Saturday, May 31, 2014

2 Kings 4:8-10 -- On Being Great

"And it fell on a day, that Elisha passed to Shunem, where was a great woman; and she constrained him to eat bread. And so it was, that as oft as he passed by, he turned in thither to eat bread.
And she said unto her husband, Behold now, I perceive that this is an holy man of God, which passeth by us continually.
Let us make a little chamber, I pray thee, on the wall; and let us set for him there a bed, and a table, and a stool, and a candlestick: and it shall be, when he cometh to us, that he shall turn in thither."
2 Kings 4:8-10

This is an interesting story, about a "great woman" and Elisha.  He passes by her house a lot, and each time, she feeds him.  After this has been going on for a while, she convinces her husband to add a guest room, just for him.  I am not sure if that is what made her great, or if she was a leader in the area or what, but pretty cool thing to do for someone.  And the story continues to be pretty cool, on both sides.  Since this someone was a prophet, he asked his servant what he could do for her.  His servant mentions that she doesn't have any children, and her husband is old... presumably meaning that children are unlikely/impossible.  And so the prophet calls her and tells her that she will have a son.  Her response is "Nay, my lord, thou man of God, do not lie unto thine handmaid," which makes me think that the unlikely/impossible chance was more toward the impossible.
According to the prophet's words, she has a son... and when he is grown, and out with his father, he falls ill, is taken to his mother, and dies in her arms.  She lays him on the bed in the prophet's guest room, and immediately sets out to find the prophet.  When she gets to him, she says "Did I desire a son of my lord? did I not say, Do not deceive me?"  ... And she stays with the prophet until he comes and brings her son back from the dead (or out of the coma, or whatever it was medically that had happened to him).  Now that is a great woman. :)  God watched out for her, and helped her in her time of need.  But let's not forget that she worked for that miracle, and even before she knew a son was *possible,* she watched out for God's prophet.  Today, let's be great, as this woman was.  Let's also do God's will and help the people that he entrusts to our care... strangers or not.  And then, when things go wrong for us, we can have confidence and faith, as this great woman did, that God will return the favor. :)

Friday, May 30, 2014

Jarom 1:10-12 -- On Avoiding Destruction

"And it came to pass that the prophets of the Lord did threaten the people of Nephi, according to the word of God, that if they did not keep the commandments, but should fall into transgression, they should be destroyed from off the face of the land.
Wherefore, the prophets, and the priests, and the teachers, did labor diligently, exhorting with all long-suffering the people to diligence; teaching the law of Moses, and the intent for which it was given; persuading them to look forward unto the Messiah, and believe in him to come as though he already was. And after this manner did they teach them.
And it came to pass that by so doing they kept them from being destroyed upon the face of the land; for they did prick their hearts with the word, continually stirring them up unto repentance."
Jarom 1:10-12

This is interesting.  Things like this, and some of the extreme punishment or "hellfire and brimstone" speeches can make God appear cruel or tyrannical.  We can start to think of God as power-hungry or abusive as a father-figure.  I don't think that it is actually the case in any of the scriptures.  Although we don't always see the reasons behind it, there are reasons.  For instance, having Nephi kill Laban.  Seems bad, right?  Murder is wrong.  In Nephi's case, God explains himself by saying that it is better for one person to die, than for an entire nation to dwindle and perish in unbelief... which is apparently what would have happened if they had been unable to acquire the brass plates.  There are similar things in the Old Testament that it is hard to understand as well.  And I am definitely not an advocate of "kill everyone who doesn't believe the way that you do" or "kill to get what you want" or anything similar.  But in those things, as in this passage, I think maybe we should remember that it is God we're talking about.  He can see everything, and although I don't think that he wants to use threats or floods to change things or get people to listen... sometimes we really are that stubborn, and we won't listen any other way.  I know that there have been times in my life where the kind, gentle approach wouldn't work.  To get back on track, I needed a real wake-up call.  I needed to see that I was endangering my soul or harming others.  And I am *thankful* that God shows me the stark reality when I need it.  Maybe we all need it sometimes.  Threats and having our hearts pricked with the word. :)  But at the same time, even when we need the wake-up call, God is still persuading us in gentler ways, to look to Christ, and to learn the principles and follow them diligently... we just need to get a little more in tune so we can pick up the gentler lessons, which is the way that God teaches most of the time.  It's kind of like being in a classroom and we just tune out completely, lost in whatever else it is... sometimes the teacher has to drop a book on the desk and startle us before we can hear even the most important lesson that we want to learn.
Today, let's listen and stay aware of God, so we can learn in gentler ways... but when God has to give us a harsher wake-up call, let's be grateful rather than resistant.  He's trying to save us, and we are very stubborn and slow to listen.  Let's remember what we risk, each day, and not blow off God's persistent protectiveness, and the extreme measures he sometimes uses to try to get our attention.  Like the Nephites, maybe listening will help us avoid destruction. :)

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Moses 1:9-11 -- On Changing for God

"And the presence of God withdrew from Moses, that his glory was not upon Moses; and Moses was left unto himself. And as he was left unto himself, he fell unto the earth.
And it came to pass that it was for the space of many hours before Moses did again receive his natural strength like unto man; and he said unto himself: Now, for this cause I know that man is nothing, which thing I never had supposed.
But now mine own eyes have beheld God; but not my natural, but my spiritual eyes, for my natural eyes could not have beheld; for I should have withered and died in his presence; but his glory was upon me; and I beheld his face, for I was transfigured before him."
Moses 1:9-11

I think this is a good reminder of the difference between ourselves and God.  By comparison, Moses has a point... we are nothing.  That isn't to say that God considers us nothing.  He knows that we have tremendous potential, because he made us, and he is our Father.  But we need to remember that it is potential and not like God, who is fully realized Everything.  He's so much cooler than we are that if we stood in his presence in our regular bodies, we'd die.  Just to look at him, he has to help us by transfiguring us into something that can withstand his presence.
I think in a literal and also a symbolic way, we fall to the earth without the Lord.  We need his presence to sustain us and help us just cope with normal things, like being able to stand. :)  Let's turn to him and let him help us change, so we can do more, be more, and see more.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

1 Timothy 6:1-5 -- On Honoring Those We Serve

"Let as many servants as are under the yoke count their own masters worthy of all honour, that the name of God and his doctrine be not blasphemed.
And they that have believing masters, let them not despise them, because they are brethren; but rather do them service, because they are faithful and beloved, partakers of the benefit. These things teach and exhort.
If any man teach otherwise, and consent not to wholesome words, even the words of our Lord Jesus Christ, and to the doctrine which is according to godliness;
He is proud, knowing nothing, but doting about questions and strifes of words, whereof cometh envy, strife, railings, evil surmisings,
Perverse disputings of men of corrupt minds, and destitute of the truth, supposing that gain is godliness: from such withdraw thyself."
1 Timothy 6:1-5

It struck me today as I was reading this that these verses actually apply to all of us, and are probably something we need to think about and work on.  At least I do.  True that we don't call ourselves servants in our several occupations, but we do all serve someone, and in that service these verses apply.  It's really easy to forget "thou shalt not covet" in our daily service.  Whether it is a paid job or some other service, we often want what someone else has, and we encounter power games or overt comparisons aimed in our direction... which it is difficult not to respond to, at times. 
If we apply these verses to our lives, then we need to count our employers, or whoever we serve, as worthy of all honor.  We need to work on not despising them, and on doing service specifically for them... and in doing so, we can avoid envy, strife, railings, evil surmisings, and perverse disputings. :)  Those seem like pretty good things to avoid, and perhaps we know just how hard those things can be if we've been party to those kinds of things in the past.  God doesn't want our jobs or other service to keep us up nights either.  He wants us to be happy and content... and we can do a lot about that, in the way that we think about the people we serve.
Let's not be the men (or women) of corrupt minds, who are destitute of the truth and who think that gain is godliness. :)  ... Because that is what we become when we allow envy and covetousness in, and criticize and complain and engage in the power games. Gain isn't just about profit, but about power and position.  Our lives can't be about winning or losing, or we are totally playing the wrong game.  Our lives should be about service and love and helping people.  They should be about becoming the best people we can be rather than climbing the ladder as far as it will go.  ... And not saying any of this is easy, but today, let's try.  Let's take a step in the right direction, and do as God advises.  Let's count the people we serve as worthy of all honor.  Let's treat them with respect and deference, and let's put people before power and pride.  As we do, the strife in our lives will lessen, and we will become more content and at peace.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

