Thursday, December 19, 2013

2 Corinthians 4:16

"For which cause we faint not; but though our outward man perish, yet the inward man is renewed day by day."
2 Corinthians 4:16

I like this idea of an inward man... it seems more informative than saying soul or spirit, because those can be seen just as light sources or power sources for what we are.  But the idea that there is a whole self in there... we learn that in other scriptures, but I'm not sure how often we think about it that way.  The inner self isn't just a set of rules, or a set of urges.  It's us... everything we have been, and so much that we still are... but a whole person in there.  The new stuff is the outside.  This new body we got coming to earth and all the stuff that comes with it.  Not just a shell, but whole in a physical way... and as we learn to unify the two, we become so much more than we were.
So, from two wholes, equally strong and capable, but with different strengths and abilities, comes the combined self. The idea of allowing our inward man to lead the combined self is part of the gospel.  it's a big challenge since the veil is drawn over our premortal memories and we have new senses--the physical aspect that our outward man adds can be overwhelming.  But the spiritual part is the eternal part, and we know that even if our external part perishes, our spirits can be renewed, and eventually our bodies will be resurrected and made perfect... so way more important to renew that part that is older and needs a little more self-cleaning.
I think it is important as we go through our internal struggles to remember that it is a challenge because both parts of ourselves *are* powerful.  It isn't because we're spiritual weaklings... it's because we're so strong.  We need to respect our strength, and learn to tame it for the benefit of the whole.  Today, let's respect and renew our inner selves, and work on taking care of, respecting, and taming our outward selves, so that we can someday achieve self-mastery, self-understanding, and wholeness.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Proverbs 4:26

"Ponder the path of thy feet, and let all thy ways be established."
Proverbs 4:26

If we actually stop and take the time to ponder, to *think* about what we are doing and where we are headed, we can avoid a lot of the pitfalls of life.  We usually get in trouble if we act hastily or if we just go along, not really having a plan and just doing what is easiest. :)  I'm not saying that we have to convert over to a Franklin Planner lifestyle, or that nothing is real unless we write it down. :)  I'm just saying maybe we should take this advice to heart, and ponder the path of our feet. :)
Today, let's think about our ways, and make sure that we're on God's path and not straying off into the darkness.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Psalms 34:4-8

"I sought the Lord, and he heard me, and delivered me from all my fears.
They looked unto him, and were lightened: and their faces were not ashamed.
This poor man cried, and the Lord heard him, and saved him out of all his troubles.
The angel of the Lord encampeth round about them that fear him, and delivereth them.
O taste and see that the Lord is good: blessed is the man that trusteth in him."
Psalms 34:4-8

I like this poetic selection of verses.  It's easy to get darkened going through life, and to forget where we came from and to lose hope, in other people, in the world, and in ourselves.  But it doesn't have to be that way... there is still hope, if we open our eyes to see it.  And as the second verse relates... we can be lightened just as easily as we became darkened.  We can seek the Lord.  We can look to him for deliverance.  And I like the idea that we can taste and see... that there is evidence all around us that the Lord is good.  As we trust in him, blessings will come.  Today, let's reach out to the Lord, and trust that he will lighten us, and help us through whatever we face. :)

Monday, December 16, 2013

Isaiah 44:21-22 -- On Redemption and Alligators

"Remember these, O Jacob and Israel; for thou art my servant: I have formed thee; thou art my servant: O Israel, thou shalt not be forgotten of me.
I have blotted out, as a thick cloud, thy transgressions, and, as a cloud, thy sins: return unto me; for I have redeemed thee."
Isaiah 44:21-22

Here, God is pleading with his ancient covenant people to return to him.  It doesn't matter how far they have strayed... he won't forget them.  He will forgive them everything, if they will just return to him.

Whether by blood or by adoption through baptism, each of us can be part of the covenant... we are invited to be part of the chosen people.  And so, God asks us to remember his words.  He asks us to remember that he is the creator... that he not only created us, but also redeemed us.  He saved us from our own sins.  He can blot them out, and he can also erase the distance and the pain and the emptiness that we feel.  He offers us not only leadership, but meaning.  He can show us the good in the world.  He can always bless us with hope.

I think we forget sometimes that with God it isn't possible to become permanently lost.  We might not be able to find the way, and we might head the total wrong direction, purposely headed into the swamp, tempting the alligators to snack on us by throwing them marshmallows and calling out to them.  We can get eaten and swallowed up if we choose to, but if we even once start getting an inkling that this is a bad idea, and we reach out to God, he'll save us from the alligators, get us home, and might even get us another bag of marshmallows to be used more correctly, perhaps, in our hot chocolate. 

This might take a while.  I am not saying that God teleports us instantly from bad to good or saves us immediately from danger, so it is okay to try anything.  Definitely not. :)  We should probably be careful and not feel marshmallows to alligators in the first place.  However, I *am* saying that God loves us even when we are acting pretty stupid... and he will help us home if we make an effort to change and reach out to him.  He wants us to return to him, more than anything.  And he is willing to forgive all of it, if we will only repent.

Today, let's remember who God is.  That he created us, that he redeemed us, and that he always has the power to save us, even from our own very worst mistakes.  Let's turn to God, and stop teasing the alligators.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

James 4:14-17 -- On The Lord's Will

"Whereas ye know not what shall be on the morrow. For what is your life? It is even a vapour, that appeareth for a little time, and then vanisheth away.
For that ye ought to say, If the Lord will, we shall live, and do this, or that.
But now ye rejoice in your boastings: all such rejoicing is evil.
Therefore to him that knoweth to do good, and doeth it not, to him it is sin."
James 4:14-17

This is an interesting set of verses... I think that it is a great reminder of how little we know compared to God.  In our society, we sometimes believe that we are pretty cool... enlightened, civilized, and really, really smart.  We can handle it all, and plan out our lives whatever way we want.  And on one level, sure.  We're pretty cool.  But on another level, we're also pretty lost, and we often are faking that confidence and competence.  We think we have things figured out, but we find out more and more how much we don't know.  And how much cooler and smarter we'd really like to be, so we can solve some of the huge problems facing the world today.

And here, God reminds us that we're only here on Earth briefly, and we should focus carefully on taking advantage of the time that we have.  Remembering to look to God and including the "if the Lord will" in our plans is a good daily reminder of who makes it all possible, and the source of our solutions. :)

The last verse I think is especially interesting.  The "therefore" confuses me a little, because I don't see exactly how this came from what was before it.  But maybe it is more about the attention that we have to pay in our lives, focusing on making the most of our time.  Focusing on God.  And focusing on opportunities to do good.  When we know what we should do, and we don't do it, then to us it is sin.  When we have the power to do good, and we don't... then we're not taking advantage of that time that we've been given.  It is the Lord's will that we take advantage of those opportunities, so if we're saying "if the Lord will" before we make plans, then maybe we should even more so when we come across opportunities to serve or to do good.

 Today, let's try to focus on the Lord's will and not on our own.  ... I think if we try it his way, we'll find life will work out a lot cooler than we could make it on our own. :)

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Proverbs 27:2

"Let another man praise thee, and not thine own mouth; a stranger, and not thine own lips."
Proverbs 27:2

This is interesting, and cool.   It made me think of yearly reviews at work, and trying to know what to say about yourself, and about others.  And usually, especially when we just begin working, we have no idea what to even say about ourselves.  It probably depends on the person, but I think for a lot of us, it takes a long time in life to learn about ourselves and really see our strengths and weaknesses. :)  I think sometimes what other people say about us is so important to us just *because* we are unsure about ourselves and trying to play life by ear... not really knowing what we are doing.  Maybe that is why this verse is so important.  Because beyond the confusion of our intentions at times, our actions towards others still define us... and we have to make sure that those are positive.  That even if we aren't sure about who were are or what we stand for all the time, that we are still really careful with other people while we're figuring ourselves out.  God asks us to put others before ourselves, probably partly because we haven't figured ourselves out, probably because we have a tendency to turn selfish.
Today, even though we don't want to go crazy and do bad things for or because of other people, let's work on making sure that we treat other people well.  Let's not be boastful or selfish, but try to make our good aspects... our good selves... show through our actions, each day.  And if we aren't getting enough praise and we don't feel loved, let's get on our knees.  God will help us to know how much we are loved... always.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Matthew 20:32-34

"And Jesus stood still, and called them, and said, What will ye that I shall do unto you?
They say unto him, Lord, that our eyes may be opened.
So Jesus had compassion on them, and touched their eyes: and immediately their eyes received sight, and they followed him."
Matthew 20:32-34

This is an interesting story.  Two blind men were sitting by the side of the road, and when they heard that Jesus was walking by, they called out to him, asking him to have mercy.  The crowd rebuked them for yelling, but they persisted.  And Jesus heard.
I think sometimes in our lives we don't realize how close Christ actually is.  That our cries can, in fact, reach him... that we have the same opportunity that these men did.
And, because we do... will we call out to him?  Will we beg for his mercy, as these men did?  Or will we be content in our figurative blindness?  And if we call out, will we give up when the crowd rebukes us and tells us to quiet down?  Or will we persist, until we are heard?  ... And if we make it that far, and Christ stands before us and asks what we want him to do for us, what will we say?  And, perhaps most importantly, if Christ opens our eyes, will we follow him?
Today, let's call out to Christ in prayer, and ask for his mercy.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Proverbs 16:25

