Sunday, July 31, 2016

Proverbs 17:22 -- On Having Merry Hearts

"A merry heart doeth good like a medicine: but a broken spirit drieth the bones."
Proverbs 17:22

Today in church one of the lessons used a quotation from Boyd K Packer: "Find happiness in ordinary things, and keep your sense of humor," which got me wondering what the scriptures had to say on the subject.  In looking a little bit, I found that there is no admonition about the word "humor," but there are clear messages that we should have hope, and be merry, cheerful, and happy.

One of the reasons the scriptures might not say anything about humor itself is that it can be used in a bad way.  Mockery, bitterness, and inappropriate language and subjects are often seen as humorous.  When President Packer asked us to keep a sense of humor, he didn't mean that sort of humor.  He meant that we need to be able to maintain a good perspective, to find happiness wherever we are, and to find the fun in life.  Kind of like this verse.  When we are able to be merry, it heals us, and negative thoughts are banished.

We don't have room to be paranoid, anxious, or depressed when we are having fun.  Now, sometimes people need assistance in order to break themselves out of negative emotions, and I am not saying that it is easy, even when we don't.  Emotions can be strong, and we often allow them to control us and take us to dark places, rather than guiding them into productive paths.  In our efforts though, good humor definitely helps.  It gives us a boost when we have outlets that allow us some laughter and amusement, and witty banter with friends and family is part of that.

While being merry, of course, we still need to have respect for the things that are sacred, and we need to maintain reverence for God and the gospel.  We're often counseled about "loud laughter" for just this reason.  Not because there isn't a time and a place for fun, or that God doesn't have a sense of humor, for he surely does, but because often when we're being loud we're not listening to the spirit, and we're allowing our enjoyment to interfere with the peace of those around us.

Today, let's have merry hearts, and let's allow positive emotion to banish the negative thoughts from our lives.  Let's look to God, and if we can't find something to be happy about, let's ask God to show us some things.  We have so many blessings, and God's plan is the plan of *happiness* for a reason.  He doesn't want any of us to be sad or morose.  Let's find the joy, and help the people around us to rejoice as well. :)

Saturday, July 30, 2016

Alma 29:3 -- On Being Content with the Lord

"But behold, I am a man, and do sin in my wish; for I ought to be content with the things which the Lord hath allotted unto me."
Alma 29:3

This is just after Alma had wished to be an angel so that he could spread the gospel with greater power.  I think it is interesting that he steps back from that so quickly, admitting that it was a sin to wish for that.  It doesn't really seem like a bad thing, to want to help God more.  I think though that Alma has a good point here, in that we so often want our lives to be more dramatic than they are.  Instead of learning and progressing line upon line, we often want to skip from elementary school to college, thinking that we can handle it just fine, and not really realizing that our pride is messing with our self-confidence and we're about to learn a lesson about patience and recovering from failure.

It's often difficult to be content with what we have.  We tend to compare, and if the guy on the game show got one and the girl on the home makeover show could do that, then we want it too.  But comparison and covetousness most often just gets us into more trouble, because we not only want something, we want it NOW, without the steps of earning it or working for it as a long-term goal.  So, we go into debt or skip other steps, creating more difficulty for ourselves.  God is usually perfectly willing to give us what we truly want... which is a good reason to think about it and be certain... but to get it, we have to learn the steps that it takes to earn it.  God's not just going to teleport it into the living room.  Not because he can't, but because our primary need as seen by our loving parent isn't just a pile of stuff.  It's learning to be self-sufficient, and learning how to trust and do the right things.

Today, let's work on being content with what we have, and going about getting what we want in the right way... through listening to and following God.

Friday, July 29, 2016

3 Nephi 9:21 -- On The Bullet Train to Hell

"Behold, I have come unto the world to bring redemption unto the world, to save the world from sin."
3 Nephi 9:21

One of the things that we often gloss over in life is how much we rely on and need Jesus Christ in our lives.  We sometimes talk about it in an abstract way, but we don't often talk about it as though we can't live without him.  We don't often enjoy feeling dependent, but it is something to think about, because the truth is that, unlike any of our earthly relationships that we sometimes say "I can't live without you" about, with Christ it is actually true.

We don't see sin as the big deal that it is, perhaps because of Christ's atonement.  But if Christ weren't there, one sin and we're done.  We are unable to pay the price to get back to innocent ourselves, so sin would be a one-way ticket to Hell.  Even in reality, with Christ as our Savior, he is the only way off that bullet train.  Being saved from death happens automatically.  We all will be resurrected through Christ, which is an amazing gift in itself, and worthy of ceaseless thanks.  Being saved from sin requires some effort though.  Sin isn't something that we can just blow off and be free of.  It crawls in and embeds itself in us, and we have to do the work that it takes to remove it.  Christ is there to give us that chance to be clean again, and to help us overcome... but he can't do it for us.  We have to be willing, and diligent, and work to clean our souls to not only become free from sin, but honestly and sincerely never do it again, and never *want* to do it again.  We have to become better people, who wouldn't make that choice.  It's sometimes a long process, but with faith, and help from God, it is a reachable goal for all of us.

Today, let's take Christ's atonement seriously, and remember how much we need him in our lives.  As we do, let's first get off that bullet train to hell, and second, start cleaning up our lives, working towards the point where we learn not to buy another ticket.  Let's tell Christ how much we love and need him in our lives, and get his help in becoming heavenly people.

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Alma 31:5 -- On Trying the Virtue of the Word of God

"And now, as the preaching of the word had a great tendency to lead the people to do that which was just—yea, it had had more powerful effect upon the minds of the people than the sword, or anything else, which had happened unto them—therefore Alma thought it was expedient that they should try the virtue of the word of God."
Alma 31:5

I really like the idea here that Alma thought that preaching the gospel could affect the political situation in his country... that it could solve problems of rebellion, dissension, unrest, etc.  I wonder how often we miss the benefits that the word of God could have, just because we don't consider it as a solution to so many problems in our lives, and in our world.

We have a tendency to roll our eyes at things like this and think... yeah, right.  Preaching to criminals is not going to solve their criminality.  It isn't going to stop terrorism.  It isn't going to cure cancer.  It isn't going to solve anything important.  ... And those feelings are understandable in this world of unbelief.  But imagine if we had the faith of Alma, or the Brother of Jared, or Moses.  How could we be restrained from changing the world, changing our own lives, and saving the people who are waiting for the gospel?

Alma doesn't prevent the Zoramites from starting something crazy after this... but he does save a ton of people, and those people are part of the solution to the political problems that they had been having.  The word of God worked... perhaps not in the way that anyone but God had intended, but God's intentions are what matters anyway, right?

Today, let's try the virtue of the word of God.  Let's consider this alternate solution to the worldly options that we think might solve things... as a world, but also as individuals.  Even if we don't think that the gospel has any bearing on our problems, let's have faith enough to try.  Let's go to God, tell him that we want to try the virtue of the word of God as a solution to what we face.  And as we try in faith and sincerity, God will show us what to do, and how to face every situation.

