Thursday, February 28, 2019

Isaiah 38:1-8 -- On Pleading with the Lord

"In those days was Hezekiah sick unto death. And Isaiah the prophet the son of Amoz came unto him, and said unto him, Thus saith the Lord, Set thine house in order: for thou shalt die, and not live.
Then Hezekiah turned his face toward the wall, and prayed unto the Lord,
And said, Remember now, O Lord, I beseech thee, how I have walked before thee in truth and with a perfect heart, and have done that which is good in thy sight. And Hezekiah wept sore.
Then came the word of the Lord to Isaiah, saying,
Go, and say to Hezekiah, Thus saith the Lord, the God of David thy father, I have heard thy prayer, I have seen thy tears: behold, I will add unto thy days fifteen years.
And I will deliver thee and this city out of the hand of the king of Assyria: and I will defend this city.
And this shall be a sign unto thee from the Lord, that the Lord will do this thing that he hath spoken;
Behold, I will bring again the shadow of the degrees, which is gone down in the sun dial of Ahaz, ten degrees backward. So the sun returned ten degrees, by which degrees it was gone down."
Isaiah 38:1-8

This is an interesting story that teaches several lessons.  One of them is that God is listening to us, and that he cares.  Hezekiah pleaded with the Lord for his life, and the Lord granted him more time.  I think God wanted to bolster Hezekiah's confidence, because coming out of this he knows he has 15 years to work with, he knows that they don't have to fear Assyria, and he can focus on doing good in his kingdom.  Nothing like a near-death scare to make you think about your life, right?

The sun returning 10 degrees is a pretty amazing sign.  Not really sure how that one worked, but being able to predict that sounds like solid prophecy.  Interestingly, in the next chapter Hezekiah shows his wealth to a visiting king who wrote and was kind to him when he was sick, and Isaiah predicts that that nation will carry away his wealth and make his sons eunuchs.  That's a scary prophecy, but Hezekiah says that it is okay, that in his days there will be peace and truth... leaving it in turn to his sons to plead with the Lord to turn away their own disaster, as needed.  Which might sound harsh I suppose, but also seems like part of the lesson of these verses.  We each individually have to face disasters, plead with God, and work out our salvation with the Lord.  It's like a "good friend" thing with God, not just a parent-child or master-servant thing, right?  He might be (read: is, definitely) the boss, but that doesn't mean that we can't also be best friends. :)

Today, let's plead with the Lord about the things that are hard.  He won't always take them away, but he can always help.  Let's talk to God about our lives and what we're working on and who we are trying to be.  God wants to help us and support our good efforts.  Let's trust him and work with him to find our way and to do better.

Wednesday, February 27, 2019

Psalms 127:1-2 -- On Trusting the Lord

"Except the Lord build the house, they labour in vain that build it: except the Lord keep the city, the watchman waketh but in vain.
It is vain for you to rise up early, to sit up late, to eat the bread of sorrows: for so he giveth his beloved sleep."
Psalms 127:1-2

The core idea of the first verse seems to be that if we don't involve God, then nothing we trust in is really trustworthy, and the core idea of the second perhaps that we waste our time dwelling on things that God controls.

Together, I think the lesson here is that we should of course do our part, but our real faith should be in the Lord.  We don't need to stress ourselves out about anything, as long as we have done what we can.  The rest is in God's hand, and if we recognize that rather than thinking that we need to control everything, then maybe we'll turn our focus to God, who is the one that has the real control over everything.

I think this one is really hard to do... we want to be able to control things, and we spend a lot of energy trying to do that.  Today, though, let's try.  If we spend half as much energy talking with the Lord as we typically do worrying and trying to control things, we'll probably be a lot better off. :)

Tuesday, February 26, 2019

1 Peter 2:15 -- On Well Doing

"For so is the will of God, that with well doing ye may put to silence the ignorance of foolish men:"
1 Peter 2:15

Peter mentions in this chapter that we should submit ourselves "to every ordinance of man" and also that servants should be subject to masters.  With this verse in that context, it seems to me that he is explaining how God wants us to change things... not by returning evil for evil from bad governments or employers, but by doing good and doing things the right way.  He even explains that it is glory to us if we suffer for doing the right thing... I think because he knows that when we do things the right way, we are sometimes going to suffer.

I think we too often risk becoming bad ourselves because we are frustrated with the bad around us.  Thinking back to the parable in Jacob 5, this seems to be a similar idea.  The more the good grows, the more the bad can be cleared away.  And thinking about it that way, maybe it helps us not to feel as frustrated at the suffering or at the delay of justice that we see around us.  All of this *is* part of God's plan, and this is the way that he wants us to work in the world.  It helps us too, actually.  Instant justice probably would have zapped each of us a long time ago. :)  Delayed justice though helps us stick around and improve, and build good on good foundations, which God will support until it overwhelms the evil.

Seems overwhelming the other way around a lot of the time, I know.  But I really don't think it is.  I think God is willing to feed every spark of good and help it to thrive.  Satan wants us to believe that it is impossible, and that he can stifle every good act and make it worthless... but he can't.  This is God's call, and as God's servants, we can bring good things into the world and build good things, and help good things to happen.

Today, let's work on our faith and our trust in God's ways and in his timing.  Let's trust his plan, and let's go about, doing all the good we can.  Maybe we won't see the change in the world all at once, and maybe everything we try won't work, but we are planting trees that can last many lifetimes.  Let's not be weary in well doing (2 Thessalonians 3:13), but let's work to fill the world with good, as God asks. :)

Monday, February 25, 2019

Helaman 14:11 -- On Samuel the Outsider

"And ye shall hear my words, for, for this intent have I come up upon the walls of this city, that ye might hear and know of the judgments of God which do await you because of your iniquities, and also that ye might know the conditions of repentance;"
Helaman 14:11

This is the prophet Samuel the Lamanite speaking to a city of Nephites.  As we read the Book of Mormon we start to think of Nephites and Lamanites as the bad guys and the good guys, when it was definitely not that clear throughout the history of the people.  In this case, the truth was almost entirely the opposite.  Samuel was prevented from entering the city, so he had to get up on the wall instead to deliver the message that God had asked him to deliver.

