Thursday, May 31, 2018

Isaiah 8:13 -- On Fear Transplants

"Sanctify the Lord of hosts himself; and let him be your fear, and let him be your dread."
Isaiah 8:13

There are so many scriptures that talk about fearing the Lord or the fear of the Lord.  Usually I think the idea is one of healthy respect and awe... understanding who the Lord is, that he is God, and so far past our abilities and comprehension that we often need to take a step back and remember that although he is a personal God and he loves us, and wants to have a personal relationship with us, we aren't actually similar at all in terms of wisdom, understanding, ability, or power.  If there is a disconnect between what we want and what he wants, *we* are always wrong, and he is *always* right.  It isn't even close.

Although of course God loves us as we are, there isn't going to be any bending about his commandments or what he accepts.  He's not going to claim that sin isn't sin for us, or make any room for it in his kingdom.  It's inherently corrupt, and when we try to hold on to it, *we* have to bend, not him.

I like the implied idea in this particular verse that there is a replacement going on... that God should be our fear *instead* of our normal fears and dreads.  In that sense, I think it is a huge step up.  The burdens that God asks us to bear are much lighter than those of justice, and if we have God filling up our minds instead of other paralyzing sorts of fears, then we'll still be able to focus and learn.  Not that it is always easy, but it is overwhelmingly preferable, and the side benefits of improving our lives and the lives of the people around us are way better than panic.

I think the challenge for us in learning to replace our fears is really understanding the nature of God.  In Mosiah 26:3 there is a clear connection made between belief and understanding.  In order to understand how God and his plan works, we have to believe.  It can seem contradictory or frustrating to us, because we often want to understand first, and think that we can, but our unbelief gets in the way and we don't have the foundation to build on to understand how faith works.  We have to take that leap of faith and experiment upon his words as it says in Alma 32.  If we have faith, it can replace fear... and then we have that capacity to learn to fear God's judgement instead of the multitude of other things that we were worried about.

If we take advantage of this "fear transplant" idea or offer from the Lord, then when tragedies come in life and we are focused on the Lord, we don't have to fear what comes next.  We know that God will provide, and we can stay focused on doing his will.  In the end, the fear and dread of the Lord are only truly scary if we are persistently wicked, and our fear replacement helps us stay focused on working with God and consistently repenting and improving, so essentially we end up with nothing to fear but our own tendency to stray.

Today, whatever our fears or concerns are, let's work on turning to the Lord and allowing him to replace our fear and our dread with our commitment to him.  As we get to know him better, we will find that fearing the known laws and guidelines of our incredibly loving and merciful father are infinitely preferable to the fears, anxiety, and emptiness that they replace.  It says fear, but as always, God is offering us a way to sanity and peace.

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

D&C 19:21-23 -- On Learning Step by Step

"And I command you that you preach naught but repentance, and show not these things unto the world until it is wisdom in me.
For they cannot bear meat now, but milk they must receive; wherefore, they must not know these things, lest they perish.
Learn of me, and listen to my words; walk in the meekness of my Spirit, and you shall have peace in me.
I am Jesus Christ; I came by the will of the Father, and I do his will."
Doctrine and Covenants 19:21-24

This is an interesting set of verses.  The first two explain that the revelation in this section shouldn't be shared with everyone just yet, and then the last one says to learn.  In some ways it seems like a contradiction, advocating the restriction of knowledge and then saying to go out and get more.  I think that the point here though is the idea of milk before meat (Hebrews 5:12, 1 Corinthians 3:2).

We should learn all we can, but we need to learn it in the proper order.  If we haven't taken French before, it would be extremely difficult to jump into a 4th year French class and have any hope of following along.  We would likely be extremely confused, and perhaps even get the totally wrong idea of what was being discussed.  Similarly, we need some foundation in the gospel before we jump into move advanced topics.  Repentance has to come before lessons about always following the promptings of the spirit, for instance, because we can't feel the spirit consistently until we make things right with God.  Going back further, we can't even really discuss the basic benefits of prayer, church attendance, or scripture study if we don't have a foundation of belief in God and his son Jesus Christ.  Even within each principle there are many layers, and in order to understand any of these things on a deeper level we have to master the basics.

Today, let's work to do God's will, and to keep learning step by step, instead of trying to jump up to French 612 immediately, and then failing the class because we weren't ready for it.  Let's work on our meekness, which in many ways means being teachable and open to learning more... not thinking that we already know it all.  Let's learn of Jesus Christ, and let's pray and be open to what God has to teach us today.

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

1 Nephi 8:10 -- On the Tree of Happiness

"And it came to pass that I beheld a tree, whose fruit was desirable to make one happy."
1 Nephi 8:10

I love the idea of a happiness tree.  This particular tree is specifically explained as being symbolic of the love of God, but even without that tip, it sounds amazing.  It reminds me of the trees in the Garden of Eden, or of the fictional money tree that people dream of. :)  I mean, if we could just casually walk out and pick fruit to be happy, wouldn't we?

The thing is, I think often it is pretty close to that easy.  Just like the brass serpent that Moses raised up, and the only effort that the people had to make was to look (see Numbers 21:9; Alma 33:19-21), I think we miss happiness in very many cases because we don't have the faith to do the simple things that God has asked of us... especially utilizing the power of prayer.  And usually it is for the same reason that many didn't look at the brass serpent to save themselves: because we don't believe that it will work.

We run into things in our lives sometimes that are sad and disheartening, and often because of those things, we don't believe that we can be happy.  We don't see a path to happiness from where we are, and so we assume that it isn't there.  Often though, happiness is just one prayer away, and the only thing standing between us and happiness is the hope and faith that would motivate us to get on our knees and talk to our Heavenly Father.

