Thursday, September 27, 2012

Doctrine and Covenants 80:3

"Wherefore, go ye and preach my gospel, whether to the north or to the south, to the east or to the west, it mattereth not, for ye cannot go amiss."
Doctrine and Covenants 80:3

I'm thinking today of the tendency we have to give up when we've gone off track.  We often think, well... we screwed that up, so really, what is the point?  Why try anymore?  We think that we did some bad things, and that we are now bad *people* ... and that there just isn't any hope left.
Every time we think those things, we are dead wrong.  There is never a point in our lives where *God* thinks those things, or gives up on us.  There is NEVER a point where he isn't stretching out his arm to us, offering hope and forgiveness and redemption.  Something out of our patriarchal blessing didn't happen?  We're too old to change, or go back, or we screwed up the only thing that would make it better?  ... Forgive me, but all of those, AND [Fill in any other excuse here] are all loads of manure.  In no case, for no person, is it ever too late to return to God. God knows us.  He knows exactly what we've done, knows where we are and what we need, and he still offers it to us.  It might be hard... almost certainly it will be hard.  That's earth life. :)  We have a lot to re-learn, and changing our hearts is sometimes painful.  But we can't wimp out with excuses.  This is GOD we're talking about... eternity, everything... our souls.  How is anything, especially a little effort, worth giving up all that?
In this verse, God tells Stephen Burnett that he can go anywhere he wants, and it doesn't matter.  He can't go amiss.  Now, Stephen Burnett was being called on a mission, and it is true that it is hard to go wrong when you are preaching the gospel... but I submit to you that it is hard to go permanently wrong in life as well.  Like in a video game, we get lots of re-dos and extra lives, and the only way to really fail is to *choose* to quit.  Today, let's not choose that.  Let's get up, brush ourselves off, and try again.  Let's take the hand that God is offering us, and keep improving... learning more, and becoming better than we were yesterday.  If we have to go slow, that's okay.  It only matters that we are traveling in the right direction... that we are trying and not quitting and walking away.  Don't quit.  Please.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Romans 8:5-6

"For they that are after the flesh do mind the things of the flesh; but they that are after the Spirit the things of the Spirit.
For to be carnally minded is death; but to be spiritually minded is life and peace."
Romans 8:5-6

In thinking about this verse today, I wonder if we too often assume that we are a certain way, and that we can't change.  We are spirit and body, but all too often we think that we're all body, and that our bodies dictate everything that we do.  I hear things that amount to "Evolution programmed me to be like this, and so I have to be that way."  ... I don't think that is true.  In the first verse here Paul talks about flesh and spirit, and from one perspective it could sound deterministic.  If you're of the flesh, then you think about that, but if you are of the spirit, you'll think about that.  But I don't think that is what he is saying.  I think he is saying... what we think about becomes who we are.  And the second verse makes that clearer.  We get to choose.  Between the flesh and the spirit, between God and Satan, between good and evil... we get to choose everything: what to have for breakfast, and what to think, and what to feel, and who we become.  And God's suggestion to us is, think about spiritual things, long-term things, rather than being ruled by our bodies or letting our flesh control what we think and what we want for ourselves.  Instead of buying everything that seems shiny, we can control ourselves and save up for a trip or get out of debt.  Instead of relieving ourselves in the street, we can control ourselves and make it to the nearest restroom.  And the same goes for everything, to a greater or lesser extent.  We have to learn to let our spirits have the upper-hand over the flesh, to govern our emotions, to bridle our passions.  Letting the flesh have control isn't romantic.  As it says in the second of these verses: it's death.
Today, let's work on enriching life and gaining peace through working on our spiritual-mindedness.  Let's make sure we're on the same page with God, and make good choices based on what our spirits want.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Isaiah 33:6 -- On Wisdom and Knowledge

"And wisdom and knowledge shall be the stability of thy times, and strength of salvation: the fear of the Lord is his treasure."
Isaiah 33:6

Isaiah is talking about the last days here, the period before the Second Coming, and the period in which we live.  He mentions some specific things that will help us find stability in these times: wisdom and knowledge.  Sometimes we get so caught up in the everyday struggle... paying bills, feeding ourselves or our families, making sure we can keep the basics going like food, shelter, clothing, and health insurance... that it seems pretty tough to find time for education.  But education, in this verse, seems to have a primary importance in our lives.  The education that Isaiah talks about here doesn't necessarily have to be formal, or degree-seeking, but if wisdom and knowledge are going to be the stability of our times, it's probably something that we should fit into our lives. :)  And I think that we can. 

