Friday, September 30, 2016

Philippians 4:13 -- On Pessimism vs Hope

"I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me."
Philippians 4:13

We underestimate ourselves a lot.  We tell ourselves that we can't do things, that we aren't good at things, that we just don't have the talent, or we're not smart enough.  We don't feel strong enough emotionally or physically, or maybe we think that we were born a certain way, with a desire or an impediment or a weakness that is just our cross to bear, but it makes us unable to accomplish, become, or do something that we really want to do.

Based on this scripture, perhaps we should step back and reevaluate.  Maybe we're being pessimistic or too hard on ourselves.  Maybe we're not being creative enough.  Perhaps there is a way to the promised land after all.  The Brother of Jared had to think pretty far outside the box to get light in those barges.  Nephi successfully crossed the ocean on a boat he built from scratch on his first try.  Moses parted a sea.  Faith and hope and trust in God strengthened them and helped them do what seemed impossible.

The thing is... it is ALWAYS going to seem impossible at some point.  Where would be the drama of our stories be without some conflict and obstacles and hope seeming to be lost?  It's all part of the test of life, and included in the script. :)  But we're the heroes.  [Spoiler alert]  ... It turns out okay in the end.  Because God.  Because miracles.  Because it is never truly hopeless; it only seems so sometimes.

Today, let's remember that we can do all things through Christ.  Let's pray for that strength.  Let's trust in that happy ending and not give up halfway through the story.  Let's think.  Let's find a way.  God is on our side, and if we stick with him, we can't fail.  Well, I mean, of course we can fail... but only temporarily, never permanently. :)  We just have to keep at it, and make it to that last chapter.  The best one ever; I promise. :)  ... And even better because it matters a heck of a lot more: *God* promises.  Let's trust God.  Our last chapter on earth is just the beginning of a brand new, eternal story better than we could ever imagine.

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Mosiah 4:27 -- On Not Running Faster than Our Strength

"And see that all these things are done in wisdom and order; for it is not requisite that a man should run faster than he has strength. And again, it is expedient that he should be diligent, that thereby he might win the prize; therefore, all things must be done in order."
Mosiah 4:27

I like the ideas here that doing God's will requires more than just mindlessly rushing full steam ahead.  We have to think about what we're doing, and prioritize, and make wise decisions.  If we try to do everything at once, we're run out of strength before the marathon is over.  Instead, we have to sometimes conserve our energy and our resources so that we can keep going.  This probably means that sometimes it is okay to say no, that we don't have to double-book ourselves, and that it is okay to manage our stress levels sometimes by letting someone else handle it... even when we think we could do it better. :)  It of course doesn't mean that we shouldn't be "anxiously engaged in a good cause" (D&C 58:27), but allowing ourselves to get *too* anxious isn't going to help anyone, including God.  He wants us to be happy, not stressed so much that we're harming ourselves.

Today, let's never stop moving forward, but let's be smart about it, and make sure we aren't trying to go too fast and that we aren't hurting ourselves, or others, in the process.  Let's learn our lessons well, and prepare as we go, making sure we're understanding each step and not trying to do graduate level coursework while we're still in kindergarten.  It's a marathon, not a sprint.  Let's work for eternal goals, and stay healthy and happy on the journey, so that we can get to the end, and the prize of eternal life with God.

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

2 Samuel 13:11-17 -- On False Love and Planned Sin

"And when she had brought them unto him to eat, he took hold of her, and said unto her, Come lie with me, my sister.
And she answered him, Nay, my brother, do not force me; for no such thing ought to be done in Israel: do not thou this folly.
And I, whither shall I cause my shame to go? and as for thee, thou shalt be as one of the fools in Israel. Now therefore, I pray thee, speak unto the king; for he will not withhold me from thee.
Howbeit he would not hearken unto her voice: but, being stronger than she, forced her, and lay with her.
Then Amnon hated her exceedingly; so that the hatred wherewith he hated her was greater than the love wherewith he had loved her. And Amnon said unto her, Arise, be gone.
And she said unto him, There is no cause: this evil in sending me away is greater than the other that thou didst unto me. But he would not hearken unto her.
Then he called his servant that ministered unto him, and said, Put now this woman out from me, and bolt the door after her."
2 Samuel 13:11-17

This is part of the story of Amnon and Tamar, which is unfortunately not a parable, but something that really happened.  Amnon thought that he was in love with his half sister, and with the help of a "friend" (real friends help us become better people), he planned out this encounter.  Tamar, willing to be with him, asks him to do it the right way by speaking to the King (their father) to ask to marry her, but Amnon doesn't listen.  It's a harsh story, but I think it is also instructive.

We often have no idea what real love is.  Amnon mistook a very selfish, twisted lust for love.  If he had actually loved Tamar, he would have considered her feelings and wishes as well.  God is trying to teach us to love, and show us true love, but we have to have some patience in learning.  Jumping into physical relationships before we know the difference is going to be devastating, to both parties.

Sexual sin is ultra-serious.  Amnon was already guilty of very great sin after forcing his sister, but she told him that sending her away afterward was worse. Sex is a blessing from God that forms physical, emotional, and spiritual connections between married couples, helping them to become so unified that they are "one flesh" (Genesis 2:24, Mark 10:8, 1 Corinthians 6:16). That kind of connection between people requires some commitment, some responsibility, and some dedication.  Tamar wanted to stay with Amnon.  Physical abuse was horrible enough, but in forcing her away, Amnon added emotional and spiritual abuse by disrespecting that connection, and rejecting and abandoning her.

Planning out sin ahead of time makes it worse, causes more guilt, and makes it much, much harder to repent of.  Admittedly, this is a more subtle lesson.  Amnon doesn't even try to repent that we know of.  All we hear of him after this is his death because of what he did to Tamar.  (Which was also a planned out sin that caused a lot of problems.)  But in this world we often choose sin and carefully plan it out ahead of time, as Amnon did.  Perhaps not as intricately, and hopefully with less serious consequences, but we find ourselves thinking that we'll just sin now and repent later.  Society can even glorify it, as shown in the old Duran Duran lyrics "Some people call it a one night stand but we can call it paradise. / Don't say a prayer for me now. Save it til the morning after."

The thing is, whatever you call it or however you think about it in the moment, sin is sin, and it is ugly and painful, and trying to recover from it afterward rather than preventing it in the first place just means a hefty dose of suffering for everyone involved.  Repentance isn't just changing our actions, but changing our minds and our hearts... and the difficulty of that is multiplied a lot when we keep choosing sin over God as we plan and commit sin for an extended period of time.  We lose touch with the spirit, and we entrench ourselves in our own desires.  Those aren't changes that are easy to undo, and the undoing of them at that point feels like we are tearing out part of ourselves, which we really are, because we've made that evil part of us.

