Monday, February 28, 2011

Alma 36:11

"And the angel spake more things unto me, which were heard by my brethren, but I did not hear them; for when I heard the words--If thou wilt be destroyed of thyself, seek no more to destroy the church of God--I was struck with such great fear and amazement lest perhaps I should be destroyed, that I fell to the earth and I did hear no more."
Alma 36:11

I think that this was a very effective message from God. He could have had his angel plead with Alma to come back to him and to do what is right... he could have told him how much he loved him and wanted him back. But instead he respected Alma's decisions and told him basically... okay, if you want to live apart from me and destroy yourself, that's your choice. But I need you to stop hurting others with your actions. And I think that we occasionally have such wake-up calls in our lives as well. God often does tell us or show us how much he loves us and pleads with us to come back to him... but when we've stopped listening and gone far enough away that we can't hear those kinds of messages anymore, sometimes he communicates with us as he did with Alma... telling us that he will respect our choice to destroy ourselves if we continue down that path, but that we need to stop harming others through our actions. And actually, we're amazingly lucky if we get a dramatic message like that, because someone cares enough to try to pull us back from the brink of destruction. Kind of like an intervention. Alma's angelic intervention came because his father prayed and prayed and prayed for his son... and Alma was able to repent and go back and heal as much as he could of the damage that he had caused.
I think it is also interesting that Alma was amazed that he was facing destruction. Sometimes when we make bad choices and start tuning out the spirit that we also work to convince ourselves that what we are doing isn't really that bad... and then when we've convinced ourselves of that, that it isn't really bad at all. We tell ourselves lies in order to salve our consciences and continue down the path that we've chosen... so much so that a strong reminder of the consequences of our actions can amaze us.
Today, let's be honest with ourselves about where we're headed. If we're already well off the path, then let's take this one last chance to turn around and save ourselves from dire consequences. If we're headed in the wrong direction, but still able to hear God, let's stop and talk to him and really work at understanding his plan of happiness... not just happiness for others, but for us, individually. And if we're firmly on the path, let us pray for and help those who aren't, because we need them too. We're all brothers and sisters, and there are no throwaways in a Zion society.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Job 33:14-18 -- On Dreams

"For God speaketh once, yea twice, yet man perceiveth it not.
In a dream, in a vision of the night, when deep sleep falleth upon men, in slumberings upon the bed;
Then he openeth the ears of men, and sealeth their instruction,
That he may withdraw man from his purpose, and hide pride from man.
He keepeth back his soul from the pit, and his life from perishing by the sword."
Job 33:14-18

I like the stealth-assistance idea here... that we very often don't listen to God during a regular day, because we're letting other things drown out his voice. But he still wants to help, so he uses our dreams and speaks to our subconscious minds while we're asleep and can't tune him out. :) I like that God would still work to help us, even if we aren't actively listening to him... that he loves us so much that he keeps trying even when we shut him out.

How often, I wonder, do we make a bad decision or determine a certain path, and then sleep on it, only to change our minds or hearts in the morning? He works to help us focus on something besides pride and our need to be right... striving to save us from ourselves, and from destruction.

Today, maybe we can help him in his work by listening to him with our conscious minds. Let's closely examine our purpose and direction, and change them if need be. Let's work on quieting the other things in our minds that are fighting for our attention... letting go of our pride and working to resolve conflicts with others even if we have to "give in" to accomplish that. Let's also pray and talk to God about what is going on in our lives... he can help us so much more while we're awake. :)

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Alma 38:12

"Use boldness, but not overbearance; and also see that ye bridle all your passions, that ye may be filled with love; see that ye refrain from idleness."
Alma 38:12