2 Chronicles 34:18-21 -- On Knowing the Law

"Then Shaphan the scribe told the king, saying, Hilkiah the priest hath given me a book. And Shaphan read it before the king.
And it came to pass, when the king had heard the words of the law, that he rent his clothes.
And the king commanded Hilkiah, and Ahikam the son of Shaphan, and Abdon the son of Micah, and Shaphan the scribe, and Asaiah a servant of the king’s, saying,
Go, inquire of the Lord for me, and for them that are left in Israel and in Judah, concerning the words of the book that is found: for great is the wrath of the Lord that is poured out upon us, because our fathers have not kept the word of the Lord, to do after all that is written in this book."
2 Chronicles 34:18-21

I think it is so interesting that Josiah (the king that they refer to here) didn't know the words of the law before they were read to him.  He obviously knew something, because he has been destroying the places of idol worship, and they found the law as they were fixing up the temple.  So, he loved God, and felt an obligation, but he didn't know the law... which makes me think of Lehi sending his sons back to Jerusalem for the brass plates, and how important that was.  And it also makes me think of us, today.  If we forget what God wants us to do, we can just pull the scriptures up on the internet, or as an app on our phones or tablets.  But sometimes, perhaps because it is so easy, we take them for granted, and we *still* don't read them.  Today, let's be as repentant as Josiah was in this regard.  Let's realize how important it is to know God's law and follow it... and let's set aside some time in our busy schedules to read the scriptures.  Let's do his will, rather than worshipping our particular idols of the workplace, the shopping mall, or whatever else is taking our time instead. :)  Let's make sure that we, and our families, know the law better than Josiah did, and remember to keep the promises that we've made to the Lord.

Monday, May 26, 2014

Alma 29:1-5 -- On Choice

"O that I were an angel, and could have the wish of mine heart, that I might go forth and speak with the trump of God, with a voice to shake the earth, and cry repentance unto every people!
Yea, I would declare unto every soul, as with the voice of thunder, repentance and the plan of redemption, that they should repent and come unto our God, that there might not be more sorrow upon all the face of the earth.
But behold, I am a man, and do sin in my wish; for I ought to be content with the things which the Lord hath allotted unto me.
I ought not to harrow up in my desires the firm decree of a just God, for I know that he granteth unto men according to their desire, whether it be unto death or unto life; yea, I know that he allotteth unto men, yea, decreeth unto them decrees which are unalterable, according to their wills, whether they be unto salvation or unto destruction.
Yea, and I know that good and evil have come before all men; he that knoweth not good from evil is blameless; but he that knoweth good and evil, to him it is given according to his desires, whether he desireth good or evil, life or death, joy or remorse of conscience."
Alma 29:1-5

Here's another scripture telling us that we get what we want.  And when there is more than one scripture telling us the same thing, perhaps there is more to learn. :)  The first three verses are a wish and then a realization that it isn't a very good wish... but there is still value there.  Alma's desires are shown here, and the desire behind the wish isn't to boss people around or force them into something.  His desire is that people don't have to be sorrowful anymore.  And he knows that repentance is the answer.
The last two verses are why the wish wasn't a great idea... because it wasn't God's plan, and that God gives people what they want, after they understand the difference between good and evil.  It was always Satan's plan to take away freedom and force people to be good.  And yet, often, we wonder why that isn't a good idea.  John Donne in his Holy Sonnet 14 expresses some of that desire, and Alma with his "voice of thunder" expresses a little of it here.  Why can't God force us to be good, and let us all waltz into heaven? 
Let's think about it for a minute.  If we took our children, and forced them to be good ... not only in early childhood, but all the way through adulthood... what would those children turn out like?  Who would they be?  ... Would they grow up to be our equals?  Would they be capable of taking over the family business?  Maybe not.  Maybe, in order to raise children who are capable of independence and divinity, we need to allow them independence and freedom of choice.  Perhaps teaching them the difference between good and evil and allowing them to choose for themselves, as sad as it is when they choose evil, is the only way to raise a child worth having a conversation with.  The only way to have a child who might blow all of our expectations out of the water and become better than we ever expected.
As children of God, given our freedom to choose, let's not choose destruction, evil, death, or remorse.  Since it is up to us,  why not choose salvation, good, life, and joy?  Let's take a step back from our lives and really examine them today.  Are we choosing happiness?  Are we choosing goodness?  If not, let's not justify to ourselves why.  Let's find out how to change it.  Change is hard and painful sometimes... but not as painful as continuing to choose evil and piling it on more and more until we are ready for destruction.  No matter what it is, God can forgive us.  We just have to return to him, and get his help with getting back on our feet... able to start making choices for ourselves again.  God will never tell us all the answers, or even let us lean on him too long... not because he doesn't want to help, but because he wants us to be better than we ever could be as automatons.  He needs us to see and feel the truth for ourselves, not just hear it from him.  Let's get out there and make some good choices. :)

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Alma 41:5 -- On Wanting Better

"The one raised to happiness according to his desires of happiness, or good according to his desires of good; and the other to evil according to his desires of evil; for as he has desired to do evil all the day long even so shall he have his reward of evil when the night cometh."
Alma 41:5

This is talking basically about judgement and what comes after for all of us.  I think it is interesting, because I don't think any of us, at least at first, consciously choose evil.  We might get evil confused with good, or we might think something isn't evil enough to matter long term because we'll go right back to doing good after... or whatever it is.  But then we convince ourselves slowly ... we play with the idea in our minds, or we adopt it as part of our self-image.  And we get addicted to the drama or the familiarity or whatever it is, and then... it becomes what we want, and we want it more than what is good... and we trap ourselves through that initial lie, and by allowing it to grow in our minds.  And some of those traps are easier than others to escape from, so maybe we know what to watch out for in one area, but are tempted in other areas.  And sometimes we're still thinking... oh, yeah, well it's bad, we'll solve that problem later.  But later never comes.
Today, let's take a good hard look at our lives and what we are choosing.  Is what we think about each day good?  Are the things that motivate us the things that we want to have forever, or are they just temporary things that we're planning on getting rid of?  Because when the end comes, we're going to be rewarded according to what we want and what we work for ... and there won't be any more time to change our minds, and our hearts.  We're going to get what we want.  ... So, let's be very, very, very sure that we actually want whatever it is more than we want God.
... And if by chance we realize that we do want God more, then let's start rooting that evil out of our minds and our hearts.  God will help us to change, if we ask him.  And then we'll still get what we want.  But maybe we'll have learned to want better. :)

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Doctrine and Covenants 90:14-15 -- On Revelation and Learning

"And from time to time, as shall be manifested by the Comforter, receive revelations to unfold the mysteries of the kingdom;
And set in order the churches, and study and learn, and become acquainted with all good books, and with languages, tongues, and people."
Doctrine and Covenants 90:14-15

I really like the idea here that revelation isn't everything.  Now, please don't get me wrong.  I completely believe in revelation, and prophecy, and I absolutely believe that when God tells us something, we should take it seriously.  But I also like the idea that at the same time we should be open to revelation, we should also be studying and learning and setting things in order.  Revelation is awesome, but it is also tempting to lean on it exclusively or wait for it sometimes, when we should actually be jumping in and making something of our lives, and not waiting for God to tell us every detail.  The closer that we get to God, I think that the easier it will be to get revelation about our lives and have an idea of what comes next or what we should decide in certain cases, but I think often we use the silence as supposed "evidence" of God's absence, or lack of empathy, rather than seeing it as a natural parental gesture.  Sometimes we need to figure things out on our own.  If I went to my mom today and asked her how to tie my shoes, she might tell me... but after three or four days of it, I think she would just tell me that I already know, and I need to move on to something more important. :)  Not a perfect analogy, but somewhat similar to what God tells us sometimes.  When there isn't a clear message about where to go or what to do... that is our cue.  We need to jump in there and learn all we can, so that we're *ready* for the next clear message.  And we should learn spiritual things, and pray and read our scriptures, and make sure we fulfil our responsibilities at church, but we should also be reading other good books, and learning languages and getting to know people. God tells us that is important.  The whole world is our textbook in these lessons, and while we should never discount revelation, or the scriptures, or any other spiritual thing, let's remember that we need to be "anxiously engaged" and not waiting around for God to tell us to take the next step (see D&C 58:26-29).
Today, let's listen and be ready for revelation.  And while we're waiting, let's read and study and learn and do all we can.

