Monday, November 30, 2015

Romans 6:12-14 -- On Choosing a Better Ruler

"Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, that ye should obey it in the lusts thereof.
Neither yield ye your members as instruments of unrighteousness unto sin: but yield yourselves unto God, as those that are alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness unto God.
For sin shall not have dominion over you: for ye are not under the law, but under grace."
Romans 6:12-14

I like this idea of fighting the dominion of sin, as though sin were an unrighteous leader trying to get us to go along with evil.  If we realize that it is something external like that, we might start a rebellion, standing up to it, or participate in the underground, trying to save people in the midst of terror and tyranny.  The insidious thing about sin is that we start thinking  that it is part of us, or that it is our idea.  We think, oh, that's just the way I am... I like this sin, I want to keep it... in fact, it is really a large part of how I self-identify.  We label ourselves... we're smokers, we're gamblers.  We start justifying sin by saying it is natural... we evolved that way, we were born this way, it is just built into our DNA to cheat on our spouses, or the impulse to rape or abuse, or whatever it is.  It helps the species survive, or whatever the argument is.  But sin is not a part of us.  We have a choice, always.  To let it have dominion and control of us, or to choose a better path... a better ruler--one who will actually protect us, rather than eroding our consciences and corrupting our souls.
Today, let's choose God.  He works tirelessly for our freedom and happiness rather than for our entrapment and slavery.  Going along with the symbolism of baptism which they use in this chapter, let's die to sin and live again, free to choose so many good things and bright paths.  Let's break off our chains and follow God to happiness.

Sunday, November 29, 2015

D&C 88:32-33 -- On Accepting God's Gift

"And they who remain shall also be quickened; nevertheless, they shall return again to their own place, to enjoy that which they are willing to receive, because they were not willing to enjoy that which they might have received.
For what doth it profit a man if a gift is bestowed upon him, and he receive not the gift? Behold, he rejoices not in that which is given unto him, neither rejoices in him who is the giver of the gift."
Doctrine and Covenants 88:32-33

This is talking about the judgment, and the people who "remain" are the people who are left over after everyone else goes to a kingdom of glory.  It's interesting to me how it doesn't say anything mean about these people, or condemn them as evil, or say anything about them at all, except in a sad sort of a way, that they weren't willing to accept God's gift.
Today, Let's look to him, and learn about him.  Let's do the experiment and see if our lives are better when we are keeping his commandments and discussing things with him or when we aren't.  The proof is there, all around us, if we are willing to look, and consider, and try.
I pray sincerely that we will all learn and grow and be willing to build a relationship with God, and accept what God has to offer us, even when it takes some effort, and some humility, and some change.

Saturday, November 28, 2015

Philippians 1:9-11 -- On Finding the Excellent

"And this I pray, that your love may abound yet more and more in knowledge and in all judgment;
That ye may approve things that are excellent; that ye may be sincere and without offence till the day of Christ;
Being filled with the fruits of righteousness, which are by Jesus Christ, unto the glory and praise of God."
Philippians 1:9-11

I like the idea of love paired with knowledge and judgment.  The whole idea of "blind obedience" has some truth to it, because we trust God even when we aren't exactly sure where he is going with everything... but God doesn't take advantage of our ignorance to trick us or lead us astray.  He *wants* us to learn, and to grow, and to dig deep.  He wants us to see the truth, because we and he *are* truth in part (D&C 93:28, 36).  He wants us to gain knowledge, to improve our decisions, to grow and become until we become like him.  He mourns when we choose ignorance and stagnation.
Today, let's love, and learn, and make good decisions.  Let's find and choose the good, excellent things.  Let's focus on the positive and the wonderful.  Let's be sincere, clean, and good to the people around us.  And let's give Glory and praise to God who provides us with this life and this opportunity to learn and grow and see so much beauty, and find so much truth.

Friday, November 27, 2015

Matthew 5:38-42 -- On Space to Change

"Ye have heard that it hath been said, An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth:
But I say unto you, That ye resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also.
And if any man will sue thee at the law, and take away thy coat, let him have thy cloak also.
And whosoever shall compel thee to go a mile, go with him twain.
Give to him that asketh thee, and from him that would borrow of thee turn not thou away."
Matthew 5:38-42

I think the higher law that Christ taught is often hard for us to hear.  If someone hits us, let them hit us again?  If someone takes our stuff, give them more?  Let people compel us to do things?  Give people whatever they ask for?  Some of this stuff sounds like we are encouraging abuse or allowing ourselves to be taken advantage of.  And I don't think that God means necessarily that we should allow or encourage spousal or family abuse or anything extreme like that.  These verses are balanced by Alma 61:14, which reminds us that there are times when we should resist evil.  But I do think that Christ's message overall, at least for us as individuals, is: don't fight back.  Instead of getting upset when people ask for things, or take advantage of us, most of the time a better reaction than anger and fighting back is just... do it.  Allow it, go with it and see where it goes.  Accept the loss and move on.  We don't always like to hear that, because we want justice... but usually we only want justice when it is us being wronged or manipulated, and not when it is us doing the wronging or manipulation.  Think of what the world would be like if there was perfect restoration (an eye for an eye) without any repentance or mercy.  And how do we make room for the repentance and mercy God wants to grant us?  ... Someone, somewhere has to stop demanding justice.  We have to back down and do good even when faced with evil, so that there is room for mercy in our lives and in the lives of the people around us.  If we make room for mercy in our lives, and do good even when others do evil to us, then God will have more room to open up some mercy for us as well.  Justice will be served, eventually, when Christ judges us all at the last day.  But right now he gives us space to repent and change.  Let's remember that, and work to do as Christ asks, and provide that space to others as well.