Today, let's learn some difficult lessons.  Let's remember that God teaches us what love really is, and we should never use emotion to justify sin.  Let's avoid sexual sin and trust God that his commandments on the subject are for some good reasons and will help us avoid pain.  And, lastly, let's not plan out or accept evil as part of who we are.  Let's be willing to repent and change... not just our actions, but our minds and hearts.

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Matthew 13:13 -- On Parables and Running from Reality

"Therefore speak I to them in parables: because they seeing see not; and hearing they hear not, neither do they understand."
Matthew 13:13

This idea of being able to see, but not seeing, and being able to hear but not hearing, is a consistent theme in the scriptures, and I think also in our lives.  I don't know about you, but I can remember times in my life, many of them, when it was very clear what was happening, or that something bad, dangerous, uncomfortable, or embarrassing was *about* to happen, and yet I specifically chose not to pay attention, or chose not to deal with it, just pretending that I didn't know or didn't feel or didn't understand.  I hope that isn't just me... that the tendency is part of the human condition.  Not that I am glad we are like that, but it does seem like a good reason for the Lord to use parables with us, so that instead of offering a blunt meaning, and shying away or ignoring it, we have to think about it.  And once we understand, we can't say that we didn't know or think about it. :)  Kind of works around our gut irresponsibility instinct.

Parables also insulate the truth from the already-insulated.  If we don't want to face it, God allows us to easily choose that.  We can just walk away in ignorance and not think about it.  And sometimes, that *is* what we choose.  But it also makes some of the truth more palatable when we are working on coming out of our safety shells and attempting to deal.  Just like all fiction helps us learn and face truths without having to literally face them, God's fiction, in parables, helps us to clearly think about and see truths without the uber-harshness of reality, and the examples of our own personal sin.  Today, let's be thankful that God knows how to teach us, even when we want to run away from reality.  Let's read, and think, and learn, and come unto him.

Monday, September 26, 2016

3 Nephi 12:24 -- On Hearts, Reconciliation, and Reception

"Go thy way unto thy brother, and first be reconciled to thy brother, and then come unto me with full purpose of heart, and I will receive you."
3 Nephi 12:24

Continuing the idea of unity, this verse illustrates that any kind of conflict can get in the way of our relationship with God.  Those things need to be resolved before we can have "full purpose of heart" in approaching God.  Although we place a lot of emphasis on such matters as whose fault it is, or whether the conflict is "justified," in the interest of restoring peace and unity those things don't really matter.  Merely the existence of a conflict is what interrupts our unity and peace, divides our hearts, and distracts us from the spirit.  Even though we want to go to God, we can't if we don't have our whole hearts to give and parts of them are tied up with hatred or guilt or envy or lust or whatever it is.

Today, no matter how it started or who is wrong, let's resolve those conflicts that we have with others, and be reconciled.  Let's make sure there isn't anything weighing on our hearts or souls that could detract from our devotion.  When our hearts are freed from those burdens, we will be able to turn them completely to God, and he will then willingly accept and receive us.

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Luke 10:27 -- On Loving and Feasting

"And he answering said, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength, and with all thy mind; and thy neighbour as thyself."
Luke 10:27

Stopping to think about this statement today, it struck me just how immense this idea is.  This is the answer to the question asked two verses previous: "what shall I do to inherit eternal life?" (verse 25).  If we want eternal life, which I think is largely the point of the gospel, then this is the recipe.  But what does it mean to love with our hearts, souls, strength, and with our minds... let alone with ALL of them?

It makes me think of Christ asking us to come before him with a broken heart and a contrite spirit... the lesson there is not that we have to feel beaten down or conquered, but that God requires that utter and complete sincerity and honesty that we seem to only have with ourselves when we have lost something and/or realized that we are in the wrong.  When we know that we desperately need him, and only he will do.  Loving God with all our hearts doesn't mean that there is no love left for anyone else, but that we're finally realizing that God is part of, and the source of, that love that we share with our families, friends, and all the world.  Indeed, that's the essence of this whole lesson.  That God is an integral part of all that we do, all that we love, all that we are, and even all that we think.  Those good ideas, and that inspiration? ... totally God. :)

As we start to grasp the first part, then the second part becomes easier.  We learn to love people as we love ourselves.  And we love ourselves as we love God... with everything that we are, with everything that we think and do and say.  Christ, our perfect example, was one with his Father.  Not as a clone or a mysterious trinitary lifeform, but in the same way that he asks us to be one with him (John 17:20-23)--in purpose and heart, soul, strength, and mind, just as it says in the verse above: in love.  And if we are truly united with him in love, I can't imagine that we would ever have any room in our souls for hatred or even conflict.  Just the thought of those things would create disharmony and we'd end up not being on the same page anymore.  That's what having the spirit with us is... that feeling of harmony with God, where we can feel that love and the communication and strength and joy that comes with it.

Today, let's love God with all of ourselves.  Let's work at creating that peace and harmony in our lives, homes, and families so that we can have God with us all the time.  Let's go before him in humility and truth, with nothing held back, with no sin or hatred or conflict marring that open channel.  As we do, we will feel the spirit, and learn what that perfect unity feels like.  And once we have a glimpse of that, hopefully we realize the amazing and unbelievable joy we can have with more than a taste, and we will come back again and again to "feast upon his love" (Jacob 3:2).

Saturday, September 24, 2016

D&C 89:3 -- On Weakness, Exceptions, and the Spirit

"Given for a principle with promise, adapted to the capacity of the weak and the weakest of all saints, who are or can be called saints."
Doctrine and Covenants 89:3

The idea of God giving a commandment, or perhaps all commandments, adapted to the weakest of us is an interesting one.  If a commandment is adapted for the weak, then we see that strong people might not need this commandment, and we tend to start seeing commandments as more flexible guidelines--the "spirit of the law" idea rather than the letter.  This idea perhaps explains some exceptions that we have seen in the scriptures, such as the rather extreme exception early in the Book of Mormon of Nephi, led by the Spirit, killing someone in order to accomplish what God had asked him to do.  This exception, and exceptions in general, are sometimes a tough thing to face, because we so often look at God's commandments as stark, eternal, black-and-white truths. And I think we should treat them that way, but as with this verse, and with what Nephi was asked to do, it is clear that we don't always know the mind of God and what he might expect of us in order to accomplish the mission that he has for us as individuals.

On the other hand, when we start realizing that there might be wiggle room or exceptions to God's laws, then we start wondering whether we are the exceptions, or, worse, just assuming we are and running with it.  And it is when we go that far that we entirely miss the point.  It's the same thing as assuming that we are symbolically the loyal son in the story about the prodigal, or assuming that we are the people who worked all day in the parable of the laborers in the vineyard.  It's assuming that we don't need God's mercy or his commandments to help us, because we are already practically perfect, or that we know the universe and the future as well as God does, so we know that this action will work out better for everyone.  It's pure pride, which as we remember from Proverbs 16:18, "goeth before destruction."

