Thursday, July 31, 2014

Psalms 119:165 -- On Peace and Offense

"Great peace have they which love thy law: and nothing shall offend them."
Psalms 119:165

This is interesting, especially the "and nothing shall offend them" part.  We could probably all use some extra peace in our lives, and maybe we could all try to be less offended by others.  I don't think this means that we are above it all... able to go into the most offensive places or read/experience the most offensive things and be protected from it.  I don't think it works that way.  I'm guessing that the message God is trying to get across here is more that we won't be offended because not only will we avoid offensive places and things, but we will also never ascribe malicious intent to the people we interact with.  I think just that would change the world a lot... If we assumed that everyone were doing their best, and tried to help or defuse the situation rather than getting offended or angry because someone is avoiding us or being cruel or cutting us off in traffic maliciously.  What if we never, ever were offended by another's actions?  Isn't that pretty much the only reason we criticize others?  
Maybe today we can relax a little bit... love instead of hate.  Not expect people to live by our rules, but understand that everyone learns different ways to cope with the world, and we're all at different levels.  Alma 5:54 springs to mind here.  It asks if we will "persist in supposing that ye are better one than another."  I think that is a pretty common cause of offense and criticism/judgement as well.  We think our way is better... that *we* are better, and so people that don't do things our way or that we don't understand are malicious or evil.  And although that occasionally might be the case, probably it is less often than we assume.  And it's better to assume good intentions than bad intentions, since we're supposed to love everyone despite intentions anyway, right?  Let's try it God's way.  Maybe it will give us greater peace. :)

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

D&C 9:13-14 -- On Regret and Happiness

"Do this thing which I have commanded you, and you shall prosper. Be faithful, and yield to no temptation.
Stand fast in the work wherewith I have called you, and a hair of your head shall not be lost, and you shall be lifted up at the last day. Amen."
D&C 9:13-14

These verses were originally directed to Oliver Cowdery after the. Lord told him to stop trying to translate.  Oliver had just been asking God, but not studying or trying to figure it out on his own.  It was a time-sensitive thing, so God told him to stop trying, and that he had strengthened Joseph enough that he could finish it.  God knows, of course, that having an opportunity taken away, especially after finding out it was because of your own mistake, can be disheartening, and so he adds these verses at the end, reminding Oliver, and us, about what really matters.
We often don't want there to be consequences in life, at least for us.  We might want someone else to get caught doing something wrong, so that person learns a lesson, but when it is us, we pretty much always want mercy, and to get off, at worst, with a warning.  We want to be able to spend years off exploring forbidden paths, and then suddenly upon repentance to realize that we lost no progression along the Lord's path.  The truth is both amazingly merciful and hard to accept... God will cleanse us and purify us completely if we truly repent and change our hearts.  He will accept us back into his arms like the prodigal son (Luke 15:11-32), and though our sins were as scarlet, they can be white as snow (Isaiah 1:18).  But being perfectly clean and forgiven doesn't erase the opportunity cost of walking in a different direction.  We, as prodigal sons or daughters, don't automatically get all that money and time back that we wasted.  We might miss some opportunities like Oliver did, through misunderstanding or inaction.  And we might not be as far along the path as we want to be if we spent a lot of time going in a different direction.  That part is hard for us.  We don't want to lose anything, and we are pretty attached to whatever future we had already planned out.
No matter the opportunity cost of past choices though, God reminds us here that the future is always waiting for us, still ripe with opportunity.  Instead of mourning missed chances, we can go forward.  Always, if we follow the commandments, we will prosper.  We still can gain salvation and eternal life... and those are the things that truly matter.  God always has a plan.  We might have to let go of some things we lost in the past, but God has plans to give us a glorious future.  Let's let go of past regrets and have faith in him, knowing that he will always lead us to happiness.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Luke 22:31-32 -- On Being Converted

"And the Lord said, Simon, Simon, behold, Satan hath desired to have you, that he may sift you as wheat:
But I have prayed for thee, that thy faith fail not: and when thou art converted, strengthen thy brethren."
Luke 22:31-32

Simon Peter here had spent a lot of time with Christ.  He had walked out of a boat, on water, for a few steps, trying to emulate Jesus and become more like him.  He had listened to him and obeyed him for years.  And yet, here Christ infers that he hadn't yet been converted.  I think this is an important lesson.
Conversion is a huge step in our lives, and for some of us it happens before baptism.  That's probably why people who join the church as adults are often called "converts," because they experience a conversion before they are willing to join the church.  But conversion for many of us doesn't happen that quickly, or that obviously.  Often, we're like Simon Peter here, following and figuring it out, but without the "mighty change" (Mosiah 5:2, Alma 5:14) of conversion that goes deeper than simply believing and following can go.  Sometimes we sit in church and wonder why we haven't had the experiences other people have had, or why we don't feel answers to prayers the same way.  Peter became the head of the church after Christ's crucifixion.  It's not a bad thing to be where Peter was, but as it shows in this scripture, it made him vulnerable to Satan.  We are similarly vulnerable until we are converted, and even after if we don't maintain those feelings (Alma 5:26).
So, how do we get there... past following and believing into having our hearts changed?  I don't think it is exactly the same for everyone, but it's similar to what happened to Simon Peter.  Instead of just following and believing, we have to have faith to act on our beliefs, to stand up for Christ everywhere we are... to not be ashamed of being associated with him.  We have to pray, and work, and sincerely want to be changed from who we are into who God would have us be.  That's a tough thing sometimes... to be willing to give up our old selves to become better selves.  But it's also a necessity for true conversion.  God changes our hearts, but he won't do it against our will.  Today, let's be willing to have our hearts changed and to become more than we are.  Let's be willing to invest our whole selves and become converted.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Psalms 84:11 -- On Good Coming from Good

"For the Lord God is a sun and shield: the Lord will give grace and glory: no good thing will he withhold from them that walk uprightly."
Psalms 84:11

We often wonder how to get ahead, or what we could possibly do to escape the rat race.  What will give us an edge or help us succeed?  Truthfully, doing God's will is the way.  God blesses us as we walk uprightly.  Things work out better when we do right than they do if we do wrong.  Fundamental truth, and though sometimes hard to see because bad things happen to everyone, and we all need to have obstacles and to be tested, it's always there long term.  Today, let's stop wondering and start doing... let's have faith and know that good things will come as we do good and trust God.

Friday, July 25, 2014

Genesis 6:17-18 -- On Covenanting With God

"And, behold, I, even I, do bring a flood of waters upon the earth, to destroy all flesh, wherein is the breath of life, from under heaven; and every thing that is in the earth shall die.
But with thee will I establish my covenant; and thou shalt come into the ark, thou, and thy sons, and thy wife, and thy sons’ wives with thee."
Genesis 6:17-18

This is God talking to Noah, and I think it is interesting that after he talks about destroying all flesh he doesn't say, but Noah, I will save you, or you get to live, but he says that they will establish a covenant.  And I think this is part of what God expects from all of us... an agreement.  We have to fulfill our part, and God always fulfills his part.
Too often, we think that our relationship with God is one-sided.  Sometimes we think it's all God's job and that he'll save us if we do nothing, or do whatever we want.  Other times we think it is one-sided in  a different way, where God just sits around on clouds and we have to make everything happen.  But our relationships with God aren't one-sided.  God works with us as we work with him, and blesses us as we are obedient and learn the lessons God sends us in order to help us grow and learn.
Today, let's be willing to do our part in our relationship,with God.  Let's be willing to commit to him, and agree to improve and grow as God agrees to teach and help us.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

1 Peter 5:7-10 -- On Care and Ambiguity

"Casting all your care upon him; for he careth for you.
Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour:
Whom resist steadfast in the faith, knowing that the same afflictions are accomplished in your brethren that are in the world.
But the God of all grace, who hath called us unto his eternal glory by Christ Jesus, after that ye have suffered a while, make you perfect, stablish, strengthen, settle you."
1 Peter 5:7-10

