Thursday, June 30, 2011

What Matters Most

My missionary companion and I visited a friend the other day. She was busy putting up some decorations around her apartment. One of the phrases she put up on her wall has left an indelible impression on me:
The most important things in life aren't things.
I was reminded of what matters most—people. Our relationships with friends and family are the building blocks of happiness.

Smile! There are plenty of reasons to be happy.
Happiness cannot be bought with money. But how many times do we try to find joy in material things? Often, we think like this: "I'd be happy if I just had that new car. My home is so small. Why can't I afford a hot tub? I really want that new album. Nothing would make me happier than a new iPad. I wish I had the money to eat out tonight. If only I could afford to go on vacation. Then I'd be happy."

The problem with this kind of thinking is that material things cannot satisfy our search for happiness. We ought to think more about what really makes us happy—our relationships with others.

Felice Mancini expressed this idea in the beautiful poem, Sometimes, set to music by her father and sung by the incomparable Karen Carpenter.

Not often enough,
We reflect upon the good things;
And those thoughts always center around those we love.
And I think about those people
Who mean so much to me,
And for so many years have made me
So very happy;
And I count the times I have forgotten to say,
"Thank you"
And just how much I love them.

Among the people that matter most in my life is my Savior, Jesus Christ. He suffered for my sins and provided for me a way to repent and be forgiven. He loves me unconditionally and is anxious for me to be happy. He wants those same things for you, too. 

As we think more about Jesus Christ, our Father in Heaven, our family and our friends—the people who really matter—we will gain a fresh outlook on life. We won't be sorry for what we don't have and what we can't do. We will instead be grateful for what we do have and what we are capable of doing.  

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Power Through Faith

Many in the scriptures accomplished what may seem like impossible tasks:
In each of these situations, they were able to overcome the seemingly impossible through faith in Jesus Christ. Faith is a principle of action. When we have faith, we acknowledge that we can do things with God's help that we cannot do on our own.

Faith is also a principle of action. When we have faith, we seek to understand God's will for us. Then we follow through on the direction we receive.

We receive guidance through prayer. Our Father in Heaven is anxious to communicate with us. He wants what is best for us. Faith is strengthened when we receive answers to our prayers. Elder Russell M. Nelson taught:
Unfailing faith is fortified through prayer.
Faith allows us to overcome debilitating obstacles and accomplish challenging tasks. Jesus taught that all things are possible through faith:
If thou canst believe, all things are possible to him that believeth. (Mark 9:23)

Tuesday, June 28, 2011


A few weeks ago my companion and I were walking along some cobblestone steps that led to somebody's house. From out of the corner of my eye, I noticed these steps had an interesting design.

I wanted to get a better look at the steps, but I didn't want to slow my pace or stop walking. Initially, I tried looking ahead at the next step to gain a better idea of what it looked like. Because I was walking quickly, my mind didn't have time to register what I saw.

I wanted to get a better look at the steps, but I didn't want to slow my pace or stop walking.

I soon discovered that if I changed my perspective by looking three or four steps ahead of me instead of one or two, my mind would have time to internalize what I was seeing, and I wouldn't have to alter my pace.

Sometimes we all need a fresh perspective. We may not even need to change what we're doing, only how we see things. A few scenarios illustrate this truth:
  • A college student wakes up every morning at 6 a.m. to read the Book of Mormon before going to school. He discovers he no longer finds joy in reading so early in the morning.
  • A young mother with two noisy children feels like she isn't receiving answers to her prayers.
  • A business executive faithfully pays his tithing but doesn't recognize his blessings.
These individuals are doing good things. It is not necessary for them to alter their good habits. Instead, they need to alter the way they view these habits.

Perhaps the college student needs to go to sleep earlier so he can more fully enjoy his early morning studies.

Maybe the young mother needs to find quiet time to pray so she can feel the influence of the Holy Ghost confirming that she is, indeed, receiving answers from her Father in Heaven.

The business executive might take time to ponder and acknowledge the blessings he receives from God.

