Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Zechariah 7:11-12 -- On Adamant Stones

"But they refused to hearken, and pulled away the shoulder, and stopped their ears, that they should not hear.
Yea, they made their hearts as an adamant stone, lest they should hear the law, and the words which the Lord of hosts hath sent in his spirit by the former prophets: therefore came a great wrath from the Lord of hosts."
Zechariah 7:11-12

This is an interesting scripture, and out of context like this, it would seem like God was asking something really incredibly difficult and distasteful to get this reaction.  And yet, if we look back at the previous verses which prompted this reaction, God was really just asking them to be nice to each other.

Sometimes being nice *is* hard.  Especially with people we don't like or don't agree with or don't have a lot in common with.  I'm not saying that it is simple, or something that can be accomplished in the short-term.  It is a lifelong lesson, and hopefully as we learn more and more, we learn to be kinder and more merciful and compassionate.  Definitely though, it isn't something that we should stand against, or give up on.  Today, let's soften our hearts so they won't be adamant stones, resisting the Lord's voice.  Let's work on our compassion and try to heal rather than harm.  Then, perhaps, we will get some kindness in return, rather than the "great wrath" spoken of here.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

2 Nephi 28:7-8 -- On Tomorrow

"Yea, and there shall be many which shall say: Eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we die; and it shall be well with us.
And there shall also be many which shall say: Eat, drink, and be merry; nevertheless, fear God—he will justify in committing a little sin; yea, lie a little, take the advantage of one because of his words, dig a pit for thy neighbor; there is no harm in this; and do all these things, for tomorrow we die; and if it so be that we are guilty, God will beat us with a few stripes, and at last we shall be saved in the kingdom of God."
2 Nephi 28:7-8

I think the most interesting thing about these verses is thinking about why this isn't true.  On the surface, it seems plausible, right?  God is merciful, and we'll be better off after we die... even if we do some minor sinning.  Right?  Where is the logical flaw?

I think that the flaw is in treating God, and this life, as a childhood prank.  Thinking that God is an old softie, and we can get away with anything... he'll actually just be laughing, and pleased with how cute and precocious we are.  In one way, those verses are true, except perhaps for the "few stripes" because I think our sense of personal loss and suffering might seem more than that.  But it depends on what we mean by "saved."  Yes, we are all going to be resurrected and live forever, no matter what our attitudes are.  However, if all we accomplish in this life is learning to be a prankster and getting away with whatever we can, then we aren't going to like our reward much... remember the whole restoration idea.  We get out of this life what we put into it, enhanced and multiplied by God.

It's kind of like college.  If we attend our classes, ask questions, study, and apply the new ideas we learn in our lives, then we become more than we were, and are better able to pursue our careers or teach our children, or have that extra knowledge wherever the path of life takes us.  But if we don't go to classes, and we don't study... or we decide that buying a diploma online is a better idea than spending the time actually learning... then yes, we might be able to get away with it, and skate by with low grades or get a job with a fake diploma.  But we will not be the better people that we could have been, had we learned and lived differently.

I think that is what we will face when we get to the end of mortality: basically a mirror, showing us who we have become, and where we will be comfortable in the eternities.  As with college, we likely won't be comfortable in a place where we're required to use all of those skills that we kind of faked our way through in life.  If we haven't learned how to be honest, and how to love and show compassion for others, and all the other little lessons that God is teaching us every day, then we won't be ready or able to be part of that group in heaven.  If we try to coast in this life, we might have to accept less in the afterlife.  Still saved, yes.  But how do we define hell?  Is it just avoiding eternal flames, or could it also be an eternity spent knowing that we don't qualify for the job we really wanted?  I don't think that God wants any of us to suffer, but sometimes we choose to suffer by not preparing ourselves for the opportunities that are coming.

Today, instead of focusing on and being distracted by the pleasures of life and our own indulgence, let's remember that we also need to get some work done, improving ourselves and assisting others--learning faith, compassion, love, service, and all of the other things that God is teaching us so that we will qualify for the tomorrow that he has prepared for us.

Monday, November 28, 2016

Moroni 10:6-7 -- On Defining and Finding the Good

"And whatsoever thing is good is just and true; wherefore, nothing that is good denieth the Christ, but acknowledgeth that he is.
And ye may know that he is, by the power of the Holy Ghost; wherefore I would exhort you that ye deny not the power of God; for he worketh by power, according to the faith of the children of men, the same today and tomorrow, and forever."
Moroni 10:6-7

I was reading this today, and since these verses are stuck in between some other groups of verses that are often quoted and much more well-known, I don't think that I had ever really focused on them before, and I realized what a mistake that was. :)

The first verse here explains to us a little bit about goodness.  We talk about good and bad all the time, but we mostly just go with our gut feelings on that, which might be why it is so easy to "call evil good, and good evil" (Isaiah 5:20) in our society.  Here are some good guidelines that can help us avoid the evil, and perhaps even some self-justification.  We learn that good things are always just, true, and compatible with a belief in Christ.  Important points.

The second verse reminds us that we can know that Christ exists by the power of the Holy Ghost, and it kind of tells us to stop complaining until we figure that out, right?  If we have a way to know, then we shouldn't deny God's power without putting forth the effort of finding out if it is real.  I also like the idea here that God is consistent.  He hasn't stopped being powerful or using power and hasn't stopped doing miracles and working with us according to our faith.

Today, let's remember that goodness is made up of things like truth, justice, and faith in Jesus Christ.  Let's look for the good in the world around us, and find it within us, as we commune with God and learn from him how to be good, and to spread good in the world.

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Mormon 8:35-37 -- On Prophecy, Pride, and Possessions

"Behold, I speak unto you as if ye were present, and yet ye are not. But behold, Jesus Christ hath shown you unto me, and I know your doing.
And I know that ye do walk in the pride of your hearts; and there are none save a few only who do not lift themselves up in the pride of their hearts, unto the wearing of very fine apparel, unto envying, and strifes, and malice, and persecutions, and all manner of iniquities; and your churches, yea, even every one, have become polluted because of the pride of your hearts.
For behold, ye do love money, and your substance, and your fine apparel, and the adorning of your churches, more than ye love the poor and the needy, the sick and the afflicted."
Mormon 8:35-37

This is an interesting passage where the prophet Mormon is speaking directly to us.  It is a small part of his overall message, but this part is the clearest about him seeing us and our day.  I think it is an interesting feeling to have someone reaching out from the past, trying to help us.

One of the specific things he mentions here is pride.  And, because of that pride, envying, strife, malice, persecution, etc.  I look at what he has written about us, and I think it is right on target.  I'm not saying that we're all evil or that our cause is hopeless... we're not, and it isn't.  But I think we do all, often, have a pride problem.  We want so much to be right, to be better than each other, and to get ahead, which doesn't even sound bad until we think about the fact that it means we are leaving others behind.

He says we love money, and we *do.*  We want to be comfortable, and no matter how much we have, we want to have more.  Sometimes we want more than the neighbors, or our friends, or we play comparison games with family or friends, either trying to make sure that we're ahead in the game, or that other people aren't cheating by doing better than us. :)

We want to look good, and to have nice toys.  And those things by themselves are probably not bad, but as Mormon points out, we almost always love all of those things *more* than we love other people, especially other people that are in need.

Today, let's really think about the prophet's words to us, and take advantage of his reaching out to try and help us.  Let's not blow his message off as though it was directed to other people only, but rather consider what his observations mean for us in our individual lives.  What can *we* do to prioritize people over possessions?  How do we let go of our need to be ahead, and learn to share what we have been blessed with?  Instead of justifying our own needs, can we find ways to serve and help others?  Let's do what we can to get our priorities settled into a more Christlike pattern. :)

Saturday, November 26, 2016

Alma 42:29 -- On Questions and Sins

"And now, my son, I desire that ye should let these things trouble you no more, and only let your sins trouble you, with that trouble which shall bring you down unto repentance."
Alma 42:29

This is an interesting chapter, and this is near the end of an explanation that Alma offers his son about justice and punishment, because his son was attempting to propose that it was "injustice that the sinner should be consigned to a state of misery" (Alma 42:1).  And that is a tough thing that we probably all wonder about at some point... the questions about why doesn't God save everyone, or why God allows us, or other people to suffer.  That isn't what I am going to talk about today, but I do recommend reading this chapter.  It's very interesting.

