Thursday, August 30, 2018

Alma 26:17-20 -- On Turning from Sin to Salvation

"Who could have supposed that our God would have been so merciful as to have snatched us from our awful, sinful, and polluted state?
Behold, we went forth even in wrath, with mighty threatenings to destroy his church.
Oh then, why did he not consign us to an awful destruction, yea, why did he not let the sword of his justice fall upon us, and doom us to eternal despair?
Oh, my soul, almost as it were, fleeth at the thought. Behold, he did not exercise his justice upon us, but in his great mercy hath brought us over that everlasting gulf of death and misery, even to the salvation of our souls."
Alma 26:17-20

Perhaps we all feel like Ammon here at times.  We've done things wrong in our lives, and even if we weren't purposely trying directly to destroy God's church, we have had that experience of feeling "awful, sinful, and polluted."  We've likely all deserved some bad consequences to bad decisions, and even though sometimes we feel those consequences, God usually gives us a chance to escape them at some point.  Why does he do this?  Why save us and give us another chance when we are working so hard to destroy ourselves?

As with Ammon, God sees something in us--in all of us--that is worthy of saving.  He sees our value and our potential, and he works with us, tirelessly, to help us see a better path, and to find a way out of the pits that we often dig for ourselves.  Because of Christ's mercy, repentance is granted and justice is delayed until after this life, so we have our whole lives, working with God, to do better and get it right.

Today, let's work with God and leave those awful feelings behind.  Let's work towards hope and joy and better selves.  God magnifies our efforts so even if we can only take the smallest step in his direction, he will help make that move significant and reinforce any effort.  It can seem overwhelming, but it *is* possible to turn around and return to God, from wherever we are now.  Let's get on our knees today and work with God on taking that first step.  He loves us, and if we are willing to change, even if we don't know how yet, he will always be willing to help us find our way.

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Ephesians 2:19 -- On the Household of God

"Now therefore ye are no more strangers and foreigners, but fellowcitizens with the saints, and of the household of God;"
Ephesians 2:19

In the verses leading up to this it talks about letting go of enmity and finding peace, and that Christ is what makes all of this possible, by offering hope and giving us covenants so that the partition between ourselves and God was broken down, which is the way that all of us have this opportunity to be part of something bigger than ourselves--a nation or community of saints, and part of the household of God.

The idea of being part of something like that, and especially belonging to God and God belonging to us in that way, is a compelling one.  I love the idea of there being no barriers between us and God, and being able to call on him anytime, as though he were just in the other room, a few steps away.  And I think that is actually the case in a lot of ways.  He wants to be accessible to us.  He wants us to call on him, and to be there whenever we need to talk.  He wants us to share our joys and our sorrows with him.

I think the other compelling thing is the rest of the household.  Being with God is amazing, but all the rest of his children are part of the package, and we have so many amazing brothers and sisters out there, no matter their backgrounds or appearance--each incredible in his or her own way.  What a blessing it is to be part of a household with each other.  And God wants us to realize that incredible richness and be a part of it, forever.

Today, let's rejoice in the blessings of being a part of the household of God, both the opportunity to know God and to return to his presence through his infinite grace and also the opportunity we have to build eternal friendships with the people around us.  Let's not neglect that possibility, or shun those opportunities when God grants them to us.  Part of the joy that God offers us is the joy of each other.

John 13:20 -- On Receiving God's Servants

"Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that receiveth whomsoever I send receiveth me; and he that receiveth me receiveth him that sent me."
John 13:20

This idea is one that we have a hard time processing sometimes I think.  Christ tells us that receiving those he sends is receiving him, but we still have a large mental gap between the things that God tells us and the things that his prophets tell us.  On one hand, this is completely understandable since God is infallible and his servants are not.  On the other hand, infallible God has told us that we should receive a prophet's words "as if from mine own mouth" (D&C 21:5).  I very much doubt that we would argue and justify as much if we heard the same things from God.

One reason why I really like the idea here is that it seems to be about community and education, two things that I love.  God works through his servants (often ourselves, if we choose to be), so that we can grow and learn and be part of the amazingness which is God's work and kingdom.  If he did it all himself, and stood in front of us every time we needed to do something, not only would that be the most extreme form of micromanagement ever, but it would also leave us with little freedom or choice--something that God firmly advocates.  If we want heaven, or anything else that God offers, he insists that we choose it freely.  He will not force it on us.  On the other hand, of course, he will bend over backwards to help us get there if it is something that we freely choose and are committed to working for.

As we learn to be good servants of God, we learn to care about the people around us and to take our obligation to God seriously, to be like him, and to be worthy of other people's trust in us.  This is taken to an extreme with prophets, who speak in the stead of God, but it applies to all of us to some extent because we are all examples to and teachers of the people around us, whether that is happening in a formal setting or not.  And because all of us are learning to take the name of Christ upon us in this way, it is all part of building a Christlike community, where we can all learn to trust each other to do and say the good and kind thing, and to help rather than to harm.

Of course, as we are learning, we are going to run into a lot of imperfection in that regard... in others and in ourselves.  That imperfection isn't a reason to stop and give up and never trust though.  It is a byproduct of God's education program, and all it means is the same thing that it means when a little kid lies to his parents... we all need some more time to grow up, and to learn to be better than we are.

Receiving others doesn't always mean taking everything they say as if God spoke them.  God reserves the direction of his church to the president of the church, for example, and we all have individual stewardships that limit our influence.  However, Christ tells us "Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me" (Matthew 25:40) and "Inasmuch as ye did it not to one of the least of these, ye did it not to me" (Matthew 25:45) as well, strengthening that tie to all of us, not just to one man, or even only to the prophets and apostles.  We are all connected as a community, and the way we react to and treat one another *is* related to the way that we react to and treat God.

Today, let's work on receiving God's servants.  If their position warrants it, we should listen to the prophets and apostles as though it were the voice of God.  There are also a lot of other people that God sends into our lives though that are his servants in other ways... helping us learn and grow, overcome biases, or just build friendships and community.  These people (including ourselves) are not perfect, and some of them might not resemble our mental picture of God in any way.  Nevertheless, let's work to receive and love them as his children, and as we do, we will receive God in a way that we will never be able to otherwise.

