Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Acts 16-17

(June 30, 2015)
                I had a couple of brief thoughts as I read through these chapters.  The first was on the change in perspective and narration in these chapters (it went back and forth between first- and third-person).  This, of course, isn’t a huge deal – it may be perfectly accurate in how it is presented (with the narrator stepping in to describe his participation from time to time) or it may be a mistake somewhere.  Neither option bothers me.  The value in this, though, is in contradicting the anti-Mormon argument that the similar change in perspective which occurs once in Helaman’s letter to Moroni ‘disproves’ the Book of Mormon.  Whether it is correct, in that it was edited and redacted by Mormon (which, I think, is the most likely scenario) or some different explanation, the takeaway is that things like this happen even in scripture.

                The second thought was on those who generated chaos.  Rather than respond to the truths presented (which, I believe, they knew they couldn’t) they instead resorted to a different tactic.  They generated chaos and confusion and disorder, and then they blamed that chaos and confusion and disorder on the Disciples.

                I see this on a macro- and micro-level.  On a macro-level, our current political process is being destroyed by this satanic behavior.  Crises are generated by the very people demanding their preferred political remedy for the crises.  Chaos and confusion are everywhere, and by design.

                On a micro-level, there are those who demand certain responses or else they will take destructive actions (or take the destructive action and demand responses or they will continue those actions).  In both of these cases, what we see is an abrogation of agency, and a willing engagement in any sort of behavior to acquire the control they desire.

                Of course, this behavior is incompatible with the life of a disciple of Christ (and to the extent we engage in any such behavior, we must repent).  But even more than that, we must learn how best to respond to such behavior.  And in this respect, I really don’t know the right answer.  Turning the other cheek and giving in seems to embolden and encourage such behavior.  But we are not to resist evil, either.  I wish I knew, because I am facing just such a bullying set of behaviors right now and I struggle to know the right thing to do.  I muddle through as best as I can, but it would be easier if I had more clarity.

Moroni 8

(June 30, 2015)
                The doctrine of salvation for children under the age of eight leads to some interesting understandings.  First, the reality is that for a long time (and still today in some parts of the world) a majority of children died before the age of eight.  That would seem to indicate that salvation is more common than first thought.  I am not sure how that works out, but I trust that it does and am grateful for it.

                The second thought is just how perfect the Lord’s justice and mercy are.  The Lord is not going to condemn us for things that happen completely outside of our control any more than He would condemn children for what is happening outside of their control.  I am currently in a very difficult and painful position, and yet I can trust that the Lord will make things right and not condemn me for things I cannot change but rather will judge me for the things which I am doing and the ways I do act.  This is a tender mercy from Him.

Moroni 7

(June 29, 2015)
                Meekness, Mormon makes clear here, is inseparable with faith.  This, of course, makes perfect sense.  We as human beings want power, control, status, and all of the trappings that goes with that.  Meekness is wholly inconsistent with the natural man – not only is it difficult, it serves no purpose.

                But, when our faith is real and vibrant, meekness becomes the obvious choice.  We have no need of ourselves to fight our battles because (1) the Lord is more than capable of fighting His own battles; and (2) we recognize that very often those we fight aren’t even our enemies in the first place.

                Meekness is hard – it is very difficult to back down in the face of opposition or persecution (especially when that opposition or persecution is unfair).  It is so tempting to take the battle to those who hurt us, or to “defend” ourselves.  We can rationalize our behavior by insisting that we are only protection ourselves from being the victims (as if the Anti-Nephi-Lehis weren’t victims when they were slaughtered), and justify our response.  But when we do that, we are relying on the arm of flesh and demonstrating a lack of faith.

                I am not saying it is easy, by any means.  I struggle with it on an ongoing basis.  But it is the right way to live our lives and the way that Christ lived His life.  He could, with a word, have destroyed His enemies at any point.  Instead, He was meek in the face of their persecution.  That is the example for each of us to follow.

Acts 15

(June 28, 2015)
                We see in this chapter one of the first demonstrations of the power of councils in the early Church.  We have record of how those councils went – much the same as we have record of how they go in our day.  In both times, everyone is free to speak their minds.  Truth and opinion is not withheld, but all come ready to listen to the voice of the Lord.

                After each have had their say, the debate until revelation is received by the Priesthood leader.  Then all who participate in the council are asked if they can support the leader.  Unanimity is reached – not just of verdict but also of opinion.  Onenees is pursued.

                This council process is something that seems difficult and costly in time and emotional resources, but at the same time it seems so very worthwhile.  I have seen councils done according to a model different from this one, and I have seen the negative consequences that can flow from these deviations.  As I go forward in my life, I see this skill (working in council) being an important one for me to develop – both with the Lord, with my children, and with a future eternal companion.

Ether 15; Moroni 1-6

(June 28, 2015)
                I cannot help but wonder what ever became of Coriantumr.  Not physically, of course – we know that he joined with the Mulekites and spent his last days with them – but rather spiritually.  With everything that he had witnessed, and everything which he experienced, was he finally ready (in that last window of time the Lord gave him) to repent and turn to the Lord?

                It really ought to be an easy question to answer, but I have my doubts whether he actually repented.  I look back at his actions – how many times the clear truth of the prophecies were before him (and he even seemingly acknowledged their validity), and yet he refused to repent.  After the prophecies came true, was he at that point ready to repent?  Or would he allow his heart to become bitter and be even more sealed off against God?

                Earlier in my life, I felt like so many questions were just a matter of faith – if I truly believed, then of course I would take the right course of action.  My mistakes were deficiencies of faith in my mind, rather than deficiencies of character.  But reality has disabused me of that belief – I have seen in both my own life and the lives of others that just because we believe the truth (even when we know the truth), does not mean we live it.

                Turning our lives and our wills over to God is ultimately a choice.  It is a choice that stands independent of the level of our faith in many ways.  Or, instead, it stands as prior to our faith – we choose to believe, just as we choose to act.  The fact that Coriantumr saw his whole society destroyed as a result of prophecies from Ether does not necessarily mean he repented – after all, he didn’t repent when he was seeing it in the process of happening.

Acts 13-14

(June 27, 2015)
                We see a major difference here between the way the Greeks treated Paul and the way the Jews treated Christ.  In Christ, the Jews came face-to-face with their God.  He performed countless miracles in their view.  And, ultimately, they condemned Him as a mere man and sentenced Him to death.

                In contrast, Paul was nothing more than a man.  He performed (in our record) a single miracle in the view of the Greeks.  And the Greeks were prepared to worship him as a god, and it took their greatest efforts to prevent them from doing so.

                It drives home the truth of the idea that if the miracles which were performed by Jesus had been done to any other people, they would not have crucified Him.  But what does that mean for us, who are His chosen people today?  Are we still similarly blind, such that we have been so blessed by miracles and the gifts of the Spirit that we could become blind to the Lord working among us?