I liked this verse near the end of the explanation a lot.  Alma didn't blow off his son's questions at all.  He took the time to explain the whole thing to him and to make sure that the ideas behind the gospel truths were as clear as he could make them.  After he clarified the answer to the question though, he further helped his son by also explaining, basically, that he was asking the wrong questions.  He was focusing on ways to justify his behavior by questioning God, when his attention was needed instead in focusing on his own sins, and how to overcome them.

I think we go through similar things in this life.  When things seem dark or out of balance, we often focus outward, trying to figure out what is wrong with the universe or the world, rather than on what is wrong in our lives.  Like Alma's son, our time would be better spent figuring out how to overcome ourselves... repenting and repairing our lives, so that we can "look up to God at that day with a pure heart and clean hands" (Alma 5:19).  Definitely not saying that we can't ask questions, or that we shouldn't seek answers or explanations about the gospel, or talk to God about these things.  Those are important parts of learning the gospel, and working through our own testimonies.  Only that we often get sidetracked with less important questions, trying to justify ourselves, when the really truly important thing is to work on cleaning up our lives.

Today, let's try to let go of some of those things that are troubling us, and only let our sins trouble us enough to do something about them.  Let's repent and do better, and as we do, we can look to God for the answers to any lingering questions, and be better able to hear what he has to say.

Friday, November 25, 2016

Doctrine and Covenants 42:29 -- On Love, Obedience, and Puppetry

"If thou lovest me thou shalt serve me and keep all my commandments."
Doctrine and Covenants 42:29

The idea that obedience and servitude are expressions of love can seem very strange.  In our society, where we see so many abuses of power, we often think of voluntary submission as brainwashing, and chosen service as slavery.  Obedience without question is frequently seen as inherently unwise, or even immoral--a rejection of freedom and personal responsibility.

I'm not sure that this statement works in any other context.  Perhaps to a limited degree in parenting, but in general, it isn't something that we can say to or expect from each other... for us, it would be asking other people to be our puppets, rather than encouraging them to be independent and whole.  It's like the whole "real boy" idea in Pinocchio, right?  God is both Geppetto and the Blue Fairy, encouraging personal responsibility and promising to make us new, and more real, as we learn to be obedient.  The obedience that he asks is designed to teach us to do right and to become good, and will help us grow up and become whole.

We, on the other hand, often ask for obedience as proof of love for much less wholesome reasons.  For power, for pride, for other selfish desires... we sometimes think that people *owe* us obedience because of their love, or that doing what we ask is proof of love.  Turns out that we're a lot more like the people tempting Pinocchio off the path than we are like God or Geppetto, encouraging him to become better.

Today, let's remember that God is encouraging us to be more than we are and teaching us how to return to him.  Let's offer service and obedience to him because we trust him, and we know that the things he asks will help us to be happier and better and to succeed in a very long-term way.  Let's learn to be "real" and express our love for God in the way that he asks--drawing closer to him through obeying his laws (laws that help us succeed, and that show his love for us), and by helping others draw closer to him as well. :)

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Proverbs 13:10 -- On Pride and Contention

"Only by pride cometh contention: but with the well advised is wisdom."
Proverbs 13:10

This is an interesting idea, that all contention involves pride.  I've never really thought about it before, and my initial instinct was to reject the idea... but maybe that was a little bit of pride too. :)  I don't think any of us probably want to admit how much selfishness/pride is wrapped up in our conflicts.

I like the part about being well-advised as well, and, as far as advisors go, God is clearly the pinnacle.  He is the source of all wisdom, which gives us something to look to in order to save us from our own pride, and thus often faulty decisions.  In a way, God is like the invisible umpire present during any conflict or potential conflict.  His spirit helps us to remember the rules, his commandments, that are also designed to help us navigate life and overcome our own tendency to pride, anger, and selfishness.  If we take the time to stop our automatic reactions, and listen to God and his advice, then we can learn to be wise and resolve conflict instead of encouraging and exacerbating it.  If pride is a necessary part of contention, then a little humility goes a long way.  A world without conflict starts with us, learning to let go of our pride and listen to God.  Let's try it. :)

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Psalms 69:30 -- On Learning, Praising, Thanking, and Singing

"I will praise the name of God with a song, and will magnify him with thanksgiving."
Psalms 69:30

We really don't give God enough credit.  We go throughout our lives, taking his love and the amazing blessings that he has given us for granted... sometimes we're even resentful of him rather than being awed and thankful.  And I get that, and think it is probably normal to go through that in life.  We don't always see the value in our earthly parents or families either.  Thankfully, we usually grow out of that stage once we see how hard life really is, and how amazing of a job our parents really did, despite challenges.  With God it is harder, probably because it is somewhat harder to see his perspective. :)  I do think though that it is valuable, and probably necessary to our long-term spiritual well-being, to make that effort to understand where God is coming from.  Not for his sake, although I am certain that he loves us and wants us to reunite with him, but for ours.

They have those 12 step programs for various addictions, and truthfully, we probably need one for sinning in general.  I don't know the steps by heart, but I do know that the first couple are basically admitting that you have a problem that you can't solve yourself, and believing that God can, and will, help you to solve it.  Those are some amazing steps, and ones that are needed every day of our lives, not just in the midst of any specific addiction (though they are definitely valuable there, I am not trying to diminish that).  Life is a problem that we can't solve ourselves, and church is our Sinners Anonymous group.  God can, and will, help us to solve our problems if we turn to him... and part of that turning to him means learning about him and seeing things his way.

Today, and every day, let's set aside a little bit of time to learn about God, through reading the scriptures, praying, having a gospel discussion--really, anything helps.  As we learn more about God, our hearts will be more and more filled with thanks (and perhaps songs: How Great Thou Art is a good one) and praise for him, for he truly is our creator and our Savior, who didn't only give us everything in the beginning, but who continues every day, still giving us everything, and pouring down blessings.  Rather than just looking at society's filter of all the bad things we can spew, as fast as we can, let's learn about God, and hope, and learn to see those good things all around us.  Let's give thanks, and in our joy, maybe even sing about it.  Why not? :)

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Luke 18:9-14 -- On Praying for the Spotlight

"And he spake this parable unto certain which trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and despised others:
Two men went up into the temple to pray; the one a Pharisee, and the other a publican.
The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, God, I thank thee, that I am not as other men are, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this publican.
I fast twice in the week, I give tithes of all that I possess.
And the publican, standing afar off, would not lift up so much as his eyes unto heaven, but smote upon his breast, saying, God be merciful to me a sinner.
I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other: for every one that exalteth himself shall be abased; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted."
Luke 18:9-14

This is an interesting parable, comparing two different prayers, and two different people.  And I think that we sometimes fall into this trap, not just with commandments, but with compassion.  We like to compare ourselves to others when it makes us look good.  We want people to see us being the good guys and other people being the bad guys.  And if we get more points on the board in terms of fasting and tithing, and acceptance, and diversity, etc, then we have our proof, right?

The story, though, challenges how we measure ourselves.  It reminds me of the story of the Rameumptom from the Book of Mormon (Alma 31:12-23).  In that story, each person would climb up to pray saying, in part, "thou hast elected us that we shall be saved, whilst all around us are elected to be cast by thy wrath down to hell; for the which holiness, O God, we thank thee" (Alma 31:17).  As we are counting up our good deeds, we need to remember that God *isn't* counting.  He doesn't have an eternal leaderboard up there, and we aren't competing for limited tickets to heaven.  It is about who we are, who we are becoming, and to a large extent, how we learn to love and treat others, including those we see as enemies.

