Friday, July 31, 2015

Isaiah 30:18 -- On Waiting and Wisdom

"And therefore will the Lord wait, that he may be gracious unto you, and therefore will he be exalted, that he may have mercy upon you: for the Lord is a God of judgment: blessed are all they that wait for him."
Isaiah 30:18

I like the idea that the Lord waits for us.  It makes me think of reactions in life.  If we reacted immediately to everything, we'd probably ruin our lives with saying unwise things to our bosses, being rude to people, destroying relationships, and getting run over in traffic. :)  But when we wait, even for only a few seconds to think it through, or check for traffic, then things go better.  We aren't reacting on instinct anymore... we're letting our brains kick in, which (almost always) makes us wiser.
The Lord isn't waiting so he can be wiser, of course.  He waits in order to offer us a grace period, to give us a chance to think it out, and to change and repent... he's waiting so we have a chance to make a wiser choice.  And we also wait for him.  Not because he needs a chance to repent, but because he is waiting for us, and for other people, and he knows the timing of all of that better than we do.
Today, let's wait for the Lord's judgment, and not try to hasten it.  He's taking his time so that he can be merciful and gracious.  And we need that time anyway, so that we can learn to be wise.  Today, let's be happy with waiting. :)

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Daniel 3:22-25 -- On Faith in the Furnace

"Therefore because the king’s commandment was urgent, and the furnace exceeding hot, the flame of the fire slew those men that took up Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego.
And these three men, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego, fell down bound into the midst of the burning fiery furnace.
Then Nebuchadnezzar the king was astonied, and rose up in haste, and spake, and said unto his counsellors, Did not we cast three men bound into the midst of the fire? They answered and said unto the king, True, O king.
He answered and said, Lo, I see four men loose, walking in the midst of the fire, and they have no hurt; and the form of the fourth is like the Son of God."
Daniel 3:22-25

The idea that the flame and heat killed the men who threw them into the fire, but that they were unbound and talking to someone in the midst of the fire must have completely overwhelmed the king.  He swung from violently angry at their disobedience to him to astonished and curious, and he realized that they were obeying someone else.  After this, the commends their willingness to sacrifice for their God.  And that must have taken a lot of dedication.  All they had to do was fall to their knees when the dulcimer played and pretend to pray to a golden idol, and they would have been spared what seemingly was certain death.  But they had faith in God, and they didn't want to participate in or encourage idol worship, which is a violation of the first commandment.  They knew God had the power to save them, and they also knew that he might not.  And that *either way,* it was the right thing to do.
I stand in awe of these men.  I think I am more wishy-washy than that.  Maybe most of us are.  I hope I wouldn't chicken out in a similar situation, but I might just argue and whine a lot about how it is unfair, and not make a clear and simple stand for God.  And I think that tells me that I'm not there yet with regard to faith.  I think of Abraham, whose whole life changed when he walked away from human sacrifice... and yet because he trusted and knew God so well, he was willing to do what God asked, even when it was something he hated.  He was there, like these men were.  And maybe both of these tests were just to show them that.  That they were willing to give their lives to God.  After you know that, daily obedience can't be as much of a struggle, right? :)
Today, let's stand up for God.  We don't have to get in anyone's face to do it, but we do have to refuse to do evil, and take the initiative to do good.  Let's remember that whatever the consequences, putting God first is still, and always, the right thing to do.  Let's learn how to have the kind of faith that it takes to face the furnace.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

1 Corinthians 9:9-10 -- On Plowing and Threshing in Hope

"For it is written in the law of Moses, Thou shalt not muzzle the mouth of the ox that treadeth out the corn. Doth God take care for oxen?
Or saith he it altogether for our sakes? For our sakes, no doubt, this is written: that he that ploweth should plow in hope; and that he that thresheth in hope should be partaker of his hope."
1 Corinthians 9:9-10

I really like the idea of being able to enjoy your work, or partake of the fruits of your labors.  I think it is sad when people tell me they only work for a paycheck... and I think it is even worse when I, myself feel like that.  And it isn't just paid employment of course, but whatever we do... raising children or going to school or whatever it is.  All of these can feel like we are just going through the motions at times.  Like it isn't actually making a difference, or it is failing.  And I definitely don't think that these verses make whatever it is that we do instantly successful or happy, and they don't turn enjoying your work into a commandment, but I do think that they show that it is a possibility.  That we *can* find hope in what we do, that we can feel a part of it and feel that we are doing something for God, even in the middle of campus, or corporate america, or the laundry room.  God wants us to be able to find joy in our work.  Today, let's work on it.  Let's find the good in what we are doing, and find ways to make things better, and dedicate ourselves to a good cause. :)  Let's find the hope and the joy in whatever we do.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Proverbs 24:16-17 -- On Falling and Rising

"For a just man falleth seven times, and riseth up again: but the wicked shall fall into mischief.
Rejoice not when thine enemy falleth, and let not thine heart be glad when he stumbleth:"
Proverbs 24:16-17

The interesting thing about these verses I think is that *everybody* falls.  And we shouldn't be glad when people stumble, enemy or not... precisely because we all do fall, and laughing at each other seems kind of discouraging.  I think the important lesson here is to not give up and settle for mischief or anything else less than God.  When we fall, let's get back up and try again... whether it is 7 times or 7 billion.  The amount of failure doesn't matter at all.  What matters is getting back up, rededicating ourselves to God, and really doing the work to change our lives.  Often that means trying things a new way, since we know more about what *doesn't* work each time. :)  But with God, we'll eventually get it.  Nephi and his brothers didn't get the brass plates on the first try, and their family ran into some big problems getting to the promised land... but they did get there, with time, persistence, and by remembering God and allowing him to guide their choices.  Today, let's not worry about the falling.  Let's worry about rising, just like the sun, every morning.  Let's get back up, and helping others up when we can.  Let's look to God, and let him help us try again, and keep working to do better and better every day.

