Sunday, February 26, 2017

1 Peter 3:15 -- On Getting and Spreading Hope

"But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts: and be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness and fear:"
1 Peter 3:15


I really like this idea of always being ready to give a reason for our hope.  This presupposes that we *have* a reason, which means we have to give it some serious thought, and find the reason, or find the hope if we don't currently have any.  And that is some necessary homework in some of the Lord's lessons.  Just as God advises us "Seek not to declare my word, but first seek to obtain my word" (D&C 11:21), we also have some prerequisites here.  We can't be ready to answer other people if we haven't found the answers for ourselves.  We can't help others to safety if we aren't safe.  We can't set an example for others if we haven't straightened out our own lives.  In order to tell people why we have hope, we have to actually *be* hopeful, which is understandably challenging at times, but an amazing and worthwhile thing to learn, and to have, and to share.

It's a general principle for a lot of things in the gospel, I think.  Mormon 9:14 tells us that at the judgment we are going to basically keep what we have learned: "he that is filthy shall be filthy still; and 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 don't think that this means we have to perfect righteousness immediately, or that we can never feel sorrow, but in general it is telling us that we have to learn these things now, so that we can continue to have them in the future.  This life isn't going to end with a grade or a scoreboard where we just miss heaven by a few points, or we just miss the cut-off because someone edged us out by a few seconds.  It's going to be about who we are... who we have chosen to be.  And part of that is learning hope, and once we've internalized that, spreading it to others. :)

Today, let's work on reviving our hope if it is waning, and if it is firmly entrenched, then let's take a look at why it is there, and be ready to tell people about it.  Let's keep God in our thoughts and our hearts, and spread hope.

Saturday, February 25, 2017

Alma 22:15-16 -- What Shall We Do?

"And it came to pass that after Aaron had expounded these things unto him, the king said: What shall I do that I may have this eternal life of which thou hast spoken? Yea, what shall I do that I may be born of God, having this wicked spirit rooted out of my breast, and receive his Spirit, that I may be filled with joy, that I may not be cast off at the last day? Behold, said he, I will give up all that I possess, yea, I will forsake my kingdom, that I may receive this great joy.
But Aaron said unto him: If thou desirest this thing, if thou wilt bow down before God, yea, if thou wilt repent of all thy sins, and will bow down before God, and call on his name in faith, believing that ye shall receive, then shalt thou receive the hope which thou desirest."
Alma 22:15-16


I really love the question here "What shall I do?"  The king of the Lamanites (Lamoni's father) believes what Aaron is teaching him about the gospel, and he feels the need to do something about it.  I love that he offers to forsake his kingdom... the most important thing that he could think of.

Aaron, of course, tells him that he needs to repent.  Sometimes that's probably as hard as giving up a kingdom, but the king accepted the price and went to God in prayer, and changed his life from that moment, and he and his people were serious about repentance and became a remarkably righteous people after this.

We might not be able to capture the exact excitement and joy that the king felt here as he was introduced to the gospel, but I think we can use this reminder to reawaken our own memories of learning of and converting to the gospel, and remember how cool the promises of God are.  Isn't the joy that God promises worth whatever we can do to get there?  Today, let's ask the same question that the king asked: What shall we do?  And then let's get started on whatever answer God gives us.  Let's work on rooting that wickedness out of ourselves and changing our lives in order to accept the joy that God offers us, and to be prepared for eternal life with him.

Friday, February 24, 2017

Psalms 30:4-5 -- On Singing for Joy

"Sing unto the Lord, O ye saints of his, and give thanks at the remembrance of his holiness.
For his anger endureth but a moment; in his favour is life: weeping may endure for a night, but joy cometh in the morning."
Psalms 30:4-5


To me these verses together tell us that we should sing about the happy ending that God promises us.  No matter where we are in life, up or down, or hopelessly confused... in this moment we might not be able to see or feel the promise, and in this moment we might weep because we are frightened or lost.  But if we stick with God, things will get better... because God.  Because everything he does is golden, and everywhere we go with him is paradise.  He offers us all a promised land--a happy ending.

It's hard to see sometimes, given.  Bad things happen.  Things get confusing.  We make mistakes and sometimes we purposely choose evil.  We don't always know which way is up, and even when we do, sometimes we choose down. Those things aren't to be belittled.  They matter to us, and God cares about our sorrows too, and he will help us bear them and overcome every challenge, if we turn to him.  What we need to remember even in the hard times though is that God always knows which way is up, and he will help us.  No pain or sorrow is so great that God can't show us the way through it, and lead us to further joy and happiness.  We just have to clean up our lives, keep faith and hope, and stick with his plan.  God's plan doesn't guarantee a life free of pain, or endless riches, much as we might prefer.  It does guarantee a lifetime of learning though, and amidst the pain and the struggle, he can always show us the joy and hope and goodness that is shining through if we look for it.

Today, let's sing for the joy that the Lord offers us.  Let's find it, work for it, and welcome it.

