Category Archives: Religion

the gospel of simplicity

I had an interesting thought tonight.  “Lord, I want to join the battle.”  I love working with youth, talking to them, helping them out the best I can.  The thing that worries the most is not the decisions that they’ll make, but rather that I haven’t prepared myself enough.  I want to be spiritually ready all the time, to be up to any challenge that comes my way.  That’s a pretty tall order.  When I feel like I need to reach that lofty goal, I start to think of big ways to change my life, and how to get there amazingly fast.

What I’m having to learn over and over is that the the gospel is not about moments of energy and excitement.  It’s not big projects that need to be undertaken, or major changes to my schedule.  It’s not zealotry or extreme attitudes.  Instead, it’s about making a decision, day by day, to follow Christ.

Like many Christians, I wear a cross.  It’s a necklace that I put on every morning before I head out for the day.  I don’t have to put it on, but as I do, it’s a really personal reminder that I’m making a choice — that, yes, this is something I want to do, and take it upon myself willingly.  And what’s cool is that I have to make that decision every day — not as a group, but individually.  Every morning I make the choice.

I still have the habit of wanting to jump into things with full heart and spirit, and at times get almost a patriotic pledge to do more.  I think of big changes I can make so that I’m somehow getting more spirituality into my life.  It starts to become a project, some huge overreaching goal that I can build with lots of effort and work.  This leads problem that I will start to think there is something “special” out there that I should be doing, to find that extra measure of spiritual input.  Big goals require big commitments, which leads to big changes.  Rip out all the old stuff, and put in the new.  Everything old must go. There’s some method out there to tap this great well of spiritual power that I haven’t found yet, some secret sauce that the Lord will reveal to me as I push with so much effort and drive.

However, that is going about it the wrong way.  I love how the Lord puts things into perspective.  From Matthew 24:

26. Wherefore if they shall say unto you, Behold, he is in the desert; go not forth: behold, he is in the secret chambers; believe it not.

There are no secret angles, no shortcuts, no hidden mysteries for only a select few to find.  I do not need to go out into the desert, something that would take a lot of resources and dedication — somewhere only a few could go if they had the right equipment, stamina, and drive.

Instead, He has made it clear that it is the basic principles of the gospel, that all men, women and children can exercise, where they are.  Consider, for example, taking the basics to a higher level over time as you make it a part of your life.

Prayer is the simple act of talking to God.  Reading the scriptures is having God talk to me.  Fasting teaches self-control.  Like any skill, I can improve, and do better over time.  Instead of saying token prayers, I can learn how to calmly and quietly express my soul to God, and know that he hears.  Instead of reading the scriptures out of a sense of duty and daily obligation, I can study them and look more closely, trying to understand God’s will.

The basics, if expanded on, can bring about great results.  I know that that’s true, because as I decrease or increase in those simple things, I can notice a difference.

My crazy mind still likes to flirt with the idea that there is some great knowledge that I need to acquire before I can commit.  A nebulous mass of content that I must completely understand before I can move forward.

Again, the Lord puts things into perspective, making it so much simpler:

13. Enter ye in at the strait gate: for wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat:
14. Because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it.

The way that I read this is that my task  is to enter into the gate that leads unto eternal life.  He doesn’t say anything about winning the race, or how fast I should be going, or how soon I need to get there.  At the very beginning, He just wants me to go in the right direction.

It’s not hard to make that choice, but it’s hard for me to understand and accept that it’s so simple.  It really is, though, and when I think about how easy it is, I realize that it’s something I can do.  And the Holy Ghost confirms to me that it is true.  I like the Lord’s way much better than mine.

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blog.nephi.org

Oh, I don’t know how I totally forgot about this, but I did. This week, I setup a new blog for me, this time to cover just my posts about religion and scripture study. I put it on my existing nephi.org site, namely at blog.nephi.org.

I honestly have no idea how often I’ll be posting over there, I’m thinking maybe around once per month. I really like writing the posts, but I stress so much over them .. my last one took me like 20 minutes to write and 2 hours to stress over. Ah, well. I do enjoy it, though.

Anyway, yah, all my religious posts will end up over there now, though I may cross-post here occassionally. Or not. That could get annoying. Maybe. I dunno. Look, it’s Halloween soon!

