Monday, October 31, 2016

John 4:25-29 -- On Seeing People as Christ Does

"The woman saith unto him, I know that Messias cometh, which is called Christ: when he is come, he will tell us all things.
Jesus saith unto her, I that speak unto thee am he.
And upon this came his disciples, and marvelled that he talked with the woman: yet no man said, What seekest thou? or, Why talkest thou with her?
The woman then left her waterpot, and went her way into the city, and saith to the men,
Come, see a man, which told me all things that ever I did: is not this the Christ?"
John 4:25-29

This is part of an interesting story of the woman at the well.  Christ meets her as she is going to get water, and he asks her for a drink.  They have an interesting conversation, including the fact that he knows she has has five husbands and the person that she now has is not her husband.  He clearly knows that she is a sinner, but as in other instances in the scriptures (such as the woman who anoints his feet and wipes them with her tears, and the woman taken in adultery), he chooses not to condemn her (see Luke 7:47, John 8:11).

Christ's interaction with this woman is an interesting contrast to what we often see in our society.  Not only was she clearly a sinner, but she was a Samaritan, which was a group of people that were shunned at the time by the group and religion that Jesus was a part of.  But instead of heeding the label and the general avoidance that was encouraged as part of his society, and despite the fact that he knew she was engaged in living a life that he didn't agree with, he not only refused to avoid (or "unfriend"?) her, but he specifically engaged in conversation with her, encouraging her questions, teaching her, and teaching the people that she brought to listen to him as well.  This story just says that he stayed there two days, and doesn't say exactly what happened later.  The fact that she left her waterpot at the well instead of actually completing her task is a good indication that she was amazed, and that it mattered to her.  Finding the Christ made her want to run out and tell people, and she immediately *did.* ... Something that should perhaps change us all.

I like the way that God taught her here as well.  He didn't accuse or condemn.  It wasn't a hellfire and brimstone repent-or-die preachfest, but just a conversation.  Because he respected her and treated her like a person and a friend, despite her faults, and despite the labels of society, she was willing to listen.  He saw past all of the nonsense, and saw her as a beautiful human being with stellar potential.

Wouldn't that be amazing, if we could see people as he did?  As he still does?  He didn't have to agree with her political views or her lifestyle in order to talk to her or love her.  Today, when society is wondering "why talkest thou with" someone who isn't voting the same way we are, or "what seekest thou" among whatever group is on the societal dartboard today... let's not join in the condemnation, or ostracize people until they live up to our standards.  Let's reach out and love and help and share with others, whoever they are, whatever they have done.  Let's follow Christ's example of engaging with the people around us, of loving and forgiving others, and of encouraging and accepting repentance rather than condemnation.  Let's remember that people can change, and support them in doing so... just as God does for us.

Sunday, October 30, 2016

Jeremiah 17:9 -- On Hearts and Desperation

"The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?"
Jeremiah 17:9

The whole idea that our hearts are deceitful and desperately wicked is an interesting one in a society where we often hear "trust your heart" as a comforting statement.  We are used to movie plots that justify almost anything in the name of love and that show us that sin is okay, as long as you really care.

Luckily, there is an answer to the question "who can know it?"  The answer is in the very next verse, where God tells us that *he* searches the heart, and blesses us according to our choices.  God knows our hearts, and our desires, good and bad.  He knows that we have some desperate wickedness in us, and how to help us get it out, and replace it with some goodness and kindness and the kind of love that isn't urgent and selfish, but gentle and generous.

One solution that God offers is found in Alma 37:36, which says in part "let the affections of thy heart be placed upon the Lord forever."  Unlike the other targets of our deceitful and desperate hearts, turning to and loving God "desperately" actually makes sense.  We need him so much that our lives, our souls, our joy, our peace, and our very existence in this world depends on it.  And as scary as that kind of cliff-diving love is, God can handle it, save us from the rocks, and help us learn not to be deceitful, not to be wicked, and how to turn our confused and desperate emotions into something healthy, joyous, and edifying instead.  It's another way to say love God and then love your neighbor, as we hear elsewhere in the scriptures, but it emphasizes the learning that has to take place with God before we even know how to love our neighbors. :)

Today, let's look to Christ's perfect example, and remember *not* to trust our hearts until they are in tune with the Spirit.  Let's put God first, and let him teach us how to treat others, and how to love as he loves all of us.

Saturday, October 29, 2016

Romans 15:33 -- On Peace

"Now the God of peace be with you all. Amen."
Romans 15:33

A good reminder today that God is a God of peace.  I think that there are a lot of things going on in our world that encourage us not to be at peace, but instead to fight and hate one another, to criticize and express bitterness, and to disrespect and condemn.  But God wants us to love each other, to respect each other, and to treat each other with kindness and gentleness.  Today, let's not join in the hatred.  Let's stick with God, and always promote love.  Let's find a way to love strangers and enemies, and to treat everyone as a neighbor and friend, as God asks.  Let's carry God's spirit of peace with us, and share it with others.

Friday, October 28, 2016

Helaman 2:8-10 -- On Spies and Intrigue and God

"And when the servant of Helaman had known all the heart of Kishkumen, and how that it was his object to murder, and also that it was the object of all those who belonged to his band to murder, and to rob, and to gain power, (and this was their secret plan, and their combination) the servant of Helaman said unto Kishkumen: Let us go forth unto the judgment-seat.
Now this did please Kishkumen exceedingly, for he did suppose that he should accomplish his design; but behold, the servant of Helaman, as they were going forth unto the judgment-seat, did stab Kishkumen even to the heart, that he fell dead without a groan. And he ran and told Helaman all the things which he had seen, and heard, and done.
And it came to pass that Helaman did send forth to take this band of robbers and secret murderers, that they might be executed according to the law."
Helaman 2:8-10

This part of the Book of Mormon reads kind of like a spy novel.  Lots of disguise, assassination, and intrigue.  In these verses, Helaman's servant has infiltrated the band of Gadianton, which is a group that had killed several political leaders, and was conspiring to kill the new political leader (Helaman).  The servant finds out what the plan is, kills the would-be murderer to prevent the assassination, and goes and tells his boss.  They move immediately to try to capture all the people involved, but are only able to capture some of them.  Many escape, including their leader Gadianton.

