Friday, May 31, 2019

Luke 8:35 -- On Fear and Faith

"Then they went out to see what was done; and came to Jesus, and found the man, out of whom the devils were departed, sitting at the feet of Jesus, clothed, and in his right mind: and they were afraid."
Luke 8:35

This one intrigues me because it says "they were afraid," after Christ cast devils out of a man, and I wonder why that is.  They might have been afraid of Christ's power, or felt threatened when Christ did something they thought was impossible.  Perhaps they felt bad about how they had treated the man that Christ healed when they thought that his condition was untreatable.

Whatever the reason, for us I think the point is that there are so many other options rather than being afraid.  When we see something miraculous and that we hadn't considered, we don't have to run away from it because it is strange, but since we trust in God, we can move forward instead.  We can ask questions; we can be amazed and seek to learn more.

Today, let's not run from God or banish him from our lives when we see miraculous things happen.  Instead, let's embrace the miraculous and seek to learn.  Let's have the faith to be bold enough to ask God what we want to know, and then listen and work for the answer.

Thursday, May 30, 2019

Ether 12:4 -- On Patterns of a Better World

"Wherefore, whoso believeth in God might with surety hope for a better world, yea, even a place at the right hand of God, which hope cometh of faith, maketh an anchor to the souls of men, which would make them sure and steadfast, always abounding in good works, being led to glorify God."
Ether 12:4

I really like the idea here of hoping for a better world, and that hope helping us in so many other ways.  This makes total sense to me.  I feel like we learn patterns from the world around us. 

We learn a pattern of behavior from our parents, from going to school, from missions, from roommates, from college, from the places that we work, etc.  Some of these patterns are mostly healthy, and some are completely unhealthy, but none of them are perfect.  That is a pattern that we can only learn from God.  We learn it through our interactions with him like prayer and scripture study, but it is also an idea that we hold onto that helps us endure and overcome those other patterns, and hopefully forge better ones in our lives. 

The more we learn about God and his gospel, the clearer that perfect pattern is, and the better we will understand the best way to interact with others, to learn, to take care of ourselves, and really, everything.  God knows the best way to be and to do everything, and he wants to teach it to us... the pattern of a perfect society--a better world.

Today, let's believe in what God offers us, and hope for that better world.  Let's learn better patterns in our lives and be part of the tapestry of God's plan.

Wednesday, May 29, 2019

Isaiah 45:22 -- On Unity and One Good Option

"Look unto me, and be ye saved, all the ends of the earth: for I am God, and there is none else."
Isaiah 45:22

I like the clarity of the statement "there is none else."  Sometimes I think we get caught up in the idea of Heavenly Father, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Ghost being distinct people, and we think that somehow because of that the universe becomes a superhero movie where everyone has godlike powers and we just choose sides and go for it.  The truth is, the members of the Godhead are united, and maybe rather than emphasizing their separateness, we should think about the plethora of very real ways that they are one God (1 Corinthians 8:6).

We don't have a pantheon of deities to choose from, and even though God's "oneness" might be more like a corporate entity than an individual entity, there are no human frailties there; no uncertainty, no doubt.  We have the example of Christ and know that we should pray to God the Father in the name of his son.  We know how the Holy Ghost works to support, comfort, help, and inspire us.  Even beyond that, we can become part of that oneness.  When we work with and for God, we become his representatives (like on a mission), and the prophet speaks for the Lord (D&C 1:38).  Basically, going back to the corporate analogy, when we work for God we represent his company... his will, his plan. 

Obviously, I don't know everything that the Lord has in store for us in the eternities, but it seems to me that the overall ideal here is a perfect, righteous community, where we live together in love, enhancing that oneness and that togetherness, not a future in which we all split up and make up our own rules.  Maybe today we should try to stop trying to come up with other alternatives to living the Lord's commandments and really let the oneness of God settle into our souls.  There is none else... he is the *only* path to salvation, our only good option, and working for him is definitely the best job in the universe.  God wants us to come and work with him.  Why not join up? :)

Tuesday, May 28, 2019

Isaiah 10:33-34 -- On Destruction and Freedom

"Behold, the Lord, the Lord of hosts, shall lop the bough with terror: and the high ones of stature shall be hewn down, and the haughty shall be humbled.
And he shall cut down the thickets of the forest with iron, and Lebanon shall fall by a mighty one."
Isaiah 10:33-34

Sometimes it is hard to understand the destructive side of the verses that we read.  Why is God pruning the trees here, which we know to be symbolic of people and nations?  How do we reconcile the God who does things like this with the God that we read of elsewhere who is gracious, loving, and kind?

God remains the same he has always been, but he does what he must, when he must.  Ecclesiastes teaches us that there is a time for every purpose under heaven (Ecclesiastes 3:1), and so it is with God.  Putting these verses into context, God is talking symbolically about the Second Coming using nations from a conflict that the people at the time were familiar with, and he slows the opposing king and throws up obstacles as he comes closer and closer to destroying his people, but in the end, the opposing king can't be dissuaded, and so God does as he must and stops him, dead.

Now of course, God has the power to not let the bad thing happen in the first place rather than allowing it to go so far, but that's the thing about the tapestry of life... all of us are in it, and God is giving everyone a chance to find out who they are and to learn and grow and make choices, and so God gives us room to make bad choices and to go in the wrong direction if we so choose.  That's what free agency is, and unless we want to be slaves or thralls or minions or whatever else you want to call it, it is *essential* that we be able to choose bad things, and to have space to either continue or to repent and change.  That doesn't mean that the consequences go away, of course, but the point is that God isn't raising us to be thoughtless automatons, but to be gloriously unique individuals.  The oneness that he seeks isn't a unity of yes-men, but a unity of agreement on the things that matter with mutual love and respect for individual differences, and we have to learn that and opt into it freely.  If he prevented us from making bad choices we wouldn't be free, and if he immediately slammed us with permanent consequences after one bad choice, he wouldn't be able to be merciful.  So there has to be a space where any of us can take bad choices as far as we can and confirm our intention to want to be that sort of a person, or where we can reconsider and turn around and work to be better.  That is part of the plan, which is why we are encouraged to help and not harm... because we do have the power to do either.

