Friday, October 31, 2014

Psalms 69:5-8 -- On Repentance and Alien Costumes

"O God, thou knowest my foolishness; and my sins are not hid from thee.
Let not them that wait on thee, O Lord God of hosts, be ashamed for my sake: let not those that seek thee be confounded for my sake, O God of Israel.
Because for thy sake I have borne reproach; shame hath covered my face.
I am become a stranger unto my brethren, and an alien unto my mother’s children."
Psalms 69:5-8

Sometimes talking to God can make us feel really foolish.  This is natural, because we *are* often foolish, especially compared to God, and while we're talking to God is exactly when we should realize it, so we can do something about it and repent.  We make massive mistakes in our lives, some of which hurt other people... and so we pray that where we cannot heal that hurt, that God will ameliorate the consequences for us.  Sometimes, in order to move forward in our lives we have to face the past.  Reproach and shame are common during repentance, as is feeling alienated from our families or friends.
The cool thing about conversations like this is that when we are at this stage, we really are ready to repent.  We realize our own foolishness... that it *is* in fact foolishness and not something that we want to continue doing or being.  We really are sorry for how we have affected others negatively, and we want to heal our relationships and not be aliens anymore. :)
Today, let's realize our foolishness, take off our alien costumes, and solve the problems in our lives that are getting in the way of our spiritual progress.  Let's repent and return to God.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Proverbs 14:14 -- On High Speed Connections to God

"The backslider in heart shall be filled with his own ways: and a good man shall be satisfied from himself."
Proverbs 14:14

A backslider is someone who slips back, or relapses into old errors or sins.  To be filled with those ways seems kind of like going back to using an 8 baud modem to try to stream a movie from the internet.  We know there is something better, but we're more comfortable with doing it our own way.  Even though our own way is obviously going to cause us a lot of frustration and pain, we're kind of addicted to that modem sound.
On the other hand, the good man is satisfied from himself... he's got the fastest connection available, and he doesn't have to worry about whether it will stream or not.
For the analogy, just switch out the internet for our connection with God... our effort in making that connection.  We can talk all day about how we are doing what God asks, and waiting for him to answer, but when our efforts amount to an 8 baud connection, we can be absolutely certain that only miracles will get through.  God will still try, and maybe leave us a message for when we have time to read it, but whether or not we'll pay attention or have our connection stay up long enough to notice is in question.  We'll be filled with our own static and lack of effort.  If our efforts add up to an always-on connection running the highest speed possible, then our communication problems in reaching God are going to be very rare.  We'll be satisfied in what we've done, because it works, and connects with God.
Today, let's remember that our relationship with God is a *relationship,* not a one-way demand.  If we told our friends that we were just waiting around until they proved themselves to us, or we made no effort to contact them and only waited for them to contact us, that would put a damper on our friendships... and it doesn't work very well on God either.  God is always trying to reach us, leaving us messages all the time.  Let's start noticing, and listening, and responding.  Let's reach out to him and move forward rather than continuing to backslide and relapse into our old sins and destructive habits.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Psalms 40:1-4 -- On Patience and Trust

"I waited patiently for the Lord; and he inclined unto me, and heard my cry.
He brought me up also out of an horrible pit, out of the miry clay, and set my feet upon a rock, and established my goings.
And he hath put a new song in my mouth, even praise unto our God: many shall see it, and fear, and shall trust in the Lord.
Blessed is that man that maketh the Lord his trust, and respecteth not the proud, nor such as turn aside to lies."
Psalms 40:1-4

There are a lot of great bits in here.  The first one that I notice is the waiting patiently part.  Clearly this does not say "I demanded the Lord satisfy my needs, and he did."  ... We are like tantruming children that way sometimes, screaming for what we want, and often unable to articulate our needs even to ourselves.  We just feel something uncomfortable, and want someone else to solve it for us, and fast.  We want God to be like the genie of the lamp... to instantly give us whatever we ask.  And although God is powerful enough to play the role, he isn't a slave to a lamp, and he is going to do what is best for us, which he knows better than we do.  His purpose is to teach us and help us grow and become better, and that is why we always have to do our part, even if it is just having patience.
Patience seems a small price to pay for being delivered from the horrible pit, which I think we all encounter, at least figuratively, in our lives.  Sometimes the pits are ones we didn't expect to be in the path.  Others, we dig ourselves.  Either way, God is willing to rescue us if we are willing to change.
I like the idea of a new song.  I think of movies and how the main characters usually have their own theme music, usually helping the audience know whether this is the hero or the villain.   With God, even if we have been the villain for most of the plot, we can still change.  We can get a new song.  One that marks us as a hero, and also reminds everyone where salvation comes from.
I like the last verse about trusting God, because it reminds us that trusting God is a choice that necessitates the rejection of some other choices.  As we learn in Matthew 6:24 and elsewhere "No man can serve two masters."  When we choose God we have to let go of serving the slimy.  Even when the pride looks like sophistication or becoming modern, and even when everyone around us buys into the  lies, we have to trust God above everything else.  Today, let's work on patience and trust for the Lord.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Matthew 5:17-18 -- On Fulfillment of the Law

"Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil.
For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled."
Matthew 5:17-18

The transition from obeying the laws of the Old Testament to obeying the laws of the New Testament was a hard one for the people at Christ's time, and in some ways also for the Nephites, although, at least seemingly, to a much lesser extent.  These verses struck me today because I think we confuse the relationship of these laws sometimes, thinking that the law of Moses was archaic and pointless and that the law of Christ makes more sense.  In actuality, though, they are part of the same thing... the Gospel as a whole.  The strict performances in the law of Moses were designed by God as reminders of our obligations and duties, and as assistance and reminders of keeping God in our minds and hearts.  While there are certain dietary laws and other performances that we no longer need to follow, the gospel and the covenants that God made with his people remain valid.  Certainly the ten commandments have not been rescinded.  In fact, reading further in this chapter, they have been expanded and enhanced.  The gospel that Adam learned, and Abraham followed... this is still it.  The prophecies that were made throughout time by prophets are valid, and if they have not been fulfilled yet, they will be.
Christ performed the great and last sacrifice, which all previous animal sacrifices had pointed to and been symbolic of.  After he said these verses, and after his death and resurrection, he made it clear that the law was at an end: "For behold, the covenant which I have made with my people is not all fulfilled; but the law which was given unto Moses hath an end in me" (3 Nephi 15:8).  He also made it clear that the gospel was still alive and well, and that the covenant and the truth was still around.  Fulfilling the law doesn't erase the past, or obliterate the veracity of the lessons of our ancestors.  It also doesn't make our version of the gospel easier.  In fact, although the law of Moses may have been stricter in a physical sense, arguably, the law of Christ is stricter in a spiritual sense, and places more responsibility on us to control not only our actions, but also our thoughts and emotions... to look behind the laws to the purposes of the laws and fulfil them completely, not look for ways around them.  The freedom of action offered to us is tempered with the requirement that we watch ourselves and change our hearts.
Today, let's make sure that we are being true to the gospel of Christ, and looking to him in all that we do.  Let's not make the mistake in thinking that God is being easy on us or letting us off the hook.  He isn't at all.  He asks us to think... to see the sin before it happens.  To stop anger so that it never turns into killing rage.  To stop lustful thoughts before they turn into adultery.  He asks us to practice some self control.  Not so different from our ancestors, we still quite often have a problem with that.  Let's remember them and learn from them.

