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Tuesday, October 31, 2017

The Gift of Discernment Part 3: Seek and Receive the Gift of Discernment


Hot Chocolate -- A Key to Obtaining the Gift of Discernment


It's been my experience that discernment is not something you can just turn on and off, like flipping a switch. No. It requires considerable faith, study, successes, failures, prayer, direct divine intervention and...hot chocolate.

Hot chocolate?!

Yep, that's what I said. Hot chocolate.

You see, for me, a nice, warm hot chocolate in the late fall/winter/early spring has a soothing, calming effect on me. I feel peaceful. Relaxed. Calm.

Maybe hot chocolate isn't your inner peacemaker. Maybe it's a nice warm bath or shower, taking a walk or spending time in nature. One person I know is at his calmest when he's mowing the lawn. Whatever works.

I don't believe you have a snowball's chance of discerning -- seeing what God sees, hearing what God hears and feeling what God feels -- while simultaneously listening to AC/DC's "Back in Black". Nor can you effectively discern if you give in to a little porn now and then, are idolatrous or just simply unrepentant (aka prideful). Sorry -- you can't have your primary residence in Zion while still hoping to keep a summer cottage in Babylon.

In my opinion, when you're aligned with God, and at peace, you're then close to (or on) the Lord's wavelength. After all, Elijah felt a great wind, an earthquake and a fire. The Lord wasn't in any of them; then came “a still small voice.” (1 Kings 19:12; D&C 85:6). Some of the still, small voice's characteristics are:
  • It's heard in your mind: “Behold, the voice of the Lord came into my mind” (Enos 1:10).
  • It's not simply a thought, but an impression or feeling: "While this spiritual communication comes into the mind, it comes more as a feeling, an impression, than simply as a thought." (Elder Boyd K. Packer, "Reverence Invites Revelation", October 1991 General Conference)
  • It's as gentle as a whisper: “It was not a voice of thunder, neither was it a voice of a great tumultuous noise, but behold, it was a still voice of perfect mildness, as if it had been a whisper, and it did pierce even to the very soul.” (Helaman 5:30). Nephi also reminded his brothers that an angel “hath spoken unto you in a still small voice, but ye were past feeling, that ye could not feel his words.”  (1 Nephi 17:45).
  • Most importantly, it will entice you to do good (Moroni 7:12-13) and speak peace to you (D&C 6:23)
  • Thus, the Spirit also speaks to your heart (D&C 8:2)
So, we see that
"Inspiration comes more easily in peaceful settings. Such words as quiet, still, peaceable, Comforter abound in the scriptures: 'Be still, and know that I am God.' (Ps. 46:10; emphasis mine). And the promise, 'You shall receive my Spirit, the Holy Ghost, even the Comforter, which shall teach you the peaceable things of the kingdom.'" (D&C 36:2). (Elder Boyd K. Packer, "Reverence Invites Revelation" October 1991 General Conference).
If I were to summarize all these concepts into one sentence, it'd be this:


Spiritual Warfare's Secret Weapon


There are three guarantees in life: Death, taxes, and Satan throwing every trick in the book at you when you're seeking the Gift of Discernment.

All of us have times when we find it difficult to seek greater communion with the Lord. We may be sad, upset, anxious and worse. And yes, even though we'd agree that prayer is certainly a spiritual weapon we can deploy in the blink of an eye to help us feel peace (as are scripture reading and fasting), there are times when we find it challenging to do those things, too.

It's at those times when we need all the help we can get -- especially when the hot chocolate or the warm shower just isn't the right solution. Being imperfect humans, we need a life line, assistance, a tool -- anything and everything that's divine and reliable which can help invite the Spirit and cast Satan from our midst.

Luckily, the Lord has supplied such a tool to help us draw closer to Him, feel His spirit again and regain a measure of peace which naturally comes to those aligned with Him. In fact, I can narrow it down to a single, five-letter word:

Music.
"A man can get nearer to God by music than any other method except prayer." (Pres. J. Reuben Clark, Conference Report, Oct. 1936, p. 111)
Can music help you cast out evil and focus on God? Absolutely!
"And it came to pass, when the evil spirit from God was upon Saul, that David took an harp, and played with his hand: so Saul was refreshed, and was well, and the evil spirit departed from him." (1 Samuel 16:23)
"Thou art my hiding place; thou shalt preserve me from trouble; thou shalt compass me about with songs of deliverance. Selah." (Psalms 32:7)
If you go here, you can read a series of posts I wrote in 2013 about the effect music can have on your soul. It's no wonder that Beethoven said, "Music is a higher revelation than all wisdom and philosophy". Even the Lord acknowledged music's spiritual power when He said,
"For my soul delighteth in the song of the heart; yea, the song of the righteous is a prayer unto me, and it shall be answered with a blessing upon their heads." (D&C 25:12)
On a personal note: I have found music is everything Pres. Clark and the scriptures say it is: A powerful method, tool, even a gift to help us re-tune to the Divine (for more about "tuning in to God", click here).

And once you're tuned in, and accustomed to what it feels like (remember the characteristics of the still small voice above), you're in terrific shape to "Counsel with the Lord in all thy doings, and he will direct thee for good" (Alma 37:37)

In my opinion, now you're ready to seek the Gift of Discernment.

"By Study and Also By Faith"


NOTE: The following is just an example of how a person (in this case, it was me) can seek after and receive the Gift of Discernment. It was based on the inspiration I received at the time. Your journey to receiving the Gift of Discernment may be different.

The Lord expects humility and perspiration to precede inspiration. He also expects us to seek after knowledge and information before we seek inspiration (see here and here):
"Behold, you have not understood; you have supposed that I would give it unto you, when you took no thought save it was to ask me.
But, behold, I say unto you, that you must study it out in your mind; then you must ask me if it be right, and if it is right I will cause that your bosom shall burn within you; therefore, you shall feel that it is right.
But if it be not right you shall have no such feelings, but you shall have a stupor of thought that shall cause you to forget the thing which is wrong; therefore, you cannot write that which is sacred save it be given you from me." (D&C 9:7-9)
Thus, it just stands to reason that if you want to be blessed with the Gift of Discernment -- which we've been told is offered to all Saints -- you need to put in the requisite amount of perspiration, likely "by study and also by faith" (D&C 88:119-119; D&C 109:7-8)

This was the conclusion I reached many years ago. Only at that time, I felt prompted to first study spiritual gifts/gifts of the spirit. To "start at the 30,000 foot level", as they say.

So at that time, I studied every scripture every written about gifts. EVERY scripture. I read them in English, Hebrew or Greek, so I could clearly understand the original meaning of what was written. Then I read each scripture's cross-references. Next, I sought after and read every word ever uttered by Joseph Smith regarding gifts. Combined, I considered these sources as my "foundation level" of information.

Next, I read the biblical commentaries of each scripture. These helped me gain a new perspective on the social and historical circumstances of the biblical scriptures. I also read every conference talk and curriculum material mentioning gifts. In all cases, I gave preferential consideration to those statements which clearly aligned with the foundation layer (I'll describe a bit more of my "sifting and sorting process" later in this post).

As I read and studied and pondered, I asked Father to guide me to the concepts He wanted me to learn. Sometimes, I'd easily grasp and embrace a concept. Other times, He would give me experiences (what I call "Lab Courses") of concepts He wanted indelibly imprinted upon me. I succeeded with some of the experiences He'd give me. Other times, I failed. I'd repent, then try again. I'd fail, repent, repeat process. Over time, it seemed to me that the important thing to Father wasn't whether or not I failed; instead, it was whether or not I repented and turned to Christ to help me proceed. I had many, many impressions that as long as I was doing that, I wasn't failing.