I think it's also a difference of perspective.  In Isaiah 54:7 God tells us "For a small moment have I forsaken thee; but with great mercies will I gather thee." Even earlier in this chapter he says ". . . be not afraid of the Assyrian: he shall smite thee with a rod, and shall lift up his staff against thee, after the manner of Egypt. / For yet a very little while, and the indignation shall cease, and mine anger in their destruction" (verses 24-25).  Our lives are very short on this earth, but we are eternal beings, and so on some level I think that we can understand at least a little bit of God's perspective here.  God won't forsake us long-term and he won't stay mad, but sometimes our choices and the way that we treat others require correction.  God's plan is progressing on a scale far beyond any one lifetime, and so sometimes we have to trust God's sight because we just can't see that far.  God knows that any suffering in our earth lives can be swallowed up in the joy of eternity.  That doesn't mean our sufferings here are nothing, but some suffering helps us learn, and God weaves it into the tapestry, giving opportunities and blessings to make sure that our choices are still balanced and that we can still learn.  If something gets way out of balance, then he corrects it... perhaps by lopping a bough or pruning back evil fruit.

Today, let's remember that God knows what he is doing, even when we don't understand it.  That doesn't mean we shouldn't think about it, but let's go to the Lord with our questions rather than throwing out anything we don't understand (which at least for me would also mean throwing out the microwave).  God wants to teach us and help us learn and gain knowledge and wisdom.  We just have to be willing to take the time and try to suspend the severe impatience that we have naturally as mortal beings.

Monday, May 27, 2019

1 Kings 17:8-9 -- On Prophecies and Patterns

"And the word of the Lord came unto him, saying,
Arise, get thee to Zarephath, which belongeth to Zidon, and dwell there: behold, I have commanded a widow woman there to sustain thee."
1 Kings 17:8-9

This is part of a story about Elijah, and the stories of when he was staying with the widow woman are interesting, but I chose these verses because the lead up to the story is interesting as well.  Elijah had prophesied a drought, and first God sent him to stay beside a river, and he had crows feed him, and here, after the water dries up, he sends him to a widow's house to have her take care of him... which she had no more natural power to do than the crows, really... she was on the edge of starvation herself.

I think it is instructive to ask ourselves why God solved problems in a particular way.  After all, God has a practically infinite amount of ways that he can solve problems.  So why this way?  What do the crows and the widow woman teach us, or what did they teach Elijah?  What was God trying to accomplish?

In this story as in probably all others, I don't think that there is just one reason for any of it.  God was definitely trying to teach Elijah/us to rely on the Lord, showing that he can accomplish his purposes  in unexpected and miraculous ways.  I also think that this wasn't just a miracle for Elijah, but a huge miracle for the widow as well.  What a blessing, to send the prophet to stay with her and to keep her family alive.  But it wasn't just for her, or for Elijah, it was also for us too, to build our faith, or to provide an inspiration for solutions in our own lives.

The verse makes it simple... Elijah was clearly told that the widow woman would sustain him, but the actual way that the world/universe/God's will works is much more complex, because God is weaving a tapestry of blessings and help all around us, not just answering individual prayers.  That's why we're commanded to get out there and do unto others in a good way too, so we can be part of "all things" working together for good (Romans 8:28, D&C 98:3).  We are blessings to each other, and sometimes one person's trial becomes another's blessing, for instance when we miss a flight, it might be a blessing opening up a seat for someone else.  We don't always know when things like that happen, but it's all connected and working together, and God can see how everything connects and tweak the pattern for our good.

Today, let's trust God and his network of interlaced blessings, and be willing to be a part of it, helping others even as we are helped.  When we're commanded to go to our own version of Zarephath, let's remember that it isn't just about us, but about how everything fits together, and it is okay if things don't work out as we expected or wanted... God is in control, and things will turn out okay in the end.

Sunday, May 26, 2019

Isaiah 40:21-22 -- On Understanding God

"Have ye not known? have ye not heard? hath it not been told you from the beginning? have ye not understood from the foundations of the earth?
It is he that sitteth upon the circle of the earth, and the inhabitants thereof are as grasshoppers; that stretcheth out the heavens as a curtain, and spreadeth them out as a tent to dwell in:"
Isaiah 40:21-22

These verses point out some flaws in our conception of God.  Worshipping idols and the idea of trying to hide from the Lord are both mentioned as things that just don't make sense, considering the nature of God as the creator of basically everything that we know.

The way we think about God is understandably challenging, because God is both unimaginably powerful and part of everything around us, and also a close, personal friend.  We're not used to the idea of being friends with forces of nature (or more than that), or with our friends being all-powerful, so those things don't always feel like they go together.

As we get to know God though, we learn how much he cares about each of us on an individual level, and how much we need his help to grow and become more than we are... closer to our ideal selves.  And that is what he really wants... for us to be our best selves, and to be happy (and to have all of us hang out with him).

Today, let's talk to God as a friend, but respect him as the creator.  It is a hard balance to find, but we'll get it with practice.  And, while we're at it, let's avoid idols and trying to hide things from God.  Really no point in either one. :)

Saturday, May 25, 2019

2 Timothy 3:1 -- On Peril and Preparation

"This know also, that in the last days perilous times shall come."
2 Timothy 3:1

I like this verse, not because I am a fan of "perilous times," but because it is good that God works with us to set expectations.  Too often we think that life should be perfect, smooth sailing, and we are probably a little bit unreasonably shocked and horrified when things go wrong.  However, if we look closely at what God is telling us in the scriptures, life really isn't going to be smooth, and it isn't meant to be.

That isn't to say that there won't be good times, or even that we can't learn to be happy in non-ideal situations.  There will be great times, and God helps us learn to be happy and okay by trusting in him even when things around us are bad.  But there will also be bad times and hard things.  In Lehi's Dream, which is about finding our way in life, Lehi describes a "mist of darkness" that causes many on the gospel path to wander away and become lost.

The mist happened to everyone.  The difference between those who made it to the Tree of Life and those who didn't was the rod of iron, which is symbolic of the word of God... basically the scriptures, though I am sure it includes his words in other forms as well.

