Saturday, June 24, 2017

Acts 18:24-26 -- On Talent and Humility

"And a certain Jew named Apollos, born at Alexandria, an eloquent man, and mighty in the scriptures, came to Ephesus.
This man was instructed in the way of the Lord; and being fervent in the spirit, he spake and taught diligently the things of the Lord, knowing only the baptism of John.
And he began to speak boldly in the synagogue: whom when Aquila and Priscilla had heard, they took him unto them, and expounded unto him the way of God more perfectly."
Acts 18:24-26

The man they are talking about here had part of the truth of the gospel, and they helped him to learn more of it, and he became a powerful missionary.  I love the way he is described here.  Eloquent is good, but "mighty in the scriptures" is amazing.

Sometimes we look at others who have talents like this and we think, wow.  I wish I was blessed with such a gift. :)  However, just like Nephi was able to inquire of the Lord to see what his father saw, we can seek gifts from God that will help us to be strong in the gospel.  Nephi sought revelation and understanding, and was granted both.  Being eloquent and mighty in the scriptures are things that we can seek as well.  It takes effort, of course, but we can all have those things in our lives if we seek them from God.

It's important to remember too, that even if we have cool talents like eloquence and extensive scriptural knowledge, we still have a lot to learn.  I love that this man, as talented as he already was, was still willing to listen and to be corrected.  He could have so easily allowed pride to get in his way, but instead he listened, and he learned, and he continued his good work in a better direction and with a better knowledge.  Nothing is so perfect that we can't learn it a little "more perfectly." :)

Today, let's seek the gifts that God offers us, and let's also work on our humility.  No matter how cool we are, we still have things to learn, and it is really difficult to learn them if we think that we're already ideal. :)  If we can't think of anything we need to change, then let's ask God.  It probably won't be a fun revelation, but I guarantee that God will help us to know something we need to work on if we ask. :)

Friday, June 23, 2017

1 Nephi 19:24 -- On Seeing Ourselves in the Scriptures

"Wherefore I spake unto them, saying: Hear ye the words of the prophet, ye who are a remnant of the house of Israel, a branch who have been broken off; hear ye the words of the prophet, which were written unto all the house of Israel, and liken them unto yourselves, that ye may have hope as well as your brethren from whom ye have been broken off; for after this manner has the prophet written."
1 Nephi 19:24

I like the idea here of likening the scriptures unto us.  I think sometimes the stories in the scriptures seem distant or impossible because they are set in a very different setting than we are used to, and this idea can help bring the meaning and the impact that we need to really appreciate and learn from God's word.  When Jonah gets swallowed by the whale, it's like us, despairing because we made a wrong choice, and praying for another chance.  Lehi's dream is all of us, lost, trying to make our way to God, and all the distractions and the pleading and the hope of watching others make bad choices and wanting to help them.  And every story is like that.  The scriptures are for our lives now, not just for a few individuals a long time ago.

Today, let's take Nephi's advice and liken the scriptures to us.  Let's imagine how all these things work in our lives, and listen as though every verse was directed to us.  Let's work to hear not just what God had to say back then, but what God is sayng now, in our own lives.  It is there, in the scriptures, if we listen for it, and as we pray and study and learn to see ourselves in the scriptures, we'll understand more what God wants us to do in our lives.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Isaiah 55:8-9 -- On Higher Perspective and Seeing the Amazing

"For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the Lord.
For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts."
Isaiah 55:8-9

This is always a good reminder... not in a "I'm better than you are" way, though God obviously is.  He's a parent, and we are the children.  We have the potential to be like him, but the important reminder is that we aren't there yet, and we really need his help to figure things out, and become the people that we want to be, not forgetting of course that, with his help, we can be anything.

We limit ourselves so much when we think of the possibilities of life.  Not just through cynicism or focusing on negative things, but also in our imagination of what is possible and what God can do--and what we can do with his help.  We read about miracles in the scriptures, but how many of us really believe that miracles can and will happen to *us*?  Can we imagine opening our doors and finding a Liahona?  Do we believe that the same God who helped the prophets is standing close, ready to help us as well?  Significantly, do we teach our own doubt to others?  I think we all do, sometimes.  And that's scary, isn't it?  Our society doesn't need more cynicism.  It needs more hope.

God's ways and thoughts aren't just higher because he's smarter and stronger in a way-better-than-superhero sort of a way, but also, God can see the light in everything... the goodness, the truth, the potential... the beauty.  He sees the amazing in everything, including us.  And because of that, he can teach us to see it too, in ourselves and in others.  He can teach us to walk on water, figuratively and also literally, right?  Peter started to learn that.  Maybe we need to get through Faith 101 first, but I am certain that if we keep at it, we'll get to take that class too. :)

Today, let's try to emulate God in our thoughts.  Let's hope.  Let's see the amazing.  Let's *be* amazing. :)  And when we're tempted to doubt and despair, let's look to God and ask him to remind us of the good.  He will.  Let's have faith and trust in God's higher perspective.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

2 Nephi 2:11 -- On Opposition and Choosing Good

"For it must needs be, that there is an opposition in all things. If not so, my firstborn in the wilderness, righteousness could not be brought to pass, neither wickedness, neither holiness nor misery, neither good nor bad. Wherefore, all things must needs be a compound in one; wherefore, if it should be one body it must needs remain as dead, having no life neither death, nor corruption nor incorruption, happiness nor misery, neither sense nor insensibility."
2 Nephi 2:11

The idea of opposition in all things is sometimes hard to understand, I think because we're so used to the world the way it is that we can't really imagine what it would be like if opposition didn't exist.  I think the movie Shadowlands explains it a little bit.  In the movie, Joy says that the pain Jack will feel when she dies is part of the happiness that they have now--that's the deal.  I think we can all relate to that on some level.  We can't have joy, or even understand what joy is, without understanding sorrow, and the other way around too.  They are necessary to each other on a very basic level.

They say ignorance is bliss, but it really isn't, is it?  It only becomes bliss in retrospect, when you wish you could go back to not knowing, or envy someone who hasn't gone through what you have.  Before, you didn't really feel anything about it, because you didn't understand the good or the bad.  It's like Adam and Eve.  Until they fell, they couldn't really accomplish any good works or progress, because they didn't understand any of it.  The tree of knowledge of Good and Evil *couldn't* have been a tree of just the knowledge of either one.  It had to be both.  There is no good without bad.  If everything is good, then there is nothing to compare to, and the words have no meaning.

When I was a kid, I remember asking my mom what we were having to eat and she said "cabbage."  I had no idea what cabbage was.  All I had to go on was the word itself... and the word sounded bad to me, so I told her I didn't like it.  Turns out, I love cabbage, but without a knowledge of it, I couldn't know that it was good... or bad.

God takes a side.  He is Light, and Truth, and Goodness.  But he couldn't be those things if darkness, falsehood, and evil didn't exist, and to be like him, we have to understand what those bad things are, so we can move forward with becoming good. :)  That doesn't mean we should jump in and wallow in the bad, and it doesn't mean that Good doesn't triumph in the end.  We know it does.  But we have to have this Earthly experience partly to understand that concept, and to get a chance to choose for ourselves what we want to become.  Today, let's remember that what we choose is who we become, and choose the good.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Proverbs 5:21-23 -- On Escaping Ourselves and Seeking Instruction

"For the ways of man are before the eyes of the Lord, and he pondereth all his goings.
His own iniquities shall take the wicked himself, and he shall be holden with the cords of his sins.
He shall die without instruction; and in the greatness of his folly he shall go astray."
Proverbs 5:21-23

I think this is an interesting reminder of how God punishes us.  God sees and understands everything that we do, and the consequences of not listening to God is not a lightning bolt to the chest or something dramatic and earth-shattering, but instead being "without instruction," and suffering from our own poor choices.  It may not seem like a bad consequence when we're starting down the path of sin, but I think as we get farther in, we realize how very much we don't want to suffer the consequences that we have freely chosen.

