Monday, May 22, 2017

Ecclesiastes 3:1 -- On Times and Seasons

"To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven:"
Ecclesiastes 3:1

This verse reminds us how important it is to have a relationship with God and stay close to his spirit. Though they have many things in common, the answers to life aren't always exactly the same for everyone, and the best choice for one person might not be the best choice for someone else, except in a wider 'choose good rather than evil' sense (Alma 41:7).

We know that the scriptures tell us both to resist evil, and not to resist evil.  They tell us not to kill, and yet some people were killed at God's command.  We have commandments and scriptures to rely on, and obedience is always the best choice.  In the end though, we have to be listening to God, because he is the one that knows the timing.  Sometimes we just don't know what to do.  We have ideas, and God asks us to use our agency and make choices, and we move forward.  This is absolutely good, but it is important to be listening to the spirit because God might have some minor course corrections for us as we go, and if we're not listening we can get way off track on our own.

So, today, let's listen to know the times and the seasons.  Let's go forward, doing as God asks, and when we get to a rough patch where we're not sure, let's pray.  God always knows the right thing to do.  He can remind us about what is most important each day and each hour, and he gives the very best advice.  The more we listen, the better we will learn to hear it, and the more guidance and confidence we can have from God.

Sunday, May 21, 2017

D&C 88:118 -- On Learning by Faith

"And as all have not faith, seek ye diligently and teach one another words of wisdom; yea, seek ye out of the best books words of wisdom; seek learning, even by study and also by faith."
Doctrine and Covenants 88:118

The first part of this verse is interesting, and it seems to imply that if we all had enough faith, we might not need to study... we could learn everything through faith instead.  I have no idea if that is actually true, of course, since I am decidedly in the need-to-study group, but it's interesting to think about how our lives would change if we had more faith.

We learn a lot from faith already.  It's how we build our testimonies and gain confidence before God. We take the little faith we have--faith enough to pray, faith enough to go to church--and we act on it. And as we exercise our faith and do more and more, God shows us, through the spirit and through blessings, that our faith was well-founded.  Thus we receive a witness, after the trial of our faith (Ether 12:6).  If we had more faith we could probably learn much more--perhaps even how to walk on water as Peter did for a few steps, or how to make stones shine in darkness or move mountains as the Brother of Jared did with God's help.  Faith unlocks the door to seemingly unlimited potential.

None of this is to say of course that we should give up reading and studying.  In fact, reading the scriptures is another thing that we can do by faith.  If we have faith enough to read, then God blesses us with his spirit and his guidance.  The more we read and study, the more we are blessed.

Today, no matter how much faith we have, let's seek learning.  Let's read the best books and find words of wisdom, especially from the scriptures.  As we do, let's recognize that studying the scriptures is also learning by faith.  Let's have faith enough to go to church, pray, visit the temple, and do things that the Lord has asked us in other areas as well.  As we are faithful and obedient, we will learn through our faith in listening to the Lord and doing as he asks.  Who knows, maybe someday in the world to come, we won't even have to hit the books anymore because we will know everything that is in them by heart, through our faith.  For now, though, let's seek learning through study *and* faith.  We still have a lot to learn in both ways. :)

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Alma 37:37 -- On Counseling with the Lord

"Counsel with the Lord in all thy doings, and he will direct thee for good; yea, when thou liest down at night lie down unto the Lord, that he may watch over you in your sleep; and when thou risest in the morning let thy heart be full of thanks unto God; and if ye do these things, ye shall be lifted up at the last day."
Alma 37:37

I love this verse.  To me, it seems like a variation on the admonition to "pray always" (Luke 21:36, etc.), but in a somewhat more structured way.  God gives us some specifics, like lying down unto the Lord when we go to sleep, and rising unto the Lord when we wake up.  The in-between part I think is also assumed--that we should be living unto the Lord with every breath and step and moment of our lives.

That's hard for us sometimes, because we aren't used to that constant contact with God.  We structure our lives with more division and separation than that.  This is our time, and that is God's time.  However, as we grow in the gospel, those things have to start bleeding together a little, and eventually, we'll learn that we have God with us always, during our time and his, and that there really doesn't need to be difference between them except perhaps in terms of Sabbath observance. :)   Part of learning to give our wills to him is learning to include him in all that we do... and also learning that his solutions to our problems are so much better than ours are that it's actually kind of funny/scary to think of trying to live live alone.

Today, let's counsel with the Lord about whatever is going on with us.  It doesn't matter what it is, God *does* want to hear it.  He loves us, and he wants to be part of every moment of our lives.  Plus, he can help.  There isn't anyone in the universe better to bounce things off of.  He will direct us for good.  Let's go to sleep with him in our hearts and minds, and let's think of him as we awake.  Let's work with him to be good, and be thankful to be able to have God as our companion and guide through life.

Friday, May 19, 2017

D&C 115:6 -- On Gathering Against the Storm

"And that the gathering together upon the land of Zion, and upon her stakes, may be for a defense, and for a refuge from the storm, and from wrath when it shall be poured out without mixture upon the whole earth."
Doctrine and Covenants 115:6

Isaiah tells us that the Lord is a "refuge from the storm" (Isaiah 25:4), and Ammon tells us that missionary work helps gather people together (to God) so that they will "not be beaten down by the storm at the last day" (Alma 26:6).  This verse also warns us that a storm is coming.

I can't tell if the storm and the wrath are entirely separate, and how much is symbolic, so it could be a physical storm and then a symbolic storm of wrath, or it could all be spiritual, or it could be both... and in some ways, perhaps it has already started.  By any interpretation though, it's still a scary thought that there is or will be any kind of storm so big over the whole earth that we will need God to protect us from it.  That's a natural disaster on a whole different level.