Today, let's try the experiment and get on our knees.  Let's pour out our souls to God and tell him what we are going through.  Let's reach out for the fruit of the tree of happiness.  Instead of believing that it won't work, let's try it, and see.  If we go to God with a sincere heart, he can help us through anything, guiding us in every step.  Let's trust that, talk to him about our lives, and for even longer-lasting happiness, let's actually take the advice that he offers. :)

Monday, May 28, 2018

Luke 17:10 -- On Being Unprofitable but still Of Worth

"So likewise ye, when ye shall have done all those things which are commanded you, say, We are unprofitable servants: we have done that which was our duty to do."
Luke 17:10

Luke here tells us that even if we do everything that God asks, we have only done our duty, when we often like to consider ourselves superheroes when we can manage to follow instructions. :)  This is very similar to Mosiah 2:21 where King Benjamin explains to his people "I say, if ye should serve him with all your whole souls yet ye would be unprofitable servants."  That sermon helps us understand this lesson as well.  The idea in both verses that we are unprofitable servants seems negative in some ways, but, just like the comparison to dust in Mosiah 2:25, this "unprofitable" idea isn't about making us depressed or sad or wanting us to give up.  It is about helping us understand God's atonement and his mercy and grace.  Before we can really understand what God does, and has done, for us, it is important to understand our debt to him.

God wants us to be obedient, and to follow his commandments so that we can learn and grow and progress, but the thing is that obedience and learning and goodness... no matter how well we do... doesn't earn us a ticket to heaven.  Luke is clarifying that here... that no matter what we do on our own, we can never provide a return on God's investment in us.  None of us are perfect or able to earn salvation on our own.  Only with God's assistance, and through Christ's atonement, can we achieve that.

It can seem contradictory if we think that we need to make an effort, but that our efforts are pointless, but saying that we are unprofitable servants (or comparing us to dust) doesn't mean that our efforts are pointless at all.  They are worthwhile, because they help us grow and learn.  It's like little children.  No matter how well they try to help us make cookies, for instance, they are going to fall short of being able to do it themselves.  But the effort isn't useless, because they are learning and becoming.  It will take years, but after they grow up and develop a lot more, they will be learn to make cookies on their own.  Similar to that, we spend our earth lives trying to help God make something of ourselves, others, and the world.  But no matter how well we do, we will fall short.

Falling short is okay though, because even though the consequences of falling short would normally be disastrous, fortunately, God loves us more than anything and despite our unprofitability, we are of infinite worth to him, and he made a plan and a way for us to be saved, no matter the cost to himself.  He doesn't ask us to be profitable.  He asks us to be as good as we can be, and to keep trying.  Through the atonement, Christ makes up the difference between our effort and the actual requirement for attaining heaven.  In return, he only asks that we make an effort to keep growing and learning and stay on track so that someday we can grow into our potential.  Therefore, we can see that overall we are truly unprofitable servants, but that our efforts are still very important to our futures.

Today, let's remember that we can't do what God can do, and pitting our wills against his only results in burnt cookies.  But instead of being depressed or angry at our Heavenly Father because of our own unprofitability, let's instead understand the immensity of what he does for us, every day, and the value of the power he grants us to choose and to build and to help others.  Let's start listening to him, learn what he has to teach us, and grow up to be better and brighter than we currently are.

Sunday, May 27, 2018

Joshua 24:14-15 -- On Making the Choice to Work for God

"Now therefore fear the Lord, and serve him in sincerity and in truth: and put away the gods which your fathers served on the other side of the flood, and in Egypt; and serve ye the Lord.
And if it seem evil unto you to serve the Lord, choose you this day whom ye will serve; whether the gods which your fathers served that were on the other side of the flood, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land ye dwell: but as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord."
Joshua 24:14-15

These are part of the last words of Joshua, who was encouraging the people to be obedient before he died.  The first phrase asks us to fear the Lord, which is something that the scriptures mention frequently (for example, see Psalms 128:1 or Isaiah 8:13).  The fear that it talks about is a healthy respect or awe, not the kind of paralyzing fear or urge to run away that we often associate with the word.  I think it is a good reminder that God is *God* after all... all powerful, all knowing, and definitely much, much smarter than we are.  Someone we should follow and listen to rather than trying to compete with. :)

Choosing is an important theme here as well.  I like that it asks the people to choose "this day."  The longer we try to ride the fence in our lives on something this important, the longer life is going to be wishy-washy and end up nowhere.  We have to find out if he is there or not if we don't already know, and we have to take a stand so that we have a foundation to build on.  Instead of having to worry about whether God exists each day, or which God to serve, we need to move on and learn more... learning about faith, prayer, keeping the spirit with us, and getting to know God more and more in our lives, building that bond that allows us to draw on his help whenever we need it.

Choosing God also means serving him.  I love the idea of working for God actually, because he is a better employer than any other we could ever have.  And his yoke is easy and his burden light (Matthew 11:30).  Serving him is learning and teaching the gospel, living his way and becoming more than we could be alone.  When we work for him, he asks us to help others and teach them of his salvation.

Today, respect and choose God.  Let's remember him and work for him every day, learning all we can, and helping the people around us as well.  Let's keep building on that choice and foundation of belief so we can learn more about him, grow in his gospel, and progress and become closer to him... learning and sharing goodness and mercy and truth and light, and all the other awesome things that he embodies.

Saturday, May 26, 2018

Jeremiah 50:5 -- On Fleeing to God

"They shall ask the way to Zion with their faces thitherward, saying, Come, and let us join ourselves to the Lord in a perpetual covenant that shall not be forgotten."
Jeremiah 50:5

This is part of a prophecy that most Bible scholars believe has already happened, but of course as with so many other prophecies and events in gospel history, that never means that it couldn't happen again... and in this particular verse is something that maybe we should make happen in our personal lives as well.

In the account, a nation comes out of the north and makes the land desolate.  The people flee, weeping, and specifically here, they flee to Zion, seeking God.  That idea of fleeing to God is a powerful one, and one that I think applies to us personally when our lives are laid desolate, which they are, and will be, at times.  And in those times, making or renewing our covenants with the Lord is a super good idea.

When things go wrong we have a lot of choices, but one major one is whether we walk away from God, or walk toward him.  Often we choose to walk away, seeing tragedy and desolation as indications that God doesn't love us.  Other times, as in this verse, we look to God for comfort and protection in the midst of tragedy.  And hopefully we grow from the first choice into the second as we learn more about God's ways and the necessary role that trials play in our lives.

Today, let's work on finding and building Zion.  Let's seek to join ourselves to the Lord, and to establish and remain true to our covenants with him.  When things go wrong, let's flee to God... always moving towards the Lord rather than away from him.