I think sometimes in our own lives we get the truth mixed up.  We think we know who the good guys and the bad guys are, but the truth is more complex than the tribes or teams or political parties that we use to mentally divide the world.  Samuel was a man of God and yet he was shunned, and the people threw rocks and shot arrows at him to try to stop him from delivering a message from God and trying to help them.  I think that we are in danger of doing the same sometimes.

Maybe today we could try to open our minds a little bit to those who seem strange or foreign to us for cultural, racial, religious, or economic reasons... or various other ways that we might determine who is and isn't in our own tribe.  Instead of throwing our own symbolic rocks because the message is from someone outside our experience of the "good guys," let's listen and learn from one of those "others" or "outsiders" today, and look for the good.  I think we will find it.  Maybe it won't be a prophet, but if we stick with God, I think he is willing to show us how to learn from and love almost anyone.  All we have to do is ask. :)

Sunday, February 24, 2019

Proverbs 6:6-8 -- On Ants and Motivation

"Go to the ant, thou sluggard; consider her ways, and be wise:
Which having no guide, overseer, or ruler,
Provideth her meat in the summer, and gathereth her food in the harvest."
Proverbs 6:6-8

To be clear, I am not labeling anyone a sluggard. :)  It is an interesting set of verses though, and we probably deserve the appellation at times.  It can be hard to be self-motivated, and so we often wait for some external motivation to push us to do things that we already know we should do.

Today, let's take the good advice here and jump in and do some things that we've been putting off.  Maybe cleaning, laundry, taxes... or whatever else that we know we need to get around to.  Things usually aren't as bad as they seem if we just start getting them done. :)

And hey... let's remember that God can help us with motivation as well.  If our procrastination is impacting our lives negatively, let's go to the Lord and ask for help.  He will give it.  Maybe not always in the way that we expect, but help will come. :)

Saturday, February 23, 2019

Jeremiah 17:9-10 -- On Deceitful Hearts

"The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?
I the Lord search the heart, I try the reins, even to give every man according to his ways, and according to the fruit of his doings."
Jeremiah 17:9-10

This is a really interesting pair of verses.  The overall idea seems to be that God rewards us according to our desires and actions--basically restoring our choices back to us, which is reinforced many other places in the scriptures.  The interesting part that strikes me today is that this idea is tied to the idea that our hearts are deceitful, similar to the idea that "the natural man is an enemy to God" (Mosiah 3:19).

Together, these ideas kind of morph into a more complex whole... that we, living in a world where we are constantly pulled in half by our disparate physical and spiritual natures, God carefully evaluates what we do in that tough situation, and what we choose and who we become to evaluate us and to reward us.  I think it says more about God's understanding of our situation here, and the nature of the challenge than we usually hear.

God knows that it is hard, but I think he also recognizes that this is the exact situation that we need to find out more about ourselves and to make decisions about who we want to become.  We will likely discover something about our deceitful hearts as well as about our spiritual side during our lives, and which side we choose to pursue, and what we decide to do with that knowledge is how God decides what we truly want and how to reward us. 

When God tells us that we can't serve two masters, that is part of it.  We have to choose who we are here.  No fence-sitting.  I think it is both fitting and sort of scary actually, because I feel like I have seen this in my life.  There have been times in my life where I have chosen one side over the other, and I have seen the different ways my life could go... and how alien the other side starts to feel and how my thinking narrows either way, because I am choosing one path and letting the other path go.  It's too easy to let go of half of yourself.  I think though with God, we have a chance to learn to ameliorate that choice.  We still have to choose the spiritual side and let that side have the mastery, but we don't have to give up everything else that we care about to do it... only the sinful part. 

Today, let's take a stand and choose to serve the Lord.  Let's listen to our spiritual selves and bring our physical appetites under control, learning to be whole: spiritual and physical and mental and emotional all working together, as God can teach us, even though it can sometimes seem impossible.  We don't have to be scared of what God thinks of us.  I think these verses make it clear that he *knows* that he placed our purehearted spirits into deceitful bodies.  It's a chance to figure ourselves out on one side and a great, amazing way to become more than we are on the other.  It is a great opportunity and a coming of age event for all of God's children.  ... Let's just make sure that we think far enough ahead that we don't ruin our eternity for some desperate wickedness now.  Let's take our time and learn to tame our appetites and passions so that we can enjoy this life and also enjoy the world to come.

Friday, February 22, 2019

Joel 2:12-13 -- On Rending Hearts and Changing Lives

"Therefore also now, saith the Lord, turn ye even to me with all your heart, and with fasting, and with weeping, and with mourning:
And rend your heart, and not your garments, and turn unto the Lord your God: for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and of great kindness, and repenteth him of the evil."
Joel 2:12-13

This is a prophecy of the time before the Second Coming, and even in the midst of the destruction, God's arm is still outstretched, and he pleads with us to turn to him.  I love the idea here expressed as "rend your heart, and not your garments."  In the Old Testament rending your garments was a sign that you were upset or sorry about something, like we might say that someone was pulling their hair out or on his knees, begging forgiveness from someone.  So God is basically saying, listen, this external sign isn't what you need.  I need you to show me *internally* by actually changing who you are, and what you believe, because those things are what is going to change your behavior.