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Revelation 22:11 -- On Jigsaw Puzzles and the Importance of Now

"He that is unjust, let him be unjust still: and he which is filthy, let him be filthy still: and he that is righteous, let him be righteous still: and he that is holy, let him be holy still."
Revelation 22:11


This is talking about God's judgment, and it is similar to Mormon 9:14.  Both talk about filthy and righteous, but instead of unjust and holy, it adds "he that is happy shall be happy still; and he that is unhappy shall be unhappy still."  The idea of being, at the judgment and beyond, what we have already become, is a very powerful one.  It focuses us on the now, on what we are doing during this life, and it shows us just how much it matters, because the lessons we learn during our short, temporary stay in mortality are going to stay with us forever, and have a direct bearing on what happens after this.

Today, let's focus on learning the important lessons now, and not push them off for later.  Now is the time that we have, and our decisions affect and shape our eternities.  It feels creepy enough to be filthy for short periods of time... can you imagine feeling that way forever?  Or getting stuck at unhappy and never being able to get ourselves unstuck?  Let's take our time today more seriously, and learn the things that we need to learn.  Not that we can't have some humor in our lives, or find the joy around us.  Not scared-serious or stiff-serious... after all we have to learn to be happy now as well, right?  Just let's recognize how important our lives are, and learn all we can.  It reminds me of a jigsaw puzzle... we jump in and start, get the edges, get the big color differences or major objects, and then when it starts to get sorta hard and we have to look at shape rather than picture, we just stop and leave it on the table for a year.  ... We don't want to be like that poor, abandoned jigsaw puzzle for eternity.  Yeah, some parts of our lessons and development are tougher than others, but they are extra worth it in order to feel whole, and complete, and prepared to meet God.  Let's dive in, and get it done. :)

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Jonah 1:12 -- On Rebellion and Sacrifice

"And he said unto them, Take me up, and cast me forth into the sea; so shall the sea be calm unto you: for I know that for my sake this great tempest is upon you."
Jonah 1:12


In the story of Jonah we often focus on the whole swallowed-by-giant-fish thing, but this is one of the other interesting parts.  Jonah was trying to run away from doing as God had asked (which doesn't really work), and in this part of the story, he buys passage on a ship, and because of him, the ship is in a lot of trouble.  He has told his story to the sailors; they ask him to pray for them, and eventually Jonah tells them that they should throw him into the sea.  They don't at first.  They keep trying to make it to land without doing that, but eventually they do, after praying that God will forgive them for doing as Jonah directed... and then of course we get into the big fish part.

What impressed me on this read-through of the story is that even though Jonah is actively rebelling and running away from God as far as he can get, he still cares enough about the people on the ship to be willing to sacrifice his life for them.  Neither Jonah nor the people on the ship know that Jonah's life will be spared.  They think that this choice means death.  Jonah is running away from what God asked him to do, yes, but he hasn't lost his compassion for others, and he doesn't want others to suffer for his poor choices.

I think that we get ourselves into some bad situations sometimes, and sometimes we're in circumstances where we're going to take others down with us if we continue our rebellious ways. Like Jonah, let's choose compassion over comfort--sacrifice over selfishness.  Let's turn around and walk away from causing any harm to others through our poor choices.  Hopefully we won't have to get swallowed by a great fish in order to learn other important lessons about our relationship with God... but even if we do, let's make sure that we're the only ones in the water.  Let's never be willing to sacrifice others for our pride.  And, you know, if we have the presence of mind to protect others, perhaps we'll one day grow wise enough to protect ourselves as well, and make some better choices. :)

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

D&C 134:9 -- On Religious Influence

"We do not believe it just to mingle religious influence with civil government, whereby one religious society is fostered and another proscribed in its spiritual privileges, and the individual rights of its members, as citizens, denied."
Doctrine and Covenants 134:9


There is a lot of good, interesting stuff in this section, but this verse stood out to me because it is basically saying what the First Amendment does, emphasizing the separation of church and state... the idea that we shouldn't encourage or discourage religion, or any particular religion by law.  I think sometimes as religious people we forget how wise that law is, and how much it protects us, and everyone else... and perhaps we need a reminder now and then that God supports that same idea.  God has never been about coercion or using undue influence to accomplish his goals.  He made us free, and he isn't interested in us trying to tear down any of that freedom in his name.  That would be a misrepresentation of everything that he stands for.

Today, let's remember that God supports the individual rights of all people, whatever religion they belong to.  Let's remember that tearing down anyone else's rights also erodes our rights, and that if we want justice for ourselves, we also have to support justice for others.  It is hard to remember sometimes, because probably all of us want good things to prevail over bad things.  Good people over bad people.  But let's also be humble enough to remember that we don't always agree on what is good and bad, even in our families... and we *definitely* can't see into other people's hearts to know whether they are good or bad, or will become such.  We can't see the consequences of our decisions the way that God can, and listening to his wisdom, and walking in the ways that he has asked, is the best way, for ourselves and for others, because God knows what is coming, and how to protect us all and bring us back to him in the end with joy and peace and love.  Let's trust him over ourselves, and work to let go of our biases and our stubbornness, and see what God has in store by walking in his way, and not our own.