So basically, God is letting us know... hey, it's going to get rough.  But he also tells us how to get through it.  Later in this epistle, Paul refers to "the holy scriptures, which are able to make thee wise unto salvation through faith" (verse 15).  God's words can get us through perilous times and mists of darkness, and whatever else comes at us.  Whether it is prayer, scripture study, listening to modern prophets, or a message in a dream, vision, or angelic visitation, God's word has always been and still is the way to salvation and lasting happiness.

Today, let's be ready for the hard times, and make sure we are relying on the word of God.

Friday, May 24, 2019

Numbers 11:14-17 -- On Being Overwhelmed

"I am not able to bear all this people alone, because it is too heavy for me.
And if thou deal thus with me, kill me, I pray thee, out of hand, if I have found favour in thy sight; and let me not see my wretchedness.
And the Lord said unto Moses, Gather unto me seventy men of the elders of Israel, whom thou knowest to be the elders of the people, and officers over them; and bring them unto the tabernacle of the congregation, that they may stand there with thee.
And I will come down and talk with thee there: and I will take of the spirit which is upon thee, and will put it upon them; and they shall bear the burden of the people with thee, that thou bear it not thyself alone."
Numbers 11:14-17

Since we talked yesterday about overcoming difficult things, I thought it would be good to remind ourselves today that sometimes we also have to let things go.  It can't always be us "toughing it out" and God doesn't just want us to endure, he wants us to endure "well" and to learn happiness now (Mormon 9:14).  It isn't just a reward post-suffering.

Moses had a habit of taking on too much.  His father-in-law Jethro had previously counseled him, saying "this thing is too heavy for thee" (Exodus 18:18) when he was trying to be a judge for all the people alone.  In this case, perhaps remembering that past experience, he again realizes that he is trying to take on too much.  He feels stressed and overwhelmed with everyone complaining and not being able to solve their problems, and he even goes so far as to ask God to kill him rather than have to deal with it anymore. 

The "kill me" thing might seem dramatic to us, but that is probably because we are in a healthy headspace, reading this.  We've probably all been in an unhealthy headspace, so we can also understand getting to that point and feeling like we just can't bear it anymore.  In this situation, God also understands that Moses is overwhelmed, and he offers solutions.  He gives Moses seventy people to help him (probably where we got the quorum of seventy idea), and he also gives the congregation what they were asking for... but that's a whole other story. :)

God doesn't want us to be overwhelmed.  He will help us if we go to him.  It might mean that we, like Moses, have to learn to trust and rely on the people around us.  It might mean that we need to stop worrying about things that we can't control, or one of many other lessons, but God will help us with whatever it is.  Today, let's go to him with our problems and then listen and take action when he offers us solutions.

Thursday, May 23, 2019

D&C 19:18-19 -- On Dashes and Difficulty

"Which suffering caused myself, even God, the greatest of all, to tremble because of pain, and to bleed at every pore, and to suffer both body and spirit—and would that I might not drink the bitter cup, and shrink—
Nevertheless, glory be to the Father, and I partook and finished my preparations unto the children of men."
Doctrine and Covenants 19:18-19

I think that the most significant part of these verses is that dash.  The period between shrinking and wishing you could avoid something and actually doing it anyway--or the period in between hitting the wall and thinking maybe something is too hard for you and then picking yourself back up and trying again.  And I am not happy that Christ had to go through that, but I appreciate it, because all of us reach a similar point sometime, and often many times in our lives, and because he experienced it, he understands how hard things are at that point for us. 

Maybe we are trying to learn something and it is pretty easy for us until we hit something tough which makes us doubt whether we can go on (this happened to me with trigonometry for instance).  At that point we can choose to give up or to run away (which is what I did with trigonometry), or we can face it, try again, and keep at it until we learn the lesson or get through the hardship.  And the decision made during that dash is the difference between success and failure, the moment when "endure to the end" has meaning, and even the moment in which we learn how to love.  We don't improve until we start hitting the hard part--the part we don't know or understand yet.

I don't mean my trigonometry example to belittle Christ's suffering, or the suffering of any of us.  I'm only using it as an illustration.  I never learned trigonometry, and I probably should have stuck with it, and done the hard thing... and that is even more true about more important things in life.  Today, let's face the hard things, and petition God for his help in dealing with them.  Let's stick with it, and not give up.  In time, if we stick with it, those hard things can become our strengths and our best qualities *because* they were hard for us, and we had to dedicate so much focus and time to them, so we learn them better than we learn anything else.

Wednesday, May 22, 2019

2 Nephi 28:29 -- On Letting God Talk

"Wo be unto him that shall say: We have received the word of God, and we need no more of the word of God, for we have enough!"
2 Nephi 28:29

This made me laugh today, because I was thinking about our relationship with God as though it were a relationship with anyone else, and in that context the whole thing seem ludicrous. :)  I mean, can you imagine your best friend calling you up and responding with "Hey, didn't we talk a month ago?  Why are you calling again?"  Same with our parents or our boss, or really anyone.  We never get to a point where we say "Hey... I've heard enough" unless we are mad or irritated or trying to avoid someone.  And, hopefully, we don't feel that way about God.

Today, let's try to think of God as a friend, and to be open to what he has to say, whether we believe we have heard it before or not.  There are always new layers to every relationship, as well as additional lessons that we need to learn about pretty much everything.  No matter how much we know, God still has a lot to teach us. :)

Tuesday, May 21, 2019

Proverbs 15:32-33 -- On Honor and Humility

"He that refuseth instruction despiseth his own soul: but he that heareth reproof getteth understanding.
The fear of the Lord is the instruction of wisdom; and before honour is humility."
Proverbs 15:32-33

This is some good advice about being open to instruction and correction, and the respect and humility that it takes to get to where we want to be.

Probably all of us would like to be instantly wise and instantly respected by others, but we are taught here that there are prerequisites to that. :)  If we really want our souls to prosper, we have to learn.  If we want to understand, then we have to be willing to listen and correct our path.  If we want wisdom, we need to respect God and do as he asks, and if we want honor, we must learn humility.