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

3 Nephi 13:19-21 -- On Hearts and Treasure

"Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and thieves break through and steal;
But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal.
For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also."
3 Nephi 13:19-21

This is a great reminder about where we focus our lives.  It's really easy to get attached to temporary things.  The car, the house, the computer, the internet... they all matter and affect us.  Books, LEGOs, games, clothes, shoes, artwork, stuffed turtles, and other possessions... all of these we can develop an affection for.  And in generic form they are not inherently bad or evil.  But when we put them before God, or when we set out hearts on them rather than on eternal things, then we're setting ourselves up for disappointment and loss: broken hearts.  They aren't forever.  We will lose them someday.  Better perhaps to recognize them as temporary, enjoy them while we have them, but look forward to and invest more in things that actually will last.

Today, let's consider what we can do to invest in eternity.  We can love others, and invest in relationships that can endure.  We can learn and study, and gain intelligence and wisdom.  Those things can last.  In collaboration with God, let's think about these possibilities, and where else we should focus our energy and our hearts. :)

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Colossians 2:10 -- On Being Complete in Christ

"And ye are complete in him, which is the head of all principality and power:"
Colossians 2:10

This is talking about being complete in Christ, and it struck me today because I think so often we feel like something is missing in life, and we are looking for a way to fill that emptiness.   We don't feel like we're whole, but we don't really know why, and so we try all kinds of things to fill the void in ourselves.  And the truth is, no matter what we try, nothing works permanently.  We feel better in certain ways, or we feel whole temporarily, but until we turn to Christ, none of it can really solve the deepest problem... of needing God in our lives, and needing his presence and his assistance in our lives every day.

Today, as we're looking to fill our needs and help those around us, let's remember that Christ is what can make all of us complete, and help more than anything else.  Let's look to God to fill us and banish the emptiness.

Monday, July 25, 2016

Job 1:21 -- On Blessing the Lord Even When We Don't Feel Blessed

"And said, Naked came I out of my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return thither: the Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord."
Job 1:21

I've always kind of wondered about the story of Job and what it is supposed to teach us.  Some of the things in the story seem to teach some scary things... that God plays games with our lives, that whatever we try to accomplish in life is worthless, and that our friends are probably not going to support us when we fall on hard times.  ... Perhaps not great lessons. :)  However, in reading through Job today, I came away with a different perspective that I thought I would share.

I really like this verse, where Job loses everything, including his family, in a crazy disaster, and yet he still praises God.  That is a man who has some faith and inner peace.  It obviously affected him, and I'm not saying he was happy in this moment... but he was faithful to God.

Later, Job is cursed with even worse tragedy, and despairs of his life.  He does kind of complain to God, and asks him what he did to deserve all of his loss.  His friends think that he must be a sinner for all of these things to happen to him, because they know that God is just.  And we, as readers, kind of wonder the same things that Job is wondering... why would God do this to a righteous person?  Job's friends talk about good people being blessed and that sinner's joys are just temporary, and so we think, how unjust.  Job is righteous and therefore he should be blessed and happy.  Then, at the end of the book of Job, God and Job have a long conversation and Job repents (42:6).  He is then restored to more than he had before, and lives a long, presumably happy life.

So, what did we learn?  Is God's game finally over?  And I don't know how much of the story of Job is parable and how much really happened... if Satan and God talked about Job that was in the beginning, for instance... but whether or not they did, I think it does illustrate some excellent points for us, the largest of which is the point that God makes to Job during their conversation: "Where wast thou when I laid the foundations of the earth?" (Job 38:4).  Job and his friends could sit and argue all day about whether his punishment was just or unjust, and how good people should get good and bad people should get bad... but they, and we, don't know how the world works.

The truth is, as God has shown in other places in the scriptures, that injustices and trials and storms are going to happen to us all.  Righteousness is a protection against sin and despair, but anytime we think that we know what God "should" have done, and think that he hasn't done it... we're setting our wills against his.  He is not playing a game with us.  He's teaching us.  And if Satan is involved in those lessons, it is only as a distraction.  This life isn't about "be good and get the most stuff."  It's about "be good" ... seeing if we can learn that.  And f we attach stuff, or health, or anything else to that goodness as the only reason that we do it, we aren't learning that lesson... that goodness and light *are* the inherent reward.  They aren't something we do so God will make us rich and powerful. :)

Today, let's make sure we're learning the lessons that God is teaching.  Let's make sure that we aren't setting our wills against God and demanding or expecting our lives to go in a certain way because we are being good.  Let's be open to whatever God has in store to teach us, and bless him through it all.  That's the lesson... and although there are definitely blessings to be had, like Job had in the end of his story, sometimes we have to wait until the happy ending for them.  The right now part is sometimes going to be a challenge.  And that's okay.  That's how we learn.  The ultimate lesson that Job teaches?  ... God knows what he is doing.  He knows the timing, he knows the best thing to do.  Let's trust that, and go forward, even in the worst circumstances.  Blessed be the name of the Lord. :)

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Hebrews 13:5-6 -- On Being Content

"Let your conversation be without covetousness; and be content with such things as ye have: for he hath said, I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee.
So that we may boldly say, The Lord is my helper, and I will not fear what man shall do unto me."
Hebrews 13:5-6

This is interesting.  On one level it is about not wanting things that we don't have... or at least not so much that we are resentful or that we would sin to get them.  If we want something so much we're willing to rob a bank, or commit any other type of sin, including cheating, embezzling, or even being unkind to someone, then our daydreams have gone way too far.  God isn't okay with us walking over anyone on our way to our goals.

The other side of not lusting after things that we can have is actually being content with what we do have.  Not just having the ability to "settle" for it, but learning to love and enjoy whatever we can.  And that's a huge lesson for all of us, because no matter how fortunate we are in life, there will always be something that we want that is out of reach.  Rich or poor or in-between, we can choose to be upset because we don't have more, or we can choose to be happy with what we have.

That's the same trick to being happy in our lives in general.  Good and bad things are going to happen to us, no matter who we are.  But if our trust is in God, we don't have to let any of the external details get in the way of our happiness.  The Lord will help us, and provide for us, as we follow his path.  ... Doesn't mean at all that bad things won't happen, or that we might not be poor.  What it does mean is that we can find happiness where we are, and that people and circumstances can't blow our inner peace.

Today, let's work on being content and happy with what we have.  Let's trust the Lord, and let's make sure that our happiness and peace come from internal sources that can't be touched by external circumstances.  God will always be there for us.

Saturday, July 23, 2016

Matthew 18:12-14 -- On Being God's Hands

"How think ye? if a man have an hundred sheep, and one of them be gone astray, doth he not leave the ninety and nine, and goeth into the mountains, and seeketh that which is gone astray?
And if so be that he find it, verily I say unto you, he rejoiceth more of that sheep, than of the ninety and nine which went not astray.
Even so it is not the will of your Father which is in heaven, that one of these little ones should perish."
Matthew 18:12-14

This is an interesting story that is often interpreted as being about finding the lost sinner and bringing him or her back to the fold, and that is a good interpretation.  God definitely doesn't want any of us to perish, and he takes time to communicate with each of us, and bring us back to him if we are listening.  I think also it is a great lesson about how each of us matter.  Not only when we are the one out on the mountain alone, but even when we are with the rest of the flock.  God truly cares for us as individuals, and he has a work for each of us to do.

