Thursday, April 27, 2017

D&C 64:23 -- On Being Fireproof Today

"Behold, now it is called today until the coming of the Son of Man, and verily it is a day of sacrifice, and a day for the tithing of my people; for he that is tithed shall not be burned at his coming."
D&C 64:23

I like the idea of not being burned.  And it is interesting that tithing prevents it.  It isn't the first thing that pops into your mind when you think of things that would make you fireproof.  I think it must be the whole superhero aspect of tithing that gives us super powers... when we are out there dedicated to the daily sacrifices that it takes to help God help others--doing things like spotting people in need and helping them, or fulfilling our callings cheerfully and well, or enduring the trials that come to us and choosing to still trust God and see the positive, even when the world seems to be falling down around us.  Those are the things that make us fireproof.

I also love that it is pretty much always today.  We know that God measures time differently than we do, so his day, just as with the creation of the earth, are a little longer than ours.  The cool thing about that is that if you tell your mom you will get it done today, you have a little bit of wiggle room.  (Just kidding--don't try this at home!)  In all sincerity though, having a longer today gives us time to do the things that we need to do today.  We need to prepare for the Lord's coming, and make sure that we are fireproof.  We need to work on taking care of our fellow beings, and learning to be kind and loving even to people who we consider enemies.  We need to working on getting closer to those "pray always" and "be ye therefore perfect" commandments. :)  Let's work on that... in our version of today, for starters. :)

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Isaiah 58:6-8 -- On Fasting and Zion

"Is not this the fast that I have chosen? to loose the bands of wickedness, to undo the heavy burdens, and to let the oppressed go free, and that ye break every yoke?
Is it not to deal thy bread to the hungry, and that thou bring the poor that are cast out to thy house? when thou seest the naked, that thou cover him; and that thou hide not thyself from thine own flesh?
Then shall thy light break forth as the morning, and thine health shall spring forth speedily: and thy righteousness shall go before thee; the glory of the Lord shall be thy rearward."
Isaiah 58:6-8

This is definitely something that I need to learn.  I don't always catch the vision of fasting.  In reading this today though, it seems so silly to think of fasting as any kind of sacrifice or denial, although I know that is sometimes the way that it *feels.*

I love how God talks about the fast with so much fervor... we all want these things.  We want the bands of wickedness to be loose so we can escape them.  We want to take heavy burdens away from people, and free the oppressed from having to suffer.  We want to stop forced labor, to feed the hungry, to help people in need of food and shelter, and we definitely want to be there when our families are in need.

And God tells us that this vision of his, basically a Zion community, is what the fast is *for.*  ... And if that is true (which, obviously, it is--this is God we are talking about), then shouldn't we be saying "bring it on!" instead of complaining about it or ignoring it entirely?  If we can actually be a part of such a community and such an amazingly great work in helping God to help all of those people, surely our participation is a very small price to pay for something so immense.

Today, let's resolve to do as God asks: to fast, and give a generous fast offering, in order to build up the kingdom of God and accomplish his goals of helping everyone.  Let's read these verses when we need a reminder of the vision, and let's be the Zion people God knows we can be.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

D&C 29:43-44 -- On Choosing a Better Eternity

"And thus did I, the Lord God, appoint unto man the days of his probation—that by his natural death he might be raised in immortality unto eternal life, even as many as would believe;
And they that believe not unto eternal damnation; for they cannot be redeemed from their spiritual fall, because they repent not;"
Doctrine and Covenants 29:43-44

These verses talk about eternal damnation, which is a super scary thing, but I don't think the point of them is to frighten us--only to explain how it works, and perhaps motivate us to repent.

God gave us agency, allowing us to choose what we want to be, to become, and eventually, to choose how we want to live for eternity.  God set up a plan which required incredible sacrifice on his part in order to save us from the pain and guilt and suffering that would definitely come along with agency and the inevitable sin and mistakes and inequity that we create with it.  So, that is what the probation is... our lives.  This time that we have to "work out [our] salvation" (Alma 34:37).  And, during our lives we have space where immediate eternal consequences don't happen... they get put off until death, giving us a chance to fix what we've broken and to heal where we have hurt.  And if we do, then our mistakes are basically gone.  Christ suffered for them, and he takes away the consequences if we repent.

If we don't repent, that's where we get into super scary... but I think it is more of a being scared of ourselves thing, because damnation is also a choice.  The idea here is that *we* are choosing eternal separation from God by rejecting him here and now.  We have the truth before us, and we often choose to ignore it, or try to overlay it with our own "truth."  In that, we can't be redeemed from a spiritual fall, because we *choose* the fall.  We choose to listen to Satan rather than God, and those are the natural consequences.

The cool thing about all of this is that Judgment Day isn't some report card or checklist where we tally up the good things and the bad things and determine whether we did well enough on enlarging our talents to really merit heaven... and end up 3% shy with no extra credit.  Instead, it is who we have become.  That really bad mistake we made 10 years ago doesn't matter at all if we are *now* someone who would not make the same choices.  God gives us that chance to reinvent ourselves, and to change into the people that we want to be rather than the people that we are ashamed of and a little bit afraid of.  Today, let's work on changing who we are--on receiving that "mighty change" of heart (Alma 5:12-14; Mosiah 5:2) that God promises us if we pray to him in faith.  Let's become the people that we want to be, and choose a better eternity.

Monday, April 24, 2017

Matthew 25:22-25 -- On Building Up Our Stewardships

"He also that had received two talents came and said, Lord, thou deliveredst unto me two talents: behold, I have gained two other talents beside them.
His lord said unto him, Well done, good and faithful servant; thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things: enter thou into the joy of thy lord.
Then he which had received the one talent came and said, Lord, I knew thee that thou art an hard man, reaping where thou hast not sown, and gathering where thou hast not strawed:
And I was afraid, and went and hid thy talent in the earth: lo, there thou hast that is thine."
Matthew 25:22-25

This is near the end of the parable of the talents, and here the Lord says to his servant "well done" when he gained two more talents, and the servant that had received only one just buried it and gave it back. Now, an important aspect of this parable is the fact that the Lord of the servants gave them some of his own money.  It wasn't wages or anything they had earned.  He gave it to "every man according to his several ability."  It was an investment, given as a stewardship, for them to watch over that which was his, and build it up.

And so it is with us, right?  The parable isn't really about money, or stuff, or even earthly talents, although it could incorporate any of those.  It is about building the kingdom of God.  Everything we have is from the Lord, and he asks us to take care of it for him, and build it up.  Even we are his in a lot of ways, for we are "bought with a price" (1 Corinthians 6:20, 7:23).  And God wants us to build ourselves and each other up as well--he has invested in us, and with that help/talent he has given us, we have the opportunity to become much greater than we currently are--to reach for godliness and perfection.

Today, whatever our stewardships, big or tiny, let's get busy growing ourselves, helping the people around us, and building up the Lord's kingdom.  Let's not be too scared to use the power and talents and faith and love and opportunities that God has given us.  Let's not crawl into a hole or go into hermit mode, tempting as it may be sometimes when faced with the scary world.  Let's instead increase our reach and touch other people's lives, and improve whatever parts of the world we come into contact with.  Let's make a difference, no matter how small.  Even if it is only to one person, "how great will be [our] joy" (D&C 18:16).

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Matthew 4:4 -- On Food for the Soul

"But he answered and said, It is written, Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God."
Matthew 4:4

I like the idea that God's word can sustain us.  Just like our bodies suffer if they don't get food regularly, I think that our spirits suffer if they don't get fed appropriately as well, and what our souls hunger for is the word of God.  We seek truth and knowledge--that light in the darkness that shows us the way.

Today, let's look to God to find the light and the hope that he offers, and read his word to sustain and strengthen our souls.

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Psalms 25:4 -- On Finding God's Ways

"Shew me thy ways, O Lord; teach me thy paths."
Psalms 25:4

I was thinking today about how much we are wrapped up in the world--focused on our own priorities, worried about our own lives.  And hey, that's totally normal, right?  It's life.  Except that the whole idea of the gospel is learning to get outside of some of that "natural" part of ourselves, so that we can learn to love God, and love other people, and make *those* things a higher priority than ourselves.

It's tough to get outside ourselves like that, but this verse helps us understand a good way to start. God is the perfect way to get the kind of outside perspective we need, and to really understand why we should even try.  It's so hard to see beyond the end of our own noses, and almost everything that matters IS beyond that.  Lehi's dream explains to us that the Love of God is most desirable above all things (1 Nephi 11:22), and God's plan of happiness is designed to make our lives much better than they currently are.  Part of what is required for that is learning God's ways and his perspective--finding that path that leads to breaking out of our current limitations, and becoming Zion people.

Today, let's go to God and ask him for help finding *his* paths, rather than our own.

Friday, April 21, 2017

D&C 46:11 -- On Gifts and Talents for All

"For all have not every gift given unto them; for there are many gifts, and to every man is given a gift by the Spirit of God."
Doctrine and Covenants 46:11

I really love the idea, and the fact, that we all have gifts from God. It's an evidence of God's love for us, and also that we all have something to offer.

I think it can be hard sometimes to see both our own value, and the value in others.  We have an idea that it must be there somewhere, but we're not always sure where.  Part of it is just that we have to take some time and learn to see past the external defenses that we all put up, but I think another part is that we are sometimes blind to the goodness within and around us.

