Sunday, June 30, 2019

Isaiah 41:13 -- On Holding God's Hand

"For I the Lord thy God will hold thy right hand, saying unto thee, Fear not; I will help thee."
Isaiah 41:13

God seems to tell/ask/command us not to fear in a lot of places in the scriptures.  I think it is similar to asking us about our faith, but also wrapped up in the spirit.  We read in the New Testament that "There is no fear in love; but perfect love casteth out fear:" (1 John 4:18).  It seems pretty clear that when we are in tune with God, and feeling his spirit, we won't be afraid... likely of anything.

I don't think that any of us are there yet, or at least not consistently, so how do we pull that confidence and trust that God inspires in us into our daily lives more fully?  And I think part of it is exactly what this verse says... holding God's hand.  For me, that brings up memories of having to hold someone's hand to cross a street, or getting help to stand back up again.  And God does those things for us, protecting us from danger and assisting us as we do pretty much anything, but to get there, we have to welcome God into our lives.  We have to reach out to him and not run away and hide.  We have to be willing to share the journey rather than going into hermit mode. :)

God is powerful and can be intimidating, but he doesn't want us, his children, to be afraid of him, or anything else.  Today, let's be willing to hold his hand and get his help in facing the challenges of life with confidence and faith.

Saturday, June 29, 2019

Psalms 17:5 -- On Help With Walking

"Hold up my goings in thy paths, that my footsteps slip not."
Psalms 17:5

Reading this today reminded me that we need a lot of help.  Not that I don't know that intellectually of course, but I think sometimes I get overwhelmed because I think the burden is all on me to be perfect, and ... I am just not, no matter how hard I try.

The awesome thing about God, or well, of course, one of the infinite amount of awesome things, is that he knows we need help, and he is always willing to offer it.  If we're honestly willing to try, then he will teach and guide and help and lift and stengthen us, and whatever else we need to move in the right direction.  It's not an excuse to give up and not try, but it is amazing mercy and support to help us to learn small step by small step how to make it back to God and to get closer and closer to our ideal selves.

Today, let's not give in to the temptation to stray from the path or to give up.  With God's help, every one of us can make it back to his presence.  We just have to keep trying, keep working, and continue to make those incremental improvements that mean we haven't given up on life or on ourselves.  Let's find the faith to move forward, and as we go, God will hold us up and help us not to slip.

Friday, June 28, 2019

Genesis 3:22-24 -- On Innocence and Immortality

"And the Lord God said, Behold, the man is become as one of us, to know good and evil: and now, lest he put forth his hand, and take also of the tree of life, and eat, and live for ever:
Therefore the Lord God sent him forth from the garden of Eden, to till the ground from whence he was taken.
So he drove out the man; and he placed at the east of the garden of Eden Cherubims, and a flaming sword which turned every way, to keep the way of the tree of life."
Genesis 3:22-24

Reading this part of the story of the Garden of Eden, it is easy to get the impression that God took the possibility of immortality/the tree of life away from Adam and Eve as a punishment for eating of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil and essentially gaining a conscience.

It's an interesting situation, because it is hard to imagine a pair of adult people completely innocent and without the basic knowledge that the first tree offered.  They knew what God told them, and they knew the consequence, which probably sounded bad, but in such an innocent state, did they understand what death would mean, or what kind of death was even being talked about?  Part of the lie that the serpent told them is that they wouldn't die, but spiritual and physical death are complex things, especially to someone who has never experienced or witnessed either one.  Although it was a lie either way, the only immediate death was spiritual, because they were cast out of the presence of God.  Physical death came later (and after they learned how to repent and that spiritual death could be overcome).

Alma 12:26 clarifies for us that "if it were possible that our first parents could have gone forth and partaken of the tree of life they would have been forever miserable, having no preparatory state."  Basically, if they had eaten of the tree of life right then, they would never have learned about repentance and been able to be purified through Christ.  (People who lived before Christ looking forward to the atonement, just as we look back to it, and it applies eternally to us all.)  Death was necessary to the plan... Adam and Eve's "fall" made them mortal, subject to death, and thus granted us a time (this life) to work out our salvation and prepare to meet God.

God grants us all physical immortality after this life.  Mortality is not a punishment, but rather a gift that we have been given that we can use to also overcome our separation from God, as we learn and grow and repent and work our way through human desires, learn self control, and find our way back to God.  We don't have to worry about being denied immortality in the garden.  It will be ours, no matter what, when we are all resurrected.  The only thing we have to worry about is the quality of that immortality.  God prevented Adam and Eve from eating of the Tree of Life at that time so that they would not be forever miserable, and we need to watch out for the same thing.

Mormon 9:14 talks about the final judgement/restoration of all things, and it tells us specifically that whether we are filthy, righteous, happy, or unhappy, we will remain so at that time.  We're going to be restored  to what we have learned and how we have chosen to live.  Today, let's be grateful that God gave us all some time between spiritual death and physical death--before we have to face that judgement... time to overcome spiritual death through Christ's gift of repentance, to change, to work on things, to figure ourselves out, and time to prepare for that meeting with God.  Let's dive in and find the happiness that God has in store for us.

2 Corinthians 5:7 -- On Walking by Faith

"(For we walk by faith, not by sight)"
2 Corinthians 5:7

This parenthetical statement is kind of a clarification not just for this letter, but for all of life.  We trust so much, and are taught to trust, in our physical senses, that we neglect our spiritual senses.  Abraham, the Brother of Jared, Lehi and Nephi, and so many other prophets and people, were led, as we in our individual lives are led, to leave support systems and the known to go into the unknown.  God doesn't leave us in a safe, known space because he wants us to learn to discover and explore and change the world.  So, we go out and we make a new space for ourselves, and for others, repeating the pattern as we grow and learn and help God build up and transform the world and everyone in it.