Luckily, God wants us to turn around and repent, and he will do all that he can to help save us from our own folly, if we turn to him and do what it takes to clean up our lives.  Today, let's resolve to escape the cords of sin and our own folly, and turn to the Lord, who knows all our ways, and can see the way out, even in the worst of sins or the depths of addiction.  Let's not die without instruction, but instead pray for it will all our hearts.  As we do so, the Lord will teach us, and guide us, and help us to escape the traps that we have set for ourselves through obedience to the gospel.

Monday, June 19, 2017

1 Peter 1:3 -- On Lively Hope

"Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, which according to his abundant mercy hath begotten us again unto a lively hope by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead,"
1 Peter 1:3

I love the idea of a "lively hope."  When we try to live without God, life can get pretty bad.  We slog through and wonder why everything seems to go wrong all the time.  But God allows us to let that old, hopeless self die, and to be reborn through him... unto a lively hope, because we know that because Christ was resurrected, we can be too.  This life isn't even close to the end, and there is no reason to fear what this life can do to us, because we know that God has something better waiting.

Today, let's try to capture that lively hope in our lives, and not let life bog us down.  Let's give thanks to God and focus on the good and making things better.  Let's strive for the good, and no matter how bad things get, let's rise above it.  We can do anything with God's help.

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Psalms 34:19 -- On Afflictions and Deliverance

"Many are the afflictions of the righteous: but the Lord delivereth him out of them all."
Psalms 34:19

A short but very interesting verse.  The first part tells us that righteous people have many afflictions.  This is absolutely true, and perhaps obvious, but I think important to point out.  Sometimes we talk ourselves into believing that good people have perfect lives, and nothing bad happens to them, and that's a dangerous belief.  If an obstacle comes and we're going through a bad or uncertain phase, that can cause us to become discouraged or overwhelmed--to think that bad things are happening to us *because* we are bad, or that the challenges we face are punishments from God, and *he* thinks we're slimy, and we have no chance.  And if we're doing well, it can cause us to believe that something is broken because we did everything right and something bad still happened, and we start blaming God for our problems because it certainly wasn't us.  Dangerous thinking, either way.

The truth is, as the verse says, that afflictions happen to everyone.  In Lehi's dream the mist of darkness came to everyone.  Life is a test, and just like any test, we have to take it whether we've been studying or not. :)  The cool thing about God though is that he keeps letting us retake the hard parts until we get them right. :)  Repentance is a miracle.

It seems to me that the true difference, in the end, between the wicked and the righteous will be just that the righteous kept trying to get better, and were persistent and patient enough to reach the point where they could be delivered, instead of giving up.  The Lord will deliver us and answer our prayers, and strengthen us, and eventually get us to that happy ending that awaits us all, if we keep learning and progressing.  Today, let's remember not to give up in the middle of the book thinking there is no hope.  There is *always* hope.  Afflictions will definitely come, but if we stick with it, and keep doing as God asks, we'll he will help us find the path to hope, and joy, and deliverance.

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Ether 2:8-9 -- Progressing Post-Promised Land

"And he had sworn in his wrath unto the brother of Jared, that whoso should possess this land of promise, from that time henceforth and forever, should serve him, the true and only God, or they should be swept off when the fulness of his wrath should come upon them.
And now, we can behold the decrees of God concerning this land, that it is a land of promise; and whatsoever nation shall possess it shall serve God, or they shall be swept off when the fulness of his wrath shall come upon them. And the fulness of his wrath cometh upon them when they are ripened in iniquity."
Ether 2:8-9

We talk sometimes about the Lord guiding people to the promised land, but these verses are about already being in the promised land.  Both symbolically and literally, our journey doesn't end when we reach the promised land.  It's certainly a milestone and an amazing accomplishment, but just like baptism or marriage or graduation... great achievements are also lead-ins to new beginnings.  It isn't the end of the story yet--only the beginning of a new chapter.  It reminds me of the scripture "For unto whomsoever much is given, of him shall be much required" (Luke 12:48).  We can accomplish much and be blessed abundantly, but there is more to do.

In a literal sense, this scripture is about the physical land where the Jaredites lived, which was somewhere in the Americas.  This scripture could also be literal or figurative in our own lives concerning what the Lord has given us or sent us to do.  The journey to those destinations is tough, but once we are there, like Nephi reaching his promised land, it might be sort of a wilderness that we have to tame and build up ourselves.  All that effort to get there, and then more hard work.  ... This shouldn't discourage us though.  God isn't just throwing more and more at us until we get overwhelmed.  He gives us more only when he sees that we can handle it--when we're ready for the next lesson.  Some people might not get past every hurdle in life, but for the ones that do, God has more to teach.  Maybe we'll never learn to play the trombone, or speak German, or write a book, but if we start, we have a basis upon which to build, so that we can learn more and get better.  It's the same with the gospel.  The more we learn, the more we are able to learn, little by little.  Not to discourage us, but to teach us in stages that we can grasp.

When we are in the promised land, we have to keep progressing by remaining faithful and diligent.  We can't stop practicing or learning or we'll regress. In order to keep moving forward, we have to keep doing as God asks and growing in our understanding of the principles of the gospel.  Otherwise, we get booted out of the promised land, and lose the opportunities that we had from getting that far.  Today, let's keep traveling--to the promised land if that is where we are in our journey--and if we're already there, let's keep reaching for all that God offers us, and never stop improving. :)

Friday, June 16, 2017

Abraham 1:15-16 -- On Strange and Wonderful Lands

"And as they lifted up their hands upon me, that they might offer me up and take away my life, behold, I lifted up my voice unto the Lord my God, and the Lord hearkened and heard, and he filled me with the vision of the Almighty, and the angel of his presence stood by me, and immediately unloosed my bands;
And his voice was unto me: Abraham, Abraham, behold, my name is Jehovah, and I have heard thee, and have come down to deliver thee, and to take thee away from thy father’s house, and from all thy kinsfolk, into a strange land which thou knowest not of;"
Abraham 1:15-16

Reading this today, I was struck by the fact that God introduces himself to Abraham.  This is something we see elsewhere in the scriptures as well, but not something that I had really thought of before.  He also delivers Abraham from death, and tells him that he is going to take him away from everything he knows and send him to a "strange land."

This sounds pretty similar to other things that we read in the scriptures as well, if we switch out strange for promised.  ... And really, even though God is willing to lead us all to a promised land, it almost always is *also* strange, at least to us, or we would have gone there on our own.  We usually have to learn a lot before we can go, and before we can understand why it is better than where we were before.

Today, let's remember that God is willing to introduce himself to all of us.  He wants to build that friendship.  He is also willing to save us all, as he did Abraham, and to lead us all to strange and wonderful places where we can find more joy and happiness.  Let's work for that today, and be willing to take God up on his offer and follow where he leads. :)

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Mark 11:22-24 -- On Faith and Doubt and Prayer

"And Jesus answering saith unto them, Have faith in God.
For verily I say unto you, That whosoever shall say unto this mountain, Be thou removed, and be thou cast into the sea; and shall not doubt in his heart, but shall believe that those things which he saith shall come to pass; he shall have whatsoever he saith.
Therefore I say unto you, What things soever ye desire, when ye pray, believe that ye receive them, and ye shall have them."
Mark 11:22-24

This is an interesting lesson that Christ is teaching Peter about Faith requiring doubtless belief.  It's insanely cool, but can also be sort of discouraging, because we are often filled with doubt, and even as we learn to trust God and have faith, it difficult to get to a point where there is no doubt, because it isn't just the God of all perfection involved here, but we are too, and we rarely have perfect faith in what we are asking, because we don't know if it is what God wants or not, or whether we should be solving our problems a different way, or whether that mountain really would look better in the other place.  ... Okay, that last one was a joke.  It *obviously* would look better. :)

So, how do we get to that point, where we could actually move a mountain... symbolically if not figuratively?  (Oh yeah, this is my blog so I have to answer my own question.  Darn.)  Okay... let's see... :)

I think the way is practice.  We probably would rather just be blessed with perfect faith, but unfortunately it is something we have to work on over time.  We start small, maybe with the car keys or finding our kids who have run off in the supermarket.  Not small to us in the moment though, because we're stressed and worried and we really need the blessing.  And so we ask, and because we can't solve the problem ourselves, we have that sincere heart and real intent that it talks about in Moroni 10:4.  Even in our small hour of need, we've discovered the pattern, and God answers our prayers, and we know he did, and our tiny little faith starts to grow stronger.  Faith doesn't have to be used on something mountainous to become stronger.  We just have to learn that God really will help us when we ask him to.