When we leave home for the first time, for instance, we might realize that we miss the talent that someone had for humor, or witty banter, or music, or all of the above, or something completely different.  And though we will almost assuredly meet other people who have talents in similar areas, no one is that same personality/talent combination.  Similarly, although I am certain that we all have plenty of pride to go around (which, yes, we need to work on, but that isn't this conversation), we also all have self-doubt as well, and it is hard to see what we have to offer, when we know others that are better than we are at every single thing, and perhaps even much better in similar combinations.

And there is that other aspect of our gifts from God.  Part of the gift that God gives us is that talent combination... perhaps being kind and patient (I wish), or witty and wordy.  But it isn't *only* that.  It's the way our personalities mesh with our talents, and it is the way that all of that fits *exactly* with the opportunities that God places in our path.  No one else can *be* where you are, or where I am, or where any of us are in that moment when it matters.  God gives us the gifts that will make a difference in those moments, just like he did for Moses or Nephi or ... anyone.

That's the key, I think, to learning to appreciate both ourselves and others.  Remembering that we are all where we need to be, with the gifts that we need to handle it all.  ... Which means, by the way, that we are all placed in each other's paths for a reason.  We have a lot to learn from each other, and the ability to help each other cope and succeed.  We aren't alone, ever.  Whatever we need is at our fingertips.  We just have to learn to recognize it, and embrace it.  We have God.  We have each other. We don't need a stunt man, or that guy to fly in from Zimbabwe because he is way better than we are at this whole life thing.  We're here, and God "shall prepare a way" (1 Nephi 3:7).

Today, let's not focus on our weaknesses, but let's remember that we have the gifts that we need to cope with (and totally rock) the life that we have.  Let's remember that God doesn't leave us alone (John 16:32) or comfortless (John 14:18).  We can do it, with God's help, and the help of the people around us.  Let's learn about them and focus on their talents as well.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Proverbs 27:5-6 -- On Honesty and Acceptance

"Open rebuke is better than secret love.
Faithful are the wounds of a friend; but the kisses of an enemy are deceitful."
Proverbs 27:5-6

You know, when I read this today I read it differently than I ever had before.  Perhaps Easter is still in my brain, because I immediately thought of Christ's faithful wounds that show us his friendship, and the deceitful kiss of Judas.

Here, God is telling us not to be fake or false.  By asking us to be honest, he isn't advocating rudeness or cruelty, even though sometimes we use honesty as an excuse to inflict harm.  Instead he is asking us to open up so that we can learn to love each other.

We talk of honesty with phrases like "opening up," "coming out," or "baring our souls."  It seems an unnatural thing that we can only do with our closest, most trusted confidants (the fact that they are "confidants" is also telling).  We don't trap ourselves just behind a door, or in a closet... it's more like a bank vault with every security measure known to man.  We worry that if people knew what we were really like, we wouldn't be loved or accepted.  We learn to fake so many things... and sometimes faking helps us learn to be real, but wouldn't it be nicer if we didn't have to fake it in the first place, but we could be accepted as we are, with our honest strengths and weaknesses, and go from there?  ... The way God accepts us?

It's not that easy; I'm aware.  I think, though, that we can work on it.  We can start by admitting weakness in our daily lives.  If we don't know something or we haven't read something or we have a question... maybe we can learn to say so. :)  And maybe, if we can do that, others will feel that they can too, and we can work on accepting each other *with* our weaknesses.  We don't have to pretend to be perfect all the time, and we shouldn't expect perfection from others.  We can just be people--ourselves--fallible, but working hard to be better, and supporting each other in that process.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

John 14:2-3 -- On Mansions and Modifications

"In my Father’s house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you.
And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also."
John 14:2-3

Reading this today I was struck with how crazy we are sometimes--to doubt that God loves us, or that he is doing all he can to help and save each of us.  These verses are clearly about love, about a desire for unity and community and deep friendship that doesn't just reach one way.  In this same chapter, Jesus tells us "I will not leave you comfortless: I will come to you" (verse 18).  He cares, deeply about us.  He wants us to be okay, and happy... and *with him* forever.  We know that this is the same way Heavenly Father feels because he tells us, also in this same chapter, that they are on the same page about everything.  Specifically, he says "the words that I speak unto you I speak not of myself: but the Father that dwelleth in me" (verse 10).

We get it into our heads sometimes that God has to accept us on our terms, the way we are right now, or he doesn't love us at all.  And if we're just talking about love, he does, so much.  But both you and I know that we are not perfect.  We all have things that we are ashamed of, and that we wish we had never done.  We all have parts of ourselves that we want to excise, and things that make us cringe and shrink and wish no one knew that about us... things in the past that we are trying to forget or overcome.  And the thing is... God loves us enough to not let us suffer like that forever, unable to unreservedly love ourselves and worried about what others will think, and feeling that emptiness within ourselves when we haven't been who we wanted to be, and knowing that there is something more, but never quite being able to get there.

God didn't suffer and die so that we could be saved as we are.  He suffered so we wouldn't *have* to be stuck like this.  His whole plan, and every moment of his existence, is dedicated to saving us from ourselves, and teaching us how to be happier, and better, and how to be whole and okay.  His commandments aren't arbitrary, meaningless power trip fluff.  Each one is designed to help us be successful and happy in life--advice from a loving Father who wants us to avoid as many pitfalls in life as we can.  He wants us to learn this stuff and come back to him, and to share all that he has with us.  That is going to require some self-modification... with lots and lots of help from God of course, but we can't just stay the same if we want true happiness.

I'm looking forward to that mansion myself.  I imagine a room with a soft bed where the sheets feel cool against the cheek, and that you can sleep safely, knowing that in the morning everyone you love will be there, willing to spend time with you.  ... I'd also be cool with a giant library and maybe an aquarium wall, but you know... not trying to be greedy. :)

Today, let's do everything that we can on our side to be there, to have a place in one of the Father's mansions, and to be able to be where Christ is.  If we do our part and make that effort, God will handle all the rest.  He will come again, and receive us unto himself.  Sounds like a good hug opportunity to me.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Exodus 13:21 -- On Pillars of Fire

"And the Lord went before them by day in a pillar of a cloud, to lead them the way; and by night in a pillar of fire, to give them light; to go by day and night:"
Exodus 13:21

Reading this today I was thinking both of reminders and reassurance.  We tend to forget God as we go through our daily lives, and a pillar of fire would likely be a very clear reminder to keep him in mind. :)  It would also be very comforting I think to always have that physical manifestation to remind you that God is traveling with you, and is leading you in his way. :)

Today we don't travel with a pillar of cloud or fire going before us, and we have to fall back on less dramatic reminders of God's presence and his guidance in our lives.  That can seem frustrating at times, but I think it is actually really, really good for us.  Remember, Laman and Lemuel saw an angel, Judas was a personal witness of Christ, and even the Israelites referred to in this verse went very astray at times.  Bold, dramatic spiritual manifestations are cool, and they *can* make a difference in people's lives, but it definitely isn't a sure thing.  It's more like the spiritual equivalent of being hit with a 2x4... although that can get our attention, it isn't how the core problems are solved or how testimonies are forged.

Instead of external pillars, today the Lord asks us to establish some internal pillars of faith and righteousness, and when we anchor ourselves that way, our testimonies grow deeper and our commitment to the gospel remains strong, even when external reminders fade.  Let's work on having that pillar of fire within our own hearts, and following God's lead because we have a relationship with him, and we are always listening to his spirit.

Monday, April 17, 2017

1 Nephi 5:21 -- On Obtaining and Searching the Scriptures

"And we had obtained the records which the Lord had commanded us, and searched them and found that they were desirable; yea, even of great worth unto us, insomuch that we could preserve the commandments of the Lord unto our children."
1 Nephi 5:21

God asked Lehi and his family to go through a lot in order to obtain the plates of brass, and after getting them and searching them, they started to understand why.  These scriptures were something that they could keep with them that wouldn't wear out or fade, and that gave them hope for the future that they and their children would be able to learn and live the same standards and follow God's teachings.

The brass plates remind me of the "anchor to the soul" that it talks about in Ether 12:4 and Hebrews 6:19... they provided these people with the ability to know the gospel, to believe in God, and to hope for that better world that God promises us in the scriptures.

I think sometimes it is hard for us to understand the sacrifices that Lehi and his family made to obtain the brass plates, perhaps because it is so easy for us to access the scriptures or to read God's word.  But God asks us to obtain them and to search them, just as he asked Lehi and his family.  The scriptures today are *still* desirable, and of great worth unto us.  Let's remember that, and keep searching them and finding how good they are, making an anchor to our own souls as we find our own hope for a better world.

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Moses 7:62-63 -- On Righteousness and Resurrection

"And righteousness will I send down out of heaven; and truth will I send forth out of the earth, to bear testimony of mine Only Begotten; his resurrection from the dead; yea, and also the resurrection of all men; and righteousness and truth will I cause to sweep the earth as with a flood, to gather out mine elect from the four quarters of the earth, unto a place which I shall prepare, an Holy City, that my people may gird up their loins, and be looking forth for the time of my coming; for there shall be my tabernacle, and it shall be called Zion, a New Jerusalem.
And the Lord said unto Enoch: Then shalt thou and all thy city meet them there, and we will receive them into our bosom, and they shall see us; and we will fall upon their necks, and they shall fall upon our necks, and we will kiss each other;"
Moses 7:62-63

This is part of a conversation that Enoch had with God, where God showed Enoch everything he was going to do, all the way to the end of the world.  That's pretty awesome all by itself, of course, but for Enoch, these verses are kind of icing on the cake.  He and his righteous city, that was taken up to heaven for being perfect, were going to come back down to earth to meet another righteous group established in the last days.