Thursday, November 26, 2015

1 Thessalonians 5:18 -- On Giving Thanks to God

"In every thing give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you."
1 Thessalonians 5:18

Today, let's remember to give thanks for everything around us.  No matter what obstacles we face or what pain we are in, there are still good things to focus on.  It isn't always easy, for sure, but it is something that can make us happier... learning to see the good, no matter how much bad is trying to blind us.  Let's look for the hand of God in our lives, because I assure you, it is there.  God loves us so much, and he is helping us always, through good times and bad, and blessing us abundantly.  Let's pray for the eyes to see it, and give thanks to God for all that we are, and all that we have.  And while we're remembering friends and family, let's remember God, our Father, and his son Jesus Christ, who gave himself to save us.  Let's honor him and listen to his advice as we rejoice in our blessings this day.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Alma 1:16-18 -- On Priestcraft and God's Will

"Nevertheless, this did not put an end to the spreading of priestcraft through the land; for there were many who loved the vain things of the world, and they went forth preaching false doctrines; and this they did for the sake of riches and honor.
Nevertheless, they durst not lie, if it were known, for fear of the law, for liars were punished; therefore they pretended to preach according to their belief; and now the law could have no power on any man for his belief.
And they durst not steal, for fear of the law, for such were punished; neither durst they rob, nor murder, for he that murdered was punished unto death."
Alma 1:16-18

This is a good reminder of the dangers of what the Book of Mormon calls priestcraft... preaching for profit rather than for God, and preaching just what people want to hear.  Just like we didn't always (don't always?) want to hear what our parents have to say, we don't always welcome God's messages.  Despite our approval or disapproval though, God is still God, and he always has a point.
Today, let's make sure that we are listening to God's messages, and his will, and not picking and choosing doctrine because it sounds nice, or goes along with the bad habits that we want to retain in our lives.  Let's look to God, and change ourselves, rather than trying to change him, in his perfection.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Leviticus 19:33-34 -- On Loving Strangers

"And if a stranger sojourn with thee in your land, ye shall not vex him.
But the stranger that dwelleth with you shall be unto you as one born among you, and thou shalt love him as thyself; for ye were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God."
Leviticus 19:33-34

Thanksgiving time seems to be a time when people come together in a lot of ways.  We ask each other what we are doing for the holiday, not just to be polite, but to make sure that everyone is taken care of.  There are big dinners at shelters, and deliveries at food banks.  It is a time of year where we are grateful to God not just for what we own and for our immediate families, but where we see a lot of reaching out to others around us as well.
When we're children, we're often taught about stranger danger, not to talk to them or accept candy from them... and that is wise advice for us as children when we are sometimes too trusting, and willing to believe and go with any adult who tells us a lie.  It's an unfortunate lesson, I think, even if it is a necessary one in this world, because as we grow up, we might retain a little too much of it.  God asks us to "become as little children" (Matthew 18:3) in order to enter the kingdom of heaven.  Part of that is finding that untainted and unreserved trust and love that we used to have, and re-establishing it in our lives... learning to love others as we love ourselves, and walk in the footsteps of God who "loveth the stranger, in giving him food and raiment" (Deuteronomy 10:18).
Today, let's try to let go of some of the cynicism and desensitization to human needs that we've learned over a lifetime in this corrupt world.  Let's become as little children, willing to reach out to others, including strangers, and love them like they are different versions of our own family, born among us.  Let's adopt some strangers, and find places for them in our lives.  ... And let's also try to extend our love beyond this holiday and into our lives, loving more and fearing less.

Monday, November 23, 2015

1 Corinthians 11:24-25 -- On Gratitude, Memory, and Healing

"And when he had given thanks, he brake it, and said, Take, eat: this is my body, which is broken for you: this do in remembrance of me.
After the same manner also he took the cup, when he had supped, saying, This cup is the new testament in my blood: this do ye, as oft as ye drink it, in remembrance of me."
1 Corinthians 11:24-25

I never noticed before that Christ offered thanks before he instituted the sacrament. :)  I think that is really cool.  It is another good reminder of how thankful we should be to God for everything that we have, even if we are facing suffering and death, as Christ was.
God didn't just institute the sacrament because he wanted to be remembered.  He did it because it helps us to remember all that Christ did for us, suffering for our sins, giving us the chance to repent, and also overcoming death so that someday we, too, can be resurrected.  No one else could have offered us those priceless, eternal gifts.  That remembrance he asks for is a small token of our gratitude for what he did, and a reminder to us of how essential he is to our lives.
Today, let's thank God and remember Christ, and thereby honor his sacrifice on our behalf.  Let's accept his gift and use it to change our lives through repentance and rededication to the gospel.
My sister told me a story recently of a small child who was reciting her articles of faith and who accidentally said "gospital" instead of "gospel."  Seems to me that the little girl got it right in a lot of ways.  The reason we are here is so that Christ can heal us... he did all that he did for us, working to save and heal our souls.  Let's remember that sacrifice, and do all that we can to make it worthwhile, for ourselves and for others,  Let's give fervent thanks that through Christ, we have a chance to have the gospel in our lives and a chance to let it work on us, to change us and make us better.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Alma 11:42-44 -- On Living Forever and Long-Term Planning

"Now, there is a death which is called a temporal death; and the death of Christ shall loose the bands of this temporal death, that all shall be raised from this temporal death.
The spirit and the body shall be reunited again in its perfect form; both limb and joint shall be restored to its proper frame, even as we now are at this time; and we shall be brought to stand before God, knowing even as we know now, and have a bright recollection of all our guilt.
Now, this restoration shall come to all, both old and young, both bond and free, both male and female, both the wicked and the righteous; and even there shall not so much as a hair of their heads be lost; but every thing shall be restored to its perfect frame, as it is now, or in the body, and shall be brought and be arraigned before the bar of Christ the Son, and God the Father, and the Holy Spirit, which is one Eternal God, to be judged according to their works, whether they be good or whether they be evil."
Alma 11:42-44

The whole idea of resurrection is pretty incredible.  It seems like humans have loved the idea of immortality for ages... lots of stories and legends about things that could make you live forever.  Perhaps the idea came from the tree of life, which God protected when Adam and Eve were leaving the Garden of Eden, so that they wouldn't partake and live forever in their sinful state.  Instead, God made life a probationary period, after which, as you will note above, *everyone* gets resurrected... wicked and righteous.  These verses are part of a larger lesson, and there is more here, but I wanted to focus on that one part because I think it is such a powerful idea.  We're all going to be resurrected and live forever.  Awesome, right?  I think the only catch is that a lot of times we're living short-term lives, not thinking about that eternity... and that eternity is going be affected enormously by our lives now.  Today, let's look forward to that future continuation of life in a perfected state, and let's make sure that the life we are looking forward to can be a clean and guiltless one... one where we can move forward and progress, and not one where we will have condemned or limited ourselves because of our short-term actions.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Proverbs 20:17 -- On Gravel and Truth