It sometimes seems kind of weird that we have spy novels and war strategy type things in the middle of scripture, where we might expect some inspiring religious discourse instead. :)  But maybe when we run across these things in scripture, God is reminding us that he is in every part of our lives, not relegated to the "spiritual" corner.  I went to college at BYU for my undergraduate degree, and my favorite thing about that college is that I could raise my hand in science class (or any class at all) and ask how that scientific or literary or philosophical truth we were learning about fit into spiritual truth... and I would get a really good answer, because the teachers had thought about it, and it mattered to them as much as it did to me.

I think God is teaching us something similar with stories like this.  He knew we were going to face challenges like this in our time as well, and he wanted to prepare us and realize that we have to face corruption and evil and work together as a society to overcome them.  And he wants us to know that that part of life matters to him as well, and that we can pray about all of it, and search for the spiritual side of anything.  So, today, let's definitely avoid being sneaky and really evil like Kishkumen, but let's also remember that we can ask for God's help with anything, not just church things or things that seem spiritual.  God is the God of everything, and he is always there for us, no matter what is going on.

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Zechariah 13:9 -- On Fire and Purity

"And I will bring the third part through the fire, and will refine them as silver is refined, and will try them as gold is tried: they shall call on my name, and I will hear them: I will say, It is my people: and they shall say, The Lord is my God."
Zechariah 13:9

Many scriptures make mention of that fact that God's people (both his original chosen people, and all who choose to be his people, who are also chosen) will be refined.  This verse specifically mentions silver and gold, and I like that, because, symbolically, we are precious metals.  If you are refining something precious, it still takes a lot of heat to burn off the impurities, as we probably expected, but it also requires a lot of attention, and you don't waste any of it or throw it away.  You only get rid of what isn't truly part of it at all... the impurity.

I love the symbolic idea here that underneath all of our sins and mistakes, we are shiny and perfect--all we have to do is get rid of the bad parts, and get polished up a little, and we're ready to become so much more.  And God is committed to helping us get there.  It's not easy by any means.  In order to be refined, we have to go through the symbolic fire that burns off everything that doesn't belong.  But if we are willing, God will help us through that so that we can be truly pure and clean and prepared for what comes next.  The idea of no guilt, no regrets, nothing wearing on our conscience... that's a really good feeling, and something that we can always get back, if we are willing to let God help us.  Hard, but so worth it.

Today, let's be willing to be God's people, called by his name.  Let's be willing to repent and change, and to let go of the bad and be restored to the good... our true, pure selves that are still there, underneath.  And once we get back to the good, then let's work on becoming better than we have ever been. :)

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

1 Corinthians 1:25-27 -- On Weakness and Humility and Choice

"Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men; and the weakness of God is stronger than men.
For ye see your calling, brethren, how that not many wise men after the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called:
But God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty;"
1 Corinthians 1:25-27

Sometimes we really think that God has gotten it wrong and we ascribe labels like "foolish" and "weak" to him.  We think that, because he has allowed suffering and death that he couldn't have truly loved.  We think that because he made us weak that he doesn't care about us, or that because of our weaknesses he has abandoned us.  We think that because he loves us that he should let us do whatever we want, and support us in it.  Sometimes we think that if he really loved us that he'd make our lives easier, or give us a million bucks (or a billion... I know we don't always think small).  We feel like God has lost our trust and that we need to look elsewhere.  And all of those things are understandable to think in our lost circumstances, but every one of them is completely false (yes, even the money, sorry).

God is perfect, right?  It's his nature and part of the definition of Godhood. :) As God, even if he were foolish and weak, his dullest attributes would outshine the sun and be stronger and more brilliant than we could possibly comprehend. Sometimes we forget that.  God's plan is also perfect.  It isn't up to God to prove himself to us.  This is *our* proving ground and *our* test, to see if we will live up to our potential.  Not whether we can--we absolutely do have the capacity--but whether we will choose to.  It's an immense act of pure pride to think that we can judge God and decide whether he made the right decision in any circumstance.  He did.  He always does.  It isn't our job to doubt that, it is our job to try and understand that, and figure out why, so that we can grow wiser as well.

I'm definitely not saying we should look around at the world and say, oh yeah, this world is perfect, now let's figure out why.  The world isn't perfect.  Because God grants us free agency he has to allow evil in the world, which is what the whole Adam, Eve, Garden, Tree thing was about.  The Pandora idea of letting evil into the world, but finding, even in that same action, hope.  Lots of things in the world are screwed up, but in that same world there is beauty and love and goodness.  There are a lot of bad things that happen as a side effect of free agency, and yes God could stop them... but only by removing that free agency.  Slavery and lost potential traded for temporary relief from suffering.  If it were up to us in our blindness and lack of context, perhaps we would choose that.  It wouldn't be the first time we've made massively bad decisions. :)  But thankfully it is up to God, and he chooses to tolerate temporary evil in order to give us the gift of agency and potential and eternal life and the possibility of eternal joy.  Let's stop mocking and criticizing that decision, and instead work *with* God to use that agency to choose to make things better.

God chooses to use us and our agency to make the world better rather than taking it away and forcing us all to be well-behaved automatons.  Sometimes that seems like a bad choice to us because we look at the evil in the world and think What can I possibly do?  How could I possibly stop all of this?  But again, God's wisdom trumps ours.  What do the scriptures teach us, if not that one person CAN make a difference?  God gives us weaknesses to teach us, to help us to be humble (Ether 12:27), and he gives us challenges to overcome so that will will learn and grow and become wise and strong.  Many of those things that we've been complaining about are exactly the things that turn us into spiritual superheroes.  Maybe we lose our entire support system and suffer from feelings of abandonment and loneliness.  We can use that and become strong in relying on God and feeling his comfort. Just like bad people can take something cool and use it in bad ways, we can all choose to take the bad things that happen to us and turn them into strength and goodness and hope for the world around us.  To do that, we have to take that gift of humility that God has given us and use it to stop blaming God or the world around us for who we are, and instead use his amazing gifts, and choose to be more.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Ether 10:5 -- On Taxes and Zion

"And it came to pass that Riplakish did not do that which was right in the sight of the Lord, for he did have many wives and concubines, and did lay that upon men’s shoulders which was grievous to be borne; yea, he did tax them with heavy taxes; and with the taxes he did build many spacious buildings."
Ether 10:5

This scripture surprised me a little bit, because I never really thought about God being worried about our taxes.  And yet, of course he is, because he is worried about every aspect of our lives.  Riplakish was hurting people with the unreasonable taxes, and that wasn't right in God's eyes.  I don't know if the taxes that we bear are unreasonable, and I'm not trying to comment on that as a political statement.  I do think though that we all go through things that are "grievous to be borne," whether it is taxes or death, or other physical and emotional upheavals in our lives.

