Tuesday, September 30, 2014

2 Nephi 10:24-25 -- On Reconciliation

"Wherefore, my beloved brethren, reconcile yourselves to the will of God, and not to the will of the devil and the flesh; and remember, after ye are reconciled unto God, that it is only in and through the grace of God that ye are saved.
Wherefore, may God raise you from death by the power of the resurrection, and also from everlasting death by the power of the atonement, that ye may be received into the eternal kingdom of God, that ye may praise him through grace divine. Amen."
2 Nephi 10:24-25


To reconcile means to restore balance or harmony or agreement.  It can be used in sort of a negative way, to say "I am reconciled to my fate."  We aren't really happy about it, but we have accepted it.  I don't think that is the way that Jacob uses it here though.  I think he means active participation in the process that will result in happiness and peace, not resentment and acceptance of the inevitable.  It's a process that we go through as we learn and grow and strive for perfection.  Maybe we never really become perfect in this life, but working towards it anyway brings us closer and closer to being in perfect harmony with God... having our spirits reconciled with his.
We choose each day whether to become more like, or less like, God--to move towards harmony or disharmony, balance or imbalance.  And even though in this life we are certain to fall short of perfect agreement, God's grace makes up the difference, as long as we are there, reaching for it.The final verse in this selection talks about death and everlasting death: two different things.  God saves us from the death of the body through the resurrection.  This will happen whether we have harmony with God or not.  The spiritual death is where the atonement comes into play... where the harmony matters.  To understand a tiny taste of what spiritual death is like, we can consider what we call a conscience.  Our consciences, when working properly, help us know when we are in and out of balance with God, and can sometimes cause us considerable pain if we do something that creates a large rift between what we have done and what we believe is right.  Repentance helps ease this sort of pain, and helps us move back into balance.
Today, let's work on reconciliation with God's will.  Let's listen to the spirit and let God guide us toward his kingdom and bless us with his grace.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Matthew 10:16 -- On Being Sheep

"Behold, I send you forth as sheep in the midst of wolves: be ye therefore wise as serpents, and harmless as doves."
Matthew 10:16


Christ gave these instructions to his twelve apostles.  And on the surface, it seems pretty strange.  Why would God ask them, or us, or anyone, to be a sheep in the midst of wolves?  Is our God-given purpose to just be a tasty treat for the predators?  The answer is obviously no, but really, how does that work?  Are we supposed to convince the wolves to eat grass?
I think that this poses a real challenge for us, and I also think that it is something we face in our daily lives, and even sometimes within ourselves:  a predator staring at our white fluffiness and seeing only weakness.  It's an inherent challenge in being a follower of Christ.  We have to play by the rules and they don't, right?  We have to love, and serve, and turn the other cheek.  And sometimes even WE think that makes us weak.
Goodness doesn't make anyone weak.  It makes us confident, and strong, and faithful.  It helps us learn to rely on the Lord, to think of better solutions, like talking out our problems rather than fighting them out.  God's goodness is more powerful than any badness.  We are living in a story with a happy ending.  A story where the sheep prevail.  But, and this is important, they don't get an extended obliteration action sequence.  The sheep don't win because they have more firepower.  The sheep don't win because they trick the wolves into a bloody battle with the gore factor turned all the way up. The sheep win because they are good.  Because they are a community.  Because they live on what God provides instead of preying on the weak.  We win because we're willing to take the time and find the solutions that don't involve obliterating anyone.  God kind of likes that in his children.  Will wolves learn to eat grass?  Maybe.  Isaiah 11:6 tells us "The wolf also shall dwell with the lamb," and the  next verse says that the lion learns to eat straw like the ox (Isaiah 11:7)... so, all of it definitely possible. :)  And it is something that we can work on, that we can make happen... if we are willing to be the sheep.  If we are willing to be vulnerable and open in a world where people can take advantage.  If we are willing to love despite the risk of rejection and mockery.  If we are willing to trust God even when the world around us tells us that we're fanatic and foolish.  If we are willing to reach out and share rather than retaliating.  It requires wisdom, and harmlessness.  God knows that he isn't putting us in an ideal situation... but he also knows that we can do it.  We can still win.  We can still show the wolves a better way. :)  And stop being part-time werewolves ourselves.
Today, let's remember that Good does not equal weak.  Let's be stronger than the danger and let's take the risk that God asks us to take.  To be Good even when it isn't popular.  To serve and love even when it isn't fun.  Let's change the world and be a part of something better.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Abraham 4:16-18 -- On Order from Chaos

"And the Gods organized the two great lights, the greater light to rule the day, and the lesser light to rule the night; with the lesser light they set the stars also;
And the Gods set them in the expanse of the heavens, to give light upon the earth, and to rule over the day and over the night, and to cause to divide the light from the darkness.
And the Gods watched those things which they had ordered until they obeyed."
Abraham 4:16-18


I like this version of the creation story a lot.  In this selection, I really like the use of the words "organized" and "ordered" rather than "created."  ... It isn't that the earth and all of us aren't the creations of God in so many ways.  I just like the idea of bringing order out of chaos, and the recognition that everything didn't spring out of nothingness.  It's closer to our comprehension level this way.  We can imagine a tub full of random LEGOs, and sitting together and making a plan, and building something.  Or building a house from raw materials, or cleaning a really messy living room until everything is stored in an appropriate place.  We understand the urge to build things, to organize them, and to bring order to chaos.
I also really like the plural "Gods" being spoken of here.  It makes so much more sense to me to imagine God working with others to accomplish a great work.  Not that he isn't all powerful; we know he is.  But I like the idea of God as the leader rather than all alone... kind of like we might say "the Church," or even "the company." We know when we say those things that a whole organization is moving and accomplishing something, many people striving together towards a goal.  People might even personify it and say that the CEO of the company accomplished all of this.  And, in a way, he did... with the help of all the rest of the people in the organization.
Today, let's learn from God, and organize and order our lives.  And let's also participate happily in whatever company, family, or church organization we are in, to be part of the whole and to accomplish great things together.  Let's also look to God and help him in his great work--to build his kingdom on the earth and to establish Zion.  God will give us the raw materials that we need.  Some of that is us.  We are the LEGOs... the clay... the raw material.  We need to build ourselves into Zion people.  Let's bring order to our chaos. :)

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Psalms 119:41-45 -- On Seeking God's Precepts

"Let thy mercies come also unto me, O Lord, even thy salvation, according to thy word.
So shall I have wherewith to answer him that reproacheth me: for I trust in thy word.
And take not the word of truth utterly out of my mouth; for I have hoped in thy judgments.
So shall I keep thy law continually for ever and ever.
And I will walk at liberty: for I seek thy precepts."
Psalms 119:41-45


I like this because it touches on a lot of really great ideas: mercy, salvation, faith, truth, hope, obedience, liberty.  And despite the fact that sometimes people do reproach us, we hang on to all of these ideas and seek God, not because he forces us, but by our own choice and freedom.  We seek truth.  We believe in hope and mercy and truth through God's word.
Today, let's pray for mercy and salvation.  Let's be obedient to God's precepts and learn all we can from him, no matter what others think.  Let's choose God, and seek all the good things that he offers.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Isaiah 1:17-18 -- On Learning and Reasoning