What does it mean to be bold, but not overbearing? I think it means that it is okay to have an opinion and to state it. Be bold. Tell people what we think, and share our ideas. No need to hide in a corner and wait to be asked. :) ... but being overbearing takes it too far. We can share our opinions appropriately, but never expect other people to drop everything and do what we say... even if we are the boss, or maybe especially if we are. We need to allow other people boldness as well, and listen to their ideas and take them into consideration as we make decisions. And this leads into bridling our passions. Just as it is GOOD to be bold, but we shouldn't take it too far into overbearance, the same goes for other things that we feel. Being over-emotional can be a form of selfishness... worrying about our own emotions more than we focus on other people. Our emotions have to be under our control, and held back from interfering with our relationships or hurting other people. That's how we can be filled with love... by controlling the other things that are fighting for the same emotional space. And I'm definitely not saying don't feel them... the scripture doesn't say stomp out your passions or deny that they exist. :) Emotions aren't inherently bad. They only cause damage if they are allowed to take over and hurt people, including ourselves. And this leads into refraining from idleness. It is natural to feel a need to rest and retreat... to kick back and disengage from the things that are causing us stress. And like other emotions, this also is great in small doses. But if we're spending so much time retreating from stress that we start to smell and don't have any clean clothes to wear, we might actually need to engage, at least with the shower and washing machine. :) Just like any other desire, we can let a healthy desire for relaxation and downtime turn into something damaging if taken too far. Today, let's be careful to not to let any of our valid emotions take over our minds or hurt anyone... but let's also remember to be bold, and engage with the world appropriately. :)

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Proverbs 31:26

"She openeth her mouth with wisdom; and in her mouth is the law of kindness."
Proverbs 31:26

This is part of a series of verses that describes a "virtuous woman." The combination in this verse of wisdom and kindness seems great, and I visualize talking to this woman and how pleasant it would be. Doesn't it make you want to *be* her (or the male equivalent)? :) Sometimes I think we make wisdom and kindness completely separate pursuits. We study and try to gain knowledge and wisdom, but occasionally apply it in decidedly unkind ways, acting superior to others who don't have the same specialized knowledge or the wisdom to apply it. Or we work on kindness, but in sort of a general cheeriness way that is good if sincere, but which can seem empty or pacifying when we don't know the objects or the needs of those we are showing kindness. Today, let's think about the wisdom and kindness in ourselves, the ratio, the balance... and let's work on intertwining them a little bit more as we open our mouths today.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Doctrine and Covenants 20:54

"And see that there is no iniquity in the church, neither hardness with each other, neither lying, backbiting, not evil speaking;"
Doctrine and Covenants 20:54

I love the line "neither hardness with each other." And I wonder how we can be a little softer to people. Some hints are here in this verse. We can avoid lying, saying mean things about people, and saying evil things. All of these hints can help us. Lying destroys trust, and we need to have a foundation of trust in order to interact in a kind way with people. If they think that we might lie to them, then they will doublethink everything we say, and keep up their walls to avoid being embarrassed or cheated. Backbiting hurts relationships as well. Even if we've followed the first hint and the mean things are true, saying them can wound people, and if we say them to others then that can erode trust and cause paranoia or resentment on a greater scale. Addressing someone's flaws can be done positively and privately, and often addressing our own flaws would be more beneficial to the relationship. :) Finally, evil speaking, whether it is criticizing prophets or church leaders, or gospel principles, or talking about sins that we are okay with, or that tempt us, can harm ourselves and our relationships as well. Some kinds of talking about can lead to accepting and/or doing, and criticizing principles of the gospel or the prophets of God gets us pointed in the wrong direction. God isn't too old to know what we need, and his gospel isn't meant to hold us back or limit us. He's trying to offer us the freedom that comes from greater knowledge and expanded choices, and wants us to become more whole, happy people. If we keep other people focused on a certain tempting aspect of sin, even if we aren't engaging in it, that's where their minds will stay, and it will be harder for them to take a step back and see the larger perspective. It will be harder for them to understand why it is wrong, or how avoiding that sin can help them in their lives. ... And it will be harder for them to trust us as supportive friends that they can turn to for good advice. Today, let's work on being softer with people... helping them to feel encouraged and happy and to see the positive and the reasons for hope.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Alma 13:28

"But that ye would humble yourselves before the Lord, and call on his holy name, and watch and pray continually, that ye may not be tempted above that which ye can bear, and thus be led by the Holy Spirit, becoming humble, meek, submissive, patient, full of love and all long-suffering;"
Alma 13:28