There is some great imagery here. I like the idea that the righteousness and truth both bear testimony of Christ, his resurrection, and the resurrection of all people.  The idea of the earth being swept like a flood is interesting, and even more interesting is that the sweeping/flooding has the effect of gathering people together.

I think the central message here is that the righteousness and truth of the gospel, and specifically the truth of the resurrection is something powerful enough to change the world, to gather and unite us, to perfect us and make us Zion people.  And that message is true, if we take it seriously and allow it to make a difference in our lives.  Knowing that Christ was resurrected to save us matters, because it gives us strength and hope, and an anchor to our souls--a place to turn to for help in *any* circumstance.  And knowing that we also will all someday be resurrected can completely change our perspective about what truly matters, as so much around us that is temporary pales in comparison to our eternal possibilities.

Today, let's take Enoch's vision to heart.  Let's see the possibilities that come into play because resurrection is real.  Let's look to Christ in hope, work for eternity, and become some of those righteous people who will be swept up and gathered to Zion.  I'm looking forward to meeting Enoch.  I bet he has some awesome stories.

Saturday, April 15, 2017

John 11:23-27 -- On the Resurrection and the Life

"Jesus saith unto her, Thy brother shall rise again.
Martha saith unto him, I know that he shall rise again in the resurrection at the last day.
Jesus said unto her, I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live:
And whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die. Believest thou this?
She saith unto him, Yea, Lord: I believe that thou art the Christ, the Son of God, which should come into the world."
John 11:23-27

This is part of the story of Lazarus, who Christ raised from the dead.  It's a tough story, and this I imagine it was a tough conversation to have, because death and time get in the way, and part of what is said is immediate and direct, and some of it is more abstract and symbolic.  Martha likely did not fully understand what Jesus was about to do, because she objects later when Christ asks that the tomb be opened.  She remarks that the body will have started rotting and smelling by this time.  She clearly believed that Jesus was the Christ, but she thought he was giving her comfort and talking about Lazarus rising in the resurrection.  I don't think that I would have understood either.  Clearly, much of what Christ is saying here is about eternal life after death, not immediate immortality.

I think the most telling idea here is not actually about Lazarus, or about physical or spiritual death, but the statement that Jesus Christ *is* the resurrection and the life.   That he has power over these things, that he grants them to us.  The raising of Lazarus shows us Christ's power, and his later death and resurrection confirms and magnifies it, showing that he has utterly conquered death and hell, and that neither of those things can have any hold on us, if we believe in and follow him.

That idea is huge--that Christ is the resurrection and the life, and that he has control over life and death.  It's usually part of what we just assume about God, but when we think of it on a more personal level, I think it is easier to see more clearly that our lives here are gifts from God, and that we don't have to be afraid of death, for that too will be a gift in its time, nor do we have to be afraid of life and wish for death, because God is in charge, and all of this seeming craziness and chaos actually makes sense and fits together in the Lord's eyes, and will work out in the end.  There is a reason for us each to be here, and many things for us to do before we are called home.  God loves each of us just as much as he loved Martha and her brother... and whether he brings us back to life physically or spiritually, God gives all of us another chance and another start... often many of them.

Today, let's be grateful for our lives and for the future that God promises us through Christ's power over both physical and spiritual life and death, that we have a chance now to repent and be born again spiritually, to be healed and helped on our way, and someday also to be resurrected physically and have eternal life.

Friday, April 14, 2017

Mosiah 22:15-16 -- On Being Lost

"And now it came to pass when the Lamanites had found that the people of Limhi had departed out of the land by night, that they sent an army into the wilderness to pursue them;
And after they had pursued them two days, they could no longer follow their tracks; therefore they were lost in the wilderness."
Mosiah 22:15-16

This is an interesting part of the Book of Mormon.  The story that precedes it is the story of Limhi and his people, who just before this finally escape from Lamanite bondage and make it to Zarahemla. That story has been concluded, but kind of as an aside, this part is added about the Lamanite army chasing them and getting lost.  This army though shows up again later, because although they were lost in the wilderness and couldn't find their way home, they did, in fact, find other people, and became the impetus for the people of Alma also going to Zarahemla.

At the beginning of Lehi's dream he finds himself lost "in a dark and dreary waste" (1 Nephi 8:7).  Then Lehi prays and God shows him the way.  That and these verses, and so much else in the scriptures and in life shows us that being lost isn't unusual, or hopeless, or tragically unrecoverable.  It's normal, and something that reminds us that God is in charge... that he knows the way when we do not, and even when we think that we do.  Sometimes we need to be lost to be humble.  God sees the whole picture, and guides us where he will, to accomplish good in our lives, and to guide his people to where they need to be to accomplish his good and righteous purposes.

"He that findeth his life shall lose it: and he that loseth his life for my sake shall find it" (Matthew 10:39).  Sometimes to discover new places, new lands, and new lives, we have to lose the old ones. Today, if we feel lost and alone, let's remember that being lost is often the pathway to a promised (and better) land.   Let's also remember that God always knows the way, and that he can help us find it if we turn to him.  It might not always be back to the familiar, but it will be back to happiness and peace and love.  God's path always leads to something better than anything that has gone before.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

1 Nephi 4:36-37 -- On Fear and Trust

"Now we were desirous that he should tarry with us for this cause, that the Jews might not know concerning our flight into the wilderness, lest they should pursue us and destroy us.
And it came to pass that when Zoram had made an oath unto us, our fears did cease concerning him."
1 Nephi 4:36-37

Zoram intrigues me.  Sometimes we gloss over it, but in thinking about what he faced, it is almost crazy what happens.  Zoram thinks that everything is cool, and he is doing as his master asks, and them he finds out not only has he been tricked, but that the guy who tricked him killed his boss and now he wants him to join him.  ... I mean, patently insane, right?

Given, perhaps Zoram was scared of the consequences if he didn't agree.  Perhaps he wanted freedom, or had despised his old master.  We don't know.  But when Nephi promises him his life in exchange for listening, it seems like he really did listen, and I suspect that the spirit was working here, not just fear.  After all, when he promised to stay with them it says that their fears ceased.  If he was being forced into this, it doesn't seem like their fears would cease, and they would have to be constantly worried that he would run away back to Jerusalem and bring death upon them all.  Instead, though, he agreed, and everyone was happy.  I think God must have been working on them all.

I'm also impressed by Nephi here because even though the spirit asked him to shed blood earlier, he doesn't take that as permission to do so here, with equal danger to his family.  Instead, he talks to Zoram, and tells him everything, and Zoram believes him, and even trusts him.  That's huge, and I think both an indicator that Nephi was a prophet and also something that I want to emulate.  I am very far from being someone that kind, trustworthy, and harmless... but I want to be like that.

Today, let's try to be more like both Nephi and Zoram, and be willing to listen to each other and to solve our problems, even the biggest ones, with patience, faith, and goodwill rather than threats and violence.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Daniel 12:2-3 -- On Brightness

"And many of them that sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt.
And they that be wise shall shine as the brightness of the firmament; and they that turn many to righteousness as the stars for ever and ever."
Daniel 12:2-3

This is talking about the last days, and of resurrection.  I think everlasting life definitely sounds better than everlasting contempt, but the next verse talking about how you tell the difference is really the one that struck me.  I love the idea that wisdom and righteous guidance are as noticeable as physical manifestations, and if we learn them, that we will become shiny. :)  Maybe that is symbolic, but I prefer to think of it as an actual glow that we will one day be able to perceive when we have learned to be a little bit more like God.  Or maybe in the resurrection, just as a side effect of becoming physically immortal.  Who knows, but what an interesting idea.

Imagine if internal things like wisdom and kindness and righteousness showed in your countenance on this earth.  I mean, I suppose they do, but more so.  We would be glowing, just as obvious as Pinocchio's nose, but indicating goodness rather than deceit.   The world would be changed quite dramatically just by that one change, would it not?  And perhaps we already do shine like that, when we are on the right track--that goodness and being in tune with the Lord can feel palpable, though not quite physically tactile, but nevertheless something that we can feel and know and even connect with on a spiritual level.  When we encounter good people, they do seem to shine in a way, because we can feel the goodness of them radiating out and welcoming us in.

Today, let's work on our shininess.  Let's seek eternal life and not eternal contempt.  Let's confer with God, and seek to learn wisdom, and to help others to turn away from the dark into the brightness of hope and love and goodness that God offers to us all.

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Hebrews 1:9 -- On the Oil of Gladness

"Thou hast loved righteousness, and hated iniquity; therefore God, even thy God, hath anointed thee with the oil of gladness above thy fellows."
Hebrew 1:9

I love this idea of the oil of gladness and how to get it.  It makes me think of the parable of the ten virgins and running out of oil.  And I do think that sometimes in life we do run out of gladness.

