Wednesday, March 29, 2017

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

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


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

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

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

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


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

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

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

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

Monday, March 27, 2017

Isaiah 60:2-3 -- On Brightness

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


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

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

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

Sunday, March 26, 2017

D&C 38:42 -- On Saving Ourselves

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Isaiah 24:23 -- On Outshining the Sun

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


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

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

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

Friday, March 24, 2017

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

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


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

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

Thursday, March 23, 2017

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

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


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

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

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

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

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Moroni 7:6-8 -- On Attitude

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


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

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

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

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

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

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

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


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

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

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

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

Monday, March 20, 2017

Psalms 90:14 -- On Mercy and Gladness

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


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

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

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

Sunday, March 19, 2017

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

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


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

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

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

Saturday, March 18, 2017

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

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


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

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

Friday, March 17, 2017

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

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


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

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

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

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Deuteronomy 15:10-11 -- On Giving

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


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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Mark 4:23-25 -- On Ears and Memories

"If any man have ears to hear, let him hear.
And he said unto them, Take heed what ye hear: with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you: and unto you that hear shall more be given.
For he that hath, to him shall be given: and he that hath not, from him shall be taken even that which he hath."
Mark 4:23-25


You know, this reminds me of learning to play the guitar.  Mind you, I was never very good, but I took a class in college and I could play all the standard chords and had a couple of my favorite songs memorized and I could sing along.  A few years later when I was in Arizona, a friend borrowed my guitar for a long time, and when I got it back after not playing for a year or so, I picked it up to play the song that I always used to play on it, and I was stunned because I really just couldn't remember not only how the chords went together, but exactly how to do the first chord at all.  Because I hadn't been practicing or even thinking about it for so long, I'd let it slip right through my head and out the other side.

Now, of course, I'm not saying that forgetting is the same as never learning in the first place.  Sitting back down with chord charts and the song could get me back up to speed, and with some effort and prompting, things that we knew before are usually easy to get back, but still... something is missing that should be there.  It's kind of like hitting a brick wall in the middle of the mental freeway, right?  We should be able to get from here to there, but we just can't.

I think that is what these verses are about.  God is asking us to listen, and to learn, and to take the appropriate time and pay adequate attention.  Whatever we give to this effort is what we are going to get back from it, and if we pay attention and learn, and build a foundation so that we can learn more, then we will be given more, and if we don't, then we are going to lose even what we have already.  He wants to teach us all of it... the gospel, how his plan flows through everything in the world.  He wants to answer all of our questions, and help us prepare for eternity, and help us become so much more than what we are.  But it isn't something that we can learn by cramming a review sheet the day before the test, or something we can download into our brains.  It is something that takes time and practice and study and patience.  We have to take the time and put in the effort to learn.  If we do, and if we continue, nothing will be held back from us.  But if we stop, it will all slowly drain out of us while we're distracted by other things and not paying attention, and pretty soon we'll know nothing at all.

Today, let's take the gospel seriously.  God *wants* us to know all of it, but we have to take the time, and commit to the study, not only to learn it, but to remember it and retain it permanently... to change who we are, not just pass a test and go back to old habits.  If we read our scriptures every day, we'll start knowing them better and better, and the same goes for all aspects of the gospel.  The more we practice, the better we will get, and the more we will discover.  Let's have the ears to hear.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Proverbs 3:11-13 -- On Happiness, Wisdom, and Correction

"My son, despise not the chastening of the Lord; neither be weary of his correction:
For whom the Lord loveth he correcteth; even as a father the son in whom he delighteth.
Happy is the man that findeth wisdom, and the man that getteth understanding."
Proverbs 3:11-13


The idea of wise = happy here is interesting, and I think true, even though sometimes "overthinking" can cause unhappiness.  Overthinking and even just a lot of knowledge are very different than wisdom, though we can confuse them.  I think where we get into trouble is when we learn stuff and think that it trumps what God has to teach us, or that we can add to God's doctrine and teach our version of the gospel because... duh, it must obviously be the way *we* think it is. :)  That's one reason, perhaps, that this verse comes after the other two in the selection.  God is showing us that we have to be humble and willing to learn from, and be corrected by, the Lord.

