Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Barbed Wire Fence

Have you ever wondered what barbed wire fences and the Gospel of Jesus Christ have in common? Well, I’ll tell you.

The other day we went and helped a lady named Jan fix and rebuild a fence for her stallion (we'll call him Jasper because I can't remember his name). Jasper is not just any other horse; he is a race horse and Jan's pride and joy. Just about all of Jan’s daily activities revolve around her horses--especially this beautiful thoroughbred. Jan needed a new fence because she was afraid her old one wouldn’t keep Jasper in when the temptation of fresh spring grass popped up around the fence. She did not want her horse to get out and roam around. She didn't need a new fence because she wanted to confine Jasper, she wanted one because she wanted to keep him in a safe area where there were no threats and she could take care of him.

As we were putting the barbed wire on the fence, the thought came to me “Holy Cow! This is a lot like life and the commandments God gives us.” God cares so much for us. We are His pride and joy. His work revolves around us. He knows our potential just like Jan knows the potential of her stallion. She knows Jasper isn’t supposed to be just another horse to trot around with; she knows his genes are bred to race. Because of this, she makes sure he has a special diet and is well taken care of. We are all children of God. God knows our royal bloodline and sees our divine potential. He makes sure we are nourished by His word. He watches over us. But the most important thing He does is He builds a fence.

He puts up a barrier so He can take care of us. This barrier, this fence, is His commandments. He’s drawn the line and told us where the boundaries that protect us are. He has given them in His scriptures written by His servants. The only difference is we know where the gate is, and it’s our choice whether to stay within the bounds He has set. He tells us what to abstain from and also things we need to do. The greatest news is that His mouth is still open today. Today, modern prophets continue to give us commandments in an ever-changing, standard-fleeting world.

So why does He give us commandments? Is it to confine and keep us away from the “fun” things of the world? No, it’s because He knows there is so much temptation in the world that is pleasing to the eye, but will ultimately lead to disappointment, devastation, and, in the end, eternal destruction. If Jasper followed the enticing grass, he would face dangerous traffic, disease, and would never reach his potential to be a great race horse. Just like this, if we follow the temptations of the world, we can never expect to reach our Heavenly potential.

Although God’s commandments sometimes look like they restrict us, they are there to give us life. We all have the choice to stay within the barrier that God has set or wander around searching for a greener pasture. I can promise you that no pasture is truly greener. Take it from one who hasn’t always stayed inside the fence. God’s commandments are really here to protect us. If you are outside the fence, go back in and live within the bounds that God has set. If you are in the fence stay there! It is the only way to happiness and peace. It is the only way to eternal salvation.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Find A Reason to Celebrate

I don’t know about you but I love celebrations.  I love going out with friends and family and having a reason to celebrate.   But I’ve realized something.  I’m in Tennessee and everyone back home is going on with life without me.  What’s up with that?  It sometimes seems a bit cruel.  I mean I miss out on having Christmas with my family, celebrating my best friend’s birthday, and whole bunch of other stuff.   Then I realized today (yep, just barely today) that there’s so many things in this world to celebrate.

Some of us, and I’m included, might get caught up in ourselves and forget all the great things that God has given us.  We get sidetracked on the things of the world and forget the beauty of what we have.  But what comes of this?  When we forget to be thankful and grateful for what we have we lose a sense of happiness.  We lose view of the things that matter most.

There are so many great things in this world that are ours.  God has given them to us.  Just take a look around and see.   Each of us has a family.  Not all families are perfect, but isn’t it great that God has put people in our lives who love us and care for us?  That deserves a celebration.   We all have a beautiful world to live in.  Just sit down outside and count all that God has given you.  I promise you won’t have enough time to count everything.  Isn’t that a reason to celebrate?   Even the trials that come into our lives can be worth a celebration.  I’m a true believer of the words of the music artist Kelly Clarkson “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.”  I’ve seen firsthand that trials really do mold us into something better than what we were before.    There are so many reasons to celebrate life. 

Find a reason to celebrate today.  It doesn’t have to be your birthday to make today a day to remember.   Just count your many blessing that God has given you and celebrate.  Now that doesn’t mean go out and party, it means give thanks to God and help someone find their reason to celebrate as well. 

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Plumber, Painter, Missionary

What does fixing plumbing, getting soaked in church clothes, and teaching people about Jesus all have in common?  To most people there isn’t much but for me it’s all part of a normal day’s work.

As a full time missionary for the church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, I live a life that to most of the world probably seems a bit strange.   For two years of my life I live in Tennessee, 1800 miles away from home, representing Jesus Christ and His church.  I didn’t always have a life like this before.  I used to go to sporting events, I’d go camping and hiking, and believe it or not, I even got girls to go on dates with me.  Then I traded all that life in for a two year calling to preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ 24/7.

Now here I am, sitting in Pikeville Tennessee, giving my life to God.  Every day consists of reading and studying the scriptures, teaching people about Jesus Christ, hours of service, and church meetings.  There’s no room for sports, watching movies, college, or even girls.  Now you’re probably thinking, “Holy Cow!  Who in their right mind would make you do all that?”  Well, it might sound crazy, but I make myself do this.  No one forced me to do this, I did it myself.  I chose to serve these two years and I love it. 