Monday, February 20, 2017

Alma 28:13-14 -- On Inequality and Joy

"And thus we see how great the inequality of man is because of sin and transgression, and the power of the devil, which comes by the cunning plans which he hath devised to ensnare the hearts of men.
And thus we see the great call of diligence of men to labor in the vineyards of the Lord; and thus we see the great reason of sorrow, and also of rejoicing—sorrow because of death and destruction among men, and joy because of the light of Christ unto life."
Alma 28:13-14


I like this idea that inequality is the result of sin and transgression.  I think that offers us hope, that as we live better, keeping the commandments and working on doing as God asks, that we will get closer and closer to equality in the world, helping each other and lifting each other up.  ... And let's be careful not to interpret this in a bad way.  God isn't saying poor or powerless people are sinners and rich and powerful people are righteous.  That's just not true, and believing things like that contributes to the problem.  Instead, God is saying that as we accept each other as equals, regardless of wealth or power, and recognize that we all have strengths and weaknesses, we can learn from other people in the areas where they are strong, and they might be able to learn from us when our strengths match their weaknesses.

Today, let's not let the devil ensnare our hearts and encourage or justify inequality.  Let's jump in and help in the Lord's vineyard.  Let's see the sorrow in death and destruction, but work with everything we have for the joy and the light and the life that Christ offers us.  Let's let go of our biases and generalizations, and let's really see each other as children of God... all with that magnificent eternal potential that God has given to us all.  Let's see the good in each other and find the joy in friendship and equality. :)

Sunday, February 19, 2017

2 Corinthians 8:2 -- On Generosity in Poverty and Joy in Affliction

"How that in a great trial of affliction the abundance of their joy and their deep poverty abounded unto the riches of their liberality."
2 Corinthians 8:2


This is a verse of seeming contradictions.  People who were in the midst of great afflictions, and yet were overflowing with joy.  These same people were desperately poor, and yet were overly generous and giving.  Those things just don't seem to go together in our world.  We hear of the charities set up by b'zillionaires, but we don't often hear stories like the one that Christ told about the widow's mite (Mark 12:42-44).

This poor-but-generous thing seems to be something that Christ asks of us, at least at some level in our progression.  He told the rich man who asked what more he could do to "sell all that thou hast, and distribute unto the poor" (Luke 18:22).  It also sounds like the idea that crops up many times in the scriptures about having "all things common" (Acts 4:32, 3 Nephi 26:19), or having no poor among the people (Deuteronomy 15:4, Moses 7:18), or the idea of being equal in worldly possessions: "For if ye are not equal in earthly things ye cannot be equal in obtaining heavenly things;" (D&C 78:6).  Whenever people get really close to perfection, God asks them to try it.  And maybe we're not ready as a society to jump there all at once, but there are definitely things that we can do that will help us get closer individually.  Something good to think on.

The idea of joy in the midst of affliction is another one that crops up in scripture a lot, for instance Mosiah 24:15, where the people were in slavery and yet cheerful, because the Lord had lightened their burdens.  Joy is something that we can have with God's help, no matter what else is going on in our lives.  I know it doesn't always feel like it... sometimes it feels like there is no path back to feeling good, and that we're trapped in the darkness.  Because we know how it feels, let's reach out to others who feel that way and show them some light by supporting and helping them in their hours of need.  And when we are trapped and sinking, let's reach out to God.  He will always be there for us, to lighten our burdens and to help us to find joy and peace.

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Alma 12:3-5 -- On Lying

"Now Zeezrom, seeing that thou hast been taken in thy lying and craftiness, for thou hast not lied unto men only but thou hast lied unto God; for behold, he knows all thy thoughts, and thou seest that thy thoughts are made known unto us by his Spirit;
And thou seest that we know that thy plan was a very subtle plan, as to the subtlety of the devil, for to lie and to deceive this people that thou mightest set them against us, to revile us and to cast us out—
Now this was a plan of thine adversary, and he hath exercised his power in thee. Now I would that ye should remember that what I say unto thee I say unto all."
Alma 12:3-5


Some good reminders here.  Zeezrom was preaching against Christ, and was caught in his lies.  Even though in the end he admitted that he believed, he was led astray by the devil, who convinced him that, basically, his lies didn't matter.  He justified it to himself in order to accomplish other goals that he believed in, such as believing erroneously that the church was corrupt and trying to deceive people, etc.  A verse in D&C 10:25 explains a similar deception by Satan: "And thus he flattereth them, and telleth them that it is no sin to lie that they may catch a man in a lie, that they may destroy him."

I think sometimes we fall for Satan's deceptions.  We think that lying is okay in order to accomplish some goal or another, or think that it is justified if we know that another party is lying already... that somehow responding to a lie with a lie makes it okay.  But it doesn't.  God asks us to be honest, and to care for others, not to work to deceive them.  Not just for them, but for us too.  The more we lie, the more we have to lie to cover up previous deceptions.  Even if we don't get caught outright in our lies by others, we are already caught in our own web.  Dishonesty drives away the spirit, and our dishonest actions can destroy trust and our personal and professional relationships.