I think our typical perspective on happiness is that it is something that just happens to us, without any extra effort on our part.  We feel that it should just flow to us as we live.  And, perhaps, sometimes, that is true.  Every now and then there is just that divine moment of joy that fills your heart, sometimes for no reason at all. :)  Those awesome "surprise happiness" moments are rare though, and aren't something that we can depend on for our daily smile.  Everyday happiness is something that has to be learned, and chosen.  This doesn't cheapen it at all.  I think it just makes it deeper and more enduring.  Now, I'm not saying that clinical depression doesn't happen or that there aren't moments in life where we are overwhelmed with darkness and cannot immediately choose light, but I am saying that the permanent, eternal type of joy takes effort, and we can't just sit and wait for it to appear.

How do we choose gladness?  Definitely not by stressing over it and feeling like it is another thing we are failing at.  Instead, perhaps relaxing and taking time to pray and ponder is a good start.  And these verses offer the deeper, lasting answer.  We have to learn to love righteousness and hate iniquity.  Now that is tough sometimes, and it doesn't happen overnight, but it re-emphasizes that our gospel path is not only about actions but about attitude.  Following the commandments physically isn't enough.  Behavioral modification is a beginning, but it isn't where we need to end up.  As it tells us in D&C 64:34: "the Lord requireth the heart and a willing mind." That's one reason why repentance is so challenging... because we not only have to stop doing whatever bad thing we have been doing, we have to also learn to not *want* to do it.  To hate the iniquity, and love righteousness.

In Mormon 9:14, talking about the resurrection, it says "he that is righteous shall be righteous still; he that is happy shall be happy still; and he that is unhappy shall be unhappy still."  I think that is a big reminder, just like the parable of the ten virgins, that these are things that we need to do now in life. We aren't meant to suffer throughout our lives and then suddenly get blessed with joy in the afterlife. We are meant to figure it out now, and be happy here, right in this moment.  God created us to have joy, and his plan of happiness is to ensure that we learn this essential lesson.  Today, let's remember the connection between righteousness and the oil of gladness, and let us keep our lamps full of it.  Let's focus on the good things, and take the time to enjoy our lives and the people around us.  Let's do good, and be good, and love all that is good.  Let's overflow with joy instead of stress, and spread our extra happiness around, helping others learn to have it in their lives as well. :)

Monday, April 10, 2017

1 Nephi 3:14-15 -- On Hope and Determination

"But Laman fled out of his presence, and told the things which Laban had done, unto us. And we began to be exceedingly sorrowful, and my brethren were about to return unto my father in the wilderness.
But behold I said unto them that: As the Lord liveth, and as we live, we will not go down unto our father in the wilderness until we have accomplished the thing which the Lord hath commanded us."
1 Nephi 3:14-15

The background to this story is that God asks Lehi to send his sons to get the brass plates from Laban. The task is important just because God asks it, of course, but later in the Book of Mormon we see the difference between Lehi's descendants and the people of Zarahemla, who had been led to the land separately, and the Plates of Brass play a huge part in that meeting, because the other group hadn't retained their language or their culture or religion, and had to be taught all over again, even though they came originally from the same place.

Lehi has a dream where God asks him to obtain the plates, and his older sons complain.  Ever-faithful Nephi says that he knows that God will prepare a way.  So, they go.  They cast lots to see who should approach Laban, and it falls to Laman to try to convince him.  He tries, and Laban gets angry and kicks him out.  That's where our verses come in.  They are about to turn back... understandably, after such a failure with a powerful person.  At that point, Nephi says this, I imagine with a lot of defiance and fervor, convinced that they have to go on, and still full of hope that they will be able to do it.  Maybe it was easy to say that God would provide a way just talking to his father, but now he is up against his older brothers, and they've just failed.  It has to be difficult to stand up to them at this point, but he does.  He knows that they need to stick it out and do as God asks.  So, he comes up with a plan, and they continue.  It still takes a while before they are able to accomplish the task, but I think Nephi standing up here, and his perseverance overall shows us how committed that we have to be sometimes when God asks us to do something.

Just because God asks doesn't mean that it is going to be easy... or even that we will succeed on any of our early tries.  It only means that it is possible, with God's help, and we need to keep trying until we accomplish the task.  Today, let's be hopeful and determined as Nephi was in doing as the Lord asks.  Nephi didn't know how to accomplish what he was asked to do, but he kept trying rather than giving up... and that is what we need to do as well.  Not saying we have to keep trying the same things in the same ways, because that often just leads to the same results.  But if we are determined and thoughtful, we can try different good things in order to accomplish God's will, and if we keep trying and are working with God, he will prepare a way for us (1 Nephi 3:7).

Sunday, April 9, 2017

Genesis 28:12-15 -- On Dreams and Covenants and Comfort

"And he dreamed, and behold a ladder set up on the earth, and the top of it reached to heaven: and behold the angels of God ascending and descending on it.
And, behold, the Lord stood above it, and said, I am the Lord God of Abraham thy father, and the God of Isaac: the land whereon thou liest, to thee will I give it, and to thy seed;
And thy seed shall be as the dust of the earth, and thou shalt spread abroad to the west, and to the east, and to the north, and to the south: and in thee and in thy seed shall all the families of the earth be blessed.
And, behold, I am with thee, and will keep thee in all places whither thou goest, and will bring thee again into this land; for I will not leave thee, until I have done that which I have spoken to thee of."
Genesis 28:12-15

This is an interesting dream that Jacob had while he was sleeping outdoors on his way to find a wife as his father had asked him to do.  As a result of this dream, Jacob makes a commitment to God... he tells God that if he will really do as he says and watch over and provide for him on his journey, that he will be his God, and that he will pay tithes to him.

To us, the dream seems to come out of the blue to a certain extent, but I was thinking that God was likely comforting Jacob at the beginning of a journey that was going to be long and seemed uncertain. He promised Jacob that he would be with him on the trip, and bring him home again, and confirmed that all the blessings he had given to his father would be passed on to him.  And the Lord kept his promise.

The really cool thing about these verses, for us, is that these same blessings and promises are passed down to us, through Jacob and his posterity.  As it says "in thee and in thy seed shall all the families of the earth be blessed."  We are part of that, and because of the promises that God entrusted to Jacob and his posterity, we too can partake of the blessings and the comfort that God offers in these verses.  If we commit as Jacob did to following the Lord, God will never leave us either, and we can be sure that God will watch over us in our times of uncertainty, and help us also return home safely.

Today, let's do as Jacob did and seize the opportunity to make a covenant with God, that we will be his people, and he will be our God (Ezekiel 36:28; Jeremiah 30:22; Leviticus 26:12; D&C 42:9).  If we will agree to follow him, he will agree to do all things for us, to teach us and lead us and make us into better people than we could ever become alone... and we never will be alone, if we have his spirit to help us (John 14:18).

Saturday, April 8, 2017

Alma 40:11 -- On Being Taken Home

"Now, concerning the state of the soul between death and the resurrection—Behold, it has been made known unto me by an angel, that the spirits of all men, as soon as they are departed from this mortal body, yea, the spirits of all men, whether they be good or evil, are taken home to that God who gave them life."
Alma 40:11

I love the idea of us being "taken home" to God.  I was asked the other day "Have you ever gone to someplace you've never been before, and it felt like coming home?"  ... I think this is similar to what we often feel in life, not about physical places, but in spiritual ways, because even if we can't remember what life with God was like before this life, our spirits remember, and we get that overwhelming sense of recognition sometimes, thinking, wait... I know you on some level, but I don't remember at all how, or this feels true on a level that I never even knew existed.  The Holy Ghost helps us to remember those things, and connect again to that spiritual side of ourselves.  When we leave this life and return to God, I think we will realize that something within us had recognized him all along.  We're not meeting God for the first time as we exit this life, but we are returning to someone we know and love well, and to a comfort and peace that we remember.

Of course, the fact that death is not the end, and that we are actually returning home doesn't mean that mourning is a bad thing, or that we should be in favor of death.  It just means that we might be able to look beyond it at some point, and realize that physical death is not just an ending, but also the beginning of something better, where we can look forward to reuniting with God and each other.

Today, let's tune into that spiritual side of ourselves, and talk to and listen to God.  Let's prepare to meet God again, and for our eternal lives by making choices that will lift and help, and help us learn to love.  As we do, we make sure that day of homecoming will be a day of remembrance and rejoicing, with no regrets or resentments to cloud our promised reunion.  Let's repent, and learn to be the people we want to be forever.

Friday, April 7, 2017

1 Corinthians 12:26-27 -- On Community and Connection

"And whether one member suffer, all the members suffer with it; or one member be honoured, all the members rejoice with it.
Now ye are the body of Christ, and members in particular."
1 Corinthians 12:26-27

Paul's analogy here is comparing the members of a church to the parts of a body, and this part in particular caught my eye because the idea of us suffering and rejoicing together seems powerful to me.  We wander the world sometimes thinking that we are alone, in so many different ways, but in so many ways our power, our glory, our joy, and our hope are all to be found as we realize that we are part of each other--as we learn to weep and rejoice with each other, to cooperate rather than compete, and to lift and support rather than tear down and dominate or ignore.

This isn't to say that extroversion is holy and introversion unholy... of course.  We all learn to love in different ways, and that is okay.  Whoever we are, we are still part of a community, and as we accept, learn about, and love each another, faults and temptations and all, we learn what it is to be like God and to love all people.  God is in a position to judge... we don't have to worry about that part.  For us, there is the much-more-enjoyable opportunity to learn each other's stories, to share each other's joys, and to support each other as we face heartbreak and challenges.