Monday, August 27, 2018

D&C 30:11 -- On Laboring in Zion

"And your whole labor shall be in Zion, with all your soul, from henceforth; yea, you shall ever open your mouth in my cause, not fearing what man can do, for I am with you. Amen."
Doctrine and Covenants 30:11

This verse is part of a revelation given to John Whitmer and then later added to the Doctrine and Covenants for the benefit of the whole church.  We're probably not all at the stage that John Whitmer was, but I like this idea of devoting ourselves entirely to the cause of Zion.  It reminds me of the story of the rich man who asked Christ was he should do to inherit eternal life (Mark 10:17-22).  At first he is told to keep the commandments, but when he persists in his inquiry, basically asking what more he can do, Christ asks him to give up other things and to come and follow him--basically making his whole labor the cause of Zion from henceforth, as this verse instructs.  Maybe we all have the capacity to get to this stage at some point, and dedicate ourselves to that one goal, or maybe only a few people do.  Either way, it is a cool idea to be able to let go of the world more completely and serve God.

Even if we aren't commanded to come out of the world this much, or to sell all that we have, there are many things that we can do to make sure that we honor and serve God more than we fear man.  Perhaps today we can think about our priorities and make sure they are things that God approves of.  Let's work on making sure that we are including God in all that we do, and, if we can, and of course, as God wills, moving closer to that idea of total dedication in whatever areas we can.

Sunday, August 26, 2018

Psalms 77:11-12 -- On Remembering the Lord

"I will remember the works of the Lord: surely I will remember thy wonders of old.
I will meditate also of all thy work, and talk of thy doings."
Psalms 77:11-12

Taking time to remember the works of God, and to think and talk about his life is an important part of the Sabbath.  It isn't because God needs worshippers, but because we need God.  Remembering and talking about the Lord helps us to feel the spirit, and helps us remember that the Lord can help us in any situation.

As we remember his love, we can understand everything else a little better, and we realize that there is always hope.  After all, God, the most powerful being in existence, loves us and wants to help us succeed. :)

Today, let's take time to remember the Lord.  Let's ponder his works and remember his sacrifice for us.  Let's spread the joy of that remembrance with others by lifting and helping them, and when we feel that spiritual connection with God, let's pray, individually and as communities.  God wants to hear from all of us, and is always willing to listen and to help.

Romans 13:12 -- On Darkness and Light

"The night is far spent, the day is at hand: let us therefore cast off the works of darkness, and let us put on the armour of light."
Romans 13:12

The verse before this encourages us to wake up out of sleep.  I think it is basically promoting the idea that we need to symbolically get up and get to work, spiritually.  God is our father, making sure that we heard the alarm clock and we're not going to be late. :)

The symbols of light and darkness here also suggest the idea that we should be casting off sin and letting go of evil, and embracing goodness and light.  Perhaps even fighting for them, or at least protecting ourselves with them, going along with the symbol of the armor.

I like the idea of being protected by light, and the casting off of darkness in the form of repentance.  I think that sometime we see repentance as this thing that weak people do... but all of us are weak in different ways, and repentance is something that all of us need to do.

Today, let's work on casting off darkness and walking in the armor of light.  That will definitely mean different things in each of our lives, but the general idea can be applied to everyone as we seek God's help.  As we do so I think we'll find that we become not only lighter but more free and more happy as those dark burdens are cast out of our lives.

Friday, August 24, 2018

Romans 8:35 -- On Separation from God

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

This is a very good question.  In one way it is rhetorical, because of course nothing can separate us from God's love if we seek it.  As I was thinking about it today though, I think that all of these things have the ability to separate us from God, if we place those things before faith.

Bad things are going to happen to us in life.  Bad things happened to all the prophets, and to Christ.  We can't go on thinking that good behavior means no challenges in life... it just doesn't work that way.  God allows and often gives us challenges *because* he loves us and he knows that we need to grow and learn and become stronger spiritually.  So tribulation and distress and all of these things may come.  I think the question is whether we will allow any of them to separate us from God.  *He* isn't going anywhere, but often we choose to walk away from him.  And when we do, we die inside, because that is what spiritual deal is... separation from God.

Today, let's take this verse to heart.  Let's not allow anything to separate us from the love of God, especially ourselves.  Let's get closer instead and seek the Lord in prayer and ask for his help.  God will solve everything eventually if we have faith and stick with him, and keep working and trying.  It definitely won't be on our timeline, and depending on what it is, it might not get solved in this life, but in the end, nothing that we suffer now will have any power to drag us down in eternity.  God will make all of it right. 

We don't have to give up, and we definitely shouldn't start hating God because life seems unbearable.  Instead, let's plead with God for help to endure it well, and let's find another way forward, trusting that God will help us find some path to him, even if the darkest maze.  He is the light, and is, and will always be, our way to hope and joy.

Thursday, August 23, 2018

D&C 84:105-106 -- On Building a Better World

"And if any man shall give unto any of you a coat, or a suit, take the old and cast it unto the poor, and go on your way rejoicing.
And if any man among you be strong in the Spirit, let him take with him him that is weak, that he may be edified in all meekness, that he may become strong also."
Doctrine and Covenants 84:105-106

I really like the idea here that whatever we are doing and whatever happens to us that we should be helping others along the way.  When we are blessed, we should in turn bless others whenever we can, giving them physical and spiritual help as we have those things to offer.

It's really cool because it is part of the whole idea of a Zion community in which "there was no poor among them" (Moses 7:18).  It's building each other up and providing for the good of the people around us, not just our own good.  Too often we don't live that way because our society isn't that way, or it feels unbalanced, but our efforts are never unnoticed by God.  We need to take that first step in order to build Zion.  It has to start somewhere.  Otherwise we'll all just be eternally waiting for someone else to begin. 