Today, let's think and pray about this idea of walking by faith and not by sight.  What does it mean in our lives, and how can we follow God confidently even when we can't see the future clearly... or when our physical sight sees scary obstacles in the path?  Let's have the strength to move forward with faith, keeping our eyes focused on the Lord rather than our anxieties. :)

Thursday, June 27, 2019

Abraham 2:3 -- On God's Sight

"Now the Lord had said unto me: Abraham, get thee out of thy country, and from thy kindred, and from thy father’s house, unto a land that I will show thee."
Abraham 2:3

In reading this about Abraham we already know that Abraham was wildly successful in establishing himself in a new land, and his posterity and memory are ensured.  However, when the Lord asks us to do similar things, we don't have the same benefit of hindsight.  What we do have is God, and our faith in HIS sight.  He knows absolutely how to help us and teach us to be better than we are, just like he knew for Abraham.  If we follow his path, we will find everything we could ever want, and more.

That isn't to say that it will be easy.  Abraham was asked to leave what he knew and everything he was familiar with, and go out into the unknown without knowing where he was going to stay or how he was going to survive.  He trusted God... and so can we.

Today, let's remember that God sees more, and farther, than we can.  *He* knows the way to happiness and peace better than we do.  Let's trust that, even when it leads us to hard things, and look forward to the glorious future that God will help us to claim.

Mosiah 24:15-16 -- On Patience and Faith

"And now it came to pass that the burdens which were laid upon Alma and his brethren were made light; yea, the Lord did strengthen them that they could bear up their burdens with ease, and they did submit cheerfully and with patience to all the will of the Lord.
And it came to pass that so great was their faith and their patience that the voice of the Lord came unto them again, saying: Be of good comfort, for on the morrow I will deliver you out of bondage."
Mosiah 24:15-16

I like this story because it illustrates the idea that the more faith and trust we put in God, the more he helps us.  It is super clear that God doesn't prevent bad things from happening to those that believe in him, because although these people who had joined together in a covenant to serve God were spared some hard wars by being forced to flee from their homes, they still ended up in slavery.

We know it was super hard for them because earlier in the chapter it says "And it came to pass that so great were their afflictions that they began to cry mightily to God" (verse 10). Unfortunately that just brings down more affliction, because their captors decide to kill anyone who they find praying.  So they have to stealth-pray: "Alma and his people did not raise their voices to the Lord their God, but did pour out their hearts to him; and he did know the thoughts of their hearts" (verse 12).

Now, to be clear, these people are the good guys, right?  They joined together because they believed the words of the prophet Abinadi, spoken to them by Alma, and they wanted to be good.  And because of that they got death threats, lost their homes, had to flee into the wilderness, were found and lied to by the Lamanites (who they helped in an agreement, but then the Lamanites didn't hold up their end), and then were made slaves.  I mean, the story so far is pretty much reinforcing the world's idea that good guys finish last, right?

So, here they are in slavery, crying to the Lord in their hearts because if they speak their prayers they will be killed, and the Lord doesn't deliver them yet, even so.  He allows them to be treated like beasts of burden for the Lamanites, and instead of deliverance, they are made able to bear their burdens more easily.  So, still slavery, but cheerful slavery. :)

Then, finally, they are so faithful and patient that the Lord delivers them miraculously.  ... And I think that most of the time this is also the pattern of our lives, except we often give up way too soon.  We know that our faith and our patience are going to be tried in life, but even so, we too often start doubting our faith and doubting God's love the minute something hard blocks our way.  We think, well, maybe we should go a different direction.  But that isn't what God is telling us when there are obstacles to our progress (or at least usually... we obviously have to listen to the spirit for what God desires of us).  Typically, obstacles are there to teach us how to deal with obstacles. :)  How to tear them down or get around them or how to endure them.  And that's okay.  It doesn't mean that God doesn't love us, just like it doesn't mean that our parents don't love us when they force us to learn how to sit still, or tie our shoes, or learn our multiplication tables.  Those hard things are going to help us in the future, and making us do it is actually showing that we are loved.

Today, let's work on our faith and our patience.  Let's be willing to endure and learn the hard lessons that are preparing us for the future.  Let's pray to God always, with our voices and in our hearts.  He will hear our prayers and lighten our burdens, and always eventually deliver us, as we learn patience and faith. :)

Wednesday, June 26, 2019

2 Nephi 16:5-7 -- On Dramatic Cleanliness

"Then said I: Wo is unto me! for I am undone; because I am a man of unclean lips; and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for mine eyes have seen the King, the Lord of Hosts.
Then flew one of the seraphim unto me, having a live coal in his hand, which he had taken with the tongs from off the altar;
And he laid it upon my mouth, and said: Lo, this has touched thy lips; and thine iniquity is taken away, and thy sin purged."
2 Nephi 16:5-7

The symbolism of repenting is often pretty extreme.  For instance, "And if thy hand offend thee, cut it off: it is better for thee to enter into life maimed, than having two hands to go into hell, into the fire that never shall be quenched" (Mark 9:43).  Similarly, today's verses seems like a really good way to burn our lips off.  I think though, that the drama has value, and represents a truth that we might not always face.

First I think we have to consider the situation that Isaiah is in in these verses (which can also be found in Isaiah 6).  He is actually seeing the Lord.  I mean, can you imagine?  I'm thinking this is already a super dramatic situation, even before we get to the live coal part. :)  Isaiah is super worried about his worthiness to be in the presence of the Lord, so in the symbolism we have this painful thing also tied up with a strong sense of mercy and comfort... helping Isaiah to not only *be* clean, but to feel comfortable enough in God's presence to speak up, which he does a couple of verses later.

1 Peter 1:7 is one of the places that God mentions that our faith is to be tried in the fire, like precious metals, thus purging our impurities and making us more precious and pure.  I think we need dramatic symbolism like this because first of all, the kind of clean we need to be isn't just a rinse-off-your-hands type of clean.  Malachi 3:2 talks not only about "refiner's fire" but also about "fullers’ soap," which is highly abrasive, and takes a lot of scrubbing.  In other words, the kind of clean we are talking about isn't an easy clean, but a deep, intense clean that washes the soul, not just the skin.