On my mission, in my very first area, I met a woman who belonged to a local church that was known for its charismatic leader, and also for stockpiling weapons.  She wasn't sure about it being the place that God wanted her to be, but in talking with several other missionaries, she wasn't sure if our church was where he wanted her to be either.  The first day I met her, we started talking, and it was the first (and maybe last) time that my mission seemed to have anything in common with what we had learned in the Missionary Training Center.  As I talked to this woman, she would ask the exact question that would lead to the next point of the discussion, and she just wanted to know more, more, more.  I couldn't understand why the other missionaries had not had success.  Later I found out that the night before I met her, she had written a letter to Jesus.  She asked him to send her someone that could help her get close to him, and she told me that I was the answer to that prayer.

I was new on my mission, and I was a mess.  I missed having a support system, the excessive rules were getting on my nerves, and I was rebelling against my trainer's authority.  I wasn't in any way ready to be the answer to someone's prayer.  But there I was, and there she was, and I knew that I had to step up... but I also knew, very clearly, that God knew who I was, and who she was, and that we both mattered to him, and that he had arranged this meeting.

We all have jobs that God wants us to do.  We get lost sometimes, definitely, and he comes and finds us, usually with the help of other people who help us to get back on track.  But when we aren't lost, he is also mindful of us, teaching us and helping us so that we can also help him as under shepherds, finding, loving, and serving others.  He is going to send us people to help, and we need to be ready for that.  Ready to set a good example, ready to love, ready to help.

Today, let's come back from wandering in the mountains if that is where we are.  And then let's prepare for the next job that God has for us.  Let's learn a little bit more of the gospel, let's read our scriptures more, let's pray and develop a closer relationship with God... so that when the times comes for us to be the answer to someone's prayer, we will be ready for it.  It won't always be a conversion story, but it will always be someone that we can love and that we can help in some way.  Let's be God's hands in this, and willing to do his work.

Friday, July 22, 2016

Psalms 31:3 -- On God's Guidance and Avoiding Alligators

"For thou art my rock and my fortress; therefore for thy name’s sake lead me, and guide me."
Psalms 31:3

This reminded me of the song "I am a Child of God," and I think because of that it struck me how humble we have to be to really ask God to lead us.  We so often don't want anyone to lead us... we want to go our own way, and we only come back and plead with God when we find out that we've been working towards a dead end, or a cliff, or angry alligators.  And even then, instead of asking him which way to go, we plead for dynamite or a hang glider or a magic portal so we can force our own way, instead of actually looking at God's map and seeing if we can find the way back to true happiness.

So, let's remember some other stories, so that maybe we can predict how our own will go.  Remember Jonah, when he tried to ignore the Lord and go his own way?  Or Laman and Lemuel trying to guide the boat to the promised land without God's guidance?  Whales and storms and nothing good.  Somehow we get it into our heads that life is all about us, and that God, and the world, and our parents, and basically everyone, should modify themselves to fit into our worldview, and that we should be supported in whatever we choose to do.  Instead, somewhere we have to face the reality that God's worldview is the *actual* reality, and our perspectives are all quite tainted with pride... thinking we're right so much that we can't see how distorted our vision is.

Today, let's not wait for the whale or the storm or the alligators to force us to modify our perspective.  Let's go to God and ask him to lead us and guide us.  Let's talk to him about all of our decisions and really consider all of our options rather than just asking for one and being unwilling to accept anything else.  God loves us, and he will lead us to happiness and peace, but we have to be willing to follow his map, and not try our own ill-fated shortcuts.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Alma 29:5 -- On Getting What We Want

"Yea, and I know that good and evil have come before all men; he that knoweth not good from evil is blameless; but he that knoweth good and evil, to him it is given according to his desires, whether he desireth good or evil, life or death, joy or remorse of conscience."
Alma 29:5

Sometimes I think that all of us are living kind of Jekyll and Hyde lives, sometimes pure and blameless, and sometimes things that we would never want anyone to know.  The problem is that we get them mixed up sometimes in an Isaiah 5:20 sort of a way, thinking that evil is good and good is evil... always thinking that "we" are the good ones, and that the evil is somehow other or external to ourselves.

Sometimes we do this because we're confused.  Popular media tells us that "true love" justifies all else, and we believe it, so under the guise of "love," which we think is inherently good, we commit sin and destroy lives, thinking all the time that we're justified because our love is so true, and the truth sets you free, right?  ... Except, of course, that the media is wrong, and that whole vision of how things are is a horrible twisting of good and evil and scripture.  We can do the same thing with family, work, schooling, and so much else... all of these good things that we sometimes set up as excuses to mistreat and abuse others, thinking that these "minor" sins are okay in the service to some other good.  "... and thus the devil cheateth [our] souls, and leadeth [us] away carefully down to hell" (2 Nephi 28:21).

We don't set out in the morning to bring evil to the world, but how often do we without meaning to, just because we are either oblivious to the way that we affect others, or perhaps think it doesn't really matter?  We yell at others in traffic, or on the phone, we dismiss other people's ideas as ludicrous or stupid, we mock others who like things that we do not.  We hate people of other ethnicities, races, genders, sexual preferences, religions, or political parties, and believe that it is justified.  So, according to our verse above, if we desire evil (even if we only desire it for others), then we might want to be worried about the gifts that we will receive from God.

Maybe something that would help us in our lives is to imagine for a minute that in our Jekyll and Hyde lives that we're actually the evil side, and we have a lot of work to do to entice the good side back to us, and try to change our desires and habits.  That is not all true either, since of course we don't actually live in a fantasy novel and we're not split in half... but there is a lot of truth in that idea.  We, like King Lamoni's father, need to "be born of God, having this wicked spirit rooted out of [our] breast[s], and receive his Spirit" (Alma 22:15).  We need to be humble enough to recognize our faults and correct them, including our desires for evil.

Today, let's think hard about our desires, and make sure that we aren't twisting or corrupting gospel concepts with "popular" morality.  Let's make sure we aren't taking one good thing and using it to justify evil, and that we aren't putting anything before God and his commandments.  God tells us above that he is going to give us what we truly want... so let's be careful and cognizant of that promise, and desire to be truly good, and truly do good things for others, no matter who they are.  As we do, God will reward our good desires.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

1 Peter 1:24-25 -- On Grass and the Gospel

"For all flesh is as grass, and all the glory of man as the flower of grass. The grass withereth, and the flower thereof falleth away:
But the word of the Lord endureth for ever. And this is the word which by the gospel is preached unto you."
1 Peter 1:24-25

These verses illustrate one of our biggest problems in mortality... shortsightedness.  We focus so often only on the immediate win, rather than the long-term victory, thus often winning a few single battles, but losing the war.

In gospel terms, this could mean a lot of things.  Maybe going to church, but not working for a temple recommend.  Or enjoying learning about the scriptures in Sunday School, but not reading on our own to enhance our long-term knowledge of the gospel.  In everyday life, of course, it means that we so often trade "small" sins for short-term comfort, or bigger sins for temporary pleasures, thinking that we can turn to God and repent later.  The problem with this attitude is that we're so wrapped up in our temporary mindset that we don't ever switch over into long-term, and that "later" that we were imagining never comes.

