Sunday, November 14, 2010

Faith To Be

As I was sitting in sacrament meeting today, I was thinking about Christ and had a sudden flash to the story of the woman with an issue of blood who touched Christ's robe and was healed. I've heard that account numerous times, but I never really appreciated the amount of faith demonstrated by this believing woman. I decided to reread the account found in Matthew 9 and was again struck by the woman's faith as she thought, "If I may but touch his garment, I shall be whole." And then by Jesus's response, "Daughter, be of good comfort; thy faith hath made thee whole." (Matt 9:20-22)

This story started me thinking about my life, and especially the problems that I seem to dwell on from day to day. They aren't nearly as severe or limiting as was this woman's, and yet I find myself occassionally shying away from the one source that could heal me. Why do we think that the Atonement is true, wonderful, and for everyone but ourselves? That for some reason we do not deserve God's love, mercy, or consideration? In speaking for myself, I've decided it's because sometimes I lack faith. Faith to be healed, faith to be loved, faith to be anything.

Faith is so simple and yet so powerful. As sung in the primary song, faith can be as simple as "knowing the sun will rise each and every day," yet it's powerful enough that Jesus said, "If ye have faith as a grain of mustard seed, ye shall say unto this mountain, Remove hence to yonder place; and it shall remove; and nothing shall be impossible unto you." (Matt 17:20) The woman understood this power and had faith enough to remove the mountain in her life. But how do we accomplish this in our own lives?

First we must have an understanding of what faith is. The Bible Dictionary has entire column dedicated to faith. I'll just hit the highlights here:

1. Faith is to hope for things which are not seen, but which are true, and must be centered in Jesus Christ in order to produce salvation.

2. Faith is a principle of action and of power.

3. All true faith must be based upon correct knowledge, or it cannot produce the desired results.

First, "Faith is not to have a perfect knowledge of things; therefore if ye have faith ye hope for things which are not seen, which are true." (Alma 32:21) And as Moroni states, "Faith is things which are hoped for and not seem; wherefore dispute not because ye see not, for ye receive no witness until after the trial of your faith...wherefore thou [speaking of God] workest after men have faith" (Ether 12:6, 30)

Simply put, we don't just wake up one day and suddenly understand everything in the universe (as convinient as that would be). Some things we will never see in our mortal lives, but that does not mean that they do not exist, or are not true principles. We have been given prophets, apostles, scriptures, and most importantly the Holy Ghost to testify of truth and to help us develop faith. It is through obedience to the gospel, taught by living and ancient prophets, that we develop faith and can see miracles in our own lives. Alma likened developing faith to planting a seed, and as we nurture the seeds of gospel principles our faith in these principles will grow until we have a sure knowledge of their truthfulness. (Alma 32)

Second, faith is a principle of action and power. James states, "Even so faith, if it hath not works is dead, being alone." (James 2:17) One of my favorite stories illustrating this principle is found in the story of the handcart companies caught in the early winter storms, and stranded far from Salt Lake City. It was conference and when Brigham Young heard about the plight of these saints, he quickly decided that instead of prayers sent to heaven to help the handcart pioneers, he would do something about it! He quickly explained the problem then cancelled that meetings so the saints in Salt Lake could go out and save the stranded pioneers.

How often are we spiritually stranded, or see others in precarious situations and instead of doing something about it, we sit and think about how great it would be if God would rescue us from our trials. This isn't faith! Faith is having hope that God will assist us in our trials and then going forth and tackling them head on. Imagine if Nephi had done nothing more than thought about going back for the brass plates, and then hoped that God would drop them in his lap without any effort. It sounds ridiculous, but I find myself doing it all the time. We need to take action instead of passively allowing our lives to continue without directionless. God has said that we must act and not be acted upon (2 Nephi 2), and that we will receive no witness until after the trial of our faith. We must be like Nephi and go and do!