Today, let's work on our honesty.  Let's not lie, even when it seems justified in the moment.  It's a difficult thing sometimes in our society, where we're surrounded by lies and justifications.  However, let's work to not be part of that trend.  God will help us if we are struggling to do the right thing.  Above all, let's be honest with ourselves and with God.  He knows already, but unless we are open about it with him, he can't help us to improve.

Friday, February 17, 2017

Proverbs 14:29 -- On Slowing Down the Wrath

"He that is slow to wrath is of great understanding: but he that is hasty of spirit exalteth folly."
Proverbs 14:29


The idea of being "hasty of spirit" makes me think of some of the times in life when we just don't think things through, or sometimes we *know* that our reaction will make someone feel bad, but in the moment, for whatever reason, we think that they deserve it.  And then, of course, everything goes wrong and we wish we could take it all back.

My brother introduced me to a kid's show called Peg + Cat, where the main character often freaks out, and has to count to 5 to calm down.  I like that, and often try to emulate that in my life when I am freaking out as well.  ... And it doesn't have to be that method, of course, but God gives us some *excellent* advice here about being slow to wrath, and whatever way we can implement in our lives to slow that wrath down so that our minds and our better judgement can catch up is going to be helpful... in leading us to great understanding, and probably helping us avoid a lot of pitfalls in life.

Let's not exalt folly or defend and justify our anger and hasty action.  It's not our place to judge whether someone deserves negativity either.  Those decisions are for the Lord, who will make it all right in the end.  For now, we're all in the same boat, all making really, really bad decisions sometimes.  Let's give each other a break.  Let's slow down that wrath, and find that in between space between action and reaction to chill out a little, and modify our message.  Let's show love and gratitude and kindness rather than lashing out or complaining.  Let's do what we can to set a good example and make the world better rather than worse.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

2 Nephi 33:1 -- On Spirit-Infused Communication

"And now I, Nephi, cannot write all the things which were taught among my people; neither am I mighty in writing, like unto speaking; for when a man speaketh by the power of the Holy Ghost the power of the Holy Ghost carrieth it unto the hearts of the children of men."
2 Nephi 33:1


Nephi talks here about the Holy Ghost carrying his words to people's hearts when he speaks.  I really like that idea of spirit-infused words.  I think, even though Nephi thought he was bad at it, the same thing can work for written words, and maybe even our actions.  If we are doing God's will for the right reasons, and we are writing what God would have us say, I think God can help carry those words and actions to others.

God is spoken of as "the word" in scripture, and we also know that God can speak and make things happen... perhaps this idea of having the spirit infused into our actions is the first step to that kind of harmony with thought and action and faith.  Being so in tune with God to be able to feel that spirit in whatever we do is a powerful idea, and one that it would be cool to strive for.

Today, let's work on having the Spirit with us as we speak, write, and act.  Let's do good things and be the sort of people that the Spirit can testify of.  Let's not let the world corrupt us, but instead look to God and let him purify us, and make us worthy of that kind of spirit-infused communication. :)

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Matthew 5:24 -- On Making More Room for Good

"Leave there thy gift before the altar, and go thy way; first be reconciled to thy brother, and then come and offer thy gift."
Matthew 5:24


This is interesting.  We already know that the first commandment is to love God, and the second is to love our neighbors (Mark 12:30-31), but this seems to be saying that trouble with that second commandment can get in the way of the first.  If we are having trouble getting along with each other, that can cause problems with our relationship with God.

We already knew this on some level, right?  We feel ourselves farther away from God when we are in conflict with others.  But it is a good reminder.  I think sometimes we feel like the two are independent... that we can love God while hating someone else.  And we can certainly try, but God, here, asks us to resolve our other problems before making any offering to him.  Our broken hearts and contrite spirits might even be enhanced if we take the time to do things in the order that God asks. :)

Today, let's remember that we will have a much better relationship with God if we learn to love and heal the relationships that we have with others.  Let's work on forgiveness and reconciliation and kindness, working with God so that we can see the good in others, and so that we know better how to help and serve, and also how to let go of resentment and anger that can get in the way of trying to love anyone.  Resolving our negative emotional turmoil leaves us a lot more room for positive feelings, and allows us to love God better, just like repentance gets sin off our minds and consciences so that we can focus more on the things of the Spirit.  Let's clear out the bad and make more room for good. :)

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Matthew 16:21-24 -- On Denying Ourselves rather than Reality

"From that time forth began Jesus to shew unto his disciples, how that he must go unto Jerusalem, and suffer many things of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and be raised again the third day.
Then Peter took him, and began to rebuke him, saying, Be it far from thee, Lord: this shall not be unto thee.
But he turned, and said unto Peter, Get thee behind me, Satan: thou art an offence unto me: for thou savourest not the things that be of God, but those that be of men.
Then said Jesus unto his disciples, If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me."
Matthew 16:21-24


This is an interesting passage.  Jesus is telling his disciples that he has to die, as part of God's plan, and his friends, understandably, don't want it to happen, and want him to stop talking that way.  Imagine if one of our friends were talking about having to die.  We'd be worried too.  But I guess maybe that is part of the point.  They didn't yet get that he wasn't just talking or depressed, or "normal person" things... that he was preparing them and prophesying to them about what was going to happen.  Christ tells Peter, basically, "stop tempting me."   We know that Christ didn't particularly want to die since he asked the Father to let the cup pass from him.  So, I imagine that having his friend upset about him impending death was a hard thing, but it was still something that he had to do.