Today, let's be wise and humble.  Let's listen to the Lord, and not grow weary of his correction.  That's how we get better.  And as we get better, and wiser, that's where the third verse comes in, because in the finding and getting of wisdom and understanding, we also are finding and getting happiness, through that same correction and the resultant growth.  God is leading us on a path towards perfection.  We aren't always going to get it right, but if we are humble enough and wise enough to stick with it, he'll eventually get us there. :)

Monday, March 13, 2017

1 Thessalonians 5:18 -- Giving Thanks in Every Thing

"In every thing give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you."
1 Thessalonians 5:18


Giving thanks is a great idea, and definitely not relegated to Thanksgiving only, but always.  And the whole "in every thing give thanks" makes me think that God deserves a lot of thanks, but also that "every thing" probably means other people as well.

Sometimes it is hard for us to be thankful, especially when we're angry about something.  On the other hand, the act of being thankful... considering what someone else has done that we appreciate, and taking the time to express that thanks somehow... sometimes is exactly what we need to help us let go of anger and remember the good things instead of the bad.

This is true for other people, and for God, and significantly, also true for ourselves.  Other people get angry or frustrated with us, and unlike with God, where it probably isn't justified, with us, it sometimes is.  People have to look past our failings just as much as we have to look past theirs in order to see the goodness and the potential and the hope that is there in all of us.

Today, let's remember that we are works-in-progress.  Let's be patient with each other as we correct mistakes and work to improve.  Let's give thanks to God for the chance to experience this world, for the opportunities we have to learn and love and become, and also give thanks to each other, for the assistance and support in living and growing and becoming.  For opportunities and even challenges... in every thing, let's give thanks. :)

Sunday, March 12, 2017

1 John 2:25 -- On Eternity and Promises

"And this is the promise that he hath promised us, even eternal life."
1 John 2:25


The idea of a promise from God is significant.  Sometimes we see promises as meaningless, because we're used to saying things and not following through on them, and our legal system typically doesn't recognize agreements unless they are written down and signed.  Let's remember though that God has perfect integrity, and doesn't lie.  Falsehood is basically opposite his very nature.  God's promises might as well be etched into stone with letters 100 feet high.  They won't change, and they will be fulfilled.  It is certain.

Let's not treat God's promises the way that we treat our own promises.  Let's trust in them, count on them, and prepare ourselves for the day when they are fulfilled.  And perhaps we should also move ourselves a little bit more towards God in this way.  Let's become more trustworthy, and be more careful about the things that we say and the promises that we make.  Let's improve our integrity and our goodness, so that we will only make good promises, and then follow through on them.

And today, let's think on the idea of eternal life.  God has promised it to us.  It isn't a dream or a fable... it *will* happen.  Who will we be when that comes, and who will we want to be?  Maybe we can bring those two things closer together, and prepare for eternity.

Saturday, March 11, 2017

Psalms 41:4 -- On Mercy and Healing

"I said, Lord, be merciful unto me: heal my soul; for I have sinned against thee."
Psalms 41:4


I like this verse because I think it captures one of the greatest mercies that God shows us.  Like the prodigal son, we so often take all the blessings that God has given us and utterly waste them on selfish pursuits and even throw God's gifts back in his face, refusing them and thinking that we know better.

And, still... and always, when we finally come to ourselves, and we ask for mercy and healing and admit how wrong we were, he doesn't throw our actions back in our faces.  He doesn't chastise us and tell us how much we disappointed and failed him.  Instead, he reaches out and heals our brokenness, and tells us how much he loves us, and supports us in trying again to do better.

Today, let's reach out to God for his mercy... and when we get our second (or third, or hundreth) chance, let's really be better.  Let's get help from God to not only change our actions, but to change our minds and our hearts, so we don't even want to go back.  Let's finally see that with God everything is better, and that without him we're lost and wandering.   Let's choose to be found, and be thankful for our healing souls.

