others.
  • Music. Good music inspires me. Life would be dull without the stirring crescendos of classical artists and the enjoyable melodies of my favorite contemporaries. In this I stand with Johann Sebastian Bach, who said, "God gave us music that we might pray without words."
  • Missionary work. Sharing the gospel is difficult work. I've been serving as a missionary for nearly nine months. I've never been so physically and emotionally exhausted. But I'm learning things I never imagined I could learn, and I'm growing in ways I never would have thought possible. Two years away from home pays personal dividends that you cannot put a price tag on.
  • Family. I love my family. They mean everything to me because they are everything to me. I cherish my relationships with my brothers, sister, parents, aunts, uncles, cousins and grandparents. I'm grateful for the knowledge that I can live with them forever.
  • Jesus Christ. I cannot adequately express how thankful I am for my Savior. I will never understand how or why He suffered for me. I cannot comprehend the depth of His love. He knows me like nobody else does because He's been where I've been. I marvel at His love and His mercy.   

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Are You Spiritually Malnourished?

Periodically on the news you see horrifying accounts of starvation and thirst in third-world countries. We naturally feel sympathy for those who must endure such extreme suffering.

There is another kind of malnourishment, every bit as damaging and probably even more prevalent in the world today, but it is not so readily visible to the untrained eye.

Spiritual malnourishment is the cause of much that is wrong in today's society. Contributing factors include pervasive and blatant disregard for God's commandments; halfhearted, irregular prayer (if one prays at all); infrequent, casual scripture study (if one reads at all); and rampant deception, dishonesty, profanity, pride and immorality.

Spiritual malnourishment leads to an inability to feel gratitude, love, and the Spirit. It causes one to feel discouraged and depressed. Intent on filling up the emptiness they feel inside them, spiritually-malnourished individuals often turn to drugs, alcohol, pornography, gambling, money and other selfish pursuits instead of turning to God.

Elder Jeffrey R. Holland said

"[I]n our contemporary success and sophistication [many] walk away from the vitally crucial bread of eternal life; [many] actually choose to be spiritually malnourished, willfully indulging in a kind of spiritual anorexia."

The solution is humility. When we are humble, we show the Lord we are willing and actually hungry to learn. The Lord will not deny knowledge to those who seek it; He will not deny living water to those who thirst for it. Humility entails admitting that we are often wrong, that we don't have all the answers, and that we are powerless to make it through this life without God.

The blessings of humility are best illustrated in this simple verse of scripture
Be thou humble; and the Lord thy God shall lead thee by the hand, and give thee answer to thy prayers.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Roll With the Changes

Sometimes life doesn't work out the way you'd planned.

Yesterday my companion and I prepped for a wonderful day. We had a variety of set appointments. We had recently received letters and packages from home. We spent time in the scriptures learning more about the Savior. What could go wrong?

As we went jogging in the morning, we both made note of the ominous red sunrise—

Red sky at morning; sailors take warning.

And sure enough, by afternoon, nature's warning became our harsh reality. We arrived under the safe cover of an apartment stairwell just in time to avoid getting pelted by golf ball-sized hailstones. We watched the fantastic display for 15 minutes before bundling up for a chilly evening. As we biked along busy highways we were drenched with icy water flung upon us by the onslaught of oncoming traffic. The piercing wind cut through our jackets and seemed to penetrate our very bones. We arrived home that night tired and frozen, but we were not defeated.

Let me assure you, none of this was in our plans!

When life gives you lemons, make lemonade.
When life gives you hail, make good memories anyway.
Roll with the changes, and be happy about it.

A good attitude is not dependent on good circumstances. We can choose to be happy in spite of the golf-ball sized (and sometimes much larger) obstacles around us.

Elder Carl B. Cook said of President Thomas S. Monson
Of all people, he could feel weighed down by his responsibilities. Instead, he exercises great faith and is filled with optimism, wisdom, and love for others. His attitude is one of “can do” and “will do.” He trusts the Lord and relies on Him for strength, and the Lord blesses him.
We, too, can choose to 'look up' and have a positive attitude in spite of adversity.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Spiritual Crocodiles

We are surrounded on all sides with temptations from Satan. He is both more bold and more cunning than ever before. His temptations are at once both more widely open and more cleverly disguised. He is the father of lies, and he is tragically successful at convincing many to buy into them.

Like a crocodile, Satan lurks everywhere around us
Satan's methods are comparable to crocodilian tactics. Just as a crocodile hides in a water hole where thirsty animals must go to drink, Satan lurks throughout the world we must live and labor in. He is on television and radio. He is in the movies, Internet, newspapers and magazines. He is found in shops and stores, in houses and homes, in schools and offices. Everywhere his influence is blatant, and yet he is masterfully hidden in plain view.

This video I watched often in high school seminary classes (and which I was recently reminded of in a missionary training meeting) illustrates this principle.

As we watch for spiritual crocodiles around us, we would do well to remember this counsel from President Thomas S. Monson, the Lord's prophet on the Earth today—
As we go about living from day to day, it is almost inevitable that our faith will be challenged. We may at times find ourselves surrounded by others and yet standing in the minority or even standing alone concerning what is acceptable and what is not. Do we have the moral courage to stand firm for our beliefs, even if by so doing we must stand alone?
In order for us to be strong and to withstand all the forces pulling us in the wrong direction or all the voices encouraging us to take the wrong path, we must have our own testimony. Whether you are 12 or 112—or anywhere in between—you can know for yourself that the gospel of Jesus Christ is true. Read the Book of Mormon. Ponder its teachings. Ask Heavenly Father if it is true. We have the promise that 'if ye shall ask with a sincere heart, with real intent, having faith in Christ, he will manifest the truth of it unto you, by the power of the Holy Ghost.'