The scary part of both this parable and the story of the Rameumptom is that in both cases, the people honestly thought they were doing what God wanted, and that they were, in fact, better than the people around them.  How easy it is to trick ourselves into that kind of thinking. We are doing good things, and it seems logical to take it from there. We think that because we make some good choices and it makes our lives better, that we are inherently better than people who have not made the same choices.  And yet, when we think that way, we are overwhelmingly biased in those judgments because we look only at the choices that *we* have made to do good, and not at all choices, or at each person as a whole.  Those aren't easy things to do, given.  Perhaps only God has all the information needed to make such an unbiased judgment.  And yet we persist in the faulty comparisons, in thinking that we are better than others, and in living and praying as though for the spotlight.  We talk and post about how good we are compared to others, how others have wronged us, and we unfortunately often pray that way too.  If we step back and look at ourselves, we often see that our real messages, even to God, are basically "Look at me, and how cool I am!"

I'm not saying we aren't cool, by the way.  We totally are. :)  Reinforcing some righteous behavior isn't a bad thing in itself.  I'm only saying that the publican got it right.  No matter how cool we are, and what success we've had, changing and repenting and triumphing over temptation... no matter what amazing choices and goodness and love we are spreading, we still have a long way to go, just like anyone else.  Perhaps we all share a need to work on the areas of compassion and love toward those who do not necessarily agree with us.  Instead of worrying about who will claim the righteousness prize, or get those tickets to heaven, maybe we should stop and focus on who we are becoming, and whether we're prepared for a similar judgment.  It's the mote-beam thing, the seek first to obtain my word thing, the oxygen mask thing.  Sometimes we need to make sure we're breathing okay before we help others, so that we don't mess up both lives.

My favorite thing about the publican is that his prayer was between him and God, not done for the spotlight.  He recognized his need for God's help and his mercy.  He was looking at his own faults rather than those of other people.  Perhaps today we can follow his example.  I think that we, and the world, would benefit.

Monday, November 21, 2016

Helaman 5:46-47 -- On Listening and Finding Peace

"And it came to pass that there came a voice unto them, yea, a pleasant voice, as if it were a whisper, saying:
Peace, peace be unto you, because of your faith in my Well Beloved, who was from the foundation of the world."
Helaman 5:46-47

This is at the end of a pretty cool story.  Briefly, some prophets got thrown into jail, and almost everyone in the jail was converted, after witnessing the power of God.  There is a lot more to it, and I absolutely recommend reading the whole story, which starts in verse 21 where they get cast into prison.

One thing I like about these verses is that the voice of God is quiet.  God doesn't yell or scream at us.
 In fact, if we don't shut down the distractions in our lives, we won't be able to hear him.  Instead of overriding the noise, he asks us to turn it off and concentrate... us seeking him, rather than him demanding our attention.  A further reminder that our destiny is our choice.  Life is one of those choose your own adventure books, and God clearly tells us which choices will lead to the happy ending, but he never forces us to make the right choices, or turns the pages for us.  This is about our education and our will.  If we turn to a bad ending, that is all us.  And even then, in God's infinite mercy, it usually isn't a permanent bad ending.  We get to repent, and sometimes turn back a few pages, trying the better option. :)  God gives us many, many chances to get back on track.

Unfortunately, the more we choose badly, the harder it gets to remember the good, or want to get back on track,,, and that is part of the idea of the pleasant whisper here.  We have to remove all of the clutter and grime and rust and walls, and whatever else, that we've let build up between us and God, and really, really listen.  If we do... when we do, God gives us a message of grace and peace, not railing accusations and guilt trips about how long we have been away.  Always love... always acceptance and welcome.  The message of peace in this verse was to the other 300 or so prisoners that were in prison with the prophets.  They weren't people who had lived all their lives in the light.  In fact, they had only just barely learned how God had the power to save them from the darkness.  And he still commends their faith, and blesses them with his peace.

Today, let's work on removing the distractions from our lives, and clearing out the barriers that we've built between ourselves and God.  Let's silence the noise and truly listen to what God is telling us.  As we do, we too can be saved from the darkness and find peace.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

D&C 4:7 -- On Asking, Knocking, and Learning

"Ask, and ye shall receive; knock, and it shall be opened unto you. Amen."
Doctrine and Covenants 4:7

The whole idea of asking God for things is everywhere in the scriptures, although it is tempered in several places with additional requirements.  To be fair, I don't think that they are actually meant to be "additional," because it should be obvious that more things are necessary in a gospel context.  But these are excellent reminders for us of how the gospel works: James 4:3 reminds us that we won't receive anything if we only ask for the fulfillment of lustful desires.  John 16:24 tells us that the idea of asking and receiving here is about finding joy.  1 John 3:22 tells us that God gives us what we ask for "because we keep his commandments, and do those things that are pleasing in his sight." 1 Nephi 15:11 includes diligence and the need to not harden our hearts. Matthew 21:22 reminds us that prayer and belief are part of the package.  D&C 29:6 adds unity and faith.  3 Nephi 18:20 specifies that what we ask has to be right.  D&C 42:6 tells us that we should ask for revelation and knowledge so we will "know the mysteries and peaceable things—that which bringeth joy, that which bringeth life eternal."  D&C 18:18 tells us that we should ask for the Holy Ghost.  Alma 7:23 reminds us that we should express thanks for the spiritual and temporal blessings that God grants us when we ask him.

I think the idea that we are taking the action here is also an important one.  The scriptures aren't telling us that we should sit at home and wait for God to visit us.  They don't say that God will call us up and ask us what we want.  In both cases, the idea is clear.  We need to go to *him.*  This necessitates that we really think about the process, talk it through in our minds... figure out what we really want.  God already knows what we need, way better than we do, and he could just give it to us, but that isn't the idea here. God asks us to ask because he is trying to teach us how to figure some of these things out.  We need to learn about choices and consequences, and long-term joy versus short-term thrills.  We have to learn to ask for--and to want--good things, rather than bad.  And, perhaps most of all, we need to build a relationship with the Lord, and learn of him, because that will sustain us through everything else.

Today, let's ask, knock, and learn.  Let's read some of God's words on the subject, and go to him in prayer.  Let's be more than we have been, and lift our eyes to longer-term goals... always returning thanks to God for his help and guidance in our efforts.

Saturday, November 19, 2016

2 Corinthians 1:3-4 -- On the God of All Comfort

"Blessed be God, even the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies, and the God of all comfort;
Who comforteth us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort them which are in any trouble, by the comfort wherewith we ourselves are comforted of God."
2 Corinthians 1:3-4

We don't often think of God as comforting.  He often seems a lot more distant than that.  It's probably easier to imagine him striking us with a lightning bolt than putting his arms around us.  And yet, in reading this today, I could definitely feel the truth of it, and I actually think that God is so much more comforting than people usually know how to be.

As fallible humans, we often find it hard to truly relate to other people.  We try, but we sometimes
just can't wrap our minds around another perspective.  We don't understand why things are hard for other people when they are easy for us, or why some societal issue causes others concern when we believe it's all good the way it is.  We have a hard time empathizing with people who are different than we are and who face different challenges and choices, especially when those things are not challenges or weaknesses for us.  It often takes an immense effort to see from someone else's perspective, and often we don't put in the time, or else we just aren't interested in trying.