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depart from me, o lord

For some reason, this phrase entered my mind today. I remembered it as “Depart from me, Lord, for I am a sinner.” I didn’t remember where it was, somewhere in the New Testament, so I looked it up and it is found in Luke — the book I have been studying most recently. The actual wording is a little different than I recalled: “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord.” (Luke 5:8)

What made me think of this was the conflict in actions that the man was displaying. I remembered that he both fell down to worship, yet at the same time beckoned for some distance. The act seems interesting to me because I believe it represents some emotional conflict. A desire to serve and be righteous, with some degree of outward performance even performed, but internally a feeling of inadequacy, observant of his own weakness. For me, that feeling can be overwhelming. There are times when it is all I can do to kneel, or some similar act, something simple, and yet feel unworthy to press on or do more. I want to do good, yet I feel like I cannot approach the Lord because of the mistakes I have made.

I think Jesus’ reply is interesting as well. “Fear not,” is the first part of his reply. Why does the Lord say that? What is the effect of fear and how does diminishing it at this time help? I believe that, in this same scenario of mixed emotions, that the feeling of inadequacy and failure robs a person of courage and then causes them to fear moving forward. I know in my own life, in the midst of confusion, every option seems fearful, full of uncertainty.

I also love how the Lord pronounces a prophecy regarding him (and his companions). The Lord is directly contradicting the vision, direction, capability and mission that Peter has set for himself. The Lord knows what he can become, and shares in small measure, a glimpse of that future.

It occurs to me that there’s some significance to the fact that they were on the water, a place of unrest and uncertain surface. Before they could follow the master, they had to bring their ships to land (5:11). I have noticed in my own life, that when I am uncertain and unsteady, that if I return to doing the small things (reading a bit of scripture, for example), that it grounds me, and makes me able to do more. In contrast, a sense of despair and discouragement is often accompanied by a stage of apathy.

Finally, the efforts of following the Lord may seem sacrificial, but are really beneficial, for “they forsook all”. Not only their past possessions, but their past difficulties, to be replaced with anxiety and cares and the other feelings that come in the service of others — the yoke of the Lord — completely displacing their old woes. While the actions are first, the feelings will follow.

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when things go wrong

I have had a couple of experiences recently that have made me stop and wonder how I react when things don’t go the way I planned. And by recent experiences, I mean, I’ve had a few things not go so well lately. But I’m curious about my attitude after the fact. I’m noticing that I often use it as a justification to do something irresponsible, because, I somehow deserve it.

One simple example. I love to go driving around as a way for me to just relax. I do it a lot when I need to go think for a while, and either get my mind off of things or just ponder on something. There’s nothing wrong with that. But I also like to drive fast. Most of the time, I’m a safe, reasonable driver. When things go really bad though, and I decide to go for a drive to cool myself off, I’ll tell myself it’s okay to go speeding down the freeway like a madman to help me unwind and relax. So, somehow in my mind, when life does not meet my expectations, I’m justified in executing civil disobedience. That is not right, but it’s my attitude. In fact, in those times of anxiety, not only is it my attitude, but it *feels* right. It really does feel like I’m allowed that exception to responsibility. And that’s what I’m trying to figure out where that came from.

I have another example that seems totally unrelated, but it’s been rolling around in my head as well. Chocolate has been marketed in my lifetime as a rewarding pleasure for when things go wrong in your life. You’ve had a rough day, go lounge on the couch while sucking on a piece of candy, and all will be right. The principle marketed is that if, if things go wrong, you deserve a reward.

I’m starting to break down that assumption as well and try to rework my perspective. It requires humility. Which is hard. And that’s what occurred to me last night, after a very long day of many things going wrong. At first, like usual, I was angry, and determined to do something to “make things right.” Some way to reward myself. What got me started thinking about how maybe my attitude was wrong is I decided that I didn’t have to get up early the next morning to go to my Bible study class before work and I could sleep in instead. That’s when I realized that my attitude of self-reward was cutting me out of things that would really be blessings in my life. Once I got on that mental track, I started re-thinking the purpose of trials and difficulties. And it was then that the Lord had a chance to work on my heart a little bit, and I became humbled to a small degree. The anger and bitterness left my heart. I got to see, in part, that I had become hardened by the obstacles that He thought I was ready to face. Instead of rising to the challenge and seeing them as opportunities for growth, I was viewing them them with an attitude of “how dare you upset my stability?”