Friday, May 25, 2018

Psalms 51:10-11 -- On Clean Hearts and God's Help

"Create in me a clean heart, O God; and renew a right spirit within me.
Cast me not away from thy presence; and take not thy holy spirit from me."
Psalms 51:10-11

I like these verses because it captures the idea of feeling like we're unclean and unworthy, but wanting to change.   I think that is a pretty common feeling... our imperfection running up against God's perfection and suffering by comparison.

Working on improvement is important, but we can't become perfect through our own efforts alone.  We need God's help to change our hearts; to help us to be the better people that we want to be.  That's something that we need to ask for, and be willing to accept, because God never forces us.  But if we want it, he is willing to do miracles for us, and help us to repent, change, and live up to our potential.

Today, let's remember that we can't do it alone, and ask God for the help that we need to have clean hearts and right spirits.

Thursday, May 24, 2018

Mark 4:37-40 -- On Internal and External Calm

"And there arose a great storm of wind, and the waves beat into the ship, so that it was now full.
And he was in the hinder part of the ship, asleep on a pillow: and they awake him, and say unto him, Master, carest thou not that we perish?
And he arose, and rebuked the wind, and said unto the sea, Peace, be still. And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm.
And he said unto them, Why are ye so fearful? how is it that ye have no faith?"
Mark 4:37-40

In reading this, it seems natural to be afraid.  A storm comes, the waves are filling up the ship, which sounds very much like they were sinking.  And yet, Christ chastises them for being fearful.  Why?

Maybe it is because fear is always the wrong reaction.  When storms come, as they often do, and we feel like we are sinking, whether literally or symbolically, freaking out is never the solution. :)  Instead, in this story and in all cases, faith is the answer.

That's a tough thing, because it is very easy to freak out, and often quite hard to have faith, especially when we feel the ship going down.  But just like Christ rebuked the storm in this story, God can save us from the storms in our own lives, no matter how bad things seem.

It's a tough thing sometimes to experience a storm in life and not freak out, but our answer is the same as the answer here.  Instead of panicking, let us turn to God for a solution, and trust him to help us.  As we look to God, and have faith in him, he will grant us peace in the midst of trial, and help us stay calm and functional even in the face of fear.   And without that fear weighing us down and distracting us, God gives us the time and the space to deal with whatever we need to face and to take action instead of freezing up.

Today, let's turn to God during the challenges of life and remember that God can calm internal *and* external storms.  Let's have faith and, with God's help, do what needs to be done rather than freaking out... remembering that God always writes happy endings.  We just have to keep making the effort and turning the pages.  Things get better. :)

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Luke 11:2-4 -- On the Lessons of Prayer

"And he said unto them, When ye pray, say, Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done, as in heaven, so in earth.
Give us day by day our daily bread.
And forgive us our sins; for we also forgive every one that is indebted to us. And lead us not into temptation; but deliver us from evil."
Luke 11:2-4

This is a passage where Christ is teaching his disciples how to pray, and I think it probably has something to teach all of us.

Right away, the fact that Christ teaches us to call Heavenly Father "Father" is significant, reminding us of who we are as children of God, and our divine potential.  It is also a sign of respect, continued with the next phrase.  We're encouraged to put God's will at the top of our priority list.  Both of these things, knowing our own potential and doing as God asks, go hand in hand because only God can show us how to live up to our potential and to become so much more than we currently are.

I like the "Give us day by day our daily bread." line because it reminds us to focus on each day, similar to Matthew 6:34 ("Take no thought for the morrow") or the lesson of giving Manna to the Israelites, who could only gather enough for a day and not store it.  Like the parable of the ten virgins, we have to have oil in our lamps, symbolic of being spiritually prepared.  There are some spiritual and physical things that we can do ahead of time or that last, and others that we need to maintain daily.  We can get baptized, store food, or buy plane tickets for a future date, but we can't store up prayer, repentance, church attendance, or exercise, or loan those things to other people.  Our constant reliance on God and our need to keep practicing and working at improving ourselves are both important lessons.

The last verse reminds us that we need to forgive others as God forgives us, and also to beware temptation, and to stay away from it rather than trying to get as close to the edge as we can without falling.  I think we too often enjoy tempting fate and getting into dangerous situations without adequately understanding the consequences.  God encourages us to not ask to be led into those situations, but that we should desire to stay away from them instead.  Joseph and David from the scriptures were both faced with situations that could compromise their integrity, Joseph with Potiphar's wife, and David with Uriah's wife.  Joseph ran away, and David ran in the other direction.  Let's steer clear the best we can, and when we do face temptations in life, let's make sure we get God's help to get out again fast before we choose to harm ourselves and others... and let's remember that other people make mistakes too, and give them the same leeway that we give ourselves in believing that they can be good people despite past errors.

Today let's remember the lessons that Christ teaches us here in this simple prayer: obedience and divine potential, practice and preparation, temptation and forgiveness.  Let's pray similarly, and learn even more from God.

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

D&C 82:18-19 -- On Seeking the Interest of Our Neighbors

"And all this for the benefit of the church of the living God, that every man may improve upon his talent, that every man may gain other talents, yea, even an hundred fold, to be cast into the Lord’s storehouse, to become the common property of the whole church—
Every man seeking the interest of his neighbor, and doing all things with an eye single to the glory of God."
Doctrine and Covenants 82:18-19

These verses are talking about aspects of establishing a Zion community.  Even though we're not currently commanded to hold our property in common, the whole idea here of working for the community good is still an excellent one, and I think just a part of what God already asks us to do in loving other people.

Too often I think that we fall into an insular mindset, concerned only with the good of ourselves, or sometimes a step up to our immediate family.  It's an understandable thing, because we have real, individual and family concerns and we are trying to meet our obligations and to be self-reliant, which is also a very good thing.  I submit though, that there is more good to be had, the larger that we can make our circle, and the more people we join with in building community.  The more we open up to others and concern ourselves with their needs, the better we can all become, together.

I love that the pooling of resources here  is really all-inclusive.  It isn't just monetary, but it is a pooling of talent, teaching, and service ... a serious, real-world effort at establishing God's kingdom and doing his will.  Today, perhaps we can serve God by learning how better to reach out to others, and working together to improve all of our talents and seeking each other's interest, becoming successful as a group, and learning to be united.