Third, we must base our faith on correct knowledge, or it will not produce desired results. I could have faith all I want that I can turn the sun blue (which I think would be a very pretty shade for it), but because that faith is not based on correct knowledge it will never come to pass. One of my favorite bible stories about this is found in 1 Kings 18 and chronicles the story of Elijah and the priests of Baal. Elijah challenged the priests to have their god consume a sacrifice with fire from heaven. If it happened, then Israel could continue worshipping Baal. As the priests in vain tried to get their idolitrous god to respond, Elijah (after thoroughly mocking them in their efforts-love it!) commanded that the sacrifice to Jehovah be completely drenched upon the altar he had built. Then when Elijah prayed to the Lord to accept his righteous sacrifice, the offering was consumed by fire. Elijah based his faith in correct knowledge and was rewarded after showing forth his faith.

Moroni also speaks of other men who placed their faith correctly in Christ and were thereby able to work many miracles (Ether 12). Also, in the famous lecture in Moroni 7 on faith, hope, and charity, Mormon states that "thus by faith, [we can] lay hold upon every good thing" (Moroni 7:25). The point of faith is to enable us to use the Atonement of Jesus Christ to return to our Father in Heaven. As we lay hold of this good thing, we will develop the faith needed to overcome our mountains and be healed.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Holding True

Sometimes when I'm trying to make the right choices in life, I feel like Prince Philip; at the edge of a cliff and facing a fire-breathing dragon determined to make me fall. It's hard to see the way to safety when the dragon before you seems too large to conquer. But it is in those moments when the Spirit whispers to me that if I hold true, I will overcome whatever in my life that is striving to bring me down. Flora reminded Prince Philip of the sword of truth held in his hand, and then commanded the sword to "fly swift and sure, that evil die and good endure!". The death of opposition in our lives probably won't be as dramatic as the downfall of Maleficent, but it can be just as sure if we hold fast and hold true.

But what does it mean to be true? It is used often in the scriptures, and by modern prophets and teachers. I first remember the word true being used to describe the sons of Helaman. "And they were all young men and they were exceedingly valiant for courage, and also for strength and activity; but behold, this was not all- they were men who were true at all times in whatsoever thing they were entrusted." (Alma 53:20) In this scripture, being true is portrayed as the most vital of characteristics held by these young men.

Wanting to know an exact definition of true, I looked in the dictionary and found these words used to describe true: reliable, unfailing, sure, firm in allegiance, loyal, faithful, steadfast. I especially loved the last 3- firm in allegiance, loyal, and steadfast. That's always how I pictured the sons of Helaman- consistently doing what they knew to be right. And then I thought about Heavenly Father and Jesus, the best examples of what it means to be true. God is unfailing. He is sure and reliable. God is firm in his allegiance to the principles of the gospel, and is steadfast in His relations with His children.

In the scriptures, Jesus is often described as being true. He "was the true light" (John 1:9). He says of Himself "my Father giveth you the true bread from heaven" (John 6:32). Jesus taught "he that sent me is true" (John 7:28). He asks "will [ye] not receive the strength and nourishment of the true vine? Yea, will [ye] not come unto the true fold of God?" (1 Nephi 15:15). And He says "I am the true light that lighteth every man that cometh into the world" (D&C 93:2).

So for me, being true requires that I be like God. Firm, reliable, steadfast, and unfailing in my commitment to the truth. But it's one thing to know what it is to be true. It is another thing to hold true. How do we become like the sons of Helaman? Like Stephen who was martyred because he would not deny Christ (Acts 7)? Like Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego who were thrown into a fiery furnace for refusing to worship a golden image (Daniel 3)? Or like Joseph Smith who was just a boy when persecution began to rage against him but simply stated "I had actually seen a light, and in the midst of that light I saw two Personages, and they did in reality speak to me; and though I was hated and persecuted for say that I had seen a vision, yet it was true...I knew it, and I knew that God knew it, and I could not deny it." (Joseph Smith History 1:25)

President Hinckley said, "We believe in being true. How very important it is to be true to ourselves. Each of us has a thing we call a conscience. We know the difference between right and wrong. We do not have to be constucted concerning what is good, and what is evil. To be true to ourselves means being an example of righteous living in all situations and circumstances."