Sometimes we distract ourselves trying to make deals with God, or trying to get him to prove himself to us.  And I'm not saying that talking to God is ever a bad thing.  Even when we do it for the wrong reasons, I think God can teach us something... if only because we are there, listening in that moment.  The real trick, though, is to learn to rely on the Lord--to trust him to be there for us, always.  Sometimes that is hard to learn when we have so much else to rely on, and so, at least for me personally, it has been important to have times in my life where I was unmoored from my support system, and I had to learn to rely on God.  And he *has* been there for me, and I know that he always will be.

That doesn't mean, of course, that my life is always going to go the way that I want it to, or that I'm throwing mountains around.  Only, I know that it works, and so, little by little, my faith grows.  And we can all learn, tiny bit by tiny bit, to trust in God, and to build our faith.  Today, let's work on that.  Let's pray to the Lord for help in our lives.  Let's ask with sincerity and real intent for help with our problems, and then let's pay careful attention to how things work out.  Answers don't always come in the way that we expect, or even a way that we want, but they do come.  Let's let go of our doubts that are dragging us down.  Let's trust and believe God and move forward with faith.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Mosiah 18:10 -- On Baptism and Receiving the Spirit

"Now I say unto you, if this be the desire of your hearts, what have you against being baptized in the name of the Lord, as a witness before him that ye have entered into a covenant with him, that ye will serve him and keep his commandments, that he may pour out his Spirit more abundantly upon you?"
Mosiah 18:10

The part that stuck out to me about this verse today is the "that he may pour out his spirit more abundantly" part.  It emphasizes that the whole reason God wants us to join his church and live his gospel is so that he can *help* us more.  We get it so backwards sometimes, don't we?  We start thinking that God is being demanding and trying to restrict us, when the absolute opposite is true.  He is offering us hope and freedom and joy.

Everything that God does is ordered... it makes sense.  If we follow the rules, we get the blessings. God's laws are like learning to walk.  We get the built-in blessing of extra mobility, and it is a stepping stone to being able to run and ride a bike.  Those are the "shalt" rules.  There are also the "shalt not" rules.  Those ones are like learning not to eat the moldy stuff in the refrigerator.  We can either listen and avoid the natural consequences there, or we can try it ourselves.  Yuck.  And sometimes we have to overcome the shalt nots in a certain area before we can get to the shalts. That's how baptism works as well.  It is a shalt rule, but we have to overcome some shalt nots to be able to do it.  If we can get to that point though, then God washes us clean, and it opens the door to an abundance of amazing blessings that we didn't even know were there beforehand.  We become part of God's kingdom.

Today, let's remember that everything God does is for us, to help us to learn and grow and become the people that we need to be to be happy and at peace now, and with a glorious future ahead of us.  If we're willing to help each other, and to stand up for God and learn the things that he is teaching us, then let's also be willing to do as God asks--to live his gospel, to enter into his covenant, to be baptized, to build righteous families and communities, and eventually be a Zion people.  Let's help God be able to pour out his spirit more abundantly on us. :)

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Jonah 3:8-10 -- On Turning From Our Evil Ways

"But let man and beast be covered with sackcloth, and cry mightily unto God: yea, let them turn every one from his evil way, and from the violence that is in their hands.
Who can tell if God will turn and repent, and turn away from his fierce anger, that we perish not?
And God saw their works, that they turned from their evil way; and God repented of the evil, that he had said that he would do unto them; and he did it not."
Jonah 3:8-10

This is a really cool example in the scriptures of repentance.  God sent Jonah to preach to Nineveh, and although we know that Jonah got distracted on the way, he eventually arrived, and gave God's warning to the people: "Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown" (Jonah 3:4). And, in one of the coolest surprises in the Bible, "the people of Nineveh believed God" (Jonah 3:5).

They proclaim a fast, and they ask each other to turn away away from evil and violence, in case God might have mercy on them, and save them.  And God does. :)

Now, of course we can say this was an imaginary threat, and was never going to happen, or we can get mad, as Jonah did, to think that God would go back on something that he said he would do.  It seems to me though, from so much evidence elsewhere in the gospel, the scriptural accounts, and really our own lives, that God's statements and his commandments are always conditional.  More like if-then statements.  Kind of like D&C 88:63: "Draw near unto me and I will draw near unto you." If you do this, I will do that... almost always, if you obey, I will bless, but I think set up either way.  If we do good, good will come, and if we do evil, evil will come.  Luckily, when God sees us veering off into the dark, he warns us.  He sends a message, through a thought or feeling, or through a friend or a scripture or a prophet.  And he wouldn't even bother to warn if there weren't a chance.  When God says that he will destroy a place, he's still listening to the prophet who wants to find a way to save it... are there 40 righteous people?  30? 10? 5?  And he's always willing to let us have another chance if we truly repent.

True repentance, of course, doesn't mean just saying you're sorry and then going off to do it again because you got away with it once.  It has to be sincere, and we actually have to change ourselves so that we don't just slip back into old patterns.  The people of Nineveh were going all out to save themselves, and to repent.  I think that is amazing.  More often it is a Lehi preaching in Jerusalem experience where you tell them that destruction is coming and they eventually try to kill you.  Unfortunately, I think we are that way more often on an individual level as well.  We don't want to hear the warning because it's hard to take criticism and it's really hard to change.  It would be so much easier if the thought or the feeling, or the friend... or the scripture, or the prophet... were wrong, and we could keep doing whatever we want.  Today, though, let's be like the exceptional, amazing people of Nineveh.  Let's hear God's warning, and believe him, and change.  Let's turn from our evil ways, and follow God's way instead.

Monday, June 12, 2017

1 Nephi 17:3 -- On Strength to Reach the Promised Land

"And thus we see that the commandments of God must be fulfilled. And if it so be that the children of men keep the commandments of God he doth nourish them, and strengthen them, and provide means whereby they can accomplish the thing which he has commanded them; wherefore, he did provide means for us while we did sojourn in the wilderness."
1 Nephi 17:3

We usually gloss over the hardships of Lehi and his group as they traveled in the wilderness, but as I was reading this today, I was kind of imagining if I had to do it... and it seemed much, much harder than it ever had before.  In the chapter before this, Nephi breaks his bow and the group is in real danger of starvation.  They went from living in a city to having to provide for themselves in every way.  It makes me wonder if I, too, wouldn't have been grumbling and wanting to go back, like Laman and Lemuel.  I hope I wouldn't have been as quick to suggest murder, of course, but the grumbling and the doubt I think I can unfortunately relate to, especially in circumstances of such discomfort over the length of many years.  In the verse previous to this Nephi mentions that they are living on raw meat, and that the women are bearing children in the wilderness.  Not for me, thank you very much.

Except that is the whole point, right?  We don't know what God is going to ask of us.  Maybe we too will have to leave home and go through the wilderness... literally or figuratively. :)  And if we do, are we just going to say "um, nope" and refuse?  Or are we going to listen to the Lord, even then in the most difficult circumstances, and follow God with faith?  Lehi and all his family left everything familiar behind and trusted in the promised land.  And their trust had to be a living, lasting thing, not just a one time leap.  They had to keep it up, every day, for the rest of their lives.  The promised land didn't come with pre-built mansions and robotic servants.  They had to start from scratch and build up a nation, and, amazingly, God strengthened them so they could do it.

This family knew that God would provide for them.  They had doubts sometimes, but God showed again and again and again that he would be there for them, and strengthen them, and help them to do everything he asked them to do.  God will show us the same thing, if we trust in him and do as he asks.  Today, let's work on letting go of our grumbly and reluctant natures, and fully commit to going forward in doing the Lord's will... wherever that takes us, no matter how scary or hard.  As we do, God will be with us to nourish and strengthen us, and we, too, will be able to bear our burdens with ease, and find our own promised lands.