Ether 14

(Jun 27, 2015)
                Sometimes it is hard to look at the world around us and see how the Lord will ultimately win.  We know that He will, of course (in fact He already has), but it can still be significantly difficult to see how it is to be done.  We are severely outnumbered, and the enemy is willing to do things that we are not willing to do to ensure victory.

                Sometimes I think to myself that nothing short of direct intervention from the Lord can save us, but then I wonder whether that is truly how things are going to be accomplished.  Not that I doubt that He could, just that I wonder if He will.  I think at times that the Lord’s Plan is for us as His disciples to carry out His will and bring about His purposes on the Earth (to the greatest extent that we can).

                Seeing the darkness enveloping the world, I can only see one way that is accomplished – and it is hinted at in this chapter (although it did not ultimately lead to the salvation of the Jaredites).  Evil cannot coordinate the way that it should, although good rarely coordinates as it should.  Evil is, ultimately, self-interested and as it acquires power its unity disintegrates.  Good struggles to acquire unity, but when it does that unity is both powerful and lasting.

                That unity is the hope for the disciples of Christ (and why, I think, He spoke of it so urgently and so often).

Acts 11-12

(June 26, 2015)
                I always wonder what to make of the “bit players” in the scriptures that die. For example, what would the narrative look like from the perspective of the people in the Promised Land displaced by the Israelites.  Or, in these chapters, what would the scriptures have been like if they had been written by the soldiers that died?

                I see that sometimes people do this because they want to somehow condemn God (as if any of us were in the position to do that).  But from my perspective, I think that looking at things is this way serves another purpose.  We all like to think that we are on the Lord’s side (and from time-to-time we are).  But we also find ourselves mistakenly or deliberated opposed to God.  By looking at the world through the eyes of the soldiers who were killed, we can better learn to recognize when we are standing on the wrong side of an issue with the Lord and perhaps correct our behavior.

Ether 13

(June 26 ,2015)
                There is a recurring conflict in each of us that is highlighted in this chapter.  The Lord desires to give us a kingdom – everything we need or want to make us happy – and His only requirement is that we take it in a way that will result in our happiness.  He refuses to give us a kingdom when we are wicked, because doing so would lead to our greater condemnation.

                Instead of taking this great gift which the Lord has to offer us, we instead demand that we get what we want the way we want it.  We want our kingdom, but we love our freedom and self-will more.  And so we refuse the promise of the Lord for a kingdom, and we miss out on the very gift that would bring us the most happiness.

                The only way through this trap is to trust the Lord and have faith in Him.  Not merely to believe that He exists – by the end of things, I feel fairly certain Coriantumr believed that the Lord existed – but rather to have faith and trust that when the Lord asks something of us it will make us happy and will be for our good.  This requires that we know that God loves us, and that He knows better than we do, and that if we follow Him all will work out in the end.

Monday, June 29, 2015

Acts 10

(June 25, 2015)
                The nature of revelation is something that I don’t adequately comprehend sometimes.  Even after all of this time, I still seem to believe that revelation is something that comes from the blue (though it rarely has done so in my life).  Revelation, instead, typically comes from dealing with an immediate situation, and we are given only the help and instruction that we need in order to solve the problem we have.

                Peter wasn’t told by the angel to give the Gospel to the Gentiles.  He was given enough context that he knew that when he was asked, it was time to give the Gospel to the Gentiles.  The Lord is always teaching us, and that means relying on our ability to the best we can do so.  We are like little children trying to load the dishwasher, and God gives us just enough instruction so that we get the job done.  He doesn’t teach us electricity, or where the water comes from – he just gives us the concept so that we can get the forks in the right spot (correcting us if we get it wrong).

Ether 12

(June 25, 2015)
                One recurring problem that I have in my own life is that so often I find myself hurt (almost bitter) that my efforts to do the right thing result in me getting hurt again and again.  I see dishonest people prosper against me, and as I try to do the fair and right thing I am damaged by others who take upon themselves the mantle of righteousness while engaging in despicable behavior towards me (justifying themselves in the results their behavior generated – despite the way those results were achieved).

                That is why I was so struck by the Lord’s language in this chapter that His Grace is sufficient that others will not take advantage of our weakness.  I have always read this in the past as weakness of character, but I realized today that it was also true of practical weakness.  The defenses that I willingly give up, the advantages that I do not press – all of these expose me to damage from people who do not care about fairness.  But the infinite Grace of the Savior is sufficient to protect me from others taking advantage of these weaknesses as well.

                Yes, things may happen that will hurt me because of the deception and evil of others.  But that doesn’t change the fact that the Lord is in charge, and that His plan is a perfect one.  Faith is much broader than simply believing that the Lord exists and died for us – it is also understanding and believing that He will make all things right. Faith has more to do with trust than with knowledge.

Acts 9

(June 24, 2015)
                I am convinced that each of us will have at least one moment on the road to Damascus (in my life, I have had many – which either demonstrates the Lord’s love for me, or my weakness in needing multiple such events [or, probably, both]).  There will come a point where the Gospel is made real, made necessary, and at that point we must make a decision.

                Saul understood what he was doing when he chose to become a Christian.  The only thing that mattered to him was the truth, and thus he was able to make the change.  But Paul’s conversion is noteworthy because it is exceptional – not only for its miraculous quality but also Paul’s dramatic change.

                How many others came to understand Christ’s nature, and yet fell away?  How many over the millennia have done the same?  How many receive the word with gladness, only to have it plucked out again by the Adversary?  If we truly want the truth, we will have our moment on the road to Damascus (I truly believe that, and believe it from experience).  It is then our obligation to live according to the truth we learn.

Ether 10-11

(June 24, 2015)
                One thing that is striking to see, when I am looking for it, is just how carefully any reference to any descendents of anyone other than Jared are excised from Ether.  There are times when the kingdom is taken, but we don’t know who it is taken by.  At other times, the kingdom is taken – but when we know who the culprit is in the record, it is because they are descendents of Jared.

                Even the descendents of the brother of Jared are referred to by their relationship with him.  And that, of course, isn’t surprising considering what we know of lineage records and that the author of this record was Ether (a descendent of Jared).

Acts 8

(June 23, 2015)
                One thing that I have always felt certain of was the comprehensive nature of the perfect Plan that the Lord has prepared.  Whether it is by design, or whether it comes from knowing the end from the beginning, there are no accidents in the Lord’s Plan.  Each and every moment is exactly where we need to be to make the Plan work at all times.

                We see that in the serendipitous situation described in this chapter – being in just the right spot (both physically and in the scriptures) to hear the message of the Lord.  In the same way, if we look on our lives with this confidence we can see the way the Lord is teaching us and how His perfectly Plan is guiding our behavior as well.

Ether 9

(June 23, 2015)

                I doubt this is the first time that I have ever written this (in fact, it is probably the most-repeated thought I have as I read the scriptures), but is there a better description of modern politics than what Mormon uses here?  People are desirous for gain, and the leaders are desirous for money.  So the leaders offer money to the people in return for control and power.  That was the way the Jaredite society was shortly before it was destroyed, and that is the way our political system has become now.

