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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)


Sunday, September 10, 2017

Lectures on Faith 7: "By Their Fruits"


It's one of the most astounding events ever recorded in scripture. Shortly after Christ's post-resurrected ascension, 120 followers of Christ (including the Twelve Apostles) gathered in an upper room, or Cenacle, in Jerusalem (Acts 1:13-14).

"And suddenly there came a sound from heaven as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting. And there appeared unto them cloven tongues like as of fire, and it sat upon each of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance." (Acts 2:2-4) Peter also stood up, and prophesied (Acts 2:14-40). That day, about 3,000 people were converted to Christ (Acts 2:41).

Due in no small part to word-of-mouth marketing catalyzed at Pentecost, Jerusalem was "filled" with Christianity within a few weeks or months of the church's formation (Acts 5:28). Christianity then spread throughout the region of Judea, then the nation of Samaria, then the continent of Asia (Acts 19:10) -- all within two years' time.

A similar event happened on March 27, 1836, at the dedication of the Kirtland Temple:
"George A. Smith arose and began to prophesy, when a noise was heard like the sound of a rushing mighty wind, which filled the Temple, and all the congregation simultaneously arose, being moved upon by an invisible power; many began to speak in tongues and prophesy; others saw glorious visions; and I beheld the Temple was filled with angels, which fact I declared to the congregation. The people of the neighborhood came running together (hearing an unusual sound within, and seeing a bright light like a pillar of fire resting upon the Temple), and were astonished at what was taking place" (History of the Church 2:428).
Two years earlier, at the church's first meeting on Tuesday, April 6, 1830,
"The Holy Ghost was poured out upon the whole community . . . in a miraculous manner.... Some prophecied, [sic] many spoke with new tongues, and some . . . of our number were . . . completely overpowered for a time, that we were obliged to lay them upon beds &c &c, and when bodily sensibility was restored to them they shouted Hosanas to God and the Lamb—& declared that the Heavens had been opened unto them . . . that they had seen Jesus Christ sitting at the right hand of the Majesty on high, and many great and glorious things." (Joseph Smith, as quoted by Dean C. Jessee, "The Papers of Joseph Smith. Volume 1: Autobiographical and Historical Writings (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1989),  p. 243).
As Christians, we believe signs follow them that believe:
"And these signs shall follow them that believe—in my name shall they cast out devils; they shall speak with new tongues; they shall take up serpents; and if they drink any deadly thing it shall not hurt them; they shall lay hands on the sick and they shall recover;" (Mormon 9:24)
"And these signs shall follow them that believe; In my name shall they cast out devils; they shall speak with new tongues; They shall take up serpents; and if they drink any deadly thing, it shall not hurt them; they shall lay hands on the sick, and they shall recover." (Mark 16:17-18). 
In referencing this scripture, Elder Bruce R. McConkie stated,
"when men believe the true word of the gospel, then God begins to manifest his power in their lives. They begin to enjoy the gifts of the Spirit, to work miracles, and to have those spiritual experiences which always and everlastingly attend true believers." ("Our Gospel Came Not Unto You in Word Only...", October 1968 General Conference).
In also referencing Mark 16:17, Pres. John Taylor asked,
"What signs? Why, the sick were to be healed, the lame were to be made to walk, the blind to see, and the deaf to hear, and the poor were to have the Gospel preached to them (Matthew 11:5; Luke 7:22)" ("Pretensions of the Saints, JD 23:368).
Note that the Lord did not say these signs would precede, be a guide or testimony to us to prove in advance that this is the gospel of Jesus Christ. He said that they "follow" those that believe.
"But, behold, faith cometh not by signs, but signs follow those that believe" (D&C 63:9

Let's fast forward to today.


Do we see these signs in existence today? Are the lame walking? Are the blind seeing? Are the deaf hearing? Do we see the gift of tongues, and interpretation of tongues? Do we see prophesying? Do we see glorious visions? Do we see angels? Do we see the Heavens being opened? Do people see Jesus Christ sitting at the right hand of the Majesty on high?