Today, let's obey God's commandments as though we are the weakest, never assuming that we are strong enough not to need them.  Let's remember Christ's example of being sinless, and yet agreeing to be baptized for the remission of sins, "to fulfil all righteousness" (Matthew 3:15).  Let's be the humble, the obedient, and the strict observers.  Let's establish that relationship with the Lord so that we can always hear him and have him with us.  As we do, then we'll be able to help others more, to live happier lives, we'll have the promised blessings for being obedient, and we'll also be in a position to hear and understand what God has to say if there *is* an exception... if we aren't living the gospel in the first place, then we can never get that message.

Friday, September 23, 2016

Psalms 37:4 -- On Delight and Desire

"Delight thyself also in the Lord; and he shall give thee the desires of thine heart."
Psalms 37:4

I like this idea, that if we delight in the Lord, that we will get the desires of our hearts.  It seems on the surface to be an easy thing, but inherent in the message is delighting in the Lord, thus making his will and his purposes part of the desires of our hearts. :)  I'm not saying that it means we can't have what we want, because I have seen time and again in my own life that God does give me what I want.  I think that sometimes is amazing and perfect, and other times is is scary.  The challenge here is learning to want better things: things that are good for us, and for the world.  But not like cod liver oil and bigger nuclear weapons or something.  ... God isn't asking us to shut our eyes and swallow something that is disgusting.  He's really going to give us our desires.  He just wants us to make sure that we are desiring things that will help us and not hurt us.

Today, let's delight in the Lord, work for his cause, and allow him to teach us even better desires.  And let's give thanks for the amazing blessings that God sends us every day.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Mark 4:21-25 -- On Hearing and Shining

"And he said unto them, Is a candle brought to be put under a bushel, or under a bed? and not to be set on a candlestick?
For there is nothing hid, which shall not be manifested; neither was any thing kept secret, but that it should come abroad.
If any man have ears to hear, let him hear.
And he said unto them, Take heed what ye hear: with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you: and unto you that hear shall more be given.
For he that hath, to him shall be given: and he that hath not, from him shall be taken even that which he hath."
Mark 4:21-25

This is an interesting passage.  The candle part is probably both about us and about Christ.  We need to show our light to the world, and our light is Christ... his light is within us, and his example is what we spread.  If it were just us, by ourselves, we'd probably be sputtering a lot.  We need God to help us be shinier. :)

Then, it talks about nothing being hidden.  I think that this furthers the idea of shining to the world and being examples.  We can't hide part of ourselves and be doing secretive dark things while we're also trying to shine an example.  Doesn't work... we have to choose.  Get all of it out into the light, and make some good choices about who we want to be.  Eventually, nothing will be hidden, so let's start living that way now, and let go of the darkness, and be wholly light.

The ears to hear thing we hear a lot in parables, and it is basically God's way of saying, if you can figure this out, then live it.  Interestingly, it is followed up with "take heed what ye hear," which I think is perhaps telling us not to choose the darkness when we can see it clearly.  Everything will be clear, and we need to choose God and goodness.  Whatever we choose (measure/mete) will be returned to us... which is why we really need to take heed and think about those decisions.

People that hear will be given more, which means if we learn these lessons and improve, then we will be given more lessons so that we can improve further. :)  And if we learn nothing, we won't even be left with what we have now... we'll lose it all.  I don't think that this means that God is going to snatch our toys away, but all of this as natural consequences... if we learn, then we will have that foundation to learn more, and if we instead steal or become addicted or hook up with someone we shouldn't be with... all of those things that we "gain" by those actions are temporary, and none of it can last.

Today, let's spread God's light, and hear what he has to say.  Let's build on the lessons we've learned and make ourselves, and the world, better.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

3 Nephi 11:3-5 -- On Hearing and Understanding God

"And it came to pass that while they were thus conversing one with another, they heard a voice as if it came out of heaven; and they cast their eyes round about, for they understood not the voice which they heard; and it was not a harsh voice, neither was it a loud voice; nevertheless, and notwithstanding it being a small voice it did pierce them that did hear to the center, insomuch that there was no part of their frame that it did not cause to quake; yea, it did pierce them to the very soul, and did cause their hearts to burn.
And it came to pass that again they heard the voice, and they understood it not.
And again the third time they did hear the voice, and did open their ears to hear it; and their eyes were towards the sound thereof; and they did look steadfastly towards heaven, from whence the sound came."
3 Nephi 11:3-5

This is an incredible chapter, where Christ comes to the people.  This part, near the beginning, is interesting because it talks about how the people heard the voice three times before they understood it.  I was thinking about that, and that I think our communications with God are actually a lot like that... and we often take more than three times, actually. :)  What helped these people was opening their ears and focusing on heaven.  And maybe that is what helps us too.

We often close our ears to God's voice, perhaps literally sometimes, but definitely figuratively.  We hear what the prophets say, but instead of applying it to ourselves we think... oh, this other person really needs this lesson. :)  Or we read the scriptures and congratulate ourselves on the things that we're doing well, and just kind of gloss over the parts we aren't doing.  Maybe opening our ears would be to listen and read and study, and apply these things to our lives, to think about how they apply to us individually, and how we can learn from them and change for the better.  Perhaps looking towards heaven means that we should focus on eternal life and the salvation of our souls when making decisions, rather than what our immediate desire is.  We still have to live in the present, but our decisions will be much better if we consider who we want to be long term, rather than just what we want right now.

God's voice should have an impact on us.  In these verses, it pierces and burns and causes them to quake, but it isn't harsh or loud.  I think sometimes we don't understand because we're letting other things distract us, and we're not feeling the impact of the spirit.  When we read and pray and study, it is important to take some time in a quiet place and clear our minds, so that we can not only understand God's word, but so that we can feel the spiritual impact of it on our souls.  Today, let's take that time.  Let's focus, and open our ears, and seek to understand God with everything that we have.  If we do, like these people, we will both hear and understand his message.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Deuteronomy 18:13-15 -- On Being Perfect with God

"Thou shalt be perfect with the Lord thy God.
For these nations, which thou shalt possess, hearkened unto observers of times, and unto diviners: but as for thee, the Lord thy God hath not suffered thee so to do.
The Lord thy God will raise up unto thee a Prophet from the midst of thee, of thy brethren, like unto me; unto him ye shall hearken;"
Deuteronomy 18:13-15

The idea of perfection with the Lord here is one that we hear elsewhere in the scriptures too.  The idea that we shouldn't seek elsewhere to know about the future, but only look to God for that information.  Instead of witches and wizards and people who say they can divine or predict the future by observing the signs in the heavens, God has sent us prophets, including the great prophet predicted here, Jesus Christ.