Today, let's work on remembering that we all matter, and that the loss of any one of us affects us all.  Let's work on bringing joy to the community and giving back, and not being afraid to share our challenges when it is our turn to go through tough times.  Let's be there for each other... connected through God's love and our love for one another.

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Alma 24:12 -- On Permanent Stain Removal

"Now, my best beloved brethren, since God hath taken away our stains, and our swords have become bright, then let us stain our swords no more with the blood of our brethren."
Alma 24:12

In reading this today, I was impressed by the fervor of these converted Lamanites, and how incredibly grateful they were for the ability to repent and the gift of forgiveness that they had received.  And maybe that is something that we could all use a little more of in our lives.  We've all sinned, and we all need repentance.  The Lord is incredibly merciful to us as he snatches us out of darkness, saves us from so many self-inflicted consequences, takes away our stains, and offers us hope.

Today, let's be firm in our commitment to refrain from staining our souls with the burdens of sin that we have stained them with in the past.  Let's move forward, thanking God for cleansing us and giving us hope.  Let't take our new stain-free start, and trust God to show us a better way.

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

1 John 2:9-10 -- On Love and Light

"He that saith he is in the light, and hateth his brother, is in darkness even until now.
He that loveth his brother abideth in the light, and there is none occasion of stumbling in him."
1 John 2:9-10

This is interesting... to me, it doesn't seem like it is a condemnation / guilt trip sort of a thing, trying to scare us into obedience.  It seems more like an informational thing... trying to teach us and help us navigate the uncertainties of life, and make better choices.  When we hate, we are clouding our own minds and perspectives.  We darken our own outlook, and we make it harder for ourselves as we try to find our way.  When we love, we enlighten our minds and brighten our perspectives.  We can see clearly, and we help ourselves to find our way through the varied experiences of life.

This idea of love = light goes along with other significant scriptures on these subjects such as "He that loveth not knoweth not God; for God is love" (1 John 4:8), and "That which is of God is light; and he that receiveth light, and continueth in God, receiveth more light; and that light groweth brighter and brighter until the perfect day" (D&C 50:24).  Love makes us light, and more like God, who is both love and light.

Today, let's endeavor to let go of hatred, of any variety, and dedicate ourselves to becoming more like God--to walking in the light, to *becoming* brighter, and to loving more.

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

1 Nephi 1:15 -- On Focusing on the Hope

"And after this manner was the language of my father in the praising of his God; for his soul did rejoice, and his whole heart was filled, because of the things which he had seen, yea, which the Lord had shown unto him."
1 Nephi 1:15

I really like that Lehi's whole heart was filled and that he rejoiced so much.  He had been shown a vision, and lots of that vision was sad, about the danger that his city was in.  Having lived in Jerusalem all his life, I am sure that Lehi was sad about what could come.  But instead of dwelling on the bad, he rejoiced in the hope that God brought him, and *that* is the part that he acted on.  He went out to preach, to try to turn things around.  Even when that didn't work and they tried to kill him, he kept making some really hard decisions, clinging to the hope and joy that God offered him, and saving everything that he could.

Perhaps, like Lehi, even when we see the world melting down around us, we can focus on the hope, and see the good.  Today, let's choose to take action rather than to despair.  Let's make change the world for good, a little at a time, and never give up.

Monday, April 3, 2017

Moroni 10:34 -- On Rest and Triumph

"And now I bid unto all, farewell. I soon go to rest in the paradise of God, until my spirit and body shall again reunite, and I am brought forth triumphant through the air, to meet you before the pleasing bar of the great Jehovah, the Eternal Judge of both quick and dead. Amen."
Moroni 10:34

Moroni says a lot in this last verse of the Book of Mormon.  I usually just kind of gloss over it as basically a "goodbye," but reading it today I thought about all the things that it promises.  It talks where our spirits go when they die, about resurrection, about flying (right? through the air has to be flying or floating, eh?), and about Christ's judging us (alive or dead).  Those are some interesting things. :)

I love the fact that we are going to have a chance to meet Moroni in person, and that it talks about it right here.  I'm sure that part of that will us being accountable for what he has told us, but I think part of it will also just be rejoicing... meeting each other across time and distance, but time and distance that he bridged through his faith in God, and his trust that we would someday have his words.

Today, let's see this verse not as an ending, but as a promise of things to come... rest, and triumph and the *pleasing* bar of God.  Let's prepare for the things that Moroni saw, and which God has in store for us, and enjoy the anticipation of so much good. :)

Sunday, April 2, 2017

Ezra 7:10 -- On Preparing our Hearts and Seeking the Lord

"For Ezra had prepared his heart to seek the law of the Lord, and to do it, and to teach in Israel statutes and judgments."
Ezra 7:10

I think sometimes what we lack as we go through life and in our attempts to live the gospel is what it is talking about here.  We haven't prepared our hearts to seek God's will and to do it... or to teach it to others.  Most often, we seem to sort of stumble through life, only realizing that we need God when things get really bad.  Then, when they seem okay again, we often forget.  Just as God tells us "if ye are prepared ye shall not fear" (D&C 38:30), preparation makes life better in a lot of other ways too.

Christ asked "For which of you, intending to build a tower, sitteth not down first, and counteth the cost, whether he have sufficient to finish it?" (Luke 14:28) to teach a similar lesson.  Setting ourselves on a gospel path without examining ourselves and being completely committed is just like jumping in and building half a tower and realizing you are out of money.  Committing our lives to Christ isn't a simple or easy thing, or something that we can lightly walk away from.  If we don't understand what we are getting ourselves into, we are likely to bail the first time the gospel gets inconvenient.

This life and the gospel are meant to try and teach us.  Tithing isn't only supposed to be paid when we have excess cash, and we aren't only supposed to love our neighbors when they are awesome.  Keeping the Sabbath Day holy isn't meant to only apply unless we've made other plans.  And so on.  Part of preparing our hearts is letting go of our take-it-or-leave-it attitudes about God and our pick-and-choose tendencies towards his commandments.  When we realize that we desperately need God all the time, not just in the midst of tragedy, we can start to get to know him better and begin to love him "with all [our] heart[s], and with all [our] soul[s], and with all [our] mind[s]" (Matthew 22:37).  The gospel isn't just outward obedience.  It's everything we are inside as well.  And *all* of it has to be in on this commitment.

Today, like Ezra, let's make sure our hearts are prepared to seek the law of the Lord, and to do it.  Let's make sure the gospel is part of everything that we do and that we are.  Let's not start down the path to Christ and then turn around after we run out of snacks.  Let's prepare ahead of time to stay the course, to return to God, and to become the people that he can help us to be.  Let's not bail on the best thing that has ever happened to us.  Let's hold on with all that we are.

Saturday, April 1, 2017

2 Nephi 2:27 -- On Freedom and Happy Endings

"Wherefore, men are free according to the flesh; and all things are given them which are expedient unto man. And they are free to choose liberty and eternal life, through the great Mediator of all men, or to choose captivity and death, according to the captivity and power of the devil; for he seeketh that all men might be miserable like unto himself."
2 Nephi 2:27

One of the worst lies that we tell ourselves in this life is that we aren't free... that circumstance or luck or society has it in for us, and it is all hopeless or that we're trapped in being who we are, or doing what we do.  Though we might *wish* to be better, or to change our circumstances, we just aren't, and we can't, and we might as well accept our fate.

Here, Nephi tells us differently.  It seems that we are indeed free, and we can choose life or death--captivity or freedom.  This is kind of a drag, since it takes away our excuse for not trying, but it is also pretty cool.  It means that no matter how things are or what is happening in our lives, that we still have some kind of freedom.  Even in slavery, as we learn from Joseph and from the people of Alma (Mosiah 24:15), there are still choices we can make and ways that God can find to help us, if we call upon him.

Speaking of slavery, the freedom "according to the flesh" that Nephi is talking about here is definitely not freedom from bondage, as we know from those examples.  Neither is it protection from being swallowed by a whale, being shipwrecked, or wading through any other tragedy.  Our freedom doesn't protect our minds or our hearts either, which can become ill or be broken, just like our bodies.  So, what is freedom then--and really, what good is it?  I'm glad you asked. :)

Freedom is God's gift to us of the power of choice--the power to become.  We can choose our actions and we can choose our attitude.  We can't always choose the context of those things, and we definitely can't choose what other people do, but we can choose whether we are the hero or the villain of our own story.  It's like reading a book by an author you know really well.  You get to know an author by how he treats his characters.  Does he kill them all off in the end in variously gruesome ways, or do the heroes eventually triumph over evil?  In both books, they go through tough things, and face impossible odds, but the authors you trust are the ones that care about the characters, and help them to get to the happy ending.  God is one of those trustworthy authors.  If we stick with the plot and keep turning the pages, no matter how dark the story is right now, the light will shine through and everything will be okay.  We don't have to be afraid of the ending.  We just have to learn to be the heroes.  And that is the freedom that God gives us... to learn.  To choose life, and hope, and to become, with his help, more that we could ever be alone.

Today, let's stick with God's plan / plot and not the devil's.  Let's choose happiness over misery, life over death, and keep trusting in that happy ending.  Let's use our freedom wisely and choose to be the heroes that we can be.