"Bread of deceit is sweet to a man; but afterwards his mouth shall be filled with gravel."
Proverbs 20:17

This is a good reminder of what lies do to us.  Sometimes it seems sweet to us to practice deceit.  We think that it will smooth things out, or provide us with an advantage, or save us from consequences that we don't want to face.  But in the end, the sweetness turns to ash in our mouths.  Like picking up something to eat that looks delicious, and you find out that it is stale and gross and styrofoamish.  Bleah.  That's what lying is like... any kind of life where we aren't being truthful.  Today, let's stop trying to live fake lives.  Let's embrace the truth, and live it.  It might be tough at first, but it'll be REAL, and delicious, in the end... so much better than gravel.  And relationships, jobs, even just the way we feel about ourselves, will all be that much tastier as well, if they are based on reality rather than lies.  Let's dig ourselves out of any mesh of fakery we've gotten ourselves tangled in, and look to God for help unraveling it, and making everything taste better. :)  

Friday, November 20, 2015

Psalms 50:14-15 -- On Thanksgiving and Simplicity

"Offer unto God thanksgiving; and pay thy vows unto the most High:
And call upon me in the day of trouble: I will deliver thee, and thou shalt glorify me."
Psalms 50:14-15

I like the idea that the offerings that God wants us to make to him are these simple things... to thank him in everything (D&C 98:1), and to keep our promises to him (Hosea 6:6).  And in return, he promises us that he will deliver us when we call upon him.  It seems so easy... and I think, really, the core of the gospel is simple.  God wants to help us and teach us, and we need the help, and the deliverance as we learn to deal with things... just like an Earthly parent sometimes has to deliver a child from danger or trouble before they have learned to handle those different situations themselves.
Today, let's try not to overthink or overcomplicate the gospel.  Let's give thanks to our Heavenly Father, and keep our promises to him.  Let's be humble, and obedient, and turn to him in our times of trouble.  He loves us, and if we listen to him and keep his commandments, we will learn and grow up into more than we could ever be without him.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Luke 22:31-32 -- On Strengthening Each Other

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

I don't think that Simon Peter's true test of Faith came until after the crucifixion.  Although he had already walked on water and been at Christ's side for so long, he didn't become truly converted until he had to stand on his own.  I think this happens to us too sometimes.  We go along in the gospel, studying, reading, understanding, believing... but until we're really tested because of losing our support system or someone or something we depend on regularly, we don't really internalize the lessons, or even see how much we depend on God.
For me, going away to college was one step... when you know that no one will notice, or care, whether you go to church, I found that to be a much different choice than going with my family or not.  That's a hurdle we often have to deal with when our lives change and we are responsible to ourselves and to God rather than our parents.
Later, on my mission that a more dramatic test came.  Unlike college, where I could pick up the phone and talk to my mom or a friend, or go somewhere and shut everything out if I wanted/needed to, I was in a position where I was never alone, and sometimes constantly with someone that bugged me (I am sure it was mutual).   The things that I had learned to count on and the ways that I relied on for dealing with stress were gone... and there, with my support system shorn away, I learned my first real lesson in how much I desperately need God.
Perhaps my situation was less dramatic, but in a small way similar to Peter's position after he saw Christ crucified.  He surely felt lost, and he had to rethink everything that he had learned, because doing it with Jesus beside him was one thing, and doing it by himself was very different.  But with time, and some extra lessons from the resurrected Christ, Peter became a powerhouse of strength and faith: the rock that Christ had predicted he would become.
Peter's instruction after he was truly converted and his heart was changed and he was completely dedicated to God was "strengthen thy brethren."  And I think that is what God asks of all of us as we go through similar trials.  We are *all* tested in this way, often becoming re-converted multiple times as our situations change and we encounter different trials and difficulties.  Being strong one day doesn't mean that we will be strong the next day... we all have weaknesses and temptations and fears.  The cool thing is that one way to become converted is the same thing that we should do after conversion.  We should strengthen each other.  As we serve, we are able to forget our own troubles as we work to assist others.  And as we help others, we see the Lord's hand in their lives, which makes it easier to see in our own.  It is all tied together, as we work with each other to offer strength and comfort.
Christ is praying for each of us, that our faith fail not.  Let's do our part, and learn the harder lessons... and as we do, let's strengthen each other... building a Zion community, a spiritual support structure, and God's Kingdom.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Luke 10:36-37 -- On Showing Mercy and Doing Good

"Which now of these three, thinkest thou, was neighbour unto him that fell among the thieves?
And he said, He that shewed mercy on him. Then said Jesus unto him, Go, and do thou likewise."
Luke 10:36-37

This is the response of Christ to the lawyer who asked him who his neighbor was, in the context of loving "thy neighbor as thyself" (Luke 10:27-29).  In between he tells the story of the good Samaritan.  The story is interesting because in the story people who were considered wise, righteous, and very respected walked by the wounded man, but the person who stopped to help him was considered unrighteous and unacceptable... from a group that was ostracized and hated.  Christ preached something very different than what the world was teaching.  He indicated that our titles or positions in society don't matter as much as our actions.  To be good, taught Christ, we should be out there loving people and showing mercy to them.  The commandment to love our neighbors doesn't specify who our neighbors are.  Considering this parable and lesson, we can't justify only loving our families, or only the people next door, or only the people from our country or our circle of friends.  Our neighbors are everyone, and we are obeying God's commandment by reaching out to help them.  God tells us further that doing good to others is like doing good to him... and not doing good to others is like not doing good to him (Matthew 25:40, 45).  He asks us to love our enemies (Luke 6:27, 35), and to bless them that curse us (Matthew 5:44, 3 Nephi 12:44).  Today, let's have mercy on each other, no matter how scary or offensive we find the prospect.  Let's remember the story of the good Samaritan, and follow Christ's admonition to "go, and do thou likewise."