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Psalms 139:1-4 -- On Knowledge and Becoming

"O Lord, thou hast searched me, and known me.
Thou knowest my downsitting and mine uprising, thou understandest my thought afar off.
Thou compassest my path and my lying down, and art acquainted with all my ways.
For there is not a word in my tongue, but, lo, O Lord, thou knowest it altogether."
Psalms 139:1-4

I love this reminder that God knows us inside and out.  I think that this idea can offer us a lot of comfort.  We sometimes worry about other people, that if they knew the bad parts of us they might not accept us or love us.  With God that is never a consideration.  He knows us already, inside and out, and he loves us anyway.

Of course that doesn't mean that he doesn't want us to improve, or that he won't work to help us change.  The best kind of love is love the kind that sharpens us (Proverbs 27:17) and makes us better. It does mean though that we never have to worry about disappointing God or driving him away.  He already knows, so we can go to him and talk about anything, and ask for help.

Today, let's remember that God loves us, despite everything.  Let's trust in his love, and believe that we can do better.  Let's go to God for help, and start becoming the people that we really want to be.

Saturday, June 10, 2017

Ecclesiastes 1:3 -- On What's in it For Us

"What profit hath a man of all his labour which he taketh under the sun?"
Ecclesiastes 1:3

The whole book of Ecclesiastes is kind of a lesson about life, but this verse almost at the beginning struck me today because it is basically asking "what's in it for me?"  It's not really the most humble question to ask, but it gets the search started for the meaning in life in this book, and perhaps for us as well sometimes.  We want to know what good it will do us to work and invest our time and what the point off all of it is.  I think it is a question we ask especially when we are disillusioned with something in our lives and start seeing the pointlessness of all of it.  Why am I doing this job, or why am I working for this degree, or what am I actually accomplishing in life?  Spoiler for most of the rest of the Book of Ecclesiastes: it's mostly all vanity and vexation of spirit. :)

So why?  Ecclesiastes concludes with reminding us that we will return to God after this life, and that "the whole duty of man" is to fear God and keep his commandments (Ecclesiastes 12:13).  And that is a good answer... but perhaps there is also more to it.  Let's remember that Alma calls God's plan the "great plan of happiness" (Alma 42:8), and Moroni reminds us that "he that is happy shall be happy still; and he that is unhappy shall be unhappy still" (Mormon 9:14), so at least one big reason we are here is to learn to be happy.  God gave us bodies and free agency so that we could learn all of this stuff, good and bad, and learn to choose the good and the positive and the happy rather than the other side.  Not in a "let's ignore the suffering of others" way, but in a "let's help others to find happiness too" kind of a way.

It's a little scary to think that if we're not happy we're doing the whole life thing wrong, and I don't want anyone to get more disillusioned about this rather than less.  Sorrow and suffering are not evil, and we are all going to have some sorrow in our lives.  Christ wept in his life, and suffered.  I'm not saying that we have to paste smiles on our faces and be fake.  I'm only saying that this *is* the answer to the "what's in it for me" question.  Happiness is in it, for all of us... it's why God sent us here, and what he wants us to learn.  That's what honoring God and keeping his commandments leads to as well, and loving God and loving our neighbor.  All of our stories have a happy ending waiting, as well as a happy now, as we do the work and learn to find it all around us.  We should always take serious things seriously, but it's also okay, and even good, to have fun and to enjoy our lives, as long as we are not breaking any commandments of course. :)

The job or the school might not get better, but there is a way to find happiness even there.  There is still going to be fear and uncertainty in life, but as we trust God, we can learn to be happy anyway and trust that things will work out okay.  Maybe the work we are doing or the thing we were trying to accomplish will turn out to be vanity and vexation of spirit.  It happens.  But we don't have to choose to dwell on that part of life.  We can try something new, or find a way to love and enjoy the people around us while we're doing the excessively boring thing. (I once had a summer job where we pulled staples out of things for 40 hours a week.  It *is* possible.) :)

Today, let's try to be less disillusioned with life, and to find some good in the world around us.  Let's get in there and seek happiness for ourselves and others.  God has lots of ideas about how to get there, and he really wants us to succeed.  It is what he is all about.  Let's follow his path and trust that he is leading us to something that is worth *every* second of all of it.  As we learn to trust the happy ending, the in between chapters will get happier too.  I promise. :)

Friday, June 9, 2017

Colossians 3:9-11 -- On Becoming New and United

"Lie not one to another, seeing that ye have put off the old man with his deeds;
And have put on the new man, which is renewed in knowledge after the image of him that created him:
Where there is neither Greek nor Jew, circumcision nor uncircumcision, Barbarian, Scythian, bond nor free: but Christ is all, and in all."
Colossians 3:9-11

I love this idea of what it means to become new through Christ.  Paul asks the Colossians not to lie to each other because they have let go of their old, sinful selves, and have learned to be better, following the example of Jesus: now equal to one another, all having the spirit guiding them, and putting God before all else.

This message is just as important now as it was hundreds of years ago when Paul wrote it.  When we commit to God's gospel, we are changed, and we have to let it change us, and learn to be more than we were.  We have to learn to love and accept and unite with each other, working for a better world, as one through Christ.

Today, let's put off our old selves.  Let's remember that we are all equal in God's eyes--not anonymous or without individuality or difference, but all important, worthwhile, and loved.  Let's treat each other with respect and kindness, and learn to be unified in God's work, his gospel, and his love.

Thursday, June 8, 2017

2 Corinthians 5:10 -- On Preparing for Judgment

"For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ; that every one may receive the things done in his body, according to that he hath done, whether it be good or bad."
2 Corinthians 5:10

What I noticed in this verse today is that it specifically mentions things that were done in our bodies.  And that we have to receive that.  I wonder what that will be like.  With repentance factored in, assuming we take advantage of that, it might not be as bad as suffering all the pain that we caused others, but it still seems kind of scary.  Although, perhaps it will actually be cool and interesting, if we truly repent and are prepared for it.  On the one hand, facing God and having to receive all the things we did to others?  On the other hand, watching the movie of our lives with God as our best friend, telling us what we could have done better and helping us learn from it?  If we think of it that way, it sounds like something I would want to do.  I mean... I think I will still be ashamed of a lot of choices that I made.  But God knows all about that already, and maybe he can help me ... and all of us, remember the good things too, and focus on the right choices and how far we've come.

Today, let's take a minute to review our life choices, and if it is something that we don't really want to watch and talk about with God, maybe make some tweaks and do the work that it takes to repent.  Let's make sure that some of those things we receive at the judgment are good things, and let's work to fix the things that aren't.  No matter where we are now, we *can* all get back on track with God's help, so that the afterlife doesn't seem scary. :)

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

2 Samuel 20:16-21 -- On Communication, Compassion, and Compromise

"Then cried a wise woman out of the city, Hear, hear; say, I pray you, unto Joab, Come near hither, that I may speak with thee.
And when he was come near unto her, the woman said, Art thou Joab? And he answered, I am he. Then she said unto him, Hear the words of thine handmaid. And he answered, I do hear.
Then she spake, saying, They were wont to speak in old time, saying, They shall surely ask counsel at Abel: and so they ended the matter.
I am one of them that are peaceable and faithful in Israel: thou seekest to destroy a city and a mother in Israel: why wilt thou swallow up the inheritance of the Lord?
And Joab answered and said, Far be it, far be it from me, that I should swallow up or destroy.
The matter is not so: but a man of mount Ephraim, Sheba the son of Bichri by name, hath lifted up his hand against the king, even against David: deliver him only, and I will depart from the city. And the woman said unto Joab, Behold, his head shall be thrown to thee over the wall."
2 Samuel 20:16-21

In this story, a guy names Sheba rebelled against King David, and led most of the tribes of Israel away from him.  So, David's people gather an army to go after him, and Joab is one of the leaders chasing after him.  They fight through and chase him to this city, called Abel, and they start battering the wall to break it down.  And that's where these verses come in.  Instead of letting it play out with mass destruction, this wise woman talks to Joab, and negotiates peace by giving up the person who rebelled against the king.  It sounds sort of simple in the story, but I am sure that it was difficult on both sides, both to effectively pardon the people who had been following Sheba by only asking for him, and to control the army that probably would have gotten some loot by sacking the city anywa.  On the wise woman's side it similarly would have been difficult to convince Sheba's followers to give him up, and thus the rebellion, in order to protect the innocent.