Today, let's share with the people around us and help them and build them up.  Let's resolve to do the right thing and share with the people around us, no matter what other people choose.  We're laying the foundation of a better world, and the more of us there are, the better things will get, with God's help. :)

Psalms 35:28 -- On Deliverance and Covenants

"And my tongue shall speak of thy righteousness and of thy praise all the day long."
Psalms 35:28

This section in Psalms is a prayer from David to God asking for, largely, God to not allow David's enemies to triumph.  This is a verse at the end of the prayer which in some ways seems like an offering in return for his request, but I think perhaps is better interpreted as a covenant.  David is asking God to do what he has done before, which is preserve his life and kingdom, and David is promising what he has promised before: to always remember God, and to be thankful.

We are likely to need God's help in our lives from time to time, and so perhaps we can learn from David's example.  Today, let's remember to go to the Lord with our problems and our trials, and to be open and honest with him about our feelings and our needs.  As we do, God will certainly help us.  As he does, let's also remember that we have made covenants with God just as David did.  We need to thank and praise him as well, and remember him always, making sure to put him first in our lives.

Tuesday, August 21, 2018

Alma 12:16-18 -- On Second Deaths and Getting Back to Hope

"And now behold, I say unto you then cometh a death, even a second death, which is a spiritual death; then is a time that whosoever dieth in his sins, as to a temporal death, shall also die a spiritual death; yea, he shall die as to things pertaining unto righteousness.
Then is the time when their torments shall be as a lake of fire and brimstone, whose flame ascendeth up forever and ever; and then is the time that they shall be chained down to an everlasting destruction, according to the power and captivity of Satan, he having subjected them according to his will.
Then, I say unto you, they shall be as though there had been no redemption made; for they cannot be redeemed according to God’s justice; and they cannot die, seeing there is no more corruption."
Alma 12:16-18

These verses are talking about the judgment day when we will be judged by our words, works, and thoughts (verse 14), and these verses are explaining what happens to those who harden their hearts against the word of God and who, basically, choose not to be saved.

Choosing not to be saved isn't just one big choice, just as choosing to accept Christ's gift and to be saved isn't.  They are both a bunch of small choices.  The negative ones are explained pretty well in verse 10-11, but basically the idea is that the more we accept God's word and listen to his voice, the easier it is to do and the more we learn of that, and it also works in reverse.  The more we reject God and refuse to listen, the less we are able to hear, and we even over time forget what we used to know.

Here it talks about dying a second time, spiritually, but later notes that they cannot die physically.  That's an interesting state.  It says it will be as though "there had been no redemption made."  I am not sure what that entails, but it doesn't really sound good.  Perhaps at that point, we would have to suffer for our own sins because we wouldn't accept the atonement, and perhaps we become subject to Satan in some sort of permanent way.

All these things are sort of scary to think about, and I don't write them so that we get into some sort of fear or guilt-motivated gloomy mindset.  Instead, I think it is valuable to think about just in terms of where we want to be headed.  God's story always has a happy ending.  However, when we go totally off the rails and start reading the poorly-written fanfic that Satan puts out there, and even start to believe it, life can seem like a horror themed choose-your-own-adventure book where things just keep getting worse and worse no matter what we do.  The way to change that is to put that crappy fake book down and start reading God's book again.  God's spirit makes all the difference.  Without it, a great life can seem dark, and with it a really hard life can be blindingly bright.

The big thing I get from these verses is the stark lack of hope.  Judgment day can be joyous.  It should be... God's whole plan is designed to help us graduate into our next life with love and joy and peace and to be reunited with God and with so many other loved ones.  Today, let's get back into God's beautiful hand-bound storybook with author's notes and tips.  Let's not read or buy into the campy comic book tragedy that Satan self-published.  That's not our real story, and it never has to go that way.  If we're already there, suffering through the television movie based on that drivel, let's be strong enough to walk away, change the channel, do whatever it takes to get back to God.  He offers hope, no matter how far we have strayed, and he wants to help us, if only we will get on our knees and talk to him.

2 Nephi 30:15-18 -- On Knowing All the Secrets

"They shall not hurt nor destroy in all my holy mountain; for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.
Wherefore, the things of all nations shall be made known; yea, all things shall be made known unto the children of men.
There is nothing which is secret save it shall be revealed; there is no work of darkness save it shall be made manifest in the light; and there is nothing which is sealed upon the earth save it shall be loosed.
Wherefore, all things which have been revealed unto the children of men shall at that day be revealed; and Satan shall have power over the hearts of the children of men no more, for a long time. And now, my beloved brethren, I make an end of my sayings."
2 Nephi 30:15-18

The image of the earth being full of God's knowledge is really cool.  "As the waters cover the sea" also gives you this sense of vastness ... the amount and depth of knowledge that it would take to fill the earth in that way is just symbolically astounding, and something that I look forward to.  I wonder if we will have to sit down and learn it, or if we will just be able to sort of drink it in. :) 

The idea that nothing secret will still be hidden is also amazing, but also somewhat terrifying.  I'm not sure that in our modern society that any of us are living at the level of openness and honesty that an event like that is going to require.  ... But on the other hand, maybe that kind of revelation of ourselves would be good for us, and is something that we should be striving toward.  I think it would be amazing if we trusted other people in general enough to reveal ourselves fully and hide nothing.  Right now God is the only one with the full story, although sometimes close friends and family come close.  It would take some relearning to live in such an ideal, open society, but imagine how cool it would be to be in a place where everyone knew all about you, and they still loved you and knew how to help and support you even better.  And we could do the same for others--never again worrying about our "image."

One of the best things in these verses is the end here.  Once everything is revealed it says that Satan will not have any power over our hearts.  I'm assuming that is at least primarily *because* of this knowledge.  It kind of shows us how important it is to learn the gospel, and to remember God's commandments.  If we all had that knowledge before us all the time, Satan wouldn't have any power.  Unfortunately, I think we deceive ourselves way too often.

Today, let's work on being more open and honest in our lives.  Let's trust God, and worry about the content of our hearts rather than how we look to others.  Let's work to prepare ourselves for a day when everything will be revealed, so that we can look forward to it with peace.

