Solemnity and Joy- Revelation 21:3-4

And I heard a great voice out of heaven saying, Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and he will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself shall be with them, and be their God.
And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away.

COMMENTARY

There shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain
I mentioned before that times of mourning are not the only reason for being solemn, but they certainly are a reason. All of us live in a fallen world, and now and again the reality of that impresses deeply on our hearts. We gradually come to appreciate the hard facts of life. Concepts like death and decay become more than just concepts, we start to feel the reality of them, the totality of them, and the certainty of them. How can we not be solemn then?

And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes
The miracle, it would seem, is that we can still be happy in the face of such heavy fates. It is wondrous that we are beings of hope and not despair. All our senses perceive a complete end in the image of a corpse, but the spirit inside denies any end. Never mind what illusion the body shows, the spirit knows that it is made of more eternal stuff.
In the fallen world we have doom and despair. It is real and it is sobering. But in this fallen world are also infinite souls which solemnity can have no permanent hold on. Our souls are in the hands of their Father, and He wipes away the transient tears to uncover the natural, eternal joy that remains beneath.

Solemnity and Joy- Exodus 3:2, 4-5

And the angel of the Lord appeared unto him in a flame of fire out of the midst of a bush: and he looked, and, behold, the bush burned with fire, and the bush was not consumed.
And when the Lord saw that he turned aside to see, God called unto him out of the midst of the bush, and said, Moses, Moses. And he said, Here am I.
And he said, Draw not nigh hither: put off thy shoes from off thy feet, for the place whereon thou standest is holy ground.

COMMENTARY

Put off thy shoes from off thy feet, for the place whereon thou standest is holy ground
Before Moses could fully approach the Lord he was instructed to remove his footwear. It was as if God was saying “this place is very delicate, so tread lightly!” Moses needed to show his respect by setting aside that which was callous and hard, and approach with caution instead.
This reminds me of times that I have opened up the most inner sections of my heart to God or another person. “This is a very delicate place we’re going to now, so please tread lightly!” In these moments a soft voice and carefully chosen words make all the difference.
Think also of how delicate God’s spirit is when we commune with it. Anything callous or hard will offend it away and we must take care to handle it gently.
Thus one definition for “solemn moments” would be times that call for being “delicate,” “gentle,” or “careful.”

Dealing With Failure- Matthew 26:41

Watch and pray, that ye enter not into temptation: the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.

COMMENTARY

The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.
If you’re like me, then this verse alone can describe the majority of your self-disappointments. It isn’t a question of not knowing what is right , or not wanting to do what is right, or not striving to do what is right. It’s simply that while part of me yearns for what is right, another part would rather be lazy, or sensually satisfied, or just revert back to what it already knows.
And I feel it is important to understand and acknowledge both sides of this. When I went to addiction recovery, I already hated my sinful cravings and I didn’t need to be taught to just hate them more. What I did need was to appreciate that I was already fundamentally good in my core desires, and now needed to learn to master the flesh.
And this was why my recovery program stressed the importance of making–and keeping–daily commitments. Even little things that were entirely unrelated to the addiction, such as brushing my teeth for a full two minutes or being to work on time. Because little by little I had to teach myself how to follow through and just do the things I already wanted to do. At last my flesh wasn’t overrunning my naturally good soul.

The Need for Law- Romans 7:6, 22-24; 8:1-2, 5, 14, 16

But now we are delivered from the law, that being dead wherein we were held; that we should serve in newness of spirit, and not in the oldness of the letter.
For I delight in the law of God after the inward man:
But I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members.
O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death?

There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit.
For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus hath made me free from the law of sin and death.
For they that are after the flesh do mind the things of the flesh; but they that are after the Spirit the things of the Spirit.

For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God.
The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God:

COMMENTARY

But now we are delivered from the law
There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus
For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus hath made me free from the law of sin and death
Verses such as these have been used to suggest that all Christians are free of condemnation, regardless of their behavior, after confessing Christ as their Savior. And, in a sense, this is true. For where we were once condemned to hell for our sins, the adherence to the gospel of Christ frees us of the demands of justice, and lets us live as if there had never been any condemnation over us. Thus we have sinned, yet are liberated from the consequences of having done so. But…we do still need to adhere to the gospel of Christ.

