Thursday, March 31, 2016

Alma 19:31-32 -- On Hearing and Going God's Way

"And he, immediately, seeing the contention among his people, went forth and began to rebuke them, and to teach them the words which he had heard from the mouth of Ammon; and as many as heard his words believed, and were converted unto the Lord.
But there were many among them who would not hear his words; therefore they went their way."
Alma 19:31-32

This is interesting because it says "as many as heard his words believed, and were converted," and in the next verse it says "but there were many . . . who would not hear."  A good reminder that sound hitting our eardrums doesn't amount to much.  Maybe this is a good thing to keep in mind as we prepare for this weekend's General Conference.  The prophets and other inspired speakers are going to talk.  Sound will come out of their mouths and we will have the opportunity to hear, but whether we do or not depends not only on whether we make time to listen to the broadcast, but also whether we open our hearts and our minds to the lessons that God is trying to teach us.

Today, let's hear what the Lord is saying.  Let's be open to his voice, and the opportunities that he offers us.  Let's tune into his voice above the noise of the world and even before our own biases.  Let's learn and choose HIS way, and not our own way.

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Mark 9:23-24 -- On Hope and Heroes

"Jesus said unto him, If thou canst believe, all things are possible to him that believeth.
And straightway the father of the child cried out, and said with tears, Lord, I believe; help thou mine unbelief."
Mark 9:23-24

Christ offers so much hope here, telling us that all things are possible if we believe.  Wow.  What a powerful idea.  What a beacon of possibility and opportunity.  And yet, usually when we run up against this idea we turn away and give up, because we think that kind of belief is too hard.  We're too used to our own limitations.  We believe too much in the manufactured rules of our society or community.  Instead of believing God about our infinite potential, we believe that we were born a certain way, and that's it.  Evolution or society or our families caused us to be who we are, and they are to blame.  Maybe we say "the devil made me do it" or we even blame God for creating us a certain way ... forgetting that we are agents unto ourselves, that we have the ability to act rather than to be acted upon.

With God's help, we have the power to change.  All of us, everything about us.  We get to make that choice.  We don't have to stay where we are, or even *be* who we are anymore... we can be better.  We can overcome anything.  We can change ourselves, help others, save the world. :)  Basically, we're superheroes.  But we *have* to believe it.  We have to believe in ourselves, and in other people, and in the world to make it all happen.  Too often we see people making bad choices or we run up against some obstacles, and we give up.  We think that temporary setbacks are really "fate" telling us that its all impossible, that we're failures, that we don't have the ability or power or even the motivation to even change the channel, let alone the world.

In these verses, Jesus was talking to a man who was hoping for help for his child.  He had already asked the disciples for help, and they couldn't do anything.  So, his hope was probably already a little ragged.  He brought his son to Christ, and Christ tells him that it is possible if he can believe.  And this man, who wants to believe so much, but has been through many disappointing years of not being able to help his son, verbalizes the plea that is within so many of us: "Lord, I believe: help thou mine unbelief."  We believe a little bit... we try to believe.  We're trying to see God's vision of the world, but to us it is really cloudy, and it is hard to rise above the limitations that we believe in so much *more* strongly than our possibilities... and we, like this father, plead for help from God to make the belief that we do have enough... enough for his son, enough for us to take another step towards our goals.

Today, let's look to God and believe enough to take another step towards him.  Towards better selves, better service, and a better world.  Obstacles will come, and like the father in this story, we might have to have patience and faith for a very long time.  But, like this father, we need to persevere and never stop hoping and trying.  If we keep working to do things God's way, then someday we will see God's world... that perfect one that we've been working and praying for.  The one where we've built the Zion community, and things are better than they have ever been.  The one thing that can stop us from getting there is if we give up and stop believing it is possible.  Let's keep the dream of the happy ending alive, and ask God to help us as we move through the worst chapters and are tempted by our unbelief to give up on the heroes and the hope.

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

2 Nephi 4:34-35 -- On Trust and Faith and Prayer

"O Lord, I have trusted in thee, and I will trust in thee forever. I will not put my trust in the arm of flesh; for I know that cursed is he that putteth his trust in the arm of flesh. Yea, cursed is he that putteth his trust in man or maketh flesh his arm.
Yea, I know that God will give liberally to him that asketh. Yea, my God will give me, if I ask not amiss; therefore I will lift up my voice unto thee; yea, I will cry unto thee, my God, the rock of my righteousness. Behold, my voice shall forever ascend up unto thee, my rock and mine everlasting God. Amen."
2 Nephi 4:34-35

I think that the not trusting people idea is a hard one to understand.  At first, it seems to contradict other things in the scriptures.  I mean, we're supposed to love each other, be friends with people, reach out, and get married and have families, right?  How can you do those things, or build happy, functioning communities or societies without trust?  I don't think that God is talking about that kind of trust.  He's talking about *ultimate* trust... like the "I'd stake my life and/or soul on it" type of trust.

There is an interesting story in 2 Chronicles 32 where the king of Assyria comes down to take out Jerusalem.  The people were understandably freaking out, and so Hezekiah told them "With him is an arm of flesh; but with us is the Lord our God to help us, and to fight our battles" (verse 8).  And it's back and forth for a while, with the king trying to convince the people not to listen to Hezekiah because none of the other nations had been saved from him... did they really think that their God was so special?  And when it got bad and everyone was freaking out again, Hezekiah (the king) and Isaiah (the prophet) prayed to the Lord, and he sent an angel to carve up the invading army a little.  God truly did fight their battles for them.  I think this story illustrates that this high-level trust that we're talking about is faith.

It takes a lot of trust and faith to put God first in our lives.  It doesn't always make sense to us that we can or should trust God to that level.  Our doubt and distrust has been honed by living in this society and interacting with fellow humans.  I've done more than my share of untrustworthy things in the past, and probably none of us have been completely worthy of trust throughout our lives... and when we think about that, the not trusting us part makes a lot of sense.  With that kind of track record, both for ourselves and for the people around us, it's hard to trust anyone, including God.

And yet, when we put ourselves out there, and we take that risk... when we believe God enough to act on it by having the faith to step into the unknown with only God as a backup, he always comes through.  Maybe missions teach it a little more than some other things, but faith in God is something that we can exercise and see every day.  It can be as simple as trusting God enough to pray or to read our scriptures or go to church, and as we do, we see God making our lives better through those things.  As we learn more and more, and trust more and more, we see it more clearly the way that God answers our prayers, and as mentioned in this selection, gives us the things that we ask for, if we ask not amiss.

Today, let's not blow faith off as something useless and unprovable.  Let's take God seriously, and let's take the risk and talk to him about it... let's pray and tell him what we need.  Let's tell him what we hope for, and how we think that we can help others.  If we do, God will answer us.  It might not be immediately, and it might not be an angel coming down with a package from Amazon Heaven, but he *will* answer in ways that will be clear to us in our lives.

Monday, March 28, 2016

2 Corinthians 4:6 -- On Light out of Darkness

"For God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ."
2 Corinthians 4:6

Such a beautiful scripture.  God brings light to darkness, both in his creations and in us.  He blesses us with light so that we don't have to stay in the darkness... the darkness of ignorance, loneliness, pain, or so many other kinds of darkness.  If we despair, God answers our prayers, and he leads us to the light, and teaches us light, so that we can have light and knowledge within us, and pass it on to others... till the whole world is filled with it. :)

Today, as we face the darkness of this world, let's never despair, but look to the light of Christ, who gives hope and light to the world.  And let's do our part to make the world lighter and better than it is now.