There are a lot of things like that in our lives too.  I don't mean death predictions, but things that we don't necessarily want to do, but that we do anyway because we know that it is important.  Like Christ, we want to do them for God more than we want to escape them for ourselves.  That is a super hard thing to learn, because we aren't often very good at patience and faith and self-control and selflessness.  Today, though, let's try to be good at those things.  Let's work on facing the things that we need to face, on reconciling ourselves to the will of God (2 Nephi 10:24) rather than just doing our own thing.  Let's follow God, denying ourselves bad things, and facing the things that we need to face. Let's also work on being better friends... on facing the truth, kindly, rather than tempting others to deny reality / go against God's will, even when it is difficult.

Monday, February 13, 2017

Romans 8:35 -- On Love and Separation

"Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?"
Romans 8:35


This is an interesting question, and the chapter goes on to say that death and life and other creatures or any powers, or past or present... none of these things can do it.  Sincerely, I think that the only answer that exists is that *we* can separate ourselves from God's love.  That's the only thing that can.  And even then, it is *us* walking away from it, refusing it.

God knows us better than we know ourselves, and he loves us more than we can possibly imagine. Unfortunately, we can choose to refuse his love, and refuse to participate in any relationship with him... to disown him in a way, to unfriend, or un-know/deny him, even though part of us knew him before we were born.  That is actually a really scary thought.  Let's not go there, today or ever.  Let's accept God's love, and his help, and embrace that relationship, and keep his Spirit with us, so that we can become better and happier, and closer to our ideal selves.  Let's love him back, and help him in his work, which is all for our benefit.  Christ loves us so much that he was willing to die for us.  Let's be willing to live in his love.

Sunday, February 12, 2017

D&C 11:13 -- On Joy and Enlightenment

"Verily, verily, I say unto you, I will impart unto you of my Spirit, which shall enlighten your mind, which shall fill your soul with joy;"
Doctrine and Covenants 11:13


This is a great reminder that one of the things that the Holy Ghost can do for us is fill our souls with joy. :)  That seems like a pretty awesome reason to work harder in our lives to keep the Spirit with us.

Having the Spirit with us doesn't mean, of course, that bad or sad things will never happen.  I think what it truly means is that we will be able to see the joy, and focus on the good, even when we are sad, and even when there is evil around us.  Even funerals aren't all sad when the Spirit whispers to us, reassuring us that there is life beyond the grave.  Political machinations and disagreements don't have to consume our lives if, with the assistance of the Holy Ghost, we look for the good in the world, and how to help and uplift our neighbors.  The enlightening the mind part can probably help with that too, if we need some ideas. :)

Today, let's work on keeping the Spirit with us, so that we can feel that pure, amazing joy that comes from God.  Let's let it enlighten our minds and help us find better ways to deal with challenges, and kinder ways to interact with others.  Let's stick with God.  His plan of happiness is sure, even when things seem dark.

Saturday, February 11, 2017

1 Nephi 18:23 -- On Calling it the Promised Land

"And it came to pass that after we had sailed for the space of many days we did arrive at the promised land; and we went forth upon the land, and did pitch our tents; and we did call it the promised land."
1 Nephi 18:23


This is the arrival of Lehi and his family and the rest of their party in the land that God had promised them.  They had been through a lot, and I am sure it was a relief to finally arrive.  I am also sure that it was difficult for them to start over again, but they stayed positive, and called it the promised land rather than "Stuck in the Wilderness: Part II."  They jumped in and made it their own, and invested everything they had in it.

I think that God grants us all a promised land of some sort, which is often very different or very far away from where we wanted to go in the first place.  But God knows what we can become, and to find that out, and to become that better self, sometimes we need to pick up and try something different.  If we trust God, and do as he asks, he will make a path for us.  And when we get there sometimes it isn't that impressive.  It just looks like wilderness.  It doesn't look like a new home, or an immense, amazing possibility... just more hardship, more work, more sacrifice.  And yet, if it is what God promised, and his gift to us, we can also trust that it will be valuable beyond measure, and worth every investment.

Today, let's trust God, and invest in his gifts and promises to us.  He won't lead us astray, or leave us to perish in the wilderness.  He'll help us break ground and build something amazing.  With a little effort, we can transform whatever wilderness he gives us into a place where we belong... a place of peace and contentment and love.  Let's call it the Promised Land, and then work to make it that way. :)

Friday, February 10, 2017

Philippians 1:29-30 -- On Suffering and Service

"For unto you it is given in the behalf of Christ, not only to believe on him, but also to suffer for his sake;
Having the same conflict which ye saw in me, and now hear to be in me."
Philippians 1:29-30


When we think of suffering for Christ's sake we often think of the persecution of religion, or how hard it is to stand up for what we believe in the midst of a world that often mocks the truth.  Interestingly, though those kinds of suffering are things that sometimes obscure our view of the true joy of the gospel, they aren't what Paul is talking about in this particular place.  The "same conflict" here is what Paul refers to earlier in the chapter (Philippians 1:23-24): "For I am in a strait betwixt two, having a desire to depart, and to be with Christ; which is far better: / Nevertheless to abide in the flesh is more needful for you."