Monday, October 27, 2014

1 Corinthians 9:7-10 -- On Working in Hope

"Who goeth a warfare any time at his own charges? who planteth a vineyard, and eateth not of the fruit thereof? or who feedeth a flock, and eateth not of the milk of the flock?
Say I these things as a man? or saith not the law the same also?
For it is written in the law of Moses, Thou shalt not muzzle the mouth of the ox that treadeth out the corn. Doth God take care for oxen?
Or saith he it altogether for our sakes? For our sakes, no doubt, this is written: that he that ploweth should plow in hope; and that he that thresheth in hope should be partaker of his hope."
1 Corinthians 9:7-10

This is interesting.  In this chapter Paul is making a specific point about not charging people for preaching or missionary work, but it also reminded me of something in Isaiah 65:22 that we read in Sunday School this week.  Talking about the Millennium, that verse says in part: "They shall not build, and another inhabit; they shall not plant, and another eat."  To me, these messages seem to be about choice and hope.  These verses start out asking us who goes to war and commands himself, or pays his own way.  Same with vineyards and flocks.  Who chooses to do something and doesn't benefit from it?  These aren't necessarily rhetorical questions.  Slaves do, and for sure in the modern day we have a lot of people doing things that are very far removed from the natural rewards of their labors.  We might start building a house and because of a tragedy never be able to finish it or live in it.  Or we might work for a company that builds houses, or plants or serves food, and even though we get paid, it might not be enough to actually enjoy a house or feed our families, especially if we're working on luxury accommodations or in luxury resorts.  I think it is a common worry... to know that we can work and work and work, and even when it is on something exciting and cool, we might not be able to make ends meet, let alone get ahead.
I like the idea here that we should be able to choose our work, and do it "in hope" ... and, from the Isaiah verse, that in the Millennium our labor will be directly tied to our rewards.  What we work on will be what we get.  That might not always be a good thing, if we slack off and do almost nothing, but it follows the gospel ideals of becoming what we work at... reaping what we sow, getting the reward that we offer to others.  Today, let's choose our work wisely, and pour ourselves into it, knowing that God will reward our righteous efforts.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Proverbs 4:1 -- On Listening to our Father

"Hear, ye children, the instruction of a father, and attend to know understanding."
Proverbs 4:1

I was thinking about the idea today of God as our father, and how that clarifies the God-Human relationship a lot.  If we believe ourselves to be children of God, then by its very nature, our relationship means that we have some growing up to do, and that God has gone before us and experienced things that we don't know about yet... things that he can teach us, if we will listen.  Now, of course we don't always listen to God, just as we don't always listen to our mortal fathers, but in God's case we always should (and probably more often even in the mortal case as well).  There are things to learn and more that we can understand about how the world and the universe and the gospel all work together, and God can teach us all of that, if we ask, and if we are willing to learn some of the remedial stuff along the way so that we can become ready for the larger lessons.
Today, let's show respect to our Father in Heaven and learn the things that he has to teach us.  Let's not assume that because of our brief time in mortality that we know more than he does, or that we are not in need of some wise counsel.  And while we're at it, let's treat those human dads with respect as well.  It's a tough job, raising us.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

D&C 98:23-24 -- On Letting it Go

"Now, I speak unto you concerning your families—if men will smite you, or your families, once, and ye bear it patiently and revile not against them, neither seek revenge, ye shall be rewarded;
But if ye bear it not patiently, it shall be accounted unto you as being meted out as a just measure unto you."
Doctrine and Covenants 98:23-24

This is interesting, and I think often very difficult.  When people smite us in whatever way, we aren't often prone to bearing it patiently.  And often we want to revile, and we *want* revenge.  We see the injustice and we feel that imbalance, and we want it corrected, *now.*
Of course, sometimes we find ourselves on the other side of this equation, and we're the ones that have done the smiting.  And I think that from *that* perspective, we can see the wisdom of God's statement.  God wants to give space to us--to all of us--to learn and grow, and to have room to repent.
The chapter gets more interesting after this as well, talking about people who smite us several times, and how the rewards get greater if we refuse to strike back, but that at some point God allows us to take further action to protect ourselves if we so choose... but still mentioning that even then, if we don't, it brings great blessings.  Again, something that it is hard to be patient with.
Am I advocating social injustice, living in abusive relationships, or saying that hostile environments are good?  No.  I think God makes it clear that there are times when he allows further action, and I also think patience can include removing yourself from the situation or the environment.  I'm just saying maybe we should think about it a little bit more before rushing to take action.  We probably all need to work on our patience, and no matter how cool we are, we probably have some experience with losing our tempers and being cruel to others in some way.  Maybe we should remember that we need some space to repent, and try to offer that same space to others as well.  Plus, who doesn't need the bonus blessings that we get from being patient in situations like this?  Today, let's take a step back and let things go.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Isaiah 60:19-20 -- On Everlasting Light

"The sun shall be no more thy light by day; neither for brightness shall the moon give light unto thee: but the Lord shall be unto thee an everlasting blight, and thy God thy glory.
Thy sun shall no more go down; neither shall thy moon withdraw itself: for the Lord shall be thine everlasting light, and the days of thy mourning shall be ended."
Isaiah 60:19-20

This is astounding.  I think somewhere in the back of our minds we still think that there are things that are kind of bigger than God.  Things that he can't do anything about.  And I think the Sun might be one of them.  But here, and also in Revelations 21:23 and 22:5, it talks about God being all we need rather than a sun.  And I love the idea of the sun never going down, at least in a spiritual sense, because God *is* the sun to us, and we never need to live in darkness again.  I also like the symbolic way that it ties darkness and mourning together.  Our lives are often filled with sorrow and darkness because we choose not to walk in the light, and unless we *are* in the light, we can't understand the same things that we can understand when we can see clearly.  The idea of always being able to understand and see clearly, and never mourning or walking in shadow... that is compelling.
Today, let's remember that God is over everything, even the sun.  And that *he* is our light and warmth and life.  With him nothing can cast a shadow or darken the understanding.  Let's look forward to the day when our sun will never go down.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

D&C 19:15-20 -- On the Gift of Repentance

"Therefore I command you to repent—repent, lest I smite you by the rod of my mouth, and by my wrath, and by my anger, and your sufferings be sore—how sore you know not, how exquisite you know not, yea, how hard to bear you know not.
For behold, I, God, have suffered these things for all, that they might not suffer if they would repent;But if they would not repent they must suffer even as I;
Which suffering caused myself, even God, the greatest of all, to tremble because of pain, and to bleed at every pore, and to suffer both body and spirit—and would that I might not drink the bitter cup, and shrink—
Nevertheless, glory be to the Father, and I partook and finished my preparations unto the children of men.
Wherefore, I command you again to repent, lest I humble you with my almighty power; and that you confess your sins, lest you suffer these punishments of which I have spoken, of which in the smallest, yea, even in the least degree you have tasted at the time I withdrew my Spirit."Doctrine and Covenants 19:15-20