King Benjamin, in Mosiah 2:14 also talks about things that are "grievous to be borne," but he is talking from the perspective of himself as a righteous king, working hard so that he would not burden the people with heavy taxes or other things that are hard to bear.  I think the lesson here is that we should work for each other, and, in positions of power or otherwise, we should work to never do anything that will harm others.

Sometimes we do anyway, and we think, well, that's their job, or that's the cost of doing business, or whatever it is... but making lives easier for the people around us is the only way that the world improves.  If we all make the selfish choice, or the one that benefits us the most, at the cost of others, then the world gets more and more selfish.  It has to start somewhere, so let it begin with us.  Maybe we'll get cheated.  Maybe we'll get taken advantage of.  Those things are going to happen along the way.  But let's do the right thing anyway.  Doing the right thing won't always change the world overnight, but it will definitely change us.  And what else is God looking for?  We have to build Zion by first being Zion people.  Otherwise, who is going to live there? :)

Monday, October 24, 2016

Alma 34:26 -- On Closets and Prayers

"But this is not all; ye must pour out your souls in your closets, and your secret places, and in your wilderness."
Alma 34:26

I liked this today because we use closets to symbolize the hidden things in our lives, and God emphasizes here that prayer isn't just about public choices, family prayers or praying over meals or in church.  Prayer is important in those hidden places in our souls as well, in our secret places, and in the wilderness when we are lost.  Perhaps, in fact, it is more important in those places because God knows every bit of us, and he can be there for us when no one else can.

Today, let's pour out our souls to God, in our closets and secret places as well as our living rooms, kitchens, and offices. :)  Let's remember that God is part of all of it, everywhere.  He is not a fair-weather friend, but will be there to help and comfort us no matter what, no matter when, no matter where.

Sunday, October 23, 2016

D&C 138:57-59 -- On Heirs of Salvation

"I beheld that the faithful elders of this dispensation, when they depart from mortal life, continue their labors in the preaching of the gospel of repentance and redemption, through the sacrifice of the Only Begotten Son of God, among those who are in darkness and under the bondage of sin in the great world of the spirits of the dead.
The dead who repent will be redeemed, through obedience to the ordinances of the house of God,
And after they have paid the penalty of their transgressions, and are washed clean, shall receive a reward according to their works, for they are heirs of salvation."
Doctrine and Covenants 138:57-59

The idea of being able to still engage in gospel discussions and repent after death is an interesting one.  One large impediment to being able to change is not having a body while we wait for the resurrection.  Without a body, how can we overcome physical temptation and repent?  I don't pretend to know the details, but I do know that this is one of the primary reasons that we do temple work... so that others can still have those choices after death.

Here in our lives, when we feel that darkness of sin and regret and we realize that we've messed up and need to change, we *can.*  We can turn around and repent completely, changing and making better choices.  After this life it is going to be harder.  Alma 34:33-35 tells us that we shouldn't procrastinate our repentance, because there are serious consequences.

Despite the fact that we would be better off changing our ways in this life, the fact that there is still hope for people who die without the gospel or with sin on their consciences is very hopeful, and I think shows very clearly that God is serious about saving us.  He is going to help us be the happiest that we can be, and even in much darker circumstances than now, he still reaches out to us, and encourages us to choose to come to him.  Today, let's remember how much God loves us, and ALL those around us.  Let's do all we can for others, in whatever circumstances, for we all have the potential to be heirs of salvation.

Saturday, October 22, 2016

Psalms 95:3-8 -- On Hearing and Asking and Greatness

"For the Lord is a great God, and a great King above all gods.
In his hand are the deep places of the earth: the strength of the hills is his also.
The sea is his, and he made it: and his hands formed the dry land.
O come, let us worship and bow down: let us kneel before the Lord our maker.
For he is our God; and we are the people of his pasture, and the sheep of his hand. To day if ye will hear his voice,
Harden not your heart, as in the provocation, and as in the day of temptation in the wilderness:"
Psalms 95:3-8

Sometimes it is good to stop and just remember how great God is. :)  I liked this breakdown of some of the reasons that he is great.  It is definitely not comprehensive, but it is impressive.

Today, if we are willing to, and want to, hear his voice, let's not harden our hearts.  Let's be open, not only to seeing his hand in nature and the creation of all things, but let's be open to seeing his hand directly in our lives, to listening and learning and changing... asking for and accepting his help, because we so need it.

Friday, October 21, 2016

Abraham 3:11 -- On Building a Relationship with the Lord

"Thus I, Abraham, talked with the Lord, face to face, as one man talketh with another; and he told me of the works which his hands had made;"
Abraham 3:11

Can you imagine just being able to sit down one on one with God and talk to him about things, hear about all the things that he had done?  I think that would be incredible, and I think that it shows a side of God to us here that we don't usually consider.

We usually only hear of prophets having that kind of a close, face-to-face relationship with God. But let's remember also that Moses wished "that all the Lord’s people were prophets" (Numbers 11:29).  I don't think that we should ever look at ourselves and our lives and think that we aren't capable of that kind of relationship with God.  We are.  It's not something we can just have with no work, of course.  Few things are.  But it *is* something that we can have if we are committed to it.  God wants to be in our lives just as much as we want to be in his.  He listens to us.  He answers our prayers.  He will come into our lives as we are willing to come to him.  Today, let's be willing to commit everything to God, as Abraham did.  Let's listen and learn, and work for that day when we, like Abraham, can have that face to face conversation. :)

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Helaman 1:5-7 -- On Freedom vs Compulsion

"Nevertheless, it came to pass that Pahoran was appointed by the voice of the people to be chief judge and a governor over the people of Nephi.
And it came to pass that Pacumeni, when he saw that he could not obtain the judgment-seat, he did unite with the voice of the people.
But behold, Paanchi, and that part of the people that were desirous that he should be their governor, was exceedingly wroth; therefore, he was about to flatter away those people to rise up in rebellion against their brethren."
Helaman 1:5-7

This is part of a story where the chief judge Pahoran dies and three of his sons kind of run for office as his replacement.  I'm not sure if it was what we think of as traditional voting, but "the voice of the people" decided on Pahoran junior.  Pacumeni is disappointed, but Paanchi is mad, and he decides he wants to start a rebellion because he didn't win.  Luckily, he's caught and prevented from doing that, but even after he is caught, his followers get together and decide to murder Pahoran junior.  It turns into quite a mess, and even kind of causes, or at least exacerbates, a war.  Whew, what a mess.  Glad we don't live in those days, eh?