As with all of the other scary things in life though, God warns us of the storm, and tells us how to weather it.  We need to gather together, to God, and build up Zion.  Not in a "join my church or you'll die" way, as a threat, but in more of a Noah's Ark type way.  A storm *is* coming, and God has made a way for us to be saved, if we will listen.  Or in just a life way.  A day of judgment and an afterlife is coming for all of us, and God wants to help us to be as happy as possible in that world to come.

God wants to gather us.  He says "how oft would I have gathered you as a hen gathereth her chickens, and ye would not" (3 Nephi 10:5; Matthew 23:7).  Today, let's stop refusing him.  Let's gather; let's allow the Lord to protect us by teaching us his gospel and a better way to live.  Let's become Zion people not just in geography or on membership rolls, but in the deepest spiritual way, through obedience to, and emulation of, Christ.  Then we will be truly gathered, and join in the work to gather others.

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Psalms 62:2 -- On God as our Rock

"He only is my rock and my salvation; he is my defence; I shall not be greatly moved."
Psalms 62:2

I love the idea here of not being moved.  God is our center, our core... our home.  And no one can pull us away from that place we belong.  We can choose to leave, of course, but just like God's hope is an anchor to our souls (Hebrews 6:19; Ether 12:4), God's solidity, strength, and stability in our lives will always be there when we need it, and if we hold to it with all that we are.

That isn't to say, of course, that we won't change if we stick with God.  If fact, we will change.  God wants us to reach our potential and to grow into more than we could ever hope to be, or probably even comprehend yet.  He isn't a rock that chains us in a prison, but one that shelters us and gives us confidence that we can weather any storm, and always find our way.

Today, let's trust in God's strength and solidity.  Let's have faith that with him, we can face whatever comes, and still be okay.  And with that confidence and companionship, let's be willing to go out into the world and try new things, and learn a lot, help and serve others, and strive to reach that potential.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

1 Corinthians 16:13-14 -- On Being Strong and Loving

"Watch ye, stand fast in the faith, quit you like men, be strong.
Let all your things be done with charity."
1 Corinthians 16:13-14

I like how these two verses talk about being firm, manly, and strong, and also loving.  We often (to everyone's detriment) assign different emotions and attributes to different genders, saying in essence, this is manly, and this is feminine, and kind of denying that women can be firm and strong and that's okay, and that men can be loving and compassionate, and that's okay too.

I'm not saying that we're exactly the same and there aren't some valuable differences between us.  I'm just saying that I think we overdo it when we criticize men for crying, or women for not backing down. These verses, and the entire life of Christ and so much else in the gospel shows us that that it's not our job to play a role or to embrace weakness.  We are all made to be whole--strong *and* compassionate, smart and sweet. :)  God tells us that we can make our weaknesses strengths.  That goes for everyone, not just the "weaker" sex. ;)  Just like we shouldn't be saying "oh, I'm bad at that" with basic knowledge or talents, we shouldn't be "bad at" emotions or relationships or hard work or creativity or parenting or leadership.  We can do anything--we're children of God.

Today, let's rely on God's idea of who we are and who we can be rather than the world's.  Let's follow the example of Christ.  Let's learn faith and hope and love, and strength and leadership and brilliance. Let's reach for a potential that is beyond our imagination, letting go of Earthly limitations, and only restricted by the boundaries the Lord has set (for example, being good guys and not bad guys).  Let's not mock men, or women, for showing their emotions.  Let's not judge people based on societal gender expectations, which can get pretty scary sometimes.  Let's treat each other, no matter who, with love and respect and compassion.  And the more we practice, the closer we will be to being able to be a Zion community.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Proverbs 17:9-10 -- On Friendship and Influence

"He that covereth a transgression seeketh love; but he that repeateth a matter separateth very friends.
A reproof entereth more into a wise man than an hundred stripes into a fool."
Proverbs 17:9-10

I saw one of those memes the other day about how good friends help you hide bodies and, you know, usually I just laugh, but this time for some reason I was struck by how wrong that is. :)  I think we get off track sometimes because we have this societal ideal of friendship, and even romantic love, as perfect, unquestioning loyalty... and it isn't, and *shouldn't* be.  These verses reminded me of that idea in general--how important it is to lift and help each other, and not encourage or protect each other in evil.  We *are* our brothers' keepers. We *need* help to do good and stay on the right track, instead of help getting to hell.  Seriously, no one needs help doing that--it's as easy as falling down, although it hurts more.

As the verse says, we often cover our own transgressions and other people's because we seek love. We don't want people to hate or mock us.  We don't want to be seen as bad or for people to yell at us. And there are some times that it is okay, and probably even better, to just let something go, and save everyone stress and embarrassment.  Of course, if the transgressions are repeated, then we have to address it, and perhaps remove the evil influence, which can be painful.  And of course, if there something really serious going on, such as there being a body involved, a truly good friend helps you do the right thing, not the "loyal" thing.  Hopefully, as we endeavor to be good friends to each other, we can help each other avoid extreme transgression before it happens.

I like the last verse here because I think it shows how we can make a difference.  If we really care about someone's opinion, then what they say can change our lives.  Sometimes God speaks to us through each other, and the spirit delivers a seemingly off-the-cuff, innocuous comment from someone else to us as lightning to the soul.  To be those people though, we have to listen to the spirit and be the "Iron sharpeneth iron" (Proverbs 27:17) type of friends, not the help-bury-bodies sort of friends.  We have to listen to the spirit and say what God wants us to say, not just what will make us more popular and loved, and never using friendship as an excuse for cruelty either.  We don't need to beat people up to help them to be better.  Gentle reproof is better than 100 stripes--physical or otherwise.  Today, let's be wise.  Let's help each other to be better people and to listen to God.  Let's be aware of our influence in other people's lives and try to set a better example.  Let's be Godly friends, and not pressure each other into supporting our sin.

