Monday, March 31, 2014

1 Corinthians 2:9-14 -- On the Spirit of God

"But as it is written, Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him.
But God hath revealed them unto us by his Spirit: for the Spirit searcheth all things, yea, the deep things of God.
For what man knoweth the things of a man, save the spirit of man which is in him? even so the things of God knoweth no man, but the Spirit of God.
Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the spirit which is of God; that we might know the things that are freely given to us of God.
Which things also we speak, not in the words which man’s wisdom teacheth, but which the Holy Ghost teacheth; comparing spiritual things with spiritual.
But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned."
1 Corinthians 2:9-14


The idea of God giving us his Spirit to guide us in our daily lives is one of the most powerful ideas in the gospel.  I like that it compares our spirits to God's spirit.  Other people don't really know what is going on with us, because they don't have the benefit of knowing what is going on in our heads. :)  The same goes for God.  We can't know what his desires and goals are, unless we have insight into his mind... but that is the amazing part. :)  He *gives* us that, through his Spirit.  As it says two verses after this selection, we basically have access to the mind of God.  The whole idea is staggering.  God allows us insight into his thoughts, his feelings... his soul, in order to help guide us.  And that spirit is how we can feel and know how much he loves us.  How much he supports us and wants us to succeed, and the more we are in tune with it, the more we can learn, directly from God.  The Holy Ghost speaks directly to our own spirits, helping us to learn or understand things better on a spiritual level... and unless we are in tune with our spiritual side, we can never learn those things, or have access to the mind of God. :)  In a very real way, as we go throughout our lives we can have God beside us.  And if we stay in tune with that and don't drive him away with things that are not worthy of God, then we can have constant insight into what God thinks about the things around us, and help to learn how to see better and learn more from every opportunity.
Today, let's be open spiritually to the Holy Ghost.  Let's listen to and learn from the Spirit of God in our lives, and live good lives so that we can have more of God's help and comfort and companionship as we face life's challenges.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Proverbs 4:25-27 -- On Walking God's Path

"Let thine eyes look right on, and let thine eyelids look straight before thee.
Ponder the path of thy feet, and let all thy ways be established.
Turn not to the right hand nor to the left: remove thy foot from evil."
Proverbs 4:25-27


I think this is interesting because of how easy it seems written here, and how hard it seems in actual practice.  If we were actually walking someplace, this is what we would do.  We would look ahead at our path, we would make sure there weren't any rocks to trip over, that we were walking on an established road or trail so that we didn't get lost, and we wouldn't go another way, because our goal was in front of us.  We learn this.  We are able to walk to the corner, to walk to school, to get to classes on time, and to attend church.  We understand the concept of walking someplace and actually getting there.  And yet, when we try to apply it to God's path, we start losing our way.  ... We've established that it isn't a lack of understanding about how to proceed or how to get to a goal.  So, what is it?  Why do we suddenly forget how to follow a path?
One reason could be that our path when following God is a little bit more abstract.  It is still a path, and it is there straight in front of us, but we get confused because it isn't just physical.  Walking the path is physical in many ways, because we still have to take actions, but we might have prayer and scripture study and church attendance instead of just walking, and those things are also spiritual.  On God's path we have to learn how to combine the two... not just focusing our physical eyes, but our spiritual eyes.  Not just pondering our paths physically, but also spiritually.  We have to stay focused on God.  We have to hold to the path, which requires obedience and study and perseverance through hardship.  Sometimes we start thinking that maybe getting to our destination isn't worth it, or wow, maybe we should just stop and rest... maybe permanently.  Or maybe the view is *actually* better from the bottom of the mountain.
Following God's path is harder than walking to the corner store.  But it also has a lot cooler stuff than the corner store.  It truly is where we can all receive the desire of our hearts, even though we often don't know what that is until God gives us a glimpse.  And the principle is the same... look at the goal, stay on the path, keep going.  The goal is more than worthwhile... it is unimaginable perfection.  And the way to get there is within reach of all of us.  We just have to continue.  We need to not give up.  Not turn aside.  Not jump into the swimming pool of evil, or even wade. :)  Just keep moving, even when it is hard, towards God.  And as we do, God teaches us, and our capacity increases, and we become better and brighter and when we get to our destination, we find that along the way we have learned to be who we wanted to be all along.  The kind of person who loves and serves and smiles, and we fit right into the perfection.  All we have to do is keep walking.  Today, let's get ourselves headed the right direction, and continue.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Luke 10:38-42 -- On God as Our Top Priority

"Now it came to pass, as they went, that he entered into a certain village: and a certain woman named Martha received him into her house.
And she had a sister called Mary, which also sat at Jesus’ feet, and heard his word.
But Martha was cumbered about much serving, and came to him, and said, Lord, dost thou not care that my sister hath left me to serve alone? bid her therefore that she help me.
And Jesus answered and said unto her, Martha, Martha, thou art careful and troubled about many things:
But one thing is needful: and Mary hath chosen that good part, which shall not be taken away from her."
Luke 10:38-42


This is an interesting lesson about priorities.  God, of course, doesn't want us to leave our families to starve while we quit our jobs and read the scriptures all day.  We need to take care of the things that matter.  God does, however, want us to let go of the things that don't matter and focus on the things that do.  It's that dividing line that sometimes gives us problems.  In this case, Martha felt obligated to be the hostess and to serve everyone.  Perhaps there was another way, or it could have been put off until later. 
We are all careful and troubled about many things... and probably very few of them actually are worth all the time we spend worrying about them.  Can you imagine, for instance, if we as a society spent as much time thinking about the gospel as we do about weight-loss?  What if we spent as much time talking about Christ as we spend talking about other people?  What if we worried as much about our spiritual preparation as we do about our money?  God should always be our top priority, and too often our minds and actions are focused on things that really don't matter very much at all.
Today, let's try to make some better choices about what we spend our time doing and worrying about.  Let's take care of ourselves and our lives adequately, but like Mary, let's choose to stop worrying and sit and listen to Christ as often as we can.

Friday, March 28, 2014

Psalms 119:71-72 -- On Becoming Superheros

"It is good for me that I have been afflicted; that I might learn thy statutes.
The law of thy mouth is better unto me than thousands of gold and silver."
Psalms 119:71-72


Sometimes the truth of these verses is hard to see.  We often rage against affliction, thinking that it is unfair and that too much is being asked of us.  And we treat God's law as though it were a straightjacket, preventing us from doing and being what we want.  If the choice were ours, we would probably choose the easier, wealthy life over the afflicted, lawful life.  Placed side by side like that, it seems like a no-brainer. :)  However, I think that we often overlook the rewards and results of affliction and of obedience to God's laws.
Affliction teaches us.  It shows us the reasons for God's laws.  It also helps us learn compassion and wisdom.  In verse 67 of this same chapter it says "Before I was afflicted I went astray: but now I have kept thy word."  We usually keep doing the same things that we are doing and don't stop and think and learn unless we run into some sort of obstacle.  Afflictions are our wake up call... our impetus to improvement.  Yes, they are frustrating and they don't usually fit into our lives well... but that is kind of the point.  To grow into Celestial people or to learn to build a Zion community, we need to find a way to change ourselves.  Our attitudes, our desires.  And if God never throws up a problem as a mirror and allows us to see something in ourselves that we want to change... we never will.
Obedience also teaches us.  In verses 99 and 100 of this same chapter, it basically says that we will know more than the teachers and the ancients if we learn and keep God's laws.  And if we live God's law, then we will have the companionship of the Spirit, and God as a teacher; there is no better.
Today, let's appreciate the afflictions that help us to learn and improve ourselves, and let's work on valuing God's law before piles of gold and silver.  When something happens that we don't understand or appreciate, or a temptation comes where we would like to be disobedient, let's stop before we rage or panic, and before we commit ourselves to a choice, and let's think and talk to God about it in prayer.  There is always a reason.  There is always something to learn.  And no matter how bad it is, God will make everything okay in the end.  Let's remember and have faith, and try to find the lesson before we get angry or give up.  It isn't easy... but growing into superhero-level selves never is.  When we learn whatever lesson it is and we have our superpower-level inner peace, or our compassion that can touch even people we used to hate, or the ultra confidence we needed to move forward in a profession or a relationship... when we have changed, we will look back and understand why we needed that affliction.  The change is always worth it.  It is just hard to see when we're in the middle of it.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