Obviously, there are a few parallels to our modern society, here and actually in many other places in the Book of Mormon.  What strikes me today is how much the Lord cares about our freedom.  Free Agency is what the War in Heaven was fought over, and, as Gordon B Hinckley has said, it is a war that "has never ceased."  We were asked then, and are asked now, pretty much every day, to make a choice about whether or not we support God's plan and trust him.  Our choices are "between truth and error" and "between agency and compulsion" as Gordon B. Hinckley said later in the same talk.  That's a hard choice sometimes.

We don't always want to be responsible.  We don't always want to let others make choices that we think are insane, and we might sometimes be okay with someone choosing for us when we aren't sure what to do.  We often don't see how important our freedom is until we don't have it anymore.  That's another area where we might need to trust God more.  He is more protective of our freedom than we are.

Freedom is such a huge idea.  It's the core of who we are, of growing, progressing, learning, changing, and loving.  Would love be valuable if the government controlled it and could turn it on or off with a switch?  Maybe in a sick manipulative way, but not really.  The value in love is that we choose it; it is given freely and sincerely.  And that's why so much of our lives have value... because we choose them.

Today, let's think about our freedom, and let's not take it for granted.  Let's dive in and use it for great and good things.  Let's thank the Lord for it, and embrace truth and freedom.  Let's make choices that improve the world, and align with God's plan... not because we have to, but because we choose to love him and follow his great plan of happiness.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Luke 10:41-42 -- On Trouble and Priority

"And Jesus answered and said unto her, Martha, Martha, thou art careful and troubled about many things;
But one thing is needful: and Mary hath chosen that good part, which shall not be taken away from her."
Luke 10:41-42

I was reading this today and I was struck by how universal this advice is.  We're all careful and troubled about so many things, but how many of them really matter in the long term?  What truly matters is Christ, the gospel--learning and preparing ourselves for eternity.

This isn't to say that we should just blow off all of our responsibilities, or stop earning a living. :)  But Christ makes it very clear here that Mary made a good choice, and I think that means that sometimes we need to let go of the stress and the worry and concentrate on the "peaceable things" of the gospel (D&C 42:61).  I don't think that we have to remove anything essential from our lives, but it probably does mean that we need to redefine essential, and perhaps set better priorities.

We can lighten our load, and make more room for Christ in our lives, if we let go of things that don't matter and prioritize the gospel.  In fact, I think as we learn to put God first, we'll find that we are less troubled in general, and that we have even more time in our lives for other things that do matter.  Today, let's think about the things that are distracting us from God, and maybe get rid of a few of them.  Let's start moving closer to God, and making sure he is at the top of the list.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Psalms 107:21-22 -- On the Sacrifices of Thanksgiving

"Oh that men would praise the Lord for his goodness, and for his wonderful works to the children of men!
And let them sacrifice the sacrifices of thanksgiving, and declare his works with rejoicing."
Psalms 107:21-22

In Leviticus it talks about a sacrifice of thanksgiving, which it says were unleavened fried cakes and wafers and leavened bread.  I like that interpretation, and when it talks about the sacrifices of thanksgiving it may mean that, but when I was thinking about it today it made me think about what we usually give up in order to be thankful.

I think that in order to be thankful to someone we have to give up things like resentment, anger, envy, pride, and a lot of the comparison and power playing that we do a lot of in everyday life.  When we're sincerely thankful to someone, and we tell them, those things kind of have to get out of the way in order for us to get there.  And sometimes it is very hard, because there is a lot of baggage there, and we might think that anger and resentment and even hatred are justified.  But even in extremely difficult circumstances, with God's help, some sincere words of thanks for even the tiniest good or kindness can be the first step to healing a relationship or learning to love or forgive.

Being thankful to God I think is similar.  We build up resentment towards God sometimes.  And although God never screws up like we do and our friends and family, and humans in general do, it can sure seem and feel justified to us to be frustrated and angry.  And in order to show thankfulness to God, we have to switch our perspective.  We have to stop seeing God as Santa Claus, and start seeing him as a real being with emotions.  We have to learn some humility, and realize that we aren't the boss of us, and that we really can't handle everything ourselves.  We have to let go of any of that negative emotion we are holding onto in order to express the positive things.

I think that's why it can be amazing spiritual therapy to make some thankfulness lists.  Instead of listing all of the Hell in our lives that we are obsessing over every day, making some Heaven lists of all of the good things around us can help us not only heal our friendships and families, but it can help heal our tendency to hatred and anger, help us realize how much God has done for us, and help us change the way we see almost everything.  Today, let's praise the Lord for his goodness and his wonderful works.  Let's make the sacrifices necessary to fill our minds and our hearts with thanksgiving, and be able to declare God's works with rejoicing. :)

Monday, October 17, 2016

D&C 88:63 -- On Seeking and Knocking and Welcoming

"Draw near unto me and I will draw near unto you; seek me diligently and ye shall find me; ask, and ye shall receive; knock, and it shall be opened unto you."
D&C 88:63

This is a very hopeful verse I think, no matter where we are with our spirituality. It tells us that God will match our efforts... that if we move closer to him, he will move closer to us.  Thus, every effort we make is effectively doubled.  Of course the fact that God matches and magnifies our efforts doesn't mean that we don't have to actually make an effort.  Zero doubled is still zero, and that gap between God and man requires us to seek him "diligently."  If we do though, he promises that we will find him.  No diligent search for God comes up empty.  He isn't hiding from us.

