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Sunday, January 14, 2018

Hope for the Spiritually Blinded


For many years, I've watched dozens of my friends -- and a few loved ones -- not only turn their backs on the church, but also the gospel of Jesus Christ and even Christianity itself.

Several were friends I could go out to lunch with, sit down and talk about profound, spiritual things. I'd share, they'd share, and we'd all come away from those lunches not only fatter, but also filled with a renewed determination to seek God and be better people. Now, those lunches are no more. And for someone like me, who has no opportunity to discuss such fantastic topics with extended family, I considered these friends to be like my extended family.

The reason I have spiritual cooties: I've stayed put in the revealed, restored latter-day gospel and church, while they have moved on to supposedly more spiritually enlightened endeavors.

I don't think I'm alone in this. Perhaps you, too, have lost a mom or dad, brother or sister, child or grandchild, spouse, relative or close friend to a competing church, quasi-church, movement, religion or gospel. If you haven't, then count yourself very, very lucky.

For years, I've prayed for understanding about this situation. Over time, it's come, incrementally. I've also prayed for hope. Lots of hope. Enormous amounts of hope, that these friends and loved ones will eventually see the light...and perhaps in the short term, be spared the worst of the latter-day calamities which will soon be on top of us.

And then, two days ago, I awoke from my sleep with six words in my head.

On that day and yesterday, I received three emails and one telephone call from friends who all felt prompted, for some unknown reason, to share something with me...never knowing that their inspired input actually aligned with my six words.


Imprisoned


(Based on a phone call yesterday from a friend)

The Inspired Version of the Bible tells of a time when evil began to flourish upon the earth:
"For, from the days of Cain, there was a secret combination; and their works were in the dark, and they knew every man his brother.
And their works were abominations and began to spread among all the sons of men. And it was among the sons of men.
And among the daughters of men, these things were not spoken because that Lamech had spoken the secret unto his wives, and they rebelled against him, and declared these things abroad, and had not compassion.
Wherefore, Lamech was despised, and cast out, and came not among the sons of men, lest he should die.
And thus the works of darkness began to prevail among all the sons of men.
And God cursed the earth with a sore curse and was angry with the wicked, with all the sons of men whom he had made; for they would not hearken unto his voice nor believe on his Only Begotten Son, even him whom he declared should come in the meridian of time, who was prepared from before the foundation of the world." (Genesis 5:37-43 JST)
We then fast forward to God's calling Enoch to his ministry:
"And in the garden of Eden gave I unto man his agency; and unto thy brethren have I said, and also gave commandment, that they should love one another and that they should choose me their Father.
But behold, they are without affection, and they hate their own blood; and the fire of mine indignation is kindled against them; and in my hot displeasure will I send in the floods upon them; for my fierce anger is kindled against them.
And among all the workmanship of my hands there has not been so great wickedness as among thy brethren; but behold, their sins shall be upon the heads of their fathers; Satan shall be their father, and misery shall be their doom; and the whole heavens shall weep over them, even all the workmanship of my hands.
Wherefore should not the heavens weep, seeing these shall suffer? But behold, these which thine eyes are upon shall perish in the floods; and behold, I will shut them up; a prison have I prepared for them, and he whom I have chosen hath pleaded before my face;
Wherefore, he suffereth for their sins, inasmuch as they will repent, in the day that my chosen shall return unto me; and until that day they shall be in torment.
Wherefore, for this shall the heavens weep, yea, and all the workmanship of my hands.
And it came to pass that the Lord spake unto Enoch and told Enoch all the doings of the children of men.
Wherefore, Enoch knew and looked upon their wickedness and their misery, and wept, and stretched forth his arms; and his heart swelled wide as eternity, and his bowels yearned; and all eternity shook.
And Enoch saw Noah also and his family, that the posterity of all the sons of Noah should be saved with a temporal salvation.
Wherefore, Enoch saw that Noah built an ark; and the Lord smiled upon it and held it in his own hand; but upon the residue of the wicked came the floods and swallowed them up.
And as Enoch saw thus, he had bitterness of soul, and wept over his brethren, and said unto the heavens, I will refuse to be comforted.
But the Lord said unto Enoch, Lift up your heart, and be glad, and look. And it came to pass that Enoch looked, and from Noah he beheld all the families of the earth; and he cried unto the Lord, saying, When shall the day of the Lord come? When shall the blood of the righteous be shed, that all they that mourn may be sanctified and have eternal life?
And the Lord said, It shall be in the meridian of time, in the days of wickedness and vengeance." (Genesis 7:40-53 JST
And so it was, approximately 2,000 years ago, immediately upon his death upon the cross, the Redeemer of mankind organized a powerful missionary force to take His gospel to those very same spirits in prison:
"For Christ also hath once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh, but quickened by the Spirit:
“By which also he went and preached unto the spirits in prison;
“Which sometime were disobedient, when once the longsuffering of God waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was a preparing, wherein few, that is, eight souls were saved by water.” (1 Peter 3:18–20.)
“For for this cause was the gospel preached also to them that are dead, that they might be judged according to men in the flesh, but live according to God in the spirit.” (1 Peter 4:6.)
And I wondered at the words of Peter—wherein he said that the Son of God preached unto the spirits in prison, who sometime were disobedient, when once the long-suffering of God waited in the days of Noah—and how it was possible for him to preach to those spirits and perform the necessary labor among them in so short a time.
And as I wondered, my eyes were opened, and my understanding quickened, and I perceived that the Lord went not in person among the wicked and the disobedient who had rejected the truth, to teach them;
But behold, from among the righteous, he organized his forces and appointed messengers, clothed with power and authority, and commissioned them to go forth and carry the light of the gospel to them that were in darkness, even to all the spirits of men; and thus was the gospel preached to the dead.
And the chosen messengers went forth to declare the acceptable day of the Lord and proclaim liberty to the captives who were bound, even unto all who would repent of their sins and receive the gospel.
Thus was the gospel preached to those who had died in their sins, without a knowledge of the truth, or in transgression, having rejected the prophets." (D&C 138:7-10, 28-32)
Which takes us to D&C 76...