It's important to know this, not to scare us about the process, but because we are all going to feel like Isaiah--unworthy to stand before the Lord.  But he tells each of us, it is okay.  I can *make* you clean.  It might be really uncomfortable and painful temporarily, but it will work... you don't have to stand guilty before me.  You can feel cleansed and comfortable, and overwhelmingly loved, in my presence. 

It's also important I think because we sometimes need something dramatic in our lives to commit to as we repent.  It's kind of a Flannery O'Connor type of idea... that faith and repentance and commitment to God are just words until we are faced with our worst fears... then we know what we really believe, because it is tested.  And when we come through that "fiery trial" (1 Peter 4:12), We see more clearly who we are, and our distance from who we want to be.

Today, let's endure the pain of trials and repentance, knowing that the Lord is helping us to feel comfortable in his presence, so that we someday can be.  Let's remember our faith when we are faced with hard things, and trust God above all else, and we'll come through all of this, not only alive, but truly, deeply *clean.*

Tuesday, June 25, 2019

Mosiah 28:5-8 -- On Persistence and Inquiring of the Lord

"And it came to pass that they did plead with their father many days that they might go up to the land of Nephi.
And king Mosiah went and inquired of the Lord if he should let his sons go up among the Lamanites to preach the word.
And the Lord said unto Mosiah: Let them go up, for many shall believe on their words, and they shall have eternal life; and I will deliver thy sons out of the hands of the Lamanites.
And it came to pass that Mosiah granted that they might go and do according to their request."
Mosiah 28:5-8

This is kind of a cool pattern that we can follow (from both sides) when we run up against hard things in life.  For the sons of Mosiah, the hard thing was their father the king.  He didn't really want to risk their lives by letting them go as missionaries to the land of their traditional enemies.  However, they felt God calling them to do that, so they were persistent.

The hard thing for the king was his sons, who kept asking every day to go on this mission... and obviously he was reluctant, or they wouldn't have kept asking.  He realized that they weren't going to stop until he had something definitive, so he went to the Lord.  He was humble enough to ask, even though he didn't want to let them go, and the Lord in his mercy and compassion promised him not only that they would have some success, but also that he would deliver them.

So, the overall lesson here is to seek the Lord's will and to not give up, but interlaced in there is a lot of love and kindness from the Lord as well.  He wants us to think things through.  He doesn't want us to give up the first time we run into a problem... he wants us to learn to face tough things and to keep going forward anyway.  He wants us to learn to see people who we might have thought of as enemies as our brothers and sisters.

Today, let's inquire of the Lord about whatever worries we face in life, and then let's walk his path, seeking his help to overcome whatever obstacles we encounter as we move forward in faith.

Monday, June 24, 2019

Romans 6:3-7 -- On Death and Life

"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:
Knowing this, that our old man is crucified with him, that the body of sin might be destroyed, that henceforth we should not serve sin.
For he that is dead is freed from sin."
Romans 6:3-7

I think a lot of us want kind of video game lives, where we have extra lives and we can just replay a level if we make a mistake.  And, sadly, life doesn't work that way, but in God's mercy and grace, Christ has granted us the closest thing there is, and that is repentance and change.

Paul talks in these verses about the symbolism of baptism and repentance, the idea of dying freeing us from our old sins and our old selves, and then living again, and how that relates to the actual death and resurrection of Christ.  Through him we can truly start again fresh... almost that dream where we get to retain our current knowledge, but live over again with a clean slate, but God's way is better in the end because honestly, who wants to go through all of that again?  It isn't quite eternal youth, but in the resurrection we will get perfect bodies, which is pretty much what we wanted anyway, so no loss. :)

Sometimes it is hard to convince ourselves and others of our inherent newness, which is why the symbolism I think.  Thinking of death and birth adds enough drama to the idea so that we are thinking of it as a permanent change, not just another unfinished project. God honestly and freely offers us complete forgiveness if we are willing to turn away from our sins and start over.

Even cooler, this *isn't* only confined to a one-time-offer at baptism.  We learn in the Book of Mormon that if we look to Christ and live his gospel, maintaining our dedication to God and our relationship with him, we can retain that remission of sins throughout our lives (Mosiah 4:12, Alma 4:14).  Repentance is always there, and if we honestly commit to God, he will be there for us, welcoming us back into his fold and helping us to find a way forward.

Today, let's turn to the Lord, letting go of lives we don't want and people we don't want to be.  Let's let those things die, and be reborn in God, fully clean and committed to a glorious future. :)

Sunday, June 23, 2019

Alma 32:40 -- On Nourishing the Word

"And thus, if ye will not nourish the word, looking forward with an eye of faith to the fruit thereof, ye can never pluck of the fruit of the tree of life."
Alma 32:40

This is another interesting scripture about the tree of life, in yet another context.  This time, we're with Alma as he is teaching the poor in the land of the Zoramites.  He uses the analogy of a seed, saying that we need to plant God's word in our hearts to see if it will grow.  If it does, this gives us a testimony because as we feel it growing and changing us for the better, and we know that the seed is good.  However, we can't stop there.  As we learn that God's word is good, then we have to keep nurturing it, so that it doesn't wither within us.

It's tempting to believe in a one-time conversion.  We read about dramatic conversions that happened to people in the scriptures and we might think... there, that's what I want, a big dramatic answer like that.  Even in cases like that though, nourishment is necessary.  Remember, Laman and Lemuel *also* saw an angel, more than once, but they only changed their behavior temporarily.

True conversion is a process, whether or not it begins with a dramatic event. :)  Planting the seed is the beginning, but what we do with our new knowledge and our budding faith in God will make all the difference.  Today, let's continue the process and nourish the word within us, and have faith in God, staying the course and step after step working towards the tree of life, and all that God has promised. :)

Saturday, June 22, 2019

Moses 4:17 -- On Knowing and Listening

"And I, the Lord God, said unto Adam: Who told thee thou wast naked? Hast thou eaten of the tree whereof I commanded thee that thou shouldst not eat, if so thou shouldst surely die?"
Moses 4:17

This is an interesting verse because it tells us something about our mortal condition.  We have an inherent knowledge of the difference between good and evil.  We traditionally call this a conscience.  It is explained further in Moroni 7: "the Spirit of Christ is given to every man, that he may know good from evil; wherefore, I show unto you the way to judge; for every thing which inviteth to do good, and to persuade to believe in Christ, is sent forth by the power and gift of Christ; wherefore ye may know with a perfect knowledge it is of God. / But whatsoever thing persuadeth men to do evil, and believe not in Christ, and deny him, and serve not God, then ye may know with a perfect knowledge it is of the devil" (Moroni 7:16-17).