Friday, March 31, 2017

2 Corinthians 1:8-11 -- On Deliverance and Prayer

"For we would not, brethren, have you ignorant of our trouble which came to us in Asia, that we were pressed out of measure, above strength, insomuch that we despaired even of life:
But we had the sentence of death in ourselves, that we should not trust in ourselves, but in God which raiseth the dead:
Who delivered us from so great a death, and doth deliver: in whom we trust that he will yet deliver us;
Ye also helping together by prayer for us, that for the gift bestowed upon us by the means of many persons thanks may be given by many on our behalf."
2 Corinthians 1:8-11

There aren't a lot of details of why they despaired of their lives in this story, but the reason that they were saved and could keep going after that are very clear.  When they couldn't trust themselves to get out of it, God was still there to trust in.  God delivered them, still was delivering them, and they knew that he would continue to deliver them... and prayers are also helpful, presumably since faith and hope strengthen that whole cycle. :)

God didn't just deliver Paul and his companions from their trouble in Asia, but he delivers each of us when we are pressed out of measure, beyond our strength to endure or deliver, and even when we think there is no hope and we are going to die.  When there is nothing left in ourselves to trust in, God is still there to trust.  He can deliver us from death, from sin, from illness, and from our worst mistakes.  It isn't always in the ways that we expect.  People still die, and consequences aren't always avoided, and certainly can't be dictated.  But the deliverance comes anyway, and is the way we find our way out of tragedy and sorrow and pain.  God knows the way to save us, and it always leads to him.

Today, let's learn to trust in God when we can't trust in ourselves.  Let's recognize that he has delivered us, is still delivering us, and will continue to deliver us as we trust in him.  Also, let's do some serious praying for each other.  We all need it.  Anything we can do to reinforce God's cycle of saving is going to help.

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Jeremiah 7:5-7 -- On Being Thorough and Avoiding Harm

"For if ye throughly amend your ways and your doings; if ye throughly execute judgment between a man and his neighbour;
If ye oppress not the stranger, the fatherless, and the widow, and shed not innocent blood in this place, neither walk after other gods to your hurt:
Then will I cause you to dwell in this place, in the land that I gave to your fathers, for ever and ever."
Jeremiah 7:5-7

I like the idea that we need to do some things thoroughly, like amending our ways.  Glossing over things or just doing them halfway isn't really a good approach to the gospel, to self-improvement, or to our interactions with others. :)

I also really, really like God specifying that we are doing these bad things "to [our] hurt."  Our rebellions aren't harming God or confounding his plans.  They sometimes only hurt us, but because God cares about us, he wants us to stop harming ourselves and to learn and to grow up.  He is offering to teach us how to avoid choosing self-implosion.  Even more, when our actions harm others as well, he can help us learn to heal instead.

Today, let's think about how to be a little bit more thorough in the good things that we do, and how to avoid harming others by eliminating some of the bad from our lives.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Mark 16:10-13 -- On Seriously Considering Hope

"And she went and told them that had been with him, as they mourned and wept.
And they, when they had heard that he was alive, and had been seen of her, believed not.
After that he appeared in another form unto two of them, as they walked, and went into the country.
And they went and told it unto the residue: neither believed they them."
Mark 16:10-13

Sometimes we are like this, aren't we?  Something miraculous and good happens, but we refuse to believe it, still mentally trapped in the last bad thing, sometimes even missing amazing opportunities because we can't see past our negative filter and to the possibility of happiness.  Even if the news is that everything is okay again, we too often trust the bad over the good, the world over the Spirit.  I'm not saying there isn't a time to mourn, or that being sad is a sinful thing... but maybe we should make room for hope in our lives more often by listening to and considering the messages that the Spirit sends us of love and hope and goodness, rather than dismissing them as unrealistic or unlikely.  With God, we can be okay even in the midst of pain and tragedy, and if we stick with God and keep turning the pages, we will get to his promised happy ending.  Rather than disbelief when messages of hope come around, let's seriously consider hope.

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

3 Nephi 27:6 -- On Names and Labels and Heroes and Christ

"And whoso taketh upon him my name, and endureth to the end, the same shall be saved at the last day."
3 Nephi 27:6

This is a pretty clear recipe for being saved... so, the question is, how do we take upon ourselves the name of Christ?

Stepping back and thinking about what other names we take upon ourselves might be a good start.  We label ourselves, sometimes with things that we are happy to be, and some that we are sad to be.  We might tell people that we are graduates, or parents, or spouses, or siblings.  We might talk about our careers or our hobbies.  On the negative side, we might say we aren't good at something or that we are anti something.

Just as those choices of earthly labels that we take upon ourselves determine to an extent who we choose to become, choosing to take upon us the name of Christ can also completely change who we have the potential to be.  Choosing to follow and to emulate Christ doesn't (obviously) turn us into carbon copies of him, just as we don't become our earthly heroes, but unlike them, our connection and dedication to Christ can lift us and give us power to be more than we ever have been--to reach well beyond our previous limitations, and be able to do and become and serve more than we ever believed possible.  It is a dedication not only to him, but to his gospel, his teachings, his compassion, his example, and his love... and so much more.

Today, let's think about what it means to take upon us the name of Christ, and then let's do more than think about it.  Let's commit to it.  Let's become it.  Let's be the people of Christ, and spread his example and shine his example always, everywhere that we go.

Monday, March 27, 2017

Isaiah 60:2-3 -- On Brightness

"For, behold, the darkness shall cover the earth, and gross darkness the people: but the Lord shall arise upon thee, and his glory shall be seen upon thee.
And the Gentiles shall come to thy light, and kings to the brightness of thy rising."
Isaiah 60:2-3

This is talking about the last days and how the Lord's brightness will chase away the darkness.  I love that idea, of brightness overcoming darkness, and everyone gathering to the light.

I think that this applies to our lives now as well.  Sometimes we feel surrounded by darkness and "gross darkness" seems to be covering us as well, but if we go to God with our problems, his brightness will not only shine through so that we can find our way to him, but while we're talking to God, he will destroy the darkness "with the brightness of his coming" (2 Thessalonians 2:8).  As the darkness lifts, our minds will clear, we will have a chance to breathe, to repent, and to hopefully continue to infuse our lives with more light--growing "brighter and brighter until the perfect day" (D&C 50:24).

Today, let's move towards God's light, and pray for his brightness in our lives.

Sunday, March 26, 2017

D&C 38:42 -- On Saving Ourselves

"And go ye out from among the wicked. Save yourselves. Be ye clean that bear the vessels of the Lord. Even so. Amen."
Doctrine and Covenants 38:42

The idea of saving ourselves seems strange in some ways because a central idea of the gospel is the atonement, where *Christ* saves us, because we are unable to save ourselves.  Like so many other seeming contradictions in the scriptures though, these ideas work together.

Being saved is more complex than just recognizing Christ's sacrifice, or living a good life, though of course both are important.  And there are also different kinds of saving.  For instance, if we narrow being saved down to just being saved from death, then that is something that Christ did for us... ALL of us, and it isn't dependent on anything else.  We are eternal beings, and Christ overcame death so that all of us can continue to be eternal beings, with our resurrected bodies intact.  However, if we are talking saved as in redeemed from sin, or going to heaven, there are further requirements.  One is, of course, that we have to be willing to let go of our sins and repent.  God isn't going to save us against our wills... part of that is because he values free agency and the whole earthly experience is designed around agency and learning, but another part is just that it doesn't work that way.

Imagine that your dream your entire life has been to win an ice skating medal in the Olympics.  You took some lessons when you were younger, and you can get around on the ice and you enjoy it, but you don't have the skill that it takes to win.  You might have the inherent talent, and with time and lots of practice you could get there, but you are too busy to put in the time... you have a lot of other things going on.  You travel to the Olympics with your family to watch the games, and through a bizarre series of coincidences including a friend's uncle's cousin being on the committee and a flu epidemic taking out the entire ice-skating team of your country, they need someone to skate, and you are asked.  ... You, of course, say yes, because this is part of your dream, but as you walk out on the ice to begin, we are setting up a similar situation to what we often expect God to do for us.  We often expect God to reverse the choices that we have made in life, and act like they never happened, so we can suddenly turn back time and become someone different.  But God doesn't do that.  He can set us back on the path, but he can't learn *for* us.  We still have to repent to get those self-made obstacles out of the way, and then we have to learn the lessons before us.

This doesn't mean that we can't someday become amazing ice skaters in the afterlife, of course... there are plenty of things still to learn and do after this life.  From a parable perspective though, yes, there are consequences to the choices we make in life.  The five foolish virgins arrived too late for the wedding, and they were turned away (Matthew 25:11-12).  They had a limit, and they didn't make it.  Our limit to "save ourselves" is that we have to do it before death.  God makes up for what we can't do ourselves, and he helps us constantly as we go to him for help, but he isn't going to do it for us.  In order to learn to be like God and to be able to dwell in his presence, we have to learn how to save ourselves, including learning to follow God, do as he asks, go out from the wicked, be clean, etc.  Basically how to make good choices, how to love, and how to repent.