"Learn to do well; seek judgment, relieve the oppressed, judge the fatherless, plead for the widow.
Come now, and let us reason together, saith the Lord: though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool."
Isaiah 1:17-18


I love the fact that even though God can think circles around us, he takes the time to teach us, and to reason with us.  He is our father, sitting down with us and listening to our often-childish arguments, and helping us to understand at our level of understanding.  And he shows us more and more as we are able to comprehend it.
Here, God helps us to understand some of the things that we can do to clean up our lives.  It isn't enough to excise the bad.  We need to replace it with something good, and he gives us some examples. :)  He helps us to understand that our sins and mistakes don't condemn us forever.  We can change.  We can sit down and talk to the Lord, and figure it out, no matter how bad it is.
Today, let's learn to do better and to be better than we have been.  Let's learn to do well, to relieve the suffering of the people around us.  And let's have hope that we can overcome our past selves and be clean and bright and more amazing than we could ever hope, as we reason with, and look to God.  He is our salvation.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

D&C 136:31-33 -- On Placement Tests and Zion

"My people must be tried in all things, that they may be prepared to receive the glory that I have for them, even the glory of Zion; and he that will not bear chastisement is not worthy of my kingdom.
Let him that is ignorant learn wisdom by humbling himself and calling upon the Lord his God, that his eyes may be opened that he may see, and his ears opened that he may hear;
For my Spirit is sent forth into the world to enlighten the humble and contrite, and to the condemnation of the ungodly."
D&C 136:31-33


When I read scriptures that talk about being tried, I always come back mentally to the idea of our Earth lives as a giant open-book placement test for the afterlife.  And I wonder if God shakes his head at us sometimes because we keep doing so poorly when he has done *everything* possible (within the bounds of free agency) to help us to pass.  Life is a test, and not only is it open book, but we are getting tips and hints from the instructor all the time.  We get feedback as we go about how well we are doing and whether we should re-think part of the test.  If we don't know the subject at all, we can learn it as we go.  If we rip us the test and stomp off in a huff, we can come back and ask for a new test and actually get one.  We're encouraged to help each other.  It isn't cheating... in fact, it is part of the test to help each other. :)  The only thing that God hasn't done is force us... because he would never do that.  Our free will is sacrosanct.
As we go throughout our day today, let's remember the open book nature of this test.  Let's remember to humble ourselves enough to get help.  Let's listen when God corrects us.  He does it to help us succeed, and because he loves us.  Only a false friend would say nothing as we destroy ourselves.  Let's accept chastisement.  Let's correct our ignorance.  Let's listen to the Spirit, and heal where we have hurt, and do what we can to solve the problems that we have caused.  And where we can, let's help other people.  Help them to be whole and well and happy.  Help them with the answers that they don't know.  Let's, together, pass this test and be prepared for Zion.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Romans 12:6-8 -- On Developing our Capacity to Serve

"Having then gifts differing according to the grace that is given to us, whether prophecy, let us prophesy according to the proportion of faith;
Or ministry, let us wait on our ministering: or he that teacheth, on teaching;
Or he that exhorteth, on exhortation: he that giveth, let him do it with simplicity; he that ruleth, with diligence; he that sheweth mercy, with cheerfulness."
Romans 12:6-8


These verses focus on some of the different gifts or talents that we have, and that it is important to focus on and develop those gifts.  Here, where it says "let us wait on" it basically means we should take the time to be diligent and devoted in developing those gifts.  I like that all of these gifts are focused on ways that we can serve others.  Even ruling; it shouldn't be about a power trip, but about helping people live and upholding just laws.  I also like that mercy and giving are shown as gifts, things that we can develop and be devoted to as well. :)
Sometimes it seems like the gospel is encouraging us to all be the same.  And in some ways, it definitely is.  God wants us to all believe, and love, and learn, and have him as our top priority.  He wants us to all to pray, read the scriptures, and work together to build a Zion society.  But he definitely doesn't want us to all have the same families or careers or talents or to all do the same things.  He doesn't want all of us to have the same hairstyles or personalities.  He's not asking us to become clones or robots or Borg.  He wants us to learn our own talents, and contribute as individuals to the group welfare.  It's kind of like 1 Corinthians 12:21: "And the eye cannot say unto the hand, I have no need of thee: nor again the head to the feet, I have no need of you." We're all different, but also necessary.  We need each other to succeed.
Today, let's find out what we're good at, and pay attention to developing the gifts that God has given us in order to help serve God and the people around us.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Isaiah 63:8 -- On Being Honest and Chosen

"For he said, Surely they are my people, children that will not lie: so he was their Saviour."
Isaiah 63:8


We've talked in the past about choosing God, and why we choose God, but this verse is interesting in that it talks about why he chooses us.  Usually we think of that choice as a given... God just generically chooses everyone, because we are his children.  And in some ways that is true.  He does love us all.  But why did he choose Abraham, Isaac, Jacob... why did he choose a whole people?  Why does he choose prophets today?  Why does he choose us, individually, to have a relationship with?  And one of the answers is here, in this verse.  He chooses people because they can be honest with him.  Not seek to hide their sins, but repent of them.  People who will tell him what they think.  People who don't pretend to be what they are not.  People he can make covenants with and know that they will work on keeping them.
God choosing us is a personal thing, not a random, anonymous thing.  Our relationship with him is individual and specific and he is interested in us as people, not merely as populations and statistics.  For him to choose us though, we have to choose him.  It is always a two-way agreement with God, never a one-way. He says "And ye shall be my people, and I will be your God." (Jeremiah 30:22).
Today, let's focus on this thing that we know can help make us chosen.  Let's be honest.  Let's extricate ourselves from previous lies, let's repent, and let's not get ourselves into new ones.  Let's notice when we are tempted to lie and work on dealing with those situations differently.  And definitely, as we talk to the Lord today, let's tell him everything.  Our doubts, our fears, our rebellious feelings.  And also our loves and beliefs.  He won't condemn us.  He will help us to improve.  He is our Saviour.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Alma 18:33-35 -- On Having the Spirit in Us

"And king Lamoni said: I believe all these things which thou hast spoken. Art thou sent from God?
Ammon said unto him: I am a man; and man in the beginning was created after the image of God, and I am called by his Holy Spirit to teach these things unto this people, that they may be brought to a knowledge of that which is just and true;
And a portion of that Spirit dwelleth in me, which giveth me knowledge, and also power according to my faith and desires which are in God."
Alma 18:33-35