Monday, August 20, 2018

Matthew 18:23-27 -- On Debt and Compassion

"Therefore is the kingdom of heaven likened unto a certain king, which would take account of his servants.
And when he had begun to reckon, one was brought unto him, which owed him ten thousand talents.
But forasmuch as he had not to pay, his lord commanded him to be sold, and his wife, and children, and all that he had, and payment to be made.
The servant therefore fell down, and worshipped him, saying, Lord, have patience with me, and I will pay thee all.
Then the lord of that servant was moved with compassion, and loosed him, and forgave him the debt."
Matthew 18:23-27

This is the first part of a parable that Christ taught soon after being asked by Peter about forgiveness.  He explained that we should forgive everyone, every time, and used this parable as an example.  This first part is a symbolic representation of what God does for us.  Because we sin, and Christ pays the price for that sin, we owe God an immense debt that we cannot pay, because we can't go back and un-sin and make ourselves retroactively perfect.  Perfection is what justice demands, because heaven is a place of perfection.  Christ makes up the difference between where we are and perfection, which is represented in the parable by the ten thousand talent debt (something like 6 billion dollars in today's money).

Because Christ paid our impossibly large debt for us, we have space to repent and learn our perfection more slowly, with all the second chances that we need.   Because we have been saved however, the second part of the parable explains another of God's expectations.  The expectation is that we will be as compassionate to others who owe us small debts as Christ is to us with our impossible debt.  It's a good parable to help us get a little perspective.  It is easy to become frustrated with others and want to get "justice" for being cheated or lied to or stolen from, or whatever it is that just isn't working, but when Christ, who did *everything* for us, comes to us and asks us to forgive, all of those things are minuscule in comparison.  That doesn't mean that it is easy, of course.  It still takes a large effort to let things go sometimes, and to also let go of bitterness.  As we do though, we not only do as Christ asks because we owe him, we actually become better people and closer to that perfection that we continue to strive for.

Today, let's remember what Christ did for us, and the immensity of that debt.  Not in order to bring on a guilt trip, but to put the rest of the debts of life into perspective, and encourage ourselves to allow room for other people to change as God gives us room to change.  To be clear, Christ isn't asking us to stay in an abusive situation or to allow ourselves to continue to be cheated.  He's asking us to heal our hearts and minds of bitterness and leave the long-term judgment to him.  Let's be as compassionate to others as Christ is with us.

Sunday, August 19, 2018

Doctrine and Covenants 101:1-4 -- On Trials and Opportunities

"Verily I say unto you, concerning your brethren who have been afflicted, and persecuted, and cast out from the land of their inheritance—
I, the Lord, have suffered the affliction to come upon them, wherewith they have been afflicted, in consequence of their transgressions;
Yet I will own them, and they shall be mine in that day when I shall come to make up my jewels.
Therefore, they must needs be chastened and tried, even as Abraham, who was commanded to offer up his only son."
Doctrine and Covenants 101:1-4

 This revelation was given at a really scary time for the early saints.  They were being persecuted by mobs, kicked out of their homes, their property had been destroyed, and they were threatened with death, both by the mob and as a consequence of many of the mob's actions--people whose crops had been burned were without food or shelter in many cases.

God explains that he allowed them to be moved out of their place because of transgression.  Basically, they weren't ready to inherit the promised land yet.  After that though, he doesn't say they are cast off forever or that anyone should give up.  He says basically, you aren't ready, but I will help you get ready because I want you there.  It reminds me of when God had the children of Israel wander for 40 years in the wilderness because they weren't ready to inherit *that* promised land yet.

The way that God is going to help them get ready is to chasten and try them.  That can seem counterproductive at first glance, because trials often feel like impediments to progress or punishments rather than as learning exercises.  God doesn't work that way though (1 Peter 4:12-13).  He teaches us, builds us up, and prepares us through trials, so that we'll be ready for things to come... including entering the promised land and inheriting God's kingdom.

Abraham was tried right now to his toes, right?  This wasn't for God's benefit, but for Abraham's.  *Abraham* needed to know who he was, and how trustworthy God was... right down to his toes.  God works with us in a similar way.  The obstacles and trials in our lives are not there to tear us down, but rather to strengthen and build us up, and to help us know who we are, and who God is.  Today, let's remember that our trials are opportunities for growth.  Let's take the chances that we have to learn and to become stronger, relying on God to guide and help us, especially in the midst of trouble.

Friday, August 17, 2018

Isaiah 61:11 -- On Growing the Garden

"For as the earth bringeth forth her bud, and as the garden causeth the things that are sown in it to spring forth; so the Lord God will cause righteousness and praise to spring forth before all the nations."
Isaiah 61:11

I love the mental image of righteousness and praise springing forth as in a garden.  I imagine that those types of plants would be pretty amazing.  I also like that this verse is talking about the last days, which is, approximately, our time.  I love that prophets, with God's help, could look down through time and see our day, and see us, and give us hints about what we can accomplish.

In this case, I think that we can be the fulfillment of this scripture.  We can be the seeds of righteousness "which the Lord hath blessed" (verse 9), bringing forth praise.  Our examples can help to improve the world, as we work to do God's will and further his kingdom.  And what a cool idea to be part of, right?  So many times we look around us and feel like things are corrupt and nothing good is growing, but we can be those buds, bringing new life to the garden and springing forth to spread that goodness everywhere.  Today, let's grow from God's seeds, and spring forth in righteousness and praise... growing better, and helping the world and the people around us to grow into their potential as well. 

1 Corinthians 11:31-32 -- On Judging Ourselves

"For if we would judge ourselves, we should not be judged.
But when we are judged, we are chastened of the Lord, that we should not be condemned with the world."
1 Corinthians 11:31-32

I like this idea that no external judgment would be needed if we would judge ourselves.  Also, this makes clear that the only reason that God chastens us is to help us.  He asks us to not be like everyone else, not to go along with the crowd, but instead to be examples of goodness and love and to be instruments of change in the world.