That doesn't mean that if we make some mistakes that we are lost or that we should give up.  We can still learn the things we need to do at any age or stage in life, if we repent and make the correct choices.  But God warns us not to stray on purpose, because after that, repentance is harder and sometimes our desire to repent has eroded completely.  We also don't get back all of our opportunities if we stray.  We probably won't get an ice skating medal in the Olympics, for instance, after choosing early in life not to dedicate ourselves to that goal.  But that doesn't mean that we don't have a lot of other opportunities and blessings ahead of us, and new dreams that are just as good, or better, than the things we have lost.

Today, let's remember that "faith without works is dead" (James 2:26), and let's do all we can to save ourselves, and to help the people around us.

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Isaiah 24:23 -- On Outshining the Sun

"Then the moon shall be confounded, and the sun ashamed, when the Lord of hosts shall reign in mount Zion, and in Jerusalem, and before his ancients gloriously."
Isaiah 24:23

The moon and the sun will be confounded and ashamed, seemingly by the Lord's presence.  I am not sure what that means in terms of the solar system, but it does seems to imply at least that the Lord outshines the Sun, which is pretty cool, but might also mean that either we need some serious sunglasses in preparation for the Second Coming, or, more likely, we are going to have to be changed in order to stand before the Lord.  From similar scriptures it doesn't seem like there are going to be a lot of people able to do that (Isaiah 4:3).

I think this is scary in one way, but in another it helps us to understand / remember the true majesty and power of God, which I think we often forget.  It is good to pray to God as a friend and to know that he loves us, but it is also good to remember his power, and the importance of his word.  He *really* knows everything.  He really *is* all powerful... following him isn't just a nice idea or some random guideline that we should follow as often as we follow the speed limit.  God's plan is essential to our long term health and happiness, and that of all the people around us as well.

Today, let's remember how shiny God is, and how glorious.  Let's remember that he loves us and that he has the knowledge and the power to help us through anything.  Let's be counted among his people as he outshines everything else that seems to matter.

Friday, March 24, 2017

Exodus 12:40-41 -- On Long-Term Plans

"Now the sojourning of the children of Israel, who dwelt in Egypt, was four hundred and thirty years.
And it came to pass at the end of the four hundred and thirty years, even the selfsame day it came to pass, that all the hosts of the Lord went out from the land of Egypt."
Exodus 12:40-41

This is a good reminder that God has a plan for all of us, both individually and as communities and peoples and worlds. :)  We can't always see his bigger plans working, because we experience just a small part of them.  That means, in order to be a part of them, we have to trust God, and rely on his guidance to let us know what we should do.  This, in turn, means that we have to learn to be sensitive to the spirit, so that we will hear what God has to say, and also so that we won't misinterpret what he is saying.

Today, let's remember that God's timing is perfect, and so is his plan... even when it is bigger than we are and we can't understand how it is working, it IS working, and God's plan is going forward to help us and save as many people as will listen and come to him.  Let's be some of those people.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

2 Nephi 2:15-16 -- On Contradiction and Opposition

"And to bring about his eternal purposes in the end of man, after he had created our first parents, and the beasts of the field and the fowls of the air, and in fine, all things which are created, it must needs be that there was an opposition; even the forbidden fruit in opposition to the tree of life; the one being sweet and the other bitter.
Wherefore, the Lord God gave unto man that he should act for himself. Wherefore, man could not act for himself save it should be that he was enticed by the one or the other."
2 Nephi 2:15-16

Yesterday someone wrote in to the support mailbox that I monitor at work asking about the seeming contradiction between the commandment to "Honour thy father and thy mother" (Exodus 20:12) and the story from Christ's childhood where Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem, causing his parents to worry: "Son, why hast thou thus dealt with us? behold, thy father and I have sought thee sorrowing" (Luke 2:48).  I've written before about other seeming contradictions, for instance the difference between "ye shall not resist evil" (3 Nephi 12:39, see also Matthew 5:39) and "let us resist evil, and whatsoever evil we cannot resist with our words, yea, such as rebellions and dissensions, let us resist them with our swords" (Alma 61:14).

It's easy to get confused when we encounter things like this.  The garden of Eden situation in the very beginning sets up what seems to be an impossible choice for Adam and Eve.  As our verses explain though, opposition is an essential part of the plan.  And I think that is what the seeming contradictions we run into are as well... they are opposition, forcing us to think through the choices.  Just like Adam and Eve faced forbidden sweet fruit, and the bitterness of the tree of life, we sometimes have to reject the bad things that look or feel or taste good in favor of the good things that aren't as immediately attractive.  Sometimes we need to be humble, and back down, and not resist evil... and sometimes we need to stand up and be bold and resist it.  And it is okay that both things are taught in the scriptures, for as Ecclesiastes 3:1 tells us, "To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven."

I don't know the answer to why Jesus stayed behind in the temple, and I just laid out several different possibilities for the person who wrote in.  Maybe it was a choice between two fathers, or a spiritual prompting that he thought they would also have, or understand, or maybe we just can't know because we don't have enough information, but whatever the reason, it's okay.  It doesn't negate Christ being perfect or the commandment to honor our parents.  It doesn't invalidate the gospel.

Similarly, when we face confusing situations in life where we feel torn in different directions, it is still part of the plan.  We need opposition in order to have freedom, and in order to learn and grow and change.  Sometimes, like Adam and Eve, we might face choices that seem impossible.  But choosing anyway, and learning to deal with the ambiguities of life, helps us become our own people and find out what really matters most to us.  It's a hard thing to be thankful for, but I know in my life that facing those critical, impossible choices has helped me learn things that have changed my life dramatically for the better, including how to rely on the Lord... and I wouldn't give up that lesson, or any of the others, for anything.  Today, let's try to be thankful for the seeming contradictions and the opposition in our lives.  Let's ask for God's guidance, and step in and make the choices that we know are right.  Let's choose the path that leads to happiness, and become the people that we want to be instead of the people that we fear to become.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Moroni 7:6-8 -- On Attitude

"For behold, God hath said a man being evil cannot do that which is good; for if he offereth a gift, or prayeth unto God, except he shall do it with real intent it profiteth him nothing.
For behold, it is not counted unto him for righteousness.
For behold, if a man being evil giveth a gift, he doeth it grudgingly; wherefore it is counted unto him the same as if he had retained the gift; wherefore he is counted evil before God."
Moroni 7:6-8

This is a good reminder for us that attitude matters. :)  Sometimes we think that as long as we are taking the right *action* that it doesn't matter what we think or how we feel about it.  As we see in this verse however, it absolutely matters to God.

I'm not saying that "fake it till you make it" can't work.  Sometimes taking an action and learning the habit of obedience is an important first step, and we learn later the reasoning behind it and what it means for us personally and become emotionally invested in it.  Likewise, we can start out with a desire to serve God and later catch up with that desire by bringing our actions in line with our beliefs.  Those things are okay as temporary tactics, just not as long-term strategies.  With God, we can't commit halfway.  It's all or nothing, and we're either working towards all, or we're losing ground towards nothing.  There is no neutrality.

It takes us a long time in life to learn who we are, what we really care about, and to "ripen" into who we will be... in scriptural terms good or bad fruit in the Lord's vineyard, or seeing whether we turn out as wheat or tares.  God is giving us time to make choices and learn things.  He's not condemning us for not understanding everything all at once, and he's not trying to punish us for having bad attitudes. :)  He *is* warning us about the consequences of our actions... helping us know how to avoid being tares or goats or bitter fruit.  And part of that is attitude.  We can't go to church grumbling every week.  Eventually, we have to learn to like it, or it doesn't do us a lot of good.  Same with most things... God cares about the reasons that we do what we do, and wants to help us unify body and spirit... desire and action, so that we aren't warring within anymore, but are whole and focused and happy.

Today, let's do good things and give good gifts... and let's work on wanting to do the right things, and not just going through the motions.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Lamentations 4:17-18 -- On Drama and Apocalyptic Thinking

"As for us, our eyes as yet failed for our vain help: in our watching we have watched for a nation that could not save us.
They hunt our steps, that we cannot go in our streets: our end is near, our days are fulfilled; for our end is come."
Lamentations 4:17-18

In these verses, things are pretty bad because of sin and iniquity.  I'm not sure if this is part of Jeremiah's prayer, or in between prayers, but either way, he isn't happy about it, and he thinks the end has come.  And it certainly was an end for many, because this was written after the Babylonian invasion of Jerusalem (approximately 586 BC), and things were very, very bad.  Luckily, it wasn't *the* end.

I think Jeremiah's worry was understandable.  It was a situation filled with horror and death and it was hard to see any hope for the future.  I pray that we don't have to live through similar horrors.  Unfortunately, unlike Jeremiah, I think we often start talking or worrying about the end with much less provocation.  Sometimes it is just a couple of inches of snow and we start calling it the snowpocalypse.  :)  And of course we buy the corner store out of milk and bread... because we aren't really good at long term preparation, but we are awesome at panic. :)  In our personal lives too, it seems like whenever something happens that we don't like, we jump to drama.  Our emotions fly out of proportion, and we think it is the end, because if one thing could go wrong, then certainly the whole universe is against us. :)

Now, by saying that we are drama addicts and panic easily, I don't mean to suggest that all of our trials are imaginary.  We all have real, serious trials that we have to face, and they are hard for us, even if they aren't hard for anyone else.  Paranoia probably makes them worse, but it doesn't make them appear out of thin air.  And I definitely don't think we should avoid drama by being lazy or complacent either.  God tells us in D&C 58:27-28 that we "should be anxiously engaged in a good cause, and do many things of their own free will, and bring to pass much righteousness; / For the power is in them."  In other words, we have the power to choose to do good, and also the power to trust God and to hope rather than to despair.  That's part of the lesson that Jeremiah gives us here as well.  Instead of choosing to watch for and trust in something else to deliver us, we should be trusting in and watching for God.