Sometimes when we read the scriptures it is hard to remember that the people in the scriptures were like us... people.  They did these amazing things, and they seem bigger than life: superhuman, godlike.  Lamoni heard of Ammon doing the impossible, with all of his servants as witness, and he was afraid, because surely this was more than a man.  But as they talk, Ammon tells him that he isn't God, and here, he tells him that he really is a man, and the reason that he has such power.  And I think this is a good reminder for us as well.  We can't handle everything that is thrown at us in life alone, relying on our own power.  But we *can* handle anything with God's help.  To be able to access God's help though, we need to have the Spirit with us, and that first, means inviting God into our lives on a permanent basis.  We can feel the spirit occasionally without the covenant and commitment of baptism, but we can't have it full-time.  Even after that we have to constantly live worthy of its presence.  If we do, then we will be able to draw on God's knowledge and power, and be able to do anything that God asks of us, no matter how difficult.  We always wanted to know how to be superhuman.  Now we know. :)  Today, let's work on gaining the spirit as a constant companion.  From wherever we are, let's make that covenant with God, and let's live true to it.  Let's repent of things that are driving the spirit away.  Let's be more than we are.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Joel 3:14-17 -- On the Valley of Decision

"Multitudes, multitudes in the valley of decision: for the day of the Lord is near in the valley of decision.
The sun and the moon shall be darkened, and the stars shall withdraw their shining.
The Lord also shall roar out of Zion, and utter his voice from Jerusalem; and the heavens and the earth shall shake: but the Lord will be the hope of his people, and the strength of the children of Israel.
So shall ye know that I am the Lord your God dwelling in Zion, my holy mountain: then shall Jerusalem be holy, and there shall no strangers pass through her any more."
Joel 3:14-17


This chapter is talking about the Second Coming, and some of the things that will happen.  The "valley of decision" part is what intrigued me as I was reading it.  It sounds figurative rather than literal, but perhaps it is both. :)  Reading about the darkness and the Earthquakes reminded be of 3rd Nephi and the appearance of Christ to the Nephites.  Before that happened, there was massive destruction, including earthquakes and thick darkness, and the reason for it is mentioned: "O all ye that are spared because ye were more righteous than they, will ye not now return unto me, and repent of your sins, and be converted, that I may heal you?" (3 Nephi 9:13).  That is the question that the Lord asked the people out of the darkness.  And it seems like they were being asked to make a decision... perhaps the same one that will be made in the valley spoken of here.  ... And perhaps the same one that we are making every day, under less extreme circumstances.  God wants to heal us, not to hurt us or destroy us.  He only destroys evil when the situation is desperate.  As we learn in Genesis 18, God is willing to spare a whole city for the sake of ten righteous people.  He wants to give us every chance.  And he is willing to forgive us and help us if we want to change.  But we have to make that decision.  That decision isn't the end point of our progression and our relationship with God... in so many ways it is a beginning.  Today, let's make that decision without having to go through the destruction spoken of.  Let's step out of our own personal darkness.  Let's clean up our lives, and let's allow God to help us and heal us.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

1 Kings 8:38 -- On Figuring Ourselves Out

"What prayer and supplication soever be made by any man, or by all thy people Israel, which shall know every man the plague of his own heart, and spread forth his hands toward this house:"
1 Kings 8:38


This is the middle of a request to God to listen to our prayers and supplications and forgive and help us.  I like the aspects of our part of that shown in this verse.  One part is prayer and supplication, another step is to know the plague of our own hearts, and another step is to spread our hands toward the temple.  Good steps.  Prayer helps us learn from God, and also helps us to understand and ask for our own needs.  Knowing the plague of our own hearts helps us to be humble, to know how to change, and know how to ask for forgiveness.  And spreading our hands towards the temple helps us to bond with other people, serve them, and work on our own perfection.
Knowing the plague of our own hearts is not always the biggest challenge in these steps, but it is the challenge that is unique to us, that only we can figure out.  Sometimes we don't really want to think about it, but when we have the fortitude, it's good to figure ourselves out a little, especially our weaknesses, so that we know what to work on, and what to ask for when we are pleading with God for help with the things that we can't handle ourselves.
Today, let's take these steps.  Let's pray, let's figure out our problems, and let's take action to change.  As we look to God to help us solve it all, he will listen to our supplications and help us.

Friday, September 19, 2014

1 Nephi 18:6 -- On Sailing to the Promised Land

"And it came to pass that on the morrow, after we had prepared all things, much fruits and meat from the wilderness, and honey in abundance, and provisions according to that which the Lord had commanded us, we did go down into the ship, with all our loading and our seeds, and whatsoever thing we had brought with us, every one according to his age; wherefore, we did all go down into the ship, with our wives and our children."
1 Nephi 18:6


Lehi, his family, and all of the people who had essentially joined his family here are setting out on a journey, and they have absolutely no idea of the destination.  They only know that God will lead them.  They are going to the promised land.  There are similar stories in the scriptures.  Moses led his people to the promised land.  Peter, James, and John abandoned their former lives to follow Christ.  Abraham abandoned everything and was led by God to a promised land.  Amulek, Alma the Younger, the sons of Mosiah, Paul... they gave up their former lives and turned to God, completely.  They didn't all go to a physical promised land, but they all were reborn in a similar way... leaving behind their old lives and becoming new.
I submit that each of our lives involves a similar journey.  Whether physical or spiritual or both, we all find ourselves called out of the familiar... away from our nets, or our father's house, or Egypt, or Jerusalem, or our former sins.  Called to a new life.  And to accept the new life, we have to be willing to forsake all, and follow him (Luke 5:11).  As C. S. Lewis said, " if we accept Heaven we shall not be able to retain even the smallest and most intimate souvenirs of Hell."  Luke 17:32: "Remember Lot's wife."  In Lehi's story, Laman and Lemuel didn't remember.  They kept some souvenirs; they wanted to turn back.  The Israelites as well, traveling with Moses, often wanted to turn back.  And it happens to us as well.  We see the promise and the hope, and we believe for a time, but then we start remembering the stuff we are leaving behind.  And if we get stuck there, we might as well be pillars of salt for all the progress we are going to make, living in the past.  Today, let's throw out the souvenirs.  Let's shake off the ever-hardening salt cocoon.  Let's gather the provisions and set sail, trusting God to know the destination.  Let's stop looking back and look forward, willing to forsake all and follow God.  With him, we will find our promised land... our purpose... everything that we can be, in the Lord.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Psalms 118:24-25 -- On Rejoicing

"This is the day which the Lord hath made; we will rejoice and be glad in it.
Save now, I beseech thee, O Lord: O Lord, I beseech thee, send now prosperity."
Psalms 118:24-25


I really like this scripture.  God made this day for us, no matter what circumstances we are in, and just the fact that we have a day to work with is a gift from the Lord, and a reason to rejoice. :)
Sometimes when we hear happy scriptures like this we shake our heads and think that it might be good to rejoice later, but right *now* we're kind of in a jam, and there is no reason to be happy.  So, just to provide some context, in verse 18 of this chapter the Psalmist says "The Lord hath chastened me sore: but he hath not given me over unto death." ... Doesn't sound like a perfect day here either, and yet still, or maybe because of that, we are urged to rejoice.
I think it is significant that the Psalmist urges us to rejoice first, and asks for prosperity afterward.  Perhaps in our lives we are too critical of our circumstances.  We complain about so many things, ignoring the good and focusing on the bad.  Today, let's rejoice and be thankful for this glorious day, and for the fabulous things in our lives, and after having a party and celebrating all of that, *then* let's get on our knees and ask God to help us with the things that aren't going so well.  That order might put things in perspective a little bit more, and perhaps God will be more receptive to our often-impatient entreaties.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Proverbs 28:13-14 -- On Hiding and Hardening