Monday, May 21, 2018

1 Nephi 4:1-3 -- On Doing the Impossible

“And it came to pass that I spake unto my brethren, saying: Let us go up again unto Jerusalem, and let us be faithful in keeping the commandments of the Lord; for behold he is mightier than all the earth, then why not mightier than Laban and his fifty, yea, or even than his tens of thousands?
Therefore let us go up; let us be strong like unto Moses; for he truly spake unto the waters of the Red Sea and they divided hither and thither, and our fathers came through, out of captivity, on dry ground, and the armies of Pharaoh did follow and were drowned in the waters of the Red Sea.
Now behold ye know that this is true; and ye also know that an angel hath spoken unto you; wherefore can ye doubt? Let us go up; the Lord is able to deliver us, even as our fathers, and to destroy Laban, even as the Egyptians.”
1 Nephi 4:1-3

The thing that strikes me today about these verses is the idea that it is God that makes us capable. He provides a way (see 1 Nephi 3:7).  The brothers had tried to do things the right way in the beginning and talk to Laban about it, and Nephi had already tried everything he could think of when they went back to gather up all their wealth and offer it to Laban in return for the plates.  As humans they came up short.

They were understandably scared to try again after Laban tried to have them killed, and stole all of their stuff.  The thing is, they (and we) aren’t dependent only on their own capabilities. In actual fact, God will provide.  Beyond our understanding and beyond our capability, God will make the impossible happen so that his will can be accomplished.

We always put disclaimers in when we speak of answers to prayer, and we should… sometimes our wills and God’s will don’t mesh completely, or we want God to violate another person's agency, or our timing and God's timing are different.  But no disclaimer with prayer is meant to warn people that God doesn't answer prayers, because he *does.*  If our wills are aligned with God's will, our prayers WILL be answered and God’s will absolutely WILL happen, no matter how impossible it may seem, and no matter our own capabilities.

We are often asked to pray like everything depends on God and to work as though everything depends on us, and there is merit in those words. We absolutely should be out there making an effort to improve.  Perhaps though, we go too far in expecting ourselves to become perfect. Not saying we should slack off, because of course we should work, and keep working, to grow closer to God and to improve ourselves.  I am talking more about how much we can sometimes hate ourselves for our failings.  We don’t need to hate ourselves at all. We just need to keep going and trying… what we are is enough, if we keep trying… or rather, how capable we are currently doesn’t matter at all in the fulfillment of God’s will.  Our faith shouldn't be tied to our own capability, but to God.  If we do as God asks, God will provide a way, and *make* us capable, as he did for Nephi, and the Brother of Jared, and Noah, and Joseph Smith, and so many others. We just have to have the faith to follow the path.

God asked Nephi and his brothers to retrieve the brass plates, and it was hard.  He asked many people in the scriptures to build boats, ships, arks, or barges. None of them knew how. He further asked them to accomplish great works to save people and lead them to safety. He asked them to conquer the unconquerable, and win the unwinnable, and to do the impossible, over and over and over again. God asked Moses to part the Red Sea, and Abraham to sacrifice his son, and Joseph Smith to translate ancient records. The fact that they even tried to do those impossible things for God is a testament to their faith is his ability to make them equal to the task.

God asks all of us to do hard things, including keep his commandments, and we don’t always know why, and we often don’t understand how getting to where God wants us to be is even possible.  We often doubt our own capabilities.  But if we have the faith to do it anyway, to the best of our ability, God will increase our ability, our hope, and our joy, and he will lead us to miracles, and make us capable of accomplishing them. He is constantly leading us to all good, and making us better than we could ever dream to be. Today, let’s trust in him, and not in our own strength.

Sunday, May 20, 2018

Zechariah 14:20 -- On Constant Remembrance

"In that day shall there be upon the bells of the horses, Holiness unto the Lord; and the pots in the Lord’s house shall be like the bowls before the altar."
Zechariah 14:20

This chapter is talking about the Second Coming, and this particular verse is from after the event itself, talking about what things will be like.  I enjoy the detail of the bells of the horses and the pots in the city (see also verse 21) saying or representing holiness to the Lord.  To me, this illustrates the unity and purpose that we will all have in that day... everything dedicated to our God.  In that day likely because he has saved us, but why couldn't it also be now, because he has saved us, and will continue to save us?

Bells and pots are symbols of a constant remembrance of God, and that is something that we could also use in our lives.  The more our thoughts and actions and environments are dedicated to the Lord, the closer we can come to him.  We don't usually think of mundane things like bells and pots being part of our worship, but potentially everything can be, if we find ways to dedicate it to the Lord.

Today, let's think about ways that we can dedicate our lives, our things, and our communication to the Lord, and let's use everything in a more focused way to assist the Lord in his work and also bring his Spirit into our lives and the lives of the people around us.

Saturday, May 19, 2018

Isaiah 34:8 -- On Upholding Zion

"For it is the day of the Lord’s vengeance, and the year of recompences for the controversy of Zion."
Isaiah 34:8

This verse is part of a prophecy about the Second Coming.  Later in the chapter we find out that things turn out pretty well for the vultures, but for the rest of the world, not so much.

I don't really want to dwell on the destruction part because although it might make a good movie, it isn't something we can take action about.  The *reason* for the destruction though, that we can do something about.  In the preceding chapter there are many hints, basically letting us know that apostasy and wickedness likely won't turn out well (except for the vultures), but this specific verse calls out the "controversy of Zion" which is interesting.  Comparing with other translations it is clear that the Lord is taking up the cause and defending Zion.

There are different meanings for Zion.  One was the city of Enoch, a perfect city that was so good that God could dwell with them, where there were no poor (Moses 7:18-19), and which was taken up to heaven.  Another is the nation of Israel (ancient or modern), another the religious entity of God's church, and the last is the idea of Zion, taken from all of these but especially the City of Enoch... basically a utopian community that God encourages us all to work toward and make real in our lives.

In the end I don't really think that it matters a lot which of these Zions the scripture is specifically referring to... they are all mixed in together, and part of each other.  We call specific places Zion because we idealize them and we want them to be closer to the idea of Zion... a place of righteousness and perfection.  The idea here is that God is going to fight for that idea, and that community, and take down the opposition, so that Zion can prosper and prevail.