I often wonder what the purposes and reasons for the Lord sending us here to earth are, and I believe that one of the main ones are that we are here to experience hardship and difficulty, so that we can grow. Honestly, that’s a really hard concept for me to swallow. But as I tried to see things from a better perspective last night, it just felt *right*. So I think I may be onto something, and I’m going to try and see if I can’t figure it out some more.

I’m not really excited at the prospect of more things going wrong, but I’m starting to wonder now if it’s one way the Lord is trying to tell me something. For instance, that my load is too heavy and I’m not keeping balance.

I think there are a lot of things I can learn when things go awry, and they include lessons about myself. How to keep calm and cool under pressure is one that is really difficult. At work, I’ve learned to solve it with one change in attitude: we pull together, not apart. I’ve found that a lot of my stress and anxiety comes when I try to get myself out of a predicament. But if I focus on getting through it, working with others, then it requires a lot more self-resolve and patience. Both are areas I could use some work on.

I’d like to leave one last note, for myself at least, that this is certainly not a new principle acquired. It’s just something I’ve started to figure out. I’ve got work to do on the area.

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truth and trivia

At work today, I randomly commented to my friend, Jason, “It’s interesting to note what drops out of your life when your time gets filled with important things.” That seems to be the trend my schedule is taking lately. Not to say my schedule is a paragon of efficiency and order. I just had pudding for dinner. But I have noticed that as my surplus of resources diminishes, things change. And it’s curious to note what gets dropped.

It makes me think of this talk I heard some time:

“When compared to eternal verities, the questions of daily living are really rather trivial. What shall we have for dinner? Is there a good movie playing tonight? Have you seen the television log? Where shall we go on Saturday? These questions pale into insignificance when times of crisis arise, when loved ones are wounded, when pain enters the house of good health, or when life’s candle dims and darkness threatens. Then truth and trivia are soon separated. The soul of man reaches heavenward, seeking a divine response to life’s greatest questions: Where did we come from? Why are we here? Where do we go after we leave this life? Answers to these questions are not discovered within the covers of academia’s textbooks, by dialing information, in tossing a coin, or through random selection of multiple-choice responses. These questions transcend mortality. They embrace eternity.”

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zechariah chapter eight

I stumbled on this chapter the other day, when I was at my Isaiah class, and while one group of scriptures stood out to me, it’s one of those chapters where I keep bouncing around and finding cool stuff just in the whole thing.

It’s in the book of Zechariah, which is the second-to-last book in the Old Testament (KJV).  The Lord, speaking through the prophet, is describing how the city of Jerusalem is going to be safely inhabited in the future.  That in itself isn’t such an interesting or novel address in the scriptures, but so far, this one stands out to me because he goes in detail about what life will be like, and also compares it to the way things were before.

My favorite passage is verses nine to fifteen:

9. ¶ Thus saith the LORD of hosts; Let your hands be strong, ye that hear in these days these words by the mouth of the prophets, which were in the day that the foundation of the house of the LORD of hosts was laid, that the temple might be built.

10. For before these days there was no hire for man, nor any hire for beast; neither was there any peace to him that went out or came in because of the affliction: for I set all men every one against his neighbour.

11. But now I will not be unto the residue of this people as in the former days, saith the LORD of hosts.

12. For the seed shall be prosperous; the vine shall give her fruit, and the ground shall give her increase, and the heavens shall give their dew; and I will cause the remnant of this people to possess all these things.

13. And it shall come to pass, that as ye were a curse among the heathen, O house of Judah, and house of Israel; so will I save you, and ye shall be a blessing: fear not, but let your hands be strong.

14. For thus saith the LORD of hosts; As I thought to punish you, when your fathers provoked me to wrath, saith the LORD of hosts, and I repented not:

15. So again have I thought in these days to do well unto Jerusalem and to the house of Judah: fear ye not.

I was looking through the chapter again yesterday morning I think it was, and verse twelve stuck out to me.  One thing I’ve learned to notice in the scriptures, is to look closely whenever the Lord lists things in a sequential list.  I’ve found that there can be some significance to that.

The things that will propser, specifically:

For the seed shall be prosperous;

the vine shall give her fruit,

and the ground shall give her increase,

and the heavens shall give their dew;

What I find interesting, is that it goes from the smallest to the largest, from those who have influence in their own realm, and those whose influence stretches far beyond themselves.

The spiritual application that I’m getting from this, is that all of us, from the smallest to the greatest, will be able to reach our potential.  To some, it is given to bring forth great things, and to some it is given to bring forth little.