Friday, May 23, 2014

Proverbs 16:2-6 -- On Figuring Ourselves Out

"All the ways of a man are clean in his own eyes; but the Lord weigheth the spirits.
Commit thy works unto the Lord, and thy thoughts shall be established.
The Lord hath made all things for himself: yea, even the wicked for the day of evil.
Every one that is proud in heart is an abomination to the Lord: though hand join in hand, he shall not be unpunished.
By mercy and truth iniquity is purged: and by the fear of the Lord men depart from evil."
Proverbs 16:2-6

This is interesting to me because it seems to be helping us figure ourselves out. :)  The first verse is saying that we can justify about anything to ourselves, but that God is more discerning.  Then it goes on and tells us that if we dedicate our physical actions to God, that our minds will follow.  So... fake it till you make it is a gospel principle, right? :)  (As long as we are really sincere in wanting to learn from God and change... I don't think planning to fake it forever works.)
The part talking about God making all things for himself, including the wicked... that part is hard.  What I think is that it means that, even when we do wicked things, it doesn't destroy the work of God.  We still have to overcome it and learn goodness if we want to be saved... but we can rest easy about our actions somehow destroying God's work.  They can't.  He uses even the bad things to accomplish the ultimate salvation of mankind.  An example would perhaps be when Korihor was killed by the Zoramites.  The Zoramites weren't being good and doing as God asked when they trampled him, but what they did fit into God's plan in saving the people who had been deceived by Korihor, and in showing the community that they needed to do something about the Zoramites.  God didn't want or make Korihor or the Zoramites do what they did, but he could still anticipate it all and fit it into his plan.  God is amazing like that. :)
As the verses continue, we see that in addition to committing our works to the Lord, we need to avoid pride.  Even if we get together an army or a whole community (like the Zoramites), we can't overcome the Lord's will.  We need to work on our humility, and realize that God always knows better than we do... that he is the source of truth.  If we aren't humble enough to learn from him and start thinking that we know best, then we lose the path and we can't get to where we want to go.
I love the last verse, as it continues our lesson.  "By mercy and truth iniquity is purged."  ... That is how we rid ourselves of the inner darkness.  We have to accept God's gift of mercy, and learn the truth.  And through respect for the Lord, and recognizing his power and that he is the one with the answers and we are not... that is the way we learn to depart from evil.  Some good lessons for today.  Let's heed them, and learn how to become our best selves, through trusting God and learning from him.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

1 Nephi 8:20-25 -- On the Gospel Not Being a Cakewalk

"And I also beheld a strait and narrow path, which came along by the rod of iron, even to the tree by which I stood; and it also led by the head of the fountain, unto a large and spacious field, as if it had been a world.
And I saw numberless concourses of people, many of whom were pressing forward, that they might obtain the path which led unto the tree by which I stood.
And it came to pass that they did come forth, and commence in the path which led to the tree.
And it came to pass that there arose a mist of darkness; yea, even an exceedingly great mist of darkness, insomuch that they who had commenced in the path did lose their way, that they wandered off and were lost.
And it came to pass that I beheld others pressing forward, and they came forth and caught hold of the end of the rod of iron; and they did press forward through the mist of darkness, clinging to the rod of iron, even until they did come forth and partake of the fruit of the tree.
And after they had partaken of the fruit of the tree they did cast their eyes about as if they were ashamed."
1 Nephi 8:20-25

This is part of Lehi's dream.  Nephi explains some of the symbolism in later chapters, so we know that the tree is symbolic of God's love, and the rod of iron is symbolic of his word, or the scriptures.  The overall symbolism is the world, and all of us in the large and spacious field, looking around and deciding where to go.  Lehi sees his family, and calls them over to the tree, but only some of them come.  And as we see in these verses, many many other people try to get to the tree.  Some of them make it, but the mist of darkness happens to them all.  And then, even if they do make it, many are ashamed because after they partake of the fruit, they see people mocking them from the great and spacious building... so some of them decide to go there instead.  Others just get lost in other ways.
I think the symbolism here is something that we can apply to our lives.  If we're here, reading this blog in the first place, our goal is probably the tree.  We want to partake of God's love.  We want to know him and build a relationship with him.  But to stay on that path, we have to be determined.  It's a straight path, but walking it doesn't guarantee light or smooth sailing.  The mist of darkness will come, and we'll lose our way unless we heed God's words... through the scriptures, through prayer, through prophets.  Even when we can't see our way (which happens a lot in life), God gives us help and direction so that we can stay on the path.  And even when we make it to the tree and we have tasted that amazing goodness and love that God offers us.  Even when we start to learn to be on the same page with God, and our friendship is becoming more solid... we can't wander off or start listening to people who criticize us for our choice of friends.  We have to remember that our relationship with God is more important than the mockery of others.  We have to value and work to maintain that relationship, or we will lose what is best in life, and trade it in for the emptiness of pride and feeling important... temporarily.
Today, let's remember that going to God and building a relationship with him isn't a cakewalk.  We can't take God for granted, and we can't assume that everything will be easy if we stick with God.  The mist of darkness comes, whether we are on our way to God or walking away from him.  People will mock us for doing what is right.  Other places and goals will tempt us, and seem way more modern.  But there is only one way to God, and it is through the darkness and trials and temptations and we will see false paths that we want to travel, and we will experience mockery.  Sticking with God and really building that relationship is just as hard as any marriage or friendship.  Maybe sometimes harder, because in this case we can't blame any of the problems on the other person. :)  God will always be there, at the end of the straight and narrow path, waiting for us.  But it's harder to get there if we get lost first or go to the wrong place first.  So, wherever we are, let's get turned in the right direction, let's get our feet on the right path, and let's listen and learn and do the work to be able to make it to our goal, and the work it takes to stay there, unashamed.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Jeremiah 34:13-17 -- On Freedom

"Thus saith the Lord, the God of Israel; I made a covenant with your fathers in the day that I brought them forth out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondmen, saying,
At the end of seven years let ye go every man his brother an Hebrew, which hath been sold unto thee; and when he hath served thee six years, thou shalt let him go free from thee: but your fathers hearkened not unto me, neither inclined their ear.
And ye were now turned, and had done right in my sight, in proclaiming liberty every man to his neighbour; and ye had made a covenant before me in the house which is called by my name:
But ye turned and polluted my name, and caused every man his servant, and every man his handmaid, whom ye had set at liberty at their pleasure, to return, and brought them into subjection, to be unto you for servants and for handmaids.
Therefore thus saith the Lord; Ye have not hearkened unto me, in proclaiming liberty, every one to his brother, and every man to his neighbour: behold, I proclaim a liberty for you, saith the Lord, to the sword, to the pestilence, and to the famine; and I will make you to be removed into all the kingdoms of the earth."
Jeremiah 34:13-17

This is a good warning for us about hypocrisy.  God is talking to the Israelites here and says listen, I freed you from slavery, and asked you to free *your* slaves, and you wouldn't listen.  Even now, when you "technically" freed them, you just changed the word from slave to servant, with virtually no change in their actual freedom.  Implied, I think is the fact that the freedom that God gave them was a real freedom and not indentured servitude.  So, he says, well, if that is the kind of freedom that you offer to others, then here is a little extra freedom from me.  Instead of me protecting you, you are free to die by the sword, by pestilence, by famine, and to be scattered throughout the earth.  ... Scary, if that is all that was left that would get his people to truly change and repent.  Because we have the advantage of hindsight, we know that the Israelites were scattered, and we know that there were a lot more things going on in these decisions than a one-time hypocrisy... but the warning here is still loud and quite clear.  We can't fake obedience to God.  Maybe we can fool the neighbors with our pretend piety, but we can never fool God.  In fact, the insincere pretense itself is a glaring sign that we are not at all repentant, and that we won't bother to listen to God.  ... And I'm not saying that we can't fake it a little if we are really trying to learn.  "Fake it till you make it" *can* work, if we are going through the motions of the physical obedience but still learning the mental and spiritual part.  God gives us time to learn wholeness.  In fact, that is what a lot of life is about.  What won't work at all is being outwardly obedient, inwardly rebellious, lying and deceiving to cover our sin, but still outwardly trying to be respected as holy.  And as soon as we start taking God's commandments to fulfill the letter of the law but twisting the spirit of them to our own devices, then that is what we begin to become.
God gives us commandments to help US... they aren't there to restrict our freedom, but to enhance it.  As we learn to live God's way, we learn to see farther, and so many more possibilities and opportunities open up.  And when we are disobedient, we trap ourselves in addictions and habits that restrict us and blind us, and we lose opportunities and blessings.  Today, let's remember the source of true freedom.  Let's avoid hypocrisy and deception.  No matter how far gone we feel we are, let's grasp onto hope.  Let's go to God with our real selves, and tell him exactly how we feel and where we are.  He loves us, and he already knows us.  There is no reason to hide our doubt or fear or resentment, or anything else in us that is ugly.  Let's tell him all of it, and allow him to help us sort it out, and find a way to freedom... freedom from self-hatred.  Freedom from abandonment.  Freedom to find our way to our best selves and let go of our anger and hatred and despair.  God is the way to all that is good.  Instead of twisting his words and pretending, let's honestly give him a chance to change us from who we are into who we want to be.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Mark 6:34-37 -- On Feeding His Sheep