I think the lessons for us here are somewhat complex, but also very important.

First, we need to be willing to talk through disagreements.  I don't mean that we have to feel obligated to engage with people who are obviously hostile and only interested in attacking, especially online. Although it is sometimes possible to break through hostility with kindness, it definitely isn't something we are obligated to do.  We can, though, make sure that *we* are taking it down several notches and not *being* hostile to others, but showing our openness and willingness to listen and consider.  To be willing to really talk takes some serious listening and compassionate response, rather than just hurling our obviously superior arguments at one another, and mocking people who disagree with us. Kind communication is a key to solving most differences, and if either the wise woman or Joab hadn't been willing to let go of their hostility and talk, and also to listen, there would have been a lot of bloodshed on both sides.

Another lesson is that we should treat even our apparent enemies with respect and remember that they are people like us, and they don't deserve harm or death, but they do deserve compassion.  Joab didn't have to destroy a city or a mother in Israel in order to meet the demands of justice.  He asked for the minimum he needed, and didn't add anything for his time or try to set an example of the city or anything else.  He did what was needed and no more.  And the wise woman appealed to Joab's good side because she believed that he *had* one.  Let's not buy into the popular media idea where the bad guys all deserve to die, and the good guys can get away, literally, with murder.  There are different rules in the real world--God's rules--and if we start buying into hatred, then we're always in the wrong.

The final lesson I will mention is that we have to be willing to make compromises in dealing with other people.  We can't have everything we want all the time, and although on a personal level that is often frustrating, it is an excellent way to learn to see that other people have needs too.  I am certain that the wise woman didn't want to take someone's life, but she talked the rest of the city into it because it was best for the city, and perhaps the kingdom.  Joab probably didn't want to leave armed rebels in the city to build up and possibly return to war with the King, but he took the success he knew he could get, and saved the lives of many, who then had a choice whether to change or not rather than dying as rebels on that day.

When I mention compromise, I of course don't mean going against what God says.  We can't compromise in that area.  But we certainly *can* compromise on a lot of things, and listen, and learn to love and not hate.  It takes time, and effort, and sometimes we have to pry open our minds a little bit so that we can consider new ideas about the world, about ourselves, and about others.  But as we work to accept and understand and love others, we'll also grow closer to God, because we're doing his will.  Today, let's be like the wise woman and Joab and be willing to communicate, show compassion, and compromise.  We might not save a city, but we'll probably save (and build) a lot of relationships, maybe a job or two, and avoid a lot of trouble as well.

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Moroni 10:4 -- On Asking God

"And when ye shall receive these things, I would exhort you that ye would ask God, the Eternal Father, in the name of Christ, if these things are not true; and if ye shall ask with a sincere heart, with real intent, having faith in Christ, he will manifest the truth of it unto you, by the power of the Holy Ghost."
Moroni 10:4

This verse strikes me today because it seems so obvious, and I wonder why we don't see it most of the time.  The answer to all of our question, all of the time, is "Ask God."

The very act of asking teaches us.  As we articulate our desire, sometimes we understand ourselves better, and sometimes God answers us right in that moment, giving us an idea about what we can try, or (if we are open to it), helps us to understand where our thinking may have been wrong on a certain subject.

Now, of course, prayer doesn't mean that we will get our answers immediately, or even that we won't have to work for them.  When the Brother of Jared prayed about the barges, God solved one of his problems, and asked him to think about the other and come up with an idea himself (Ether 2:18-25).  Sometimes that is what we need to do as well, but still: the first step is to ask.  Then patience and faith and hard work often kick in.  We can't give the Lord deadlines or demand that he prove himself.  That comes *after* faith.  We have to learn before we can understand.

God might not respond to us when we know the answer already, but were begging for an exception.  And the answer could be no.  God isn't going to enable us in our bad habits.  But prayer can help us there too.  If we continue in prayer about any topic, God will teach us more about it, and help us understand the answers that we receive. He'll help us find peace and a new direction if we have to give something up, and restore us to wholeness, even when we feel like we can never be whole again. The more we go to him in prayer, the more he will draw closer to us, and the more we'll be able to feel his guidance and presence in our lives.

God knows the answers to our questions.  Today, and always, let's go to him for them.  Let's also study and learn and be open and receptive to what he says, but above all, let's be willing to ask. The faith and humility required for prayer is the first step along a path that leads to everything good and true.

Monday, June 5, 2017

Proverbs 23:1-5 -- On Deceitful Meat

"When thou sittest to eat with a ruler, consider diligently what is before thee:
And put a knife to thy throat, if thou be a man given to appetite.
Be not desirous of his dainties: for they are deceitful meat.
Labour not to be rich: cease from thine own wisdom.
Wilt thou set thine eyes upon that which is not? for riches certainly make themselves wings; they fly away as an eagle toward heaven."
Proverbs 23:1-5

This is a good warning to us about envy and greed, and desiring and working for things that aren't of worth or that we cannot have.  It reminds me of "Wherefore, do not spend money for that which is of no worth, nor your labor for that which cannot satisfy." (2 Nephi 9:51).

Sitting down with a ruler is dangerous in a few ways.  What is before us could be rich food, money, bribery, or other temptations, including power or envy of other things the ruler has and we do not.  God asks us to consider our choices diligently, so as to escape these temptations, because wanting them too much would be like putting a knife to our own throats.

The phrase "deceitful meat" is a fun one.  I think it probably means that it seems like a free meal, or the rich food whets our appetites, but that there are some real hidden costs to the whole situation that we need to be aware of.  This is followed up with "labour not to be rich," which is good advice, going along with the idea of not spending money or working for things that can't actually fill our needs.  I think that we do this a lot in life.  We feel an emptiness inside, and we throw many things at it to try to mask it or fill it... drugs, alcohol, inappropriate relationships, and many other greater or lesser forms of escapism or addiction.  But the thing that we all have to learn eventually is that we can't fill the hole.  That is the hole where God should be, and the *only* way to fill it is to repair our relationship with him.  All that time and money that we spend on so many other things is so often a complete waste, because we end up back in the same hole, wondering why we still feel empty.

This meal with a ruler I think is symbolic of a lot of that.  We can get ourselves into a lot of trouble if someone is willing to give us what we want, if we just compromise a few principles here and there.  And if we start down that road, we are selling our own souls, and getting emptiness in return.  Riches fly away as though they had wings, as do the benefits of all the rest of the things that we might try to put in the place of God... power, money, lust, fame, etc.  It's all temporary, and almost imaginary really, compared to God.  When we get some perspective and can see God and our other choices side by side, God wins, hands down.  The danger comes in that meal part, where we can be tempted by the things around us rather than thinking clearly about God, and all that he offers us.

Today, let's not be lulled by free food, or power, or money, or any of the other things that other people have that we don't.  Let's not work for things that don't matter, or invest in emptiness.  Let's focus on God, who can fill our emptiness and provide anything that we truly need.  Let's aim for the long term happy ending rather than the short-term flavor of deceitful meat. :)

Sunday, June 4, 2017

D&C 63:20 -- On Overcoming and Transfiguration

"Nevertheless, he that endureth in faith and doeth my will, the same shall overcome, and shall receive an inheritance upon the earth when the day of transfiguration shall come;"
Doctrine and Covenants 63:20

One of the interesting things in this verse is the idea of overcoming.  In our earth lives, we either overcome the world, as Christ did (John 16:33), or we are overcome by the world (D&C 50:8).  The inherent challenge of life is to see if the spirit part of ourselves, which existed before this world, can learn to merge with a body--the physical part of ourselves (modeled after the spiritual part, and still very much "us") that we get when we come to this world.  Getting a body is a challenging task, and something we often are learning to work with throughout our lives--part of which is controlling the desires that are inherent to the experience (the "natural man" of 1 Corinthians 2:14 and Mosiah 3:19), and learning to give our bodies what they need in the Lord's way, and still being able to choose, not just be controlled by our desires.  As we learn over time to train that physical part of ourselves, our spirits and our bodies become more and more in synch, and we stop having to fight ourselves so much, until the perfect day when both parts of ourselves are one... which effort is totally worth it, of course, because in the coming resurrection, we will get our bodies back and be able to live with them forever.