When bad things happen, we often have a tendency to blame God, or wonder why he allowed bad things to happen.  This is especially true when it is something really bad, like murder or rape or war or genocide.  Some people will say that if God has the power to stop those things from happening that the only reason he wouldn't would be that he doesn't care, or he doesn't have the power, or he doesn't exist.  Many will rail against God saying that if there is a God that could allow things like that, they don't want to believe in him anyway.  ... And perhaps, when we are at our worst, when we are the victims or the family members of people who have suffered irreparable harm, we wonder or think these things as well.  But, as with other things, there are more options than we consider.
When we wish for God to solve all the big problems with a snap of the fingers, we rarely consider what that would mean.  If God stopped the big things, he would have to stop the little things that led up to them, and ultimately, he would have to allow people to act in horrible, atrocious ways without any consequences.  Or send a lighting bolt to kill each of them, but then if we all had that obvious proof that good is good and bad is bad, then that would undermine free agency, and not encourage the more subtle listening to the spirit and praying and all of those things where we need to learn to be sensitive enough to listen to God and understand other people.
When I was teaching General Education classes at a university, one of our goals was to teach students to tolerate ambiguity.  I always thought that was a hard thing to teach, and I wasn't quite sure why... I am not a fan.  But I think maybe this is why... this lesson.  We all have to learn to tolerate uncertainty, and to act anyway.  To realize that there are multiple meanings and myriad interpretations, and to figure it out, even so.  To see all the chaos in the world, and the evil and the good, and to know who is on our side and who isn't, through the confusion.  And as the first verse of this selection says, God *does* indeed care for us.  I don't think that we can actually comprehend how much.  Instead of blaming God for everything bad, let's recognize that he doesn't glory in our suffering, at all.  Satan does that.  God only allows it to teach us, to help us to grow and to become stronger and better people.  Sometimes it kills us, but God knew us before life and he knows us beyond the grave, and he can, and will, ease every burden and heal every wound, even if it isn't during this life.  His power isn't limited to now.   And after we suffer and learn, he'll help us to reach perfection... which we could never do without some pain.  Even he couldn't do it without some pain.
Today, let's not blame God for the ills of the world.  Let's instead, learn from our own suffering, and do what we can to minimize and relieve the suffering of others.  God does care, and he asks us to help.  Let's be his hands and his arms, reaching out to bless other people and make the world that much less painful and less scary.  Even if we can't address all the big things, the difference we make for an individual matters.  Let's trust God, and have faith in his love for us, and find our way to him, despite the cloud of ambiguity. :)

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Luke 19:46 -- On Houses of Prayer

"Saying unto them, It is written, My house is the house of prayer: but ye have made it a den of thieves."
Luke 19:46

I think it is significant that God calls his house, the temple, the "house of prayer."  Prayer is communication with the divine, and without that communication, we would all be lost.  Even with the scriptures in front of us, we can fail to understand.  Even obeying each commandment with exactness, we can just be going through the motions.  And we *should* be reading the scriptures and obeying the commandments, for sure.  With prayer though, we have a chance to get that understanding, to get that core of meaning behind the motion.  We're actually communicating with God, and it isn't one way.
It can feel like that, of course, like prayers are bouncing off the ceiling, when we're insincere, or not fully there... distracted or doubtful.  It takes practice, and struggling with ourselves to be fully honest and open with God sometimes.  Not saying it is always simple.  But within that effort, and as a reward for that struggle, we really can touch God, and he can communicate directly to us, on an individual level.  That's a mind-boggling concept, even though we often take it for granted.
Today, no matter how good we are at praying, and even if we've given up trying... let's get on our knees and try again.  Let's have faith.  Let's be sincere, and honest, and willing to listen.  If we are, God will answer us.  It won't be a lightning bolt for most of us, I hope, but God will answer.  If we're having a hard time recognizing his answers, let's pray about that. :)  If we are having a hard time being able to concentrate or finding a place to pray quietly and privately, let's pray about that.  But no matter what it is, let's get in touch with God today.  Let's let him know how we think we're doing, and maybe ask for some advice.  He loves us.  He wants to help.  He wants to be able to communicate with us.  Let's open up that possibility, and get on our knees and listen.  God wants to tell us how much he loves us.  He wants us to feel it.  And depending on our circumstances, he might have other messages that he wants to convey.  And hey, if we are going to listen to anyone today, God is a good choice, right?  Let's take the time.  Let's make the effort.  Let's make ourselves houses of prayer, and invite God in.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Mosiah 16:7-10 -- On Living Forever

"And if Christ had not risen from the dead, or have broken the bands of death that the grave should have no victory, and that death should have no sting, there could have been no resurrection.
But there is a resurrection, therefore the grave hath no victory, and the sting of death is swallowed up in Christ.
He is the light and the life of the world; yea, a light that is endless, that can never be darkened; yea, and also a life which is endless, that there can be no more death.
Even this mortal shall put on immortality, and this corruption shall put on incorruption, and shall be brought to stand before the bar of God, to be judged of him according to their works whether they be good or whether they be evil—"
Mosiah 16:7-10

Just the fact that we are all going to resurrected is astounding.  There are so many science fiction stories out there about immortality... extending life by centuries or uploading our consciousness into robots.  So many regular stories in fact... the idea of death scares us, and we long for the idea of the fountain of youth.  And here, in the scriptures, we find that it is true and real.  It is after mortality, true... but still, does that make it any less miraculous or desirable?  Christ broke the bands for us, and now all of us, everywhere, good or bad, will be resurrected.  Eternal life.  That is *huge.*
In the last verse it reminds us of the judgement... and in the context of eternal life, I think that perhaps it should take on additional significance to us.  If our lives were only mortality, maybe the whole ignoring consequences thing would work.  ... But with an eternity in front of us, it changes the equation dramatically.  Is how we are living now who we want to be, forever?  If we are ashamed of ourselves or have any self-hatred, are we prepared to feel that way for eternity?  Perhaps we should clear up some things, and solve some of those problems that we keep putting off.
Today, let's work on becoming who we want to be, always.  Our investment is much longer than just this life, but we can't fix things after this life.  We have to take care of it now... so let's do that.  Let's clean up our lives and become better than we have been.  Let's set ourselves up for success in the eternities. :)

Monday, July 21, 2014

Alma 37:38-41 -- On Avoiding the Slow Drift

"And now, my son, I have somewhat to say concerning the thing which our fathers call a ball, or director—or our fathers called it Liahona, which is, being interpreted, a compass; and the Lord prepared it.
And behold, there cannot any man work after the manner of so curious a workmanship. And behold, it was prepared to show unto our fathers the course which they should travel in the wilderness.
And it did work for them according to their faith in God; therefore, if they had faith to believe that God could cause that those spindles should point the way they should go, behold, it was done; therefore they had this miracle, and also many other miracles wrought by the power of God, day by day.
Nevertheless, because those miracles were worked by small means it did show unto them marvelous works. They were slothful, and forgot to exercise their faith and diligence and then those marvelous works ceased, and they did not progress in their journey;"
Alma 37:38-41

The Liahona is fascinating.  I hope I get to see it someday.  To me, it seems like technology that is sensitive to the spirit, which is a really cool idea.  A cool idea in some ways, of course... if the Internet didn't work for us when we didn't have the spirit, I think that we might get pretty frustrated.  ... And that is kind of the point of these verses too.  We have amazing things in front of us, amazing opportunities, but we are often slothful and forgetful and we lose our way.  It doesn't have to be because of huge sins... we just kind of drift off, not remembering God, not paying attention to the important things, trying to coast through life on past successes.  And we don't wake up until things turn dramatic again... we're faced with serious sin, or we realize that we've lost our way.  We wonder how we got here, but it wasn't anything dramatic that caused it... it was the slow drift.  And just like these verses, the miracles stop, and we stop progressing, and if we don't do something to correct, we get further and further away.
Today, let's remember faith and diligence.  Let's remember the power of prayer, and that reading our scriptures can make the day better.  Let's talk to God, let's do his will, let's diligently seek our promised land, and let's stop ourselves from slowly drifting away from the things that matter.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

3 Nephi 3:6-8 -- On Compromise and Genocide

"Therefore I write unto you, desiring that ye would yield up unto this my people, your cities, your lands, and your possessions, rather than that they should visit you with the sword and that destruction should come upon you.
Or in other words, yield yourselves up unto us, and unite with us and become acquainted with our secret works, and become our brethren that ye may be like unto us—not our slaves, but our brethren and partners of all our substance.
And behold, I swear unto you, if ye will do this, with an oath, ye shall not be destroyed; but if ye will not do this, I swear unto you with an oath, that on the morrow month I will command that my armies shall come down against you, and they shall not stay their hand and shall spare not, but shall slay you, and shall let fall the sword upon you even until ye shall become extinct."
3 Nephi 3:6-8