I like how this verse shows some of the things that happen to us in our lives if we are led by the spirit. We become "humble, meek, submissive, patient, full of love and all long-suffering." The next verse continues the list as well, but I stopped here to focus on some of these first things. If we humble ourselves enough to call upon God, and stick with it, then a lot of great blessings can come into our lives. We don't always consider them great things... it can be difficult to humble ourselves, to be submissive to other people, to maintain patience, to love everyone around us, and to put God's will before our own consistently. Sometimes we think that we're right and the other side is wrong, so why give in... why not fight back? When we think that we are great at something, it is hard to let someone else handle it. Sometimes I think that we have to take a step back, and even if we can't trust the person, we can trust God to know what he is doing. Other people aren't going to learn if we take control all the time. And sometimes we're wrong, even though we don't always like to admit it. :) A woman and I were talking this weekend about the difference between "an eye for an eye" and "turn the other cheek" and she said that there is only so much one person can take, and didn't I see some value in fighting back... and I don't think that God asks us to be humble or submissive as a means of keeping us down, or torturing us, or keeping us in an abusive situation. I think what it is really about is how we view others. When we have to control things or have the last word or get our way, on some level it really means that we don't trust them to do what we could do in the same circumstances... and maybe that we don't love them enough to let them learn that lesson. In the end, if we return evil for evil, we're not making the world a better place, but a worse one. Today, let's look to God in prayer, and let the spirit teach us humility and how to interact with others in a way that we are making the world better.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Proverbs 20:22 -- On Waiting on the Lord

"Say not thou, I will recompense evil; but wait on the Lord, and he shall save thee."
Proverbs 20:22

It is interesting to me in this verse how being saved is the answer to the desire to recompense evil. Maybe it is saying that we should care a lot more about our own souls and our own sins than about the consequences that should be paid to someone else.

Unfair things happen to us in life. Sometimes they are so amazingly wrong or hurt us so much that we yearn for retribution. Even when they are smaller, we feel cheated, or belittled, or dismissed as worthless. And we often feel a perfectly natural desire to see what we perceive as justice done to the person or people responsible. ... and maybe that is part of the problem. It is a "natural" desire, not a spiritual desire.

God asks us for some pretty hard things sometimes... different ones are harder in different ways for each of us. Some of us struggle with tithing, or chastity, or the word of wisdom. Maybe universally though, we want to be valued and loved. And so when God asks us to let go of things that make us feel a void in those areas, it is pretty hard. It feels very close to our hearts and our self-worth. And with all of the things that challenge us, sometimes the most important thing is to wait. Wait before responding. Wait before acting... wait before walking into the situation again, or deciding to lose faith.

Waiting on the Lord doesn't have an expiration date. This life is a test, and we can't give God deadlines. We can't say, well, I need to be married by a certain age or I'm going to give up on your plan. Or, save my family member from this disease or I won't believe that you love me. Or, make the person who hurt me pay for it before he dies, or I will never believe in your justice. Wait means wait. ... and yes, wait forever if that is what it takes. Wait on the Lord means let it go... God will handle that part.

God will return to all of us according to what we've done in this life... Today, while we're waiting on the Lord, let's go out and help other people feel valued and loved.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Proverbs 3:31

"Envy thou not the oppressor, and choose none of his ways."
Proverbs 3:31

I think sometimes, even though there is a huge difference between what God offers us and what Satan offers us, that our minds get clouded, and it is hard for us to see even that vast difference... between light and dark, good and bad. Perhaps because manipulation can seem like love, or because at first we're willing to give up something good but unknown in the future for something false but immediate... and then it gets harder and harder to feel or see as we go further down that road. Some of it is natural... it gets harder to see God's path when we're facing the opposite direction, and harder to feel when we don't have the spirit. Some of it is chosen... we want to avoid guilt and stress from choosing things that we know to be wrong, so we actively edit out those things in our daily thoughts. Either way, we effectively blind ourselves, refusing to see the harm that we're doing on a spiritual level (if only that). So, today, I thought we could look at this verse and remember that there isn't anything that we should envy about Satan, or want from him. No matter what it is that we think that we're getting from walking away from God, it is empty and hollow and limited, and takes us further and further away from the real and tangible and eternal gifts that God offers to us. Satan is tricky sometimes and combines something of great value to us with something else that is evil, and we have to learn to distinguish between the two and still avoid the bad... but in the end, what he offers is worthless compared to what God offers, which is good without mixture with any tainted stuff. Whatever it is that we want, let's look to God for it in the untainted, undiluted version, and avoid the rat-poison laced version that Satan offers at a discounted price.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Jacob 6:5