Terrestrialized


On February 16, 1832, Joseph Smith was working on the Inspired Version of the Bible. While doing so, he and Sidney Rigdon were pondering the translation of John 5:29, and why "many important points touching the salvation of man had been taken from the Bible, or lost before it was compiled." At this time, both had a vision of the eternities, which today is canonized as D&C 76.

There, in verses 73 and 74, we read some more about those very same spirits in prison I just mentioned. They're numbered along with many others -- who "received not the testimony of Jesus in the flesh, but afterwards received it."

Their status is encapsulted within a whole subsection of D&C 76 (verses 71-79), which describes those spirits who were in prison, then accepted Christ and His gospel, and are counted among those who receive terrestrial glory.

But that's not all. The terrestrial also includes those who:

  • Died without law (v. 72)
  • Receive of his [Jesus'] glory, but not of the fulness (fulness of the Father; v. 76-77)
  • Are not valiant in the testimony of Jesus (v. 79)
  • Are honorable men of the earth, who were blinded by the craftiness of men (v. 75)

Six Words: "Blinded by the Craftiness of Men"


Although I don't want to judge (that's not my place), these friends and loved ones who have aligned themselves with a competing gospel may have lacked valiance in their testimony of Jesus, and in many cases, were blinded by the craftiness of men.

Yet to a one, these friends and loved ones are truly good, honorable, decent and loving people.

The implications of this are extraordinary, especially as we stand on the precipice between the outgoing telestial kingdom and the upcoming terrestrial kingdom:
"When our Savior comes, the earth will be changed to a terrestrial condition and will then be made the fit abode for terrestrial beings, and this condition will last until after the close of the millennium when the earth will die and be raised again in a resurrection to receive its glory as a celestial body, which is its final state." (Joseph Fielding Smith, "Doctrines of Salvation", 1:85
"All who belong, by virtue of their good lives, to the terrestrial order, as well as those who have kept the celestial law, will remain upon the face of the earth during the millennium." (Joseph Fielding Smith, "Doctrines of Salvation", 1:86
"The changed condition of the earth, which will be of a terrestrial order during this thousand [Millennial] years, will be suited to the capacity of those of the terrestrial world as well as those who have kept the celestial law, and they shall have part in the first resurrection." And then shall the heathen nations be redeemed, and they that knew no law shall have part in the first resurrection, "And it shall be tolerable for them." (D.C. 45:54)" (Joseph Fielding Smith, "The Way to Perfection", p. 302). 
"We understand, of course, that there will be many nonmembers of the Church living during the Millennium, but there will be a clear willingness by all the good and decent men and women of all the races, creeds, and cultures to abide by a terrestrial law." (Neal A. Maxwell, "Sermons Not Spoken", p. 81
"Therefore, when the great day of the Lord shall come, the wicked who have merited banishment from a righteous government will be consumed, or the privilege of continuance on the earth will be denied. Therefore, according to the justice of the Lord, all who have not violated the right to remain will not be consumed. We are informed that these, although they may not be members of the Church, who are entitled to the blessings of the terrestrial kingdom, will be spared." (Joseph Fielding Smith, "Answers to Gospel Questions", Vol.2, p. 200).

Love is the Answer


And so, we sit here, hoping, wishing, yearning for these friends and loved ones to come back. And we wonder, "What can I do to help them turn around?"