What they should not do is abandon scripture study, prayer and tithing! The practice is not the problem; perspective is. We can change our perspectives by developing gratitude. If we feel that the good things we do are not making us happy, it's time to "stop and smell the roses", as the saying goes. A healthy dose of gratitude will cure our inclination toward doubt, fear, boredom or self-pity.

Like the college student, young mother and business executive, we can develop additional good behaviors that will complement the good habits we already have.

Carol B. Olsen taught, "An eternal perspective...allows us to look within ourselves and understand what is truly important."

Developing a fresh perspective toward the gospel of Jesus Christ will fill us with greater peace and joy.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Scripture Saturday — Helaman 3:29

Yea, we see that whosoever will may lay hold upon the word of God, which is quick and powerful, which shall divide asunder all the cunning and the snares and the wiles of the devil, and lead the man of Christ in a strait and narrow course across that everlasting gulf of misery which is prepared to engulf the wicked. (Helaman 3:29)

The Word of God can lead us across the gulf of misery
Because our Father in Heaven loves us, He has given us His word to guide us through the 'cunning' and 'snares' and 'wiles' of Satan. His word is recorded in scripture, including the Bible and Book of Mormon, and in the words of modern apostles and prophets. President Thomas S. Monson is the Lord's prophet on the Earth today.

If we will 'lay hold upon the word of God', we can make it across the 'everlasting gulf of misery' which seems to pervade the world. Look around you. How many people are caught in the web of addiction? How many are chronically depressed, downtrodden or discouraged? How many are lost, unable to find their way through challenges which threaten to overcome them?

The answer, of course, is far too many. The solution is found in living the doctrines and principles of the restored gospel of Jesus Christ. As we do this, we can successfully navigate the swamps and strangleholds of Satan.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Frankly Forgive

When somebody hurts you—deliberately or inadvertantly—it can be difficult to forgive that person. Nevertheless, that is what the Lord requires of us:
Wherefore, I say unto you, that ye ought to forgive one another; for he that forgiveth not his brother his trespasses standeth condemned before the Lord; for there remaineth in him the greater sin.
I, the Lord, will forgive whom I will forgive, but of you it is required to forgive all men. (Doctrine and Covenants 64:9-10)
(c) Greg Olsen
"I, the Lord, will forgive whom I will forgive, but of you
it is required to forgive all men."
We learn an important lesson about forgiveness from Book of Mormon prophet Nephi. Nephi's older brothers, Laman and Lemuel, were the perpetrators of lies, gossip, complaining, backbiting and even outright violence against him. On more than one occasion they attempted to take his life, and would have succeeded were it not for divine intervention

"I did frankly forgive them."
But when Laman and Lemuel sought Nephi's forgiveness, he freely forgave. Even though he understood they were bound to hurt him again, Nephi forgave. Even though he knew they would eventually leave the church and persecute his family, Nephi forgave.

After one particularly brutal encounter in which Laman and Lemuel bound Nephi with cords, leaving him to be devoured by wild beasts, Nephi responded to their pleas for forgiveness this way:
And it came to pass that I did frankly forgive them all that they had done, and I did exhort them that they would pray unto the Lord their God for forgiveness. And it came to pass that they did so. And after they had done praying unto the Lord we did again travel on our journey towards the tent of our father. (1 Nephi 7:21)
Notice that Nephi 'frankly forgives' Laman and Lemuel. Notice also that immediately after Laman and Lemuel finish praying to their Father in Heaven for forgiveness, they return on their journey. Nephi doesn't pause to criticize or punish them. He doesn't gloat or boast in his own righteousness. He forgives because of the pure love in his heart. 

In a world full of prejudice, violence and hate, how can we develop similar love? How can we be more like Nephi and 'frankly forgive'?

Thursday, June 23, 2011

"I Will Go and Do"

Let's face it: Life is challenging. We suffer pain, sometimes as a result of our own choices, but often not. Sometimes, we suffer because of the choices others make! Without an understanding of why we are here and what we can become, we would be tempted to describe life with these depressing adjectives: 'unfair', 'too hard', 'dark', 'hopeless'.