The other part I really like about this verse is the transfiguration part.  Other scriptures talk about the transfiguration of people, but this particular one is talking about the transfiguration of the earth (see verse 21).  Both are interesting.  The idea of being physically changed into a higher form is part of the idea, although we can't be sure exactly what the transfiguring change is, or what all is involved, but whatever it is, it is a huge change that has allowed people to see God in person before, which isn't something that our bodies as they are now could bear.  In this verse, the fact that the earth is going to be similarly transfigured is utterly cool, and you have to wonder if the earth also has a spirit part... and if so, if *everything* does.  In Articles of Faith 1:10 we learn that "that Christ will reign personally upon the earth; and, that the earth will be renewed and receive its paradisiacal glory," meaning that the new, transfigured earth will be a paradise--finally safe from all of our often-detrimental meddling, and that Christ will actually live here when "here" is perfected. :)  Hopefully our own changes as we learn to be better people will enable us to be worthy of living here again as well.

Today, let's learn to overcome the world, to unite ourselves body and spirit, and to work on preparing ourselves and anyone else we can help for the transfiguration of ourselves and our planet.  And, of course, the best way to do that is through learning about and communicating with God.

Saturday, June 3, 2017

Acts 7:33 -- On Holy Places

"Then said the Lord to him, Put off thy shoes from thy feet: for the place where thou standest is holy ground."
Acts 7:33

The idea of holy ground is an interesting one.  What makes one place holy and another unholy?  It seems strange on one level to say  that one place is good and another place is bad... they are just places.  But when we start thinking about it, there are probably places that we can think of, either in history or our own lives, or both, that we consider good, or bad, or even holy and unholy.  Why is that?  It's because we associate that place with something that happened, or an emotion or spiritual experience.  There is a power in places, through the way we feel about them.  One place might feel safe to us, while another makes us feel uncomfortable.  If we've ever said to ourselves "I'll never go back there," we understand on another level why place isn't always just geography.

Here, Stephen is referring to the story of Moses and the burning bush, and God is starting to teach Moses about reverence for holy things.  One way that we respect God is by respecting his presence, and our communication with him.  We try to show reverence in church and especially in the temple, not just because we are respecting his stuff, because really the whole Earth is God's stuff, but because these are places set aside for the sole purpose of communicating with and worshipping God, and God wants us to have good associations with them rather than bad ones.  He also wants us to understand that he isn't just another being.  He's God, the creator of the Universe, and more. :)  When we show our respect for him by dressing up and being on our best behavior, it's very polite and nice to God... which is of course, good.  The lesson isn't really for him though.  Like everything else in life, the lesson is for us.  We need these partitions in our lives so that we can remember and learn about God.  We need to see that he is different, and better, so that we can also learn to be different, and better--to go after the good and not the evil.

Psalms 24:3 asks us "Who shall ascend into the hill of the Lord? or who shall stand in his holy place?" and many scriptures tell us to stand in holy places (2 Chronicles 35:5, Matthew 24:15, D&C 45:32, etc.)  Standing in holy places means choosing the good over the bad, choosing the holy over the profane--Choosing God over anything and everything else.  Today, let's learn, as Moses was learning, to recognize the good, and choose it over other choices, even if it is harder.  Let's (symbolically) take off our dirty shoes and be clean so that we are learning to become worthy of the holy places rather than tracking dirt into them.  And above all, let's learn to understand why God asks us to choose a different and a better path, and holy places over profane ones.  As we understand and choose that, we will be on the path to a better life, and better world.

Friday, June 2, 2017

1 Nephi 14:7 -- On A Marvelous Work

"For the time cometh, saith the Lamb of God, that I will work a great and a marvelous work among the children of men; a work which shall be everlasting, either on the one hand or on the other—either to the convincing of them unto peace and life eternal, or unto the deliverance of them to the hardness of their hearts and the blindness of their minds unto their being brought down into captivity, and also into destruction, both temporally and spiritually, according to the captivity of the devil, of which I have spoken."
1 Nephi 14:7

I really like this... it is a statement from God about something he plans to do in the last days, presumably in the lead up to the second coming.  It doesn't say what it is that is going to be done, but the effects are pretty cool.  It is such an amazing thing that it either convinces you, or forces you to harden yourself against the truth.  I think that idea is both scary and super cool... scary because if we are being kind of wishy-washy about the gospel, it definitely isn't going to work anymore.  It is also cool though, because it kind of just pushes up where we were headed anyway.  There is no middle ground between God and Satan--no independent party to vote for, and no staying neutral.  We have to choose (Joshua 24:15, Moses 6:33, etc.).

That's the other amazing part of this verse--the choice itself.  God is going to do something miraculous, but which *still* allows us that free agency that he gave us so we could learn and grow and become so much more.  He could, of course, make us behave, as he could all along.  But he never will, because he loves us and knows that we need to do it ourselves for it to matter to us, and for us to learn something from it.

Today, let's examine our lives and see where we stand and really think about what direction we are going.  And when we have, let's choose God.  It might take some course corrections and some time. No need to wait for the marvelous work to be complete--let's prepare now, and make sure we're on the side that leads to peace and eternal life.

Thursday, June 1, 2017

D&C 76:86-89 -- On Moving to God's Country

"These are they who receive not of his fulness in the eternal world, but of the Holy Spirit through the ministration of the terrestrial;
And the terrestrial through the ministration of the celestial.
And also the telestial receive it of the administering of angels who are appointed to minister for them, or who are appointed to be ministering spirits for them; for they shall be heirs of salvation.
And thus we saw, in the heavenly vision, the glory of the telestial, which surpasses all understanding;"
Doctrine and Covenants 76:86-89

This always blows me away.  This is a revelation talking about the resurrection and judgment after this life, and explaining the afterlife by comparing the Celestial, Terrestrial, and Telestial kingdoms to the Sun, Moon, and Stars (as Paul does in 1 Corinthians 15:40-41).

It seems cool that there is ministering going on from one kingdom to another, so the whole idea of love and service continues on after this life, which seems pretty cool and appropriate. :)  The idea of the differences of the kingdoms is of course not something where God arbitrarily assigns people based on power or prestige, but is something that we choose by our actions and desires in this life.

God assigns us all to a place where we can be happy and comfortable, presumably with people that are like we are.  Perhaps like foreign language classes, right?  In this life we have the opportunity to learn the language, and some of us are going to learn it really well, and some only so-so, and others not really at all.  A couple of words that are also names of food. :) And then at the end of this life, we all move to the country where they speak the language all the time.  If we learned the language really, really well, we could speak it and go anywhere and do anything like a native speaker.  We could also help people who learned it less well.  If we learned the language only so-so, we'll be limited as to the places we can go, or the things we can do, because we just don't know the language well enough to read in it, or to really understand the movies at the theater except on the most basic level.  We do have more mobility and understanding than some of the other tourists though, so we can probably go to the market and buy things as well as learn to navigate the public transportation, etc.  And we can help the really lost travelers find their way back to the hotel and steer them back to the more touristy shops where there is always someone who speaks English.  And if we didn't learn the language except for a few words, we're probably going to need a tourist guide and a lot of help from the patient native speakers, but we can still have a good time in the country, enjoying the food and admiring the scenery. :)

In our analogy, the country is the afterlife, and the language is the gospel.  The more we learn here, the better off we are going to be there... not because God loves one group more, but because we have this life to choose whether or not to prepare, and learn, and become citizens of God's country.

Maybe the coolest thing of all about these verses is that even the tourist-guide level of the afterlife is referred to as surpassing all understanding.  Even if we don't learn a drop of language, we are *still* going to be wowed by the country and the people and never want to leave.  Even the most limited part of heaven is still gloriously heaven, and so much better than this world that we will still know that it is our happy ending.  Not that we shouldn't strive for more, of course... but it is a very merciful thing that even a few words will eventually help us to gain refuge there, and make us welcome.