Although we frequently desire otherwise, there is no shortcut.  If we try to jump past the lessons, all we are doing is jumping back to the "despiseth his own soul" step, and refusing the Lord's instruction.  It's this way with lots of other things.  I don't especially enjoy learning patience, but it is also a prerequisite to other things, so something I need to learn.  And it's good for us to remember that humility goes before honor, because we often want to step up to the front of the line before we're ready to be there.

Today, let's remember to put humility first, to accept correction, and to respect and listen to God's instructions.  As we learn to put those things first, then so many things that we want will come to us in the good time of the Lord.

Monday, May 20, 2019

Hebrews 13:3 -- On Imagination and Compassion

"Remember them that are in bonds, as bound with them; and them which suffer adversity, as being yourselves also in the body."
Hebrews 13:3

This is an interesting verse because God isn't asking us just to remember people that are bound or that are in trouble.  He's specifically asking us to imagine ourselves in their situation... to go outside of ourselves mentally and learn to understand another perspective, and to remember them as though we were in that situation.  I think that's a step beyond how we typically remember other people, and maybe it is something that can help us develop more compassion, and take more action.

It's interesting also because it has a parallel in what Christ actually did for us... he suffered on our behalf, actually putting himself in our place, and therefore, unlike our sometimes-clueless mortal friends, he actually does know what it is like to be each of us.  And so when he asks us to reach outside ourselves and get a taste of the sufferings of other people, he is asking us (as always) to become more like him, and to learn to love other people the way that he does, by caring about them and relieving suffering.

Today, let's work on our compassion and as we learn to imagine what other people are going through, let's also do what we can to help.

Sunday, May 19, 2019

D&C 6:13 -- On Salvation and Preparation

"If thou wilt do good, yea, and hold out faithful to the end, thou shalt be saved in the kingdom of God, which is the greatest of all the gifts of God; for there is no gift greater than the gift of salvation."
Doctrine and Covenants 6:13

I like this verse.  It was addressed originally to Oliver Cowdery, but I think that it applies to all of us generally.  It is the same general message as "be not weary in well-doing" (2 Thessalonians 3:13; Galatians 6:9; D&C 64:33), but gives the specific promise of salvation.

The gospel is big and intricate, but I like verses like this because they give some specific advice and things for us to work on.  In this case God is asking us to do good and to stick with him.

It's easy to lose faith when we don't see good things happening immediately.  We want to have that immediate pay off, like we sometimes get when we do bad things.  That isn't typically the way that good things work though. :)  Good things take their time and wait until we've learned and we're ready for them.  Good things that come when we *aren't* ready aren't really all that good, after all, since they seem like missed opportunities.  Just imagine all of the blessings that God has waiting for us as soon as we are ready for them. :)

Today, let's do good and stay faithful.  Let's get ourselves prepared for the blessings that God is waiting to bestow, and look forward to His salvation.

Saturday, May 18, 2019

Proverbs 26:28 -- On Love and Lying

"A lying tongue hateth those that are afflicted by it; and a flattering mouth worketh ruin."
Proverbs 26:28

Several verses in this psalm contain the idea of lying and hatred going together, which I think is an interesting idea.  We don't traditionally equate the two in our society, but perhaps we should consider that pairing.  I think it feels pretty true that we are honest with the people that we care about, and that we, at least on some level, have disdain or hatred for the people we lie to... including ourselves and including God.

Perhaps today we should keep our motives in mind, and work on loving people rather than deceiving them.

Friday, May 17, 2019

2 Nephi 9:10 -- On Death and Connection

"O how great the goodness of our God, who prepareth a way for our escape from the grasp of this awful monster; yea, that monster, death and hell, which I call the death of the body, and also the death of the spirit."
2 Nephi 9:10

The ideas of death and hell are interesting here, defined as the death of the body and of the spirit.  Christ overcame both of these barriers to eternal life for us.  Because he was resurrected, he made it possible for that to happen for all of us... so physical immortality, right?  A pretty heady idea.

The idea of spiritual death is a little harder, and I think that it might be best conceptualized if we imagine someone we would be absolutely devastated to lose from our lives, to the point where we imagine death might be better than suffering that loss (though I am not suggesting that is ever actually true).  Spiritual death isn't the same kind of death as physical death, since our spirits can never be destroyed.  Instead, it is the separation of our spirit from God... that loss of connection.

We get a taste of what it means to be without God at those times when we're off track and we feel like there is a hole in our lives where something is missing, or we feel isolated from everything good.  It's kind of a taste of hell, although in this life that is always temporary, which is a good thing, because I don't think that we want to take that any farther.  Those are the times that we realize how much God has been helping us in our lives.  We notice it when it is missing.

Today, let's work on making sure we repair our relationship with God if there are issues, and let's do all we can to draw closer to him.  Hell isn't a punishment that God slams us with... it is the actual consequence of being without him.  Let's stick close, and try to understand how connected we are.  Let's talk to him about it, and let him teach us and help us.

Thursday, May 16, 2019

Jarom 1:12 -- On Repentance and Improvement

"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 1:12

I like the idea of being continually stirred up to repentance.  Not in a guilt-trip way where we always feel inadequate and can't face life because we think that we are scum, but in a continuous improvement kind of a way where we recognize that we are pretty cool, but far from perfect, so we need to keep working on it. :)

The verse before this talks about Christ and that pointing to his sacrifice is what got them repenting.  And, again, I don't think that the idea here is a guilt trip type thing... I think the idea that we should be getting from that is that repentance isn't something scary.  It is really a gift.  The ability to repent and change and improve ourselves: that is a miracle, granted to us by Jesus Christ.

Today, let's look at our lives and seriously imagine if we were stuck exactly as we are now for eternity.  For most of us, that is not a pretty picture. :)  Fortunately, we don't have to be stuck as we are, or as we used to be, because of Christ.  He gives us another chance, over and over again, until we get it right.  Let's grab those chances and keep repenting and making everything better. :)

Wednesday, May 15, 2019

2 Peter 1:7 -- On Brotherly Kindness

"And to godliness brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness charity."
2 Peter 1:7

This is part of a list of good things that we should cultivate within ourselves, and I definitely don't mean to dismiss any of the list, including the other things in this verse, but what caught my eye today was the trait of brotherly kindness.