If we're truly honest with ourselves, we must admit that collectively, as a people, we do not see these gifts evidenced as outwardly and conspicuously as they were on Pentecost AD 1 or AD 1836.

I believe God would be thrilled to see more Pentecosts in our lives, both individually and collectively. I'm sure He well remembers how rapidly the early Christian church grew immediately after the first Pentecost. Thus, because God is “the same yesterday, today, and forever” (Mormon 9:9), I don't think that it's God's fault that we don't see these signs anymore.
"And the reason why he ceaseth to do miracles among the children of men is because that they dwindle in unbelief, and depart from the right way, and know not the God in whom they should trust" (Mormon 9:20)
"...for it is by faith that miracles are wrought; and it is by faith that angels appear and minister unto men; wherefore, if these things have ceased wo be unto the children of men, for it is because of unbelief, and all is vain" (Moroni 7:37)
If we have faith, there will be signs. There will be the gifts of the Spirit. There will be the ministering of angels and the working of miracles. But if there are no signs, there is no faith.

So, not seeing any signs, what do many church members do to fill this gap, this deficiency of publicly-manifested gifts? They seek out those who have supposedly experienced them.

For example: Look at the ever-increasing number of false prophecies. Church members have publicly prophesied that -- by now, September, 2017 -- we should have seen massive earthquakes in Utah and California, call-outs, economic collapse, presidential assassination, civil war, plagues, wars and nuclear attacks. Instead of running away from these false prophets, hundreds -- even thousands -- of church members ignore their false prophecies by paying money to buy these false prophets' books, attend their lectures, workshops, seminars and conventions, and heartily applaud their keynote addresses.
"For there shall arise false Christs, and false prophets, and shall shew great signs and wonders; insomuch that, if it were possible, they shall deceive the very elect" (Matthew 24:24).
“When men come out and build upon other men’s foundations, they do it on their own responsibility, without authority from God; and when the floods come and the winds blow, their foundations will be found to be sand, and their whole fabric will crumble to dust." (Joseph Smith, History of the Church, 6:479; from a discourse given by Joseph Smith on June 16, 1844, in Nauvoo, Illinois; reported by Thomas Bullock; see also appendix, page 562, item 3)
"And many will say unto me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name; and in thy name cast out devils; and in thy name done many wonderful works?
And then will I say, Ye never knew me; depart from me, ye that work iniquity." (Matthew 32-33 JST)
Personally, I believe that God still grants true believers the opportunity to exercise these gifts on a limited basis. God will still interact with the believing, the faithful, the humble, the repentant who sincerely want to extend the borders of God's kingdom. Unfortunately, what do people say about who truly did experience these gifts? They condemn the righteous for even daring to mention the existence of these gifts to the world. They're considered deceived, misled, crazy and worse. They're condemned for sharing their experiences with others, believing that spiritual experiences only apply to the receiver. Although Alma 12:9 gives us some guidelines, we forget that D&C 46:13-14 also says that to some its given to know and to others it is given to believe on their words. I'm sure that those in the second category really hope to hear some experiences, otherwise, they won’t have words to believe on, to learn from and embrace. Imagine if Paul had considered his experience on the road to Damascus "too sacred to share"...

And thus, the downward swirling of unbelief not only continues, but accelerates and expands.
"Here is the way by which every person may find out whether he is a believer in Christ or not. The whole Christian world can test themselves, and find out whether they are believers in Christ or not. If these signs follow, they are believers; if these signs do not follow, they are not believers. None of us are believers unless these signs follow us; for Jesus promised them to every creature in all the world who believes; hence the promise includes people now alive, as well as those who lived in former ages. And woe be to all the inhabitants of the earth, because of their unbelief; (Moroni 7:35-38) because they have done away the power of godliness; because they have done away the power of the ancient Gospel, and have turned aside after the doctrines of men; and yet hypocritically -- perhaps some of them sincerely -- call themselves the Church of Christ, and believers. Shame on the world!" (Elder Orson Pratt, "Necessity of Miracles", JD 16:139b)

The Effects of faith


Lecture on Faith 7 is the last of the lectures. It directly spotlights "a man's working by faith" (verse 3). We read of miracles performed long ago, like Joshua speaking and making the great lights which God had created standing still. We read of Elijah commanding the heavens to be stayed for three and a half years so that it did not rain. Even the angels need faith in order to minister to us (verses 4 and 6).