Today, let's work on preparing to move to God's country.  Let's study our brochures and maps.  Let's prepare for those citizenship tests and help our fellow travelers as well, as we all do our best to learn the language and practice living in such a perfect place.

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

1 Timothy 4:7 -- On Spiritual Fitness

"But refuse profane and old wives’ fables, and exercise thyself rather unto godliness."
1 Timothy 4:7

In this chapter, Paul is talking about fads and superstitions.  Not using those words of course, but talking about how different things distract us.  A new diet or a new trend seems pretty cool, and so we go with it, neglecting the instructions that God has already given in that area.  Or perhaps we're stuck in the past, believing that people can't change or that history is doomed to repeat itself.  To all of the things that we tell ourselves, Paul is asking Why are you listening to the world rather than God?

Paul compares spiritual exercise to physical exercise, as well as chasing the current fads, or the past fads, and tells us that we are going to get a lot more out of exercising our spiritual selves and learning to be more like God.  This, of course, isn't to say that physical exercise is evil, because it assuredly has its place.  Only, as we learn from the scriptures over and over again, that God needs to come first.

Today, let's work on our spiritual fitness.  Let's get in our prayers and our scripture reading.  Let's do the things that it takes to get ourselves on track, or to stay on track.  And if we have the basics down, then let's start building our spiritual muscles.  Let's keep in touch with God and strive to do good, allowing him to lead us in the right way, and building our goodness and growing "brighter and brighter until the perfect day" (D&C 50:24).

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Ether 4:13-14 -- On Faith and Proof and Cool Hidden Things

"Come unto me, O ye Gentiles, and I will show unto you the greater things, the knowledge which is hid up because of unbelief.
Come unto me, O ye house of Israel, and it shall be made manifest unto you how great things the Father hath laid up for you, from the foundation of the world; and it hath not come unto you, because of unbelief."
Ether 4:13-14

I think our imaginations fall short sometimes in terms of what God offers us.  We forget that this is God, Lord of the Universe--Creator of everything that exists, as far as we are aware.  And still we doubt.  We think, no no... this hole that I have dug for myself is too deep and too wide.  God can't save me from this.  As though he were limited.

God tells us that we were created in his image, and gives us hope that we can walk in his footsteps and become like he is.  But none of that means he is merely mortal.  It is good to know, because it is supposed to spur us on to greater effort and aspiration--to know that we can become better than we are.  It's not supposed to teach us that God is fallible or imperfect or that he can't do what he says he will do.  He will.

So often we think that if God would just prove it all to us, that we would have no problem doing as he asks.  But even in that we're not only completely misunderstanding the reason we're here in this life, but we're also getting things out of order.  Later in the book of Ether, we're told "dispute not because ye see not, for ye receive no witness until after the trial of your faith" (Ether 12:6).  Alma 32 asks us to "experiment upon my words, and exercise a particle of faith, yea, even if ye can no more than desire to believe, let this desire work in you, even until ye believe in a manner that ye can give place for a portion of my words." (verse 27).  Desire and Faith come first.  We act on God's will, and *then* he helps us know how to take the next step.  It's just like going to college.  You can't demand the learning up front, or get a prepaid diploma and then say, okay, this is worth it, I will put in the time and effort.  You just have to know that the possibility is there, and then you get in there and work for it, and learn the things, and earn the degree.

The same opportunity is presented here in these verses.  If we believe, God will give us more and more--things that he has prepared for us, but which we haven't been ready for yet.  So, today, let's believe.  Let's take whatever desire and faith that we have and exercise them and build them up.  Let's try God's experiment and have enough faith to take a step towards him.  Let's trust that God will lead us and guide us and help us to be more than we have ever imagined.  And as we do, and as belief spreads to others, God will be able to teach and reveal more and more to us, and give us all that he wants us to have, including, for instance, everlasting joy. :)

Monday, May 29, 2017

Psalms 56:11 -- On Fear and Trust

"In God have I put my trust: I will not be afraid what man can do unto me."
Psalms 56:11

This is a short verse, but a powerful idea.  If we really learned to trust in God, then we could remove an amazing amount of doubt and fear from out lives.  We so often stop at the believe stage with God, thinking that admitting his existence is enough.  However, just like we rarely develop friendships with people we only say hello to,  there is a lot further to go to develop a relationship with God.  Part of that is belief, and even hope, but beyond those are faith and trust.  Knowing that God has written a happy ending even when we're in a scary chapter that doesn't seem at all happy.

Today, let's determine not to fear what ordinary mortals can do to us, but trust in God.  He always makes a way for us to accomplish what he asks, and no mere human can stand in his way or impede his progress.  He will accomplish all that he has set out to do, including saving all of us as we repent and have faith in him.

Sunday, May 28, 2017

1 Nephi 13:37 -- On Being Beautiful on the Mountains

"And blessed are they who shall seek to bring forth my Zion at that day, for they shall have the gift and the power of the Holy Ghost; and if they endure unto the end they shall be lifted up at the last day, and shall be saved in the everlasting kingdom of the Lamb; and whoso shall publish peace, yea, tidings of great joy, how beautiful upon the mountains shall they be."
1 Nephi 13:37

I like this vision of the beauty of people who join God in his work to build up Zion.  Even better, we can be part of it.  The mountain part is similar to a verse in Isaiah that says "How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him that bringeth good tidings, that publisheth peace; that bringeth good tidings of good" (Isaiah 52:7).  We can *be* the people with the beautiful feet upon the mountains.

How do we do that?  God helps us out here with a lot of clues:

  • We need to seek to bring forth Zion... to be Zion people, to build a Zion community, patterned after the city of Zion as described in Moses 7:18: "And the Lord called his people Zion, because they were of one heart and one mind, and dwelt in righteousness; and there was no poor among them."  In other words, we need to seek unity and equality with others--to love each other and not set one group before or above another.  
  • We need to have the gift and power of the Holy Ghost in our lives, which means we need to be living worthy of having the Spirit in our lives.  That means repentance and obedience, and a lot of prayer, for starters. :)
  • We need to endure to the end.  That means commitment to God for the long haul, as a lifestyle, not a "well, we'll try this until it gets boring or hard" disposable hobby.
  • We need to spread God's word, including and especially messages of peace and joy.  That probably precludes preaching fire and brimstone and condemning the world through our mighty Facebook comments. :)  Instead, let's publish peace and joy and love. :)
I love in Isaiah's version where it talks about "good tidings of good."  How awesome is that?  I think that is a good thing to try today.  Let's let go of the negativity and the hopelessness that we feel about the world or our personal circumstances, and let's focus on and embrace the positive, spreading good tidings of good.  That alone can change our day, and if we keep at it, it can change the world.  Let's do our part to be beautiful upon the mountains today and build up Zion.

Saturday, May 27, 2017

Alma 34:33 -- On the Night of Darkness

"And now, as I said unto you before, as ye have had so many witnesses, therefore, I beseech of you that ye do not procrastinate the day of your repentance until the end; for after this day of life, which is given us to prepare for eternity, behold, if we do not improve our time while in this life, then cometh the night of darkness wherein there can be no labor performed."
Alma 34:33

This is an important warning for us.  We often forget, because of the nature of this world, that things are very different for us now than they were before we came.  Our bodies are one of those primary things that we have now that we didn't have before.  They are the source of a lot of our challenges in life, but also a lot of joy and accomplishment.  We mostly take them for granted in this life, forgetting that we will lose them again, at least until resurrection and judgment.  That's why the verse talks about a night of darkness where we cannot perform labor.

Can you imagine not having a body?  Even though we spend so much of our lives adjusting to and learning to control our bodies, it's hard to imagine being without them again, or not being able to interact with people or do the things that we are used to doing.  Are we going to get to the spirit world and keep reaching for our non-existent cell phones? :)  On a more serious note, what will we leave undone here?

The whole "procrastinate the day of your repentance" doesn't seem very scary when we aren't thinking actively about death... and really, we usually don't since that's sort of morbid... but it's a sincerely serious issue that God is trying to warn us about.  Now is the time that we have to choose, to do... to become.  This life is our moment of choice and opportunity for action.  Things after this are going to be different, not only with the body thing, which is huge by itself, but remember the veil?  We're going to have our memories back.  We're going to *know* God.  No more faith necessary, presumably.  It's all going to be apparent.