This is a very strong message to us from God, urging us to repent.  In some ways it sounds harsh.  The words "smite," "wrath," "anger," and "humble" used in this way all seem kind of scary... and yet there is a message of compassion here as well, and God explains his reason for the strong message.  He has suffered in our place.  He knows how hard it is to bear.  How impossible it is for us to even imagine it.  And he *wants* to scare us, so that we won't take the chance of thinking that we can suffer it ourselves or that we can tough it out and be okay.  I think it is a little like the drunk driving films they showed us in Driver's Ed.  They wanted us to see the potential consequences of our actions, and that this was a big deal, not something to be shrugged off.  God's message is similar.  The suffering that we've incurred through sinning isn't anything that we have experienced more than the tiniest amount, no matter how much we have suffered in our lives.  It is something that made even God tremble.  It is not something that we want to go through.
Thankfully, God gives us a way to avoid that level of suffering.  He has taken it on himself so that we would have room to repent and change.  And all he asks is that we do that.  Let's take the opportunity that he has paid so dearly for, and examine our lives.  Let's decide if sin is leading us to be the people that we want to be, and if not, then let's change.  Let's repent, and confess, and forsake, and become better than we have been--better than we are now.  Let's accept the greatest gift anyone has ever given us: the chance to repent and change, rather than suffer the consequences of our mistakes.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Isaiah 58:2-5 -- On Sacrifice and Suffering

"Yet they seek me daily, and delight to know my ways, as a nation that did righteousness, and forsook not the ordinance of their God: they ask of me the ordinances of justice; they take delight in approaching to God.
Wherefore have we fasted, say they, and thou seest not? wherefore have we afflicted our soul, and thou takest no knowledge? Behold, in the day of your fast ye find pleasure, and exact all your labours.
Behold, ye fast for strife and debate, and to smite with the fist of wickedness: ye shall not fast as ye do this day, to make your voice to be heard on high.
Is it such a fast that I have chosen? a day for a man to afflict his soul? is it to bow down his head as a bulrush, and to spread sackcloth and ashes under him? wilt thou call this a fast, and an acceptable day to the Lord?"
Isaiah 58:2-5

This is fascinating stuff.  Later in the chapter it talks about what fasting should be, but I think this lesson of what fasting is not is a great one as well.  I think we get it wrong quite often.
Sacrifice is important.  And sometimes we are asked to give well beyond what we think we can.  At those times, having faith and giving everything is important.  But let's remember that we have plenty of opportunities for sacrifice in our lives already.  God doesn't ask us to manufacture it.  Having a broken heart and a contrite spirit as we repent from day to day and as we continue to learn is often enough.  Sometimes the sacrifices are larger, but we don't have to make up things to make our lives worse or to make us feel bad, or give up things that are essential to our lives in order to somehow manufacture an extra bit of spirituality or "demand" a blessing from God.  These verses tell us that our suffering isn't the point at all.  We shouldn't fast to be heard.  We shouldn't fast or afflict ourselves to prove to God that we're tough enough to take it.  We shouldn't fast to win arguments, or to smite our enemies. 
Fasting isn't about suffering, at all.  D&C 59:14 backs that up as well: "Verily, this is fasting and prayer, or in other words, rejoicing and prayer."  Sacrifice isn't about suffering either.  God isn't asking us to crawl over a bed of nails in order to be heard.  Sacrifice and Fasting are about getting our priorities straight and putting God first.  It's similar to what Richard G. Scott said about scripture study recently: "Feasting on the word of God each day is more important than sleep, school, work, television shows, video games or social media."  When God asks us to do something, we should do it, whether or not it means not eating, or not being able to do something else that we want to do.
Later in the chapter, God explains what fasting *is* about... and it is the same thing that our lives are about.  Helping other people, lifting them up.  Making life better and not worse.  Today, as we go through the necessary sacrifices of our lives, including fasting, let's try to remember not to suffer or think that it is *about* suffering.  It's actually about love, and joy, and bringing goodness and light to the world.  We don't have to manufacture pain in our lives to please God.  We just have to listen to him and serve him and build a better world.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Hebrews 11:5-8 -- On Faith and Uncertainty

"By faith Enoch was translated that he should not see death; and was not found, because God had translated him: for before his translation he had this testimony, that he pleased God.
But without faith it is impossible to please him: for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him.
By faith Noah, being warned of God of things not seen as yet, moved with fear, prepared an ark to the saving of his house; by the which he condemned the world, and became heir of the righteousness which is by faith.
By faith Abraham, when he was called to go out into a place which he should after receive for an inheritance, obeyed; and he went out, not knowing whither he went."
Hebrews 11:5-8

So much good in this chapter. :)  I like the word "translated" in the first verse.  We often think of translation in terms of language only, but the word also carries the sense of movement and change beyond just words.  Enoch, instead of dying, was translated... without going through the middle stage of death and waiting for his spirit and body to be reunited at the resurrection, he was changed immediately from life to resurrection.  I love that idea that some people through faith can step around death into renewed life. I also like the stories of Noah and Abraham here, who exercised faith to walk into a future that was uncertain, except that they knew it would be very different than what they were used to.  Which, actually is what Enoch did too.  His was just post-mortal. 
God asks similar things of us.  It might not be abandoning our families and homelands, it might not be saving the last of humanity, and it might not be being translated from this life to the next... but you never know, it could be any of those things, or different things with similar challenges.  God wants us to have enough faith and trust in him to step into the unknown.  By definition, we won't always know what to expect, but God promises that if we seek him and do as he asks that the rewards will be amazing.
The idea that "without faith it is impossible to please him" is an interesting one.  I think that it means that we have to learn to deal with some ambiguity.  We aren't always going to be able to prepare for or anticipate what comes next.  Sometimes things will happen that will cause massive changes in our lives, and that might turn our worlds upside down.  It won't always be fun, and it will often be scary.  But God is our constant.  He will always be there, and if we look to him, he will support us through it all and help us and guide us.  Today, let's have faith to walk where God asks us to walk, no matter what is ahead, no matter how far we can see down the road.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Mark 2:15-17 -- On Eating with Sinners

"And it came to pass, that, as Jesus sat at meat in his house, many publicans and sinners sat also together with Jesus and his disciples: for there were many, and they followed him.
And when the scribes and Pharisees saw him eat with publicans and sinners, they said unto his disciples, How is it that he eateth and drinketh with publicans and sinners?
When Jesus heard it, he saith unto them, They that are whole have no need of the physician, but they that are sick: I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance."
Mark 2:15-17

I wonder who Christ would hang out with if his earthly ministry was now.  Surely he would spend time with prophets and leaders, teaching them and helping them learn to lead as he did his disciples.  But it definitely wouldn't just be them, right?  He would invite in anyone willing to listen to him:  Immigrants and ex-convicts, adulterers and homosexuals, politicians, tax collectors, used-car salesmen, lawyers, the rich and the poor.  Maybe even us.  And he would teach us all, and help us to know how to change our lives.  He would forgive us and love us and tell us to go and sin no more.  He would lift and encourage and support us in making ourselves better and in living closer to his example.
Today, let's remember to lift the people around us, no matter what labels we have given to them, or they have accepted for themselves.  Let's help each other grow and change and learn, for the sake of the growing and changing and not with any ulterior motives.  Let's improve however we can, and help others to do the same... and let's repent.  Of our biases, of our discrimination, of our superiority complexes. :)  And, of course, the rest of our sins.  Let's remember that the gospel is more like Sinner's Anonymous than a private club.  Let's do as Christ would do, and welcome anyone at all who wants to learn to join us at the banquet.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