2 Nephi 32:8 -- On the Power of Prayer

"And now, my beloved brethren, I perceive that ye ponder still in your hearts; and it grieveth me that I must speak concerning this thing. For if ye would hearken unto the Spirit which teacheth a man to pray, ye would know that ye must pray; for the evil spirit teacheth not a man to pray, but teacheth him that he must not pray."
2 Nephi 32:8


I think that we greatly underestimate the power of prayer.  If we consider Nephi, for instance, the difference between him and his brothers started with prayer.  He was willing to ask, and willing to listen.  Joseph Smith started this way as well.  Prophets *become* prophets through prayer.  They are willing to talk to God, to learn from him, and to continue that communication.
I think we often talk ourselves into thinking that God won't speak to us.  We think that he will only talk to people who are "prophet material" ... but doesn't that sound more like Laman and Lemuel than Nephi? In 1 Nephi 15:8-9, Nephi asks them if they have prayed, and they say that they haven't, because God won't tell them anything like that.  And although God didn't tell them anything, it wasn't because he wasn't willing to.  It is because they weren't willing to consider the possibility, and they didn't ask.  God *will* talk to anyone and help us understand whatever we need to know... but depending on the request, it might not be immediate.  We might have to prepare, or learn other prerequisite knowledge first.  For instance, in the case of prayer, one of the early (and ongoing) lessons is learning how to tell the difference between God's promptings and our own emotion, or between his voice and the meanderings of our own minds.  ... If we don't know that, it doesn't mean give up though.  It just means we have something to pray about. :)  God *wants* to talk to us, and he is more than willing to teach us how.
Sometimes God teaches us things that we're not praying about.  We might want an answer about one thing and feel prompted to learn or do something else.  That doesn't necessarily mean that we won't get an answer, but perhaps we need to remove some distractions from our lives or get our lives more in order before we're ready for that one... and this new prompting is the first step to that.  Whatever God teaches us though... prayer is the path we take to find our way to anything we want to know.
Today, let's remember how powerful prayer is, and that it is available to everyone.  Let's go to the Lord in prayer.  Let's ask for what we need in our lives.  Let's remember to be willing to accept God's will and not demand our own.  Let's counsel with the Lord about who we want to be, and how we can learn to be better.  Let's have the faith to listen and to act on what we learn.  He will help us.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Proverbs 19:17 -- On Lending to the Lord

"He that hath pity upon the poor lendeth unto the Lord; and that which he hath given will he pay him again."
Proverbs 19:17


I really love this verse.  It is similar to Matthew 25:40, 45 and has the same idea that if we watch over and take care of the people around us, that we are symbolically helping God.
Often, when we are asked to donate money or time to a worthy cause or individual in need, we think of it in terms of what we will lose... how much we can afford and still have enough for what we want. :)  That's normal... and we should keep our finances in order and fulfil financial obligations, for sure.  But think for a moment if we stopped looking at it in terms of what we were losing and instead thought about it in terms of what we could gain, by offering it to the Lord.  Not that we should turn charitable giving into "what's in it for me," but more mixed with the idea of sacrificing for God.  The same idea as tithing or living any commandment.  We do it, in some ways at least, because of the blessings we know will come as we are obedient.  We trust that God will bless us with peace, that we will feel closer to the spirit, that we'll learn more and feel more resilient when trouble comes.
If we loan something to God, and he is the one to pay us back... what kind of amazing repayment plan will that be?  I don't think anything else we could possibly do with our money could *possibly* give a better return on our investment.  No matter what form that loan comes back to us, we know it will be the perfect thing for us, with perfect timing.  Today, let's take advantage of this amazing investment opportunity. :)  Let's give and give, loaning all we can to the Lord... knowing that he will grant us whatever form of wealth we need in return. 

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

1 Thessalonians 2:1-4 -- On Walking Worthy of God

"For yourselves, brethren, know our entrance in unto you, that it was not in vain:
But even after that we had suffered before, and were shamefully entreated, as ye know, at Philippi, we were bold in our God to speak unto you the gospel of God with much contention.
For our exhortation was not of deceit, nor of uncleanness, nor in guile:
But as we were allowed of God to be put in trust with the gospel, even so we speak; not as pleasing men, but God, which trieth our hearts."
1 Thessalonians 2:1-4


These verses are from a letter Paul wrote during his mission to the Thessalonians.  It's interesting that it mentions contention, since we know that "he that hath the spirit of contention is not of me, but is of the devil," (3 Nephi 11:29) after all.  Perhaps though, contention is something that we are going to encounter as we share the gospel.  Not because the spirit works through contention, but because no matter how well we work in going out to do good, we will meet with resistance.  Even Christ, the perfect man, found opposition, doubt, and offense in people's reactions to the gospel, even though none of that was inherent in his message.
So, if we're going to run into that kind of resistance doing missionary work, then why do it?  I hear this question sometimes, and I think it is an easy thing to wonder.  Why spend time preaching when there is so much good to be done just helping?  I think we forget though, that the gospel does help people.  It isn't really the story of Joseph Smith or anyone in the Book of Mormon.  It isn't the rules about drinking or chastity.  It isn't even modern day prophets or the atonement, although of course all of those things are true, and remarkable, and life-changing.  The part that really helps people though is the everyday part... the prayer, and the scripture reading... any scripture, any story.  It's the relationship with God that everyone can have... the realization that God is there to talk to, all the time.  The listening to him, the learning from him.  The recognition of his hand in our lives.  Which leads to trust, which leads to faith, which leads to joy.  Learning how to talk to and listen to God is more valuable long term than being lifted out of poverty or illness, or even having our physical sight miraculously restored.  The spiritual sight will help us so much more.  ... And totally not that we shouldn't be working to help each other in both ways, of course.  I'm just saying that missionary work is valuable, because having an individual relationship with God makes us spiritually self-sufficient in a way.  We need a lot of practice and support, but we learn to go to The Lord with questions, and how to listen to his answers.  Missionaries really are there to help... not to deceive or trick, but to share the gospel that God has entrusted us with.  It isn't always going to please men, but it pleases God... And that's what matters.
In this same chapter, verse 12, Paul says one of their goals in preaching I s to help people "walk worthy of God."   That's a process.  Truthfully, none of us really are walking worthy until far down the path.  We don't deserve even to scrub God's floors in Heaven... but God trusts us with the Gospel anyway... helping us learn and grow and change and eventually come and hang out with him full time.  We are fortunate that he loves us enough to still let us try, let us learn, even knowing ahead of time that we are going to fail more often than we succeed.  He doesn't worry that we are ruining things.  He can fix it all.  He just loves us so much, he wants us to keep trying until we get back to him.  Like a video game with unlimited lives.  And the only way we screw up infinite chances is by giving up and walking away. :)  Our entrance into missionary work, or whatever other calling we accept from the Lord, is never in vain.  We just need to have enough heart to keep trying, and learning, and staying on the path.  If we can, we'll all eventually get there. :)

Monday, March 24, 2014

Psalms 147:3-5 -- On Stars and Broken Hearts

"He healeth the broken in heart, and bindeth up their wounds.
He telleth the number of the stars; he calleth them all by their names.
Great is our Lord, and of great power: his understanding is infinite."
Psalms 147:3-5


This chapter has a partial description of God and what he can do, and this part of it astounded me today.  Even though I think we know already that God is amazing, do we remember that he knows the number of stars there are, and that he knows their *names*?  That is crazy cool. :)  His understanding is infinite.  Wow.  Not just vast, but limitless.  And if those things are true, is it any wonder that he can heal our broken hearts?  If he knows the name of each star, how could he not know our names?  If his understanding is infinite, then he can surely understand what we're going through... even the parts we don't understand ourselves.
Today, let's remember God's infinite understanding.  Let's not assume that he doesn't know us, or that his judgement is flawed.  It isn't.  Instead, when there is a disconnect, let's figure out the mistakes that we are making in our thinking and our attitudes, and work to learn and improve our understanding, compassion, and knowledge in order to get back on track.  It can be heart-breaking when we realize we are wrong, especially when we have harmed others or set horrible examples for them.  But God can heal our broken hearts, and heal the people we've hurt as well.  And we can change, if we learn to be a little more humble and try things God's way.
It's hard to accept anyone else's advice when it comes to our lives.  We often want something so much that we refuse to listen to any naysaying, and in general we have a strong desire to feel that we're infallibly right and in control.  However, until *we* learn enough to heal broken hearts and number the stars, let's try listening to God's advice.  You never know.  We might learn something.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Joseph Smith—History 1:75 -- On Significance