In Revelation 3:20, God tells us that he is standing at the door already, and if we will open the door, he will come in.  God wants to be in our lives, but we have to let him in.  We have to make that effort, and open our minds and our hearts to him.  We have to start welcoming rather than resisting.

Welcoming God into our lives can be hard.  If we don't know God, or think that he is mean or cruel, then we won't want him in our lives.  If we aren't friends, then we might want him to just give us something and go away so that we can live our lives.  It's as we get to know him that we realize that he is family, that he is part of us, and we want to welcome him... and diligently seek him.

Today, let's knock on God's door, as he is knocking on ours.  Let's draw near, and ask to be part of God's life... his family.  Let's work on overcoming our resistance and our pride in wanting everything to go our own way, and realize that God is doing everything possible to help us.  Let's trust his way, and welcome him into our lives.

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Moroni 7:48 -- On Learning Love

"Wherefore, my beloved brethren, pray unto the Father with all the energy of heart, that ye may be filled with this love, which he hath bestowed upon all who are true followers of his Son, Jesus Christ; that ye may become the sons of God; that when he shall appear we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is; that we may have this hope; that we may be purified even as he is pure. Amen."
Moroni 7:48

This is a great verse.  Simple, right?  Pray, and be filled with love, and become like God, and purified.  The idea of being the sons and daughters of God, of being like him, those are powerful ideas, and worthy goals... and all we have to do is pray.  Except, maybe prayer is a little deeper than we sometimes think.

We sometimes approach prayer as though God were a genie and he is just waiting to grant us some wishes.  And, you know, in some pretty cool ways that is sort of true.  God absolutely loves us, and he *wants* to give us things that will help us be better, and that will make us happy.  But in other ways the whole genie analogy is completely deceptive.  For instance, there are limits. :)

Dieter F. Uchtdorf tells us that "There are two things faith cannot do.  For one, it cannot violate another person's agency. . . . The second thing faith cannot do is force our will upon God."  Prayer also can't violate other people's agency, and something to remember is that it can't violate *our* agency.  We often pray for things that we don't want or aren't prepared to receive.  Sometimes we wonder why we haven't gotten an answer to a prayer, when it's often the case that we can't even hear an answer that we aren't willing to accept.

All the energy of our hearts is a lot of energy, and I think few of us are there.  And I'm not saying we have to become perfect all at once, but maybe we should consider that God blesses us, and answers our prayers, according to the level of our commitment (see Alma 38:5). The more we trust him, the more he delivers us, and the more we believe and have faith, the more he can bless us.  The same is true of learning to love.  The more energy of heart we can commit, the more love will fill us.  As we let go of hatred and fear and other negative things in our lives, the more God will be able to turn our hearts to better things.  The more we can be filled not only will love, but joy and hope, and faith and peace.

Today, let's let go of our hatred, and pray with all the energy of heart that we can muster, and commit our souls and our selves to learning love and becoming more hopeful, more pure--more like God.

Saturday, October 15, 2016

2 Nephi 29:9-11 -- On the Continuing Word of God

"And I do this that I may prove unto many that I am the same yesterday, today, and forever; and that I speak forth my words according to mine own pleasure. And because that I have spoken one word ye need not suppose that I cannot speak another; for my work is not yet finished; neither shall it be until the end of man, neither from that time henceforth and forever.
Wherefore, because that ye have a Bible ye need not suppose that it contains all my words; neither need ye suppose that I have not caused more to be written.
For I command all men, both in the east and in the west, and in the north, and in the south, and in the islands of the sea, that they shall write the words which I speak unto them; for out of the books which shall be written I will judge the world, every man according to their works, according to that which is written."
2 Nephi 29:9-11

Here, God reminds us that he is still around, and still speaking to us, and also that we will be judged by our actions in reference to what he has said.  An excellent reminder and motivation to read our scriptures, to pray, and to find out for ourselves what God has to say.  Today, let's not assume that God is dead or silent.  Let's go to him, and study, read, and listen.  Let's rejoice in the living Christ and his continued communication to his people.

Friday, October 14, 2016

John 6:60 -- On Hearing Hard Sayings

"Many therefore of his disciples, when they had heard this, said, This is an hard saying; who can hear it?"
John 6:60

This is from a period in the New Testament where Christ said some things that not everyone understood or agreed with, and many people stopped following him.  I think that this happens, probably even more so, today.  We don't always like what God has to say, and although we're learning and growing and working to understand more and more, we really shouldn't expect to always like it.  ... But we *do* need to trust that it is always right--that when there is a disconnect between what we want and what God wants, it is *always* God that knows what he is talking about.

This isn't to say that God doesn't want us to understand his plan and like it. :)  He would love us to appreciate what he has done and agree with it, but he isn't going to force us to feel that way, and for it to be our free choice, we have to learn about his plan little by little, and grow to know God more and more in our lives.  And so he gives us scriptures, and prophets, and the gospel, and the church, and especially prayer, so that we can talk to him personally.

Today, if we run up against something that we don't understand or agree with from God, let's not react too quickly and decide to give up on Christ and walk away.  Let's refuse to give up on him, just as he would never give up on us.  Let's trust that whatever it is actually makes sense, and dive in and study it, and ask God to help us understand his position.  He *will* help us.  We will always have free agency, and we can always choose to walk away... but Christ is the one with the words of eternal life (John 6:68).  Leaving him will never help us learn the truth.  Let us be the ones willing to hear his sayings, no matter how hard, for they are what will lead us to eternal life, and peace, and joy.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

1 Corinthians 9:24-27 -- On the Prize of Self-Mastery

"Know ye not that they which run in a race run all, but one receiveth the prize? So run, that ye may obtain.
And every man that striveth for the mastery is temperate in all things. Now they do it to obtain a corruptible crown; but we an incorruptible.
I therefore so run, not as uncertainly; so fight I, not as one that beateth the air:
But I keep under my body, and bring it into subjection: lest that by any means, when I have preached to others, I myself should be a castaway."
1 Corinthians 9:24-27

This is Paul talking about self-mastery.  The first verse is interesting, and seems on the surface that it could be interpreted as though we are competing against each other in life, trying to beat each other out for spiritual prizes.  However, in the larger context of the gospel, that's pretty crazy.  We would never want to consign anyone to hell so that we can get his spot in heaven. :)  That isn't what God is like at all.  I think, combined with the second verse of the selection, it helps us understand that the race we're actually running is against ourselves, as we learn self-control, self-confidence, restraint, humility, and all of the other things that we as spiritual beings never had to cope with before.