Today, let's be perfect with the Lord.  Perfectly loyal, perfectly steadfast, perfectly focused on what he would have us do.  If we maintain that focus, we won't get distracted and wander off the path.  We'll be happier, and we'll bring more joy to the world. :)  Let's listen to the prophets, and keep the spirit with us, so that we can always have God's guidance.

Monday, September 19, 2016

Jude 1:19-21 On Separation and Loss

"These be they who separate themselves, sensual, having not the Spirit.
But ye, beloved, building up yourselves on your most holy faith, praying in the Holy Ghost,
Keep yourselves in the love of God, looking for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ unto eternal life."
Jude 1:19-21

I like the idea that we separate ourselves from God, rather than him leaving us... we sometimes feel that, or want to blame God for the distance, but it is always us doing the leaving.  We get to choose whether to be close to him in our lives, but it isn't just a mental choice.  It is also something we have to *do* something about.  It's like any other relationship really.  We can't just say that we love someone and never express it or act on it.  We have to show others that we love them in the way that we treat them and respect them and listen to them.

God's love is unconditional: he loves us all the time, no matter what... but his parenting is not unconditionally permissive.  Just as we can still love someone and not choose to put up with their rude, abusive, or violent behavior, God loves us always, but he's never going to approve of that sort of thing, and we lose our connection with him when we choose to sin, and it is a loss that is palpable.  God is always there, wanting us to return... but we won't be able to repair that connection unless we clear up the things in our lives that are interfering.

Today, let's keep ourselves in the love of God.  Let's make sure nothing else gets in the way, and let's always stay in the places where we can feel it, and not wander off trying to fill that void with something less than God... because that never, ever works.  Instead, let's repent and choose to return to that love that blows everything else in the universe away.

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Jeremiah 36:20-23 -- On Alternatives to Burning

"And they went in to the king into the court, but they laid up the roll in the chamber of Elishama the scribe, and told all the words in the ears of the king.
So the king sent Jehudi to fetch the roll: and he took it out of Elishama the scribe’s chamber. And Jehudi read it in the ears of the king, and in the ears of all the princes which stood beside the king.
Now the king sat in the winterhouse in the ninth month: and there was a fire on the hearth burning before him.
And it came to pass, that when Jehudi had read three or four leaves, he cut it with the penknife, and cast it into the fire that was on the hearth, until all the roll was consumed in the fire that was on the hearth."
Jeremiah 36:20-23

This is an interesting story that starts with Baruch writing all the words of the prophet Jeremiah and reading them in the temple to all the people.  Eventually, here, the writings come before the king, and he has them burned.  After this, he then wants to take Baruch and Jeremiah, presumably to have them destroyed as well.

That isn't what happens though, because God just tells them to write it over again, as well as giving them a message for the king, predicting the loss of his kingdom and an unfortunate death.

I think the lesson here for us is that ignoring or trying to destroy scriptures and/or prophets is pointless.  They are just the messengers of God's will, and we can't touch or change that, no matter how much we dislike being called to repentance. But if we can stop, even for just a second, and instead of being angry try to consider God's words and his pleading with us to repent, we will see that he is trying to help us.  He is trying to give us a way to avoid and escape destruction and loss.

Yes, it means that we need to change, and that we can't have everything our way.  It means that we have to recognize our own faults, and that other people also might know about our imperfection.  We don't want people to know our brokenness or to see us weak or not in control... but to save ourselves and avoid loss, we have to sometimes allow ourselves to be vulnerable.  To learn to love, to learn to connect with others, to admit that we can't do it all ourselves... that we need other people, and that we especially need God.

Today, when the words of the Lord make us uncomfortable because we aren't living them, let's consider alternatives to burning.  Perhaps we could accept them and give them a chance.  Perhaps we can take the time to consider that God might be right, and we might be wrong.  Let's get back on track to being our best selves by reconciling with God and choosing not to make him an enemy.  Let's listen to him and work with him to solve our problems and make our lives better.  Let's accept his advice and work on improving.

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Luke 23:27-28 -- On Choosing to be Good People

"And there followed him a great company of people, and of women, which also bewailed and lamented him.
But Jesus turning unto them said, Daughters of Jerusalem, weep not for me, but weep for yourselves, and for your children."
Luke 23:27-28

I am not sure why it lists people and women separately here... maybe to emphasize that there were women, because that paints a picture that is somehow more sorrowful/emotional?  Or perhaps just to explain Christ's reference to "daughters" in the next   I enjoyed reading this today, in contrast to earlier in the chapter where it says that "the chief priests and the rulers and the people" (verse 13) asked for Barabbas rather than Christ (verse 18), and consented to the crucifixion (verse 21).  This makes it clear that those "people" and the "people" (and women) referred to in this verse are different groups, and that there were very many who still cared about Christ, and who did *not* want him to die.

It was part of God's plan for Christ to die, and to be resurrected, and so I know we can't really wish that the political situation had been different in order to save him back then.  He could have saved himself at any time, and he chose instead to allow it, to finish the atonement and our salvation.  But it still makes me feel better that here it points out a lot of people who never wanted it to happen.  I also like that he told them not to worry about him, but to worry about their own lives. It sounds sort of "impending doom"ish, but I really think he was concerned for them, and didn't want them to cry for him.  He was choosing something... FOR them, and he wanted them to take care of themselves and their families, because he knew a lot of rough things were in store for them.

I guess the lesson here is that, as people, we need to be the sort of people who mourn for the bad things that happen in our society and do what we can to change them, and not be the sort of people that go along with the evil decisions of others, even if they have titles or authority.  Today, let's choose to be good, and to love and serve God, regardless of what anyone else chooses.

Friday, September 16, 2016

Genesis 41:54 -- On Trials and Timing

"And the seven years of dearth began to come, according as Joseph had said: and the dearth was in all lands; but in all the land of Egypt there was bread."
Genesis 41:54

This is from the story of Joseph, after getting sold into slavery and being thrown into prison, and tons of serious challenges, he finds himself perfectly set up to save the people of Egypt, and his family.  I think that this is a good reminder that God has a plan, and nothing happens without a reason, no matter how hard it is for us at the time.  The horrors that Joseph went through had to happen so that he could save so many people, and the challenges in our own lives happen for a reason too.  We can't always see it, but as we trust God, we always find in the end that his timing is perfect.  It's easy to become bitter, to be angry about the things that we have to suffer.  I'm not saying that the things that we go through don't matter.  Only that God truly loves us, and none of it is meaningless.  Today, let's hang in there and have a little bit of faith.  Let's trust God to get us where we need to be, as he did for Joseph.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Psalms 107:6, 13, 19, 28, 43 -- On Seeing the Theme and Breaking the Cycle

"Then they cried unto the Lord in their trouble, and he delivered them out of their distresses.
. . .
Then they cried unto the Lord in their trouble, and he saved them out of their distresses.
. . .
Then they cry unto the Lord in their trouble, and he saveth them out of their distresses.
. . .
Then they cry unto the Lord in their trouble, and he bringeth them out of their distresses.
. . .
Whoso is wise, and will observe these things, even they shall understand the lovingkindness of the Lord."
Psalms 107:6, 13, 19, 28, 43

This chapter has a theme going on, which is much clearer here, with the similar verses pulled out of context.  These are the verses about God saving people in varied distress, and there are other verses that are trying to get to see how thankful we should be to the Lord, and how we should praise him.  I also included the last verse for the final lesson about paying attention and understanding how good God is.