“I shall not attempt to paint to you the feelings of this heart, nor the majestic beauty and glory which surrounded us on this occasion; but you will believe me when I say, that earth, nor men, with the eloquence of time, cannot begin to clothe language in as interesting and sublime a manner as this holy personage. No; nor has this earth power to give the joy, to bestow the peace, or comprehend the wisdom which was contained in each sentence as they were delivered by the power of the Holy Spirit! Man may deceive his fellow-men, deception may follow deception, and the children of the wicked one may have power to seduce the foolish and untaught, till naught but fiction feeds the many, and the fruit of falsehood carries in its current the giddy to the grave; but one touch with the finger of his love, yes, one ray of glory from the upper world, or one word from the mouth of the Savior, from the bosom of eternity, strikes it all into insignificance, and blots it forever from the mind."
Joseph Smith—History 1:75 (paragraph 8, sentences 1-3)


This is Oliver Cowdery explaining a little bit of what it is like to encounter an angel.  Seems incredible.  I think about other people from the scriptures that have encountered angels/heavenly messengers, and after reading this I can kind of see more clearly why Alma the Younger changed his whole life around.  It's a powerful experience, and it helps us better judge the relative insignificance of most of the things in our lives.  The things that still had significance were at least partially some of the things that he mentions here: joy, peace, wisdom, perhaps beauty, majesty, glory as well, and definitely love.
I like the idea here that deception and falsehood can surround us, and build up over time, but that one "ray of glory" can wipe it all away.  I have had moments like that in my life, when I felt surrounded by and perhaps even filled with so much darkness, but one glimpse from God of light was able to drive it all away instantly.  I think we can all relate to this idea, even if our moment of conversion, or our dedication to God was not accompanied by an angel.
The word forever in the last sentence might be an overstatement.  Absolutely, in that moment, when God drives away the darkness, you know it is something meant to be forever.  And God has that power... but I think that we can see from Oliver's experience, from Laman and Lemuel, and sometimes from our own experiences, that God still allows us the individual choice of returning to darkness after choosing light.  No matter how significant our experiences have been, we still retain the ability to again desensitize ourselves, to willfully block out and then eventually truly forget as we get farther and farther away from the spirit.  But no matter how far we stray, or how much we forget, the truth still remains that the things of God and light are significant and powerful, and can banish the things of darkness with a thought, a word, or a breath.
Today, let's remember what is truly significant in our lives.  Let's not get caught in the shadows.  Let's not invite the darkness.  Let's invite back the spirit, which brings remembrance, and let's remember the beauty and the power of our spiritual experiences.  Let's think about the significance of our goals, and talk to God about them.  Let's remember to find the joy, peace, and wisdom as we look to God to banish the darkness and as we do all we can to walk in the light.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Jarom 1:7 -- On Faith as a Secret Weapon

"And it came to pass that they came many times against us, the Nephites, to battle. But our kings and our leaders were mighty men in the faith of the Lord; and they taught the people the ways of the Lord; wherefore, we withstood the Lamanites and swept them away out of our lands, and began to fortify our cities, or whatsoever place of our inheritance."
Jarom 1:7


Earlier in this chapter we learn that the Lamanites were "exceedingly more numerous" than the Nephites, and yet, this verse tells us that the Nephites withstood them.  Why?  Because of superior training or military prowess?  Possibly partially, but in general, no.  The reason given is that their leaders and kings were mighty in faith, and they taught the people the ways of The Lord.  ...This is a good thing to remember.  In our lives too, we often feel outnumbered, and we don't always have the knowledge, training, or skill to succeed on our own.  Cold logic might tell us that our chances are nil.  But the Lord lives, which means that we can always triumph.  That doesn't mean that it will happen automatically, or that we don't have to fortify, learn, and train all we can... but it does mean that faith and learning the ways of the Lord can add the important spiritual aspect to our odds.  Hope and success can still be ours, no matter how bleak things look.  Today, let's incorporate faith and spiritual knowledge into our assessments.  Let's stop predicting doom and failure for ourselves, and start finding the hope of the Lord as we turn to him for other options, and take action to learn from him and follow his instructions.  Faith is our secret weapon, and turns the odds in our favor; we can still be outnumbered, but never overwhelmed.

Friday, March 21, 2014

D&C 7:8 -- On Avoiding the Hive Mind

"Verily I say unto you, ye shall both have according to your desires, for ye both joy in that which ye have desired."
D&C 7:8


This section talks about Peter and John and what each of them asked of Christ.  It is similar to 3 Nephi 28, where the Nephite disciples ask Christ for different rewards.  I thought it was interesting today because sometimes we think that God, or the gospel, or the church, or everything together is conspiring to make us all the same.  Little cookie cutter Christians... all giving the same answers in Sunday School, all baking homemade bread and canning peaches, and all with the same art on our walls and eating the same Jello. :)  And, since we believe this is a good thing, we work at conforming to the norm: wearing the same uniform, rarely talking about the things that make us individual and different.  And often we are ashamed of who we are.  But right here, in the scriptures, God tells two people that they can both have different things... and, significantly, the difference between them isn't measured in what God wants, but in what *they* want--what brings each of them joy.  It's sometimes good to be ashamed of sin, but not of who we are.  God doesn't want us to erase our personalities... Only to clean them up with a good deep scrubbing so we are prepared for eternity. :)
Now, for the record here, I am not saying that we should pursue our desires before God's will.  And I am additionally not saying that some social conformity in general is evil.  What I am saying is that God loves us, and it is okay, and accepted, and embraced, for us to express our unique personalities.  It is okay to have our own style.  And it is overwhelmingly okay to have opinions, and to like one thing more than another and to ask questions.  We don't have to smother our sense of self to be acceptable to God.  Both of these people asked Christ for what they wanted, and they both got it.  The fact that it wasn't the same thing is okay.  Similarly, our lives are spectacularly different.  If everyone doesn't ask for or desire the same things, that is okay.  We're going to find our joy in different things sometimes.  As long as we're okay with God and obeying the commandments, those differences benefit us all and help us to see different perspectives.
Today, let's try not to criticize each other because we don't want the same things.  Let's try to let each other find individual joy.  And let's be more open to still being ourselves as we learn to be more like God.  :)  Not selfishly, but just normally.  Let's remember that when God asks us to transform and become new, he means to be better versions of us, not to become some stepford-wives perfect robotic representation of ourselves.  He's asking for our inner beauty, not our inner Borg.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Hebrews 10:10-17 -- On Hearts and Minds

"By the which will we are sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.
And every priest standeth daily ministering and offering oftentimes the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins:
But this man, after he had offered one sacrifice for sins for ever, sat down on the right hand of God;
From henceforth expecting till his enemies be made his footstool.
For by one offering he hath perfected for ever them that are sanctified.
Whereof the Holy Ghost also is a witness to us: for after that he had said before,
This is the covenant that I will make with them after those days, saith the Lord, I will put my laws into their hearts, and in their minds will I write them;
And their sins and iniquities will I remember no more."
Hebrews 10:10-17