Friday, March 10, 2017

D&C 46:11-12 -- On Gifts and Community

"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.
To some is given one, and to some is given another, that all may be profited thereby."
Doctrine and Covenants 46:11-12


I really like this idea of God giving us gifts, but not gifts that are meant just to make us cooler, but gifts that help the world, that build a community of people helping people.  It's so tempting to isolate ourselves and just care about ourselves and the things that are closest to us, but the gifts that God gives us help us to reach out to others and to participate in the world.'

It's kind of the same idea as in Hebrews 11:40: "they without us should not be made perfect"  It's the idea that even though we have to work out our own salvation (Philippians 2:12), we can't be made perfect without each other... that part of becoming perfect is learning to live with and love and serve others... the idea of becoming Zion people, and learning to live in a Zion community.

Today, let's try to be less hermit-like and more open and caring and kind.  Let's learn to share our gifts with others, for the benefit of everyone, not just ourselves.  Let's think about what it takes to build a Zion community, and start working on becoming the kinds of people who could live there.  If we each start working on it, then, together, we will grow closer to that perfect community ideal.

Thursday, March 9, 2017

1 Corinthians 15:32-34 -- On Being Righteous, Happy, and Cool

"If after the manner of men I have fought with beasts at Ephesus, what advantageth it me, if the dead rise not? let us eat and drink; for to morrow we die.
Be not deceived: evil communications corrupt good manners.
Awake to righteousness, and sin not; for some have not the knowledge of God: I speak this to your shame."
1 Corinthians 15:32-34


This is part of an interesting chapter having to do with resurrection.  In these specific verses, Paul is basically saying, if there were no afterlife, there would be no point to any of it.  Might as well just indulge ourselves... but there assuredly IS an afterlife, and if we talk or act like there is not one, then those things that we communicate through word and behavior are going to affect not only how we live, but how the people around us live.  We need to awake to righteousness, and avoid sin, because many people still don't have this essential information... that God is real, that there is a resurrection, and that there is more to live for than just satisfying our desires.

Perhaps if we have known God and his gospel for a while, we kind of take for granted the amazingness of some of it.  We aren't stunned and overawed at the idea of rising after death with a perfect, immortal body and the thought of an unending life beyond the grave.  We probably take truths for granted that would be seen as crazy cool to someone learning them for the first time.  And because we have this perspective, we sometimes not only neglect the amazing truths that God has blessed us with, but we also get distracted by tertiary things that often don't even matter.  I mean, sure, it is interesting to think about taking a walking on water class in the Millennium, but really, finding out whether or not we will be able to do that is not necessary to our salvation, and so many other things *are.*

Let's take Paul's advice today, and let's awake to righteousness and sin not.  Let's live according to our beliefs, and not set a bad example for others by pretending that this life is all there is.  Let's remember, always, that there is more, and communicate that knowledge and that future vision through our words and our actions.  Let's be out there in front, proving that the gospel is the way to be, and that we don't have to tear each other down or indulge in sin in order to be happy and cool. :)

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Genesis 48:17-20 -- On Challenge and Change

"And when Joseph saw that his father laid his right hand upon the head of Ephraim, it displeased him: and he held up his father’s hand, to remove it from Ephraim’s head unto Manasseh’s head.
And Joseph said unto his father, Not so, my father: for this is the firstborn; put thy right hand upon his head.
And his father refused, and said, I know it, my son, I know it: he also shall become a people, and he also shall be great: but truly his younger brother shall be greater than he, and his seed shall become a multitude of nations.
And he blessed them that day, saying, In thee shall Israel bless, saying, God make thee as Ephraim and as Manasseh: and he set Ephraim before Manasseh."
Genesis 48:17-20


God doesn't work the way that the world works.  Which is good, but it can be frustrating and confusing at times.  Things that we might expect to be true because "that's the way it is" in our society, aren't necessarily true when compared to God's decisions.  Sometimes we're going to understand why, and sometimes we aren't... but whether or not we know the reason, God surely has one.

Where we sometimes get lost is in giving up and thinking that there is no reason, or that things are just don't make sense, when in fact they always do.  We just might not have the patience to find out what it is, or we're looking for an answer that we can't understand until we take some prerequisites. :)  The answers are often found in the scriptures, but sometimes we don't have the basics down enough to learn the higher level stuff yet.