Just like we shouldn't gamble with the rent, or buy candy with our lunch money, the short term spiritual choices we make have long-term consequences.  Our our sins now really worth our souls later?  (And in case you are dithering, the correct answer is no.)  :)  Everything we gain through sin is temporary and eventually worthless, whereas, if we invest in the gospel instead, we can gain some permanent good: knowledge and light and becoming a better person, long term.

Today, let's not value the temporary over the permanent, or the ephemeral over the eternal.  Let's think about our long-term goals, and if we don't have any, let's get some.  Let's make sure that we are prioritizing lasting things over fleeting things, and the gospel and God above all.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Proverbs 6:23 -- On Walking Together

"For the commandment is a lamp; and the law is light; and reproofs of instruction are the way of life:"
Proverbs 6:23

This struck me today because it seemed so perfectly true.  Life is so confusing sometimes, and one of the biggest mistakes we make is thinking that we know enough to make our own way... that we're big and grown up and we can do it all ourselves.  The truth is, compared to God we really aren't very grown up at all, and we really need each other.  We need our parents (which this chapter talks about prior to this verse) and families, our friends, our neighbors (everyone), and we especially need God.  His commandments are a map for our lives, and also the light that illuminates the way.

Neal A. Maxwell said that we are each other's clinical experience.  Being here together on this earth helps us to learn from one another... we refine each other as we learn to live together, to get along, to cooperate and make choices not just for ourselves, but ones that will benefit others.  As we reprove each other (hopefully as gently as possible), and are reproved by God, we learn how to be less selfish, to consider other people's wants and needs.  We learn to see things from other perspectives.

Today, let's reach out for the help that is always there.  Let's walk with God rather than striking out aimlessly into the darkness.  Let's also help each other stay on the path and work to comfort people who've come back from being lost in the darkness for too long.  Let's be thankful that with God and each other, we don't ever have to go it alone.

Monday, July 18, 2016

Matthew 13:41-43 -- On Burning versus Shining

"The Son of man shall send forth his angels, and they shall gather out of his kingdom all things that offend, and them which do iniquity;
And shall cast them into a furnace of fire: there shall be wailing and gnashing of teeth.
Then shall the righteous shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Who hath ears to hear, let him hear."
Matthew 13:41-43

These verses are talking about the end of the world, and they kind of remind me of a project we're doing at work, trying to get all of the bad content off the site in giant batches.  The more you clean, the more you realize how bad it really was, and how much it still needs to be improved... but despite the bad stuff, it is really good and satisfying to be able to get rid of it, and feel like you are making things better.

I think we can look around at this world and see that there is bad stuff.  Maybe, in fact hopefully, we'll never know quite how bad it is, because we'll be part of the good part, focusing on the good, and on making things better.  But we do know part of the bad because it is in us, and around us.  And part of our job as people is to help clean it up and protect others from it... including changing ourselves, and working every day to do good to others and never evil.

If we identify with the offensive and iniquitous, this probably sounds kind of dramatic and painful... the whole furnace of fire thing.  But if we're working on being part of the righteous, then shining forth as the sun sounds pretty cool.  And you know, it is interesting, because fire could be involved in *both* cases, but in one case it burns and in the other case it reflects and shines.  Maybe depending of whether we've removed the impurities from our lives.  Melting down precious metal burns off things that don't belong... so, if we're precious, and pure, we shine.  If not, we get burned up.

Today, let's determine to be among the righteous.  Let's clean up our world, not make it more filthy.  And let's look forward to the day when everything bad will be cleared away and only good will be left.  What an amazing perfect day that will be.  Let's be there to enjoy it. :)

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Alma 39:7-9 -- On Sins, Desires, and Self-Mastery

"And now, my son, I would to God that ye had not been guilty of so great a crime. I would not dwell upon your crimes, to harrow up your soul, if it were not for your good.
But behold, ye cannot hide your crimes from God; and except ye repent they will stand as a testimony against you at the last day.
Now my son, I would that ye should repent and forsake your sins, and go no more after the lusts of your eyes, but cross yourself in all these things; for except ye do this ye can in nowise inherit the kingdom of God. Oh, remember, and take it upon you, and cross yourself in these things."
Alma 39:7-9

This is part of a conversation that Alma had with his son Corianton about some of the sins that he had committed.  Now, this kind of talk I am sure that neither of them enjoyed or really wanted to have, but it needed to happen, and apparently, since it is in the scriptures, we also needed to hear it.

A couple of things strike me here.  The first is that harrowing up our souls is sometimes for our good.  This is something that Alma probably knew intimately, after having an angel call him to repentance.  God doesn't use guilt-trips in a manipulative or slimy way, to get us to obey just because we feel obligated... but natural guilt for things that we feel legitimate remorse for and areas where we know that we have harmed others... that feeling of not wanting to do that or be that person anymore... that kind of guilt can prompt us to change our lives and be better people.  It is good for us because it reminds us of who we never want to be again, and how important it is to change and to get help from God.

Another thing that strikes me is the idea of crossing ourselves, or learning to master our desires.  Sometimes we have to say no... even to ourselves.  This can be difficult, especially if we aren't used to it.  Sometimes we think we can, and should, have everything we want.  It takes time and often-painful experience to learn that giving in to all of our desires doesn't lead to good places.  We can develop addictions and bad habits that can harm our bodies, and some that can harm our souls as well.  God tries to help us by telling us all of this ahead of time, so that we don't have to suffer from learning the hard way.  Too often, we don't listen.

Sometimes our desires seem harmless... to put off cleaning the house for another week, or to have an extra ice cream cone, and sometimes serious, as with addictive drugs and (as in Corianton's case) sexual sins.  In all cases though, practicing self-mastery, and reminding ourselves that we have limits just like we place limits on children's behavior, will help us learn to control ourselves, get things done, and keep ourselves free of regret.

None of this is easy.  By definition, we want what we want, and we don't just automatically stop wanting it even when we say no to ourselves.  Repentance is really hard because we not only have to stop making that choice, but we eventually have to learn to not want to make those choices anymore.  This is where God helps us.  He can change our hearts, and take away the desire to do evil, or even when it doesn't seem evil, he can help us to be motivated or to stop when it is healthy to stop.