This is interesting stuff.  It seems to start out telling us that the sacrifices from the old law could never take away sins... even though that is why they were done.  But Christ, with his one eternal sacrifice, did what they never could.  In fact, it seems to me that Christ's actions are the only reason that the sacrifices from the old law had any efficacy... they sort of retroactively made everything valid.  Those sacrifices pointing to his sacrifice, working together to perfect the repentant.
And then the most interesting part, that the Lord, through the Holy Ghost, makes a covenant with us, to put his laws into our hearts and minds... and to not remember our sins.  Hebrews 8:10-11 has similar wording.  It is an agreement between us and God, basically agreeing that he will help us and save us, and we'll accept his help, and be saved.  This isn't a passive thing though.  Like other parts of the gospel, we can't just say, okay God, I accept your help, and somehow become automatically saved.  It takes effort.  That's why our hearts and our minds are involved.  We have to *think* and *feel* this commitment.  We have to use it to guide our thoughts and actions.  We have to change to become saved.  It isn't just whitewash over a broken down fence.  We have to learn to be perfect and new... and that takes time, and sustained incremental effort, and true mental and emotional dedication.
Today, let's fully engage our hearts and minds in following the Lord.  Let's fulfil our part of the agreement, so that Christ's sacrifice will matter in our lives, and what he did for us will drive our actions.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Alma 37:6-7 -- On Small and Simple Effort

"Now ye may suppose that this is foolishness in me; but behold I say unto you, that by small and simple things are great things brought to pass; and small means in many instances doth confound the wise.
And the Lord God doth work by means to bring about his great and eternal purposes; and by very small means the Lord doth confound the wise and bringeth about the salvation of many souls."
Alma 37:6-7


We get overwhelmed with life sometimes because we think that we have to be superhuman.  God's expectations, and our expectations of ourselves, are huge, and we think... wow, I can't do it.  I can't be perfect.  I can't be 100% honest and good and dismiss every stray bad thought from my mind, and love the people that hate me, and feed all the hungry people and visit the sick and comfort the lonely... *and* work and fulfill my calling and and and and and.  It's a tough thing to face sometimes, and life seems impossible and overwhelming when we are in that mindset.  We want to give up because it is too hard.  But before we do, let's stop for just a moment and think about these verses, and what God really expects from us.
God knows our limitations really well.  He knows us, and he knows we can't remember who we were before this life.  He knows our circumstances.  Yes, he wants us to be perfect... but he knows that we aren't going to get there today.  He knows it is a process.  He only expects what we can honestly and sincerely do.  ... That, of course, doesn't mean that we can just stay in bed all year and eat bonbons and still gain the Celestial Kingdom.  We and God both know that we can do better than that.  But it does mean that the "small and simple things" that we *can* do are enough.  And as we grow and learn and increase our capacity for good, then more good will be expected... but again, only as our true capacity grows.
This might seem simplistic or overly permissive, but I really am not condoning laziness in obedience, either physically or mentally.  Only the destructive stress, guilt, and unrealistic expectations that we place on ourselves, and *believe* that God has placed on us.  Those things can make us feel horrible, paralyze us, and cause us to give up... and it isn't God that wants that.  It's Satan.  He is the one that wants us to think that we aren't good enough, and that since we can't do it all, we might as well not try.  He is the one that told Christ to turn rocks to bread or to throw himself off of a building because God would save him... he wants us all to embrace his drama and believe that only histrionic offerings are acceptable.  But Christ tells us go, and sin no more.  He tells us to take up our bed and walk.  He heals us and asks us to try again... and keep trying until we get it right.
Today, let's do the small things that we can do.  Let's read our scriptures... for as long as we can.  Let's pray, whenever we remember.  Let's treat the people around us with kindness and love, to the limits of our capacity.  And then let's step back, review the day, and do even better tomorrow.  Those small, incremental increases in the good that we do and the internal good that we are becoming are what God is asking of us.  He wants us to do everything we honestly can, and let go of the things that we can't.  He handles that part.  Enduring to the end isn't carrying the world on our shoulders until it crushes us... it is continuing to get up, every time we fail.  It is trying again, and getting better and better and stronger and stronger, and closer and closer to God.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

2 Nephi 28:24-28 -- On Becoming Solid

"Therefore, wo be unto him that is at ease in Zion!
Wo be unto him that crieth: All is well!
Yea, wo be unto him that hearkeneth unto the precepts of men, and denieth the power of God, and the gift of the Holy Ghost!
Yea, wo be unto him that saith: We have received, and we need no more!
And in fine, wo unto all those who tremble, and are angry because of the truth of God! For behold, he that is built upon the rock receiveth it with gladness; and he that is built upon a sandy foundation trembleth lest he shall fall."
2 Nephi 28:24-28


Some of the verses right before this warn us about some of the traps of the devil.  Three specific tactics are mentioned: rage, pacification, and flattery.  Either he entices us to be angry at the truth, or pacifies us and tells us that everything is okay, nothing is wrong, or he tells us that actually there is no devil or hell... some people are just deluded or paranoid, but we're smart enough to know better. :)  These verses take us back through some of those things.  We can't be at ease, or think that everything is okay.  We can't pretend that God and Satan don't exist, and that we are the smartest people in the room.  We can't think that God is done, we've already achieved a Zion society, we're finished growing and learning, and now we can all just relax.  And we can't be angry when confronted with the truth... that's Satan, telling us the truth is hateful and how could God allow that, and he must be wrong, and we're right, and all of it.  In actuality, the truth is just the truth.  God doesn't sit there trying to decide what to declare as truth... it just *is* ... and it doesn't change.  It doesn't respond to peer pressure or societal norms.  And God is truth.  He exists.  We can get angry all day at the truth because we don't like it, or we wish the world worked differently, or anything else contrary to fact, and it wouldn't affect anything.  We can't sway the truth or convince it to become false.
Al of these things are tempting to think.  Sometimes what we want isn't what God wants.  Sometimes we don't want the truth to be the truth.  We wish it would change or become more flexible.  We always want to believe that we are smarter than other people. :)  It would be awesome if we could just kick back and be merry instead of having to work and continue to learn and grow.  That stuff is hard.  But, as it tells us in the last verse of the selection here, the difference is in us.  God remains the same, but whether or not we accept him and join him in his work is whether we're building on solid ground or not.  God is our solid ground.  And unless we build ourselves with Him as a foundation, we'll never be solid enough to withstand the pressure.  It reminds me of The Great Divorce by C. S. Lewis.  When the people from Hell take a bus trip to visit Heaven, they find that they aren't solid enough even to walk on the grass... it harms them rather than yielding to the pressure of their feet.
Today, let's build ourselves on the foundation of God.  Let's trust in that strength and rejoice in that clarity and truth.  Let's not believe the lies of Satan, or allow ourselves to become angry with reality.  No matter how bad things seem now, in the end the solid ground will save us while everything else falls apart.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Psalms 23:1-4 -- On the Comfort of Guidance

"The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters.
He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.
Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me."
Psalms 23:1-4


This one is familiar to a lot of people, and I think it is well known because it is comforting and clear.  God watches out for us... we are his flock.  At the same time, I think it also lets us know that bad things are going to happen.  "The valley of the shadow of death" doesn't really sound like someplace we would want to go on vacation.  And yet, even though bad things happen, and we might end up there at some point... still, God watches over us.  Although we do fear sometimes, we don't need to.  God keeps his promises.  As we accept him as our shepherd and listen to his voice, he leads us and restores us and helps us even in the darkest times... and as we trust in him, he will deliver us and help us find happiness.  As for the rod and the staff... with shepherds, both are used for guidance... the rod to drive and also to defend the sheep from predators, the staff to pull the sheep towards the shepherd, out of danger or away from things that are bad for them.  Guidance is a comfort because we know that someone is watching over us, ready to provide for us, guide us and defend us in times of trouble.  Perhaps some comparable things in our lives are the scriptures, which give us helpful guidelines that teach us the way, and help us know what to avoid.  Also prayer, which is more individualized help and comfort.  And the Spirit, always helping us to recognize the truth and know what God wants.
Today, whether we're figuratively in paradise or in the valley of the shadow of death, let's not fear.  Let's accept God's guidance, listen to his voice, and follow him.  Let's do our best to stay out of danger and find sustenance and renewal through him and the peace that he offers.  And when we do stray, let's still not panic, but remember where we can return for comfort and protection.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

2 Peter 1:4-9 -- On a Recipe for Wholeness

"Whereby are given unto us exceeding great and precious promises: that by these ye might be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust.
And beside this, giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue; and to virtue knowledge;
And to knowledge temperance; and to temperance patience; and to patience godliness;
And to godliness brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness charity.
For if these things be in you, and abound, they make you that ye shall neither be barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.
But he that lacketh these things is blind, and cannot see afar off, and hath forgotten that he was purged from his old sins."
2 Peter 1:4-9