Acts 7

(June 22, 2015)
                There is a place, in defense of the Gospel, for a well-reasoned argument.  What we have in this chapter is perhaps the perfect argument for perhaps the perfect audience.  It focuses on the accusation (Moses) and transitions from that accusation to a powerful testimony of the risen Savior.  Given a year, I don’t think I could have come up with anything better.

                Of course, the result was being stoned to death.  Which shows the limits of argument when facing individuals who have willfully rejected the Gospel.

                So why then was Stephen inspired to such a perfect argument?  Was it for us, who would read it in the future?  I honestly don’t think so – so many aspects of it were culturally perfect as well as theologically perfect.  It makes far more sense (and is far better) as an argument to those who were listening at the time.  Was it for the condemnation of the Jews?  I don’t think that, either.

                Honestly, I think the target of this sermon (though he would not be ready for his conversion for some time) was Saul.  I think that Saul and Stephen were in a similar position to Alma and Abinidi.  But the lesson that each of us can learn, of course, is that even when we do what we are supposed to do (and even when we follow the Spirit) we have no promise of temporal success.  Still, being welcomed into the Kingdom of God is a reward worth any sacrifice.

Ether 7-8

(June 22, 2015)
                Sometimes politics leads culture (for example, Noah led the people into wickedness).  Sometimes culture leads politics.  Most of the time, if either of those two facets are wicked the people turn to wickedness.  But, on rare occasions, we see when the reverse is true.  Here the culture was wicked but a righteous leader was able to help his people turn to the Lord by nothing more than letting the prophets preach.

                With the way our world is changing, it is only a matter of time before speaking the truth is an act of defiance (if we have not crossed that Rubicon already).  In the end, though, it is still true and still worth it – and if the truth can continue to get before the people eventually hearts may be touched and repentance is possible.

Acts 6

(June 21, 2015)
                There is a very human trait to attack when losing an argument.  It is easy enough to look at others and see this behavior, but it exists in me as well as those I disagree with.  When I find myself angry at others, it seems most often because I am losing the argument.

                The trick, of course, is that often I lose the argument because I am arguing on the wrong subject entirely.  I will think that I am arguing a self-justifying position, and I will be making a cogent presentation that I am right and ‘they’ are wrong.  And I might be ‘winning’ the argument at the very time that I am becoming angry and attacking.

                It is only when I step back that I can recognize why I am getting angry.  There is no justified position – we are all sinners.  So when I try to present my situation as me being right and others being wrong, I cannot possibly win that argument.  The only ‘win’ is to focus on my relationship to Christ and allow them to focus on their own relationship with Him.

Ether 4-6

(June 21, 2015)
                How often are we like Jared – perhaps we may have good desires, but we think that we can do something other than what the Lord has in mind for us (doing 80% of His will, rather than striving to do 100%).  These are the things that destroy us – these little methods we use to hold back our will from Him.  He does not want us to have a king, and yet (because, as we think, we are righteous) we know we will be alright with a king.  And in no time we are brought into captivity.

                We think, because we are doing so many things well, that we can engage in just this little sins (no one will know!) and be alright.  But, over time, these little sins bring us into captivity.  I have learned that the Lord has a great deal of patience for us when we strive to turn our wills completely over to Him (even when we fail), but our destruction is certain if we try to hold back our will from Him.

Acts 5

(June 20, 2015)
                The Lord wants one thing and one thing only from us – our whole will.  He does not speak or care of our overall ‘value’ (as the world uses that term).  We cannot give a partial gift to the Lord – giving Him fields and property and everything except this one dark corner of our soul that no one else will see.  The Lord will reject this, no matter how large the rest of our gift to Him is.  He will accept nothing less than the full and complete consecration of all that we are.

                The other thought I had as I read through this chapter was rejoicing in shame.  I am in a position where I am just beginning to appreciate that, but that appreciation is coming in a manner I wouldn’t have expected.  Shame seems a blessing because it is a firm reminder of how so very much of what I thought mattered doesn’t actually matter.  I thought how people perceived me (particularly a number of people whose opinions mattered to me) were important.  But rejoicing in shame, I come to recognize that the only thing that really matters is how my relationship with the Lord is.

                Shame tends to clear up where my obligations and loyalties lie.  In its absence, I seemingly act to avoid shame.  In its presence, I really how futile shame is to prevent me from the peace the Lord has in store for me.

Ether 3

(June 20, 2015)
                We like to think that we fully understand the Lord – who He is and what His nature is.  Do we understand that fully understanding the Lord is likely an impossibility in our imperfect, limited, mortal condition?  When we think that we fully understand the Lord, what we are left understanding is just our projection of Him – we worship an illusory shade instead of a risen Lord.

                Over time, we find ourselves in the position of the brother of Jared.  Bit by bit, the Veil is removed from our understanding and we learn more of His nature.  We may have thought He was one way, but through adversity we discover that He was so much more than we believed Him to be.  Then, over time, another truth of His nature is learned, and then another.  And so we progress from Grace to Grace until we truly know Him – and, at that point, we become like Him.

                Along the way, of course, we learn certain truths that carry us through the difficult process of walking in His footsteps.  We learn of His power, which gives us confidence that He can do what He has promised to do.  We learn of His love for us, which gives us confidence that all things will work out for our good (even in the midst of our most difficult trials).

Acts 3-4

(June 19, 2015)
                Sometimes I fall into the trap, when discussing the Gospel with others, of trying to win the argument rather than trying to invite them to partake of salvation.  This, of course, is a significant weakness in me.  We see from the example of these chapters that even winning these arguments accomplishes nothing.  Where the Jews were concerned that they could not acknowledge the truth without losing their privilege or position, many today feel they cannot acknowledge the truth without losing their ‘freedom’ – which amounts to little more than license to engage in disobedience.

                A convincing argument as to the merits of the Gospel serves no purpose to one who does not want the Gospel to be true.  The only conversion that I have seen possible in those circumstances is a demonstration in my life of the blessings of the Gospel (together with a great deal of time).  The opportunities come, and we must be ready to testify.  But once we have testified, that really becomes it when dealing with those who have chosen not to believe.

                This, of course, does not mean that arguments do not have their place – after all, the Disciples not only had but also prevailed in this argument here.  Paul was particularly effective in rhetoric, and pushed forward the Gospel using that tool.  But rhetoric and argument serve to assist those struggling to know the truth, and cannot sway those who have chosen to not know the truth.  It is essential that we know our audience.

Ether 2

(June 19, 2015)
                Sometimes we see the Lord as a Celestial “nice guy,” which ignores far too much of the truth of the matter.  Christ loves us perfectly, and as such He is forever willing to do all within His power in righteousness to turn us back to Him.  Sometimes that may mean encouragement, but at other times it may mean adversity, trial, or even chastening.

                I cannot imagine what it must have been like for the brother of Jared to be chastened by the Lord for three hours, but I imagine the Lord was probably pretty good at the chastening part.  I imagine that the brother of Jared left that interview with two truths indelibly imprinted on his soul.  First, that his behavior was unacceptable and needed to be changed.  Second, that the Lord loved him and wanted him to change.