This theme not only reflects the struggles of the Israelites, but I think also the struggles in our lives as a society, as families, and as individuals.  In the Book of Mormon, too, we read about the Pride cycle, where we are righteous, which leads to blessings, which leads to us taking it for granted and getting prideful, which leads to sin, which leads to loss of blessings and bad consequences, which leads to humility, which leads to repentance, which leads to righteousness, which leads to blessings again, and around and around in the same circle.  When things are good, we tend to forget God and mess it up, and when things are bad, we finally turn to God and get back on track.  No wonder we have troubles, eh?

Today, let's try to remember that God is always there for us to deliver us out of our troubles.  Let's cry unto him for deliverance, and then let's think about crying unto him all the time, working on humility all the time, praising him all the time, and gaining the wisdom that the last verse talks about.  Let's break the cycle. As we trust and praise the Lord now, maybe we won't have to put up with the reminders of trouble and distress.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Joseph Smith—History 1:75 -- On Hope and Open Eyes

"Man may deceive his fellow-men, deception may follow deception, and the children of the wicked one may have power to seduce the foolish and untaught, till naught but fiction feeds the many, and the fruit of falsehood carries in its current the giddy to the grave; but one touch with the finger of his love, yes, one ray of glory from the upper world, or one word from the mouth of the Savior, from the bosom of eternity, strikes it all into insignificance, and blots it forever from the mind."
Joseph Smith—History 1:75 (paragraph 8, sentence 3)

This is Oliver Cowdery after trying to describe what seeing an angel was like.  I really like this particular selection because I think that it points out the very important fact that bad can never overcome good.  Clouds and darkness come, and they scare us.  We feel overwhelmed sometimes; we can't see the hope.  But just like Baalam (Numbers 22:31) and Elisha's servant (2 Kings 6:17) had to have God open their eyes, so it is with us.  There is bright hope all around us, if we just have the power to see it.

Today, let's remember that God is always there, lighting the way and clearing our path back to him.  We might not be able to see it or feel it yet, but it is always, always true.  One breath of heaven can wipe away every chain of hell, if we are willing to let it go.  Let's never believe the lie that there is no hope.  Let's look to God, and ask him to open our eyes, and our minds, and our hearts.  Let's trust in God's love, and help others to see it as well.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Matthew 19:9-12 -- On Avoiding and Repenting of Sexual Sin

"And I say unto you, Whosoever shall put away his wife, except it be for fornication, and shall marry another, committeth adultery: and whoso marrieth her which is put away doth commit adultery.
His disciples say unto him, If the case of the man be so with his wife, it is not good to marry.
But he said unto them, All men cannot receive this saying, save they to whom it is given.
For there are some eunuchs, which were so born from their mother’s womb: and there are some eunuchs, which were made eunuchs of men: and there be eunuchs, which have made themselves eunuchs for the kingdom of heaven’s sake. He that is able to receive it, let him receive it."
Matthew 19:9-12

This is a challenging passage, and I find it interesting that even God notes that "all men cannot receive this saying."  Obviously in our society, and even in the church, we allow frequent exceptions to this interpretation of adultery.  The verses after this are also intriguing.  The disciples say, basically, wow.  If this is how strict things are, maybe it is better not to get married at all.  And Christ says, well in some cases that is true, and then explains some of the cases.  The last one is the most interesting in terms of the comparison to adultery... I am not sure whether the change referred to here was only physical, or whether he was also speaking symbolically, but it probably applies also to people who have chosen celibacy for the kingdom of God, without a related physical change.

I think for me what these verses emphasize is how important virtue and purity are to God, and by the same token, to us.  God never gives us commandments that are not spiritual, and I think we can see the spiritual damage that sexual promiscuity and unbridled passion have on individuals, and on our society.  God commands us not to fornicate or commit adultery, or *anything* similar to either of those things, not just because he likes ordering us around, but because we harm ourselves and others when we take that part of life so lightly.  It's not an inherently bad thing... it is an inherently good thing, but the way we treat it is like we took our most precious possession, doused it in enough perfume to choke a whale, and then fed it to an alligator... and figured that what was left over after that would be just as good.

In no way am I saying that it is impossible to repent of these types of sin.  It is definitely possible, and God pleads with us to do so, and will help us through every step.  But, oh, how painful... and so many consequences that we can't just brush off.  God never wants us to suffer that much.  Today, let's consider how God thinks about these types of sin, and how much he wants to protect us from harm.  Let's take this seriously, realizing that God really does sometimes ask people to live without, for all their lives, rather than sinning.  It *is* that important.  Our desires and urges don't give us a free pass, and love should not be used or proven in this way... outside of God's influence and approval.  Let's do things God's way, and trust him that we will be happier, and much better off if we avoid (and repent of) sexual sin.

Monday, September 12, 2016

D&C 64:33-34 -- On Avoiding Spiritual Weariness and Learning Happiness

"Wherefore, be not weary in well-doing, for ye are laying the foundation of a great work. And out of small things proceedeth that which is great.
Behold, the Lord requireth the heart and a willing mind; and the willing and obedient shall eat the good of the land of Zion in these last days."
Doctrine and Covenants 64:33-34

Life is a test in a lot of ways, and sometimes we yearn for it to be over.  Not necessarily in a depressing deathwish way, but just in a "haven't I done enough?" way.  And that's easy to feel, especially in the midst of suffering and loss.  It's hard to see that more effort is necessary or required of us, and we want God to just say, "Okay, all the rest is extra credit.  You've earned your spot in heaven."

It's natural to feel those things, but when we do, I think we are missing the bigger picture.  Part of the plan is learning happiness and peace, not just suffering. When God asks us to endure to the end, he doesn't mean that we have to lay down our bodies in front of a freight train and wait until the extra-long length of it is finished running us over.  God also wants us to learn to find happiness in the world around us, so that we can be troubled, but not distressed (2 Corinthians 4:8), and happy now and looking forward to being happy still (Mormon 9:14).