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

What's In a Name?

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has more than half a million fans on Facebook. So how do those fans describe the Church?

The most common responses to the question: "What three words describe your faith as a Latter-day Saint?" include faith, love, Jesus Christ, and truth, charity, and family.

Photo courtesy
How would you respond to this question? What words would you use to describe the church?

I often describe The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints—truly the Lord's restored Church—as my foundation. In a changing and often unpredictable world, I never have to wonder if the Church is true. I do not have to doubt that God loves me. I do not question that the Book of Mormon is the word of God. For these reasons and more, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is my foundation for happiness and peace.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Freedom in Keeping Commandments

As a youth and throughout high school I enjoyed playing soccer. Like any other kid who comes across a soccer ball, my natural inclination was just to kick it...and not think about form or aim or distance or direction or anything like that. I just wanted to kick the ball!

I started to develop a bad habit us soccer players call "toe-poking". Instead of kicking with the inside of my foot as I should have done, I consistently lobbed the ball with the tip of my foot. 

Thankfully my coaches taught me how important it is to properly kick the soccer ball. They encouraged me to practice kicking the right way. At first I didn't want to do that. I could kick the ball much farther with the tip of my foot than with the inside of my foot. I was even pretty good at aiming. And besides, what did those coaches know anyway? It's not like they were the ones on the field playing!

Fortunately I had the sense to listen. I learned, over time, that I could kick much farther and much more precisely with the inside of my foot. I developed greater control over the soccer ball. I began to enjoy soccer much more than I had because there were so many new things I could do once I learned to kick the ball the right way.

Sometimes we seem to approach obedience to God's commandments this same way. We desire to do things our way, not His. We think we're pretty good at doing what we do. We fail to consider or willfully ignore that He knows what is best for us.

If we humble ourselves, we learn that we can do so much more when we do things His way. We develop greater ability to serve. We find greater confidence in ourselves and develop greater love for others. And just as I began to enjoy soccer much more once I learned to kick properly, we all enjoy life much more once we learn to keep God's commandments. Our freedom is expanded, not restricted.

King Benjamin in the Book of Mormon said it this way—
And moreover, I would desire that ye should consider on the blessed and happy state of those that keep the commandments of God. For behold, they are blessed in all things, both temporal and spiritual; and if they hold out faithful to the end they are received into heaven, that thereby they may dwell with God in a state of never-ending happiness. O remember, remember that these things are true; for the Lord God hath spoken it. (Mosiah 2:41)

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Quenching Thirsty Souls

I remember my mom listening to this song when I was a young child. The lyrics have always stuck with me:

Friends I could count on
I could count on one hand
with a leftover finger or two.

I took them for granted,
let them all slip away;
Now where they are I wish I knew.

They roll by just like water,
and I guess we never learn.
We go through life parched and empty
standing knee deep in a river and dying of thirst.

I didn't understand the message then, but I understand it now. Often we become so absorbed in the unimportant details of life that we forget about what really matters. We concern ourselves with things when we ought to be concerned about people. We spend time worrying about things we cannot control instead of working on the things we can. We focus on the mundane, routine aspects of life instead of noticing what is beautiful and meaningful around us.

"Whosoever drinketh of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst."
 Indeed, we go through life parched and empty, standing knee deep in a river and dying of thirst.

We should spend more time doing things that matter. We should spend more time loving and serving others.

Most importantly, we should drink deeply from the spiritual, life-giving water the Savior offers each of us—
Whosoever drinketh of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst; but the water that I shall give him shall be in him a well of water springing up into everlasting life. (John 4:14)
This precious water which restores our souls is accessed through sincere prayer, daily study of the scriptures, attendance at church meetings, and observance of God's commandments.

When we put the Lord first, we will discover we've been standing knee-deep in His mercy all along. But unlike the character in the depressing song above, we won't be dying of thirst.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

The Healing Power of Repentance

The weather this past week in Tennessee has been wonderful! It's hard to believe that 10 days ago it was 105 degrees with 90 percent humidity. Now I'm enjoying 70 to 80-degree weather with substantially lower humidity.

Sin, like humidity, makes us feel bogged down and discouraged
As I've reflected on how much I'm enjoying this mild weather, I've gained a deeper understanding of how uncomfortable heat and humidity can be. I feel like a weight has, quite literally, been lifted from my shoulders.

In this sense, the oppressive Tennesean humidity is comparable to sin. When we sin, we feel bogged down, discouraged, heavy-hearted, depressed. Initially, we may not even know why we feel this way. By carefully analyzing our lives, however, we will discover that negative feelings are often the result of sin. One cannot do wrong and feel right. Book of Mormon prophet Alma taught, "Wickedness never was happiness" (Alma 41:10).

We can overcome the undesirable consequences of sin through sincere repentance. Just as changing weather patterns lifted the invisible burden of humidity from my tired shoulders, sincere repentance lifts the often unseen but onerous effects of sin from our weary souls. Repentance requires recognition of wrongdoing, feelings of sorrow, confession, restitution and forsaking of sins. (Learn more about this topic by reading two earlier blog posts, Godly Sorrow and The Joy of Repentance).