                Sometimes, it seems, chastening is the best way the Lord has to demonstrate His love for us.

Acts 1-2

(June 18, 2015)
                There are, of course, those who would discount the witness of the Apostles.  But what they consistently fail to answer for is the behavior (particularly the changes of behavior) of the Apostles after the Resurrection.  There is no doubt that the Apostles were scattered, in hiding, and utterly defeated.  Then, around a month later, those same Apostles were in the temple openly teaching Christ the Son of God.  These are truths that are documented from secular as well as religious sources, so they are hard to discount.

                To what does the non-believer attribute the change of behavior? Our behavior demonstrates our beliefs, and looking at my life and my actions tends to give a pretty good understanding (I imagine) to both what I believe and to the strength of the evidence for which I believe it.  So too with the Apostles – what could explain the change from them running and in hiding to openly accepting martyrdom other than what they say happened?

                The other thought was in the true demonstration of the Gift of Tongues.  Noticeably, those miraculously speaking in tongues were not speaking gibberish – they were speaking in an unknown tongue.  When those around came forward, they recognized their native languages as being spoken.  This, of course, makes sense – Gifts of the Spirit aren’t mere parlor tricks but a means of bringing the Gospel forth.

Ether 1

(June 18, 2015)
                Of course, it is difficult to know all of the details that were going on at this time.  But the record doesn’t seem to indicate that Jared had any reason to believe that the Lord would drive them out of the land.  That leads to the obvious question of where Jared received the inspiration to ask his brother to pray on that issue.

                Was it literally inspiration that caused him to seek out that relief? Was it a reaction to the societal conditions that left him believing that they would be better off elsewhere?  Was there a scriptural indication that he picked up on?

                In my experience, there are times when the first of these answers is the correct one – there are times in reality when I am prompted as to what I should be praying for.  This is particularly true when what I need to be praying for is something that I would struggle or have difficulty accepting – something I couldn’t get to praying for on my own.  When I should be asking for a gift, but I would believe it to be a curse in my limited understanding, I find myself often led to pray for it through inspiration.

                I can imagine a similar situation for Jared.  He perhaps loved where he was, and couldn’t imagine being driven out of the land.  Yet he felt the gentle pull of the Spirit prompting him as to what he should pray for, and so he instructed his brother in how to pray.  And, of course, we know the result.

Friday, June 26, 2015

John 20-21

(June 17, 2015)
                I certainly don’t pretend to compare my life to the martyrdoms of the early Christian fathers, but I can understand in some little respect what it is like to be carried where I do not want to go.  In many ways, the experience is agonizing beyond belief.  But in other ways, it is such a blessing because it cuts away absolutely everything else that serves to distract from the relationship we each must have with the Savior.

                I remember an experience from my mission.  My day proselyting was unsuccessful, and I was riding the train back to the station where we had locked up our bikes.  My companion and I, discouraged, were both a little bit grumpy and miserable.  Then, when we arrived at the station, we saw that someone had stripped down our bikes and stolen just about everything from them.  Nothing remained locked at the station other than our frames and front wheels.

                It was like a spell had been broken – too much had gone wrong for any single thing to be overwhelming any more.  We laughed, we joked, we carried our bikes for a while until a member saw us and gave us a ride home.  When then ordered pizza, and when the delivery driver arrived we tried to give her a Book of Mormon.  We went from trying to maintain something and serve ourselves to not caring about ourselves and serving God.

                In some ways, this experience (though incredibly painful) is serving the same purpose.  I am able to let go of things that I cared about – reputation, hope for the future, and so many other good things that I cared deeply about.  The only thing that is left is my relationship with the Savior.  And, of course, that will be enough (even if it doesn’t feel like it all the time).

Mormon 9

(June 17, 2015)
                One of the blessings of having experienced the miracles that I have experienced in my life is how those experiences inform my ongoing life.  I know – absolutely know – that God is a God of miracles.  I have seen too much to doubt that He could accomplish anything He chose to accomplish.

                When, as now, I am in a position of deep pain because the miracle that I was hoping for did not arrive, I am blessed even more by the miracles I experienced in my past.  I do not need to doubt that the Lord could have interceded and saved me as I sought Him to.  I do not doubt that He loves me.  With those two truths in mind, I am able to deduce that the only thing that makes sense is that He allowed this injustice to occur for some purpose of His own and that this purpose will ultimately be for my benefit if I allow it to be.

                This, in my opinion, is one of the key values in believing in miracles – it gives you the framework to evaluate so many other parts of your life.

John 18-19

(June 16, 2015)
                What is it about human nature that drives us to mock the suffering of others.  Apart from the very real irony of the Savior of the World being mocked by people that He came to the Earth to save, the larger truth is that sometimes people are happy at the misery of others.

                As much as I might not want to find this trait in myself, I can see it in me.  In most cases, when I am aware of and empathetic about the suffering someone is going through, I don’t behave in this way.  But there are times when I don’t empathize the way that I should and I find myself happy in someone else’s misery. 

                As I genuinely look at myself, in light of this scripture, I realize how ugly that trait is.  Because Christ is in each of us, and inasmuch as we do it unto the least of the Father’s children, we do it to Christ.  When we mock the suffering of others (even, or perhaps especially, when we feel they ‘deserve’ it), we mock Christ no less than did the Romans and Jews when they mocked Christ.

Mormon 8

(June 16, 2015)
                So many times, when evil is ascendant, it is not enough for dominance – evil can stop at nothing short of absolute destruction.  It wasn’t enough that the Lamanites established political hegemony, they had to hunt down the Nephites and kill them wherever they were found.

                Likewise, we can see a prediction for our days ahead.  Not only is society becoming more hostile to moral ideals, it is becoming more overtly hostile to those who hold those moral ideals.  We who believe in the Gospel cannot hope that evil will control society and culture and that good will then be left alone.  It will not happen that way.

John 17

(June 15, 2015)
                It struck me as I read this chapter how frequently being made perfect was used almost synonymously with being made one.  Being made perfect is, in its essence, a simple thing – we become perfect as we are joined with the Lord (who is perfect Himself).  There is no other way.  We cannot become perfect and not be one with the Savior, just as we cannot be perfect and not be one with the Father.

                With that understanding, it is clearer to recognize why the two are used so interchangeably here by the Lord.

Mormon 6-7

(June 15, 2015)

                These chapters contain yet another reminder of how important it is for us to repent of all of our iniquities.  It is not enough to get rid of our ‘bigger’ sins, but rather we must become determined in our discipleship to give our will totally over to the Lord.  Nothing short of this total consecration is sufficient – and though we may not be able to implement this desire for consecration of this sort all at once, we must be at least promptly and completely develop this desire in our hearts so as to permit the Lord’s Grace to work within us to empower us to give our will over to Him.