God, on the other hand, *can* wrap his mind around everything that we go through.  Not only did Christ suffer everything that we suffer, but the whole idea of God is wrapped up in the fact that he *does* get it... he gets everything, being all-knowing.  He knows exactly how to comfort each of us.  And since he is also love, I would say he is also all-compassionate.  Note however that all-compassionate does not equal all-permissive.  Caring about what we are going through does not mean that he is okay with us sinning--only that he can help us through it.  It's kind of like when we fall off a bike.  God cares that we're injured, and he will help us patch ourselves up, but it doesn't mean he wants us to give up on trying to learn how to ride, or that his love means that he approves of us learning how to fall and scrape ourselves better and better every day.  The idea is to keep trying and stop falling, and master the skill. :)

I think God's comfort is actually better in that way as well.  God is never going to tell us that things are going to be okay when we know they really won't be.  He is never going to encourage us to give up and accept less in terms of the gospel.  He shows us real hope, and gives us a glimpse of what life could be once we get beyond our current challenges.  Today, let's open our hearts to God's compassion and allow him to comfort us.  Let's believe in his hope, and his promises for the future.  Let's get back on the bike, and master the skill.  Let's move forward, learning and growing, as he puts his arms around us and helps us to fulfil our potential and our dreams.  And once we understand his comfort, let's be instruments in his hands to share it with others.

Friday, November 18, 2016

Romans 8:16-18 -- On Monsters and Hope

"The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God:
And if children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ; if so be that we suffer with him, that we may be also glorified together.
For I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us."
Romans 8:16-18

The idea of being children of God is huge, as as it explains here, if we are children of God then we are also heirs.  Can you imagine inheriting all that God has?  ... So totally way better than a rich uncle, right? :)  And of course in this case also better because no one has to die.  God is immortal, and we *still* get to share his stuff... because he loves us, and that is the whole point.  He's trying to teach us enough so we be part of the family business. :)

One of the best things about these verses it the part about suffering.  Christ suffered for us, and sometimes we suffer too, for each other.  And that's okay.  ... It doesn't feel okay, but it *is* okay, because of exactly what it says here... that our sufferings are completely unworthy of comparison to the glory that we will become, and the joy and happiness that awaits us.

So, how do we trust in that future happy ending that we can't see, when all of these big monsters are
attacking us NOW?  ... a few verses later, God tells us.  "For we are saved by hope" (verse 24).  I love that.  When things are just rotten, and everything is going wrong, and the monsters are winning, God is still there.  We can't see him, but the spirit still bears witness, and reminds us that it gets better.   If we can just hang in there and keep doing good, everything will be okay.  None of the bad stuff can ruin what God has waiting for us in the end.

Let's try to remember that as we face the monsters today.  Sometimes they aren't as bad as we thought... but even when they are, let's look to the light.  The good will not just outweigh, but completely and ludicrously overpower the bad in the end.  Which really makes you think... in the midst of our most painful suffering, what could be so good that it would make this seem silly in comparison?  ... Personally, I think that when we experience what Heaven is really like, it will be that good, and probably even better.  What seems devastating to us now will be completely washed away by God's love and mercy and goodness.  All the things that scare us now will seem like cartoons as everything is made perfect, and God wipes away all the tears from our eyes (Isaiah 25:8; Revelation 21:4).  Hope.

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Matthew 7:1-5 -- On Motes and Beams and Judgments

"Judge not, that ye be not judged.
For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again.
And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother’s eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye?
Or how wilt thou say to thy brother, Let me pull out the mote out of thine eye; and, behold, a beam is in thine own eye?
Thou hypocrite, first cast out the beam out of thine own eye; and then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the mote out of thy brother’s eye."
Matthew 7:1-5

The commandment not to judge here is tempered elsewhere in the scriptures with advice on judging righteously, and on making wise choices (John 7:24; Alma 41:14).  We can't get through life making zero judgments, but these verses, along with the following verses talking about motes and beams give us some important warnings about the judgments that we make... because everything comes back to us.

We often like to distance ourselves from things because it is less painful.  It's easier to think about wars, poverty, and hardship happening in distant lands than it is in our own neighborhoods, because it's a step away from us... something that it is safe to express concern about, but not something immediate enough where we actually have to do something about it.  We do it with commandments and laws as well.  We criticize other people for not being righteous, or for not following the law of the land, while forgiving ourselves for sin or lawbreaking because of our circumstances, which obviously give us a pass.  It's a common ailment in our society, and I think that we have all done it... a little hypocrisy, a little judgment: casting stones when we are clearly not without sin ourselves (John 8:7).

I think what God is saying to us here is that we're going to be judged by the judgments we make... by our choices, by our thoughts and our actions concerning others, as well as our efforts to live the commandments ourselves, and so we need to stop our prejudgments and stereotypes and labels and hatred without knowing people individually, because if we don't, that is exactly what we are going to get in return.  When God asks us to first look at the beam in our own eye, he's saying hey, let's switch things up.  Instead of looking to others first and thinking about how other people are bad or misusing their freedom and choices, or how other people aren't doing this or that or the other good thing, or how they are doing all of these other bad things... instead of all of that, look first to yourself.  And when we hear this message and we really do look inward, we find much worse problems within ourselves than we are looking at externally.  A lack of compassion, for instance.  A refusal to listen, or a closed mind or heart.  Hatred or intolerance.  (In ourselves, remember, not in others.)  ... So many things that we need to clean out of our minds and hearts.  Our souls need a good power-washing.  And God knows this, and so he tells us... hey.  Lay off.  Don't judge.  First, think.  Stop blinding yourself with emotion before you go to interact with others.  They don't deserve your venom.

Today, let's get those beams out of our eyes so that we can see others clearly... and if we do end up judging them, let's make sure we can judge them with love, and compassion, and charity, and humanity, and mercy.  So, hopefully, we will be judged similarly.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Luke 4:16-20 -- On Change, Cliffs, and Dangerous Disappointment

"And he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up: and, as his custom was, he went into the synagogue on the sabbath day, and stood up for to read.
And there was delivered unto him the book of the prophet Esaias. And when he had opened the book, he found the place where it was written,
The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he hath anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor; he hath sent me to heal the brokenhearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised,
To preach the acceptable year of the Lord.
And he closed the book, and he gave it again to the minister, and sat down. And the eyes of all them that were in the synagogue were fastened on him."
Luke 4:16-20

This is part of an interesting story about Jesus returning to where he grew up (Nazareth) and preaching to them, after they had heard of some of the miracles that he had done.  This is the beginning of the story, and so far things are good.  He quotes Isaiah, and then sits down, but when they all want to know more, and see more, he basically tells them that he didn't come there to prove himself to them... and what with one thing and another, they try to throw him off a cliff.  (Really.  Literal cliff.)

I was thinking about why Christ wouldn't have done miracles here, and what seems to make the most
sense is exactly what he says here, as he is quoting Isaiah.  He was sent to preach the gospel to the poor, to heal the brokenhearted, to help captives, and the blind, and the bruised... people in need.  And here, in this place, perhaps were none of those, or at least that isn't what they were looking for.  It was a group of people that wanted "proof" of his divinity... who felt that they had watched him grow up and he couldn't be quite who he claimed to be, rather than humble and penitent faithful people pleading for his help.

We tend to do a similar thing as groups, I think.  I have been back to the area where I grew up many times, and sometimes it feels constricting, because everyone expects you to be who you used to be, rather than who you are.  It is natural to remember certain things about people, of course, but part of loving others is also giving them the room that they need to grow and change and become more than they have been.  Including, perhaps especially, the members of our own families.  Our parents and our children deserve the chance to be known for more than their mistakes, as do our siblings, cousins, aunts and uncles, etc.  And as do all the people that we grew up with.  ... (This, of course, doesn't mean that we should put ourselves or others in harm's way in situations where there has been abuse.  Not all forgiveness needs to be face-to-face.  That's something to discuss with God.)

