The giant redwood trees that grow along the Pacific Coast are nearly indestructible. They have been known to grow for over 2000 years. The bark of a redwood tree contains tannin which protects them from fire, insect, and fungus. There is no known insect that can destroy a redwood tree. Fire is ineffective against the trees due to their high water content and inflammable resin. (http://santacruz.hilltromper.com/article/ten-amazing-facts-about-redwoods).
We all know someone who has a testimony as strong as a redwood tree. This brother or sister continues to exude a testimony of Jesus Christ despite tremendous adversity in their lives. We marvel at how they continue to speak of the blessings they have enjoyed in their lives despite having lost a loved one, being overlooked for a promotion, not being able to have children, losing their job, being offended by someone at church or some other devastating experience in their life. Week after week they continue to attend church and even lift others around them. Why do they continue to be actively engaging in the work of the Savior when it would appear they have not been blessed or been allowed them to suffer?
We also know someone or have even been someone who has been frustrated, angered, or disillusioned by the church they attend or even organized religion altogether. Some have begun to question the path they are on and the church they attend because they have experienced turmoil in their lives despite being good members who strive to keep all the commandments and do all that they are asked to do. Others have begun to question the leadership of their church because they appear as hypocrites or out of touch with the struggles of their members. Still others have been offended by what others have said to them at church or perceive that others are judging them. If going to church is supposed to uplift us, why do some of us find the experience less than uplifting?
Why do bad things happen to good people?
There are many things we do not know about why bad things happen to good people. We do know from the scriptures that the Father “sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust.” (Matthew 5:45 KJV). It follows that bad things happen to the just and unjust as well. I believe this has to be to allow us the option to do bad things and not always have immediate bad things happen so that we can demonstrate our obedience. Being obedient because you want to show your love for the Savior and Heavenly Father is very different than being obedient because if you aren’t, bad things will happen.
Three strategies for keeping us grounded in the Gospel
We all need a church in our lives where we can go to recharge our batteries, and be there for our fellow brothers and sisters. We are needed to “lift up the hands which hang down, and the feeble knees” (Hebrews 12:2 KJV) What can we do so that we can have an unshakable testimony of Jesus Christ and never want to leave the church? How can we make our testimonies “redwood testimonies”?
1. Understand that church leaders are not perfect
I hope this doesn’t shock anyone but your church leaders are not perfect. I know this because they are not Jesus Christ, the only perfect person to walk the earth. They may be Christ-like at times and may be good people but they are men and women and by nature are imperfect. Having been a Bishop (Mormon version of a minister) for five years, I can tell you it is very hard to put aside the “natural man” spoken of in the bible (1 Corinthians 2:14) and listen for the voice of the Lord in all things. Very often our pride gets in the way of what the Lord would have us do. It takes a lot of prayer and often fasting as well to be in tune with the Spirit.
Every disciple of Christ struggles with being a good follower. Are we to vilify Paul because he denied knowing the Savior and discount everything he said after the Savior died because he was not perfect? Of course not. Do we go around telling others, just skip over the parts where Paul speaks because he proved to not be a perfect disciple? Absolutely, not. Nor do we focus on his weakness but celebrate his triumph in being a leader after the Savior left them. To me, Paul is even more approachable because he was human just like us. He made mistakes, like we all do, learned from them, and rose above these mistakes to be a great leader.
Pray for your church leaders. They are good brothers and sisters who want to serve you the best they can and work long hours in your behalf. They spend a lot of time away from their own families and make very little or no money for what they do. They love you enough to want to help you return to be back with our Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ.
2. Don’t compare yourself to other members around you.
It is very easy to fall into the trap of looking at a fellow church member and saying “Brother Martinez is an amazing man who knows the scriptures inside and out. I will never be like him. He is so much better than I am.” Comparing ourselves to others and seeing how we measure up is a favorite trick Satan uses to convince us that we are not doing very well at this “Christian thing” and maybe we need to just quit. Heavenly Father, like any good father, does not compare his children to each other but rather measures us by whether or not we live up to our preordained potential. He knew us before we came to this earth. He knows what we wanted to accomplish on this Earth and he knows us better than we know ourselves. We need to learn about our potential through praying and reading the scriptures. Mormons have a patriarchal blessing that help them learn of this potential so they use this as their own personal measure.
Don’t let others make you feel like you don’t measure up. The vast majority of the people are NOT looking at you and judging you. If anyone IS judging you, then they have a real pride problem. No one can judge you and tell you what you are doing wrong except the Lord and maybe a specific church leader that has been given that mantle if that is what your religion believes. Church should be seen as a “hospital for sinners not a country club for saints”. Everyone is there at church to become better. No one is perfect and should be relaxing on their laurels looking around to see if they can “fix” the other members. Some people feel like they are helping and mean well but this is a dangerous trap. The minute you start to find fault in anyone else you are putting yourself above the other person and you are demonstrating pride. No one should look at another brother or sister and judge them by their appearance, either. Many a church member has stopped going to church because they didn’t have “church clothes” or they smelled of cigarette smoke in a congregation that mostly does not smoke, or had numerous tattoos or other markings, piercings or anything else that makes them “different”. Don’t ever let what others think of you or your perception of what others may think of you determine your attendance in church and your progression in the gospel.
3. Understand that serving the Lord is a marathon, not a sprint
On your path to serving the Lord you get excited seeing how the Gospel of Jesus Christ changes lives. You want to serve all day, every day. For some that are called on a mission, that is exactly what they do. For the rest of us, we have temporal lives as well and obligations to work and family.The Lord does not want us to lose our jobs or alienate us from all of our friends and families. Many people who join a church are fired up at the beginning but then cool once they try to fit in church attendance and responsibilities or change totally what they are doing. This church stuff is hard. Some religions require a big time commitment from their membersThey become frustrated and leave the church. We should live with moderation in all things-including church. We have to strike a balance with doing church work, taking care of family obligations and working in our jobs. Sometimes, striking this balance is hard. We are supposed to stand as witnesses of Christ at all times AND meet our other obligations? How is this possible. When we aren’t doing “church work” we can be examples to those around us. We can invite our work or school colleagues to join in church activities. Calendaring is important to be able to make sure all responsibilities are met.
The only real threat to a redwood tree is man. Redwoods were once cut down to use in building and manufacturing. The real threat to our testimonies is man as well. Whether it is because of our unrealistic expectations or what others have done to us, if we are not careful, our testimonies could be “cut down” as well. With a little nourishment, and dilligence, our testimonies can be strong as redwoods. Virtually indestructible.
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