"There is a way that seemeth right unto a man, but the end thereof are the ways of death."
Proverbs 16:25

I think that this verse is a reminder to us of how careful we need to be in life.  So often we judge things by what we think will make us happy or what we think will make us money or what we think will feel good, or look cool, or whatever it is... and occasionally we are right.  It looks cool, but then we break our leg.  Or it does make us money, but we lose something else that was more important.  And other times we're dead wrong, and it doesn't even come close to making us happy; it in fact makes us MORE miserable.  ... This isn't just me, right?  We all have learned not to trust ourselves about certain things, I hope? :)
So, who do we trust instead, and how can be become more trustworthy when it comes to being able to rely on our own judgements?  Personally, I think it is only when we start recognizing God's promptings in our lives... the feelings and thoughts that originate with God.  And I am not saying that in a blow-off way like it is simple simon, oh, just trust God.  It is *hard.*  ... Hard to recognize the difference between our feelings and God's promptings.  Hard to know afterward, because the certainty can fade quickly.  I have had a few times in my life where it was utterly obvious... but I think those times were when God was going all out, trying to stop me from screwing something up, or trying to help someone else through me.  The rest of the time it is more subtle, and the more we listen and try to follow those quiet, but always good, promptings, the more we learn how to recognize them.
Today, even if we don't know how to recognize God's touch in our lives at all, let's start learning.  Let's get down on our knees and ask him to let us know that he is there.  To teach us to listen.  And he will.  He wants us to learn to connect with him just as much as we want it.  It isn't always the same for everyone, but the spirit often feels at first like an emotion or a sensation that we wouldn't naturally be feeling at that moment.  It can be a voice in your head, a dream, or just a quiet feeling of calmness in the midst of chaos.  And if we have felt the spirit before, let's learn it better.  None of us are experts at this... and as this verse illustrates, we need God's guidance so much.  We tend so often to deceive ourselves and to get ourselves into massive trouble.  Instead of doing that again... this time, let's go to God and get some advice.  Maybe we can avoid making the same mistake for the 3,485th time.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Doctrine and Covenants 84:53-54

"And by this you may know the righteous from the wicked, and that the whole world groaneth under sin and darkness even now.

And your minds in times past have been darkened because of unbelief, and because you have treated lightly the things you have received—"
Doctrine and Covenants 84:53-54

Sometimes I wonder how it is so easy for us to know the truth and to have a strong testimony, and then to fall away, or be tempted to.  It seems too easy.  If we *really* believed, we would be stronger than that, etc.  But I think sometimes we really do believe, fervently, with everything we are, and then allow that to get buried under other things and set other priorities first.  I saw it on my mission a lot.  People would tell you an incredibly spiritual story, and then need to stop for a smoke.  Or wonder why their children weren't strong in the church, when they themselves hadn't gone for many years... still believing, and knowing that God directed the church.  And back then I swore to myself that I would never do the same... never let other things get in the way of God and fall away.  But of course, over the span of my life since then, I have often let other things get in the way.  And that's when we get so close to drifting away... because, as it says there in the second verse, our minds get darkened because we treat lightly the things that we've received.  And maybe we believe, but we don't believe enough to make it the top priority in our lives... which is in itself a kind of unbelief.  Believing that God exists and believing that he needs to be the absolute center of our lives and our first priority in everything are, unfortunately perhaps, different things, and even when we rock at the first one, often we kind of stink at the second.
So, here we are in this world, which as reported in the first verse is indeed groaning under sin and darkness.  And we see why we individually get darkened... yay.  Depressing, right?  What we really need to know is not really how we got trapped here in this dark place, but how to get OUT.  ... So, I looked that up too. :)
In Mosiah 16:9 we read about Christ: "He is the light and the life of the world; yea, a light that is endless, that can never be darkened" ... he is the light that can bring illumination back into our lives.  That can restore our hope, and help us find a way out of the darkness.  Christ can stand us back on our feet, brush us off, and let us keep trying and learning to get it right.  And no one can ever stop that light from shining and showing us the way back to him.  ...And of course he is the answer.  We probably would have known that if our minds hadn't been darkened in the first place. :)  Today, whether we are a little darkened or not, let's pray and ask for light.  Might hurt our eyes a little if we aren't used to it... but that's okay.  Let's get used to it, and stay used to it, and try not to wander off into the dark anymore. :)

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Proverbs 23:4-5

"Labour not to be rich: cease from thine own wisdom.
Wilt thou set thine eyes upon that which is not? for riches certainly make themselves wings; they fly away as an eagle toward heaven."
Proverbs 23:4-5

 This is a good reminder that riches are fleeting. :)  And if we're investing our lives in striving just for that, then maybe we should stop looking to our own flawed wisdom... even if we're not, really.  God offers to help us.  And, from him, who we can trust, and who is also a b'jillion times smarter and more knowledgeable than we are, we might want to accept the help.
What should we labor for?  Great question... and I don't know that I have all the answers.  Again, God does.  However, we probably have a place to start from the scriptures.  We should labor to change our hearts, to learn to love God and our fellow man.  We should labor to serve others and try to understand their points of view, even when we don't agree with them.  We should work for kindness and to help other people.  And, I'm not saying let's all quit our jobs today... but let's take a serious look at what our end goals are, and make sure that it isn't just a big pile of money.  Because that pile might grow wings (figuratively), and it would be better to be working for something that lasts. :)

Monday, December 9, 2013

3 Nephi 7:1-2

"Now behold, I will show unto you that they did not establish a king over the land; but in this same year, yea, the thirtieth year, they did destroy upon the judgment-seat, yea, did murder the chief judge of the land.
And the people were divided one against another; and they did separate one from another into tribes, every man according to his family and his kindred and friends; and thus they did destroy the government of the land."
3 Nephi 7:1-2

Historically, this was a couple of chapters and a year or two before Christ appeared to these people... but what years.  Packed with cleansing and destruction and upheaval of the most dramatic sort.  Definitely something that would be challenging to live through.
These verses seem to illustrate how fragile our communities are sometimes... how easy it is for us to break apart and to only support the people we know.  I remember talking to a guy on my mission.  He invited us in and as we were talking, he told us that he was loyal only to his family.  He said that it was okay to cheat other people (he was a plumber and he said that he overcharged his customers all the time) in order to support his family and make them happy... and he believed that is what everyone else did as well.  I feel like it is easy to get into that mindset... to relate to and defend only your family and friends and to dismiss people who are outside that circle of influence/acceptance/friendship.  But God asks more of us.  He asks us to recognize that we are *not* separate tribes, but together, all children of God.  Our loyalty should not be only to those of our household, community, or even country.  If people are outside our circles of friendship, and they seem strange or foreign to us, then God asks us to get to know them, to invite them in... to friendship and fellowship and community.
Today, let's not break into tribes. :)  Instead, let's be one.  Part of each other, caring about each other, willing to serve each other as we serve the Lord.  Let's build Zion together, making a place where no one is poor, and no one is excluded.  A place where there is no hate... where we learn love and peace.  Let's work to understand and love each other rather than cutting each other off.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Joseph Smith--History 1:75 -- On Remembering the Moments

"I shall not attempt to paint to you the feelings of this heart, nor the majestic beauty and glory which surrounded us on this occasion; but you will believe me when I say, that earth, nor men, with the eloquence of time, cannot begin to clothe language in as interesting and sublime a manner as this holy personage. No; nor has this earth power to give the joy, to bestow the peace, or comprehend the wisdom which was contained in each sentence as they were delivered by the power of the Holy Spirit! Man may deceive his fellow-men, deception may follow deception, and the children of the wicked one may have power to seduce the foolish and untaught, till naught but fiction feeds the many, and the fruit of falsehood carries in its current the giddy to the grave; but one touch with the finger of his love, yes, one ray of glory from the upper world, or one word from the mouth of the Savior, from the bosom of eternity, strikes it all into insignificance, and blots it forever from the mind. The assurance that we were in the presence of an angel, the certainty that we heard the voice of Jesus, and the truth unsullied as it flowed from a pure personage, dictated by the will of God, is to me past description"
Joseph Smith--History 1:75 (selection)

This is part of the eighth paragraph of verse 75,  in case you want to find it in context. :)  I really like this part because it paints an awesome picture of what it is like to stand in the presence of an angel, or to listen to a message from God.  It isn't just the difference between a singing telegram and a glowy costume... it isn't showmanship or drama.  You can tell here that Joseph wasn't even able to describe it adequately, but that it was so far beyond our experience that he tries to compare and fails.  In beauty, in eloquence, in interest, in joy, in peace, in wisdom... it surpassed anything on this earth.  ... That's huge. :)  And he says that things can snowball and get dramatically worse and worse until everything in falling apart, and STILL, one word from the mouth of the Savior banishes all of it to insignificance.  And, I think sometimes we catch a glimpse, or we get a taste of what he is talking about. 