Today, let's not wait for God to correct us.  Let's examine ourselves and make some changes.  Let's be proactive and move closer to our best selves, keeping in touch with God and drawing on his power to help us change both ourselves and the world around us for the better.

Thursday, August 16, 2018

1 Corinthians 6:5-7 -- On Accepting Wrongs and Learning Love

"I speak to your shame. Is it so, that there is not a wise man among you? no, not one that shall be able to judge between his brethren?
But brother goeth to law with brother, and that before the unbelievers.
Now therefore there is utterly a fault among you, because ye go to law one with another. Why do ye not rather take wrong? why do ye not rather suffer yourselves to be defrauded?"
1 Corinthians 6:5-7

There are several ideas here that are interesting.  The first seems to be keeping internal matters private, so as to not set a bad example before the world.  Another one is that sometimes, instead of trying to gain justice, we need to accept a disadvantageous outcome for ourselves.  It's a really hard idea to live with sometimes, but it is one that we see elsewhere in the scriptures: the idea of "turning the other cheek" (Matthew 5:39, 3 Nephi 12:39).  I don't think that God is saying to us "thou shalt be doormats."  Rather, he is explaining that often accepting a wrong and moving on is the best choice.

It is difficult to turn our pride way down to imperceptible levels and walk away from arguments, but God asks both of us sometimes--perhaps most of the time.  It doesn't mean welcoming abuse from others, but sometimes accepting an insult or a wrong rather than fighting back is the most kind and loving thing that we can do.  For instance, when someone writes into a website, or calls a helpline, they are often thinking about something that needs to be corrected or something that is going wrong for them.  They often won't be calm or thinking like their best selves.  If the person on the other end of that email or help line responds to their insults rather than to the need, then the situation is likely to just escalate into a shouting match.  If, instead, the anger is deflected with compassion for the need underlying the insult, often the situation calms down, and problems can be resolved rather than exacerbated.

This sort of situation is what I think that God is asking us to do in real life... to see people's needs, and to try to help them, even when they are being unreasonable.  God doesn't always ask this.  For instance, we read in Alma 61:14 about Moroni resisting evil with his sword.  God didn't expect them to sit by and let a faction take over the government and give up their freedom.  Whether to resist or to accept is therefore obviously a decision we have to make with the Lord's guidance, but I think that we can safely say that war is the exception rather than the rule, and that in most cases, we are asked to turn the other cheek, and to be kind to others even when they are not being kind to us, just as God is kind to us despite our frequent unkindness to his children.

Today, let's remember love and kindness and compassion, even to our enemies (Luke 6:27), and that sometimes accepting wrongs is the best choice, rather than bringing more conflict and contention into the situation.  Even when the right choice is to fight back (which should probably be very rarely), we have to choose our battles very carefully, with God's help. Let's work on letting go of our pride and doing as God asks rather than what would feel the most satisfying in the moment.  That way, not only will we avoid punching a lot of people, but we will learn to be more loving and compassionate in general, and be a part of building a better world.

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Matthew 23:8-12 -- On Siblings and Service

"But be not ye called Rabbi: for one is your Master, even Christ; and all ye are brethren.
And call no man your father upon the earth: for one is your Father, which is in heaven.
Neither be ye called masters: for one is your Master, even Christ.
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 23:8-12

There are some interesting ideas here.  I like the idea that we are all brothers and sisters, and that we shouldn't differentiate ourselves by rank or class.  That isn't always easy to do, since those things are sort of baked into our social structure, but the idea that we don't need that is compelling, and the idea that we should treat each other as brothers and sisters, no matter what else might be going on is also a strong idea, which perhaps we can use to work for change.  Removing some of that "classism" from the way that we treat others or expect to be treated could perhaps ameliorate or even alter the inequities of our society.

A related idea here is that greatness is shown through service.  If we work for our individual greatness, then it won't work, but if we remain humble and work for the greatness of the community as a whole, then we can gain the power to accomplish those righteous goals.

The ideas of unity and community that flow through these verses make me think of the ideal of a Zion community, where there are no poor because everyone shares with each other, voluntarily.  That kind of a society can seem really far away sometimes, but today... let's remember that we can help make it happen, and that it is these small principles that Christ teaches us that can help us get there.  As we master these ideas of treating people as siblings and serving our fellow men we set an example for others, and we grow closer to that ideal.  The more of us that work at it, the closer we will get... and eventually we WILL get there, because God will help us as we do his work.

Abraham 5:9 -- On Choosing Goodness and Beauty

"And out of the ground made the Gods to grow every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food; the tree of life, also, in the midst of the garden, and the tree of knowledge of good and evil."
Abraham 5:9

One thing that I really like about this verse is the mention of beauty.  I think it is significant that when Eden was created, there was thought and planning put into balancing beauty and necessity, making sure that the trees there were both pleasant to the sight *and* good for food: both good and beautiful.  And yet, there are other things going on here too--placing both the tree of life and the tree of knowledge of good and evil are significant.  Theoretically, if God really didn't want the fruit of knowledge to be eaten he could have left the tree out of the garden, right?  Or made it too old to bear fruit.  We know from 2 Nephi 2:15 that the fruit of one was sweet (presumably the tree of knowledge from the order given in the verse) and the other was bitter (presumably the tree of life), so temptation was planned into the situation.

Now, of course, it wasn't a manipulation on the level of just placing a marshmallow in front of a child with nothing else in the room and telling them not to eat it.  It was a whole garden with plenty going on, and only one thing forbidden... but it was still a temptation.  God wasn't trying to force Adam and Eve into something, but rather setting up a situation where real choice was possible, because they were enticed by opposite choices.

It is somewhat similar to our lives now.  Many things that are bad for us are delicious or enticing in some way, and very often things that are good for us are less enticing in the same immediate way, or even bitter... thereby setting up real choice, because both are desirable in different ways, and not desirable in others.  Good things often require delayed gratification and patience, but are much better choices long term and make us happier overall, while bad things often pay off immediately, but we know that we are going to suffer for them later, if we so choose.  God isn't trying to manipulate us into choosing one or the other, but he is setting up a situation where they are real choices.  If all the things that were good for you were perfect and delicious and the bad things were ugly and moldy, then no one would even blink at choices, and it would also diminish what we could learn and who we could become, because we wouldn't be facing the tough choices that teach us who we are, and that help us learn to rely on God.