The Lord requires our hearts.  This doesn't mean laying then on the altar to be sacrificed.  This means giving them to God, and letting him teach us how to feel; learning with his help to manage our anxieties and choose our emotions rather than letting externalities dictate them.

Someday, maybe God *will* give us the extra credit speech.  You never know.  But until that day, let's not suffer.  Let's learn happiness.  Let's find the joy in each other and in the world around us.  Let's look for and see the good, and make that our focus.

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Helaman 13:11-12 -- On Repenting All the Way Through

"But if ye will repent and return unto the Lord your God I will turn away mine anger, saith the Lord; yea, thus saith the Lord, blessed are they who will repent and turn unto me, but wo unto him that repenteth not.
Yea, wo unto this great city of Zarahemla; for behold, it is because of those who are righteous that it is saved; yea, wo unto this great city, for I perceive, saith the Lord, that there are many, yea, even the more part of this great city, that will harden their hearts against me, saith the Lord."
Helaman 13:11-12

When it says "repent and turn unto me," the distinction between those two things is interesting.  I think sometimes we try to separate them, and think of repentance as purely a physical or behavioral change.  We understand the need to stop taking some action... or the need to take a certain action... but we don't see the inherent connection with who we are, and how we feel and think about things.

True repentance goes further than refraining from sin, or taking a positive action that we have been commanded to take.  Not saying that the action itself isn't good, but it isn't enough by itself.  Think, for instance of a kid who has been ordered by his parents to apologize.  He doesn't feel it, doesn't believe in it, but he does it, grudgingly, because he was ordered to and wants to get it over with.  Clearly there is something lacking in that sort of "repentance," right?

It is the same when God asks us to do things.  For example, God tells us that it is better to choose to humble ourselves, rather than being compelled (Alma 31:14), and that we should give to others cheerfully, because we choose to, and not grudgingly (2 Corinthians 9:7).  God talks in this selection about people hardening their hearts against him.  Clearly, our hearts are required, as is a willing mind (D&C 64:34).

Repentance is hard, but sometimes we make it harder with the way we approach it.  We think that all of it is just willpower--the ability to resist giving in to something that we want.  We think it is okay to keep buying the (symbolic) chocolate cake, but just not eat it.  But God asks for more.  He asks us to learn not to want it, or buy it in the first place.  He wants us to stop falling into the same hole, and then digging ourselves another just so we can do it over again.

Changing our hearts and minds is a bigger challenge in some ways, but there is also a lot of hope and a bigger reward in doing it right, because if we change our hearts, and become new people who don't want to sin anymore, then we are stronger.  It isn't about only willpower at that point, but about growing beyond that limitation, and finding out who we are when we are free of it.

At the end of our lives, our accumulated stuff isn't going to matter.  But the knowledge and relationships we've built will matter, and what will matter most of all is who we have become.  God's admonition to repent and turn unto him in order to avoid destruction isn't just to Zarahemla, or even just to society in general.  It is to each of us.  As we repent *and* turn to God, we become our own self-building trophy and reward for a successful life.  Working with God, we become the people we've always wanted to be.  The people we never knew we could be... but God knows, and he helps us get there.

Today, let's soften our hearts and reach beyond behavioral changes.  Let's turn to the Lord, and be willing to repent all the way down to the core of who we are.

Saturday, September 10, 2016

John 3:14-17 -- On College, Course-Corrections, and Christ

"And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up:
That whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have eternal life.
For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.
For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved."
John 3:14-17

It's hard sometimes to understand God's perspective.  Ours is inherently limited by our mortality--the veil, being on the earth rather than in heaven, etc.  One thing that is absolutely essential to understanding the gospel though is that all of life is intentional.  Our lives are not an accident or a whim. We all have a purpose, and are here for a reason.  Part of that reason, for everyone, is to become more than we were--to grow, to learn, to gain a body and learn to use it, to make choices, to become who we want to be.

Maybe earth life is kind of our coming of age journey in an eternal sense.  We're out on our own for the first time, and though our parents are keeping tabs, they are not hovering or interfering.   Kind of like going away to college perhaps.  We have this new freedom, in which we realize that no one else is making the decisions for us, to go to church or not, to eat junk food or not.  On the other hand, we also have to learn to get ourselves out of trouble, and solve our own financial problems for the first time. It's exciting and also scary.  Fun sometimes and horrific other times, to see the consequences of our actions and know that we have to live with them.  Our parents might be able to help from afar, but in many respects we are alone, and have to learn what that means and who we are, distinct from everyone else.  That's a tough thing sometimes.

Earth life is like that on a larger scale.  It's an incredible opportunity, but it is also frightening and tortuous at times, and just like going to college, we're probably going to make some mistakes, maybe even serious ones.  In a spiritual sense, these mistakes are called sins.  And just like we can retake a class in college, or change majors, or break up with someone we shouldn't have been dating, we get second chances in life too.  If we figure out we're becoming someone we don't want to be, we get to course-correct and repent.  We can change, and make better choices, and be better people.

In college the consequences of our mistakes, at least mostly, are still smallish.  We might fail a class, lose opportunities and friends, get academic probation, or even get kicked out of that school... but we can still finish, and get the degree, if we dive in and work hard, even if it has to be somewhere else.

In the larger area of life, the consequences are often larger, depending on the mistake.  Making bad choices might ruin our health, our relationships with family, our finances, or our physical freedom... sometimes for the rest of our lives.  In order allow us to overcome even these sorts of largish mistakes, Christ paid the price to allow us to course-correct even here, and patch up our lives, and make better choices and start over as much as we can.  Even if we screwed up royally, we can stop and change.  And if we do, Christ makes it okay again.  He is the way to get a do-over even for things where there just are none... and the only reason that we have to hope when we've melted our lives down.

After this life, to continue the analogy, when our coming-of-age journey is over, we're going to have to go back and talk about it with our parents and the other community leaders, and discuss what we learned.  If we've learned a lot, then we graduate to adulthood and will be treated as equals with the other adults.  If not, then we might have to sit at the kid table forever. :)  And of course, if we learned only to be evil and to harm others, then we can't live in the community anymore, and we'll have to go somewhere else.

Today, let's realize the reason that we are here on earth, and let's start retaking the classes that we have failed.  Let's change and do better, learn more, and be more.  Let's prepare for the day when we get to go back and meet God again.  Let's have something to show for it.  And let's be grateful to Christ for the gift of being able to have this space to grow and learn and change, and to build anew even when things seem utterly destroyed.