There are moments in our lives, where we, for a moment, are able to breathe the pure air of heaven.  To see or taste or hear some part of that unsullied truth directly from God, and those moments make all the rest of life worthwhile... that joy puts our pains and weaknesses and obstacles to shame, and we know ... we KNOW ... in those moments that we can overcome anything, if this is the reward... because it is the only thing that really matters.  All the rest is trivial.

And then, of course, we slowly forget.  We get caught back up in the perspective of the world.  We start thinking, again, that all of this is just too hard... too big, too overwhelming.  And that is why God keeps saying in the scriptures remember, remember.  And he keeps asking us to read and to pray.  To study and ponder.  Because that's how we get to those moments... and that is also how we remember them.

Today, let's remember those moments in life that make all the rest worthwhile.  Let's look to God for the pinnacle of all the things that we yearn for.  And let's remember that our troubles aren't as bad as we usually think they are.  With God, we can not only overcome anything bad... we can learn a higher level of anything good.  That's amazing. :)

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Doctrine and Covenants 82:19

"Every man seeking the interest of his neighbor, and doing all things with an eye single to the glory of God."
Doctrine and Covenants 82:19

Can you imagine what the world would be like if we actually did this?  Let's uphold the interests of our neighbors and of God today, instead of thinking of ourselves first.  And who knows... maybe we'll get closer to the kind of world we all want to live in. :)

Friday, December 6, 2013

Matthew 13:36-43

"Then Jesus sent the multitude away, and went into the house: and his disciples came unto him, saying, Declare unto us the parable of the tares of the field.
He answered and said unto them, He that soweth the good seed is the Son of man;
The field is the world; the good seed are the children of the kingdom; but the tares are the children of the wicked one;
The enemy that sowed them is the devil; the harvest is the end of the world; and the reapers are the angels.
As therefore the tares are gathered and burned in the fire; so shall it be in the end of this world.
The Son of man shall send forth his angels, and they shall gather out of his kingdom all things that offend, and them which do iniquity;
And shall cast them into a furnace of fire: there shall be wailing and gnashing of teeth.
Then shall the righteous shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Who hath ears to hear, let him hear."
Matthew 13:36-43

In these verses, Christ is explaining the parable of the wheat and the tares to his disciples.  And, although I don't know the timing of all the things that are supposed to happen at "the end of the world," this part seems kind of hopeful.  Not in that I want anyone to be burned, but usually when I think of the end of the world I think of people getting worse and worse and there being more wars and more evil until everything is overwhelmed and God has to end it.  But this isn't that way at all.  This sounds more like the parable of the olive trees, where God prunes them and digs about them and transplant branches until the good fruit returns.  Here, the tares are gathered and burned, and the wheat is left, until all the bad is gone, and only the good is left, and "the righteous shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father." :)  That's remarkably cool.  And it really makes me want to be there, to see that day.  Imagining a world without evil... without anything that offends or does iniquity.   It sounds stunningly beautiful... and it also means that we need to purify our lives, so that we aren't tarish. :)  We need to be the wheat out there, the good guys.  The ones that belong, and are making things better.  It doesn't have to be instantaneous, of course... but it needs to happen.  So that someday we'll all be able to stand together and sing the beauty and the love and the joy of unity and peace and goodness.  ... Maybe that makes Zion sound a little bit like Who-ville, but you know... that's okay. :)  Whatever analogy it takes, let's run with it so that we can be there on that day, and shine like the sun in the presence of our God.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Mosiah 23:13-15

"And now as ye have been delivered by the power of God out of these bonds; yea, even out of the hands of king Noah and his people, and also from the bonds of iniquity, even so I desire that ye should stand fast in this liberty wherewith ye have been made free, and that ye trust no man to be a king over you.
And also trust no one to be your teacher nor your minister, except he be a man of God, walking in his ways and keeping his commandments.
Thus did Alma teach his people, that every man should love his neighbor as himself, that there should be no contention among them."
Mosiah 23:13-15

There is an interesting distinction here between love and trust.  In a lot of ways I think they are part of each other... we have to learn to have some level of trust as a part of most kinds of love.  But the trust that it is talking about here is interesting, because it has to do with freedom and independence. 
I think that we want someone else to make choices for us sometimes... because we don't want the responsibility, or we don't want to make the effort, or we want to be able to blame the consequences on someone else. :)  Or even, like John Donne's Holy Sonnet 14, because we want to have God in our lives, but feel too weak to let him in ourselves, so we ask him to force us.  Not that it works with God, of course... but the desire to give up our freedom to another is common.  In bad moments we want someone else to drive, and figure out where we're going.  The problem is that learning to drive is the entire point of life, and that anyone besides God is going to drive us somewhere that we do not want to end up.  So God cautions us... don't let anyone make your decisions for you.  Don't let anyone teach you what to believe, unless they are on the same page with me.  Only God knows the way... and following his path is the only way to retain our freedom and become all that we can be.  Prophets and other leaders that God has appointed will be pointing in the same direction and encouraging us to learn to make our own choices, not follow them blindly.
Today, let's make sure we're making our own decisions and learning independence.  That doesn't mean that we can't get God's help... he is there for us, and wants us to ask.  But in order to learn to be our best, ideal selves... he can't do it for us, and neither can anyone else.  And as we learn to love the people around us, and especially as leaders and teachers, let's encourage independent thought and decision-making rather than asking anyone to follow us blindly.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Isaiah 59:7-10

"Their feet run to evil, and they make haste to shed innocent blood: their thoughts are thoughts of iniquity; wasting and destruction are in their paths.
The way of peace they know not; and there is no judgment in their goings: they have made them crooked paths: whosoever goeth therein shall not know peace.
Therefore is judgment far from us, neither doth justice overtake us: we wait for light, but behold obscurity; for brightness, but we walk in darkness.
We grope for the wall like the blind, and we grope as if we had no eyes: we stumble at noonday as in the night; we are in desolate places as dead men."
Isaiah 59:7-10

The beginning of this chapter says that God always has the ability to save us, but that we separate ourselves from God through sin.  And this is an illustration of that.  As a society, we very often run to evil to embrace it, thinking about it all the time, and we never learn peace.  And that is the reason that we can't have peace or judgment in our lives.  That is why we look for light and don't find it... not because the light isn't there, but because we've blinded ourselves, and even though it is noon, and light is all around us, we've cloaked ourselves so it can't touch us.  Blindfolded, we walk around like it is midnight.
There is hope here though.  The way of peace is something that we can still learn.  And although we don't act like it very often, we still do have eyes.  We are still alive, even though we behave as though we were already spiritually dead.  So, today, let's clean the cobwebs of iniquity out of our minds.  Let's turn to God, and ask him to teach us the way of peace.  Instead of waiting for light, let's make the effort to remove our blindfolds... to live, making ourselves better, making the world better, and never letting ourselves be blind enough to accept the darkness as our reality again.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Deuteronomy 29:9-15

"Keep therefore the words of this covenant, and do them, that ye may prosper in all that ye do.
Ye stand this day all of you before the Lord your God; your captains of your tribes, your elders, and your officers, with all the men of Israel,
Your little ones, your wives, and thy stranger that is in thy camp, from the hewer of thy wood unto the drawer of thy water:
That thou shouldest enter into covenant with the Lord thy God, and into his oath, which the Lord thy God maketh with thee this day:
That he may establish thee to day for a people unto himself, and that he may be unto thee a God, as he hath said unto thee, and as he hath sworn unto thy fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob.
Neither with you only do I make this covenant and this oath;
But with him that standeth here with us this day before the Lord our God, and also with him that is not here with us this day:"
Deuteronomy 29:9-15

This is good stuff.  It makes it plain.  If we live up to our covenants with God, we'll prosper in all that we do.  Now, of course, it gets more complicated since we keep screwing up and having to brush ourselves off and get back on track... but the promise still holds, inasmuch as we keep our covenants.
There are lots of really great things here.  God wants to work with us.  Kind of like Isaiah 1:18.  God wants to sit down with us and help us figure things out.  He isn't casting any of us away... he is offering to work together and come to an agreement... and if we fulfill our part of the bargain, he will ALWAYS fulfill his part.  He promises us amazing things... things that are miraculous compared with the world we live in.  Immortality.  Spiritual fulfillment... no emptiness.  Happiness.  Eternal families.  Perfect bodies, immune to pain and sickness.  A Zion society, where everyone is loved and treated well, with no poor.  And he promises more, as though that weren't enough.  Posterity, priesthood, and a place to prosper... land here, inheritance in the afterlife... all of it.  And our part?  We have to listen to him, let him lead us.  Learn what he teaches.  Kind of like an apprenticeship in the coolest trade ever. :)
All of that is amazing, but even better... my favorite part of these verses is "also with him that is not here with us this day."  God offered this deal to his ancient covenant people, but he also offers it to us now, today.  Everyone reading this today and everyone who reads this verse ever.  Everyone who comes before God has the opportunity to reason together with him, and work out his salvation.  And so today, let's take God at his word.  Whatever our lot in life... captains, drawers of water, children, and everyone... God offers us this same deal.  If we'll follow him and do as he asks, and work to learn what he teaches, then he will be our God, and he will cause us to prosper... and so much more.  ... I don't know about you, but seems like a super-sweet deal to me.  I suggest we try it. :)