D&C 138:11 -- On Pondering

"As I pondered over these things which are written, the eyes of my understanding were opened, and the Spirit of the Lord rested upon me, and I saw the hosts of the dead, both small and great."
Doctrine and Covenants 138:11

I was looking at several scriptures this morning, and it was interesting to me how often the word "ponder" was linked to some sort of revelation from God.  The idea of thinking, or studying it out in our minds is all over the scriptures, and is perhaps something that we don't do enough of.  In this verse, Joseph F. Smith was pondering a scripture, and received a revelation, very similar to what happened to the boy Joseph so many years earlier.  He read James 1:5, and thought about it for a long time, finally determining to act on it.  It seems to be a pattern that follows prophets, and of course something that we can get in on, as we desire to understand God's word more fully.  Praying and reading and pondering about the things of God help us to get us into the proper mind frame to be able to receive revelation.  So does keeping the Sabbath Day holy and fasting.  As the Saviour said in Mark 2:27 "The sabbath was made for man, and not man for the sabbath:"--the sabbath is there to *help* us get into the right mind frame with God, and ease communication with him.  The same with fasting.  They aren't weird arbitrary rules.  They are all things that help us commune with the Lord.
Today, let's remember that the commandments are there to help us and guide us and lead us in correct paths, not to torture and restrict us.  When we don't understand something, let's think, and study, and ponder.  Let's ask God.  Let's fast and pray and set aside time for the things of God.  If we do, then perhaps we can quiet down the background noise of our lives enough to hear God, who loves us and who has been trying to reach us the whole time.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

D&C 78:17-18 -- On the Riches of Eternity

"Verily, verily, I say unto you, ye are little children, and ye have not as yet understood how great blessings the Father hath in his own hands and prepared for you;
And ye cannot bear all things now; nevertheless, be of good cheer, for I will lead you along. The kingdom is yours and the blessings thereof are yours, and the riches of eternity are yours."
Doctrine and Covenants 78:17-18

When people talk about you as a little child they usually mean you are naive or simple.  It can have a negative connotation, inferring that we aren't mature or thoughtful or able to make decisions.  When God says it though, it is simple truth.  As God's children, we aren't grown up yet, and truthfully we often are not mature or thoughtful, and we do have a hard time making good decisions.  But with God the phrase isn't a condemnation.  Remember, Christ in Matthew 18:3 said "Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven."
I think when God talks about us as little children, he means that we are still growing and learning, and that we don't understand all there is to know about being an adult.  And since this particular comparison puts God in the role of adult and all of us as children, that is fairly obvious.  We are learning, and we have learned a lot.  I don't mean to dismiss our progression and our essential education.  But we also still have a long way to go.  When Christ urges us to be as little children, he doesn't mean that we should start drooling or throwing our toys.  He means that we should recognize that we still need to grow, and have that openness and love and trust that children have, in allowing God to teach us and guide us.  And in these verses especially I think God shows his love for us clearly.  We have *no idea* how great the blessings are that our Father has in store for us, and we definitely can't handle everything.  But if we stick with God, if we trust him and follow him, he will lead us along, and the future will be better than we can currently imagine.
Today, let's trust God.  Let's keep our minds and our hearts open, ready and willing to learn the lessons that God has to teach us.  And let's look forward in hope, knowing that, even if we can't currently see what is in the box labeled "the riches of eternity," all of life is more than worth it to become the people who will find out.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Alma 32:34-35 -- On Reality

"And now, behold, is your knowledge perfect? Yea, your knowledge is perfect in that thing, and your faith is dormant; and this because you know, for ye know that the word hath swelled your souls, and ye also know that it hath sprouted up, that your understanding doth begin to be enlightened, and your mind doth begin to expand.
O then, is not this real? I say unto you, Yea, because it is light; and whatsoever is light, is good, because it is discernible, therefore ye must know that it is good; and now behold, after ye have tasted this light is your knowledge perfect?"
Alma 32:34-35

In this chapter, Alma compares the word of God to a seed that we plant in our hearts, and urges us to try this experiment and to see if the word grows and expands our souls.  In these verses he explains that if we try that and it works, we have used our faith to reach knowledge in that particular area... we now know that it works. :)  The discussion continues past this point, talking about other things to try, etc, but this part struck me today because of the phrase "is not this real?"  ... I feel like that is something that we ask ourselves a lot with regard to God, and the gospel, and spiritual things in general.  We wonder, at least when we are first trying these experiments and listening for God, if our emotions are running away with us, whether we're deluding ourselves, whether God is really there listening or whether we're just feeling something because we want to believe.  Even after we have reached the level of knowledge with regard to God, or part of it, we can still wonder about feeling the spirit.  Is this the spirit or is this me?  We can struggle with knowing for certain when God is speaking to us or when we are just worried or concerned about something.
I think that Alma is describing something that helps us to resolve those concerns, and shows us that learning about God and his gospel is a process.  It doesn't all spring into being at once.  We get to know God.  We might know some things instantly or instinctively, but overall, we all have to learn, gradually, that the gospel is right.  It is okay to wonder, and to try the experiment.  It is okay not to know how to recognize the spirit, and to work up to that over time.  Our knowledge becomes perfect in certain things, but it takes time, and faith is still going to play a part throughout our lives.  We can't know it all... there is always more to learn, at least in this life.  But once part of it works, and once we have that relationship with God, I think that we can know at least that part... that it IS real.  That God exists.  That we can talk to him.  And if we can get to that stage, where we know that it isn't a fairy tale, then I think we can start learning to trust God, and getting his guidance as we learn more.
Today, if we don't know that God is real, let's get on our knees and sincerely ask to know that.  And if we know that already, let's learn more, based on that solid foundation.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Mosiah 4:6-7 -- On Trusting the Lord

"I say unto you, if ye have come to a knowledge of the goodness of God, and his matchless power, and his wisdom, and his patience, and his long-suffering towards the children of men; and also, the atonement which has been prepared from the foundation of the world, that thereby salvation might come to him that should put his trust in the Lord, and should be diligent in keeping his commandments, and continue in the faith even unto the end of his life, I mean the life of the mortal body—
I say, that this is the man who receiveth salvation, through the atonement which was prepared from the foundation of the world for all mankind, which ever were since the fall of Adam, or who are, or who ever shall be, even unto the end of the world."
Mosiah 4:6-7