Today, as we live our lives, let's try not to be like Nazareth and pre-judge the people around us.  Let's listen to people, and allow them to change.  And let's also remember that God isn't always sent to us.  We can't expect the same miracles in our lives that other people get, because we aren't those people.  We can't look up to heaven and demand a million bucks because someone else got it, or expect to be cured because someone else was.  We all have our own challenges, and lessons, and miracles.  And they aren't going to come because we are just as good, or because we are better, than anyone else, or because we want God to prove himself to us.  Miracles come *after* we believe, and when we truly need them and ask for them... on God's terms, and with his timing, never ours.  Demanding miracles never works.  And let's also try to avoid throwing people off cliffs, even when they disappoint us. :)

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Jeremiah 21:8 -- On Choosing Life over Death

"And unto this people thou shalt say, Thus saith the Lord; Behold, I set before you the way of life, and the way of death."
Jeremiah 21:8

In this chapter, the king sends people to Jeremiah, asking him to petition the Lord for protection and victory, and instead Jeremiah has to tell them that the Lord is going to be fighting on the side of the Babylonians.  This sounds kind of mean to us, but let me give you a little bit of context.  In previous chapters, God had asked Jeremiah to preach to the people that they needed to repent, and in return they made plans to kill the prophet.  Jeremiah tells them that unless they repent that they are going to be destroyed, and they beat him up and put him in stocks.  And, mind you, these weren't small problems that they needed to repent of.  They had abandoned God, and were sacrificing children to idols.  And now, when an army is actually threatening them, they rethink their position.  And so God basically says, hey... I warned you, and continued to warn you.  Destruction it is.

The cool thing about this verse is that even after all of that, God built in a way for them to survive.  He has Jeremiah tell them that if they stay in the city they will be killed, but if they leave, they will live.  Being alive and still having the chance to repent and change is a very big deal in terms of God's judgement.   But of course, to them it probably didn't seem like a huge mercy, because they were facing the prospect of losing everything.

We are similar.  God warns us and warns us, but until it actually comes down to facing some consequences, we rarely listen.  What we have to realize is that God is giving us the opportunity to choose life and death the entire time.  We can choose God, which is synonymous with life and happiness and opportunity, or we can choose anything else, which is synonymous with spiritual death, regret, and trapping ourselves with limited options.  Today, instead of looking at our choices as though they mattered little because there are no immediate consequences, or because God has protected us from serious consequences in the past, let's remember that all of our choices either lead us to God, or to ruin.  Let's take our choices now just as seriously as the life or death choice in this verse... because they all do lead to life or death.  Let's choose life, right now, before it is forced upon us by circumstances.

No, it still won't be easy.  Sometimes we'll be tempted to get angry at God, or his prophets, instead of changing our lives.  But that choice, as we learn from this story, leads to destruction and death.  Repentance and change and learning to walk in the way of the Lord... that leads to life.  Let's go there instead. :)

Monday, November 14, 2016

3 Nephi 23:14 -- On the Importance of the Scriptures

"And now it came to pass that when Jesus had expounded all the scriptures in one, which they had written, he commanded them that they should teach the things which he had expounded unto them."
3 Nephi 23:14

I think it is really interesting that Christ quoted so many scriptures when he visited earth.  What he said while he was here was also made into scripture and added to the bounty, but I think it is really cool that he quoted scripture so much.  It isn't just cool as a good example, but I think it speaks strongly about prophets and God's plan.  This was all part of it.  The core truth had already been given.  Christ wasn't starting from scratch.  He needed to correct and clarify some things and to teach the new law, which built on the foundation of the old one, but I think so clearly throughout he acts like it is just a continued conversation.  And it is.

We forget the nature of God sometimes and don't realize that even though we are just learning the gospel, he's been saying and teaching the same things (in personal, individualized ways of course) since the beginning.  Adam and Noah, Abraham and Moses... Nephi, King Benjamin... God was friends with ALL of them. :)  He commands the people in the verse above to teach each other the scriptures.  They were in the presence of Christ himself, and instead of just telling them what he wanted, he told them to read and teach the scriptures. :)  ... So, maybe that means they are sort of important, right? :)  Perhaps because they contain the gospel, and they are still going to be there whenever we need to turn to them.  Nephi going back for the brass plates shows us part of the importance, but so does personal experience.  Something cool and spiritual happens, and how long does it take us to doubt or question or forget?  Typically, not very long.  That's why Christ asks in this chapter for them to write down some things that they forgot... because it is that important.

Today, let's realize the essential nature of the scriptures, and the importance not just to read them once, but to go back again and again and learn from them always.  We so often ask for comfort, inspiration, and blessings, and don't realize how much is contained in the pages of scripture and available to us on demand. :)  Let's take the time we need to study the words and the works of God.  Let's get to know him and hear his voice through the things that he has commanded to be written.  And when we learn, let's also teach.  It's the best way to cement that learning in our brains, and it is also important to the world that when we realize amazing and cool truths that we share them with each other, so we can all rejoice. :)

Sunday, November 13, 2016

3 Nephi 26:19-20 -- On Ideal Societies

"And they taught, and did minister one to another; and they had all things common among them, every man dealing justly, one with another.
And it came to pass that they did do all things even as Jesus had commanded them."
3 Nephi 26:19-20

There haven't been very many "ideal" societies in the history of the world, but this one in 3rd Nephi, after Christ comes to visit the people in the Americas, is one example that comes pretty close to perfection for a long time.  One thing that just blows me away, in this example and in others, is the idea of having things "common," meaning shared ownership.  I'm not sure I can imagine the society that was willing to give and share rather than the "mine, mine, mine" idea that we so often have instead... but I want to be able to envision it and be a part of something like that someday.

What kinds of changes do we need to make in our lives in order to be ready for a Zion-like society?
 The verse gives us some hints.  Teaching and ministering to each other was part of their society, and those are things that we can learn to do now.  Teaching and learning should not be one-way relationships, where the teacher gives and the students take.  Doctrine and Covenants 50:22 says "Wherefore, he that preacheth and he that receiveth, understand one another, and both are edified and rejoice together."  Alma 1:26 also makes it clear that teachers and learners aren't any better than each other, but are all equal.  I think these verses help us to understand that the way we see others is part of the package with an ideal society.  We have to see each other as equals... people who can learn from each other, rather than the wise and the stupid or the educated and the uneducated.

Dealing justly is another thing mentioned in these verses.  A just society would be amazing.  One where you never had to worry about anyone cheating you, or taking advantage.  ... To get there though, we have to give up our own advantage, which is hard.  Way easier to advocate for justice and fairness when the system seems to be in our favor, but much less so if we realize that to make things right, we might have to give up some of our own stuff.

Today, let's think about what Christ taught these people, and what he teaches us.  Let's think about what we can do in order to prepare ourselves to live in an ideal society.  Let's be generous, and promote and practice equality and education and service.  Let's learn to love the people around us, since ideal societies can't be accomplished alone, and they still have to start out with imperfect people, learning together how to be more ideal. :)  Let's do the things that Jesus commands us, and work as a community towards a better society and better world.

Saturday, November 12, 2016

Genesis 1:25 -- On Recognizing Our Own Kind

"And God made the beast of the earth after his kind, and cattle after their kind, and every thing that creepeth upon the earth after his kind: and God saw that it was good."
Genesis 1:25

This may seem strange, I realize, but as I was reading this today, the word "kind" stuck out, and I thought how different this noun kind is from the noun kindness.  And then, I started thinking about how they are similar, and when I looked up the word origin, they seem to come from the same place.

The beasts talked about here (and later when the animals are gathered in the time of Noah) are probably members of the same species (animals that are similar enough to reproduce together).  And although all humans are of one species, we definitely choose to divide ourselves further... but the idea of "kind" ... similar genetically, or "of the same blood" is directly related to the idea of being kind, or kindness.

We treat people well (for the most part) if we recognize them as similar to us--part of our tribe or family, or part of a group that we identify with.  We can feel an instant bond with someone when we find out we went to the same college, grew up in the same hometown, or are members of the same church.  Our boundaries are pretty flexible in this regard.  If we are traveling or living outside our home country, we can feel an instant kinship with someone from our country.  As we know, countries are huge, but in a situation where we feel strange, any familiarity feels welcome.  On the other hand, the more people that we have around that are similar to us, the more likely we are to get picky about who our inner circle is, and the more likely there are to be people we ostracize or alienate and treat as "outsiders."