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Ether 3:4 -- On Preparation, Imagination, and Light

"And I know, O Lord, that thou hast all power, and can do whatsoever thou wilt for the benefit of man; therefore touch these stones, O Lord, with thy finger, and prepare them that they may shine forth in darkness; and they shall shine forth unto us in the vessels which we have prepared, that we may have light while we shall cross the sea."
Ether 3:4

This story about the brother of Jared always amazes me.  He went before the Lord with two problems.  He made the barges the way God wanted him to, but there were no accommodations for air and light in them.  God solved the problem of air in the barges for the Brother of Jared, but the light problem he didn't solve.  Instead, he asked what the brother of Jared wanted him to do, and gave him a couple of hints about things that wouldn't work (Ether 2:23).  From there, this is what the brother of Jared came up with... and it is amazing, and creative, and I can't imagine how it works.  But it DID.  Can you imagine the amount of faith that takes?  I feel like we often get lost or frustrated at school or work, or just in life, if we don't automatically know how to do something. We want someone to just tell us.  We have very low tolerance for trial and error.  We hate failing, and we want to succeed immediately.  But, somewhat ironically, being left to figure something out on our own is often the very best way to learn it... a way that is solidly ingrained in us, that we will never forget.
God isn't going to do for us what we can do for ourselves.  Sometimes though, we underestimate ourselves and think that we can't do something, and that God is just being cruel leaving us to accomplish it on our own.  But, like the brother of Jared, we have to think, prepare, and ask... and often take a leap of faith.  The brother of Jared knew that God could light up those stones.  How did he know that?  Just pure faith.  He knew God could do miraculous things, and he got an idea about something where no appropriate technology existed, and he tried it.  God could have said go back to the drawing board, or given him more hints... but I think he was guided by the spirit as he thought and prepared, and so his first idea worked.  An idea that even today we think... wow, how is that possible?  But the brother of Jared had absolute confidence that God could do it. :)
Today, let's try to be patient when God asks us to figure things out.  Let's listen to the spirit, and let's think past our mental restrictions about technology and possibility.  Let's look at God the way we used to look up at our dads, back when we thought they were infallible and could do or fix anything for us.  Let's stop thinking that we can't overcome this or that, or that the world is stuck where it is, or that we might as well give up.  The possibilities are bigger than we imagine, and God knows all of it, every tiny part.  He *can* do anything, and he deserves our trust as he teaches us how to think, and imagine, and grow.  Let's trust that whatever he touches will shine forth in darkness, making all of our journeys more tolerable in the light.

Monday, November 16, 2015

1 Peter 3:14-15 -- On Happiness, Hope, and Answers

"But and if ye suffer for righteousness' sake, happy are ye: and be not afraid of their terror, neither be troubled;
But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts: and be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness and fear:"
1 Peter 3:14-15

There are a lot of terrifying things in the world, as well as a lot of people calling "evil good, and good evil; that put darkness for light, and light for darkness" (Isaiah 5:20).  It's a challenging time.  And yet, God reminds us that suffering for righteousness' sake is not necessarily a horrible thing.  It's what Christ did, and it means we are walking in his steps.  It is also much better than suffering for our sins (1 Peter 3:17).  Suffering because of righteousness by definition means we *are* righteous, and that is a great reason to rejoice, because we are so easily drawn to sin.
God reminds us that we don't need to be afraid of the terror around us.  Instead, we should sanctify God in our hearts and be always ready to meekly answer people who ask us why, of all the terrified people around us, we are filled with hope.
Happiness and hope might seem like incongruous choices in the midst of the tumult in the world, but with God's help we can always find the good.  The good in others, the good in the world around us, and the good in ourselves.  Let's let our lights shine (Matthew 5:16), and be examples of the believers (1 Timothy 4:12). Let's spread light and hope where there is despair and darkness, and not be afraid of the terror and the tumult.  God has all the answers, and with him, so can we.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

D&C 38:27 -- On Oneness, Conformity, and Freedom

"Behold, this I have given unto you as a parable, and it is even as I am. I say unto you, be one; and if ye are not one ye are not mine."
Doctrine and Covenants 38:27

I woke up thinking about this one today.  In some ways, asking us to be one seems like God is asking for large-scale conformity... for everyone to be the same and not express individuality.  But elsewhere in the scriptures, God protects people's individuality.  When Martha asks Christ to send Mary to help her serve, he protects Mary's decision (Luke 10:42).  When Peter and John chose different things, he granted both, because they both found joy in their different requests (D&C 7:8).  I suppose that you could say that God does ask conformity on a small scale... in keeping his commandments, but that kind of law keeping is just like choosing not to murder.  It keeps us out of physical jail, and spiritual torment, which allows us more freedom to choose good things.  There are worlds of good choices out there beyond that.  God isn't asking us to be the same as each other.  He is asking us to work together.  Specifically, from the verses right before this, he is asking us to esteem our brothers as ourselves, and to treat people equally (38:24-26).  I don't think that this restricts our personalities in any way.  Yeah, it might resist our desires, if we desire to hate, or persecute, or discriminate... but it doesn't restrict our individuality, or anything that makes us unique.  I think it can feel like that though, if we've really identified with a sin, and we perceive it as part of who we are.  Some people say they are nothing without their coffee, or they center their lives around the consumption of alcohol.  There are addictions of many, many kinds, and a plethora of desires, and we internalize them and think that that is who we are... we are our sins.  But that isn't ever true.  We are more than that, and better than that... sometimes we just have to discover a little bit more about ourselves, after letting that go.
I think that being one is not about conformity, but about community.  About supporting and helping and serving each other, and finding joy in each other's company.  About lifting each other and helping each other to be better.  Resisting the urge to judge and condemn and divide, and finding ways to join together.  Today, let's be one, with God, with other people, and with ourselves.  Let's find out who we are underneath the sins.  Who we are when we are truly free.

