Exercising Faith – by Carolyn Stout

Our Own Little World

This past summer we took a family camping trip up to Mirror Lake in the Uintah mountains. Our campsite was close to a running river, and someone had created a pool out of rocks so the grandchildren had a great place to play. We went hiking and sightseeing, and watched our three grandsons (ages 5-7) work together to build a path out of rocks so they could cross the river. We roasted hotdogs and made s’mores. It was a wonderful time being in our own little world where we were secluded from the hustle and bustle of everyday life and we could build strong relationships and make wonderful memories.

The Outside World

The evening of our last day there we had a group of kids in their early 20’s pull in and start setting up camp a few yards away. At first we were concerned because they were intruding on our wonderful time together, second because it was a coed campout and we had sweet innocent little children with us. The ‘world’ had entered into our sacred space.
We went ahead and fixed dinner and had our evening ritual of s’mores and stories. As our children were getting the grandkids ready for bed, the music and laughter began getting louder from the neighboring camp, so our sons went over and politely explained that they had small children going to sleep and asked if they would keep the noise down. The other group was very polite and said they would.
As the evening went on and we were playing games inside the trailer, we could hear the drunken laughter and music get louder.

A Test of Faith

I was getting a little concerned but the thought kept coming to me to pray and everything would be all right. So before my son, Ben, went to his tent and my other son, Jason, went to his car where his two kids were asleep, we had a prayer and asked Heavenly Father to protect us through the night – that we would be in a protective bubble from the ‘outside’ world. We went to bed confident the Lord had heard our prayers. I even said another one after I got in bed and felt a peace come over me that we would be okay. But then I would hear loud laughter or someone walking around our tents and trailer, and I started to doubt my faith that Heavenly Father was protecting us. I would remind myself of all the lessons I had taught and learned about how if we pray in faith and trust that He hears our prayers he would bless us, like the scripture ‘Ask and it shall be given.’
When I remembered that and put my trust in Him I could rest, but when I allowed the ‘outside’ to come in again I couldn’t. It was a long night.

I couldn’t wait to talk to the kids the next morning to see how they slept. They both said they slept well and didn’t hear a thing, which was a tender mercy. Prayers had been answered.

Reflections On Faith

That morning happened to be Sunday and our son got permission from his church leader to have our own Sacrament Meeting. As I sat there under the covering, surrounded by family and the beautiful trees, and listening to the river flow beside us, I couldn’t help but think of our pioneer ancestors who held all of their meetings outside as they crossed the plains. I thought of their unwavering faith as they listened to the early prophets and embraced the gospel and then of their courage to set out for an unknown place so they could worship in peace.

As I looked around at half of our beautiful family and especially our sweet little grandchildren who were there and how reverently they partook of the sacrament and listened to grandpa speak to them, I thought of their faith and how it is growing and developing daily, then I thought of my own faith and how I had let it waver throughout the night. Why couldn’t I be like my ancestors and my posterity?

I just have to remember my favorite thought ‘Faith is not believing God can. It is knowing God will.’ I have seen Him bless us in the past when I have asked in faith, so I need to remember that He will bless us in the future IF I am trying to live righteously and IF I ask in faith and put my trust in Him.
I know He is there and loves me.

“Remember that faith and doubt cannot exist in the same mind at the same time, for one will dispel the other.” – President Thomas S. Monson

A Lesson from Cleaning Blinds

We go along, busy with life, work, school, church responsibilities, families, thinking things are okay. But when we take time to sit back and ponder having the Spirit or the Light with us, we look a little closer and we can see that there are some things, or “dirt,” that we can clean out of our lives to be clean and pure before the Lord.

I went to Utah to help our son with his boys while his wife went to Girls’ Camp – a week-long camp for teenage girls. I knew she had been busy, not only with her three small boys, but there is a lot to do when you are in charge of a Girls’ Camp: you are planning activities as well as food. So I wanted to help with some of the deep cleaning that I knew she had not had time to do.

One of the things I wanted to do was clean her blinds and windows – sometimes those are the things that get forgotten or are last on the list. I told my son one evening that that would be my main focus the next day. He looked at them and said, “Mom, don’t worry about it. They don’t need to be cleaned.” I thought, “Well, it’s dark, and you can’t see that they do need it without the daylight.”

So the next day, their oldest son and I started to clean them while the other two played beside us. We were about done with the first big window when we looked and saw how dirty the wash water had gotten. I started to think about how this can relate to our spiritual lives. We can sometimes get so caught up in our everyday activities that we forget to do some of the little things that help us stay close to our Father in Heaven. We could say, “I don’t have time to read my scriptures today, so I’ll read extra tomorrow,” and then tomorrow it is easier to put it off one more day. Extracurricular activities may get in the way of Family Home Evening. “I’m too tired to pray on my knees tonight, so I will say a quick prayer in bed.” But we never get to the ‘Amen.’

