Our Own Reality- Proverbs 13:20, 1 Corinthians 15:33 (ESV)

He that walketh with wise men shall be wise: but a companion of fools shall be destroyed.

Do not be deceived: “Bad company ruins good morals.”

COMMENTARY

He that walketh with wise men shall be wise: but a companion of fools shall be destroyed.
Do not be deceived: “Bad company ruins good morals.”
Some of us believe that the company we keep won’t affect who we are, neither the media we consume, nor the interests we pursue. We believe that we can give an ear to corrupt minds, yet still retain our pure convictions. We believe that we can take mixed entertainment, yet look past the depravity that comes with it. After all, Jesus was a companion of sinners, wasn’t he? And he still retained all of his morals, didn’t he?
That is true…but also Jesus never succumbed to temptation, a feat that none of us can claim. Also there is quite a difference between lifting those in the world versus being a part of that world.
The simple truth is that we are far less impervious to our surroundings than we might imagine. For better and worse, the environment we dwell in does become a part of us. You might not be paranoid now, but spend your time researching conspiracy theories, and sooner or later you’ll start to believe them. You might not feel very spiritual now, but spend your time among the devout, and sooner or later you’ll start seeing the hand of God around you.
Thus a thin man might eat a fatty meal one day and look himself in the mirror and say “I am still thin…clearly fatty food has no effect on me.” Or an obese man might eat a lean meal and also see no effect. But if they continue with it over time, gradually the fat will become the first man and the lean will become the second. For reality becomes our repeated experience.

Our Own Reality- 1 Kings 12:6-7, 13-14

And king Rehoboam consulted with the old men, that stood before Solomon his father while he yet lived, and said, How do ye advise that I may answer this people?
And they spake unto him, saying, If thou wilt be a servant unto this people this day, and wilt serve them, and answer them, and speak good words to them, then they will be thy servants for ever.
But he forsook the counsel of the old men, which they had given him, and consulted with the young men that were grown up with him, and which stood before him:
And the king answered the people roughly, and forsook the old men’s counsel that they gave him;
And spake to them after the counsel of the young men, saying, My father made your yoke heavy, and I will add to your yoke: my father also chastised you with whips, but I will chastise you with scorpions.

COMMENTARY

But he forsook the counsel of the old men, which they had given him, and consulted with the young men that were grown up with him
Rehoboam had a choice for what sort of king he was going to be. He sought counsel from two parties for how to present himself to his subjects, and received two different versions of the image he could bear. Ultimately he choose to fashion himself after the more foolish counsel, and lost the majority of his kingdom as a result.
Each of us likes to think that we are strictly in charge of our own formation. We believe we are impervious to advertisements and social pressures, that we make up our own mind and no one has a hold on us. But, frankly, that belief ignores the reality of our nature. We are beings that are composed of what we consume, and what we choose to fill ourselves with will then become what comes out of us after.
So if you spend all your time among any particular group, eventually their outlook will rub off on you. Rehoboam was naturally more inclined to side with those that he had spent his youth with. He framed his reality from the environment he had shared with them, even though it meant taking a stance that was so obviously foolish.

The Doing Muscle- Matthew 9:16-17

No man putteth a piece of new cloth unto an old garment, for that which is put in to fill it up taketh from the garment, and the rent is made worse.
Neither do men put new wine into old bottles: else the bottles break, and the wine runneth out, and the bottles perish: but they put new wine into new bottles, and both are preserved.

COMMENTARY

No man putteth a piece of new cloth unto an old garment, for the rent is made worse
Neither do men put new wine into old bottles: else the bottles break

Have you ever tried to make an improvement in your life and found that you not only fail to meet it, but also move backwards on other practices? Like a juggler who can keep three balls aloft, but when a fourth is added they drop the whole set.
I have certainly had the experience of feeling like I tried for too much too soon, and as a result lost what progress I already had. I have learned the wisdom of adding one small improvement at a time instead, keeping things manageable from one step to the next.

But they put new wine into new bottles, and both are preserved
But sometimes incremental improvements are not the solution. Sometimes the solution is realizing that the structure of your life will never be able to hold the changes that you need to make.
And so I have also learned the wisdom of occasionally throwing out the old bottle and starting again with a new vessel. I just let go of all the things that I “think I have to do,” resulting in a daily schedule that is devoid of anything at all. And then I start putting things in, the most important ones first, and being sure to include the new improvements that I know I need. At the end there are many old things left behind, but that is better than trying to cram it all in until the bottle bursts.

The Doing Muscle- Ecclesiastes 11:4, Doctrine and Covenants 64:25

He that observeth the wind shall not sow; and he that regardeth the clouds shall not reap.

Wherefore, if ye believe me, ye will labor while it is called today.