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Numbers 23:11 -- On Changing our Minds

"And Balak said unto Balaam, What hast thou done unto me? I took thee to curse mine enemies, and, behold, thou hast blessed them altogether."
Numbers 23:11

This story is an excellent reminder of how messed up our singlemindedness can get us when we are hoping for some other result besides God's will.  We can search everywhere and plead for God to show us another way.  We can travel to several places and hope the answer will be different.  We can try to sway God's servants to our side.  And still, the only answer that we will ever get is God's will.  No matter how we arrange things, no matter how we attempt to turn things on their head, and no matter how many times we ask, God's will continues to be the same.  Today, instead of being surprised, as Balak was, that trying to change the Lord's mind doesn't work, let's work on changing ourselves, and accepting what God has to say.

Friday, November 13, 2015

Psalms 78:37-39 -- On Compassion and Forgiveness

"For their heart was not right with him, neither were they steadfast in his covenant.
But he, being full of compassion, forgave their iniquity, and destroyed them not: yea, many a time turned he his anger away, and did not stir up all his wrath.
For he remembered that they were but flesh; a wind that passeth away, and cometh not again."
Psalms 78:37-39

It's good to remember how compassionate and forgiving God is.  Sometimes we do really awful things, and luckily, God remembers our weakness, and doesn't destroy us immediately.  He knows that one bad action isn't everything we are, and that we have good in us too.  He gives us space to repent and change.  This also might be a good thing to remember as we consider other people.  When they do horrible things, let's try to remember that there is good in there too, and give them space to repent and change.  God knows that some of us will not use that space productively.  We might keep sinning and choose to be condemned by our own actions at the last day.  And we can't know what others will do with the space that we give them either... but let's still give it to them, and hope for their future, and pray for them, that they have time to work out their salvation with God.  As God is compassionate and forgiving with us, let's work on being compassionate and forgiving with each other.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Alma 42:27 -- Choosing God and Sacrifice

"Therefore, O my son, whosoever will come may come and partake of the waters of life freely; and whosoever will not come the same is not compelled to come; but in the last day it shall be restored unto him according to his deeds."
Alma 42:27

I like the emphasis here on free agency, and our obligation to go to God, if God is indeed something that we want.  I think sometimes we get it backwards, and we think that if we stand our ground that God will eventually come to us, beg us to return, put us in a spiritual rehab program or something, and save us despite ourselves.  ... Totally not saying that God doesn't love us.  He does, and he will work tirelessly to help us see our errors, to realize the truth, to answer our questions, and help us learn to make better choices.  But he isn't going to do it for us.  Picking us up out of the gutter is temporary, and it doesn't solve the problems that got us there in the first place.  If we want an eternity with God, then we have to learn to be like him.  We can't just sit here, figuratively, literally, spiritually, mentally, emotionally, or any other way, expecting that God is suddenly going to change the rules for us and let us in anyway.
God tells us that he "cannot look upon sin with the least degree of allowance" (D&C 1:31).  He didn't condemn the woman taken in adultery, and he won't condemn us, but he told her, as he tells us, "go, and sin no more" (John 8:11).  Not being condemned is a long way from being saved.  It requires change, and effort, and letting go of our will and embracing God's will.
God's will is rarely what the world wants.  It is almost never what society believes in or accepts.  It's not going to win us any popularity contests.  But God's will is the only way to be saved... to find our way back to God's presence... to be truly and completely happy, for eternity.  As it says in the verse above, in the last day it will be restored to us according to our deeds.  Are we in a place where those deeds coming back looks like a good thing?  Have we repented; have we loved well enough?  If we kinda slacked our way through, are we prepared for the kinda mediocre eternity that we're preparing for ourselves?  If we've rejected God, are we okay with the rejection from him that is surely in store (Matthew 10:33)?
Today, let's think about the stand that we are making in our lives.  If we are expecting God's position to change, let's instead get on our knees in humility and ask him to please teach us how his position makes sense.  Sometimes it is really hard to understand.  We all have things that it is almost impossible to let go of.  For Abraham it was his son, and at the last minute he was spared... but sometimes our precious thing that we are placing ahead of God in our lives we do have to actually let go of.  We have to find a way to live without whatever it is, even though we can't imagine it in that moment.  Addiction, obsession, desire... whatever it is, it feels raw, powerful, and it seems to control us sometimes.  We want it to control us, so we can say this is part of me, I can't possibly part with it.  But that's what sacrifice is.  It isn't just taking a few hours to do a service project, or giving the homeless guy a couple of dollars.  It's the refiner's fire, changing us and purifying us... burning away the bad side and keeping the good side as we become our best, ideal selves.  It's not always fun, but it is always, always better than the alternative... staying that conflicted and torn forever, or, worse, letting the bad side win, and burning out the goodness.  Let's go, and sin no more.  Let's stop expecting to be compelled, and take action.  Let's realize that God's way is the only right way, and look to him for help and guidance, which he is always, always ready to give.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Alma 46:12-13 -- On Warfare, Prayer, and Righteous Causes

"And it came to pass that he rent his coat; and he took a piece thereof, and wrote upon it—In memory of our God, our religion, and freedom, and our peace, our wives, and our children—and he fastened it upon the end of a pole.
And he fastened on his head-plate, and his breastplate, and his shields, and girded on his armor about his loins; and he took the pole, which had on the end thereof his rent coat, (and he called it the title of liberty) and he bowed himself to the earth, and he prayed mightily unto his God for the blessings of liberty to rest upon his brethren, so long as there should a band of Christians remain to possess the land—"
Alma 46:12-13

This is the most powerful military image that I can imagine.  The background is that this is Captain Moroni, who is in charge of the armies that defend his country.  They are in the middle of a war, and he hasn't gotten new recruits in order to fight the war or defend their re-taken territory for a long time, so he asks the government why, and he finds out that there is a rebellion in the capital of his own country with people trying to take over the government.  So Moroni goes to the capital, determined to solve this problem so that it doesn't cause the whole country to fall to their enemies.  These verses indicate how he proceeds.
What impresses me the most here is not the image of a soldier, although I am sure that he was a strong and mighty man, and probably looked impressive in his armor.  What impresses me is that this admittedly powerful and impressive man bows himself to the earth in prayer.  Even though he commands an army and he needs to fight to defend his people, what he puts his trust in is God "whence cometh [his] help" (Psalms 121:1-2).  As he mentions in the title of liberty, he doesn't fight for conquest or power.  He fights for his God, his religion, his freedom... for peace and for his family.
Today, as we honor the men who fight for us, let us also remember to honor our God, and the righteous causes that he stands for.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