"And Jesus, when he came out, saw much people, and was moved with compassion toward them, because they were as sheep not having a shepherd: and he began to teach them many things.
And when the day was now far spent, his disciples came unto him, and said, This is a desert place, and now the time is far passed:
Send them away, that they may go into the country round about, and into the villages, and buy themselves bread: for they have nothing to eat.
He answered and said unto them, Give ye them to eat. And they say unto him, Shall we go and buy two hundred pennyworth of bread, and give them to eat?"
Mark 6:34-37

I think that we all feel like sheep with no shepherd sometimes.  As much as we try to make sense of the world and the things that happen to us, we still run into things that we can't wrap our minds around, or that challenge what we thought we knew.  The more we learn, the more we realize all that we don't know, and how wide the gap is between ourselves and being able to control anything but ourselves... and our grasp even of that is usually spotty, at best.  And when we are in need of guidance, God is there for us, just as he was for these people.  Teaching us many things. :)  And when we've been listening to him, and the day gets long... he won't send us away hungry.  He loves us.  He is our shepherd.  And although we are sometimes tempted to offense with the human-animal comparison, it isn't literal, but it is pretty accurate figuratively.  Compared to God, we can't really understand on the same level, and we absolutely do need some guidance to find the right way, and even to stay safe sometimes.  We have a tendency to play around cliffs.  We aren't pets, but we are children compared to God, and we do need his help.
The last part of these verses is a lead-in to the miracle of the loaves and the fishes.  With probably not enough food even for just the disciples, Christ fed over five thousand people, and they gathered more leftovers in the end than there had been of the original food.  That's not a psychological phenomenon.  That's a miracle.  And God didn't do it to prove something, but because he didn't want the people to go hungry after coming all that way to listen to him.  When we commit to God and stick with him, he will provide for us.  It might not be caviar and steak dinners.  He fed the Israelites with Manna, and loaves and fishes probably wasn't the elite meal of the time... but being a shepherd means watching out for us, and when we don't know where our next meal is coming from, it is coming from the Lord.
We're on both sides of this analogy though.  God asked Peter to feed his lambs and his sheep, and as we are his disciples, he commands us "Give ye them to eat."  This isn't just about us being fed.  We need to feed and care for others.  God works through us, and we need to be his hand, taking care of his will in the world.  Today, let's not slack on doing what we can to provide for ourselves and our families, of course, but let's pray to and trust in God to provide where we can't.  And let's remember that it will be through other people most likely, and not a seven course meal materializing in our living rooms.  When people ask if they can help, that could be God trying to help us.  We don't need to be so prideful that we turn people away when we really need them.  And let's also remember to act on the spirit, and to BE those people.  Let's offer, and not just offer, but actually get in there and help all we can.  Even when it seemed impossible, God commanded his disciples to feed the five thousand.  Let's have faith that our efforts can make a similar difference, even when the task seems overwhelming compared to what we can offer.

Monday, May 19, 2014

Proverbs 15:1-3 -- On Soft Answers

"A soft answer turneth away wrath: but grievous words stir up anger.
The tongue of the wise useth knowledge aright: but the mouth of fools poureth out foolishness.
The eyes of the Lord are in every place, beholding the evil and the good."
Proverbs 15:1-3

I like the idea of the soft answer.  When someone says something angrily to us, our instinct is often to fight back.  We get angry too, and make things worse.  But, if we can keep our cool, retain that inner core of peace that comes from being close to the Spirit, then we can answer calmly, without anger, and hopefully make things better.
Using knowledge correctly is also a cool idea.  We think a lot about getting knowledge, but maybe not often enough about how we use it.  We probably shouldn't use it to justify evil, for instance, or to win arguments.  Using it to teach and make things better though, that sounds awesome.  Knowledge is just like technology... it is a powerful force for good when used "aright," but when abused, it can also be a powerful force for evil.  It's kind of like a persuasive paper.  You can write it well, talking about *all* the information and facts, and helping people to make their own decision after thinking about the different pros and cons... or you can write it poorly, ignoring all of the information that doesn't agree with your stance, and additionally insulting anyone who doesn't agree with you.  It's a basic paper I used to teach in my introductory English classes, but we see more bad examples than good in the real world.
We worry sometimes about the government spying on us, and knowing too much about our lives... and here we see that God sees and knows everything.  He observed the evil and the good.  There are no camera blind spots for him. :)   One of the good things about that is that God *already* knows anything we have to tell him.  It still helps us to face it and confess it, but God will be there, ready with a plan to help us get back on track.  God has our best interests at heart, always... and since he already knows all the circumstances, he can relate, and understand, and help.
Today, let's work on soft answers, using our knowledge for good, and on talking with God about our lives.  These can seem like really disparate things, but I think over the course of the day that we will find how they fit together, and help us keep the spirit in our lives.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Isaiah 25:6 -- On God's Feast

"And in this mountain shall the Lord of hosts make unto all people a feast of fat things, a feast of wines on the lees, of fat things full of marrow, of wines on the lees well refined.
And he will destroy in this mountain the face of the covering cast over all people, and the veil that is spread over all nations.
He will swallow up death in victory; and the Lord God will wipe away tears from off all faces; and the rebuke of his people shall he take away from off all the earth: for the Lord hath spoken it."
Isaiah 25:6

This is some interesting stuff.  The previous chapter is about the second coming, and this continues, telling some of the things that will happen.  It sounds like a feast is one of them.  Probably literal, and also symbolic.  God provides for his people, and feasting is often a symbol of celebration... and what a celebration it will be when Christ returns in his glory.  The "swallow up death in victory" part will be huge.  We won't have a need to cry anymore, because God will make *all* of it okay with his coming.  No matter how bad history is up to that point, it will still be a great day of rejoicing.  I think that is the power that God has in everyday life as well... he can make everything all right, no matter how bad it is.  He can give us perspective, and help us to see the goodness all around us.  Just one glimpse of heaven is enough to make all our earthly pain seem insignificant.  Not pointless.  We are here for important reasons, and we need to be here and learn these lessons.  But compared with heaven, and the joy there... it all pales.
Which brings us to the "covering cast over all people, and the veil that is spread over all nations."  The reason that a glimpse of heaven affects us so much is that we connect with it.  The spirit part of us is immortal.  We knew God before we were born, but our mortal selves can't remember, because if we remembered, we wouldn't have true freedom of choice.  We'd be overwhelmed with the knowledge of God, and we would never be tempted at all to choose otherwise.  But God wants us to have what *we* want... and to find that out, he places us in an environment where we can figure it out.  Maybe a little bit like boarding school, or going off to college away from our parents for the first time.  We go to learn, to experience a little bit of independence, and see what we do with it.  And what we do with it, and the choices that we make, shape the rest of our lives... or eternity, in this case. :)
Someday that veil over our memories and over all the earth is going to be gone... and we are *all* going to remember God.  Which also seems like a pretty good reason for a celebration. :)  Today, let's remember that death and tears and all of our problems are temporary, and none of it can affect us permanently unless we let it get to us and change us for the worse.  We're just at Earth boarding school so we can learn what we really want, and what we really value, and unless we run away, God will welcome us home when we're done.  Let's learn everything we can, and remember where we came from... and not ruin our chances of going home, or attending the celebratory feast. :)

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Mosiah 4:16-19 -- On Beggars

"And also, ye yourselves will succor those that stand in need of your succor; ye will administer of your substance unto him that standeth in need; and ye will not suffer that the beggar putteth up his petition to you in vain, and turn him out to perish.
Perhaps thou shalt say: The man has brought upon himself his misery; therefore I will stay my hand, and will not give unto him of my food, nor impart unto him of my substance that he may not suffer, for his punishments are just—
But I say unto you, O man, whosoever doeth this the same hath great cause to repent; and except he repenteth of that which he hath done he perisheth forever, and hath no interest in the kingdom of God.
For behold, are we not all beggars? Do we not all depend upon the same Being, even God, for all the substance which we have, for both food and raiment, and for gold, and for silver, and for all the riches which we have of every kind?"
Mosiah 4:16-19

These are some powerful verses, and I think something valuable for us to remember.  We are all beggars.  We want to be in control, and we try to convince ourselves we are... but then when we run into things that we don't understand and we can't do anything about, that is when we turn to God because we're scared.  And, even when we only turn to him in our extremities, he still hears us and helps us.  In these verses, he is asking us to help other people in their extremities: to be instruments in his hands to bless the lives of those in need.
Today, let's remember that God gives us so much.  Maybe we can share a little. :)  And in doing so, we help and lift each other, and become better as a community, not just as individuals.  Let's bless the world, and turn it into a better place.