COMMENTARY

He that observeth the wind shall not sow; and he that regardeth the clouds shall not reap
I believe that most of us can relate to hearing a sermon that stirred our hearts, or having a our conscience pricked towards improvement, or having our minds taken by a thought of something good to do…but then saying to ourselves “not right now, though…I’ll worry about that tomorrow.”
And in that is a most pernicious lie. For each of us knows from experience that when tomorrow comes, we do not make the change then either. The deceit is in thinking that we can even make a decision for what we will do tomorrow. We can not. Indeed we never make choices for future events. We have before us only a single moment called “the present” in which to make all our choices, and everything else is off the table.
And thus there is only one choice that we are making when we say “I will do it tomorrow.” What we really mean is “I will not do it now.” That is the one choice. “I could do it now…but I will not. I could be someone different here in this moment…but I will not be.” And if we will not be someone different now, then how could we hope to be the sort of person tomorrow that would make the good choice instead? Rather we will be the same procrastinator then that we are today.

Wherefore, if ye believe me, ye will labor while it is called today
The only way that any of us will ever change who we are, the only way that we will ever improve in the ways that we must, is if we make the decision to do so right now. There has never been a person in all of history that changed their life “tomorrow.” Do it today, or it won’t be done.

For Our Own Good- Question

I can see why the commandments of God are often seen by the world as a burden. They do, many times, put restrictions on the things that we would otherwise do. I think it is fair to say that were it not for our conscience, we would all live a far more hedonistic and sensual life, catering to the carnal tastes that are in us all. Thankfully we do have our conscience, though, and as a result, overcome many passions for our own greater good.

But even with the help of our conscience, we inevitably come to another sticking point. Sooner or later we will encounter a commandment which we do not necessarily feel the importance of. Perhaps we totally get why it is wrong to steal and kill, and will gladly restrict ourselves from such behavior, but keeping the sabbath day holy? Living a chaste life? Paying our tithes? If we list out enough commandments, sooner or later each of us will likely find one that just doesn’t resonate in us as much as the others.

What is one to do in such a circumstance? Do we ignore the laws that we don’t understand? Is it possible to gain full benefit for following them in a state of “just going through motions,” where our hearts are not in it? I would like to consider these questions, as well as contemplate why we even come to this conundrum in the first place. In the meantime, I would be curious to hear how you have dealt with the laws that you did not fully understand the reasons for? Did understanding come eventually? If so, what did you have to do to gain it?

The Need for Law- Alma 41:3-4, 2 Nephi 2:5

And it is requisite with the justice of God that men should be judged according to their works; and if their works were good in this life, and the desires of their hearts were good, that they should also, at the last day, be restored unto that which is good.
And if their works are evil they shall be restored unto them for evil. Therefore, all things shall be restored to their proper order, every thing to its natural frame—mortality raised to immortality, corruption to incorruption—raised to endless happiness to inherit the kingdom of God, or to endless misery to inherit the kingdom of the devil, the one on one hand, the other on the other.

And men are instructed sufficiently that they know good from evil. And the law is given unto men. And by the law no flesh is justified; or, by the law men are cut off. Yea, by the temporal law they were cut off; and also, by the spiritual law they perish from that which is good, and become miserable forever.

COMMENTARY

Men should be judged according to their works; and if their works were good, that they should be restored unto that which is good. And if their works are evil they shall be restored unto them for evil.
Raised to endless happiness or to endless misery, the one on one hand, the other on the other
Previously we observed that the natural order of the world is entropy and extinction. Eventually all of us will go quiet, cease all existence, and that would be the end of it. It is a silent and bleak destiny, devoid of anything whatsoever. To be fair, there is no pain or suffering in it, but that comes at the expense of there being no other things as well.
However, as we saw, this somber ending is given an escape in the form of God’s law. God interrupts our path and introduces an afterlife as a new final destiny for us. This afterlife is split in two, though. Instead of having just one destination, there is a division. One of the potential destinations is one of joy, the other is of misery.
This is blessing and the curse of God’s law. It is a medium, like water, by which those that are validated ascend to the surface, and those that are invalidated are sunk to the bottom. By it we have the greatest potential, but also the greatest of danger.

And the law is given unto men. And by the law no flesh is justified.
And here we find the big catch to all this plan: none of us can keep God’s law. It offers everlasting joy…but only to those that keep its strictures perfectly, which none of us will. It is good to have a law of righteousness to guide us, it is good to be given a choice in life, it is good to have the potential for exaltation…but all that good won’t actually do us any good when we inevitably break the law.
And remember, this isn’t just a law, it is a Law, capital L. It is eternal and irrefutable. We aren’t going to be able to just vote it away, it must be enacted universally, and must be compensated for entirely. God’s Law would take the surety of dead nothingness, and effectively replace it with the surety of damnation instead. Not really a better situation for us!
But…with that law came a plan. It turns out that there actually is a way for us to get the benefits at the positive endpoint of God’s Law, and avoid the detriments at the other endpoint. To accomplish that, though, requires some sort of mediator to bridge the gap.

Personal Commitment: Month 0

Today I start a new series in this blog, one where I commit to living the principles of the gospel more fully, and keep myself accountable by sharing the results of so trying in each succeeding entry. I do recognize the need to handle this with utmost delicacy, for I know that the cultivation of one’s soul is a very sacred, personal thing, and I do not want to tarnish it through over-exposure.