This is interesting, and seems to have a specific order and some really good advice.  In the beginning of these verses Peter talks about God giving us some great and precious promises, allowing us to partake of the divine nature, and apparently the prerequisite to those promises are that we need to escape the corruption of lust.  Perhaps we could say that lust is desire for desire's sake... and whether it is sexual or otherwise, it just keeps wanting and is never satisfied.  Kind of like eating when we aren't hungry, just for the enjoyment or escape of it... but turned very much worse because different kinds of lust can ruin much more than our waistlines.  After escaping lust, Peter encourages us to add to our faith virtue.  So apparently faith is required in the first escaping-lust step.  And virtue is a close second: a natural step from escaping lust is valuing purity and goodness.  And from there, we add additional knowledge, some self-control, some patience... it's like a recipe, except it tastes good even before you are finished. :)  As we learn each of these things, we grow... and learn more about the ones before as well.  We definitely don't get self control all at once.  It is something we have to keep learning, just as we incrementally gain knowledge or become more pure.  We practice patience, and we start understanding godliness.  It takes us a long time to get our minds around brotherly kindness, but when we start to, then we are ready to begin learning about charity.
I like the analogy here to being barren or unfruitful.  Whether or not this is a challenge for everyone, it definitely is painful for some.  The lack of children feels like a huge hole in their lives, and I know that some people feel like they are missing something that makes life meaningful.  Similarly, if we lack a knowledge of Jesus Christ in our lives, that can leave us with an emptiness that makes our lives feel less complete.  But as we add all of these good things to our lives, and keep practicing and learning each of them, that void fills up, and we are no longer bereft. 
Today, let's not be blind.  Let's not forget that Christ has suffered for us and given us the opportunity to be clean.  Let's choose sight and wholeness, and let's learn these things.  First, flee from lust, and then start adding in and practicing all of these good things. :)  It's a recipe for wholeness, and happiness.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

1 Peter 5:5 -- On Listening and Respecting

"Likewise, ye younger, submit yourselves unto the elder. Yea, all of you be subject one to another, and be clothed with humility: for God resisteth the proud, and giveth grace to the humble."
1 Peter 5:5


This humility and submission stuff is hard for us sometimes.  It might be because we feel like we have to work so hard to be respected, and it feels like giving up... asking us to knuckle under to someone else just because they have a cooler title, or (as in this verse) older than we are.  It's hard to apologize when we think that we're right and the other person is wrong.  It is hard to let go of our defensiveness and realize that it is more important to build a relationship than it is to be right.
With God it's about respect and deference, right?  We know that he knows more than we do, so it is natural and mostly obvious that we should defer to his will.  ... Since with him it makes sense, let's try it that way with other people.  We want to be respected, and deferred to when we know the answer.  So, let's try treating other people the way that we would like to be treated.  Respecting them, and deferring to them.  Giving people the benefit of the doubt, and really listening to their ideas and solutions before jumping in and attacking them or trying to get our way.  That's one way to defer... by listening and understanding before talking and trying to convince.
I think this is important with people with more power than we have, because we have more of a tendency to rebel and feel resistant or defensive in those situations... plus, it is a place where people might expect deference and respect.  Building those relationships is more important than proving that we are just as good. :)  I think it is also the best way to be heard.  To first listen, understand, and really give them all the respect and deference that we want.  And then acknowledge their input/wisdom/idea, and ask questions to see if there is a way for both sides to accomplish what they are working for.
I also think it is ultra important with people who have less power than we do... because we have a tendency to listen less and to dismiss ideas when people don't have as much experience as we do.  Think about the way we treat children sometimes.  We laugh at their ideas, but their ideas are actually usually pretty awesome considering their experience.  Let's try not to laugh at people or disrespect them just because they have less information or experience.  Let's try to help them and teach them instead... without mockery, and with respect and deference to their priorities and needs.  And let's give them a real chance to contribute, and listen to their ideas and see if ours can be modified and made better with input.  We have to consider that we might be wrong, or that we haven't thought of all of the possibilities.
God asks us here to "be subject one to another, and be clothed with humility."  I think that means that in a lot of ways we have to stop the power struggling.  We have to stop worrying about who has what title or who is older and all of it... and show respect and deference to everyone.  The homeless guy, the president... doesn't matter.  If we can step outside of the expectations of social structure for a moment and just listen to people, and respect them because they are people... because they are our brothers and sisters... I think that we will come a lot closer to Zion and perfection than we will if we always expect our ideas to triumph. :)

Friday, March 14, 2014

Romans 13:9-14 -- On Working No Ill.

"For this, Thou shalt not commit adultery, Thou shalt not kill, Thou shalt not steal, Thou shalt not bear false witness, Thou shalt not covet; and if there be any other commandment, it is briefly comprehended in this saying, namely, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.
Love worketh no ill to his neighbour: therefore love is the fulfilling of the law.
And that, knowing the time, that now it is high time to awake out of sleep: for now is our salvation nearer than when we believed.
The night is far spent, the day is at hand: let us therefore cast off the works of darkness, and let us put on the armour of light.
Let us walk honestly, as in the day; not in rioting and drunkenness, not in chambering and wantonness, not in strife and envying.
But put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make not provision for the flesh, to fulfil the lusts thereof."
Romans 13:9-14


This is interesting.  I like the idea that pretty much all commandments boil down to loving our neighbors. :)  Killing, stealing... those are pretty clear.  If you loved those people, you wouldn't do that to them.  Adultery too, since you have to love the person on the other end of the relationship you are getting in the middle of, as well as truly wanting the best for the person you are attracted to... and breaking up that person's marriage and family is probably actually not what is best for that person.  All of these sins that reach into other people's lives would get better if we truly loved everyone the way that we love ourselves, and truly worked to protect them from harm.  We hopefully wouldn't lie to them, because we want to know the truth, and we wouldn't covet their stuff if we truly loved them and could rejoice with them in their happiness.
Love worketh no ill to his neighbor.  That is such a great phrase.  If we love people, we don't do anything bad to them.  Hopefully we're even trying to make sure we don't say anything harshly to disturb their emotions... if we love other people the way that we love ourselves, then we care about that as well. :)
What struck me the most today was not the admonition to love though, but the second part which clarifies a little bit how we should love ourselves.  We need to cast off darkness and walk honestly.  No rioting and drunkenness... "chambering" in the language back then seems to be another reference to sexual sin... not being wanton, or promiscuous.  We need to avoid strife and envying.  These are all good things that can keep us from addiction and sin.  And then especially the last verse.  We put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and we make not provision for the flesh, to fulfil the lusts thereof.  To me that means that part of loving ourselves is not leaving room for the bad while we embrace the good.  We fill ourselves with Christ, and we don't set anything aside to please ourselves.  And since we are loving other people as we love ourselves, that goes back to the way that we work with others.  We love them in a Christlike way so much, and we don't leave any room for selfishness in that relationship.  We don't have affairs with people because there is no room for that kind of selfishness.  We don't cheat or steal or kill because all of those things are selfish as well.  If we really put on Christ... fill ourselves with him, we can't leave room for any of the rest of it.
Today, let's love and work no ill, in ourselves or in others.  Let's fill ourselves with God and not set anything aside for ourselves.  Let's find out what it truly means to give ourselves wholly to God.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

2 Timothy 2:24-26 -- On Avoiding the Zombie Path

"And the servant of the Lord must not strive; but be gentle unto all men, apt to teach, patient,
In meekness instructing those that oppose themselves; if God peradventure will give them repentance to the acknowledging of the truth;
And that they may recover themselves out of the snare of the devil, who are taken captive by him at his will."
2 Timothy 2:24-26