Even in the midst of bad things and destruction, God still reaches out to us, and even in the midst of our own stress and frustration we can reach out to him.  It isn't necessarily easy to snap ourselves out of our attitude in order to pray, of course, but talking to God can actually help us find a spot of peace in the midst of the tumult, so that our commitment to God is also a great blessing to ourselves as well, which is always the way with God, isn't it?  If we try to give him something, even the tiniest bit that we can, he blesses us even more abundantly.  We'll always be in debt to God, but that's actually okay, not like it would be with monetary debt.  Because God loves us, and we love him, and any bond that is tying us together can only be a good thing.

Today, let's rend our hearts and not our garments.  Let's turn to God and repent and change internally rather than just outwardly.  Let's be the new people and the best selves that we can possibly be, not giving up because it is too hard, but working confidently, knowing that as we work with him, God will help us towards good goals.

Thursday, February 21, 2019

D&C 50:21-23 -- On Understanding and Edification

"Therefore, why is it that ye cannot understand and know, that he that receiveth the word by the Spirit of truth receiveth it as it is preached by the Spirit of truth?
Wherefore, he that preacheth and he that receiveth, understand one another, and both are edified and rejoice together.
And that which doth not edify is not of God, and is darkness."
D&C 50:21-23

This is from a lecture God is giving about spirits, and basically how not to be led astray.  He explains that we shouldn't base our faith on things that we can't understand (verse 15), but on the truth.  I really love the idea here that teachers and students or preachers and congregations, or however you want to put it, they all understand and learn together with joy.  Even though there are going to be many things in the universe that we aren't going to understand at first, because God's thoughts are just way, way higher than our thoughts (Isaiah 55:9), the basic gospel is clear and God has given it to us on our level so that we can understand and receive the truth.

Today, before we start running after things that we don't understand, let's take the time to make sure we are solid with the things that we can understand, so that as we learn more we are building on a solid foundation.  Let's check everything with God, who helps us to understand on our level, to make sure that we are not led astray.

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

Luke 12:16-21 -- On Souls and Treasure

"And he spake a parable unto them, saying, The ground of a certain rich man brought forth plentifully:
And he thought within himself, saying, What shall I do, because I have no room where to bestow my fruits?
And he said, This will I do: I will pull down my barns, and build greater; and there will I bestow all my fruits and my goods.
And I will say to my soul, Soul, thou hast much goods laid up for many years; take thine ease, eat, drink, and be merry.
But God said unto him, Thou fool, this night thy soul shall be required of thee: then whose shall those things be, which thou hast provided?
So is he that layeth up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God."
Luke 12:16-21

This is an interesting parable about the whole "whoever dies with the most toys wins" philosophy.  It makes a clear distinction between preparing for the future by gathering material goods and a different kind of preparation or wealth spiritually.

Christ isn't condemning self-reliance here, but rather the idea of dedicating ourselves to physical wealth rather than spiritual wealth.  Earlier in the chapter, Christ says "take ye no thought how or what thing ye shall answer, or what ye shall say: / For the Holy Ghost shall teach you in the same hour what ye ought to say" (verses 11-12).  I think part of the way that works is that we have to store up spiritual supplies / treasure so that the Holy Ghost can "bring all things to [our] remembrance" (John 14:26).  We do that by reading and studying the scriptures and the gospel, but also by learning about all of God's creation, and following in Christ path by helping others.  The more of the gospel we understand and integrate into our lives, the more the Holy Ghost has to work with to help inspire and help us in every moment, and incidentally the more we are protected from the influence of those things that can tear us away from God.

Where would we be if "this night" our souls were required of us?  Will the things that we have be worth anything compared to the knowledge that we have gained?  And as we think about that, perhaps we should also think about what we can do that will actually make a difference in that hopefully far future day when our souls do face a reckoning.  How can we feel comfortable with ourselves and have confidence before God in that day?  We all have to answer that for ourselves, but part of the answer, surely, is prayer, and developing that relationship with God in our lives so that he can help us get there.  Today, let's start there, and start working on collecting some spiritual treasure. :)

Tuesday, February 19, 2019

Acts 26:13-14 -- On Chastisement and Repentance

"At midday, O king, I saw in the way a light from heaven, above the brightness of the sun, shining round about me and them which journeyed with me.
And when we were all fallen to the earth, I heard a voice speaking unto me, and saying in the Hebrew tongue, Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me? it is hard for thee to kick against the pricks."
Acts 26:13-14

This is part of the story of Saul, later renamed Paul, who originally fights against the church and then after this vision, converts and works for the church.  This is him telling the story of his conversion, and I can't even imagine how it would feel to have Christ come down to talk to us and ask us why we are fighting against him.  ... And yet, that is often exactly what we are doing, sometimes ignorantly like Saul/Paul, but way too often purposely, prioritizing our desires before those of God or others.

God chastises us sometimes, often not as dramatically as with Saul, but enough so that we can feel lost, rejected, or too far away from God to make a connection.  It can feel like a permanent rejection or a wall between us and heaven.  However, God never goes anywhere.  His hand is always outstretched to us.  It is we who have to break down *our* barriers, mentally and spiritually, in order to access heaven and speak with God.  Like Saul, we need to repent.  That is the barrier that we have to overcome.  It can be a huge one, too, because, like Saul, we've been doing what *we* thought was right and it is hard to admit that we are wrong and we need to change, and then even harder sometimes to actually do it.

Today, let's accept God's chastisement and repent.  Like Saul, let's change our lives to accommodate God and the truth that he shows us.  Let's repent and change our ways, thus dispelling the barriers between ourselves and peace.