2 Timothy 2:14-16 -- On Bright Pieces of Truth

"Of these things put them in remembrance, charging them before the Lord that they strive not about words to no profit, but to the subverting of the hearers.
Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, brightly dividing the word of truth.
But shun profane and vain babblings: for they will increase unto more ungodliness."
2 Timothy 2:14-16

This is a good reminder for us to study instead of strive.  One of the definitions of strive (the one used here) is to contend, or work in opposition.  It says later in this same chapter "the servant of the Lord must not strive" (verse 24).  Getting into arguments with others about words, like the interpretation of a verse of scripture, a prophecy, or a policy of the church, isn't going to profit anyone, and it could harm the people watching us set an example of argument. :)  Instead, we are asked to study.  This not only helps us learn, but it shows what we really care about... being approved of God.  As his workmen, we have no need to be ashamed, and as we study we will be able to clearly tell how all truth should be applied in God's kingdom.  The whole "dividing the word of truth" part is interesting.  To me it seems a little like mining... as we study, we start out with a pickaxe and separate some of the truth from the wall so that we can see it more clearly, and know it more intimately.  As we continue to study a topic, we might take that piece and polish it up or maybe even cut it like a jeweler, so that we can see how it shines.  It's separate so that we can see it clearly, but it is still part of a whole, the same truth that runs under our feet and throughout the earth, and learning about a piece of it helps us to understand more of the whole... all of God's purposes in his work and creation.
Today, let's recognize that "profane and vain babblings" are only going to increase in the world, as Satan tries to fight against the truth.  Let's not engage in profitless argument that doesn't help anyone.  Instead, let's study and learn, learning how all of our bright pieces fit together into God's whole, and stay strong in the sure foundation of truth that God provides.

Monday, November 9, 2015

John 12:42-43 -- On Confessing Christ

"Nevertheless among the chief rulers also many believed on him; but because of the Pharisees they did not confess him, lest they should be put out of the synagogue:
For they loved the praise of men more than the praise of God."
John 12:42-43

This is a good reminder for us, because we too have the opportunity to confess or deny Christ in our lives.  We don't have to bludgeon people with our beliefs or be obnoxious to or dismissive of others as we pursue our religion, but we also shouldn't go out of our way to hide what we believe in and who we are.  Let's live our lives in such a way that we can tell people we are followers of Christ, and they will see that belief in our actions and the direction of our lives. Let's set an example, and build his kingdom.  Let's put him first, and never be ashamed to be known as Christians and follow our Lord and Savior.

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Zechariah 2:10 -- On God as our Neighbor

"Sing and rejoice, O daughter of Zion: for, lo, I come, and I will dwell in the midst of thee, saith the Lord."
Zechariah 2:10

The idea of God coming to live with us is amazingly cool.  Can you imagine being able to go over to his house and hang out with him in person?  We have so many ways to communicate with him now, and we have churches and temples, but I really don't think any of that can compare to the experience of being able to be in his presence and talk to him face to face.  That's part of what we work our whole lives for... the ability to return to his presence.
Today, let's make this a goal.  To be worthy of being able to live in the same community with God.  To have him be that big a part of our lives.  And until then, let's do everything we can do to move closer to that ideal with what we have now.  Let's talk to him in prayer, learn more of him through the scriptures, and become  better and purer than we are, so that when we do see him, we aren't ashamed or fearful, but just full of joy and peace.

Saturday, November 7, 2015

Romans 12:14 -- On Blessing and Not Being a Persecutor

"Bless them which persecute you: bless, and curse not."
Romans 12:14

This is a tough thing.  We all feel persecuted sometimes, because of the labels we give to ourselves, because of the subgroups we belong to... and a lot of the time there are some really good, well-justified reasons for feeling that way.  The fact is that on this earth we often persecute one another. Sometimes our offenses are clear and purposeful and sometimes they are inadvertent... both the ones that we receive, and the ones that we inflict on others.  Do we dislike a political group?  A racial group?  Another country?  People who sin in certain ways?  People who cut us off in traffic?  Have we been offended or oppressed by one person or one group, or by society in general for a long time?  I mean, we're right and they're wrong, right? ... But truth is, perhaps unfortunately, it doesn't matter whether we're 9 thousand percent justified.  If we can't let it go, then we make ourselves part of the problem.  We start persecuting others because they persecuted us, or whatever other reason, and we pass on the anger and the hate, and we become exactly what we are railing against.  We're the problem.
The only way to win, as the AI in the movie War Games learned long ago, is not to play.  God's advice here is the *only* way to peace--internal and external.  And it doesn't matter if the other side of whatever line we're currently concerned with continues to hate.  The love has to start somewhere.  And it starts with forgiveness, and with us learning more about our persecutors, and how to love them and bless their lives.  Is it easy? Almost never.  But it matters, and it works.  We can cleanse our hearts from hate and anger.  We can seek truth and goodness... bless people's lives... heal rather than harm.  We can be the types of people who love, no matter what.
Let's be clear here as well.  This verse doesn't say "thou shalt lay down as a doormat an allow thine enemies to trample thee underfoot."  That isn't what I am saying, and it definitely isn't what God is asking.  God is trying to help us to make ourselves better and happier people, and helping us learn to make the world better for others as well.  If we need some distance from another person in order to be okay and safe, that's not violating a commandment.  For our own sanity though, if nothing else, we do have to let go of the anger and hatred, even when it is well justified.  And we still have to learn to forgive and bless, even if it needs to be from afar.  Not because that other person or group or organization deserves it... I have no idea whether they do or not.  It doesn't matter.  It's because that is the only thing in the universe that actually stops the cycle of hatred and pain.  Today, let's listen to God's wisdom.  Let's love and forgive and find ways to bless, with God's help.