"I will go and do the things which
the Lord hath commanded."
When we accept the message of the restored gospel of Jesus Christ, we understand why life is the way it is. Everything falls into place, even the suffering. Previously incomprehensible things make sense.

That doesn't mean we won't be challenged, and it doesn't mean we'll always have specific answers. Our Father in Heaven wants us to have faith, and we wouldn't need faith if we had perfect knowledge. We learn much about faith from Nephi's resplendent testimony in 1 Nephi 3:7

And it came to pass the I, Nephi, said unto my father: I will go and do the things which the Lord hath commanded, for I know that the Lord giveth no commandments unto the children of men, save he shall prepare a way for them that they may accomplish the things which he commandeth them.
With similar faith, we are capable of doing just about anything. Our obstacles won't disappear, but we will be able to overcome them. Our pains won't fully subside, but we will be able to find greater joy in obedience and service.

How can we demonstrate faith like Nephi?

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Pressing Questions

Who am I?
Where did I come from?
Why am I here?
Where am I going?

Answers to life's most pressing questions are found in the restored gospel of Jesus Christ. Through modern-day revelation and access to scripture, including the Bible and Book of Mormon, we learn about our individual and collective purpose as human beings. And because a merciful God has granted us access to His wisdom through prayer, we can receivedailyimportant guidance and direction for our circumstances.

Like candlelight in darkness, the gospel of Jesus Christ gives
us purpose in an otherwise confusing world
For these reasons, I can answer with confidence the above questions. I am Alexander Barton. God is my Father in Heaven, and He has blessed me with a wonderful family on Earth. I lived with Him before I came here, and I will return to live with Him after I die. I am here to live and learn; to love and serve. My experiences will prepare me to reach my potential.

If you don't yet have the answers to these important questions, you can get them. Study the Book of Mormon to learn more about your purpose on Earth. I know our Father in Heaven loves us, and He has given us this book to bless us.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

"...And I'm a Mormon"

Members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are diverse in background but unified in purpose. We are blessed to have the restored gospel in our lives, and we want to share that with others.

Learn how Irene, Norman and Mia live their faith by watching the videos below.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Scripture Saturday — 1 Nephi 1:1

"I, Nephi, having been born of goodly parents, therefore I was taught somewhat in all the learning of my father; and having seen many afflictions in the course of my days, nevertheless, having been highly favored of the Lord in all my days; yea, having had a great knowledge of the goodness and the mysteries of God, therefore I make a record of my proceedings in my days." (1 Nephi 1:1)

Like the Book of Mormon prophet Nephi, I too was 'born of goodly parents'. I was instructed in the 'learning of my father', and I attribute my decision to serve a mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in part to my dad's strong example of faith.

My family!
Back row: Me, Dad (Kent), Mom (Denna), Harrison
Front row: Audrey, Austin, Derek
My dad has always been a hard worker. He's served in a variety of church callings and on a city council. But his greatest example of hard work is the quiet service he provides for others. He certainly lives James' admonition that we be 'doers of the word, and not hearers only' (James 1:22).

The influence of a righteous father is incalculable. I'm thankful for what my father has taught me about the gospel. I'm grateful for what he has taught me about work. My dad repeatedly emphasized the importance of service through his example. And he often taught me that I am not to be a burden on society; that I am to work and then give back to my family and community.

When I faced challenges, I always knew I could ask my dad for help. I wish everybody could say the same of their fathers. The world would be a much better place if they could.

One of the greatest things I've learned from my father is not to complain. I rarely saw him complain, even when he had ample reason to do so. He just went about working and serving. Work has to be done whether or not we want to do it, and my dad is always the first one to step up and get it done.

While I miss my father and my family tremendously, I'm grateful to be serving a mission and I know I'll see them again soon.

Friday, June 17, 2011

"I Wouldn't Hurt You..."