This is part of a letter from the leader of the Gadianton Robbers to Lachoneus, who was the leader of the Nephites at the time.  What is interesting to me here is that he basically asks Lachoneus to turn over everything, and give up the country to them.  The robbers have a lot of people on their side, and they are big enough and organized enough to make the threat... but right there in the middle, between demanding everything that they have, and threatening them with extinction, he tells them that if they just give up and become like them that they won't have to be slaves.  They can be brothers.
Now, obviously, if the leader of a pack of murderers offers to be your brother, you might want to run in the other direction... and Lachoneus, wisely, doesn't fall for it.  The idea though, here, is one that I think can be confusing because it is a parody of God's way and mimics the unity of an ideal society.  Join with us, become part of our family.  Isn't that also what God asks us to do?  The difference is, I think, that God isn't holding a gun to our heads.  Although the "threat" of hell might be seen as similar, if we ignore the whole we-choose-our-own-consequences part... it's still a lot farther off and gives people room to make other choices, unlike the real threat of genocide here.  ... The robber's offer confuses us in some ways because it is part of the plot of a lot of horror or hostage negotiation movies.  Do what I say, work for my goals, or I will kill people.  And in those movies we think ... wow, they don't have a choice.  It is better to do the things that the bad people ask for than risk your family, or the lives of hostages, or even just your own life.  Maybe we feel the same way.  If someone threatens our family, it's better to go along with it.  ... But I think, here in this chapter, and generally in our lives, God shows us that it *isn't* better.
Lachoneus was scared, and rightfully so.  The Gadianton Robbers had the motivation and the power to destroy the people... all of them.  But instead of negotiating with them, he went to the people.  He told them to gather up everything they cared about and move... all gather in one place.  They built huge fortifications, they did everything they could physically, and Lachoneus also told them "As the Lord liveth, except ye repent of all your iniquities, and cry unto the Lord, ye will in nowise be delivered out of the hands of those Gadianton robbers."  He knew their *only* hope of survival (without becoming murderers themselves) was in God, and instead of suggesting moral compromise, they went to God.  They all repented.  They were understandably motivated.  ... And in the end, God delivered them.  It wasn't easy, for sure.  It was really, really hard, and they were incredibly worried and frightened.  But it was *right.*
Today, let's not buy into the horror movie view of the world.  Let's not ever believe that we have no choice but to do bad things.  We always have a choice.  When we are faced with that kind of a decision, let's always choose God.  He can deliver us, "but if not" (Daniel 3:18)... even if he chooses not to in that moment... standing up for what we believe is still the right answer.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Alma 5:19-21 -- On Being Clean

"I say unto you, can ye look up to God at that day with a pure heart and clean hands? I say unto you, can you look up, having the image of God engraven upon your countenances?
I say unto you, can ye think of being saved when you have yielded yourselves to become subjects to the devil?
I say unto you, ye will know at that day that ye cannot be saved; for there can no man be saved except his garments are washed white; yea, his garments must be purified until they are cleansed from all stain, through the blood of him of whom it has been spoken by our fathers, who should come to redeem his people from their sins."
Alma 5:19-21

It's probably instructive to imagine judgement day like this... it reminds us that we need to take our relationship with God seriously, repent of the sins that we have committed, and make the decisions to keep ourselves as clean as possible in the future.  I think in our lives we often shove all of that to the back of our minds thinking that we can deal with it later.  Except, we can't... not if we want to grow and become better.  We can't improve and build on an unstable foundation... and a relationship with God that is full of impediments and guilt and avoidance doesn't give us anything stable to build on.  We have to clean up our souls so that we can hold more light, and get "brighter and brighter until the perfect day" (D&C 50:24).  We can all be saved, but we have to actually think about it... work through it, and find out how to change, and how to accept Christ's atonement in our lives.  Today, let's remember to deal with the stains on our souls and the obstacles to our salvation.  Let's try to push through our natural desire to avoid or procrastinate, and let's go to God, talk about it, and work out anything that is separating us.  Let's do what it takes so that when that day comes, we *can* look up with a pure heart and clean hands.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Mosiah 18:8-10 -- On Committment and Joy

"And it came to pass that he said unto them: Behold, here are the waters of Mormon (for thus were they called) and now, as ye are desirous to come into the fold of God, and to be called his people, and are willing to bear one another’s burdens, that they may be light;
Yea, and are willing to mourn with those that mourn; yea, and comfort those that stand in need of comfort, and to stand as witnesses of God at all times and in all things, and in all places that ye may be in, even until death, that ye may be redeemed of God, and be numbered with those of the first resurrection, that ye may have eternal life—
Now I say unto you, if this be the desire of your hearts, what have you against being baptized in the name of the Lord, as a witness before him that ye have entered into a covenant with him, that ye will serve him and keep his commandments, that he may pour out his Spirit more abundantly upon you?"
Mosiah 18:8-10

Alma is preaching to the people here, even though he was hiding from the king and he knew his life was in jeopardy if he was caught.  All of that is going on, and yet his message and attitude is compassionate and joyful.  You can tell that believing and then defending Abinadi is the most important thing he has ever done, even though he had to run for his life afterward.  And now he is preaching what Abinadi taught him, and the people sneak down to listen to him, and they are also filled with that same joy... even though they are risking their lives even being there.  It reminds me of Robin Hood, except Alma as Robin Hood is starting a church instead of a band of thieves. :)
With all of these people risking their lives to listen to the word of God, doesn't it kind of make us laugh at those times in our lives when we've been reluctant to go to church, or thought that the Saturday conference sessions didn't really fit into our schedules?  I read the words and I think ... wow, yeah, that is what the gospel is about.  Bearing one another's burdens.  Mourning and comforting and supporting each other... standing up for Christ.  I believe in those things.  I want that.  And I think that, even if we have overcomplicated our lives by a lot, that we can return to this feeling that Alma captures.  The moment when we understand what the gospel is about in a remarkably simple way, and commit to living it forever.  Because it *is* this simple, and this clear.  If this is the desire of our hearts, then let's either be baptized if we haven't been, or let's renew that commitment in ourselves.  Let's take that step so that God can pour out his spirit more abundantly, and so that we can all be happier.  It's a win-win-win-win... etc. :)  That's what building Zion means... supporting, helping, loving.  And maybe it is the same feeling that it talks about in Alma 5:26: "And now behold, I say unto you, my brethren, if ye have experienced a change of heart, and if ye have felt to sing the song of redeeming love, I would ask, can ye feel so now?"  ... Today, let's try to recapture the joy of dedicating ourselves to God and serving others. :)

Thursday, July 17, 2014

John 14:20 -- On Oneness

"At that day ye shall know that I am in my Father, and ye in me, and I in you."
John 14:20

We read a lot in the scriptures about oneness.  In this chapter, Christ talks about the spirit dwelling in us, and that he himself will come to us and not leave us comfortless.  In John 16:32 Christ says that he is not alone, because the Father is with him.  In Moses 7:18 the Lord calls his people Zion "because they were of one heart and one mind."  In the verse above, I think significantly, Christ mentions not just that he is in his Father and in us, but that we are in him as well.  ... It isn't a one-way oneness, but we are all in each other... part of each other.
God knows everything, and specifically knows us.  What we do and also what we think.  He can be there, with us, as we think through things and make decisions.  It is a significant and powerful idea to know that we never have to be alone.  That God can always be there to help, that we're always part of something, never an outsider, never excluded.  We don't necessarily want the same thing with everyone else, but I think mostly when that kind of mental community really scares us is when we think that something we are trying to hide will be exposed.  As fallible humans, we often want to compartmentalize our image and present ourselves differently around different people.  We might be concerned, for instance, if our bosses knew what we say to our friends about our jobs, or if our younger siblings knew that we weren't always the good examples we should be.  As we learn more and more to be good people all the time, I think those conflicts between what we want people to know about us and who we really are will lessen, and hopefully, eventually, go away completely. 
I like the idea that we can be with God as well, him knowing how we are all the time, and that we can mentally or spiritually tap into *his* mind and know his thoughts on some level.  Maybe that is the idea behind "pray always" and having the spirit with us... making that mental connection and having that line of communication open, as we share our thoughts and catch impressions and feelings from God, which get clearer depending on how much we are on the same page with him.
Today, let's remember that we never have to be alone.  Let's invite God into our minds and our hearts and get his help and his comfort.  ... Let's also try to minimize the things that we are trying to hide, so we can be even more at one with other people.  Let's work on being part of each other and helping each other succeed.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