It seems unfortunate that so much destruction would have to happen to allow a good idea or good community to thrive, but its definitely not the first time in scriptural history.  Today, since we can't do anything about the coming destruction, let's do what we can about making sure that we are upholding and working for the cause of Zion ourselves.  Let's be the sort of people who could live in a perfect society, serving and helping and loving each other and putting God first.  That way, not only will we be building an amazing community, but when Christ comes again, we won't have to worry, because we'll already be working on God's side, upholding Zion.

Friday, May 18, 2018

Matthew 23:11-12 — On Greatness and Service

"But he that is greatest among you shall be your servant.
And whosoever shall exalt himself shall be abased; and he that shall humble himself shall be exalted."
Matthew 23:11-12

This is an interesting idea that we don't often see in society... the idea that the greatest people should serve others, or perhaps that serving others is a large part of what *makes* a person great.

The second part follows this idea in saying that if we promote ourselves and work on being famous, or better, or higher, that we will be brought low, but that if we are humble that we will be lifted up.  I think it is a hard idea to get our minds around if we are looking at our society, but easier if we are looking at the gospel.  God's first commandment is to love God, and his second is to love others.  Those are the most important things... not fame or power or self-promotion.

This isn’t to say that we shouldn’t set goals in life or try to improve ourselves.  That’s a good thing too.  Just a warning about relative importance I think.  God’s idea of greatness and society’s idea of greatness are very different, and we have to choose which one we want to work for.  In the end we will be much happier if we focus on service rather than competition.

Today, let’s think about our focus in life, and make sure ours is on God and helping and lifting others, and how our personal goals fit into God’s higher plan.

Thursday, May 17, 2018

Job 27:6 -- On Being Good Even In the Hard Times

"My righteousness I hold fast, and will not let it go: my heart shall not reproach me so long as I live."
Job 27:6

I think we all feel like this sometimes, and it is a good, strong statement, but I think it means even more in the context of this verse from Job, who had lost everything.  Too often, we are fair-weather believers, sticking with God when the blessings come pouring in, but doubting and questioning when something goes wrong.

It is significant when he says "my heart shall not reproach me."  It really shows us who we are when times are tough, and sometimes we become internally divided, one part sticking with God and one part freaking out and panicking.

Today, let's remember Job and stay whole and strong.  Let's have faith and hold onto our integrity even in the troubling times... because that is when it really matters, and we figure out who we are, and what we really believe.  Let's be good, heart and soul, body and mind, through and through. :)

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Psalms 40:11-13 -- On Being Overwhelmed and God's Deliverance

"Withhold not thou thy tender mercies from me, O Lord: let thy lovingkindness and thy truth continually preserve me.
For innumerable evils have compassed me about: mine iniquities have taken hold upon me, so that I am not able to look up; they are more than the hairs of mine head: therefore my heart faileth me.
Be pleased, O Lord, to deliver me: O Lord, make haste to help me."
Psalms 40:11-13

Sometimes life is overwhelming like this.  It can happen from one day to the next, where you are fine but the next day you just aren't.  Whether it is some external evil or our own iniquity, or both (as seems to be the case in these verses), sometimes life just feels unmanageable.  And in those times especially, we need the Lord.

Things are going to be okay, and we are going to make it through.  The happy ending is waiting for us.  In order to believe that and really trust in it, though, we need to have faith in the power that makes it happen, and that is God.  I like the idea that his lovingkindness and truth preserve us.  The atonement of Jesus Christ makes it possible for all of us to escape from the evil around us and also from our own sins.  He is the source of our escape, and our hope for the future.

Today, let's trust in God and look to him for our help.  Let's put him first in our lives, and know that as we do, things will work out.

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Alma 34:16 -- On Arms of Safety and Spiritual Exercise

"And thus mercy can satisfy the demands of justice, and encircles them in the arms of safety, while he that exercises no faith unto repentance is exposed to the whole law of the demands of justice; therefore only unto him that has faith unto repentance is brought about the great and eternal plan of redemption."
Alma 34:16

This chapter is talking about the atonement, and the explanation of how mercy can satisfy justice here is an interesting one.  I love the idea of Christ saving us from justice with his "arms of safety" -- giving us the chance to grow and change rather than being condemned forever for our mistakes.

I also really like the phrase "faith unto repentance" and how it is talked about as exercise.  Like physical exercise, I think that spirituality requires us to take action so that our spiritual "muscles" don't atrophy and shrink, eventually becoming useless.  That chance that Christ gives us won't do us any good if we remain as we are.  Faith is belief that compels us to action.  We need to change ourselves, taking advantage of the opportunity that God has given us to repent, and keep working at becoming better.

Today, let's be comforted by Christ's arms of safety, and let's do something with the chance he has given us to repent and change.  Let's exercise our spiritual muscles everyday, becoming stronger and stronger in our faith, and having a better and better relationship with God.

Monday, May 14, 2018

Acts 16:25-30 -- On Sticking Around and Seeing the Good

"And at midnight Paul and Silas prayed, and sang praises unto God: and the prisoners heard them.
And suddenly there was a great earthquake, so that the foundations of the prison were shaken: and immediately all the doors were opened, and every one’s bands were loosed.
And the keeper of the prison awaking out of his sleep, and seeing the prison doors open, he drew out his sword, and would have killed himself, supposing that the prisoners had been fled.
But Paul cried with a loud voice, saying, Do thyself no harm: for we are all here.
Then he called for a light, and sprang in, and came trembling, and fell down before Paul and Silas,
And brought them out, and said, Sirs, what must I do to be saved?"
Acts 16:25-30

This is an interesting story I think because of what didn't happen.  They prayed, the doors were opened, their bands were loosed.  They had *every* reason to believe that God was delivering them, and yet they stayed.  They saw the keeper of the prison ready to harm himself, and instead of walking away and letting that happen, they saved him by voluntarily remaining, and in so doing were there to help answer his questions about the gospel.

This doesn't sound like the plot of a Hollywood movie at all, does it? :)  The earthquake works, but the rest isn't quite action adventure material.  The good guys against... wait.  Everyone is a good guy?  The other prisoners didn't run either?  The prison keepers and the guards are nice?   Even the people who had them thrown in prison let them out the next day (verse 35).