My brothers and I loved watching the Walt Disney classic Swiss Family Robinson when we were growing up. Roughing it in the New Guinea jungle was every young boy's dream. And besides, who couldn't love a movie complete with a giant treehouse and pirates?

Treehouses, tigers and pirates—the recipe for a good movie
We especially enjoyed watching little Francis trap a variety of jungle animals using food and his trademark phrase, "Come here little fella...I wouldn't hurt you." In this way, crafty Francis captured tigers, monkeys, zebras and even a baby elephant. Otherwise able to defend themselves against any harm a little boy could try to inflict upon them, these animals were simply unable to resist a morsel of food and the encouraging whispers of their adversary.

In this same way, Satan entices us to commit sin. He uses our carnal appetites as bait. A morsel of food, no matter how small, is tasty—especially when we're hungry! Many of us don't resist.

Furthermore, Satan tempts us with thoughts like "Everybody's doing it", "Just once won't hurt", "I can repent later", or—like little Francis—"Come here, little fella; I wouldn't hurt you."

"Come here little fella...I wouldn't hurt you."
Once he's lulled us into a false sense of security using our appetites and our own psychology against us, Satan pounces. Like Francis, he uses ropes, pits or even his bare hands to trap us. These physical tools could be likened to devestating sins like drug abuse, viewing pornography and indulging in pride.

Unlike Francis, once he's trapped us, Satan does not let go, and he does not take good care of us. He does anything he can to keep us from finding joy in this life. If he can keep us from living the commandments, he can prevent us from inheriting eternal life, "the greatest of all the gifts of God" (Doctrine and Covenants 14:7).

We can avoid the terrible effects of entrapment by refusing to let Satan win. If you have kept yourself free from unworthy habits, stay that way. If you are caught in an addiction and need help, seek it! LDS Family Services is a great resource.

Always remember that you are stronger than Satan ever will be, so long as you rely on the Savior for help. Elder Joseph B. Wirthlin (1917-2008) taught
Willing obedience provides lasting protection against Satan’s alluring and tantalizing temptations. Jesus is our perfect example of obedience. Learn to do as He did when Satan tempted Him in the wilderness. Even though He was weakened by fasting, His answer was quick and firm: “Get thee behind me, Satan.”
As we keep God's commandments and avoid indulging in the temptation which Satan will surely place in our paths, we will be happy. That is what God wants for us. That is what we can have if we will but do His will.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

The Joy of Repentance

Yesterday I wrote about how we must feel godly sorrow for our sins. Today I want to address two other important steps of the repentance process: confessing and forsaking our sins.

There is always hope because
we can repent
Once we've felt the magnitude of our sins through godly sorrow, we are expected to confess them. All sins need to be confessed to our Father in Heaven. Serious sins must also be confessed to a priesthood leader like a bishop.

Perhaps the most essential part of repentance is forsaking our sins. If we aren't willing to give up our sins, we haven't really repented. The Lord instructs us on this important principle in Doctrine and Covenants 58:43

By this ye may know if a man repenteth of his sins—behold, he will confess them and forsake them.
When we sincerely repent of our sins through recognizing our errors, feeling godly sorrow, confessing sins, seeking to make restitution for sins and then forsaking them, we can be partakers of the eternal joy of repentance. As President Spencer W. Kimball taught
Repentance is ever the key to a better, happier life. All of us need it.
Elder Russell M. Nelson said
[T]here is hope. Hope is linked to repentance. You can change. You can ‘come unto Christ, and be perfected in him.'
As we exercise faith in repentance, the Lord will bless us by forgiving us of our sins.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Godly Sorrow

Yesterday I wrote about the wonderful gift of the atonement. Today I want to begin a discussion on repentance, the way in which we can apply Jesus Christ's atonement in our lives.

Though burned by sin, repentance allows us to grow again
Repentance consists of the following main steps:

  • Recognition of sin
  • Sorrow for sin
  • Confession of sin 
  • Restitution for sin
  • Forsaking of sin
For now, we'll focus on the second step, sorrow for sin.