There are times that we say things like "I wouldn't _________ if you were the last person on earth." The blank can be filled in with almost anything... like you, date you, agree with you, buy a car from you... the list goes on. :)  But the truth is, if that were really true, we'd probably be friends.  Not least because we both just lived through the zombie apocalypse and there is no one else to pal around with (just kidding about the zombies), but also because we would finally see each other at that point as the same kind... an essential part of each other's lives.

When we read Matthew 5:44-45 where Christ says "... 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..." isn't that what God is telling us? That we should start remembering and recognizing each other as our kind?  As part of a group we identify with... children of God, people that we *do* have a connection to, and people who could be some of our dearest friends?

Today, let's remember that God created all of us to be a part of this world.  We all belong here.  God sees that it is good, and we probably need to work a little harder to see that as well.  Let's work on being more inclusive and loving, and on treating other people like friends, rather than enemies.

Friday, November 11, 2016

Helaman 1:3-6 -- On Pacumeni's Choice

"Now these are their names who did contend for the judgment-seat, who did also cause the people to contend: Pahoran, Paanchi, and Pacumeni.
Now these are not all the sons of Pahoran (for he had many), but these are they who did contend for the judgment-seat; therefore, they did cause three divisions among the people.
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."
Helaman 1:3-6

This is an interesting story about an election.  Pahoran, who was the chief judge, had died, and three of his sons wanted to step into their father's vacant position.  Pahoran Junior won.  And Pacumeni, although I am certain that he was disappointed, united with the voice of people.  Paanchi, however, did not.  He was mad, and decided to go around the laws of the land in order to get his way.

Setting aside for now the rest of the political intrigue that happened in this story (there was a lot), I think we can learn a lot from Pacumeni.  We're often disappointed in life.  People die, we get sick.  We lose things that were important to us... financially, emotionally, physically, mentally.  We get older.  Things don't go our way, or the way that seemed right to us.  God has a different plan.  And although the situation isn't exactly identical, we face the same general choices that Pacumeni and Paanchi faced.  We can accept reality, or we can fight against it.

Now, I am definitely not saying that we should always accept the status quo.  Sometimes reality is pretty evil, and God's will is that we work to change it.  But the problem that both Pacumeni and Paanchi faced was not about God's will... it was about their individual wills.  Part of the idea of humility is the ability to accept God's will, and jump in and figure out why, and what we have to learn, rather than fighting against it.  Even when God wants things to change, it is almost always in a way that we have a hard time accepting emotionally.  God likes slow, patient, kind change that will last, not immediate revolution, vindication, and punishment of all who opposed us.

Today, as we face the ever-changing disappointments and losses of life, let's remember and honor Pacumeni's choice, and learn from his example.  Let's be humble and teachable and show kindness and love to the people around us, even in the midst of our troubles.  Let's accept that God's will is not our will, and that life isn't always going to go our way.  Let's work with the reality we have, and make it ever better, according to the will of God.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Moroni 10:20 -- On Recipes and Love

"Wherefore, there must be faith; and if there must be faith there must also be hope; and if there must be hope there must also be charity."
Moroni 10:20

This is some really good instruction from Moroni and God.  I think sometimes we try to practice little parts of the gospel, thinking that we can do this one part and get to the other later, or we prefer this part and really don't want to think about the responsibility of the other part. :)  But it is all interconnected.  We can't exercise faith in something if we don't have hope, and we can't have hope if we don't have charity/love.  And the other way too... we have to have them all.

There is even more involved in this interconnectedness too.  Moroni 7:42-44 show us how meekness and a belief in Christ fit into the system.  And, really, everything in the gospel is connected.  That's why all the law and the prophets could be summed up in Matthew 7:12 ("all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them") and 22:37-40 (love god and love our neighbors as ourselves)... because *everything* is tied into love, and love is tied into everything else.

Love isn't just one feeling, or ingredient, but a mixture of emotion, and effort, and hope, and faith, and... you see where I am going here.  It is a recipe.  We have to mix a lot of things together to get the perfect love of God.  We get it wrong a lot, and mix up lust or really selfish or immature kinds of love and even though sometimes we don't realize it at first, when we compare them to the real thing, we realize that we've been doing it wrong and that this kind is kind of disgusting.  So, today, let's study the recipes in the scriptures, and we can start here with today's verse.  Let's stop trying to love (and live) without faith and hope.  Let's remember to trust God, to look for the positive around us, to love the people around us.  As we do, if we're lacking in an ingredient, let's pray earnestly and God will help us with it.  He'll grant us comfort, help us see the hope of the sunrise, or help us to have the faith to keep going.  He will fill us with his love.  Which, as we know from elsewhere in the scriptures (1 Nephi 8:10-12), is the good kind, and which will bring us joy and happiness.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Mosiah 29:20 -- On Crying Mightily to the Lord

"But behold, he did deliver them because they did humble themselves before him; and because they cried mightily unto him he did deliver them out of bondage; and thus doth the Lord work with his power in all cases among the children of men, extending the arm of mercy towards them that put their trust in him."
Mosiah 29:20

This is a very hopeful verse offered by King Mosiah to his people, as he suggested that they switch governments from kings to judges.  He was a great leader, and King Benjamin, his father, was a great leader (one of my faves), but he knew that if they stuck with kings that a bad one would come along sooner or later and do some damage (as King Noah had in the past).  And this is how he explains how they were delivered from that situation.  The answer was simple.  Prayer, and trust in God.

In our society, I'm not sure whether any pure monarchies still exist, and the political situations of our days are interconnected globally, and perhaps more complex than the situation Mosiah was in.  Nevertheless, the answers are always still the same.  Prayer, patience, faith, trust.  It's a pretty universal answer, actually.  Doesn't only work for countries and leaders, but in our individual lives, as we struggle to make sense of our circumstances and challenges.  God didn't deliver the people from Noah immediately, and he isn't going to deliver us from the challenges in our personal lives immediately in most cases either.  But he *will* deliver us. "Thus does the Lord work with is power in all cases" says Mosiah, and what I think he means is basically that if we stick with God, trusting in him (and in his timing), that we'll get to the promised land, or the happy ending--really both.  God will deliver us, show us the way to joy and peace, and teach us everything we need to know to reach our potential.

Today, let's humble ourselves and cry mightily to God about whatever struggles we are going through.  And let's keep doing so, and trusting and hoping in Christ rather than ever giving in to despair.  He loves us.  He will deliver us.  It's going to take some trust and patience and commitment from us, but as we cry to him, he will hear us, and teach us, and love us... through anything, all the way to the perfect day.

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Deuteronomy 9:4-6 -- On Righteousness and Stiff Necks

"Speak not thou in thine heart, after that the Lord thy God hath cast them out from before thee, saying, For my righteousness the Lord hath brought me in to possess this land: but for the wickedness of these nations the Lord doth drive them out from before thee.
Not for thy righteousness, or for the uprightness of thine heart, dost thou go to possess their land: but for the wickedness of these nations the Lord thy God doth drive them out from before thee, and that he may perform the word which the Lord sware unto thy fathers, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.
Understand therefore, that the Lord thy God giveth thee not this good land to possess it for thy righteousness; for thou art a stiffnecked people."
Deuteronomy 9:4-6

This is an interesting, and kind of harsh, lecture where God is explaining to the people that he isn't leading them to the promised land as a reward for good behavior.

I think sometimes we need this kind of lecture, even in our lives now.  We get pretty prideful, thinking that we're better than others because of our cool promised land, or other blessings, and we forget that God is working out his plan, not necessarily rewarding us.

Now, I'm not saying God doesn't reward us, or that blessings don't follow obedience... often they do, when we don't have a specific trial to go through and learn from, as is also often the case, and righteousness and blessings are certainly good things to work for.  But perhaps after reading these verses we should work some humility into our assumptions, and make sure that we are not being stiffnecked and prideful in our dealings with God, assuming that we're better and everyone else is worse.  Remember the Rameumptom (Alma 31:17-21)?