I think God encourages us with this story to remember that everyone is, or at least has the potential to be, a good guy.  We cast others in villain roles in our lives quite frequently, but rarely are people actually trying to hurt or harm us.  Not that it doesn't ever happen... it does.  People try to take advantage of us through lies and manipulation sometimes.  But not always, or even frequently if we are talking about people we actually meet and not the contents of our spam folder. :)  The less we think of other people as our enemies and more as friends or equals, the more that we will be able to understand, serve, and love them, as Christ asks.

Today, if God grants us something akin to a convenient earthquake, let's look around and see if there are people that we can help and save before we sprint for freedom.  If something bad happens, let's assume the best about the people involved rather than the worst.  Let's work on loving people, and not letting the fact that evil exists make us paranoid, and unable to see the good in everyone.

Sunday, May 13, 2018

Proverbs 16:8 -- On Righteousness and Wealth

"Better is a little with righteousness than great revenues without right."
Proverbs 16:8

A good reminder for today.  A hard one in some ways, and perhaps deeper than it seems.  In Jacob 2:17-19 it explains that riches aren't necessarily evil by themselves.  It is how we think about them and use them.  If we are generous to others, sharing our wealth, and we seek God first, always putting him first, then money could be used as a good thing, helping us to do good in the world.  However, like power, it is something that tends to corrupt (which is why 1 Timothy 6:10 tells us that the love of money is the root of all evil), so the message of this verse is paramount.  Righteousness is always better, even when it means we have little.

Choosing righteousness consistently is the only way that we would be able to use money to further God's work, so it is not only a better choice.  It might also be a prerequisite for being blessed with revenue later.  God obviously doesn't require us all to be dirt poor in order to serve him, but we all have to go through tests in our lives to see whether we can handle temptations... fame, power, money, relationships, etc.  We learn things slowly and as we are faithful with small things, we can be trusted with more.

On the other hand, being poor is also a test.  Can we handle that without becoming covetous or resentful of people around us who have more?  Are we able to focus on serving and lifting others and being happy for them and their successes, no matter our personal circumstances?  Today, let's learn to accept whatever we have, and maintain our righteousness, rather than being tempted to reach for more... of anything... in an unrighteous way.  Let's love and serve the people around us, acting generously and lovingly and seeking God before anything else, as the widow with her mites (Luke 21:1-4).

Saturday, May 12, 2018

Isaiah 10:15 -- On Being Part of God's Pattern

"Shall the axe boast itself against him that heweth therewith? or shall the saw magnify itself against him that shaketh it? as if the rod should shake itself against them that lift it up, or as if the staff should lift up itself, as if it were no wood."
Isaiah 10:15

This is an interesting analogy comparing people to tools.  In this case the analogy is applied to the King of Assyria, but also applicable to our lives.  I don't mean to imply at all that we shouldn't work and strive to accomplish something in this life.  We should.  Making a difference for good would be a worthy accomplishment.  However, that kind of righteous striving is different than what God is talking about here in a couple of important ways.

First of all, our righteous striving needs to be, at its core, good.  Trying to become the richest or most powerful or trying to push others down in order to elevate ourselves... those things are just going to blow up in our faces.  God will incorporate those things into his pattern and perhaps accomplish some good, but just like Satan in the Garden of Eden... we don't get any credit for it when things work out well.  When we do evil, we get evil rewarded to us, whether it comes directly or returns to us later.  Only God can see well enough to help people overcome and flourish through those bad things... not something we should ever try at home.

Secondly, the King of Assyria was taking all the credit.  Whatever we are accomplishing or working toward, if we want it to be a good work or have a good outcome, we need to include the Lord in it.  That doesn't diminish our accomplishments at all.  It just shows our wisdom in recognizing the source of our power.  All things come from God, and everything we do is by his hand.  God is included, if for no other reason,  because he created us, and gave us the power to act.  In the King of Assyria's case, as usually is the case with us, our actions and accomplishments are part of the pattern in a larger tapestry, and only God can see the whole pattern and all the threads.  We have to trust him to guide us in weaving a pattern that we can only imagine.

Today, let's remember that God is an essential part of our lives and not think that we're way cooler and more powerful than we are.  We are definitely of worth, and important, especially to God, but we need God's help, always.  Let's embrace the fact that we can do great good by being part of God's plan and pattern, rather than going our own way and fighting against it.

Friday, May 11, 2018

Alma 43:46 -- On Not Starting Wars

"And they were doing that which they felt was the duty which they owed to their God; for the Lord had said unto them, and also unto their fathers, that: Inasmuch as ye are not guilty of the first offense, neither the second, ye shall not suffer yourselves to be slain by the hands of your enemies."
Alma 43:46

This is a good reminder in our lives.  Likely we are not in the middle of a war as these people were, but the advice to not be guilty of a first or a second offense still holds true, probably not just on a large scale but on a smaller scale as well.

It's so easy to want to pick a fight.  Movies and television and society teach us that vengeance and vigilante justice are justified, and that forgiveness is for weaklings.  It's hard sometimes to even apologize when we *know* that we are in the wrong because it's hard to back down, submit, let go of ego and pride, or acknowledge that someone else is right and we are wrong.

And yet... God's plan is so different from what society says, and so different from even our own urges are sometimes... to be right, to get back at someone who has harmed us, to force someone to stop when words aren't doing the trick.  God asks us to turn the other cheek, to let go of our anger.  He asks us to love even our enemies.  This verse about not suffering ourselves to be slain is an *exception* rather than the rule.  The important part is learning not to fight in the first place.

Today, let's remember not to start wars... nationally and individually.  Let's learn to love rather than hate, and to forgive rather than to wreak vengeance. :)  ... Not saying that it is an easy lesson.  But it is one that is worth learning, and it is the only way to lasting (national *and* individual) peace.

Thursday, May 10, 2018

3 Nephi 17:8 -- On Healing, and Faith in the Happy Ending

"For I perceive that ye desire that I should show unto you what I have done unto your brethren at Jerusalem, for I see that your faith is sufficient that I should heal you."
3 Nephi 17:8

In this chapter, Christ heals all of the Nephites that are brought to him to be healed.  It's an amazing scene, not of just a few people being healed as we often see in the New Testament, but everyone that was in need of healing.  Why the difference?  I think this verse makes it clear that the difference was in the faith of those in need of healing.