We are counseled by our church leaders to do these things daily as a family and personally, because, if we don’t, our lives can soon become like the blinds in the darkness. We can’t see the dirt or ‘sin’ that we are letting in. Only with the Light of Christ can we truly see that those little things we do daily can bring us closer to Him and our eternal salvation.

John 8:12 – “Then spake Jesus again unto them, saying, I am the light of the world: he that followeth me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life.”

Mormons and Their Rules – by Joseph Gardner

My sophomore year of college, I had the opportunity to compete on the school’s track team.  In addition to enjoying to challenges associated with competition, I also experienced a great camaraderie with my teammates, most of whom had distinctly different backgrounds and interests.  

I’ll never forget one particular experience with my team, warming up for the day’s practice.  It was a Monday after one of those beautiful, cool spring weekends and everyone was discussing their weekend…let’s say “exploits.”  Ironically enough, the conversation turned to the appropriateness of their “extracurricular activities” with the discussion finally escalating when someone said, “well, let’s just ask Gardner!  He’s Mormon, he knows all the rules!”

The funny thing is, that wasn’t the first nor has it been the last experience like this that I’ve had.  Whether it’s coworkers joking that I must have been the culprit that finished off the office coffee without starting another batch or questions from neighbors, I’ve found that people typically associate members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints with having lots of rules.

This has lead me to ask myself, “so what IS with all the rules?!”

Purpose of Commandments
First off, to use biblical jargon, we’ll refer to rules as commandments.  And whether we are looking at the Old Testament, New Testament, or the Book of Mormon, there are TONS of mentions of commandments.  Let’s just say, it would be a trending topic on twitter.

One of my favorite scriptures on commandments comes from the New Testament. Specifically John 14:15 and 21 where Jesus said, speaking to His disciples, “if ye love me, keep my commandments…he that hath my commandments and keepeth them, he it is that loveth me…”

I read these verses to mean that keeping the commandments or following the rules, is an expression of my love and discipleship of Christ.

Using two examples from the Old Testament (Proverbs 4:4 and 19:16) provides an additional and different insight into the purpose of commandments.  They read, “…keep my commandments, and live,” and “ he that keepeth the commandment keepeth his own soul.”

The vibe I take here is that following the commandments also has a guiding purpose, and that keeping them results in a positive outcome for me.

Putting the Old and the New together, I get that God lovingly gives me these commandments for my benefit.  They provide guidance and instruction on how to live a happy and fulfilled life.  

This makes sense to me.  I mean, I have a hard time imagining a Father in Heaven chuckling to Himself saying, “now to make life even MORE difficult, I’ll give them commandments!  Mwah ha ha!”  In fact, in 1 John 5: 3 reads, “his commandments are not grievous,” with grievous meaning burdensome and oppressive (emphasis added).  

Seen in this light, members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints go about life with all their “rules” because they see them as an expression of discipleship in Christ and believe they provide a guiding “hand rail” if you will, to life.

However, I’ll be the first to admit, I’m guilty of letting things become more about the rules and less about their purpose.

Can We Take It Too Far?
I’m a task-oriented person.  What I mean by this is, I tend to create a level of business in my life.  The day is only 24 hours and I’ve got stuff to take care of!!

Extending this to the discussion about commandments, I begin to see and behave in such a way that these guiding rules simply become “to-dos” on my every growing list of things to get done that day.   I approach them like a checklist and sometimes even expand their scope, furthering the  busyness of my life.

This hustle and bustle that I carry with me is the main window through which others get a glimpse of my faith. Probably not the best impression.

In fact, Christ spent a lot of His time on earth condemning this sort of behavior, (see Matthew 23 for example).  He taught and reminded the people that life isn’t about commandments for commandments sake.  They are meant to guide me to God (John 7:17).

Dieter Uchtdorf, whom members of the church support as a modern day apostle recently said, “salvation cannot be bought with the currency of obedience; it is purchased by the blood of the Son of God” (May 2015 General Conference).

When I heard him say I had an “oh-duh-light-bulb” moment.  I realized/remembered that I don’t go to church or practice my faith to take copious notes on how to make my life more busy and challenging.  I want to worship Christ because He has saved me. I need His grace.

Uchtdorf went on to emphasize that with Christ’s grace, commandments have yet another purpose, “living the gospel faithfully is not a burden.  It is a joyful rehearsal—a preparation for inheriting the grand glory of the eternities” (May 2015).

Change
Clearly, my zealous busyness misses the mark, and doesn’t necessarily reflect well on my discipleship of Christ.  One particular commandment comes to mind here, the commandment to repent.  My favorite definition of repentance comes from Ezekiel where he says to turn from where I was facing back to God and live (see chapter 33).  

After that, commandments aren’t just rules.  They have a specific purpose: to help teach me about Him, to guide me to Him, to show me how to be more like Him.