Monday, June 30, 2014

Prioritize Spirituality

In this post - growth - truth - foundation cracks

If you said, “I will not feed myself,” I would say you are crazy unless you are two years old.  If you said, “I will only feed myself,” I would say your life is meaningless.  Survival is the most basic instinct but it is not a reason for living.

The soul needs to be fed just like the body needs to be fed.  

Lets talk about feeding the body and the soul.  The act of feeding consists of collecting something for consumption and when you have collected enough you build on what you have or in other words you grow.  The body collects building blocks from the food you eat for growth, maintenance and repair of your body.  If you stop eating you will eventually run out of building blocks and your body will die.  

When I read scriptures I am collecting truths for spiritual consumption.  I also collect truths from classic books of literature.  Some people like to collect truths by talking to others and gleaning from the conversation.  Once I have enough, I grow.  If I stopped participating in life because I felt like a victim than I might run out of building blocks for spiritual growth.  The soul gets stronger in the “light” and weaker in the “dark.”  So sin which is “dark” stops spiritual growth — probably because it is the opposite of collecting truth.

Cracked Cement courtesy Patricia Beck

As growth happens, imagine a tree.  The top gets heavier and the roots go deeper to hold the weight.  If the truth that I’ve collected is flawed, then my foundation will crack under the weight of the growth I’m doing.  The tricky thing is figuring out exactly which “truth” is flawed and what truer truth needs to replace it.

Deciding not to grow or deciding not to participate in life isn’t really a solution.  It might be an attempt to rest, relax and wait for the weather to change.  Movement away from light even if it is just a choice not to move toward the light is a choice to get weaker.  I don’t want to discourage you but the only good path is onward and upward.

If I prioritize spirituality, I benefit in more concrete ways because the resulting growth opens up new skills and opportunities.  Think - Children of Israel collecting manna.  It was a daily thing.  Feeding the soul is a daily exercise just like feeding the body.

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Read about why I believe not what I believe. If you liked this post, you might like one on spiritual nutrition here.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

What it Takes to Turn Around

In this post:  Paul's mission - changing course in midstream - turning from dark to light

Let’s talk about change.  Paul started out preparing for life as a Pharisee, the spiritual leader of the Jewish faith at that time.  He zealously enforced Jewish laws and customs.  Then one day, an angel appeared to him and told him that he needed to change direction.  His mission was to now spread a message in opposition to the Jewish laws and customs he had been defending.  Paul is an example of courage and humility because he changed direction in front of all the people who knew him.  

Paul describes his God-given mission to King Agrippa … "To open their eyes, and to turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan unto God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins, and inheritance among them which are sanctified by faith that is in me." Acts 26:18

I’d like to spend this post looking at Paul’s mission in depth.

What does it take to open someone’s eyes? 
I have offered advice and been ignored.
I have led group discussions which were lively, given a challenge question, and come back next week to follow up and no one had taken the challenge.
I have spoon-fed the tastiest morsels and seen the baby spit them out.
Lots of people knew Paul and they may have been reluctant to believe him and listen to his message.

The right question and a desire to know the answer causes eyes to open and ears to listen.

How does someone turn from darkness to light?
Sometimes a passerby has a lantern
Sometimes a new idea throws light on an old problem
But always turning from darkness to light is a choice
It requires swimming against the current
shaking off the chains of old habits
washing off layers of grime and avoiding dirty places

Source:  Flickr
How does someone escape the power of Satan?
Satan tries to prevent us from choosing
He tells us lies and we believe them - “Satan seeketh to turn their hearts away from the truth, that they become blinded and understand not the things which are prepared for them.” (D&C 78:10)

He makes us fear the very thing that would set us free — honesty
He tries to keep us from accepting responsibility for our mistakes
But he can’t keep us from choosing to leave his sphere of influence
There is no Earthly hell where God will not come and rescue us if we ask for His help.

Nehemiah 1:9-10
 ”But if ye turn unto me, and keep my commandments, and do them; though there were of you cast out unto the uttermost part of the heaven, yet will I gather them from thence, and will bring them unto the place that I have chosen to set my name there.

10  Now these are thy servants and thy people, whom thou hast redeemed by thy great power, and by thy strong hand.

How did Paul show the people that they might receive forgiveness?
I think Paul’s strongest case is made when he showed that God gave his own Son for us, so why wouldn’t he give us forgiveness when we turn to Him.  (Romans 8:31-32)

And what does it mean to be sanctified by faith?
Paul uses the example of Abraham in Romans 4:16-22.  Abraham placed his faith in the promise that he would be a father of many nations even though he and Sara had never had children.  His actions show that he was “fully persuaded” especially when he obediently took Isaac up to the top of the mountain.  His faith gave him the strength to be obedient even when obedience defied logic.  The sanctification came as he trusted God time after time with his life, his wife and his possessions.