When I talk about beauty in the Garden of Eden, I am not referring to physical human beauty, but even that teaches us the same lesson in a way.  Isaiah, referring to Christ, mentions that there is no comeliness or beauty that we should desire him (Isaiah 53:2).  A lot of life is a lesson in seeing *past* our physical senses to the spiritual beauty beyond.

Today, let's remember that all around us are good *and* bad things.  Sometimes we get spiritual blinders on and can only see the poor choices, but the good is always there as well, each day.  God surrounds us with beauty, although it is not always a physical beauty, and sometimes we have to look hard to see it.  Let's take action in our lives to make the choices that we have been given and to seek out the things that are both good *and* beautiful, whether physically or spiritually, and let's gather them into our lives, always choosing God and the true, lasting happiness that he offers over the imitation.

Monday, August 13, 2018

Luke 18:2-5 -- On Persistence, Hope, and Communication

"Saying, There was in a city a judge, which feared not God, neither regarded man:
And there was a widow in that city; and she came unto him, saying, Avenge me of mine adversary.
And he would not for a while: but afterward he said within himself, Though I fear not God, nor regard man;
Yet because this widow troubleth me, I will avenge her, lest by her continual coming she weary me."
Luke 18:2-5

This is Christ's parable of the unjust judge.  There are probably several lessons in this parable, but what it made me think of today is persistence and hope.  If even an unjust judge will help a persistent person, then how much more will God help us, if we ask (verse 7)?  The parable was originally about prayer, and that is definitely the main message, but God also specifically uses this same parable in D&C 101 (see verse 81) to illustrate persistence in seeking justice from the government, so I am guessing that it can apply to many things.

I think it goes along with the way that God teaches us in general.  He wants us to try things... to go out and make things happen and figure out ourselves and the world (obviously within the guidelines of the gospel).  But when we run into roadblocks, then he is willing to step in.  However, let's also remember the story of Nephi and Laban, or the story of the Brother of Jared needing light in the barges.  In both stories, our heroes were trying to do as God asked, but it required effort and creative thinking.  In both stories, God helped solve their problems, but he didn't step in and do it for them.  They still had to persist, make the effort--learn the lesson and the principle.  And so it is with us, right?

Like Nephi and the Brother of Jared and the woman in this parable, we are all going to encounter problems in our lives that are going to be challenging.  As we approach these problems, often our first try isn't going to work.  We might, in fact, fail several times--just as Nephi did, or encounter a problem that defies any normal solution, as the Brother of Jared did.  But even in those cases we can remember the woman in this parable, and keep trying.  We can have hope that God will help us as we keep doing the right thing, and continue to try.

We could think of this cynically as God's version of "the squeaky wheel gets the grease," and perhaps it is, in a way, if squeaking means actually communicating.  Life takes effort and communication, not only with unjust judges and governments, but also with people we love and with God, who is perfect.  For instance, I had a friend who I hung out with for probably six months to a year before I found out that he didn't like pepperoni.  We had eaten many pizzas in that time with our group of friends, but that fact never came out.  We both probably needed to be better at communicating... me in ferreting out individual pizza preferences, and him in expressing his opinions and not just suffering unnecessarily with something he didn't like. On the other hand, I crossed the street at a broken crosswalk for about six months myself wondering when the city was ever going to fix it, and then finally contacted them.  It was fixed the next weekend.  We like to think that things will magically fix themselves, but most often it actually takes communication.

Now, of course God isn't an unjust judge, and he already knows what kind of pizza we like, and all the things that are broken in the world, but we *still* have to ask him to help us.  It has to be our choice to invite him in, and talking to him about it will help us think of better ideas to try as well. :)  Today, let's pray, let's communicate, let's try some creative thinking.  Let's jump in and figure it out.  There are going to be problems, no matter how well we live.  With some hope, effort, and communication, we can get through them all, with God's help and through his infinite grace.

Saturday, August 11, 2018

D&C 101:23-26 -- On Purity and Moving Toward the Millennium

"And prepare for the revelation which is to come, when the veil of the covering of my temple, in my tabernacle, which hideth the earth, shall be taken off, and all flesh shall see me together.
And every corruptible thing, both of man, or of the beasts of the field, or of the fowls of the heavens, or of the fish of the sea, that dwells upon all the face of the earth, shall be consumed;
And also that of element shall melt with fervent heat; and all things shall become new, that my knowledge and glory may dwell upon all the earth.
And in that day the enmity of man, and the enmity of beasts, yea, the enmity of all flesh, shall cease from before my face."
Doctrine and Covenants 101:23-26

There are a lot of kind of destruction-y things in here, and the lead up to the Millennium is going to have a lot of that, but what caught my eye today were the other things.  The veil lifted, and everyone seeing God.  Wow, right?  And, perhaps because of that, corruptible things will be gone--but presumably not everything, because "all things shall become new" and enmity shall cease (theoretically not just because of destruction, because it talks about people being alive in later verses, and actually that there will be no more death, which is kind of mind-blowing as well (see verses 27-30)).

I think it is important to remember that God still has a lot of surprises in store for us, and that we just can't know how all of this works yet.  It isn't because God is keeping it from us... he tells us right here.  It is that we just don't have the foundation yet to understand some of these huge things like how the world was made and how all of these things are going to come to pass.  The no more death thing we read about in another part of the scriptures as likely being a change in our bodies.  That might be the "all things shall become new" part.  Instead of melting with fervent heat, if we are pure (not corruptible?), perhaps we will be changed into forms that can withstand the destruction?

Being able to see God, and there being absolutely no enmity, which I take to mean no hatred or resentment...  that part is overwhelmingly miraculous by itself.  And to think that we could be there, and actually live to see this perfect world that God creates from the old.  It's amazing, and something to look forward to, and today it seems like a very good reason to work on our purity, and our resentment, and all of the things that might be holding us back from being part of it.