When we sincerely repent, we can feel God's love for us. He loves us in spite of our sins, but we alienate ourselves from His love when we sin. Joy and peace are promised to those who repent of their sins. A repentant Alma described his feelings this way—
And oh, what joy and what marvelous light I did behold; yea, my soul was filled with joy as exceeding as was my pain!
Yea, I say unto you...that there could be nothing so exquisite and so bitter as were my pains. Yea, and again I say unto you, my son, that on the other hand, there can be nothing so exquisite and sweet as was my joy. (Alma 36:20-21)

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Scripture Saturday — 2 Nephi 31:10

"And he said unto the children of men: Follow thou me. Wherefore, my beloved brethren, can we follow Jesus save we shall be willing to keep the commandments of the Father?" (2 Nephi 31:10)

"Follow thou me..."
As long as there have been men on Earth, Jesus Christ has ever extended a merciful hand and the gentle command, "Come, follow me." He loves each of us so much that He suffered all of our sins, pains and afflictions (see Alma 7:11-12, Doctrine and Covenants 19:16-19).

But love does not supersede law. Obedience to God's commandments is essential for salvation. Through Christ's mercy, we can repent and be forgiven of our sins. We can be saved from our sins, but not in our sins.

Christ's admonition to follow Him is so important because He is the only way by which we can obtain everlasting happiness and eternal life (see Doctrine and Covenants 14:7).

Following the Savior brings joy in this life, too. Life is not (nor was it meant to be) easy. We all face challenges. But when we choose to follow the Savior, we are blessed with peace and understanding.

How can we follow the Savior?

Friday, September 2, 2011

16 Ways to Build Faith

Faith is a principle of action. When we have faith in Jesus Christ, we will do everything we can to serve Him. Sometimes we desire to demonstrate our faith but just don't know where to start. Here are a few suggestions:

  1. Pray each morning and night
  2. Study the scriptures for 15 minutes every day
  3. Keep a journal. Read it when you're feeling discouraged
  4. Fast for two meals on the first Sunday of each month
  5. Read the words of living prophets and apostles at
  6. Post an inspirational thought on Facebook
  7. Invite a friend to church
  8. Learn more about Jesus Christ's restored church by visiting
  9. Help someone in need
  10. Keep the commandments
  11. Bear your testimony
  12. Develop a Christlike attribute
  13. Attend the temple often. If you don't have a temple recommend, tour the grounds
  14. Visit a lonely neighbor
  15. Look for opportunities to serve
  16. Attend church meetings every week. As you partake of the sacrament, focus on your commitment to repent and serve the Lord

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Of Lighthouses, Gnomes and Prophets

One of my friends told me a humorous story last night. My companion and I visit her often. For a while now I've been meaning to ask her about a gnome that stands protectively aside her doorstep. I finally did.

My friend said the gnome is used as a marker so her dog—Tuffy—doesn't get lost. When the gnome is not in place, he simply cannot remember which apartment is his.

I was reminded of the lighthouses which stand authoritatively atop the rocky coasts of the Eastern Seaboard. Were there no lighthouses, ships would have a difficult time making it to shore in safety during the dark hours of the night.

Lighthouses point out dangerous cliffs, reefs and obstacles. Amid many apartments, my friend's gnome marks the correct apartment, providing an innocent dog a way to return home in safety.

Thomas S. Monson
God has provided us a living prophet who serves to do these same things: warn us of danger and show us the right way. God's prophet today is Thomas S. Monson. I'm grateful that he receives counsel and direction from our loving Father in Heaven, who does not intend for or desire to see any of us fail. Our Father in Heaven's purpose is to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man (see Moses 1:39).

When we follow the prophet, we can rest assured we are in the right path. We will still face obstacles, but our journeys will be unencumbered by the onerous effects of sin.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Our Will, His Way

We've all heard the phrase, "Where there's a will, there's a way."

I like to think of it this way: "Where there's a will, the Lord provides a way."

"Ask and ye shall receive..."
We can be assured that the Lord will provide a way when we act in faith, because He is the way. If we have faith in Him, God will not deny us promised blessings. When we are obedient to His laws, God's blessings always follow.

Now, blessings do not always come when or how we want them. Too often we approach God as if He were a waiter at a five-star restaurant; we make an elaborate order, and then we expect it to be done according to our specifications.

Part of our mortal experience is learning how to align our will with God's. As we learn to do this, we will not only experience greater blessings, but we will be better able to recognize blessings in the first place.

Look at the struggles you are facing. If you haven't sought help from the Lord, seek it now. If you feel He hasn't helped you, look closer. Maybe He's already blessed you and you just don't recognize it. If you aren't experiencing relief from your challenges, be patient. Sometimes we have to press forward in faith before the desired blessings come.

In short, remember that when you have a will, the Lord will provide a way.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Scripture Saturday — 1 Nephi 11:17

"I know that [God] loveth his children; nevertheless, I do not know the meaning of all things." (1 Nephi 11:17)

Sometimes I wish I could understand more about the challenges in my life and others' lives. Sometimes I yearn for answers even though I know it isn't intended for me to know everything.

I've discovered that 'why' questions are utterly useless—'Why me?' 'Why did this happen?' 'Why am I going through this?'