Faith is the reason we are able to:
  • Move mountains (verse 3), 
  • "Obtain heavenly visions, the ministering of angels, have knowledge of the spirits of just men made perfect, of the general assembly and church of the first born, whose names are written in heaven, of God the judge of all, of Jesus the Mediator of the new covenant, and become familiar with the third heavens, see and hear things which were not only unutterable, but were unlawful to utter" (verse 17)
  • Have "revelations, visions, and dreams" (verse 20)
  • Experience "miracles, healings, tongues, interpretation of tongues, etc." (verse 20)
  • Do greater works than Jesus did (verse 12)
  • Form planets and hold them in their orbits (verse 5). 
  • See God (verse 8)
Signs not only follow true believers, but they also give us easily-discernable fruits which can be spiritually delicious to us:
"Ye shall know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles?
Even so every good tree bringeth forth good fruit; but a corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit.
A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit.
Every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire.
Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them." (Matthew 7:16-20)
Still, there are some signs that leave us confused. If I had a nickel for every BYU student who had a "burning in their bosom" (believing their boyfriend or girlfriend was "the one", only to be later proven wrong), I'd be rich. Many "feel the spirit" while testifying against Joseph Smith. And today, I know plenty of people who believe their particular sect of Mormonism is right, and all the others are wrong, despite their divergence from scriptural patterns and truths (more on that in a minute). All of these people display real, sincere emotions backed by logical reasoning and scripturally-based facts.

So, what are we supposed to do in these cases?

"Obtain divine teaching"


"The best way to obtain truth and wisdom is not to ask from books, but to go to God in prayer, and obtain divine teaching." (Joseph Smith, History of the Church, 4:425)

I believe that the darkened minds and unbelief we witness -- or even experience -- is a symptom of our treating lightly the things we've already been given by God:
"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)
Thus, conversely, by turning to and hearkening to God's word, we can rid ourselves of this condemnation, darkness and unbelief.

However, if you think that merely reading the scriptures will reverse this negative course, think again.
"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.
Now, if you had known this you could have translated..." (D&C 9:7-10)
So, to exercise true faith, you need to expend real mental, emotional and spiritual effort to know truth and not be deceived. You need to do more than just read the scriptures:

Not only that, but we are to look for patterns in the scriptures:
"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)
By knowing the patterns God has embedded in the scriptures, you'll have a positive "template" to work off of. Moses had a positive template -- a true knowledge of God -- which enabled him to clearly and easily differentiate between God and God's counterfeit, Satan (Moses 1:14).

By really digging into God's word directly -- not through any mortal intermediary -- you, too, will better understand how God truly interacts with mankind. You'll acquire this "positive" template which Moses had. So, for example, if someone told you that you can use eggnog as a sacramental drink, you'll know that's off. If someone says the ordinance of baptism can be performed by just sprinkling, you'll know that's off, too. And even if a messenger straight from God says it's OK for someone to cover their sins, gratify their pride, their vain ambition, or exercise control or dominion or compulsion upon anyone in any degree of unrighteousness -- and still keep their priesthood authority -- yep, you'll know that's definitely off.

Like Christ, you'll know the truth. And the truth will set you free.

A final word about gifts


If you're not seeing gifts, seriously consider two things:

First, be VERY concerned. As we now well know, where there are no gifts, unbelief abounds.

Second, ask God about, develop and share your gifts with others. You may not be able to control the quantity and quality of gifts manifest all around you, but you can control what's in your sphere of influence. So, if you don't see them, then be that light on top of the hill. Be that example of the believers. Let your gifts so shine for the building up of the kingdom of God.