In these verses, Joseph thinks that things are out of order, and he tries to correct them.  In fact though, things were exactly as God intended them to be.  And maybe that is something that we need to consider in our own lives sometimes.  Maybe what is happening is *exactly* the way that God intends.  It isn't always, and I'm not saying at all that God is just playing with our lives.  I'm just saying, sometimes things happen that seem completely crazy and wrong and we hate them, and then later we realize that those things opened the way to things that made us better people and helped us make choices that changed us for the good.

Today, let's step back and reevaluate the challenges in our lives.  Instead of looking at them as objects of pure evil, as we often tend to do, maybe it is time to consider the growth opportunities that are now in front of us that were not before.  Let's work on doing something positive with whatever we have been given, and changing for the better. :)

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Proverbs 24:29 -- On Promoting Rather than Reflecting

"Say not, I will do so to him as he hath done to me: I will render to the man according to his work."
Proverbs 24:29


Revenge is pretty popular, and treating someone the way that they have been treating us is almost a given.  Popular fiction in all kinds of media shows us retribution, vengeance, punishment, and vigilante justice, and really lots of other near synonyms as well, and we learn to think of those things as good.  We cheer when the bad guy finally, finally gets punched, or even killed.  We are happy when someone suffers, because they "deserved it."  And because we learn from the values in the stories that we tell each other, we often also try to apply those ideas to real life.

These stories from the world are very different from the stories that God asks us to live.  God asks us to love our enemies, and "do good to them that hate [us]" (Matthew 5:44).  He asks us to love, and to serve others... even when they aren't loving or grateful in return.

God's way is the only way to stop hatred and violence and cruelty.  The other way just makes everything worse.  Today, let's change things.  Instead of returning hate for hate or violence for violence, let's just return love and kindness, all the time, to everyone.  Let's not allow ourselves to be triggered into rash actions which we will regret.  Let's be better than we have been, and promote love, and hope, and peace, and happiness, rather than just reflecting whatever we see and hear.  Let's be the change that will make the world better.

Monday, March 6, 2017

2 Corinthians 12:5-7 -- On Glorying in Infirmities

"Of such an one will I glory: yet of myself I will not glory, but in mine infirmities.
For though I would desire to glory, I shall not be a fool; for I will say the truth: but now I forbear, lest any man should think of me above that which he seeth me to be, or that he heareth of me.
And lest I should be exalted above measure through the abundance of the revelations, there was given to me a thorn in the flesh, the messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I should be exalted above measure."
2 Corinthians 12:5-7


This is a really interesting perspective that we can perhaps learn from.  Paul, here, tells us that he glories in infirmities.  That kind of seems crazy, right?  Why would we be happy about weakness or inability or limitation?  But Paul has an answer for us.  Weaknesses help us to control our pride, and remember that we aren't infallible.  Sometimes we need that weakness to realize that we're not actually better than other people, and that we still have a lot to learn.  Ether 12:27 backs this idea up: "I give unto men weakness that they may be humble; and my grace is sufficient for all men that humble themselves before me; for if they humble themselves before me, and have faith in me, then will I make weak things become strong unto them."  Paul also goes on to tell us that, basically, weaknesses are an opportunity to rely on God's strength... which goes along with the humility things, and helps us to learn reliance on the Lord.

Reliance on the Lord is an important thing to learn.  It isn't learned helplessness or waiting for God to do everything for us.  Rather, it is realizing that we can't do everything, and knowing that when we have done all we can that God will step in and help us.  So, in a way, our areas of weakness are the ones that get the very best treatment... because God takes care of that part. :)

Today, even if we can't yet glory in them, let's at least try to accept our weaknesses, and be happy for the opportunities for instruction that they give us.  Let's learn from the Lord, and have hope and faith and confidence in his ability to make up for our weaknesses, and also to help us learn to be stronger and better.  Let's be thankful for (and perhaps glory in?) God's willingness to help us and teach us to be so much more than we are now. :)