A Testimony from My Journal

It seemed appropriate to include here something that I wrote in my journal, June 14, 2015:

            "Today was possibly the worst day of my life.  Today the truth lost.  Today dishonesty won.  For some time I held on to hope that the Lord would plead my cause, He would bring the truth to light, and I could finally put this horrible phase of my life behind me.

            That was not to be…

            Sometimes, I have learned, the miracle does not come.  Though Daniel was saved from the lions, many Christians died at the hands of lions in the Coliseum.  Though Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were saved from the fiery furnace, the righteous at the time of Alma and Amulek were not.  Sometimes the angel shows up to save us (as when Abraham and later Isaac were saved from sacrifice), and sometimes the angel does not.

             “If it be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of thine hand, O king.

            But if not, be it known unto thee, O king, that we will not serve thy gods, nor worship the golden image which thou hast set up.” – Daniel 3:17-18

            Today I was not delivered.  But I have been blessed to be put into a situation where every earthly reason to hold on to this Church and my testimony has been stripped away.  I know that the Lord could have delivered me.  The Lord, for whatever reason, did not.

            Though He did not, it has put me in the position that I can testify – apart from any reason on Earth to hold to that testimony – of the truth of the Gospel.

            I know that Jesus Christ is the Savior of the world.  I know that He died for my sins, and forgiveness and sanctification is available to all (myself and those who hurt me).  I know that the Priesthood of God is found in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.  I know that, though they are imperfect, the Lord uses these men and honors and sustains their decisions.  I know that the Book of Mormon is the word of God, and that the truth of the Gospel can be found within its pages.  And I know that Joseph Smith was a prophet of God, called to restore His Church to the world in these days.

            There is no reason to hold to this testimony save the fact that it is true.  In many ways, after today, it would be so much easier (and less painful) to swallow my testimony and abandon my faith.  But, like Peter, I am forced to acknowledge that there is no where else to go – this Church has the words of Eternal Life that are found nowhere else.

            Perhaps one day the truth will come out.  Perhaps one day the truth will win.  Perhaps that will not happen in my lifetime.  But regardless, I am here for the duration and I will stand by this Church to the best of my ability for as long as the Lord allows me and strengthens me with the capacity to do so.  And I will continue to call myself blessed for the opportunity."

John 14-16

(June 14, 2015)
                The Lord promises something here that so greatly touched my heart and filled me with hope.  He promises that, though we go through pain and trials, the day will come when the trial will be over and the pain forgotten – He promises that there will be joy again.

                I cannot convey the pain that I currently am going through.  Things that I never thought would happen have torn my life and my heart apart.  In the moment, I cannot imagine a time when the pain I currently feel is forgotten and there is joy.  But He has shown His power before in my life enough to know (intellectually, at least) that I can trust His promises in this regard.  I know that, no matter how acute this pain is, He will not let a single tear I cry go to waste.  He will replace my every tear with joy.  Though I feel left alone, I understand that I am never truly alone because the Father is with me.
r us.

Mormon 5

(June 14, 2015)
                It is such a blessing to know and to realize the promises which the Lord continues to hold for the House of Israel.  Mormon is clear as to the consequences of their sinful behavior – they will be scattered and smitten and delivered over into the hands of Satan to be tormented.  And yet, the Lord continues to stand ready to receive them, so long as they will repent and humble themselves.

                This is equally true for each of us – no matter how we are scattered or smitten or tormented, the Lord stands ready to receive us as well.  If we will repent, and humble ourselves, He will deliver us.

John 12-13

(June 13, 2015)
                Today is the day before I face what I fully expect to be the greatest trial of my life.  What a blessing it is to me to read this scripture on this day.  What shall I say?  Shall I ask to be saved from this hour?  For this cause came I unto this hour.

                I am terrified for what is likely to happen, and my soul rages at the unfairness of it all.  Why are lies believed?  Where is the Lord to protect me?  But even in this, I sin against Him.  For how am I to know but that for a glorious cause I am brought to this hour.  Who I am to demand to be saved from this?

                Though fear consumes me at this point, and I see no result but that the darkness and lies triumph and the truth is concealed, I praise the Lord for His blessings.  Far better to go through what I go through now with the testimony of the Gospel which the Lord has generously granted to me.  Even in my pain, I have nothing to complain about.

Mormon 4

(June 13, 2015)
                The Lord seemingly has only the rarest of need to punish anyone.  Punishment seems to almost always come from one of three ways – either it is the wicked punishing the wicked, the wicked punishing themselves (the natural consequences to their souls of their actions), or the Lord withdrawing assistance which the wicked need.

                As I face a challenging situation tomorrow, where I fully expect someone to use dishonesty to make an attempt to destroy my life, I pray that I always remember the blessing that it is to be persecuted.  I pray that I do not leave demanding justice for the damage done to me, but rather that I leave praying for mercy for the ones who hurt me falsely.  The Lord has no need to punish and neither should I – punishment will come absent repentance, and nothing will change that.  Rather I should pray that I be filled with charity and forgiveness for them and pray that they too will escape the consequences of what they do as I have been blessed to escape the consequences of my sins.

John 11

(June 12, 2015)
                The words of the Disciples – let us also go, that we may die with Him – struck my heart.  Would I have that sort of faith?  Do I have the courage to let go of all earthly ambition for the Lord?  I may be in that position sooner rather than later – and the thought terrifies me.  I hope that I can come to the place where even if everything earthly that I hope for and take comfort in is taken from me, I will still stay with the Lord.

Mormon 3

(June 12, 2015)

                How many times does the Lord miraculously save us – giving us the very blessing that we desire of Him – and rather than be grateful to Him we end up boasting in our own strength before Him?  I know, at least in my case, it is far too often.  I was trapped in a sinful state, and somehow managed to escape when so many people fail at the attempt.  At times, I feel a sense of pride in “my” accomplishment.  I forget the countless times I called on the Lord for help and protection and escape, and that it truly was a miracle (and not something that I did) that allowed me to escape.

John 9-10

(June 11, 2015)
                My thoughts today seem centered on the promise of the Lord that no man can pluck those He has chosen from the Father’s hand.  I truly believe that.  Circumstances are such that I expect to be put in a dangerous situation soon – based upon the actions of another who is hostile and bitter towards me, and willing to use dishonesty to damage me.  It is a painful thought, the damage that might be done.

                But the one thing that brings me comfort is that nothing my accuser can do can ultimately pluck me from the hands of the Father.  He never let go of me as I sinned against Him.  He never let go of me when I had my crisis of faith.  In both cases, somehow I was brought through with a deeper faith and testimony of His and a greater understanding of His love and His nature.  Now I can trust the same thing – He will not let go of me even in the result that I fear comes to pass.  He will be there for me and nothing done to me will be sufficient to pluck me out of His hand if I wish to remain there.

Mormon 2

(June 11, 2015)
                There comes a point where each of us come face-to-face with the reality that we will not always be able to take happiness in our sins.  Perhaps I indict myself with this, but that point came for me at least.  I expect each of us has the habit, vice, or personality trait that we find happiness in even though it is sinful.  The day will come, however, when we will be forced to recognize the reality that the behavior is wicked because it inevitably leads to unhappiness – we may mask or hide it for a time, but it will eventually destroy our happiness if we don’t control it.