Despite the difficulty, just like little kids need to learn not to act out and have tantrums, we need to learn to control our desires... to not charge our credit cards to the max for things that we don't really need, to not live exclusively on cake and ice cream, to do the things that will help us, and avoid the things that will harm us.  Today, let's allow our souls to be harrowed up for good if necessary.  Let's repent as needed, and let's change our ways.  Let's learn to manage our desires, avoid temptation, and get help from God to be able to find peace and change into better people. :)

Saturday, July 16, 2016

Alma 34:31-33 -- On Preparing to Meet God

"Yea, I would that ye would come forth and harden not your hearts any longer; for behold, now is the time and the day of your salvation; and therefore, if ye will repent and harden not your hearts, immediately shall the great plan of redemption be brought about unto you.
For behold, this life is the time for men to prepare to meet God; yea, behold the day of this life is the day for men to perform their labors.
And now, as I said unto you before, as ye have had so many witnesses, therefore, I beseech of you that ye do not procrastinate the day of your repentance until the end; for after this day of life, which is given us to prepare for eternity, behold, if we do not improve our time while in this life, then cometh the night of darkness wherein there can be no labor performed."
Alma 34:31-33

This is a good reminder to not procrastinate.  That whole "night of darkness" sounds kind of scary, but I think it just means that between death and the resurrection, we're going to have spirits but no bodies.  And without bodies, there are so many choices and things to overcome that we won't be able to do anything about.  In this life, we can think "mind over matter" and then make choices in order to make that happen, but in the spirit world, all we can do is think that, and not make physical choices.  We can't overcome addictions there.  We can't get our priorities straight there.  We have to do those things here, where we have spirit and body working together, learning how to make sure that we are managing ourselves wisely, and listening to God. :)

The idea of "preparing to meet God" is a really cool idea.  I think in general it means cleaning up our lives, repenting, doing the things that we know we need to do, and not putting it all off forever... but the actual thought of meeting God in person.  Wow.  Definitely something to be ready for.  And also something that might help us think about things we should do to prepare.  If God was invited over for dinner next week, what would we need to be working on in order to feel ready, or feel comfortable at that meeting?

Today, whatever good things that we keep putting off, let's get up and do them. They aren't going to get easier to do if we wait.  :)  And what a relief when we don't have to keep things in the back of our minds anymore, but can just get them over with and done. :)

Friday, July 15, 2016

D&C 112:28-29 -- On Purifying Our Hearts

"But purify your hearts before me; and then go ye into all the world, and preach my gospel unto every creature who has not received it;
And he that believeth and is baptized shall be saved, and he that believeth not, and is not baptized, shall be damned."
Doctrine and Covenants 112:28-29

These verses are very similar to Mark 16:15-16.  One of the additions here is the phrase "purify your hearts before me" indicating that this is something that needs to be done first.  The difference struck me because I think that we often blunder into the world, well-intentioned, but offending people left and right, impeding our ability to share the gospel as Christ asks.  Perhaps one of the reasons is that we haven't stopped first to purify our hearts.

When we approach others and we haven't purified our hearts, we very often present a really bad impression.  People can tell when we think that we are better than they are, when we aren't sincere in caring about them, when we don't really understand their concerns but are angling to talk more about our own.  These are natural things.  We all want to be cool and to have people notice that, but in order to purify our hearts, we need to clear out the pride, and focus on learning about and understanding others.  That makes us able to serve them in the church, and it also helps us to know how to share the gospel in a way that people might consider it.

Stories about people joining the church often contain mentions of someone else's example... someone noticing how happy or peaceful someone's life seemed to be, and wanting that for themselves.  That's also a side effect of purifying our hearts... becoming happy and peaceful, because we have the spirit with us, and have faith in God's plan, rather than panicking about current circumstances.

We have a great work to do in this world, to save each other from damnation.  But it takes some personal preparation before we can be effective.  Let's spend today purifying our hearts and making sure that we can "feel so now" (Alma 5:26).  And then, when we have purified our hearts, the spirit will be able to work through us, to touch other people's lives.

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Alma 42:9-10 -- On Life as a Time of Preparation

"Therefore, as the soul could never die, and the fall had brought upon all mankind a spiritual death as well as a temporal, that is, they were cut off from the presence of the Lord, it was expedient that mankind should be reclaimed from this spiritual death.
Therefore, as they had become carnal, sensual, and devilish, by nature, this probationary state became a state for them to prepare; it became a preparatory state."
Alma 42:9-10

This is part of a series of chapters where Alma explains the gospel to his son. There are some great highlights in this selection.  One of them is that spiritual death equates to being separated from the Lord.  That's an interesting idea, as physical death is a separation of the soul and body.  All of it seems so permanent in this life, but separation is so different than the way we so often think of death... as a disintegration or negation, or disappearance into nothing.  It's never that.

The other idea I really love here is that life is a time of preparation.  We talk about it as a test sometimes, but today I was thinking about this, and maybe it is more like taking prerequisite general education classes before we can start the core courses for our major in college.  We have to learn the basics, like self-awareness, managing our emotions and passions, learning to love and respect other people, how to overcome our mistakes, move on, and improve ourselves, how to communicate with the teachers and follow instructions, how to do research for ourselves, and basically all the things that we're going to need later.  And if we don't learn them, we have to retake the same class the next semester while we're also trying to learn more stuff.  Eventually, we have to meet with our advisor and see if we're ready to move on.  ... Unfortunately, we're usually skipping classes, ignoring the teacher, goofing off instead of studying, and so much more.

Today, let's remember that this life is a time of preparation... it isn't the end, and we need to be ready for what comes next.  God is getting us ready, but in order to know what to do, we have to listen to him. :)  Let's try a little harder to do that.

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Luke 11:1-2 -- On Prayer and Focus

"And it came to pass, that, as he was praying in a certain place, when he ceased, one of his disciples said unto him, Lord, teach us to pray, as John also taught his disciples.
And he said unto them, When ye pray, say, Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done, as in heaven, so in earth."
Luke 11:1-2

This is the beginning of a lesson on prayer that Christ taught his disciples.  I think it is worthwhile to stop here and talk about this first part because it really explains the whole nature of prayer.  When we come before God in prayer, we focus on him, we address him, we compliment him, and we show our concern for his goals... in other words, we really talk to him like we're talking to a friend or family member.  We don't typically run up to our friends and blurt out a list of what we want for our birthdays for the next 10 years.  And yet, I think we too often do that with God.  God isn't a genie whose only purpose is to grant wishes. :)  He's our father, and also a supernatural being that has a plan for world peace and prosperity that will really work.  Let's show some respect. :)

I think it's also important to point out the fact that before asking for anything at all, we're asking that God's will be done.  It's good to remember that his will always comes first, before our own.  That's a hard thing to remember, because we are all naturally pretty selfish, but again... that plan for world peace and prosperity, and actually the plan for our own personal long-term success (the one that will actually work)... those depend on God.

Today, let's learn how to pray more effectively.  Let's talk with God rather than just demanding things. :)  Let's honor all that he does for us, and put his plans before our own.  Let's remember that his way and his timing are always right, and have patience and faith in our trials, learning as we go along, and knowing that he is preparing us for greater things.

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Psalms 23:6 -- On Goodness and Mercy Following Us

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

This is the end of the 23rd Psalm, which probably is familiar to many.  It's the one that has "The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want" (verse 1) and "Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil" (verse 4) in it.

What I really liked about reading this today is that it says that goodness and mercy will follow us *in* this life.  Sometimes we get discouraged, especially in the "valley of the shadow of death" times, and we think that we just have to suffer through this life in order to get to the good afterward.  But that isn't what God intends at all.  He is teaching us to find joy and peace and make them part of ourselves, so that no matter what circumstances we are in, we "shall not want."