2 Corinthians 1:3-5 -- On Comfort vs Bubble Wrap

"Blessed be God, even the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies, and the God of all comfort;
Who comforteth us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort them which are in any trouble, by the comfort wherewith we ourselves are comforted of God.
For as the sufferings of Christ abound in us, so our consolation also aboundeth by Christ."
2 Corinthians 1:3-5

This was important to me as I read today, I think because it reminds me that comfort is part of the package.  John 14:18 tells us that God will never leave us comfortless, but sometimes we feel that way.  Tribulation and suffering are obvious, but we don't see the comfort that is also there.  It's just like when we are little kids.  Our parents sometimes wish they could wrap us in bubble wrap, but we have to grow and learn and explore.  Sometimes we hurt ourselves... get a skinned knee, or burn our fingers, or worse.  And the pain surprises us, and terrifies us.  Suddenly our fun, safe world that we are learning about and getting to know turns scary.  Our parents are there to help us learn to understand and deal with the consequences, and to learn to balance the fear with continued joy.
God doesn't want us to hurt any more than our earthly parents do... and although I am sure that he is one of the few parents who could actually act on the desire to protect us all from harm, he also knows that bubble wrap isn't the answer.  We need to learn, and grow, and often that means tribulation and suffering.  ... But it is good to remember that it *also* includes comfort.  God loves us, and even though he knows we might get hurt trying new things, or making mistakes, he will always be there to put his arms around us and remind us that things will be alright.  And as we stick with him and look to him, eventually, they always will be.  Today, as we go through our less-than-peaceful lives, let's remember that we can turn to the Lord for reassurance, comfort, and strength whenever we feel our own strength failing.  And let's remember to share that comfort and reassurance with others as well.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Mosiah 3:11-12 -- On Repentance and Faith

"For behold, and also his blood atoneth for the sins of those who have fallen by the transgression of Adam, who have died not knowing the will of God concerning them, or who have ignorantly sinned.
But wo, wo unto him who knoweth that he rebelleth against God! For salvation cometh to none such except it be through repentance and faith on the Lord Jesus Christ."
Mosiah 3:11-12

I love King Benjamin.  These are a couple of verses from the address where he told his people what God commanded him to say.  This specific part is instructive I think.  Sometimes we think that Christ's atonement is a free pass for us... we believe in Christ, and automatically every wrong thing we ever did, or will ever do is erased.  And Christ's atonement *is* where we should be looking for salvation, but we can't forget the part where we actually have to change.  These verses make it clear that Christ's atonement applies automatically to certain types of mistakes.  Later in this same chapter King Benjamin makes it very clear that the atonement applies automatically to little children who die... which is implied here.  Anyone who didn't know what was expected, or who sincerely didn't know something was wrong, they are good.  But we, because all of us know right from wrong, need to do more.  Salvation comes to us through repentance and faith.  Repentance requires us to change.  It isn't just an insincere "I'm sorry" for breaking a rule we don't believe in.  We have to believe in the change, and give up the behavior.  We sinned on purpose, knowing that we were rebelling against God.  And we have to get to a point where we would not make that same choice again... which is huge sometimes.  We have to become new, different people in some ways.  That's what the symbolism of baptism is about.  The death of the old self, and the birth of the new self... we become people with new, changed hearts, who no longer want to rebel against God.
It's hard to believe in ourselves sometimes.  Even when we know clearly what is right, sometimes we want what is wrong.  We seek after it, we want it more than we want God.  How do we change from a person who really, truly loves something else more than God into someone who puts God first, and chooses differently, not just out of obligation, but out of love?  And this is where faith comes in.  Because that is hard... probably quite impossible by ourselves.  But if we really want to change, then God can help us.  We can overcome any addiction, any desire, and any weakness, as we look to him for guidance and power.  And he will help us, even if we go to him because we don't love him, or we are angry with him.  Even if we go to him because we doubt or have insulted him to others.  If we have faith enough to truly seek his help, he *will* help.  We can repent and be clean.  We can have our hearts changed, and be free of resentment and anger and anything that draws us away from God.
Today, let's partake of the atonement for ourselves, through repentance and faith.  Let's let God help us become our best selves, and let go of the bad stuff we've been carrying around.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Proverbs 11:24-26 -- On Adding Some Faith

"There is that scattereth, and yet increaseth; and there is that withholdeth more than is meet, but it tendeth to poverty.
The liberal soul shall be made fat: and he that watereth shall be watered also himself.
He that withholdeth corn, the people shall curse him: but blessing shall be upon the head of him that selleth it."
Proverbs 11:24-26

In many scriptures (Matthew 5:42, 3 Nephi 12:42, Luke 6:30, 2 Nephi 4:35), God tells us to give to people who ask, and in the last example, that God gives to those that ask... an example for us.  I think one of the things that we worry about with that is that we will give and not have anything left over for ourselves.  Nancy Kress wrote a novel called Beggars in Spain that deals at least on one level with a similar idea... what if there are so many beggars that it would bankrupt you to help them all?  What do we as a society do with the "unproductive" element of society?  ... And God's answer here, interestingly, is still... give.  God tells us that withholding more than is meet tendeth to poverty.  ... More than is meet... hard to know where that is, but obviously saving some is a good idea, but saving everything or hoarding is too much. :)  But instead of delineating that line, or worrying about it, God just says, basically, if we give, we will prosper.   If we help others, we will be helped.  It is so opposite the wisdom of the world that we kind of turn our heads sideways and stare.  It's a similar principle to tithing.  If we make that sacrifice and give, then our blessings will overflow.  But wait, we say, none of this makes sense... because we're expecting it to make economic sense, or to add up correctly.  And it's true, from that perspective it doesn't.  We can't possibly give everything away and just join the crowd of beggars, can we?  Paying tithing isn't going to make the car payment easier.  ... But like everything else with God, when we try it, we see miracles.  Luke 14 tells us that the cost of discipleship is everything.  All that we have.  That definitely doesn't add up economically.  It didn't for the widow who offered all that she had either... but faith has to do that.  It has to go beyond what we see and what we can test or validate up front, or it wouldn't be faith.
Today, instead of trying to make things add up correctly, or  budget in generosity, let's remember God's promise here, that if we give, we will also be given.  Let's try to step out of the box a little bit, and exercise our faith.  Things add up differently with God... let's give him a chance to show us how.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Luke 20:1-8 -- On Authority, and Answers

"And it came to pass, that on one of those days, as he taught the people in the temple, and preached the gospel, the chief priests and the scribes came upon him with the elders,
And spake unto him, saying, Tell us, by what authority doest thou these things? or who is he that gave thee this authority?
And he answered and said unto them, I will also ask you one thing; and answer me:
The baptism of John, was it from heaven, or of men?
And they reasoned with themselves, saying, If we shall say, From heaven; he will say, Why then believed ye him not?
But and if we say, Of men; all the people will stone us: for they be persuaded that John was a prophet.
And they answered, that they could not tell whence it was.
And Jesus said unto them, Neither tell I you by what authority I do these things."
Luke 20:1-8

This is an interesting conversation between Christ and the chief priests.  Authority is an important issue.  There are lots of people who claim to have God's ear, or to be commanded by him, but they say significantly different things.  So knowing who has authority from God is pretty important.  It's also, in many cases, hard to prove.  So, the chief priests, who could probably track their authority back for generations, confront Jesus, perhaps because they think they have more distinguished ancestors or ties to the Administrative line (being related to Aaron and being Levites).  And, since Levites and descendents of Aaron were traditionally those chosen by God, it could have been something that a lot of people were wondering.  Since they were just looking for an argument, Christ asks them to comment on the baptism of John.  Jesus wasn't a Levite, but John was, and since this is the authoritative divide they were going to question, they ran into a problem... if they denied John's authority, then they would be effectively questioning their own.
If they had been asking humbly, with a real desire to know, Christ probably would have explained it to them.  Christ restored and fulfilled a lot of things when he came, and some of the changes were hard... as they are for us, too, whenever we have to learn to change the way we think about things.  Paul later explains Christ's authority as a High Priest after the order of Melchizedek in Hebrews 7... and there *are* explanations for everything that God does.  Often, though, we're just like the chief priests.  We ask God questions with obvious answers just to start an argument or justify our position.  And if we do that, we shouldn't expect God to address the questions directly... just as he did here, he will address our thoughts and our attitudes instead, helping us realize our own faults before he has to explain them to us.  It reminds me of the book Till We Have Faces by C.S. Lewis.  Throughout most of the book, Orual is explaining things from her perspective and writing her complaint to the Gods.  And then, when she finally gets to confront them in a dream, she realizes that her perspective has been very flawed from the start... that the Gods have been helping her all along, and she has just been complaining selfishly.  Instead of condemning her for her complaints though, they ask "Are you answered?"  ... And she says yes.  Just to hear herself, to see herself for a moment as they saw her, was her answer.  Similar to the answer that Christ gave here.  He didn't get into an argument.  He just asked them to think... was John's baptism from heaven, or not?  And the answer to their question is just as obvious.
Today, let's take a step back and make sure that the questions we are asking God, and the complaints that we direct toward him, are sincere.  And when he answers us, let's remember to be open to a new perspective.  With God, we often have to learn how to think differently, not just behave differently.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Luke 10:30-37 -- On Love and Preconceptions

