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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.

Saturday, October 17, 2015

Answers to our Prayers

In Matthew 15, we hear the story of the Canaanite woman pleading for Christ to heal her daughter. This was pretty significant for the time because she was not a Jew by birth or religion, but instead a Gentile. Christ's ministry on Earth was specifically to the Jews, as He explains in Matthew 15:24, "I am not sent but unto the lost sheep of the house of Israel [the Jews]." At first, Christ completely ignores the woman's pleading for help and does not answer her at all. However, this silence does not deter her, as she then goes to the disciples and asks them to get her help. They refuse her and Christ tells her He was not sent to help Gentiles. But, she is evermore persistent and shows her faith in Christ as she asks for just the smallest bit of help that He could possibly give. Finally, Christ sees her faith and heals her daughter.

This story is a great metaphor for the ways in which we can receive answers to our prayers. The woman first was faced with silence. Often times, we may feel that our prayers are going unanswered because we have not received a specific "yes" or "no". This seems to happen especially when we are praying for help to make a decision. We may feel lost, confused, or like God isn't there or isn't listening. But, I know that this is just a chance for us to prove our faith, like the Canaanite woman. When we receive silence as our answer, we have to move forward according to our own choices and feelings and trust Him to catch us if we fall. We each are blessed with the power to choose, called agency, and the point of our life on Earth is to learn how to use this power correctly. So it only makes sense that God would not "spoon feed" us the answer to every single decision we have before us. If all you're getting is silence to a question, take heart! It shows that the Lord trusts you to decide for yourself and that He will guide you if you go the wrong way.

Many times, we are given a "no, not yet" or even a flat-out "no" for our answers. This can be disheartening when you really wanted to hear a "yes". But again, it is an opportunity to exercise your faith and trust that the Lord just has something better in store for you! Finally, we can also receive "yes" answers. Even these require us to stretch our faith by going outside of our comfort zone to act on the answer we receive. All in all, the purpose of God's responses to our prayers are to help us to trust Him and to exercise our faith in some way. We never know exactly what is coming our way, but as we seek the Lord's help and trust in our ability to follow it, we will never be steered wrong.

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

"The Tree Is Known By His Fruit"

Recently in my New Testament class we have been talking a lot about the miracles that Christ performed during His earthly ministry and what we can learn from them. This week, we spoke about how He would perform miracles even on the Sabbath, or holy, day. He was often criticized by the Pharisees for doing this, since they thought He was doing some form of work on the Sabbath day. They even went so far as to accuse Christ of healing people and casting out devils by the power of the devil himself. Christ explains, "Every kingdom divided against itself is brought to desolation; and every city or house divided against itself shall not stand: And if Satan cast out Satan, he is divided against himself; how shall then his kingdom stand? (Matthew 12:25-26). In other words, Satan cannot be a cause for goodness because it would contradict his very purpose and mission. He would fail to be the devil and would instead be following God if He were to encourage or give power to good actions. Therefore, Christ must have been working through the power of God.

This principle is applicable to our daily choices as well. As Christ said, "Either make the tree good, and his fruit good; or else make the tree corrupt, and his fruit corrupt: for the tree is known by his fruit" (Matthew 12:33). We are constantly bombarded with opposing voices, influences, and decisions in this world. Sometimes it is hard to tell which one we should choose. It is important to consider the consequences and results of each option we face. Will it bring goodness to us? Will it help other people, or take away from their happiness? Does it make us grow and improve, stagnate, or fall backwards in our progression? The merit of an action is measured by its fruits. In the same way, we can decide what kinds of people are good influences in our lives based on the fruits that they bear. This does not mean that we use these "fruits" as a sign and remain paralyzed in our action until we receive such a sign. But, as we begin to see the results that may come from a choice, we must move forward and trust in the Lord to guide our path.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Stay in the boat!

  1. And when they had sent away the multitude, they took him even as he was in the ship. And there were also with him other little ships.
  1. And there arose a great storm of wind, and the waves beat into the ship, so that it was now full.
  2. And he was in the hinder part of the ship, asleep on a pillow: and they awake him, and say unto him, Master, carest thou not that we perish?
  3. And he arose, and rebuked the wind, and said unto the sea, Peace, be still. And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm.
  4. And he said unto them, Why are ye so fearful? How is it that ye have no faith?
  5. And they feared exceedingly, and said one to another, What manner of man is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?

This is a story found in Mark 4 in the Bible that teaches us a lot about faith and trusting in the Lord. If we place ourselves in the position of the apostles, we can understand how this message applies in our own lives. Often, we experience challenges or struggles in life that overwhelm us or go beyond what we feel like we can manage. These “storms” beat on us until we may feel like we are sinking in the tumultuous “waves”. I can imagine how frightening it must have been for the disciples – their ship was filled completely with water and their Lord and Savior was asleep. Here they were, presumably, in a state of panic, confusion and fear. They could see the problem but had no idea how to get themselves out of it. The one person they relied on did not seem to be aware of or care about their struggle. However, we see that the Savior was aware of them the whole time. He knew that everything would be alright. The ship wouldn't sink, the storms would eventually calm, and they'd make it through. But, He still calmed the sea, stopped the storm, and showed the disciples His power.

We are not capable of understanding all the reasons for our struggles and challenges. In the middle of them, we may not recognize a way out. We may not see “the light at the end of the tunnel”. Sometimes we may even begin to question God, wondering where He is during these hard times and why He doesn't just make it all go away and be calm again. Christ's two penetrating questions can help us to reconsider our trust in the Lord: “Why are ye so fearful? How is it that ye have no faith?” Although it can be easy to give in to fears and doubts, this is not the Lord's way. He is not setting us up to fail, but instead to learn and to grow from our experiences. He knows the end from the beginning and that it will all work out. I know that as we put our trust in God's will and timing, everything will turn out alright. Even when the winds beat down on you, and the rains and storms seem unending, there is always hope in the light of God's love. The disciples had no reason to fear – Heavenly Father would not let a ship with Christ on it sink. Therefore, as long as we stick with Him, we won't either! The key to “staying afloat” during our struggles is quite simple – just stay in the boat!