Friday, March 28, 2014

Why Should I Change?

I'm going to start this post by talking about my eyebrows. Yes, you read that correctly--my eyebrows. And this is why: they don't move enough. For some reason, when I talk, my eyebrows would rather sit like a bump on a log than move up, down, in, and out to show emotion, interest, and energy. I'm not quite sure why, that's just what they do.

This problem was first brought to my attention by my awesome companion, Elder Ellsworth (side note, he has a great blog that you can view here). Apparently, the reason so many of my jokes have been falling flat all these years is that my eyebrows didn't move! Imagine that! 

So, the wonderful Elder Ellsworth invited me to do something: he invited me to change. He has been coaching me in the last week or so by adding the word "eyebrows" to the ends of my sentences and giving me examples of good facial expressions. At first it was a little bit aggravating, because change is not easy. But I'm SLOWLY getting to the point where I don't need to think about it anymore, my eyebrows move on their own!

As missionaries, our role is to invite the people we meet and teach to make changes in their lives that will bring them closer to the Savior. Often times these changes are not easy, and they sometimes don't make a whole lot of sense. Many religions teach that we don't need to change our lifestyles, we only need to declare faith in Jesus Christ. From time to time the people we teach are confused about why they are being asked to change themselves.

So, after thinking about it, I'd like to share some thoughts about WHY we, as disciples of Jesus Christ, are asked to change our lifestyles.

It all starts with our purpose in life. I think the Book of Mormon character Amulek describes it best, in Alma 34:32:

"For behold, this life is the time for men to prepare to meet God; yea, behold the day of this life is the day for men to perform their labors."

This life is the time to prepare. This life is when we must perform our labors. What does that mean? How can we, imperfect mortal human beings, prepare to meet God, the perfect, eternal creator of the universe? How can we possibly be prepared for such a task? What does that even entail?

Well, although Christian religions differ in the specifics of the doctrine, almost all agree that, at some point after we die, we will all be held accountable before God. According to the Mormon tradition, we will be judged according to our "thoughts, actions, and desires". So what can we do to make sure that when we report to our Maker on ALL of our thoughts, actions, and desires, we won't be shaking in our boots and quivering in guilt?

Well, we can change. We use the word "repent". To repent means to feel sorry for our mistakes, correct our habits, and realign our will with God's will. God has repeatedly given us the AMAZING promise, throughout the Bible and the Book of Mormon, that if we repent of our sins, we will no longer be held accountable for them. They are wiped away, we are forgiven. It is one of the greatest blessings God has given to His children.

But why does God care what we do in this life? If He loves us, why can't He accept us the way we are? That is a good question. It has to do with the nature of God's commandments. The thing that is sometimes hard to realize is that God doesn't give us commandments just to make our lives harder. He isn't trying to STOP His children from making it to heaven by telling us what we should and shouldn't do. The commandments are there... TO MAKE US HAPPY! In my first post, I talked about how keeping the commandments leads us to a happier life. It isn't that God is rewarding us for keeping an arbitrary list of do's and don'ts. The commandments DIRECTLY affect our quality of life, the peace in our families, and our feelings of self-worth. Pretty neat, huh?

So why do you need to change your life because of the gospel? Well, you don't. But God has given you commandments, commandments meant to bless and enrich your life, and if you don't try to live them, you won't qualify to live with Him in Heaven. Notice that I said TRY. Because God is merciful, and knows that sometimes we don't succeed. But He wants us to do our very best.

I have gained a greater love for and appreciation of the rules that God has given us as I've lived them myself and taught them to those around me. I hope that my thoughts have made sense and that they have helped explain why the Lord sometimes asks us to make changes in our lives. 

I would like to invite all of you, no matter what your religious affiliation might be, to study the teachings of Christ in the New Testament and the Book of Mormon. Then seek to live your life in accordance with those teachings. Love your neighbor, live a clean and virtuous life, pay respect to God through prayer, and try to serve those around you. You will be blessed by your obedience to God, and then over time you will know for yourself that the teachings of Jesus Christ are true.

How has living the commandments blessed you in your life? 
Let me know in the comments!

Monday, March 24, 2014

A Sure Foundation: The Power of Faith

It is a fact of life that we don't know what the future holds. There will always be uncertainties of one sort or another. Some are small: Is the grocery store still open?   Will it rain today? Others are more important: How can I find a job?   What will I do if I fail this class?    Why isn't my life going the way I wanted it to?

All of these uncertainties weigh on us to different degrees. They create stress and tension and fear about the future. They can cause us to doubt our decisions, and in extreme cases they can invite depression and anxiety. 

So how do we overcome these uncertainties? Some of them are easy to endure, especially with a lifetime of practice that we all get. Others, though, can't just be brushed aside. They are real concerns that have lasting impacts and no clear solution. They can leave us confused and dismayed if we do not deal with them properly. 