More effective are 'what' and 'how' questions—'What can I learn from this experience?' 'What is God trying to teach me?' 'How can I develop faith to overcome this trial?' 'How can I use this experience to bless the lives of others?'

Resisting the urge to ask 'why' requires faith. We can be aided in this decision as we develop the testimony Nephi had: "I do not know the meaning of this, but I know that God loves all of His children, including me."

When we understand that God loves us, we will be comfortable with the fact that we do not understand all things and that we will not understand all things in this life.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Press Forward

If we knew it all, we wouldn't need to have faith. If we never had doubts, our faith would never be tested.

Don't give up just because you don't understand it all. Learning takes a lifetime. If you've received a witness from the Holy Ghost that the gospel of Jesus Christ is true, it is true. It's still true even now despite the trials you are going through. Elder Jeffrey R. Holland said
"If it was right when you prayed about it and trusted it and lived for it, it is right now."
Part of Heavenly Father's plan is for us to endure to the end. Through all the doubts, disappointments, fears, sorrows and misunderstandings, endure to the end. Act in faith now and God will bless you. Retreat from what you know to be true and you will experience lasting sorrow. The longer you refuse to take sides the more power Satan will have over you.

Stand strong. Attack your doubts with faith. Hold on to the Savior's merciful hand. He will never let go. Don't you ever let go, either.

Press forward. Remember the words of Nephi—
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 31:20)

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Inspirational Thoughts

Here are some inspirational thoughts from the most recent General Conference:

"As we worthily partake of the sacrament, we witness that we are willing to take the Savior’s name upon us and keep His commandments and do always remember Him, that we may have His Spirit to be with us. In this way the covenant of our baptism is renewed." (Elder L. Tom Perry, The Sabbath and the Sacrament)

"There is not a more perfect place to behold our little ones than in our families. Home is a place where we can all learn and grow together." (Jean A. Stevens, Become as a Little Child)

"I testify that we are happier when we follow the teachings of the gospel of Jesus Christ. As we strive to follow Him, the blessings of heaven will come unto us. I know His promises will be fulfilled as we make and keep covenants and become true followers of Christ." (Elder Walter F. Gonzalez, Followers of Christ)

"Obedience allows God’s blessings to flow without constraint. He will bless His obedient children with freedom from bondage and misery. And He will bless them with more light." (Elder Russell M. Nelson, Face the Future with Faith

"Desires dictate our priorities, priorities shape our choices, and choices determine our actions. The desires we act on determine our changing, our achieving, and our becoming." (Elder Dallin H. Oaks, Desire)

"[T]he gospel of Jesus Christ is simple, no matter how much we try to make it complicated. We should strive to keep our lives similarly simple, unencumbered by extraneous influences, focused on those things that matter most." (Elder M. Russell Ballard, Finding Joy through Loving Service)

"Too often we fail to experience the bliss that comes from daily, practical priesthood service. At times assignments can feel like burdens. [L]et us not pass through life immersed in the three Ws: wearied, worrying, and whining." (President Dieter F. Uchtdorf, Your Potential, Your Privilege

"[T]hose who diligently seek to learn of Christ eventually will come to know Him. They will personally receive a divine portrait of the Master, although it most often comes in the form of a puzzle—one piece at a time. Each individual piece may not be easily recognizable by itself; it may not be clear how it relates to the whole. Each piece helps us to see the big picture a little more clearly. Eventually, after enough pieces have been put together, we recognize the grand beauty of it all. Then, looking back on our experience, we see that the Savior had indeed come to be with us—not all at once but quietly, gently, almost unnoticed." (President Dieter F. Uchtdorf, Waiting on the Road to Damascus)

"I plead for an increase in our desire and ability to reach out and assist the less fortunate, the distressed, and those who suffer, that their needs may be met, that their faith may be strengthened, and that their hearts may be filled with gratitude and love." (Silvia H. Allred, The Essence of Discipleship)

"Sometimes the spirit of revelation will operate immediately and intensely, other times subtly and gradually, and often so delicately you may not even consciously recognize it. But regardless of the pattern whereby this blessing is received, the light it provides will illuminate and enlarge your soul, enlighten your understanding, and direct and protect you and your family." (Elder David A. Bednar, The Spirit of Revelation)

"Why are so many willing to give so much in order to receive the blessings of the temple? Those who understand the eternal blessings which come from the temple know that no sacrifice is too great, no price too heavy, no struggle too difficult in order to receive those blessings. There are never too many miles to travel, too many obstacles to overcome, or too much discomfort to endure. They understand that the saving ordinances received in the temple that permit us to someday return to our Heavenly Father in an eternal family relationship and to be endowed with blessings and power from on high are worth every sacrifice and every effort." (President Thomas S. Monson, The Holy Temple—a Beacon to the World)

"I have come to understand that the Lord’s richest blessings are spiritual, and they often have to do with family, friends, and the gospel. He often seems to give the blessing of a special sensitivity to the influence and guidance of the Holy Spirit, especially in marriage and family matters like raising children. Such spiritual sensitivity can help us enjoy the blessings of harmony and peace in the home." (Elder Carl B. Pratt, The Lord's Richest Blessings)