This is super cool, of course, but also it means that here is the only space that we have to learn and develop faith, to overcome doubt, to repent and change in a situation where we could realistically choose either way, and act on it.  We can't overcome addictions without a body, or truly repent of our actions because we won't have the same temptation to stand up to or the opportunity we have here to choose to walk away from bad habits.

Today, now... let's take this warning seriously.  Let's take action while we can, and learn the things that we can only learn here.  Let's choose to change, and prepare for eternity.

Friday, May 26, 2017

Alma 12:7-8 -- On Pride and Salvation

"Now when Alma had spoken these words, Zeezrom began to tremble more exceedingly, for he was convinced more and more of the power of God; and he was also convinced that Alma and Amulek had a knowledge of him, for he was convinced that they knew the thoughts and intents of his heart; for power was given unto them that they might know of these things according to the spirit of prophecy.
And Zeezrom began to inquire of them diligently, that he might know more concerning the kingdom of God. And he said unto Alma: What does this mean which Amulek hath spoken concerning the resurrection of the dead, that all shall rise from the dead, both the just and the unjust, and are brought to stand before God to be judged according to their works?"
Alma 12:7-8

Zeezrom impresses me here because he realizes that he has been unable to carry out his plan of embarrassing and mocking these men of God, and has, to a certain degree at least, been embarrassed in return, and yet despite that, instead of keeping up the pretense of being right, or saying something pithy and stomping off in a huff, he humbles himself and realizes that there is something here that he needs to learn, and he changes tactics, and jumps in and actually tries to learn it.  He doesn't let his pride get in the way of the truth, and his eventual salvation.  I want to be more like that.

Today, as we learn of God and face challenges and setbacks, especially to our pride, let's work to see past our embarrassment and hurt feelings, and embrace the truth whenever we find it.  Let's be willing to let go of our goals and our plans in favor of God's, whenever we discover that they are in conflict... immediately, without trying to hang on to our shattered souvenirs of failure and falsehood, no matter how invested we were.  God is all.  Zeezrom saw that, although so many other bad guys in the scriptures did not, and *he* was saved, unlike them.  When we find out that we're being the bad guys, let's stop in our tracks and turn around.  Let's not let our pride get in the way of our salvation.

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Exodus 33:11 -- On Talking to God as a Friend

"And the Lord spake unto Moses face to face, as a man speaketh unto his friend. And he turned again into the camp: but his servant Joshua, the son of Nun, a young man, departed not out of the tabernacle."
Exodus 33:11

The whole idea of seeing God is an interesting one in the scriptures.  We read a lot of things that seem to be contradictory.  For instance, "No man hath seen God at any time" (1 John 4:12).  And even later in this chapter, "Thou canst not see my face: for there shall no man see me, and live" (Exodus 33:20).  And yet, here it says that Moses spoke with God face to face.  We also know that the Brother of Jared saw the Lord.  We know that Joseph Smith saw both the Father and the Son in his vision, and of course many, many people saw and interacted with Christ during his life in Jerusalem and after his resurrection in the land of Bountiful.  So, there is obviously some additional information that we need to understand to resolve these seeming contradictions in the scriptures.

Luckily, some other scriptural clarifications clears things up a bit.  Moses 1:11 clarifies that Moses had to be transfigured in order to see God.  The Joseph Smith translation clarifies further than no sinful man can see God and live... which rules out most of us, given, but still leaves that narrow possibility open for people who have repented and who work to keep themselves clean.  Clarification of 1 John 4:12 also mentions the exception of them that believe, so with this further insight we realize that seeing God is a very big deal, and an experience that you have to be super pure and clean to have, but it is, barely, possible.

I really like the idea of being able to talk with God as we talk with our friends.  Not just the face to face part (although that is obviously super cool), but also just the friend part.  To think of God as our friend takes some of the anxiety out of the equation.  Being able to relax and talk with God and know that he is a friend and wants us to be happy... that's a powerful idea, and a powerful way to look at that relationship.  Of course, he isn't the type of friend that lets us get away with whatever we want, which is good.  He's the kind that spurs us to be better versions of ourselves, and to become more than we currently are.  He's the best kind of friend, and can be our best friend, if we are willing to open our hearts to him.  Today, let's do so.  Even if we don't have the privilege of seeing God face to face in this life, let's still talk to him as our friend, and act on his perfect advice.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Matthew 17:24-27 -- On Fish and Taxes

"And when they were come to Capernaum, they that received tribute money came to Peter, and said, Doth not your master pay tribute?
He saith, Yes. And when he was come into the house, Jesus prevented him, saying, What thinkest thou, Simon? of whom do the kings of the earth take custom or tribute? of their own children, or of strangers?
Peter saith unto him, Of strangers. Jesus saith unto him, Then are the children free.
Notwithstanding, lest we should offend them, go thou to the sea, and cast an hook, and take up the fish that first cometh up; and when thou hast opened his mouth, thou shalt find a piece of money: that take, and give unto them for me and thee."
Matthew 17:24-27

The tribute that the collectors are asking for here was a temple tax, which helps us to understand the symbolism of the story somewhat.  It might be symbolic of God as the King and Jesus as his son, being free of the obligation to pay for the upkeep of his own temple, or really any tax, since God isn't subject to being taxed for his own stuff.  Whether or not that is the exact symbolism, the point here is that Christ wasn't taxable. :)

The story goes further though, and teaches an interesting lesson.  Instead of asserting his divine (and tax-free) status, he provided the means to pay the tax through a miracle.  Instead of behaving like many of the priests of the day who considered themselves above being taxed, he set an example of tolerance and kindness by backing down after he made his point to Peter, so as not to offend others who didn't have the same privileges, and causing unnecessary problems and conflict.

The miracle showed that he didn't need money, and also that he had control over everything--but it wasn't a point he was making to prove he was powerful.  He only wanted to show Peter that he didn't need to be concerned about tax collectors. :)

Today, let's learn the lesson that God was teaching Peter.  Let's remember that God is in charge of everything.  We should render unto Caesar the things which are his (Matthew 22:21) to avoid offense and strife, and definitely avoid being belligerent about our rights, but we should also never get freaked out about those minor (compared to God) things when we have the Lord to trust in.  If God could get a fish to deliver his taxes, he *certainly* can help us to take care of the problems in our lives.  Let's make sure that God comes first in our lives, always, and not let monetary (or other) distractions get in the way of that.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Proverbs 6:16-19 -- On Things to Avoid

"These six things doth the Lord hate: yea, seven are an abomination unto him:
A proud look, a lying tongue, and hands that shed innocent blood,
An heart that deviseth wicked imaginations, feet that be swift in running to mischief,
A false witness that speaketh lies, and he that soweth discord among brethren."
Proverbs 6:16-19

These are some good verses for understanding what *not* to do. :)  I think sometimes we don't take some of these things seriously enough, but maybe understanding that they are on a list of things that the Lord hates will help us avoid them more diligently. :)

It is interesting that the Lord doesn't just condemn pride here, but a "proud look."  As with other things, we should "abstain from all appearance of evil" (1 Thessalonians 5:22), and we have to internalize our humility... feeling it, not just acting it.

Lying tongues and false witnesses that speak lies are condemned, and I think we probably could all improve in this area as well.  It's tempting to pretend we know things or kind of skip over the truth sometimes to avoid embarrassment, to look good, or to win.  Good things to watch out for.

Hearts that devise wicked imaginations is an interesting one.  Sometimes we try to separate thought and action and believe that our imaginations and our fictions are safe ways to explore "the dark side," but we forget that the Lord has told us "as he thinketh in his heart, so is he" (Proverbs 23:7).  Our thoughts and imaginations are part of us, and they become us, and eventually leak into our actions if that is what we keep loading up in our minds.  To become more like God, we have to change our actions *and* our thoughts and desires.

Today, let's avoid doing these things that God is specifically warning us against.  Let's not run to mischief or sow discord, or harm others.  Let's instead build each other up, sowing peace, and running to do good thing and help and serve.  Let's be more like God, and allow God to help us become our best selves.

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.

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