"And Jesus answering said, A certain man went down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell among thieves, which stripped him of his raiment, and wounded him, and departed, leaving him half dead.
And by chance there came down a certain priest that way: and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side.
And likewise a Levite, when he was at the place, came and looked on him, and passed by on the other side.
But a certain Samaritan, as he journeyed, came where he was: and when he saw him, he had compassion on him,
And went to him, and bound up his wounds, pouring in oil and wine, and set him on his own beast, and brought him to an inn, and took care of him.
And on the morrow when he departed, he took out two pence, and gave them to the host, and said unto him, Take care of him; and whatsoever thou spendest more, when I come again, I will repay thee.
Which now of these three, thinkest thou, was neighbour unto him that fell among the thieves?
And he said, He that shewed mercy on him. Then said Jesus unto him, Go, and do thou likewise."
Luke 10:30-37

The story of the Good Samaritan... always a good read.  What strikes me today is the significance of the people that walked by.  Both a priest and a Levite.  We are warned elsewhere in scripture that God is no respecter of persons (Acts 10:34), and that we shouldn't divide ourselves by titles, ranks, or riches (3 Nephi 6:12), and even that, as much as we would like some things to be meritocratic, it doesn't usually work that way (Ecclesiastes 9:11)... and we usually think, yeah, that's right, that makes sense.  We should work for equality.  We should do the Zion thing and work on loving each other... just like in this story.  We should be the good neighbor and help the person rather than walking away, or avoiding.  Sometimes though, we think that somehow that same message doesn't apply to titles in the church.  That somehow *those* ones are an exception, and that God definitely respects this person more because of a title or because he was chosen as an administrator.
Now, please don't misunderstand me on this.  I am not encouraging disrespect towards anyone.  And I am not urging anyone to disrespect the callings God offers to anyone either.  ... But I am saying that it doesn't make us unequal or better if we have a calling or position and someone else doesn't, even in the church.  Titles and ranks and callings don't make a difference to God.  Compassion and obedience do.  Service, and love, and dedication, even if we have a tiny sphere of influence.  Hopefully, in most cases, those titles and positions go hand-in-hand with compassion and goodness.  But in this story they didn't, and the same is sometimes true in real life.  We don't always earn what we're given, or respect our authority or obligations.  And the answer to that is always to do better.  A Samaritan back in the time when Christ told this story was not a respected or loved group at all.  It might be like saying... I don't know, a gang member, or a used car salesman, or a member of the [whichever political party you dislike] party came along.  ... God here is making a point about love, but also about preconceptions.
When God wasn't pleased with Cain's offering, he said "If thou doest well, shalt thou not be accepted?"  ... In this story and elsewhere, we learn that it is what we learn to be that matters... our behavior, the person that we become.  We could have the best position in the world, the most money, the coolest stuff, the best friends, and it wouldn't matter a pebble to God, if we weren't choosing good things, and becoming good people.  If we walked by people in need.  Today, let's work on letting go of our obsession with titles and labels, and simply do well.  Let's show compassion for the people around us.  Let's help people that are in trouble.  Let's be good, and do what it takes, and look past the titles to get the rest of the story.

Friday, July 11, 2014

Matthew 10:34-36 -- On Peace and Variance

"Think not that I am come to send peace on earth: I came not to send peace, but a sword.
For I am come to set a man at variance against his father, and the daughter against her mother, and the daughter in law against her mother in law.
And a man’s foes shall be they of his own household."
Matthew 10:34-36

This is interesting, and seems to directly contradict other things in the scriptures, right?  What about "Be perfect, be of good comfort, be of one mind, live in peace," (2 Corinthians 13:11)?  Christ came to mess up peace, but commands us to live in it?  How does this make sense?
But it does.  We know this, first, because it is Christ... but also after we think about it a little bit. :)  Don't we sometimes want God to come down and solve all of our problems for us... just take them away, erase the corruption, stop the killing, end the hatred?  And I am sure that he, too, wants us to live at peace, which is why he asks it of us.  But the peace we need to learn isn't something that can be forced.  When someone holds a gun to your head and says "stop fighting," does that remove the hatred from your heart?  No.  The peace that we need to learn is within us... how to love, how to forgive, how to accept people that are different than ourselves.  And the way that we learn that is by God allowing us to have conflict.  Christ's coming definitely didn't erase conflict.  For some it did, internally, but not external or world conflict.  It actually stirred up some of that.  It split families apart, and still does sometimes.  A kid wants to join the church, or go on a mission, and a parent thinks that the kid is being brainwashed or becoming a fanatic.  Parents want to donate money to a religious fund or cause, and the children think they've gone senile and are worried about their own diminished inheritance.  One person blames the lack of God for the ills of the earth, and the other blames God.  They both question the other's intelligence.  And it seems that more and more in our society, we are becoming more polarized, not less.  We read things that are pleasing to us, that support our opinions, and we don't consider other perspectives, or challenge our own thinking.  ... When Christ said that he came to set us at variance, could he have meant that he wanted to make us *think* ... and figure peace out from the inside, rather than having it mandated from the outside?  Could he mean that he wants us to learn how important peace is by experiencing conflict and variance?  I definitely don't know the mind of Christ, but I think maybe that was part of it.
Today, let's think about peace, and where it comes from.  And let's pray for God to help us learn it, rather than expecting it to just settle upon the earth from the sky.  Let's stop and consider other perspectives.  Let's learn to listen before we demand.  Let's learn to love before we correct.  Let's learn from the variance around us.  We need to stand firm on the Lord's side, yes, and not get pulled away from him... but that never means hating or mocking.  And the Lord's side is the gospel... not necessarily all of the points of culture that we individually embrace.  God hasn't chosen a political party, and he isn't loyal to one country over another.  He loves and listens to all of us.  Let's learn from our differences and find our way to peace.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Doctrine and Covenants 38:41-42 -- On Saving Ourselves

"And let your preaching be the warning voice, every man to his neighbor, in mildness and in meekness.
And go ye out from among the wicked. Save yourselves. Be ye clean that bear the vessels of the Lord. Even so. Amen."
Doctrine and Covenants 38:41-42

God tells us here a couple of important things.  First that we should be a warning voice to others.  Significantly, "in mildness and in meekness."  No railing accusations or vehement denunciations, apparently. :)  Preaching as in being a positive influence and sharing important principles with others.  The whole "be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you" (1 Peter 3:15) idea rather than the fairly corrupt "I'm right and you're wrong" approach that we often take to philosophical differences. :)
The second thing is also telling here.  First, be a good example, and second, don't succumb to the world's influence or example.  Help to change others for the better, but don't change for the worse.  ... Not that we shouldn't change at all, of course, but we need to remain clean.  "Bearing the vessels of the Lord" is a reference to the idea of ourselves as temples of God.  And the words "Save yourselves" seem quite strong here... and I think rightly so.  It isn't about us being able to perform the atonement, of course.  In that sense, only God can save us.  However, we often allow ourselves to be influenced by the world in some strong and unsavory ways.  And we justify it by saying that we need to tolerate this or that because it is our job, or they are our friends, or it's just a part of life.  But when we find ourselves changing for the worse... perhaps becoming less patient or angrier, or using more foul language, or going in the wrong direction on nearly anything, we should probably stop and look at what influences there are in our lives, and do something about it.  We need to be headed towards God, not away from him.  Today, let's make some better choices.  Let's be meek, and mild, and loving... a kind and helpful example to others of service and goodness.  And let's save ourselves by noticing, and then extricating ourselves from, situations and influences that make us worse instead of better.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Proverbs 20:24 -- On Perspective

"Man’s goings are of the Lord; how can a man then understand his own way?"
Proverbs 20:24