Friday, May 16, 2014

Isaiah 50:1-3 -- On Prayer

"Thus saith the Lord, Where is the bill of your mother’s divorcement, whom I have put away? or which of my creditors is it to whom I have sold you? Behold, for your iniquities have ye sold yourselves, and for your transgressions is your mother put away.
Wherefore, when I came, was there no man? when I called, was there none to answer? Is my hand shortened at all, that it cannot redeem? or have I no power to deliver? behold, at my rebuke I dry up the sea, I make the rivers a wilderness: their fish stinketh, because there is no water, and dieth for thirst.
I clothe the heavens with blackness, and I make sackcloth their covering."
Isaiah 50:1-3

In these verses, God is asking us why our relationship with him is broken... why are we not communicating?  It's kind of like a father coming home one day and no one is living in the family home anymore... and he is wondering why.  Why did I come in and call for you, and there was no one to answer me?  Was there a divorce, or did I sell you into slavery?  ... Rhetorical questions.  I know that I didn't, but what other explanation is there for this?  Did you bail because you think that I can't give you an inheritance, or fulfil every duty of a father? Do you think that I can't save you?  ... I can dry up the ocean, and hide even heaven, the shiniest and most glorious thing around.  And at the end of these verses, there is no answer, because the question is to us, and the response is for us to fill in.
This is a good question for all of us to think about. Our relationship with God requires work to maintain, just like any other relationship... and communication is even easier.  We don't even have to type and click "SEND" or dial numbers on a phone.  We just have to think in the right direction... it doesn't even have to be audible. :)  It is so, so easy to talk to God.  So why don't we do it?  I think sometimes we are afraid.  We do think that there was a divorce or that we were sold into slavery.  We convince ourselves that it's God who isn't really listening, or that he doesn't care about us.  Or maybe we haven't figured out the spirit yet, and don't know how to feel it.  If we feel like God isn't answering us, that can be a challenge when we feel like all of our conversations are one way.  ... Even when it seems like that though, they never are.  It's more like we drive up in front of the house with our music blaring and on a cell phone besides, whisper a few words to our father, drive off again, and wonder why he didn't answer us.  He definitely could have whispered back from the living room because of his great hearing, but we weren't paying attention. 
To improve our prayers and have a better chance of noticing an answer, one good thing to start with is getting rid of distractions.  Physical distractions are sometimes easier... getting to a quiet place where we can focus.  Not always easy, and God still listens when we pray as we drive or when there are people around.  It is just easier to hear answers with less distractions. :)  If we have trouble focusing, sometimes writing down what we want to say to God is a good idea.  Writing can help us think things through.  Mental distractions are sometimes harder.  Things that we're worried about or conflicts in our lives get in the way.  Sometimes we have to go apologize to someone or resolve a problem we've been putting off before we have enough internal peace to really pray.  Sometimes we have to repent of something that is interfering with the communication.  And we have to be sincere and honest with God, which is of course tough if we are lying to ourselves.
Noticing answers is another thing we can work on.  Sometimes answers are obvious, but most of the time they are more subtle.  Answers might come through other people being inspired to call us or come over or say just the right thing.  Answers could be thoughts or inspiration placed in our minds... we finally remember where we put something or have an idea about how to solve the problem after days of not being able to think of anything.  When those things come right after praying, it probably isn't a coincidence. :)  Sometimes recalling scriptures helps solve a problem or helps us know what to say.  This only works if we read them first, but it is a good one, because it can help us throughout the day.  Also, being open to any answer is important.  God wants to bless us, but he isn't a wish machine.  We don't get everything we want just for asking.  Some things we have to work for, and some things just aren't right for us and the lessons that we are learning.
Today, let's get closer to God through prayer.  Let's take the time and expend the energy to really build that relationship the right way.  Let's listen, and learn, and remove all the impediments to communication.  Let's go back home and talk to our Father, who loves us.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Doctrine and Covenants 29:43-45 -- On Choosing the Light

"And thus did I, the Lord God, appoint unto man the days of his probation—that by his natural death he might be raised in immortality unto eternal life, even as many as would believe;
And they that believe not unto eternal damnation; for they cannot be redeemed from their spiritual fall, because they repent not;
For they love darkness rather than light, and their deeds are evil, and they receive their wages of whom they list to obey."
Doctrine and Covenants 29:43-45

This section of the Doctrine and Covenants talks about a lot of things, including the Second Coming, the time leading up to it, the Millennium, and after the Millennium the final judgement.  Here, he is referring to what he just said about Adam, and how he sent angels to him so that there was a way to overcome the sin and the separation from God that Adam experienced, and that we all experience.  He prepared a way that we could come here, gain bodies, and learn, overcoming our mistakes and sins, and still being able to return to God.  He gave us hope.  ... And then in the second verse of the selection it gets a little darker.  Eternal damnation... probably no one wants that, or even really to think about it.  I'm sure it is bad enough, even if Dante's depiction is inaccurate.  So, it seems a little bit like going from hope to depression... and I do think that it is sad that this will happen to anyone.  But when it says "because they repent not," I think it shows us where the hope still is.  Our hope it in repentance.  In verse 17, earlier in this same section, it says "my blood shall not cleanse them if they hear me not."  ... It isn't God deciding in that moment, well you guys are slugs; you can burn.  It is the plan, and has been the plan for the entire history of the earth.  It is the way the atonement works.  It only has power when we choose to repent.  If someone doesn't want to change or repent, then it can't release that person from the consequence of sin. We have to choose to accept the gift, and apply it to our lives.  Otherwise, we'll only get the "wages" of sin and Satan... which, again, I don't think anyone really wants to think about.
Ezra Taft Benson said "Nothing is going to startle us more when we pass through the veil to the other side than to realize how well we know our Father and how familiar His face is to us" (link to talk).  We *know* God, although we can't remember it well because of the veil.  And he knows us, and he *does* remember.  He loves us, and he wants us to return to him.  Today, let's take advantage of the gift and hope of the atonement.  Let's repent.  Let's change.  Let's serve God rather than Satan (and not pretend that we can choose some imaginary third option or sit on the fence).  Let's love and choose the light rather than the darkness... heaven over hell.  And today, let's remember that we have to do something about it.  Repentance and salvation are not passive choices.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Mormon 9:19-21 -- On Asking for Miracles

"And if there were miracles wrought then, why has God ceased to be a God of miracles and yet be an unchangeable Being? And behold, I say unto you he changeth not; if so he would cease to be God; and he ceaseth not to be God, and is a God of miracles.
And the reason why he ceaseth to do miracles among the children of men is because that they dwindle in unbelief, and depart from the right way, and know not the God in whom they should trust.
Behold, I say unto you that whoso believeth in Christ, doubting nothing, whatsoever he shall ask the Father in the name of Christ it shall be granted him; and this promise is unto all, even unto the ends of the earth."
Mormon 9:19-21

That last verse is powerful.  Basically, whatever we ask, we get, if we ask in the name of Christ.  I am sure that last part means that it also has to be Christ's will, which actually makes it better in a lot of ways.  Then we know that we can't unknowingly ask for something horribly destructive or evil like all those people do in the stories when they get the "monkey's paw" type of wishes. :)
Other verses in the scriptures tell us this same thing... that with God, we get what we ask for.  He's our father, and he wants to give us good things.  I think that we forget this often though, or lose faith in it.  We side with the unbelievers, at least partially, in thinking that God is no longer a God of miracles, or that he won't help us for whatever reason.  But instead of giving up, maybe we should get back on track.  Maybe we should work on our relationship with God, so we *know* in whom we trust... and remember the times when he has helped us in the past.  No situation is ever hopeless.  We're never so lost that God can't find us.  And the closer we get to God, and the less we doubt that relationship, the better things will get, because we'll be happier closer to the spirit, but also because we'll know better what to ask for, and how much God *wants* to give.  With practice, we'll lose our doubts, and then a whole world of possibility will flow to us as we work to do God's will.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Mormon 7:1-5 -- On Hoping for the Future

"And now, behold, I would speak somewhat unto the remnant of this people who are spared, if it so be that God may give unto them my words, that they may know of the things of their fathers; yea, I speak unto you, ye remnant of the house of Israel; and these are the words which I speak:
Know ye that ye are of the house of Israel.
Know ye that ye must come unto repentance, or ye cannot be saved.
Know ye that ye must lay down your weapons of war, and delight no more in the shedding of blood, and take them not again, save it be that God shall command you.
Know ye that ye must come to the knowledge of your fathers, and repent of all your sins and iniquities, and believe in Jesus Christ, that he is the Son of God, and that he was slain by the Jews, and by the power of the Father he hath risen again, whereby he hath gained the victory over the grave; and also in him is the sting of death swallowed up."
Mormon 7:1-5