During the course of my research, I would feel impressed to highlight or mentally note certain keywords. It would be just a word here, and a word there. Just occasionally.

Then, one day, it finally dawned on me. Father was pulling me in the direction of not just studying gifts in general, but one gift in particular: Discernment.

(I praise God for guiding me through this journey. In my case, He led me to Discernment. In another's case, it could easily be charity or faith or healing or any gift).

I was impressed to do all the things I had done up to that point, yet focus my efforts solely on Discernment. I started all over again and re-read the sources I'd previously read concerning gifts which also addressed discernment. I read other passages as well. From the foundation layer to the commentaries to the conference talks to the curriculum materials, every scripture or statement was plugged into a spreadsheet (No, you can't see it. Make your own!  : )  ) I studied spiritual gifts for four months, and discernment (including an incident described below) for eight months. One year total.

Like my lessons regarding gifts, I was given experiences regarding discernment. Some I easily accomplished. Some attempts were abject failures.

One attempt was tragic.

Three Things the Lord Taught Me About Discernment


1. The Inevitable Test

It's been my experience -- and the experience of others I know who have sought spiritual gifts -- that there will likely come a time that you've developed a healthy degree of confidence in the usage of your spiritual gift. You can use it again and again and again, and each time, it brings about a beneficial result (most often for another).

Then the inevitable happens.

You are given an opportunity to use the gift, and you do it. But in the rush of enthusiasm in using the gift, you fail to remember that it's Christ -- not a mortal -- who "will direct thee for good". You seize the initiative and use the gift on your terms, for your personal reasons.

That's what I did. Although I didn't use the gift for illegal or immoral reasons, it was nonetheless used without the Lord's consent and permission. Soon thereafter, usage of the gift was withheld from me for six months.

By the time my six months in the penalty box were over, I felt pretty broken. It was then that God once again made Himself evident and reinforced what, to this day, was a tremendously valuable lesson: When it comes to using gifts, it's "Thy will, not mine, be done." Even today, when I contemplate the usage of spiritual gifts, I imagine my finger on the switch of a gift. It never moves unless and until the Lord overlays His fingers on mine and gently nudges me to activate the gift.

Another blessing emerged from this experience: A story emerged in my mind about a boy who played chopsticks on a piano, only to be later joined by a master pianist, who overlaid His fingers on the boy's. This story, which I literally experienced first-hand (with respect to spiritual gifts), served as the basis for this blog's first post, posted on February 5, 2012: "Symphonies". Here's what I said back then, as the experiences of my "Time Out" were still fresh in my mind:
"These blog posts are of, by and for you -- that scared, lonely child who at one time or another may have felt like you didn't have the talent, the wisdom, the know-how, in fact the worthiness, to be worthy of the presence of the Master.
They're also about the what happens when your fingers combine with our Elder Brother's, and the exquisitely beautiful symphony that will chime in, at just the right times, that will leave you not only awestruck, but also able to personally testify that the Master indeed lives.
For your natural abilities, combined with his super abilities, can and will bring about supernatural wonders in our lives."
2. "Shelves"

One of the lessons I learned as I was studying discernment is that even when it comes to using spiritual gifts, "Timing is Everything".

At one point in my studies, I was given a test. I was given three doctrines to determine the truthfulness of.

At first, I considered it a no-brainer. I had several friends I considered older and wiser, and were far better versed in doctrines and scriptures than I was. I would just believe what they did, because heck, they'd walked the hot coals of experience and study to obtain their testimonies. In my prayers, and even within the walls of the temple, I begged and pleaded with God to help guide me regarding the conclusions on the doctrines presented to me.

Within about a week, a clear instruction was given to me: "By their fruits ye shall know them." Knowing that this was a scripturally-validated, divinely-endorsed commandment, I embraced it. I was also impressed to read Deuteronomy 4:30–31:
“But if from thence thou shalt seek the Lord thy God, thou shalt find him, if thou seek him with all thy heart and with all thy soul.
When thou art in tribulation, and all these things are come upon thee, even in the latter days, if thou turn to the Lord thy God, and shalt be obedient unto his voice; … He will not forsake thee.”
In the course of studying this verse, I was led to a talk given by Elder Bruce C. Hafen, “If with All Your Hearts Ye Truly Seek Me”. I was instantly drawn to the talk, because he gave it at a time when I personally knew the Hafens, and at least one of the anecdotes in it mentioned some personal friends. Reading this talk impressed a very crucial dimension to discernment: Sometimes, we need to give the Holy Ghost some time to weigh in. Sometimes it may take days, months, years, even decades.

Gerald Lund once said,
"It is God who decides the who, what, when, where, and how of revelation. We seem to want to impose our will upon Him. Some of us seem to think that prayer is like a Sears catalogue! We take it out, pick what we want, order it, and ask it 'to be sent to us U.P.S. and A.S.A.P. (as soon as possible), if you please!' Sometimes we don't need to have an answer by a certain day or time. The Lord will say "yes" and give us an answer, or "no, you don't need an answer right now, and I'll PROVE it!" ("How Do I Discern Between True and Counterfeit Revelation?")
"It is not wise to wrestle with the revelations with such insistence as to demand immediate answers or blessings to your liking. You cannot force spiritual things. Such words as compel, coerce, constrain, pressure, demand, do not describe our privileges with the Spirit. You can no more force the Spirit to respond than you can force a bean to sprout, or an egg to hatch before it's time. You can create a climate to foster growth, nourish, and protect; but you cannot force or compel: you must await the growth. Do not be impatient to gain great spiritual knowledge. Let it grow, help it grow, but do not force it or you will open the way to be misled." (Elder Boyd K. Packer, "The Candle of the Lord," Ensign, Jan. 1983, p. 53)
As I waited upon the Lord, God soon blessed me with some disturbing yet enlightening insights into my "friends". He also taught me truths about the interconnectedness of reason, feeling and experience, or the test of time.

Through all of that, I learned about The Three Shelves:
  • On the lowest shelf, I place doctrines which the Spirit has testified to me are true. They meet the "reason, feeling and experience, or the test of time" test. This shelf is easily accessible.
  • On the middle shelf go those doctrines or teachings I'm uncertain about. In most cases, I put them there and let the test of time sort them in or out.
  • On the top shelf are those doctrines or teachings I feel disinclined to believe. Others may believe them, and that's their prerogative. But for me, they remain practically out of reach. If they are intended for a lower shelf, then I await the Master's action.

3. Flying to Pieces Like Glass

Lastly, as I studied discernment, I learned a great deal about myself. One of the foremost things I learned was how entrenched I was in the traditions of men, interpretations of men and the pride of men.

