Monday, August 25, 2014

Life Isn't a Highway

Ecclesiastes 7:13 "Consider the work of God: for who can make that straight, which he hath made crooked?"

Sometimes the road we're given to travel in this life is winding, steep, and filled with obstacles and hairpin curves. It's like having to hike a mountain trail versus being able to travel on an highway at 70 miles per hour.We like to think to ourselves "It would be so much easier and pleasant if only it was straight and flat!" Given the choice, most of us would opt to be in the fast lane and get to our destination quickly, rather than take a circuitous route where we encounter obstacles and challenges around every turn.

I think that most of us have been given the trail of life, not the highway, and it's God's wisdom that does this. If we had a fast track through life we would miss most of the beauty of our surroundings and we'd likely not be grateful for half of what we have because it would be passing through our hands so quickly. It's also a lot more likely that we'd miss opportunities to help and serve others. Let's face it- how many people have you been able to help while on a highway? If you're lucky, it's maybe one or two who had car trouble. Most likely though, you've never had a chance to help anyone while going 70 mph. It's when we're slowed down that we start to see the people around us- to really notice the person and their needs, and not see just another blurred face passing by.

Unfortunately, how many of us are busy complaining about this hard, crooked path and crying from the pain of the obstacles while ignoring the opportunities being presented to us? Wouldn't we all choose to make that path straight and easy if we had the chance? But in God's eternal view of things He knows that the highway isn't the place where we're going to do the most good or have the most growth. Our strength, faith and skills will be built through the challenging sections of our life trail. So when we're tempted to try to get around the hard parts of our trail, when we're tempted to force a straight path where there isn't one...let's remember that God has created the crooked path, He has marked the trail, and He is the one who will guide us through every obstacle. Only through God will we find the strength, courage and stamina to stay on the trail and enjoy the incredible feeling of having accomplished something grand when we see Him greeting us with open arms at the end.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Strong Women and "Ladies"

I've noticed a disturbing trend with some women of late. It seems that many women have confused what it means to be a strong woman versus just being a strong-willed woman who acts like a b*#@h. 

I'm seeing more and more posts on facebook that brag about and encourage boorish behavior from women, all in the name of being seen as strong and independent. Sadly, what most of those posts come across as are actually crass, obnoxious or even uneducated. Since when did boasting about being a b*#@h become a mark of honor? In whose mind is it really something to be admired and emulated?

I think that there needs to be some clarification about what it means to be a strong woman. Obviously, these are just my opinions, but if Christ is our example, I don't see how we can go wrong by looking to Him for an example of what it means to be strong.

1) A strong woman uses tact and civility in her associations with others. Being strong doesn't mean being rude or mean. A strong woman can stand her ground and stand up for herself without demeaning the other person. She can be firm with family, friends, waitresses, customer service reps, and all others without resorting to name calling, yelling or cussing. If we go to Jesus for the example, He was never rude to the pharisees or others he disagreed with. He said what He had to say but didn't engage in verbal sparring and never answered accusations with rudeness. 

2) A strong woman is strong enough to listen to criticism from others and make changes when necessary. This doesn't mean that she changes who she is or how she acts based on other people's desires. It does mean that when she receives criticism she stops to consider whether or not she might actually be at fault, and is woman enough to apologize and change the behavior if necessary. Again, if we go to Jesus for our example, He was always humble and willing to listen. Being perfect, He had no need to change, but He still listened to accusations from his detractors and showed the proper way to respond.

3) A strong woman puts other people's needs ahead of her own. I know, this one sounds totally counter-intuitive. It seems like a strong person would be the one who goes after what they want no matter the expense to others, but it's actually the other way around. A strong woman takes others' feelings and needs into consideration and then determines her course of action. It takes more strength to deny yourself something for the good of someone else than it does to plow ahead and take what you want no matter the cost to others. Jesus' entire life showed strength, and in His atonement we see the greatest strength ever- He gave His life for us. 

4) A strong woman stands up for what is right, and especially stands up in defense of those who are weak or defenseless. A weak-willed woman will worry more about what other people will think and about the consequences to herself when she considers whether or not to stand up for what's right. A strong woman will stand up for what is right regardless of the cost to herself. She worries more about taking a stand to fight against wrong or about standing up for someone who can't defend themselves. Jesus gave us the perfect example- He was the ultimate champion of the underdog. His mission focused on those who were sick, weak, disabled, or condemned. 

5) A strong woman takes responsibility for her own choices. There is no need to look back and blame everyone in her past for how her life is today because a strong woman recognizes that everyone makes mistakes, hurts are part of life, and it's ultimately up to her to decide who she is going to be. Obviously there are some abuses that continue to affect our lives years after the fact, but a strong woman faces the past with a willingness to work through it and let it go. It doesn't take much strength to continue harboring grudges and holding on to anger. No, the real strength comes in being able to forgive and move on. Just ask any survivor. And again, Jesus was the ultimate example of this. It didn't matter how much He was persecuted, how many people turned against Him, what abuse He suffered at their hands (even crucifixion!) He still continued teaching and exemplifying forgiveness.