"I believe that none of us can conceive the full import of what Christ did for us in Gethsemane, but I am grateful every day of my life for His atoning sacrifice in our behalf. At the last moment, He could have turned back. But He did not. He passed beneath all things that He might save all things. In doing so, He gave us life beyond this mortal existence." (President Thomas S. MonsonAt Parting)

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Obedience Brings Blessings

When we are obedient to God's commandments—especially those ones that are most difficult for us to keep—we receive blessings. God has attached to every commandment many worthwhile blessings. Some of these blessings are available only when we are obedient. The Lord revealed this truth to the prophet Joseph Smith—
There is a law, irrevocably decreed in heaven before the foundations of this world, upon which all blessings are predicated—
And when we obtain any blessings from God, it is by obedience to that law upon which it is predicated. (Doctrine and Covenants 130:20-21)
If you struggle to keep a commandment, pray for strength. Study the scriptures. As you do these things daily, you will find your capacity to be obedient increasing. You will develop greater peace and understanding. You will desire to serve the Lord, and that desire will outweigh any desire to sin.

When we really understand the blessings associated with obedience, why would we deliberately deny ourselves these blessings by being disobedient?

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Scripture Saturday — Alma 1:25

"Now this was a great trial to those that did stand fast in the faith; nevertheless, they were steadfast and immovable in keeping the commandments of God, and they bore with patience the persecution which was heaped upon them." (Alma 1:25)

Life is difficult. Sometimes it even seems unfair. Those who try to do what is right often face persecution.

Faith in Jesus Christ is the answer
How can we be optimistic in such a challenging world? How can we remain steadfast and immovable when the standards of men and the wiles of popular culture are constantly changing?

The answer is faith in Jesus Christ. When we have faith in our Savior and His atonement, we will desire to keep His commandments. When we keep the commandments, we discover a measure of peace and joy the world simply cannot offer.

We can be optimistic even in challenging times. Like anything else, attitude is a choice. As we study the scriptures, pray, and keep the commandments, we will find our ability to remain steadfast and immovable will increase.

Isn't that something to smile about?

Friday, August 19, 2011

The Parable of the Banana Tree

This month's Ensign—a magazine published by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints—contains a fabulous analogy on the importance of every soul in the sight of God. In this life it is never too late to repent. It is never too late to get back on track. Sometimes, we just need a helping hand—

Banana trees are common where I live in Sri Lanka. They have soft trunks, which are easy to cut with a knife, but no one hurts the banana tree because it gives fine fruit.

Many years ago when I was small, there was a terrible storm. When it finally ended, I went outside and saw that one of our banana trees had blown over; it was uprooted and stripped of leaves. I thought cutting the trunk of the ruined tree would be fun, so I went to the house and found a knife. But just as I was about to strike, my grandfather stopped me.

“You mustn’t hurt the banana tree,” he said.

“But why?” I asked. “It’s not good anymore, and it would be fun.”

My grandfather said nothing but beckoned for me to follow him. He told me to cut a big stick. Then he brought me back to the yard where the banana tree lay. Though it appeared useless, we went to work pulling it upright. Once the trunk was straight, we braced the frail tree with the stick.

“Anton,” my grandfather said, “I want you to watch this banana tree every day and make sure it stays straight. Every day you will need to water it and give it nourishment.”

So every morning I checked the banana tree to make sure the trunk was straight. Every day I filled a water bucket and carefully poured it around the roots. I was diligent in giving the tree the nourishment it needed.

Soon there were blossoms and, shortly after that, bananas. When the fruit was ripe, Grandfather handed a banana to each member of the family. I watched with pleasure as they peeled and ate them. No bananas ever tasted as good as those, and it brought me joy to see my family enjoying them.

That was many years ago, long before I found The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. But the lessons I learned as I cared for the banana tree apply to my life today. In my Church callings as well as my medical practice, I often find people in difficult predicaments. Like that banana tree, these people are forsaken, stripped of beauty, and finished—even in their own eyes. When I think of giving up on them, I remember the sweetness of the fruit of that banana tree and find the courage to help lift them upright, brace them, nourish them, and care for them daily as the Savior would.

The bananas my family enjoyed were sweet, but the Book of Mormon tells of another kind of fruit—one that is “most sweet” and “desirable above all other fruit” (see 1 Nephi 8:11–12). We can find joy as we help those who are struggling to find their way through the mists of darkness and guide them to partake of the fruit that is sweet above all—the fruit of eternal life.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Tennis Balls and Cookies

Most days my companion and I walk past Max, a friendly border collie who loves to play catch. For a few minutes each day, we repeat the same routine: Max will search the yard for his tennis ball, drop it near us on the ground, and then wait attentively for us to pull it through the chain-link fence and throw it.

Max...or at least a Border Collie
that looks like Max
For a time we had to shout to Max to go get his ball. Now he is so used to us coming by (and usually at the same time of day) that he is ready and waiting for us when we arrive. His otherwise monotonous day is interrupted by a few moments of canine bliss. And while we may look silly tossing a tennis ball in our white shirts and ties, the experience has given us several opportunities to visit with passersby.

Max is not so different from any one of us. Like Max, we yearn for attention. We long for those moments that make us happy. For some, like Max, those moments may come infrequently. For others—too often, it seems—those moments do not come at all.

Throughout the world people are swimming in sorrow, drowning in doubt, limping along in loneliness. There is far too much unhappiness and confusion. There is not enough joy and understanding. When we are selfish, we contribute to our own unhappiness and to the unhappiness of others. But when we exercise charity—the pure love of Christ—we can be a stepping stone toward somebody's happiness instead of a stumbling block.