The Lord has blessed us with a tool for combating the fear and anxiety we all feel from time to time, and that is faith in Jesus Christ. In the Book of Mormon, the prophet Helaman tells his sons:

"And now, my sons, remember, remember that it is upon the rock of our Redeemer, who is Christ, the Son of God, that ye must build your foundation; that when the devil shall send forth his mighty winds, yea, his shafts in the whirlwind, yea, when all his hail and his mighty storm shall beat upon you, it shall have no power over you to drag you down to the gulf of misery and endless wo, because of the rock upon which ye are built, which is a sure foundation, a foundation whereon if men build they cannot fall."

This scripture has been a great strength to me. These uncertainties and doubts about the future often feel like the "hail and mighty storm" that this verse describes. I have seen the truth of this scripture in my own life and in the lives of people I have met. As I've made Jesus Christ my foundation, I have been able to overcome greater challenges and fears than I would ever have been able to alone.

I would like to share the story of an amazing woman that I met several months ago that has been an example to me of making Christ the foundation in life. Her story inspires me and is evidence to me of the truthfulness of the gospel. I have changed her name for her privacy.

Sarah was raised in California with her siblings. At the age of 13, her parents started supplying her with illegal drugs and money to obtain more drugs. She spent years doing everything she could to feel happy, but never felt the satisfaction she wanted. In her words, she had "run as far away from God as [she] could." When she was in her 30s, she finally recognized that drugs were getting her nowhere and decided that something needed to change. At this point, she had been forced to give up her three children and was involved in an abusive relationship. She ran away from her old life and decided to come to Utah. When she got here, she was arrested and spent several months in jail. 

It was in jail that she was introduced to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. She learned the teachings of the church and developed a relationship with Christ through prayer and by reading her Bible. She realized what she had been missing for most of her life: It was God. 

Today Sarah is working hard to build a better future for herself. She is attending church and reading the scriptures and praying like no one else I've ever met. She is working on quitting smoking, finding employment, and even getting her children back! According to her, the only thing that gives her the strength to keep trying after all she's been through is the knowledge that God loves her and that He will help her all along the way.

There are countless others around the world who, like Sarah, have found God after a long life of struggling alone. Other people are blessed to have Jesus Christ as a part of their lives from their infancy. Wherever we are at in life or however we first came in contact with the gospel, we have a responsibility to live true to the knowledge we have. Each of us will pass through storms in life, time and time again. But with Jesus Christ, we will not have to pass through them alone. The uncertainties and doubts that were once crippling will become as rain bouncing off the roof of our home. Even the greatest challenges of life will become bearable through Christ's support.

We must build our foundation in Christ by living true to His commandments, by praying sincerely to Him, by reading from the Bible and the Book of Mormon, and by sharing our knowledge with those around us. We must prepare today for the storms of tomorrow by ensuring that we each have a personal relationship with the Savior.

And, if you have strayed from the path, there is always hope. The Savior is there to welcome you with open arms back into His protection. 

With Him on our side, there is nothing we cannot overcome.

Please share YOUR stories about how faith in Jesus Christ has helped you endure trials in the comments below!

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Introduction: The Blessed and Happy State

Hello! My name is Elder Andrus, and I am a full time missionary for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, serving in the Utah Ogden Mission. As a missionary, I have dedicated two years of my life to "inviting others to come unto Christ". To fulfill that purpose, I have decided to start this blog to share the things that I believe, why I believe them, and how those beliefs have taken form in my life, both before and during my mission. I hope that my experiences will help you in some way, or at least bring a portion of the Savior's love into your life.

For this first post, I would like to explain the title of this blog. It comes from a scripture in the Book of Mormon, a book I hold dear. The verse is Mosiah 2:41, which reads:

"And moreover, I would desire that ye should consider on the blessed and happy state of those that keep the commandments of God. For behold, they are blessed in all things, both temporal and spiritual; and if they hold out faithful to the end they are received into heaven, that thereby they may dwell with God in a state of never-ending happiness. O remember, remember that these things are true; for the Lord God hath spoken it."

To me, this scripture means that when we do our best to follow Heavenly Father's commandments, we are blessed for it. It doesn't mean that life will always be easy, or that we won't still have challenges. It does mean, though, that we can be confident that our life has purpose, and that God will be watching over us. No matter how much we don't understand, we can rest assured that if we strive to follow Jesus Christ, we will be blessed.

I chose the name "The Blessed and Happy State", because I hope that this blog will help others see the blessings that come from living the Gospel of Jesus Christ. I do not mean to imply that I don't have personal struggles, or that my life is perfect by any means. But, with God's help, I strive, just as everyone does, to have a "Blessed and Happy" life.

I'd like to end with my testimony that I know that Jesus Christ was the Son of God, that He came to this earth to suffer for our sins, and that through His sacrifice we can overcome our weaknesses. I know that the church that Christ established during His life has been restored through the prophet Joseph Smith, and that we have once again on the earth the authority to baptize, to run Christ's church, and to perform miracles. I know that God has a purpose for each of us, and that life does not end once we leave this world. And most of all, I know that God loves us more than we can imagine! I say these things in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.