Bodies are an amazing gift from God that we receive as we come to Earth, and they open up all kinds of possibilities for us.  There is so much capacity for beauty and positive emotion and goodness.  But our bodies also have the capacity for evil, and appetites and passions that are not always good for us.  Paul talks about bringing his body "into subjection," which is the race, and the fight, that he talks about here.

King Benjamin tells us that "the natural man is an enemy to God" and that it will continue to be so, unless we get help from God through the atonement, and yield to the spirit.  So often we get it backwards, and we change ourselves so that our bodies have mastery over our spirits.  We convince ourselves that our desires and passions should have primacy in our lives, and we stomp our consciences into the ground, shouting "and *stay* dead!"  But Paul, and God, tell us that our spirits should have mastery, and that we need to train our bodies to be in subjection, as the temples of our spirits.  Today, let's take care of our bodies and make sure they are healthy, but let's not give into appetites and urges that go against God's law.  The unification of our bodies and spirits does need to happen, but not by chaining and smothering our souls.  We just need to learn to train our physical selves to serve us better, as important, but not more important than our spiritual selves.  That's the prize that Paul wants us to run for... that unification and peace, when we finally win that internal war (on God's side), and our bodies and spirits are in perfect harmony and working together rather than trying to go in separate directions.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Hebrews 2:18 -- On Temptation

"For in that he himself hath suffered being tempted, he is able to succour them that are tempted."
Hebrews 2:18

I love this idea.  Christ suffered for us, and that means he knows exactly what we are going through.  Not in some condescending intellectual way where he can merely imagine what it is like to be us--sort of cockroachish and scummy--but in a serious, real way because he stood in our shoes and suffered for our sins.

He doesn't hate us because we have sinned.  He loves us, and he knows what it is like, and he encourages us and asks us to repent and keep trying... to do better and to stand up and make a difference.

God knows exactly how to help us, because he has been there.  Let's reach out to him.  Let's not lose hope and give up, but instead get up and try again.  Let's repent, and pray, and ask God for help, and let's be different and better.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Moses 3:21 -- On Community and Family

"And I, the Lord God, caused a deep sleep to fall upon Adam; and he slept, and I took one of his ribs and closed up the flesh in the stead thereof;"
Moses 3:21

Why didn't God just make a separate person?  Why would he use part of Adam?  I mean, this is God we're talking about, right?  He absolutely didn't *have* to do it that way.

I think God wants us to remember that we are part of each other.  That all of us are part of each other... not just husband and wife or men and women, but all people.  He wanted us to start out by remembering that; not thinking that Adam and Eve were different teams, or that one was better, but that their similarities were more important than their differences, and that as humans and children of God, we are all family.

Today, let's think about ourselves as part of a whole rather than just separate entities.  It doesn't take away from our individualism.  It just adds community.  Let's find out not just who we can become as individuals, but who all of us can become as a group, working together for the good of all.  A good starter lesson from God. :)

Monday, October 10, 2016

James 3:10 -- On Blessing and Cursing

"Out of the same mouth proceedeth blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not so to be."
James 3:10

This seems to be about consistency... the idea that we should treat everyone kindly, and not be nice to one group of people and mean to another.  It seems like such a simple idea, but it is one that I think we all need to work on.  The idea is in the very core of God's commandments where Christ tells us that the most important thing is to love God, and the second is to love others as we love ourselves.

With the loving ourselves part, I wonder sometimes if we realize how deeply self-centered we are.  If we put even a fraction of the time that we spend justifying ourselves and trying to look good to others into loving other people, this world would be vastly changed for the better. :)

Today, let's make sure that we can be easily identified as the good guys, even if we have lost our white hats.  God says that we will be known by our fruits (Matthew 7:20), which means by our actions.  Let's work on unifying heart and mind and not only thinking consistently good things, but acting on them as well.  Let's stop cursing and start consistently blessing.

Sunday, October 9, 2016

Romans 6:3-4 -- On Death and Life and Improved Destination Planning

"Know ye not, that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into his death?
Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life."
Romans 6:3-4

Lots of symbolism here, which can be confusing, but the idea is amazing once we get it.  Christ had to suffer and die because of our sins, and we're baptized to take advantage of that... of his death and sacrifice for us.  When we join God's church and agree to be his people, we're baptized into that agreement, that he suffers for our sins so that we don't have to pay for them.  We join together in that death of sin.

The other side of the agreement is the hard part for us, but it is also the wonderful, amazing, glorious part.  Christ overcame sin and death, and the resurrection isn't just a symbol of new life physically, but it is the symbol of spiritual newness.  When we come out of the water when we're baptized, and also when we renew that agreement with God every Sunday when we take the sacrament, then we are joining together with God in that newness of a life free from sin, and the eventual promise of an eternal life free from both sin and death, post-mortality, if we learn how to be new now. :)

Learning to be new is hard.  It definitely can be, and often is, really like death and life.  We feel that war within us of good and bad, wanting different things that are incompatible... we fight ourselves even to look closely enough to see our faults.  We usually very much do NOT want to look at that part of ourselves.  It doesn't feel good to know that we are bad, even just partly, and it can be crushing to know that we have been hurting others, even when it isn't actions, but just obliviousness.  Sometimes there are minor skirmishes and avoidance helps us get back to temporary peace, and sometimes the war gets massive, and causes us a lot of anxiety.  We can't live like that, trying to balance and play both sides.  In order to restore peace to our lives, the end of an internal war of good and evil eventually *has* to be that part of us dies.  Even when we know absolutely that we are only losing the part of us that is evil, it's still hard.  It's still painful.