God says,
"For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the Lord.
For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts." (Isaiah 55:8-9)
If God's thoughts and ways are higher than our own, and we are at best prodigals, then there are bound to be conflicts between His thoughts/ways and our thoughts/ways. Joseph ran up against this fact continually among members of the church:
"There has been a great difficulty in getting anything into the heads of this generation. It has been like splitting hemlock knots with a corn-dodger [a piece of corn bread] for a wedge, and a pumpkin for a beetle [a wooden mallet]. Even the Saints are slow to understand.
I have tried for a number of years to get the minds of the Saints prepared to receive the things of God; but we frequently see some of them, after suffering all they have for the work of God, will fly to pieces like glass as soon as anything comes that is contrary to their traditions: they cannot stand the fire at all. How many will be able to abide a celestial law, and go through and receive their exaltation, I am unable to say, as many are called, but few are chosen [see D&C 121:40]." (History of the Church, 6:184-85; from a discourse given by Joseph Smith on Jan. 21, 1844, in Nauvoo, Illinois; reported by Wilford Woodruff; Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 331)
"There are a great many wise men and women too in our midst who are too wise to be taught; therefore they must die in their ignorance, and in the resurrection they will find their mistake. Many seal up the door of heaven by saying, So far God may reveal and I will believe." (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 309; History of the Church 5:424).
"I say to all those who are disposed to set up stakes for the Almighty, You will come short of the glory of God. To become a joint heir of the heirship of the son he must put away all his traditions." (History of the Church, 5:554; from a discourse given by Joseph Smith on Aug. 27, 1843, in Nauvoo, Illinois; reported by Willard Richards and William Clayton.)
"Men will set up stakes and say thus far will we go and no farther. Did Abraham when called upon to offer his son? Did the Savior? No." (Notes of James Burgess from a sermon in the Temple Grove 27 August 1843, The Words of Joseph Smith, p.243-248)
"It is the constitutional disposition of mankind to set up stakes and set bounds to the works and ways of the Almighty." (History of the Church, 5:529–30; from a discourse given by Joseph Smith on Aug. 13, 1843, in Nauvoo, Illinois; reported by Willard Richards.)
This predisposition to what I call "Doctrinal Boxes" is tremendously evident on the internet. In fact, just this morning, I was reading a post in a gospel-oriented Facebook group where a member explained how he believed something which was almost word-for-word the opposite of what Isaiah says. Then another extolled and praised a well-known person who is also famous for their propensity to produce false prophecies. In my humble opinion, both utterly failed the "reason, feeling and experience, or the test of time" test.

These aren't isolated incidents. I see them often; not only on the internet, but in church meetings as well.

The bottom line: If you truly seek discernment, be prepared for a greater awareness of (God's) truths which are incongruent with what you've been taught over the years by mortals.

Like Elder Maxwell masterfully articulated, you can't have one foot in Zion and another in Babylon. There's no middle ground, no "lukewarm" seeking after discernment (Revelation 3:16). You're either in 100%, or you aren't.

In Conclusion


The scriptures give us more than a casual invitation to obtain spiritual gifts.  We are told to desire spiritual gifts. Seek earnestly the best gifts. Lay hold upon every good gift. To apply ourselves to our own special gift (1 Corin. 14:1; D&C 46:8; Moroni 10:30; D&C 8:4).

God doesn't cast His gifts freely into the wind. They're reserved for those who love God and keep His commandments. And you must seek them, cultivate them and clearly understand (as I'll detail later) that they must be used to benefit others.

You may be one of the many who have wondered where you were when the gifts were handed out. Perhaps you even feel that you were completely overlooked. I get that. I felt that way, too. I've even envied the gifts evident in others' lives.

Could you have a gift lying dormant within you?  Perhaps (even probably). Consider mining the deepest recesses of your soul to discover the "gold" that's in you. I'm sure that if you read your Patriarchal Blessing, ask for and heed the clues the Spirit will send you, you'll discover them.

As I've studied the subject of spiritual gifts and my knowledge of gifts has increased, I've repented of past feelings. I've also come to know that "to every man (and woman) is given a gift by the Spirit of God" (D&C 46:1; also see 1 Corin. 7:7).  I also know that some may be given an abundance of gifts (D&C 46:29).

Discernment is one of those gifts you're entitled to:
“… Every member in the restored Church of Christ could have this gift if he willed to do so. He could not be deceived with the sophistries of the world. He could not be led astray by pseudo-prophets and subversive cults. Even the inexperienced would recognize false teachings, in a measure at least" (Stephen L. Richards, Conference Report, Apr. 1950, 162–63).
My experience seeking and receiving discernment was just that: mine. I offer my story only as an example of how one person did it -- nothing more, nothing less. Please don't assume you'll have the same lessons and experiences I had. And please don't assume I am (or that I'm trying to come across as) anything greater than "The Prodigal Mormon", which -- in all honesty -- was a blog post I felt was written for me.

Yet I'm simultaneously amazed by how eager the Lord is for us to seek greater discernment and to use it for others. I'm equally astounded by how anxious He is for us to investigate and grow in even higher levels of discernment, many of which are "hidden in plain sight" in the scriptures. I will always praise His name in all the eternities for the things He has unveiled to a soul so rebellious and proud as mine.

A homework assignment or two (sorry -- they're the kind your dog can't eat).


I invite you to humbly, meekly ask God if you should diligently study spiritual gifts. Wait for His answer. If and when He says yes, then do it. If it's His will that you study discernment, then great! If not, that's great too.

Regardless, part of me thinks you could use a little inspiration along the way. I know I could.

So, effective today, this blog now has a new Multimedia tab on its website menu. It features inspirational music, inspirational videos, insightful videos and more. I've started it, but I'd like to invite you to help complete it. Feel free to email me here and suggest whatever songs or videos you believe will help others draw closer to our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

For it is He -- the Bread of Life, the Prince of Peace -- who gives sight to the blind so they might see...and hope to those who did not believe.


Sunday, October 15, 2017

The Gift of Discernment Part 2: The Gift of Discernment 101


Taken in, taken in again. Wrapped around the finger of some fair-weather friend.


Many people tend to consider Adam and Eve as kind of dazed, confused, bewildered, maybe even air-heady while they were in the Garden of Eden. I've seen some presentations which portray them as pretty close to that.

I disagree. Before they got us all into this mess, they had not yet sinned nor even transgressed. They walked and talked with God, face-to-face, and were worthy of our admiration as a man and woman in their glory. I think they were quite likely literally and figuratively head-and-shoulders better than us.

And yet, they were deceived.

That fact alone ought to give us all a healthy respect for what our common enemy is capable of. Satan is a liar, “the father of lies” (John 8:44). He is so utterly convincing, that he deceived a glorious man and woman -- the physical father and mother of our world -- to betray God, with whom they walked every day.

Even the best of us can be taken in.

In this regard, Satan's operations haven't changed very much in 6,000 years. He tells many truths to put across a lie. And the moment you're enticed to examine the lie, to contemplate it, and maybe just tolerate it just a little, you believe the spin, and you accept as reality the deception he's presenting.

Once you buy into his lie, you make an agreement, and come under his spell and the influence of his interpretation of events. Then it pretty much plays itself out; it becomes self-fulfilling. These agreements define your relationships with Satan, God and everybody else. And it can be devastating to just let this stuff roll on unchecked and unchallenged. I mean, look what happened to Adam and Eve.

Under all of heaven and earth, there is but one name which stops all of Satan's efforts dead in their tracks: Jesus Christ. It is in and through His power and authority that our world was created, unclean spirits are cast out, that darkness becomes light, decay becomes life, and sadness becomes joy. Jesus' name IS power...including and especially the power to detect and discern Satan far quicker than we're accustomed to.