"He that covereth his sins shall not prosper: but whoso confesseth and forsaketh them shall have mercy.
Happy is the man that feareth alway: but he that hardeneth his heart shall fall into mischief."
Proverbs 28:13-14


It's interesting that the things that are often instinctual... to hide, to harden ourselves, are almost always the wrong things.  Popular culture talks about natural urges and how we should live closer to the caveman diet of mostly meat, or not worry about adultery, or many other things, because it is natural and part of our physical human heritage.  But God tells us that "the natural man is an enemy to God" (Mosiah 3:19), and as we learn in this selection and elsewhere, what we feel like doing is often exactly what we should not do.  Even later in this same chapter we learn "He that trusteth in his own heart is a fool" (Proverbs 28:26).
Hiding and hardening are understandable reactions.  We worry about punishment and being hurt.  But part of learning to love and learning to be like God is learning to choose openness, to trust, to choose sensitivity and gentleness.  Those things can make us feel weak and vulnerable, but choosing them is not madness, but wisdom.  When we are open, when we admit our mistakes and try to change... that is the only time that we can grow and improve.  Hiding and lying just gets us further into our little corner where we are scared and not progressing at all.  Showing respect (respect-fear, not terror-fear) by listening to God, and being sensitive to his voice, and being gentle in how we treat others... those things expand us and help us learn to think and to consider other ideas and other perspectives.  If we just thicken our skin and never consider God or other people, we're just sealing ourselves into that corner again, not letting anything in, and not accomplishing anything either.
Today, let's work on changing rather than hardening.  Let's admit our mistakes and sins rather than hiding them, so we can let them go and move past them.  Let's work on being open and sensitive, and learning all we can, so that we can accept God's promises of mercy and happiness.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

2 Corinthians 6:10 -- On Being Happy and Rich

"As sorrowful, yet alway rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, and yet possessing all things."
2 Corinthians 6:10


Paul here is talking about how ministers of God should behave, and since we are all ministers of God to some extent, I imagine that this applies to us all.  Paul lists a lot of things here, but the part that struck me was this single verse.  Our lives are made up of a lot of contrasts and opposing desires and emotions.  I'm sure this is good for us because it allows us to weigh the good and the evil, or other choices that are good and different good, or perhaps painful short term and painful long term sometimes.  We have the opportunity to choose and really find out what we want to do and to be... and whatever we find out, God will restore to us for eternity.  I think though that we confuse ourselves sometimes thinking that good choices always, and immediately, equal happiness, or on the other hand that if something is going wrong in our lives that we are expected and required to be sad about it.  Paul shows us here, and in other scriptures (2 Corinthians 4:8-9), that we can live with contrasts.  That we can experience sad or painful things, and yet still be happy and rejoice.  That we get to choose our attitudes and are able to fill our hearts with love and joy, no matter our circumstances.
I'm not saying here that sad = evil, or that feeling negative emotion means that we need to repent and force ourselves to fake smile at the world.  I'm just saying that maybe, like Paul, we should take a step back and realize that we get a choice.  It's appropriate to be sad sometimes, but there is also *always* a reason to rejoice, so let's not feel trapped into one or the other.  And let's realize that our circumstances don't have to control our emotions or actions either.  We can be poor financially and still generous with our riches in other areas. :)  Even when we have nothing in an earthly sense, we always have God... which means that everything is ours, and we are wealthy beyond imagining. :)  Today, let's find reasons to rejoice, despite our current hardships, and let's also remember that even if we are having a hard time making ends meet, the riches of eternity are ours (D&C 78:18).

Monday, September 15, 2014

Psalms 85:8 -- On Avoiding Folly

"I will hear what God the Lord will speak: for he will speak peace unto his people, and to his saints: but let them not turn again to folly."
Psalms 85:8


This is a good reminder that the Lord loves us and wants to have us around.  He forgives us and heals us, and he wants us to be at peace.  But we risk everything when we commit sin and make bad choices.  We might intend to come back later; we might still love God... but choosing to walk off the path can cloud our minds and destroy those good intentions.  How many people have only intended to take a look at a side road or a stream near the path, and gotten completely lost?  When God forgives us, we are amazingly blessed and lucky to have that renewal and cleansing and additional chance.  It's a miracle to be able to crawl out of the wreckage of our lives and be okay.  Let's not intentionally get into another head on collision.
When we get back on the path, let's remember that there is some opportunity cost for bad choices.  We missed learning good things while we were undoing bad things.  It's awesome to be clean and whole and headed in the right direction, but we need to remember that every choice matters, and not jump back into sin thinking that repentance is easy, so might as well do a few more laps in the sludge.
Today, let's listen to God and hear what he has to say.  Let's be obedient and take advantage of the opportunities we have to learn good things and to become stronger and more confident in the gospel.  Let's not fall back into folly.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Isaiah 41:10-11 -- On Playing for God's Team

"Fear thou not; for I am with thee: be not dismayed; for I am thy God: I will strengthen thee; yea, I will help thee; yea, I will uphold thee with the right hand of my righteousness.
Behold, all they that were incensed against thee shall be ashamed and confounded: they shall be as nothing; and they that strive with thee shall perish."
Isaiah 41:10-11


I like scriptures that remind us not to fear.  Life can be pretty scary sometimes, and having God around is sometimes the only thing that can help.  I like the idea that God will support us, and that we don't need to fear anyone, because God can take care of it.
These verses have another side though.  God is upholding and strengthening one side, and confounding the other side... making them ashamed, and even allowing them to die.  It doesn't seem that he is upholding or strengthening that side at all.  We're all God's children... why would he support some of us against the others?  Why would he strengthen us, but allow others to die?
I think the answer is that we get the whole idea of sides mixed up.  God wants to strengthen us, and he loves us and wants us to be happy... but the truth is that he is never on *our* side.  It is a nice idea, but it can confuse us to think that way.  We are on *his* side... or not.  And when we are on his side, that is when he supports us.  And when we are not on his side, that is when we can be confounded.  Not because God doesn't love us, but because we screwed up and are working against him.
God never abandons us... he's always there.  But it is kind of like a coach, sending us all into a game.  He can't help us a lot if we are working to score points for the other team.  He can only tell us to turn around, to recognize the people who are trying to help us, and the people working against us.  It's when we're wide awake and have figured out what team we are on that he can help us more: strengthen us with encouragement, allow us to rest for a bit when we are overtired, and help us figure out a strategy to come out triumphant.  ... Of course the analogy is limited, but the idea of sides matches reality a little bit.  Too often in life we pick out people (or companies, or countries, or whatever) to like, and we admire them and trust them no matter what, and so when they ask us to play for the wrong team, we're like, okay!  I'm in!  God isn't like that.  Because that is the way *we* often play the game, we wonder why he has abandoned us.  But he never has.  He just won't support us if we go to the dark side.  He is asking and waiting and hoping that we will come back so that he can heal us and strengthen us and support us in coming back to the light, but he can't agree with us and help us destroy our lives just because we are friends.  ... His friendship doesn't work like that, and really, no friendship should.  He will support the team always... but we run the risk of being confounded if we choose to be on the other side.  He isn't out to get us or harm us... he just wants us to come back.  Today, let's take a look at what team we are playing for.  If it isn't God's, them let's take a step back and be really sure we're where we want to be.  If we'd rather play for God, he will definitely take us back... but we have to make the choice, take that step, and ask for help.  If we do, he will strengthen us, help us, and uphold us.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

