Tuesday, April 25, 2017

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

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


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

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

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

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

Monday, April 24, 2017

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

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


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

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

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

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Matthew 4:4 -- On Food for the Soul

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


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

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

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Psalms 25:4 -- Finding God's Ways

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


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

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

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

Friday, April 21, 2017

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, April 20, 2017

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

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


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

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

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

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

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Exodus 13:21 -- On Pillars of Fire

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


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

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

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

Monday, April 17, 2017

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

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


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

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

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

Sunday, April 16, 2017

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

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


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

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

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

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

Saturday, April 15, 2017

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

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


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

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

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

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

Friday, April 14, 2017

Mosiah 22:15-16 -- On Being Lost

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


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

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

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

Thursday, April 13, 2017

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

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


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

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

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

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

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Daniel 12:2-3 -- On Brightness

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


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

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

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

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Hebrews 1:9 -- On the Oil of Gladness

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


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

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

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

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

Monday, April 10, 2017

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

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


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

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

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

Sunday, April 9, 2017

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

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


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

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

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

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

Saturday, April 8, 2017

Alma 40:11 -- On Being Taken Home

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


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

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

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

Friday, April 7, 2017

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

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


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

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

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

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Alma 24:12 -- On Permanent Stain Removal

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


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

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

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

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

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


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


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

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

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

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

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


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

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

Monday, April 3, 2017

Moroni 10:34 -- On Rest and Triumph

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


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

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

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

Sunday, April 2, 2017

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

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


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

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

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

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

Saturday, April 1, 2017

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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