The big thing that struck me in this selection is the idea of trusting the Lord.  It talks about salvation coming to those who do, and I think that trusting God is actually a gigantic hurdle in our lives sometimes.  Even when we get to talking to him, knowing him better, learning to love him... we are often still greatly surprised when God answers a prayer or comes through in an emergency.  And that's understandable, but still a little bit sad, because we haven't gotten to the point where we are on the same page, and we know how to work with God better... what he will do for us, and what we need to learn by doing it ourselves.  That is a huge lesson, and by no means am I criticizing us as a group for not being there yet.  Only pointing out that maybe that is something to work on... that we have a ways to go in learning to trust.
Trust is a process.  I'm guessing that even the prophets have to learn it gradually before they are confident talking about future events.  We know that Jonah had to learn to trust God, and Nephi and the Brother of Jared both show us some of the division between doing things ourselves and relying on the Lord to give us the answer.  But you know, I think that the way to learn the essential trust we need is also right here in the verse.  Salvation comes to those who trust in the Lord, who are diligent in keeping his commandments, and who continue in the faith throughout their lives.  It takes trust to believe that the commandments are important and that we should follow them.  We often want to carve out exceptions for ourselves and our friends depending on how we feel or whether we feel it makes sense or not.  So, maybe that is the first step to learning to trust more and be on the same page with God.  We need to let go of our protests and exceptions and learn trust by assuming that we are part of the rule.  And if we can do that, and trust God that much, then we'll learn more and more how to interact with him and learn more of how to listen to him, trust him, and rely on him in emergencies.  Today, let's let go of our reservations about the commandments and go all in when following the Lord.  As we do, he will teach us of his ways, and we will learn to trust him as he leads us to salvation.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

D&C 131:1-3 -- On God's Requirements

"In the celestial glory there are three heavens or degrees;
And in order to obtain the highest, a man must enter into this order of the priesthood [meaning the new and everlasting covenant of marriage];
And if he does not, he cannot obtain it."
Doctrine and Covenants 131:1-3

I think that these verses are interesting in the context that God has set an example for us and that we are to follow him.  I like the idea of God married, of us as his children, not descended from a single all-powerful entity, but children of our father who is married and thus the idea of other relatives as well, being there, involved in our lives.  ... Definitely doesn't take the all-powerful part away, but still somehow makes it more personal and more accessible perhaps.
To do as God asks in this life, and to achieve all that we can, we have to get married.  Not just any marriage, of course, but a marriage sealed for eternity, so that it will last beyond death.  One of the goals of temple work is to make sure this happens for every marriage that could possibly qualify.  Other people might not have the opportunity to get married in this lifetime because of circumstances beyond their control.  I'm sure God will resolve all of the loose ends, perhaps during the millennium.  The whole requirement to marry definitely rubs some people the wrong way because they either aren't attracted to the opposite sex that way, or they don't want their salvation tied up with or reliant on someone else's, or whatever the reason.  One one hand, it's like baptism.  It's a requirement, not a negotiation.  But it's definitely a more complex requirement, and a tough one for some.  For people who choose not to marry, celestial glory is still possible.  Just not at the highest degree... which perhaps, like the consequences of many other things that we choose in this life, means a limitation on eternity.  It's a choice.  On the other hand, if the desire to follow God's commandments is there, and we are willing to work with him, God can change our hearts and help us grow and learn and find a desire to fulfil even the commandments that we have questions about.  Not grudgingly, but happily, willingly, and with joy.  That is true of this commandment, as it is of all others.  We sin because we desire to sin, but God can teach us to desire righteousness instead.  To change, to come to God on his terms rather than expecting him to change for us.
Today, let's work on changing our ways, and our minds, for God, and putting him first... before anyone else, especially ourselves.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

D&C 132:7 -- On Building rather than Burning

"And verily I say unto you, that the conditions of this law are these: All covenants, contracts, bonds, obligations, oaths, vows, performances, connections, associations, or expectations, that are not made and entered into and sealed by the Holy Spirit of promise, of him who is anointed, both as well for time and for all eternity, and that too most holy, by revelation and commandment through the medium of mine anointed, whom I have appointed on the earth to hold this power (and I have appointed unto my servant Joseph to hold this power in the last days, and there is never but one on the earth at a time on whom this power and the keys of this priesthood are conferred), are of no efficacy, virtue, or force in and after the resurrection from the dead; for all contracts that are not made unto this end have an end when men are dead."
Doctrine and Covenants 132:7

This section is talking about the new and everlasting covenant, and these are the conditions of it.  Basically God is saying that the only agreements or associations that will survive death are ones that God has approved and sealed.  This seems to make sense... death is a huge change, just as birth was.  When we come to earth the veil is drawn, and we can't remember who we used to be.  At death, theoretically, that veil is removed and we once again will remember who we were before this life, and combined with who we have been here, we might have a different outlook on a lot of things.
We learn elsewhere "And that same sociality which exists among us here will exist among us there, only it will be coupled with eternal glory, which glory we do not now enjoy." (D&C 130:2).  Sociality seems to mean that we'll be able to interact and still have friends and discourse, but that additional expectations and former relationships that weren't formalized through temple sealings will have an end at death.  This sounds somewhat unfair to people who haven't had the chance to hear the gospel, but the idea behind temple work is to establish all of those links for everyone, right?  If we find in our genealogy that a couple was married, then we make sure that work is done, so that they can take advantage of that bond if they so choose after this life.  It's still a little bit scary, just because the obligation is on us to establish permanent relationships if we want them.  Most of what we do in this life is temporary.  We burn bridges behind us a lot.  We establish friendships based on proximity or common tasks, and when those are gone, then often so is the relationship.  God gives us this chance to make certain kinds of relationships last (marriages, adoptions), but we have to be sure and careful with them, because we're establishing something eternal in the midst of our mess of temporary.  Today, let's make sure that we are building rather than burning.  And let's try to be more careful and loving with everyone.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Jeremiah 17:5-8 -- On Well-Placed Trust

"Thus saith the Lord; Cursed be the man that trusteth in man, and maketh flesh his arm, and whose heart departeth from the Lord.
For he shall be like the heath in the desert, and shall not see when good cometh; but shall inhabit the parched places in the wilderness, in a salt land and not inhabited.
Blessed is the man that trusteth in the Lord, and whose hope the Lord is.
For he shall be as a tree planted by the waters, and that spreadeth out her roots by the river, and shall not see when heat cometh, but her leaf shall be green; and shall not be careful in the year of drought, neither shall cease from yielding fruit."
Jeremiah 17:5-8

It's hard for us to hear this message sometimes, because our friends and our families are around us, and trusting in them feels more solid sometimes than trusting in a much more trustworthy, but less immediately tactile God.  We trust in them as our leaders, as our heroes, and as our role models.  And we can live like that... but as these verses tell us, we'll be like scrub brush in the desert, constantly struggling.  If we trust in the Lord instead, we can be much more.  We can still thrive in the midst of trouble.
So, does this mean that friends and family are disposable, or that we have to make it alone and not associate with anyone?  Not at all.  God values other people.  He values relationships and love and wants us to build each other up and encourage and help.  What it does mean is that God has to come first on our priority list.  Before family.  Before friends.  Before everything.  Ezra Taft Benson in the April 1988 conference talk "The Great Commandment—Love the Lord" put it this way:
"When we put God first, all other things fall into their proper place or drop out of our lives. Our love of the Lord will govern the claims for our affection, the demands on our time, the interests we pursue, and the order of our priorities.