I don't think that brotherly means that kindness should only be cultivated among brothers, but instead that we should treat each other as brothers, in the positive ways that we relate to our brothers and sisters.  For instance, perhaps we shouldn't treat relationships as though they were disposable, but instead treat others as though we were "stuck" with them... that they will always be there, as part of our family. 

In an eternal sense that is absolutely true, and perhaps we don't know the depth and the breadth of what relationships will be like beyond this life.  ... I am guessing that we're not going to be able to have that list of people in the back of our minds that we just don't get along with or want to deal with.  I'm guessing that when we want to enter heaven, or join a Zion society, we're going to want to be cool with absolutely everyone.

That's a super tough thing, because we all have biases and areas where we are probably intolerant or impatient with others who don't agree with us, or who aren't similar enough to us for us to easily get along.  So, today, let's practice. :)  Let's think about the people we couldn't get along with most recently, or who we are not looking forward to talking to today, and then let's work on it.  Let's start adding some more brotherly kindness to our portfolio, and work on getting better at that. :)

Psalms 127:1-2 -- On Building for Eternity

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

A couple of great ideas/reminders here.  First, unless we are working on the same side as the Lord, our labors will be in vain.  God is the one who does the heavy lifting. :)  I don't think that God is telling us that a watchman's job is pointless, because when we are engaged in working for the Lord and accomplishing his purposes, there is a lot of effective work to be done... only that if we're trying to build a city (or a life) that God opposes, it can never stand.

The second idea/reminder is that we shouldn't be stressing ourselves out about things that trouble us or make us sad.  Instead, we need to get some sleep. :)

Put those two things together (as the verses perhaps intend) and God is asking us to stop worrying about and building things or lives that aren't in line with his will, and if that is the work that we are engaged in daily, to please, please switch sides and start building something that can be permanent and last.

Today, let's listen, and build for eternity.

Monday, May 13, 2019

Mosiah 29:39 -- On Rejoicing in Freedom

"Therefore, it came to pass that they assembled themselves together in bodies throughout the land, to cast in their voices concerning who should be their judges, to judge them according to the law which had been given them; and they were exceedingly rejoiced because of the liberty which had been granted unto them."
Mosiah 29:39

This is a great story.  Mosiah (the king) tells them that they probably shouldn't have a king and that they should vote for judges instead, and explains why.  A king voluntarily changing the government. :)  What I like about this particular verse is how much they were "exceedingly rejoiced" at their new-found freedom.

The opportunity to choose is an amazingly cool thing that we all have, in all aspects of our lives.  In some, choices can be extremely limited, but even in those cases, we have the freedom to do something, for instance to look at our circumstances positively or negatively, to turn to God or not, or to choose whether to use the situation to learn and grow or to become hardened.

Sometimes freedom can feel like a burden, and we want people to limit our choices or to tell us what to do.  We feel overwhelmed with the responsibility that freedom brings, and unlike the people in this verse, we at least figuratively would rather have a king.  I think this is understandable, but freedom and figuring out who we are, what we want, and making choices is a large part of why we are here in life.  We have to choose between good and bad, which is sometimes tough, but it isn't all burdensome.  We also get to discover our opinions.  We get to choose what kinds of music we like, what colors we like, where we like to live.  We get to choose and participate in hobbies and pastimes and to learn and get better at a myriad of skills and interests.

God tells us "And if a person gains more knowledge and intelligence in this life through his diligence and obedience than another, he will have so much the advantage in the world to come" (D&C 130:19), not because it is a competition, but because we will be closer to what we *can* be... to fulfilling our potential.

Today, let's remember these people of Mosiah and let's also rejoice in our freedom, stretching out before us with endless possibilities.  Let's work to look at choice as an opportunity rather than a burden, and try to enjoy learning about ourselves and about the world, and about God.  Let's turn to him when we feel overwhelmed, and ask him to show us the cool side of freedom when we forget. :)

Sunday, May 12, 2019

Matthew 2:11 -- On Wonder and Purpose

"And when they were come into the house, they saw the young child with Mary his mother, and fell down, and worshipped him: and when they had opened their treasures, they presented unto him gifts; gold, and frankincense, and myrrh."
Matthew 2:11

There isn't anything in the scriptures that tells us how fast Jesus matured as a child, but I'm guessing because of the age of the children that Herod had killed that this event had more of an impact on Mary than it did on Christ's childhood.  Like she did with the message of the shepherds, I am guessing that "Mary kept all these things, and pondered them in her heart" (Luke 2:19).  I can't really imagine what it would be like, watching Christ's life unfold and trying to understand all of it.  Full of wonder, but also challenging, certainly.

I know that our lives are significantly different than Mary's, but perhaps they are the same in one important way... each of us has a work to do that is vastly important to our Father in Heaven.  We are entrusted with helping his children grow and learn... no matter our job or role, we all have an impact and a mission that God wants us to accomplish. 

Today, let's think about the lives that we impact, and let's take that responsibility seriously, making sure that we are helping and not harming others, and also that we are keeping a dialogue going with God about how things are going, and what he wants us to do.  As we do, I think that we will find a lot of amazing, wondrous, and also challenging things just as Mary did.  And like her, even in times of sadness and loss, we can know that our purpose here is worthwhile and important.

Saturday, May 11, 2019

Exodus 16:3 -- On Focus and Faith

"And the children of Israel said unto them, Would to God we had died by the hand of the Lord in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the flesh pots, and when we did eat bread to the full; for ye have brought us forth into this wilderness, to kill this whole assembly with hunger."
Exodus 16:3

This seems a little bit overdramatic to me, to wish that you were dead as a slave rather than free and hungry, but it does seem typical of our hyper-focus on our bodily appetites.  Nephi's brothers say something similar in 1 Nephi 17:20: "it would have been better that they had died before they came out of Jerusalem than to have suffered these afflictions."