"Wherefore my beloved brethren, I beseech of you in words of soberness that ye would repent, and come with full purpose of heart, and cleave unto God as he cleaveth unto you. And while his arm of mercy is extended towards you in the light of day, harden not your hearts."
Jacob 6:5

There are several things here to take note of, but the one that stood out to me today is "full purpose of heart." I wonder how often we do anything at all with that much focus and dedication. Seems like we're often distracted, or trying to multi-task... with work, with friends... even with the people closest to us. And, I would submit, very very often, we do it with God. Start to pray, and then find ourselves thinking of what we have to do at work that morning, or the errand we have to run, or what are we going to eat, or whatever it is. And those are just the small examples. The big ones... how often do we commit ourselves to living the gospel, but withhold part of ourselves... a favorite habit, a tiny rebellious idea about one part of the gospel. We know we need to change, but we'll do that part last... :) Like C.S. Lewis' quote about if we accept heaven, we can't keep even the smallest and most intimate souvenirs of Hell... but more than that.
I think I've thought about it as an internal war in the past, or about cutting out the part of myself that wants something bad... but I'm not sure that it works that way either. The truth is that if we kill half of ourselves in a war or cut off the bad bits, then we are just bleeding half people, even less able to serve God. What it comes down to at some point is harder than just cutting. We have to convince that "bad" side of ourselves that the good side is right. That the souvenirs of hell, or the last rebellious vestiges of thought, or that last bad habit that we love so much... we have to learn with our entire souls that they just don't matter compared to what we can have with God... we have to commit to him completely... nothing held back... cleave to God as though it meant everything... because it does. The results we want can never come from partial dedication or part-time faith. We have to realize that we are nothing without God... that we can't do anything or accomplish anything without him... and not in a resentful way. Just in a kid-going-to-the-emergency-room way. We need God to save us. We can't possibly, ever do any of it alone, and really... why would we want to? Trying to keep a wound or a favorite piece of glass from the car accident is silly.
Today, while his arm of mercy is extended to us, let's try to not harden our hearts. Let's try to understand how desperately we need God to save us, and commit to him and submit to his help with everything we have and are.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Alma 13:30

"And may the Lord grant unto you repentance, that ye may not bring down his wrath upon you, that ye may not be bound down by the chains of hell, that ye may not suffer the second death."
Alma 13:30

This verse struck me today because it says "the second death," and that sounds particularly scary. When I think of spiritual death I get a mental picture of a person I knew in high school who became a drug addict. Blank eyes, personality somehow missing... seems like there is nothing left inside but this empty need. It talks in the Book of Mormon of people becoming "past feeling" and the results of that as well. ... And I wonder why we toy with that... with anything so scary. We're so afraid of death... the first, physical death... when we know that it's temporary. That someday we'll have our bodies back in a perfected state. And we just kind of gloss over the second, spiritual death pretty often, without taking it seriously. So, in this verse Alma is saying to us... please, take it seriously. It's a big deal, and nothing that you want. Today, let's be afraid of what is really frightening rather than what people think of us, or how bad the commute was, or how we don't have enough time. Let's do everything we can to revive our souls... repentance is a big one, but also prayer and studying the scriptures, and just drinking in the beauty around us, or helping other people and forgetting our selfish needs for a while. God's whole plan is designed to save us... not just our bodies, but to keep our spirits alive and sensitive to things that matter. Let's help him out, and soften up those internal places that are becoming hard and resistant to the spirit. Let's feel and know, and commune with our Father, who knows how to save us from all kinds of death.

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