O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death?
For they that are after the flesh do mind the things of the flesh; but they that are after the Spirit the things of the Spirit.
Yes, Paul is speaking of being made free from law. He is speaking of being free from carnal, mortal law, and he is speaking of being free from divine law and its requirements for perfection. But he is not suggesting that we should surrender Christ’s law, too. The freedom that Christ offers is the freedom of subjecting ourselves to his law. We still must repent, we still must resolve to try again after every slip.

For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God.
The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God
.
Which is the other freedom that Christ offers to us. His Spirit makes trying again appeal to our hearts. It no longer becomes a burden to us, but rather a joy. His Spirit convinces us that we are the children of God, and when one is instilled with the knowledge of that in their hearts, it becomes natural and freeing to live in virtue.

The Virtue of Remembering- John 14:26, Luke 24:31-32

But the Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you.

And their eyes were opened, and they knew him; and he vanished out of their sight.
And they said one to another, Did not our heart burn within us, while he talked with us by the way, and while he opened to us the scriptures?

COMMENTARY

But the Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost, he shall bring all things to your remembrance
And their eyes were opened; And they said one to another, Did not our heart burn within us
We have discussed how difficult it can be for us to remember the things of God, to keep the fire of Him burning in our hearts. There have been many times where I have been able to remember a past spiritual event clearly in my mind, but just haven’t known how to bring back the feelings of the heart that went with it.
And frankly, I think it is because I can’t. A sign to the disciples that they had truly met the resurrected Christ was how he brought the fire back into their hearts, something they had known before in his presence, and which only he was able to return to them.
And just before his departure, Jesus had explained to his disciples that they would be given the Holy Ghost, whose express purpose was to bring back to them the things they could not bring back to themselves. It is essential that we return to the fire that we have felt before, but we are not supposed to try and force those feelings back into us. It doesn’t work that way. It does not return by our own power, only by His grace. Thus what is required of us is simply to remain open to receiving that presence that is already beside us. We must permit it to stir our souls back to Him again.

Worthy Vessels- Summary

I have often worried about not being “good enough” to be useful to God. I have also heard that exact fear from others, even as I saw them doing wonderful things in His name. These experiences have convinced me that we often have a deep misunderstanding of what it actually means to serve God.

I believe that there are many who are perfectly ready to be an instrument in God’s hands, but are simply uncertain of how to behave as such. It is not only our sins that we must overcome in the path of discipleship, it is also our ignorance.

I wanted to conduct this study to see how one is meant to be of use to their Maker and their fellowman. What is required of us? What is not? How does one overcome feelings of inadequacy? Over the last several days I have found some governing principles which can help gauge what sort of vessel one is preparing themselves to be.

The Vessel of God Must be Clean

There are no prerequisites to coming to God. No matter where you are at in life, the next step to approaching Him is already before you. There are, however, prerequisites to becoming his servant. The path of discipleship exists in two halves. The first is one of seeking forgiveness, being washed clean, and made ready to receive the Spirit of God. The second is being worked upon by that Spirit to do God’s work and help our fellow man.
Now yes, these two halves of discipleship are mingled with one another. One does not seek forgiveness only once. One repeats that first process many times, even after getting started on the second walk of discipleship. Even so, there is a first time of coming to God, where one lets go of all their worldly ways, and commits to a life of forever “trying again.” Often this initial purifying is symbolized by the ordinance of baptism. Every repentance afterwards is then to simply return to that first commitment.
Once one has entered into that pact with God sincerely, then they are cleansed by the Spirit, and made ready to do His work. It is true that all people can strive to do good things to their fellowman, regardless of whether they are trying to do it with God or not. They can work to be a sincerely good person in their own right. But they cannot be His agent to do His good until they have let Him clean them and have taken upon them His Spirit.
John 13:4-8- He riseth from supper, and laid aside his garments; and took a towel, and girded himself. After that he poureth water into a basin, and began to wash the disciples’ feet, and to wipe them with the towel wherewith he was girded. Then cometh he to Simon Peter: and Peter saith unto him, Lord, dost thou wash my feet? Jesus answered and said unto him, What I do thou knowest not now; but thou shalt know hereafter. Peter saith unto him, Thou shalt never wash my feet. Jesus answered him, If I wash thee not, thou hast no part with me.