Histrionic or not though, we do sometimes feel that our sufferings are more than we can bear, and the stress of dealing with them each day can wear us out.  So, what is the answer when we get to the point where we feel that our sufferings are too great, and we would rather just give up?

I think the answer here is the answer to almost everything else, and it is that we need to turn to the Lord.  He can strengthen us so that we can bear our burdens with ease, and even cheerfulness (Mosiah 24:15).  Prayer is definitely the first step.  Perhaps another thing to try is taking the focus off of ourselves.  If we focus on helping others, on serving the Lord, or really anything external, like a task, a hobby, or a book, we can often pull ourselves out of that self-focused zone that it is so easy to fall into.  That can help distract us from our current challenges and help us to be able to see other things, and notice more good.

Today, let's turn to the Lord in our afflictions rather than wishing that we were dead.  Let's find ways to let go of the focus on our troubles and concerns and lose ourselves in other, better pursuits.  Let's have faith that God can make things better rather than believing that things will always be horrible.  With dedication and with God's help, our burdens will be lightened and we will be able to find joy in the world and the people around us.

Friday, May 10, 2019

1 Timothy 4:12 -- On Examples and Opportunities

"Let no man despise thy youth; but be thou an example of the believers, in word, in conversation, in charity, in spirit, in faith, in purity."
1 Timothy 4:12

The whole idea of setting an example for others is an important one.  We affect the people around us, and can help or hinder them without even interacting with them.  Jacob 3:10 gives us one example of being a bad example, but I am sure we can also think of some in our own lives.

Aside from good and bad examples, I think God also sends messages to people through us that we didn't even intend, and sometimes aren't aware of.  We can say something to someone, thinking of it as banter, but they take it to heart and it changes their lives... and that isn't us.  That's God.  ... Because we can affect the people around us so much, it is important that we are careful and gentle with others.  Not because we need to avoid offense at all costs, because even Christ, a perfect man, had people that were offended by him.  Rather, we need to be careful that we aren't *intentionally* offending or harming people.  As long as we are doing what we can, then the part that we can't control, God can handle.

Even though God is handling it, he still works through us, which is why we need to stick with the spirit, be open to promptings, and be generally kind.  If we are prepared, and listening, we can take advantage of great opportunities when they come along.  Missing those sort of opportunities, or not being fully prepared for them, can be some of the biggest tragedies of our lives if we remember being prompted to do something, and finding out later just how important that missed opportunity was.

Today, let's be an example, and be ready for God to work with and through us.  Let's work to be prepared for the miracles that God can perform through us, if we are paying attention and doing good.

Thursday, May 9, 2019

Psalms 18:24-26 -- On Direction and Reflection

"Therefore hath the Lord recompensed me according to my righteousness, according to the cleanness of my hands in his eyesight.
With the merciful thou wilt shew thyself merciful; with an upright man thou wilt shew thyself upright;
With the pure thou wilt shew thyself pure; and with the froward thou wilt shew thyself froward."
Psalms 18:24-26

These verses talk about the overall idea of restoration, but with an interesting twist.  The first verse is fairly straightforward... the Lord rewards us according to our actions.  If we do good, we receive good in return.  That is the same message that we hear generally throughout the scriptures. In the other verses though it seems to be talking about God, and the way that he behaves.

We know from Mormon 9:9 that "God is the same yesterday, today, and forever, and in him there is no variableness neither shadow of changing," so God isn't actually the one doing the changing here.  So why do the verses make it sound that way... and really, why does it sometimes *feel* that way in our lives, as sometimes God seems very forgiving, and other times he chastises us?

Just like a parent, God doesn't stop loving us or change who he is based on our behavior.  Instead, there are different appropriate responses to our behavior.  I think also, we change the way that we perceive God depending on where we are with our own personal spirituality.  We might go from looking forward to church and having good satisfying prayers and enlightening scripture study at one point in our lives, and at another point, we dread church and try to avoid thinking about God, and the way that God responds to our actions and our petitions in those circumstances is going to seem very different to us, depending on our perspective.

Having our own actions and attitudes reflected back at us so accurately is both cool in one way and super scary in another.  One on side, we can have periods of time in our lives when we're totally in tune with God, and because of that, we're meshing with the whole world and "all things" are working together for good (Romans 8:28), and life almost seems charmed.  When we're in that zone, even when things go wrong, we aren't distressed (2 Corinthians 4:8), because we trust that things will work out.  On the other side though, when we are out of tune with the spirit, even when all of the external indicators say that life is good, it can seem at times like nothing works right and everything is falling apart.  At those times we want to blame God for things, but God's law of restoration instead forces us to realize that it isn't God making our lives fall apart, it is us.  This isn't an easy realization, of course.  When we're in a bad place sometimes we want to give up, figuring we just can't do it... but hopefully instead we will feel some motivation to change.  It doesn't take a lifetime of repentance to get back in tune with the Lord... it just takes a change in direction, wherever we are, to get started moving along the path towards Him.

Today, let's make sure our direction is correct and let's work on doing the things that it takes to be in tune with the Lord.  As we do, we will find another cool way that God's actions reflect our own: "Draw near unto me and I will draw near unto you" he says in D&C 88:63.  The distance to God is never as far as we think, because he will always meet us halfway. :)

Wednesday, May 8, 2019

Ether 7:27 -- On Remembrance and Righteousness

"And there were no more wars in the days of Shule; and he remembered the great things that the Lord had done for his fathers in bringing them across the great deep into the promised land; wherefore he did execute judgment in righteousness all his days."
Ether 7:27

I like the idea here of remembering being an integral part of being / choosing to be righteous.  It is a theme throughout the scriptures, that idea of remembering the Lord and the things that he has done.  Interestingly, Alma 37:8 tells us that one of the reasons that we need the scriptures is "they have enlarged the memory of this people."

Sometimes we get so caught up in today that we don't remember the spiritual experiences that we have had in the past, or the covenants that we have made, and why we made them in the first place.  Today, let's take some time to remember the Lord, the amazing things that he has done for us, and our ancestors, and let's talk to him.  Let's not forget the important spiritual context of our lives.  We don't want to get so caught up in today and in ourselves that we forget who we are with the Lord, or who we can be with his help.  Let's remember, and be righteous.