Monday, July 27, 2015

D&C 130:19 -- The Advantage of Wisdom and Goodness

"And if a person gains more knowledge and intelligence in this life through his diligence and obedience than another, he will have so much the advantage in the world to come."
Doctrine and Covenants 130:19

This is an interesting scripture.  It almost makes it sound like a competition, although I don't think that it actually could be with the requirements listed.  As we continue reading the chapter we see that the point God is emphasizing here is that blessings (including those of knowledge and intelligence) come *through* obedience to established laws (see verse 21).  I think that it is interesting that God's education has always been open to anyone, even before these days of free online classes and wider educational access.  And God also knows that we have a desire to take things with us.  Well, we can't take the fame or the fortune, but we can take the knowledge.  It isn't so we can be better than anyone else.  It is so that we have something to work on in this life that we know will never be pointless. :)  We can collect intelligence. :)  Today, let's remember that there is work that we can do that will always be meaningful and important.  Let's be diligent and obedient, and learn all we can about God and from God.  Let's dedicate ourselves to taking advantage of our educational opportunities (especially the divine ones), and learning how to love and serve and becoming increasingly good and increasingly wise, which also means increasingly kind and uplifting as we work to help others and build a Zion community.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

D&C 122:8 -- On Pain and Hope

"The Son of Man hath descended below them all. Art thou greater than he?"
Doctrine and Covenants 122:8

This is an interesting question posed to Joseph Smith, who was going through a lot of persecution.  He'd been put in jail on false charges, the people that he was supposed to watch over were being mistreated in some very severe ways by the mob, etc.  It wasn't just whining, for sure.  And God, over the course of many verses, reminds him that he knows what he is doing, that he is in charge, that the things we suffer through in life are temporary, and that God will keep his promises.  This particular verse struck me because I think it is something to remember.  Christ knows exactly how much it hurts, because he suffered our pain.  In fact, he suffered more pain than any of us can suffer... and individually he accepted the pain of each of us so that we wouldn't have to suffer it if we repent.  So, he took more of our pain than we even actually feel.  So, when we think that we are at a low point, and we can't take anymore, let's remember Christ.  He took more, and he was at a lower point than we ever are.  And because he did that for us, we are saved from so much more than we can imagine.   And he'll help us with this too, if we let him.
Let's be thankful for Christ's atonement, and let's remember that through Christ, there is always hope.  Let's accept God's help in our daily lives, and not give up.  Things are never as black as they seem. 

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Job 10:1 -- On Weariness and Perspective

"My soul is weary of my life; I will leave my complaint upon myself; I will speak in the bitterness of my soul."
Job 10:1

I think we all go through times when we are weary of our lives, don't we?  It's easy to lose perspective and to get overwhelmed.  Easy for obstacles to seem insurmountable, and hard to see the point of any of it at times.  This is Job speaking, weary of his life.  And you know, he had reason.  He had to suffer an awful lot in his life.
I see a couple of lessons here.  First, it's okay to feel overwhelmed sometimes.  Job was tired of trying, even asking why he had been born... and he addressed God about it, and told him how he felt. God didn't strike him down for being upset and overwhelmed.  God loved him, and listened to him. Even in the worst moments, Job didn't abandon his faith.  He knew God was real, and even though he didn't understand why he had to go through all of this, he knew that God was still there to listen, and that he could turn to him even in the bad times.
Second, suffering is always temporary.  Even when our suffering is huge... and Job's was immense... it isn't forever.  God made it up to Job, and Job was able to get through it and find happiness again.  And if he can, we can too.  Not saying it is always easy, and I know it doesn't always seem likely, but if we stick with God like Job did, we'll be able to regain some perspective and some hope.  Things will work out;  Life will get better.
Today, let's turn to God and tell him how we feel, especially if we are weary and ready to give up.  God knows our pain, and he can help us bear it.  And, like Job, let's not lose faith.  With God, we always have something better to look forward to.

Friday, July 24, 2015

John 11:25 -- On Death and Hope and Comfort

"Jesus said unto her, I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live:"
John 11:25

This is a cool promise.  I was writing a funeral program this morning and was thinking about how we deal with death.  It's a hard thing to take sometimes... hard to accept life without someone (or something) we love.  We go through a mourning process, and sometimes feel helpless and hopeless.  And, as with everything else, once we can get some perspective on the situation, God can help us deal with the loss.
One thing that helps as we deal with death is God's perspective.  He has eternity before him, and he knows that life didn't begin here, and it definitely won't end here.  We lived before we came to earth, and we will live again after we die.  This scripture offers us hope that even death can't stop the power of life that God has.  His perspective isn't always ours, and it doesn't always help right away, but I think it makes a vast difference in the way that we think about and approach death.  Another thing that God offers is comfort.  In John 14:18 he tells us "I will not leave you comfortless: I will come to you."  And he will.  He will mourn with us, just as he mourned and wept for Lazarus, even though he knew he would see him again soon.  Death is sad, and even when we know that separation and distance are temporary, they are still hard.  Christ will never dismiss our pain... but he can give us hope and comfort when we are ready to accept them.
Today, let's remember that death is not the end, and turn to God in our distress.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Amos 5:21-24 -- On Righteousness and Acceptable Offerings

"I hate, I despise your feast days, and I will not smell in your solemn assemblies.
Though ye offer me burnt offerings and your meat offerings, I will not accept them: neither will I regard the peace offerings of your fat beasts.
Take thou away from me the noise of thy songs; for I will not hear the melody of thy viols.
But let judgment run down as waters, and righteousness as a mighty stream."
Amos 5:21-24

This is an interesting passage, and I think that it speaks to us today.  We don't offer animal sacrifices anymore, but we still do a lot of vain things with regard to the Lord.  God is saying that he doesn't want insincere and empty feasts and speeches and offerings.  He doesn't want us to sing his praise and then turn around and support injustice.  Instead, he wants righteousness and kindness and equity.  Like Hosea 6:6: "For I desired mercy, and not sacrifice."
Sacrifice isn't an inherently bad thing.  It is still something that God wants us to learn.  How to sacrifice our own desires for God's desires, and how to put other people's needs before our own.  But sacrifice is in place to teach us love and obedience.  It isn't the end product, or valuable by itself.  If we sacrifice with no goal in mind, it is just suffering, just as animal sacrifice without the lesson pointing to the sacrifice of God's son was just burnt meat.
Today, Let's show our dedication to God with our righteousness, and by treating others with fairness and equity.  Let's let our sacrifices teach us to love and to serve.  And when our hearts are in the right place, then the Lord will accept our offerings, and our songs. :)