Sunday, March 27, 2016

John 2:19 -- On Resurrection and Repentance

"Jesus answered and said unto them, Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up."
John 2:19

Christ here was speaking of raising up the temple of his body.  He was the only man in the history of the world that could bring himself back to life in a resurrected, immortal body, and because he did, he made it possible that we can all be resurrected.  So, this life isn't all we have.

Certainly, that doesn't mean that our lives aren't precious, or that we can afford to waste them.  We still need to learn all we can, because this is our one chance to experience all of this.  We came to earth to get a body and to learn the difference between good and evil.  With God, all we had was good, but never having known the other side, we didn't appreciate it, and we could never learn what it was to be independent and make good choices without this opportunity to come here and test ourselves... to see if we are going to choose good and choose God, or not.

We experience a lot of painful things here.  Not just external things, but internal.  We find ourselves being carelessly cruel sometimes.  Or sometimes even with a lot of premeditation.  Sometimes we find that our bodies want something that God has warned us against, or even that our minds and our hearts sometimes want something contrary to God's teachings as well.  And when we run up against these temptations and life experiences, hopefully most of us realize that we don't want to be cruel, that we don't enjoy it or want to make a habit of it.  Most of us, hopefully, realize eventually even for the things that we have made habits, that God is right, and that doing things contrary to his commandments only hurts others, and ourselves... and we turn around, and do whatever it takes to go back in God's direction.

Christ made it possible for us to to live again after we die in a perfect, immortal bodies that are immune to sickness and pain.  We celebrate that at Easter.  But not only that.  Jesus Christ also paid the price for our sins, so that even when we go astray into addiction and cruelty and completely unwise and improper paths, that we still have the ability to turn around--to repent--and that if we do, and as we do, we can still have hope to return to God, completely forgiven, and catch up on our lessons.

I am so grateful that as a father, God was willing to let us, as kindergartners, out the door to walk to school.  It's a scary world down here, and knowing that we are going to experience so much surprising evil is hard for God to watch.  He loves us.  He wants to protect us from that.  But in his wisdom and grace, he lets us come to school anyway, and start learning to grow up.  I'm grateful for that chance... and also so, so grateful for Jesus Christ's suffering and sacrifice, so that we could all have that chance.

Today, let's thank God for this chance, and let's also use this opportunity that he gave us to make good choices, so that we can go back home having learned all we could.

Saturday, March 26, 2016

D&C 136:31-32 -- On Trials, Humility, and Wisdom

"My people must be tried in all things, that they may be prepared to receive the glory that I have for them, even the glory of Zion; and he that will not bear chastisement is not worthy of my kingdom.
Let him that is ignorant learn wisdom by humbling himself and calling upon the Lord his God, that his eyes may be opened that he may see, and his ears opened that he may hear;"
Doctrine and Covenants 136:31-32

We don't really like trials.  I know I don't.  Something comes up that throws a wrench into my plans or is disappointing or frustrating or sad, and I am just as likely as the next person to rage or complain or yell for a while.  And maybe the best time to remember these words of God is when we are in the midst of something like that.  Trials are important.  We have to face things that we don't want to face in order to learn things... even when we don't necessarily want to learn them.  We don't want to learn things that are hard, but after we learn them, then we are glad that we did.  And God knows that, and he helps us get over the roadblocks that we set for ourselves that keep us in our comfort zone.

As kids there are a lot of things that we didn't want to learn.  Sharing, loving our siblings, doing our chores, riding a bike, learning to roller-skate.  Some things were difficult emotionally or socially, having to learn to accept that other people's needs were also important, and some of them were actually physically painful.  But when we were in pain, in whatever way, the best idea wasn't to stop and never try again. That's a very tempting option when you're a kid and you keep falling down.  But getting up and trying again helps us gain the confidence to learn other things, as well as the specific benefits of that lesson.

It's the same for us as adults, because despite our occasional overconfidence, we still can't see ahead and know what the future holds.  Just like our parents wanted us to learn to share and love and become more independent, God is teaching us these lessons, and many others, to prepare us for the future, and also just to help us to understand the world more and to be happier.  We have to accept that we need help, and we have to accept that we need correction, because sometimes we're going to get it wrong.  We're going to still have social problems, and roadblocks as we learn to love others.  We'll react badly because of our own insecurities, we're going to get mad instead of making peace, and we're still going to fall down a lot, whether physically or otherwise. :)

Today, let's be humble enough to listen to God and open our eyes and ears and hearts to his lessons.  As we do, God will teach us wisdom.

Friday, March 25, 2016

Psalms 19:7-8 -- On the Perfect Law

"The law of the Lord is perfect, converting the soul: the testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple.
The statutes of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart: the commandment of the Lord is pure, enlightening the eyes."
Psalms 19:7-8

I love the idea of a perfect law. :)  Our laws and our legal systems seem so flawed sometimes, with innocent people going to jail, corruption, unequal enforcement, etc.  It's not something that we can always say that we respect.  God's law is vastly different.  I love how it says that his statutes rejoice the heart.  I think that is true.  His laws are designed to protect us and to bring us joy.  When we keep them, we *will* be happier.  Happier, and converted, and wise, and enlightened.  I love that.  It isn't something that we get from other laws, whether in our nations, our schools, our homes (at least not always), or our workplaces.

Today, let's rejoice that we have a perfect law to follow.  One that is designed to lift us up and make us, and everyone else, better, stronger, faster... like the six million dollar man with a bunch of extra zeroes.  Well, okay, maybe not like that, but amazingly super cool anyway. :)  Let's jump in and follow God's law, and learn all this wisdom and enlightenment stuff.  And the conversion, and the joy. :)

Thursday, March 24, 2016

D&C 82:17-19 -- On Equality and Neighbors

"And you are to be equal, or in other words, you are to have equal claims on the properties, for the benefit of managing the concerns of your stewardships, every man according to his wants and his needs, inasmuch as his wants are just—
And all this for the benefit of the church of the living God, that every man may improve upon his talent, that every man may gain other talents, yea, even an hundred fold, to be cast into the Lord’s storehouse, to become the common property of the whole church—
Every man seeking the interest of his neighbor, and doing all things with an eye single to the glory of God."
Doctrine and Covenants 82:17-19

God wants us to be equal.  I think it is so hard to get that through our skulls sometimes, because we live in this inherently unequal society, and when we dream of equality, we are almost always just dreaming of switching spots, and having a chance to be among the elite... same situation, just we get the nice clothes and houses instead of those other guys who don't seem like they deserve it.

I think it comes back to the basic covetousness that God warns us about in the 10 commandments.  We want what we don't have, and we keep looking elsewhere rather than being thankful and feeling blessed for the things that we do have.  Here, though, God wants us all to be able to have enough to develop our talents. God isn't going to personally come down and divide up the piles equally though... he is never going to force the issue.  Of our free agency, we need to get to a point where we actually want to be equal.  That's hard by itself, and then figuring out how to start is challenging as well.