Saturday, November 30, 2013

2 Corinthians 4:13-15

"We having the same spirit of faith, according as it is written, I believed, and therefore have I spoken; we also believe, and therefore speak;
Knowing that he which raised up the Lord Jesus shall raise up us also by Jesus, and shall present us with you.
For all things are for your sakes, that the abundant grace might through the thanksgiving of many redound to the glory of God."
2 Corinthians 4:13-15

There are several really cool things here. First, I really like the idea of belief and speech being connected... and they should be, right? If we believe, that isn't something we should hide. People should know that we believe, and we should be willing to talk about it... just like the joy of being in love, or being a parent or a grandparent or a pet owner, right? Something awesome is happening in our lives and we want to share it... but even more so, because this is God we're talking about. He's not just a hobby or a distraction. He is everything, and his joy runs through and gives life to the joy of all the rest of it.
We'll all be raised up, as Christ was. We hear this repeatedly in the scriptures, but it never gets old. :) I think because we live in this state of being where death seems inevitable, and there seem to be so many endings and declines and corruptions... so to imagine newness of life and incorruption and a state of being where there are continual beginnings and we remain flush with life... it's amazing. The idea of Christ overcoming death for all of us is huge... and a future without death, or sickness, or pain, is what we can look forward to. Who can get bored with that idea? :)
All things are for our sakes. ... The idea of an immortal, all-powerful, all-good being completely focused on our eternal happiness is cool. Kind of like we all are secretly royalty, waiting to inherit kingdoms. And, except for the idea of "royals" being better than everyone else that we sometimes carry around with us, it is true. We are sons and daughters of God, and our inheritance will be great, as long as we are able and ready to take care of it. Life is about getting us ready. :) And that is the core of all the things that there are to be thankful for. God's infinite mercy... his patience and his faith is us, as unworthy as we often are. He still loves us, helps us, and holds our hands through thr tough spots. Even if our progress is undetectable to the human eye, he keeps working with us, helping us to improve in whatever ways we are willing to. It is completely our choice whether we allow his help, but as we do, even in small ways, we become so much more amazing and shiny and cool than we would ever have become left to our own devices. Today, let's be thankful for God, for the promise of eternal life and all that he does for us to help us right now. And let's let him know we're thankful. Let's be willing to talk about our beliefs with others... to share the joy of the most important things in our lives with others.
God deserves our praise. He doesn't really need it so much, but sometimes *we* need to feel it and show it... to understand how important God is to our lives, and to the lives of everyone around us. I don't think God's glory can ever be the empty praise that we sometimes offer... only the recognition of the truth. When we understand his infinite goodness, and our relationship to him, then he is glorified as we understand our relationship to him, and join him in his work, to strive always for the happiness of all of creation. Like building a city of Enoch... the idea of a Zion society, but on a massive, all-encompassing scale. :) Today, let's jump in.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Habakkuk 3:2

"O Lord, I have heard thy speech, and was afraid: O Lord, revive thy work in the midst of the years, in the midst of the years make known; in wrath remember mercy."
Habakkuk 3:2

I was reading this today and trying to understand what it was saying, so I looked at several different translations.  My favorite was from the Complete Jewish Bible:

Adonai, I have heard the report about you.
Adonai, I am awed by your deeds.
Bring your work to life in our own age,
make it known in our own time;
but in anger, remember compassion.

I think that this carries the meaning across well.  We hear of God's deeds, and his power... and it is huge, and there are two sides.  The side that seems miraculous if we are the ones that are crossing the red sea on dry ground and being saved.  And the side that seems angry and destructive if we are the ones being swallowed up by the same sea as we attempt to recapture our slaves.  It's overwhelming either way... whether we are grateful, or afraid, or both.  And often it is both, because the same God that is saving us is the one that we'll be on the wrong side of if we start being the aggressors.  And so we plead with the Lord to revive his works, to save us in our time as he has for believers in the past.  But we also ask him to please remember mercy and compassion in the midst of his anger... to not destroy us in the midst of our sins before we have a chance to repent and change.
I don't think it is about living in fear... I think God is like a parent defending his children, and if someone starts to bully them or treat them badly, they are in for a world of hurt.  But if we refrain from bullying and cruelty, then there is no danger.  But perhaps we should live in awe, realizing the truth of the breadth and depth of God's power, and be determined to stay on the right side of it. :)
Today, let's remember God's power to save, and his great mercy, and in our interactions with God and with others today let's apply that knowledge and use it to guide our actions.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

1 Timothy 2:1-4

"I exhort therefore, that, first of all, supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks, be made for all men;
For kings, and for all that are in authority; that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty.
For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Saviour;
Who will have all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth."
1 Timothy 2:1-4

This struck me today because I was trying to imagine praying for all of the individuals that I encounter on a daily basis.  Not really collectively, since that seems (at least in my mind) to be a cop out... but supplication and thankfulness for the individuals specifically.  I like the different parts or methods of prayer listed... supplication, prayer, intercession, giving of thanks.  Basically asking for things, talking with God about things in general, asking for God to assist with a certain situation, and thanking God for all that he does for us.  Specifics that it is sometimes hard to get when applying to everyone.
I think it would require some serious attention in our lives to focus on and learn about other people, in order to pray for them these meaningful ways.  God's request goes beyond what I was thinking about, since he would like us to pray for all men... even the ones that we don't encounter.  Perhaps that necessitates some collectivity, since our knowledge is very limited about people that we don't encounter.  I imagine though that the more detailed and specific we are about what we are praying for, as with most other prayers, the more efficacious the prayer.  I like this idea because I think, if we really started doing this... praying specifically about all the people around us... that it would radically change our perspectives and the way we think about other people.
These verses specifically point out rulers and authority figures.  Sometimes authority figures are the very last people that I want to give thanks for.  However, this is something that I have tried.  Praying for leaders, no matter what I thought of them... and I don't know always if it helps them.  I hope so.  But I do know that it helps me look at situations differently.  It helps me to remember that we all need help and support, and that we all fall short of people's expectations.  It helps me to remember that I am just as weak and in need of prayer as anyone else, and that sometimes we (including leaders) need to be supported as we do our best, rather than being replaced with another flawed mortal. :)
Today, let's pray for people.  Especially the people that we are having a hard time having compassion for.  I think that God asking us to do this is partly for the people we are praying for... who really do need our help and our support, but it is also for us.  As we learn to be members of a Zion society, we can't afford to criticize and hate.  We can't afford to fault-find or tear down.  To achieve Zion, where we love everyone, we have to grow our souls a little bit and learn to support and help and teach and give... doing everything we can for the people around us.  Even the ones we now think are slimy or corrupt or rude or distasteful. :)  Let's pray for others, and thereby replace some of our hatred with love... some of our negative attitude towards our fellow beings with positive.  As with most things, it won't happen overnight... but let's start that chain reaction in our souls, so that someday we can stand, transformed into people who truly love as Christ does.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Doctrine and Covenants 121:36

"That the rights of the priesthood are inseparably connected with the powers of heaven, and that the powers of heaven cannot be controlled nor handled only upon the principles of righteousness."
Doctrine and Covenants 121:36

This is what makes the priesthood and all of God's powers truly great.  God's heavenly power can't be used for evil, because if you are evil or have evil intentions, you can't even get access.  The fact that there is such an incorruptible power can change the way that we imagine the world.  Our society and our world degrade so much when people try to exercise authority over each other... people become corrupt, and institutions or leaders become untrustworthy.  But if, in power struggles, there is always a superior power that can only be accessed through righteousness... through selflessness and incorruptibility, then hope is never lost.  The people who have gone over to the dark side are self-limiting, because they can never have the power that is inherent in the light.  And if we are tempted to use God's power for evil, then instead of harming others, we lose access to it, and hopefully start rethinking the whole evil plan. :)
Today, let's remember that God's power... the greatest of all power... is based on righteousness.  And as we are righteous, we'll also have more support from God, and more power to change our lives, and the lives of the people around us, for the better.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

John 6:53-54

"Then Jesus said unto them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Except ye eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink his blood, ye have no life in you.
Whoso eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, hath eternal life; and I will raise him up at the last day."
John 6:53-54

This is interesting.  A lot of people stopped following Christ after he said this.  And I wonder why... why they decided that this symbolism was too far, and also why Christ said it this way, knowing that it would sound distasteful.  And maybe both reasons are the same.  People left because they weren't ready for this truth, and Christ said it this way because he knew they weren't ready, and he wanted to let them choose to give themselves more time.
This is pretty stark symbolism.  Eating and drinking another person?  But at its core, it is really meaningful.  Our lives depend on Christ's.  We don't live without him... we live because of him, and by his stripes we are healed, as it says in Isaiah 53:5.  The atonement is sometimes hard for us to understand.  Hard intellectually to a certain extent, but perhaps even a bigger challenge for our egos.  We don't like having to depend on other people... feeling helpless or beholden to someone else for saving us.  And yet, that is one of the main lessons of life.  That what Christ did for us, we could never do for ourselves... and without that sacrifice, our lives would be lost and without hope.  He overcame death so that we can all be resurrected and live forever.  And he overcame sin, giving us the chance to repent and avoid the eternal consequences of our actions, if we are willing to change and become better people.
Let's remember the symbolism of the sacrament and the reality that it represents.  Christ suffered and died so that we could live and repent.  We need him.  Our futures would be bleak without him... and as we take the sacrament, we remember his body and his blood, which he gave for us, symbolically partaking and accepting his gift, and promising never to forget him.  Today, let's not run away from that deep dependency on Christ, but instead thank him for it, and live well the lives and the futures that we have because of him.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Luke 2:43-46