Shakespeare wrote, "To thine own self be true,/ And it must follow, as the night the day,/ Thou canst not then be false to any man." (Hamlet Act 1 Scene 3).

To hold true we must know what we believe, and we must act on this belief with the best of our abilities. We must have personal virtue. We must be honest. We must always strive to stay on the straight and narrow path that leads back to Heavenly Father.

There are so many stories throughout the scriptures and in the lives of the modern day prophets that reflect an ability to hold true. It's never easy and we often feel as though the dragon that is Satan is thwarting all our efforts to succeed. But if we arm ourselves with the whole armour of God, and hold true to His principles, our swords of truth will also fly swift and sure and we will come off conquerors.

Stories of people who held true:
Joseph in Egypt (Genesis 39-41)
Esther (Esther 2-7)
Job (That whole, big mess- great example!)
Daniel (Daniel 1, 6)
Paul the Apostle (2 Timothy 4:6-8 his final testimony)
Nephi (1 Nephi 3:7- Mr Go and Do)
Captain Moroni (Alma 48:11-17; most of the war chapters)

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Life Is Like A Box Of Chocolates- You Never Know What You're Gonna Get

My friend at work was telling me about a chocolate shop the other day, and I haven't been able to stop thinking about that delicious yumminess since :) I love chocolate, and it comes in so many different varieties. Dark, milk, white; with or without nuts, fruits, caramel, and the list goes on and on. I must admit, though, there are a few flavors that don't really float my boat. Everyone has them. They come in those assorted boxes of chocolate that are passed around like wildfire during valentines season and Christmas. It's always a bit nerve wracking having to pick one without knowing what's inside. Will it be heaven on earth for your mouth, or one to put back in the box after you've nibbled off a corner? Not that I've ever done that :)

Well, life's a lot like that box of chocolates. Sometimes there's a guide on the back helping us choose which ones we'd like to try. Other times it's a complete shot in the dark. I guess I've been feeling like I've been taking more shots in the dark lately and my choices seem to follow the 50-50-90 rule: If there's a 50% chance of getting it right, 90% of the time I get it wrong. It seems the more I try to do what's right, the more lost I feel. In the musical Wicked, Elphaba sings "No good deed goes unpunished. No act of charity goes un-resented." While that might be slightly cynical, it often feels like everything I try to do doesn't turn out. There are trials in my life that I wish I hadn't picked up out of that chocolate box. I wish, after I nibbled off a piece, that I could be done with them and put them back in the box.

Fortunately life doesn't work like that. Why fortunately? Because if it did, we would never grow! There's no way I would continue working through a trial if I didn't have to. Trials are no fun; nobody really wants them. But they're the best ways to learn and increase in faith.

Trials, in one way or another, test our faith. Why does God want to test our faith? He already knows us so well that He can predict our actions, but He wants us to know ourselves. Only when we are tested do we come to learn who we are. If we coasted through life, we'd never know how strong our faith could be. Peter said, "Wherein ye greatly rejoice, though now for a season, if need be, ye are in heaviness through manifold temptations (trials): That the trial of your faith, being much more precious than of gold that perisheth, though it be tried with fire, might be found unto praise and honour and glory at the appearing of Jesus Christ." (1 Peter 1:6-7) Peter is saying that even when we are burdened by many trials and our faith is tested, we should rejoice because overcoming those trials, especially ones that pull us through a refiner's fire, make us acceptable to Christ.

Alma, in talking with his son Helaman, said, "I beseech of thee that thou wilt hear my words and learn of me; for I do know that whosoever shall put their trust in God shall be supported in their trials, and their troubles, and their afflictions, and shall be lifted up at the last day." (Alma 36:3) Alma is saying that God will not take away our trials, but He will support us in our trials and afflictions so that we may eventually return to him.