The Gift of Discernment in All its Potential


When you truly wish for greater discernment, you're seeking far more than just knowing what's right and what's wrong, what's evil and what's holy, what's light and what's dark. In its purest, highest form, discernment is the ability to see as He sees, to hear as He hears, to feel as He feels, to forgive as He forgives, to know what He knows and to love as He loves.
"Discernment is so much more than recognizing right from wrong. It helps us distinguish the relevant from the irrelevant, the important from the unimportant, and the necessary from that which is merely nice. The gift of discernment opens to us vistas that stretch far beyond what can be seen with natural eyes or heard with natural ears. Discerning is seeing with spiritual eyes and feeling with the heart—seeing and feeling the falsehood of an idea or the goodness in another person. Discerning is hearing with spiritual ears and feeling with the heart—hearing and feeling the unspoken concern in a statement or the truthfulness of a testimony or doctrine." (Elder David A. Bednar, "Quick to Observe", devotional address given at Brigham Young University on May 10, 2005)
With the Gift of Discernment active in your life, God will show you all the grandeur and wonderment of His greatest creations -- the human soul. Not only yours, but also those you may or may not walk among everyday. It will bring you to tears as you pray for that cashier you spent only 30 seconds with at Walmart, as well as the orphaned child in Kosovo whom you will likely will never meet in your life. As your heart sinks to the lowest depths possible, God will also raise it so that you can discern those vistas Elder Bednar mentioned -- vistas that transcend time, space and the multi-dimensionality of God's Kingdom. You will be awed at His magnificence, and the intricacies of the planning and caring He invests in His trillions of children individually, almost as if each is His only child.

Continuing with Elder Bednar's address, he says that "we learn that the gift of discernment operates basically in four major ways.
  • First, as we “read under the surface,” discernment helps us detect hidden error and evil in others.
  • Second, and more important, it helps us detect hidden errors and evil in ourselves. Thus the spiritual gift of discernment is not exclusively about discerning other people and situations, but, as President Cannon taught, it is also about discerning things as they really are within us.
  • Third, it helps us find and bring forth the good that may be concealed in others.
  • And fourth, it helps us find and bring forth the good that may be concealed in us. Oh, what a blessing and a source of protection and direction is the spiritual gift of discernment!"

The Three Signals: God, Satan and You


"But ye are commanded in all things to ask of God, who giveth liberally; and that which the Spirit testifies unto you even so I would that ye should do in all holiness of heart, walking uprightly before me, considering the end of your salvation, doing all things with prayer and thanksgiving, that ye may not be seduced by evil spirits, or doctrines of devils, or the commandments of men; for some are of men, and others of devils.
Wherefore, beware lest ye are deceived; and that ye may not be deceived seek ye earnestly the best gifts, always remembering for what they are given;" (D&C 46:7-8)

One of this blog's most frequently-asked questions is, "How can I know if a prompting is from God, Satan or just myself?" or "How do you know when you've heard the voice of the Spirit?"

I've posted some insights in these following past posts (prime recommendations have asterisks):

* Rend the Veil of Unbelief, Part 5: Hearing Him

* Pondering the Word of God, Part 1 - The Divine Tuning Fork

* A Spiritual Call to Arms, Part 3 (The Invitation)

01. "Calleth On My Name"

01. Are You Truly Awake?

02. Walking and Talking with God, Part 1

03. Walking and Talking with God, Part 2

04. Walking and Talking with God, Part 3: Trust

* 05. Walking and Talking with God, Part 4: Fearlessness

* 06. Walking and Talking with God, Part 5: The Perfect Start

14. Spiritual Land Mine #3: Encouraging or Accepting Adulation

* 18. Spiritual Land Mine #6: Conquer "The D Word"

22. Spiritual Land Mine #8: The Missing Link to Seeing the Lord

* Lectures on Faith 2, Part 1: Why Its Absolutely Essential For You to Hearken to God

* Lectures on Faith 2, Part 2: Recognize and Avoid Satan's Pick Up Lines

Step Out of the Darkness and Into the Light

Every moment demands that we choose, over and over again, between that which comes from the Lord and that which comes from the devil. As tiny drops of water shape a landscape, so also do our minute-by-minute choices shape our character. (This is why I believe that living the eternal gospel every day is in many ways harder than dying for the Lord).

Thankfully, the Lord, in His wisdom, has provided some insights which we can employ to the effectiveness of our spiritual pursuits.

First, I believe that there are three voices which speak into our minds and hearts - the voice of God (goodness), Satan (evil) and ourselves (indecision, which is swayed by the previous two voices). God's voice is always broadcasting. So is Satan's. The voice of the Spirit is usually very quiet. Said Isaiah,
“And the work of righteousness shall be peace; and the effect of righteousness quietness and assurance for ever” (Isaiah 32:17)
Ironically, Satan's efforts can also begin very subtly, as soft as a baby's breath. Hence we read,
"for he is the founder of all these things; yea, the founder of murder, and works of darkness; yea, and he leadeth them by the neck with a flaxen cord, until he bindeth them with his strong cords forever." (2 Nephi 26:22)
It's natural for the third voice -- our own -- to come to the forefront in our decision-making processes, because the characteristics of these two signals can be very similar. Thus, we must look at their content. That, I believe, is where differences begin to appear:
“There is nothing which is good save it comes from the Lord: and that which is evil cometh from the devil” (Omni 1:25)
"For behold, a bitter fountain cannot bring forth good water; neither can a good fountain bring forth bitter water; wherefore, a man being a servant of the devil cannot follow Christ; and if he follow Christ he cannot be a servant of the devil.
Wherefore, all things which are good cometh of God; and that which is evil cometh of the devil; for the devil is an enemy unto God, and fighteth against him continually, and inviteth and enticeth to sin, and to do that which is evil continually.
But behold, that which is of God inviteth and enticeth to do good continually; wherefore, every thing which inviteth and enticeth to do good, and to love God, and to serve him, is inspired of God.
Wherefore, take heed, my beloved brethren, that ye do not judge that which is evil to be of God, or that which is good and of God to be of the devil.
For behold, my brethren, it is given unto you to judge, that ye may know good from evil; and the way to judge is as plain, that ye may know with a perfect knowledge, as the daylight is from the dark night.
For behold, the Spirit of Christ is given to every man, that he may know good from evil; wherefore, I show unto you the way to judge; for every thing which inviteth to do good, and to persuade to believe in Christ, is sent forth by the power and gift of Christ; wherefore ye may know with a perfect knowledge it is of God.
But whatsoever thing persuadeth men to do evil, and believe not in Christ, and deny him, and serve not God, then ye may know with a perfect knowledge it is of the devil; for after this manner doth the devil work, for he persuadeth no man to do good, no, not one; neither do his angels; neither do they who subject themselves unto him.
And now, my brethren, seeing that ye know the light by which ye may judge, which light is the light of Christ, see that ye do not judge wrongfully; for with that same judgment which ye judge ye shall also be judged.
Wherefore, I beseech of you, brethren, that ye should search diligently in the light of Christ that ye may know good from evil; and if ye will lay hold upon every good thing, and condemn it not, ye certainly will be a child of Christ." (Moroni 7:11-19)

So how can you know good from evil?


You have to search for it. Search how? Search diligently. OK then, search what?