"And when they had fulfilled the days, as they returned, the child Jesus tarried behind in Jerusalem; and Joseph and his mother knew not of it.
But they, supposing him to have been in the company, went a day’s journey; and they sought him among their kinsfolk and acquaintance.
And when they found him not, they turned back again to Jerusalem, seeking him.
And it came to pass, that after three days they found him in the temple, sitting in the midst of the doctors, both hearing them, and asking them questions."
Luke 2:43-46

I can't imagine what any parents would go through, not being able to find their son for three days.  That would be so scary.  Maybe the fact that he was staying behind for something really good mitigated the whole thing afterward, and maybe knowing who he was, they had a much higher confidence, at least subconsciously, that they would find him safe.  Still, I can't imagine that it made it easy.
On the other side, though, Jesus was an amazing kid.  He wasn't stirring up trouble or playing games with his friends.  He saw an opportunity for education... probably two way education, he teaching the doctors, and them teaching him... and he took it.  How many children would run away in order to go to school?  I think Jesus had to learn something here... he wasn't born knowing all of the lessons of life.  He had to progress as we have to... he just probably did it amazingly faster.  I think he learned a lot by staying, but he probably also learned to respect his earthly parents' perspective a little more, seeing how sad they were, which is why in a later verse it says that he was subject unto them.  And I think that his parents learned a lot too.  Maybe they started to understand that such a spiritually gifted child needed to have more regular access to the temple, or understood that he needed more resources in order to learn the things that he needed to learn.
Maybe we can learn something here as well.  ... Being perfect, as Christ was, doesn't mean knowing everything from the beginning.  It means learning, and growing, and becoming better.  It's a progression, and it takes time to learn to understand people and things.  Ignorance is not sin, although I think we treat it that way often.  Asking questions and learning doesn't make us look weak.  It makes us wise... because that is how we learn the answers: through asking, and through teaching others, because we have to know it really well to teach it. :)
Today, as we go through our lives and make mistakes, as we are bound to do, let's not be ashamed or try to hide.  Let's just explain what we were thinking, learn, and move on.  And if we sin, yes, that's worse, but we can still repent, also learn, and also move on... either way, coming out better, stronger, and wiser than before we had those experiences.  The real mistake is to stop moving and progressing and learning.  To give up and sit in the dust.  No matter how bad things seem today, let's remember Christ, and follow his example of learning and moving on.  Let's stand up and continue on the path to being better people.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Ezekiel 16:4-6

"And as for thy nativity, in the day thou wast born thy navel was not cut, neither wast thou washed in water to supple thee; thou wast not salted at all, nor swaddled at all.
None eye pitied thee, to do any of these unto thee, to have compassion upon thee; but thou wast cast out in the open field, to the lothing of thy person, in the day that thou wast born.
And when I passed by thee, and saw thee polluted in thine own blood, I said unto thee when thou wast in thy blood, Live; yea, I said unto thee when thou wast in thy blood, Live."
Ezekiel 16:4-6

This is pretty stark, but I think really true in a symbolic sense... of what we have been without God.  And what it really is that he has done and does do for us.  We're lost without him.  Hopeless.  But he saves us, and washes us, and gives us hope and a chance at a future.  With him, we have a chance to thrive, we learn to love, we survive.  Sometimes the future is so bright that we start forgetting where we came from, and what he has done for us.  ... Today, let's try not to forget.  Let's remember what he has done for us... what he continues to do for us, every day.  Pulls us out of hopelessness and gives us a chance at life.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Doctrine and Covenants 34:11-12

"And if you are faithful, behold, I am with you until I come—
And verily, verily, I say unto you, I come quickly. I am your Lord and your Redeemer. Even so. Amen."
Doctrine and Covenants 34:11-12

A lot of scriptures tell us that the Lord is coming quickly, or coming soon.  And, depending on what you think of as the definitions of those words, the time seems to slip by without the Lord coming.  In this section, which was given in 1830, it is talking about the Lord coming in a cloud with power and great glory.  I believe it will happen... and I even believe that it will happen soon.  I just think that we and God have different perspectives sometimes. :)  Even we have different perspectives/definitions of these words depending on what we are comparing it to.  If we were talking about seeing each other over the holidays, "see you soon" could mean next week (if we're talking about Thanksgiving), or in a month (if we are talking about Christmas).  Soon could be 10 minutes if we live close to one another, or a 6 hour plane ride if we live across the country.  Quickly is similar.  If we are playing a video game, fast or quick could be nanoseconds.  If we're travelling to China, the quickest way might take much longer.
Part of God coming quickly is about our preparation.  How long is it going to take us to prepare for his return?  Compared to that timeframe, we should get moving now.  Maybe yesterday. :)  There is a lot of work to do in the world, and lots of individual self-improvement we need to make before we're ready to stand before God.
The first verse also has the "I am with you until I come" part.  ... Which is an amazing promise, and even though it might look contradictory, we know it isn't.  God being with us until he comes is an amazing spiritual blessing that we can tap into as we prepare for his physical return.
Today, let's be faithful and invite the Lord to be with us.  Let's not delay or put off repentance or progress.  Even though quickly might not mean tomorrow, it still has meaning.  Partially at least that we should always be preparing and getting better.  And also, that we will get to see our greatest friend soon. :)

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Helaman 16:13-16

"But it came to pass in the ninetieth year of the reign of the judges, there were great signs given unto the people, and wonders; and the words of the prophets began to be fulfilled.
And angels did appear unto men, wise men, and did declare unto them glad tidings of great joy; thus in this year the scriptures began to be fulfilled.
Nevertheless, the people began to harden their hearts, all save it were the most believing part of them, both of the Nephites and also of the Lamanites, and began to depend upon their own strength and upon their own wisdom, saying:
Some things they may have guessed right, among so many; but behold, we know that all these great and marvelous works cannot come to pass, of which has been spoken."
Helaman 16:13-16

 We're so stubborn sometimes, aren't we?  This was the time, in the Book of Mormon, when Christ was to be born... in Jerusalem, far away from these people.  And the signs that were foretold by the prophets come, and angels were appearing to people, and still... no, no... it still can't be true.  The chapter goes on with other reasons why they wouldn't believe, including the argument that Christ must not actually be coming, or else he would come here, to us.
Don't we do the same thing in our lives?  We get so desensitized to the spirit sometimes.  We let the doubt and mistrust of the world seep into us, so that we're not just protecting ourselves from being cheated or lied to, but we're protecting ourselves from legitimate trust, and love, and friendship.  We put up walls against believing the lies that we hear around us every day, but sometimes we build them so thick and high that we can't hope or see the wonder in the world anymore.
Today, let's let some of our guard down and try to find a balance between protecting ourselves and letting people in.  Even while we're trying not to hand out our bank information or social security numbers, let's find a way to trust, and love, and listen to God.  The spirit can help us tell truth from error.  Let's listen to it, and be willing to risk a little more and find the true miracles in the world, including friendship and honesty.  Yes, we might get hurt occasionally.  We might even get cheated once in a while... but risk is part of learning to love and trust and live.  And when Angels come and prophecy is fulfilled... we need to be ready to see that for what it is, instead of immediately dismissing it as a trick. :)  With God's help, let's find that balance in our lives where we can be safe and still sensitive to the spirit, and open to the people around us.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Job 11:14-18

"If iniquity be in thine hand, put it far away, and let not wickedness dwell in thy tabernacles.
For then shalt thou lift up thy face without spot; yea, thou shalt be steadfast, and shalt not fear:
Because thou shalt forget thy misery, and remember it as waters that pass away:
And thine age shall be clearer than the noonday; thou shalt shine forth, thou shalt be as the morning.
And thou shalt be secure, because there is hope; yea, thou shalt dig about thee, and thou shalt take thy rest in safety."
Job 11:14-18

Iniquity ends up in our hands way too often.  We don't usually set out to be bad guys in the morning, but sometimes we end up doing the wrong thing, or losing our temper, or saying something that we regret.  And here, the scriptures tell us to put it far away.  Let's get some distance from that moment or that mood or that part of our self that we don't want to be.  Instead of justifying it or trying to tell ourselves that it was for a reason... let's just say it was a bad thing to do, apologize, repent... and not let it live inside of us, waiting to come out again.
When we don't put it far away, sometimes we can start thinking of ourselves as bad people... if we do bad things regularly, have a bad habit, treat others poorly, fight an addiction, whatever it is.  And there is a lot of good in us... but we have to get that bad part away in order to let the goodness show.  We can't embrace the bad... we can't hang out with it or find a happy medium with it.  It doesn't belong.
These are some pretty good blessings that are promised to people who are putting that iniquity far away.  ... Being clean, not fearing, forgetting our misery... shining, secure, hopeful, safe.  Today, let's seek after these promises and get as much distance as possible from that iniquity that we were holding.  It's poisonous, and probably explosive.  Running in the opposite direction would not be overdoing it. :)