We need to take the time and effort to learn what strength really is so that we can teach our sons and daughters. It's not an over-inflated sense of ego or the ability to tell others off, it's not in the attitude of "accept me just the way I am or f*** you", and it's not churlish behavior that puts self above all else. It's not just being able to take care of your self, but also being able to care about others. Strength is self-denial and delayed gratification, it's being responsible and mature, and the most glaring example of strength is often the one who can respond calmly with care when they have every reason to retaliate. 

You want to know how I learned what a strong woman is? Through the many incredible examples of strong women in my life. I've known friends who have struggled with depression, serious illness, the death of loved ones, tragic past abuse, and many other more "common" daily trials. Watching how each of the strong women I know faced these challenges taught me that true strength comes from something more than what we have in ourselves. True strength comes from God. Only when we tap into His love, power and strength do we begin to experience true strength in ourselves. 

Normally, I would end an already long post like this here, but the other connection I've seen with women who are busy bragging about what a strong b*#@h they are, is that they often in the same breath try to label themselves as "ladies." To me, this is incomprehensible. How do you claim to be a lady (definition: a woman who is refined, polite, and well-spoken) while immodestly bragging about what a b*#@h you are?? To me, a lady is exactly what the definition says she is. There's no room there for rudeness, vulgar language, or a focus on things that are degrading or ignorant. Now, if you're going by the general acceptance of the term "lady" (definition: any woman; female) then I guess you've got as much right as any other woman on this planet to use that appellation. But if what you're trying to imply is that you are refined, polite, and well-spoken...then at least make an attempt to act like that before claiming that honor. I can't and won't generally claim to be a lady because I am often too unrefined and impolite to qualify, but it doesn't mean that I don't recognize, admire, and want to emulate one when I meet her. A true lady is a pleasure to be around.

I can only hope that I'm making strides down the path to becoming not only a strong woman but a lady also. I think our world needs a lot more of both. 

Monday, June 30, 2014

God's Word of Wisdom

I've been reading about the laws given to the Jews regarding what food they were and weren't allowed to eat and as I was reading the following excerpt from a study guide it really hit me that in restoring the church in these latter days, the Lord also gave a different and wise directive.

From the Old Testament Student Manual (Genesis-2 Samuel) pg. 173:

"...we turn to the laws regarding clean and unclean things. As with the other laws, you must try to look beyond the outward commandments and rituals for what they were meant to teach about spiritual realities.
    Take, for example, the laws of clean and unclean animals. There were practical reasons for these laws related to health and sanitation. The flesh of swine is highly susceptible to trichinosis, a malady easily transmitted to man. Shellfish can develop a deadly poison if it is not killed and handled properly. But the Hebrew word for clean used in the dietary law means more than just physically clean. It carries the connotation of being "clean from all pollution or defilement...and implying that purity which religion requires, and is necessary for communion with God." (Wilson, Old Testament Word Studies, s.v. "clean, cleanse, clear," p.78).
     If the dietary code is seen as both symbolically and as part of a system of laws that covered all the customary acts of life, it becomes apparent how it served. God was using the diet as a teaching tool. People may forget or neglect prayer, play, work, or worship, but they seldom forget a meal. By voluntarily abstaining from certain foods or by cooking them in a special way, one made a daily, personal commitment to act in one's faith. At every meal a formal choice was made, generating quiet self-discipline. Strength comes from living such a law, vision from understanding it. Further, the law served to separate the Hebrew from his Canaanite neighbor. Each time he got hungry he was forcibly reminded of personal identity and community bond. Indeed, he belonged to a people set apart. The law therefore acted as a social instrument for keeping the Hebrew nation intact, a psychological instrument for preserving the identity of the individual, and a religious instrument for keeping the people in remembrance of Jehovah."

The Word of Wisdom  is often seen as a peculiar set of restrictions on what Mormons are allowed (or not allowed) to eat, drink, or partake of. Many people in the general world community don't understand the full benefits of this wise counsel from God.

Certain items are designated as for the body and others are clearly labelled as not good, or in Old Testament lingo, we have "clean" and "unclean" food items. Just as the laws regarding kosher foods were strange and almost mysterious in their day, so the Word of Wisdom when it was first introduced was seen as something novel and weird.