Here's what I found out when I searched "search" and "diligently" in the lds.org scripture search engine (here)

The scriptures

"Now these sons of Mosiah were with Alma at the time the angel first appeared unto him; therefore Alma did rejoice exceedingly to see his brethren; and what added more to his joy, they were still his brethren in the Lord; yea, and they had waxed strong in the knowledge of the truth; for they were men of a sound understanding and they had searched the scriptures diligently, that they might know the word of God.
But this is not all; they had given themselves to much prayer, and fasting; therefore they had the spirit of prophecy, and the spirit of revelation, and when they taught, they taught with power and authority of God." (Alma 17:2-3)

The Book of Mormon
"O my sons, I would that ye should remember that these sayings are true, and also that these records are true. And behold, also the plates of Nephi, which contain the records and the sayings of our fathers from the time they left Jerusalem until now, and they are true; and we can know of their surety because we have them before our eyes.
And now, my sons, I would that ye should remember to search them diligently, that ye may profit thereby; and I would that ye should keep the commandments of God, that ye may prosper in the land according to the promises which the Lord made unto our fathers." (Mosiah 1:6-7)
"And your minds in times past have been darkened because of unbelief, and because you have treated lightly the things you have received—
Which vanity and unbelief have brought the whole church under condemnation.
And this condemnation resteth upon the children of Zion, even all.
And they shall remain under this condemnation until they repent and remember the new covenant, even the Book of Mormon and the former commandments which I have given them, not only to say, but to do according to that which I have written—
That they may bring forth fruit meet for their Father’s kingdom; otherwise there remaineth a scourge and judgment to be poured out upon the children of Zion." (D&C 84:54-58)
Isaiah
"And now, behold, I say unto you, that ye ought to search these things. Yea, a commandment I give unto you that ye search these things diligently; for great are the words of Isaiah.
For surely he spake as touching all things concerning my people which are of the house of Israel; therefore it must needs be that he must speak also to the Gentiles.
And all things that he spake have been and shall be, even according to the words which he spake.
Therefore give heed to my words; write the things which I have told you; and according to the time and the will of the Father they shall go forth unto the Gentiles.
And whosoever will hearken unto my words and repenteth and is baptized, the same shall be saved. Search the prophets, for many there be that testify of these things." (3 Nephi 23:1-5)
This last scripture is especially important in that the Lord said that although diligently studying His words is essential, we must also hearken to His words, repent and be baptized (which I believe could also mean that we should covenant with Him). Hence,
"But be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving your own selves." (James 1:22)

But what if the scriptures don't address the thing I need help with?


The Lord has done a terrific job of highlighting all the virtues and characteristics of a true Christian in the scriptures. His answers are true and timeless. But with all that's in them, we may still encounter some moments of confusion. We sometimes need more definite, definitive answers.

It's helpful in such instances to remember that the word of the Lord can come via the Holy Ghost, in personal prayer, in addition to the scriptures.
"Yea, behold, I will tell you in your mind and in your heart, by the Holy Ghost, which shall come upon you and which shall dwell in your heart. Now, behold, this is the spirit of revelation" (D&C 8:2-3).
Elder. Marion G. Romney described what it's like to actually receive a sentence from the Lord:
"Revelation is the means by which God communicates with men. Revelation is indispensable to an understanding of the gospel of Jesus Christ. The very nature of the gospel is such that without the active and constant operation of the principle of revelation, it could not be understood nor could it be had.
Another manifestation of revelation is the unspoken word, a good illustration of which is given us by Enos. He says: '...while I was thus struggling in the spirit, behold, the voice of the Lord came into my mind again, saying:...' (Enos 10.) Then he tells us what the voice of the Lord put in his mind.
This is a very common means of revelation. It comes into one's mind in words and sentences. With this medium of revelation I am personally well acquainted. Flashes of ideas that come into one's mind represent another type or manifestation of revelation. Listen to this statement of the Prophet Joseph:
'A person may profit by noticing the first intimation of the spirit of revelation; for instance, when you feel pure intelligence flowing into you, it may give you sudden strokes of ideas, so that by noticing it, you may find it fulfilled the same day or soon; (i.e.) those things that were presented unto your minds by the Spirit of God, will come to pass; and thus by learning the Spirit of God and understanding it, you may grow into the principle of revelation, until you become perfect in Christ Jesus.' (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 151.)" (April 1964 General Conference)
Still, the personal revelation you obtain should be congruent with already-revealed truths:
"General Commandments are given by God through prophets for the benefit of all His children. They are the natural laws of growth and happiness for individuals, of stability and freedom for nations."
Obedience to General Commandments schools and prepares us to discern and obey the "Personal Commandments" given us by the spirit." (Stephen R. Covey, "The Divine Center", p. 247)
This is congruent with what brother Joseph said:
" . . . we never inquire at the hand of God for special revelation only in case of there being no previous revelation to suit the case . . ." (History of the Church, Vol. 1, p. 339)
"We cannot keep all the commandments without first knowing them, and we cannot expect to know all, or more than we now know unless we comply with or keep those we have already received" (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 256).