The Vessel of God Must Be Willing

There are those that would confess their sins, partake of the emblems of Christ, enjoy the blessings of being cleansed, and then stop there. Many of us come to the gospel out of a desperation for forgiveness, not out of a burning desire to do service.
And perhaps that is sufficient reason to begin, but we misunderstand the whole point of Christ’s doctrine if we try to limit ourselves to these initial steps only. We are not just meant to be cleansed, we are to be cleansed for a purpose. If our faith is geared towards returning our soul to God that is good, but it is supposed to be geared towards bringing back many others to Him as well.
Of course the desire to do this work is not something that we have to try and muster up within us. It doesn’t work to “make” yourself want to serve others. Rather this is the result of God’s purifying us with His Spirit. That Spirit does not only expunge our sins, it puts desires into our hearts that were never there before. It lights a fire that makes us want to be useful to God and our fellow-man.
Ezekiel 36:26- A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you: and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you an heart of flesh.
2 Timothy 2:21- If a man therefore purge himself from these, he shall be a vessel unto honour, sanctified, and meet for the master’s use, and prepared unto every good work.

The Vessel of God Does not Have to be Powerful

But as we feel that desire to be useful to God, we might naturally question whether we even can be. We might desperately wish to serve Him, but hesitate because of our own flaws. We might think that after we have made ourselves smarter, wiser, or more convincing we will finally be ready to do His work. We think to ourselves ‘how can I accomplish His purposes when I still don’t even have my own life figured out yet?’
There is a half-truth to all of this, because yes, to be perfectly honest, we are flawed and we are inadequate. We, ourselves, are genuinely not sufficient to do the work of God. That much is true.
But there are two things to remember. One is that the growth of character we desire does not come first and then the service of God second. It is actually the other way around. By trying to do the service that we are inadequate for, we grow to become the sort of person who can do it. Though that growth which we will experience is not enough to qualify us to ever do this work alone.
And that is the second thing to remember: that no one is sufficient to do God’s work. Not your far more successful neighbor, not the future you that has figured everything out. It is called “God’s work” because it is His work to do. He does not ask you to do His tasks, He asks you to let Him do them through you. And no matter how personally powerful you might ever be, it will always remain His miracle that you can bless the lives of yourself, your loved ones, the circle of all those about you, and return glory to His name.
3 Nephi 18:24- Therefore, hold up your light that it may shine unto the world. Behold I am the light which ye shall hold up—that which ye have seen me do. Behold ye see that I have prayed unto the Father, and ye all have witnessed.
Exodus 4:11-12- And the Lord said unto him, Who hath made man’s mouth? or who maketh the dumb, or deaf, or the seeing, or the blind? have not I the Lord?
Now therefore go, and I will be with thy mouth, and teach thee what thou shalt say.

Seeking Spiritual Witnesses- Luke 11:5, 7-9, 13

And he said unto them, Which of you shall have a friend, and shall go unto him at midnight, and say unto him, Friend, lend me three loaves;
And he from within shall answer and say, Trouble me not: the door is now shut, and my children are with me in bed; I cannot rise and give thee.
I say unto you, Though he will not rise and give him, because he is his friend, yet because of his importunity he will rise and give him as many as he needeth.
And I say unto you, Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you.
If ye, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children: how much more shall your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to them that ask him?

COMMENTARY

Because of his importunity he will rise and give him
The parable of the friend at midnight is somewhat amusing. A neighbor comes, asking for food in the dead of the night. At first the homeowner refuses, but relents after some persistence from the neighbor. It is very similar to the story of the persistent widow in Luke 18, who nags an unjust ruler until he gives her what she wants, just to finally be rid of her.
Now the point of these parables is not to suggest that we should pester God into giving us things that He does not want to. You cannot nag Him into solving your every problem like a genie. Rather, Jesus is saying that even if flawed friends and rulers can be convinced to grant a correct desire, then certainly God will be even more willing to do so.

Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened
If ye know how to give good gifts: how much more shall your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to them that ask him?

But even if God is willing, Jesus suggests that we still need to ask. I have found that God has had many spiritual blessings that He was ready to give me, but He wouldn’t do so until I asked for them. This is clever. For one thing, it fosters a relationship between He and I. To ask Him for something, I must be praying to Him, and thus I have a strong self-interest to talk to Him regularly, the very thing that He wants me to do.
Additionally, if I decide to ask Him for something, I often have a moment of checking in with myself. For example, if I am going to ask for a greater portion of the Holy Spirit, even before I get the words out I might realize that I am actively living in a way that offends it. Indeed, I have gone to God intending to ask why He was not manifesting Himself more in my life, but along the way changed it to asking forgiveness for shutting Him out myself.

Seeking Spiritual Witnesses- Matthew 4:6-7, Matthew 26:39

And saith unto him, If thou be the Son of God, cast thyself down: for it is written, He shall give his angels charge concerning thee: and in their hands they shall bear thee up, lest at any time thou dash thy foot against a stone.
Jesus said unto him, It is written again, Thou shalt not tempt the Lord thy God.

And he went a little further, and fell on his face, and prayed, saying, O my Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me: nevertheless not as I will, but as thou wilt.

COMMENTARY

Thou shalt not tempt the Lord thy God
I have just discussed how we are instructed to seek and knock, so that we may open and find. Yet in the past I always felt that it was too arrogant for me to ask spiritual blessings from God, and a major reason for it was this verse from the temptation of Jesus.
But I was misreading it. Yes, it is inappropriate to make inappropriate requests of God…but that does not mean that all requests are inappropriate. Jesus knew that casting himself down and demanding a miracle, just to prove a point, would be disrespectful of His father. It is one thing to humbly ask God if He will grant us a portion of the Spirit, and another to demand miracles on a whim. If you are asking for something you should not have, then there is no promise.

If it be possible, let this cup pass from me: nevertheless not as I will, but as thou wilt
Jesus shows us the proper way to ask for something that God may or may not be willing to grant. The thing to note is that he is asking and not telling. He does not say that he will withhold faithfulness unless God meets his terms, he does not give God a deadline to answer him by, he just expresses what he desires…and commits to abide by whatever his Father chooses.
It is perfectly acceptable for us to ask God to relieve our trials, and even to grant us a miracle, but only if we do so while emulating the obedience and humility our Savior exemplified. We may ask, but we must be content with whichever answer we receive. In the end, God will not necessarily grant every request that is brought to Him, but He will grant every one that is right.

The Lord Sees You- Summary

As I suggested at the beginning of this series, our topic is one that is very near and dear to my heart. I feel that too often the notion of God seeing all is used to provoke fear in those that are doing wrong, leaving the far more beautiful side of that truth forgotten. A truth that God is never apart from the lonely, that He never misunderstands the misunderstood, that He does not fail to see the overlooked. He is the cure to what ails us.

Jesus Overlooks No One

Humans are finite beings with limited capacities. Even if you never meant to ignore someone, you most certainly have at some point or another. It’s not something we have to feel guilty about (unless it is done intentionally) because our reality is one of mortal limitations.
Anyone that has done any sort of ministry work where they strive for the souls of others knows the reality of this. Anyone who has been a parent knows this. There are simply too many people for you to be there for all of them at all times. There are too many problems that you don’t know the perfect answer to. Perhaps if you could be all things to all people you would, but you simply can’t. And that is why at the end of the day we always have to turn things over to God. He is the one that time and space do not limit, that hunger or stress do not distract. He will always see His children.
Luke 2:5- And when Jesus came to the place, he looked up, and saw him.
Luke 21:2- And he saw also a certain poor widow casting in thither two mites.