In these verses, Mormon has just witnessed the destruction of his people, the Nephites.  He knows that many of the Lamanites are left, and he has a promise from God that someday they will have his words.  And so, he writes to them... the descendants of the very people that have just killed every friend that he has ever had... because he cares about them, and hopes that someday, even generations away, they will listen.  I think that this is the message of almost all scripture.  Hope for the future.
One thing that I noticed as I was reading is where it says that Christ was "slain by the Jews."  ... And I wanted to put that into some context.  This isn't a message of hatred or blame, cursing the Jews and taking a superior spiritual or moral position.  If you'll notice, the second verse here says that the people he is speaking to are of the house of Israel as well.  What he is saying is very similar to what just happened to him.  His relatives just killed everyone he ever cared about.  His more distant relatives killed Christ.  And as part of the gospel by blood or adoption, we are all his relatives.  To be a descendant of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob is to be part of the chosen people... but it is also to be part of a long history of disobedience and idolatry and murder.  As humans, we have failed God over and over and over again.  But he still loves us, and works with us through the ages, and we have improved a little bit I think... enough to progress beyond the harsher laws of the Old Testament and embrace the laws of the New Testament.  Enough for God to reveal the Book of Mormon to us, and to restore the priesthood. :)  We still have a long way to go, and sometimes we need to remember past failures in order to improve... but we should never blame any individuals living now for the failure of their ancestors.  Otherwise, we are all condemned.  We have enough to worry about in overcoming our individual past sins without imagining that the weight of all of our ancestor's sins are also on our heads.
Today, let's remember that we are of the house of Israel.  Let's remember that we need to repent or we cannot be saved.  Let's remember the victory of Christ over death, and that he makes it possible for us to choose goodness and light, no matter what our ancestors chose.  Let's make better choices.  Let's progress, and help the entire world progress and learn together so that someday this can be a perfect world.

Monday, May 12, 2014

Deuteronomy 6:5-7 -- On God's Words

"And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might.
And these words, which I command thee this day, shall be in thine heart:
And thou shalt teach them diligently unto thy children, and shalt talk of them when thou sittest in thine house, and when thou walkest by the way, and when thou liest down, and when thou risest up."
Deuteronomy 6:5-7

We need a lot of reminders in our lives, probably because we forget God so often.  We put him in the background like he is a minor concern and work and school or family or *anything* is more important.  Sometimes we do it on purpose, thinking that religion is only for Sundays or not appropriate at work or school.  Jeffrey R. Holland has responded to this kind of thinking by telling us "You never check your religion at the door. Not ever."  God wants us to have his words in our hearts.  That means we can't ever leave them behind.  And one way to remember is to do as this verse suggests, and talk about them.  Sounds to me like reading and discussing the scriptures, including, and perhaps especially, the verse that begins the selection.  We should love God with everything that we are.  If we really do, we won't want to put him in the background.  He will be with us in everything that we do, and our constant companion as we solve problems and make decisions each day.
Today, as we start the day, let's have God's words in our hearts.  If they aren't there, let's read and pray and get some in there. :)  And let's work on keeping them there and not forgetting as we go throughout the day.  Let's find someone to talk about them with... it doesn't have to be someone who has never heard them, although if that is appropriate to your situation, great.  When we talk about God and his words, we enrich each other's lives, helping us to keep God's words in our hearts.  And if you don't have someone else to talk about them with, leave a comment on this post... or any scripture post.  We can do it together.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

3 Nephi 13:33 -- On Simplifying our Priorities

"But seek ye first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things shall be added unto you."
3 Nephi 13:33

I really like this verse because it seems to take the whole gospel and distill it down for us a little.  We just need to put God's kingdom first.  Seek *him* and the Zion society he is working to make us into, and the rest of it will fall into place.  Ezra Taft Benson said something very similar is a conference talk in April 1988: "When we put God first, all other things fall into their proper place or drop out of our lives."
I'm not saying that putting the Lord and his goals first is easy.  It can at times be really, really hard... the whole submitting our wills to God's will thing.  It's tough.  We sometimes want to power struggle and get our way.  What I *really* like about it though is the idea that if we get that part right, the rest of it falls into place, or gets "added unto" us.  To me that seems to mean that if we have that main priority straight, that God will "add" the other lessons here and there, as we can handle them.  Things fall into place if they are things we need to learn, and drop out if they aren't.... and so on.  So, then it is God juggling our lives, and not us.  And his timing and delivery are SO much better than ours, right? :)
Today, let's simplify.  Let's focus on seeking God's kingdom.  Let's focus on putting God first, and think about ways that we can change to get that priority straight.  And then with everything else, let's not stress.  Handing over the control of the things we can't control *anyway* to God is not a loss.  It's just a realistic coping strategy. :)  Let's make sure God is first, and then take things as God delivers them to us.  If God is first, everything else will be okay.

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Isaiah 5:20-21 -- On Self-Imposed Blinders

"Woe unto them that call evil good, and good evil; that put darkness for light, and light for darkness; that put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter!
Woe unto them that are wise in their own eyes, and prudent in their own sight!"
Isaiah 5:20-21

This is an excellent warning about perception and perspective, and how we see things in a very skewed and incorrect way sometimes.  And we don't always realize it... because, as it says, we think that we are wise and prudent.  We all have some kind of blinders on: ones that we have created through lying to ourselves.  We think that our sins aren't that big of a deal, or that we can take care of our addictions someday, but not now.  We think that no one is really taking our example to heart, or that skipping church or not reading our scriptures is just a small thing and won't affect us.  There are so many things that we avoid or ignore or talk ourselves into, and the longer we do it, the more skewed from reality our perception becomes.  We can even get to the point where we actually believe that evil is good, or good is evil.
The way to get out of this trap, or to prevent it, is to stop thinking of ourselves as the experts, even about our own lives.  God is the expert about everything, including us.  He wants more for us than we do, and he sees our potential, and the reality of our situation, more clearly than we can, especially when we are actively blinding ourselves.  Today, let's be smart enough to not believe in our own bluster.  Let's back down from the cliff of arrogance, and choose the *reality* of humility, the acknowledgement that we're stumbling around with self-imposed blinders most of the time, and let's really listen to God, and let him help us get back on track. 

Friday, May 9, 2014

Romans 6:3-5 -- On Death and Life, In That Order

"Know ye not, that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into his death?
Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life.
For if we have been planted together in the likeness of his death, we shall be also in the likeness of his resurrection:"
Romans 6:3-5

This death-life symbolism is fascinating.  It reminds me of John 12:24: "Except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone: but if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit."  Death has to happen, and I think this is saying that death and life are part of the same process... the process we're all engaged in, the process of improvement.  This of course, doesn't mean that we should all become death worshippers or suicides or murderers.  Just to clarify. :)  I think what it does mean is that we have to see in our lives that part of us has to die so that other parts can live... that we're always in the process of dying and being born again, even over and above the more obvious symbolism of actual physical death and resurrection.  To be resurrected, our current bodies have to die, which can be a quick change or a longer one, but the change has to happen.  To change who we are and to become our best selves, we have to change, repent, become... and what is change but a tiny death of something that we were used to?  Repentance is a tiny death of something that used to be part of us, and it involves a broken heart, which is then healed as God forgives us and makes us as white as snow.  When we are baptized, we are lowered into the "watery grave" as it were, and then raised, clean and pure and new.... free of sin.  When we take the sacrament each week, we renew that same covenant of baptism: the dying of our old, sinful selves, and the raising of our new, clean selves.
I think part of this lesson is that we shouldn't be afraid of death.  Physical death is definitely not something we want to jump into before we're prepared to meet God, of course, but it also isn't the frightening desolation that we imagine.  Especially not the smaller deaths... the death of a habit or a sin or an incorrect belief.  We fear all kinds of change, and sometimes we think that if we change something about ourselves that we will somehow be less "us."  ... But on the other hand, it is incredible freedom and "newness of life" to have the opportunity to choose who we want to be, rather than being trapped in who we are.
Today, let's embrace positive change.  Let's work with God to bring death to the bad things in our lives, and life to the good.  Let's be more and better than we are, and rejoice in the opportunity we have to die to sin and hate and darkness and to live in light and love.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Doctrine and Covenants 3:10 -- On Repentance

"But remember, God is merciful; therefore, repent of that which thou hast done which is contrary to the commandment which I gave you, and thou art still chosen, and art again called to the work;"
Doctrine and Covenants 3:10

I think this scripture shows how merciful and forgiving our Father in Heaven is.  He doesn't reject us when we screw up.  He works at getting us to change, and he offers to restore what we've lost through our own choices to sin.  And if the time for that is past, then he offers us something else good that does work with the timing of our repentance.  It says in Helaman 4:15, "inasmuch as they did repent they did begin to prosper."  I think that shows the same lesson... that, as much as we repent, God helps us.  He matches our every effort, move for move.  If we let go of sin a little, he can bless us a little, and the more we do it, and the more we improve and do good, the more he can bless us.
It's hard to repent, especially when we did it in the first place knowing exactly how bad it was and how much God didn't want us to do it.  How do you get to remorse and sincerity from rebellion and blatant disobedience?  It's tough.  But it *is* possible.  With God, we can learn to change our hearts as well as our actions, and turn things around.
Today, let's let go of our silly rebellions.  Let's repent.  Being close to God is so much more important than our pride, or our embarrassment.  Let's do what it takes to feel the spirit, even if it is mortifying or painful.  God is worth it.  Our souls are worth it.  Our relationships are worth it. 