                Though I was forced into that position myself, I consider myself blessed that the Lord did not let go of me even then.  Though I was brought to the point where I knew that I could not always take happiness in sin, when I reached that place the Lord’s mercy and continued Grace blessed me to know that happiness was still available to me in righteousness.

                Maybe better men than me could have learned that lesson in advance.  But it took me being brought to that point before I realized it.  Still, I am so grateful that at that point I didn’t turn away from the Lord (as the Nephites did here), but rather turned towards Him and found His mercy was great enough to save even me.

John 7-8

(June 10, 2015)
                I think that we, as mortals, don’t recognize just how deficient we are in the quality of mercy which the Lord shows.  If someone had been taken in adultery and brought before me – even with the forgiveness that the Lord has given me – I would struggle to not judge them in some portion of my soul.  That is a huge weakness in me, especially since it persists even after I have been forgiven of so much from the Lord.

                Still, awareness of weaknesses of this type are also a blessing.  This is one of the greatest blessings of reading the scriptures – when we are forced to look face-to-face with our weaknesses and imperfections, we know that we need to repent and to change.  And, having read this today, I realize that I need to be less-judgmental than I am and more forgiving in order to be more like the Savior.

Mormon 1

(June 10, 2015)
                Stopping of Mormon’s mouth, such that he was not allowed to preach to the people, is an amazing thing when you think about it.  It signifies a society that is so very wicked that the Gospel could not even be taught to them.  Presumably this was not so that they would be destroyed (that is not the way our loving Father works), but rather to limit the destruction which they would suffer under.

                I can only imagine how wicked a society would have to be before the Father Himself instructed His prophets to stop preaching the Gospel to them.  It must be because there was no hope that anyone would accept, and the only thing preaching was doing would be to pile up condemnation upon their heads.  It brings both a bit of comfort (in that our leaders are not silent in our day) and a bit of worry (in that they aren’t as direct as they have been in the past – is that because of a change in approach or is that because they have been stopped from preaching some things in clarity?).

                Regardless, our responsibility is simple – we must remain humble and willing to listen and submit to the Lord and His leaders.

4 Nephi 1

(June 9, 2015)
                When I see the decay of society, it leaves me with a great deal of pessimism for the future that I will be leaving to my children.  While I am excited for the technological marvels that they will be blessed to received, and the new things they will undoubtedly learn, they will also live in a world consumed by immorality and drug about by Satan.

                I take some hope from this book, because what it details (at a closer reading) is not a world where everyone is a believer, but rather a society formed by believers.  After all, there had to be someone to convert for the missionary efforts to make sense.

                These people lived in happiness while they were likely surrounded by some wickedness somewhere.  They developed a Zion society that lasted for centuries.  So too can we develop Zion families, neighborhoods, and Wards if we are determined to do so.  We may not convert the world, and the culture around us may continue to slouch toward Gomorrah, but we can still find peace for ourselves and those we love if we continue to look towards the Savior for that peace.

John 6

(June 8, 2015)
                Such an elegant statement – your fathers, which ate manna from Heaven, are dead.  How often are we focused in our lives on the blessings that are outward?  How often do we seek the miracles that change our circumstances?

                In reality, there is no greater blessing than the Atonement.  There are many who saw miracles, and are dead.  Laman and Lemuel saw an angel, and they are (presumably) dead.  Judas saw the miracles of Christ, and he is (presumably) dead.  Do we contemplate the power of the Atonement that blesses us inwardly? Do we seek the miracles that change our hearts – regardless of our circumstances?

3 Nephi 28-30

(June 8, 2015)
                The sacrifice of the Three Nephites is an amazing one for me to contemplate.  When I was younger, I would think to myself that they got the better deal – after all, they would live forever – but as I get older, I can understand more and more what they had to give up in order to serve and bless their fellows.

                Everyone that they loved would have already died long ago.  I  imagine that they get together from time to time, but other close friendships are likely hard to come by.  It is almost certainly a lonely existence that they have chosen for themselves.

                Yet, again, Christ told them that they had chosen the better path.  Sometimes I feel as though, even when I am trying to do the right thing, I remain too focused on myself and my own salvation and not focused enough on the salvation of others.  I could stand to learn a lesson from the Three Nephites, here.

3 Nephi 26-27

(June 7, 2015)
                The language here was interesting, in that it called for the repentance of all sins, and then faithfulness until the end.  There is really a great lesson to be had in this presentation.  Sometimes I mistakenly seem to believe that if I just can overcome and repent of all of my sins, I will be set.  But in so many ways, repentance of all of our sins is only the starting point.  It is at the conclusion of our repentance process (justification) that our natures can be changed to the point where we desire only righteousness (sanctification).

                If all the Lord wanted was for us to avoid sin, we could have taken advantage of Satan’s plan.  Instead, we are to repent of all of our sins as the start of our progress.  Rather than a finish line, it is the point where we stop jogging by the side of the road and get into the car that takes us where we need to go far more quickly.

John 4-5

(June 6, 2015)
                Understanding where to follow the Church, and where to follow the Lord, is a simple question in theory but a complex and difficult one to deal with in practice.  We know and understand that the Church represents the Kingdom of God on Earth.  We also know that the Priesthood authority is the authority to act in His name, and that this authority has power even when mistakenly used.

                At the same time, we understand that the Church is led by imperfect people.  They make mistakes.  There are doctrines that we hold, and assumptions that we make, that are almost certainly wrong.  If we are not careful, the Church can actually become a stumbling block rather than an asset in our progress towards Eternal Life.  If we allow the Church to supplant the Savior, we run the risk of being damaged by the mistakes made by our imperfect leaders.

                The simple answer is that we follow the Church expect when the Lord tells us otherwise (which, of course, He does not often do).  The Church has at its purpose to lead us to Christ, but it does not take the place of Christ.  It is possible to have a relationship with Christ and not to have a relationship with His Church, just as it is possible to have a relationship with Christ’s Church and not have a relationship with Him.

                What is key for each of us is to recognize the power and authority of the Priesthood (and its importance), to understand that the Church hierarchy has an important role to play in bringing us to Christ, but also to never let the Church displace the Savior in our lives. 

                The Lord healed on Sunday, when the policy of the Church (the Lord’s Church, mind you) was that such things should not be done.  Nephi killed Laban when the policy of the Church (the Lord’s Church) was that whosoever killed should be put to death (and he killed an elder of the Church).  We do not show respect for the Lord if we ignore His Church – we follow their counsel strictly, unless the Lord says otherwise.  But if we are not open to revelation to direct us, we have allowed the Church to displace the Lord and that is not the plan, either.