We should put God ahead of everyone else in our lives."
It can be tough to put the Lord before the more immediate demands of the people around us, just like it is hard to put God before our own desires, but I love President Benson's promise to us here... that if we do so, everything else will fall into place.  Putting God first will help everything else work.  Today, let's make sure we are putting God first in our priorities, and as we do, let's allow him to help us prioritize all the rest.  Like the tree planted by the waters, I think we'll find that our lives go a lot better that way.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Philippians 2:13-15 -- On Murmuring

"For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure.
Do all things without murmurings and disputings:
That ye may be blameless and harmless, the sons of God, without rebuke, in the midst of a crooked and perverse nation, among whom ye shine as lights in the world;"Philippians 2:13-15

This is huge.  No murmuring and disputing in ALL things?  That is God's will and his good pleasure.  Apparently we need to be examples of not whining. :)  I'm a little worried about my salvation at this point, I have to say.  Not that I whine constantly, but I do grumble a little at work, and get into arguments occasionally about how we should do it another way.  ... But God makes a good point here.  That isn't setting a very good example, and there are better ways to present alternatives than the way that I sometimes do.
Today, let's try to find a better path rather than murmur or dispute... especially about the things of God, but really about anything.  Let's work on being blameless and harmless, and on shining as good examples of servants of God.  Not saying it will be easy.  I think that we get that whine/complain thing pretty ingrained into us sometimes... but today, let's try to go the whole day without disputing or murmuring about anything.  Instead, let's give thanks for what we have, and for God's abundant goodness. :)

Saturday, October 11, 2014

1 John 2:15-17 -- On Moving Beyond Illusion

"Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him.
For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world.
And the world passeth away, and the lust thereof: but he that doeth the will of God abideth for ever."
1 John 2:15-17

This reminds me of 2 Corinthians 6:17.  The whole "be ye separate" idea.  It's a hard one to get our minds around sometimes, because we are here, and this is most of what we know.  But as we learn more and remember more of God, and get in tune with his spirit, the more we realize that this isn't who we are.  It is just a temporary learning environment.  We're here to learn, and to be an example of Godliness.  To help each become better, and encourage each other in finding a way to connect with God and return to him.  I like the phrase "lust of the eyes" ... it's emotionally just as real as lust of the flesh, and I think that probably surface level these phrases represent uncontrolled sexual desire/obsession with the body, desire for power and/or wealth, and desire for popularity or celebrity.  But "of the eyes" makes it seem unreal.  Just something that we see and can't really touch.  An illusion or mirage.  And really, thinking in an eternal sense, all of it is.  No matter how much we allow those things to control us or motivate us here, they are all fleeting, and those desires can only ever benefit us long term if we control them and use them only with God's boundaries and to forward his work.  If we instead allow ourselves to become obsessed with lust of whatever type... with our bodies or our power or our popularity, we are only setting ourselves up for eventual disappointment.  All of these things pass away.  Only God and his purposes remain, and setting him at the core of our lives and goals is the only way to establish or build anything permanent.
Today, wherever we are, and whatever our obsessions, let's turn away from the illusory and  temporary and towards God, the eternal.  As soon as we're pointed in the right direction, God will assist us towards a more worthy goal.  All we have to do is let go of the illusion, turn around, and ask for help.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Isaiah 59:1-2 -- On Removing the Barrier of Sin

"Behold, the Lord’s hand is not shortened, that it cannot save; neither his ear heavy, that it cannot hear:
But your iniquities have separated between you and your God, and your sins have hid his face from you, that he will not hear."
Isaiah 59:1-2

We sometimes wonder why our prayers aren't getting through, and part of it could be this.  We need to be sensitive to what God is asking us to do.  It's kind of like sitting in the living room learning to tune dad out when he asks us to clean our room... and then wondering why he isn't responding when we ask where our LEGOs are.  If we get up and clean our rooms, we'll also get our desire.  Our LEGOs are in there.  :)  We actively block out the Lord about some things that we don't want to hear, and then we wonder why he isn't guiding us in our lives.  He totally has been.  But we need to start listening to his advice in general before we are going to be ready to get answers to specific questions in other areas.
Is this just?  Is this loving and merciful?  Shouldn't God listen to us and answer us all the time, whenever we need him?  As to just, absolutely.  Shouldn't we listen to God, even when we don't have an emergency that makes us desperate for his help?  Will we learn anything if we get divine help when doing evil just the same as when we do good?  As to loving and merciful, it is loving to teach us right from wrong.  It is loving to still try to get through even when we are rebelling against him.  Merciful to allow us time and space to repent, even when we stand guilty.  Kind of like going before a judge and saying, yes, I know that I broke those three laws, but I'm obeying most of them, and I'll work on this other one.  Can't I please go free anyway?  I'm not sure if we take our sin seriously enough.  Christ offers us a chance to repent and somehow we think, oh, well, it doesn't matter then.  But it does.  Sin, by its nature, restricts us from God's presence.  It makes us incompatible with a celestial, heavenly society.  And in the middle of it we ask God to help us with something else.  It's like coming home after you hit someone with your car and asking your dad to help you with your math homework.  It's mind-boggling.  There are other, bigger, things that need to be addressed, and math is certainly not one of them.
Today, let's clear up the communication problems between ourselves and God through repenting and changing.  Let's do as he asks, and allow him to show us the answers within the gospel, rather than expecting them to come to us outside of it.  Let's be clean, and get that essential connection back in our lives.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

2 Corinthians 4:17 -- On Affliction

"For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory;"
2 Corinthians 4:17

The idea of affliction and how it works is an interesting one.  The idea is not always one that we embrace, of course, but in terms of what it does for us, perhaps it is important enough to take a closer look.  1 Nephi 20:10 and Isaiah 48:10 both offer us "I have chosen thee in the furnace of affliction."  Alma 34:41 exhorts us to "have patience, and bear with those afflictions, with a firm hope that ye shall one day rest from all your afflictions."  Affliction seems to be a necessary part of our lives on earth, but one that is temporary and from which we will eventually be able to rest.  God chooses us through our afflictions and the way that we handle them, and grow from them.  And truthfully, if we imagine a life without affliction... would we have the impetus to learn and grow without it?
This verse is interesting because it says that our affliction is "light" and "but for a moment."  We certainly don't always feel that way about it, but perhaps we will at some point.  Our perspective is limited here, and we often wear self-imposed blinders that don't allow us to see anything but our own problems and our own pain.  Compared to eternity though, even the longest life or the harshest affliction pales.  And isn't that okay?  God doesn't dismiss our pain as meaningless, but he promises us that our enjoyment and glory will far outweigh it.  He tells us that eventually it will feel like it was a very short time, and that compared to what it teaches us and makes us into, it is totally worth it.  We see this even during our lives.  With time, even the harshest, most soul-rending trials fade, and we are able to gain perspective and peace with regard to them.  And we are able to see clearly what we have learned and how we have grown as a result of our sometimes painful experiences.
Today, in the midst of our afflictions, let's remember that this is the way that God chooses us and teaches us.  Let's accept these necessary lessons, with the promise that we will eventually rest, and with the additional knowledge that every trial we experience is far outweighed by the blessings that God will grant us as we learn and become who we are learning to be by navigating the trials in our lives.  As children, we often thought that the things our parents required of us were painful, horrible... perhaps the end of the world at the time--our very small, narrow world.  But even more than our parents had our best interests in mind then, God's goal isn't torture.  He is teaching us, refining us... helping us to become stronger and better than we could ever be without any trials.  He is helping us to become who we truly can be, and more than we ever dreamed.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