1 Timothy 6:17-19 -- On Laying Hold on Eternal Life

"Charge them that are rich in this world, that they be not highminded, nor trust in uncertain riches, but in the living God, who giveth us richly all things to enjoy;
That they do good, that they be rich in good works, ready to distribute, willing to communicate;
Laying up in store for themselves a good foundation against the time to come, that they may lay hold on eternal life."
1 Timothy 6:17-19


This is interesting, talking about different kinds of riches.  One kind is in this world, and is uncertain and associated with being highminded (snobbish or condescending).  The other is associated with good works, generosity, and willing communication.  And then it says that we should store up some of these riches for a time to come, so that we can lay hold on eternal life. :)  Laying hold almost makes it sound like a wild animal. :)  And maybe it is, or we are.  Maybe we have to tame ourselves in order to get there. :)
I don't think we can store anything up to buy eternal life, or to use it like food storage.  I think that probably just the act of doing and "accumulating" some good works is what helps us to be the sort of people who will be able to lay hold on eternal life.  We'll be strong enough to hang on even in the midst of the storm of life.  The whole "bridle all your passions" idea (Alma 38:12)... not in a put the wild animal in the zoo way, but in a under-control and don't have to be committed to a place with padded-walls way.  We let ourselves get out of control way too often, and almost always regret it.
So today, let's trust in God, who gives us richly all things to enjoy, and trust in the sort of riches that are certain; let's do good, and start laying that foundation of true wealth that will help us lay hold on eternal life and not let go. :)

Friday, September 12, 2014

D&C 42:48-52 -- On Faith and Infirmity

"And again, it shall come to pass that he that hath faith in me to be healed, and is not appointed unto death, shall be healed.
He who hath faith to see shall see.
He who hath faith to hear shall hear.
The lame who hath faith to leap shall leap.
And they who have not faith to do these things, but believe in me, have power to become my sons; and inasmuch as they break not my laws thou shalt bear their infirmities."
D&C 42:48-52


Faith can work miracles.  I think that we all believe that on some level, but how far do we practice it?  It's very different to have an intellectual understanding of the concept than to know the truth of it through personal experience.  It's the same with other ideas in the gospel.  God can change our hearts.  He can make our weaknesses into strengths.  He can forgive us and make us clean.  ... But we don't all believe that or live that on the same level.  Most of us are still learning those lessons, little by little.  And what strikes me the most about this selection is that God makes a provision for those that don't have enough faith to be healed.  We, those of us who still lack enough faith to achieve the miracle, still have the power to become the sons and daughters of God.  It also says "thou shalt bear their infirmities."  "Thou" in this case not saying that we will bear our own infirmities, although of course we have to if we don't have enough faith, but "thou" referring to a different group: the church... everyone.  We, as the friends and neighbors and brothers and sisters of people of varying degrees of faith, need to accept those infirmities, and work with each other anyway.  We need to understand and accept that we're not all at the same level in everything.  Some of us have more faith, and some have less.  And we're at different levels in pretty much everything else too.  It's back to the mote vs beam idea (Luke 6:42).  If we criticize someone for having a weakness that they could overcome through faith, are we overlooking a weakness in ourselves as we say that?  We develop faith in different things at different levels.  Maybe we have enough faith to go to church, but not to pay tithing.  Maybe we have faith enough to pray, but not to read our scriptures.  Maybe we have learned to have faith that God can help us find our car keys, but we haven't learned yet that God can help us forgive... or see, or hear, or leap.
Today, let's work on our faith and expand our capacity to allow God's hand to work in our lives.  Let's renew our determination to act on God's will and to sincerely seek him out and listen to his advice.  And when our faith is weak, let's still work to be his sons and his daughters, and to accept and help the people around us as they do the same.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Joseph Smith—History 1:11-13 -- On Fear and Faith

"While I was laboring under the extreme difficulties caused by the contests of these parties of religionists, I was one day reading the Epistle of James, first chapter and fifth verse, which reads: If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him.
Never did any passage of scripture come with more power to the heart of man than this did at this time to mine. It seemed to enter with great force into every feeling of my heart. I reflected on it again and again, knowing that if any person needed wisdom from God, I did; for how to act I did not know, and unless I could get more wisdom than I then had, I would never know; for the teachers of religion of the different sects understood the same passages of scripture so differently as to destroy all confidence in settling the question by an appeal to the Bible.
At length I came to the conclusion that I must either remain in darkness and confusion, or else I must do as James directs, that is, ask of God. I at length came to the determination to “ask of God,” concluding that if he gave wisdom to them that lacked wisdom, and would give liberally, and not upbraid, I might venture."
Joseph Smith—History 1:11-13


Reading this today, I am struck by the bravery and faith of this young boy, who was willing to read the scriptures and believe them enough to take God up on his promise.  And I wonder what it is that stops us from doing the same thing.  Have we lost hope?  Do we not believe?  Maybe some of it is that.  I think though that the biggest thing stopping us is fear.  Fear that either God won't answer us, or maybe worse, that he will, and that we will have the responsibility to act on that knowledge, when we're trying to run away from the responsibilities that we already have.
Young Joseph Smith's life was changed in the moment that he read that verse of scripture and determined to do something about it.  He prayed, and his answer came, and from that moment everything was different because he *knew* without doubt that God lived and had a work for him to do.  We often talk about wanting something so obvious and solid in our lives, but often when we come close, we turn around and run away.  We are afraid of certainty, and associated responsibility.  It reminds me of Psalms 84:10 "For a day in thy courts is better than a thousand. I had rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God, than to dwell in the tents of wickedness."  We forget that even with more responsibility, life with God is overwhelmingly and infinitely better than the alternative.  We fear burdens that God can make light.  We worry about weakness that God can turn to strength.  We fear losing parts of ourselves, when God can make us more whole than we have ever been.
I am not trying to mock anyone's fear.  I have it too.  I know that it is real, and strong, and hard to overcome.  But I am saying that it is needless.  If we can work to act in spite of it, we will discover that commitment to God is not the scary thing that we imagine, but instead is a source of constant strength and love and hope and confidence.
Today, let's work through our fears.  Let's become more childlike and act on the example of a young boy who read the scriptures and believed them enough to act.  Let's ask God for wisdom, and for peace, and for whatever else that we need.  Let's open up and let him into our lives.  Even though it frightens us, let's allow our lives to be changed into something better.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