The Primacy of Scripture


Even then, the personal revelation -- the "personal commandments" -- we (and others) receive should not contradict what we find in the scriptures:
"If anyone, regardless of his position in the Church, were to advance a doctrine that is not substantiated by the standard Church works, meaning the Bible, the Book of Mormon, the Doctrine and Covenants, and the Pearl of Great Price, you may know that his statement is merely his private opinion. The only one authorized to bring forth any new doctrine is the President of the Church, who, when he does, will declare it as revelation from God, and it will be so accepted by the Council of the Twelve and sustained by the body of the Church. And if any man speak a doctrine which contradicts what is in the standard Church works, you may know by that same token that it is false and you are not bound to accept it as truth." (Pres. Harold B. Lee, The First Area General Conference for Germany, Austria, Holland, Italy, Switzerland, France, Belgium, and Spain of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, held in Munich Germany, August 24–26, 1973, Reports and Discourses, p.69)
"It is not to be thought that every word spoken by the General Authorities is inspired, or that they are moved upon by the Holy Ghost in everything they read and write. Now you keep that in mind. I don't care what his position is, if he writes something or speaks something that goes beyond anything that you can find in the standard church works, unless that one be the prophet, seer, and revelator -- please note that one exception -- you may immediately say, 'Well, that is his own idea.' And if he says something that contradicts what is found in the standard church works (I think that is why we call them 'standard' -- it is the standard measure of all that men teach), you may know by that same token that it is false, regardless of the position of the man who says it." (Pres. Harold B. Lee, "Place of the Living Prophet, Seer and Revelator," Stand in Holy Places, (1974), p.162-163; originally delivered July 8, 1964)
"When is a prophet a prophet? Whenever he speaks under the inspiration and influence of the Holy Ghost. Men frequently speak and express their own opinions. The Lord has not deprived men of individual opinions. Good men, men of faith, have divergent views on many things. There is no particular harm in this if these views are not in relation to the fundamentals. Some men are Democrats, some Republicans. Some believe in a particular political philosophy and some are bitterly opposed to it, and yet they are faithful men with a testimony of the gospel.
When prophets write and speak on the principles of the gospel, they should have the guidance of the Spirit. If they do, then all that they say will be in harmony with the revealed word. If they are in harmony then we know that they have not spoken presumptuously. Should a man speak or write, and what he says is in conflict with the standards which are accepted, with the revelations the Lord has given, then we may reject what he has said, no matter who he is. Paul declared that he, at times, gave his own opinion in his writing." (Joseph Fielding Smith, Doctrines of Salvation 1:187)
"It makes no difference what is written or what anyone has said, if what has been said is in conflict with what the Lord has revealed, we can set it aside. My words, and the teachings of any other member of the Church, high or low, if they do not square with the revelations, we need not accept them. Let us have this matter clear. We have accepted the four standard works as the measuring yardsticks, or balances, by which we measure every man's doctrine.
You cannot accept the books written by the authorities of the Church as standards in doctrine, only in so far as they accord with the revealed word in the standard works.
Every man who writes is responsible, not the Church, for what he writes. If Joseph Fielding Smith writes something which is out of harmony with the revelations, then every member of the Church is duty bound to reject it. If he writes that which is in perfect harmony with the revealed word of the Lord, then it should be accepted." (Joseph Fielding Smith, Doctrines of Salvation, 3:203-4)
"Prophets are men and they make mistakes. Sometimes they err in doctrine. This is one of the reasons the Lord has given us the Standard Works. They become the standards and rules that govern where doctrine and philosophy are concerned. If this were not so, we would believe one thing when one man was president of the Church and another thing in the days of his successors. Truth is eternal and does not vary. Sometimes even wise and good men fall short in the accurate presentation of what is truth. Sometimes a prophet gives personal views which are not endorsed and approved by the Lord....
Wise gospel students do not build their philosophies of life on quotations of individuals, even though those quotations come from presidents of the Church. Wise people anchor their doctrine on the Standard Works.... There is no need to attempt to harmonize conflicting views when some of the views are out of harmony with the Standard Works....
We do not solve our problems by getting a statement from the president of the Church or from someone else on a subject. We have been introduced to the gospel; we have the gift of the Holy Ghost; we have the Standards Works and it is our responsibility to get in tune and understand properly what the Lord has revealed and has had us canonize." (Elder Bruce R. McConkie, in a Letter to Eugene England, BYU Professor, February 19, 1981)
"The standard works are scripture. They are binding upon us. They are the mind and will and voice of the Lord. He never has, he does not now, and he never will reveal anything which is contrary to what is in them. No person, speaking by the spirit of inspiration, will ever teach doctrine that is out of harmony with the truths God has already revealed....
Men who wear the prophetic mantle are still men; they have their own views; and their understanding of gospel truths is dependent upon the study and inspiration that is theirs. Some prophets—I say it respectfully—know more and have greater inspiration than others. Thus, if Brigham Young, who was one of the greatest of the prophets, said something about Adam which is out of harmony with what is in the Book of Moses and in section 78, it is the scripture that prevails. This is one of the reasons we call our scriptures The Standard Works. They are the standard of judgment and the measuring rod against which all doctrines and views are weighed, and it does not make one particle of difference whose views are involved. The scriptures always take precedence." (Elder Bruce R. McConkie, "Finding Answers to Gospel Questions," Letter dated 1 July 1980. Published in Teaching Seminary Preservice Readings, Religion 370, 471, and 475 (2004))
“All that we teach in this Church ought to be couched in the scriptures. It ought to be found in the scriptures. We ought to choose our texts from the scriptures. If we want to measure truth, we should measure it by the four standard works, regardless of who writes it. If it is not in the standard works, we may well assume that it is speculation, man’s own personal opinion; and if it contradicts what is in the scriptures, it is not true. This is the standard by which we measure all truth” (“Using the Scriptures in Our Church Assignments,” Improvement Era, Jan. 1969, p. 13).”

Get "Inside Information" About Satan's Plans for You


As you immerse yourself in God's word throughout the day, you acclimate your spirit to the divine signal of truth and love.

And on that wavelength, the Lord can actually give you "inside information" about Satan's plans that will help you avoid deception and temptation ahead of time.

The Prophet Elisha got this concept. In 2 Kings 2, we read:
"Then the king of Syria warred against Israel, and took counsel with his servants, saying, In such and such a place shall be my camp.
And the man of God sent unto the king of Israel, saying, Beware that thou pass not such a place; for thither the Syrians are come down.
And the king of Israel sent to the place which the man of God told him and warned him of, and saved himself there, not once nor twice.
Therefore the heart of the king of Syria was sore troubled for this thing; and he called his servants, and said unto them, Will ye not shew me which of us is for the king of Israel?
And one of his servants said, None, my lord, O king: but Elisha, the prophet that is in Israel, telleth the king of Israel the words that thou speakest in thy bedchamber." (2 Kings 2:8-12)
The Nephites experienced something similar:
"And this was their faith, that by so doing God would prosper them in the land, or in other words, if they were faithful in keeping the commandments of God that he would prosper them in the land; yea, warn them to flee, or to prepare for war, according to their danger;
And also, that God would make it known unto them whither they should go to defend themselves against their enemies, and by so doing, the Lord would deliver them; and this was the faith of Moroni, and his heart did glory in it; not in the shedding of blood but in doing good, in preserving his people, yea, in keeping the commandments of God, yea, and resisting iniquity." (Alma 48:15-16)
When we are tuned in to the Lord, we can actively take Him up on His offer to help us avoid battles with our common enemy. He can and will give you promptings as to what Satan is planning for you. Indeed,
"We can monitor our own progress and discern the gains we make and the patterns in which we are vulnerable to temptation. I am indebted to a wise old friend (both in years and in association) of another faith who taught me to take an active interest in learning about the patterns in my life and how temptations occurred. He struggled a long time with some of his temptations and finally decided to take a proactive interest. He tried to anticipate where in his life he might encounter that 'old trickster devil' again. He became a good scout. He watched the terrain of his life and could tell where it looked like his own form of quicksand might be. He rerouted and gave up trying to see how close he could get to that quicksand without getting caught." (Marie Cornwall and Susan Howe, eds., Women of Wisdom and Knowledge: Talks Selected from the BYU Women's Conferences, p. 114)

Now what?


We've discussed the need to align with Christ -- and no one else -- in the discernment process. We've also discussed the paramount importance of obtaining the words of the Lord -- and sticking with them -- so that we can effectively and consistently avoid deception and temptation.

In my next post, we'll talk about the principles -- and a real-life example -- of how to effectively seek obtaining the Gift of Discernment.

On a personal note: I know how challenging discernment can be. As we proceed through this series of posts on discernment, it'll become (and I choose my words carefully) painfully clear to you how challenging it really is. We live in a time when there are "false Christs, and false prophets, and shall show great signs and wonders, insomuch, that, if possible, they shall deceive the very elect, who are the elect according to the covenant." (JS—M 1:22)

I pray with Paul “unto the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ … that he would grant you, according to the riches of his glory, to be strengthened with might by his Spirit in the inner man;
That Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith; that ye, being rooted and grounded in love, may...know the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge, that ye might be filled with all the fulness of God” (Eph. 3:14, 16–19).



Sunday, September 24, 2017

The Gift of Discernment Part 1: Are You Sure You're Truly Aligned With Christ?



We live in an era when wrong is right, down is up, evil is good, dark is light.

To discover the truth, we turn to our best informational resource: the internet. There, the truth is most often elusive, as falsehoods are guised as authoritative fact. It's not unusual to have to wade through a hundred false, fake "facts" to find a possible nugget of golden information.

We also find:
  • Traditional sources of truth, the media, evading their responsibilities to investigate the truth and report it objectively. Our response: We keep listening to and watching them.
  • Long-time, trusted sources of truth having to recant and retract their widely-promulgated stories and statements. Our response: We ignore their missteps, only to see them arise again at another time and place.
  • Even those we love, our friends and family, are prone to forward emails with stories which seem true, but aren't. Our response: We don't ask the sender to correct their mistake; we just delete the emails.
  • Common idols which have unabashedly eroded spirituality for millennia.  Our response: We openly, enthusiastically promote them at nearly every turn, while we simultaneously condemn others who extol other idols.
  • Teachings passed off as doctrinal "truths", having no scriptural basis whatsoever. Our response: We believe them, and proselytize them as God's own words.
  • We create excuses to ignore and minimize some our most important latter-day scriptures, for which we stand condemned by God. Our response: We ignore said condemnation, and consider ourselves blessed, enlightened and true.
"For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears;
And they shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables." (2 Timothy 4:3-4)
Inevitably, as we either embrace untruths or don't stand up for the truth, we unknowingly merrily march through the morass of muddied misinformation. We degrade our discernment. We acclimate our spirits to the normalcy of mediocrity at best, and falsehood at worst. We get used to the static, and not the Spirit, signaling our souls.