It's not very difficult to recognize our sins, but it can be difficult to feel sorrow for them. The scriptures tell us we need to feel "godly sorrow" for our sins. What is godly sorrow?

It is not what the prophet Moroni described in this account of his people, the Nephites:

"[T]heir sorrowing was not unto repentance, because of the goodness of God; but it was rather the sorrowing of the damned, because the Lord would not always suffer them to take happiness in sin. 
"And they did not come unto Jesus with broken hearts and contrite spirits, but they did curse God, and wish to die." (Mormon 2:13-14)

It is not what the world refers to as remorse. President Ezra Taft Benson (1899-1994) taught:

"It is not uncommon to find men and women in the world who feel remorse for the things they do wrong. Sometimes this is because their actions cause them or loved ones great sorrow and misery. Sometimes their sorrow is caused because they are caught and punished for their actions. Such worldly feelings do not constitute 'godly sorrow.'" (Ezra Taft Benson, A Mighty Change of Heart, October 1989)
We must feel godly sorrow in order to be forgiven
Sorrow must lead to repentance or it is not godly sorrow. The Apostle Paul taught:

"For godly sorrow worketh repentance to salvation not to be repented of: but the sorrow of the world worketh death." (2 Corinthians 7:10)

President Benson continued:

"Godly sorrow is a gift of the Spirit. It is a deep realization that our actions have offended our Father and our God. It is the sharp and keen awareness that our behavior caused the Savior, He who knew no sin, even the greatest of all, to endure agony and suffering. Our sins caused Him to bleed at every pore. This very real mental and spiritual anguish is what the scriptures refer to as having 'a broken heart and a contrite spirit.' Such a spirit is the absolute prerequisite for true repentance."

In short, we must feel in some small degree the pain Jesus Christ had to endure when He suffered for us. We must come to realize that our sinful actions affect not only us. They often affect those around us, including friends and family. But without exception, they always affect our Savior, who lived a sinless life and yet endured every pain we place upon Him.  

Such feelings will inspire us to confess and forsake our sins, which I will write about tomorrow.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

"Three Strikes, You're Out!"

In what was surely the most unique night of my mission experience thus far, I sang the National Anthem with 70 other missionaries at the Nashville Sounds game last night (Go Sounds!). Afterward, we were allowed to enjoy the game, which the Sounds won 7-6. Such experiences are unusual while serving a mission, as I am expected to devote all my time to serving the Lord.

As we watched the thrilling game and enjoyed the overpriced and oversalted popcorn, I thought about the lyrics to "Take Me Out to the Ball Game", which the crowd sang at least once during the night.

"For it's one, two, three strikes, you're out, at the old ball game!"

We may not always be at the ball game, but we are all constantly involved in the game of life. Life is not a spectator sport, and there are plenty of bumps and bruises along the way. 

In life, unlike baseball, the "three strikes, you're out" policy does not apply. Because Jesus Christ suffered for our sins, we can repent and be forgiven. No matter how dark your past has been, your future will be bright if you will apply the atonement in your life.

Whether you are 14, 42 or 87, you can repent of your sins, and you need the atonement. Whether your unworthy habit is gossip or pride—or perhaps something more serious like immorality or a drug addiction— you can repent of your sins, and you need the atonement. Whether you think you are close to perfect or impossibly far away from that standard, you can repent of your sins, and you need the atonement.

Jesus Christ suffered for our sins so we can return to live with our Father in Heaven.
The fact is, we all need the atonement. We all make mistakes. We all commit sins. We must repent of these sins in order to return to live with our Father in Heaven.

How wonderful it is that Jesus Christ has provided for us a way to let go of our guilt! When we sincerely repent, Satan's shackles are loosed and we feel free and happy again. This promise is extended to all, regardless of how serious your problems are. 

Behold, he who has repented of his sins, the same is forgiven, and I, the Lord, remember them no more. (Doctrine and Covenants 58:42).