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Alma 5:26-27 -- On Questions and Conviction

"And now behold, I say unto you, my brethren, if ye have experienced a change of heart, and if ye have felt to sing the song of redeeming love, I would ask, can ye feel so now?
Have ye walked, keeping yourselves blameless before God? Could ye say, if ye were called to die at this time, within yourselves, that ye have been sufficiently humble? That your garments have been cleansed and made white through the blood of Christ, who will come to redeem his people from their sins?"
Alma 5:26-27

These are good questions to ask ourselves every now and then.  Can we still feel the power of conversion and testimony in our lives?  Are we still changed by our relationship with God?  Do we still feel his love in our lives, for ourselves and for others?  Are we blameless?  Are we humble?  Are we clean?  Today, let's do an inventory of our lives, and if we've let some things slip, let's rededicate ourselves to God.  Let's build our relationships with him and learn more about his work.  Let's study and pray, and find that feeling again, of testimony, thankfulness, and love for God.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Mosiah 1:3-4 -- On Making History With God

"And he also taught them concerning the records which were engraven on the plates of brass, saying: My sons, I would that ye should remember that were it not for these plates, which contain these records and these commandments, we must have suffered in ignorance, even at this present time, not knowing the mysteries of God.
For it were not possible that our father, Lehi, could have remembered all these things, to have taught them to his children, except it were for the help of these plates; for he having been taught in the language of the Egyptians therefore he could read these engravings, and teach them to his children, that thereby they could teach them to their children, and so fulfilling the commandments of God, even down to this present time."
Mosiah 1:3-4

This is King Benjamin teaching his sons.  And what strikes me about this is thinking about Nephi and his brothers, more than 500 years before this, going back to Jerusalem to get the plates, and the struggles they had because of the difficult thing that the Lord had asked them to do.  This was a group of people that God was leading to the promised land, but unlike our promised land, they didn't have the internet, or the printing press, or even typewriters.  Paper didn't come in packages.  It was hard to make and didn't last the way that God knew it needed to, to teach an entire people.  They had to make their own writing instruments.  Sometimes I think we wonder why Nephi had to do what he did.  Why God would ask that of anyone.  And then we see this, hundreds of years later.  Language and history preserved, and helping a people to build upon the knowledge of the past, and spread it to the people around them.
If God could see how that one thing would change culture and history hundreds of years later, surely, *surely* he knows what we can do that will not only change our lives for the good, but the lives of the people who follow us.  Today, let's be done with doubts and struggles, and worrying that we don't always know exactly why.  It is enough that God knows, and that he can see the ripples that our lives will make.  Our answers will come in time, but until then, let us be faithful like Nephi, and be willing to go and do what the Lord commands.

Monday, July 20, 2015

Isaiah 65:2 -- On Walking After God's Thoughts

"I have spread out my hands all the day unto a rebellious people, which walketh in a way that was not good, after their own thoughts;"
Isaiah 65:2

This is an interesting chapter.  It starts out sad and ends triumphant, and the difference is seen in many places, including here in the second verse.  God reaches out to us always.  He wants to lead us to the better life spoken of at the end of the chapter, where the wolf and the lamb feed together, and there is no untimely death.  But we are pretty rebellious, walking after our own thoughts.  And that's pretty understandable, right?  What else are we going to rely on besides our own thoughts?  ... And the answer is the Lord.  As it says in Isaiah 55:9, "For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts."
It's hard to think of trading our own thoughts for someone else's guidance, especially when we are in rebel mode, but if we take a step back and think of the trouble that we get ourselves into, and the often abysmal choices that we make when we don't have God in our lives, maybe we can grasp a shred of humility and admit that it is a miraculous blessing that God offers to guide us in our abject blindness.  God's way is the only way to that happy ending.  We can fight it, and we do SO often, but without more wisdom and knowledge and goodness, we are never going to get where we want to go.  God offers us not only guidance, but along the way he teaches us wisdom, and truth, and goodness, so that we can see more clearly and help others to God's salvation too.
Today, let's not believe the lie that we can save ourselves.  No matter how intelligent, talented, and beautiful we all are (and we can be pretty dang cool sometimes, I admit), we still need God... need him desperately.  Let's turn to the only one who knows us better than we know ourselves, and who knows how to guide us to a better life and a better world.  Let's walk after God's thoughts.

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Mark 12:24 -- On Power in the Scriptures

"And Jesus answering said unto them, Do ye not therefore err, because ye know not the scriptures, neither the power of God?"
Mark 12:24

This is Jesus answering a question from the Sadducees, who were basically trying to get him into an argument.  First of all, it is amazing that Christ always knew exactly what to say. :)  I think that we can get closer to that example by having the spirit with us, helping us to identify truth and avoid error.  Secondly though, I think it is very telling that Christ told them that they were making a mistake because they didn't know the scriptures.  Throughout his ministry, Christ quoted scripture and mentioned scripture.  He originated a lot of scripture too, of course... but he knew exactly what had come before, and that was one of the ways that he learned as well.
Hopefully we aren't trying to trap God as the Sadducees were, but I think we are like them in a way.  We *all* err because we don't know the scriptures and the power of God.  There are so many things in our lives that we have questions about that we could answer by going to the scriptures.  There are so many problems that we could solve and obstacles that we could overcome, if we knew the scriptures better.  Having the spirit with us helps immeasurably, but it is like taking a test.  If we don't study, then the spirit can't help us remember what we studied.  There is nothing there to work with.  Life in general is similar.   The spirit can't bring the word of God from our memories to our minds if we don't have the words of God in there anywhere.  And thus, we lose a lot of the help that the spirit could be blessing us with, if we aren't reading our scriptures.
Christ mentions knowing the scriptures and then knowing the power of God.  These are connected.  If we know what the prophets did in the past, we have tasted just a touch of the power of God.  The past matters.  We are connected to those people in the pages of the scriptures, and what they did affects us, and helps us.  God offers us the same promises and blessings, if we are willing to learn them and do what it takes to get them.  Let's read and tap into that power.
Today, let's take the time to learn from the scriptures.  Let's become familiar with the power of God.  Let's store the words of God up in our minds, so that the spirit can work with us more fully.  The scriptures aren't old boring worthless books from the past.  They matter to us, today.  Let's dive in and find out how.