And even in those times when we've strayed off-course, we ask God to "Lead me, guide me, walk beside me. Help me find the way." Then we wonder why God isn't answering our prayers because -- in our heart of hearts -- "we've done nothing wrong".

I believe that in a lot of cases, the cruddy, frustrating, even heartbreaking circumstances we often find ourselves in -- and begging God to help us out of -- are due to our own persistent, consistent, tireless stupidity.

Spiritual Exceptionalism


Case in point: In the last several weeks and months, I've been heartbroken as I've seen many of my friends entering into affairs. I've seen two types:

Emotional Affairs: These begin innocently at first, with two grown adults just being friends and wanting to be helpful to one another. Then the friendship seeks to fill voids in the adults' marital relationships. As time progresses, the interactions become increasingly private, with both parties increasingly complaining about their current spouse, and seeking unfulfilled relationship aspects with their friend. All the while, they view their association as innocent, wholesome and even sanctioned by God. Yet from the outside, it's clearly inappropriate, misaligned with God and perhaps even an erosion of ones' commitment to temple covenants. Invariably, marriages are rocked to their core at best, and nuked at worst.

Spiritual Affairs: Affairs not only emerge between two people, but also a group of people. Despite their stated humility, these groups find commonality in their belief that they are more knowledgeable of the gospel than others, more conversant in deeper doctrines and more spiritually evolved than others. Just as beguiling as the Garden of Eden's fruit, they feel, in their heart of hearts, that they are aligned with God, enlightened by God and blessed beyond measure. Like those in emotional affairs, their deliberations are often secretive. Yet from the outside, it's plainly obvious that their doctrinal beliefs are not based on anything found in the scriptures. They may also believe that by virtue of their association in these groups, they will be spared the worst of forthcoming calamities and called upon by God for special future missions.

What do both of these affairs have in common? Many things. Notably, they're both conducted (to a certain extent) in secret. Thus, "when we undertake to cover our sins, or to gratify our pride, our vain ambition, or to exercise control or dominion or compulsion upon the souls of the children of men, in any degree of unrighteousness, behold, the heavens withdraw themselves; the Spirit of the Lord is grieved..." (D&C 121:37)

They're also based on exceptionalism, where one believes that they're not only "different from the norm", but that are also special or better than everyone else.
"They think their time is more precious than the rest of ours, so they deliberately show up at meetings 10 minutes late to avoid having to wait for anyone else. They park their Hummer in the compact spot because it’s closer to the office, and they blame building management for putting in too few regular spaces. They always eat the doughnuts but never bring them. Transgressions can grow over time. Embezzlement, insider trading and sexual harassment are not uncommon for people with these personality types. But they can justify anything to themselves on the basis of their own exceptionalism. They see themselves as special people and feel that they can’t be judged by our rules." (Paul Glen, "The Scourge of Personal Exceptionalism", Managing Self, Sept. 13, 2010)
They often believe that they are exceptions not only to rules, but also some doctrines, too, which are meant for “regular” or less-enlightened people.

This brings up an interesting point: Could God command you to do one thing, and command another to do something else -- perhaps even the complete opposite?

Yes and no.

The Unchanging Changeableness of God


For generations, we've been taught that God doesn't change, and that what was truth to Him long ago remains truth today.

"For do we not read that God is the same yesterday, today, and forever, and in him there is no variableness neither shadow of changing?" (Mormon 9:9-10)

If this is the case, then why do we read:

  • In Exodus 35:2 that we should kill anyone -- including doctors, nurses, firemen, policemen, military, air traffic controllers, pilots -- who works on the Sabbath?
  • In Leviticus 11:7-8 that we shouldn't touch the flesh of dead pigs? Does this invalidate football? Does this mean Cougar Football -- not to mention all those little league and community football games for kids -- are an abomination in the sight of God? Is wearing gloves the solution?
  • In Leviticus 25:44 that I may buy slaves from the nations that are around us? Does this apply to both Canada and Mexico?
  • In Leviticus 21:18-19 that I should avoid anyone with a mole, birthmark, blindness, disability, a flat nose, dwarfism, or cataracts?
  • In Leviticus 19:27 that men who cut their hair are condemned before God? Does this mean that bald men are spiritually beautiful?
  • In Leviticus 19:19 -- and Deuteronomy 22:11 -- that my wife is condemned for wearing a garment mingled of linen and wool? Does Leviticus 24:14 mean that my ward should stone her? 
  • In Leviticus 20:13, that we should put to death all homosexuals?

On top of all of that, in Matthew 5:17, we understand that the Law of Moses was neither revoked nor repealed, but fulfilled.

Because it's doubtful the Lord would be pleased with any of the above laws being enforced today, how do we make sense of these scriptural differences? (Keep reading for an explanation).

What's Right for You May Not Be Right for Me


You and I are at different levels and places in our spiritual progression. We differ in our spiritual gifts, the trials we face, the experiences we have and the knowledge we obtain. We also differ in the personal commandments God gives to us.
"God does love each of you, He is aware of you, and each of you has a customized curriculum in life. There is divine design in your life, better appreciated perhaps even you look back than when looking forward." (Neal A. Maxwell, "The Challenge of Selfishness", University of Utah)
This means that you and I may be tasked with different responsibilities and expectations at any given time. For example, God may prompt you to work on family history, whereas He may prompt me to work on this blog. You bake cookies for the invalid woman in the ward, and I'm prompted to visit a good brother in the ward who's in the hospital. You're prompted to pursue the Gift of Charity, and I'm prompted to pursue the Gift of Faith. In such a scenario, are you doing the wrong thing? Am I? I don't think so, because both of us are hearkening to the Spirit.

In that case, then why do we see some who are prompted to abandon certain gospel truths and pursue other teachings, perhaps in another church or organization? How is it that they who are traveling a different path may be reading the scriptures, praying and repenting more than they did when they were aligned with the restored gospel of Jesus Christ? Why do they "feel the Spirit" when they listen to a leader or teacher whose teachings aren't congruent with the gospel, as well as the doctrines and teachings revealed through Brother Joseph?
"Nothing is a greater injury to the children of men than to be under the influence of a false spirit when they think they have the Spirit of God." (Joseph Smith, History of the Church, Vol. 4, Ch. 33, p. 573).

There Are No Easy Answers Here


So, what may be right for you might not be right for me, and visa-versa. In fact, what may be right and proper for one generation (like the Levitical) may be wrong for another (today) (see 3 Nephi 15; Alma 34:13-14 and here).