The End...and the Beginning


In April 2016, I published three posts about spiritual gifts, which I highly encourage you to check out:

A Spiritual Call to Arms, Part 1 (When You Have the Spirit, You Experience Spiritual Gifts)

A Spiritual Call to Arms, Part 2 (Why Don't We See Spiritual Gifts Very Often)

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

In Part 3, I asked, "So Many Gifts...Where Do You Begin?" There, I mentioned what I consider a "three-legged stool", a bedrock foundation, which I believe must be in place before any other gifts can be sought after and exercised:
  1. The Gift of Faith
  2. The Gift of Discernment
  3. The Gift of Charity
A year and a half later, this post finishes up my examination of the first of those three legs -- the Gift of Faith -- which was examined in the Lectures on Faith.

Effective with (what I think will be) my next post, we'll dive into what I think may be the most comprehensive, detailed examination of the Gift of Discernment ever conducted online. It will open your eyes, fascinate you, humble you and hopefully inspire you. I'm astounded by the wonderful things Jesus has manifested to us about discernment, many of which we saints are barely (or not) aware of.

I invite you to join me in developing greater faith so that we can not only move mountains in our own lives, but also in the lives of others. I'm excited to see what "greater things" than Jesus we can do with faith.

I also invite you to join me in better understanding discernment, so we can help ourselves -- and hopefully others -- avoid or escape deception.

Praise be to our Lord, and our Father, for these wonderful opportunities we have!


Monday, September 4, 2017

FEARLESS


In my immediate past post, "Lectures on Faith 6: A Sacrifice That Means Something", I mentioned two movies with concepts we would be wise to remember:

  • "Small moves, Ellie. Small moves" comes from the movie Contact. It reinforces the fact that God is a god of gradualism, who gives unto the faithful line upon line, precept upon precept, here a little, and there a little (D&C 98:12; Isaiah 28:9-10)
  • "Taking the Leap of Faith" is accompanied by a scene from "Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade", where Indy must take a literal step into thin air in order to retrieve the Holy Grail and save his father's life.
When I posted these segments to this blog, I was unaware that I wasn't the only one who held these scenes in special significance. Others did as well. In fact, they had been taught identical concepts using these movie clips as teaching tools...sometimes, within the temple.

I'm grateful for these blog readers coming forward to share their parallel stories, which witness each other -- as well as my previous blog post -- that when we learn the will of the Lord and then do it, we are empowered to become

FEARLESS



"I need you to hold my hand and leap with me."


I need to tell you a story. In fact, I felt prompted to tell you this story a couple of weeks ago but I felt like the time wasn't right to tell you and that I needed to wait for some unknown reason. And now I know why. It's because I needed to tell you now, after your last blog post.

Last year I made a goal to go through the temple every week. I live in ___________________ and the closest temple is _________ which is about an hour and a half away. My job is such that I have free days during the week, and while my kids are in school, I have just enough time to rush down to the temple do a session and rush back.

During the year while serving in the temple, I started to learn about the law of sacrifice. I started to wonder about it. I started researching it and praying about it. I was terrified of the law of sacrifice. Something about it brought fear straight through me. I read lecture on faith number 6 and really tried to overcome this fear. One day while I was sitting in the celestial room, I was praying about the law of sacrifice. I knew that it was something the Lord was asking me to do and I didn't even quite understand it. I was shocked at myself because I was sitting in the celestial room, terrified. I'm actually quite afraid of heights and I felt the same amount of fear as if I was standing on a cliff, "glued to the wall." I sat there for a long time talking to God and the conversation went something like this, "God I can't do it. I'll do it but I'm just not ready. I need more time. Help me to learn and understand this principle and not be afraid of it. But I'm just not ready to live the law sacrifice right now. I know you're asking me to give this to you but I am so afraid, that I can't right now." I was afraid that if I gave in and agreed to live the law of sacrifice that I get a phone call on the way home from the temple that my husband had been killed at work or my children would be kidnapped or something horrible like that. I just knew that if I gave in I was killing off my family.