Friday, November 6, 2015

3 Nephi 4:31-33 -- On Humility and Song

"And it came to pass that they did break forth, all as one, in singing, and praising their God for the great thing which he had done for them, in preserving them from falling into the hands of their enemies.
Yea, they did cry: Hosanna to the Most High God. And they did cry: Blessed be the name of the Lord God Almighty, the Most High God.
And their hearts were swollen with joy, unto the gushing out of many tears, because of the great goodness of God in delivering them out of the hands of their enemies; and they knew it was because of their repentance and their humility that they had been delivered from an everlasting destruction."
3 Nephi 4:31-33

I love the part about everyone just breaking out into singing at the same time. :)  Can you imagine how happy everyone must have been to feel like that?  These verse are just after the whole society had moved into one place to protect themselves from the Gadianton Robbers, and because they had enough to let them survive for seven years, they were able to resist, outlast, and finally defeat those that were committed to their destruction.  After all of that effort, and prayer, and faith, to finally see an end to that looming danger must have been overwhelming. :)
The main thing that I want to point out here is that the reason they triumphed, by their own admission, was not the superiority of their forces, or the justice of their cause.  It was not because they were inherently better people than the group that was working to destroy them.  It was because God delivered them, and it mentions specifically repentance and humility.  They *chose* to be obedient and to rely on God, which was their only salvation.
I know today that we don't have to go to the physical extremes that these people did to protect themselves from destruction... but we do similarly have dangers surrounding us, and challenges to our faith and our safety.  Let's learn a lesson from these people, and work on our repentance and our humility.  Let's cry unto God, and pray that he will protect and preserve us from the dangers we face each day.  And as we do, and as the Lord blesses us and preserves us, let's also remember to break out into song now and then, expressing thanks and praise to our God who makes all of our happiness possible. :)

Thursday, November 5, 2015

3 Nephi 20:14-16 -- On Retaining the Promised Land

"And the Father hath commanded me that I should give unto you this land, for your inheritance.
And I say unto you, that if the Gentiles do not repent after the blessing which they shall receive, after they have scattered my people—
Then shall ye, who are a remnant of the house of Jacob, go forth among them; and ye shall be in the midst of them who shall be many; and ye shall be among them as a lion among the beasts of the forest, and as a young lion among the flocks of sheep, who, if he goeth through both treadeth down and teareth in pieces, and none can deliver."
3 Nephi 20:14-16

This first verse is another one talking about a promised land, but in this case it was the land where they already lived... the land where the Lord led Lehi and Nephi and their people in the first place.  So, it was promised for the people who left their homes and traveled there, and it was still promised for their descendants here, when Christ affirms that it is theirs as an inheritance.  Later in this chapter it talks about the "New Jerusalem" (3 Nephi 20:22) that will be established, as well as affirming that the original Jerusalem (3 Nephi 20:29) will be restored to his people as well.  These verses about lions among sheep seem scary kind of like some of the things in Revelation.  Probably because, like them, we know that these are part of a future prophecy, and they haven't happened yet.  I think the Old Testament and Book of Mormon battles that we read about are sometimes equally dramatic, but less scary, because we don't have to be scared of things that have already happened.
In any case, the thing that will protect us in the future is clear here.  We need to repent and be on the Lord's side.  As members of God's church, God adopts us as chosen, so it is still our *choice* what side to be on, not just who our ancestors were.  But that works both ways.  God's chosen people can still forsake God, and not keep their part of the covenant, and lose their promised land to others.  Whether we are members of the extended house of Israel or not, choosing God and living his gospel are the things that keep us on God's side.
In the midst of war and destruction scriptures sometimes it is hard to remember that God is loving and kind.  He is, unquestionably.  But he isn't a pushover.  We can't unrepentantly harm others, refuse to learn, disrupt the classroom for others, and then act surprised when he kicks us out of class.  God is patient and forgiving, but the limit is this life.  We have to pull it together, and change our lives for good.  If we don't, then it is our choice to spurn God's invitation as we refuse to join in God's kingdom.  Today, let's repent, and retain our promised land.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Psalms 143:6-8 -- On Lifting Up Our Souls to God

"I stretch forth my hands unto thee: my soul thirsteth after thee, as a thirsty land. Selah.
Hear me speedily, O Lord: my spirit faileth: hide not thy face from me, lest I be like unto them that go down into the pit.
Cause me to hear thy lovingkindness in the morning; for in thee do I trust: cause me to know the way wherein I should walk; for I lift up my soul unto thee."
Psalms 143:6-8

These verses seem to be a really good example of sincere prayer.  I think too often when we pray we just go through the motions, saying the same things, asking the same things, and unfortunately I think we lose some sincerity and real sense of desire and need when we get into that kind of a rut... and that's when we start to doubt the efficacy of prayer or think that our prayers are bouncing off the ceiling.  I'm not saying it is the only reason we ever think that, but I think often it is because we aren't doing the work that it takes to pray.  Work, you ask?  Yes. :)  Several places in the scriptures prayer is compared to wrestling (Enos 1:2, Alma 8:10), and I think that is because it requires effort.  Just as we talked about love being more than just a teen fantasy level crush, prayer is more than a quick mantra that we rush through in order to get on to other things.  If we aren't sure what to pray about, God can help us with that (3 Nephi 19:24), but we have to provide the desire.  And sometimes that is hard.  Sometimes we aren't at the point where we are willing to accept God's will, and that narrows down the communication channels, because we can't sincerely say that we're okay with God's will being done.  Sometimes we're asking for something and the answer is no, and we can't let it go... so we keep coming back over and over asking for the same thing when we've already gotten an answer.  That can throw a wrench into prayer as well, because we're so focused on that one path that we can't take that we are unable to see the many new paths that God has opened up to us.  Sometimes we need to repent but we don't want to.  Sometimes we are angry with God.  Most of what gets in the way is ourselves.
I think it helps to remember just how much we need God... to remember, or consider, what our lives would be like without him.  I know, for me, his guidance and love are the only things that have gotten me through some tough times.  I never want to lose that... and yet, still, sometimes I find myself praying without that real sincerity, making only cursory contact and not really sitting down with God for a heart-to-heart. :)  Just like with any friend, it's so easy to lose contact... but in this case, losing contact with the spirit can really change any day for the worse.
Today, let's work on praying to God with the same urgency that we can feel in these verses.  Let's lift up our hands and thirst after God.  Let's take the time and make the effort to lift up our souls to God.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