Friday, September 9, 2016

Deuteronomy 21:7-9 -- On Shared Guilt and Community Solutions

"And they shall answer and say, Our hands have not shed this blood, neither have our eyes seen it.
Be merciful, O Lord, unto thy people Israel, whom thou hast redeemed, and lay not innocent blood unto thy people of Israel’s charge. And the blood shall be forgiven them.
So shalt thou put away the guilt of innocent blood from among you, when thou shalt do that which is right in the sight of the Lord."
Deuteronomy 21:7-9

The idea of shared guilt for a murder that may or may not have been committed by the immediate community is an interesting one.  The specific instructions in this chapter are from the Law of Moses, which Christ fulfilled, and aren't things that we have to observe today, but the idea behind the whole thing still seems applicable.

There is a lot of evil in this world that we didn't cause, but that doesn't mean that we don't have a responsibility to do something about it.  Our individual personal righteousness is important, but it isn't enough.  As individuals and communities, we need to be working to help others, and help the world, to be better than it is. The ways that we do this can be as varied as we are; the important part is that we reach beyond ourselves.

Today, let's think about the idea discussed in these verses, of a community righting an anonymous wrong, and let's consider ways that we can reach out and help solve the problems in our communities, our societies, and our world. We didn't cause all of the problems we face... but with God's help, we can choose to take on the responsibility and be a part of solving them.

Thursday, September 8, 2016

Ether 2:22-23 -- On Creativity, Self-Reliance, and Faith

"And he cried again unto the Lord saying: O Lord, behold I have done even as thou hast commanded me; and I have prepared the vessels for my people, and behold there is no light in them. Behold, O Lord, wilt thou suffer that we shall cross this great water in darkness?
And the Lord said unto the brother of Jared: What will ye that I should do that ye may have light in your vessels? For behold, ye cannot have windows, for they will be dashed in pieces; neither shall ye take fire with you, for ye shall not go by the light of fire."
Ether 2:22-23

I really like this interaction between the brother of Jared and God.  Before this he asked about air, and God gave him the answer.  This time though, God asks him to think about it and come up with an answer himself, giving him parameters that he needs to work around: no windows, no fire.  And for people in the brother of Jared's day, what other light sources were there?  That's a big challenge to throw at someone, but it is also an amazing way to teach creativity, self-reliance, and faith.

In our lives I think that God often does something similar.  We have no idea how to solve a problem, and instead of giving us an easy answer as we have perhaps gotten in the past, God instead runs through all the obstacles in our way and asks, "What will ye that I should do?"  He puts it on us to think of a solution.  It requires that we learn some creativity, some self-reliance, and have some faith, but like the brother of Jared, what God asks is never impossible.

Today, let's consider the hard questions in our lives, and be willing to come up with some creative solutions.  They might not all work, but surely, as we keep trying and have faith in God, working with him to understand the parameters of a possible solution, we will find a way around the obstacles and perhaps, like the brother of Jared, be witness to something miraculous.

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Philippians 2:1-2 -- On Following Christ by Expressing Ourselves

"If there be therefore any consolation in Christ, if any comfort of love, if any fellowship of the Spirit, if any bowels and mercies,
Fulfil ye my joy, that ye be likeminded, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind."
Philippians 2:1-2

The footnote here to "bowels and mercies" tells us that it means tender affection and compassion.  So basically it is saying that Christ offers us consolation, comfort, love, fellowship, affection, and compassion.  And if he does that (which he does), then we can bring joy to him and to each other by doing the same: following in the steps of Christ, and offering that same comfort and compassion to others.

I think sometimes we don't realize the impact that we have on others, and maybe we don't really think about comfort or fellowship or compassion because we are in the middle of "more important" things, like dealing with life and business and school and finances, etc.  We're wrapped up in our own stuff and it is hard to take that extra effort to observe how even the smallest indications of love or approval or friendship can make a difference.  I can't speak for men, but I think it might even be harder for some of them in this regard because our society encourages men to focus on other things and to be "tough," which often means NOT showing these particular Christlike attributes.

The thing is, we all crave affection and approval on some level, no matter how tough.  I'm not saying everyone is needy or histrionic, but we all appreciate people noticing us and appreciating our efforts.  And the tougher we are, maybe the more important the praise or comfort is, because it is less likely that other people know our feelings.  We're taught to treat others as we would like to be treated, and this is a case in point. :)

Today, let's fulfil each other's joy... let's follow the example of Christ by showing love to the people around us.  Let's love and comfort and console, and not just feel, but *demonstrate* our affection and fellowship for others.

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Alma 4:11-13 -- On Equality and Zion

"And it came to pass in the commencement of the ninth year, Alma saw the wickedness of the church, and he saw also that the example of the church began to lead those who were unbelievers on from one piece of iniquity to another, thus bringing on the destruction of the people.
Yea, he saw great inequality among the people, some lifting themselves up with their pride, despising others, turning their backs upon the needy and the naked and those who were hungry, and those who were athirst, and those who were sick and afflicted.
Now this was a great cause for lamentations among the people, while others were abasing themselves, succoring those who stood in need of their succor, such as imparting their substance to the poor and the needy, feeding the hungry, and suffering all manner of afflictions, for Christ’s sake, who should come according to the spirit of prophecy;"
Alma 4:11-13

This is a good reminder, I think, that church is not enough.  In these verses many of the church people were wicked and setting a bad example.  Luckily, as it discusses in the last verse, there were others that were doing the right thing... but the bad example of the people of the church was detrimental not only to those who were doing evil, but it led others astray as well.

Inequality is mentioned specifically, I think because it is antithetical to what we are working toward.  If we do God's work, then we are moving towards the ideal of Zion, the city of Enoch where there was "no poor among them" (Moses 7:18-19).  This is not something that we have already achieved, and it wasn't / isn't just a city (JST Genesis 9:21, 14:34; Moses 7:63-64).  It is the ideal of becoming / joining with a society and people who have learned how to love--how to *be* equal and how to follow in Christ's footsteps.

Today, let's be all about the last verse of the selection rather than the first two.  Let's give and love and help rather than hoarding and despising and ignoring.  Let's learn more about how to love others--the ones that we already love and the ones that we don't yet.  Let's go to church and live the gospel, but let's remember that just going to or belonging to a church is not enough.  We have to be humble and helpful and learn how to be Zion people.

Monday, September 5, 2016

D&C 103:12 -- On Tribulation

"For after much tribulation, as I have said unto you in a former commandment, cometh the blessing."
Doctrine and Covenants 103:12

This seems harsh to us sometimes I think... that we should have to endure tribulation.  We want things to work differently.  We usually either want things to go well if we are being good (if we are), or we want things to go well regardless of our actions (if we are not being very good).  We justify these differently, in one case thinking that God somehow *owes* us for making the effort to be good, and in the other case that he somehow owes us just because we exist... that unconditional love means giving us whatever we want, all the time.  Both ideas are, however, false.