However, Heavenly Father does not always help us right away. Sometimes He tests our faith in order that we may grow. Moroni states, "I would show unto the world that faith is things which are hoped for and not seen; wherefore, dispute not because ye see not, for ye receive no witness until after the trial of your faith." (Ether 12:6) Sometimes, when I'm in the midst of a trial, it's hard to see the end, the point, the reason why. But Moroni is saying that instead of arguing your situation with God, have faith that He knows what He's doing and that everything will work for your good if you continue making correct choices.

One of my favorite examples of this principle is the story of Zion's Camp. This takes place in 1834, when the newly founded Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was gathered in 2 places; Kirtland, Ohio where Joseph Smith lived, and Independence Missouri. Mobs combined to drive the saints living in Independence (Zion) out of Jackson County Missouri. The saints had tried to regain their land through legal means, but were unsuccessful. Finally, Joseph Smith was told in a revelation to raise a camp of 500 men to march down to Jackson county and redeem Zion. Exciting, right? :) It's like a story out of the Book of Mormon: righteous men fighting for their wives, religion, land, and freedom just like Captain Moroni.

Well, despite it being a commandment from God that 500 men go, only about 200 finally followed Joseph down to Missouri. Now you would think, this whole camp thing being the Lord's idea, that He would have made it a nice jaunt down to Missouri, followed by a quick smack down on the wicked Missourians. Not so much. Just the trek itself was filled with sickness, murmuring, and bad conditions. And when the party finally reached the Fishing River in Missouri, Joseph received a revelation stating that the Lord was revoking His promise to redeem Zion and that it would have to wait for a season. (D&C 102 and D&C 105).

I must admit my first reaction to hearing that would probably have been along the lines of "What gives?!" (in 19th century slang of course). Why would the Lord ask them to come all that way- about 1000 miles- through trials and suffering and then change His mind? The reason was that the people were not sufficiently prepared to redeem Zion and they needed to learn more before they could return. (D&C 105:9-10)

So was there a point to the trial they underwent? Absolutely! God told Joseph, "But inasmuch as there are those who have hearkened unto my words, I have prepared a blessing and an endowment for them, if they continue faithful. I have heard their prayers, and will accept their offering; and it is expedient in me that they should be brought thus far for a trial of their faith." (D&C 105:18-19) The lesson we need to learn from this is that God knows what we need to learn from our trials, and He gives us trials that will increase our faith if we hearken to His words. The outcome might not be anything we expected, but it is what we need. For example, Zion's camp never redeemed Zion; in fact it remains unredeemed in that sense to this day. However, from Zion's camp came the next several prophets of the church, apostles, seventy. The majority of leadership in the church for the next 50 years were members of Zion's camp. The world might call it a failure (and wikipedia does- I looked it up), but to God it was the proving ground for the leaders the church would need to take it across the plains into the Salt Lake Valley.

Christ said, "In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world." (John 16:33) Yes we will have trials in this life. They may not be what we would choose for ourselves, but they all will help us come to the Savior if we hearken to His counsel and have faith. Life may be like that box of chocolates: we never know what's going to come at us next. But we know that mixed in with those trials, are the blessings of that perfect piece of chocolate- eternal life. And I know that if we keep trying, someday we'll receive it.

Additional scriptures:

