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Thursday, December 10, 2015

God Knows What's Best

This week in my New Testament class we have been talking about the suffering, Crucifixion, and Resurrection of Jesus Christ. We learned about all the physical pains that He had to feel for our sake and the torture inflicted upon Him. This physical suffering was essential so that Jesus could know personally all of the pains that mankind feels. But to me what is even more touching is the mental and spiritual torture and suffering that He was called to endure. We know that Jesus has felt all of our sorrows, grief, pain, afflictions, and remorse (see Alma 7:11-13). He knows what it feels like to be rejected, wrongfully judged, guilty, and distant from the Spirit. As part of His sacrifice for us, He had to not only overcome physical death, but also spiritual death. Spiritual death is basically the complete separation of a spirit from Heavenly Father's presence and Spirit. Because we live on Earth, all of us are separated from the presence of God. We can feel glimpses of it through the light of Christ and the Holy Ghost. But, for us to be able to return to the presence of the Father, Christ had to overcome this spiritual death. In Matthew 27, we read about the Crucifixion and death of Christ. In these moments of extensive physical pain and suffering, Jesus was required to overcome it alone. The Father had to withdraw His Spirit so that Jesus could feel and overcome a complete spiritual death. In verse 46, Jesus cries out, "My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?" Even the Son of God, the Savior of the world, questioned the Lord's will a few times. However, He never forsake it and was perfectly obedient and trusting that the Father knew best.

Like the Savior, we too must trust in God's will. It is OK to have doubts, fears, uncertainties, and questions. Don't keep them to yourself! The Lord wants us to have questions and seek the answers to them. He wants us to learn and gain a testimony for ourselves. Sometimes in the search for guidance and answers we may feel like we aren't getting anything in response. We may feel abandoned, hopeless, and confused. We may wonder if the Lord is really even there, if He really cares, or if He will ever answer our questions. There are some things in this world that will take us a long time to understand; there are others that we will never understand in this life. I testify that although sometimes we may feel distant from the Lord, He truly has our best interests in mind and will never let us fail without first offering us help. Sometimes He is silent in answering our pleadings not because He doesn't love us or care about our concern, but because He wants us to grow from making our own choices and using our agency. It's like learning to ride a bike. When a father teaches his child to ride, he lets go once the child becomes comfortable and strong enough to pedal on her own. This is not because he doesn't care about protecting his child. He knows that she can do it on her own, and that if she does begin to wobble and fall he can always swoop in to catch her. I know from personal experience that the Lord loves us and knows what we most need to grow and develop. I know that sometimes this requires Him to pull back a little and let us "ride" on our own. He loves us so much that He lets us have our agency. He does not want us to be His "robots" whom He controls ; He wants us to become self-sufficient and capable.

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Coming unto God

This week in our New Testament class, we are reading and discussing about Jesus' last few days here on Earth. We are learning about the injustices and pains He had to face and the true depth of His sacrifice for mankind. He "fell on his face, and prayed, saying "O my Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me: nevertheless not as I will, but as thou wilt" (Matt. 26:39). As I have been reading the New Testament this semester, I have noticed that Jesus always gives the glory, honor, and respect to the Father after He performs any sort of miracle. He never tries to boast, brag, or do His own will. Jesus knew His purpose and did not want to do anything to detract from fulfilling it. He came to Earth to perform what we call the "Atonement." This word literally means "the process of becoming at one", particularly with God. Therefore, Jesus came to Earth to help all of us be able to become "at one" with God the Father. Without Him, we would not ever be worthy to live with God. In order to be able to lift us up, Jesus had to descend below the depths of all sin, guilt, shame, sorrow, bodily pain, sickness, and temptations. He had to experience these feelings and rise above them. I always thought it was quite admirable that Jesus went through all these difficult things, yet all along was giving the credit to His Father. I used to wonder, "Why doesn't He take some of the credit for Himself? After all, He is doing a lot."

But, I have come to better understand that Jesus, like all of us, strives to serve the Father and do as He commands. While it is true that He underwent the utmost agony and sacrifice for the world, He gave the glory to the Father because it is He who makes it all possible. He pays the ultimate price. A great analogy that my professor gave this week helped me to understand this. He prompted us to think of the story of Abraham sacrificing his son, Isaac. Whenever we read this story, to whom do we give more respect and credit -- Abraham or Isaac? Of course, Isaac was the one that was going to die as a sacrifice. But, do we not revere Abraham for his strength and courage in being the one to perform the sacrifice? This is similar to the relationship between God the Father and Jesus Christ. Jesus is the mediator between God and man. He makes it possible for us to come to God because of His Atonement. However, if it were not for the Father and His great and eternal plan for our salvation, none of it would be possible!