One way to gain wisdom and knowledge is to read the scriptures... and look, we already are doing that, and we can probably do a little more. :)  Prayer is a given as well, and again, hopefully we are doing that, and can do more.  But there are opportunities for education in our everyday lives, all around us.  How often do we wonder things each day?  ... I wonder what kind of bug that is, or I wonder how to say that in Spanish.  We have the internet now, and worlds of information at our fingertips.  There are websites and apps that let us take classes for free about so many things.  And there is also formal education, which helps with knowledge, wisdom, and maybe even financial strain. 

The people around us are sources of information and wisdom as well.  We all know things that we can help others with, and knowledge and wisdom about interpersonal relationships is gained through interacting with people that we aren't already familiar with. :)  Which brings us back to the end of the verse: "the fear of the Lord is his treasure" ... interacting with God also teaches us a lot, including respect for who God is, what he can do, and a healthy fear of what our lives would be like without him.  We need him.  Today, let's talk to God about how we can fit in some more time for wisdom and knowledge... and let's start with learning about him, and from him.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Doctrine and Covenants 6:5-8

"Therefore, if you will ask of me you shall receive; if you will knock it shall be opened unto you.
Now, as you have asked, behold, I say unto you, keep my commandments, and seek to bring forth and establish the cause of Zion;
Seek not for riches but for wisdom, and behold, the mysteries of God shall be unfolded unto you, and then shall you be made rich. Behold, he that hath eternal life is rich.
Verily, verily, I say unto you, even as you desire of me so it shall be unto you; and if you desire, you shall be the means of doing much good in this generation."
Doctrine and Covenants 6:5-8

This is cool stuff.  This particular section was originally directed at Oliver Cowdery, but as Nephi suggests, we will liken all scriptures unto ourselves. :)
These verses start out with something that we've heard before... ask, and you shall receive.  Then it goes beyond that.  After we ask, then we get some more advice from God: Keep the commandments.  Work on bringing forth Zion.  Seek wisdom, not riches.  Riches come later, and one of the biggest treasures is eternal life.  What we truly desire is what we'll receive... and a hint.  If we desire, we can be the means of doing much good.
These are really cool things, and I love that God gives us some hints about what to ask for.  Asking God for things is almost like having three wishes. :)  And we have to be careful what we ask for.  It's so easy to ask for immediate gratification type things... but if we take God's advice and seek wisdom instead, we start to change ourselves.  We become less shallow, and that greater depth leaves us room for greater blessings. :)  As we learn more about the world, about ourselves, and about life, then we gain a greater appreciation for anything that we want to ask for, because we see how those things can change the world, rather than just what we can get out of them short-term.  As we gain more and more wisdom, we'll be able to make a difference, for other people, in more and more ways.
Today, let's ask God for wisdom.  Let's work on doing good for others.  Let's grow and learn and start stretching towards Zion.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Joseph Smith--Matthew 1:46-48

"And what I say unto one, I say unto all men; watch, therefore, for you know not at what hour your Lord doth come.
But know this, if the good man of the house had known in what watch the thief would come, he would have watched, and would not have suffered his house to have been broken up, but would have been ready.
Therefore be ye also ready, for in such an hour as ye think not, the Son of Man cometh."
Joseph Smith--Matthew 1:46-48