Monday, February 18, 2019

2 Nephi 28:8-9 -- On Avoiding False, Vain, and Foolish Doctrine

"And there shall also be many which shall say: Eat, drink, and be merry; nevertheless, fear God—he will justify in committing a little sin; yea, lie a little, take the advantage of one because of his words, dig a pit for thy neighbor; there is no harm in this; and do all these things, for tomorrow we die; and if it so be that we are guilty, God will beat us with a few stripes, and at last we shall be saved in the kingdom of God.
Yea, and there shall be many which shall teach after this manner, false and vain and foolish doctrines, and shall be puffed up in their hearts, and shall seek deep to hide their counsels from the Lord; and their works shall be in the dark."
2 Nephi 28:8-9

This verse is a good reminder that God is the source of all truth, and that we can't always trust our own interpretations.  I don't think that we usually do it on purpose, but we have a lot of ideas and creative interpretations about God's work, and we spread them around until people are taking rumor and guesswork as fact.

One way to avoid false, vain, or foolish doctrine is to make sure that we check what we believe with official sources for corroboration.  God isn't going to contradict his own teachings, and so comparison can help.  Studying it out in our own minds and finding corroboration in scripture or in a General Conference doesn't always mean something is true or false, but something from a trusted source helps us to weed things out, so we can at least be more confident that we aren't offending God.  We can also compare what we believe with the test that is in these verses, and rule out any belief that God is okay with us committing sin, even temporarily. 

Another way to avoid error is to go back to the source material, and to question our own beliefs, finding out where a quotation or a story came from originally.  Often, when we do the research we find that the words we have been relying on aren't exactly what was in the original source.

Today, let's recheck ourselves, and make sure that we aren't talking ourselves into something that isn't of God.  Let's be certain that what we embrace in the gospel and what we share with others really is in the gospel and that we aren't trusting in a quotation or story that no one actually said, but which is part of a cultural mythology that has built up from people sharing misremembered stories, scriptures, or events where the details get changed  over time in the telling.  Let's go to God with our questions, and when we teach, let's triple-check our details and make sure that we are grounded in the truth.

Sunday, February 17, 2019

Moroni 10:32 -- On Grace and Perfection

"Yea, come unto Christ, and be perfected in him, and deny yourselves of all ungodliness; and if ye shall deny yourselves of all ungodliness, and love God with all your might, mind and strength, then is his grace sufficient for you, that by his grace ye may be perfect in Christ; and if by the grace of God ye are perfect in Christ, ye can in nowise deny the power of God."
Moroni 10:32

The idea here, that God's grace is sufficient for us, is huge, and essential.  I really don't think that we get it most of the time, or at least I don't.  I have had times where I think that I just can't do it.  I'm not good enough, or not nice like other people are, or that I can't fight my own desires all day every day in favor of God's will.  It's too hard, or too stressful, or whatever... insert a billion other excuses here.

When I think this way, or when any of us do, though, we're getting it wrong.  God asks us to do two things here.  The first is to deny ourselves of all ungodliness.  That means we have to let go of those things that are holding us back... those things that we know are getting in the way of our relationship with God.  We have to get them out of the way.  The second thing is that we have to love God with everything that we are.  That means that we have to make God our best friend... call him all the time to talk, chat with him when we're in the car and the waiting room, when something happens good or bad, talk to him about it.  That's love, when he is always on our minds and we want to include him in everything.

Those are hard things sometimes--not saying they aren't.  But they are possible.  And they are a lot easier than becoming perfect overnight, which is usually what we are trying to do when we want to give up, or we think that we just can't.  They are things that we can work on each day... removing things that separate us from God, and adding things that bring us closer to him.

If we can start working on those things, then we are in the *process* of perfection.  We haven't arrived yet, but we're on the way.  We're turning the pages towards the happy ending.  And if we are moving, and trying, then God's grace is sufficient for us.  That means that it doesn't matter if we feel like pond scum or that we can't do it.  It doesn't matter if it's too hard or too stressful.  God is going to jump in there and help us, and work with us, and if we keep trying, IT WILL BE ENOUGH.

When we're standing way over here, it is hard to see what it is like over there, near the tree, with God.  It looks impossible sometimes, or not even desirable, since we are judging it by the standards of out here where people mock us or our weaknesses are tearing us apart, or we just don't always want to be good.  What we only learn as we get closer to God is that he teaches us not just physical obedience, but spiritual peace.  We can learn to be comfortable in our own skin, and we can change how we think and feel about things, because God will show us how, and he can change our hearts if we let him.  Just like we learn to like certain things because someone teaches us to appreciate them, God teaches us to appreciate the truth and the goodness that underlie everything around us.  We fear that we can't because we think that we will always think and feel as we do now, but we don't have to be afraid, and we definitely don't have to be miserable.  God's grace is enough to cover all the rest, if we just keep trying.

Today, let's get rid of the things that are in the way of our relationship with God, and let's add things into our lives that strengthen that relationship.  And then let's try not to freak out that we aren't instantly perfect, and understand that the idea of being perfect in Christ means that as long as we keep trying, that it is enough for God to work with, and together, we will get there eventually. :)

Saturday, February 16, 2019

Ephesians 4:31-32 -- On Changing Patterns

"Let all bitterness, and wrath, and anger, and clamour, and evil speaking, be put away from you, with all malice:
And be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you."
Ephesians 4:31-32

Lists are good reminders.  Of course, it can seem overwhelming to try to master all of these things at once, but I think that they are all pointing to the same ideal--basically that we need to be nice to each other.  The first verse of the selection are some things we should avoid that might lead to unkindness, and the second some clarification about how to be nice, pointing out that tenderness and forgiveness are essential.

It's hard to overcome these things, and it isn't done all at once.  It is going to require more than one try, and a lot of forgiveness, which is probably one of the reasons that was included.  We are unlikely to be able to decide not to be angry one day and then never to feel the emotion again.  However, if we are watching for things that can lead to anger, perhaps like bitterness or clamour, we can try to solve some of the underlying issues a different way.