So, I sat there terrified in the celestial room begging with God not to ask this of me. And then he showed me, while I was sitting in the celestial room, the clip from the Indiana Jones movie the Last Crusade where he's standing on that ledge and he has to take the leap of faith from Lions head and hope that there is something solid to land on. Even through my fear I had to giggle that the Lord was showing me an Indiana Jones movie in the Celestial room. (I asked him why he was showing me that video and he said it was because it was a reference I knew.)

And then something happened. I was begging to not do this and then something changed in my heart. It was like a switch had been turned. And all the sudden I Let Go. I surrendered and my conversation with God turned to, "Okay. Okay, I'll do it. I'm Yours. Whatever you ask me to do, I'll do it. Whatever you ask me to go through, I'll do it. If it means my husband is going to be dead when I get home, I'll do it for you. I'm going to leap off this cliff, but I need you to hold my hand and give me something solid to land on. I can't leap from this cliff without you. I need you to hold my hand and leap with me." 

And then the Lord's response to me was, "__________, I will never ask anything of you that you will not later consider a blessing." 

I lept. And when I got home, my family was all still alive. Nothing horrible happened and no huge unbearable trials have come my way. 

On the drive home that day the Lord said to me, "Is coming to the temple every week a sacrifice to you or a blessing?" I told him that it was a blessing and that it was the best part of my week. He said, "Is your house any messier since you started coming to the temple once a week instead of having a day at home to do all the housework?" 

"Well, yeah." 

"And you're spending more money on gas to get down here once a week than if you didn't come?" 

"Well, yes, but it's worth it." 

"Coming to the temple is a sacrifice for you and your family. But you see it as a blessing. That is how every sacrifice I will ask you to make will be. Some will be very difficult, but in the end you will see them as blessings. I'm not trying to hurt you and punish you. I'm trying to help you to grow. I want to give you more." 

I know that I'm not "done" with the law of sacrifice. I know there is much more that will be asked of me. But now, I can feel confident that no matter how hard it is to bear, it will be worth it, and there will come a day when I will call those trials of my faith blessings from the Lord. 

I'm happy that He's using the Indiana Jones reference on more than just me. : ) That clip will always be special to me now."

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"It'll be OK"


Back in the latter part of 2008, I felt that I was ready to assume a greater and more profound relationship with the Lord. So, in 2008, the Lord pretty much pulled out a megaphone and said YOU ARE READY FOR THIS! THE ONLY PERSON HOLDING THIS UP IS...YOU!" I remember that moment like it was yesterday.

Unfortunately, it took me four years to pull my head out. Four years of living every day knowing that I was ready for something bigger. And the only thing holding me back was my fears.

Then came the first part of 2012. I started getting this inkling of "It'll be OK". Then a couple of weeks later, another subtle "It'll be OK". First part of March 2012, seven different friends called me up within about five days. None knew each other. Each called me up and said something to the effect of "I don't know why I'm calling you to say this, and I don't know what this is about, but I just had this feeling I needed to tell you that it'll be OK".

One friend. And another. And another. Another and another and another and another.

So, I proceeded forward. I won't exactly detail what I did, other than to say Joseph Smith had the right idea in the Grove.

I like what you said the other week about being an ordinary person. I can relate. I could be a primary worker, a Sunday School secretary, a Webelos Den Leader. You don't know what ward I'm in, but suffice it to say I have no significant calling, no significant Mormon pedigree and definitely no significant home, car or income!

I also like your one page where you say God is no respecter of persons. 

For three plus years, my fears held me back from enjoying a greater fulness of Jesus Christ in my life. But in the end, I, too, remembered that "Leap of Faith" Indiana Jones video. I tried it. And thanks to God, I landed on solid ground, not air.