This is an excellent and fascinating question.  In thinking about it, it seems to me to pull the camera way out for an overall shot of our lives.  God can see that overarching path, which is a perspective that we can never see while we are living the lives in question.  So, how can we understand our ways, if we can never see them laid out completely?
Maybe we can't always understand ourselves. Maybe we do the best with the limited information we have, and work on heading towards good goals, and then when something gets in the way, we work around it, or plow through it, or stop cold and go a different direction, based on what kind of obstacle it is.  But if there is an answer to the question in this verse, it is in seeking the Lord's help and his perspective.  We can't see what is coming.  We don't know when the obstacle will drop down from above.  We don't know some of the big changes that we will encounter unexpectedly.  But God does... and if we are in tune with his spirit, he can help us not only deal with what we are going through currently, but also help us prepare for the next obstacles in our path.  We learn as we go, and even though we don't understand why we go through some of the things that we do in our lives, in hindsight it often becomes clear that we needed to learn from past experiences to teach us and prepare us for what we are now facing.  Sometimes we have to be humiliated by our own pride and selfishness so that we can remember to choose meekness.  Sometimes we have to go through a giant trial so we can help a friend deal with a similar trial later, and know how to help.  God sees it all.  He knows how it works, and it is all designed to make us stronger, better, more compassionate, to lift us up and help us to be happy.  If we can't see that, it's okay.  Sometimes it is kind of dark down here from our perspective... but instead of despairing, let's seek God's light, and his help in making good choices.  Let's trust his perspective, and learn all we can so we can face the future with hope.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Matthew 7:21 -- On Preparing for Heaven

"Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven."
Matthew 7:21

We often, with God, want to believe that he's an old softy.  That no matter what we do, or say, or think, or feel, or promote or believe in, that God will still love us and squeeze us and accept us back into his arms.  He's a God of love, right?  ... And he is a God of love, and part of this is right.  He still loves us, and he always wants us to come back.  But if we don't do the things that keep us on the path back to him, we will never get there.  It's like walking halfway to Hell, and thinking that if we just believe hard enough, Hell will turn into Heaven when we get there.  And given, God probably could teleport us out of there and into Heaven... but if Hell is what we have learned all our lives and what we've prepared ourselves for, we definitely won't be ready for a better place.
I was driving to pick up my sister once, a multi-state trip, and the car broke down.  I didn't know what to do, and so I called my mom.  She took time off work, she drove out, and she got me back on track.  She saved me.  And God does the same thing for us when we break down along the path to heaven.  He comes, and helps, and gets us back on the path.  ... But think about what my mom would have done if I had called from jail instead... or halfway across the country in the other direction, away from my sister.  Or called and said well, I sold the car for cash and then spent it all, and now I need someone to pick me up.  She may have helped me in all of those situations, yes, but there would have been consequences, not the least being an effect on our relationship.  God is not a senile old man that we can treat like dirt.  If we misuse his gifts and drive in the other direction when he has asked us to do something, it will affect our relationship.  ... My mom still would have loved me if I screwed up, but she couldn't have picked me up and carried me, and placed me in a better life.  And God won't do that either, because we wouldn't be ready for it.  If he took our drug-addled body off the floor of the crack house and placed it in a perfect home life... we'd just screw it up.  We wouldn't be prepared, or able to behave appropriately.  We'd throw away what he gave us, almost certainly in less than an hour of being awake.  If he pulled us directly out of jail and placed us in church, we'd hopefully be treated well, but it is unlikely that we would feel comfortable or get anything out of it if we weren't prepared.  And it is exactly the same as if he pulled us out of Hell and set us loose in Heaven.  We wouldn't be comfortable, we wouldn't fit in, and we wouldn't be prepared to enjoy what we found there.  Alma 34:32 tells us "this life is the time for men to prepare to meet God" ... a hint that it is going to take some preparation.
When God came to talk to Moses, the people said to Moses "Speak thou with us, and we will hear: but let not God speak with us, lest we die" (Exodus 20:19).  ... Approaching God takes a lot of healthy respect for who he is.  The creator of everything that we know.  The power behind all of it.  He can save us, and he can help prepare us, but we have to walk the path.  We have to be headed in the right direction.  We have to know God, not as a kindly old man, but as our Father, and as a *God.*  He knows everything... every thought, every desire.  And one day, he is going to stand in judgement.  Not vindictively or cruelly, but lovingly and perceptively... he knows what we want, and what we've worked for in our lives.  He knows who we want to be, and who we have become.  He isn't going to send any of us that have worked so hard for Hell to live in a place that we haven't ever desired or worked for the whole time.  He's going to reward us with what we sought.  The only way to get to Heaven is to actually want it, and seek it with all that we are... to work for it.  We need to follow God's instructions to get there.  There aren't shortcuts, and God isn't going to teleport us there.  So, today, if we want heaven, let's start doing God's will, and getting ourselves ready for it.

Monday, July 7, 2014

1 Kings 21:2-4 -- On Covetousness and Corruption

"And Ahab spake unto Naboth, saying, Give me thy vineyard, that I may have it for a garden of herbs, because it is near unto my house: and I will give thee for it a better vineyard than it; or, if it seem good to thee, I will give thee the worth of it in money.
And Naboth said to Ahab, The Lord forbid it me, that I should give the inheritance of my fathers unto thee.
And Ahab came into his house heavy and displeased because of the word which Naboth the Jezreelite had spoken to him: for he had said, I will not give thee the inheritance of my fathers. And he laid him down upon his bed, and turned away his face, and would eat no bread."
1 Kings 21:2-4

This is an interesting scripture because it describes the events leading up to tragedy.  David's tragedy starts out similarly... David couldn't sleep, so he went for a walk on the roof of his palace.  He saw a beautiful woman.  ... What would have changed in David's life if it had stopped there?  He could have said, oh, whoops, didn't come up here to spy on bathing women... better go back down and get to sleep.  And Ahab could have stopped here.  He offered a fair bargain to Naboth, but Naboth wouldn't take it.  Ahab pouts, but theoretically, he could have eventually gotten over it, maybe purchased someone else's field, and moved on.  But both of these men, both of these kings, decided otherwise.  They wanted something, so they were going to take it, leading them both eventually to murder.
We aren't kings, but we probably have an equal amount of pride.  We run into things in life and we think... but I *want* it.  This is important to me.  Why would a person, or circumstance, or even God, prevent me from obtaining that one thing?  And we have a hard time letting it go.  It could be anything... a woman, as with David, an herb garden as with Ahab... a mess of pottage, approval, the flocks of our brother, authority, priesthood, a house, a new car, money, a man, or great aunt Hilda's music box.  Whatever it is that we feel we deserve and that is being denied us.  God tries to remind us in the ten commandments of this very danger.  "Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s house, thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s wife, nor his manservant, nor his maidservant, nor his ox, nor his ass, nor any thing that is thy neighbour’s" (Exodus 20:17).  It doesn't mean we can't want things, or work for them... but coveting goes a step further.  It's wanting something so much that we are willing to do anything for it.  Wanting it so much that we make ourselves sick over it.  Sort of like an addiction.  We want the drug so much that we're willing to lie and steal and betray and sell ourselves for it.
Ahab wanted a herb garden that much.  He wanted it so much that when his wife offered to use his authority to get it, he didn't ask questions.  And when she told him that Naboth was dead, did he worry then?  Not so much.  He just went out to the vineyard to check it out.  And maybe we laugh a little... all this over an herb garden? :)  But covetousness isn't funny, at all.  It starts wars, feuds... lifetimes of pain, broken hearts, and lost souls.  It turns good men into bad, and it can poison all of us, if we are not careful.
Today, let's take a look at that tenth commandment in relation to our lives.  Let's make sure that we aren't over the line on that one.  Do we want something more than we want God?  Are we willing to risk our relationship with God for anything?  Are our desires for something consuming our thoughts or filling us with anger?  ... If so, let's stop the cycle now.  Before we turn into murderers or addicts or ruin our lives and corrupt our souls.  The whole idea of the Gadianton Robbers was this same idea... to kill and steal to get gain.  That's why Cain killed Abel.  We don't want to be in that company.
I'm not saying it is easy to let it go.  Whatever it is, even in Ahab's case, it is important to us, by definition.  It is something that we really, really want.  Giving it up is the last thing we want to do.  And in some cases it isn't even that easy to see.  It isn't something easily labeled as bad like pornography or illegal drugs.  And, like Ahab, many times it doesn't make any sense to us why we *can't* have it.  It's just someone being stubborn or greedy or inequitable, we think.  But even when we don't understand why, even when we're clearly in the right, even when the system needs to be fixed... we still need to stop the cycle, because the next step in the cycle is tragedy.  Where we sacrifice our principles and darken our souls in order to get it anyway, over anyone's objections, even God.  And then we're so far past the line and have already committed so much that we can convince ourselves that we were right in screwing up our own lives, that we're martyrs for the cause... and we don't consider that we can still repent and come back.  Although we think we've gained something in becoming martyrs, we've actually lost everything... because God *is* everything, and on his side is the only place it is worthwhile to be.  Whatever we're pouting over today, let's remember that, with God, we can be happy *now* ... we don't need anything else.  And if we put God first, that he will bless us with everything else that we need.  ... Let's save ourselves a lot of pain and let whatever it is go. 