Friday, July 9, 2010

The Power of Choice

Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the Pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.
In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced or cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.
Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the horror of the Shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds, and shall find, me unafraid.
It matters not how straight the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll.
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.
-William Ernest Henley
It may be guessed that I just watched "Invictus" for the first time, and that would be a correct assumption. Nelson Mandela has been one of my heroes since I was in high school. I've always been so impressed that a man, jailed for 30 years, would then choose to lead the country and the people who jailed him in the first place. But he did, and his choice changed the history of an entire nation. I've often wondered how he found it in himself to forgive, to allow himself and others to change. But in that choice of change he showed that he was the master of his fate. He was the captain of his soul.
Choice is greatest gift and blessing given to each person on this earth. Agency is the one possession that is truly ours and cannot be taken away. We always have choice and therefore we always have power, if even only over ourselves. And with this power, we are free.
When Lehi was leaving his final blessings with his sons, he talked with Jacob about the Plan of Salvation and the important role that choice plays in that plan. In 2 Nephi 2:26 Lehi talks about the coming of the Messiah to "redeem the children of men from the fall. And because they are redeemed from the fall they have become free forever, knowing good from evil; to act for themselves and not to be acted upon...". And continuing in verse 27: "Men are free according to the flesh... they are free to choose...".
The power of choice is essential to the Plan of Salvation. In the council in heaven before we came down to earth there were 2 plans. One- Christ's and God's plan- gave us freedom to choose. The other- Lucifer's- took away our ability to choose. Lucifer's might have sounded easier, but it would have taken away our freedom. God's plan is harder, but in it we can grow; for without choice there is no progression.
In 1832, Joseph Smith received a revelation that was dubbed the "olive leaf" because it contained so many truths and pieces of wisdom from God. Toward the end of the revelation, after learning about the spirit, light, and learning, is verse 86 which contains the instruction "Abide in the liberty wherewith ye are made free." Our liberty, our agency, is a gift from God that we should abide in.
Abide means to stay within, to stay in the midst of. To me, God is telling us that we should live our lives in such a way that we can always enjoy the blessing of agency. Everything in life is a choice, but everything has a consequence for good or bad. Lehi told his sons that "they are free to choose liberty and eternal life, through the great Mediator of all men, or to choose captivity and death, according to the captivity and power of the devil; for he seeketh that all men might be miserable like unto himself." (2 Nephi 2:27) Obviously choosing good will lead us toward God, and choosing evil will lead us toward Satan.
But what about choosing gray? What about choosing to sit on the fence and not make a decision? May I suggest that not making a decision is in fact a decision? When we choose not to choose, we have chosen to be acted upon and not to act for ourselves. President Thomas Monson related this story from Alice in Wonderland in a talk on choice.
"Let us not find ourselves as indecisive as Alice...You will remember that she comes to a crossroads with two paths before her, each stretching onward but in opposite directions. She is confronted by the Cheshire cat, of whom Alice asks, 'Which path shall I follow?' The cat answers, 'That depends where you want to go. If you do not know where you want to go, it doesn't matter which path you take.' Unlike Alice, we all know where we want to go, and it does matter which way we go, for the path we follow in this life surely leads to the path we will follow in the next."
Joshua knew about the power of decisions and declared to the entire nation of Israel, "Choose ye this day whom ye will serve...but as for me and my house, we shall serve the Lord." (Joshua 24:15). I hope in my life that I can be less like the wandering Alice and more like Joshua, knowing whom I serve and where I am going. Like William Henley wrote, "I am the master of my fate: I am the captain of my soul."

Sunday, June 13, 2010

In Your Patience Possess Ye Your Souls

"Patience is not passive resignation, nor is it failing to act because of our fears. Patience means actively waiting and enduring. It means staying with something and doing all that we can- working, hoping, and exercising faith; bearing hardship with fortitude, even when the desires of our hearts are delayed. Patience is not simply enduring; it is enduring well!
-Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf

I used to think I was a patient person. My mother would always laugh when I told her this, and I didn't understand why she thought it was so funny. I suppose it's harder to see our own faults, even when they're right in front of our face. Years later, I finally realized why my mother laughed at me.. I had been thinking about the talk Elder Uchtdorf gave in General Conference this last May- the one about patience. My thought went something like this, "Well I wish the Lord would just hurry up and let me learn that lesson so I can get on with something else." Right as the thought crossed my mind I finally figured it out- patience is definitely Not one of my inherent virtues :)

Since then I've decided to take the challenge to learn more about patience. In Luke 21:19 the Savior tells is apostles "In your patiece possess ye your souls." I've thought a lot about that. What is it about patience that makes us possess our souls? What does that even mean? I glanced down at the footnotes and saw that possess in this scripture meant "to preseve, win mastery over." So as we have patience we can both preserve our souls and win mastery over them. What a promise- I can be the master of my own soul. It might not sound like much, but it's everything. It is God's plan. Father in Heaven wants us to have agency- to be the masters of our own souls.