Has life been all rainbows, unicorns and puppy dogs since then? Nope. But I do feel profoundly closer to the Lord in my life. I laid everything in my life on the line for Him, and because of that, I enjoy a closeness with Him that I never thought I'd ever have in my life.

My Leap of Faith was one of the greatest moments of my life so far. I now have a testimony that the last thing the Lord wants is for us to fall. He wants to raise us to higher heights.

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"You’re My Ellie”


What you shared in your last blog post was a real second witness for me.

First, that what God is teaching me is so similar to what He’s teaching others, which is a witness in itself.

Second, that He tends to use the same or similar means to do it. I’ve always loved movies, and tend to find myself seeing spiritual connections in them that mirror what we experience in this life. However, the movie Contact has absolutely been the most used overall theme the Lord has used to teach me who I am, how He sees me and what my potential really is.

One day, I was really grappling with a tough experience in my life where I felt the Lord was telling me something beyond my ability to understand and trust. This led me to realize I needed His guidance and direction to discern more clearly, but what that experience actually revealed to me was just how inexperienced I was in discerning His voice and trusting in His plan. In my own mind, I needed guidance and direction and I needed it now. But these things cant be learned in an instant. It’s just not possible for us to grow that quick spiritually. (“Small moves, Ellie”).

So this particular day, I found myself in the temple, praying and pondering and crying in my heart that I wanted and needed to know His voice beyond anything I had ever wanted in my life. Just then, the movie Contact was brought forcefully to my mind. I saw and literally felt the part in the movie where the main character, Ellie, is being put in the device that will take her on a wonderful journey to another place beyond her comprehension.

As I sat there, I could feel the vibration of the machine, the stress and fear of not knowing what was going to happen, but willing to move forward. The words she kept saying in her head at this point in the movie “I’m OK to go” repeated in my mind again and again. I felt like the Lord was saying this was me. He was taking me on this fantastic journey to find Him. And even though it was scary, I was “OK to go” and He was immensely pleased.

I then heard and felt these words in my mind. “____________, you’re my Ellie.” And I realized that any and all of God’s children who seek to hear Him and see Him as intensely as she did in the movie was so precious to Him. He actually valued and found joy in that seeking and couldn’t and wouldn’t move forward until we make the first steps of actually listening for His voice. Just as the character Ellie spent years searching the heavens for any kind of contact outside of our world, we, too must listen and seek for His voice.

I wish I could say after that wonderful experience that I got it all together and moved forward with faith, but that was just the beginning. There was still so much more to learn. Over and over again the Lord showed me my fears were overwhelming my faith, and He would quietly and patiently give me more and more reassurances that He was with me and talking to me. I knew I didn’t deserve it, but He was so eternally patient with me. I am still in awe of it! But the adversary is real and he would come in next and do all that he could to make me doubt those experiences and second guess myself, which then left me devoid of faith once again until the Lord would build me back up.

This rollercoaster of faith and fear repeated itself for several years because I could not see how to just believe and move forward in faith. It was one of the most wonderful, heart wrenching experiences I’ve ever had in my life. It was truly a season of stretching and growing! I can see what the Prophet Joseph meant when he said the Lord would wrench our very heart strings because mine were being wrenched, and hard! So many times I wanted to just give up, give in, and take the easy road of mediocrity but God wouldn’t let me. I knew in the core of my heart it would be wrong and I couldn’t bring myself to do it so I held on, like a cat on a ledge at times.

Then the Lord finally brought it into my heart that I needed to just decide what I was going to believe and move forward. This is where the second movie you mentioned, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, fits in. Over the years, the Lord has used this visual of Indy stepping off that ledge to show me what that leap of faith looks like, but this time I realized it was time I actually practice it. Again and again, this visual and a visual of myself stepping forward off that cliff kept coming to my mind. I would hear phrases like “what if you just took that leap” coming into my mind randomly, out of the blue with this visual in my mind. Finally, I knew it was time to eradicate the doubts and step forward in faith. And so I did, and after three and a half years of vacillating between doubt and faith, I was finally willing to make that step/leap of faith for good. It took a lot of courage (more than I thought I possessed), but because the Lord had showed me over and over again that I could trust Him in many other ways, and because He had helped me develop my spiritual hearing, I was finally ready to step forward.