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Articles of Faith 1:13 -- On Going All In with God

"We believe in being honest, true, chaste, benevolent, virtuous, and in doing good to all men; indeed, we may say that we follow the admonition of Paul—We believe all things, we hope all things, we have endured many things, and hope to be able to endure all things. If there is anything virtuous, lovely, or of good report or praiseworthy, we seek after these things."
Articles of Faith 1:13

There is so much good in this. :)  I think we sometimes take parts of the gospel and try to pick them apart.  We don't like this little detail because it doesn't allow us to do what we kinda wanted to do... so we pick at it and justify it and say, oh, this part doesn't matter, or it's outdated, or everyone does it, or we have to live in the real world, or ... thousands of things.  But I think, here, we see a big list of things and it is so clear that it is all about love and goodness and helping people, and we want to do ALL the things that fall in that category.  We want to be happy and make the world better and be on God's side. :)  Everything God asks us to do is all part of the same idea... to make us all better and happier.
We often envision life as kind of a poker game with God.  We try to see how he is going to play, we see if we can bluff, we play it close to the vest, trying to keep things back from him, so maybe we can win.  And somewhere in the middle, we realize that not only has God been letting us win, but we aren't even playing the right game.  When we finally read the rules we find out the game has more than two players and is cooperative.  God is actually on our team, helping us against the evil and despair that we are all working together to eradicate.
Today, let's stop arguing over the wrong rules and fighting people who are on our team.  Let's try to stop picking at the details and justifying our favorite "exceptions,"  Instead, let's go all in with God, using his plan to improve ourselves, and to make the world the best it can be.

Friday, July 17, 2015

Romans 8:24-25 -- On Hope and Adventure

"For we are saved by hope: but hope that is seen is not hope: for what a man seeth, why doth he yet hope for?
But if we hope for that we see not, then do we with patience wait for it."
Romans 8:24-25

We are saved by hope.  I love that.  Sometimes bad things seem to pile up, and it gets looking pretty bleak.  We know that if we put God first, things will work themselves out and that there is a happy ending waiting, but in the middle of the pile of bleakness, it is hard to remember that.  And that's why I think that God sends us a ray of sunshine sometimes.  Something else happens, out of the blue, that gives us hope about *something.*  ... And that saves us, really, from the despair that is so tempting in times like that.  The hope sustains us and keeps us going.  And really, we don't need to see it... whether that particular possibility works out or not doesn't matter.  The hope is the point, and we are reminded that God is in charge, and knows what we need.
We can't have perfect lives that work out just the way we want them to.  First of all, our way is pretty stupid sometimes, and as we learn and grow, we realize how many scary things we have avoided by not getting our way.  Secondly, it isn't just our individual free will involved, but the agency of all the people around us.  God isn't going to force someone else to make certain choices in order to make us happy... just like he won't force *us* to make the choices that lead to happiness.  We are free to make the bad choices if we want to, because the point is learning to *want* the good, and to freely choose happiness.  It's like the whole "give a man a fish" idea.  If we don't learn to do it ourselves, we haven't learned independence and how to make the same choices and sustain ourselves.  God is teaching us how to eventually be his peers, not his underlings.  In Corporate America we might say he is "grooming us for management." :)  And lastly, if life were always smooth and good, we wouldn't learn how to deal with obstacles.  We wouldn't learn any patience, perseverance, or faith.  And, as we know, faith can move mountains. :)
Today, let's have faith in God, and take hope as it comes.  Let's allow it to remind us that God is in charge, and that he can, and will, do miracles in our lives.  Let's try to shake off the bleakness, do the best we can in our present circumstances, and wait patiently for whatever adventure God has in store. :)

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Matthew 6:34 -- On Taking Life a Day at a Time

"Take therefore no thought for the morrow: for the morrow shall take thought for the things of itself. Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof."
Matthew 6:34

This has always been an interesting verse to me.  It seems a little reckless... "don't think about tomorrow, just live in the moment" sort of a thing.  I think, though, that the advice in context is really, really good advice.  The verse before this talks about putting God first and trusting him, and in that context this verse means, basically, that we  should stop stressing ourselves out worrying about the future, and instead do what is right today, handle what we have in our lives right now.  We don't need to deal with tomorrow's evil, only today's.  It doesn't mean that we can't plan for the future or invest in an education, or whatever it is that we want to do in our lives, but it does mean that we should be present today.  We can focus on the people and the conversations that we have in front of us instead of being distracted by what might happen tomorrow or the next day.  We don't have to let the piled up scariness of the future overwhelm us or steal our attention from being able to find joy now.  After all, in the future, we'll be strong enough to handle it.  We just have to take it a day at a time.  Today, let's take this good advice from God, and live God's word today.  Let's put him first and deal with today's challenges.  Tomorrow can worry about itself. :)

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Psalms 39:4-7 -- On Frailty and Hope

"Lord, make me to know mine end, and the measure of my days, what it is; that I may know how frail I am.
Behold, thou hast made my days as an handbreadth; and mine age is as nothing before thee: verily every man at his best state is altogether vanity. Selah.
Surely every man walketh in a vain shew: surely they are disquieted in vain: he heapeth up riches, and knoweth not who shall gather them.
And now, Lord, what wait I for? my hope is in thee."
Psalms 39:4-7

I think this is a good reminder.  We're all frail, and even though we don't always like it, it is a good thing to remember.  This life isn't the pinnacle of existence, and heaping up the riches, or the toys, or the conquests is sort of pointless.  All of it is impermanent, and we all are going to get old, and we all have to face death.  But our patience and faith and hope is in God, who will bless us and take us to a place of permanence where there is no more frailty or sickness or death.  Where relationships don't have to end, where our bodies and minds are perfect, and our weaknesses and impediments are washed away.  Today, in this life of temporary, let's remember that we are waiting and working for something much, much better.  Let's put our hope in the Lord.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