God loves us so much.  He doesn't want our joy to be dictated by our circumstances.  He doesn't want us to be driven by the winds of chance.  He knows our great potential and the power we have to self-determine our thoughts, our emotions, and our destinies.  We are his children, and although we are still learning to walk spiritually, God isn't carrying us everywhere or keeping us buckled in the stroller so that we can't fall down.  Instead, he is walking beside us, helping us learn to be strong and competent and strengthening our legs so that someday we can learn to run.

Today, whether we're in the valley of the shadow of death or in the promised land, let's stand up again, and learn to walk in God's path.  Let's be strong, and confident in God's will and in his timing.  And let's find the joy and the blessings and contentment in the things that we have, so that we never have to fear evil.  As we include God in our lives, and develop a relationship with him and learn from him, goodness and mercy will follow us, not just in our lives, but in the lives of all those we interact with... flowing into us, and also out of us, blessing the lives of other people.

Monday, July 11, 2016

D&C 134:4 -- On Rights, Liberties, and Love

"We believe that religion is instituted of God; and that men are amenable to him, and to him only, for the exercise of it, unless their religious opinions prompt them to infringe upon the rights and liberties of others; but we do not believe that human law has a right to interfere in prescribing rules of worship to bind the consciences of men, nor dictate forms for public or private devotion; that the civil magistrate should restrain crime, but never control conscience; should punish guilt, but never suppress the freedom of the soul."
Doctrine and Covenants 134:4

What struck me about this verse today was the phrase "unless their religious opinions prompt them to infringe upon the rights and liberties of others."  I think sometimes we get confused about what God wants and expects from us, and we start using our religion to justify discrimination or even hatred.  We get it into our heads somehow that God loves us and hates those other guys.  That God wants us to be above the law, or to show disdain or intolerance as part of our devotion to him.  A couple of basic scriptural references might help us with this:

Article of Faith 12: "We believe in being subject to kings, presidents, rulers, and magistrates, in obeying, honoring, and sustaining the law."  This doesn't mean that law = right or that we have to do or approve of everything that the law allows. :)  We don't drink, don't smoke, etc. even though the law allows it.  Nor does it mean that we should disobey laws meant to protect others from hatred and discrimination.  Even if we don't agree with the way others live their lives, the law is there to protect us all from each other, and God expects us to treat others with honor and respect, even if they are doing things that we do not approve of.

Article of Faith 11: "We claim the privilege of worshiping Almighty God according to the dictates of our own conscience, and allow all men the same privilege, let them worship how, where, or what they may."  Again, this doesn't mean that we have to agree with anyone, but it does mean that we allow other people religious freedom. We get to choose, they get to choose.  It works. :)

God asks us to be a light to the world, and to set an example.  God asks us to love others, even our enemies.  Let's make sure that we are not justifying infringing upon the rights or liberties of others, or using our religion to justify hatred or discrimination.  It's easy to get confused when we're trying to figure out how to combat evil influences in our lives, but hatred and cruelty are not things that God ever approves of.  Let's get to know and learn to love others, and respect their rights, even when they don't choose the same things that we do.  Let's look to God and remember that only his plan of love can change the world.  Hatred just gets us more of the same.

Sunday, July 10, 2016

Alma 27:8 -- On Total Commitment to God

"And the king said unto him: Yea, if the Lord saith unto us go, we will go down unto our brethren, and we will be their slaves until we repair unto them the many murders and sins which we have committed against them."
Alma 27:8

This is the king of the Anti-Nephi-Lehis, later called the Ammonites, speaking. They were a group of Lamanite people who had been converted to the gospel through the missionary efforts of the sons of Mosiah.  Being born and raised Lamanites, they were basically raised to hate Nephites (and in some ways, the Nephites were the same, which is why it was such a big deal that missionaries even came to the Lamanite lands at all).  This was largely a religious dispute... two groups that were genetically and religiously related through common ancestors, but who interpreted the past differently and who each claimed to be correct.  As such, they had participated in raids and wars against the Nephites.

After being converted, they were so zealous in trying to repair the wrongs that they had done that they vowed never to fight again, and they buried their weapons of war as a symbol of the covenant they made with God never to harm or steal, but to heal and give.  So, when their fellow Lamanites started attacking and raiding them, they went out to meet them and just prayed, and a large number of them were killed, but it changed other people, when they realized that they were just butchering unarmed people, and a great number of the attackers stopped, and knelt down with them, and became converted as well.

Some though, weren't going to stop, and so Ammon encourages them to leave the Lamanite lands and join the Nephites.  They are understandably scared about doing this... the Nephites could just kill them for being Lamanites, and so the first solution the king thinks of is this... that they will be slaves to them until they can make up for what they have done in the past.  ... It doesn't work out that way, because the Nephites have a law against slavery, but I think about the amazing dedication that this group of people had to repentance and to doing the right thing.  They were willing to kneel down and allow an army to kill them.  They were willing to be slaves.  They were willing to do anything that the Lord asked, to change any part of their lives, to give up everything they had ever known.  In comparison, I feel like my dedication could use some work.

After this, the Lord tells them to go up and join the Nephites and rely on their mercy.  That's got to be scary to go join a people that you and your ancestors have hated for many generations, and a large portion of which probably hate you in return.  But as soon as the King knows that the Lord has commanded it, they do it.  They were completely committed to doing as God asks.

Today, let's strive to be as humble and accepting of God's will, and as fearful to sin or harm others as the Ammonites were.  Let's stop holding on to our souvenirs of hell and our prideful resistance of God's will, and let's be open to giving up or changing *anything* about our lives, as God asks it.  I think we are often held back from blessings because we are holding back with the Lord.  Let's explore the (admittedly scary) total commitment option, and see how radically our lives can change.

Saturday, July 9, 2016

Psalms 145:14 -- On Falling and Learning

"The Lord upholdeth all that fall, and raiseth up all those that be bowed down."
Psalms 145:14

Sometimes in our times of trouble, we feel that the Lord has abandoned us.  Even when whatever it is isn't our fault, and we know that we will get through it, sometimes it *feels* like if we're doing things right, then things should go right.  And when it is our fault, sometimes we don't think that God wants to hear us apologizing, again, about screwing up.  We don't think we deserve another chance, and worry that God might not give us one.

And yet, despite how it feels sometimes, and despite our lack of hope, God is always, always there, to save us from our mistakes and our troubles.  He urges us to trust that things will get better.  He speaks peace to our souls, and encourages us to try again, with his help.

The Lord doesn't just pal around with perfect people. :)  In fact, he can't, since none of us are. :)  He loves us, whoever we are, and he asks us all to come to him, so that he can make our burdens lighter.  He wants us to all be good, and work for perfection... work hard at it, not just blow it off.  But he also knows that it is going to take some practice, and many many lessons to get there.  It's a skill, not something that just happens. :)

Today, let's work on learning to be good.  Let's look to God when we fall and when we are overloaded with our burdens, and let's ask for help.  Let's listen to God's instructions about how to make life better and happier, and how to have more hope.