Today, let's work on being nice to each other, not only in the moments that we find it difficult, but working back from there to the things that get us angry or in a bad mood in the first place.  If we work on those things, it might help us find another way of dealing with these situations when they come up, and we will likely find it easier and easier as we work on it to choose a different emotion, and action, and pattern in our lives.

Friday, February 15, 2019

Moses 6:32-34 -- On Walking With God

"And the Lord said unto Enoch: Go forth and do as I have commanded thee, and no man shall pierce thee. Open thy mouth, and it shall be filled, and I will give thee utterance, for all flesh is in my hands, and I will do as seemeth me good.
Say unto this people: Choose ye this day, to serve the Lord God who made you.
Behold my Spirit is upon you, wherefore all thy words will I justify; and the mountains shall flee before you, and the rivers shall turn from their course; and thou shalt abide in me, and I in you; therefore walk with me."
Moses 6:32-34

The Lord promised some cool things to Enoch as he became a prophet, more than just in these verses, but I really liked the idea in the last verse of what it means to walk with God.  The way God expresses the idea here makes it clear that it isn't some supreme ruler-minion relationship, but that it is much more of a teacher-student or kind of mentor-apprentice type relationship.  God is committing himself to the relationship in a fully participatory way, offering to walk together, and by implication it seems to experience things together and to make things happen, together.  In other words, God is offering to send his spirit with us to be with us all the time, seeing things from our individual perspectives, and helping us as we help him on that micro level.

As Moses said "would God that all the Lord’s people were prophets, and that the Lord would put his spirit upon them!" (Numbers 11:29).  These promises are for all of us, as we learn to follow God's path and walk with him.  We might not all need the mountains to flee before us, but God promises revelation to all of us for our own areas of responsibility.  Today, let's be willing to walk with God and learn from him as we do his good work of helping others.

Thursday, February 14, 2019

Genesis 25:22 -- On Inquiring of the Lord

"And the children struggled together within her; and she said, If it be so, why am I thus? And she went to inquire of the Lord."
Genesis 25:22

The phrase that stands out to me here is "she went to inquire of the Lord."  That idea is central to the scriptures, and indeed is one of the primary ways that God reveals his will to us.  Prayer connects us to personal revelation.

I think the problem comes in because, unlike Rebekah in this verse, that isn't always our first instinct.  For every person who is confused and goes to pray about it like Joseph Smith or Nephi, there are probably hundreds of us who instead turn to Google, or a friend who is likely just as confused as we are, or we get our advice from a celebrity or a hit song.  And although we can find answers in all of those places, there is a super-high level of uncertainty in the quality and validity of such information, and then we encounter more confusion

Today, let's be like Rebekah, and basically like every prophet who ever lived.  If we encounter uncertainty and confusion, let's learn to make our default reaction to inquire of the Lord.  He is the source of all truth, and he wants us to ask him in faith.  I'm not saying that Google or our friends are evil, or even that they can't be helpful.  Only that if we learn to make seeking the spirit our first inclination that we're likely to save time and additional confusion, because as we put God first, he can guide us to the answers we need, wherever they are.

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Romans 12:21 -- On Overcoming Evil With Good

"Be not overcome of evil, but overcome evil with good."
Romans 12:21

I was thinking about how overwhelming the world can be sometimes, and so when I was listening to the scriptures in my car today this verse jumped out at me.  It's interesting that God doesn't promise us that he won't let evil overcome us, but instead tells us, basically, not to let it happen.  I think that is a huge indication of his trust in us, and his rock solid confidence that we have the power to accomplish what he asks.  ... I think that is part of what faith is as well.  Not just the side where we know God can save us, but the side where we know that *we* can do whatever he asks, and God knows all of those things too, and then it happens.  It's like Matthew 8:2-3 where the leper says "Lord, if thou wilt, thou canst make me clean" and Christ answers "I will; be thou clean." ... It's where we are on the same page with God, and we both know it can, and will, happen.

And so it is with this verse.  God says don't let the evil overwhelm you.  Instead, turn the tables and YOU overwhelm IT, and if we can catch that idea and let it take hold enough to believe it, then it *will* happen, because miracles happen when we are on the same page with God, because we both know that God's will is going to happen and we are engaged in making it happen.

Today, let's turn the tables on evil, and overwhelm it.  Let's do so much good and BE so good that evil can't prevail.  Let's pray and read and seek to always be on the same page with God, which is the best place to watch the story unfold.

Jacob 5:65-66 -- On Growing Our Good

"And as they begin to grow ye shall clear away the branches which bring forth bitter fruit, according to the strength of the good and the size thereof; and ye shall not clear away the bad thereof all at once, lest the roots thereof should be too strong for the graft, and the graft thereof shall perish, and I lose the trees of my vineyard.
For it grieveth me that I should lose the trees of my vineyard; wherefore ye shall clear away the bad according as the good shall grow, that the root and the top may be equal in strength, until the good shall overcome the bad, and the bad be hewn down and cast into the fire, that they cumber not the ground of my vineyard; and thus will I sweep away the bad out of my vineyard."
Jacob 5:65-66

This is part of the parable of the trees in the vineyard, and I really like this part because of how the symbolism seems to relate to life today.  In the parable, the Lord of the vineyard and his servant are basically gardening and trying to get the olive trees to bring forth good fruit.  They have some that used to produce good fruit and they graft the branches into some wild trees, and wild branches into the original tree to try to strengthen the whole group.  It doesn't work at first and there are all kinds of bad fruit, so the Lord of the vineyard considers just burning the whole thing and starting over, but the servant talks him into trying again.  They try different things, in the end grafting the natural branches back into the tree where they started.  Then they start to see good fruit coming back into the garden, which is where these verses come in.  The Lord of the vineyard instructs his servants to remove the bad "according as the good shall grow" and explains that this is how he is going to "sweep away the bad."