3 Nephi 23-25

(June 6, 2015)
                I realized, as I read these chapters, that I had great need to repent.  Speaking words that were stout against the Lord, such as it being vain to serve God, were things that I found myself more and more tempted to say recently.  In my life, I have been hurt by the actions of others as I tried to do the right thing while those around me did not reciprocate.  They will damage me, and in protection of them and others, I have turned the other cheek.  And this has only resulted in more damage, as their behavior is as destructive as it is relentless.

                There have been countless times I have been tempted to say enough and to stop this madness.  Fortunately the Lord has kept me from going down that path, but even in that I am not properly grateful to Him.  In my heart, I have felt that it was vain to serve God and do the right thing – knowing that those who have abandoned that path have destroyed so many parts of my life.

                But as I consider the state of things, I realize that I am so much better off than I would have been.  It has not been vain to serve God.  In fact, even as everything outward has been damaged, I have received so many blessings in my life.  I see the hatred, anger, and evil that my accusers have allowed into their lives (and how it makes them so very unhappy – unhappiness they blame on me).  And I see the happiness that I am blessed with – difficulty and pain, to be sure, but a genuine happiness and peace.

                I need to repent of my thoughts, and my ingratitude to the Lord.

John 2-3

(June 5, 2015)
                I am continually struck by the fact that Nicodemus admits that he (and the others in leadership positions) know that Christ was a teacher sent by God.  And yet, they stubbornly resisted His teachings and ultimately crucified Him.

                It is fine to look at this situation and think to ourselves, “those silly Jews…” or something similar, but the reality is that we need to look at ourselves and see that the same characteristics are in our own lives.  Do we know that the Savior is Lord and God over the whole Earth?  If so, why are we not following Him better than we are?  Isn’t this just the same sort of thing as what the Pharisees were doing?

                Just as the Pharisees wanted political power, we have things that we desire as well.  And just as the Pharisees were determined to ignore or silence Christ to get what they wanted, we each spend far too much of our lives determined to ignore or silence the Spirit in order to get what we want.  We are no different than they were, except we are blessed to still be alive and with the opportunity to repent and change.

3 Nephi 21-22

(June 5, 2015)
                There are those who view the Lord as a vengeful God – and they use language such as that contained in these chapters to justify that view.  For example, the clear language that whosever will not repent the Lord will execute vengeance and fury upon them, leads some to believe that the Lord is the equivalent of Zeus – sitting on a cloud with a thunderbolt in hand ready to strike down those who don’t properly grovel at His feet.

                Of course, this couldn’t be further from the truth.  The Lord is a merciful God – so much so that He suffered and died to give us the possibility to repent.  What the Lord speaks of, when speaking of His vengeance and fury, is two things.  First, it is the natural consequences of our actions and the damage our sins cause to our souls.  When we sin, we hurt ourselves such that the Lord has no need to hurt us through any external means (indeed, He tries to spare us this pain).  I have seen this in both my life and the lives of those around me.

                Secondly, He will at times provide external fury in order to remind us of Him and turn us to Him.  This, too, He does out of love and a desire for us not to waste our lives and our eternity in the bondage of sin.  Even when experiencing His vengeance and fury, it is a manifestation of His love for us and if we will allow this to change us we can find peace with Him.

John 1

(June 4, 2015)
                It is a very human trait to want to be important.  In my daydreams, I accomplish great things in my life.  I don’t daydream that I help someone move in or unload their groceries – I daydream that I am the hero who rescues or the missionary that converts or any number of other things.  In my dreams, I am ‘important.’

                But the reality is that the unloading of the groceries or helping someone to move is where the Gospel is lived.  The Celestial Kingdom is filled with people who showed up early to set up chairs.  It isn’t the big, grandiose (and noticed) deeds that make the difference in who we are.  It is the small, simple acts – away from the eyes of others – that reveal our character (and, more importantly still, shape our characters).

                John was the perfect example of this.  In most days and ages, John would have been the prophet.  He could have been known as was Moses or Abraham, but for the fact that he happened to be born at a time when he would be overshadowed completely by the Savior.  As incredible of a man as he was, his duty was the prophetic equivalent of showing up early to set up the chairs for the meeting.

                Yet John accepted this role.  He was ultimately killed before even seeing the resurrection of the Savior.  What a powerful example he is to each of us to learn our duty, wherever and whatever it may be, and to carry it out.  Sure we may want for more, but where the Lord has placed us is where He wants us and where we can do the most good.

3 Nephi 20

(June 4, 2015)
                It has been a hard, long lesson to learn what it means to not cease to pray in my heart.  This was a lesson that I could only learn (sadly) by overwhelming challenges that left me exposed to the truth that I could not make it without the Lord.  But even that was a blessing, in what it taught me about staying close to Him.

                Kneeling prayer, I have learned, is an important and powerful tool for connecting us with the Father.  It helps me to be in the mindset of humility and appropriately respects the power of God and my relationship to Him.  But while kneeling prayer is important, I receive equal value out of the quick thoughts, prayers for help, prayers for answers, and the gentle pull of the Spirit that I receive throughout the day.

                My kneeling prayers are necessary.  But it is the process of never ceasing to pray in my heart that seems to have the most impact on my daily life.
be improved.

Luke 24

(June 3, 2015)
                Sometimes our faith is insufficient for the miracle that we may want or need.  What we see in this chapter seems to me to be a pattern that the Lord follows in those situations where He wants to bless us with something that we are not yet ready to receive.  First, He reached out to others, and set those others on a course to bump up the faith of His Disciples.  After hearing of the Savior, their faith was sufficiently strengthened to allow Him to appear to the Apostles directly.

                When I am in need of help, I am often unprepared to receive the very help that I need.  In those circumstances, I find myself often led to experiences that help my underlying faith (rather than helping me with the issue that I need help with).  When my faith has become strengthened sufficient to receive the blessings the Lord has in store for me – then and only then does the resolution to the problem I had before the Lord come about and I am able to see His Hand revealed.

3 Nephi 19

(June 3, 2015)
                I am struck by the response of the Nephites to the knowledge that the Savior would return the next day.  It is not surprising that the people would do whatever was necessary in order to get themselves to the position where they would be able to hear the Lord’s message and see and be blessed by Him.  After all, this was their God – why wouldn’t they?

                But the thing that we so often forget is that we have the same opportunities to be in the presence of the Lord.  Do we reach that way on Saturday – planning our lives so that we can be in place to receive His word and His Sacrament on Sunday?  Do we work all night to free ourselves up so that we can attend the temple?

                It may be more dramatic to be in the presence of the Lord face-to-face, but being in His presents in the temple (or partaking of the Sacrament) is no less real.  And to the extent our behavior does not demonstrate that, it helps us to see where our faith can be improved.

Luke 23

(June 2, 2015)
                I have long wondered about the mentality of the Jews during this time period.  How could they simultaneously feel that they were righteous, and at the same time present false accusations against Jesus and call out to “crucify Him!”?

                There is the recurring statement that each of us see ourselves as the hero (or victim) of our own story. To a great extent, that is actually true.  After all, the Savior would have performed His Atonement just for us, and the perfect Plan is not only perfect in aggregate but also perfect for each of us.