The awesome thing about it is that we're not alone.  God overcame sin and death for us, and he can help us overcome the evil within us as well.  He can walk us through it, and teach us how to win and what it is like to be the person we want to be, rather than the person we used to be.  He suffered for this exact reason... so that he could help us and save us.  Today, let's accept that the bad part of ourselves has to go.  Let's give away our sins, habits, and all the souvenirs we picked up in Hell, and embrace the idea of being Heavenly.  Let's consult the map and start planning our trip. We might know a lot less about it, but we can trust God when he tells us that it is where we want to go, and who we want to be. :)

Saturday, October 8, 2016

Romans 1:25 -- On Origami Truth and Seeing Reality

"Who changed the truth of God into a lie, and worshipped and served the creature more than the Creator, who is blessed for ever. Amen."
Romans 1:25

This chapter is talking about sexual morality.  Not to diminish that message, which is an important one, but as I was reading this verse in particular it struck me that really, this applies to all sin.  When we sin, we are serving ourselves (our bodies=the creature) rather than God (the Creator).  We are putting ourselves first, and pretending that makes sense. We basically talk ourselves into insanity, taking the written truth and folding it into complicated origami patterns until it is either so small that we can overlook it, or it appears so different that we can call it something else and pretend that God actually supports us in our rebellion.

Today, maybe we should step back and measure ourselves and our endeavors against God's commandments.  Not to encourage guilt trips, but to check ourselves against reality.  We're awesome at talking ourselves into crazy things, and we need that reality check sometimes... to make sure we're not ruining our own lives and setting ourselves up for a lot of pain.  Today, let's make sure God comes first in our lives, and unfold that truth so we can see what it actually says.  If we make sure that God is in place as our foundation, then we know what we're building is based on reality: Creator before creature. :)

Friday, October 7, 2016

D&C 9:8 -- On Thinking and Studying and Moving Forward

"But, behold, I say unto you, that you must study it out in your mind; then you must ask me if it be right, and if it is right I will cause that your bosom shall burn within you; therefore, you shall feel that it is right."
Doctrine and Covenants 9:8

I was thinking about this today and wondering how often we just really don't think about the things in our lives, expecting them to just work out or go well.  Perhaps some of the time this is faith, and faith is totally good... but maybe some other times if we're honest with ourselves, it is just plain blindness or laziness--expecting God to do things for us that we could do for ourselves with a little effort.

We sometimes say things like "I'm not good at that," not as acknowledgements that we need to change and do better, but used more as get-out-of-jail-free cards, so that no one ever expects us to change in that area.  Throughout the scriptures God asks us to work out our salvation (Alma 34:37, Philippians 2:12, Mormon 9:27), to be anxiously engaged in a good cause (D&C 58:27), that faith without works is dead (James 2:20, 26), and, as above, that we need to think, study, choose, and take action.

Today, let's jump in and start figuring out the answers to the test, rather than just waiting for God to provide the answer sheet.  Let's trust, and have faith... but let's also study and work.  Let's think things through, consult with God, and take action in our lives without waiting for God to ask.  As we do so, God will help us to know that we're on the right track, and will bless our efforts.

Thursday, October 6, 2016

Isaiah 52:11 -- On Being Separate and Different and Good and Clean

"Depart ye, depart ye, go ye out from thence, touch no unclean thing; go ye out of the midst of her; be ye clean, that bear the vessels of the Lord."
Isaiah 52:11

The idea of separation, or separateness, is a frequent one throughout the scriptures.  The Lord actually commands us to "be ye separate" (2 Corinthians 6:17; Alma 5:57) in very similar verses to this.  As mentioned here, one big reason is cleanliness, some of which was very literal in the Old Testament, and which is partially literal now, but which, then and now, is primarily figurative and symbolic.  Even the idea of being, or having, a chosen people... that's a strong idea, and something that makes us feel special to the Lord, but it was never really about exclusion, but more about keeping us clean and safe.

I think we've probably all sinned, right? :)  We've faced temptation, and sometimes we overcome it and get past it, and sometimes we don't.  When we don't, we keep trying, and we work to be better.  Part of succeeding in that endeavor is avoiding the temptations and being in situations that tend to lead us into sin.  We have to learn to choose to be *separate* from those situations rather than seeking them out.  The ancient Israelites had to avoid different situations than we do probably.  They were tempted to worship idols and to submit to slavery for a free meal.  It was difficult for them to learn how to adjust to freedom after being in slavery.  And it is hard for us to adjust when we have *chosen* slavery to a certain habit or addiction.  Change is hard.  That's one reason we need to be separate.  Another is that God wants us to be different than everyone else.

We sometimes rebel against the idea of being different because we want to fit in, or be accepted.  However, God specifically tells us "go ye out from among the wicked" (D&C 38:42) and that he wants us to be a "peculiar people" (Titus 2:14), not just to make us feel cool or unique, but because he wants us to be different, and good.  God is asking us to be better than we have been, and better than the evil around us.  We spread that message to others and invite them to be separate and different with us, as they are willing to come unto God and renounce evil.  And in order to be chosen, we have to do the same.  Any "betterness" just means less evil and more good. :)  So today, let's work on that.  Let's be less evil and more good. Let's separate ourselves from sin and temptation and wickedness.  Let's honor God, and the bodies that he gave us as the sacred vessels of God, carrying our spirits, and staying clean so that we can communicate with, and do the work of, God.

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Isaiah 1:22-25 -- On Purifying Ourselves as Silver

"Thy silver is become dross, thy wine mixed with water:
Thy princes are rebellious, and companions of thieves: every one loveth gifts, and followeth after rewards: they judge not the fatherless, neither doth the cause of the widow come unto them.
Therefore saith the Lord, the Lord of hosts, the mighty One of Israel, Ah, I will ease me of mine adversaries, and avenge me of mine enemies:
And I will turn my hand upon thee, and purely purge away thy dross, and take away all thy tin:"
Isaiah 1:22-25

These verses are talking about the corruption, probably both literal and figurative, of Zion. The progression here is interesting.  The purity that God is looking for in us is lost... symbolically, our silver is mixed with tin.  More literally, our leaders are rebellious, running with thieves, looking for bribes and doing what will reward themselves the most.  They aren't concerned with orphans, widows... people who are homeless and needy and have no way to support themselves.