Paul's suffering, and our suffering as he refers to it, is life itself.  The necessity to be here, when we could be with God instead.  And sometimes that is a real struggle.  Life is hard, with many other kinds of suffering and pain.  And yet, life is also good and amazing, and meaningful and *worth it.*  Paul, who desired so much to be with Christ, stayed anyway, because he knew he needed to teach and help.  And, as he says, we are given the same task... to stay here and help others in the service of Christ.

The whole idea of only staying alive for the benefit of other people really spins my head a little bit... in a good way.  It kind of kicks out all of my selfishness as irrelevant and forces me to look at that bigger question... why am I even here, and alive?  And of course it is because of Christ, and of course I should be here, remain here, and help him... no matter what my personal struggles or (by comparison) petty challenges.  If I am not here for me, but to help others, then that is what I need to focus on, and the "suffering" or struggle of life... surviving, having a clogged sink... you know, whatever... those are all side issues. :)

Today, let's focus on helping Christ by serving and assisting others, rather than focusing on our own struggles.  Let's accept the suffering inherent in life, and roll with it--as a tertiary concern, not letting it distract us from our main goal, part of which at least is helping others feel the joy of Christ and his gospel.

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Abraham 5:7 -- On Body, Spirit, Soul, and Cake

"And the Gods formed man from the dust of the ground, and took his spirit (that is, the man’s spirit), and put it into him; and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and man became a living soul."
Abraham 5:7


This verse is basically saying that our bodies are foreign to us when we start out in this life, but our spirits have been around a long time.  Joined together, they are both a part of us, making us whole in a new way that we had never experienced before mortality.  This is an important truth, because we so often get life backwards.  We think that what our body wants, and the physical desires we were born with, should dictate our lives.  We think that our bodies should take precedence in this new unity of soul.

Letting our bodies have control is not what God wants.  God tells us to *not* be as the "as the horse, or as the mule" (Psalms 32:9), but instead to "bridle all [our] passions" (Alma 38:12).
This doesn't mean that our bodies are bad at all. They are an awesome gift, and they make it possible for us to feel joy on a whole new level. Plus, God has a body, and we need bodies so that we can follow his path. We just need to make sure that our *spirits* take precedence, so that we can do as God asks, and not fall away, following the whims of desire and appetite. Just like we have to learn not to eat cake all day, we have to learn to control all our desires. As we treat our bodies well, and teach ourselves to be in harmony within our souls, we can grow in joy and in connection to God... finding the awesome, good things about life rather than letting ourselves go after desires that are unwise and which will make us unhappy in the long term. True joy is found in internal harmony, and unity with God... not, much as we may like it temporarily, in eating cake all day. :) God has much better things in store.

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Hebrews 3:7-8 -- On Being Open to God's Voice

"Wherefore (as the Holy Ghost saith, To day if ye will hear his voice,
Harden not your hearts, as in the provocation, in the day of temptation in the wilderness:"
Hebrews 3:7-8


Another good reminder to not harden our hearts.  It's hard not to.  I think that we are want to protect ourselves from being hurt.  We want to be safe in the middle of a harsh world, and we often think that we need to do that by hardening ourselves--building walls so that no one can get in, and so that we don't have to face the outside world.  I'm not saying escapism doesn't have its place, but God is explaining to us here, and elsewhere in the scriptures, that if we harden ourselves to others, we're moving in the wrong direction.  Sometimes, even though it is hard, vulnerability is a part of our ability to love, and we have to open ourselves up, and be willing to face some pain, in order to also be able to feel love and joy.

Today, let's open ourselves to God's voice instead of shutting down and hardening our defenses.  Let's take the risk and reach out to each other, and to God, and trust him to take care of the things that we can't control.

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Alma 45:16 -- On Sin and Allowance and Ripening

"And he said: Thus saith the Lord God—Cursed shall be the land, yea, this land, unto every nation, kindred, tongue, and people, unto destruction, which do wickedly, when they are fully ripe; and as I have said so shall it be; for this is the cursing and the blessing of God upon the land, for the Lord cannot look upon sin with the least degree of allowance."
Alma 45:16


I really like that the land is both cursed and blessed.  I think cursed to the wicked, but blessed to the righteous... which is good and bad together, helping the land and the community on the land stay good overall, but also bad if we are still caught in bad actions and habits.

Sometimes when we hear that God can't look at sin with "the least degree of allowance," we worry that we are already cursed, or lost.  Which of us can pass that test?  We're all sinners, and well beyond the limitations if God is going to be nit-picky about it like that, right?  Except that isn't really what God is about.  He isn't condemning us by saying that, or preventing us from having hope for our own salvation.  What he *is* saying is that we can't just stop trying to improve and ever say, well, I'm good enough.  God will let my other bad habits slide.  He won't... not in the end.  And that is the distinction here I think.  The verse says that cursing and destruction will come to the wicked "when they are fully ripe."  And, believe me, we are totally not ripe yet.  We still have a chance to repent, and learn, and develop and change.  We have time to let go of our bad habits.  We have time to learn to be better people.  All God is saying is that we shouldn't stop working to be better.