Tomorrow's post will address how we can repent of our sins. What can we do to demonstrate sincere repentance?

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Scripture Saturday — Matthew 14:29-31

"And he [Jesus Christ] said, Come. And when Peter was come down out of the ship, he walked on the water, to go to Jesus.
"But when he saw the wind boisterous, he was afraid; and beginning to sink, he cried, saying, Lord, save me.
"And immediately Jesus stretched forth his hand and caught him, and said unto him, O thou of little faith, wherefore didst thou doubt?"
(Matthew 14:29-31)

Three things strike me about the well-known Bible story of Peter making an attempt to walk on the waves of water:

"O thou of little faith, wherefore didst thou doubt?"
1) Christ always beckons us, "Come". Whether He is asking us to walk on water, read the scriptures or pay our tithing, the invitation from Jesus Christ is always the same: "Come, follow me". He doesn't ask us to do anything He hasn't done, nor does He ask us to do anything we are incapable of doing. When we follow Jesus Christ, we have a reliable guide. He has been through all things. He knows how to help us. He knows where to take us. He knows what we need even when we our oblivious to our own needs.

2) Like Peter, we often allow our environment to diminish our faith in Jesus Christ. Peter initially demonstrated faith in Jesus Christ. He followed when he was asked to follow, but soon he was distracted by the winds and waves around him. He let his environment diminish his faith. In similar fashion, we often invite doubts, fears and feelings of inadequacy to trump our faith in Jesus Christ. When we do this, we limit our ability to receive blessings from our Father in Heaven.

3) When we call upon the Lord for help, He will answer. Peter quickly rebounded with a profound demonstration of faith. He cried, saying, "Lord, save me." When we call upon our Father in Heaven in the name of Jesus Christ, He will help us. In certain situations, He will answer us "immediately". More often, He will answer us over time, after we have made an effort to act in faith. Regardless of the timing or the way in which He answers, He will always answer.

How can we demonstrate greater faith in Jesus Christ? How can we eliminate fears and doubts which dispel faith?

Thursday, June 9, 2011

The Restored Gospel

The truths that Jesus Christ established when He came to Earth were lost over time as wicked men killed the apostles and corrupted divine instruction. Those truths were restored when Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ appeared to a 14-year-old boy, Joseph Smith, and directed him to reestablish Jesus Christ's church again on the Earth.

God the Father and His son, Jesus Christ, appeared to Joseph Smith
The following video illustrates the life of Joseph Smith. Pay attention to his impressive dedication to God. Despite terrible persecution, which eventually claimed his life, he never strayed from what he knew was true. Now, more than 14 million members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints join Joseph Smith in professing love for our Savior and acknowledging that this is His church, never again to be taken from the Earth.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Prioritizing What's Important

We live in a busy world. It's easy to get distracted. It's easy to become too involved in things that take away our focus from what is most important: loving and serving our Savior, Jesus Christ, and those around us.

Does your life ever feel like this?

How do we prioritize what is most important so that we don't end up frazzled and lost like the cars on this highway?

I'm reminded of an analogy I've heard many times. Imagine you have a glass jar half full of sand. You need to place several large rocks in the jar, but they simply won't fit.

In this analogy, the glass jar represents our time, the sand represents unimportant things, and the rocks represent important tasks that ought to receive our full attention. With so much sand in our lives, how can we ever find time for the rocks?

The answer is found in changing our perspective. If we empty the sand from the jar and place the rocks inside first, we will find that all the rocks can fit comfortably inside. Now there is room for the sand to fit around the rocks.

In similar fashion, if we prioritize important things first, we will find that there is room for those day-to-day, mundane tasks.

Put the gospel of Jesus Christ first, and you'll have time for everything else that is important to you. Put anything else first, and you'll have a schedule full of empty living.

How can we put Jesus Christ first in our lives?