Jesus Sees Correctly

I remember a time I went with my wife and son to a park. We played for a little while, had a good time, and then told our son it was time to go to an appointment. He was about two at the time, and seemed fine with the arrangement at first, but as we got back into our car, though, he started to cry and shout. I assumed he just didn’t want to stop playing, explained to him we really had to go, and proceeded to force him into his car seat.
As I got into the driver’s seat my wife was finally able to make out what he was saying: he had dropped his toy car in the grass as we left and didn’t want us to drive away without it. Thankfully we were able to find it, but I left feeling incredibly humbled.
I had been there the whole time, but I had entirely misread the situation. I was unknowingly signalling to my son that I didn’t care about his things. Again, we have finite limitations, and one of the most pronounced is we so often fail to communicate. We misjudge things all the time. I am so grateful to know that my son has another Father, too, one who will never misunderstand him. One who will see directly to the heart of every matter.
Luke 21:3-4- And he said, Of a truth I say unto you, that this poor widow hath cast in more than they all: For all these have of their abundance cast in unto the offerings of God: but she of her penury hath cast in all the living that she had.

When We Are Seen We Are Made Better

When finally we meet that Lord who always sees us and always sees us rightly, then all the good parts of our heart start to unlock. One of the most common trends in those that commit crimes, particularly violent ones, is that they have a history of isolation. When people are not a part of a community, when they don’t have loved ones at home, when there is no one to see them and understand them, then the worst parts tend to come out.
The opposite is true as well. When one feels acknowledged, understood, and validated they are most likely to seek their own self improvement, find meaningful work, and contribute back to their society.
Some of us may go through periods of loneliness, where we don’t have immediate family members or friends nearby to accompany us. And even if we did have them around us, there would still be those times that they misread us.
But there always remains a Savior who sees us, one who has promised His constant companionship. He sees us and He wants to tell us about all the wonderful things that He sees. Have you ever asked Him to share? I promise you that only good will come of it.
Matthew 28:20- Lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world.

Commandments and Personal Revelation- Summary

This study was an excellent opportunity for me to dive into a topic that has been a big source of confusion to me, and I am sure to many others as well. It’s important to remember that just because one has questions about the commandments does not mean that they don’t want to keep them. That desire naturally wants knowledge to be able to steer correctly, and so studies like these are important. Though I should add that the greatest understanding of commandments does not come by study alone, but by actively living them.

Commandments are Given and Followed By Love

One of the ways I’ve come to measure my understanding of a commandment is whether I can see the element of love in it. Can I see the love from God in giving it to me, and the love for myself and others in following it? For example, one could view laws of sexual purity as restricting one’s pleasure, or they could see them as protecting oneself from deep wounding and facilitating a more abiding romance.
Jesus came at a time where the law had been inflated into an oppressive and unwieldy mass. I believe a very real part of his mission was to remind his contemporaries of this love that had been originally intended by the law.
John 13:34- A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another.
John 14:15- If ye love me, keep my commandments.
Matthew 22:37-39-Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.

Commandments Should be Personal

There already existed in the Mosaic Law provisions for the poor before Jesus’s ministry. For example, farmers were required to leave portions of their fields for the impoverished to freely glean from.
When Jesus instructed the rich young man to sell all of his possessions and give to the poor, though, he was asking for something that went far above what the law required. Of other people he had different life requirements.
“Go and sin no more.”
“Behold thy mother.”
“I will make you fishers of men.”
In each case Jesus understood that we need the explicitly spelled-out commandments, but that we then have additional personal needs fitted for our individual growth. To each of us he promises this same personalized guidance.
John 14:26- But the Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things

Commandments, Guidance, and Revelation

I know there all manner of voices that can cast confusion on the commandments. The world calls them unnecessary, the faithful give different interpretations to them, and your own mind may obsess over whether you are following them properly or not.
Even so there are answers if we look for them. There are resources to guide us rightly. Specific injunctions like those in Moses’s ten commandments lay the ground rules for us. General guidance like those in Jesus’s two great commandments explain what our intentions should be. Personal communion from the spirit adds the final element in being able to make personalized and worthy decisions.
And it is alright if our initial thoughts of what we are supposed to be doing are imperfect. We can be sure that God will steer us as needed, just so long as we are trying sincerely.
Isaiah 28:10- For precept must be upon precept, precept upon precept; line upon line, line upon line; here a little, and there a little.