As such, these commitments are not going to be expressed as crude checklists, or detailed out in every degree. Some parts of my spiritual cultivation I simply will not discuss at all.

Still, I believe that if one handles such matters with thoughtfulness, a great deal of good can come about by having a bit more vulnerability to one another. Being able to honestly talk about where we are at with our own conscience, and to admit that there are things we are still working on, can help us reach for our better natures together.

I’d like to start the ball rolling by stating that I am a millennial, and I am over-saturated in media. Hardly surprising, I know! But just because a trend is common or understandable does not mean it should be condoned. I have felt for a while like I need to take a stance against my own over-consumption of the digital world, and I would rather that this part of my life be a pleasant seasoning, and not the main course.

Of course, excessive media use is never explicitly called out in the scriptures as a sin. And yet, my conscience tells me that it is an idol that at times I have placed before God. To check-in with my conscience now, I would say that I feel like I use media as a crutch to get through times of boredom and stress. I have noted how even after I turn off the screen, I can remain in a dazed state, unable to fully engage with the other aspects of my life. I do not feel that this is how I was meant to live.

Thus I have set some expectations for myself in how I would like to limit the role of media in my life. Some things are being sworn off entirely, others are being limited to specific times and situations. But more than all that, I just intend to follow my conscience, more than my “need” to look up that article or video. One month from now I will share how I have progressed in that journey, and what the effects of it have been. If anything particularly notable happens along the way, I will make note of it at the time.

Thank you.

What Chance Do I Have?- Judges 16:6, 15-17

And Delilah said to Samson, Tell me, I pray thee, wherein thy great strength lieth, and wherewith thou mightest be bound to afflict thee.
And she said unto him, How canst thou say, I love thee, when thine heart is not with me? thou hast mocked me these three times, and hast not told me wherein thy great strength lieth.
And it came to pass, when she pressed him daily with her words, and urged him, so that his soul was vexed unto death;
That he told her all his heart, and said unto her, There hath not come a razor upon mine head; for I have been a Nazarite unto God from my mother’s womb: if I be shaven, then my strength will go from me, and I shall become weak, and be like any other man.

COMMENTARY

Tell me wherein thy great strength lieth, and wherewith thou mightest be bound to afflict thee
She pressed him daily, so that his soul was vexed unto death; That he told her all his heart
Samson had a weakness. But it wasn’t his hair, it was Delilah. Personally I’ve never been able to see Samson as some idiot who failed to recognize what Delilah was doing. Far more likely to me is that he was entirely aware of her malicious intentions, but even so he loved her, and was “vexed unto death” so that he didn’t care whether he lived or died anymore. In the end he could only choose life or Delilah…and he submitted to her destruction.
It might seem ridiculous to so willingly elect self-harm, but really it is all-too common. I’m sure we all know men who were noble and good, until they gave in to the bottle. And we all know women who were beautiful and confident, until they denied their bodies food and nourishment. I can honestly say that I have given into my weaknesses while fully knowing that they were destroying me.
In other words, we all have our personal weakness, our slippery paths that lead from greatness to brokenness. Even if we are strong as Samson, the opportunity yet remains to lose it all. No matter how spiritually powerful we may become, we never stop having to choose between life or Delilah.

Individual Trials- Matthew 11:28-30

Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.
Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls.
For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.

COMMENTARY

Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden
Life is difficult, even without trials. For trials are moments given by divinity to test us, but even in their absence there still remains a world that is unfair and consequences for our wrongs. As Jesus put it, there yet remains “labour” and being “heavy laden.”
People speak of how they are hesitant to give themselves to Christ, because then all manner of trouble will come to them. But I’ve seen the shambles that we make from a life without Christ, the trouble is already here.

Take my yoke upon you, for my yoke is easy, and my burden is light
The only question, then, is which hardship would you rather endure? Consequences or trials? Consequences that are the retribution for your failings, or trials that are the crucible for your success? Hardship comes either way, so would you rather face it alone, or with a companion? Would you rather suffer your brokenness, or suffer the purification that makes you whole? Trials are never easy, but they are always better.

Individual Trials- Deuteronomy 30:19, Joshua 24:15

I call heaven and earth to record this day against you, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing: therefore choose life, that both thou and thy seed may live:

And if it seem evil unto you to serve the Lord, choose you this day whom ye will serve; whether the gods which your fathers served that were on the other side of the flood, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land ye dwell: but as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.

COMMENTARY

I have set before you life and death, therefore choose life
Choose you this day whom ye will serve
Yesterday we observed how the most common trial God places before us is the trial of our own nature. But the war with ourselves is certainly not some singular event, rather it is broken up into many skirmishes spread throughout each day. Therefore the trial of our nature is further divided into the trials of our individual choices.
Some daily decisions are made easily, but even if we dismiss all of these, there yet remain numerous times where we want one thing, but our conscience wants another. Each one of those is a trial. They might seem like small ones, but each one is a question from God that asks “will you choose Me, or will you choose you?”
That realization has aided me greatly when my small, daily trials come to bear. It is so much harder to deny God when I consciously know that that’s what I’m doing.