2 Timothy 2:23-26 -- On Questions, Meekness, and Recovering Ourselves

"But foolish and unlearned questions avoid, knowing that they do gender strifes.
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 2:23-26

I am a big fan of inquiry-based learning, and I love questions, so it was interesting to me reading this and several other verses this morning about questions and questioning.  It seems like in the scriptures (and probably in life) there are a lot of people who use questions as weapons.  Here, we're asked to avoid foolish and unlearned questions.  I don't think that means that questions are a bad thing, but God is pointing out that we really use them badly sometimes.  Questions are awesome if we want to know something about the gospel, and we start praying about our questions and searching the scriptures for answers to them.  Questions are awesome as the impetus to learning and instruction.  But they aren't good as spears, to hurt whoever you are arguing with, or as quicksand, to trap people into contradicting themselves.
Paul encourages us to be gentle unto all men.  I really like that idea.  We shouldn't be trying to trap anyone or starting conflicts at all.  Instead, as it says, "in meekness" we should teach.  This makes me think of my sort of very large problem with authority.  I really hate, hate, hate doing things just because someone tells me to.  In fact, my first instinct when ordered to do something is to either do nothing at all, or consider the opposite course.  And I think that when we are teaching others with that same kind of instinctual rebelliousness, which maybe we all have at times(?), it pays to be meek.  When we are meek, we aren't ordering anyone to do anything.  We aren't claiming to be the authority, or better, or wiser.  We're just offering what works for us, in case someone wants to try it.
I really like, also, the idea of "recovering ourselves."  It is so true that we can never fix other people, even though we often think we can, and often start out trying.  The only people we can fix are ourselves, because we have to want it, and we have to be open to it, or God can't heal us, and no one else can help us either.  But if we are open to it, then other people can help us with instruction, and God can offer us repentance, and we can pull ourselves out of the traps that we have blindly walked into.
Today, let's be gentle.  Let's use questions wisely, in seeking learning, and not as swords.  Let's be meek in teaching others, and let's work on being open to learning from others and from God.  Let's recover ourselves out of the traps that we are in, with God's help, and seek the truth, even if it isn't always what we want to hear.

Monday, July 13, 2015

1 Timothy 6:10-11 -- On Priorities

"For the love of money is the root of all evil: which while some coveted after, they have erred from the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows.
But thou, O man of God, flee these things; and follow after righteousness, godliness, faith, love, patience, meekness."
1 Timothy 6:10-11

It's easy to get our priorities mixed up in life.  So many things seem important.  Prestige, power, rank, fame, money, popularity... even things like acceptance, love, joy, and physical affection can get us really screwed up if we value them more than anything else.  We might get into drugs looking for a high, or get addicted to something else dangerous to our souls.  Whenever we get into that sort of situation, where we can feel that we want something else more than we want God in our lives, we need to step back and re-evaluate.  That doesn't make each thing that we want evil, but it does mean our lives are out of balance. These verses are about money, which can get us into a lot of trouble if we desire it more than we desire God, or trust in it more than we trust in him.
It's hard to love God the most or put him first or trust him if we don't know him very well.  That's one of the reasons we are asked to pray and read our scriptures... so that we can get to know God, understand his role in our lives, and learn to trust him.  One of the things that we can do to learn to trust God is trying obedience.  There are many other things listed here that it would be better to focus on instead of money. Let's put as much effort into studying one of these topics as we do daydreaming about winning the lottery or whatever else it is we do as we are preoccupied with money.  Let's see what happens. :)  ... And this experiment can work for other things as well.  If we are thinking and obsessing too much about anything at all, let's start replacing those thoughts with the things of God.  Let's learn about the principles of his gospel and find joy instead of piercing ourselves with many sorrows. :)  God will help us to always have enough, and to find rich spiritual treasures that will last much longer.

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Matthew 6:33 -- On God First

"But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you."
Matthew 6:33

We were talking about this today in Relief Society.  This is an amazing promise, and we just have to try it in our lives to see it work.  If we feel overwhelmed and can't handle life, we can put God first, and he will help us handle it.  If we are unhappy, we can put God first, and he will help us notice things to be happy about.  One of the women in the meeting today said that it doesn't seem to make sense that *adding* something to our lives can help calm them down, but when the things that we add are prayer and scripture study, it actually does work that way.
Today, let's have the faith to put God first... before all the things that we need to do, before all the things that we want to do.  And when we do, God will help everything else fall into place, or fall out of our lives if needed.  If we need extra strength, God can bless us with it.  If we need comfort, God will send his spirit.  As long as we are putting God first, everything else will work out.

Saturday, July 11, 2015

1 Corinthians 10:6-13 -- On Scriptures, Selfishness, and Sin

"Now these things were our examples, to the intent we should not lust after evil things, as they also lusted.
Neither be ye idolaters, as were some of them; as it is written, The people sat down to eat and drink, and rose up to play.
Neither let us commit fornication, as some of them committed, and fell in one day three and twenty thousand.
Neither let us tempt Christ, as some of them also tempted, and were destroyed of serpents.
Neither murmur ye, as some of them also murmured, and were destroyed of the destroyer.
Now all these things happened unto them for ensamples: and they are written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the world are come.
Wherefore let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall.
There hath no temptation taken you but such as is common to man: but God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it."
1 Corinthians 10:6-13