Now, of course, when I say "we have time," I don't mean that we can just kick back and sin for 10 or 20 years and then start repenting.  I can't guarantee anyone's life span, and I definitely can't guarantee that if we walk away from God that far that we'll ever find our way back.  People have done it, but seems pretty risky.  What I am saying is that God leaves us room to repent, and doesn't slam the door on heaven for one mistake.  We get to keep trying.  He can't allow sin in heaven.  That's not about meanness, but about the nature of Heaven.  It's a sin-free zone, and if we want to go there, we have to live that way... *be* that way.  But God will help us get there, holding our hand the whole way if we need it.

Today, let's make sure we don't get fully ripened in sin.  Let's repent, let's change.  And let's definitely not be scared off by the whole sin-free idea.  We *can* get there.  It's okay if we aren't there immediately.  Let's just keep working on it, and stick with God, who can help us make progress and be better every day.

Monday, February 6, 2017

Romans 4:18-21 -- On Hope and Promises

"Who against hope believed in hope, that he might become the father of many nations, according to that which was spoken, So shall thy seed be.
And being not weak in faith, he considered not his own body now dead, when he was about an hundred years old, neither yet the deadness of Sara’s womb:
He staggered not at the promise of God through unbelief; but was strong in faith, giving glory to God;
And being fully persuaded that, what he had promised, he was able also to perform."
Romans 4:18-21


This is about Abraham, and the faith that he had in God, trusting that what he promised would come to pass.  I really like the part about being fully persuaded.  I think that is sometimes where we fall short.  We look at the scriptures and know that God brought miracles to pass for the prophets, but we have a harder time believing God's promises to us individually, considering ourselves unworthy, or out of favor, or whatever depressing thing comes to mind.

Part of faith has to be not only knowing that God can do things, but that he will, and that he really loves us like he says he does.  Not believing that we are worthy of love or that God doesn't really mean what he says is just calling God a liar in a different way.  Just like we can't assume we are exceptions when it comes to the commandments, we also should not assume that we are exceptions when it comes to God's love, forgiveness, or acceptance.  No matter what scary negative evidence we can dig up from the dregs of our paranoid minds, God *does* love us, will always love us, and is always extending a hand of forgiveness and welcome to us, asking us to come back to him, to move from lost to found.

Today, let's believe God's promises, and no matter how much we have been against hope, let's believe in hope.  Let's stop listening to internal and external negative voices, and have faith that God can, and will, keep his promises.  Let's stop justifying our inaction by pretending that we are of no value or not worth saving.  Instead, let's remember Abraham, and believe that--even if all the evidence points the other way--God can still save us, as he says he can.  Let's jump in and do the work to be ready to be saved.  Let's swim upward instead of downward, and be there when God reaches to pull us into the lifeboat.

Sunday, February 5, 2017

Alma 62:41 -- On Choosing to Hope

"But behold, because of the exceedingly great length of the war between the Nephites and the Lamanites many had become hardened, because of the exceedingly great length of the war; and many were softened because of their afflictions, insomuch that they did humble themselves before God, even in the depth of humility."
Alma 62:41


This verse tells us that through very similar prolonged difficulties and harsh circumstances, some people had become hardened, and others had become softened.  Some of that might have been differences in individual circumstance, but I also think that a lot of it has to be choice.  People in the midst of the war had a choice... they could become harder, trying to protect themselves from pain, or they could soften, learning more empathy for others.

I think that when we go through hard things in life, we also have similar choices.  And it isn't bad to want to protect ourselves, but choosing compassion and love rather than hardness and hatred is a better option.  To do so, we have to find a way to feel secure despite challenges and tragedy and fear, and we can't have that kind of faith without God.  Indeed, he is the only thing that can give us that kind of confidence.

Today, let's work on becoming better because of our trials instead of becoming hardened.  Let's be humble and put our faith in God and look to him for hope even in the midst of suffering.

Saturday, February 4, 2017

Psalms 108:12 -- On Help

"Give us help from trouble: for vain is the help of man."
Psalms 108:12


Sometimes verse like this, or the don't trust the arm of flesh type scriptures (2 Nephi 4:34) can make us feel sort of useless.  God is who we all need, and so it seems sort of less so on the needing each other side.  Some clarification is offered in 2 Nephi 28:31 that lets us know that we shouldn't trust in man unless "their precepts shall be given by the power of the Holy Ghost."

I think actually our verse for today could be two very similar circumstances.  Imagine the two versions of help are being offered by the exact same person, on a split screen.  The only difference is that on that first screen, God is part of the equation.