In the council in Heaven, before we came to earth, there were 2 plans presented. We read about these plans in Moses and Abraham. Satan wanted to make all the choices for us, and force us to return to Heavenly Father. Christ wanted us to be able to choose. He would be our Redeemer if we repented, but not everyone would make it back. So why would we choose Christ's plan? Lucifer wanted us all to come back- he said it would be a sure thing. But by choosing Christ's plan, we choose choice. Through His plan, though it would be harder, we would grow. We would have agency. We would be the masters of our own souls. But it would require patience.

Think about a great master. An artist like Da Vinci or Bernini. A composer like Chopin or Liszt. A writer like Emerson or Frost. Did these people wake up one day and decide to be the best in their chosen pursuits? Did their talent appear magically? I'll admit that, with some, they were blessed with gifts that made them great, but they still had to work to develop their talents to the fullest extent. They still had to have patience in order to be a master. We are no different. We too must have patience in order to grow.

One of the most poignant examples to me of patience, outside of Christ, is Joseph Smith Jr. He endured tribulations and persecutions for most of his life. From the time he saw the first vision in the sacred grove at age 14 until his death at age 38, he was mocked and ridiculed. Evil men sought his life. He, his family, and all who followed him were driven from home to home, state to state, in an attempt to practice their religion in peace. After Joseph was thrown into Liberty Jail and the saints driven from Missouri in the middle of winter, he prayed to God. He asked, "O God, where art thou? And where is the pavilion that covereth thy hiding place?...stretch forth thy hand...remember thy sufffering saints..." (D&C 121:1-6) Joseph, who had endured so much, was asking how much more patience God expected of him. How long were he and the saints to endure?

The Lord's answer is full of love, but also a gentle reminder of patience. He says, "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...For there is a time appointed for every man, according as his works shall be...If thou art called to pass through tribulation; if [long list of every bad thing happening to you that you could ever imagine]; if the very jaws of hell shall gape open the mouth wide after thee, know thou, my son, that all these things shall give thee experience, and shall be for thy good. The Son of Man hath descended below them all. Art thou greater than he? Therefore, hold on thy way...fear not what man can do, for God shall be with you forever and ever." (D&C 121: 7-8, 25; D&C 122:5-9)

That's not always the answer we want to hear- be patient. When we're suffering, we want healing. We want it now. But Christ is saying that even He had to be patient and endure those trials in life that allowed Him to overcome physical and spiritual death to bring Redemption to all mankind. Patience is not a virtue we learn and then check our lists; patience is a way of life. It is the only way to eternal life. It is the only way we can truly be the masters of our souls. James wrote, "My brethren, count it all joy when ye fall into many afflictions. Knowing this, that the trying of your faith worketh patience. But let patience have her perfect work, that ye may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing." (James 1:3-4) When patience has her perfect work- when patience rules our choices- then we become the masters of our souls. We can then use this agency to continue in faith and good works, and ultimately gain eternal life.

Further Reading:
Alma 23-24 This is the story of the people of Alma the Elder. They fled from the wicked King Noah and established themselves in the wilderness, until they were found by the remainder of the priests of Noah and the Lamanites.

God's Plan of Agency

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Walking on Water

When I was little, I was fascinated with the story of Jesus walking on the water. I always wished that I had the power to do that too. Sometimes when I would go to the pool, I would place my flip-flop covered foot on the very top of the water. The water tension against my shoe felt like I could almost step down and stay afloat, but whenever I attempted it I would somehow end up at the bottom of the pool. This only intrigued me more and I've continued to think about the story throughout my life.