Although the kosher laws have definite symbolic meaning, they also had health benefits that might not have been obvious. The Israelites likely didn't know or understand about germs and most food-borne illnesses. Yet the Lord in His wisdom gave them a set of rules that not only reminded them of their covenants with Him every they ate, but also gave them additional health benefits. The Word of Wisdom does the same. It specifies that alcohol, tea, and tobacco are not to be used or ingested. This directive was given long before the health community recognized the harmful and addictive effects of these items. It goes further though. Not only does the Word of Wisdom counsel against what items not to partake of, it was the original "eat whole, healthy foods" movement- advising the eating of fruits and vegetables while keeping the ingestion of meat to a minimum.

When we refrain from partaking of addictive substances we are keeping ourselves "clean from all pollution or defilement" and retaining a purity that is required for communion with God. We can't approach God with our whole body and soul if our body is being held captive by an addictive substance. This isn't to imply that we can't pray to God or that He won't answer prayers if we use such substances, just that we are far more likely to be closer to Him and more in tune with His Spirit if our bodies are free from that bondage and distraction.

As with the Israelites in their day, modern Mormons make a voluntary choice to abstain from certain items that the community at large considers to be popular, normal and even "healthy" in moderation. At every meal where we are offered coffee, tea or alcohol, we are reminded of our "personal identity and community bond," or that we are set apart from most other people because of the choices we make at the table. When we treat the Word of Wisdom as the great revelation that it is, we can recognize the spiritual as well as the physical benefits of following it. There is significance to denying oneself the popular pleasures of the world and following a stricter (even strange) set of laws from God.

There are many ways that God sets His people apart from the general population. When we are living our religion (whatever denomination) we should be seen as different, even peculiar. Never has God said that His people should fit in, be popular, or be hardly indistinguishable from those around them. We are called to stand taller, shine brighter, and have more integrity than those who don't believe.

The Word of Wisdom, while seen by many other denominations and non-believers as a strange set of restrictions, is an amazing example of how God takes an interest in every facet of our lives and continues to give us guidance and protection from harmful things in the world around us. He hasn't left us wondering if some of these things are good for our body or not- He gave us warnings about tobacco before it's harmful effects were known, He warned us about alcohol before it became so readily available that alcoholism is now a common affliction, and He warned us about coffee and tea before they became such popular and addictive beverages that people now squander hundreds or thousands of dollars annually on their addiction to such.

I, for one, am so thankful that God has continued to reveal His truths in our day and age. There is so much around us that is confusing...so many things that seem to be in the "gray" area....but through God's word and His Spirit, I can have peace of mind that He is guiding me and that I am doing my best to stay close to Him and keep myself "clean from pollution or defilement," both physically and spiritually.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Insights from Proverbs 2:1-6

Proverbs 2:1-6
1 My son, if thou wilt receive my words, and hide my commandments with thee;
2 So that thou incline thine ear unto wisdom, and apply thine heart to understanding;
3 Yea, if thou criest after knowledge, and liftest up thy voice for understanding;
4 If thou seekest her as silver, and searchest for her as for hid treasures;
5 Then shalt thou understand the fear of the Lord and find the knowledge of God.
6 For the Lord giveth wisdom; out of his mouth cometh knowledge and understanding.

Sometimes short passages of scriptures contain some great nuggets of inspiration. Here are the insights I had while reading this morning:

In verse 1- The first thing I notice is the if. Whether or not we receive God's word is a choice. It's not automatic and it's not forced. The second thing I notice is receive. To receive something is to take possession of it. We don't just read it, skim it, or pass it along. We take it and try to make it part of who and what we are.

In verse 2- To incline our ear unto something means that we listen carefully to it. We don't let distractions take our attention away from it. Once we've "inclined" our ear to wisdom it's then up to us to apply what we've learned so that it reaches our heart, not just our mind. When we let wisdom settle in our heart we come to true understanding- we can't rely on our logic and our brains alone.

In verse 3- We have to cry and lift up our voice for knowledge and understanding. It's not enough to passively read and attempt to absorb it. We have to verbally cry out (pray) to God for the knowledge and understanding that we desire and that He intends for us to have.

In verse 4- Which one of us, if told that there was a buried treasure in our backyard would not go out immediately and start digging to find it? If you knew with certainty that the treasure was there to be found, would you give up after digging only one or two holes? Or would you continue tearing up the entire yard until it was found? I think a lot of times our search for God's wisdom is more like a half-hearted scratching of the surface than a serious and intentional search for treasure. That's a shame because what earthly treasure could even compare to the hidden treasure of God's wisdom and understanding?

In verse 5- If we take the time and put forth the sincere effort to gain wisdom through God, then (after the hard work) we will understand the fear of the Lord and find the knowledge of God. We will have understanding in our hearts that will help us in every decision we make. We won't make choices based on fear, people's approval, greed, selfishness, or ignorance. We will make deliberate choices based on the wisdom granted by God.

In verse 6 - This says it all. True wisdom, knowledge and understanding come from God. The Lord gives us wisdom if we'll just put forth the effort to obtain it.