Sometimes in life we beg God for things that we need, like healing, and we sometimes get angry at him when it doesn't seem like we are being answered... but we also have a hard time truly trusting in him and believing that it will happen.  Knowing that faith is critical to the process, we have to take a step back and realize that sometimes what is getting in the way is our own doubt.

Today, let's work on our faith, and learn to trust God more.  ... While we work on it, though, let's not go to the other extreme and expect God to be a genie and grant all of our wishes.  It's important to remember that things have to be done his way and on his time.  Faith doesn't force God to comply with our desires.  Instead, it is complete confidence that things will work for our good, according to God's will, knowing that God can heal us and do any miracle to help us, but with the same trust that if he does not heal us or help us in the way that we expect, we will still stay faithful and do as he wills, because God always knows what he is doing, and is working for our happy ending, whether in this chapter or a future one.

Wednesday, May 9, 2018

Psalms 25:8-9 -- On Learning and Meekness

"Good and upright is the Lord: therefore will he teach sinners in the way.
The meek will he guide in judgment: and the meek will he teach his way."
Psalms 25:8-9

Sometimes we get into a mindset where we think that God won't help us because we're not worthy of his help, or that he doesn't love us because we've done something wrong.  ... I am definitely not saying that there are no consequences for sin, or that we don't need to work on our worthiness, but the idea that God will abandon us in our time of need if we turn to him for help is false.  He loves us, and is *always* willing to welcome us back if we are trying to do the right thing.

The key to the whole thing I think is the second verse.  Meekness.  Meek doesn't mean doormat or milktoast.  It means being receptive to learning from the spirit and from the people around us who are also trying to do the right thing.  It's letting go of pride and thinking that we are better than others or perfect the way we are, admitting that we need to change, and being willing to accept the help that we need in order to do that.  It's learning to stay calm in the midst of the storms of life and to trust in the Lord.  It's learning to make the right and appropriate decisions even when we feel like being a little bit more dramatic.

Today, as sinners (and who isn't?), let's be willing to learn from the Lord, and he will teach us in his way.  Let's work to put God first and to love other people (all of them).  As we do, we will be guided and taught and grow closer and closer to God, who is the source of hope, joy, and peace, and every other good thing.

Tuesday, May 8, 2018

2 Nephi 2:5-6 -- On Law and Redemption

"And men are instructed sufficiently that they know good from evil. And the law is given unto men. And by the law no flesh is justified; or, by the law men are cut off. Yea, by the temporal law they were cut off; and also, by the spiritual law they perish from that which is good, and become miserable forever.
Wherefore, redemption cometh in and through the Holy Messiah; for he is full of grace and truth."
2 Nephi 2:5-6

This is a good reminder of our need for Christ.  The idea that "no flesh is justified" is an interesting one.  It's kind of hard to understand the temporal law vs. spiritual law thing that is going on here, but I think the basic idea is that we can't meet the standards of God's law, either physically or spiritually, so if we were only dealing with the law, we would all be prisoners... trapped by our own actions and desires, unable to progress or live up to our potential to reach heaven and return to God.  And eternal mediocrity, presumably, makes us miserable. :)

Luckily, Christ steps in between us and the Law, which none of us could obey perfectly, and he pays the penalty of the law for us.  He pays the fine, does the time, restores what was lost.  And he gives us a chance to change and grow and learn to overcome our frequent mistakes instead of having even one mean that we flunk out for eternity.

Today, let's remember that we do know Good from Evil.  And since we do... let's make better choices, and use that opportunity that Christ has given us to move closer to God's law and to our ideal selves.

Monday, May 7, 2018

Alma 18:34-35 -- On Spirit, Knowledge, and Power

"Ammon said unto him: I am a man; and man in the beginning was created after the image of God, and I am called by his Holy Spirit to teach these things unto this people, that they may be brought to a knowledge of that which is just and true;
And a portion of that Spirit dwelleth in me, which giveth me knowledge, and also power according to my faith and desires which are in God."
Alma 18:34-35

This is Ammon explaining the gospel to King Lamoni.  I really like the explanation of the Spirit here, that it calls us, gives us knowledge, and grants us power, but also that it works according to our faith and desires.

Sometimes we misunderstand God and the purpose of all of this I think.  We expect God to just give us whatever we want, and base our belief in his love on how well he complies with our wishes.  ... But that is of course totally backwards from what the gospel is really about.  The Spirit is a good example.  Having the Spirit in our lives is a good gauge that lets us know whether our lives are in harmony with God or not.  We're supposed to be learning to grow and improve and help and serve others, not just become more entrenched in demanding our own way.  Kind of like growing out of being a toddler and perhaps occasionally learning to share. :)

The Spirit is of course a strength in our lives beyond being a good way to feel whether we are on the same page with God.  When we *are* on the same page, the spirit can help us to know and do things that we wouldn't otherwise have access to.  It can help us remember things, so feeding our memory scriptures is a really good way to allowing the spirit to pop one that we need into our minds at the right moment.

Today, let's work on our faith and our desire and remember that the gospel is internal as well as external... what we want *and* what we do.  Let's work on love and service, as Ammon did, and trust that God will grant us knowledge and power when we need it.

Sunday, May 6, 2018

Luke 17:32 -- On Moving Forward

"Remember Lot's wife."
Luke 17:32

A three word verse, but so packed with meaning.  Lot and his family, commanded by God to flee the wicked city that was about to be destroyed, where not even 10 righteous people could be found, and Lot's wife looks back, presumably wanting to return, turning to salt.

Similar things happen elsewhere in the scriptures.  The Israelites, led out of Egypt towards the land given them by God, and they wanted to go back, not just once, but many times, preferring the familiar to the new challenges and opportunities given them by God.

Lehi and his family, fleeing Jerusalem, and Laman and Lemuel, echoing the Israelites, saying that it would have been better for them to have died rather than suffer these new hardships.

And repeated in our own lives as well.  So often change comes into our lives, but instead of learning from it and choosing to grow and change and stick with God, we want to run back to the safe haven of the way it used to be... even if that old way wasn't good for us, or was holding us back from reaching our potential.  Change is scary.  Learning new things is hard.