Friday, July 8, 2016

Acts 17:26-28 -- On Finding the Lord

"And hath made of one blood all nations of men for to dwell on all the face of the earth, and hath determined the times before appointed, and the bounds of their habitation;
That they should seek the Lord, if haply they might feel after him, and find him, though he be not far from every one of us:
For in him we live, and move, and have our being; as certain also of your own poets have said, For we are also his offspring."
Acts 17:26-28

This is Paul speaking to the people of Athens.  Right before this he explains how God is different from idols, and here he basically is talking about humanity's relationship to God.  I like some of the specific things that he points out here, that all nations are of one blood, that God is not far from any of us, and that we are God's offspring.

Paul also mentions here that he has determined "the times before appointed, and the bounds of their habitation" which I think is referring to that same sort of thing as "their bounds are set, they cannot pass. Thy days are known, and thy years shall not be numbered less" (D&C 122:9).  God is in control.  He has a plan, and it *will* come to pass.  No one will be allowed to go far enough that they can mess it up. :)

I like the idea that a lot of our purpose here is to seek the Lord.  To learn to recognize his spirit/voice (feel after him), and discover him in our own lives.  It takes dedication and effort, not just a quick and mostly thoughtless 3 second prayer.  All prayer is valuable, don't get me wrong.  But building a relationship with God takes more than brief chats or a one-time deep conversation.  We have to get to really know him, and learn to love him... and realize and know that he is our Father.

Today, let's seek the Lord.  Let's remember that we are all one blood.  Let's think about what being the offspring of God means in our lives, and let's be confident in God's plan, which cannot be upset.

Thursday, July 7, 2016

Alma 40:8 -- On Time and Ghosts

"Now whether there is more than one time appointed for men to rise it mattereth not; for all do not die at once, and this mattereth not; all is as one day with God, and time only is measured unto men."
Alma 40:8

This chapter is talking about how the resurrection will go. While that is a worthy topic, what caught my eye today was the phrase "time only is measured unto men."  This goes along with Revelation 10:6, which talks about there being "time no longer."

The whole thing is pretty cool on a Science-Fictiony level, but what I was thinking about today was repentance.  We know that God promises us that "though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow" (Isaiah 1:18), and that idea of being *perfectly* clean and free from all of our sins is really compelling.  Time complicates things though.  We look to the past and we still see our mistakes shining brightly, still affecting ourselves and other people.

So how do we lose the haunting of the past, and the effects of who we used to be and really stand (and feel) clean before God?  I think some of it of course is true repentance, making up for our mistakes where we can, and healing relationships.  But maybe some of it is also our time-perspective. :)  If time is only measured unto man, then what does God see?  Who we are, right?  And if we change and repent, then our past selves are just ghosts, not part of who we really are anymore.  He's not looking at who we were, unless it is still a part of who we are.  And he can also see who we can be.  With God, we don't have to worry about our past-self ghosts.  We just have to clean up who we are right now, and move towards the even better selves that God can help us become.

Today, let's let go of past regrets and ghost selves, and focus on who we are now, and who we want to be (in collaboration with God).  And let's make some adjustments to get our now selves more in line with that ideal.  Let's be, *now,* people that we aren't ashamed of.  People that can't peek out of the past and haunt us.  Let's be the good and kind people today that we can look back on as a good example of our potential. :)  And let's also try to do the same for others.  Let's not judge anyone by the past, but give everyone the freedom to change that we all so desperately need.

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

2 Samuel 23:2-4 -- On Being the Light and Good in the World

"The Spirit of the Lord spake by me, and his word was in my tongue.
The God of Israel said, the Rock of Israel spake to me, He that ruleth over men must be just, ruling in the fear of God.
And he shall be as the light of the morning, when the sun riseth, even a morning without clouds; as the tender grass springing out of the earth by clear shining after rain."
2 Samuel 23:2-4

This is some beautiful imagery, and what surprises me about it is that it is talking about rulers... kings, presidents, politicians.  I wonder if we've become too cynical in our world when we can't imagine a leader described with this sort of imagery... fresh, clean, gentle, new.  I think God qualifies, and surely some of his prophets, but hard to imagine who else, especially in terms of some of the things happening in the world right now.

I think that this can apply to any leader, at work, at home, at school, or wherever we are.  We should be this type of leader.  People who are full of light and tenderness and shininess. :)  Today, let's work for this.  Let's let go of our clouds, and allow the rain to wash us clean.  Let's look to God's example, and the example of his prophets, and let's be better people, making the world around us better, and bringing hope to others who find it hard to see the good. Let's *be* the good, and trust that God will help our good efforts prosper.

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

2 Nephi 28:3 -- On Figurative Thievery, and Generous Sacrifice

"They rob the poor because of their fine sanctuaries; they rob the poor because of their fine clothing; and they persecute the meek and the poor in heart, because in their pride they are puffed up."
2 Nephi 28:3

This verse doesn't seem to be talking about literally robbing the poor, but figuratively robbing them.  It's an interesting idea that perhaps we should ponder. Are we spending so much for luxuries that we are robbing the poor of what we *could* have given to them?  This verse says that the people were robbing the poor because of their fine sanctuaries and their fine clothing, and persecuting the meek because of pride.  Again, I'm thinking that the persecution wasn't literal either, but it was persecution because raising ourselves up only serves to exacerbate the disparity between rich and poor further.

I don't think that the Lord is asking us to wear rags or to build cardboard houses.  But I do think that we could sacrifice more, and give more, to people that don't have as much as we do.  Do we really need to spend the money on the extra luxurious or brand name versions of things that are already functional and beautiful at a much lower cost?  Perhaps the Lord is asking us to include other factors into our budgets, such as helping other people and relieving suffering.

Today, let's not be puffed up, thinking that we're cooler or better than other people because of what we have.  Instead of assuming that others brought on their own misfortune, let's think about times when things have gone wrong for us that were beyond our control.  Let's have compassion on others without assumptions.  Let's stop figuratively robbing others by overspending on things that we really don't need.  Instead, let's find a way to help by giving up something we wanted, and blessing someone else instead.

Monday, July 4, 2016

Luke 17:32-33 -- On Walking Away and Saving our Lives

"Remember Lot’s wife.
Whosoever shall seek to save his life shall lose it; and whosoever shall lose his life shall preserve it."
Luke 17:32-33

This is an interesting combination of messages.  Remember Lot's wife basically means don't look back (in the story, she gets turned into a pillar of salt for looking back and wanting to return to her old life).  And then this idea of saving or losing our lives, and that clearly God's idea of saving and losing our lives is different than the way we typically go about it.

In thinking about the connection between the verses, I think it might be that we get a certain version of who we are stuck in our heads, and we seek to preserve that image of who we think that we are.  We often love that version of ourselves so much that we'll do a lot to preserve it, including ignoring what God is saying when he asks us to change, or go in a different direction.

Maybe that is what Lot's wife was doing.  She was looking back at her idea of her life, wanting that life, rather than leaving the comfort of a city and wandering around with her husband.  We see something quite similar with Laman, Lemuel, and the sons of Ishmael.  God asked them to leave Jerusalem, where they were very rich and had a comfortable life... and he asked them to go live in tents for years, eating most of their food raw and suffering some serious deprivation, especially as compared to their former lives.