I've been thinking a lot about consistency lately, mostly because I am bad at it... and these verses seem to fit right in.  As it says in the second verse of the selection, if we could predict when we needed to be prepared, then we might be good at it.  We'd know when to be ready, and have a pretty good chance of pulling it off.  But God doesn't want us to be in a cram-for-the-test-and-barely-pass situation.  He wants us to know the material by living it, and getting to know it in our souls.  The day of judgment isn't going to be some multiple choice test that we can pass by listening halfway on Sunday only.  It's just going to be God looking at who we've become... how we've changed ourselves based on what we believed in, and what good we've done and infused into ourselves.  And to pass THAT test, we can't possibly cram at the last minute, or get anyone else to tell us the answers.  We have to be ready, all the time, to show who we are.  We have to change inside, not superficially.  We have to not only know what to say, but we have to authentically BE the person who believes those things.  ... How are we doing on that?
Today, let's be ready for Christ.  Whether today is the day he comes in his glory to usher in the Millennium, or today, through prayer we feel of his spirit and presence in our lives... let's do what it takes to be able to face him, and be found worthy.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Matthew 5:43-45 -- On Breaking the Cycle of Hatred

"Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbour, and hate thine enemy.
But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you;
That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust."
Matthew 5:43-45

This has always been a hard one, but like yesterday's scripture, God asks us to take an old commandment and go further with it.  It's a challenge to learn to love, but when we have people around that love us, they show us how, and we start learning the basics... giving rather than expecting, serving, sharing.  Finding ways to make other people smile.  After we get the hang of it a little, it is almost easy to love the people who also love us, because both sides want things to be good, and so we are all working on it and trying to clear up any impediments to communication and good feelings.  Which is good, and something we need to keep perfecting, but here, God asks us to take it further, and to learn the next step... loving people who do not love us.  Loving the people who dislike us, in fact... people who aren't working for the same goals.  People who might not care how things work out, or who might even actively be trying to make things work out badly.  It requires some giant steps outside our comfort zones.  Being nice to the mean people?  Trying to serve and love the cruel people who try to cheat us or ridicule us?  Being kind to people who would be happy to harm us?  ... It sounds crazy, like an invitation to abuse.  But, on a deeper level, it makes sense.  What else can break the cycle of hatred?  We've all offended people in the past... because we were having a bad day, because we took our anger out on a specific person, or for whatever reason.  If those people chose to come after us and hate us eternally, and then we did the same, all we would be doing in this life is building eternal feuds, starting wars, and inciting continuous contention.  Instead, God asks us to turn around to people who are cruel to us, and bless them.  Pray for them.  Love them.  That is what stops the cycle.  That is what removes the black feelings and thoughts from our hearts.  That is what makes the world kinder, and better.  I don't think that God is telling us to remain in situations that cause us pain, or to invite people to abuse us... but he is asking us to never return abuse for abuse or hatred for hatred.  To have his spirit with us, we need to be filled with love.  We need to be kind and good... to everyone.  Today, let's work on breaking the cycle.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Matthew 5:21-24 -- On Anger and Reconciliation

"Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time, Thou shalt not kill; and whosoever shall kill shall be in danger of the judgment:
But I say unto you, That whosoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment: and whosoever shall say to his brother, Raca, shall be in danger of the council: but whosoever shall say, Thou fool, shall be in danger of hell fire.
Therefore, if thou bring thy gift to the altar, and there rememberest that thy brother hath ought against thee;
Leave there thy gift before the altar, and go thy way; first be reconciled to thy brother, and then come and offer thy gift."
Matthew 5:21-24

I just looked up the word Raca and I find that it meant "worthless" and the literal meaning was "to spit."  Not a nice thing to say, certainly.  ... I guess on the face of it, some of this seems extreme.  Hellfire for calling someone a fool?  But in thinking past that initial reaction, I think I can see it.  These verses show us how vitally important our interpersonal relationships are.  Sometimes we get so caught up in the first commandment (Love God) that we forget that the second is like unto it... (Love our neighbors).

God starts out saying that we've heard in the past that we shouldn't kill... and that's still a good idea, but he wanted to take it further.  Instead of just not killing, let's not get that angry in the first place.  Let's not pick fights.  Let's not get into those situations where anyone would want to kill.  Let's obey that big law by observing the details and avoiding the danger that could lead us there.

And then, on the other side... if we want to come closer to God and learn to love him, then let's also obey that big law by getting into the details and mastering the basics.  Let's treat his children with respect and love.  Let's not let interpersonal conflict drive away the Spirit of God.