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

He Overcame the World

The world we live in is a crazy place full of crime, injustices, tragedies, and sorrow. We hear so much every day about worldwide calamities and scary events. Confusion abounds in the media and sometimes it is difficult to know who or what is right or what we should do. In our own personal lives and families we experience trials as well. We may become unsure of our future and worry about how we will make it through. These hardships are very real and should certainly be considered seriously. We have to decide where we stand and how we will react in difficult situations. But I know that as long as we have faith in Jesus Christ and put our trust in Him and His teachings, we will not be led astray. We will be inspired to know which way we need to go or how to handle all that is thrown at us. In the end, if we are good and faithful to the gospel, we have nothing to worry about! This is not to say that believing in Jesus is easy, or that once you commit to follow Him you will never have sadness or troubles again. The world is meant to be a place of testing. However, we have been given a map of sorts to follow in order to navigate ourselves safely through the confusion. This "map" is the gospel of Jesus Christ. It is the steps of having faith, repenting of our sins, being cleansed through baptism and receiving the gift of the Holy Ghost, and enduring obediently for the rest of our lives. If we will stick to this path, no matter what troubles come we can know for a surety that we will be safe in the end.

In John 16:33, Jesus sums this up very well. He says, "These things I have spoken unto you, that in me ye might have peace. In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world." Jesus sacrificed Himself for this purpose. Because of Him, all things evil and bad will eventually lose. Light always overcomes darkness. It is frightening to walk in darkness, not quite knowing where you are headed along the way. But, as we look ahead to the "light at the end of the tunnel", we will make it safely back to God. Even more, this knowledge can bring us peace and joy in this life too. The understanding that Jesus overcame the world gives one an eternal perspective. They can work through trials with faith, knowing that whatever hard things they must endure, everything will work out in the end. Jesus does not want us to be sad or scared of the world we live in. He wants us to hope, have faith, and "be of good cheer". There is nothing to worry about if we are living the Lord's commandments and following His chosen prophets.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Serve Others, Serve the Lord

In my reading this week of Matthew 25, I learned more about the nature of service. In this chapter, Jesus tells the story of the ten virgins and the righteous people who are prepared for the second coming of the Savior. He then goes on to bless them for the service that they did for Him when He was hungry, thirsty, naked, sick, and in prison. The people did not understand this at first -- when had they ever seen Him in these circumstances? Jesus explains "Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me" (v. 40). 

As we serve those around us, we are in effect serving God. Through our actions of love and aid to others, we can act as His "hands" here on Earth. Of course, God is all-powerful and can make whatever He wants to happen come to fruition. But, He knows it is so much more meaningful for us to be able to act as instruments in His hands. He can use us as tools to make His good purposes come to pass. That way not only those whom we serve are blessed, but we are made even better for it too. God's purpose is to "bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man" (Moses 1:39). He does this in several ways, but allowing us to serve one another is a major way in which God lets us grow. True discipleship strengthens as we focus less on our selfish needs and turn outwards to help another. Sometimes it may seem illogical to stop and serve someone -- maybe they seem to have things under control themselves, or you may be in a rush. But, I know that when we act on the desire to do good to others, it always ends well. You may not see any dramatic results, but you can rest assured that you have done some measure of good in the life of another. Serving others is something I strive to do, but I'll admit that sometimes it is hard! It's hard to go outside of your comfort zone or to use your time for someone else when you may feel in need. However, I have seen that whenever I choose to make sacrifices to help another it always works out well for me. Things fall into place and I feel so much happier. Service helps us grow and feel God's love for others. If every day we made the effort to do at least ONE purposeful act of service, just think how much better the world would be! 

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Listening and Love

"Jesus wept."

This is the shortest verse in all of canonized scripture, yet to me it has one of the deepest meanings. The context of this scripture is the story of Lazarus and when Jesus raises him from the dead. Jesus was well acquainted with Lazarus and his sisters Mary and Martha, who were all followers of the Savior. He had shared His teachings with them before and it seems like they were His friends too. When they told Jesus that Lazarus had been dead for at least 4 days, He already knew this. He knew that He had the power to bring Lazarus back to life as well, and that He would do that. From Jesus' perspective, there was no problem. There was not anything to be sad about. However, when He saw these people whom He loved crying and in despair over the loss of their family member, He had compassion and wept with them. Some people may think that they cannot relate to Jesus because He led a perfect life. But, it is important to note that although Jesus had great knowledge and understanding, He also felt human emotions. He wanted to understand the sorrow, pain, frustration, confusion, loneliness, joy, faith, hope, and love that mortals experience.