This week, let's start out small.  Let's do an experiment and really try to seek the interest of our neighbors.  Let's see if we can help them with what *they* want, rather than what we want.  Let's also work on loving and being happy for the people around us, whether rich or poor and whether talented in ways that we admire, or dedicated to ideas that we don't much like.  Let's begin learning this equality stuff, even though it is hard.  Let's give, and love, and serve, and not expect or demand.  Let's take our needs to the Lord, and watch him provide. :)

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Matthew 9:2-7 -- On Healing and Suffering

"And, behold, they brought to him a man sick of the palsy, lying on a bed: and Jesus seeing their faith said unto the sick of the palsy; Son, be of good cheer; thy sins be forgiven thee.
And, behold, certain of the scribes said within themselves, This man blasphemeth.
And Jesus knowing their thoughts said, Wherefore think ye evil in your hearts?
For whether is easier, to say, Thy sins be forgiven thee; or to say, Arise, and walk?
But that ye may know that the Son of man hath power on earth to forgive sins, (then saith he to the sick of the palsy,) Arise, take up thy bed, and go unto thine house.
And he arose, and departed to his house."
Matthew 9:2-7

Here's another instance where Jesus forgave sins.  In this case, it was surprising to people because he had obvious physical infirmity.  And maybe we get into this same mind set sometimes.  We ask for physical relief, when what we *truly* need is spiritual relief.  This man was also healed physically later in the selection, which Christ likely intended from the beginning, but did in this way to illustrate a lesson for the scribes (and perhaps for us too)... that the spiritual healing is the more difficult issue, and also the more important.

God's perspective is so different from ours.  Sometimes we look around and the world and we wonder how a benevolent and caring God could allow so much suffering.  And truly, he loves us all and he wants to help.  From his perspective though, as our father, we need opposition in order to grow.  We can't learn joy unless we also learn sorrow.  We can't learn triumph and self-mastery unless we also experience some failure and lack of self-control, and then build on those mistakes and learn how to avoid them.

God is an eternal being without the mortal limitations to his perspective that we have.  It is abundantly clear to him that spiritual issues are more important than physical ones.  For us though, that is really hard to see, and so sometimes we still blame him for physical things, when he is helping with spiritual things instead.  If we are currently experiencing it, it might makes us angry to think about the death of a loved one helping us learn something, or a serious health issue helping a family learn to pull together and love each other more.  I know that financial difficulty or job loss can feel like betrayal, and trying to remain calm and trust God in any of these situation is very difficult.  But I also think that God is being as kind and as loving and as supportive as we allow him to be.  When we go to him, he explains things to us.  It isn't always what we want to hear, but ALL things work together for our good (Romans 8:28 and others), not just the things that we want to happen.

Today, let's remember that God knows the end from the beginning.  He knows what we all need, and he knows how to help us.  Let's trust him, and talk to him, and learn of and from him.  As we do, our bitterness will drain away, and we will realize that God really is there for every one of us, and that the afterlife that God promises will be more than worth every moment we go through in this life, good or bad.  God is willing to save us, and planning to do so... physically as well as spiritually.  Let's have the patience and faith to get there.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Luke 7:47-50 -- On Love and Forgiveness

"Wherefore I say unto thee, Her sins, which are many, are forgiven; for she loved much: but to whom little is forgiven, the same loveth little.
And he said unto her, Thy sins are forgiven.
And they that sat at meat with him began to say within themselves, Who is this that forgiveth sins also?
And he said to the woman, Thy faith hath saved thee; go in peace."
Luke 7:47-50

This is the tail end of the story of Christ going to visit the house of Simon the Pharisee.  It's an interesting one for a lot of reasons, but I want to talk about two things: love and forgiveness.  In the first verse of the selection we read that she was forgiven of much because she loved much, and that people who don't need a lot of forgiveness love a little less.

That's a fascinating thought, actually.  The thought that sinners love God more than the righteous seems contrary to expectation in a lot of ways.  Righteous people are *more* pious, right?  ... Except that they often aren't, as Christ was commenting on right here in Simon's house, who was a very pious pharisee.  ... Does that mean we should just give up on the being good crap and start doing whatever we want?  No, of course not.  Just like in the story of the prodigal son, the righteous are "ever with" the Lord, and all that he has is ours (Luke 15:31).  Sinners have to go through a lot to repent and come back, and it is a tough road.  So, yeah, it teaches love and gratitude.  But the kind of love that matters in both cases is love that we learn from working with the Lord on a daily basis.  And we can do that, whether we are in sinner or saint mode (and we all go through both in our lives).  The problem is that when we *think* that we're righteous, a lot of the time is it just actions and trappings, like some of the pharisees at the time of Christ, and it isn't real internal communion with the Lord, learning his ways, and his love.  And when we think (incorrectly) that we are NOT sinners, we don't feel the same desperation to learn that sinners do when they are trying to escape their own bad choices.

Later in this selection, other people at dinner start wondering why Jesus thinks he can forgive sin.  It's an interesting question, because earlier in the chapter he confirmed to John that he was the Christ, he healed the lame and the blind, and he raised a child from the dead.  All of these miracles, and yet they wonder.  I was thinking about that, and wondering why that particular thing would be so strange to them, when really, *everything* he did was under the purview of God, and not man.  Science hadn't advanced to the point where regular people *or* doctors could do the things that he did... and some of them we still can't.  When Christ healed, people didn't need physical therapy afterward, and a man blind from birth instantly knew and understood what he was seeing.  We can't do those things.  The fact that they marveled at the forgiveness of sins suggests to me that they didn't want forgiveness to be so easy.  Even though none of them could know what that woman went through in her path to forgiveness, perhaps they wanted the perceived superiority that external righteousness gave them.

I think we do this too... on both sides.  When we are in righteous mode, we think that we are better than other people.  We're like the brother of the prodigal son, complaining about our own displacement rather than the blessing of our brother returning.  And when we are in sin mode, we think that we're worthless, and even when God forgives us, we kind of persist in thinking that.  We believe that strong people would never have screwed up their lives like that, and that we've permanently lost something that we can never have again.

Both beliefs are essentially denying the atonement.  It's natural to want to get "credit" for being good, and it is also natural to feel like we deserve less for being bad... but remember the parable of the workers in the field.  God gives everyone the same reward, no matter when they are able to get out there and start working.  Christ died for all of us, and ALL of us owe all that we are and all that we have to him.  Yes, absolutely true, some of us come back to God with 10 talents, and some come back with 5, and maybe the prophet comes back with 8 b'zillion.  I don't know.  But the lesson even in the parable of the talents was don't waste what you are given.  God accepted everyone who did something with what they had, and didn't shut the door because one had half as much.

Today, let's remember that Christ died for us, and as long as we are doing what we can and headed in the right direction, he makes up for all that we lack... whether that lack is infinite plus 10 or infinite plus a thousand... it is clear that it doesn't matter.  Let's learn to love the Lord much, whatever state our souls are in right now.  And let's also remember, and hope, in God's promise: "though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow" (Isaiah 1:18).

Monday, March 21, 2016

James 2:14-17 -- On Faith, Works, and Puzzles

"What doth it profit, my brethren, though a man say he hath faith, and have not works? can faith save him?
If a brother or sister be naked, and destitute of daily food,
And one of you say unto them, Depart in peace, be ye warmed and filled; notwithstanding ye give them not those things which are needful to the body; what doth it profit?
Even so faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone."
James 2:14-17

God makes a pretty clear point here, letting us know that we have to go beyond belief, and beyond faith, and actually get to the action.