Monday, May 15, 2017

D&C 88:28-32 -- On Being Willing to Receive Heaven

"They who are of a celestial spirit shall receive the same body which was a natural body; even ye shall receive your bodies, and your glory shall be that glory by which your bodies are quickened.
Ye who are quickened by a portion of the celestial glory shall then receive of the same, even a fulness.
And they who are quickened by a portion of the terrestrial glory shall then receive of the same, even a fulness.
And also they who are quickened by a portion of the telestial glory shall then receive of the same, even a fulness.
And they who remain shall also be quickened; nevertheless, they shall return again to their own place, to enjoy that which they are willing to receive, because they were not willing to enjoy that which they might have received."
Doctrine and Covenants 88:28-32

This is talking about the resurrection, and I find it fascinating that it is all about willingness, and that apparently, before the resurrection, we are quickened by a portion of that spirit.  So, it seems to be that it isn't about a checklist of being good or an average of our good works against our bad works or any of the other ways that we are graded in this life.  It is about who we are willing to be.

I definitely am not trying to depress anyone here.  I have times where I wonder if I really want what God wants, because his will seems hard, and I am sorta lazy.  I think that this can happen to all of us.  We can examine our feelings and our hearts and realize, you know... I just don't want to do that.  Home teaching, visiting teaching, missionary work, genealogy, tithing, our callings, going to church, or even at the most basic level--resisting temptation or being nice.  Love instead of hate--whatever it is, we don't always feel it.  I don't think that means we are lost though.  I think it just means we have more to learn.

When we were young, we didn't always want to learn things.  Tying your shoes is hard, and learning to read, memorizing the times tables, and doing the dishes and the laundry.  Some things are pretty awful: playing the piano, being reverent and polite, showing respect, learning to ride/drive a bike, a car, or a unicycle, and worst of all... being *responsible.*  Ugh, right?  And yet, we didn't only learn things we liked.  Often, we learned things that we didn't want to learn, and sometimes we learned to enjoy things that we started out hating.

It's the same now.  We aren't going to insta-hell because we don't want to go to church today.  Instead, we look at the big picture, we go anyway, we realize that we like it when we go, or we feel the spirit, and it is a good idea anyway.  We learn to think through our whininess, and learn how to like the things that we don't like--how to love what God loves.  Some say it is impossible, but I know from personal experience that it is not.  We get to be whatever we choose to be.  No external force can dictate that (except God probably, but he *would* never do that).

That's how God can make our weaknesses into strengths.  That is how God can change our hearts... because we *want* to be different than we are, and we ask for it, and he helps us change who we are.  It reminds me of the question that Lamoni's father, the kind of the Lamanites asked: "What shall I do that I may be born of God, having this wicked spirit rooted out of my breast, and receive his Spirit, that I may be filled with joy, that I may not be cast off at the last day?" (Alma 22:15).  The answer then was, and the answer now is, repent and ask God, and he will grant us hope and help.

Today, let's be willing to receive all that God has to give us, and let's work on the attitude part as well.  We're little kids, and we don't always want to grow up, but as we do, we are capable of so much more, and we increase our capacity for love and joy.  Let's get to the point where we can have a portion of Heaven within us.  Let's ask for God's help with growing into who we can be rather than fighting so hard to remain as we are.

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Proverbs 23:4 -- On Monetary Motives and God's Guidance

"Labour not to be rich: cease from thine own wisdom."
Proverbs 23:4

It's interesting that God asks us not to work at being rich--not because it sounds like something God wouldn't say, because it is clearly something he would and did say, in different ways, quite a lot, but because I feel like we rarely want to hear it.  We want to labor for riches--in fact, we often try to make that the point of our lives, and see value in it.  We justify it in a lot of ways, including very good things like taking care of our families, helping others, and making the world a better place.

The perfect complement to a command not to be rich is the command to cease from our own wisdom... because it is our wisdom that keeps telling us that we need money, that money needs to come first--that money will solve all of these other problems that we have.

If we can't trust in our wisdom, and we shouldn't seek riches, then what *should* we trust, and what *should* we seek instead?  God answers that in the next verse by asking "Wilt thou set thine eyes upon that which is not?" (verse 5), and by telling us elsewhere in the scriptures not to trust in the arm of flesh (2 Chronicles 32:8, etc.).  We can't trust in riches, and we can't even trust in ourselves.  What we *can* trust, when nothing else stands, is God.   He advises "seek ye first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things shall be added unto you (3 Nephi 13:33).  Instead of putting money first, and working for it, if we put God first, then things will be okay, and work out as they should.  ... We just have to trust in that--in God--rather than in our own doubts, fears, and also a little greed as no matter what we have, we keep thinking that we need more and more.

Today, let's try to let go of money as a primary goal.  Let's work on trusting God more than we trust ourselves.  Let's work on that faith and trust in God that will help us see farther and accomplish more than we could on our own.  Let's believe and move forward, knowing that God will guide our steps.

Saturday, May 13, 2017

D&C 130:19 -- On Rules and Knowledge

"And if a person gains more knowledge and intelligence in this life through his diligence and obedience than another, he will have so much the advantage in the world to come."
Doctrine and Covenants 130:19

What I find interesting about this verse today is the idea that obedience helps us gain knowledge and intelligence.  We rebel so often against "the rules," and yet the rules--or at least God's rules--are exactly what enable us to succeed.