Matthew 14:22-31 relates how Jesus stayed ashore teaching while the disciples went out to sea. Verse 25 says, "And in the fourth watch of the night Jesus went unto them, walking on the sea." The fourth watch refers to the time between about 3 and 6 am. So when in verse 26 it says, "And when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were troubled, saying, It is a spirit; and they cried out for fear" I can understand why they would be afraid. If I was still awake at 3 am, my first thought would be that I was seeing something, and then I would probably wonder what kind of ghost was coming to get me.

But Christ, seeing their obvious fear, responds in verse 27-"straightway, Jesus spake unto them, saying, Be of good cheer; it is I; be not afraid." Christ knew His desciples and understood their fears, and He sought to bring peace to His frightened followers. This is followed by one of my favorite stories in verses 28-31 as Peter attempts to walk to Christ, but falls short of his goals and must then be rescued by the Savior.

When I was little, walking on water was just a cool idea, something I thought would be fun. But now I recognize it for the powerful symbol it is of faith and trust in the Lord. Christ had faith enough to actually walk on water. Peter had the beginnings of faith enough to trust that when the Lord told him to "Come" he came down out of the ship and began walking toward the Lord. This same invitation is extended to everyone. Christ's entire ministry is the message of Come. Come to the Lord. (see Matthew 11:28-30, 2 Nephi 26:33 Moroni 10:32-33) The Sermon on the Mount begins with an invitation to come to God and be like He is. (Matthew 5:3-16) Only in and through Christ can we come back to our Father in Heaven and live with Him forever. (Alma 16:13+15)

In Matthew 14:28-29, Peter desires to come to Christ, He tells Peter to come, and Peter proceeds to leave the ship and begins to walk on water toward Christ. Whenever I read this, I think about my own life. Sometimes I'm surrounded by storms, like the apostles in the ship, but then I see the Savior walking toward me telling me to "Be of good cheer; it is I; be not afraid." Those moments of assurance help me have the faith enough to start walking toward the Savior- my safety and refuge from the storm.

But, like Peter, I soon realize that I'm trying to walk on water. The thought crosses my mind that what I'm trying to do should be impossible, and I begin to sink. Whether through peers, the media, or other sources, Satan is constantly telling us that we are attempting the impossible in walking toward Christ. He would have us believe that it cannot be done. That we are defying the natural laws of the world and that we will fail in our attempts. We can easily become discouraged by the storms surrounding us, and instead of peace and trust we experience fear. We being to sink.

However, the most reassuring verses in this story follow after Peter begins to falter. Peter "saw the wind boisterous, [and] he was afraid; and beginning to sink, he cried, saying Lord, save me. Immediately Jesus stretched forth his hand, and caught him." (verses 30-31) Christ kept His eye on Peter and immediately reached to help him when he began to sink and called for help. Christ will do the same for all of us. We each have moments of doubt in our lives, and we can often become overwhelmed by that fear. But Christ is always there, watching and waiting to be our personal Savior. All we have to do is have have and call on His name. We read further about how Christ is our personal Savior in the Book of Mormon as Alma testifies about the life and mission of Christ (see Alma 7:11-13) and also in Isaiah's prophecies about the Lamb of God (see Isaiah 53:3-5)
I love the message of Christ to come unto Him. I know He's always walking toward us and, as we have faith, we can overcome the storms in our lives and walk on water.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Peace Be Still

I've always been enamored with the ocean. Ever since I was little, I enjoyed the sound of the waves hitting the beach as seagulls squawked nosily overhead. However, growing up in land-locked Arizona, I haven't had many chances to spend much day to day time around the sea. That changed for 3 weeks last summer when I worked on a hospital ship that was providing medical care to central american countries. The ship docked a few miles off the coast, so I lived each day surrounded by water. I finally started to understand the awesome power of the ocean and why it is held, especially by seamen, in a place of such respect, awe, and fear. We didn't encounter any major storms, but we had our share of rough water, and I saw how much effort it took to steer in those pounding waves.