"I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing: therefore choose life, that both thou and thy seed may live:” 
Deut 30:19

It's ok to change especially if you realize that your mission is taking you somewhere other than what you had planned.  Happiness is living your God-given mission.

Challenge:  Choose to leave Satan's influence by repenting of one sin today.

A Song about Turning

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

In Affliction - Faith is Strength

This is Part 4 in a series

In this post - comfort zones - refiner's fire - diamonds - marathons

In hard times, faith is what we use to keep going, to get up and try again and to begin anew.

Life isn’t easy.  The challenges we face and overcome teach us and force us to rethink our strategies.  I like these verses in Isaiah 30:21-22

20 And though the Lord give you the bread of adversity, and the water of affliction, yet shall not thy teachers be removed into a corner any more, but thine eyes shall see thy teachers:
21 And thine ears shall hear a word behind thee, saying, This is the way, walk ye in it, when ye turn to the right hand, and when ye turn to the left.

To me these verses say, when the student is ready, the teacher appears.  And, when the student is humble, the Holy Spirit is able to direct him or her.  Having both a teacher and the guidance of the Holy Spirit in my life indicates that I am going to make it to the next level.  I can only stay stuck if I ignore them.

The Refiner's Fire

Hard times make us wince.   They jostle us out of our comfort zone.  The Bible talks about trials as a refiner’s fire.  The impurities or dross rise up when exposed to heat and are discarded.  So, when the heat is on, we see our weaknesses more clearly.  In our reaction to life’s experiences, we find out where the dross is and how much has to go.  We choose to let go of the bad.  Eventually, we have the best character traits to keep and the worst are gone.  

Life has to be lived in order for Christ’s redemption to be needed and valued when it is received.

An example from the natural world: is found in diamonds, a crystalline form of Carbon.  The crystal is stable at pressures deep in the earth.  If it is pushed by geologic forces slowly to the surface it turns to graphite, a soft mineral used in pencils.  If it is violently ejected to the earth's surface we get to keep the gemstone.  The high pressures and strong forces produce the environment necessary for carbon atoms to be diamonds.  Our souls are being put under strong forces in this mortal existence because the environment produces "diamonds."  Click here to see an image comparing souls to diamonds. 

The same pattern is found in sports like running.  It is only necessary to run for 20 minutes a day to get the benefits of exercise.  But there is a deeper soul benefit to running a marathon because of the effort required to endure such a "high pressure" event for so many miles.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Faith is the Conviction that Moves Us

This is part 3 in a series

In this post:  We all use faith every day - How faith guides my choices 

Any action I take is an act of faith.  

This is illustrated by Hebrews 11 where it says, “Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” (Heb 11:1)
  • God created the worlds by faith — they “were not made of things which do appear”
  • Abel offered a sacrifice by faith — he did not see God’s approval until afterwards
  • Enoch had a testimony by faith first — he got proof later
  • Noah made an ark by faith — before the rain provided an imperative
  • Abraham moved toward the “promised land” — even though he didn’t know where it was
  • Sarah conceived and bore Isaac by faith — she was past the age of fertility and it was “impossible”
These great men and women received a promise and exercised faith in it before they saw proof.  They believed in things that were “afar off.”  All of us use faith every day.  We put faith in doctors.  We put faith in banks.  We make things using instructions that we’ve never tried before.  We marry.  In this video, my daughter jumps with more faith the second time.

Faith in God’s promises and warnings works the same way.  

When God says, “agree with thine adversary quickly whiles thou art in the way…lest…[he] deliver thee to the judge,” then my faith impels me to try to resolve my interpersonal conflicts quickly. (Matt 5:25)

When God says, “when the righteous turneth from his righteousness, and committeth iniquity, he shall even die thereby,” then my faith says that I must monitor my actions if I want to avoid that consequence whether literal or not.  (Ezek 33:18)

My faith is the conviction that guides my choices.  I have faith in the sacred state of marriage so my faith guides me to work at my marriage even when it is difficult rather than give up.  I have faith in Christ’s redemption so through faith I try to repent not knowing what a healed soul feels like.

That explains why Christ’s stories about the blind receiving sight are so moving to me.  His teachings give sight to those who can’t see and hope to those who can’t believe in future happiness.  He is “the way, the truth and the life.” (John 14:6)  (Which is how the death referred to by Ezekiel doesn’t have to be literal to be true.)

Challenge:  Put your faith in God by acting on one of his commandments.