Today, let's be upright in heart.  Let's be obedient and righteous, so that the Lord doesn't have to deliver a similar lecture to us.  And let's work to respect the people around us, and respect God's will.

Monday, November 7, 2016

Deuteronomy 28:9 -- On Commandments and Confidence

"The Lord shall establish thee an holy people unto himself, as he hath sworn unto thee, if thou shalt keep the commandments of the Lord thy God, and walk in his ways."
Deuteronomy 28:9

Thinking about this verse, I think the most important word for us to remember here is "if."  The Lord gives us a lot of things, and has promised us even more.  Because of him we have life, and opportunities, and will have, after this world, the chance to live again.  He has overcome death for us, and has paid for our sins.  Most of everything he offers us is a free gift, but in this one case, he requires something of us... the "if."  Although he paid for our sins, he knows that if we continue in them that we won't learn to be the glorious people that we can be.  We won't learn to overcome ourselves and transcend our evil desires.  The entire reason that he paid for our sins was to give us a chance to change and repent, and so he asks us to do so... not because he is mean and demanding, but for our sakes, because we need to learn this stuff.

The best analogy I have heard for the atonement is that of a debtor and creditor.  Because we sin, we are in debt... heavy debt that we can't pay, which traps us and prevents us from gaining so many things that we want, including heaven.  To be clear, God is not the creditor here.  It is the nature of the places and beings involved.  Sin cannot exist in heaven.  It would be like arriving to a formal ball covered in sewage.  No one is going to be happy in that situation.  And so Christ steps in as our savior and mediator.  He pays the debt for us, and he gives us way better terms and the hope that we can repay the debt to him instead.  The money still needs to be paid, to satisfy justice, but Christ inserts himself between us and justice, thus allowing mercy, and so we can pay what Christ requires, with time and hope.  In our formal ball analogy, we still have to take a shower and get dressed.  Christ can't make it comfortable for people to ignore our stink, or make it so that we don't notice it ourselves.  We still need to change... but what he did for us is make it so that if we do shower and change, we'll be accepted with open arms.  These people love us.  They won't hold the past against us.

Today, let's remember that we have a part to play in our own salvation.  It isn't onerous or impossible, because Christ will be with us, helping us, and making up for our inadequacies.  Let's walk in his ways, and keep the commandments.  Let's give God what he asks because he paid the higher price, and let's wash that spiritual sewage off of our souls so that we can eventually stand with confidence and joy in the presence of God.

Sunday, November 6, 2016

Alma 2:5-6 -- On Robots and Choice

"And it came to pass that the people assembled themselves together throughout all the land, every man according to his mind, whether it were for or against Amlici, in separate bodies, having much dispute and wonderful contentions one with another.
And thus they did assemble themselves together to cast in their voices concerning the matter; and they were laid before the judges."
Alma 2:5-6

In this chapter, the people get together to vote on whether they should give up their freedom and appoint Amlici king.  It's weird to me that there were a lot of people who wanted that, and the idea of "wonderful contentions" also seems strange.  After all, 3 Nephi 11:29 says, in part, "... he that hath the spirit of contention is not of me, but is of the devil, who is the father of contention, and he stirreth up the hearts of men to contend with anger, one with another."  On the other hand, some good discussion is probably a good thing, and can help us learn to understand other people's opinions, rather than ignoring anyone with a differing opinion.

Sometimes we think that an ideal society is one in which everyone agrees, and behaves similarly.  And to a certain extent, that is true, insofar that in a Zion society we would all be united in supporting God and lifting each other.  But on the other hand, let's remember that free agency is one of the main reasons why we are here.  It is an integral part of God's plan, designed to help us learn and grow and become so much more than we could ever be otherwise.  Trying to imagine a life without the ability to choose is pretty tough, actually.  We love our freedom, and we learn each time we make choices.  The people in this chapter did too, for the most part, and they voted him down.  However, Amlici and his followers decided they wanted a kingdom anyway, which they set up, and then started a war with the rest of the people who still had judges... trying to *force* people to obey them, since they would not agree with them.  After reading that, I think the contrast with God is very clear.  God is the one who gave us free agency in the first place.  Why give it and then force us into something?

God isn't out to turn us into Stepford wives, or any other sort of less-convincing robot or android pre-programmed to obey.  The whole point of choice is learning.  Brainwashing us or taking our choices away would negate the whole reason we are here... to increase our capacity and potential, and to choose for ourselves who we want to be.  We're not just making black and white choices between good and evil.  We're learning to recognize all of the colors, and all of the many choices that are good and bad in different ways and amounts and percentages.  We're learning to deal with ambiguity, and to understand that so many of our capacities and choices are not just yes/no, but spectrums and rating scales that sometimes exceed our capacity to completely understand.  Those things don't make us into cookie-cutter versions of one another, even if we are all focused on the gospel.  Choosing to be a doctor, teacher, or parent, or liking puzzles, running, or pottery don't make us better or worse than each other... they make us unique, while still allowing us to be "one" with each other and with God in a totally different way.

God requires our hearts and willing minds in order to work with us and teach us all the things that we need to know in order to be prepared for eternity.  But he isn't going to take them by force, and he isn't always going to tell us what to do.  His commandments are clear, but he isn't going to compel obedience.  Most of the time, he'll help us study and learn, and then remind us that it is our choice.  That's why sincerity and faith and trust are so important.  Not to fuel God's worship-hungry batteries, but because *we* need to learn those things in order to truly let go of our pride and resistance, and let God into our lives.  Choices are essential to our education.

As we make choices today, let's try to remember Amlici and his followers.  Let's embrace our positive differences but remain true to God, and when our choices don't work out, let's accept that and recover, rather than trying to force the issue.  Let's listen to God and allow him to help us make better and better choices every day.

Saturday, November 5, 2016

James 3:13-18 -- On Wisdom and Peace

"Who is a wise man and endued with knowledge among you? let him shew out of a good conversation his works with meekness of wisdom.
But if ye have bitter envying and strife in your hearts, glory not, and lie not against the truth.
This wisdom descendeth not from above, but is earthly, sensual, devilish.
For where envying and strife is, there is confusion and every evil work.
But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, and easy to be entreated, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality, and without hypocrisy.
And the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace of them that make peace."
James 3:13-18

This is good advice about being wise, and what that means and what it doesn't mean.  A good reminder for us about the ingredients that go into wisdom and peace.  It's tough sometimes to know how to promote peace or to have peace in our lives, with the confusion and chaos that is ever churning in our society, but God gives us some pretty broad hints elsewhere in the scriptures when he says that there is no peace to the wicked (Isaiah 48:22, 57:21; 1 Nephi 20:22).  The last verse sums up essentially the opposite of that, telling us that if we plant peace we will reap righteousness.

I like the words here "them that make peace."  I've heard the term peacemaker many times before, but I don't think I had ever thought about it much until today.  Making peace isn't just refocusing our attention on the good things rather than the bad things.  It's probably partly that, but the emphasis here is on bringing calm and peace to the turbulence and war that is all around us.  Just as Christ said to the sea in Mark 4:39, we can also say "Peace, be still" to not only our inner turmoil, but to external events as well.  We can set good examples and be a force for good, by literally making peace.

Today, let's be the peacemakers.  Let's review these verses and copy down the recipes. :)  Let's plant peace in our lives and in the world around us, and let's find the true righteousness and wisdom that God offers us.