Today, let's avoid treating anyone as though they are a fool, or worthless.  Let's reconcile with the people that we've hurt or offended.  Let's try not to be angry with people.  I am not saying that is an easy thing... but it's definitely worth it to try.  Let's do everything we can to remove the impediments that we have to good relationships with others... because thereby we'll remove the impediments that we have in our relationship with God.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Jacob 5:3-4

"For behold, thus saith the Lord, I will liken thee, O house of Israel, like unto a tame olive tree, which a man took and nourished in his vineyard; and it grew, and waxed old, and began to decay.
And it came to pass that the master of the vineyard went forth, and he saw that his olive tree began to decay; and he said: I will prune it, and dig about it, and nourish it, that perhaps it may shoot forth young and tender branches, and it perish not."
Jacob 5:3-4

This whole chapter/allegory is amazing, and perhaps too big to cover in one sitting.  If you haven't read it, I definitely recommend it.  One thing that strikes me right here in the first couple of verses is the great love that God has for us.  In this allegory, we are the fruit of the olive tree that the master of the vineyard wants to preserve.  When even the best tree in the garden starts to decay or produce bitter fruit, the master does everything he can to save it.  He tries to strengthen it with branches from other trees.  He transplants branches from the main tree to other trees with vibrant roots.  Part of the story here is the scattering and gathering of Israel.  It's all done for a purpose, in order to save us, and to keep us good.
I think the message here is always true, not just in relation to why he would scatter us and then gather us home again... but in relation to everything that happens in our lives.  I know that it is hard to keep that perspective while looking forward, but I think that we all can look back at things in our lives that seemed bleak, and see that they were preparing us, or teaching us, or opening the way for other opportunities that we now have.
Today, let's discuss things with God, and try to remember that no matter what we're going through, even now, that it is all designed to save us and help us, and keep us good. :)

Monday, September 10, 2012

1 Nephi 8:10-12

"And it came to pass that I beheld a tree, whose fruit was desirable to make one happy.
And it came to pass that I did go forth and partake of the fruit thereof; and I beheld that it was most sweet, above all that I ever before tasted.  Yea, and I beheld that the fruit thereof was white, to exceed all the whiteness that I had ever seen.
And as I partook of the fruit thereof it filled my soul with exceedingly great joy; wherefore, I began to be desirous that my family should partake of it also; for I knew that it was desirable above all other fruit."
1 Nephi 8:10-12

I've been hearing the story of Lehi's dream most of my life, and it is a really good analogy, but I think because I have heard it so many times that I sometimes don't take it as seriously as I should.  Today, I was thinking about how it would be if this happened to us. :)  We're trapped in darkness and it gets so bad that we pray for deliverance... and after we pray, we see a field, and there is this tree.  And you can tell, just by looking at it, that it will make you happy.  You can see it in the curve of the branch, in the purity of the light, in the perfection of beauty before you.  And so, obviously, you go to it and you partake.  And in this fruit there is no diminishing between what you see and expect and what you taste.  If anything, it is better than you could have imagined.  It fills you with joy, and you know it is the best thing that you've ever, ever eaten.  Worth the hours or days of being lost in the darkness that you went through to get here... by far.  Because now you are here, and you have everything.
I love that Lehi's first instinct is to share the fruit with his family.  I think that's fairly accurate for all of us as well.  When we experience something awesome, we want to tell people and let them see how cool it is.  The dream/vision goes on and shows how many people start out on the path to the tree, but some get lost, and some partake but then are embarrassed by the people making fun of them, so they wander away.  And some people hold onto the rod of iron that leads to the tree and are able to make it through the mists of darkness, and stay despite the mockery of the people in the great and spacious building and all the other distractions.  And in this little analogy, where are we?  Are we still enchanted by the fruit, and excited to share it with others?  Or have we lost sight of that light and perfection and gotten lost in the darkness again?  This is the fruit that will bring us joy.  If we've moved on to sadder fare, it's time to turn around and go back to the tree.  Today, let's try to recapture that feeling of wonder and pure joy that comes when we partake.  Let's read, and pray, and feel the spirit and the love of God filling us up to overflowing.

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