Preparation, Service, and Love

Preparation, Service, and Love

Over April break, I had the opportunity to serve a mini mission.  During this time I shadowed the sister missionaries for four days.  I followed them and  kept the missionary standards- including wearing a dress for four days in a row, which for me is a feat in itself- and did what the sisters did.  We taught investigators (those learning about the gospel) visited members’ homes to share spiritual messages and extend invitations to them to work on their missionary goals, did service, and attended planning meetings to go over our goals.  The entire experience really strengthened my testimony and taught me so much.

First, I learned the importance of preparation.  Every morning we would go over our schedule on who we were going to teach that day, and what the lesson would be focusing on.  During scripture study, we looked for messages we could share with those we taught that would be helpful to them.  We put together a lesson plan and prayed for direction.  Having a lesson prepared helped things to go smoothly, and allowed for the spirit to be with us.  Even more important, perhaps, was the long term preparation.  Sometimes during lessons I would feel prompted to share a comment or add something that we hadn’t specifically planned.  I know the ability to have experiences like those is strengthened when we allow God into our lives.  When we pray, study our scriptures, attend church meetings, and live the gospel standards we are,“extending our antenna to God.” These things prepare us to have spiritual promptings and act on them.  In Doctrine and Covenants 100:6 the Lord promises that when we are prepared, “it shall be given you in the very hour, yea in the very moment, what ye should say.” Watching a bunch of crash course videos may help you the day before an AP exam, but if you really want to do well you have to read the textbook and study throughout the year. (not that I would know anything about the first option).  In the same way, the best way to succeed in the test of life is to continually do these things.  It truly makes such a difference.

I also learned a beautiful paradox of missionary work.  The more you strive to serve others and remain selfless, the more you gain for yourself.  In the mission, a huge emphasis is placed on serving others.  When we studied our scriptures, we did so focusing on the needs of those we were teaching.  In return, my scripture study became more meaningful.  I gained more inspiration during scripture study and throughout the day.  When we prayed, we focused on gratitude- thanking the Lord for what he had given us.  We also prayed for our investigators, for members, for leaders, and for other missionaries.  When we prayed for ourselves it was for guidance and strength in teaching, rather than asking the Lord for material things or to make our day easier.  As we did so, we received strength and guidance, because God wishes to grant us our righteous desires.  He blessed us with more opportunities and I felt my relationship with Him grow so much stronger. Service is one of the greatest way to build a relationship with someone, and as we learn in Mosiah 2:17, “when ye are in the service of your fellow beings ye are only in the service of your God.” While serving others, I grew closer to them and to my Heavenly Father.  As I grew closer to my Heavenly Father, I felt his love- both for me and everyone around me.

I also saw in the sisters such love and selflessness. Because the sisters had such great love for others, they were truly happy when their prayers for them were answered.  Love is truly the greatest missionary tool.  When you love someone, you desire happiness for them.  The gospel brings greater joy than anything else can.  When you invite with sincere love, others know that they are not just a number to you.  You do not want them to join the church and be baptized just to add a name to a list.  You want them to learn about the gospel because it is the greatest gift in your life, and you want them to also have this gift, just as Lehi desired for his family to taste of the delicious fruit in his vision (1 Nephi 8).  I know that the gospel of Jesus Christ is true.  It has blessed my life in countless ways.  It has brought me great friends.  It has given me great role models- both in the scriptures and in my leaders today.  It has given me direction, and following its principles has protected me from so much pain that I see my peers go through.  It has taught me responsibility and how to have fun without having to turn to substances.  Most importantly, it has given me hope and a relationship with My Father in Heaven and His son Jesus Christ.  It is the greatest blessing I have in my life.

Baptism

Baptism is an important step in our journey towards exaltation. Article of faith number 4 (part of the 13 articles of faith that outline the beliefs of our religion)  states,

“We believe that the first principles and ordinances of the Gospel are: first, Faith in the Lord Jesus Christ; second, Repentance; third, Baptism by immersion for the remission of sins; fourth, Laying on of hands for the gift of the Holy Ghost.”