Monday, November 18, 2013

Acts 3:6-8

"Then Peter said, Silver and gold have I none; but such as I have give I thee: In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth rise up and walk.
And he took him by the right hand, and lifted him up: and immediately his feet and ankle bones received strength.
And he leaping up stood, and walked, and entered with them into the temple, walking, and leaping, and praising God."
Acts 3:6-8

When Peter and John approached this man who was asking for money, that's what he expected... some money.  Then he could go on living the way that he had been.  He had been lame since he was born... he never learned to walk.  And yet, without learning, when Peter took his hand, he was walking and leaping.  God healed not just his legs and feet, but healed the deficit of knowledge that he had from never learning to walk as a child.
The man has been carried to this same place and sat there begging each day... probably for years.  God probably could have prevented his lameness, or healed him at any moment of his life... so why now?  And why do any of us have to suffer with our personal afflictions?  Why do bad things happen?  Why can't God just tell us the answers?  Why do we have to suffer, or experience pain or setbacks or heartache or embarrassment, or any of it?  Why do we have to choose between God and things that we love?  Why, why, why, why, why?  ... It feels like that sometimes, doesn't it?
God knows it, and he doesn't enjoy seeing us suffer... but just as with the analogy (and truth) of us being the children and him the Father... no one can grow up FOR us.  No one can learn to crawl in our place... or we'll never learn it.  Or in the analogy (and truth) of this life being a test with God as the teacher... if he gave us all the answers, then we would never learn the subject.  But he tells us where to find them... and he hold out his arms and helps us have the motivation to crawl and then to walk to him as well.
Sometimes we have to suffer for a little while in order to learn, but then God heals us... and just as with this man, he doesn't just heal the outside, but the inside too.  All the way down, everything.  No bitterness, no resentment, no complaint that God left him lame for so much of his life.  Just joy.  And so it will be for us, if we are patient and continue to look to God for our help.
Today, let's be patient in our afflictions... knowing they are temporary, and designed to teach us what we need to know.  And let's look to God for our healing, inside and out.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Isaiah 1:25-27

"And I will turn my hand upon thee, and purely purge away thy dross, and take away all thy tin:
And I will restore thy judges as at the first, and thy counsellors as at the beginning: afterward thou shalt be called, The city of righteousness, the faithful city.
Zion shall be redeemed with judgment, and her converts with righteousness."
Isaiah 1:25-27

I really like the idea of becoming perfect.  As a people, world, or as an individual, it definitely doesn't happen all at once, but I like the idea that it is a process that is actually happening.
This set of verses talks about purification in a couple of different ways.  First, purging away dross is referring to the analogy of God purifying us as silver is purified (see Malachi 3:3, 3 Nephi 24:3, or D&C 128:24).  The part that isn't silver gets burned off.
Redemption is another kind of purification/perfection.  It is the process of being saved or freed from our sins... in effect, purging them from our souls, and making us pure again.  In this verse it talks about the redemption of Zion happening through judgment, and the perfection of her converts, which I think means us, through righteousness.
All of these things... purging the dross, judgment, righteousness... these are all part of the same thing.  And it is God's work of helping us to change from flawed mortals to flawless immortals, as we go through the process of purging away our sins, as we learn to value God's judgment before our own, and eventually learn how to see as he sees, and as we learn righteousness.
The process is sometimes complex, and it can be painful at times... but the goal that we are working for is better selves, but also happier and kinder and there is no pain that we will endure that won't be made up for many times over by what we have the chance to be, and to enjoy.
Today, let's work on the little choices that make us better than we were yesterday.  Not only for ourselves, but the choices that will change the world for the better, and make the whole world a better place.  Closer to Zion. :)

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Joseph Smith—History 1:13-14

"At length I came to the conclusion that I must either remain in darkness and confusion, or else I must do as James directs, that is, ask of God. I at length came to the determination to “ask of God,” concluding that if he gave wisdom to them that lacked wisdom, and would give liberally, and not upbraid, I might venture.
So, in accordance with this, my determination to ask of God, I retired to the woods to make the attempt. It was on the morning of a beautiful, clear day, early in the spring of eighteen hundred and twenty. It was the first time in my life that I had made such an attempt, for amidst all my anxieties I had never as yet made the attempt to pray vocally."
Joseph Smith—History 1:13-14

These are some interesting verse talking about the prophet Joseph Smith before he became the prophet.  I like that the scriptures give us a glimpse of some of them beforehand like this.  We learn about Nephi as a young man, Samuel, Moses, Abraham, and others.  A little of how it all happened.  And I think that for a lot of them, and for a lot of us, this is something that happens during our personal conversion process.  For whatever reason it is for the individual, we all get to the point where there is something that is of significant importance to us, and we need God for the answer... no one else can possibly provide it.  And whether we've prayed or not in the past, we suddenly have the motivation and the desire to pray with greater fervor and greater intent than ever before.
For the prophets, their experiences with God led them to change their lives completely.  Often leaving everything they knew and starting over.  Dedicating their lives to God, even as they had just started to know him.  And I think that this is an opportunity for us as well.  Whatever leads us to really talk to God on that deep level, the fact that we've actually connected with God and discussed life is amazing.  Answers to prayers are miraculous.  Too often we feel certain in the moment, and then later start to doubt, or find our problem solved and then forget how it happened.
Today, let's pray with fervor and intent.  Let's remember how miraculous it is just to connect with our Father in Heaven, and try not to shrink back or doubt after taking those first steps.  Let's instead keep communicating, and get to know God a lot better than we do. :)

Friday, November 15, 2013

Genesis 48:13-14

"And Joseph took them both, Ephraim in his right hand toward Israel’s left hand, and Manasseh in his left hand toward Israel’s right hand, and brought them near unto him.
And Israel stretched out his right hand, and laid it upon Ephraim’s head, who was the younger, and his left hand upon Manasseh’s head, guiding his hands wittingly; for Manasseh was the firstborn."
Genesis 48:13-14

I think that it is interesting that God keeps challenging our expectations.  We get used to doing things a certain way or thinking about things in a certain way... we learn how the world works, and we start thinking that whatever way that is is somehow the "right" way.  But God shows us that he sees things differently, and breaks with tradition.  In this case, Joseph expected his father to bless his older son with richer blessings than the younger.  That was traditional.  But his father knew, even in his physical blindness, who God meant the blessing for.  Similar things happened with Nephi being chosen over Laman and Lemuel, or even Joseph being chosen to save his whole family and be in a position where his brothers would bow to him.
I think that there are a lot of assumptions that we make about the world and about ourselves that God might like us to challenge as well.  We sometimes think that we can't succeed, for many reasons.  We aren't rich enough, we aren't smart enough... or we think that we can never crawl out of the hole that we've dug for ourselves and we'll always be limited by our pasts, or our sins, or our physical realities such as sickness or limited mobility.  Maybe we think that we can't make a difference because we aren't in charge, or we aren't rich, or we aren't called by God to do so.  And yet God calls anyone with a desire to help to his work... and he provides a way for all of us to succeed and thrive.
Today, let's listen to God's advice about our lives and the future, even when it flies in the face of our previous expectations.  Let's become what he knows that we can be, and stop thinking of ourselves as any less than anyone else.  Let's strive and become and succeed and never think that it is too late or that we are too lost.  ... Let's also be humble and grateful to God, always, but never think that we are beyond hope, or that we'll never amount to anything.  Whether the oldest or the youngest, we can all become anything we want to be, with God's help.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Matthew 8:13

"And Jesus said unto the centurion, Go thy way; and as thou hast believed, so be it done unto thee. And his servant was healed in the selfsame hour."
Matthew 8:13

I like the idea here that the strength of our belief matters a lot in terms of what happens to us. This centurion asked for his servant to be healed, and Christ offered to come and heal him... but the centurion told him there was no need. He knew that if Christ just spoke the words, that it would be done. And according to his belief, his servant was healed. And, just in case we are thinking this only works for the centurion, or only worked during Christ's mortal ministry, in D&C 52:20 it tells us, of our day, "according to men’s faith it shall be done unto them."
This is a powerful idea, and we might start thinking pretty big about wish fulfillment.  And in a small way, it is like that... but remember the part about Christ saying the word.  The wishes that get fulfilled are always with God's approval.  If we are on the same page with God and we want the same things, then we'll keep getting what we want. :)  But unfortunately, our wills and God's will are often different.  Even Christ wanted his cup to pass from him.  That wish wasn't granted.   And we don't always get what we want either... so how can we have faith in things when we don't know if they will happen or not?  I think the principle here is to have faith that God can do it.  The centurion believed that God could heal his servant... but did that automatically make it happen?  No.  He had to make the effort to seek God out, talk to him, and get his approval and his word.  And we have to do the same.  Our wishes aren't granted because of our own power or our own belief... they are granted by God's power, and through our faith and belief in *him.*
Some things that we can do to increase our faith and belief are things that this centurion did.  He learned of Jesus Christ.  He knew of his doings... he knew where to go to plead for his servant's life.  He sought him out.  He talked to him, and asked for what he stood in need of.  He expressed his desires, and he was humble.  He didn't demand anything... he just knew that God could do it, and he asked for it.  The things that he did are within the power of all of us, no matter how weak.  God isn't always going to say yes to us, but the more we learn of him and the more we understand his goals for us and for this world, the easier it will be for us to be on the same page with God, and understand what he will grant us.  The more we talk to him and get to know him, the more we'll grow, and hopefully the more we'll want to emulate him.
Today, let's work on being as faithful as this centurion, and ask God for the things that we are in need of, and listen to his answer and further advice. :)