God does love us, without doubt.  He loves us enough to teach us, and to set real choices before us with genuine consequences.  He loves us enough to know that we need opposition in order to learn--that we sometimes learn our most important lessons *through* tribulation.  He also promises us blessings if we do well, and he fulfills those promises.  But promised blessings do not equal a life without challenge or hardship.  We will all have to endure darkness and storms in life.

Let's try to get past the idea that God somehow owes us anything at all.  Instead, let's focus on the opportunities that he has given us, to choose life and happiness and peace, or the opposite.  We don't get to choose all the consequences of our actions, and we can't predict in what form blessings *or* challenges will come, but the very freedom to choose is a gift given to us, at great cost, by God.  A sacrifice that we should not overlook, demanding an ever-more-unreasonable more than the *everything* God has already given us.

Today, let's choose good.  Let's make choices that lead to happiness.  Let's make choices that prepare us for the storms of life, that we know we will need to weather.  Let's choose God, even in the midst of tribulation--thanking him for his goodness, grace, and overwhelming love.

Sunday, September 4, 2016

D&C 29:34-35 -- On Spiritual Self-Actualization

"Wherefore, verily I say unto you that all things unto me are spiritual, and not at any time have I given unto you a law which was temporal; neither any man, nor the children of men; neither Adam, your father, whom I created.
Behold, I gave unto him that he should be an agent unto himself; and I gave unto him commandment, but no temporal commandment gave I unto him, for my commandments are spiritual; they are not natural nor temporal, neither carnal nor sensual."
Doctrine and Covenants 29:34-35

I read this today after a lesson on temporal self-reliance, and I was thinking of that, and of tithing, and the Word of Wisdom, and not stealing or murdering... there are a lot of commandments I think which seem temporal, or affect temporal things.  Then I started thinking of the New Testament where people asked Christ if he was going to pay tribute / taxes.  He did, but it was nothing to him... just an afterthought, not something important at all.

I think that is the key to all of this.  The temporal part is always the footnote, but the headline is always spiritual.  We sometimes think that the temporal is the most important, and that is usually because it is right in front of us... like Maslow's Heirarchy of Needs.  We have to have food and shelter before we can start worrying about self-actualization, but self-actualization is a higher, more important goal.  God's principle is similar.  Temporal is never the point.  All of these things are temporary, but they are here to teach us spiritual lessons... spiritual self-actualization if you will.  Achieving the goals and learning the lessons that God has set for us, and fulfilling that potential that he has given us: Becoming our best selves, and helping others to do the same.

Fasting seems temporal to us, but the whole purpose behind it is spiritual... to teach ourselves, in fact, to prioritize the spiritual over the temporal, and not let anything interfere or distract from that primary goal.  Same with Word of Wisdom, self-reliance, and all the rest.  The ultimate goal of any commandment is to teach us a spiritual lesson, to help us learn to *be* something, not just to *do* something.  And as we get those footnote temporal things out of the way, we can focus on the headline, which is God.  As we put him first, everything else falls into place.  If we keep those first commandments, to love God and love others, then we'll know what to do with the smaller details as we go.

Today, as we recharge and get ready for a week full of footnotes, let's remember the true headlines.  Let's choose to prioritize people over problems.  Let's make sure that God comes first as we're dealing with the necessities of life.  Yes, we absolutely need food, shelter, clothing, and all the rest, but let's not imagine that those things are the purpose of our lives.  Let's stay focused on what truly matters.

Saturday, September 3, 2016

2 Nephi 1:13 -- On Freedom and Chains

"O that ye would awake; awake from a deep sleep, yea, even from the sleep of hell, and shake off the awful chains by which ye are bound, which are the chains which bind the children of men, that they are carried away captive down to the eternal gulf of misery and woe."
2 Nephi 1:13

I think this is a good thing to remember.  Sometimes we get it backwards, and think that God is the one trying to restrict our freedom.  God, though, is trying to enhance our freedom and give us more opportunities and better choices.  It's kind of like our parents trying to explain why we shouldn't shoplift or punch people.  Those kinds of things aren't just dangerous to others, or dangerous short term.  They could have long-term effects on our freedom.  And things like going to school or to church *enhance* our freedom by giving us more options in life, and teaching us more about the individual choices that we make.

Satan is trying to chain us with sin.  God is trying to free us from those chains.  Let's not let Satan make us sleepy or confused about who has our best interests at heart.  Let's choose God, and freedom.  Let's repent, and let God open up more and more possibilities in our lives of peace and happiness and good.

Friday, September 2, 2016

John 12:46-48 -- On Fleeing the Darkness

"I am come a light into the world, that whosoever believeth on me should not abide in darkness.
And if any man hear my words, and believe not, I judge him not: for I came not to judge the world, but to save the world.
He that rejecteth me, and receiveth not my words, hath one that judgeth him: the word that I have spoken, the same shall judge him in the last day."
John 12:46-48

I love the thought that Christ's mission and purpose is to save us from darkness.  His goal isn't to judge us, but to save us.  In the end, the gospel will judge us, because we'll see ourselves in comparison to it.

God won't force us to leave the darkness, but he does everything but.  He gives us himself as the Light to follow.  He sets up his gospel with clear rules and guidelines for repentance and progress.  He invites, and pleads, with us to accept his gift.

Today, let's choose to accept his grace.  Let's repent and change.  Let's become the good people that he is giving us space to be.  Let's spread light, and flee from the darkness. :)

Thursday, September 1, 2016

2 Corinthians 5:18-20 -- On Ambassadors and Reconciliation

"And all things are of God, who hath reconciled us to himself by Jesus Christ, and hath given to us the ministry of reconciliation;
To wit, that God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them; and hath committed unto us the word of reconciliation.
Now then we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God did beseech you by us: we pray you in Christ’s stead, be ye reconciled to God."
2 Corinthians 5:18-20

I love this idea of reconciliation between ourselves and God.  I think my favorite part is the re- part.  The idea of reconciliation presupposes that people used to be friends--that there was a good relationship there.  In gospel terms, that is exactly where we were with God.  We're his children, and we used to be close with him.  In coming to earth and having the veil drawn, and in making mistakes and sinning, we lose that closeness, and we have to repent and work to get it back, and establish maybe even a better relationship than we used to have, similar to earthly parents, where we can become closer to our parents after we get a little older and can understand more adult-level challenges. ...Not to say that we don't need to keep some of that childlike hope and faith handy. :)

I also like the idea of being ambassadors for Christ.  Most things we do in life are things that can be influential and good if we make good choices and seek God's will and the welfare of others.  Work and school and home choices as well as more obvious church-centric choices.  The gospel encompasses all that we do, and can be applied to any part of life.  Today, let's be reconciled to God, and let's also be ambassadors for Christ, showing the world how good his people are, how amazing his (heavenly) country is, and what they will gain if they choose to travel there, on his path.

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