Like the article of faith says, we are baptized for the remission of sins.  When you’re baptized, you become clean.  Heavenly Father forgives everything you have done wrong, and it is as though they never happened.  Like when you take a bath after playing in the mud, baptism takes all the bad things you’ve done and washes them away.

When you are baptized, you also make a covenant, or a promise, with God. You promise to take upon you the name of Jesus Christ, always remember Him, keep His commandments, and serve Him to the end.  This means that no matter where you are–at church, at school, at work, or at home, you try your best to remember Christ and follow his example by acting the way he would act and by doing what he would do.  If we keep our promise, God promises to bless us in return.  We are blessed with the right to the constant companionship of the Holy Ghost and with the ability to repent and return to live with Him someday.

In sum, when we are baptized we become official members of Christ’s Church, our sins are washed away, and we receive the gift of the Holy Ghost.  Every week when we partake of the sacrament, we renew these covenants and promises.  Every Sunday we have the opportunity to have our sins washed away and be blessed once more as we try our best to keep the commandments and follow Christ’s example.

A few years ago, President Uchtdorf, the second counselor to the prophet of our Church, gave a talk where he compared our lives to a Fairy Tale.  The words “Once Upon a Time” are used to begin almost all fairy tales.  Baptism is that “Once Upon a Time,” which begins our quest to return to our Heavenly Father.  Every person’s path will be filled with the “dragons” of trials and temptation., but we can also find Fairy Godmothers in the righteous leaders and teachers around us that help guide us along the way.

If we make a mistake, we can repent and become pure just like we are when we first enter the baptismal gate.  As we continue to choose the right by keeping the commandments and doing as Christ would do, we come closer to Him, and come closer to returning to our Father in Heaven and living Happily Ever After.

Choosing Charity

One of the most common reasons I’ve heard from people who lack faith in God is the amount of evil there is in the world.  Why would a God who loves his children allow such tragedy to happen to them?  Life is a test.  What happens to us is a result of our decisions, and the decisions of others.  If God stopped us every time we were about to make a bad decision we would never learn from our mistakes.  If nothing tragic ever happened to us or anyone we knew, we would never have the opportunity to feel compassion, to reach out and to be charitable.

Alissa Parker, the mother of Sandy Hook victim Emile Parker understood this principle.  After her daughter’s death, she was consumed with the pain of the loss of her child.  However, as others reached out to help the family, Alissa felt a change of heart.  She felt the goodness, the selflessness of her lost daughter in the charitable acts of these people she barely knew (having just moved to the area recently before the accident).  I’ve seen this charity, this love, in my own life.  In the chaos surrounding natural disasters and other tragedies, I have witnessed people rally to help others.  The small arguments between people are forgotten as they gather to do good.  Disasters such as these, as horrific as they are, allow us to humble ourselves and reach out in love to one another, as Christ reached out to those in need in his time on Earth.

God could have stopped the Sandy Hook Gunman, but that would not have allowed him to choose.  This agency is central to the Creator’s plan of happiness for us.  It is what allows us to make our own decisions, right or wrong, and learn from them.  It allows us to repent and return to him if we do make a wrong choice.  When we choose what’s right, when we choose to help others, when we choose to forgive, when we choose to love, we come closer to Christ.  It is through us that God helps others, if we choose to follow his teachings.

Why we call God our “Heavenly Father”

First Vision_660x330_scaled_cropp

A depiction of the vision the Prophet Joseph Smith had of Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ

Depending on what time, religion, or book you study, you may learn a different name for “God” from each of them.  While Latter-Day Saints (or Mormons) also use commonly used terms such as “God” and “Lord”, probably the most common way we refer to our Creator is “Heavenly Father”.  This one title alone contains some pretty significant information and insight into our beliefs.  This name is not only unique to our church, but it also helps to explain our views in various ways.