If we turn back from our progress maybe we won't literally turn to salt... and who knows, maybe Lot's wife didn't literally either, but the end result was, and is, the same.  We calcify and harden and never change, holding on to the past so strongly that we can never grow or become who we need (or want) to be.  We stay unhappy or we tolerate our surroundings because it's too hard to overhaul our lives, and we end up stagnating, never becoming more than we are now.  ... And I think few of us are ready to face Judgment Day without at least a few tweaks. :)

Today, let's remember Lot's Wife, and stay far away from her example.  Let's move forward with faith and hope, trusting God that he will lead us by the hand and help us to be more, and better, and to learn to be part of a Zion community, where we help each other and lift each other up.

Saturday, May 5, 2018

D&C 112:10 -- On Humility and Answers

"Be thou humble; and the Lord thy God shall lead thee by the hand, and give thee answer to thy prayers."
Doctrine and Covenants 112:10

What struck me about this verse today is that we really can't be led if we think that we know a better way.  That's why humility and meekness are essential, so that we can get over ourselves enough to listen to God, to have the calmness and self-restraint necessary to bridle our passions (not destroy them, mind you, but direct them and satisfy our needs in ways that the Lord approves of), and to not wander off the path because we think that we have found a good shortcut that God hasn't thought of. :)

We all want answers, right?  We all want to find our way to the destination that God's path leads to.  So, today, let's work on our humility and qualify for those promises.  Let's get our egos our of the way, and reach for God's hand, and listen for his answers in our lives.

Friday, May 4, 2018

1 Kings 12:24 -- On Hearkening to and Investing in the Lord

"Thus saith the Lord, Ye shall not go up, nor fight against your brethren the children of Israel: return every man to his house; for this thing is from me. They hearkened therefore to the word of the Lord, and returned to depart, according to the word of the Lord."
1 Kings 12:24

According to verse 21, this was the message to about 180,000 people who had gathered for war, and the Lord through his prophet just told them to go home.  I really like the fact that they listened, and did as God had asked.

I think often in our own lives we get set on a course of action and if God tells us to let it go or return home, it is really hard to do, because we spent so much time and effort and often money on our current course.

The thing to remember here I think is that if we know that "this thing" (whatever it is in our own lives) is from the Lord, then that is what matters.  The only investments that matter are ones that the Lord approves of, and we should cut our losses immediately on anything other than that. 

In these verses, it was serious.  It meant splitting the 12 tribes of Israel and not being united.  They thought they were doing the right thing by gathering for war.  ... And we also think that we are doing right, or trying to make things work in a way that makes sense.  But when God shows us that isn't his will, we should, as these people did, pack up and go home.  Things with God will always work out for the best.  Things without him never will.

Thursday, May 3, 2018

3 Nephi 27:5-6 -- On Seeing it Through

"Have they not read the scriptures, which say ye must take upon you the name of Christ, which is my name? For by this name shall ye be called at the last day;
And whoso taketh upon him my name, and endureth to the end, the same shall be saved at the last day."
3 Nephi 27:5-6

I think both of these ideas, taking upon Christ's name and enduring to the end, can be challenging, but also rewarding.  The thing I like about both of these things is that if bad things happen to us and we're actually doing God's work, then no problem, right?  God will take care of things when we can't.  ... That doesn't make it easy, or fun, but it is very real, and if we hang in there and stick with him, nothing can stop us.

Today, no matter what we are facing, let's remember to stick with God.  Let's embrace the opportunities we have to be known by his name, and rejoice that we are granted these lessons, no matter how hard they are, so that we can learn to be better and stronger and more refined, not to mention much, much cooler. :)  Let's stick with God and see it through.

Wednesday, May 2, 2018

Psalms 147:3-6 -- On Reasons to Praise

"He healeth the broken in heart, and bindeth up their wounds.
He telleth the number of the stars; he calleth them all by their names.
Great is our Lord, and of great power: his understanding is infinite.
The Lord lifteth up the meek: he casteth the wicked down to the ground."
Psalms 147:3-6

This Psalm is talking about reasons that we have to praise the Lord.  I really liked these reasons:
  • He heals broken hearts, and can treat those emotional and spiritual wounds.
  • He doesn't forget any part of his creation.  He has it all in mind, and he has a personal relationship with all of it.
  • He understands EVERYTHING, and he can do something about it.
  • He makes things right.  He helps people who are doing what is right, and doesn't let evil win.
Seriously, who else could do any of that, and what is there not to love?  God is everything that I admire or want to be like... and the absolute coolest part, I think for us and for God, is that he shares this with us.  He teaches us to become more like him, to let go of the bad parts of ourselves and learn to embrace and enhance the good parts.  He know us as well as he knows the stars and he calls us by name, and teaches us in a very individual way.

Today, let's praise the Lord, for he truly is great and amazing, and is the reason that we have hope to succeed and thrive and become also amazing. :)  It still takes hard work of course, but that it is even possible we owe to God's plan, which as always is designed to lead us to happiness.

Tuesday, May 1, 2018

1 Timothy 6:11-12 -- On the Good Fight

"But thou, O man of God, flee these things; and follow after righteousness, godliness, faith, love, patience, meekness.
Fight the good fight of faith, lay hold on eternal life, whereunto thou art also called, and hast professed a good profession before many witnesses."
1 Timothy 6:11-12

It's interesting that it talks about fleeing and fighting here.  The fleeing is talking about things in previous verses like temptations, lust, coveting, and disputing.  And I think that is what the fight is here.  It is an internal war between the natural man (Mosiah 3:19) and the saint, or in other words the part of us that wants to be good and the part of us that wants other things that aren't compatible with the gospel.  We can learn to bridle our passions and integrate both parts of ourselves, but it's not easy--which I suppose is why they call it a fight.

Fighting the good fight of faith is not just standing up for the good things that we want, but it is consciously including God in everything we do.  No matter how strong we are or how much willpower we have, there are things that we will face that will stun us, and test the very core of our being--things that play on our weaknesses.  Satan doesn't fight fair, and we shouldn't expect it.  We are definitely going to need God's help in this effort.

Today, let's work on learning the things that it talks about here: righteousness, godliness, faith, love, patience, and meekness.  All of these things are complex and hard to master, but they are the ammunition that we have to win the battle for the Lord's side.  Let's pray and read our scriptures, and do the things that it takes to keep the spirit with us.  Let's learn from God and become better people with him then we could ever have been by ourselves.

Total Pageviews