Judgmentalism often surfaces when people become aware of these differences in others, and oppose them as being incongruent with what God has taught them. To justify this judgmentalism, we often point to historical records (which are often unreliable), the scriptures (or shall I say, our own interpretation -- or misinterpretation -- of them), or our own personal revelation (which can also be misinterpreted). And, although I mean no disrespect whatsoever, even Pres. Uchtdorf admitted in General Conference an inconvenient truth most members would rather not contemplate: We are all fallible. We are all imperfect. Not every utterance, from every General Authority, is the mind and will of God.
"And, to be perfectly frank, there have been times when members or leaders in the Church have simply made mistakes. There may have been things said or done that were not in harmony with our values, principles, or doctrine. I suppose the Church would be perfect only if it were run by perfect beings. God is perfect, and His doctrine is pure. But He works through us-His imperfect children-and imperfect people make mistakes." (Pres. Dieter F. Uchtdorf, "Come, Join with Us", October 2013 General Conference)
"The leaders of the Church are honest but imperfect men. Remember the words of Moroni: 'Condemn me not because of mine imperfection, neither my father … ; but rather give thanks unto God that he hath made manifest unto you our imperfections, that ye may learn to be more wise than we have been' (Ether 12:6)." (Elder Neil L. Anderson, “Trial of Your Faith” October 2012 General Conference).
So if we can't ascribe infallibility to historical accounts, scriptural, revelatory or ecclesiastical interpretation, how do we avoid deception?

The Beginning of Discernment


Are there some truths which transcend our personal commandments, which are applicable to all mankind?

In searching for an answer to that question, I recently turned to a friend who used to be an investigative journalist. Last week, I asked him about discernment. His answer was illuminating. He said that on his first day of journalism school, his professor (who was a dead-ringer for Kenny Rogers) said something to the effect of, "As a journalist, you're going to hear a lot of falsehoods, and very few (if any) truths. You're going to have to work harder than anyone else to obtain those truths. You'll need to be more persistent, dig deeper, look broader and question more. In fact, you'll need to question everything. As you do this, the truth will begin to appear as dots of facts, which your investigations have begun to connect", the professor said. "To be blunt, if your mother says she loves you, check it out."

Likewise, when it comes to embracing doctrinal truths, we can't just passively sit there and think God's going to bestow us with profound insight just because we asked for it (see D&C 9:7). You need to work for it. You need to persistently dig deeper, look broader and question more so you force the dots of truth to emerge, thereby enabling you to better connect the dots. Maybe a dot will come from the scriptures. Maybe a leader or teacher. Maybe your own personal revelation. But the dots of truth will be congruent and synonymous. Here's what the Lord said about this strategy:
"Then said Jesus to those Jews which believed on him, If ye continue in my word, then are ye my disciples indeed;
And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free." (John 8:31-32)
"Search the scriptures -- search the revelations which we publish, and ask your Heavenly Father, in the name of His Son Jesus Christ, to manifest the truth unto you, and if you do it with an eye single to His glory nothing doubting, He will answer you by the power of His Holy Spirit. You will then know for yourselves and not for another. You will not then be dependent on man for the knowledge of God: nor will there be any room for speculation. No; for when men receive their instruction from Him that made them, they know how He will save them. Then again we say: Search the Scriptures, search the Prophets and learn what portion of them belongs to you." (Joseph Smith, Jr., Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 11)
"All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: That the man of God may be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works." (2 Timothy 3:16-17)
"And again, I will give unto you a pattern in all things, that ye may not be deceived; for Satan is abroad in the land, and he goeth forth deceiving the nations—
Wherefore he that prayeth, whose spirit is contrite, the same is accepted of me if he obey mine ordinances.
He that speaketh, whose spirit is contrite, whose language is meek and edifieth, the same is of God if he obey mine ordinances.
And again, he that trembleth under my power shall be made strong, and shall bring forth fruits of praise and wisdom, according to the revelations and truths which I have given you.
And again, he that is overcome and bringeth not forth fruits, even according to this pattern, is not of me.
Wherefore, by this pattern ye shall know the spirits in all cases under the whole heavens." (D&C 52:14-19)
In other words, when we prayerfully search the scriptures, we can learn truths straight from God, independent of anyone or anything else. We'll also know when others are aligned with the truth by the fruits they bring forth.

When There Are No Dots to Connect


Yet often, the truths we seek may not be clearly delineated in sources we have before us. The words of God's true representatives may be silent on a subject. Historical accounts may be incomplete, or may not make much sense. We may find ourselves without many, perhaps any, dots to connect. Additionally, God told us that there would be times like these:
“For behold, it is not meet that I should command in all things; for he that is compelled in all things, the same is a slothful and not a wise servant; wherefore he receiveth no reward.” (D&C 58:26)
This is a particularly vulnerable time, because there are no easy answers, and likely no immediately forthcoming answers at all, no matter how hard you dig.

Additionally, Satan will do his level best to distract you. As an expert theologian, he'll teach you many truths. He'll show you signs, wonders and miracles, all in a concerted, well-planned and executed attack to fully justify your stepping off the yellow brick road of truth.

You're a Citizen of Which Government?


So, let's recap what we've examined so far:
  • Our society is overrun with untruths, for which we Latter-day Saints may deserve some measure of blame.
  • Many embrace exceptions to gospel truths, often in secret.
  • God's commandments are immovable and applicable to the whole of humanity, but His personal commandments (which are rooted in general commandments) may differ from person to person.
  • We justify participation -- or rejection -- of these personal commandments based on historical accounts, scriptural, revelatory or ecclesiastical interpretation -- all of which have the potential to be "off".
  • The Lord gave us a pattern that we may not be deceived.
  • Even so, Satan will throw every trick in the book at us to knock us off the divine course.
You see, today, there are two spiritual governments which function on the earth: One of light and one of darkness. One of salvation, the other of damnation. One presided by God, the other presided by Satan.

Both of these governments are vying for our souls, and both offer us three gifts. One offers faith, discernment and charity. The other offers fear, judgmentalism and self-sufficiency.

As I've already spent the last year and a half discussing the Gift of Faith, I'm now moving on to the Gift of Discernment. I think as we proceed, it'll become increasingly obvious that the fulcrum, the deciding factor that determines which government you're a citizen of, depends entirely upon your passion, your allegiance, to one of these two governments.

To be realistic, all of us, no matter who we are, from the least of us to the greatest, have one foot in one government's realm, and the other in the other government's realm. All of us are unprofitable servants, yet all of us are children of the Most High God.

Constantly and consistently exercising discernment is a real challenge. We probably fail at discernment more often than we succeed. Still, I know two things:

1. No matter how many times you fall, Christ will be there, right beside you, offering His hand -- NOT His judgment -- to help you back up and succeed.

2. If knowledge is power, then divine knowledge of discernment must be tremendously powerful.

That's why, in the coming weeks and months, you'll learn:

  • What the Gift of Discernment is, how to seek it and obtain it.
  • About true and false signs, of dreams and visions, which are dispensed by both governments and are designed to either uplift or deceive the very elect.
  • About gifts and anti-gifts (or curses), which can be used to enhance or hinder not only your life, but also the lives of others.
  • About how your everyday choices and behaviors may exhibit a deficiency in your discernment, and what you can do about it.
  • What gifts lie beyond the Gift of Discernment.

Have I written these blog posts yet? Nope. But I know they are coming up. And I'm just as excited to read and learn from them as I hope you are as well.

Strap in your seatbelt. Let's pursue the Gift of Discernment!
“… Every member in the restored Church of Christ could have this gift if he willed to do so. He could not be deceived with the sophistries of the world. He could not be led astray by pseudo-prophets and subversive cults. Even the inexperienced would recognize false teachings, in a measure at least." (Stephen L. Richards, Conference Report, Apr. 1950, 162–63)