First of all, the title “Heavenly Father” shows how we view God, and ourselves.  One of the first songs the children of our church learn is I am a Child of God.  We believe that we are literal sons and daughters of God and that we are created in his image.  God does not have to be an abstract being, impossible to comprehend; he is our father, and we are his children.  He has a body of flesh and bones, just as we do.  The main purpose of our journey here on earth is to become more like Him, and a big part of that is receiving a body.   When we view God as our Heavenly Father, it is easier to develop an intimate relationship with Him.  Through personal prayer and scripture study, we can communicate with our Heavenly Father and grow closer to Him while still on Earth.

One belief of our church that is not shared with many other Christian churches is the belief that the Godhead consists of three separate beings.  While other churches believe God the Father, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Ghost are one being, we do not.  We believe that God is our Heavenly Father, and that he created a plan that all of us could come to Earth, and through tests and trials, following his commandments, repentance, and resurrection we could grow to become like him and obtain the glory that he possesses.  Jesus Christ is our brother and Savior; his suffering in Gethsemane and on the cross made it possible for us to repent of our sins and become clean again.  Because Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ are two separate, distinct beings of flesh and blood, they cannot be with all of us at once.  The Holy Ghost is a spirit of God; through the Holy Ghost we can be guided in our choices so that we can follow the path that our Father in Heaven has planned for us.  It is through him that Heavenly Father communicates with his children.

Knowing about our Heavenly Father also affects the way that we look at others.  We are all children of God.  No matter what challenges we may face or circumstances we may have been born into, we are all brothers and sisters.  Every one of us has divine potential, and we are here to help each other to reach it.  We are all spiritual beings; we are just simply in mortal bodies for the time being.  When we come to know our Heavenly Father, we can come to know of our own divine potential, and to help those around us realize theirs.

A Leap of Faith

Io eclipsing Jupiter

Image courtesy of NASA

Throughout history, scientists and religious leaders have argued about various topics, each believing that they must be right and the other must be completely wrong. However, this is not how I believe that it was meant to be. Science and religion should interconnect. The only reason the two sometimes clash is because we don’t have all of the answers yet.

I believe that the more you truly learn and study something, the more apparent the reality of God becomes. For example, the Bible begins, “In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.” However, the Hebrew word that was translated into “created” can also mean “organized” or “formed.” These meanings connect with the scientific principle that matter can neither be created nor destroyed. The Bible also states that the creation took place in seven days, but we believe that the Lord measures time differently than us. Each “day” simply represents a block of time.

In my studies, I try to find connections between science and religion rather than discard scientific theories, and I have found that it seems to actually help my education. I’m excited to take physics next year, because I feel that the laws of physics (such as the conservation of matter) will help me better understand not only how our Heavenly Father created the earth but also the various other miracles He and His son, Jesus Christ, have performed. For me, practically everything is evidence of a higher being—the beauty of nature, the complexity of organisms down to even a single cell, and even our planet and its perfect conditions.

I heard a man from church once bear his testimony of the gospel based on Jupiter. He told us that because of the tiny chance of the existence of our planet, he believed that there must be a God. He explained that not only is our planet in the perfect position to sustain life, with all of the necessary resources for humans and so many other organisms to live, but that it reaches far beyond that. In space, there is matter constantly flying around that could easily hit Earth and cause major damage, and, if it happened enough, make it uninhabitable. However, our solar system is constructed in a protective fashion. Jupiter, which is only two planets away, has an incredible gravitational pull. It is in the perfect position to attract space rubble before it has a chance to hit the Earth, which is amazing. And if something happens to pass Jupiter, the asteroid belt can protect us. With all of these facts, it seems that there is little doubt of a God looking out for us.

A classmate who was a self-proclaimed atheist once said to me that the reason he did not believe in God is because His existence had not been proven, and he did not believe anything until it had been proven. However, there is a flaw in his reasoning. He is waiting for someone to prove to him something that he must find out for himself. He says that it has not been proven, but he is not willing to follow the simple steps of the scientific method to prove it. The scriptures come with a promise that if you read them and pray with real intent, believing that you can receive an answer, the truth of it will be manifest to you. It is not a commitment but simply a challenge: if you follow these steps, you will come to know the truth of God and see what miracles He can bring into your life.