I think we all start in different places.  Some of us start with believing, but we just observe from there, and don't really do anything about those beliefs.  Some people actually start from actions.  They help someone when asked, or go through the motions of going to church, and learning the principles, but they don't really believe in it, or understand the emotion or dedication behind being committed to God.  And God makes an excellent point about deadness... one without the other, either way, is empty and dead.  It's easy to toss around labels like hypocrite or fake or whatever, but I think we've all been in those places.

Starting out one way or another is okay.  A car is still valuable without a battery, and a battery without a car, even though separate, they aren't going to really accomplish a lot.  The value is still there mainly because of that potential joining. The trick it to not stop and assume that we've accomplished our tasks because we've gathered the required parts.  The jigsaw puzzle is not complete while still in its box.  The trick is to take the pieces that we already have and keep going.  We keep adding, and keep moving, and find our way to the place where our beliefs and our actions match... where we are fully committed to God, and acting on that commitment to build the kingdom and serve God's people.  And even after that, until we reach heaven and perfection.

It's tempting to say when we're incomplete that we can never be.  The dog chewed up that piece, and we lost the other one in the mud, and we watched maybe 12 of them fall down into the vent.  We've got over half of the picture, but that is all we can ever be, because those pieces are gone.  Serious sin in our past might have tossed some necessary pieces away, and we don't know how to get them back.  It seems impossible.  Or maybe we just don't want to put some of them in.  Maybe there is someone we can't forgive, or maybe we don't want to commit to one of the things God has asked us all to do, like tithing or going to church, or keeping the word of wisdom.  So, in situations like this, let's go back to the beginning.  Faith and works together.  It might be empty now, but we can start from belief or start from action, and try until we work our way into both.

And for the pieces that truly are gone, and our opportunities past, then let's have faith that God will take our incompleteness and make it complete and glorious.  That's what he has promised.  We do what we can, and he'll recover those pieces from wherever they are and in whatever state, and make us whole, no matter how badly we've mangled the job.  We have to work at this kind of faith as well.  We can't ever give up.  We have to keep doing good and finding hope, and doing everything that we can.  As we do, God will show us how our puzzles fit into each other, making a community and a world and filling everyone's missing pieces with beauty and power and magnificence until we all unite, not as some Borg intelligence, but as individuals that know how to make something more of what they are and what they can do by joining together in a community with a common purpose.

Today, let's start from wherever we are, with whatever motivation we can muster, and join with God to start the process. :)

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Mosiah 18:8 -- On the Fold of God

"And it came to pass that he said unto them: Behold, here are the waters of Mormon (for thus were they called) and now, as ye are desirous to come into the fold of God, and to be called his people, and are willing to bear one another’s burdens, that they may be light;"
Mosiah 18:8

This verse is an incomplete thought, I know.  It continues, asking them more of what they desire, and then suggesting, if they want all of these things, that they join God's church through baptism.  I stopped after just this verse because there is so much already here without progressing to the other questions (although feel more than free to read more in the chapter; it is great).

The first question here is do we desire to enter the fold of God?  We know that Christ is the Good Shepherd (John 10:14), and in John 10:27 it tells us that Christ knows his sheep, they hear his voice and follow him.  In the verse before, Christ tells people that they don't believe because they aren't his sheep (10:26).  That's interesting, because we usually think, wait.  Isn't *everyone* his sheep?  Didn't God create us all?  ... And I think that the answer to that is today's verse.  We choose to be God's sheep, and come into his fold.

God has always had the whole world of people to love and nurture, so why has he ever talked about a chosen people, or about the elect?  I think it is exactly this.  His chosen people have also chosen HIM.  They want him as their God, and they look to him for peace and protection.  They are willing to do the things that he asks (like bearing one another's burdens, and other things that it talks about after this verse).

Does this mean that the atonement only applies to his sheep?  No, definitely not.  The atonement applies to everyone, and because we made it to earth by choosing God in the preexistence, resurrection and eternal life are a free Gift from God for all of us.  But the part of the atonement that offers us forgiveness from sins, and promises us that we can overcome ourselves, improve, and come back into the presence of God... that part we have to do something about, and it's kind of like choosing to be in God's fold.  If our father came over to our house and rang the doorbell, holding a present for us worth zillions of dollars (let's call it a pearl for some nice symbolism), and we didn't answer the door, or we locked him out and refused to even talk to him... would it matter that the gift was there for the taking?  We can't put it in the bank or use it if we never accept it... so effectively, it's just like rejecting it, or throwing it out into the street, because we'll never get it.  Some of us might even accept the gift, and place it, still nicely wrapped, on the mantel, never opening it because we just want to admire the wrapping paper.  It's not going to do us much good in that case either.  We might be able to say that we have accepted God's gift, but saying it and doing something about it are very different, and just glancing up at it occasionally isn't going to get it working in our lives either.

Today, let's accept God's gift and be willing to enter his fold.  Let's accept God as our shepherd, and learn of him.  Let's do something about the gospel.  Let's act on our belief, and not just let the gospel sit up on the shelf like a shiny bauble.  Let's be willing to be an example of the believers, and take action to belong to the Lord's church.  As we do, we become God's chosen and his elect, because we elect ourselves by joining his fold and becoming his sheep.  Not sheep in some blind follower way, but sheep that know and are willing to follow the voice of the true shepherd.  The one who laid down his life for us, and will lead us to everything good.

Saturday, March 19, 2016

Psalms 93:2 -- On Eternity

"Thy throne is established of old: thou art from everlasting."
Psalms 93:2

This is talking about the eternal nature of God, which I don't think that we can really wrap out heads around all the way.  That's why it says "established of old," because that's the only way we can think of it.  It's really hard to imagine eternity.

The cool part though is that we're going to have all the time (non-time?) in the world (well, heaven?) to learn it, because we're eternal too, and because of Christ's atonement, we will all be resurrected and live forever.  I think we might have to learn some new words to describe the whole thing. :)

The fact that God is everlasting is huge.  Almost everything we do on this earth is limited and temporary... God teaches us a whole other way to look at things.  We learn through him that some things last.  Some things aren't temporary, and *those* are the things that truly matter, and that we should put higher on our priority lists.  If we start thinking ahead in an eternal sense, everything else shifts in our perspective.  We realize how important God is, and the gospel, and knowledge, and other people.  Computers and LEGOs are still fun and cool, but they aren't as important as those eternal things.

Today, let's work on focusing on the eternal.  Let's make sure that we are making God our top priority, and learning from him what things matter and what things do not.

Friday, March 18, 2016

D&C 107:27 -- On Decisions

"And every decision made by either of these quorums must be by the unanimous voice of the same; that is, every member in each quorum must be agreed to its decisions, in order to make their decisions of the same power or validity one with the other—"
Doctrine and Covenants 107:27

The idea of unanimous decisions is a powerful one.  God isn't asking us to do things in an earthly way at all.  I mean, think of our society.  How many decisions are ever unanimous?  We don't usually even try to reason with each other, or find something that offers the best outcome for everyone.  We just go our own way, and stick with people who agree with us.