I think that this is interesting in a couple of different ways.  First, if we are the servants of the Lord in this comparison, we need to not strive, and we need to be gentle.  Sometimes we think that calling others to repentance is something that requires some kind of public shaming... and I think this makes it clear that that sort of thing is inappropriate.  Instead, we should be meek and gentle... patient and "apt to teach."  I really like that part.  In order to teach something, we need to know it really, really well.  And so in order to help other people back from opposing themselves and out of traps, we really have to know how *not* to oppose ourselves or fall into traps.
Which is the other way that this is interesting.  If in these verses we are the ones that oppose ourselves.  ... It is interesting to think about sins and disobedience in that way.  That we are against ourselves.  And so often that is what it feels like, doesn't it?  That we are having an internal war, and fighting ourselves?  Opposing ourselves makes us miserable overall, even when there are temporary bright spots.  That's why we fall into traps like that... because  Satan tries to get us to believe that the bright spots are what is right and true, and twists things around so it looks like we are being true to ourselves, or getting exactly what we want.  But it isn't that way.  There is always a fatal flaw in whatever we saw that was good there... it is taken too far, or it turns out to be not what we wanted at all... because it makes us miserable and internally at war with ourselves.
Perhaps both of these things go together.  Once we have experienced the opposing ourselves part, it is easier to be gentle and compassionate towards others who are experiencing the same thing.  And as we learn better how to choose happiness and internal peace for ourselves, the more we will be able to support others and teach them about similar choices.  ... The trick isn't to fight the war and have one side win.  That path only leads us to being half-dead zombies.  The real solution is to stop fighting.  To walk away from whatever is causing us to oppose ourselves... to find a way to truth and wholeness without destruction.  And that way is always through God.
Today, let's avoid the zombie path.  Let's find a way to peace.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Moroni 10:4-5 -- On Knowing Everything

"And when ye shall receive these things, I would exhort you that ye would ask God, the Eternal Father, in the name of Christ, if these things are not true; and if ye shall ask with a sincere heart, with real intent, having faith in Christ, he will manifest the truth of it unto you, by the power of the Holy Ghost.
And by the power of the Holy Ghost ye may know the truth of all things."
Moroni 10:4-5


Some of God's promises just absolutely boggle the mind.  We can know the truth of ALL things?  That's incredible.  I want to be able to do that, to tap into the spirit in that way.  So, let's figure out how.  First, the verses tell us that we have to ask God.  That's pretty straightforward.  Depending on where we are with that, we might need some pre-work in humility, belief, or some practice on how to pray, but we can get there, and the how to pray part is almost all laid out right here... pray to God in the name of Christ, and ask specifically if something is true.  Next, we have to ask with a sincere heart, with real intent, having faith.  So, we have to be honest about it, really want to know, not just kind of want to know but not really care that much.  And we have to have that action based faith going... not just believing, but doing something about it.  And in this case the prayer is the action... we have to believe in what we are doing, and do the work to get the answer.  We can't just toss off a five second request and expect a revelation.  Prayer takes effort... we have to really communicate with God, and keep praying until we make that connection... not because God isn't listening, but usually because we have to work through the distractions and the mental interference in our own minds, and really focus.  Work, yes, but definitely within the reach of all of us. :)
The possibility of being in tune enough with the Spirit that we could know the truth of everything is astounding.  And yeah, in terms of our lives it means we have to be trying to live the right way, and not just going through the motions.  It might require some repentance and getting more comfortable with our obedience level.  But it definitely is something we all can do... getting our lives to a point where we feel like we can consistently feel the Spirit and hear what God has to say.  And how worth it.  I mean if we knew the truth of all things, then ... that's pretty much all knowledge, right?  Probably would take a while to learn it all, but even just a little of it, wow. :)  ... Plus all the side benefits of the relationship that we're building with God along the way.  Seems like a good goal.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Matthew 14:31 -- On Letting Go of Doubt

"And immediately Jesus stretched forth his hand, and caught him, and said unto him, O thou of little faith, wherefore didst thou doubt?"
Matthew 14:31


This is when Christ was walking on the water, and Peter wants to try it too... and he *does* ... he walks on water.  And then he gets afraid, and worried, and starts to sink, and asks the Lord to save him.
This same thing happens to us in our lives all the time.  It probably isn't walking on water, but we all start doing miraculous things, having faith and confidence that we can do it... and then we start to doubt.  I think maybe it is because we think that we have to rely on our own talents and skills.  That we have to do it alone.  And it's hard to have confidence in yourself when you know you are fallible.
I heard a story once about Mormon settlers who were attempting to settle parts of Arizona.  The prophet asked them to go, and they went.  As they continued, they found themselves in a desert, and ran out of water, and thought they were going to die.  So, they prayed and asked God to send them water.  And it rained.  They were okay, and they turned back and told the prophet the story.  The prophet listened, and asked another man who was sitting in his office what he would have done.  The man said that he would have continued, and kept praying.  And he is the one who eventually founded one of the first settlements in that area.  I am not sure of the accuracy of the story, but I think that it teaches the same lesson as this verse.  We can rely on the Lord.  We can trust him, and have absolute confidence in him.  Yes, we're fallible.  We're sinners.  We screw up a lot of things.  But *with* God, we can do miracles.  And we can do anything that he asks us to do or supports us in doing.  We can make a difference in people's lives.  We can change the world for the better.  We have to keep going, and keep praying.  I'm not saying we shouldn't know when to stop, or know the difference between our will and God's will.  We need to know those things in order to avoid disasters.  But when we're engaged in doing something good... something that we know that God approves of... let's do it.  Let's let go of our doubts and rely on the Lord.

Monday, March 10, 2014

Matthew 26:39 -- On the Other Side of Suffering

"And he went a little further, and fell on his face, and prayed, saying, O my Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me: nevertheless not as I will, but as thou wilt."
Matthew 26:39


This is Christ in Gethsemane, asking God if it is possible to avoid his suffering.  He knew what the rest of the evening would bring.  He knew what he was facing in fulfilling the atonement, and he knew that soon he would be betrayed and sentenced and eventually put to death... and we see that he as an individual didn't really want to go through with it.  However, as he prays he knows it is still what God wants, and what needs to happen.  Despite his own preference to avoid that much suffering, he defers to the Father, and fulfils his Earthly mission.
I think that we often feel similarly.  We all face things that are hard for us individually to suffer.  Maybe not always physically, but emotionally, spiritually... we face similar choices.  Pain is part of life, and as we go through and make righteous choices, we often are choosing pain as part of the process.  It's not always easy to do as God asks.  Some of the lessons in life are so painful that zero percent of us want to face them.  But to learn, we have to stop running away and trying to avoid, and find a way through that pain and those tough choices.  We have to value God's will above our own and accept that he knows what he is doing as he asks us to go through pain in order to learn.
The cool thing about suffering, if it can be said to be cool at all, is that on the other side of it is more happiness than we would be able to experience or understand without it.  We will have more compassion, more empathy, and more understanding.  We'll be better people, and although we might never look back on the suffering with gratitude, we will be thankful for the things we learned because of it.  God knows us better than we know ourselves, and just as he asked Christ to suffer for all of us, he asks us to endure pain for good reason.  He knows what is on the other side.  Today, let's do the hard things that he asks, even when they involve pain.  The pain is never fun, but on the other side of it is where we need to be... the continuation of our path to happiness, and love, and everything good.  Let's accept it, and get through it, and learn from it.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Luke 17:19 -- On Faith and Wholeness

"And he said unto him, Arise, go thy way: thy faith hath made thee whole."
Luke 17:19