Sometimes it is really tough to do what God asks us to do.  It can be hard, and heart-wrenching, and make us feel deprived of something that we really wanted or got used to.  Just letting go of that version of our lives that we've carried around so long as our personal ideal... that can feel like we're tearing ourselves in half.  And yet, still... God's way is always the right way, and the correct choice, and the one that will bring us the most happiness in the end (not always the most happiness in the interim).

Today, let's be willing to lose / let go of our old version of ourselves in favor of finding the new version of ourselves that God is teaching us to be.  Let's walk away from our former sinful selves in order to find our new selves, and save *those* lives.  Let us never look back, or second-guess that choice.  Let's let go of trying to live without God and embrace living with him.  In doing so, we may indeed go through hardship and a lot of adjustment.  But we will also find infinitely better lives than we ever could have had otherwise.  Let's trust God, our creator, to know us better than we know ourselves.  He will deliver us to eternal happiness, if we are willing to follow his path.

Sunday, July 3, 2016

Isaiah 2:2-4 -- On Working towards Perfection

"And it shall come to pass in the last days, that the mountain of the Lord’s house shall be established in the top of the mountains, and shall be exalted above the hills; and all nations shall flow unto it.
And many people shall go and say, Come ye, and let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob; and he will teach us of his ways, and we will walk in his paths: for out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.
And he shall judge among the nations, and shall rebuke many people: and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruninghooks: nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more."
Isaiah 2:2-4

There are a lot of last-days scriptures that talk about consequences and judgments and "burning instead of beauty" (Isaiah 3:24).  I think those scriptures are important because they warn us about what will happen, and where we need to stand in relation to the Lord.  Despite their importance though, sometimes it is nice to focus on the positive side of the last days, and that is what I really like about this selection.

I like the idea of God's house and being able to go to the Lord to learn from him. That is something we can do now, of course, and totally not discounting that at all, because we need that relationship.  Still, though, the whole having him there in person thing, the tactile presence... I think that would be an overwhelmingly positive experience, and is something I look forward to.

I also love the idea of God as judge and government, correcting things and turning the world into a place where we don't even learn war any more.  Imagine all of the things that would have to change to get to that kind of a perfect society.  Those changes are probably why there are so many judgment and consequences scriptures... but despite all of the bad parts, it seems worth it overall for these good parts... for the chance to live in a society like this, and be part of God's people, under his leadership.

On a micro level, our lives are sometimes like this too.  We often have to go through bad things in order to get to the good.  It feels awful to have to repent sometimes.  It's horrible to learn some of the lessons that we have to learn.  But after, after the repentance, after learning... it's truly glorious.  Everything that God asks us to do and to live through and to be... it's all worth it--more than worth it--for how we turn out in the end.  And the world will be too.

It's sometimes scary to see how things are going, but let's hang in there, find the positive, and work to make things better.  God has a plan, and (spoilers) ... the end is perfect. :)

Saturday, July 2, 2016

3 Nephi 18:31-32 -- On Numbers and Sheep and Sneetches

"But if he repent not he shall not be numbered among my people, that he may not destroy my people, for behold I know my sheep, and they are numbered.
Nevertheless, ye shall not cast him out of your synagogues, or your places of worship, for unto such shall ye continue to minister; for ye know not but what they will return and repent, and come unto me with full purpose of heart, and I shall heal them; and ye shall be the means of bringing salvation unto them."
3 Nephi 18:31-32

Two things came to mind while I was reading through this today.  One was the Serta counting sheep with the little numbers on their sides. :)  The idea that God knows us, and that we are numbered is comforting to me, although I suppose it could be off-putting, if we are thinking about government forms or something. God doesn't de-personalize like that though.  He numbers us because he keeps track of us, and wants to make sure we're all there, like on a field trip when they start counting heads. :)  And if the numbers come out wrong, then he searches to find out who is lost, and then comes to find us.  It's not about the statistics.  It's about helping us learn and keeping everyone safe.

The second thing I thought of were Sneetches, from the Doctor Seuss story.  As God's sheep, we are numbered, and in a way that makes us pretty cool, and chosen, and amazing.  But in another way, we can't start kicking people out of our club because they did something crazy.  We have no idea who else is supposed to be in the club, and who isn't, just like those mixed-up Sneetches at the end of their story. And the truth is, with the gospel, we get to choose.  Are we numbered in God's fold or not?  We can choose to walk away, but even if we do, God and our friends aren't going to write us off, because they are going to try to find us and bring us home, and make sure we have a number. :)

No matter what we have done, whether we start out in a different religion or what color skin we have, or what language we speak, or so many things that make us scared of each other or critical of each other.  Those things don't matter.  What matters is that we are children of God.  All of us.  And we need to give each other space to live and make decisions about whether we want to be in the fold of God or not.  When we start deciding who else is in and who is out, labeling these people as the bad guys and these people as the good guys, then we're making judgments that we have no knowledge or authority to make.  We're not the shepherd.  We have no idea who God has numbered as part of his fold.  All we know is that we should be in it. :)  God gives us space to make choices and to repent.  Let's do the same for others, and help God find his other lost sheep.

Friday, July 1, 2016

Alma 19:31-33 -- On Hearing, Changing, and Remembering

"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.
And it came to pass that when Ammon arose he also administered unto them, and also did all the servants of Lamoni; and they did all declare unto the people the selfsame thing—that their hearts had been changed; that they had no more desire to do evil."
Alma 19:31-33

Continuing the story of Ammon's mission, this is just after a woman named Abish, who had been converted to the Lord and who was one of the king's servants, witnesses the whole royal court being overcome by the spirit and falling down as though they were dead.  She realizes that it is the power of the Lord, and goes and calls everyone in the area to come see what has happened, thinking that they will understand and believe.  Unfortunately, when she comes back, they are arguing about what evil has caused this whole thing, which causes her to cry and try to revive the queen.  The queen gets up, and then gets her husband up, which is where we come in.

The first verse says "as many as heard his words believed," which out of context seems like everyone.  As we continue though, we realize that even though the words were said to everyone, many "would not hear."  I think that is a little scary, and means that we need to be really careful as we are listening to the Lord and his servants.  Is it getting through to us, or are we determined not to listen and to go our own way from the start?  In order to truly listen to the Lord, we can't be biased against hearing certain messages, like needing to repent and change our lives, for instance. :)

In the last version we finally realize what was happening to everyone as they were overcome by the spirit.  God was changing their hearts, removing the desire to do evil.  Not of course by force or without their permission, like reprogramming a robot, but because they wanted to be new people, to change, and make their lives right before the Lord.  I love the idea of not wanting to do evil, and I even think that we get there sometimes.  When we're feeling the spirit, we're never wanting to be somewhere else, engaged in sin.  But sometimes, later, we forget.  Today, maybe we can remember both to actively hear the Lord, and to keep that spirit with us, never forgetting what it is like to want to be better, to be clean and free of sin, and not wanting to ever go there again.  And when we do forget, let's make sure that we have those things in our lives that help us to feel the spirit, and remember God.  Like praying, going to church, and reading our scriptures. :)

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