Ironically, we find happiness by losing ourselves in the service of others. Philosopher Mahatma Gandhi taught this truth—
"The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others."
"Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of
the least of these my brethren, ye have
done it unto me."
Service need not be complicated. I brighten Max's day by throwing a tennis ball. You can make a stranger happy by saying "Hello" or opening the door for him or her. You can make a friend's sour day sweeter by baking him a plate of cookies. You can comfort someone in sorrow by listening to her. You can inspire in others deep feelings of gratitude by serving them anonymously.

As we serve, let us all remember the Savior's admonition—
"Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me." (Matthew 25:40

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

"Keep My Commandments"

One of the shortest yet most profound scriptures is John 14:15
"If ye love me, keep my commandments."
We demonstrate our love for God when we do what He asks us to do. If we struggle to understand why a specific commandment has been given to us, we can demonstrate our faith by choosing to live it anyway.

Greater blessings and peace await those who keep the commandments. God grants power to those who keep the commandments. President Ezra Taft Benson promised:
"When obedience ceases to be an irritant and becomes our quest, in that moment God will endow us with power."
Choose to live the commandments, even if you don't understand why you should. As you act in faith, Heavenly Father will bless you tremendously.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Little Things

The gospel of Jesus Christ is not complicated. As a missionary and one of the Lord's representatives, I teach others about faith in Jesus Christ and His atonement, repentance, baptism, the gift of the Holy Ghost, and enduring to the end.

It makes sense that Jesus Christ's gospel would make sense. There is enough confusion in the world. Our Father in Heaven didn't send us here to confuse us. The way to return to Him is not hard to understand. We learn basic concepts and continue to build on these principles throughout life.

Only when you have mastered simple addition and subtraction can you move on to multiplication and division. You must understand algebra before you can comprehend calculus. Trigonometry is better retained once you have a basic knowledge of geometry.

So it is with the gospel. We cannot learn it all at once. Difficult concepts are better understood once we've mastered simple concepts. Truly, gospel learning is a process, not an event.

Does this mean we give up simple things once we begin to learn of larger truths? No. You do not discard your knowledge of addition when you learn multiplication. You do not let go of algebra once you endeavor to undertake calculus.

The sun never sets on learning
Neither do you set aside morning and evening prayer, daily scripture study, and other 'little things' which promote faith once you learn of greater gospel doctrines. Indeed, it is these little things which build the foundation upon which we are capable of learning more.

Regardless of where you are on your path of gospel learning, there is always more to learn. Maybe you have never heard of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Maybe you have been a lifelong member. Perhaps you're somewhere in between these two extremes. Wherever you are, you can continue to learn more.

Prophets have always counseled us to learn of sacred things. President Henry B. Eyring taught:
"The Lord and His Church have always encouraged education to increase our ability to serve Him and our Heavenly Father's children. For each of us, whatever our talents, He has service for us to give. And to do it well always involves learning, not once or for a limited time, but continually."
Remember that prayer and scripture study form the foundation of gospel learning. Do not forget these important practices as you go about your life. When we make an effort to learn, our Father in Heaven blesses us with His spirit, which teaches and confirms truth.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Scripture Saturday — Mosiah 21:14-15

"And they did humble themselves even in the depths of humility; and they did cry mightily to God; yea, even all the day long did they cry unto their God that he would deliver them out of their afflictions. And now the Lord was slow to hear their cry because of their iniquities; nevertheless the Lord did hear their cries, and began to soften the hearts of the Lamanites that they began to ease their burdens; yet the Lord did not see fit to deliver them out of bondage." (Mosiah 21:14-15)

God always hears and answers our prayers, but sometimes He doesn't answer them when or how we want Him to answer them. God answers in His own way according to His own timetable. He knows what is best for us. He sees the big picture while we see only very little.

When King Limhi's people were captured, taxed and slain by the Lamanites, they prayed for God to take them out of bondage. This scripture teaches us three important truths—

1) God is slow to hear our cries when we are wicked. If we pray only in times of crisis and disregard God at all other times in our life, we can expect that He will be slow to answer us. The scriptures teach us to pray always. President Howard W. Hunter taught: "If prayer is only a spasmodic cry at the time of crisis, then it is utterly selfish, and we come to think of God as a repairman or a service agency to help us only in our emergencies. We should remember the Most High day and night—always—not only at times when all other assistance has failed and we desperately need help." We must pray always in good times and bad times, with gratitude for what we have and not with anger for what we are missing.

2) God doesn't always 'deliver us from bondage'. Sometimes He lets us suffer knowing there is no other way we can learn an important lesson. Instead of asking why we are plagued with a particular challenge or disability, we ought to ask "What can I learn?" In this way, all experiences—even the difficult ones—will work out for our good.

3) God always helps us when we pray sincerely. While He may not take our problems away, God always provides a way. He will strengthen us in hard times if we seek His help. He will not give us any challenge we are incapable of bearing.

Friday, August 12, 2011

He Hears Us

There are billions of people on the Earth. We each face unique challenges. Most of us yearn for a personal relationship with a higher power.

But how could God possibly have time to answer all of us?

I do not know how God is able to listen to and answer each one of our heartfelt prayers, but I know that He does. I know He is all-powerful and yet all-loving. I know He wants to communicate with us individually, and He does when we take time to pray sincerely.