As we work to become a Zion people, we learn more and more how to love others, to feel compassion and empathy, and to consider other people's perspectives.  As we learn, perhaps our decision making process is something that we should take into account.  Instead of trying to "win" and get our own way, let's take the time to see if we can make better decisions by listening to each other and working to come to a consensus.

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Isaiah 16:5 -- On Leaders

"And in mercy shall the throne be established: and he shall sit upon it in truth in the tabernacle of David, judging, and seeking judgment, and hasting righteousness."
Isaiah 16:5

I like this because it shows us some of the leadership qualities of Christ when he returns to sit on the throne of David.  Specifically mercy, truth, judgement, and righteousness.

Sometimes leadership and authority rub us the wrong way.  We don't often like to be told what to do, or to be chastised or reprimanded, or to have to learn anything through sacrifice.  We always want it all. :)  We're like children in that way, often pouting because we want something that we can't have, and not realizing how bad it would be for us if we actually got it.

Earthly leadership doesn't often live up to our expectations either.  Sometimes we get a boss or a teacher who talks right through us and doesn't care an inch about our opinions.  Maybe we have run into bullies and some unrighteous dominion even in our own families.

Despite all of the bad track records we have with others as leaders--and if we're honest, likely also ourselves as leaders--I think that all the walls and resistance that we've built up just melts in considering God as our leader.  He is already, of course, spiritually, but to have him come and lead us here, physically... what an amazing thing that would be.  Bonus because we already know him, and just imagine it... a perfect leader.  One who knows us and loves us individually.  One who can *actually* solve problems, balance needs, and help us become better than we are.

Right now of course, we're on Earth to learn, and we need to face the problems of our world and work to correct them.  We need to be part of the solution, and promote love over hate.  We need to work to bring to pass God's will on the earth.  But maybe when he comes back, things will get a lot better and we can focus on progress rather than remediation a little bit more. :)  I'm looking forward to being able to serve under that great leader.  Let's look forward and work for that day.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Helaman 5:2 -- On Choosing Good

"For as their laws and their governments were established by the voice of the people, and they who chose evil were more numerous than they who chose good, therefore they were ripening for destruction, for the laws had become corrupted."
Helaman 5:2

This is a good reminder for us that we need to keep the will of the Lord in mind in every part of our lives.  It can be tempting sometimes to relegate thoughts of God and religion to Sunday only and think that all the rest of it is just our lives... that spirituality and real life don't really intersect that much, and that God doesn't have anything to do with work or school or government or our home or social lives. Tempting, but like so many other temptations, completely wrong.

All of life is part of the gospel, every waking moment (probably the sleeping ones too), and every breath and action of our lives.  They all are part of the lessons that God has for us, and part of learning to become more than we are, to choose good over evil, to learn to love and not to hate.  Today, let's make sure that we aren't choosing evil in any part of our lives... that we aren't putting profit before people, that we aren't embracing dishonesty, that we aren't promoting discrimination or anger.

Let's make sure we pray about our decisions, not just when we're preparing a lesson at church, but also when we are disciplining our children, going out with friends, choosing what tasks to prioritize at work, and taking tests at school.  Let's make sure that in *all* that we do, including posting online, and voting for our leaders, our voices are always promoting good and not evil.  As we ensure that we are on God's side in everything, hopefully we can avoid that whole "ripening for destruction" stuff. :)

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Matthew 5:42-44 -- On Slinging Some Love

"Give to him that asketh thee, and from him that would borrow of thee turn not thou away.
Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbour, and hate thine enemy.
But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you;"
Matthew 5:42-44

I think in our society today we are hearing a lot of this middle verse "love thy neighbor and hate thine enemy."  And it is easy to believe those messages... after all, if we have enemies, then by definition, we aren't too friendly with them already, and we might not want to give to them or pray for them.  It's easier to just hate them and not get involved.  It's almost always easier to do evil.

The Lord asks us to do otherwise.  He asks us to give, and to loan, and to love, and to bless.  He asks us to do good and to pray for even those people who are cruel to us.  And how much more, then, should we express our love to our friends and our families?  Today, let's love the people around us, and let them know.  The people who love us back as well as the people who don't.

In this season of hatred and mudslinging, let's be an example of the believers.  Let's sling some love instead, indiscriminately and with fervor. :)

Monday, March 14, 2016

Luke 21:16-19 -- On Patience and Boredom

"In your patience possess ye your souls."
Luke 21:16-19

Patience is a hard one for us.  We are willing to wait, sure... but, um, are we there yet?  How much longer is this going to take?  :)  In this chapter Christ is talking about some serious patience.  Immediately before this, he says that some of his followers will be killed, and that we will be hated, but that we won't lose even a hair of our heads.  That hair of the head thing, since he already mentioned death, means he is talking about the resurrection.  That can require some extensive waiting.

So, how do we do it?  It's related to another big problem that we have in life... long-term thinking.  Seems we're often going for the immediate gratification... the instant win.  All of this scrimping and saving seems kind of blah.  I know!  The lottery, or better yet... just rob a bank, right?  We kind of ignore the odds, and make some ultra-poor choices sometimes.  So, in some ways these experiences are good.  We try the lottery and lose, or we rob the bank and get caught, or we experience the always-horrible consequences of whatever other short-sighted decision we made.  Thankfully sometimes these consequences give us the impetus to rethink our decisions, and we slowly start to change.  We decide to save some money rather than buying lottery tickets.  We decide that breaking the law might not actually be better than getting a job.  We see that our short-term choices ripped our lives up in some long-term ways.

Of course, sometimes we just give up and say, well, I screwed it up, might as well screw up some more.  So we rob another bank and invest it all in lottery tickets (or whatever it is).  The problem with giving up is that we eliminate the hope of the happier ending.  When we give up, we're essentially saying, I choose to be who I am now, forever.  Which, in case you hadn't guessed, is a really bad choice, considering the eternal progression thing... or even the continuing education thing.  Who we are today is going to go obsolete tomorrow.  We need to get with it, and upgrade. :)

And really, that is what patience is about.  It isn't about checking our watches or wondering how much further we have to go.  It's about now.  We chuckle when little kids say they are bored sometimes... they have all that time and all those toys, and to be bored has to take a serious lack of imagination.  Ha ha... but we're in the same boat.  We don't have as much time, and our toys are hopefully way cooler, but we still have that blind spot about right now.  There are so many things to do with these in between moments... so many things to say and so many things to plan or to become.  Are we so bored that we want to rush into old age?  In enough of a hurry to want to get to the Final Judgement early?

Today, let's learn from our hasty mistakes, and take time to think ahead, to do things right... to make the best decision for the long term.  Let's remember that we never have to be bored.  There is always something right now that we can do or say that will help us become more than we are, and help us move toward the Lord.  Let's avoid the larceny-and-lottery-ticket lifestyle, and instead possess our souls in patience.

Sunday, March 13, 2016

Romans 12:16-18 -- On Undivided Minds and Cookies

"Be of the same mind one toward another. Mind not high things, but condescend to men of low estate. Be not wise in your own conceits.
Recompense to no man evil for evil. Provide things honest in the sight of all men.
If it be possible, as much as lieth in you, live peaceably with all men."
Romans 12:16-18

I think this is a good reminder that it is not okay to hate, discriminate, or get revenge.  We have many ways to justify these things, and unfortunately, they aren't generally frowned upon in our society.  Even groups who are strongly against certain kinds of discrimination often discriminate against those not in their groups.  When God says "be of the same mind one toward another," I think he is saying... be the same to everyone (and not hateful same, but love-same). Don't subdivide your mind with labels and levels of preference.  Don't treat the CEO like he is golden and the janitor like he is trash.  Don't let skin color or income levels alter your ability to love and to be kind.  And "Be not wise in your own conceits": Don't let yourself think that you are better than anyone.