I think of it a little like a game, although of course life is much more than that.  In a game, the rules are what define the whole activity.  Without rules, you can't win, and you can't even play, because without some kind of rules there is no game.

Life is much more serious than a game, as I said, but just like we can compare life to a story with a guaranteed happy ending, we can compare life to a game that we absolutely empowered to succeed at. Our father teaches us the rules, and he's even there with an unlimited supply of hints about strategy. The problem is that we misinterpret and misunderstand the rules so often, and we keep using the wrong strategy.  We try competing and undermining our opponents, but the victory conditions can't be met without working together to reach the final goal.  Our diligence and obedience in understanding the rules and following them can give us an advantage even beyond the game, because we'll have learned planning and strategy and cooperation and support.  All things we need in the real world.

And so it is with life, right?  The better we learn the gospel and the rules of this life, the better we will do, and the better the people around us will do with our help.  The more we are diligent and obedient in loving God, helping our fellow beings, and understanding and living the gospel, the more we will succeed together and be prepared for the world to come.  Today, let's work on our diligence and obedience.  Let's follow the rules and gain some knowledge and intelligence--and whatever we gain, let's go back again and apply those things in God's way, not our own, by loving and serving and becoming better, and making the world better in the process.

Friday, May 12, 2017

1 Samuel 17:45-47 -- On Facing our Goliaths with Faith

"Then said David to the Philistine, Thou comest to me with a sword, and with a spear, and with a shield: but I come to thee in the name of the Lord of hosts, the God of the armies of Israel, whom thou hast defied.
This day will the Lord deliver thee into mine hand; and I will smite thee, and take thine head from thee; and I will give the carcases of the host of the Philistines this day unto the fowls of the air, and to the wild beasts of the earth; that all the earth may know that there is a God in Israel.
And all this assembly shall know that the Lord saveth not with sword and spear: for the battle is the Lord’s, and he will give you into our hands."
1 Samuel 17:45-47

I like David's unwavering faith here.  He was just full steam ahead with what God wanted, and no one was going to get in the way of that.  I wonder how often in life we let our symbolic Goliaths stop us, which wouldn't be obstacles at all if we just had the faith to face them.

As David said, "there is a God" who stands up for his people.  Let's *be* those people and stand up for God's will.  Let's work up our courage and face down the Goliaths that are standing in the way of what God wants.  Let's be confident, remembering that we don't have to be mightier or stronger, because God "saveth not with sword and spear."  If we're doing God's will, the battles will be delivered into our hands.  We just have to be willing to stand up for Him.

I think sometimes the Goliaths that we face are within ourselves, but even so, we can conquer them with God's help, and be stronger and more whole once we have.  Let's go forward in faith, today and always.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Hebrews 4:14-16 -- On An Accessible God

"Seeing then that we have a great high priest, that is passed into the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our profession.
For we have not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin.
Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need."
Hebrews 4:14-16

The idea of God is way bigger than we can really comprehend.  The creator of the Universe--of everything.  I mean, that's huge, right?  And sometimes we feel that vastness of difference between ourselves and God and it seems like distance, and an incomprehensibly large barrier to understanding and communication.  I think in this, as in so many other things, Jesus is the perfect intercessor and mediator.  He went through everything that we go through.  He literally suffered our pains and our sins, so he has felt everything that we can possibly feel.  He completely understands us, and knows where we are coming from.  He has compassion for us, and wants to grant us mercy.  And that lessens that emotional and psychological distance a lot, and helps us to understand that even though God is beyond our comprehension in so many ways, he is still accessible to us through the things that we both understand and can collaborate on... our lives.

It still takes work on our parts to reach out to God and to allow him into our lives.  We still have to learn to be better people, but Christ bridges the distance not only between ourselves and God but between life and death, condemnation and forgiveness, and justice and mercy.  He makes salvation not only possible in a general, abstract sense, but he ensures that it is within the grasp of every individual.  He prepared the way.

Today, let's remember that God does feel for us, and understand what we are going through.  He knows we can do it, and he has made it all possible for each of us to succeed.  Let's determine to follow the example that Christ set for us of obedience, devotion, and good works.  Let's turn to him for help and comfort in our quest to change not only our actions but our hearts and our minds--to want what God wants, and to live as he lived as we strive to become Zion people.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Proverbs 21:23 -- On Keeping Our Souls from Trouble

"Whoso keepeth his mouth and his tongue keepeth his soul from troubles."
Proverbs 21:23

Sometimes a simple verse is enough.  No complex brain work today. :)  I like this one because it helps us to zoom in on a very narrowly focused, achievable goal: to watch what we say.  It is similar to Matthew 6:22, which talks about eyes instead, but has the same theme of focusing on God.

Now of course by "achievable" I don't mean easy.  I think back just on today and there are quite a few things I should not have said, and probably several that I could have and should have, but didn't.  But that's why we're here... to keep trying until we figure it out. :)

Today, let's keep trying.  Let's not get overwhelmed with all of our weaknesses, but instead focus on something like this--something specific we can work on.  And if we can do this small thing, then we are each protecting our "soul from troubles," which sounds really, really good, and seems like a pretty awesome reward for such a little effort.  God is cool like that.

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

2 Corinthians 10:18 -- On Being Toddlers Before God

"For not he that commendeth himself is approved, but whom the Lord commendeth."
2 Corinthians 10:18

Our pride gets us in a lot of trouble sometimes.  We rebel againt God's rules or go our own way, trying to assert our independece or fulfil a desire--telling ourselves that we don't need approval or anything else from God, but it just ends in selfishness and desensitization to the Spirit--instead of improving ourselves we work to become past feeling so that our consciences are silent as we harm ourselves and others.  Things stop bothering us, and we somehow see that as a good thing--that we've overcome our embarassment or our cultural bias instead of actually deadening ourselves to God's voice.