Sunday, July 6, 2014

2 Nephi 9:52 -- On Remembering and Rejoicing

"Behold, my beloved brethren, remember the words of your God; pray unto him continually by day, and give thanks unto his holy name by night. Let your hearts rejoice."
2 Nephi 9:52

A reminder today, to remember the words of God. :)  We read them, we hear them.  We even speak them sometimes, but sometimes we forget to carry them with us, and actually apply them to our lives.  A reminder also to pray.  "Continually by day" doesn't necessarily mean that we have to stay on our knees at home all day, although I am sure that is a good choice sometimes.  ... I think the idea here is to, again, remember God all the time.  When we're driving, instead of letting some other driver get on our nerves, let's talk about it with God.  At school, when we're having a tough time mastering a concept, or communicating with an instructor... let's talk about it with God.  At work, at the store, on the bus, in the subway, walking on the moon... wherever we are.  Let's remember God, and talk about things with him.  That not only helps us remember, but gives God the chance to talk us down, or to insert himself between us and our sometimes cruel instincts.  And, whatever we're doing at night, let's also remember God then.  Let's remember that we never check our religion at the door; we never leave God behind.  And I think that if we do those things, that is what leads us to "let your hearts rejoice."  ... I think sometimes our hearts want to rejoice, but we get in the way with distractions and anxiety and we're stressing about this or that, or we allow ourselves to get angry with people on the internet, or whatever it is. ;)  And sometimes, just getting out of the way of our hearts... letting go of the negative emotions and remembering God... we're finally allowing ourselves to do what we wanted all along.  Rejoice. :)
Today, let's remember God.  Let's pray... and let's allow ourselves to rejoice.

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Doctrine and Covenants 93:38-39 -- On Obedience and Independence

"Every spirit of man was innocent in the beginning; and God having redeemed man from the fall, men became again, in their infant state, innocent before God.
And that wicked one cometh and taketh away light and truth, through disobedience, from the children of men, and because of the tradition of their fathers."
Doctrine and Covenants 93:38-39

I think it is interesting that it talks about the wicked one taking something away from us.  Not preventing us from gaining it or learning it... but taking it away.  Something that we presumably already had, or how could we lose it? :)  ... Since Christ redeemed us from the fall of Adam, we're only responsible for our own sins, not born into an already existing deficit.  So we start out innocent, and we *begin* with light and truth.  Already in us, already part of us.  We start out good.  And we learn bad... way too quickly.  Sometimes we learn it through our own actions, sometimes from our parents.  As we grow, there are many, many more sources as well.  But the good, the light, the truth... that's still our beginning.  Our core.  Something that we will recognize as we return to it.  None of us is inherently evil.  None predestined to fail.  And what we lose, we can get back, through obedience and repentance.
Sometimes we think of obedience as a bad word.  We want to be independent and powerful, and make our own choices.  Just like a little kid that says "I'm big!"  ... He doesn't want to be treated like he is little, and not be able to do the big people things.  But, exactly like that little kid, we can't graduate into independence all at once.  We need to be shielded and assisted as we learn to be more independent, little by little.  And let's not assume that we're ever ready for independence from God.  That's not even the goal.  Just like an earthly parent, he is going to stay in our lives, no matter how much progress we make.  He's not trying to get us to be separate from him... we're learning all of this so that we can be more like him.  So we can emulate him.  He is *filled* with that light and truth that we just have a little bit of.  So, today, let's find our light and truth inside, however covered with other things... it is still there.  Let's make it stronger, and let's turn to God, and let him help us.  It doesn't diminish us to value God's guidance.  It's wise.  We can get further and become more with his help and by following his example.  Obedience, at least in the case of God, leads to freedom and independence.  Just like the little kid wanting to be big.  He's not a slave.  He just learns faster if he follows the rules and listens.  And so do we. :)

Friday, July 4, 2014

Moroni 10:20-24 -- On Getting Back to Happy

"Wherefore, there must be faith; and if there must be faith there must also be hope; and if there must be hope there must also be charity.
And except ye have charity ye can in nowise be saved in the kingdom of God; neither can ye be saved in the kingdom of God if ye have not faith; neither can ye if ye have no hope.
And if ye have no hope ye must needs be in despair; and despair cometh because of iniquity.
And Christ truly said unto our fathers: If ye have faith ye can do all things which are expedient unto me.
And now I speak unto all the ends of the earth—that if the day cometh that the power and gifts of God shall be done away among you, it shall be because of unbelief."
Moroni 10:20-24

Yesterday we were talking about faith and hope and a little bit about humility... that all of these things, together, are what we are learning and becoming, and that we need the totality of it eventually, to become more like God and to follow his path.  This is another group of verses that illustrate that, but they also make some additional points.  One of them is that we can't be saved if we don't have these things.  It doesn't necessarily say we have to be perfect at all of them, but it does say we have to have charity, faith, and hope.  Also... despair cometh because of iniquity.  That's interesting... and maybe that could lead us to better ways to combat despair.  If we feel that way, maybe we can start by looking at our lives and see if there is something that we could repent for, something that we've been letting drag us down for a long time.  It's easy to get into a mode where we think that our lives are hopeless, and I think part of that is us thinking we can't overcome ourselves.  We can't force ourselves to be good... we don't want it enough.  But when it leaves us in despair, maybe we're down far enough that it is easier to look up and see that God is extending his hand, offering to help.  It's absolutely true sometimes that we can't solve our problems, that we can't overcome ourselves--that we can't manufacture a desire to even pull ourselves up out of the pit that we ourselves have dug.  But it is *never* true that God cannot.  He can help us up... loan us the spark of motivation it takes to get going again.  Save us from drowning in our own self-pity.  If we reach out to him, just a little, with the smallest amount of hope, with a tiny amount of faith... with a thimbleful of love.  Whatever we can manage.  If we have any at all, God can work with it to get us back up, moving, learning.  Saved from ourselves in this moment, and again on the road to being truly and completely saved.
We blind ourselves and darken our own lives so completely that we can't see the sun anymore.  We can't see the hope that is all around us, waiting only for us to be willing to breathe it in.  We stop looking for the good, and the beauty and we see only the fake and the ugly.  But miracles aren't decades or lifetimes away.  They aren't even outside the boundary of our reach.  They are there, beside us, waiting.  With faith we can do anything and be anything that God wants us to do or be... and he wants amazing, and happy, and good, and more than we ever have been.  He wants joy and unity and hope and so much happiness that it overflows us into everyone around.  The *only* reason we don't have that is us.  We stand in our own way.  We don't believe, we don't reach out, we don't accept what God is offering.
Today, despite doubts, despite fear, despite any despair that we feel, let's still try it.  Let's get on our knees.  Let's pray and ask God if he can help us... even if we don't have an absolute certainty that he is there.  Even if we aren't rock solid on all the commandments.  Even if we don't like ourselves or believe that we are beyond saving.  Let's ask God if he can help us get from where we are to someplace better.  If he can help us have a little bit of motivation to change.  If he can help us get started on a better path.  ... Unfortunately, if we give nothing, we get nothing in return... but if we have even the slightest, tiniest amount of hope, or faith, or love... and I think we all do (after all it takes a spark of hope to even get on our knees and try it)... God can help us out.  And the more we learn, the more he can help... one tiny step at a time, until we're back to walking on our own.  Let's overcome despair and unbelief rather than letting them define us.  Let's get back to happy... with God.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Moroni 7:40-43 -- On the Ingredients of the Gospel