This verse comes at the end of a story about ten lepers.  Christ healed all of them of leprosy, but only one came back to say thank you.  And he tells him that his faith has made him whole.  A similar story is in Mark 10 where a blind man asks Christ to be able to see.  He is also told "thy faith hath made thee whole."  A third story where this same phrase is used is with the woman who had an issue of blood twelve years, and who knows she will be healed if she can only touch Christ's clothing.  And she *is* ... and he stops to find her and to tell her this message as well.
I don't think that the message of wholeness is only about physical illness here.  The nine other lepers that were healed were still whole, physically, even though they didn't return to give thanks.  I don't think that Christ withdrew his gift because the rest didn't turn back.  And the woman, even before Christ stopped in the crowd and she felt compelled to come forward, had *already* been healed.  A similar story is the woman who comes in with ointment, bathes Christ's feet with her tears, wipes them with her hair, anoints them with ointment, and kisses them repeatedly.  He forgives her sins, and he doesn't say exactly the same thing to her, but it is similar: "Thy faith hath saved thee."  I think it is probably a phrase that is synonymous in this context.
So, what is the difference between the nine lepers and the one, or what do all of these people have in common that made them whole and forgiven and saved?  The last woman was spiritually healed rather than physically healed... so they all have some kind of healing in common... but I think what makes the one different from the nine is that he turned around, and decided to take action.  We learn in James 2 that faith without works is dead.  We have to *act* on our beliefs in order to have faith.  And we also learn in Galatians 5 that faith works by love.  These people all acted on their love.  The leper turned back because he cared about something beyond being healed.  The man who had been blind followed Christ after he was healed.  The woman with the issue of blood showed her love by making the effort to touch Christ's clothing, and when he stopped, by telling him what she had done.  The woman with the ointment showed her love abundantly.
There are many things we can learn here.  I think one of them is that faith is powerful, and that it is much more than belief.  It isn't passive, but wildly active.  It is a belief and love that makes us get up out of our chairs to *do* something about it.  And also, it can make us whole.  It can save us.
Today, let's think about our faith.  If we're resting on some passive belief... if we're going through the motions out of obligation... let's break out of that flawed pattern.  Let's have faith... let's actively seek Christ out, and ask for what we need... which is usually wholeness.  We don't have to live with emptiness inside.  We don't have to feel like a hole has been ripped in our chest, or feel broken, or feel alone, or feel worthless, or feel incomplete.  God has the ability to make us whole... to save us.  And it isn't just some kind of band-aid on top of a black hole... God fills the hole, no matter how dark or how full of despair.  We know he can... now let's do something about it.  Let's talk to him.  Let's build a relationship with him, and let him help us through the steps to learning what we need to learn.  Let's listen, and love, and act on that love, until God can say the same thing to us... our faith has made us whole.

Saturday, March 8, 2014

Doctrine and Covenants 59:9-14 -- On the Importance of Prayer

"And that thou mayest more fully keep thyself unspotted from the world, thou shalt go to the house of prayer and offer up thy sacraments upon my holy day;
For verily this is a day appointed unto you to rest from your labors, and to pay thy devotions unto the Most High;
Nevertheless thy vows shall be offered up in righteousness on all days and at all times;
But remember that on this, the Lord’s day, thou shalt offer thine oblations and thy sacraments unto the Most High, confessing thy sins unto thy brethren, and before the Lord.
And on this day thou shalt do none other thing, only let thy food be prepared with singleness of heart that thy fasting may be perfect, or, in other words, that thy joy may be full.
Verily, this is fasting and prayer, or in other words, rejoicing and prayer."
Doctrine and Covenants 59:9-14


I really like that it talks about "the house of prayer" in the first verse of this selection. :)  Thinking about that kind of changes the way that I think about church, and the purpose of it.  This tells us that church is about prayer, about communicating with God, and setting aside an entire day to talk to him.  It is about showing him how important he is in our lives, and that we are willing to make his priorities our priorities.  It's all about God.
We continue in the verses and we find that we should always pray, but especially on the sabbath.  We should also confess our sins.  Interesting.  We also find that we should keep our minds on the Lord.  ... Why?  So that our fasting may be perfect and our joy may be full.  I love that those two things are together.  And you know, I don't think that fasting here is just about fasting=not eating.  I think fasting here is the doing "none other thing" ... we're fasting from all the normal things that we do in our lives, and instead dedicating this one day to ONE thing... God.  And what does it say in the last verse?  That that kind of focus is the very definition of rejoicing. :)  So, yes, it is about God, but as with everything else that God offers, it is also about our happiness. :)  Being dedicated to God doesn't mean suffering all the time.  It is about joy... extra, overflowing joy.
"And prayer" ... Prayer is the whole point of all of this.  God started out telling us to go to the house of prayer to help us stay spot-free, meaning that he does want us to go to church.  I think this is clear... but let's not get sidetracked and think that the lesson here is only about church attendance.  If we go to church grudgingly and sit through the meetings, okay, maybe we can check the box that says "obligatory attendance" on our anti-guilt-trip list for that week... but that isn't what this is about.  Our relationship with God is the source of everything good that we can ever imagine.  Everything we are is connected to him.  And prayer is our chance to tap into that vastness, and taste of that love and that joy that surpasses earthly experience.  Our conversations with God can help us get through the day, and how we can be guided and helped in all of our lives.  Church is an awesome place to talk about God and fill ourselves with knowledge about him.  We should definitely go. :) But it isn't the ultimate point.  The point is developing and solidifying our relationship with God.  Attending church is just a part of that overall dedication and that relationship that we build.
Today, let's remember prayer.  Just like we can reach out with a phone call, email, or text to other people, we can reach out through prayer to God.  God is always there waiting on the other side of the conversation.  Prayers can be informal, just like we talk to a friend.  They can be spoken, written, or just thoughts in our heads that we direct to God.  I know a lot of people try prayer and don't think that they are getting through, but if you are one of those people, I urge you to try again, and keep trying.  Never give up.  Sincerity and persistence with prayer can lead us to a friendship with God that includes a vaster happiness than we have ever known.

Friday, March 7, 2014

Ecclesiastes 3:1-2 -- On God's Timing

"To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven:
A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted;"
Ecclesiastes 3:1-2


I have a friend who likes to say "Timing is everything."  ... And so it seems to be, from this verse. :)  I think the thing to remember here is that the timing is God's timing, and not ours.  So often we are ready to jump into random life change #3, and even though we keep trying for it, it just doesn't seem to make sense or work out.  When we can take a step back, exercise our patience, and talk to God about it (and did I mention exercising patience?), then things fall into place.  Sometimes that can be frustrating, because we get our hearts set on one outcome, and we want it NOW, and God had a different one in store, and it isn't scheduled for a few months, or years, or whenever.  But when it happens, random life change #3 turns into less-random life change #7, with extra miraculous shininess.  And *then,* of course we can see all of the less-exciting things about #3, but before we saw #7, we couldn't think anything else could be quite that shade of cool.
Part of sticking with God and having faith in him is believing in his timing.  Things don't always happen on our schedules, and sometimes we aren't going to be sure what comes next.  But, with God, we *always* know that things will work out.  God wants us to keep making decisions and doing good... learning to be independent and happy.  And as we keep praying and learning and sticking with God, and keep having patience and faith, God will never fail us.  What God has in store for us will become clear.  And it will be better (and shinier) than we imagined.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Luke 8:24-25 -- On Calming the Inner Storm

"And they came to him, and awoke him, saying, Master, master, we perish. Then he arose, and rebuked the wind and the raging of the water: and they ceased, and there was a calm.
And he said unto them, Where is your faith? And they being afraid wondered, saying one to another, What manner of man of this! for he commandeth even the winds and the water, and they obey him."
Luke 8:24-25


I think this is instructive about the faith that we can have in our lives.  I'm not saying that the disciples were histrionic.  I am certain that they felt they were in danger.  Christ solves the problem and asks them where their faith is, not I think because they turned to him or because they should have calmed the sea themselves, but perhaps because they should have known that they would be okay.
I think that this is similar to our lives in that we also find ourselves in situations where we feel doomed or out of control.  Turning to God is never a bad thing to do in these circumstances.  But perhaps, if we had a little more faith, we could learn to panic less. :)  There are often solutions that we don't see because we are so wrapped up in worry.  Sometimes the very thing that we are worried about is the blessing that God has waiting for us.  I know in my life I have been so worried about holding on to certain jobs or places to live or certain people that I couldn't see past the worry to the possibilities.  And when we get past the drama, we once again can see that our happiness isn't wrapped up in those particular packages... it is always wrapped up in God, and our relationship with him.  We can have faith that God will take care of the things that we can't control.  That he knows what he is doing, and that no matter what changes happen in our lives, they will *always* work for our good.  ... It doesn't always seem like that when we are there.  It seems like loss and pain and facing the unknown.  But, with God, the emptiness of loss can be filled, the pain can be relieved, and the unknown is never horrible.  As we stick with God, we are *guaranteed* a happy ending, even in the middle of the worst chapters.
Today, let's believe that God can calm the storms of our lives, no matter how threatening.  Let's remember that change can be positive.  Let's let go of our tendency to freak out about our fears, and let's find some faith and know that God will handle everything we can't.  Let's trust him, and let that faith calm the inner storm as well.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