Sunday, March 5, 2017

Luke 22:61-62 -- On Trust and Transformation

"And the Lord turned, and looked upon Peter. And Peter remembered the word of the Lord, how he had said unto him, Before the cock crow, thou shalt deny me thrice.
And Peter went out, and wept bitterly."
Luke 22:61-62


This verse is right after Peter has denied that he knew him the third time, and thus fulfilled the prophesy earlier in the evening.  The Peter that we see here is a very different Peter than we see Peter become later in the scriptures.  This Peter's world is shattered, and what he has trusted in for so long seems to be lost.  He did so many things because he trusted in Jesus as the Christ, but now that seems to be gone, and he's in crisis--not sure what to do, or how to stop it.  Later though, after Christ has been resurrected and returned, Peter transforms, and instead of just being an advocate, believer in, and supporter of Christ's teachings, he starts becoming like him... taking on his characteristics.  I think that this is part of what Alma is saying in Alma 5:14: "Have ye spiritually been born of God? Have ye received his image in your countenances? Have ye experienced this mighty change in your hearts?"

To be clear, I'm not trying to knock Peter at all.  He was an amazing man, and stronger than I will likely ever be.  I think his story is instructive because it shows us so much growth, and it is a transition that I think maybe we all have to make in our lives.  We have to move beyond just praising God and believing that God can do anything, to believing that WE "can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth" us (Philippians 4:13).  That's a tough transition.  Although we have a lot of pride to believe that we know which way things should go, having faith in ourselves is different than, and mostly opposite to, pride--especially when we have to be humble enough to listen to God's plan instead of our own plan. :)

Peter learned that God was still there for him even when he wasn't physically present.  He learned that he could be powerful and lead and help and work to feed God's sheep, even without his Lord and mentor beside him.  He still worshipped and praised God, but now he worked and loved and spread the gospel further, not just as a follower, but as a leader of others.  Today, let's try working on that same transition.  Let's realize how powerful we can be as we work to do the Lord's will.  Let's talk to God and work to understand what he wants us to do to help feed his sheep.  Let's not deny our beliefs out of fear or shame.  Let's stand up for God, and share our hope and blessings with others.

Saturday, March 4, 2017

Proverbs 18:12-13 -- On Haughtiness and Humility

"Before destruction the heart of man is haughty, and before honour is humility.
He that answereth a matter before he heareth it, it is folly and shame unto him."
Proverbs 18:12-13


In reading these two verses today, I was struck by how well they go together.  Humility is necessary to listening well and not just rushing to judgment.  Avoiding destruction and seeking honor are good motivations, but I think humility is also essential for the realization that each situation could be different, and working to keep an open mind and remain unbiased.  Too often, we think that we already know the answers before we even start exploring the ideas, or conferring with others.  When we start out with a pre-closed mind like that, it's going to take some high drama to get us to realize that things aren't exactly the way that we expect them to be, and then even if we do realize it, we sometimes double-down on the error because we don't want to admit that we were wrong or be embarrassed.

Today, let's work on letting go of our pride and haughtiness.  Let's work on being humble.  It's super hard sometimes to let go of wanting to be right, of not being willing to let others see us as less than perfect... but it is a good step towards honesty, humility, and the ability to see reality rather than pride-distorted and heavily redacted "based on a true story" fictional accounts of what we would rather believe.  Let's listen, and refrain from prejudging.  And then perhaps we can avoid some destruction, folly, and shame, and maybe even find some honor and other good things. :)

Friday, March 3, 2017

Nahum 3:18 -- On Sleeping Shepherds

"Thy shepherds slumber, O king of Assyria: thy nobles shall dwell in the dust: thy people is scattered upon the mountains, and no man gathereth them."
Nahum 3:18


The image here of the downfall of a people who have no shepherd to gather them (apparently because they are asleep) stands in stark contrast to the idea of being God's people, with the Lord as our Shepherd.  One of the differences in the verse is the connection between shepherds and political leaders.  Kings and nobles aren't doing their jobs of unifying and helping the people they have authority over.  That contrast remains today, and in our lives, we need to make sure that we are putting faith in our true shepherd, Jesus Christ.