We often wonder how to make choices in life, and feel like we are stumbling around in the dark, but there is a way.  Eve's choice in the garden, and God's overall plan, gave us a gift that we can use to make those choices and find our way.  We're taught in the scriptures how to listen to that voice, but too often we refuse to pay attention to it, dismiss it as irrationality, or brush it off as old fashioned prudishness, even sometimes feeling accomplished when we are able to set that inner voice aside, feeling that it was something that was holding us back rather than a gift given to us to help us and keep us safe.

Today, let's tune into our consciences rather than trying to overcome them because they seem restrictive or inconvenient.  Let's even pray and ask God to strengthen those feelings so that we know which way to go.  Let's listen for that "still small voice" (1 Nephi 17:45) that means God is speaking to us, and guiding us along the path that leads to life and salvation.  The more we tune into that voice and follow God's instructions, the more guidance we can get... but if we don't listen and we drown out that voice with other things, then we will only be able to hear it when we get the very loudest emergency warnings... and sometimes not even then, because we're so used to smothering the voice as soon as we hear it.

God wants to help us.  Let's let him. :)

Thursday, June 20, 2019

Proverbs 15:1-2 -- On Soft Answers and the Use of Knowledge

"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."
Proverbs 15:1-2

The idea here of a soft answer is such a wise thing, but often really hard to do.  Can you imagine if we always had a soft answer everytime we faced wrath?

Part of my job is exactly this... deflecting anger.  In online communities there are always going to be people that are upset with someone, but often if you respond to their anger with kindness, and have a level head when they don't, they calm right down and are able to cope with the situation better.  In a past job I would often have people who wrote into the site cursing about something, and was often able to get them turned around 100% and willing to join in and participate in the site, just based on how I reacted to them.

This of course doesn't always turn people around, and I'm definitely not immune to anger.  I sometimes react badly too, especially when I don't have that helpful distance of being able to type instead of speak.  It's always harder when it is personal, or when we are scared or otherwise emotional.  When something happens in traffic, we often want to vent our fear and frustration by blaming whatever happened on someone else and yelling at them, when actually if we stopped to think about it, maybe we're just scared and a little impatient, and going a little bit more slowly or leaving more distance between ourselves and the next car would help a lot more than yelling. :)

That's where I think using "knowledge aright" comes in.  The way that we speak to people affects them.  And not just our speech, but really everything that we do, every way we react, and even just how we use what we know.  Just like almost everything else in life, knowledge can be used for good or evil.  For instance, we could use scientific expertise to design a drug to cure or relieve the symptoms of a deadly disease, or we could use the same knowledge to design an addictive and harmful new drug.  Even in the case of the good drug we could use our knowledge of the people who need the drug to inform production and pricing in several ways, making it more accessible and perhaps less profitable, or the other way around.  We can do the same type of things in our daily lives--online, in traffic, or even in the gospel.  We can use our knowledge of God's laws to change our behavior and our hearts, or we can use it to condemn others.

Today, perhaps we should get some practice in with soft answers and using knowledge aright.  We aren't always going to make the best choices at first, but the more we practice being kind and calm in the face of wrath, and using knowledge in positive ways rather than negative ways, the more we'll get the hang of it, and the better we'll do.  Let's look to God for help with being calm and positive. :)

Wednesday, June 19, 2019

1 Nephi 8:26-27 -- On Trees and Buildings

"And I also cast my eyes round about, and beheld, on the other side of the river of water, a great and spacious building; and it stood as it were in the air, high above the earth.
And it was filled with people, both old and young, both male and female; and their manner of dress was exceedingly fine; and they were in the attitude of mocking and pointing their fingers towards those who had come at and were partaking of the fruit."
1 Nephi 8:26-27

This is part of Lehi's dream where it is talking about the people in the great and spacious building and mocking and pointing their fingers at others.

As I was reading this today I was thinking that it would be really horrible to realize that is the part you were playing in the symbolism of the dream.  Symbolically, I of course want to be Lehi, solidly at the tree and encouraging others to come.  The idea of helping others is awesome.  It's kind of opposite the idea of a Great-and-Spacious Buildingite. :)

Why?  Because if you refuse to go to the tree or you get lost, maybe you still have a chance to turn around and change, and come back, but the people in the building aren't just resisting the tree... they are actively fighting against it, and tearing down other people who are on the right path.  It is the type of thing that scares me most of all about life... making our own bad choices is one thing, but it seems so much worse when we spread those bad choices to other people, helping them to feel justified in sin or encouraging them to choose the wrong.

Of course, choosing to limit our bad choices to ourselves isn't that easy.  We affect the people around us, and that includes our feelings of guilt or self-hatred when we choose bad things, and even when bad choices don't make us irritable, they often prevent us from participating in positive interactions with others or noticing others' needs.  ... Probably better if we just go all the way good. :)

Today, let's work on being good tree-of-life type people and keeping the spirit with us, so that we can be calm and kind to others.  Let's work really hard at not mocking or otherwise hurting others, and if we've already signed up for a spot in the Great and Spacious building, let's break the lease now, and move into one of God's "many mansions" (John 14:2) instead. :)

Tuesday, June 18, 2019

Romans 12:1-2 -- On Living Sacrifices

"I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service.
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 12:1-2

The idea of a living sacrifice is interesting, and I feel like the idea is, instead of sacrificing everything, to stay within the boundaries that the Lord has set.  This is sometimes a huge sacrifice, when our personal desires fall outside those boundaries, as they have a tendency to do.  God can help us change those desires, but it is hard, and until it becomes what we truly want, it is going to continue to be difficult.