Tuesday, May 7, 2019

Mosiah 7:29 -- On Making Our Own Stumbling Blocks

"For behold, the Lord hath said: I will not succor my people in the day of their transgression; but I will hedge up their ways that they prosper not; and their doings shall be as a stumbling block before them."
Mosiah 7:29

I think it is interesting how this is written.  It says that the Lord will hedge up our ways, but it also says that "their doings will be as a stumbling block."  To me it seems like when God chooses to punish us, almost all of the time all he does is withhold his blessings temporarily, allowing us to suffer the consequences of our own actions.

Not saying this is always what happens, and definitely not saying that it isn't painful or hard to bear, but the way it seems to me, all the rest of the time God is constantly blessing us, and we don't really notice until it is gone.  And it is gone because we walked away from God, not the other way around.  He won't succor us in the day of our transgression... in other words, he isn't going to just keep the blessings coming like nothing is wrong.  He wants us to notice and to care, and realize that there are consequences to our behavior.  Kind of like giving us a time out. :)

Four verses later we are told that if we return to the Lord will full purpose of heart, he will deliver us (verse 33).  So, we know it is temporary, we know how to get out of it... still hard, still painful, but very much something that seems like a reasonable parent thing to do... if you are the kind of parent who has that much power, of course. :)  Probably a good thing that he does or we would walk all over him.

Today, let's remember that God is our father, and that sometimes it is necessary for us to be chastised and to learn the consequences of our actions.  However, let's also remember that God's discipline is light, and he is a tender, loving, forgiving parent, teaching us, lifting us, and supporting us as we learn and grow, and who is also quick to forgive when we wander off and want to come back.

Monday, May 6, 2019

Jacob 6:6-7 -- On Seeking to Hear the Lord's Voice

"Yea, today, if ye will hear his voice, harden not your hearts; for why will ye die?
For behold, after ye have been nourished by the good word of God all the day long, will ye bring forth evil fruit, that ye must be hewn down and cast into the fire?"
Jacob 6:6-7

I like the way that this begins: "if ye will hear his voice."  I think that is something that we can all aspire to, and I also think it is a very comforting idea, although perhaps also intimidating, at least at first.  Sitting down and talking with the Lord.  What would we ask, or share, if he were in the room with us right now?

The second verse is a reference to the allegory of the olive trees, basically asking us if we are one of God's watered and well-tended olive trees, why would we go wild? :)  And perhaps that is also a question that we can imagine God asking us today.

Of course, God is here with us, at least in spirit, if we reach out to him in prayer.  We can hear his voice, and we can sit down and have a conversation with him, if we are faithful and willing to initiate that conversation.  Today, let's sit down and talk with the Lord about how he takes care of us, and why we rebel.  He will listen, and help.  Let's seek to hear his voice and not harden our hearts.

Sunday, May 5, 2019

1 Peter 1:7 -- On Valuable Trials

"That the trial of your faith, being much more precious than of gold that perisheth, though it be tried with fire, might be found unto praise and honour and glory at the appearing of Jesus Christ:"
1 Peter 1:7

I really like the idea that our trials are more precious than gold.  Usually, you know, we hate them and value them about as much as we value garbage.  And I have no idea if we can learn to love them, but perhaps we can learn to understand their value. :) 

If we imagine a life with no trials (and look past that initial feeling of relief), I think that most of us would see our lives stagnate, never really going anywhere, because we don't have the impetus to change things.  Trials give us that motivation to learn and change.

I think trials also strengthen our faith.  At first, of course, they challenge it, kind of like the story of Job... exploring the question of whether we will still believe and remain faithful when things go wrong rather than right.  But when we make it through the trial and see that our trust in God was fully justified, it helps us to be stronger for the next trial.

Trials build our confidence, not just in God, but in ourselves.  They help us know who we are, and they help us to realize that we are stronger than we thought we were, and that we can handle whatever the world throws at us.

I don't know about you guys, but personally, I only like learning the easy lessons.  Whenever things get hard, I'm ready to quit and move on to something else.  Can you imagine if I actually got to just do that?  I would never have learned my multiplication tables, never learned to drive, never gone on a mission, never graduated from college... and so many other things that were hard... relationships, jobs, moving, etc.  I can't even imagine what my life would be right now because I had to face those hard things and learn them, and sometimes even get good at them enough to not hate them anymore. :)  We don't often think of where we would be without our trials, but considering mine today, I'm ready to admit that my trials are way more precious than gold.  You can't buy the difference between who I am and who I would have been without them.

Today, let's do that thought experiment and imagine who we would be without our trials.  I think that we'll find that our trials, even though they were hard and we likely hated them, gave us experience and strength that we wouldn't want to give up.  Let's remember that the same is true for the trials that we are going through right now.  They are also precious.  Let's work with God to figure out what we can learn from them, and move forward, becoming even more amazing than we are now, because of our trials.

Saturday, May 4, 2019

D&C 58:26-28 -- On Showing Up and Doing Good

"For behold, it is not meet that I should command in all things; for he that is compelled in all things, the same is a slothful and not a wise servant; wherefore he receiveth no reward.
Verily I say, men should be anxiously engaged in a good cause, and do many things of their own free will, and bring to pass much righteousness;
For the power is in them, wherein they are agents unto themselves. And inasmuch as men do good they shall in nowise lose their reward."
Doctrine and Covenants 58:26-28

There are some great ideas here.  The first one I wanted to talk about is the idea of not being commanded in all things.  I think we get this one mixed up sometimes and think that it means that God doesn't want us to bother him about everything, or that God isn't interested, or that God is too busy for us.  I don't think that any of those things are true.  God clearly tells us in D&C 6:36 that we should "Look unto [him] in every thought."  That isn't a contradiction of what it is saying here.  God is totally okay if we always include him, and even if we ask him about everything.  What he is saying here is that we should be creative, and come up with our own good things to do, rather than waiting for God to spell it out, or only doing things that are required by a specific commandment.