I imagine if we were meek enough, we would realize that we are actually barely toddlers before God.  Our rebellions and course deviations are little more than throwing our food on the ground or playing in a mud puddle.  We delay blessings and other good things that could come into our lives, and we make ourselves decidedly filthy, but it all just comes back to the fact that we *do not* know what is best for us, and until we start listening, we'll never get anywhere.

Do we want to hear this?  No... of course not.  We want to be right, to know best, and to shout "I AM BIG" to the sky.  But truthfully, we need our Father's help to make it through this stage in our lives.  We need guidane, support, and a lot of hints about where to go and what to do.  

Today, maybe we can take a step back and allow ourselves to acknowledge that God might be smarter than we are, and seek his help and his commendation rather than just our own.

Monday, May 8, 2017

Helaman 6:35-36 -- On Turning Good

"And thus we see that the Spirit of the Lord began to withdraw from the Nephites, because of the wickedness and the hardness of their hearts.And thus we see that the Lord began to pour out his Spirit upon the Lamanites, because of their easiness and willingness to believe in his words."
Helaman 6:35-36

This is an interesting juxtaposition at this point in the Book of Mormon.  Traditionally, throughout the book, the Nephites have been the good guys and the Lamanites have been the bad guys.  And yet, here, they kind of switch places with the Nephites turning bad and the Lamanites turning good.

This can teach us several things, I think.  First, it is never too late for the bad guys. Sometimes that's what we choose to be, but if the Lamanites could change, so can we.  God chooses whoever is willing to come unto him, and he will help us change our hearts and our hats so we can still ride off into the sunset as all good guys should. :)

Another thing we learn here is that we should never grow complacent, assuming we're the good guys.  If we stop working at it, we're going to lose it.  We don't get free tickets to heaven because of our parents or our religion or because we did something good in the past.  We have to always be on guard and make sure our hats and our hearts are pure. :)

What truly matters, much more than the color of our hats or our positions in the world, or even what we have done in the past, is who we are right now, and our relationship with God.  Today, let's move toward the good.  Let's become the good guys, no matter who else we might have been.

Sunday, May 7, 2017

D&C 59:4 -- On Commandments as a Reward and Blessing

"And they shall also be crowned with blessings from above, yea, and with commandments not a few, and with revelations in their time—they that are faithful and diligent before me."
Doctrine and Covenants 59:4

This is talking about the faithful, and it says that they will get blessings, commandments, and revelations.  One of those is not like the others, or so it seems initially, right?  We don't usually look at commandments as rewards, but as restrictions.

I really love this idea that commandments are rewards and blessings for being faithful.  The section then proceeds to lay out (or bless us with) some commandments, and makes it clear that these are to help us keep "unspotted from the world" (verse 9).  This shows the purpose behind the commandments as well, that God is offering them to us based on love and concern rather than control.

Today, let's remember that commandments are blessings to our lives, designed to help us to be happier than we could ever learn to be without them.  Let's honor and thank our Father for making rules to live by that help us guide our lives and lead us to peace and safety.

Saturday, May 6, 2017

D&C 29:1-3 -- On the Arm of Mercy

"Listen to the voice of Jesus Christ, your Redeemer, the Great I Am, whose arm of mercy hath atoned for your sins;
Who will gather his people even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, even as many as will hearken to my voice and humble themselves before me, and call upon me in mighty prayer.
Behold, verily, verily, I say unto you, that at this time your sins are forgiven you, therefore ye receive these things; but remember to sin no more, lest perils shall come upon you."
Doctrine and Covenants 29:1-3

I like the arm of mercy idea here.  First God asks us to listen to him, and he gives us a good reason why... he atoned for our sins.  He mentions how he wants to gather and protect us, if we will just listen, be humble, and pray.  (I think prayer and humility go together in some measure, since on some level we have to admit that we need God in order to pray to him.)

I really love the part where he forgives sins... and I think, just like we can liken other scriptures to us, we can liken this one, because God is always willing to forgive us, if we are willing to repent and change.

God reminds us also to remember to sin no more.  An important reminder, since it is so easy for us to fall into that trap again and again.

Today, let's remember that choosing God is a choice that changes us.  Let's embrace that change and repent, and be willing to rely on the arm of mercy and be gathered to God.  As we are forgiven, let's remember what the Lord has done for us, and be willing to give up sin to know and grow closer to him.

Friday, May 5, 2017

Isaiah 38:1-5 -- On Tears and Prayers and Perfect Hearts

"In those days was Hezekiah sick unto death. And Isaiah the prophet the son of Amoz came unto him, and said unto him, Thus saith the Lord, Set thine house in order: for thou shalt die, and not live.
Then Hezekiah turned his face toward the wall, and prayed unto the Lord,
And said, Remember now, O Lord, I beseech thee, how I have walked before thee in truth and with a perfect heart, and have done that which is good in thy sight. And Hezekiah wept sore.
Then came the word of the Lord to Isaiah, saying,
Go, and say to Hezekiah, Thus saith the Lord, the God of David thy father, I have heard thy prayer, I have seen thy tears: behold, I will add unto thy days fifteen years."
Isaiah 38:1-5

I really like this story, because it is an awesome reminder that God both loves us and listens to our prayers.  God warned Hezekiah to set his house in order because he was going to die, and you can tell they already had a good relationship just from that warning.  But then Hezekiah prays and pleads with the Lord, and the Lord hears him and agrees to extend his life. :)  I love that.