Friday, June 6, 2014

It Will All Work Out: Faith is The Opposite of Fear

This is Part 2 in a series on Faith
In this post - Fear of the Unknown - Relying on Heaven - Miraculous ways - Learning from Mistakes

Bad things happen.  We all have trials.  Sometimes we even anticipate anxiously the bad things we will experience in our future.  Fear is something we all experience.  I remember a time when the future seemed to hold no promise and when I thought about it I felt depressed.  I use faith when I trust that things will work out even if I don’t know how.  Faith is trust in a Heavenly Father who is looking to bless us.  

One way that fear grabs us is by presenting the unknowns and letting our imagination do the rest.  To avoid this kind of trip, I try to stay in the present.  The present is where I have choices and can “write the ending” to my story.  The present is the safest place to be mentally.  In Texas we say, "If you want to forget all your troubles, take a little walk in a brand new pair of high-heeled ridin' boots."  If you don't have boots, focus on the patterns of light on the floor, the “white noise” in the background, or go outdoors and listen to nature until you feel calm.  I always feel more calm after reading in the Bible — even if the passages have nothing to do with my fears.

Relying on heaven for guidance, assurance or protection is faith.  I rely on heaven by praying fervently, searching for answers and waiting patiently for a heavenly response.  Like a little seed, I cannot control the sun or the rain.  I must grow upward trusting that God will send the sunshine and the rain that I need.  God doesn’t always stop bad things.  Sometimes He strengthens us to endure them.  Sometimes He protects us in miraculous ways.   

For example:  My daughter wanted to bring her doll to a friends house.  I didn’t stop her from bringing it.  She forgot the doll at her friends house and was crying dejectedly.  I said, “some things we have to learn by experience.”  She wouldn’t believe me that it is unwise to take toys elsewhere (at the age of 5).  Now she knows how easy it is to forget and “lose” them.  Luckily, her friend found the toy and will return it.  Good parents let kids make mistakes and learn from them.  Likewise, God could tell us all the answers but we wouldn’t believe him.  We have to see for ourselves. 

“O Israel thou hast destroyed thyself; but in me is thine help.”  Hosea 13:9

Challenge:  Next time you feel afraid turn to the Bible for peace.  You will feel better.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

I’m Sick and Tired of All This: Faith is Belief in Unseen Things

This is Part 1 in a series.  It's about...
Belief in what's possible...
...The Strength of Solutions
...My Experience with a Colicky Baby 

It is common to become exasperated by the problems in our lives.  Finding the solution is a long process especially if we aren’t sure it will work.  When the outcome is unknown it is unseen.  Faith is belief in what we can’t see.  It is…Belief in solutions.  Belief in possibilities.  Belief in promises.  Belief in Divine protection.  When we can’t believe in these things we are just suspending belief until we get more information. 

Any solution that I act on is also faith because faith is an action.  The reason not all actions work out is because we are putting our faith in something that is only partially seen and may not be the truth we seek. 

For example:  I have a baby who cries all the time.  She is only a few months old and she only cries at certain times of day.  She also arches her back.  I try to soothe her by feeding her, changing her diaper, rocking her, singing to her but nothing works.  That’s colic.  Sometimes she throws up all the milk I feed her.  These are the observations I’ve made.  Somebody says, “Have you tried Mylicon Infant Gas drops?”  So I put my faith in this solution and I notice that my baby doesn’t arch her back as much and she burps a lot but she still cries.  In terms of faith, I tried Mylicon drops and they worked a little but didn’t solve the problem so I based my faith on something that was only partially true.  Mylicon drops are not the truth I need. 

The process to finding a solution is long.  Belief in a solution, any solution - is faith.  Fast forward to the next time I have a baby…So what else can I put faith in?  Somebody said, “Have you tried taking dairy out of your/his diet?”  So I take dairy out and he stops crying.  I add it back in and he throws up.  I can see that there is a correlation.  Putting faith in the solution of no dairy in my/his diet has better results.  So my faith is justified.

The strength of the solution is based on it’s truth.  If it is partially true it will be somewhat strong.  If it is all-the-way true, the solution will be strong.  I can have faith even if I don’t know how true a solution is or how true the promises are.  Just exercising a little faith will give me more information and allow me to get more faith for bigger leaps.

The picture in this post represents how we see in part before we see the whole.  We put our faith in things that turn out to be good.  We also put our faith in things that turn out to be bad.  Faith is belief no matter whether the thing we put our faith in is bad or good.

" know in part; but then shall know even as also am known."
I Corinthians 13:12

Challenge:  Today choose to have faith in a solution that you can't see.  Gather information, test the truths you find, persevere even if you only see part of the picture.