D&C 11:4-8 -- On Being Called to Do Good

"Yea, whosoever will thrust in his sickle and reap, the same is called of God.
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 done unto you; and, if you desire, you shall be the means of doing much good in this generation."
Doctrine and Covenants 11:4-8

I've been doing a lot of interviews lately, and in one of them, an applicant asked me what I look for in an employee.  Part of my answer was that I like it when people don't wait to be told what to do... they can see that there is plenty of work, and they jump in and do it.  When I read these verses this morning, it reminded me of that, and I think that is sort of what God is saying to us.  He's asking us to look around us, to see the needs and all the work that needs to be done in God's name, and to jump in and do it.  Instead of waiting for an assignment, whoever starts doing the work is *automatically* called.  I really like that idea... being able to jump in, find a good thing, and start doing it, and to automatically be approved of God and have his blessing.  We don't have to wonder what God wants us to do.  We just have to find something to do that helps and builds God's kingdom.
If we are doing God's work and building his kingdom, then we can ask and knock, and God will help us with our work, which is really his work too.  Building Zion... in whatever way we can.  He even goes so far as to say that whatever we desire will be done unto us.  That's a huge promise, and one that I think is very real and within reach of all of us, if we find a project to do for God.
God cautions us to not seek for riches, but for wisdom, and then we will be made rich with eternal life. :)  That is a great promise, and I think it is also a warning not to go too far or to get too selfish as we carve out our Zion project.  We shouldn't be in it for glory or riches, but seriously to build Zion... to establish his kingdom, and to really help people in whatever way we can.  And he promises us that if we desire, we can be the means of doing much good.  And I think that is pretty much the ultimate promise in here.  As fallible beings, we often stumble through this world making mistakes left and right and hurting people and screwing things up... and to be able to make up for that and be the means of doing much good... that's amazing.  It's a chance to redeem ourselves, to give back to others and help them as God has helped us to learn and to grow beyond who we have been into who we are, and even farther... into who we can be.  Let's take God up on his offer today.  Let's thrust in our sickles.  Let's find a project to do that builds God's kingdom, that helps people, that does good.  And God will support us in our work, and help us to do good.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

John 8:10-11 -- On Sinning no more

"When Jesus had lifted up himself, and saw none but the woman, he said unto her, Woman, where are those thine accusers? hath no man condemned thee?
She said, No man, Lord. And Jesus said unto her, Neither do I condemn thee: go, and sin no more."
John 8:10-11

This is the end of an exchange that Christ had with the scribes.  They brought him a woman who had committed adultery, and there was no question as to her guilt.  They knew that he preached compassion, repentance, and forgiveness, and they wanted to see if they could catch him in a betrayal of the law, because by the law of Moses she was condemned to die (Leviticus 20:10).  This end of the story strikes me, because we know that "the Lord cannot look upon sin with the least degree of allowance" (Alma 45:16, D&C 1:31).  That statement always sounds very harsh, and we sometimes wonder where the room for our mistakes is, and how we can possibly become perfect.  But here, God shows us quite clearly the space between allowance and mercy.  He doesn't let her go to condone the sin, but to allow her space in which to change: to repent and become clean.  He tells her to sin no more, and that is the same message that he extends to us, today.  Even if, like this woman, we are obviously and recently guilty of serious sin, God loves us and often protects us from the harshest consequences--not because he embraces or even accepts our sin, but because he knows that we need space to repent before the consequences catch up with us.  Today, let's acknowledge his mercy and grace, and not sneer at his gift and continue in our evil ways.  No matter our level of sin or guilt, let's take the immense gift of his love and protection and use the precious time he has given us to change, and to become clean before him.  Let's work at being worthy of his repeated rescues, and truly sin no more.

Monday, October 6, 2014

Isaiah 37:14 -- On Spreading our Problems before the Lord

"And Hezekiah received the letter from the hand of the messengers, and read it: and Hezekiah went up unto the house of the Lord, and spread it before the Lord."
Isaiah 37:14

Hezekiah was worried that Assyria was going to take over Jerusalem, so he sent people to consult Isaiah.  Isaiah told them not to worry, and that God was going to send the king of Assyria back the way he came.  And then he got a letter from the king that specifically told him not to listen to his God's assurances, because it didn't work for anyone else, and Assyria had destroyed everyone else, and he was coming.  So, he takes the letter to the temple and spreads it out before the Lord.
Of course, at the end of the story, God drives the Assyrian army away and Jerusalem is saved.  God said he would do it, and there was never a moment where he wasn't going to fulfil his word.  But in between the promise and the fulfillment we can often get impatient or feel lost, thinking that God isn't going save us as he promised to.  I think that what Hezekiah did here is what we should always do with the problems in our lives, especially when they are causing us stress... spread them out before God.  Let him know that we are willing to do whatever he asks, but that we could use some guidance.  This is usually a step that we need rather than one that God needs, but it helps us to review the issues, and know that God is aware.  It also, sometimes, helps us immediately as we see it more clearly when spread out, and we realize that the choice is clear, now that we are presenting it to God. 
Today, let's spread our problems before the Lord.  Let's allow him to calm our doubts and our fears.  Let's have patience and faith, not only that God will fulfill his promises, but that his timing is perfect... and ours could use some work.  As with Hezekiah, we should go to the Lord with big problems, but it's also okay to go to him with smaller ones than an invading army.  God is willing to help us with whatever is troubling us.

Sunday, October 5, 2014

John 17:15 -- On Avoiding Evil

"I pray not that thou shouldest take them out of the world, but that thou shouldest keep them from the evil."
John 17:15

This prayer of Christ I think applies to all of us.  In the world is where we need to be right now.  We're learning and choosing who to become.  But we definitely need some help staying away from the evil.  There is so much good, but often we don't see it because we are focused on a problem, or a negative interaction.  We let outside influences seep into us... changing the way we speak and think about evil sometimes.  We bend so far that we can find ourselves participating in the evil, wondering how we ended up here.
Repentance is the answer to participating in evil, but part of that repentance has to be a chance of perspective and a change of the way we live, or we'll just fall into the same trap we fell into before.  We can learn to see the good, to be wiser about who we spend time with, to refuse to engage in reading or viewing or participating in those outside influences which we know can throw us off track.  Whether other people can stand up to certain temptations or not, as we learn with Joseph and Potiphar's wife, sometimes the wisest thing to do is to know our own weaknesses, and to run away.
Another thing that can help us with evil is prayer.  As Christ prayed to his father for his apostles, and for all of us, we can pray to God all the time, keeping up a mental conversation about what is going on with us.  Having him with us as an additional observer and silent witness to all that we do can help us make better choices.  It can help us make better decisions to discuss our ideas with God.  Reading the scriptures often helps as well.  All of these verses weren't only written for a certain moment in the past, but were planned to help us in the future as well.  They are here for us, and God has an amazing way of helping us to read just the right thing at the right time, when we are open to it.
Today, let's pray to God to keep us from the evil, and let's take action in our lives and make the changes necessary so that with God's help we can stay away.  Let's notice the good, and fill ourselves with that instead. :)