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Jacob 5:59

"And this I do that, perhaps, the roots thereof may take strength because of their goodness; and because of the change of the branches, that the good may overcome the evil."
Jacob 5:59

This is part of the allegory of the tame and wild olive trees, which is overall about the world and how the Lord takes care of it and encourages the good and prunes the evil only when he is certain that the pruning won't kill the rest of the tree, and when he has lost hope that the tree can again start producing good fruit.  For anyone who hasn't read the whole thing, I definitely recommend it.  I think that it shows how much the Lord really cares for us and does everything he can to save us.
In this verse, the Lord is talking about pruning some of the evil branches of the tree and grafting in some good branches in their places, hoping that the roots will take strength and show their goodness again... that the good will overcome the evil.  And even though he was talking about large populations and peoples, I think maybe this happens to us as well, on an individual level.  As we go through life, some things get cut out and some things get added... and it can be incredibly painful and stressful and disruptive to our lives, and often we have no idea why it is all happening.  In retrospect though, I think sometimes we can see how God was helping us.  Usually, what we thought we wanted to be back then isn't anything like who we are now... and this is better.  And to get us here, God had to trim here and there, and sometimes graft our lives into a whole other place.  ... It doesn't always work, because sometimes we're more stubborn than that, and we hold fiercely onto our bad habits and when we lose one bad thing, we immediately look around for another.  But sometimes, with God's help and a desire to change, the pruning and grafting and careful reshaping of our environments helps us to make those changes in our lives that we've been wanting to make, but needed assistance and motivation to achieve.
Today, let's bear with patience and faith the pruning and the grafting in our lives.  Let's remember that there is always a reason, and the temporary pain or stress will result in a better life and a better self, if we work with God to make it happen.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

2 Nephi 28:30

"For behold, thus saith the Lord God: I will give unto the children of men line upon line, precept upon precept, here a little and there a little; and 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; and from them that shall say, We have enough, from them shall be taken away even that which they have."
2 Nephi 28:30

This is interesting.  It makes me think of college/school/church classes.  In an average class, we go over the chapter or other reading material, and the teacher helps us understand it.  But in a class where everyone is prepared and has done the reading beforehand, we can delve deeper into our subject.  We can talk about more intricate ideas and expand on the basics, since those have been covered by the class preparation.  We can learn better, because we all have a foundation for understanding and we are starting on the same page.  By the same token, if we stop learning and don't use what we've learned, we often forget a large part of it.
Reading the scriptures is like reading the lesson ahead of time.  It is easier for God to teach us further, to help us recognize principles as we encounter them, and if we know the basics of faith, repentance, etc., he can teach us more about them, on a deeper level.
Even joining the church can be like being prepared for class.  The knowledge that we need to take that step is a preparation and a foundation for further learning that we just can't get if we are at an earlier stage, still wondering if God exists, or wondering which church to join.  And so it continues.  Living the gospel in other ways prepares us for further principles or deeper lessons about the principles that we already know.  We can never stop and say that we know everything there is to know about faith, or prayer, or repentance, or any of those "basics."  The more we learn, the more God shows us how much more there is to learn.  And it is that way with everything. The more that we prepare for God, the deeper he can take us, and the more that we can learn about him and his plan.
Today, let's work on being prepared for class.  Let's do our reading so that when God's lesson for today is upon us, we'll be able to think intelligently about the subject and learn on a deeper level. :)

Monday, November 11, 2013

Matthew 12:34-37 -- On Hearts and Words

"O generation of vipers, how can ye, being evil, speak good things? for out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh.
A good man out of the good treasure of the heart bringeth forth good things: and an evil man out of the evil treasure bringeth forth evil things.
But I say unto you, That every idle word that men shall speak, they shall give account thereof in the day of judgment.
For by thy words thou shalt be justified, and by thy words thou shalt be condemned."
Matthew 12:34-37

This is interesting.  Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh.  Whatever is spilling over inside us, that is going to affect our perceptions, our judgments, and dictate what we say.  And wow... we will give account of every idle word.  That's huge.

The hopeful part for me is in the last verse.  Because it doesn't just say that by our words we will be condemned, but it also says that by our words we will be justified.  And I don't think that is a self-righteous type of justified, but a saved from condemnation type of justified. :)

I'm sure that God doesn't expect us to instantly be perfect in what we say.  Like other things, it takes time and effort.  So, how do we get there?  These verses give us a lot of clues.  We need to become better on the inside.  We can't just pretend to be good... look good, say the right things... because it won't work.  Our words are going to show the world who we are, and reveal our perspective. 

We need to change our hearts... fill them with good things.  For instance, reading good books, and listening to good music, and praying, and reading our scriptures, and thinking about all of this good stuff, and actually applying it to our lives.  We need to learn to love, and to embrace God's perspective about the goodness of other people. 

We need to work on becoming good on a much deeper level, so that when we speak what comes out, even when we aren't thinking about it very much, is good.  And if we have a lot of idle words that we need to repent of in our pasts, let's apologize to others for the ones where that makes sense, and for the others, let's apologize to God, and start filling our lives with good words rather than bad. 

Today, let's work to not just look good, but actually BE good, all the way down to our cores, and make sure that is reflected in how we express ourselves.  It will take time and practice, but once we get there, we'll never have to worry about accidentally saying the wrong things.  What comes out will be all good... a part of who we have become.  We'll then be justified by those good words, and we won't  need to be afraid of judgment day. :)

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Luke 6:30

"Give to every man that asketh of thee; and of him that taketh away thy goods ask them not again."
Luke 6:30

This whole chapter is pretty amazing, and there is a lot of stuff in here about how we should treat others, but I thought just this one verse was well worth some focus.  Imagine if we all truly did this, and cared about others this much.  ... If you asked me for something, I would give it, and if I asked you for something, you would give it.  And we start thinking of exceptions right off, right?  Well, sure, but not if you asked for [insert name of favorite thing here], and not if you are a burglar.  ... Except then the verse says "of him that taketh away thy goods ask them not again..." which kind of sounds like it *does* apply to burglars.  And "every man that asketh of thee" sounds pretty all-inclusive as well.  Includes *everyone,* not just people we like, or people that won't waste it.  ... Everyone.
Instead of worrying about the exceptions here, if there are any, I'm wondering if the point is that we should be less wrapped up in our stuff. :)  Maybe we should be ready to let it go if someone else needs it more.  Or just always ready to let it go... because it doesn't matter.  To place a higher value on things that last, and to just share the temporary things rather than hoarding them... since we can't take them along anyway.
I think we get really wrapped up in ownership sometimes.  Like this is MINE, and if anyone takes it away or tries to steal it or cheat me out of it, then I'm going to go ballistic. :)  From a gospel perspective, everything we have was given to us by God... and it doesn't even really belong to us.  We're just taking care of things for Him... trying to multiply our talents in anticipation of the return of our Lord, as in the parable.  And I get it... I do.  It is hard to let go of things that are important to us.  It's hard to make ends meet sometimes.  It is hard to have faith that God will solve our problems when we are unable to.  Today though, even though it is hard, let's try.  Let's act on this idea, and share more, and give more, and trust more.  And the more we try, and the less invested we are in things rather than the people that are asking for or taking them, maybe the more we learn how to be good and how to love even the people who steal our favorite Legos. :)

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Proverbs 4:23-27

"Keep thy heart with all diligence; for out of it are the issues of life.
Put away from thee a froward mouth, and perverse lips put far from thee.
Let thine eyes look right on, and let thine eyelids look straight before thee.
Ponder the path of thy feet, and let all thy ways be established.
Turn not to the right hand nor to the left: remove thy foot from evil."
Proverbs 4:23-27

This advice seems to be quite calm and reasoned, where I would probably interpret it with a gigantic billboard saying "PAY ATTENTION!"  I think that is often one of our biggest pitfalls in life.  We tend to avoid and ignore things that are ultra important because we don't want to deal with them, or face the responsibility.  And, unless we are paying attention, we can often wander off the path.  Sometimes that is the point, I suppose.  We think that if we go squinty-eyed enough that we are obscuring our own vision that maybe it won't be our fault when we're found on the wrong side of the line... or we actually convince ourselves that if we don't look where we're walking that we won't have to deal with anything that we step in.
And as much as I do exactly this myself, I have to still say, it isn't the answer.  I think these verses are a very clear message to us that we need to wake up and pay attention to our lives.  We're going to be responsible for where we end up, so we should watch where we're going.  ... I don't think that this means that we can't enjoy our lives at all.  We're here to learn joy as well. :)  But I do think that the kind of joy that comes while we're paying attention is probably a lot better than the kind we stumble into in the dark.
Today, let's pay attention.  Let's open our eyes and look at where we're going, and make course adjustments as needed. :)  And then let's start finding the good things and enjoying our lives the right way.  In the light.