Looking around in the world we often see a lot of bad things.  Part of this is that the news and a lot of our entertainment media is hyperfocused on bad things, part of this is our own tendency to pessimism, and part of it (of course) is that there really are bad things out there.  I think we forget sometimes that there are also an overwhelming amount of really, really good things.  There are some areas where we as a society are making changes for the better, and I think if we would pay attention, we would also see some really amazing good things about the people around us.

The vineyard in this parable is symbolic of the world, and in order to help God sweep away the bad, we need to grow our goodness, and help the people around us grow as well.  Let's think about how we can step it up a notch and make an impact.  From the verses above, I think God is more than willing to match our efforts, and make room for us if we try.  Let's find and magnify all the good we can, and make a difference.

Monday, February 11, 2019

Joshua 20:5-6 -- On Time and Space and Repentance

"And if the avenger of blood pursue after him, then they shall not deliver the slayer up into his hand; because he smote his neighbour unwittingly, and hated him not beforetime.
And he shall dwell in that city, until he stand before the congregation for judgment, and until the death of the high priest that shall be in those days: then shall the slayer return, and come unto his own city, and unto his own house, unto the city from whence he fled."
Joshua 20:5-6

Although a lot of this guidance is obsolete, a lot of these Old Testament laws are interesting, and show God's compassion.  In these verses it deals with a specific form of murder, or what we might call manslaughter, and it provides for the killer to flee to a safe city, away from where the crime happened.  This probably helped both sides deal with the loss better, but it also provides for the possibility of the offender to eventually return.  This seems to be kind of an introduction to repentance, giving people space and time to overcome a serious offense, and then encouraging a reconciliation.

Today, maybe we can think about that idea of giving ourselves space and time to learn to change, as well as allowing other people to change.  If we can't deal with it immediately, that's okay, but let's not give up trying, or decide that we can never forgive, or will never be able to repent.  With God, all things are possible, and change and forgiveness are possible, with effort, faith, and a lot of help from the Saviour. :)

Sunday, February 10, 2019

Matthew 20:13-15 -- On Evil Eyes

"But he answered one of them, and said, Friend, I do thee no wrong: didst not thou agree with me for a penny?
Take that thine is, and go thy way: I will give unto this last, even as unto thee.
Is it not lawful for me to do what I will with mine own? Is thine eye evil, because I am good?"
Matthew 20:13-15

In church today we were talking about reconciliation and the atonement, and how Christ heals all wounds and pays all debts between us, so if we owe or are owed anything, we resolve that with Christ and not with each other.

That's hard for us to accept sometimes, because we're really angry about whatever happened, and we want justice... like in this verse.  The workers who had worked all day wanted to be paid more than the people who had worked only an hour.  That totally seems just to us, right?

Except, they agreed to certain wages, and they were paid them in full.  They got exactly what they were promised.  That *is* justice, and it has already been served.  And Christ has already paid our price as well.  Justice has nothing to do with it anymore, except as God administers it.

It's a good question: "Is thine eye evil, because I am good?"  I think our eyes are pretty evil a lot more than we realize.  We want "fairness" when we think it means we get what someone else has, but we adamantly do not want it when it means that someone else gets what we have.  What the other workers want in the parable, and what we often want, is to have an advantage, or to have more.  We don't seem to actually want equality--in fact the idea can even scare us if we already have a lot of something we care about.  What if we lose something?  We like the idea of a Zion society, but like Ananias and Sapphira, we often want the glory without the actual sacrifice (Acts 5:1-4).

It's a tough thing to overcome in ourselves, and I am definitely not saying that I am perfect in this regard either.  Perhaps a good place to start today is by remembering this question, and being aware that our eyes are often evil because of God's goodness.  Let's work on our covetousness and our jealousy and our desire to be better and to have more than each other.  Let's work on remembering that we're all sinners, and dust, and in need of a lot of help.  Let's work on loving other people enough that we want them to have what we have, and let's pray to God and ask him to help us change our hearts, and our evil eyes.

Saturday, February 9, 2019

Mark 4:40-41 -- On Fear and Faith

"And he said unto them, Why are ye so fearful? how is it that ye have no faith?
And they feared exceedingly, and said one to another, What manner of man is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?"
Mark 4:40-41

These verses come right after the disciples encounter a storm and wake Christ up because they are afraid of dying.  He calms the storm and then asks why they were afraid.

I think the answer to that question isn't something that Jesus was actually unaware of, but rather that it was meant to make them (and us) think about the idea that faith can take us beyond our fears.  Of course it is natural to be afraid in situations like the one they were in, but Christ was teaching them that they didn't need to be afraid, because God would take care of them.

I think the same question, and idea, applies to the fear that we encounter in our own lives.  God tells us elsewhere that "the righteous need not fear" (1 Nephi 22:17,22), "if ye are prepared ye shall not fear" (D&C 38:30), and "perfect love casteth out fear" (1 John 4:18).  I think sometimes that it is hard for us to understand what God is saying because bad things do happen, and God isn't really bubble wrapping the world and preventing that.

God doesn't say to us "thou shalt not fear."  He knows that some things that are going to happen in our lives are scary.  Rather his question "why are ye so fearful" reminds us that we don't *have* to fear.  It is a choice,  and his question is an offer.  He's trying to help us understand that we don't *need* to fear.  If we turn to him, he can help us learn to face our fears and overcome all of our obstacles rather than being paralyzed or giving up.  God is in control, and if we stick with him and trust him, things will work out.  We don't have to be afraid, even at the worst of times, because God promises us a happy ending.  Not saying that things might not get scary or dark in the current chapter, but if we have faith and keep turning the pages, things will always work out.