D&C 25:7-10 -- On Seeking the Better World

"And thou shalt be ordained under his hand to expound scriptures, and to exhort the church, according as it shall be given thee by my Spirit.
For he shall lay his hands upon thee, and thou shalt receive the Holy Ghost, and thy time shall be given to writing, and to learning much.
And thou needest not fear, for thy husband shall support thee in the church; for unto them is his calling, that all things might be revealed unto them, whatsoever I will, according to their faith.
And verily I say unto thee that thou shalt lay aside the things of this world, and seek for the things of a better."
Doctrine and Covenants 25:7-10

This was a revelation given to Emma Smith, and it is an interesting one, talking about what the Lord wanted her to do with his power.  It's a different thing than he was asking her husband, the prophet, to do, but there are a lot of similarities.  He specifically tells her she will have the power to expound scripture and exhort the church, and that her time should be given to writing and learning.  I think this is a cool reassurance to us that we all have different callings and purposes.  Hers didn't need to be the same as her husband's, but it was also important, and worthy of individual revelation from God.  The part that applies to us all equally, I think, is the last verse which asks us to lay aside the things of this world and seek for the things of a better world.  The world to come.
It's hard in this world to focus on the long-term.  We so often make decisions based on now, or 5 minutes from now, ignoring the consequences that will happen later... figuring we can deal with them some other time.  But things snowball and build up, and they can get harder and harder to deal with down the road.  A choice we make today might make us despair in a few years, and wish that we hadn't made the mistake in the first place.  When God asks us to seek the things of a better world, he isn't necessarily telling us to ignore where we live or what we are doing.  He is saying, let go of those immediate and limited objectives and desires.  Look farther ahead.  Work for the better world, not the short-term payoff.  And that's one of the reasons that God asked Emma to use his power in her life the way that he did.  She needed to invest in learning, in the scriptures, in the church, and in writing, for the long term goals that he had in store for her... which of course didn't mean that she couldn't do good in the short term as well, learning as she went... only that she needed to put the better world first, and make it her priority.
For us as well, God is always looking ahead, asking us to write in our journals, graduate from seminary, "obtain [his] word" (D&C 11:21), calling us to give talks, stressing the church education fund and other educational programs, etc.  And individually, he might ask us to learn other things related to our talents, and expand in different ways.  As it says in Matthew 6:33, if we seek God's kingdom first, then all the rest will be added in.  Today, let's take the long view.  Let's seek the things of a better world, and put God's kingdom first.  Let's let go of our short-term current world goals wherever those things don't match up.  As we do, we're be building a better world... a Zion... God's kingdom.  And God will bless us with the things that we need to learn and grow and continue to look ahead.

Monday, November 2, 2015

Isaiah 60:18 -- On Building a Better World

"Violence shall no more be heard in thy land, wasting nor destruction within thy borders; but thou shalt call thy walls Salvation, and thy gates Praise."
Isaiah 60:18

No violence.  Wow.  Can you even imagine?  I like verse like this that talk about the future in such a positive way.  We know that bad things will happen as the earth is cleansed in the last days.  Lots of predicted destruction, lots of things that don't seem that fun to live through... but then there are these gems.  Salvation, Praise, the absence of violence.  We have to be on this earth and learn a lot of things... we have to be able to tell the difference between Good and Evil, and we can't do that without having the opportunity to see both and to choose freely between them.  Through all of it though, we can look forward to the rest and the peace that God promises.  Good will triumph, bad will be eradicated, and that's how things like this can happen.  Zero violence.  Something that we can't even imagine in our society.  Today, let's look forward to a better world, and do our best to make it happen.

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Alma 26:1-2 -- On Reasons to Rejoice

"And now, these are the words of Ammon to his brethren, which say thus: My brothers and my brethren, behold I say unto you, how great reason have we to rejoice; for could we have supposed when we started from the land of Zarahemla that God would have granted unto us such great blessings?
And now, I ask, what great blessings has he bestowed upon us? Can ye tell?"
Alma 26:1-2

Ammon and the other sons of Mosiah all set out on a daunting mission... to bring the gospel to the Lamanites.  If the Book of Mormon were a western, the Lamanites would be the ones wearing the black hats.  The white hats were the Nephites.  Of course, as with modern life, you can't always tell the good guys from the bad guys so easily, but at this point in the history it seemed that way for the most part, and so when they set out they were not sure what kind of reception they would get, and realized that the task they had set before themselves was a big one (Alma 17:13-14).  These verses are towards the end of their mission, and so much has happened, and they and the people that they came to serve have been so blessed, Ammon looks back at all of it and starts acknowledging all of it, which is pretty astounding in retrospect, as they realize.

Maybe we aren't in the exact position of Ammon and his brethren.  We might not be at the end of a mission, and we might not even be away from our homes... but I think that asking ourselves the same questions can be really valuable.  We're all on a mission from God to some extent.  We all have a work to do, and even if we haven't fully realized or embraced it yet, we have life to look back on and we can clearly see the amazing blessings that God has granted us in our search.  Like Ammon, we have great reasons to rejoice: The opportunity to hear the gospel, to learn of its truthfulness, to gain a testimony... let's not forget some of these basic, yet gargantuan, blessings.  Having a relationship with God, feeling of his spirit... the blessing of being able to read his word.  These are all seemingly simple things that we might be used to, but they are blessings that not everyone has, and they are life-changing.

Today, let's ask ourselves Ammon's question.  What great blessings has God bestowed upon us?  Let's take the time to look back, to reflect, and to be thankful for all that God has done for us, for the truth that we have learned, for the continued blessings that God has in store.  Let's rejoice in what God has granted us, and let's embrace his truth, seeking God and the further blessings that come with having him in our lives.  

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