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

3 Nephi 11:29-30 -- On Doing Away with Anger

"For verily, verily I say unto you, he that hath the spirit of contention is not of me, but is of the devil, who is the father of contention, and he stirreth up the hearts of men to contend with anger, one with another.
Behold, this is not my doctrine, to stir up the hearts of men with anger, one against another; but this is my doctrine, that such things should be done away."
3 Nephi 11:29-30

This is interesting stuff.  The spirit of contention is of the devil, and not of God.  And God's doctrine seems to be to eradicate the stirring up of anger.  ... I don't think that this means that any of us will immediately be able to erase anger from our lives, but it is a good thing to remember as we go throughout our days.  What do we do that causes contention, and what can we do to interact with people without anger?  The same things are going to happen, the same things that usually trigger our emotions, but God asks us to choose differently.  Can we?  I think so.  Not saying it is easy, but because we are human, we all have mental space between a trigger and a reaction.  We can choose to breathe.  To think about what we are doing, what we are saying, what we are feeling, and what God expects of us.  At first, maybe we'll only find a way to not explode, or only to quickly recover and apologize... but eventually, with practice, maybe we'll even find a way to love.  To overcome challenges in a way that isn't angry.  To even talk about things that we disagree about without being defensive or attacking.
Everyone feels anger from time to time.  The scriptures even talk about God's anger in several places.  But they also say that he is "slow to anger."  I like that, because it seems to mean that he is patient and kind and understanding, and only gets angry after a long time and zillions of chances.  God's being slow to anger is probably equal to our never being angry, just because his patience is probably longer than our lifetimes... but emulating God is always a good place to start.  If we can slow the escalation of emotion down, then we can stay rational.  Slow to anger doesn't mean slow, well-planned revenge, mind you. :)  It means that we are more patient and understanding of people's faults, and don't take offense even when we think people are trying to offend us or push our buttons on purpose.  It means that the love always comes first, and we look for solutions that help other people rather than just trying to get our own way.  If we get good at it, imagine what the absence of anger will do for our inner peace. :)  Definitely something to work for.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Luke 9:23-26 -- On Misplacing Ourselves

"And he said to them all, If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me.
For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: but whosoever will lose his life for my sake, the same shall save it.
For what is a man advantaged, if he gain the whole world, and lose himself, or be cast away?
For whosoever shall be ashamed of me and of my words, of him shall the Son of man be ashamed, when he shall come in his own glory, and in his Father's, and of the holy angels."
Luke 9:23-26

Losing your life and saving your life... when we hear those words, we usually think they are talking about physical death, because that is where we typically have the most concerns.  But in these verses there is an interesting juxtaposition of losing your life to save your life.  What does this mean?  ... I don't have all the answers, but one thing that it makes me think of is selfishness or just regular self-interest.  Denying ourselves and taking up our cross are two sides of the same coin.  It's basically encouraging us to let go of the things that distract us from being good and finding peace... and accept the burdens of doing the right thing.  Our example in this is Christ, who denied himself his own will in wanting to physically live, and accepted the literal burden of the cross in dying for us.  Our denial and our burden are not as extreme, but they are still significant to us.  But the very focus on them could be the problem.  We focus so much on what we're giving up, or on the burdens that we are accepting that we don't realize that the way to find peace and the way to wholeness is by letting go of both of those distractions entirely, and changing our focus to doing good... to changing people's lives for the better.  We have to lose that focus on our internal satisfactionometer in order to ever feel more than partially satisfied. :)
The idea of losing our lives for Christ's sake is also showing us a change of focus.  If we were focused on our own lives, we wouldn't be making a choice like that.  We would only do that if we were focused on Christ.  The third verse of the selection changes it up a little bit... it talks about gaining the whole world.  Wow. :)  And what good would that do if we thereafter lost ourselves, or were cast away.  This is a different kind of losing, and illustrates again our focus.  The focus here is on the whole world... on acquisition, on getting everything.  And because our focus was there, we lost what mattered... ourselves, being cast away.  Even the shame in the last verse shows focus.  We wouldn't be ashamed of God if we were focused on him... only if we were focused on what people think of *us.*
Today, let's "lose our lives" by misplacing our internal focus, and forgetting ourselves entirely.  Let's focus instead on the people around us, and think about how we can help and serve them.  Let's not think about what God can do for us, but about what we can do for God.  Let's be so focused on following the Savior that we forget that there was even an option to be ashamed of him. :)  And I think, in the process of forgetting, we will find so much that we have been actively seeking.  The inner peace that we were missing.  The happiness that we were craving... so many things that we can never get by stalking them... only by letting go, and focusing on love.  By misplacing ourselves, we find what truly matters.

Monday, May 5, 2014

1 Nephi 9:5-6 -- On Paying Attention

"Wherefore, the Lord hath commanded me to make these plates for a wise purpose in him, which purpose I know not.
But the Lord knoweth all things from the beginning; wherefore, he prepareth a way to accomplish all his works among the children of men; for behold, he hath all power unto the fulfilling of all his words. And thus it is. Amen."
1 Nephi 9:5-6

Nine chapters in to the Book of Mormon, and Nephi tells us that he doesn't know why he is writing it.  Just that God has a reason.  I think that is how most of us start out with the things God asks us or tells us.  We have no idea why; we just know that God wants it.  The importance is seen much later... sometimes not during our lifetimes.  The ways that everything works together isn't clear to us, but it is clear to God.  And even if all of us only contribute a very small part, God pulls it all together to build something beautiful and perfect.  Something we can't see yet, but which was started long ago.
Sometimes it is just the feeling we should talk to someone or call someone.  Sometimes it is the urge to turn around and look at what we just walked past, or double-check something we just did.  Sometimes it is an idea or scripture we should look into, and in Nephi's case it was inspiration to write down the ministry of his people, not just the politics and wars.  But whatever it is, God pushes us just a little and says "hey... pay attention." 
Today, let's remember to act even on the small promptings from God.  There is always a reason.  And let's make sure we're on the path, paying attention, so that we'll actually feel it when God wants us to pay attention. :)  Let's get to know God better so we can recognize when he is talking to us.  How?  Read.  Pray.  All the boring things they tell us in Sunday School... except it really works.  We just have to keep at it.  And even if we have been there, we have to keep at it.  Alma 5 and "can ye feel so now?"  ... Even if our relationship with God is totally golden, we have to work keep it that way, or we'll start losing it.
God has the power to fulfil all his words, to keep all his promises, to save everyone who chooses salvation.  Let's be part of that.  Not only in choosing salvation, but part of the mysterious coolness of acting on a prompting from the spirit, without knowing why, but knowing that we're building something... that we are a part of something bigger than ourselves... part of the kingdom of God, part of the gospel, part of Zion.