Friday, August 10, 2018

Jonah 2:8 -- On Honesty and Mercy

"They that observe lying vanities forsake their own mercy."
Jonah 2:8

This is an interesting statement by Jonah while he is inside the fish.  By itself it seems a little out of place among the other verses pleading for God's mercy and resolving to be a better person, so I am guessing that it is Jonah acknowledging that he told lies to make himself look better, although whether he lied to himself or others, or both, isn't clear.  It's an interesting idea that by doing that we forsake mercy.

"Our own" mercy could mean that we rob ourselves of healthy, honest self-esteem when we lie to ourselves about how cool we are.  It could also mean that we rob ourselves of God's mercy when we fail to acknowledge our weaknesses (to ourselves or others) and seek God's help to overcome them. We'll split the difference and say that it means both, shall we? :)

I think it is important to remember that honesty isn't just about building trusting relationships with others, but also about our own self-image and ability to grow and change.  Lying in certain contexts might get other people to think better of us at least temporarily, but we can't lie to God, and there is little good in other people's opinions based on fabrications, especially when they will likely find out the truth anyway.  Perhaps worse is when we lie to ourselves and think that we don't need God, or other people, or mercy. :)

Today, let's remember to be honest with ourselves and with others, and turn to God for help and mercy in our trials.

Mosiah 4:1-2 -- On Fear and Hope and Positive Change

"And now, it came to pass that when king Benjamin had made an end of speaking the words which had been delivered unto him by the angel of the Lord, that he cast his eyes round about on the multitude, and behold they had fallen to the earth, for the fear of the Lord had come upon them.
And they had viewed themselves in their own carnal state, even less than the dust of the earth. And they all cried aloud with one voice, saying: O have mercy, and apply the atoning blood of Christ that we may receive forgiveness of our sins, and our hearts may be purified; for we believe in Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who created heaven and earth, and all things; who shall come down among the children of men."
Mosiah 4:1-2

I like the progression here.  King Benjamin told the people the words of the angel, and although the fear of the Lord usually means "respect" or "reverence" maybe it really did inspire some actual fear as well, in terms of where they were headed in life and what would become of their souls.  Whatever the exact emotion though, it wasn't one of despair or hopelessness.  God never shows us our faults in order to destroy our motivation, but only to help us see the reality of the situation and how much we need him.  These people clearly saw that, and they turned to him and pleaded for mercy.

I think there are times like this in all of our lives, where we clearly see ourselves, and the mistakes we've made and the distance between what we are and who we really would like to be.  Sometimes it is so stark that we feel like we want to give up, and that we'll never make it.  That's totally Satan influencing us though.  God only wants times like that to inspire us to change, and to motivate us to do what it takes to be the people that we really want to be.  None of that is easy, but if we go with the example of King Benjamin's people here, we can cry to the Lord for mercy and help in becoming more than we are... which is his whole work, and the object of his love, to help us to become everything that we can be and that we choose to be.

Today, let's see reality but not let it get us down.  God will help us.  Things will get better, and work out in the end.  Let's trust and work for positive change, in ourselves and in the world around us. :)

Thursday, August 9, 2018

1 Samuel 30:22-24 -- On Greed and Generosity

"Then answered all the wicked men and men of Belial, of those that went with David, and said, Because they went not with us, we will not give them ought of the spoil that we have recovered, save to every man his wife and his children, that they may lead them away, and depart.
Then said David, Ye shall not do so, my brethren, with that which the Lord hath given us, who hath preserved us, and delivered the company that came against us into our hand.

For who will hearken unto you in this matter? but as his part is that goeth down to the battle, so shall his part be that tarrieth by the stuff: they shall part alike."
1 Samuel 30:22-24

This was interesting to me because I was reading what the "wicked men" said, and it made sense in the modern world.  If they didn't help, then why are we giving them part of the reward?  And because it sort of makes sense to us, God teaches them, and us today, a good lesson.

David reminds us that the Lord has given us whatever riches or loot that we have.  It should be used for the good of the community, and shared.  Not only because he gave it to us, but also because everything we have and do should be for the benefit of all, not just ourselves.  That's a hard thing for us to wrap our heads around sometimes, because we are used to competition, comparison, and judgment.  But hopefully we all have one or two people that we feel like that about--that we care about their welfare and happiness as much as our own.  And those people can be our examples in how God feels about, and asks us to treat, others.

Today, let's work on doing things for the good of the community, suppressing our natural selfishness and greed, and learning to be more loving and generous.  Let's turn to God and do as he asks with the blessings that he grants us.

Tuesday, August 7, 2018

Psalms 103:8-12 -- On God's Gift of Mercy

"The Lord is merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and plenteous in mercy.
He will not always chide: neither will he keep his anger for ever.
He hath not dealt with us after our sins; nor rewarded us according to our iniquities.
For as the heaven is high above the earth, so great is his mercy toward them that fear him.
As far as the east is from the west, so far hath he removed our transgressions from us."
Psalms 103:8-12

I loved reading this today because it is a really good reminder of how much the Lord loves us.  Sometimes we get stuck thinking that the Lord doesn't like us... because we disagree with his gospel, or don't live it, or whatever.  When there is a problem between us and the Lord, we can always know that it is us that needs to move.  The Lord already has, by suffering for our sins rather than condemning us for them.  He forces justice to wait, and doesn't let it touch us until we have that space that we need to change, if we choose to.

God might be displeased with our actions.  He might correct us.  He might turn us a different way.  But let us never believe that he hates us after he did everything in the universe he could do to save us, save *only* forcing us, which he would never do.

Today, let's remember how much God loves us, and that if we choose to allow help, he will always help us.  Let's remember how much room he gives us to change without condemning us, and how he consistently protects us from the worst natural consequences of our actions.  Instead, let us thank and praise him, respecting the gift that he has given us, and opening our hearts to feel his eternal love for us, his children.