During His earthly ministry, Christ also spent time with the sea, specifically the Sea of Galilee. His disciples, who were fishermen by trade and thus familiar with sailing, often took Him across the sea as He ministered in different cities. Mark 4:36-40 relates the story of one of these voyages and tells how Jesus was asleep in the back of the ship when a great tempest arose. Verse 37 states, "And there arose a great storm of wind, and the waves beat into the ship, so that it was now full", meaning the storm was so huge it threatened to capsize the ship. Now, the disciples were not novice sailors and had probably been through storms before, but even they were afraid "and they awake [Jesus], and said unto him, Master, carest thou not that we perish?"(verse 38) The power of the waves had frightened the apostles into believing that they were going to die.

However in verses 39-40 we read "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. And he said unto them, Why are ye so fearful? how is it that ye have no faith?" Christ brought peace to the raging waves and billowing winds and then asked that simple question "Why are ye so fearful? how is it that ye have no faith?". The apostles had witnessed miracles and testified that Jesus was the Christ, and yet when their faith was tested in the storm that threatened to destroy them, they forsook their faith and thought that Christ would allow them to sink.

Often in life we are surrounded by waves and winds that obscure our destination and leave us to feel that we are directionless in a sea of doubt and despair. But Christ asks just one thing of us "Be not afraid, only believe." (Mark 5:36). Faith is the easiest and the most difficult component in learning to become like our Heavenly Father and Christ. They have perfect faith and desire us to have it too. But how do we obtain faith? How can we even start?

Alma gives us guidance on planting the seed of faith in our hearts during his discourse to the Zoramites. He beings in Alma 32:20-21 "And now as I said concerning faith-faith is not to have a perfect knowledge of things; therefore if ye have faith ye hope for things which are not seen, which are true. And now, behold, I say unto you, and I would that ye should remember that God is merciful unto all who believe on his name; therefore he desireth, in the first place, that ye should believe, yea, even on his word." So what we learn from this is that faith doesn't mean believing something because we've seen it, but it is believing in those things which the spirit can testify to us are true. It's like the quote from the Santa Claus "Believing isn't seeing, seeing is believing." We don't have to see everything physically if we have faith in those things that are true. Secondly, God is merciful and He wants us to understand! He has given us scriptures and doctrine so that we can grow closer to Him and become more like him. And when we have faith to believe that, then we will grow toward God.

So how do we start? Alma 32:26-27 tells us that we must first have a desire to believe. Desire gives us direction. Most people don't just wake up one day and decide they want to run a marathon. It usually starts with a desire to be physically active, to run, and then the idea comes. Faith is the same way. It's not common for someone to wake up and suddenly believe in everything the gospel teaches. They must first have a desire to believe and understand.

Alma 32:28, 33-34, 37, 41-42 then counsels to compare the word (which symbolizes many things, including different aspects of the gospel-like faith) to a seed, plant the seed, nurture the seed, and encourage it's growth. As the seed grows into a fruitful tree, we can see that it is a good seed. In this way our faith has grown from the potential of the seed (a desire to grow) into a fruitful tree. As we plant the desire for faith in Christ in our heart, nourish it, and allow it to grow, then we will find that we can believe in the words of Christ, believe that He is our Savior, and know that He will always be with us in the trials of our lives.

Looking out my sunny window, it's sometimes hard to remember that storms can arise suddenly and obscure the sun that lightens my day, but I know that the true Son can pierce the clouds and tempests in life and with faith nothing is impossible. Just as Christ saved His apostles on the Sea of Galilee, He will lead us safely home if we have faith in Him.

Further reading:
Matthew 14:25-33
Luke 17:5-6
James 1:5-6
3 Nephi 17:7-8
Ether 12:6-22, 28-31
Articles of Faith #4