This is an interesting passage, and each of the things that it mentions from the past is a story that you can find elsewhere in the scriptures, Paul is talking to people familiar with these stories, because he has taught them the scriptures, and here he is referring to the scriptural examples and the associated lessons.  One reason that reading the scriptures is important is so that we can get that same background.  That way when we read about the serpents, we think of the story and not just that random snakes attack anyone who tempts God. :)
I really like that God gives us examples and helps us interpret his commandments rather than just throwing them out there. :)  The stories we read in the scriptures help us understand why lusting after evil is bad, rather than just saying not to do it.  And that is what we need for the real, deep conversion that lasts.  We need to understand for ourselves why the commandments are the way they are.  It doesn't happen all at once and I am definitely not suggesting that we only follow the ones we understand and agree with... only saying that conversion is a lifetime journey, not a one-time revelation.  Sometimes we have to trust and show obedience first, as Adam did after leaving the garden of Eden, or as Noah did, building a ship.  Sometimes we unfortunately rebel first, as Jonah did.  But whenever we place our feet on God's path, the journey always includes God helping us to understand why, and helping us to want good and not evil.
One of the biggest things that gets in our way is when we think that we know best.  It's an easy thing to think... we're our own people and we get to make our own choices.  We've learned to stand up to people who want to make those choices for us, and that isn't a bad thing.  What is a bad thing is when our lust, idols, or selfish goals get in the way of being able to sincerely listen to God's advice.  We need to be careful that we don't start believing the lie that we're smarter than God or that his ways are obsolete.  He's God... all knowing and all powerful.  The power of creation can't be trumped by technology.
The guarantee at the end of the selection is always amazing... no matter what temptations come, or how much we want them and identify with them, God does *always* make a way for us to escape.  Today, let's not give in to things that take us away from God.  Let's turn to him, and flee from sin.  God will help us to understand, and help us to change our hearts as we go.  As Paul says, he is faithful.

Friday, July 10, 2015

James 1:3-4 -- On Becoming Bulletproof

"Knowing this, that the trying of your faith worketh patience.
But let patience have her perfect work, that ye may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing."
James 1:3-4

In life we often roll our eyes when people say things like "that which does not kill you makes you stronger."   And this might seem similar.  Oh, great, another justification for suffering and pain.  And yet, even though those things are never going to make the top of our lists of things that we want to go through, God has a plan, and that plan includes our happiness, not just getting tougher and tougher so we can take more and more until we collapse.  In God's plan, when our faith is tried, it doesn't necessarily make us stronger, but it does help us to learn patience.  And when we get really, really good at patience combined with faith, then we don't feel any black holes in ourselves.  We don't feel desperate about anything we need, because we know that God will always provide.  And I think that is the point.  God is making us into people that are immune to worry, immune to stress, who are strong, confident, and free to make choices and take appropriate risks, because we are not afraid of anything that the world can throw at us.  We have God's support in doing the right thing.  Today, in the midst of whatever trial we are going through, let's remember that God is making us resilient and impervious and perfect and whole... and as we learn to be God's kind of bulletproof, then maybe we will start believing that we are the superheroes he knows we can be.

Thursday, July 9, 2015

2 Corinthians 6:6 -- On Becoming the Example

"By pureness, by knowledge, by longsuffering, by kindness, by the Holy Ghost, by love unfeigned,"
2 Corinthians 6:6

This is an excerpt from Paul, explaining how we need to set an example as ministers of Christ.  We might not have the title "minister," but since we all share the gospel by our examples, and people judge our religion and even God by our behavior, it's probably a good thing for all of us to remember. :)  The "love unfeigned" part reminds us that we need to be real.  If we are having a hard time feeling positive towards the people around us, instead of just relying on faking it, we need to work on changing our hearts, so that we can really feel it.  Being examples of purity, knowledge, patience and endurance (longsuffering), and kindness are all part of that.  Even when huge, unexpected changes blindside us, we need to be able to keep our cool, retain that inner core of peace that the Holy Ghost can offer us... and these things are how.  Our examples don't just help others, they help hold ourselves together so that we can do everything we can for others and stand up for what is right, rather than falling apart.  ... Not that I am saying it is evil to fall apart.  We all do sometimes. :)  Just that the more we rely on the Lord, the better those times will get. :)  So, today, let's work on modeling some kindness and love, even in the midst of chaos... turning ourselves into the example that we want to set. :)

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

3 Nephi 13:32-33 -- On Putting God First

"For your heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of all these things.
But seek ye first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things shall be added unto you."
3 Nephi 13:32-33

Our needs, quite often, are the loudest things in our minds.  We need relief from pain or we need love or we need to be able to pay the rent or know how to help someone.  We need to know what to say or how to cope with things that we've never encountered before.  We might need help with some of the basics, like food, shelter, clothing.  And then there are other things that most consider optional, but which we believe we need for whatever reason.  For instance, we often feel we need to fit in, or that we need to be popular or get a promotion or raise.  We feel we need recognition or approval.  We might feel that we need more excitement or variety or relief from the pressure of valid responsibilities.  And all of these things are shouting in our minds.  We don't even know a lot of the time what exactly we need, we just feel a lack... a need... a hole that needs to be filled.
When we come upon one of those holes, sometimes we feel desperate.  We try to fill the hole with anything that is around... sometimes in extremely unwise ways, just to get some temporary relief from that gnawing desire for... something.  We'll try mostly anything... drugs, sex, alcohol, food, or anything else.  And since it lessens the pain a little, we try it again and again, until we're addicted... not even to whatever it is always, but to the feeling of temporary pleasure or at least muted pain.
These verses are interesting in terms of that fairly universal experience, because they suggest a solution that will really work permanently rather than temporarily.  Instead of prioritizing our needs and cravings over everything else, we can instead prioritize God.  And if we do, he knows exactly what we need and how best to fill those holes, and he can help us solve every single one of our problems.  But he can't do it unless we listen to him and do as he asks, which is essentially what we are agreeing to by making him our top priority.
Today, let's seek God first, and place him at the top of our lists.  If we can stop worrying about our needs and start doing as God asks, we will be happily surprised that he will fill many of our needs and help us to realize that others aren't that important.  As we talk to him about our lives, we'll find that he will make our burdens easier to bear and that he will raise up friends for us, and solve problems for us that we could never solve alone.  Instead of diving yet deeper into our own very flawed addictive cure-alls, let's look to God and trust that he will help as we seek him and put his will first.