D&C 101:78 -- On Responsibility and Happiness

"That every man may act in doctrine and principle pertaining to futurity, according to the moral agency which I have given unto him, that every man may be accountable for his own sins in the day of judgment."
D&C 101:78


The idea that we are accountable for our own sins is made clear in many scriptures, and here and elsewhere it sounds like something that God carefully set up, almost like a gift to us.  We don't usually see it that way though... we like to think that sins are someone else's fault.  Someone taunted us into it, tempted us, society is set up that way, we were born with the gene or the inclination, or even the devil made us do it.  It couldn't actually be our responsibility, could it?  Except, from the scriptures, it sure seems to be.
Judgment belongs to God, and I definitely am not saying that I know where all the lines of responsibility are for all sins.  I just think maybe we try to deflect responsibility rather than accept it, probably too often.  If we take responsibility for our actions and our sins, it doesn't mean that we have to live in guilt and shame.  It *is* a gift in a lot of ways, because when we accept responsibility, then we know that it is also in our power to change.  To repent, to get God's help, and to lay down that burden of guilt and shame and start over as new people.  Christ's atonement can cleanse us, if we accept its power in our lives... and how do we accept it?  By taking responsibility, and by repenting, and changing our lives so that we are choosing not to sin.  As we take responsibility for our sins, we also take responsibility for our own happiness.  *We* have the power to choose to let go of the bad and to hang onto the good. :)
It's hard.  Life, and responsibility, and learning... but it is also wondrous and joyful and freeing when the atonement touches our lives.  And we can feel stronger and more confident in ourselves and in God's acceptance of our efforts.  Let's make the effort to crawl out of the holes that we have dug for ourselves.  Let's accept God's help in taking responsibility, repenting, and getting back on the path to happiness.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

1 Corinthians 3:18-23 -- On Admitting Foolishness and Learning Wisdom

"Let no man deceive himself. If any man among you seemeth to be wise in this world, let him become a fool, that he may be wise.
For the wisdom of this world is foolishness with God. For it is written, He taketh the wise in their own craftiness.
And again, The Lord knoweth the thoughts of the wise, that they are vain.
Therefore let no man glory in men. For all things are yours;
Whether Paul, or Apollos, or Cephas, or the world, or life, or death, or things present, or things to come; all are yours;
And ye are Christ’s; and Christ is God’s."
1 Corinthians 3:18-23


There are a lot of good things packed in here.  The first idea seems to be that we tend to overestimate our wisdom.  We think that we have it all figured out, when actually in the Great Instruction Book of Life, we haven't even made it past the previews (that's right, we've watching the movie version).  And because we've seen a few scenes in the preview, we think that we know the book, and how it will end, and whether we like it or not. :)  We talk about it like we came up with the idea.  And God is saying, listen.  Take a step back.  Stop assuming that you know what it is all about.  I wrote the book, and the movie version isn't even close, plus you haven't even *watched* the movie.  Instead of assuming the stance of a critic with no knowledge, admit your foolishness and actually find out.  That's how we all learn things we don't know, but we often try to fake it rather than doing the work of learning.
The other big idea that is connected to this is that all things are ours.  That's an idea that is somewhat at odds with our acquisitive society, but since we've already admitted our foolishness today, maybe we should think about how this actually works rather than rejecting it. :)  Compared to moving a mountain with faith or walking on water, probably not impossible.  In one sense, everything is ours because we have stewardship over it.  We need to be taking care of it.  And in another way, with Faith, we can do anything and have anything that God desires us to have... so nothing is out of reach that is essential to our happiness.  In that way, it's really silly to glory in our own wisdom or even in the latest technological discoveries of any mortal person, because God has it all in his hands, including power over life and death and the present and the future.  And if we stop focusing only on the wisdom of this world, admit our ignorance and foolishness, and ask God to teach us some of his wisdom, maybe we'll understand more and become more than we ever could otherwise.

Monday, September 8, 2014

D&C 88:119 -- On Houses of God

"Organize yourselves; prepare every needful thing; and establish a house, even a house of prayer, a house of fasting, a house of faith, a house of learning, a house of glory, a house of order, a house of God;"
D&C 88:119


This verse is talking about a temple, and the idea of a place that is cool and clean enough for God to actually be there is awesome.  I think that just being inside a temple helps us to let go of our worries and stress and focus more on things of eternal importance.  Additionally, if these are the things that God wants in a home, then perhaps they are things that we might want to incorporate into our own homes as well.  Of course we should take into account reality, and not expect anyplace with children to be quite as pristine as the temple, but the idea of making a house of prayer and learning and faith and order... the idea of making our houses places where the spirit can dwell, and places where we can be at peace, those things are within our reach.  Let's work on making our houses more like God's house, and our lives more welcoming to him.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Micah 2:10-11 -- On Resting and Reengaging

"Arise ye, and depart; for this is not your rest: because it is polluted, it shall destroy you, even with a sore destruction.
If a man walking in the spirit and falsehood do lie, saying, I will prophesy unto thee of wine and of strong drink; he shall even be the prophet of this people."
Micah 2:10-11


I think a lot of times in life that we think that we have found our "rest."  We think... this is where I can stop.  This is where I am finally going to really invest my time.  This is what I care about and nothing else.  And, no matter what that is or how worthy it seems, God very very often says to us, "arise ye, and depart; for this is not your rest."  And we whine and cry and we don't understand because we feel ragged and we want to stop.  We want to dedicate ourselves to something with a relatively narrow focus and forget the rest. :)  That's why we often want to make prophets of people who say that it is okay to forget the world... drink the world away, or whatever other addiction of choice takes us away from the world.
Almost always, the things that we want to be our rest aren't what God has in mind.  All of them are polluted in some way... not necessarily inherently so, but polluted because they tempt us to focus on a narrow area and dedicate all to that, and to forget the bigger picture and the people outside that small circle.  Now this doesn't mean that we can't have stellar careers or nurture our families with fervor, or dedicate time to other worthy causes.  It just means that we have to have balance.  We can't become workaholics or shut out everyone besides our families.  We can't care about this one group and let everyone else rot. :)  There are still things to do, and it isn't time to rest yet.  We still have the straight and narrow path before us, and we need to walk it to the end.
Today, let's use the Sabbath "day of rest" to renew ourselves for another week, and take the time to prepare and recharge.  Then, let's get out there and build a Zion society, and work to bring to pass God's kingdom.  No need to despair.  Our true rest will come, in God's way and in God's time... and it will be infinitely better than any of the rest stops that we had picked out for ourselves.