Monday, August 6, 2018

Omni 1:2 -- On Being Wicked

"Wherefore, in my days, I would that ye should know that I fought much with the sword to preserve my people, the Nephites, from falling into the hands of their enemies, the Lamanites. But behold, I of myself am a wicked man, and I have not kept the statutes and the commandments of the Lord as I ought to have done."
Omni 1:2

This verse is interesting because it isn't the word of a prophet or a king that we usually hear from.  Instead, it is a man who considers himself to be wicked, but who obviously values the statutes and the commandments of God, and feels like he *should* have followed them.

I really relate to Omni here, and perhaps we have all felt this at some point in our lives--that we should have done much better in following the Lord.  We don't know a lot about Omni, to know whether he chose to be more righteous later and turn his life around, but we *definitely* have that option, and when we feel this way, that is exactly the time that we need to get on our knees and make a change.  It likely wouldn't have been easy for Omni, and it probably won't be easy for us either.  Repentance is hard, because we not only have to change our actions, but our hearts.  God will help us, so it is ALWAYS possible, but it does require effort.

Lest we give up because the whole thing reeks of effort though, let's think about Omni, and perhaps what kind of verse we want written about our lives.  Do we want people to read about us and only know that we were wicked?  Is who we are now who we want to be for eternity?  Many prophets and apostles also struggled with sin and wickedness, but they persisted and changed, and *that* is what made the difference.  We are all sinners, but God can change us, and in the end it can still be said of us that we were good.  Today, let's strive for that, and take the incremental steps today so that we can all work our way up to where we want to be, with God's help. :)

Sunday, August 5, 2018

1 Samuel 1:17-18 -- On Trusting the Lord

"Then Eli answered and said, Go in peace: and the God of Israel grant thee thy petition that thou hast asked of him.
And she said, Let thine handmaid find grace in thy sight. So the woman went her way, and did eat, and her countenance was no more sad."
1 Samuel 1:17-18

Earlier in this story, Hannah (the woman referred to here) is weeping and so upset she is not eating because she feels bad that she doesn't have a child.  She goes to the temple to pray, promising the Lord that she will dedicate her son to the Lord if she is granted a son.  She prays so fervently for this that Eli thinks that she is drunk, but she explains that she is not, and then these verses.

The amazing thing for me here is that after being so upset, Hannah is immediately cheered up and able to eat again.  She believes that God has answered her prayer through Eli (which he has), and that the Lord will bless her.

One of the biggest problems for us in our daily lives I think is just that we don't believe God when he tells us something.  If we did believe him, we could rest and be joyful as Hannah was.  Instead, we continue to worry and to doubt. Perhaps today we can work on being a little bit more like Hannah, willing to trust that the Lord will keep his promises to us.

D&C 133:57-58 -- On Preparation and Love

"And for this cause, that men might be made partakers of the glories which were to be revealed, the Lord sent forth the fulness of his gospel, his everlasting covenant, reasoning in plainness and simplicity—
To prepare the weak for those things which are coming on the earth, and for the Lord’s errand in the day when the weak shall confound the wise, and the little one become a strong nation, and two shall put their tens of thousands to flight."
Doctrine and Covenants 133:57-58

I like the idea here that God is preparing the weak for what is coming, and that he sent us the gospel basically so that we could be included in all that is to be.  There are also some specific prophecies referred to here that haven't happened yet that he is trying to prepare us for, which is also interesting and cool.

What strikes me the most is the clear feeling that God loves us.  All that he does is for us, and all of this immensity that is God's creation is designed to help us.  Today, let's remember that, and maybe work harder on seeing God's hand in our lives and in the world around us.

Saturday, August 4, 2018

3 Nephi 19:34 -- On Eternal Bonus Material

"Nevertheless, so great and marvelous were the words which he prayed that they cannot be written, neither can they be uttered by man."
3 Nephi 19:34

I kind of love the idea that there is bonus material after running the credits on this life... language and content so far beyond us that we can't possibly express it now, but perhaps we can grow into it.  And it makes sense to me that there is a lot of that sort of thing... things that will occupy our eternities as we learn and grow beyond our mortal experience.

Today, let's remember that there are things that we can't possibly comprehend, yet.  Maybe that will help us step back and get some necessary perspective on the relative importance of the things we want now and the things that will matter then.  Let's look to God, who can understand the incomprehensible and express it.  He must be able to also help with our more mundane concerns, right? :)

Friday, August 3, 2018

Alma 34:27 -- On Varieties of Prayer

"Yea, and when you do not cry unto the Lord, let your hearts be full, drawn out in prayer unto him continually for your welfare, and also for the welfare of those who are around you."
Alma 34:27

This is an interesting verse which clarifies prayer a little bit.  Earlier in the chapter it gives several examples of things that we should pray for--times when we should "cry unto" God.  Here, it kind of says when we're not praying, still pray.  I think the difference here is that one is a cry, perhaps meaning verbalized, and the other fills our hearts, perhaps a non-verbal appeal to God when the verbal ones aren't appropriate to the situation. 

This helps us understand the idea of praying always.  There is a time for formal prayer and for verbal prayer, but since we are asked to pray always, there is definitely room for other types of prayer.  We can't close our eyes when we are driving down the road, but we *can* cry unto God with our eyes open.  It would be inappropriate in most cases to pray in the middle of a meeting in the workplace, but when that is where we are, we can pray in our hearts, including God in that part of our lives as well as all the rest of it.

Today, let's remember that God is always there, accessible to us wherever we are.  Let's make sure we keep the spirit with us so that we can hear him, and let's cry unto him, verbally or non verbally, in whatever way we have available to us.  He will help.

Wednesday, August 1, 2018

D&C 100:17 -- On Simplicity

"And all that call upon the name of the Lord, and keep his commandments, shall be saved. Even so. Amen."
Doctrine and Covenants 100:17

Sometimes it is good to get back to simplicity, and this verse is nice in that way.  If we call upon the name of the Lord and keep his commandments, then we will be saved.  Today, let's try to keep it simple.  Let's pray.  Let's do as God asks.  And maybe, today, let's not get wrapped up in worrying about other things or letting anything else get between us and God.

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