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Gospel Thoughts

I thought I'd share with you today a few of my favorite quotes from General Authorities of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints:

"To you who are worthy and able to attend the temple, I would admonish you to go often. The temple is a place where we can find peace. There we receive a renewed dedication to the gospel and a strengthened resolve to keep the commandments."
-President Thomas S. Monson

Manti Utah Temple
"When in situations of stress we wonder if there is any more in us to give, we can be comforted to know that God, who knows our capacity perfectly, placed us here to succeed. No one was foreordained to fail or to be wicked. When we have been weighed and found wanting, let us remember that we were measured before and we were found equal to our tasks; and, therefore, let us continue, but with a more determined discipleship. When we feel overwhelmed, let us recall the assurance that God will not overprogram us; he will not press upon us more than we can bear."
-Elder Neal A. Maxwell

"I seldom use the word absolutely. It seldom fits. I use it now—twice:
"Because of the Fall, the Atonement was absolutely essential for resurrection to proceed and overcome mortal death. The Atonement was absolutely essential for men to cleanse themselves from sin and overcome the second death, spiritual death, which is separation from our Father in Heaven, for the scriptures tell us … that no unclean thing may enter the presence of God."
-President Boyd K. Packer

“Happiness is the object and design of our existence; and will be the end thereof, if we pursue the path that leads to it; and this path is virtue, uprightness, faithfulness, holiness, and keeping all the commandments of God.”
-Joseph Smith

"Readjusting our desires to give highest priority to the things of eternity is not easy. We are all tempted to desire that worldly quartet of property, prominence, pride, and power. We might desire these, but we should not fix them as our highest priorities."
-Elder Dallin H. Oaks

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Scripture Saturday — 2 Nephi 9:23

"And he commandeth all men that they must repent, and be baptized in his name, having perfect faith in the Holy One of Israel, or they cannot be saved in the kingdom of God." (2 Nephi 9:23)

Jesus Christ suffered for our sins. He took upon Himself all of our pains and afflictions.

So how can we expect to go through life without enduring some miniscule measure of the pain He suffered? How can we expect to be saved simply by saying we believe in Him? 

We are repeatedly commanded in the scriptures to have faith. Faith is a principle of action. Belief alone is not enough. We learn this principle in James 2:17-18

"Even so faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone. Yea, a man may say, Thou hast faith, and I have works: shew me thy faith without thy works, and I will shew thee my faith by my works." 

The way to return to live with our Father in Heaven is clear. My purpose as a missionary focuses on showing others that way. I invite others to come unto Christ through faith, repentance, baptism, receiving the gift of the Holy Ghost, and enduring to the end. These principles and ordinances are necessary for our salvation.

We demonstrate our faith in Jesus Christ by obeying commandments and serving Him, just was we would demonstrate love for a child or spouse by serving them.

How can we develop 'perfect faith' in Jesus Christ?

Friday, June 3, 2011

A Lesson in Adversity

Sometimes life is tough. Adversity is all around us. We each experience a variety of physical and emotional pain. It seems the longer we go through life, the more we have to endure.

How can we find joy in the midst of life's treacherous storms?
So why are some people so happy? Cynics would say that happy people just have it easy; that they can't comprehend the suffering around them.
They're wrong. Chances are the happiest people you know have been through trials you can't even imagine.

So, again, why are they so happy?

Elder Neal A. Maxwell taught that suffering, coupled with a positive attitude, brings a more fulfilling sense of joy—

"Righteous sorrow and suffering carve cavities in the soul that will become later reservoirs of joy."

It may not be easy to find joy while you are suffering, but you can trust in the promise that those trials will bring joy later on, if you let them. Even our most difficult burdens can work for our good when we trust in the Lord and allow Him to help us. Indeed, suffering makes us capable of experiencing greater joy.

This concept is taught beautifully in the poem "A Lesson in Adversity" by Lisa South—

Traveling by bus,
those around me slumbered,
yet sleep eluded me.
I thought how fortunate
my companions were,
oblivious to the aches and pains.
They missed the tedious hours.
They missed the pouring rain.
I envied them so—
until they missed the rainbow.
"I envied them so—until they missed the rainbow."