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Matthew 20:28 -- On Being Servants and Leaders

"And whosoever will be chief among you, let him be your servant:"
Matthew 20:28

Jesus explained to his apostles that they shouldn't be involved in power struggles, worried about dominion or authority over others, but instead, if they wanted to be in charge, they should be the servant.  I think that this is true, and applies to us, both in church positions and in everyday life.
In our society that wisdom is questioned.  In leadership classes, very often, they teach that you have to *want* to lead to be a good leader.. you have to have a drive for it.  And perhaps there is some truth to that; I'm not sure.  I do think though that the interpretation of what we have to want is sometimes off.  To me, the wanting to lead is valuable in that you will be happier doing something that you enjoy doing and want to do... but in terms of wanting to be in charge, I think it is less that than wanting to serve and help and make things better.  I think that is the requirement for leadership. Serving--getting that opportunity to help people and make things better--is a reward in itself.  It isn't about power, but about making the world better, even if it is just a little tiny part of the world that you can influence.  And whether we are bosses, or parents, or teachers, or CEOs, or preachers, or presidents, we all have areas that we can influence through our service.
Today, let's take advantage of the opportunities we have to lead and especially to serve.  Let's dedicate our lives to making other lives better, and in so doing, leading the world in the kind of revolution that matters.  One where we love and serve each other rather than playing king of the hill and elevating ourselves at the expense of others.

Monday, July 6, 2015

Romans 12:19 -- On Leaving Room for God

"Dearly beloved, avenge not yourselves, but rather give place unto wrath: for it is written, Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord."
Romans 12:19

"Give place to wrath" is an exhortation to leave room for justice to work itself out, and not take it into our own hands.  Kind of like letting people into line in front of us.  Choosing to give space for something more important than our wrath.  Like many commandments, this definitely isn't easy.  When we're angry about something, the hardest thing to do is calm ourselves down and let it go.  We get ourselves worked up and instead we want to vent that anger, preferably at the cause, but really any bystander will do.  It is even harder if we feel cheated or wronged and justice seems to be on our side.  There are several problems with acting out our angry fantasies though.  We could go to jail, we could ruin relationships, we could hurt bystanders (even if their only offense is answering the telephone), we are really harming ourselves by holding on to anger, and also... God says not to. :)
There is also another reason that we don't usually think about, but it is that these rules always have two sides.  When was the last time that we made someone else angry, whether intentionally or not?  If we don't want that person to have vengeance on us, we might want to give other people that same benefit: the same space for change and repentance that we prefer for ourselves.
Today, let's work on letting go of our anger and plans for revenge.  Let's find ways to calm ourselves down and get peace back into our lives.  This will not only be helpful in lowering our blood pressure and allowing us access to the spirit, but it will also put vengeance where it belongs: in God's hands.  He knows better than we do how justice and mercy need to balance in all of our individual lives, and he will make everything right.  Let's leave room in our lives for God to make those choices, and not try to handle it ourselves.

Sunday, July 5, 2015

Philippians 4:4 -- On Rejoicing

"Rejoice in the Lord alway: and again I say, Rejoice."
Philippians 4:4

In one of my favorite books there is a scene where a woman is climbing up a mountain to find and bury her sister's remains, and although the errand she is on is a very sad one, her surroundings are so beautiful and the spiritual promptings such that she struggles against the impulse to rejoice.  She keeps telling herself all the reasons that she has to be unhappy, to try to dampen the hope and joy that surround her.  In this verse, God, through Paul, is asking us to rejoice and see the hope and the goodness all around us.  But we are too often like Orual (the woman in the story), resisting that impulse and instead dwelling on our worries and all the reasons that we think we have to be mad at the world.
I'm not saying we should run away from our responsibilities, or even ignore the evil in the world, and I don't think that Paul and God are telling us that either.  But I do think that we spend an awful lot of time thinking about things that we can't do anything about, that we have no control over, and that perhaps should remain in God's hands.  We spend way too much time scared of what might happen, or dwelling on what happened to us in the past.  Imagine if we took all that time worrying and spent it instead on the present... on the moment right in front of us.  We'd likely get more done, have better relationships, help more people, and we'd probably enjoy life a lot more and notice the good and cool things and people around us.
Whatever our circumstances, let's listen today as God encourages us to rejoice.  Let's let go of our resistance and allow ourselves to feel the spirit and the hope that God wants us to have.  Let's get rid of the things in our lives that are standing between ourselves and God's joy.  We don't have to carry those things around with us.  We can lay them down at Christ's feet, repenting, changing, and rejoicing in newness of life.

Saturday, July 4, 2015

Helaman 13:25 -- On Prophets and Popularity

"And now when ye talk, ye say: If our days had been in the days of our fathers of old, we would not have slain the prophets; we would not have stoned them, and cast them out."
Helaman 13:25

This is Samuel the Lamanite.  An interesting position for him, because traditionally the Nephites were the righteous ones and the Lamanites were the unrighteous.  But in this situation, a Lamanite prophet was sent to call repentance to the Nephites.  Probably a hard thing for the Nephites, pride-wise.  When we are used to thinking of ourselves as better than another group, it is hard to let that go, even when you can listen to the person saying so and everything they say is true.  We just don't want to think of ourselves that way... as in need of repentance, and especially in the position of having someone from a group we really don't like tell us so.  Similarly, we want to think that we are better than the people in the past--that we've learned more, and our society is more advanced.  Our society wouldn't do the horrible things that our ancestors have done.  And yet, if we look, can't we see some of the same seeds?  Dissension and contention are all around us... whether we think we are symbolically the good guys or the bad guys, the Nephites or the Lamanites.
Samuel the Lamanite walked into a similar situation, determined to stir it up further because the Lord had asked him to.  The people kicked him out of the city, so he climbed the wall and preached to them from there.  People shot arrows at him, but he couldn't be hit because God was protecting him.  They said they wouldn't cast out the prophets if they were in the days of their fathers, but they tried with Samuel.  They tried to kill him in fact.  And even though we don't think that we are as bad as those people in the past (even the ones in this chapter), we still reject the prophecies that are given to us.  We claim that the prophets and apostles are out of touch: too old to understand our challenges.  We think that the scriptures are out of date for our time and that they don't apply to modern situations.  And yet, we forget that God is never out of date, and that he guides the prophets to write and to say things that *are* applicable.  We forget that God is unchangeable.  He requires the same things of us that he always has, and always will.  He knows us, and what he asks us to do matters for our lives, personally.  Today, let's stop picking and choosing which prophecies we are going to follow and which we don't like and think are uninspired.  Let's trust the Lord to know what he is doing, and talk to him about the things that are hard for us to understand.  Let's follow God's prophets, and listen to their counsel.  Even if they aren't the popular ones from the "in" group. :)