1 Nephi 11:8

"And it came to pass that the Spirit said unto me: Look! And I looked and beheld a tree; and it was like unto the tree which my father had seen; and the beauty thereof was far beyond, yea, exceeding of all beauty; and the whiteness thereof did exceed the whiteness of the driven snow."
1 Nephi 11:8


One of my favorite books is about an ugly woman who learns to be beautiful in her actions and in her compassion, even though she never marries.   A friend of mine in college used to collect pictures from magazines to show to her friends back in Swaziland that dark skin can be beautiful, because they believed themselves to be ugly.  ... People who I've never met have over the years instantly liked me or disliked me depending on whether during that time of my life I was thin or overweight, and it has always been hard to step back from either of those things and realize that those insta-judgements aren't what I should internalize about myself, whether good or bad.
Here, God shows Nephi a vision which he says exceeds ALL beauty... and that beautiful tree of life is a representation of the love of God.  I really like that idea... that love is beauty.  That God's love for us is the most beautiful thing there could be.  Psalms 50:2 talks about Zion being the perfection of beauty as well.  Which makes sense, because the idea of Zion is a place where everyone loves each other, and we care for each other and lift each other up.
Today, let's choose internal and spiritual beauty.  Let's learn to love the people around us.  Let's help and give and love, and remember that no matter whether people like us or hate us, that immediate external reaction doesn't mean anything.  Let's hold up a spiritual mirror instead.  Who we learn to be, the way we treat others, and the way we learn to love... those are the things that will last.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

2 Corinthians 8:12

"For if there be first a willing mind, it is accepted according to that a man hath, and not according to that he hath not."
2 Corinthians 8:12


Even though I have read this chapter many times, this verse struck me today individually.  It seems to say that if we're willing to serve God, God accepts who we are and what we bring to the table, and doesn't expect us to be someone else, or compare us with others.  And I really love that message.  Not that we shouldn't be learning and growing all the time, of course.  But I think often we compare ourselves to what we observe in others, often to our own detriment.  We don't see what they are really going through.  We just see what they present to the world, and so we're comparing the reality of ourselves with the idealized versions of other people, and not giving ourselves much of a chance.  And because of this comparison, we often give up before we try, thinking that we aren't good enough or strong enough.  But when God accepts us, he accepts US, not other people, not some idealized version of who we *should* be.  He accepts us, and knows exactly who we are better than we know ourselves.  And he helps us to be more, and better, as we go.
Today, let's be willing to serve God as ourselves.  Let's not let fears or comparisons get in the way.  God wants to get to know us, to have *our* help with making the world a better place.  We don't have to be bigger or stronger or different to make a difference.  Just who we are, with our own strengths and weaknesses and our own relationship with God. 
He loves us now... he isn't waiting for us to become someone else.  Let's not wait to help him either.

Monday, March 3, 2014

Ephesians 4:17-25

"This I say therefore, and testify in the Lord, that ye henceforth walk not as other Gentiles walk, in the vanity of their mind,
Having the understanding darkened, being alienated from the life of God through the ignorance that is in them, because of the blindness of their heart:
Who being past feeling have given themselves over unto lasciviousness, to work all uncleanness with greediness.
But ye have not so learned Christ;
If so be that ye have heard him, and have been taught by him, as the truth is in Jesus:
That ye put off concerning the former conversation the old man, which is corrupt according to the deceitful lusts;
And be renewed in the spirit of your mind;
And that ye put on the new man, which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness.
Wherefore putting away lying, speak every man truth with his neighbour: for we are members one of another."
Ephesians 4:17-25


"Being alienated from the life of God" ... so interesting, and so true.  These verses take us full circle, from how we have been, and how we are often tempted to be to "putting on the new man," which almost seems like pulling on the superhero suit... changing from fallible to bulletproof. :)  When we are walking as "as other Gentiles walk," we indeed have our understandings darkened.  It is easy to desensitize ourselves to the spirit, and become "past feeling" ... not even hearing or feeling reminders from God anymore, because we have ignored them and dismissed them so often.  But Christ teaches us to be sensitive to the spirit, to drink in the truth.  He tells us that we don't have to be ruled by our bodies, but we get to *choose* what rules us.  We can dismiss thoughts from our minds that we don't want to be there and choose a different path.
I really like the admonition to put away lying and speak the truth with our neighbors.  We *are* part of each other, and how can we know each other or support each other unless we're honest with each other?
Today, let's get rid of the darkness in our minds.  Let's stop being alienated from God, and even from other people.  Let's stop deceiving even ourselves with appetites and addictions that we don't want, but which are so hard to walk away from.  Let's take off the old suit that makes us weak and unable to combat our temptations... the one that has "fallible human" stamped all over it, along with so many other half-truths and excuses.  (It also has stains from breakfast.  We need to let it go.)  Let's put on the new freshly-laundered one that reminds us that we are children of almighty God, and that we can do *anything* and be *anything* that we choose to be.  We can overcome our obstacles, we can walk away from temptation.  We *can* be bulletproof in a spiritual sense, if we work at it, and seek God's help.

Sunday, March 2, 2014

3 Nephi 10:4-6

"O ye people of these great cities which have fallen, who are descendants of Jacob, yea, who are of the house of Israel, how oft have I gathered you as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and have nourished you.
And again, how oft would I have gathered you as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, yea, O ye people of the house of Israel, who have fallen; yea, O ye people of the house of Israel, ye that dwell at Jerusalem, as ye that have fallen; yea, how oft would I have gathered you as a hen gathereth her chickens, and ye would not.
O ye house of Israel whom I have spared, how oft will I gather you as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, if ye will repent and return unto me with full purpose of heart."
3 Nephi 10:4-6


This makes me think of spiritual opportunity cost.  Every time we choose something besides God, we lose an opportunity for knowledge or growth.  ... Sometimes I suppose we need to make those choices and learn those negative lessons so that we can wake up and realize that God is *literally* a God... not figuratively, not symbolically.  Not some mere superhero or hammer-throwing pretender.  GOD, the almighty.  And GOD, who knows everything and who *made* this world, in these verses he's practically begging us to let him help.  We're his children... which is awe-inspiring in itself, but even more so that God loves us so much that he doesn't give up.  He invites us back, even when we reject him over and over again.  And when we finally do go back, how amazing things are. :)  ... Just think of how much more we could be if we didn't spend all that time rejecting or doubting.  If we chose him over other options consistently.  If we included him in all that we do, and turned to him for guidance before turning elsewhere.
Today, let's choose God and not the other thing, no matter what it is.  Let's listen to our father, and accept his help and his protection.  Let's not lose opportunities by choosing something cheap and inferior... which *everything* is compared to God, no matter how amazing.

Saturday, March 1, 2014

John 13:35

"By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another."
John 13:35


This is how people know whether we are disciples of Christ.  This is how WE know for ourselves that we are.  If we have love for each other.  Thinking back over my week, I wonder how much my actions showed my dedication to God.  How much evidence there really is that I am a disciple of Christ.
There is sometimes a disconnect between what we feel and how we act, and I think that this verse probably encompasses both, since having love and also showing all men are parts of it.  And if we are having trouble loving people, I think we can start either way: with the feeling or with the action, as long as we are sincerely working on both and not just pretending.  If we don't have the feeling, sometimes doing things for people anyway helps us find the feeling.  Talking, showing kindness, learning about them.  And if we have the feeling but we're not showing it, sometimes simple things show love and they don't have to be scary.  Just listening to people shows that we care what they are saying, and we are willing to take time for them in our lives.  Thanking people, complimenting them, or offering to get something for them when we get up to get something for ourselves.  Small things show love.
Today, let's demonstrate love in our lives for the people around us.  The people we already feel love for, let's work on making sure they know that.  And the people that we don't... let's work on finding out more about them, taking time for them, and finding that love within ourselves.  For them, and for God... because this really is the way we show all men that we are God's disciples, the way that we know ourselves, and also a way that we can show our love for God himself.  By loving his children, and taking care of each other.

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