God gives us some hints about how to do it here though.  We can't listen to the world or conform to it.  We have to be different.  We have to transform by the renewing of our minds, which to me seems like we need to change our minds as well as our hearts, and let God renew us... showing us how things really work, and what is really important, which is so different from what the world sees as important.

Today, let's explore the idea of a living sacrifice.  What does it mean to dedicate ourselves to God, and how will that change us?  As we think about that, let's talk with God about it and ask him what the first step is.  He will help us know how to move forward, and I am certain that if we work at it, it will always change us for the better, because God is the source of all Good. :)

Monday, June 17, 2019

Mosiah 23:10 -- On After Much Tribulation

"Nevertheless, after much tribulation, the Lord did hear my cries, and did answer my prayers, and has made me an instrument in his hands in bringing so many of you to a knowledge of his truth."
Mosiah 23:10

The words "after much tribulation" are really important here.  The Lord does hear our cries, and answer our prayers, and miraculous things *will* happen in our lives, but that payoff comes after some significant effort and experiencing some hard things.  Just as the people struggling towards the tree of life in Lehi's dream had to go through a mist of darkness which represented temptation, and Nephi and his family suffered severe physical hardships, or like the Israelites had to wander in the wilderness for 40 years, or the many Pioneers who had to struggle crossing the plains... so too do we have to wade through hardships and tribulation on our way to the promised land and to receiving the promised blessings of God.

Today, let's not pay the impatience tax which can steal so much from us.  Let's calmly move forward along the path, knowing that obstacles and darkness will sometimes come.  Let's learn to navigate towards God *anyway* and to conquer our fears and retain our integrity.  Let's be faithful, trusting God's timing rather than our own desires to have everything work out quickly and painlessly.  God helps some things work out that way, but if everything did, we would likely learn very little.

Saturday, June 15, 2019

Psalms 31:7 -- On Considering Our Trouble

"I will be glad and rejoice in thy mercy: for thou hast considered my trouble; thou hast known my soul in adversities;"
Psalms 31:7

I like the idea of the Lord considering our trouble.  Sometimes we're worried about things that other people wouldn't be, and lots of people might dismiss our particular troubles as silly or small because our troubles aren't theirs.  The Lord though is able to understand things from our perspective, and while he doesn't always agree with the way we see things, he helps us with *our* troubles because they are troubles to us.

Today, let's trust the Lord, who considers us personally and knows our souls in our adversities.  He understands, even when no one else can, and he can help us if we go to him in prayer and ask him.  And let's also work on being more compassionate to others.  God will teach us all how to have more faith and to handle difficult things, but we aren't all learning the same things at the same time.  Even if we don't understand other's troubles, perhaps we should consider that we are all facing things that are hard for us, and we know what that feels like.

Friday, June 14, 2019

Isaiah 41:10-13 -- On Fear and Faith

"Fear thou not; for I am with thee: be not dismayed; for I am thy God: I will strengthen thee; yea, I will help thee; yea, I will uphold thee with the right hand of my righteousness.
Behold, all they that were incensed against thee shall be ashamed and confounded: they shall be as nothing; and they that strive with thee shall perish.
Thou shalt seek them, and shalt not find them, even them that contended with thee: they that war against thee shall be as nothing, and as a thing of nought.
For I the Lord thy God will hold thy right hand, saying unto thee, Fear not; I will help thee."
Isaiah 41:10-13

I love the message here which is basically saying that most of the things that we worry about are illusory... we build up a lot of fear about things that really are nothing, or that are temporarily scary.  If we have faith and stick with the Lord, he will get us through all of it.  Our challenge is believing that wholly on this side of the challenge, before we get through it, rather than only afterward when we are through and safe.

Today, let's really work on believing God when he says that he will help us, and on not being afraid of whatever comes, because God can and will handle it, as long as we stick with him and trust him enough to follow his directions.  Let's have faith when facing the storm that it will pass, as they always do, with God's help.

Thursday, June 13, 2019

Psalms 27:8-11 -- On the Lord Taking Us Up

"When thou saidst, Seek ye my face; my heart said unto thee, Thy face, Lord, will I seek.
Hide not thy face far from me; put not thy servant away in anger: thou hast been my help; leave me not, neither forsake me, O God of my salvation.
When my father and my mother forsake me, then the Lord will take me up.
Teach me thy way, O Lord, and lead me in a plain path, because of mine enemies."
Psalms 27:8-11

I love the idea here that when even your closest family abandons you, God will not.  The first verse illustrates the fact that there is something within us that is drawn to the Lord, that loves him already, represented here by the heart.  The Lord says elsewhere that he requires "the heart and a willing mind" (D&C 64:34), and if we grant him those things, then he can help us with the rest. :)

Today, let's be willing, like the psalmist, to have God teach us his ways and lead us.  Let's allow the good, trusting, devoted part of ourselves to be in charge, and seek God's help in training and controlling the wilder parts of ourselves.  Our bodies are a priceless asset to us, but like so many other things, if we let them rule our lives, then we become lost, and fall away from the true path.  When and if we are lost, let's trust in God, and turn back to his path and his will, and with his help, regain control over our own lives.

Wednesday, June 12, 2019

Mosiah 14:10 -- On Temporary Bruising vs Permanent Peace

"Yet it pleased the Lord to bruise him; he hath put him to grief; when thou shalt make his soul an offering for sin he shall see his seed, he shall prolong his days, and the pleasure of the Lord shall prosper in his hand."
Mosiah 14:10

This is a verse that appears in Isaiah (53:10) as well, because here Abinadi is quoting Isaiah.  The thing that strikes me about this verse is the phrase "it pleased the Lord to bruise him" because that just seems kind of wrong.  I mean, why would God take pleasure in giving or watching his son experience that kind of pain.  By worldly standards, we might think that someone like that needed some psychological help.