Today, let's have faith that God is in control of the plot, and that no matter what we go through, as long as we stick with God, we are working our way towards happiness and peace.

Friday, February 8, 2019

John 21:25 -- On Learning and Progressing

"And there are also many other things which Jesus did, the which, if they should be written every one, I suppose that even the world itself could not contain the books that should be written. Amen."
John 21:25

I know that some people believe that everything that God has to say to people is in the Bible, but with this scripture (and others) that offer a partial evaluation of how much more there is that we don't have, that's a hard thing for me to understand.

I'm not saying that we are waiting for another list of requirements or something.  As far as having a complete understanding of what the Lord asks of us, I think our scriptures are adequate.  God has given us the basics.  We know about prayer and scripture study, and that we have to repent, be baptized, and follow the commandments (primarily, love God and love other people).  Those are the basics.

As we learn though, God teaches us more, and gives us room to grow and progress.  We learn that even the basics are very deep once you start studying them further.  Just as Christ increased in wisdom (Luke 2:52), so can we.  As we do, God teaches us "precept upon precept; line upon line" (Isaiah 28:13).  God tells us specifically in 2 Nephi 28:30 that "blessed are those who hearken unto my precepts, and lend an ear unto my counsel, for they shall learn wisdom; for unto him that receiveth I will give more."

Today, let's remember that there is so much more out there that God has for us.  We should of course learn the basics first and focus on milk before meat (1 Corinthians 3:2).  Let's also never think that we have ever mastered the gospel though, or that there isn't far more to learn, because there always, always is.  Let's build a solid foundation, and strengthen our faith, but let's also never stop moving forward and learning more about God.

Thursday, February 7, 2019

D&C 44:6 -- On Relieving the Poor

"Behold, I say unto you, that ye must visit the poor and the needy and administer to their relief, that they may be kept until all things may be done according to my law which ye have received. Amen."
Doctrine and Covenants 44:6

God talks about the poor a lot in the scriptures, and I think that we have a tendency to blow it off, perhaps because we feel like it is a much bigger problem than we can tackle by ourselves, or we feel poor as well, or any number of things containing varying degrees of truth.

Like Nephi though, I think that despite not understanding how we can accomplish what God asks, God expects us to go on faith and go forward anyway.  As we put forth the effort to figure out a way to do as God asks, with this commandment as well as any other that we don't really understand or that we think we can't do, he will bless us.  It isn't about figuring it out intellectually or being able to get a handle on it (though of course it is awesome if we get to that point).  Instead, it is about jumping in and doing something--anything that we can think of--and then maybe refining that idea as we figure out better or more effective ways to move forward.

Today, let's work to obey God, even if we don't understand yet why he is asking, or how we can possibly succeed.

Wednesday, February 6, 2019

Proverbs 4:13 -- On Life and Instruction

"Take fast hold of instruction; let her not go: keep her; for she is thy life."
Proverbs 4:13

This is a good reminder that education is a major reason that we are here on earth, and that we need to learn.

I'm a big fan of education, but I feel certain that God primarily cares about our spiritual education, leaving the choice of schools and careers to us.  And there are many ways to educate ourselves beyond schooling.  I think the idea here is that we need to keep improving ourselves--growing and stretching and always moving closer to our potential.

Today, let's remember that instruction is life in many ways, and let's turn to God to instruct us, because he is the best teacher.  In addition, let's keep education in mind as we go throughout our lives and try to notice the other ways that we have to learn, and the opportunities that are all around us to learn more about ourselves and the things of this earth as well as ways that we can learn and grow spiritually, learning more about God and his plan and purposes, which of course encompass the first category as well.

Tuesday, February 5, 2019

Psalms 47:6 -- On Singing Praises

"Sing praises to God, sing praises: sing praises unto our King, sing praises."
Psalms 47:6

This made me laugh today as I was reading.  The verse is pretty adamant about us singing praises to the Lord.  It reminds me of the story in Luke where Christ is traveling to Jerusalem, and Christ's disciples are shouting his praise quite loudly as he rides.  Some of the Pharisees thought he should ask them to be quiet, and his answer was "I tell you that, if these should hold their peace, the stones would immediately cry out" (Luke 19:40).

Maybe the reason this verse seems sort of humorous is that this is the sort of thing that we say or do when we are emotionally flustered trying to express admiration for someone we like.  The emotion has a tendency to just bubble out of us at unexpected times.  And when we really know Christ, we are like those rocks in Luke 19.  We are so filled with gratitude and love for all that he has done for us that at the slightest provocation, we too would cry out, or perhaps break into song.

I think feeling like that is one reason that people say that their hearts are full... because sometimes we are so full of love that it just flows out of us, and I think that is part of the point... when we taste the amazing love of God, it not only fills all of the voids in our lives, but it actually overflows so that we can share it with others and help them to be filled as well, kind of like in Lehi's dream where Lehi immediately wanted to share the fruit of the tree with his family.  Today, if we aren't feeling God's love in our lives, let's take the time to pray, sincerely and deeply.  And when we feel God's love, let's share it.  Let's sing praises. :)

Monday, February 4, 2019

Psalms 124:2-4 -- On Protection and Sides

"If it had not been the Lord who was on our side, when men rose up against us:
Then they had swallowed us up quick, when their wrath was kindled against us:
Then the waters had overwhelmed us, the stream had gone over our soul:"
Psalms 124:2-4

This is a good reminder of how much the Lord helps us, and is on our side.  It's interesting though, because the same verses could be for someone else, on the other side, right?  The difference, I think, is whether *we* are on the Lord's side, and doing his will.  If we are, then he will be on our side too... because we are on the same side.  If we're not on the same side, then we're in danger of the stream going over our soul... but it is also easy to save ourselves from drowning.  All we have to do is repent and turn back to the Lord, and make sure we are on the same side.  If we do, then our souls are safe.