It's tough to do these things.  Especially the "recompense to no man evil for evil."  We usually understand after a while the one about not yelling at people who are just trying to do their jobs.  We get that we're dumping our anger on someone who doesn't deserve it, and hopefully we learn to stop... but even that statement "deserve it" in our mental vocabulary makes us think that it is okay if we find the person who *does* deserve it.  We learn this from movies and television frequently.  Someone gets shot and we think it was totally deserved.  Which is of course understandable in our society where we learn such societal values.  However, it is imperative that we recognize that those kinds of fictional ethics tend to bleed over into the non-fiction world, and that God asks us to hold ourselves to a much higher standard.  One in which we realize that, no matter what any of us "deserve," Christ paid the price for it, and in return *he* asks us to love and forgive one another.

Today, let's love.  Let's be honest in ways that can't be misunderstood.  Let's drop the Hollywood ethical code, and remember the Christ ethical code.  Let's live peaceably with all men... not just some of them.  Not just the ones that agree with us politically, or who were born in our country, or who have the same skin color or even just the ones who believe in the same God or who don't "deserve" some condemnation for sin, or who have spouted some evil.  Christ knows that despite our flaws and sins, we all need compassion, kindness, and mercy.  Let's show that to others, and make the world better, rather than returning evil and making the world worse.  Imagine... you are having a bad day, and you say something mean off the cuff.  You feel a little bad, and are thinking about apologizing the next day, but when you see the other person, they say something mean to you.  This compounds the problem, and you are less inclined to apologize.  What would happen if the person, instead of saying something mean back, brought you cookies instead?  You'd probably thank them, apologize profusely for yesterday, and look for something to do to return the favor and be nice.  ... Let's be the person with the cookies instead of the person with the mean thing to say, okay?  Let's make things better.

Saturday, March 12, 2016

Mosiah 16:10-13 -- On Remembering and Determining to Be Saved

"Even this mortal shall put on immortality, and this corruption shall put on incorruption, and shall be brought to stand before the bar of God, to be judged of him according to their works whether they be good or whether they be evil—
If they be good, to the resurrection of endless life and happiness; and if they be evil, to the resurrection of endless damnation, being delivered up to the devil, who hath subjected them, which is damnation—
Having gone according to their own carnal wills and desires; having never called upon the Lord while the arms of mercy were extended towards them; for the arms of mercy were extended towards them, and they would not; they being warned of their iniquities and yet they would not depart from them; and they were commanded to repent and yet they would not repent.
And now, ought ye not to tremble and repent of your sins, and remember that only in and through Christ ye can be saved?"
Mosiah 16:10-13

These are some good reminders that our actions have consequences, and that we are going to have to answer for them.  Sometimes we think that we are getting away with something... or maybe that whatever it is doesn't matter, since it involved someone we'll never see again.  But it always matters, because God is part of the equation. :)

Even worse, sometimes, the reason that we don't call upon God is that we've decided that we don't really have a chance at heaven anyway, and it isn't worth the extra effort, because of that.  That's very easy to believe, but it is also one of the most pernicious and damaging lies out there.  Why?  Because it is NEVER true, and also because it is a self-fulfilling prophecy.  If we believe that we aren't going to make it to heaven, then we'll stop trying, and the truth is that *not trying* is the only way not to make it... because if we are making an active effort, learning, and moving in the right direction, then the atonement applies to us, and we can be saved.  In fact, if we don't believe that can happen, then in a very real way we are actively denying the atonement, and basically saying Christ is a fraud.

Christ died so that we *can* be saved, if we will only turn towards God and continue to progress towards him.  He died to save us from ourselves... from our sins, from our cynicism, from our negative attitudes.  And as it explains in these verses, he is holding his arms out to us, offering us that second chance, or third chance, or nine hundred and eighty-fourth chance, as the case may be.  All we have to do is fall into his arms, accept his mercy... call on him.  If we repent, he will forgive us.  No matter how bad our sins are, if we walk away from them and leave that chapter behind, we can still move on and reach the happy ending God has in store for us all.

Today, let's choose happiness.  Let's accept the Lord's mercy.  And let's not believe that there is no point.  If we're still alive, there is always a chance to turn around, and real progress to be made.  Let's do good, and depart from iniquity.  Let's believe God when he says that he can save us, and let's remember and determine to take him up on his offer.

Friday, March 11, 2016

Psalms 27:10-14 -- On Waiting in the Lord's Way

"When my father and my mother forsake me, then the Lord will take me up.
Teach me thy way, O Lord, and lead me in a plain path, because of mine enemies.
Deliver me not over unto the will of mine enemies: for false witnesses are risen up against me, and such as breathe out cruelty.
I had fainted, unless I had believed to see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living.
Wait on the Lord: be of good courage, and he shall strengthen thine heart: wait, I say, on the Lord."
Psalms 27:10-14

These verses are a good reminder that we can always depend on the Lord.  Even when our closest friends or family forsake us, even if we are in trouble with the law, or threatened with physical harm.

David reminds us to not be rash, to learn from the Lord, to believe that we will see good in this life.  God will strengthen our hearts, but we have to be patient and allow God to work in our lives rather than despairing or taking rash action, and thereby making things worse.

I don't think that this means just to sit around and wait for the Lord to fix everything, mind you.  We need to actively seek instruction and have the faith to act on our belief in the Lord, through doing the things that he asks.  But we should be patient and not expect a reversal of fortune or attitude immediately.  It takes time for us to learn God's lessons, and sometimes we need time and distance from bad things in our lives before we can see them with a clearer perspective... but if we stick with God, he will teach our minds and our hearts, and we will get there. :)

Today, let's wait in God's way... learning, and growing, and preparing our minds and hearts for the opportunities and blessings that the Lord is sending our way.

Thursday, March 10, 2016

D&C 75:16 -- On Overcoming All Things

"And he who is faithful shall overcome all things, and shall be lifted up at the last day."
Doctrine and Covenants 75:16

This is an interesting scripture because it is both awesome and also a little scary.  It is amazing that if we're faithful we're going to be able to overcome everything and be lifted up... meaning not only resurrection, but salvation.  Being able to hang out with God and our loved ones.  I am not sure if there will be board games, but I am sure there will be lots of amazing stuff that is even better. :)

The scary part is that we have to overcome all things. :)  All seems like a lot.  Sometimes in the ups and downs of life we forget about the downs.  We get to a high point and we sometimes think This.  This is it.  I have finally learned happiness, or calm, or love, or generosity, or kindness, or whatever it is that is going so well.  And then the cycle turns down again, and we think... I haven't actually learned anything at all.  Everything is awful.  We're drama queens that way, but I think the truth is somewhere in the middle.