Friday, November 4, 2016

Ezra 3:11-13 -- On Emotion and Worship

"And they sang together by course in praising and giving thanks unto the Lord; because he is good, for his mercy endureth for ever toward Israel. And all the people shouted with a great shout, when they praised the Lord, because the foundation of the house of the Lord was laid.
But many of the priests and Levites and chief of the fathers, who were ancient men, that had seen the first house, when the foundation of this house was laid before their eyes, wept with a loud voice; and many shouted aloud for joy:
So that the people could not discern the noise of the shout of joy from the noise of the weeping of the people: for the people shouted with a loud shout, and the noise was heard afar off."
Ezra 3:11-13

This is a reaction to laying the foundation of the temple, and it is awesome.  Crying and shouting for joy at the same time, because it was such an amazing, spiritual, emotional thing for them.  It reminds me of many times in the Book of Mormon when people are overcome with the spirit to the point where they actually physically fell over and couldn't speak.  Amazing stuff.  And what I was thinking about while reading this is how much emotion matters in our spirituality and worship.

It's a hard thing to understand sometimes for us, because emotion can be confusing and overwhelming, and sometimes it gets so hard or stressful that we'd opt for the Vulcan ideal of pure logic if we could.  And yet, the scriptures talk over and over about the heart.  D&C 64:34 says "Behold, the Lord requireth the heart and a willing mind" and we read in several other places that we need broken hearts and contrite spirits.

Feeling the spirit is something that is different for different people, and even different from experience to experience sometimes.  It can be thoughts or memories popping into our heads, it can be words coming out of our mouths that we didn't put there, it can be a voice actually speaking to us, and sometimes it is just pure emotion... peace, or love, or overwhelming joy coming clearly from a source outside ourselves, calming our own feelings and helping us feel better about the whole world. Even when it is thoughts or words though, it is paired with emotion... perhaps why it is called "feeling" the spirit.  God makes sense, don't get me wrong... I'm not saying we should ignore other evidences of God.  I'm just saying that we can't worship or serve God without emotion.  The first commandment, after all, is to love God.  He's asking us to learn this emotion stuff, and helping us master it.  He sets the example.  1 John 4:19: "We love him, because he first loved us."

Today, let's learn and embrace the emotion of worship instead of trying to be purely logical followers.  Let's look to God as we pray, and be open to his love.

Thursday, November 3, 2016

Acts 17:23-28 -- On Finding God

"For as I passed by, and beheld your devotions, I found an altar with this inscription, TO THE UNKNOWN GOD. Whom therefore ye ignorantly worship, him declare I unto you.
God that made the world and all things therein, seeing that he is Lord of heaven and earth, dwelleth not in temples made with hands;
Neither is worshipped with men’s hands, as though he needed any thing, seeing he giveth to all life, and breath, and all things;
And hath made of one blood all nations of men for to dwell on all the face of the earth, and hath determined the times before appointed, and the bounds of their habitation;
That they should seek the Lord, if haply they might feel after him, and find him, though he be not far from every one of us:
For in him we live, and move, and have our being; as certain also of your own poets have said, For we are also his offspring."
Acts 17:23-28

This is part of a speech that Paul gave in Athens, explaining the basic idea of God, since they had other interpretations of the word and idea.  And, you know, even though I think we have a better idea now than they did then, because the gospel is better known and some of the fundamental ideas that Christ taught are commonly known, I think we still get it wrong sometimes.  And even when we intellectually know, I don't think we feel the weight of it, or always take it seriously.

God made the world and everything in it.  Just that one thing is so huge that I don't think that we can fathom it.  We pit our wills against his and play silly games, and make silly arguments because we don't really feel the impact of that one fact.  Our sense of being misunderstood might be perfectly valid when it applies to other people, but it can never be when applied to God.  He gets us, he knows us... he *made* us, and all we are is part of him.

I really like the "hath made of one blood all nations."  We don't often act like the people in other places are family, but they are, and life will be so much better for us if we realize that, and act on it.  Today, let's work on that.  Let's remember that everything that we see is here because of him, and that he understands vastly more than we ever will in this life.  This helps a lot when we are getting ready to argue with him.  Stopping to think about his perfection and vast intellectual superiority might help us to be humble enough to consider a different solution or path. :)  And lastly, let's remember that we are his offspring... that all of this he has done for us.  Let's be grateful and take advantage of the great opportunities that he has provided for us to seek, feel after, and find God, as well as learning more about ourselves and this world.  Let's realize how close God is rather than treating him like a stranger.

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Proverbs 4:25 -- On Eyes and Priorities

"Let thine eyes look right on, and let thine eyelids look straight before thee."
Proverbs 4:25

This verse, and the verses after it, talk about focusing on and thinking about our path and staying away from evil.  I liked this first part about just the eyes because it reminded me of Matthew 6:22, which says in part "... if therefore thine eye be single, thy whole body shall be full of light." (see also 3 Nephi 13:22, Luke 11:34).  We know that elsewhere in the scriptures we're commanded to love God, and to put him first in our lives, and if we do "all these things shall be added unto you" (3 Nephi 13:33).

The challenge then, is keeping our eyes straight before us, focused on God.  It is so easy to get distracted and glance away, and then forget to come back, lose our focus, and wander off the path.  But the more we can keep that focus, making sure we are always facing God and looking at him, the more everything else will work out.

How do we do that?  Good question.  I think part of it is remembering that God comes before we do.  We get that backwards a lot, thinking it is us, then our family, then our friends, and then God, or family first, or something else first, like our toys or our job or or almost anything.  If we have our priorities backwards, then it is easy to get angry at God for not protecting whatever we are putting first... because obviously that matters more than he does.  But if we have our priorities straight, with God at the top of the list, then we can rely on Ezra Taft Benson's words from April 1988: "When we put God first, all other things fall into their proper place or drop out of our lives."

Today, let's keep our eyes looking right on, focused on our Savior.  Let's take time for God, and not get distracted and off course because of all of the daily details.  God wants us to be able to handle our lives and take care of our families of course.  He isn't asking us to drop everything else in the dust, but if focusing on God is causing some things to shuffle around in our lives, let's relax, and let them.  Our job is to stay focused on what matters, and as we do that, God will help everything else work out... not always the way we wanted it to, but the way it should.

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

1 John 3:10-11 -- On Doing Righteousness and Active Love

"In this the children of God are manifest, and the children of the devil: whosoever doeth not righteousness is not of God, neither he that loveth not his brother.
For this is the message that ye heard from the beginning, that we should love one another."
1 John 3:10-11

These verses are a good reminder that in order to be good people, we need to do good things.  Earlier in this chapter, John explains that we are the sons (children) of God, and a little of the potential and hope that idea offers.  Here, he is talking a little about the responsibilities that idea entails, specifically doing righteousness and loving our brothers.  In this case, brothers means neighbors which also means everyone, as illustrated elsewhere in the scriptures, for example Matthew 5:43-44.  And the love isn't just a passive love where we can sit back and imagine that everyone is awesome and behaves exactly as we wish.  We actually have to deal with people that are different than we are, and who might believe strange things or behave in bizarre ways. :)

Sometimes we don't think that it is quite fair to be judged by the things that we do.  It makes us feel misunderstood when we feel like no one is counting our intentions, and we feel like our hearts are in the right place, and we *feel* righteous.  Indeed, we learn in 1 Samuel 16:7 that "the Lord seeth not as man seeth; for man looketh on the outward appearance, but the Lord looketh on the heart."  However, what we sometimes fail to understand is that God isn't some random person just looking at us in one way and dismissing us because of labels or preconceived notions.  God sees us inside and out.

What John is saying here is not that God is shallow and only cares about what we do.  John is trying to teach us that our actions *show* what is in our hearts.  Just as "faith without works is dead" (James 2:20, 26), our love, for God and for other people, is ultimately useless if it isn't expressed.  Having love in our hearts and letting go of hatred is a very, very good thing, and the emotion does matter, but it is only the beginning.  With faith and with love, and with righteousness, we have to first fill our hearts, and then put the principles into action in our lives where they can do some good.

Today, let's be children of God and not children of the devil.  Let's take action, do righteousness, and show our love for others.  Let's be more than just our emotions, and take action to change the world for good.

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