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Attitude of Gratitude

In this age of instant gratification, it's easy to forget that we are blessed. Instead of being content with what we have, we often seem to be wanting more. Instead of looking for opportunities to serve others, we often selfishly ask "What's in it for me?"

Do we remember to express gratitude to God, who has given us everything?
We ought to be grateful for what we have. President Thomas S. Monson admonished us to have an "attitude of gratitude"—

"We can lift ourselves and others as well when we refuse to remain in the realm of negative thought and cultivate within our hearts an attitude of gratitude."

And President Gordon B. Hinckley (1910-2008) said:

“When you walk with gratitude, you do not walk with arrogance and conceit and egotism, you walk with a spirit of thanksgiving that is becoming to you and will bless your lives.”

I'm grateful for many things, but most especially for my wonderful family and friends. They've shaped me into who I am. They've blessed my life tremendously.

I'm grateful for music. Beautiful music has had a profound influence on my life. I feel closer to God when I listen to uplifting music.

I'm grateful for a living prophet, Thomas S. Monson, and for the Book of Mormon and Holy Bible.

And I'm grateful for my Savior, Jesus Christ, who suffered for my sins and provided for me a way to return to live with my Father in Heaven.

What are you grateful for?

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Spiritual Noise

Middle Tennessee is swarming with cicadas. If you've never heard a cicada, you won't be able to comprehend how annoying they are. If you have, you know exactly what I'm talking about.

This particular variety of cicada comes out of the ground only once every 13 years. Naturally, I happened upon Tennessee while the things are actively flying around, making noise and getting in your face. They won't be around again until 2024, so I suppose I should relish in the experience.

As I was walking along the streets of Franklin yesterday, I thought about how harmless a single cicada is. Sure, it may be ugly, but it can't hurt you and doesn't even make a whole lot of noise on its own. If you grab its wings, it can't even fly around.

In this sense, a cicada is comparable to a distraction—a text message from a friend, a Facebook game like Farmville, or the hit new Katy Perry single, for example.

By itself, one distraction doesn't damage our spiritual sensitivity much. While it may be ugly, such a distraction doesn't make a whole lot of 'noise' on its own.

Like cicadas, spiritual distractions
are ugly and noisy
But like cicadas, spiritual distractions most often come in groups—perhaps by the tens of thousands. Instead of one text, it's several hundred in a day; instead of five minutes on Farmville, it's five hours; instead of one listen to the hit new single, it's filling every spare moment of the day with degrading lyrics.

How can one find time for prayer and scripture study when the noise around them is truly deafening? How can you feel promptings from the Holy Ghost when the cell phone is constantly vibrating, the iPod constantly playing, and the television constantly blaring?

Prolonged exposure to worldly noise dulls spiritual senses. If media is interfering with your ability to feel the spirit, it's time to turn it off. Wholesome entertainment is desirable, but it shouldn't be our priority; the gospel of Jesus Christ should be. In fact, it must be. Elder Neal A. Maxwell stated:

“If you haven’t chosen the Kingdom of God first, it will make no difference in the end what you have chosen instead.” 

Unfortunately, there's not much I can do to rid Tennessee of its cicada problem. But we can each make a more determined effort to eliminate 'spiritual noise' from our lives. How do we do this? I offer three suggestions:

1) Pray daily. Ask God for help to resist temptation. Fill your day with uplifting activities and look for ways to serve others.
2) Study the scriptures daily. Study from the Book of Mormon for 15 minutes or more each day. Apply what you learn.
3) Attend the temple regularly. If you cannot yet attend the temple, prepare for the day when you will. President Ezra Taft Benson promised that attending the temple will bring peace and clarity into our lives:

"Temples are places of personal revelation. When I have been weighed down by a problem or a difficulty, I have gone to the House of the Lord with a prayer in my heart for answers. The answers have come in clear and unmistakable ways."