                But that can easily lead us to become blind to our own sins and weaknesses.  That is why it is so important to read the scriptures, because our self-deception crashes against this immovable source of truth and forces us to open our eyes.  It is also why it is so important for us to evaluate ourselves based upon our actions rather than our motivations.  Because we can lie to ourselves about our motivations (rationalization is powerful), but our actions are a stark demonstration of who we are.

                And if we are making false accusations and screaming “crucify Him!” (or whatever unrighteous behavior we have engaged in), that is probably a good indication that we need to repent.

3 Nephi 18

(June 2, 2015)
                The Savior’s words, here, were important for me to hear.  He teaches just how important it is to never give up on those around us, because we never know when someone might repent and return.  Who are we to ever close the door on the possibility of someone else’s repentance?  Who are we to say that the Atonement is not sufficiently powerful, or the Lord’s love not sufficiently complete, to reclaim someone however lost they may be?

                I struggle with this as I deal with those who hurt me at this time in my life.  I find it almost easier mentally and emotionally to close the door on them.  It is harder to see the things that they do to hurt me and to remember that the Lord still loves them and the day hopefully will come when they are forgiven and the things that they do to me will not affect them.  The base part of me wants them to pay the price for what they have done, but that very same approach would lead to my destruction as well.

                And so, though it is difficult, it is clear that the Savior’s words here apply to me as well.  No matter what they do to hurt me, it is essential that I continue to hope for them to make the changes that they need to in order to return to Him.

Monday, June 1, 2015

Luke 22

(June 1, 2015)
                It is hard for me to imagine that someone could see the miracles of the Savior (and even be a beneficiary of them) and yet still hate Him.  But that is what happened in this chapter.  The servant of the priest was cut by the sword, and the Savior healed him.  But, seeing this, the priest went forward with the arrest and the soldier presumably participated (although, to be fair, the record was ultimately silent on that fact).

                It is important to know this fact pattern for two reasons.  First, there are those who will know the truth absolutely and without question (or, to a lesser extent, know enough of the truth to know better) and yet will still act in opposition to the Lord’s will for purposes of their own.  We deny that at our peril.

                Second, we likewise are not as rational as we like to think we are.  There are times when we want something and we will contort ourselves mentally and spiritually until we arrive at the point where we can justify our selfish choice.  We can see the Savior heal us, and at the same time put Him to shame because our hearts are not turned to Him the way they should be.

                Being aware of it in others helps us to protect ourselves.  Being aware of it in ourselves helps us to change that aspect of our natures and by recognizing our faults to sacrifice them and become more like the Lord in what we do and who we are.

3 Nephi 16-17

(June 1, 2015)
                I often forget that each of us are weak and we struggle to understand the words of the Lord.  Understanding what He stands ready to teach us requires patience on our part, study, pondering, and time.  I encounter something and I feel like I ought to learn the lesson in the first instance – when I don’t, I can easily become very frustrated with myself for being a failure.

                Ironically, it is these thoughts that threaten to make me a failure because I become fixated on my mistake and fail to ponder and learn the lessons that I am being taught.  So long as I am willing to give my will over to the Lord completely, the question of capacity to give my will over to the Lord completely is a matter of time and struggle and adversity and Grace.  It does not come all at once – but when the decision is made, and so long as it is held to, the Lord will magnify that sacrifice so that my will can be swallowed in His will.

                The other thought I had was in the actions of the Savior towards the people.  He had an agenda, and the agenda was likely very important.  After all, He was the risen Lord and His time was very precious.  But when He saw the desires of those around Him, He was filled with compassion on them and He stayed.

                We must never let an agenda dictate our actions.  We are put on this Earth to bless the lives of the children of God, and an agenda may help with that.  But the moment the agenda becomes more important than the person, the agenda becomes a tool of the Adversary rather than a tool of the Lord.

3 Nephi 14-15

(May 31, 2015)
                I wonder how many times I am just as guilty of misinterpreting the Lord as were the Israelites.  They heard His saying (other sheep) and naturally they assumed He was talking about the Gentiles.  That is perfectly rational, reasonable, but also wrong.

                When the Lord speaks with me, do I ever do the same thing?  He may tell me something through the Spirit and I will interpret it in a way that is rational, reasonable, and wrong.  How do I defend myself against this?  The natural though I have when considering this is prayer, and I think that is the right answer.  But I fear also it may be just adding a recursive loop (how do I know I am not misinterpreting the answer that I am not misinterpreting the answer?).

Luke 21

(May 30, 2015)
                The Lord’s language here, of our hearts being overcharged with the cares of the world such that we are unaware of the coming of the Kingdom of God, is even more enlightening when interpreted in conjunction with the Lord’s statement that the Kingdom of God is within us.  It is not merely a matter of us being lost in our cares and missing the Signs of the Times.  It is a matter of us being lost in our cares and missing the signs that the Lord has put before each of us on a daily basis.  The Lord has a work for us to do today, and when we are focused on the cares of the world we will inevitably miss the things that we should do.  When our time to leave mortality comes, we will leave unaware (and thus unprepared).

                The only defense is to remain steadfast in putting the Lord first in absolutely everything in our lives.  When we do this, we avoid missing the spiritual road signs we need in our lives.

3 Nephi 13

(May 30, 2015)
                Both times the Lord gives the Lord’s Prayer, He concludes with an aside reiterating a truth from the prayer – we are only forgiven to the extent that we forgive others.  Nibley said that there are two blessings we have for which the angels envy us (paraphrasing him) – the ability to repent and the ability to forgive.  When we get focused on the sins of others, we really lose the capacity to do either of these things.  Looking at others’ sins cause us to neglect the self-examination necessary to free us from our personal sins (we do not repent, because the problem is ‘out there’ rather than within us).  And when we focus on the sins of others, we can often fixate on them and lose track of our capacity to forgive.

                Once this happens, we are lost no matter how outwardly righteous we may be (because if we fail in one aspect of the law, we have failed in them all – and perfection is beyond us).  In this dangerous position, our only hope is to turn to the Lord and pray earnestly for the capacity to forgive and the ability to focus on our own mistakes rather than looking to the mistakes of others.

Luke 19-20

(May 29, 2015)
                The unprofitable servant, in my mind, is much like the servant of the Lord who lives their life focused on avoiding sin.  Like a fear of losing money, a fear of sin can take a legitimate and worthwhile matter and push it beyond what it should be.  Yes, losing money is bad, and yes sin is bad.  But if our fear of losing money or our fear of sin debilitate us to the point where we don’t invest what we have been given to the Lord to build His Kingdom, what purpose do we have?

                Our focus needs to be on building the Kingdom, not the selfish purpose of avoiding sin.  If we are truly focused on building the Kingdom, we will avoid sin as a natural consequence of our increased love for the Savior and our fellow men.  Ironically, the best way to avoid sinning is very often to forget the battle with sin and focus on the needs of those around us and what the Lord wants us to do at that moment – then doing it.