Friday, July 3, 2015

Psalms 23:6 -- On Goodness and Mercy

"Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever."
Psalms 23:6

This is something that we may have heard many times, but today as I was reading it, it seemed to be a strong reminder of how we need to trust in the Lord and have faith.  Often, when things go wrong we blow things up in our minds and thing that things are always going to go wrong, and that they will never go right, and that we might as well give up and why do we try anyway, and what is the point of all of it, etc. :)  Contrast that with the supreme confidence of this verse.  *Surely* goodness and mercy will follow us all the days of our lives.  The rest of the Psalm reminds us that even when things go sideways, as they sometimes will, and even when bad things happen, there is no reason to fear.  Because God is with us.  He guides us with his law and his word.
Today let's remember that goodness and mercy are following us all around, kind of like puppies. :)  They won't give up, and they won't be driven away, and when we're sad, they are going to come over all warm and furry and start licking us. :)  Maybe not a good analogy for non-dog people, but still. :) Dwelling in the house of the Lord forever ... sounds like a happy ending. :)  Not one to be afraid of. God is always there.  He will never stop blessing us, and helping us, and if we trust him and believe his words, then we have no reason to fear or run away, and *every* reason to be bold in doing good and working to change the world for the better. :)  

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Proverbs 28:5 -- On Understanding

"Evil men understand not judgment: but they that seek the Lord understand all things."
Proverbs 28:5

I think that this is fascinating.  I love the idea that God enlightens our minds and helps us to understand, especially with spiritual things, but it does say all, which is wildly cool. :)   Kind of like Moroni 10:5: "And by the power of the Holy Ghost ye may know the truth of all things."
We probably all have things that we don't understand that we wish we did, and although I am sure that study and effort are still required, having God's help in grasping concepts or remembering important details can help us a lot.  Whether we need understanding and truth for work, school, family, or just to keep our minds sharp, God can assist us.  By the same token, when we're choosing evil and don't have God's help, we have a harder time understanding, especially with spiritual things, and apparently judgement... which could mean that when we're making evil choices we have a tendency to make other poor choices.  I have found this to be true in my life, for sure.
I think sometimes, especially when we are making bad choices, we don't want this to be true.  We want to be just as sharp and brilliant and powerful without God as we are with him, and we think it is unfair that God would be so invasive.  But that's just another way of saying that we don't like the consequences of our choices.  The scripture isn't saying that God kills brain cells and make us stupid... instead, *we* drive the spirit away through our evil choices, and the help that we get from God through his spirit is thus something we have driven away as well.  Today, let's try hard not to do that.  Let's instead go forth to seek the Lord and learn some new things with confidence, knowing that as long as we keep God's spirit with us, we have God's help enlightening our minds and helping us understand all things. :)

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

1 Corinthians 15:41-44 -- On Weakness Leading to Perfection

"There is one glory of the sun, and another glory of the moon, and another glory of the stars: for one star differeth from another star in glory.
So also is the resurrection of the dead. It is sown in corruption; it is raised in incorruption:
It is sown in dishonour; it is raised in glory: it is sown in weakness; it is raised in power:
It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body. There is a natural body, and there is a spiritual body."
1 Corinthians 15:41-44

These verses are interesting I think in the way they talk about the resurrection.  When we die, we die (to at least some extent) corrupt, dishonorable, weak, natural... but when we rise, we rise with none of those things.  Which is interesting in terms of life.  Why does God ask us to be perfect when he knows that we can't be?  That our perfection comes in the resurrection, not now?  I think part of the answer at least is in Romans 12:9.  We are "made perfect in weakness."  The imperfection that God asks us to work with in this life helps us to learn, and value, perfection.  We see the corruption all around us, and it teaches us to value people and things that are incorruptible.  We've all seen, and probably experienced, the interesting phenomenon where the harder something is, and the more we struggle to learn something and to master it, the more value we place on it when we've accomplished it.  Ether 12:27 tells us that God gives us weakness.  And I think this is part of why... because not being good at something teaches us a lot more than being good at everything.  It also teaches us compassion and empathy for other people who struggle (which, by the way, is everyone).
Sometimes we confuse sin and weakness.  (There is a good recent talk on the subject here.)  I think that we confuse them because they sometimes go hand in hand.  We may inherit a genetic weakness to alcoholism, and if we make that choice to start drinking, we find it almost impossible to stop.  Is that weakness or sin?  Both are mixed in there.  Weakness isn't bad by itself, but it is given to us so that we can learn humility and how to overcome, not so that we can give ourselves excuses for bad behavior.  If we choose to act on that weakness, and start embracing it and being proud of it or wallowing in it instead of working to overcome it, then we're losing the battle.  We all have things that we are bad at, or sins that we are drawn to, but those things shouldn't define us.  We are valuable people even if we are bad at math, grammar, social skills, or emotional stability... any weakness.  We are still good people even if we are tempted by dishonesty, pride, pornography, or adultery... any sin. We have those stumbling blocks in our lives so that we can learn to be stronger.  Where we go wrong is if we start defining ourselves by these things, and thinking that makes them okay.  I think that we can all agree that "I was born with a sexual attraction to animals" doesn't make acting on that attraction okay, although it may be harder for us to realize that the same goes with any attraction to sin, especially when we run into the ones that we are personally attracted to.  Even simple things like saying "I'm not good with people" or "I'm not good at math" sometimes give us an excuse to not try anymore, when in actuality we could be good at it... we just have to work harder for it.
Today, let's work to overcome our weaknesses and become stronger.  Let's walk away from sin, even if we are weak to it... especially if we are weak to it in fact.  Let's be humble and willing to learn from God.  Let's remember that we are valuable people, no matter our weaknesses.  Let's make sure our weaknesses and imperfections lead to strength and perfection rather than justification for sin.

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