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Jude 1:17-21 -- On Separation

"But, beloved, remember ye the words which were spoken before of the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ;
How that they told you there should be mockers in the last time, who should walk after their own ungodly lusts.
These be they who separate themselves, sensual, having not the Spirit.
But ye, beloved, building up yourselves on your most holy faith, praying in the Holy Ghost,
Keep yourselves in the love of God, looking for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ unto eternal life."
Jude 1:17-21


What struck me about this today was the fact that when we do these things, we separate ourselves... from the Spirit, from the love of God, from other people, and from ourselves in a lot of ways.  We become what feels like a whole other person from the one that loves and believes.  We start caring about feelings and senses more than we care about people and life and God.  It's exactly like a drug addiction, and a lot more common.  We let ourselves get caught up in whatever emotion we are riding at the moment... let that move us and control us rather than us controlling it.  And we single-mindedly go after more of that feeling, not caring in the moment who we hurt or what the further consequences are, because we think that in that moment the feeling matters more than all the rest of it.  That the pursuit of that emotional high, whatever it is, is more important than everything else.
Today, whatever emotion is ruling our lives, let's recognize it and separate ourselves from *it* rather than separating ourselves from God.  It isn't easy, by definition... it's something that we've tried to substitute for reality.  It is our favorite escape or our fantasy, whether it is lust or hatred or self-righteousness, or hunger for power, numbness to try to block out other things... so many ways that we can separate ourselves.  But despite the challenge, let's gather up all of our separateness and join it back together with the rest of us that wants to put God before self.  Let's push through our separation and start making positive connections with the Spirit, with God, and with other people.  Let's keep ourselves in the Love of God, looking for mercy and eternal life, rather than chasing the ephemeral emotion of the moment, and separating ourselves from what really matters.

Friday, September 5, 2014

Philippians 4:8 -- On Emphasizing the Good

"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 4:8


I've read this scripture several times, and Joseph Smith refers to this verse in the Articles of Faith, so the list of good things is very familiar, but today it seems new.  The scriptures are cool like that.  There is so much we can get out of them, no matter how many times we dive in.  Today, what I see is encouragement to focus on the positive side of life.  To think about things that are true, and honest, that are just and pure.  To think about things that are lovely, virtuous, and that people have said were good or praiseworthy.  And, thinking about it that way, what a stark departure from the way that our world is set up... media of every kind, all around, telling us about dishonesty, injustice, impurity, and things that are reportedly bad or sick or cruel.  The world is filled with those types of reports, and God, through Paul's words, is asking us here to focus on the good.
I don't think that God means that we should ignore the bad or pretend it isn't there.  He also encourages us to reach out to others, to give, to care, and to bless.  But those are good things too.  In the disaster, are we caught up in the horror, or are we focused on the helping?  In our lives, today, let's do what we can to help, and let's try to turn our minds away from the trainwreck media, and focus on the good things around us, and on bringing good even to the bad situation.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

D&C 20:17-20 -- On Appreciating Perfection

"By these things we know that there is a God in heaven, who is infinite and eternal, from everlasting to everlasting the same unchangeable God, the framer of heaven and earth, and all things which are in them;
And that he created man, male and female, after his own image and in his own likeness, created he them;
And gave unto them commandments that they should love and serve him, the only living and true God, and that he should be the only being whom they should worship.
But by the transgression of these holy laws man became sensual and devilish, and became fallen man."
Doctrine and Covenants 20:17-20


There is an interesting idea in this selection: that we became sensual and devilish through transgression.  We know that "men will be punished for their own sins, and not for Adam’s transgression" (Articles of Faith 1:2), so we often discount the "fall" as not really being applicable, at least in the "original sin" way that some others interpret it.  But it has some direct applicability to our lives, even though we won't be punished for it. :)
Because of the fall, Adam and Eve became mortal, and separated from God, and subject to death... and so did we, as their posterity.  We learn from scriptures about the resurrection that our bodies will be changed, and we won't suffer temptations or sickness or death anymore.  This was the opposite; they suddenly had the ability to be sick, and to be tempted.  It sounds pretty bad, but that fall also made it possible for us all to become like God... because we suddenly had a place to be tested, where evil would pull at us as much as good did, and where we could make our own choices and find out who we are.  Our natures here on earth are pretty evil... we want evil sometimes, or part of us does, and we have to work at it if we want to fuse our different parts together and choose God instead.  This sounds bad too, but it is also good... having to work for what we want cements our choices, and helps us learn and become stronger.  The stronger we get, the more we develop our potential.  The cool thing about all of it is that this is all according to God's plan to help us develop our potential and become happy.  Just like Adam and Eve in the garden, they couldn't really grasp the beauty and perfection and peace of their situation until they knew there was some other choice.  Discomfort, darkness, and chaos all teach us of these differences and help us to know what we prefer.  If we had remained in our state of innocence, we wouldn't have the potential to become like God because our lessons would have been limited, and our knowledge of the concepts of evil and sorrow academic, never having experienced them ourselves, and never having chosen one over the other.  God knows all of it in a real way, and by offering us this chance to experience it all ourselves, he gave us the potential to grow and progress a lot further than we could possibly have otherwise.  Kind of like our parents letting us out the door into the real world for the first time, he gave us the chance to be independent and start to grow up.
Christ's atonement solves the problem that the fall created, introduces repentance, and allows us to be redeemed from our now-corrupt natures.  But we still have to choose to accept it, and choose God over other distractions and temptations.  Today, maybe it will help to remember that evil isn't our true natural state.  Before this life we were good.  We chose good.  And just like choosing sin could throw us into a fallen state, choosing good can pull us back out, and help Good win the balance in our own souls.  Let's watch our choices carefully, and look forward to getting back to perfection, which we will now enjoy and appreciate so much more. :)

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Psalms 73:22-26 -- On the Amazing Within

"So foolish was I, and ignorant: I was as a beast before thee.
Nevertheless I am continually with thee: thou hast holden me by my right hand.
Thou shalt guide me with thy counsel, and afterward receive me to glory.
Whom have I in heaven but thee? and there is none upon earth that I desire beside thee.
My flesh and my heart faileth: but God is the strength of my heart, and my portion for ever."
Psalms 73:22-26