Friday, November 8, 2013

Psalms 25:1-5

"Unto thee, O Lord, do I lift up my soul.
O my God, I trust in thee: let me not be ashamed, let not mine enemies triumph over me.
Yea, let none that wait on thee be ashamed: let them be ashamed which transgress without cause.
Shew me thy ways, O Lord; teach me thy paths.
Lead me in thy truth, and teach me: for thou art the God of my salvation; on thee do I wait all the day."
Psalms 25:1-5

I think these are some beautiful verses.  The central theme that I see here is trust.  I think that is where any real relationship begins.  If there is no trust, then there is no depth.  We can't talk about the things that matter, or have any faith in the future, that we'll still be friends, or that we'll even be on the same side. :)  And I think with God it is even more, because we can't really have a relationship with him at all without some level of trust... trust that he is there, trust that he will listen to us... trust that he loves us.  And these verses illustrate other ways that we learn to trust God.  We trust him to lead us, knowing that he can see what is coming and we can't.  We trust him to teach us, knowing that he has infinitely more knowledge, experience, and wisdom than we do.  We trust him to protect us from shame and defeat, knowing that he has the power and is willing to protect us if we are trying to do good.  And we trust God to sort things out fairly.  If we transgress without cause, then we expect to be ashamed, but we trust God to sort out all of us by how we behave, and to understand the reasons behind it as well.  To be a perfect judge.  Finally, we trust God to be the source of our salvation.  To save us even from ourselves and our own sin as we strive to improve.
Today, let's lift our souls to God, and trust that he will take care of them.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Numbers 23:11-13

"And Balak said unto Balaam, What hast thou done unto me? I took thee to curse mine enemies, and, behold, thou hast blessed them altogether.
And he answered and said, Must I not take heed to speak that which the Lord hath put in my mouth?
And Balak said unto him, Come, I pray thee, with me unto another place, from whence thou mayest see them: thou shalt see but the utmost part of them, and shalt not see them all: and curse me them from thence."
Numbers 23:11-13

This is an interesting story where Balak the king of the Moabites tries to get the prophet Balaam to curse the Israelites who have recently come into the land.  Balaam goes with him, but tells him that he can only do what God tells him to do.  This is the result of Balak's first attempt.  Balaam goes to God about the request, and God tells him to bless the Israelites rather than cursing them.  Up to this point, Balak seems to be making a lot of sense.  He's scared of a new threat to his country, he knows he can't face them without God's help.  He asks the prophet to do something so that they can drive out the invaders.  But then, after he finds out that God doesn't want to drive them out he's like, hmm... let's try from over there instead.  Maybe God will want to from there.  It reminds me of Green Eggs and Ham.  Oh, you don't like this food?  Here, try it inside of a box with a wild animal.  That's got to change things. :)  Anyway, Balak takes Balaam to three different locations and asks him to curse the Israelites three times, but amazingly (at least to Balak), God doesn't change his mind.  Every time, the Israelites are blessed rather than cursed.
Don't we do this same thing in our lives sometimes?  We ask God for something, sometimes knowing it is not good for us, sometimes expecting him to say yes.  But he doesn't.  He tells us no.  And we step back, shake our heads, and think... wow, that must have been a mistake.  Surely God will agree with us if we just show him how right it is.  But God isn't the subject of a Doctor Seuss book, and he has *already* thought it through.  Today, let's stop marching around and trying to get different answers here and there.  Let's listen to what God tells us today.  If he says no, there is a reason... and something better in store in a different direction.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Doctrine and Covenants 101:46-47

"Now, the servants of the nobleman went and did as their lord commanded them, and planted the olive trees, and built a hedge round about, and set watchmen, and began to build a tower.
And while they were yet laying the foundation thereof, they began to say among themselves: And what need hath my lord of this tower?"
Doctrine and Covenants 101:46-47

This is part of a parable that the Lord told to Joseph Smith, concerning the redemption of Zion (comprising verses 44-62).  This part in particular was interesting to me today because I think that this is where we often falter.  We listen to God, we see his plan, and we begin.  We jump into doing it and feel good about it, but then we start second guessing.  Sometimes it is, as above, that we just don't understand the point of part of it.  Sometimes it is other people laughing at us, like the great and spacious building in Lehi's dream.  Sometimes it is running into something that we want, a lot, even though God says it is a bad idea.  Sometimes it is just sort of slowing down and stopping because we hit a rough patch and we didn't want it to be so hard.  Lots of things.
I think at least part of the point of the parable is that God knows more and can see a lot further than we can.  And sometimes that means we have to take it on faith that it is worth building the tower... or going to church, or paying tithing, or living the law of chastity, or whatever it is.  We can't see the point because we don't have his perspective, but he can see what is coming, and he knows how to handle it. 
It comes down to trust.  And if a stranger told me randomly to build a tower... yeah, I might not do it.  I can see that.  However, if my dad told me that the bridge was out and to take the long way around instead of driving across it, I would believe him.  I wouldn't have to drive over there to check, or find out whether they are reporting it on television, or confirm it with a bunch of other people.  He's my dad.  He loves me.  He doesn't want me to die.  And the same goes for my mom or my siblings... or my friends.  Same goes if the message wasn't about the possibility of death, but just about an icy road or that it was raining, or that we were out of milk.  I would trust them because they've been out there in the weather, or are there looking in the refrigerator.  They can see things that I can't.  And the same goes with God.  If he tells us to build a tower... a tower is needed.  We aren't sure why, but he can see how it will be needed in the future.  And if he asks us to come to church, or live the law of chastity, or pay tithing, sure it seems a little more invasive than building a tower perhaps, but it isn't really different.  It's still our heavenly parent, who loves us, who knows us better than we know ourselves, and who can see better than we can.  My mom asked me to learn my multiplication tables when I was in third grade, and I didn't know why I had to and I really didn't want to at all, and I thought it was stupid. But I did it anyway, because I trusted her that I would need it as an adult.  Turns out, she was right. :)  And so is God, about the tower and about all the rest.
Today, let's trust God.  And if we can't immediately, let's get him out of stranger mode by getting to know him better.  Then we can be better friends, and work on that trust issue. :)

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

John 5:28-29

"Marvel not at this: for the hour is coming, in the which all that are in the graves shall hear his voice,
And shall come forth; they that have done good, unto the resurrection of life; and they that have done evil, unto the resurrection of damnation."
John 5:28-29

I don't usually write about damnation. I guess I prefer to focus on the more hopeful, positive aspects of the Gospel. But I think that we see the negative parts frequently in our lives, and have to fight the negative side of ourselves a lot, so maybe we should talk about it a little.
In 3 Nephi 28:9, Christ is in the middle of explaining to the 3 Nephites the changes that would happen to them, and he says "And again, ye shall not have pain while ye shall dwell in the flesh, neither sorrow save it be for the sins of the world."  I think this is the only kind of sorrow that can last beyond this life... beyond the resurrection.  Everything else will be solved.  No death, no sickness... perfect bodies, perfect minds.  But our sorrow for sin... for others or ourselves... can still exist.  Why?  Because the consequences for sin also last beyond the grave.  Choices that limit us on earth only will be wiped away.  We choose to quit a job, or we do something risky and lose a limb, and those things affect our lives... but in the resurrection they won't matter at all.  On the other hand... if we make bad choices about our relationship with God, and we stick with those choices throughout our lives and don't repent, then we are limiting ourselves ... for eternity.  Not just for now.  Choices like that would seem different if we could step back from our lives and look at them objectively.  Trading God for anything at all temporary would seem ludicrous, when comparing our time on earth to our time in eternity.  But here we are, *in* our lives, and it is hard to see things objectively all the time.  The temporary things seem to matter so much, and it is hard to let go of the known immediacy for the unknown waiting... even if we know for certain sure that it is better.  As we often do.
Damnation is limitation.  It is stopping our progress.  We see it in others and we cry for them.  They choose money, sex, or drugs over God, over family, over self respect.  We watch their lives melt down and we see the limitations that they have chosen for themselves.  We pray for them to see it and to repent and come back.  ... But then we are faced with similar choices, and too often, we jump into them as well.  We know it is wrong, and we start hating ourselves, snapping at people, and trying to forget all of the things that make us feel guilty... we turn our lives into a huge mess.  And if we die in that mess, it doesn't go away.  It isn't one of those things that disappears and everything is all better.  Which is why we need to repent now.  We need to start untying the knots we've made in our lives and straightening things out.  We need to start choosing God over whatever else.  Because until we make it right, it won't BE right... ever.  And that is damnation.  Being stuck in our own hole... never being able to crawl out, because we're too far in and we wanted to hide rather than live.
Today, let's untie the tangles of our lives and make things right.

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