As we face "all things," we learn as we go.  We do master some things, at one level, but after we master that level, God turns up the difficulty for level 2, and 3, and 4.  Because we have to learn all of it, not just the tutorial levels. :)  He never turns it up higher than we can figure out, with faith and patience, but it does get harder... and better.  Now we have a foundation.  We know the rules, we learn more and more about how things work, and the challenges admittedly aren't always fun.  Sometimes they are heart-rending.  But they are all teaching us and preparing us to eventually reach that "all" ... the perfect day when there are no more levels, and we really did master all of it.

Today, let's remember that life is always going to have ups and downs, but that we are learning.  If we're going in the right direction, we'll see clearly that we're better than we were before.  Maybe not perfect yet, but going in the right direction.  I'm Suzanne 7.3, which is better than yesterday's 7.2, and WAY better than Suzy 1.34 from when I was 6.  You know?  We're growing and learning and becoming.  Let's take heart, and keep going, even when it gets hard... and let's look forward to that last day and the lifting up part. :)

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

1 Nephi 22:30-31 -- On Obedience and Growing into Perfection

"Wherefore, my brethren, I would that ye should consider that the things which have been written upon the plates of brass are true; and they testify that a man must be obedient to the commandments of God.
Wherefore, ye need not suppose that I and my father are the only ones that have testified, and also taught them. Wherefore, if ye shall be obedient to the commandments, and endure to the end, ye shall be saved at the last day. And thus it is. Amen."
1 Nephi 22:30-31

I like how Nephi sums up the scriptures (at least the ones they had at the time) by saying that they teach obedience to God.  And the last verse here offers a similarly simple statement:  If we are obedient and we endure, we will be saved.

I know, we're tempted to jump in and "complexify" everything at this point, right?  "It isn't that simple..." but let's stop there and not go into the reasons why it isn't that simple.  I'm not arguing the point, but instead, let's think about the ways that it IS that simple.  There are just as many arguments for the simplicity, and bonus points for it being what God asks. :)

Today, let's not waste time arguing about how hard obedience is.  Let's just make it a goal, and start learning it.  God doesn't expect perfection to happen quickly.  We have to grow into it over time. :)  And that's what the endure to the end part is about.  If we keep trying, we *will* get there.  To the perfection, the happy ending, the perfect day.  And everything will have been worth it... more than worth that.  Let's rejoice in the simple formula today, and work to follow it.

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Matthew 5:29-30 -- On Self-Mutilation and Self-Governance

"And if thy right eye offend thee, pluck it out, and cast it from thee: for it is profitable for thee that one of thy members should perish, and not that thy whole body should be cast into hell.
And if thy right hand offend thee, cut it off, and cast it from thee: for it is profitable for thee that one of thy members should perish, and not that thy whole body should be cast into hell."
Matthew 5:29-30

I think we misunderstand these verses a lot.  We read them and we're like... Err, I'm not chopping off body parts.  That's too extreme.  And it is pretty extreme. :) However, like a lot of things in the scriptures, this instruction from God is symbolic.  He doesn't want us to go in and cut off a hand, because obviously the problem is *never* the hand, or the eye, or any of the rest of it.  It is the brain, the personality, and the choices that we make.

In the verses before this God goes through some guidelines.  He says that let's not just stop at killing.  Let's dial it back and not be angry.  He says that if we want to give a gift to God, we should stop and make sure we don't have unresolved issues with other people... then we can give our gift, and that *is* a good gift.  He says we need to negotiate and find common ground, and some way to agree with people.  He says let's not stop just short of adultery, but dial it back and stop ourselves before we allow ourselves to lust.

All of these things leading up to these verses are talking about relationships with people, and regulating our thoughts and emotions so that we can have good relationships... that those things come *before* these worse actions, and that we need to watch ourselves early, so that we don't get to the point where we are so undisciplined and unbalanced that we commit serious sin.  Then, these verses.

I think what God is actually doing here is anticipating our objections to what he has just said.  We're ready to jump in with some justification or whining about how we can't control ourselves, or we're just this way, or how society or someone else or genetics *caused* us to feel or think or act this way, and asking us to stop is just too hard.  ... So before we actually go there, he lays it out.  Listen, even if you have to cut off parts of yourself, it is *still* that important.

And sometimes we feel that way.  Giving up our rage or our lust, or our anger, or refusing to resolve something with another person... sometimes those things are so important to us that giving them up feels like poking out an eye.  Even so, God asks us to make that sacrifice, and obey him anyway.  Why?  Because our lives will be better without those obsessions... without things that get in the way of our relationship with God.  Because we will be happier, and he knows it, and so would we, if we could let go and get out of those mental traps.

Today, let's chop off, not our hands, but our stubbornness.  Let's listen to God and put him first... before every single thing.  Even that one. :)  Let's work on our relationships and stop letting our anger and lust and other emotions get in the way of our relationship with God.  Let's avoid hell through self-governance rather than self-mutilation.  I'm sure that is the method that God would prefer. :)

Monday, March 7, 2016

Hebrews 13:16 -- On Doing Good at our Worst

"But to do good and to communicate forget not: for with such sacrifices God is well pleased."
Hebrews 13:16

Doing good and communicating aren't usually referred to as sacrifices, so it is interesting to see them referred to like that here.  I think that maybe the point is that sometimes they are.  We like to excuse ourselves for bad behavior because we were tired or had a bad day or someone pushed our buttons, or we just weren't up for it... and tons more.  We have a lot of excuses. :)  And maybe that is the point of this verse.  Even when we're tired and grouchy and emotionally compromised, when we can do good and communicate *anyway,* God respects that sacrifice.  It takes a lot of effort to be sane and calm sometimes... and God realizes that, and he is pleased when we reach beyond our weaknesses, for him and for the other people around us.

Today, let's not forget to do good and to communicate.  Let's not forget it even in our worst moments. :)

Sunday, March 6, 2016

Psalms 38:8-9 -- On Opening Up to God

"I am feeble and sore broken: I have roared by reason of the disquietness of my heart.
Lord, all my desire is before thee; and my groaning is not hid from thee."
Psalms 38:8-9

I really liked these verses as I was reading today because they seem excessively honest.  David is sorrowing for his sins, telling the Lord he is broken and troubled, reminding him that he knows his desires, thoughts, intentions, and even groaning.  Nowadays, we might call that whining... but whatever we call it, the Lord already knows that we do it, and how we think and how we feel. :)  God knows when we are upset, and he knows why, and he knows what we want every minute of our lives.  ... So, perhaps the question is, why do we even need to tell him?  What is the purpose of being honest with God?
I think the purpose is to remind us, to get us to be honest with ourselves, and also to talk to God *specifically* and honestly about how we think and feel.  We choose audiences for our words often in life... what we would say to our best friends and what we would say to our grandmother can be extremely different things.  And sometimes the difference is to hide something... things like "don't tell Mom about that one thing or she'll freak out."  Or our mom knows us well enough to know our weaknesses and geeky hobbies, but we might want to hide those from someone we are trying to impress.  It's silly to react the same way with God, because he knows us better than we know ourselves.  But we're used to communicating that way, so we sometimes still do.

Today, let's develop our relationship with God.  Let's remember to talk to him very specifically about our lives, and trust in his kind willingness to help, as we come before him with humility and honesty. :)  These things aren't hid from God, but it helps *us* to talk about things with God and to ask for specific assistance.  It's part of learning to trust him.  Let's not leave things out, but tell him everything.