A friend of mine may have the answer. Here's her e-mail to me (sent -- yes, you guessed it -- two days ago):
"I've been learning a lot about Charity. I am so amazed right now at what God is showing me. Most of what He is showing me are my faults. I think He is trying to help me strip away some of my pride and unbelief so that he can give me little tastes of the gift of Charity. 
I'm learning that the answer is ALWAYS love. Charity. There is no other answer. Sometimes we think we are right, we KNOW we are right. Someone else is doing something wrong, and we are right and we know the answer. Then if we humble ourselves enough to learn, God will show us a great big, "Nope!" 
A true parable to explain: 
I have this friend whom I love and adore. She is like a sister to me. But the last several years her life have been nothing but chaos. She has so many health problems, and cares for an ailing mother and father. Her husband has lost his job -- twice. They struggle financially, as they are supporting not only their household, but much of her parent's financial needs as well. I felt for her, and tried to help her through it over the last several years. But then she became super negative, always complaining about her situation, a "toxic person" so to speak. She was no longer bringing any joy to my life, and even though I still loved her, I found myself wondering if I should distance myself a bit. I'm a very positive person and I have always felt like, "If you say you can't, then you can't." I know a positive attitude creates a positive life. 
So here I was, thinking, "She just needs to be positive. She's creating all of her health problems, all of the drama, not being thankful for her trials...it's all her own fault for not being thankful for what she has, and complaining about everything all the time." I knew I was right. If she'd just change her attitude, her life would change. She might not get rid of all of her trials, but she would be able to bare them with joy. 
One day I had been pondering what to do about this situation. She had gotten particularly negative, and I wondered if I should take a little break from her or what. As I pondered what to do, I heard a little voice say to me, "Pray for her." I have prayed for her many times. Hundreds of times over the years. But this felt different. "Pray for her." I felt like I needed to quit judging her, and pray. I did. And something clicked in my heart and I began praying for me to not judge her anymore and to just love her. Maybe I wasn't loving her like I should. 
The next day she was texting me, and I knew I just needed to be there to listen. I told her to call me instead, and we sat and talked for a long time, and I just loved her. I didn't judge, and I felt sympathy for her situation, and I could feel a difference. I was no longer thinking about what she "needed" to do. I was just loving her, and I could feel a change in her too. The next day, she thanked me for our talk, and said it had completely changed her day, and she felt a hope that she hasn't felt in a long time. 
What!!!!??? 
You mean the answer wasn't to tell her she needed to conform to my "right" way of thinking? The answer was to love her anyway? Love was the answer? 
Yep. Love was the answer. 
I still think a positive attitude could go a long way in her situation. But guess what? That doesn't matter. 
My job isn't to judge her, and think I know whats best. My job is to love her.  
Jesus didn't go up to the adulterous woman and say, "Listen, I know whats best for you to do. You need to do this and this and this." No, He loved her. He saw her for the daughter of God she was, and He just loved her. I'll bet a million dollars that that changed her more than a list of do's and don'ts ever would have. 
God has been showing me my weakness before Him. He's been wanting, and trying to give me extra spiritual gifts, but He's got to strip me of myself first. He's showing me all of these things about me that I never knew! All of these things I felt 100% right in, things that I know MOST people would say was the correct way as well, and come to find out there is a better way. The best way. Christ's way. 
And He's showing me the power of charity. What a huge difference charity makes. I feel it affecting those around me, those I work with, my home and my marriage. I thought all of these things were already running pretty smoothly. But then add the charity, and wow. Life Magnified by Love!"

"Him That Is Able To Do Exceeding Abundantly Above All That We Ask or Think"


She's right. Our way of thinking -- our tradition-filled, emotion-drenched, pride-infested mindsets are not the best ways for ourselves or others.

All of us are spiritually blind -- some more than others. Yet someday, all of us will say, "I was blind, now I see" (John 9:25). In fact, all of humanity -- every knee shall bow, and every tongue shall confess, even those who have been spiritually imprisoned (Isaiah 42:7,16,18-19) -- that Jesus is the Christ (D&C 88:104).

Time and again, I am awestruck by the sheer magnificence of Christ's atonement. Day in and day out, we tend to beat ourselves up for the mistakes of our past and present. We pull out our own cat-o-nine whip and flog ourselves for our misdeeds, conveniently forgetting, ignoring or minimizing the fact that someone else already took our hits, our stripes and our pain for us. And it is He who begs us, pleads with us, to take advantage of this freely-offered gift.

We also tend to minimize God's mercy. I know I have, in thinking that all was lost for my friends and loved ones who have strayed from the gospel of He who loves us more than our minds and hearts can conceive. In every case -- every case -- where I read and learn about Christ's mercy, He unfolds even higher and higher levels of charity and mercy (Moses 7:31).

He's the one who is "able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that worketh in us" (Ephesians 3:20). Indeed, it is He who is saying to you, right now,
"Hey, I've *so* got this covered! Just work that power within you! Have faith in me. Just be patient. Keep praying. Keep listening for me. And definitely keep loving them. And you'll be amazed by the miracle I'll perform in their life."
As this song clearly articulates (and yes, I was sent this two days ago, out of the blue), He is more than we dream, more than we understand. He catches our tears and burns our names upon His heart. As He would say, "I'm more than you think I am."