This is even more interesting when you know why the Psalmist is calling himself a beast.  At the beginning of the Psalm, he says that he was envious when he saw the prosperity of the wicked.  He looked at them and said that they don't have troubles like other men, and they are more successful than everyone else... he believed that he had made himself clean for nothing, because he was suffering and they were rich.
... And aren't we just like the Psalmist sometimes?  Don't we look out and see others getting rich doing bad things, and we can't see them suffering for it.  They seem, in fact, to be happy and thriving.  ... We wonder sometimes whether it is worth it.  It can seem pretty good in that great and spacious building when we're camped out by the tree--not even a roof over our heads.
But this whole Psalm is basically an apology to God for thinking that way.  Why?  Because when he went into the sanctuary of God, he realized what will happen to the wicked in the end.  I'm not sure if the sanctuary was a church or a temple, but either way, the Psalmist learned that the scorecard in life isn't about money at all.  The scorecard is only our hearts and our souls... ourselves, and what we've learned and who we have become.  If we learn wickedness and never repent, then that is what we will receive and how we will have rewarded ourselves.  If we get back what we put in, and our reward is ourselves in a lot of ways, then shouldn't we do everything we can to become the best we can possibly be?  It's a little like deciding to go to college.  What do we want out of it... why do we do it?  Is it because we want a little piece of paper that we can hang on the wall or show to people?  Or is it that at the end we want to know how to do things or know how to function in a certain job or career?  Isn't it to learn about ourselves and become someone we want to be?  And life is like that, but to an even bigger extent.  We came here not to just get a checkmark in the Earth box and say we had done it.  We came here to learn something, to become something.  And if we blow it off, or try to "cheat the system," the only people that are going to suffer the unfortunate consequences of ignorance and inability will be we ourselves.  ... We are here to become something amazing, and God is the one that can see that image of our ideal selves.  If we listen to him, and make the choices that he asks, we can get closer and closer to it.  If we don't, we are still becoming something through our choices, but it's like blowing off classes in college.  We might learn a little, but not what we could have with the Master Teacher.
The Psalmist was forgiven for thinking that it was pointless to be clean and obedient.  He realized that he could become so much more with God than he could amassing wealth.  God taught him and offered his counsel, and even when his strength failed and he was ready to give up, God stood by him.  He will do the same thing for us, if we accept his help.
Today, let's remember what we are trying to get out of this life, and let's look to God to help us find the amazing within ourselves. 

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Matthew 25:14-18 -- On Imperfection and Becoming Shiny

"For the kingdom of heaven is as a man travelling into a far country, who called his own servants, and delivered unto them his goods.
And unto one he gave five talents, to another two, and to another one; to every man according to his several ability; and straightway took his journey.
Then he that had received the five talents went and traded with the same, and made them other five talents.
And likewise he that had received two, he also gained other two.
But he that had received one went and digged in the earth, and hid his lord’s money."
Matthew 25:14-18


I've read the parable of the talents many times, and usually I feel kind of sorry for the last guy with only one talent.  He tells us why he buried it later in the story:  "Lord, I knew thee that thou art an hard man, reaping where thou hast not sown, and gathering where thou hast not strawed: / And I was afraid, and went and hid thy talent in the earth: lo, there thou hast that is thine."  (Matthew 25:24-25).  He was afraid.  And I think that being afraid is understandable.  In life, there are lots of things that make us afraid.  God has expectations of us that seem impossible.  We're commanded to be perfect, and yet we can't possibly actually jump to that point in this lifetime.  God tells us that he can't look upon sin with the least degree of allowance, and yet we *all* are going to sin.  We know it; we can't get around it.  So, why is the one talent guy the bad guy?  Why does he get cast out into outer darkness at the end of the story?
I think one clue to the answer is right there in our selection.  The man gave his servants goods based on ability... and ability means that they were meant to *do* something with what they were given.  The servants knew that they were supposed to do something, and this one guy didn't even try.  Yeah, he was scared, but he was also disobedient.
In our lives, I think that we face the same types of challenges a lot.  God gives us basically everything, and we have the choice of what to do with all of it.  And we experience the same type of paralyzing fears... but in order to learn and grow, we can't let our fear of making mistakes stop us.  We have to study things out (D&C 9:8); we have to be anxiously engaged (D&C 58:27).  We have to remember that when God asks us to be perfect, he at the same time knows and accepts that we will make mistakes... which is why his whole plan of happiness is set up.  Christ suffered for us so that we would have the *freedom* to make mistakes.  So that we could learn from our mistakes and become better.  Sometimes slowly, but regularly, progressively... as long as we don't stop trying.
This does not mean, of course, that we should just jump into whatever sin we want and worry about repenting later because God doesn't care.  He does care... he cares a lot.  The point is that we have to *improve,* and we don't progress by going backwards.  We have to be aiming high... *trying* to reach perfection.  Not aiming at jumping into the pit of radioactive sludge.  Aiming low is like the guy in the story.  Aiming his talent into the dirt... not hoping or striving for more.  If we just sit around and wait to meet God, exactly as we are, we probably won't get a much better reception than he did.  We have to dig up our talents and put them to use.  We have to prepare for that meeting with God, and improve who we are.  Yes, we'll make mistakes along the way, but that's understood.  We have to accept that we aren't perfect, and then start correcting the problem. :)
Today, no matter what God has given us and whether it seems like a lot or a little... let's build upon it.  Let's live today a little bit better than we did yesterday.  Let's root out the darkness from our lives and live a little bit cleaner, a little bit shinier. :)  And let's keep doing that.  God asks us to aim at perfection, but he knows it will take us a while... and he's provided for that.  If we keep at it, we'll get better and better "until the perfect day" (D&C 50:24). :)

Monday, September 1, 2014

Alma 32:37-39 -- On Faith and Forestry

"And behold, as the tree beginneth to grow, ye will say: Let us nourish it with great care, that it may get root, that it may grow up, and bring forth fruit unto us. And now behold, if ye nourish it with much care it will get root, and grow up, and bring forth fruit.
But if ye neglect the tree, and take no thought for its nourishment, behold it will not get any root; and when the heat of the sun cometh and scorcheth it, because it hath no root it withers away, and ye pluck it up and cast it out.
Now, this is not because the seed was not good, neither is it because the fruit thereof would not be desirable; but it is because your ground is barren, and ye will not nourish the tree, therefore ye cannot have the fruit thereof."
Alma 32:37-39


This is later in Alma's lesson, comparing God's word to a seed and how, in order to know the truth, we should actually have the faith to try planting/living it.  And this part is basically saying that if we find that the experiment works, that the word grows within us and helps us to be happy, that we see it growing into a tree, that we need to nourish it and allow it to grow further.  It is kind of like the parable of the sower (Mark 4 / Matthew 13).  If the word is planted in our hearts, even when we see results and feel happiness from it, it doesn't mean that we can just sit back and do nothing, and continue in that brief moment.  Once we get a testimony, we still have to have faith to work at it, and help it grow.  We can't just say that one day I was converted, and from then on I was permanently saved, and didn't really have to make an effort anymore.  It doesn't work that way.  That initial testimony, that initial conversion... that's the *beginning,* not the end.  That's where we start growing and expanding and learning and becoming... and if we don't, then we can lose it.  Just like a plant or a relationship that we neglect, our testimonies can sicken and lose the spark of life.  Alma makes it clear that it isn't because God's word wasn't good.  It started to grow.  We felt it, and knew we were going in the right direction.  It is because we didn't provide fertile ground and nourishment.
Today, let's make our souls places where God's word can grow.  Let's accept the responsibility for keeping our testimonies alive, and not selfishly ask God to keep proving himself over and over and over.  We are the ones that need to do some proving, and improving.  We are not doing God a favor by accepting his truth... he is doing *us* a favor by offering it.  Let's be thankful, and care tenderly for the gift that he has given us.  Let's learn and grow and turn our small saplings into forests where we can rejoice and partake of the fruit of God's love.

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