Saturday, March 5, 2016

Colossians 2:8 -- On Choosing Christ over the World

"Beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ."
Colossians 2:8

This is a good reminder to focus on the things of God and not the things of the world.  That's hard, I know.  There are cool and tempting things all around us, and sometimes we get way too wrapped up in all of it.  Today, let's take a step back and really think about our priorities.  Let's make sure we aren't letting anything interfere with our relationship with God.  That is our first priority, and although all the rest of the stuff is tempting, and maybe not even bad... if we allow it to get in the way of the important, eternal things, anything can be bad.

Friday, March 4, 2016

Alma 12:28-30 -- On Conversing with God

"And after God had appointed that these things should come unto man, behold, then he saw that it was expedient that man should know concerning the things whereof he had appointed unto them;
Therefore he sent angels to converse with them, who caused men to behold of his glory.
And they began from that time forth to call on his name; therefore God conversed with men, and made known unto them the plan of redemption, which had been prepared from the foundation of the world; and this he made known unto them according to their faith and repentance and their holy works."
Alma 12:28-30

This is a great chapter, talking about God's plan, death, resurrection and all the rest.  I liked this part because it almost seems like an afterthought... oh, people should know the plan. :)  I know that it wasn't, of course.  I think it just says it this way kind of like the way that it talks about creation.  God made light, and God saw that it was good... it's just like that in the same way that a child's book is written... you have to use simple language, because that is the vocabulary that they have mastered.  You can explain better when they get older, but you also want to talk about it with them *when* they have the questions.  So you try to take all of creation and make it understandable to a toddler.  That's tough.

And I think this is similar to what these verses are talking about with the plan of salvation.  When God converses with us, he has to do it on a level that we are going to understand.  The knowledge of good and evil, the resurrection, faith, death, free agency, judgment, eternity... these are all things that we can only comprehend in part, and as we learn and grow, then God can explain it to us better, and it becomes clearer and clearer.  And that's what it means, I think, when it says that it is made known unto us according to our faith, repentance, and holy works.  As we understand and grasp these concepts, not just mentally, but kinesthetically... in a tactile way, learning to put the ideas into action... then God can help us learn more, and make more things known to us.  In other words, when we get Plan of Salvation 101 down, he can teach us 102, or even 201 if we take the advanced track. :)

Today, let's converse with God.  Let's be open to God's lessons and work to understand life and the gospel on a deeper level.  Let's be active participants in our Earthly experiences, rather than just sitting back and letting things sort of just happen around us.

Thursday, March 3, 2016

Isaiah 8:21-22 -- On Moving Out of the Darkness

"And they shall pass through it, hardly bestead and hungry: and it shall come to pass, that when they shall be hungry, they shall fret themselves, and curse their king and their God, and look upward.
And they shall look unto the earth; and behold trouble and darkness, dimness of anguish; and they shall be driven to darkness."
Isaiah 8:21-22

I think we all feel like this some time in our lives.  We are going through something really, really hard, and we're already weak or in a bad mood, and then something worse happens and we look upward, as though to ask God... really?  What else are you going to do to me?  Haven't I been through enough?  And in those moments we are sick of dealing with all of it and we try to push it all off on him, blaming him for all of it, saying that it isn't fair, and we can't handle it, and everything else that we can think of to try to make it about something besides ourselves, and what we need to face.  And at times like that, we do look down at the earth, and we don't see the hope or the good.  We just see the pain and the darkness, and since nothing seems to matter, sometimes we, unfortunately, choose to walk further in... away from the light and away from God.

And I know that none of us need extra depressing scriptures to start our days, and maybe we remember all too well what hopelessness feels like.  But the reason that I chose these verses is that, when we turn the page into the next chapter, we read "The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light: they that dwell in the land of the shadow of death, upon them hath the light shined" (Isaiah 9:2).  In this case it is talking about Christ coming to deliver his people... and in our case I think it is talking about the same thing.  Yes, sometimes we let the darkness in, as we never, ever should... but when we do, God is always there, willing to come and drive it away again.  Doesn't mean we should play with fire, of course, but it does mean that we can be saved from the darkness.  It does mean that we can turn the page and find the light.  Today, let's remember that.  Let's remember that there is no darkness that can survive the presence of God.  As we turn to him and allow him into our lives, he can drive away any darkness, and help us repent of any sin.  Let's move away from that Shadow of Death place, and start a new life in someplace much shinier, with the Lord's help.

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Mosiah 18:26-28 -- On Wealth and Community

"And the priests were not to depend upon the people for their support; but for their labor they were to receive the grace of God, that they might wax strong in the Spirit, having the knowledge of God, that they might teach with power and authority from God.
And again Alma commanded that the people of the church should impart of their substance, every one according to that which he had; if he have more abundantly he should impart more abundantly; and of him that had but little, but little should be required; and to him that had not should be given.
And thus they should impart of their substance of their own free will and good desires towards God, and to those priests that stood in need, yea, and to every needy, naked soul."
Mosiah 18:26-28

I like the way these verses de-emphasize wealth.  We focus so much on who has what individually, and in the church that Alma organized with God's authority, it wasn't about individual wealth.  Priests didn't get paid for what they did... they got spiritual blessings instead, which helped them help others.  And everyone was asked to share, so that no one was in need and the community could be enriched.

I like the last verse as well.  Everyone imparted their substance of their own free will and good desires towards God.  They were doing it out of love, not being forced by Alma, the church, or the government.  God's goals, as always, emphasize free agency.  If we want to create an ideal community... a Zion people, we have to get there without forcing others to share or give, because if we are forced, we aren't learning the principle. :)

Today, let's remember that wealth isn't the most important thing.  It's only useful if it helps us and others move closer to God.  Let's be willing to give back to God, and to his children.  Let's love the people around us, and be willing to be an active part of God's community.

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Isaiah 27:12 -- On Being Tutored and Gathered

"And it shall come to pass in that day, that the Lord shall beat off from the channel of the river unto the stream of Egypt, and ye shall be gathered one by one, O ye children of Israel."
Isaiah 27:12

This chapter is about the last days, and "beat off," it tells us in the footnotes, means to harvest or glean.  What I really love about this particular verse is the idea of being "gathered one by one."

Sometimes religion can seem generic, and what God asks of us seems ho-hum, of course, that is what everyone says, blah blah.  I think that unfortunately sometimes it takes a reminder such as a dramatic personal need for us to remember how individual the Lord is.  He isn't a professor in a lecture hall filled with hundreds of people.  He is a personal tutor, taking into account our individual desires and capabilities.

We go to church as we go to study hall.  We get to talk to our friends about what we are learning, compare notes, cram for the test... quiz each other and try to help each other pass the class.  Our textbooks are the scriptures and the words of the prophets.  But our real instructor is the spirit... God communicating to us every day, as we live our lives.  The gospel isn't some separate thing that happens only on the sabbath, and the learning of it isn't confined to any specific day or hour.  It's all of it... everything.  It's every hour of the day.  That thing that happened at work or school.  It's what that person said or how they acted.  It's how we respond to a text or a gracious neighbor.  This is life, and this is the gospel, and this, right now, is God talking to us and helping us learn something.  (All the nows, not my post.)

Today, let's talk to God, and allow him to gather us and teach us individually.  Let's be open to the lessons that are in front of us every hour of the day.  Let's thank him for his tutorials, and be more aware of his guiding presence in our lives.

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