In this story, Jesus also shows us a great example that we can apply in our daily lives. Sometimes, like I'm sure all of us have experienced, a friend will come to me with a concern or issue of theirs. They may complain about it and express their feelings of fear, low self-confidence, sadness, and pain. From my perspective, the answer to their problems can often seem quite clear or it may seem like they are overreacting. My first instinct is to tell them that it isn't as bad as it seems, or to offer reasonable solutions for the issue at hand. However, what most people truly need is just to feel loved and understood. They will figure out the solutions to their problems over time and with patience, work, and faith. God gives us these problems to work through so that we can grow. Sometimes, we just need to let others work out their own concerns. Most often what we can do to truly help is give a listening, compassionate ear and mourn with them. Jesus clearly knew that everything would work out with Lazarus. He could have told Mary and Martha that they did not need to be sad because Lazarus would live again. But, He is loving and compassionate and wants to give us comfort and assurance. He feels sad when we are sad, even though everything is under control in the eternal scheme of things. In the same way, we should all strive to be a little more patient and compassionate with those around us. Criticism never helps anyone. When we love others and help to carry their burdens, that is when true power comes. So many barriers can be broken down through a simple act of listening and love.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Obedience to the Lord

 This week we learned more about the Atonement of Jesus Christ and how it is through Jesus Christ -- and nobody or nothing else -- that we are ultimately saved. This caused me to reflect on how wonderful it is that Christ knowingly chose to sacrifice himself for our sake. This scripture stuck out to me as I read in the Book of John this week:
17 Therefore doth my Father love me, because I lay down my life, that I might take it again.
 18 No man taketh it from me, but I lay it down of myself. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again. This commandment have I received of my Father.
Jesus Christ was not forced to do what He did for us. He was not tricked or deceived. He knew the entire plan outlined from beginning to end. Jesus knew that it would be difficult and painful. But, He also understood the great eternal consequences of His sacrifice for all of Creation. He knew that it was a commandment from the Father to perform the Atonement for our sins, but the Father still let Him choose if He would do it or not. Nobody truly had the power to kill Christ, but He was able to give up His own life for our cause. He chose to come to Earth and experience a mortal life, though He already lived with God before. He chose to give up his life and experience all human sin, anguish, pain, weakness, doubt, and every other dark experience of mortal life. Because of this choice, Jesus knows us all individually and we are indeed His "sheep", if we will choose to follow Him. 
Jesus Christ also chose to rise and live again and to be resurrected. Because of Him, we will one day do the same. Through His obedience to the Father in completing the Atonement, our salvation is possible. We now must be tested to see if we can use our agency (ability to choose) properly too. We are given commandments of the Father that require sacrifice, persistence, and determination to keep. Our human nature makes this difficult for us and inevitable that we will slip up at times. This is alright! As long as we are firmly anchored in Jesus Christ and follow His example, we can be saved from our fallen state. We must follow His example of obedience to the Father's will. Though it may not always make total sense in the moment, I know that the Lord's will is always far better than our own. I have felt and seen this in my own life that as I choose to do what God would have me do, I am blessed. 

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Lift Up Those Who Have Fallen

In John 8:1-11, we read the story of the woman caught in adultery, or having sexual relations outside of her marriage. It is important to note that adultery is one of the "thou shalt not's" commanded against in the Ten Commandments and had very severe punishments according to the Law of Moses. Therefore the scribes and Pharisees, who were very strict in following the law, brought this woman before Christ to be condemned. They brought her before Christ while He was teaching in the temple, which was a very public place. These men were trying to publicly shame the adulteress for her sins as well as potentially use her as a means to make Jesus look bad. If He forgave her, they could accuse Him of disobeying the law. But if Jesus condemned her, that would go against all that He had previously taught about love, forgiveness and repentance. However, Christ does something they were not expecting. He tells them, "He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone" (John 8:7). 
All of them left, with none to accuse her. In His most merciful way, Christ explains "Neither do I condemn thee: go, and sin no more" (v. 11). 

This story has great applications for us today. Every single person we meet, including ourselves, commits sin in one way or another. None of us are perfect yet. Yes, you may have issues with temptations that do not bother me, and vice versa. But, this does not make any one person better than the other. We all struggle and we all feel the despair of sin at times. It is our responsibility not to judge one another, but to lift up and love those around us. A particular application of this that all of us can apply has to do with those who struggle with addiction. There are addictions of every kind running rampant in the world today, and many people struggle with them every day. Some addictions are more visible than others, but all of them hurt. They cause pain in the lives of the addict and their loved ones. It can be hard to accept it when someone we love struggles with an addiction or temptation. But, through the atoning power of Jesus Christ, I KNOW that they can be healed and move forward. A big factor in this healing process is helping them to feel the pure love of Christ, which is charity. We can be instruments in the hands of the Lord to love, support, encourage, and accept those we love for where they are now and see the infinite potential that they have. Judgement only opens wounds; it is pure love that heals them.