However, on some level, pain is good for us because it teaches us things to avoid as well as helping us learn to appreciate the opposite.  If a kid skins his knee and gets up to try again, then he is learning endurance and perseverance and that pain can't conquer him.  ... Note that this does not mean that we should intentionally cause our children pain.  From God's perspective though, there is no other choice.  For us, if we refrain from causing pain, the pain will happen anyway in one way or another.  We don't need to add to it.  But God, who is capable of stopping it and not allowing one person to feel any pain at all, on some level by not preventing it, is technically responsible for the bruising, not because he directly caused it to happen in that moment, but because he is the creator, and he caused EVERYTHING to happen... but he also takes our pain away through Christ's atonement, and that atonement is the bruising that pleases him.  He is pleased that Christ suffered in order to save us all, because that was God's plan from the beginning, and it is working out perfectly. :)

Today, let's remember that bruising is an essential part of learning to navigate our lives.  God doesn't want us to be in pain, but he also knows that some temporary pain in our lives is necessary.  Let's look forward, as He does, to the day when there will be no more pain, and he will wipe away all of our tears (Revelation 21:14).

Tuesday, June 11, 2019

Hosea 10:12-13 -- On Growing Goodness

"Sow to yourselves in righteousness, reap in mercy; break up your fallow ground: for it is time to seek the Lord, till he come and rain righteousness upon you.
Ye have plowed wickedness, ye have reaped iniquity; ye have eaten the fruit of lies: because thou didst trust in thy way, in the multitude of thy mighty men."
Hosea 10:12-13

I love the image of the Lord raining righteousness upon us. :)  Awesome.  And it goes along with the idea of planting righteousness, reaping with mercy, and in general preparing ourselves to grow goodness and to be productive and wholesome.  It reminds me of the tree of life from Lehi's dream or the good fruit from the allegory of the olive trees in Jacob 5... so much goodness to be had, but so easy (if we aren't focused on what matters) to wander from the good fruit, and to find forbidden paths or produce evil fruit.

The contrast with this second verse helps us to see part of why the first verse is so amazing.  When we trust the Lord, we can be "like a watered garden" (Isaiah 58:11).  But when we discard the advice of the Lord and try to make our own way, then wickedness, iniquity, and lies are the fruits that we will gather.  Even when it looks like the odds are against God's way, they never really are.  We just have to see past the temptations and the mists of darkness and focus on God, because that is always the true and certain thing.

Monday, June 10, 2019

Ezekiel 13:22 -- On Happy Endings

"Because with lies ye have made the heart of the righteous sad, whom I have not made sad; and strengthened the hands of the wicked, that he should not return from his wicked way, by promising him life:"
Ezekiel 13:22

This is an interesting verse because I think it shows the problems inherent in even the simple deceptions that we tell ourselves, trying to believe that little sins are okay, or that "every man fare[s] in this life according to the management of the creature; therefore every man prosper[s] according to his genius, and that every man conquer[s] according to his strength; and whatsoever a man [does] [is] no crime" (Alma 30:17).  Even the little deceptions or the one that make sense in a lot of ways, but are just a little twisted to leave God out of the equation, those are harmful to us... and to everyone.

It sort of reminds me of a lecture I attended at BYU many years ago by a popular author.  One of the comments that she made kind of floored me because I hadn't really considered it before.  I won't get what she said exactly right because it was so long ago, but she basically said that writing endings where evil wins is a deception, and that it leads people to believe that evil is stronger than it is... that it has a chance against God, when it doesn't.  Happy endings are essential if you are trying to be honest with your audience.  ... And I mean, she writes fiction.  The idea that letting evil win, even in a made-up story, is a bad thing has stuck with me, and I think that I have grown to believe it more and more.  Evil winning and sad endings *isn't* "reality" the way we so often say it is.  It's just ending the story in a sad chapter and never really getting to the ending.

God doesn't write sad stories... and we are ALL in his story.  He wants us to understand that there are real consequences to our wickedness, so that we can improve and be happier.  If we stick with the plot and keep doing the work to progress in the story, we are on our way to a happy ending.  But when people say, oh, no... Satan's is a better author because he is more edgy and depressing... well, we need to be warned about that, and really think about whether that is what we are looking for in life.  Christ is the only way to the happy endings, and through him, all of our endings will be exactly as happy as possible, based on our own choices and who we desire to become.

Today, let's make sure that we aren't telling ourselves or each other lies that make sinning more palatable, or that make following Christ's path seem like a sad thing.  Let's trust in God's happy ending, and work with him to be the heroes that we were meant to be. :)

Sunday, June 9, 2019

Matthew 7:9-11 -- On Gifts and Blessings

"Or what man is there of you, whom if his son ask bread, will he give him a stone?
Or if he ask a fish, will he give him a serpent?
If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children, how much more shall your Father which is in heaven give good things to them that ask him?"
Matthew 7:9-11

These verses remind me of Christmas.  Can you imagine as a child, waking up on Christmas morning having asked for that specific game or set or toy that you wanted, and getting coal instead?  Or telling your parents what kind of cake or meal you want for your birthday, and when you get home there is just a rock with a bow on it?  ... I mean, perhaps it it had cool googly eyes it would be cool, but you know, overall kinda disappointing.

God loves us just as much as we love the children in our lives, and he wants us to have the things that we ask for.  He doesn't give the same gifts to everyone because we all want different things.  Our relationship with God and the blessings we receive are customized to us personally.  Although we learn many of the same lessons in life like faith, reliance of the Lord, hope, etc, we often learn them in different orders and to different degrees at different times in our lives.  Additionally, what we typically ask for or want is not something that can be delivered by Santa or Amazon, and often a lesson is necessary before we are ready for a certain gift.  For instance, the pony we asked for might not be appropriate until we get some riding and grooming lessons, and the promotion we asked for might not be a good idea until we learn some lessons about service or management.