Prayer is certainly one of the greatest blessings He has given us. In a troubled world, isn't it wonderful to know we can find peace by talking with our Father in Heaven? Isn't it wonderful to know we can receive important instruction and direction for the personal challenges we face?

Doctrine and Covenants 10:5 reminds us to pray always—
Pray always, that you may come off conqueror; yea, that you may conquer Satan, and that you may escape the hands of the servants of Satan that do uphold his work.
When we take time to develop a personal relationship with God, He will bless us with answers. These answers are among the most precious gifts we can obtain in this life.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Blessed with Scripture

Some prophets sacrificed their time to preach the word of God. Others sacrificed their lives. Some people sacrificed their time to bring forth the word of God. Others sacrificed their lives.

Behind all books of scripture in the Bible, Book of Mormon, Doctrine and Covenants and Pearl of Great Price—which The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints recognizes as the Standard Works—is an immense amount of sacrifice. Prophets and others took painstaking effort to record the word of God. 

Alma, under threat of death, recorded the prophetic words of Abinadi, who earler had died a martyr for angering wicked King Noah by preaching repentance.

Moroni, the last surviving follower of God on the American continent around 400 A.D., spent decades hounded and hunted by savage Lamanites as he worked diligently to keep safe what is now the Book of Mormon.

William Tyndale was burned at the stake because he translated the Bible into English, bringing the word of God to common people.

We are blessed to have the word of God, and we often take for granted the sacrifices others made to bring it to us. Never in history have others had such easy access to scripture, yet we so easily forget to even open the books!

Elder D. Todd Christofferson teaches us why we must not forget to study the word of God
Scripture tutors us in principles and moral values essential to maintaining civil society, including integrity, responsibility, selflessness, fidelity, and charity. In scripture, we find vivid portrayals of the blessings that come from honoring true principles, as well as the tragedies that befall when individuals and civilizations discard them. Where scriptural truths are ignored or abandoned, the essential moral core of society disintegrates and decay is close behind. In time, nothing is left to sustain the institutions that sustain society.
If we will study the word of God daily, we will enjoy greater peace and purpose in life. The scriptures, especially the Book of Mormon, teach us that our Savior and Father in Heaven love us. They teach us what we need to do to serve them. There is nothing more worthwhile we could be reading.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Not in Kansas Anymore

I love movies from Hollywood's Golden Age, and one of my favorites is The Wizard Of Oz.

After a tornado transports Dorothy and her dog, Toto, to the mystical land of Oz, Dorothy utters the now famous line, "Toto, I've a feeling we're not in Kansas anymore."

Shortly after arriving to Tennessee, I shared Dorothy's sentiment: "I've a feeling I'm not in Utah anymore." As I walked down hallways in the crowded Nashville Airport, I realized I'd be spending the next two years of my life in a place I'd never been before, away from family, away from friends, away from home. The realization was at once painful and exciting.

I've lived in Tennessee for five months now. This place isn't so foreign anymore. The culture isn't as different as it used to be. Most importantly, I love the people here much more than I used to. Now, Tennessee didn't just happen to change in this five months, and neither did its culture. By and large, the people here probably haven't changed much, either.

So why is the geography and culture more familiar to me, and the people more lovable? It's because I've changed. I've done a lot of changing in five short months, and I expect I'll change even more in the next 19. I've grown closer to my Father in Heaven. I've become more aware of my strengths and weaknesses. I've had to develop patience and understanding. Neither of these traits are easy to develop!

I'm not in Manti, Utah anymore, and while that place still owns my heart, Tennessee will get my full attention for the next 19 months. I will continue to learn as I strive to develop Christlike love for others. I will continue to work to bring others unto Christ. My purpose as a missionary—but, even more basically, as a human being—is to love and serve everybody:
Yea, and from that time even until now, I have labored without ceasing, that I might bring souls unto repentance; that I might bring them to taste of the exceeding joy of which I did taste; that they might also be born of God, and be filled with the Holy Ghost. (Alma 36:24)
I really miss my friends and family, but I'm grateful that my Father in Heaven loves me enough to provide for me this most important experience of my life. My mission has meant everything to me because it is teaching me the most important lesson I could learn—how to love.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Scripture Saturday—Mosiah 4:9-10

"Believe in God; believe that he is, and that he created all things, both in heaven and in earth; believe that he has all wisdom, and all power, both in heaven and in earth; believe that man doth not comprehend all the things which the Lord can comprehend. And again, believe that ye must repent of your sins and forsake them, and humble yourselves before God; and ask in sincerity of heart that he would forgive you; and now, if you believe all these things see that ye do them." (Mosiah 4:9-10)
Just because we cannot comprehend God's matchless power does not mean that He does not have matchless power. Faith in Him is so important because we are incapable of making it on our own.
"Believe that God created all things."
Some people try to live without making God a part of their lives. These people are often miserable. They may appear happy on the outside but they feel empty inside.
The antidote to all of our problems is faith in God and His son, Jesus Christ. Faith does not make our problems disappear, but it does make them manageable. Faith inspires hope, and hope gets us through dark, difficult times. 
When we come to know that God is our loving Heavenly Father, that He cares about us and wants us to succeed, then we will do everything we can to serve Him. We will humble ourselves. We will repent of and forsake our sins. We will try to leave each day the way our Father in Heaven would want us to live. And we will look for opportunities to love and serve our fellowmen, because "inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me." (Matthew 25:40)

Friday, August 5, 2011

Expressions of Love

In the following video, Elder Richard G. Scott explains the importance of eternal marriage. What have you done to show love for your spouse today?