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Psalms 106:10-15 -- On Never Forgetting

"And he saved them from the hand of him that hated them, and redeemed them from the hand of the enemy.
And the waters covered their enemies: there was not one of them left.
Then believed they his words; they sang his praise.
They soon forgat his works; they waited not for his counsel:
But lusted exceedingly in the wilderness, and tempted God in the desert.
And he gave them their request; but sent leanness into their soul."
Psalms 106:10-15

We read the scriptures sometimes as though we're just observers.  As though we're standing outside, looking through the window and thinking, wow... those Israelites sure were forgetful.  Or, those Nephites should have remembered God better, or that David.  Didn't he have enough wives already?  ... And I think that we forget that in a very real way, these aren't just stories about other people.  They are stories about ourselves.  Joseph Smith understood that when he read James 1:5.  He knew that the words applied to him... were about him.  And I think that when scriptures speak to us, that is what we're realizing... that we have to "liken all scriptures unto us" (1 Nephi 19:23) to realize their real power.
These verses are written in a story about the Israelites, but they are about us.  About our tendency to forget that we've been saved and redeemed and seen the miraculous.  We believe, we sing God's praise, and then we quickly forget, we get impatient with God's timing and we ask for things that we don't need and shouldn't have, and God gives them to us... which starts the cycle over again, where we need to be saved... often from ourselves.
Today, let's not look through the window as we read and listen to the words of the prophets.  Let's understand that we are the subject of all that is said, and our lives the focus of each lesson.  Let's listen and learn and believe and sing praise, and not forget.  Let's break the cycle, and never forget.

Friday, October 3, 2014

Helaman 5:51-52 -- On Laying Down Hatred

"And as many as were convinced did lay down their weapons of war, and also their hatred and the tradition of their fathers.
And it came to pass that they did yield up unto the Nephites the lands of their possession."
Helaman 5:51-52

This is at the end of a cool conversion story, if you haven't read it.  Nephi and Lehi get thrown into prison, and everyone in the prison is converted, through extraordinary means.  These verses are talking about afterward, when all of those people have told the people in the area about their experiences.  Everyone who believed them laid down their weapons, and also their hatred and the tradition of their fathers.  That's amazing just by itself... to give up our deep biases that we have held onto through generations.  In this case, the Lamanites had already been going to war with the Nephites for hundreds of years.  And yet, they were able to not only lay down their desire for violence, and give up their learned hatred, but they also gave the Nephites their land.  Land that they had taken in war and which they knew the Nephites weren't prepared to win back through military means.
I think that this story helps us to remember that devotion to God challenges all of our assumptions--all of our ideas of ownership and justice and revenge.  It can turn hatred into love, which necessarily alters everything that we have built on such a foundation.  Today, whether the negative emotions in our lives are tied to generations-long hatred or just to yesterday's argument with a friend, let's let our belief in God transform us, as these Lamanites did.  Let's lay down our weapons and our hatred.  Let's let go of things that we have taken by force.  Let's lay a foundation of peace, and learn to fill ourselves with love rather than bitterness.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Philippians 4:7-8 -- On Thinking Positively

"And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.
Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things."
Philippians 4:7-8

I think that this is God reminding us to stay positive. :)  He is granting us his peace, and in order to keep it, he reminds us to focus on the good things.  Not the false or dishonest things, but the true and the honest things. :)  He wants us to think about all the good in the world, and our blessings, not dwell on our current troubles. 
Now, don't get me wrong, I am not a sunshine-for-breakfast sort of a girl.  I'm not advocating blissful ignorance.  But I do think that Paul and God make a good point here.  Bad things do happen, and we do have to deal with those things in our lives... but we get enough of that just living.  Why choose it when we don't have to?  Instead, let's take off our negative blinders that only allow us to see the problem directly in front of us.  Let's remember that there is so much more to the world.  So much purity and beauty.  So much good.  Today, let's remember our blessings and all the good in the world, and see that the bad doesn't outweigh the good.  God is here, balancing things and asking us to think about and seek the virtuous and praiseworthy things.  Let's deal with the problems and move on to better mental pastures. :)

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

1 Nephi 8:26-28 -- On Enduring Mockery

"And I also cast my eyes round about, and beheld, on the other side of the river of water, a great and spacious building; and it stood as it were in the air, high above the earth.
And it was filled with people, both old and young, both male and female; and their manner of dress was exceedingly fine; and they were in the attitude of mocking and pointing their fingers towards those who had come at and were partaking of the fruit.
And after they had tasted of the fruit they were ashamed, because of those that were scoffing at them; and they fell away into forbidden paths and were lost."
1 Nephi 8:26-28

This is part of Lehi's dream.  This part is interesting because it warns us how dangerous it can be to take mockery seriously.  In the last verse, the people who had tasted of the fruit are those who made it through the darkness, who held to the iron rod, who cared about God and the truth enough to escape the dark and dreary waste, and make it all the way to the tree.  These are people who actually tasted the fruit and partook of the love of God.  And yet, because well-dressed people in a cool floaty building mocked them, they were ashamed, and walked away.
So, first of all, I love technology and a building that floats... got to admire that.  And well-dressed people seem pretty upper crust.  No one wants all the cool kids to laugh at them.  I totally get that part.  What I don't get, and what we should never, ever fall for, is believing that any of that is cooler than God.  I am a die-hard Sci-Fi fan, but even I know that God's stuff is much cooler than a floating building.  And God's love is way more valuable than the nicest clothes or the most exclusive party with the most famous people.  Having a relationship with God, and walking away from the dark and dreary waste in the first place takes effort and time and diligence, and being ashamed of that and throwing it away because of someone laughing at us?  No.
Reality is very like this dream sometimes.  We encounter people... people we admire, people we like or want to emulate, and we find out that they despise religion or they think that anyone who goes to church or believes in a real God rather than an abstract concept is foolish.  People we consider friends might know just the right arguments to push us into a corner, trying to "help" us by showing us that our belief is silly or contemptible.  Famous actors or authors smile winningly and very graciously and smoothly tell us that religious people are the ones destroying the world, or the ones oppressing others.  And we can understand Lehi's dream clearly, because it would be easy to agree, or be ashamed.  It is hard to defend ourselves sometimes, especially if we are not as well spoken, or well-dressed.  It is hard to hang on to what truly matters when we are listening to people telling us that what we love is refuse.  ... But we can.  The strength that got us to God in the first place can help us through these trials as well.  After tasting of God's love, additional challenges and trials are more opportunities to grow and learn.  And God will help us, as we learn to rely on him.  Not saying that it is an easy lesson at all.  But learning to stay firm and dedicated to our beliefs despite what others say is an important step in reaching our potential.
Today, let's tune out the mockers, and not let anything destroy the happiness and peace that God offers us.

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