This doesn't mean, of course, that we should fail to respect earthly authority or laws.  God still asks us to do things "decently and in order" (1 Corinthians 14:40).  It does mean though that God comes first, as with everything, and when God's commandments conflict with the will or authority of any person, we should respect God's commandments before men's.  Hopefully it goes without saying that any conflict of this manner should be resolved as peacefully and kindly as possible.

Today, let's make sure that if we have any authority over people that we are awake and doing our duty to them and to God.  And let's also make sure that we are looking for our true shepherd and not just wandering around lost, as we unfortunately tend to do sometimes.  Let's work for unity and peace and not disharmony and conflict.  Let's look to the Lord, and be humble enough to accept his leadership, guidance, and deliverance.

Thursday, March 2, 2017

1 Timothy 6:4-8 -- On Pride versus Contentment

"He is proud, knowing nothing, but doting about questions and strifes of words, whereof cometh envy, strife, railings, evil surmisings,
Perverse disputings of men of corrupt minds, and destitute of the truth, supposing that gain is godliness: from such withdraw thyself.
But godliness with contentment is great gain.
For we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out.
And having food and raiment let us be therewith content."
1 Timothy 6:4-8


These verses contain the interesting idea that pride gets in the way of our contentment.  And since contentment (or at least the godliness + contentment that we are striving for) is pretty much happiness + peace, then pride is really getting in the way of some things that we really want and need in our lives, right?

Alma, after desiring to be an angel, says "I ought to be content with the things which the Lord hath allotted unto me" (Alma 29:3).  Paul tells us "I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content" (Philippians 4:11).  In both the good and bad times, we can find contentment through our trust in God--even if we only have food and raiment, right? :)  I think the pride comes in when we refuse to be satisfied with what we have, and we keep looking for more.  We keep seeking drama *instead* of peace--arguing for argument's sake, not because we really believe it, or we start really believing that "gain is godliness" ... that being rich, or powerful, or famous somehow means that God favors us more than the poor, fragile, and unnoticed.  That idea is kind of the opposite of what God actually teaches us about building Zion and relieving suffering.  The idea is to lift, and give, and serve, not to say "The man has brought upon himself his misery" when, in fact, we are all beggars before the Lord (Mosiah 4:17-19).

Today, let's strive for some contentment.  Let's not let pride get in the way of peace.  Let's work on being satisfied with what we have.  I don't think that means we can't work for a better life or anything, only that we should be happy *now* and satisfied now, rather than continuing to say, oh, if only I had ____, *then* I would be happy.  Let's share our bountiful blessings with others, and recognize God's hand in our lives.  Let's work on humility and acceptance of God's will, and where we are right now, and perhaps we'll find more contentment in our lives. :)

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Alma 29:10 -- On Joy and Remembrance

"And behold, when I see many of my brethren truly penitent, and coming to the Lord their God, then is my soul filled with joy; then do I remember what the Lord has done for me, yea, even that he hath heard my prayer; yea, then do I remember his merciful arm which he extended towards me."
Alma 29:10


I like the idea that seeing others happy fills us with joy.  Too often we seek joy in doing things for ourselves, and it never seems to quite work out.  But when we help others, and we care about their happiness, and work on helping them, then our joy gets topped off.  Another evidence that we're all in this together.

I also like the idea of memory here, and that it is part of joy.  When we sin, we move farther away from the spirit, which can "teach [us] all things, and bring all things to [our] remembrance" (John 14:26).  So, we start forgetting, and sometimes even unlearning, or denying, the things that we know of God.  When we get our lives straightened out, or place ourselves into a position where we can feel the spirit again, then we remember more, and we therefore feel more joy.  And, of course, the more we communicate with God and stay close to him, the more of those spiritual memories we have to call on, and the more filled with joy we can be. :)

Today, let's call on the Lord and recognize his merciful hand in our lives... and let's pray to and serve God, read the scriptures, and minister to others, so that we can remember more and more all that the Lord has done for them and for us, and thereby be filled with more and more joy. :)

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