God doesn't laugh at us when we're sad or frightened; he cares, and he wants to help us.  I don't think that means he'll give us all 15 extra years to live, but if we're doing good and living the gospel, he will answer our prayers and help us.  In D&C 6:36, God tells us "Look unto me in every thought; doubt not, fear not."  He wants us to pray to him about everything.  It's not offensive to God to ask him to help us with little things: he's our best friend.  Of course there has to be a balance where we are also learning to take action and not waiting for God to do everything for us, or to tell us everything to do.  We have to learn to stand on our own--part of the whole earthly experience.

I've actually always wondered if Earth life is kind of like a spiritual coming-of-age ritual, like going off to college or going on a mission, or maybe joining the military... something where we really find out for the first time who we are away from that core support system and authority that we've had all our lives.  Coming to earth is like that in a lot of ways because we are away from God for the first time, but (as in college), we're encouraged to call home and stay in contact--to get advice, but not to ask our parents to live all of it for us. :)

Today, let's be like Hezekiah, not in being sick and about to die, but in our relationships with God.  Let's work on walking before God in truth and with perfect hearts.  Let's look to him in every thought--letting go of our doubts and fears.  Let's go to God and plead with him for the things that we need in our lives--and as we do, he will hear us, and work with us, because he loves us, and cares about us.

Thursday, May 4, 2017

D&C 122:7 -- On Surviving the Jaws of Hell

"And if thou shouldst be cast into the pit, or into the hands of murderers, and the sentence of death passed upon thee; if thou be cast into the deep; if the billowing surge conspire against thee; if fierce winds become thine enemy; if the heavens gather blackness, and all the elements combine to hedge up the way; and above all, if the very jaws of hell shall gape open the mouth wide after thee, know thou, my son, that all these things shall give thee experience, and shall be for thy good."
Doctrine and Covenants 122:7

This verse is part of a revelation given to Joseph Smith while he was in Liberty Jail.  It's full of darkness and hope at the same time, and it reminds me of several verses that all say that "all things" shall work together for our good (Romans 8:28; D&C 90:24, 98:3, 100:15, 105:40).  D&C 98:3 says specifically "all things wherewith you have been afflicted shall work together for your good."  I love the idea of everything that happens to us, even the bad stuff, working for our good... and I think that is totally true, and a fundamental part of life experience as designed by God.  It is all there to teach us and help us to reach our potential--to become closer to God, and more of the people that we want to be, and less of who we don't want to be.  However, of course, that isn't always an easy thing to remember when we are staring into "the very jaws of hell."

Actually, just the idea that Hell *has* jaws is kind of unnerving, right?  It's obviously symbolic, but it's still scary.  But maybe that's good, right?  *Life* is scary.  This conversation between God and Joseph Smith wasn't about the afterlife.  It was about things that Joseph was living through.  And I think we all go through things that we might call Hell: things that don't feel like they are helping us at all--things that feel like they are breaking us instead.  Those are not fun times.  And yet, even those things are for our good, and part of God's plan of happiness.

How can we possibly find happiness or retain a positive perspective if we can hear Hell creeping up behind us?  One thing that helps me is this scripture and others like it that remind us that there is meaning and purpose behind all of it... that God didn't just toss us here to handle things alone, but he, and "all things" are going to work with us and help us to make it through.  I really like that "all" ... I imagine the rocks and the trees and the air, all on my side, and it kind of helps. :)

Today, let's remember that "all these things" not only give us experience, but they are also working together (with God) for our good.  It's okay to be scared when the rancid breath of Hell is in our face, but let's trust in God, and know that we are going to come out okay in the end.  We just have to hang in there and keep working at it and turning pages and not give up, and eventually the hero will win... and we're all the heroes. :)  That's why everything works for our good, right? :)  Things get better.  God will make it okay... and we'll become stronger and better than we ever imagined was possible. :)

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Ether 12:4 -- On Hope as an Anchor to the Soul

"Wherefore, whoso believeth in God might with surety hope for a better world, yea, even a place at the right hand of God, which hope cometh of faith, maketh an anchor to the souls of men, which would make them sure and steadfast, always abounding in good works, being led to glorify God."
Ether 12:4

I love the idea of hope as an anchor.  I suppose the symbolism of an anchor could be seen as dragging us down and restraining our freedom, but anchors are useful to help ships and other vessels stay where they mean to be, and prevent drifting.  And this anchor of hope we know from Hebrews 6:19-20, "entereth into that within the veil."  Our anchors of hope aren't just any hope, but specifically hope in Christ.

I love the "with surety hope for a better world" part.  It's getting pretty close to knowledge when you can be sure of your hope.  I think that is where the faith comes in.  That certain trust and commitment to a very tangible dream: A better world.  And if we hold onto this hope, then we will become sure, and steadfast, always abounding in good works, and being led to glorify God.  ... I totally want to be that person, don't you? :)

You know, sometimes we *desperately* need an anchor.  We have days when all of our mistakes and sins and stupidities are brought to mind, and we remember just how far we are from any eternal goals, and it is tempting to despair.  It's hard to see the hope when we are looking at ourselves through a dark filter of regret, and wondering how we can ever be better when we really haven't been very good at it so far.  And yet, that is why we don't anchor to ourselves, or to Satan, who loves to discourage us.  We anchor instead to our hope in God, who loves us despite all our efforts to mess up our own and others' lives.  Who sees beauty and possibility in us, and who knows how great we can be, and is willing to help us do the work to get us there.  There is no better anchor for a soul.