"And again, my beloved brethren, I would speak unto you concerning hope. How is it that ye can attain unto faith, save ye shall have hope?
And what is it that ye shall hope for? Behold I say unto you that ye shall have hope through the atonement of Christ and the power of his resurrection, to be raised unto life eternal, and this because of your faith in him according to the promise.
Wherefore, if a man have faith he must needs have hope; for without faith there cannot be any hope.
And again, behold I say unto you that he cannot have faith and hope, save he shall be meek, and lowly of heart."
Moroni 7:40-43

This is cool, because I think that it takes faith and breaks it down a little bit for us.  Hope is one of the building blocks of faith, and later, meekness is another building block, and they can both help us get to faith.  But, in an interesting twist, faith is also a building block of hope. :)  These verses tell us both that we can't attain faith without hope, and without faith there is no hope, so hope --> faith and faith -->hope. :)  Wow.  That could be a little confusing.  But we've encountered things like this before.  It's similar to belief and action, right?  We can start out with either one, but until we get to where we have *both,* we aren't doing it right. :)  I think some of these gospel things are more like a recipe than a ladder.  Sometimes we think that if we aren't very good at one aspect of the gospel that we are just stuck and we can't move forward.  But I think we can in other ways, while we work on that one thing that is hard.  We might add ingredients in different orders, work on the dough while we're stuck on the filling, and have to run to the store for some sugar at some point, but as long as they all get in there, we can still mix it all up into something tasty.  And truthfully, in a totally non-cannibalistic way, the recipe is ourselves.  Maybe a pattern would have been a better analogy. :)
We're trying to make ourselves into Zion people.  We're trying to learn to be more like God, and approach perfection.  We need to learn so much.  How to be consistently nice, sincere, honest, at peace, and motivated.  And that's just the crust, so to speak. :)  If we're having a hard time with faith, let's approach it from the hope side.  And if we are having a hard time with hope, let's approach it from the faith side.  Either way will work, if we keep learning, and eventually get all the ingredients.  And, as the last verse says, if we're having a hard time with both, maybe we should start with learning how to be meek.  That's another ingredient, and if it is easier to start there, we can throw some in and keep mixing.
Today, let's have hope, and faith, and learn whatever we are ready to learn.  The gospel is all tied together, and the more we learn, the more clear the rest of it will be... and it's okay to add ingredients a little at a time.  If we only have a tiny bit of faith, let's add it.  If we only have hope about a few things, let's add that too.  We're working on being the best we can be, and we definitely don't have to stop progressing because of our weaknesses, doubts, or limitations.  We can get out there and grow anyway, getting better and better and overcoming our weaknesses little by little as we learn more, and slowly become better than we ever thought we could be. :)

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Isaiah 58:6-11 -- On Fasting

"Is not this the fast that I have chosen? to loose the bands of wickedness, to undo the heavy burdens, and to let the oppressed go free, and that ye break every yoke?
Is it not to deal thy bread to the hungry, and that thou bring the poor that are cast out to thy house? when thou seest the naked, that thou cover him; and that thou hide not thyself from thine own flesh?
Then shall thy light break forth as the morning, and thine health shall spring forth speedily: and thy righteousness shall go before thee; the glory of the Lord shall be thy rearward.
Then shalt thou call, and the Lord shall answer; thou shalt cry, and he shall say, Here I am. If thou take away from the midst of thee the yoke, the putting forth of the finger, and speaking vanity;
And if thou draw out thy soul to the hungry, and satisfy the afflicted soul; then shall thy light rise in obscurity, and thy darkness be as the noonday:
And the Lord shall guide thee continually, and satisfy thy soul in drought, and make fat thy bones: and thou shalt be like a watered garden, and like a spring of water, whose waters fail not."
Isaiah 58:6-11

I've been thinking a lot about fasting lately, mostly because of D&C 59:14 which says "fasting and prayer, or in other words, rejoicing and prayer."  ... I don't know if I have ever actually felt that fasting was the same as rejoicing, so I've been trying to figure out what I am missing.  And today, I think I am at least getting it a little bit.  In the verses leading up to this selection, God is explaining some of the things that fasting is not.  It isn't for us to engage in our own pleasures or labors.  It isn't so that God will be more likely to hear us.  It isn't about affliction and suffering... and in this selection, God explains what fasting *is.*  In the first verse of the selection it is to loose the bands of wickedness, to relieve burdens, free the oppressed... abolish servitude.  And I was thinking about that, and thinking that some of it could be literal, but the way it makes sense to me is figuratively.  Fasting helps us free ourselves in a lot of ways.  We aren't running on physical fuel, and what we have left is spiritual fuel.  It's almost pulling us out of the temporal to a higher level, where we are much freer and less bound to the needs and desires of the physical aspect of ourselves.  I definitely don't feel this way each time I fast, but I think that it is the goal and the purpose of fasting, to get to that level of freedom from the demands of the body, allowing us to focus on the more important things.  And I have felt that before, mostly on my mission, and I believe that is the first step towards the "rejoicing" inherent in fasting.  It can be pure joy, to know that your body is exhausted or weak, but that you are still functional and happy because you are fueled by the spirit.
That, of course, isn't all.  The selection continues with more of what fasting should be.  It's about other people.  About giving to them and serving them... spending time with them.  Focusing on people and not on self, which can be another source of joy. :)  If we refrain from "the putting forth of the finger" and speaking vanity--sounds like lecturing people or thinking that we are the coolest people in the room--then we'll be blessed.  Drawing out our souls to the hungry... that's an interesting phrase.  I wonder if it means stretching ourselves to help others, or perhaps pulling our souls out of the darkness where we've been hiding them. :)  ... Either way, the idea seems to be providing for the hungry, and satisfying those who are afflicted.  And then, of course, the blessings that seem to be overwhelmingly cool and abundant if we get it right. :)  Light and health and God guarding us, and being responsive to our pleas... our darkness will be as noonday, which is awesome, and not very dark at all. :)  And God guiding us continually.  Amazing blessings... ones that I definitely want in my life.  So, I'm going to work on getting this fasting thing down correctly, along with all the things that God says that it means, instead of treating it as affliction or starvation or a way to get God to listen.  It isn't those things, if we do it right.  Let's work on it, and get closer to fasting=rejoicing. :)

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Matthew 25:34-40 -- On Taking Things Personally

"Then shall the King say unto them on his right hand, Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world:
For I was an hungred, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in:
Naked, and ye clothed me: I was sick, and ye visited me: I was in prison, and ye came unto me.
Then shall the righteous answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, and fed thee? or thirsty, and gave thee drink?
When saw we thee a stranger, and took thee in? or naked, and clothed thee?
Or when saw we thee sick, or in prison, and came unto thee?
And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me."
Matthew 25:34-40

I think that God takes everything personally.  And, despite what we learn in our society sometimes, this isn't a bad thing.  Usually when we say "it wasn't personal," we are trying to justify a questionable or downright evil decision that we made for business purposes or for some reason *besides* pure hatred.  We say that it wasn't personal as a way to acknowledge that yes, perhaps we are hurting people, but that's just the way it goes... people get hurt, and we can be friends again, because I only threw you under the bus for business reasons, not because I don't like you.  And we think that makes it okay.  But here, God outlines a different philosophy.  Even going beyond the golden rule (Matthew 7:12) of treating others as we want to be treated, God illustrates in these verses and the verses immediately following that the way we treat others is equal to the way we treat God... if we treat others well, it is as though we treated God well, and if we treat others poorly, it is as though we treated God poorly.
I'm not saying that all businesses are evil, or that firing people isn't necessary sometimes.  Companies have ups and downs, and if someone isn't doing his or her job, there are consequences.  I'm also not saying that we're justified in taking personal offense to everything that people do or say.  I think what God does is different than that.  He recognizes that everything is personal, and needs a personal touch.  What I am saying is that maybe we should think about all of it more, and be less willing to sacrifice people for profit.  The philosopher Immanuel Kant taught something similar.  He said that we should only do those things that would make good universal laws.  So, for instance, if it were a universal law that everyone murdered, that would end badly... so murder is bad. :)  I think God's point here is along similar lines.  We should only do those things that will lead us to Zion, the ideal society, which is basically the kingdom of God.  He's trying to get us there.
Today, let's remember how much other people matter.  What we do in relation to them affects our relationship with God, and also our progress towards perfection.  As Neal A Maxwell said, "We are each other's clinical material."  Our interactions are how we learn what God has to teach.  Let's be more mindful and gentle and careful in our decisions about and interactions with other people.

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