The other idea I really liked was just the idea of if we do good we won't lose our reward.  ... I think sometimes we feel like living the gospel has to be dramatic.  We read about angels appearing to people and seas parting and people building miraculous ships, and whole nations rising and falling depending upon their righteousness.  Sometimes those big stories in the scriptures make our personal stories seem sort of bland, or lacking in what seems like mandatory heroics.  However, I think that a lot of our awesomeness is in just taking our commitments seriously and showing up. 

Anytime when we are doing good rather than doing evil is a win... even a cause for celebration. :)  If we find ourselves at church rather than doing something else on the sabbath, then we're getting it right.  If we are praying and reading our scriptures, and making time for God in our lives... we're building that heroic foundation, whether it looks flashy or not. :)  Now, of course this doesn't mean that just showing up is enough and now we can relax with our guaranteed golden ticket.  ... Thinking like that might get us into the "minimum requirement"/slothful servant category... but I do think that it is a spectacular beginning, and that if we're making those choices in our lives, that leads us to finding other creative ways to do good.  We just have to keep making good choices.

Today, let's do good, and remember that showing up is a great step and it means that we are going in the right direction.  Let's not get overwhelmed or feel like we need dramatic miracles in our lives in order to feel like we're on the right track... let's just focus on making good choices, and finding creative ways to do good in the world around us. :)  Moving mountains not required. :)

Friday, May 3, 2019

2 Nephi 4:12 -- On The Thoughts and Feelings of the Heart

"And it came to pass after my father, Lehi, had spoken unto all his household, according to the feelings of his heart and the Spirit of the Lord which was in him, he waxed old. And it came to pass that he died, and was buried."
2 Nephi 4:12

It is pretty cool that Lehi could predict his death well enough to know to give his final advice to his family.  Lots of people in the Old Testament had that prior knowledge too.  I wonder if it is just something that comes with being close to the spirit--knowing how to wrap things up. :)

I also love that he spoke according to the feelings in his heart, which to me personally it seems like we just don't do enough of in life.  We're scared about baring our souls, sometimes legitimately, worried that others will take advantage of the knowledge or maybe just worried about how others will react or that we haven't had time to think things all the way through and the raw stuff coming out of our hearts isn't really fit for human consumption yet.  We don't want anyone to laugh at our dreams. :) 

As far as the gospel goes though, I think it is something that God encourages, at least in a "speak one with another concerning the welfare of their souls" way (Moroni 6:5). Proverbs 23:7 also tells us that "as he thinketh in his heart, so is he," which is interesting because it talks about thoughts coming from the heart, but which also makes me wonder... if we aren't sharing the things in our hearts, then who knows who we really are?  Maybe only God and ourselves... and even then sometimes only God, since we sometimes have a hard time figuring ourselves out.

Today, let's not wait until we're near death to tell our loved ones what is in our hearts.  Let's open up and find ways to share the real person inside, and be authentic to how we think and feel.  I mean, this isn't an encouragement to go and tell everyone how resentful we are about that time in grade school or something. :)  Rather, it is encouragement to be open about being imperfect, and working towards salvation. :)  To be accepted, at least by God, there is no need to pretend to perfection.  He knows that we are works in progress and that we all need refinement.  And, hey, once we stop putting all that effort into hiding our imperfections, maybe we can spare some more time to figure out who we are, and work on improving. :)

Thursday, May 2, 2019

Romans 12:2 -- On Transforming Versus Conforming

"And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God."
Romans 12:2

I love the idea here of being transformed rather than conformed. :)  It is also interesting that those are the two choices rather than having more options, for instance staying the way we are.  For that one, I think it is probably because staying the way we are is basically impossible.  Being in this world will change us... we just have to choose in which direction.  Refusing to choose is also a choice, one that tends toward the conforming side I think.

Not a perfect analogy, but what it makes me think of is the caterpillar-butterfly transformation.  We come to the earth as little caterpillars, and we can choose to conform and join in all of the caterpillar politics and argue whether chrysalis is a myth, but until we take that leap and start building a cocoon, we will never become more than we are, transformed and changed into something better.

Today, instead of becoming better at the world's game, let's trust God and believe that we can be more than we are.  Let's work with him as he helps us learn how to change and grow and transform, changing our hearts and our minds, and showing us new selves and a new and better existence than we ever imagined.

Wednesday, May 1, 2019

Ether 6:5-7 -- On Turbulent Travels

"And it came to pass that the Lord God caused that there should be a furious wind blow upon the face of the waters, towards the promised land; and thus they were tossed upon the waves of the sea before the wind.
And it came to pass that they were many times buried in the depths of the sea, because of the mountain waves which broke upon them, and also the great and terrible tempests which were caused by the fierceness of the wind.
And it came to pass that when they were buried in the deep there was no water that could hurt them, their vessels being tight like unto a dish, and also they were tight like unto the ark of Noah; therefore when they were encompassed about by many waters they did cry unto the Lord, and he did bring them forth again upon the top of the waters."
Ether 6:5-7

I think this is interesting.  We usually focus on the first part of the story where the brother of Jared makes the barges and solves the problems inherent in their design, especially the light problem.  The journey after though sounds really challenging.  Verse 4 tells us that they had flocks and herds with them, and verse 11 that they were traveling for 344 days.  I have no idea how big those barges were in terms of living space, but the whole being alternately under or on top of the sea and not having a way to look outside... sounds scary.  I also worry about the smell, and the fresh water they would have needed for a year on the ocean, etc.  Seriously, going on this journey blind, not even knowing what land they were going to... that is some amazing faith.

I also think that kind of faith is probably a necessary lesson in our lives.  We can't always know how things are going to work out beforehand, and there is an awful lot of ambiguity in the human experience.  In order to get through it, we can't rely wholly on our logic, because we just don't have all the information that we need.  God can solve the problems that we can't, and can answer questions that are impossible to answer otherwise.  Taking those leaps of faith is how we learn and grow and build up enough trust in God to commit our whole lives to God's way, and become able to fulfil our potential. 

Today, let's learn to take the leap of faith and trust in God.  Let's move forward along God's path even when it is dark and stormy, trusting in God that he is leading us to the promised land. :)

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