Today, let's anchor our souls in Christ.  Let's believe in God, and hope for a better world.  And then, let's jump in there and start doing the work to help make ourselves, and others, part of that very real dream. :)

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Alma 5:14-16 -- On Question Marks, Changing Hearts, and the Voice of God

"And now behold, I ask of you, my brethren of the church, have ye spiritually been born of God? Have ye received his image in your countenances? Have ye experienced this mighty change in your hearts?
Do ye exercise faith in the redemption of him who created you? Do you look forward with an eye of faith, and view this mortal body raised in immortality, and this corruption raised in incorruption, to stand before God to be judged according to the deeds which have been done in the mortal body?
I say unto you, can you imagine to yourselves that ye hear the voice of the Lord, saying unto you, in that day: Come unto me ye blessed, for behold, your works have been the works of righteousness upon the face of the earth?"
Alma 5:14-16

In college I picked up a ring that had a question mark on the front and "Alma 5:14" inscribed inside it.  To me, it was a cool reminder of this first verse, and a perhaps more-cool companion to my CTR ring.  Ever since then, I think, question marks have always made me think of Alma 5--the questions that Alma asks here, and also the one that he asks later, in verse 26: "Can ye feel so now?"

These are excellent questions.  And we have to answer some of them no at times.  We might not be there yet, or we're not there right now.  But this reminds us what is possible with the Lord.  He can change our hearts, not just our actions.  He can redeem us, un-corrupt us, and make us clean. :)  We can be *like* him, symbolically receiving his image in our countenances... the same goals, the same love, the same happiness and purpose.

Today, let's ask ourselves these questions.  Let's imagine hearing God say to us "Come unto me ye blessed."  ... Wow, right?  Let's be those people that will hear that phrase from God.  If we haven't had our hearts changed, let's engage with God, and work it out with him.  Let's humble ourselves and recognize that we need it.  And if we have experienced it, let's remind ourselves, over and over, that we need to feel so now: today and always.

Monday, May 1, 2017

Psalms 111:4 -- On Blame and Blessings

"He hath made his wonderful works to be remembered: the Lord is gracious and full of compassion."
Psalms 111:4

It's so easy for us to start thinking of God as an oppressor or a punisher.  I think it is because we want so much to deflect the responsibility for our mistakes and bad choices, or just our circumstances, onto something external.  We do it with a lot of things, not just God.  We blame our families, or society, or the country, or the people who must be evil because they don't agree with us, or people in authority, or people who aren't as cool as we are, or whatever... race, religion, politics, gender, attractiveness, our bosses, etc.  If it weren't for this or that or the other thing, life would be GREAT. :)  And, of course, because we can't control those other things, it totally isn't our fault, but people who *can* control them... must be their fault that life is crappy.  And God is at the top of that blamestorm... no one beyond that, really.

Since it is so easy to fall into that mindset and wonder why God isn't solving all of our problems in addition to having someone drop a winning lottery ticket for us to pick up, I think that is one of the reasons that God gave us the scriptures and that group memory of his wonderful works.  He reminds us that life isn't perfect... that people do suffer.  He reminds us that no one is perfect except Christ, and even he, the greatest of all, didn't always *want* to drink his bitter cup.  We realize that families have failings, that some people are not really the type of people you should hang out with.

God also reminds us of the awesome things.  Healing, and strengthening, and saving.  He tells us that we aren't perfect, but also that it is okay not to be perfect all at once--that is exactly why he suffered for us, so that we can still make it, if we repent, and that he will help us all the way.  He pulls us back from the brink of other-blame, reminds us that we've made our own mistakes, and that they have consequences, but that he can help us bear the burden and show us the way to happiness.

Today, let's work on not blaming God (or anyone else) for our lives, and remember that God can help us be happy even in the midst of trials and challenges.  Realizing that we aren't perfect is the first step to learning how to be better, and God can and will assist us in making our weaknesses strengths, as we go to him in prayer.  Let's remember that the Lord is full of grace and compassion, and that it is okay to be imperfect.  We just have to keep working on it, and the Lord will bless us.

Sunday, April 30, 2017

D&C 10:4-5 -- On Diligence without Self-Destruction

"Do not run faster or labor more than you have strength and means provided to enable you to translate; but be diligent unto the end.
Pray always, that you may come off conqueror; yea, that you may conquer Satan, and that you may escape the hands of the servants of Satan that do uphold his work."
Doctrine and Covenants 10:4-5

This is part of a conversation that God had with Joseph Smith in the aftermath of the loss of the 116 manuscript pages that Joseph Smith had translated.  God restores Joseph's gift to translate, explains why he can't retranslate what was lost, and they move on.

These verses right after his gift was restored stood out to me because I like the idea that God is telling Joseph not to wear himself out--which he likely was more than willing to do after this tragedy.  And I think that this is something that the Lord wants us to know as well.

I'm definitely not saying that God wants us to kick back and relax and blow off our responsibilities, because he does not.  And often in our lives we need to be spurred on to do *more* and not less.  However, there are times, especially when we are trying to make up for a mistake as Joseph was, when we try to do too much.  God gives us advice here about finding the balance.  We need to be diligent, which means we need to be working hard and moving forward, but we shouldn't harm our bodies or reach beyond our means--going into debt financially *or* emotionally or spiritually or otherwise--as we are working.  Bringing ourselves to the point of a breakdown or exhausting ourselves or breaking our bodies are not things that God asks of us.  He wants us to be happy and willing disciples, able to do many things on our own initiative and be creative in accomplishing his goals and building his kingdom, not broken down robot slaves, single-mindedly pursuing our prime directive until our gears rust out and we can no longer function.