Another thing that I think is important to remember here is to really work on figuring out what we want.  We often ask for things and then when we get them we're like... uh, well, maybe I don't want this after all.  That doesn't really go over well on Christmas morning or in life.  Not that we don't have to learn those types of things sometimes, but we could probably save ourselves a lot of grief if we thought things through a little better ahead of time.  Another thing that would save us some grief is to trust God and do as he asks.  He knows not just what we have asked for, but the deepest desires of our hearts, and if we follow his instructions, we'll be ready for the big blessings when they come along, and get gifts that maybe we didn't even realize we wanted.

Today, let's figure out what we want, talk to God about it, and follow God's program so that we can learn where to go from there... whether to prepare for it, or maybe even to get help changing our minds and hearts to seek something better.  Let's talk to God and stick with him, remembering how much he loves us, and trusting him to know the correct timing and content of our gifts and blessings.

Saturday, June 8, 2019

Psalms 78:20 -- On Faith and Thankfulness

"Behold, he smote the rock, that the waters gushed out, and the streams overflowed; can he give bread also? can he provide flesh for his people?"
Psalms 78:20

This psalm talks extensively about how the Children of Israel forgot God or were disobedient, and this example struck me because it felt pretty accurate for the modern day as well.  How often do we question and doubt God in some new circumstance when we have seen his hand clearly in a different area?  It's like we have to build up our faith from scratch... and as this verse points out, it really shouldn't be.  If God can do one miraculous thing, he can certainly do another.

Another aspect of this particular request is that they asked him to satisfy their lust (see verse 18).  God was already feeding them every day with Manna (Numbers11:4-6), but they missed the meat that had been easily available when they were slaves.  And that sounds sort of like us as well, always wanting more even when we are blessed abundantly, and valuing the freedom that God grants us very little.

Today, let's work on being a little bit less like ancient Israel at their worst, and more like them at their best... faithful and believing and triumphing through faith and obedience.  Let's be thankful and satisfied with the blessings that the Lord grants us, and look forward with an eye of faith, knowing that God can help us with whatever task faces us today just as he has helped us in the past.  Let's look to God to help us, not when we are dissatisfied with the taste of our daily bread, but instead when we truly don't know how to overcome a problem, and let's ask in faith, not doubting whether he can help in any particular circumstance, but with confidence, knowing that he can help us in any circumstance, and trusting in whatever solution he deems best.

Friday, June 7, 2019

Proverbs 11:7 -- On Expectation and Hope

"When a wicked man dieth, his expectation shall perish: and the hope of unjust men perisheth."
Proverbs 11:7

I like this, not because it warns us not to be bad, though it does a good job of that, but because of what it means on the positive side.  If a wicked man's expectation shall perish, that probably means that a righteous persons's expectation will not.  And if the hope of the unjust perishes, then hopefully the hope of the just will last.  By telling us what the wicked won't have, God is also telling us what the rest of us can have, if we avoid becoming wicked or repent of our wickedness.

I like the idea of having our expectation.  I mean, to have that we have to have righteous expectations, but I think that God has amazing, miraculous things in store for us, so as long as we stay centered on the Lord I'm not sure we can dream too large.  Everything that is virtuous, lovely, of good report, or praiseworthy, right? :)

Today, let's have righteous expectations, and let's stay focused on the Lord and be good and just so that those things don't perish in us.  Let's work out our salvation with God and have hope in Christ, looking forward to am amazing future in this life and an even better eternity.

Thursday, June 6, 2019

Job 8:21 -- On Long-Term Happiness

"Till he fill thy mouth with laughing, and thy lips with rejoicing."
Job 8:21

This is a good reminder today that God isn't done helping us until we're happy.  That doesn't mean we can set artificial bars to our happiness and extort blessing from him, but it does mean that God *wants* to do everything he can to bring to pass our overall, lasting happiness.  That doesn't mean a winning lottery ticket in most cases, and sometimes it means chastisement and correction.  Those are things that help us with our long-term happiness and not our immediate happiness.  As always, God takes the long view, and because he does, we can be sure that Eternity will be amazingly awesome. :)

Today, let's remember that God is all about our happiness, and if we can tune into his spirit in our lives, we can feel of his love and learn from him how to be happier.

Wednesday, June 5, 2019

Hosea 14:1-4 -- On Returning to the Lord

"O Israel, return unto the Lord thy God; for thou hast fallen by thine iniquity.
Take with you words, and turn to the Lord: say unto him, Take away all iniquity, and receive us graciously: so will we render the calves of our lips.
Asshur shall not save us; we will not ride upon horses: neither will we say any more to the work of our hands, Ye are our gods: for in thee the fatherless findeth mercy.
I will heal their backsliding, I will love them freely: for mine anger is turned away from him."
Hosea 14:1-4

There are some interesting and cool things in here.  First, I like the statement in the first verse "thou hast fallen by thine iniquity."  God is basically telling us, guys, you screwed up.  Your life is in shambles.  Come back, make it right.

In the second verse "take with you words" and "render the calves of our lips" are referencing prayer I think... turning to the Lord, apologizing to him that we messed up so badly when he warned us ahead of time.  Instead of sacrificing the burnt sacrifice of a calf to the Lord, we need to make the sacrifice of humility in prayer, or as stated elsewhere, a broken heart and a contrite spirit).  If we ask the Lord to take away our iniquity, and we are truly repentant and trying to change, he will.

The third verse emphasizes repentance and not letting things come before God or get in the way of that relationship.  We too often let earthly things take precedence in our lives, when only the things of God carry that eternal weight of importance.  I like also the comment that God helps the fatherless.  God is always watching over people who are truly in need, even when we as a society fail them.  God connects with us individually, and doesn't let anyone "fall through the cracks."

The last verse is amazing, because even though we totally screwed up, as noted in the first verse, God isn't angry anymore.  He loves us and just wants us to come home... and he will "heal [our] backsliding."  That is the coolest part because sometimes when we screw up we just have no idea how to get ourselves out of the pit we just dug for ourselves.  God however, knows how to heal *everything,* including self-induced falls, and if we turn to him he will make things okay again.

Today, let's return to the Lord.  Let's go to him in prayer.  Let's make sure he comes first, and let's listen and work and let his healing happen in our lives.