Sunday, May 4, 2014

John 8:34-36 -- On True Freedom

"Jesus answered them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Whosoever committeth sin is the servant of sin.
And the servant abideth not in the house for ever: but the Son abideth ever.
If the Son therefore shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed."
John 8:34-36

This comes after the really popular saying "and the truth shall make you free" which probably is one of the most misinterpreted verses in the Bible.   Often we *want* that to mean that we can live whatever way we want... that our "personal truth" places us above the law, and we want those words to mean that God thinks so too... that the commandments are just guidelines, and God is flexible about the rules if we feel something strongly.  I think these later verses clarify that a little bit.  When God gives us commandments, it isn't arbitrary.  He didn't just make up some rules because his preference is this way, but he knows other people believe that other way, and really, either is okay.  He gives us rules and commandments and laws because this is *actually* how to achieve salvation.  It's the actual class, not just the honor code.
When we commit sin, we aren't just accidentally saying "darn" in front of aunt Margaret, who is among only 103 people on earth offended by that word.  When we sin, we change ourselves.  The changes always seem minor at first, but if we continue, they become more and more obvious.  We trap ourselves in habits and beliefs and lifestyles and attitudes that we can't even *think* our way out of anymore, we've become so immersed in our own propaganda.  We slowly give up the freedom to walk away, to be more than that.  God wants to save us from that, to free us from our own self-destruction... and so he gives us a way to recover from those holes we fall into in our lives, and also offers us a way to live that, if followed, will allow us to get through life unscathed.  A way to remain free from our own destructive tendencies, while we work on learning some better ones.  God's commandments, along with Christ's atonement, are what *actually* make us free.  *That* is the truth.  It is a truth we often run from, but the one that we need to face each time we look for help picking up the pieces of our lives and getting back on track.  There isn't another way.  There isn't a shortcut.  We don't get to make up what *we* think good and bad are.  They just are... and we need to adjust to God, rather than him adjusting to us... because his way is the only way out of the traps that we lay for ourselves.  It is the only way to be who we want to be.  It is the only way to true freedom and happiness.
Today, let's try not to feel trapped by God's commandments.  In all actuality, even though we don't always feel it, God is the best friend we could ever have.  He will help us become our best selves.  He knows that sometimes it hurts to give up things we had our heart set on... but he wouldn't be a good friend, and a perfect Father, if he didn't forbid us from doing things that would tear up our souls.  Let's do our best to listen, and to seek the freedom and happiness that the Lord offers.  Accept no imitations. :)

Saturday, May 3, 2014

Helaman 5:7 -- On Doing Good

"Therefore, my sons, I would that ye should do that which is good, that it may be said of you, and also written, even as it has been said and written of them."
Helaman 5:7

In this chapter Nephi gives up the judgment seat because he is tired of the wickedness, and he and his brother Lehi decide to become missionaries for the rest of their days.  And the reason they give is what their father taught them, part of which is this verse.  He gave them the names of prophets from the scriptures because he wanted them to always remember what was important, and live up to the names that he had given them.  And it got me thinking about our lives and the mark we are making, and what we will leave behind us.  It's something to think about, and perhaps something that can help us improve our perspective.  We often hear stories of people's last messages to their families, saying what they wished they had done more of in their lives, or what was really important.  ... But if we wait until the end to realize those things, then we are realizing them too late, aren't we?  We have to get out of the trap of letting the emotion of the moment rule us.  We have to let go of the ego trips and the pride... assuming that we know better than God.  We need to look at our lives and figure out what is going to really make a difference, and what we are really going to care about looking back... and choose *that* rather than the other things that keep getting in the way.  We have to let go of *ourselves* in so many ways... not "let ourselves go," but let go of always focusing on what's fair and what will make us look good and how we stack up in comparison to others.   We have to think about what is actually good, and the influence we have on the people around us.  We can all do so much good, and make such a difference.  Even if we aren't named after prophets, it doesn't mean we can't live up to their examples, and light the world just as much.  No matter where we are, mentally, physically, spiritually, emotionally... there are so many things around us ... so many opportunities to do good, to touch people's lives positively.  Today, let's take advantage of those opportunities.  Let's do good, and make an impact for good in the world.  Even if just one person's day is better because we were there... let's do that good.  Let's change lives, a little at a time.

Friday, May 2, 2014

2 Nephi 26:23-28 -- On Joining Sinners Anonymous

"For behold, my beloved brethren, I say unto you that the Lord God worketh not in darkness.
He doeth not anything save it be for the benefit of the world; for he loveth the world, even that he layeth down his own life that he may draw all men unto him. Wherefore, he commandeth none that they shall not partake of his salvation.
Behold, doth he cry unto any, saying: Depart from me? Behold, I say unto you, Nay; but he saith: Come unto me all ye ends of the earth, buy milk and honey, without money and without price.
Behold, hath he commanded any that they should depart out of the synagogues, or out of the houses of worship? Behold, I say unto you, Nay.
Hath he commanded any that they should not partake of his salvation? Behold I say unto you, Nay; but he hath given it free for all men; and he hath commanded his people that they should persuade all men to repentance.
Behold, hath the Lord commanded any that they should not partake of his goodness? Behold I say unto you, Nay; but all men are privileged the one like unto the other, and none are forbidden."
2 Nephi 26:23-28

There is a lot of good stuff in this chapter.  Here, I really like the idea of God not working in darkness, and a description of what working in darkness might be.  If God did things that weren't for the benefit of the world, that might be working in darkness.  Or if God told any specific group of people that they were unwelcome to partake of his salvation.  That could be darkness.  But he *doesn't* do this.  He doesn't tell anyone at all to go away.  He invites us all in, giving us the same commandments, the same rules, and the same opportunities to learn and grow.  ... Of course we often choose to depart from God, and we choose not to partake.  And even though we can lie to ourselves and become convinced that it is God's fault, he doesn't want us, and he should accept us on our terms, the truth of the matter is that really does want us all to come.
*Everyone* has to come to God on God's terms.  He's God.  He knows better than we do, no matter how brilliant we are.  He understands our several challenges, and he works with us inexhaustibly if we desire to come to him... but when it doesn't work, it is never because God is rejecting us.  It is because we value something else more than we value him, and *we* are the ones that choose to walk away.
Different rules are harder for different people.  Some people get stuck on things that seem simple to others, but which are hard for them.  It might be attending church or reading the scriptures.  Maybe it is prayer.  It is a huge challenge for some people to feel or acknowledge that there is anything there besides the ceiling.  Some people might get stuck on chastity, because they can't give up extramarital sexual behavior, and that is something that they feel defines them, or an urge they don't feel they can fight.  Some people might get stuck on envy or stealing, because they have kleptomaniacal urges.  Some people are not good at social things and they stumble over the loving other people part.  Maybe it is anger or a desire for revenge rather than forgiveness.  Sometimes it is the putting God first part, or the giving to others part.  It could be drugs, or any part of the the word of wisdom.  It could be pride, tithing, or lying, or even the urge to hurt people.  Some people have really hard things in their lives that seem to be built in, and which are really hard to cope with, let alone overcome.  But God invites us all in, no matter what, even when we have multiple challenges and a bad attitude all rolled into one.  We just have to be willing to try.  And when we go to him, and meet together, we do so in our imperfections, working together to find a way to improve and work our way forward together.  Church is more like a Sinners Anonymous group than most of us would care to admit.  ... But that is okay.  That is why we go.  To help each other.  To work together towards God.  Learning more about him, learning to accept each other and become more Christlike.  God wants us to come the way we are, and learn together to be better.  Today, let's take him up on his offer, whoever we are, whatever our challenges.

Thursday, May 1, 2014

John 16:31-33 -- On Being of Good Cheer

"Jesus answered them, Do ye now believe?
Behold, the hour cometh, yea, is now come, that ye shall be scattered, every man to his own, and shall leave me alone: and yet I am not alone, because the Father is with me.
These things I have spoken unto you, that in me ye might have peace. In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world."
John 16:31-33

What struck me today about this verse was the "be of good cheer" part.  That seemed like part of the recipe for peace.  Christ tells his disciples that they might not believe as strongly as they say they do,  because they are soon going to leave him alone.  But, then, it is okay because he can never *be* alone.  The Father is always with him.  Having that spirit is part of the recipe for peace, and the other part seems to be the cheerfulness part. :)  We're going to have tribulation, but if we believe that God has truly overcome the world, then we don't have any reason to be negative or bitter or sad about any of it, because Christ took care of it all long ago.  We don't have to have mortal blinders on.  With his help, we can see past any challenge or obstacle and know that it is all temporary, and that we don't have to deal with any of it alone.  God is always there to help.
Often we accept the stress and the pain of life as natural, and think that someday it will be gone... in the afterlife perhaps, *then* we can be happy.  But, truly, we can be happy now.  We can be of good cheer, because Christ has overcome the world, and so can we.  We don't have to be negative because we encounter negative.  WE are the light of the world (Matthew 5:14).  We can be positive, and make the world better, no matter what is being broadcast to us.  We just have to remember that we are free to make a different choice (2 Nephi 10:23), that God will help us (D&C 78:18), and that Christ has already taken care of the real problems of mortality.
Today, let's find the good in the world around us.  Let's be positive in the face of negativity.  Let's change the game, and make things better rather than just praying for it to be over.  Christ asks us to be of good cheer.  Let's listen.  There is no reason or obligation to be sad or upset, even when bad things are happening in the world, as they always will.  Let's find the good things that are happening, and celebrate them.  Of course let's do something about the bad where we can, and not just ignore, but after doing what we can, let's not let it harm us by internalizing it and suffering over things that we can't change.  Let's leave the rest to God, and choose happiness.  Let's be an example of the believers (1 Timothy 4:12), and of the peace and joy that can be found in the Lord.

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