We've probably felt this in our own lives.  We encounter a situation and we kind of freeze up, with no idea what to do... but then we take some deep breaths, we say a little prayer, and suddenly we're okay, and we get in there and help things work out.  God is what makes the difference, all the time.  On some level we know that we can't handle all of this alone, and that if we try, we're likely to screw it up.  Sometimes trying to go it alone just isn't going to work, and we have to have God's help to succeed.  And in those times, we learn a lot, and learn more about handling lots of different kinds of things as God teaches us.

Today, whether we are needing or offering help, let's remember that our efforts alone can't solve things or make everything better.  But, if we go to the Lord and get *his* help in strengthening and guiding us, and blessing us with wisdom, then we can both find our way in our own lives, and we will be able to offer help to others in their lives, and it won't be in vain, because God will be with us.

Friday, February 3, 2017

Proverbs 27:23-24 -- On Preparing for the Ups and Downs

"Be thou diligent to know the state of thy flocks, and look well to thy herds.
For riches are not for ever: and doth the crown endure to every generation?"
Proverbs 27:23-24


This is a good reminder to us that life is variable, and sometimes we are going to be up, and sometimes we are going to be down.  We might have a lot, or be in charge one day, and the next day it is all gone.  It kind of reminds me of Joseph interpreting Pharaoh's dream about the 7 years of plenty followed by the seven years of severe famine (Genesis 41:28:32).   I think that the lesson here is similar.  We need to be diligent to take care of what we have, and not waste it, or squander our "extra," because we can't count on things always being good.

When things are good, we need to prepare for when it will be bad.  That's one of the reasons that God asks us to have some food storage and other things set aside: so that we are prepared for whatever comes, good or bad.  Now, of course this doesn't mean that we shouldn't be generous and share with others, or that we need to start stockpiling weapons to fight the zombie hordes.  I don't think that it has to be a high drama thing, or that we have to be motivated by fear in any of it.  It is just ups and downs in life... it is to be expected. :)  To do as God asks, we don't have to panic.  We just need to think ahead a little bit.  Save just a little every week that maybe we would have spent on something we didn't need that much.  Buy an extra package of bottled water when we're at the store.  Small things add up, so that when we do get to some of those down times, we have something in place that can help us out.

Today let's make sure we are careful to take care of what we have and do what we can to prepare for the future.  If a down time comes, let's not be scared or panic.  Let's just look to God and work through it.  And when we are in an up time, let's do whatever we can to put a little aside, so that we will be more prepared next time one of the downs comes along. :)

Thursday, February 2, 2017

2 Peter 1:4-7 -- On Adding to our Faith

"Whereby are given unto us exceeding great and precious promises: that by these ye might be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust.
And beside this, giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue; and to virtue knowledge;
And to knowledge temperance; and to temperance patience; and to patience godliness;
And to godliness brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness charity."
2 Peter 1:4-7


I like this idea that we start out with the ability to partake of the divine nature through faith... the divine spirit as a gift from God, if we take the time and prepare ourselves to listed and partake.  And then some great suggestions on things to add to that as we go. :)

Virtue, knowledge, temperance, patience, godliness, brotherly kindness, charity: I am not sure they have to be worked on in that order, and they are probably all things that we have to work on throughout our lives, not things we can master all the way before we move on to the next.  However, it is a good list/ladder for consideration.  I know that that patience one there in the middle is a big stumbling block for me sometimes, as is temperance... staying calm, not jumping into drama... and of course I need to improve at everything else as well.  Likely, most of us do, since we're mortal and fallible and all that. :)

Today, perhaps we can look at this list and compare the list against our actions and communications... maybe pick out some things that are hard for us, or that we need to work on.  Let's try to add good things to our faith and discipleship.  Let's work to stand up for good, and make the world a better place through becoming better followers of God.

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Doctrine and Covenants 121:7-8 -- On Enduring Well

"My son, peace be unto thy soul; thine adversity and thine afflictions shall be but a small moment;
And then, if thou endure it well, God shall exalt thee on high; thou shalt triumph over all thy foes."
Doctrine and Covenants 121:7-8


The idea of "enduring well" is interesting.  Enduring sometimes seems like gritting our teeth and just trying to get through it, but when God adds "well" in there, it seems like there has to be something more to it.  It reminds me of Mosiah 24:15 where the people "did submit cheerfully and with patience to all the will of the Lord," even though at the time they were enslaved.

Bad things are going to happen.  We know that, right?  We can't get through life completely free of pain, or unaffected by other people negatively.  We might have our stuff stolen, or lose our jobs, our shelter, and even our loved ones.  We might have health issues that make it harder to enjoy our favorite things.  Joseph Smith, who the verses above were directed to, definitely had some tough things going on, both for himself and for the people that he felt responsible for.  But despite the incredibly hard things that he had to go through, he did a great work, and accomplished so much in his life.  And I think that is what God is really asking all of us.  Instead of being angry and resentful when bad things happen, maybe we can recognize that it is part of life... part of the test, and not let it stop us from doing good and learning to *be* good.

Today, no matter how tough things are, let's work on enduring well.  Let's not let the tough parts of life ruin the good parts.  Let's prioritize our faith over our fear.  Let's help others to see hope, even when despair is most tempting.  Let's look for the good, and find the joy.

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