Tuesday, June 4, 2019

Jacob 4:10 -- On Desires and Counsel

"Wherefore, brethren, seek not to counsel the Lord, but to take counsel from his hand. For behold, ye yourselves know that he counseleth in wisdom, and in justice, and in great mercy, over all his works."
Jacob 4:10

This is a good reminder.  Sometimes we talk to God about what *we* want, even to the point of demanding things from him, or accusing him of disinterest if he doesn't cater to our desires.  And, you know, sometimes that kind of manipulation works on regular people, but this is God we're talking about.  We could be learning so much about *his* will, and the miracles and wonders thereof instead of wasting time and energy trying to get our way.

We run up against our own wills over and over again in life.  Sometimes we're trying to figure out what we want, and other times we know, and we're trying to get it.  I think that the real stretching comes though when we know what we want and we also know it isn't a good idea.  Those are the conflicts that are going to define us by how we handle them.  We can either walk away from what we know is right, or we can learn to change our hearts through Christ... and that is the exact difference it is talking about in this verse.  We can either counsel God, letting him know that this is what we want, and we are going to go after it with or without him, or we can ask for his help because we know that we are drawn to some things that are going to mess up our lives, and we need his help to avoid making those choices, and to learn not to want them anymore.

Today, let's remember that we can choose who we are. We don't have to chase our desires, and we don't have to keep being who we are now. If we know what we want, then we still have a choice whether to go after it or not.  Our hearts are NOT always right.  In fact, as we learn in Jeremiah 17:9, "The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked." When we feel that inner conflict, let's side with the Lord, and learn to take counsel rather than chasing our desires into places that will destroy us.

Monday, June 3, 2019

Colossians 2:8-10 -- On Perspective and Completeness

"Beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ.
For in him dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead bodily.
And ye are complete in him, which is the head of all principality and power:"
Colossians 2:8-10

There are some good warnings in here about the traditions of men.  I think that our minds are so much in the world that it is really difficult to see the true reality of God, because we judge everything that we hear by our worldly perspective.  I think the comparison of the world and Christ makes it clear that one of the ways to overcome that worldly perspective is to focus on Christ (which reminds me of Lehi's dream and the Iron Rod... that is how we stay focused and make it through the mists of darkness).

The other thing that I love about this selection is the idea that we are "complete in him" ... that Christ fills our emptiness perfectly and that when we feel empty and lost, *he* is what we are missing.

Today, let's stop seeking the world and interpreting everything by the philosophies thereof.  Ideas are awesome, but unless they are rooted in God they are missing some essential reality. 

Along those same lines, let's remember that Christ is what makes us complete, and not to look for that wholeness elsewhere in quick-fix ways that will never bring lasting relief from the emptiness or be enough for us long term.  This is true even with other people (although they are awesome and totally not knocking them).  Only God can fulfil that core need for us.  He is the tree at the center of Lehi's dream.  Our families can be there with us if they are willing, but they are not the source of that eternal, essential love.

Sunday, June 2, 2019

Hebrews 10:17 -- On Sin and Memory

"And their sins and iniquities will I remember no more."
Hebrews 10:17

God is perfect and he knows everything, so I always thought that the whole not remembering thing sounded kind of strange.  But today I was reading an interesting book by one of my old religion teachers and her idea was that eternity swallows up all of our mistakes.  Add that to a Conference talk that I was listening to earlier that talked about how small our suffering will seem beyond the grave, and a comment from Stake Conference about forgiving ourselves and moving on, and I think maybe today it makes more sense.

Our sins and mistakes and lost opportunities can seem almost infinite from our limited mortal perspective.  It seems too late to mend things that we have broken, to overcome the pain of loss.  Our sins seem large and glaring, marring us in obvious ways that our minds bump into whenever we think about the shape of our lives.  Like Alma the Younger. we "remember all [our] sins and iniquities, for which [we are] tormented with the pains of hell" (Alma 36:13).

Jacob has a solution for such memories however.  He encourages us to repent and prepare our souls so "that [we] may not remember [our] awful guilt in perfectness" (2 Nephi 9:46).  After Alma calls upon God for mercy, he too reports a similar effect: "I could remember my pains no more; yea, I was harrowed up by the memory of my sins no more" (Alma 36:19).  God doesn't necessarily zap them out of being, because sometimes in our lives we need a soft reminder not to repeat past mistakes, but our memories are softened and distanced to the point where we can place them in the background where they can't torment us anymore.

I think it is the same with God.  After repentance, our sins and iniquities might still be trivial facts, but if God doesn't actively remember them, then they may as well not exist.  Under the weight of eternity, our mistakes will start seeming, even to us, like the skinned knees of childhood... painful and traumatic at the time, but barely shadows now.  And they become that way because we've changed.  We're different people than we used to be.  We don't have to remember because we've moved on and are now thinking about much more important things.  As Christ promises "ye shall be sorrowful, but your sorrow shall be turned into joy" (John 16:20).  God doesn't remember it because it is useless information... those things don't apply to the new people that we have become.

Today, let's take advantage of the great memory-erasing, or at least memory-trivializing, power of the atonement.  Let's call upon God for mercy and repent.  Let's become the people we want to be... the ones who don't need to remember our sins and iniquities because we've grown past that.  As we do, God's promises will be fulfilled, and "though [our] sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow" (Isaiah 1:18).

Saturday, June 1, 2019

D&C 45:62 -- On Great Things

"For verily I say unto you, that great things await you;"
Doctrine and Covenants 45:62

This is a great verse, and I think something that applies to everyone.  God was talking about being prepared for things to come, not in a bad way like future suffering, but in a good way, like there are great things to come.

I think sometimes we look at our lives and we think that this is it... this is all there is, and often we aren't that happy about it, because perhaps life seems a little ho-hum, or else we haven't lived up to everything that we wanted to be, and think that now everything we hoped for has to be just a little bit less.

This isn't the end of the story though, for any of us.  We don't have to despair or lose hope because of who we have been, or how things are now.  We can still choose God, and with him, there are always great things ahead... always.  Today, let's work on being ready for them. :)

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