I know there’s a lot of pressure sometimes, in a religious community, to expect more of ourselves than is possible.  In that realm of thought, I love the parable of the talents given to the servants (see Matthew 25:14-30).  To one servant, was given five talents, and to another two, and to another, one.  The lesson is that where much is given, much is required.  The Lord’s answer of “Well done, thou good and faithful servant,” was the exact same to the servant who doubled his talents, regardless of his initial investment.  The Lord gives us all, and he expects all in return.

The last part of the verse is cool as well, and it illustrates how all of this is going to happen, in both a literal sense of economic, social and agricultural stability, but also spiritually and individually:

I will cause the remnant of this people to possess all these things.

The Lord prepares the people, He is the one that effects the change, and the reason we have the scriptures is so that we can know His will and how to change our lives.  This chapter just includes some of the promises that will come as people seek to do that.

I can certainly testify from my own experience that lots of personal growth comes from actually living the Gospel of Christ.  It’s difficult, but very rewarding.

Good stuff, I tell you.  I enjoy studying this stuff. :)

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a division among the people

I am really saddened by the politics lately, considering the community center building in New York.  Though I don’t follow the debates closely, from the outset, I’m saddened by the whole thing, mostly for the intolerance of our own neighbors.

Particularly, I read a comment that said, “therefore another location could be chosen for the mega-mosque. The aim should be to unite people and not to divide them.”  Another one providing the idea  that those of differing opinions should “build it some miles away.”  Reading that, I thought of the words of the Lord, who taught us to love our neighbors.

I think it’s worth sharing a small parable from the Master, found in Luke 10.

And, behold, a certain lawyer stood up, and tempted him, saying, Master, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?

He said unto him, What is written in the law? how readest thou?

And he answering said, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength, and with all thy mind; and thy neighbour as thyself.

And he said unto him, Thou hast answered right: this do, and thou shalt live.

But he, willing to justify himself, said unto Jesus, And who is my neighbour?

And Jesus answering said, a certain man went down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell among thieves, which stripped him of his raiment, and wounded him, and departed, leaving him half dead.  And by chance there came down a certain priest that way: and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side.  And likewise a Levite, when he was at the place, came and looked on him, and passed by on the other side.

But a certain Samaritan, as he journeyed, came where he was: and when he saw him, he had compassion on him, and went to him, and bound up his wounds, pouring in oil and wine, and set him on his own beast, and brought him to an inn, and took care of him. And on the morrow when he departed, he took out two pence, and gave them to the host, and said unto him, Take care of him; and whatsoever thou spendest more, when I come again, I will repay thee.

Which now of these three, thinkest thou, was neighbour unto him that fell among the thieves?

And he said, He that shewed mercy on him.

Then said Jesus unto him, Go, and do thou likewise.

There are some great things to learn from this scripture, but one that I wanted to point out was the racial division among the people.  If the traveler originated from Jerusalem, then it may be safe to assume that he was a Jew — a native to the country.  Those that passed him by would have been kinsmen — a priest, and a Levite.

It was a Samaritan that helped him, though.  That the Lord mentioned him by origin is telling.  The Samaritans were a mixed breed of race.  In recent history, the kingdom of Israel had been conquered, and a few Israelites left.  The land was later colonized by the Assyrians and the Babylonians, and the people were mixed in religion as well — both heathen and believer.

They were most hated by the Jews, for their perceived impure backgrounds and practices, yet, geographically speaking, they were neighbors.  And it was those, among whom the world expects the least, that comes salvation.

In the parable, Christ was speaking of Himself.  He was also of mixed breed, born of a mortal mother and an immortal Father, and He was despised of all men, for not conforming to their beliefs and culture.  And yet, He is the one who will bring salvation and life to the wounded.

Who, then, today are our neighbors?  Can we pick them any more than we can pick our own family?  If we disagree culturally or politically, should we demand that they go elsewhere?

I believe that the Lord intended the principle of loving our neighbors to be both figurative and literal.  There are differences between races and cultures, for sure, but as a species we are far more alike than different.

Who are our neighbors?  Those who take residence next to us.  In the sense of loving them, the parable illustrated the commandment by showing service, to lift them up and carry them upon our own beasts and to give of our own resources when none other — even those who were called to that work — would be so willing.  May we do the same.

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