The other thing I really like about this is that the Lord asks Joseph to pray.  Joseph is a prophet.  He already knows he needs to get instructions from God, and to listen to him, but this suggestion isn't about that.  God tells him to pray not so that Joseph will do what he wants, but so that God can help sustain Joseph.  Prayer can protect us, and help us, and recharge our batteries.  Prayer is *for* us, to help us feel our Father's love, and to help bolster our spirits, making us less susceptible to the intrigues and deceptions around us.

Today, let's be diligent but not detrimental to ourselves.  Endure to the end doesn't mean burn  yourself out as quickly as possible.  God wants us sane and happy.  Let's start learning this lesson, and make sure that retaining that functionality, happiness, and sanity is part of our plan.  Let's go to God in prayer when it isn't working, both to get support and help to recharge our spiritual batteries when we are low, and extra strength when needed in an emergency, but also to get his advice on knowing when to say no, and what limits we need to place on our efforts so that we can make good decisions for ourselves, help the people around us without removing their responsibility, and endure to the end happily. :)

Saturday, April 29, 2017

2 Corinthians 8:1-3 -- On Grace and Giving

"Moreover, brethren, we do you to wit of the grace of God bestowed on the churches of Macedonia;
How that in a great trial of affliction the abundance of their joy and their deep poverty abounded unto the riches of their liberality.
For to their power, I bear record, yea, and beyond their power they were willing of themselves;"
2 Corinthians 8:1-3

I like this idea of being liberal and generous in the midst of great trials and deep poverty.  It says that they had the grace of God, an abundance of joy, and that they were willing to do everything in their power, and *beyond* their power.  That is amazing... and seems pretty far from what we usually think and feel when we are in the midst of trials and deep poverty.

I was super poor in college, and I remember one time when a friend and I went out to eat... something I almost never did, because I could not afford it (I ate popcorn most of the time because it was cheap and plentiful).  We went to Olive Garden.  Their unlimited salad and breadsticks was a feast, but it was super expensive... I think like 7 bucks (and believe me, at the time, that was a fortune).  The waitress was also a big jerk to us, perhaps with some justification... we were, after all, cheap college students and we sat there a long time, trying to get our money's worth with the all you can eat. :)  So, when we left, I paid the bill, but I wasn't going to leave much of a tip--first of all, I had just spent almost all the money I had in the world, and second of all, I didn't think she deserved it--and I remember my friend, who was also a poor college student (we worked part time at the same place, so I know she wasn't raking in the dough), pulled out her wallet and left all her money for the girl, which was about seven bucks (which is how I remember the price of the meal, because I remember the tip was the same amount).  I stared at it, and I remember her saying that she used to be a waitress and she knew how hard it was, and that besides, maybe it would make her treat college students better next time.  That made an impact on me, which is probably why I still remember it.  Instead of hoarding her resources as I was, she was willing to share them, even with someone that had treated her badly.

I'm also reminded of the story of the Widow's Mite (Mark 12:41-44) where rich men were giving a lot of money to the Temple, but a poor widow came and cast in everything that she had.  In *her* affliction and deep poverty, she (like the Macedonians) was willing to be liberal within her power, and truly beyond her power--after giving all that you have, only faith ensures that you aren't going home to starve.

Today, perhaps we can learn from the Macedonians, and my college friend, and the poor widow that gave everything she had.  Let's pray to God for his grace, so that we can learn to have not only an abundance of joy in the midst of our afflictions and/or poverty, but so that we can learn that kind of selfless generosity of spirit--to be willing to give of ourselves and our resources as much as is in our power, and beyond.  That is doing God's will, loving our neighbors, and building the kingdom of God, not to mention leaving the world a better place than the way we found it.

Friday, April 28, 2017

Psalms 94:16-19 -- On Soul Silence and the Love of God

"Who will rise up for me against the evildoers? or who will stand up for me against the workers of iniquity?
Unless the Lord had been my help, my soul had almost dwelt in silence.
When I said, My foot slippeth; thy mercy, O Lord, held me up.
In the multitude of my thoughts within me thy comforts delight my soul."
Psalms 94:16-19

I really like these verse because I think that the show something of the depth that we can have in our relationship with God.  In the Book of Mormon Lehi has a dream of a tree "whose fruit was desirable to make one happy."  This was a symbolic representation of the love of God.  Sometimes we don't really get that idea because our experience with love in this life is so different than the love that God offers us.  Despite our best efforts, we're actually really bad at love.  Our attempts get better with practice, but often our love is conditional, biased, selfish, manipulative, stingy, transactional, competitive, or confused for something else entirely.  And because we don't know how to love very well, we learn to expect the same kind of love from others, careful to not give too much, or overreach lest we be hurt or ridiculed or seen as needy, or other endless piles of fears and mockeries.

Part of us cries out for something better, and that emptiness can *only* be filled by God, even though of course in our stubbornness we attempt to fill the hole with various other, often scary, things.  The truth is, no one else, family, friend, significant other, celebrity, hero, or other fill-in-the-blank loves of our lives can take God's place or love us as he does.

If we let God into our lives, He is the one that will rise up against the evildoers for us.  He will stand up for us against the workers of iniquity.  He is the "kindred spirit" that we yearn for, and prevents our souls from dwelling in silence, because we always have God there to remind us that we are not alone.  God catches us when we are slipping.  He speaks to us mind to mind and comforts us.  He will never force us to have a relationship with him, but if we invite him in he will be the family, hero, and friend that our souls have been looking for.

Today, let's not let our souls dwell in silence.  Let's accept the Lord's help, and come out of the darkness of our soul's isolation and emptiness, and be filled with his love, which indeed *is* desirable to make us happy. :)

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.

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