Today, let's make sure that God is on our side, by being on his. :)

Sunday, February 3, 2019

2 Nephi 21:4 -- On Meekness and Equity

"But with righteousness shall he judge the poor, and reprove with equity for the meek of the earth; and he shall smite the earth with the rod of his mouth, and with the breath of his lips shall he slay the wicked."
2 Nephi 21:4

The phrase "reprove with equity" was interesting to me today.  In context, the purpose of it is to help the meek, and saying that it will be with equity perhaps shows that the truly meek are currently not really being treated with equity, or maybe also making the point that God's reproof isn't just tearing one person down to raise another, but the whole idea is to help *everyone* correct their faults, so that we can be more unified as a whole.  Another thought is that it could be reproof by enacting equity... balancing things to show the previous imbalance.

Part of meekness might be truly wanting the people around us to be as happy and successful and rich and strong and popular (and whatever else) as we are, rather than wanting or needing to be better.  Today, let's consider the inequities that are baked into our everyday lives and maybe try to do something about them, to bring more balance and equity to the world.  And let's also work to choose meekness and not wickedness. :)

Saturday, February 2, 2019

Exodus 8:25 -- On Being Torn in Half

"And Pharaoh called for Moses and for Aaron, and said, Go ye, sacrifice to your God in the land."
Exodus 8:25

When Pharaoh says that they can go here, he takes it back shortly thereafter, even though he chose to call them in and announce his decision. He has kind of an ambivalent relationship with Moses, the Children of Israel, and ultimately God here... both wanting to be free of them and wanting to control them.

Although the circumstances of our lives are vastly different, I feel like we often feel similarly about God and his will.  We like the idea of doing his will on one hand, and hate it on the other, and both parts pull on us.  And if this were a temporary thing where we felt torn and then worked through it and resolved it, it might be healthy, but often we harbor that feeling of being torn in half for years, or even a lifetime, inhibiting our ability to make choices or to fully commit to anything, because we are always wanting to *also* choose the other side.

Perhaps one of the reasons that we get into this state is that is hard to accept God's assertion that "wickedness never was happiness" (Alma 41:10).  We really, really want it to be true that we can do whatever we want, and not have to worry about the consequences.  We want to do things our way rather than God's way, or we want to choose both God *and* sin, and we want that so badly that it feels like killing part of ourselves to choose one or the other.

I think maybe this feeling is part of what Christ was addressing when he said "if thy hand offend thee, cut it off" (Mark 9:43) and similar things.  He likely didn't mean it entirely literally, but was trying to get us to the idea that when we have a spiritual/physical conflict that we should always, always choose spirit, and that no matter how much we feel like sin or emotional/physical desires are part of who we are, we can, and should, face the pain and choose our connection to God over our connection to anything else at all.

Today, if we are being torn in half by something, let's start working through it and resolve it in God's favor.  Even though that choice might cause us considerable pain now, much as the self-maiming that Christ suggested, if we choose and commit to God, letting go of everything pulling us in the other direction, it will make us happier in the long-term.  That happiness includes the relief of not having to feel that continued inner conflict every day of the rest of our lives, because as we choose God, he will begin to heal our wounds, and over time we won't feel ripped in half anymore.  With him, we will find wholeness and peace.  Let's work to have the faith to move towards that good goal, and not end up like Pharaoh did, never able to choose and destroyed by the consequences.

Friday, February 1, 2019

1 Samuel 2:3 -- On Choosing God Over Ourselves

"Talk no more so exceeding proudly; let not arrogancy come out of your mouth: for the Lord is a God of knowledge, and by him actions are weighed."
1 Samuel 2:3

This is a good warning about pride and arrogance, which are some of our biggest problems as humans.  We often think that we are cooler than we are, or better, or more competent, or whatever it is... and that gets in our way when we are considering others.  If we are comparing ourselves to them and trying to "win," we are distracting ourselves from truly loving or appreciating them.

Luke 6:30 says something interesting that I read recently: "of him that taketh away thy goods ask them not again."  ... I think that commandment / requirement is just mind-blowing.  It goes against, seemingly, the whole structure of our society, our sense of ownership and want our big pile of stuff to be protected from people who have a little pile.

It kind of goes back to the parable of the workers in the field as well.  Some of them worked all day and some of them only worked an hour, and everyone got the same.  That is a really hard parable for us to understand.  The people who worked all day ask why they got the same as the people who hardly worked, and Lord asks "Is thine eye evil, because I am good?" (Matthew 20:15).  We often have a gut reaction against that idea because it doesn't fit into the way that we want the world to work, or continue working.

Another thing it says in this chapter is "by strength shall no man prevail" (verse 9), which is also a little mind-blowing.  Isn't that what war is?  Isn't that what the police do?  Isn't that most sports, and, depending on how symbolic you want to get, even most job interviews?  There is so much competition underlying the whole structure of our world, it is difficult for us to imagine the world that God is trying to build... the Zion society where there are no poor, and where people have things in common, and where we honestly work to help the others around us to be as wealthy and successful as we are ourselves.

I'm not preaching communism or saying that stealing is okay (there's a clear commandment about that), but I am saying maybe God wants us to build a world where it is really impossible to steal, because we *want* to share what we have.  Maybe God's way, where he allows us all into heaven whether we started repenting and working towards that at age 15 or at age 55, is better than the one that would give celestial corner offices to the prophets and make the rest of us work in cubicles for eternity.  Maybe working together with the community around us instead of being in charge really is the best idea, like Christ kind of suggested in Mark 10:44: "whosoever of you will be the chiefest, shall be servant of all."

Today, let's think about what God asks us to do, and how it differs from what the world asks.  And from there, let's work on letting go of our pride and our desire to be better than other people, and choose God's way instead of our own way.

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