Thursday, August 4, 2011

The Reality of the Atonement

It is impossible to comprehend the enormity of the sacrifice that is the atonement.

Nevertheless, it happened. Christ did suffer for us, and we can be forgiven and healed through His redeeming blood.

In the following video, an apostle of the Lord, Elder Jeffrey R. Holland, shares his thoughts and feelings about the atonement. Watch with wonder.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Power In Patience

In the May 2010 General Conference - a semiannual event in which members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints gather to listen to counsel from modern prophets and apostles - President Dieter F. Uchtdorf related this interesting story:
In the 1960s, a professor at Stanford University began a modest experiment testing the willpower of four-year-old children. He placed before them a large marshmallow and then told them they could eat it right away or, if they waited for 15 minutes, they could have two marshmallows.

He then left the children alone and watched what happened behind a two-way mirror. Some of the children ate the marshmallow immediately; some could wait only a few minutes before giving in to temptation. Only 30 percent were able to wait.
It was a mildly interesting experiment, and the professor moved on to other areas of research, for, in his own words, “there are only so many things you can do with kids trying not to eat marshmallows.” But as time went on, he kept track of the children and began to notice an interesting correlation: the children who could not wait struggled later in life and had more behavioral problems, while those who waited tended to be more positive and better motivated, have higher grades and incomes, and have healthier relationships.
What started as a simple experiment with children and marshmallows became a landmark study suggesting that the ability to wait—to be patient—was a key character trait that might predict later success in life.
What an important and rare virtue patience is! We live in a world that promotes instant answers and instant gratification. We seem to forget that the best things in life are not things. We discard patience because the world teaches us to seek satisfaction in worldly things...and to seek it now!
Happy is the man or woman who can find joy in simple things. You don't need the latest cell phone, iPod or iPad to make you happy. Happiness is not found in gadgets but in the gospel of Jesus Christ. 
Patience allows us to more fully enjoy good times and better appreciate hard times. When we are patient, we endure with optimism. When we are impatient, we become bitter, angry, and selfish. President Uchtdorf described the impatient this way:
Impatience is a symptom of selfishness. It is a trait of the self-absorbed. It arises from the all-too-prevalent condition called “center of the universe” syndrome, which leads people to believe that the world revolves around them and that all others are just supporting cast in the grand theater of mortality in which only they have the starring role.
When we are patient, with ourselves and with others, we will feel greater love for everyone. When we wait patiently and purposefully for answers from God, we will develop wisdom. Patience qualifies us for tremendous blessings. 
Sometimes, we really do just have to wait.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Bad Days

Even in the service of the Lord, we are not immune from bad days. My companion and I are recovering from a bout of the flu. It hasn't been a fun experience.

When we face trials, it's easy to think, "I'm trying to do what is right. Why is this happening to me?" It's easy to get caught in the trap of self-pity. If we indulge those feelings long enough, it starts to become easier to blame God for our misfortunes.
Joseph Smith in Liberty Jail - by Liz Lemon Swindle
The fact is all of us face sorrow and pain throughout life. Good deeds do not eliminate bad situations. In fact, some of the most Christlike people I know seem to face more afflictions than others.

The Prophet Joseph Smith, for example, faced hardships all his life. He was tarred and feathered. Several of his children died in their infancy. As a child his leg was veritably torn apart in a painful operation necessary because of an infection he had contracted. He spent months in the cold, inhumane setting of Liberty Jail, where he wondered aloud how long God would stay His hand of mercy from the saints and justice from their persecutors. Our Father in Heaven's response contains meaning for us all:
My son, peace be unto thy soul; thine adversity and thine afflictions shall be but a small moment; and then, if thou endure it well, God shall exalt thee on high; thou shalt triumph over all thy foes. (Doctrine and Covenants 121:7-8)
When we approach challenges with humility and patience rather than anger and bitterness, we allow ourselves to learn the things God wants us to learn from those challenges. Our own obstinate pride cannot vaporize our hardships, but a positive attitude can make them easier to bear. If we rely on the Lord, He will help us through anything.

Next time you're having a bad day, don't ask "Why me?" Instead, ask "What can I learn?"

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Scripture Saturday — 2 Timothy 1:7

"For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind." (2 Timothy 1:7)

Be at peace; God is watching over you
It's easy to feel fearful about the future. There are wars all over the world. Economies are suffering. Natural disasters are increasing in frequency and intensity. Many are strangling in the webs of addiction. Families are being torn apart by the devil. Dishonesty and immorality prevail in many governments.

We all feel apprehension about these events, especially when they affect us personally. But because we have a loving Heavenly Father, we needn't feel fear about the future. As long as we are doing our best to keep the commandments and follow Him, He will watch over us. This doesn't mean we will always be kept from sickness or sorrow, but we will be kept from the consequences that afflict those who sin.

We all sin. Repentance is the power by which we obtain forgiveness for sins. God blesses us with 'power', 'love' and 'a sound mind'. These godly attributes enable us to overcome temptation and serve others. When we exercise these attributes, we discover joy.