God asks us to "be patient in afflictions, for thou shalt have many; but endure them, for, lo, I am with thee, even unto the end of thy days" (D&C 24:8).  If we really believe that, then in the midst of our trials--even the worst ones--we can find something to hang on to, and to hope for, because no one can ever take God away from us.  The only way we will lose him is if we choose to walk away.  Today, let's trust in God and work on letting go of our paranoia and our panic.  Let's ditch the drama and find confidence and peace in listening to the Lord.

Monday, March 20, 2017

Psalms 90:14 -- On Mercy and Gladness

"O satisfy us early with thy mercy; that we may rejoice and be glad all our days."
Psalms 90:14

I was reading this today and it reminded me of "remember how merciful the Lord hath been unto the children of men" from Moroni 10:3.  They seem like similar admonitions... basically, that we should contemplate God's mercy.

I like the idea here that God's mercy (and our satisfaction with it) will cause us to rejoice all our days.  I think that is a similar idea that Moroni is presenting as well.  Pondering God's mercy can help us to realize a lot of truth: at the core, that the Gospel is true, and that God isn't an ogre, but a loving Father who always wants the best for us, and who works tirelessly for our happiness.

Today, let's take some time to think about God's mercy and talk to God and really try to understand that idea.  I think if we do, we will find that the concept is really satisfying, as well as the other answers that God offers.  So satisfying, in fact, that it will fill our lives with joy and gladness.  Let's keep pondering and keep remembering, so that we can keep that joy flowing in our lives.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

D&C 25:10 -- On Seeking a Better World

"And verily I say unto thee that thou shalt lay aside the things of this world, and seek for the things of a better."
Doctrine and Covenants 25:10

This is a verse directed to Emma Smith, and it is a good one for us all to keep in mind.  We often get so caught up in the things that are right in front of us that we forget about what comes after.  And of course that doesn't mean that we should ignore people or our earthly responsibilities, but that we have to lay them aside as our top priorities and get our priorities and our perspective straight.  And sometimes that means letting some things go, and sometimes that means shuffling our priorities, but the focus here is to work for a better world rather than investing everything in this one.

What does that mean?  Well, I think it means that we shouldn't give up on our ideals, or just do things the way they have always been done just because "that's the way it is."  Realism doesn't have to crush us, because God knows that we can make things better, and part of believing him means believing his promises, and even believing in ourselves, because he promises us that we can be more than we are, and that we can turn our weaknesses into strengths.  Significantly, other people can also be more than they are, with God's help.  Instead of condemning or giving up on people, we can hope for them, and work to make their lives better as well.

Later in the chapter God tells us: "Keep my commandments continually, and a crown of righteousness thou shalt receive. And except thou do this, where I am you cannot come."  This is also an important thing to remember because as we learn to love God and live the gospel, we want more and more to be able to be with him... to achieve heaven, and live among Zion-type people.  We can't get there if we aren't seeking it and working for it.  Today, let's lay aside the things of this world, and seek for the things of a better.

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Job 20:4-5 -- On Distractions and Deeper Meanings

"Knowest thou not this of old, since man was placed upon earth,
That the triumphing of the wicked is short, and the joy of the hypocrite but for a moment?"
Job 20:4-5

A good reminder that paths to happiness that do not include God are only temporary.  It's so easy to imagine that we can skip some of the steps that God requires, or that we can accomplish our goals with less effort as long as we have the "secret of success" which is always some shortcut that isn't going to work in the long run.  The path to long-term joy and triumph is always through God, and we have to take the time to learn it all, a little at a time... to really get it.  Not just to see the outline of the ideas, but to gain the deeper meanings and actually incorporate them into our lives and our selves.

Today, let's remember to look for the long term rewards that God offers rather than the temporary pretense that actually just harms us by impeding our progress and distracting us from what is important.

Friday, March 17, 2017

2 Nephi 9:31 -- On Narrow Paths and Capes and Cake

"O then, my beloved brethren, come unto the Lord, the Holy One. Remember that his paths are righteous. Behold, the way for man is narrow, but it lieth in a straight course before him, and the keeper of the gate is the Holy One of Israel; and he employeth no servant there; and there is none other way save it be by the gate; for he cannot be deceived, for the Lord God is his name."
2 Nephi 9:31

The idea of walking a narrow path is often one that we rebel against.  We tend to want to wander a little (or a lot) and go our own way.  At least until we run into something that we can't do because we haven't been following that path.  And I think that is where the problem lies.  We think that we are becoming more free by going our own way... wandering around, seeing what we like, getting sidetracked and enjoying the scenery.  But then, somewhere in the middle of an empty field, we realize, wow... I really want what God offers, and then we turn around and look for the way back, and we feel lost, and we realize that we can't just skip ahead to the end, because we have to learn the stuff in the middle.  Following God's path is what makes us free to continue, and to get the blessings that he promises.  He isn't asking us to walk a narrow path in order to make the world less fun, but because he knows that this is the path that offers us the most freedom and joy.

The way I think of it is like a superhero academy.  God knows that we all have superpowers and that we need some basic training to make us safe around other people, and then we can take more advanced classes to develop our powers, and then if we master that, we can get into the really cool stuff with the saving the world and the capes and the graduation cake and stuff. :)  Except we go in the first day and hear we are superheroes and so we go flying off somewhere to rescue someone and instead put a dent in a skyscraper and get face-planted by an arch-villain, at which point we give up and decide to join a circus or something.  When chapter 5 rolls around we see someone in need of saving, and we realize we just can't save them, because we don't know how, and we'll harm them if we try.  We re-discover our true natures, and realize that we really do need superhero school, but we still have to go back and learn how to be safe around others before we can progress.

God promises us so much, and we *can* be superheroes, and learn to save others and eventually the world... but it *requires* dedication and training.  It's a narrow path that few walk, but it *is* the way to the best, most heroic, happiest, most peaceful, coolest, and most exciting life possible. (And yes, it can be peaceful and exciting at the same time.)  Today, let's walk the narrow path.  Let's be the people that we can be with God's help, and stay the course so we can get the capes and the cake. :)

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Deuteronomy 15:10-11 -- On Giving

"Thou shalt surely give him, and thine heart shall not be grieved when thou givest unto him: because that for this thing the Lord thy God shall bless thee in all thy works, and in all that thou puttest thine hand unto.
For the poor shall never cease out of the land: therefore I command thee, saying, Thou shalt open thine hand wide unto thy brother, to thy poor, and to thy needy, in thy land."
Deuteronomy 15:10-11

The whole idea of giving is an interesting one, isn't it?  I mean, God is all powerful and stuff, so if he really wanted to, he could have divided everything perfectly evenly, and arranged things even now so that we all get an even share.  Instead, with this as with all other things, he allows us to choose. Thus, some people get more and some people get less.  Not necessarily only through their own choices, although of course that plays into it, but because of the choices of so many other people.

We are all participants in our society and the way that it handles (and creates) poverty.  And what we have chosen unfortunately results in a lot of poverty for people who can't choose otherwise.  Children are the largest example, but there are many, many other examples of people who can't escape the circumstances of their lives because they never have a path to something better (at least financially), perhaps because of limited opportunities for education, for employment, or just because of health problems for themselves or someone in the family that has put them well past the point where they can afford anything at all.

God asks us to correct this imbalance through giving to and helping each other.  It's a giant thing to ask--an eternal quest--up there with perfection, which he also asks, and pray always, which always seems like we need to do it a little more. :)  He asks us to build Zion... to be Zion people, and one of the significant aspects of Zion is that there is no poor among them.  It says right here that "the poor shall never cease out of the land," so Zion is another eternal quest.

Eternal quests though, at least with God, aren't ones that are actually impossible.  They just seem that way because they always remain out of reach while we're learning so that we keep learning and striving for them, but the realization of all of the possibilities and perfection is baked into God's plan.  It *will* happen.  It just kind of depends on us how long it will take.  How long will it take us to learn as a society... as humanity, to take care of each other?  (I'm not advocating for one side or another politically by the way... I have no idea whether God wants us to use the government as a means to require redistribution of wealth or not.  I just know that he asks / commands us, individually and collectively, to give.)

Today, let's consider the commandment to give.  It is both a request and a commandment, like so many other things.  A request because God always allows us our free agency, and a commandment, if we choose to accept and acknowledge God's authority over us and we want to be part of what he offers.  Then we have to do as he asks, in order to find our way to becoming the people that he promises us that we can be.  There are some pretty fantastic blessings attached to it as well.  Being blessed in all our works and all that we put our hands to?  Wow.  That's pretty sweet. Maybe even if we are a little poor, we should give to those who are a lot poor so we can tap into some of those blessings. :)  And as we give, let's also consider the idea of giving, and what it is teaching us... why God chooses to make the world better through our generosity to our fellow man.  And as we learn the lessons that God has to teach us in that area, let's spread them, and use our new blessings to bless others in a never-ending cycle that will eventually lead to Zion. :)

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