So, says God, I am going to relieve myself of the burden of this corruption, and solve these problems.  And when he says "avenge," we expect fireworks and lightning bolts, right?  But instead, God says that he will purge away our dross, and take away our tin. Admittedly, God turning his hand upon us and purging us is not a calm or pain-free image.  Purifying silver requires very high heat.  Some other translations say "I will melt you down and skim off your slag," "will burn away your dross," or "remove your impurities with bleach."  None of this seems pleasant.  But just the idea of *fixing* us instead of throwing us away or replacing us is an amazing idea, filled with hope and love.

Sometimes in our lives we are God's adversaries, and we work exactly opposite to his will.  Even so, he doesn't want to destroy us or cast us away.  He wants to help us become pure again.  He wants us to be his children, our best selves, and to reconcile with him.  Today, let's change.  Let's repent.  Let's purify ourselves so that God doesn't have to encourage us to turn around in high-heat or more painful ways.  Let's not be rebellious or run with thieves. :)  Let's look to others before ourselves, helping people who can't help themselves, and offering them shelter, food, compassion, and love.  Let's be pure silver by doing God's work and making the world a better place.

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

3 Nephi 23:1 -- On Searching the Scriptures

"And now, behold, I say unto you, that ye ought to search these things. Yea, a commandment I give unto you that ye search these things diligently; for great are the words of Isaiah."
3 Nephi 23:1

This is Christ speaking to the people in Bountiful, right after he quotes a prophecy of Isaiah to them.  I like that he tells them, and us, to search.  Isaiah is hard to understand sometimes, so maybe we've skimmed or skipped it in the past, but really... we've gotten good at searching, right?  That is what Google and Firefox and Bing and Chrome and Safari and the rest of these Internet browsers are teaching us.  So, instead of Googling kittens or some random celebrity, let's take the challenge and search Isaiah.  Let's find out what other people think of the verses, what they think they mean.  Let's search and see if we can pick the words apart and see what they mean to us.  Let's dig into it and learn.  And then, when we think we might know, let's pray and see if God has anything to clarify or add. :)

Isaiah is awesome anyway, but even more so if we figure out some of those tricky passages for ourselves.  It's kind of like a parable, or really any other scripture or gospel message.  There are often symbols in there that help us understand the overall story, and searching for and understanding those symbols is the key to unlocking the overall meaning.  Searching is something that we know how to do, and it gives a sense of satisfaction when we find what we are looking for.  God is just asking us to do a little bit more of it.  Let's find out more about gospel things, just like we look up our favorite things.  Let's read up on cool spiritual things the same way we look for the latest on the news, or dig up funny videos. :)

Today, let's search the scriptures the way we search the internet.  We can even use a search box online if we want to:  But online or hard copy, let's take Christ's challenge and figure them out.

Monday, October 3, 2016

Mormon 9:28 -- On Seeking Internal Improvement

"Be wise in the days of your probation; strip yourselves of all uncleanness; ask not, that ye may consume it on your lusts, but ask with a firmness unshaken, that ye will yield to no temptation, but that ye will serve the true and living God."
Mormon 9:28

This verse tells us that instead of asking for external blessings, we should ask for internal improvement.  I really like that idea.  That's really the point of all of this life stuff, after all, right?  The only things that we can take with us to the afterlife are ourselves.  All the cars, houses, money, electronics, books, toys, games, airplanes, boats, shoes, tickets, and collections have to stay behind, along with really everything else.  It's just going to be us and what we have been able to become.  Actually, though, that is a lot.  We can stuff our heads with knowledge and wisdom, learn how to do things, practice love and kindness and all other good habits, and become better and better the longer we live.  If we keep trying and repenting, we're going to get better, and we'll have something to show for ourselves in the end of mortality.

Even then, all of this isn't really about passing the test of life.  The test only exists in order to make us better and happier.  All of it is about God loving us and wanting the best for us.  Life is like... Harvard, or whatever you think the very best school in the world is.  God sent us here so we could be the best, learn the most, and have the best chance at success.  Everyone around us is also the best and the brightest, although not everyone has realized their potential.  We're here to learn more about ourselves, about life, about each other, and especially about God, because he can help us study for and pass the hardest exams.  In the end, it isn't about death.  It is about graduation... moving on to something bigger and better than mere college life.  We will return home smarter and better and ready to face the bright, bright future. :)  Let's be firm and unshakable, and ask God for his help in becoming brighter and better.

Sunday, October 2, 2016

Helaman 5:12 -- On Weathering the Storms of Life

"And now, my sons, remember, remember that it is upon the rock of our Redeemer, who is Christ, the Son of God, that ye must build your foundation; that when the devil shall send forth his mighty winds, yea, his shafts in the whirlwind, yea, when all his hail and his mighty storm shall beat upon you, it shall have no power over you to drag you down to the gulf of misery and endless wo, because of the rock upon which ye are built, which is a sure foundation, a foundation whereon if men build they cannot fall."
Helaman 5:12

I like the phrase "it shall have no power over you" here.  It isn't a promise that storms won't come, or that Satan won't work to make us miserable.  They will, and he will.  But it *is* a promise that if we build our foundation on Christ, meaning dedicating ourselves to him, learning from him, getting to know him, and trusting him, that the devil's storms won't have any power over us to make us miserable.  We can look to God for help in those times, and be okay.  Like 1 Corinthians 4:8, we can be "troubled on every side, yet not distressed."

Today, let's remember, and build our foundation on the rock of Christ, so that Satan can have no power over us even in the midst of the storms of life.  If we put our trust in God and do his will, we cannot fall.

Saturday, October 1, 2016

Matthew 5:44-45 -- On Loving as God Loves Us

"But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you;
That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust."
Matthew 5:44-45

Thinking about this scripture today, and how much it reflects what God does for us.  He loves us, even when we make ourselves his enemies, even when we curse him.  He loves us when we hate him, and he works for our good, providing heat and light and rain and life to us all.  He wants us to succeed, to learn, and to keep trying.  He puts up with so much from us not because he doesn't have the power to stop it, but because he loves us and truly wants us to learn to freely choose good.

This doesn't mean, for us or for God, that there is no difference between good and evil, or that we can do anything we want without consequence.  It does mean though that God gives us an incredible amount of room for repentance and changing our lives around.  He offers hope in the midst of hopelessness, and is there to offer mercy to anyone who comes to him.  Today, let's work to be like our father by loving people that don't love us back.  And let's be thankful that he loves us that way, as we slowly learn to appreciate his goodness.

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