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Principles of Spiritual Nutrition

  1. Core Book
  2. Dig Deeper, Look For Answers, Ask the Right Question
  3. Leave the Comfort of Home and Go into the Wilderness
  4. Go with your Gut
  5. Get off your “junk food” diet - Your Gut will thank you
  6. Draw out your thoughts until you find the treasure at the end of the line
  7. Plants that don’t get water WILT

Everyone believes in something.  Some of us believe in God and some of us believe there is no God.  Either way, we believe the truth is near one of those two statements.  Whatever you believe, there is a book that speaks to and explains the truths you believe.  This book is your Core Book.  If you study it daily, the truths you believe will be repeated in your thoughts so often that you will know them well and be able to discern when a new idea matches your accepted truths or doesn’t fit.  This is very important because you cannot add to truth without beginning somewhere.  Spiritual nutrition is about being “fed” by additional truth on a daily basis.  The Core Book of all true Christians is the Bible (Old & New Testaments) which contains the words of Christ.  If you are Muslim, your Core Book is the Koran.  Maybe your Core Book is something else like, The Biography of a Yogi.  The book you choose doesn’t matter as long as you study it every day.  If you don’t read it, you will gradually lose touch with your beliefs and drift into a place where everything and nothing matters.  I encourage you to strengthen your beliefs by feeding your soul truth rather than drifting into weakness through spiritual starvation.

Spiritual nutrition is like any other method of food gathering.  It comes by digging deep, looking high and low for answers and above all asking the right questions.  Only parents feed children.  Adults have to feed themselves.  First they feed themselves from their Core Book.  Then they look around for more that matches, elaborates and goes deeper in the same vein of truth.  I dig Shakespeare.  He goes deep in a way that strengthens my Christian beliefs.  I also look for answers in Classic Literature — books that generations of others have found to elaborate and illustrate ideas like mercy, forgiveness, honor and love.  I personally invest in myself by reading or listening to the great books.  I’ve included my top 10 classics at the end of this essay.

Leaving the comfort of home isn’t a literal mandate so please don’t move.  What I mean is that truth is found in the wilderness not in Ivory Towers.  Often we have to challenge assumptions and break out of molds to see things differently.  Scientists are truth-seekers.  “Scientists don’t challenge any and all assumptions; they challenge assumptions that don’t match the patterns they’ve observed.” (Tiffany Earl, Inteligro Math) Assumptions are anything we take to be true without thinking.  The truth is found in patterns of ideas that corroborate each other.

A gut feeling is a subtle sense that we use to feel out where we should go or whom we should trust.  In matters of spiritual nutrition, ideas get thrown around and some of them aren’t that useful.  Picking and choosing between ideas can be tricky.  Ideas that stop us from progressing if not challenged include:  “I’m not capable of understanding…”  “I’m powerless to change…”  and “I don’t know how to solve…” We have to keep trying…to grow.  Spiritual nutrition provides the fuel needed to grow and find solutions to problems in our lives.

Our spirits need to be fed “light” and truth.  If all we feed our spirits is Facebook and news, or soap operas and sports, or gossip and movie stars — what will happen to our spirits?  There is too much junk out there.  Our spirits are getting weak from poor nutrition.  It is not anyone else’s fault if your spirit is weak.  Adults feed themselves.  Your parents and teachers are not to blame if you choose to feed your spirit junk.  They may have been poor examples but they are not responsible for your choices.  I try to choose only the best material for my mind to “chew” on.  I am not always able to read new material but I can think on ideas that I’ve read before or observed in the world around me.  What I “feed” my spirit affects my “gut feelings.”  There is a strong correlation between spiritual strength and sensing power.

Thoughts follow lines of logic.  As I put patterns together in my mind, I find that one idea correlates to another.  I try to follow these trains in my head but I often get lost.  I do better if I write down the train of thought and follow it all the way to the end.  The “aha” moment is at the end of a train when everything suddenly makes sense.  I think we stop short a lot of times in our thinking and never get to the treasure.  In the sense that we have to stay focused and keep going — thinking is work and sometimes it is hard.  It is always worth the effort.

Everyone knows that plants that don’t get water wilt and eventually die.  Our spirits must be fed.  They do wilt.  We do become lazy and stop engaging with life.  To grow we have to engage.  To engage we have to try.  To try we have to have proper nourishment.  To be nourished we have to spend time in our core book(s) and in “places” that feed the soul.

If you liked this post you might like Spirituality 101
My Caladiums
My Top 10 Classic Books for Spiritual Nutrition  (all links to Goodreads reviews)

1.  The Bible, Book of Mormon, and other religious texts included as my Core Book
2.  To Kill a Mockingbird by Lee Harper
4.  Middlemarch by George Eliot
6.  Daring Greatly by Brene Brown
7.  The 8th Habit by Stephen Covey
8.  Ideas Have Consequences by Richard Weaver
9.  Drawing on the Powers of Heaven by Grant Von Harrison
10.  Hearing God by Dallas Willard

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