I’m not going to lie to you, this last year has been the hardest time of my life, but it’s also been the best.  I’ve never worked so hard and I’ve never been so tired in my life.  I’ve also never been so happy in my life.  I’m out here because God has given me so much and I want to give back to Him.  I want to help others in every possible way.  I want to serve others, whether it’s by painting a barn, finding a lost puppy, or anything in-between.   I want people to know who their Savior and Redeemer is.  I want to help people to gain faith in Jesus Christ and return to live with their Heavenly Father.

I love what I do.  Although this life might seem unusual to the outside world, it’s the greatest thing I have ever done.   The reward has been worth the sacrifice.  I’ve had more of a conversion to Christ out here than any time before and every day is a learning experience.

There are almost 90,000 full time missionaries just like me from our church serving throughout the world.  All of us have the same purpose but every one of us has a different story of why we do what we do.  If you ever get the opportunity to talk to one of us, ask us why we give up everything to serve God.  The answers you'll get will change your life.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Facing Finals Week

Just the other day I was thinking about what I was doing a year ago. Then I remembered that it was around finals week at Utah State University and I was sweating bullets over taking all my finals. That week was one of my most stressful weeks I can remember. I spent hours tirelessly cramming as much calculus, chemistry, and history as I could into my exhausted mind.

The whole time during that grueling week, my thought was "Why didn't I pay more attention in class so I wouldn't be in this mess?"  When I went to my classes, my mind was usually wandering from one thing to another and the effort I put into really studying and learning was dismal. I had always put off my projects and studying to the last minute.  Instead of studying for my tests, sometimes I’d go to a basketball game. Occasionally, I'd go to lunch with my friends rather than attend class. Then the next time I went to class I had no idea what we were talking about. 

So now, you are probably thinking "Elder Stradling, you're a Mormon missionary. What in the world does a story of you about college have to do about the gospel of Jesus Christ?” Well, I'll tell you. 

Some of us, if not all of us, get caught up in the things of the world.  And don’t think I’m excluding myself, because I’m speaking from experience.  The world is such a great place filled with many great things.  There’s so much to do here and we only have a short time to do them.  The thing is, we all have the same purpose in life.  That purpose is “to prepare to meet God and perform our labors.” -Alma 34:32. Although my purpose of going to college was to learn and go to class and do well on my tests to earn a degree, I sometimes got caught up in all the fun and forgot why I was there.  Just like I forgot what it was I was supposed to be doing in college, sometimes we get caught up in the world and forget what we should be doing.  Then at the last minute we scramble to get caught back up and get back on the right path.  Although we can all get back on the right path from wherever we are, it’s easier just to live it all the time.  

We all know what we need to be doing.  Whether it’s going to church, praying, or just showing love to people, we need to remember not to put those things off.  I know as we remember our purpose in life and not get distracted that we will have peace in our lives and find great happiness.   Remember that it is easier to stay following the gospel than to have to quickly catch back up at the last minute.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Christmas Time is Family Time

Isn't the Christmas season the greatest time of year?  Everyone brings you Christmas cookies.  As you drive down the road hundreds of lights illuminate houses and trees.  The air is filled with the aroma of pine and peppermint.  People seem to smile and wave more for no apparent reason.  Church bells ring to familiar sounds of Christmas carols.  People come knocking on your door just to sing to you.  Snowflakes glisten as they fall around you.  Dozens of presents snuggle around the Christmas tree.  Doesn't this all sound amazing?  I don't think there is any time better than the Christmas season. 

Ever since I can remember I have always loved the Christmas season.  One thing I have always loved doing during the holidays is shopping for the perfect present for each one of my good friends and family members.   I used to spend hours running from store to store searching high and low for the best Christmas presents ever.  I would carefully compare one toy to another, one tool kit to another, one set of cookware to another until I found the one perfect present for that person I had in mind.  As I look back now I see my shopping as more of an obligation and obsession.  Although my intentions were good, they were lacking.  I forgot the real reason behind Christmas.

Being out on a two year church mission, I’ve gained a big perspective of what Christmas is really about.  Christmas isn’t a time solely of shopping and gift giving.  Christmas is a time to remember the Savior and Redeemer of the world.  Not only is it a time to remember Jesus Christ, but it is a time to act on the precious principles he taught.  It's a time to help the poor and needy.  It's a time to give thanks.  It's a time to share.  It's a time to say sorry.  It's a time to spend with family.  It's a time to give back.  It's a time to love everyone.  It's a time to forgive and forget.  It's a time for all of us to forget our differences and come together to remember our Lord Jesus Christ and his teachings.  It's a time to be more Christlike.

Looking back on the Christmases before, I barely can remember the gifts that were given.  Being here in Tennessee, I don't even have most of those presents that were given to me, but what I do have is the memories of the times my family, friends and I spent together.  I remember going out and giving cookies and candy out to people and not telling them who it was from.  I remember the laughs and the fun we had together.  I remember going to church together and hearing the story of Jesus.   I remember giving out food baskets to those who couldn't afford a Christmas meal. I remember talking and playing with one another.  I remember the love we felt together.  Although presents break and wear out, the memories and feelings of Christmas with family will never fade.

Remember this Christmas season the reason of Christmas.  Remember the Savior Jesus Christ.  Remember to follow his example and help others as friends and family.  There is no better gift or present than the memories that we have when we come together as friends and family spending time remembering and following Jesus Christ's teachings.  Christmas can be the best time of the year if we remember Christ.