I am still in the free fall mode between the step and moving all your body weight into the forward motion, knowing there is no turning back, but I’m perfectly at peace about it. Something I have wrestled with for years and now, in an instant, fear is gone, faith is present and joy has filled my heart. The next day I felt so light, so joyful, that I could hardly contain myself! I finally trust He’s got my back and I’m excited to see how this all turns out.

It has been such an eye-opening experience for me. Despite all the emotional turmoil it created, I’m grateful for every moment of it. I know the timing was perfectly suited for MY needs and not everyone will take as long as me to “get it”, but I am left with a perfect faith that it was exactly what I needed. In the end, I realized the thing I hadn’t truly given the Lord, and which kept me from full faith, was trust in His everlasting care. I hadn’t been willing to sacrifice what He was asking me to sacrifice (namely my plan, my timing and my will) versus His perfect plan for my life. I thought, erroneously, He somehow wouldn’t deliver on His promises and I would be left with a shattered heart. I thought I was willing, but throughout this experience, I learned that I needed to give my whole heart, my life and the direction it flows all to Him and that He would make more of it than I ever could. And I really believe that!

Image suggestion courtesy
of my sister. Love ya, sis!

In Conclusion


A friend of mine recently said,

"We suggest what we know. We become so entrenched in our own familiar thinking that it becomes the 'go to' for all problems. We are admonished to trust in the LORD with all thine heart and LEAN not to your own understanding. When we lean, we become off-balanced, no longer centered! We must trust in him with all our hearts. ALL."



Monday, August 28, 2017

Lectures on Faith 6: A Sacrifice That Means Something



Note: I continue to add more music and other videos to my YouTube channel here. If you have a song suggestion, please email me here. I may use it, I may not, but regardless, I thank you for your input.

The Gospel of Jesus Christ offers us the chance for totality


I was recently blessed to read this account of last week's eclipse. (I know, I know -- we've read a bazillion accounts of the eclipse. I think the phrase "ad nauseum" fits there. But trust me -- this one's worth it).

"I had read all the hype, and I had a hard time imagining there was any way a total solar eclipse could live up to so much promotion and praise. One account was so effusive that even my young nephew dismissed it by saying, 'It had too many superlatives.' Surely nothing could be that good.

If I had not lived plop in the middle of the zone of totality in Rexburg, Idaho, I don't know that I would have traveled far to see it. When I mentioned it to my brother a month ago, remarkably enough, he hadn't even heard about it yet. But before I could even say anything about it, he said, 'It seems like every eclipse that comes along is supposed to be the only time in the next 57 years you'll be able to see something like it.' He hadn't been that impressed with what he'd seen in the past, so he wasn't interested in driving a couple of hours north to reach the zone of totality for this eclipse.

I don't fault him. If I were him, I might well have looked at a map and figured, 'I'll just stay here and see 75% of the eclipse and get 75% of the benefits. Why go all that way just to see the sun all the way covered?'

But with solar eclipses, I learned vividly and personally today, there is a world of difference between even 98% of an eclipse and 100%. We watched with interest and amusement during the partial phases of the eclipse, but right up until a few moments before we witnessed the total eclipse, it seemed like not much more than a pleasant astronomical quirk visible only with special protective glasses.

But as the moon began to totally cover the sun and we witnessed the diamond ring and the corona visible only with a total solar eclipse, I was absolutely blown away. I thought I would remain calm, but I couldn't keep the emotions I felt inside. And neither could most of the people around me. As one writer had predicted, it was as if it touched something deeply primal within us. No photograph or video I've seen of this spectacular phenomenon does justice to it. It is simply the most amazing thing I have ever seen.

Afterwards, my nephew volunteered to his mother: 'Now I know why they used so many superlatives.' Despite all the hype, we discovered a total solar eclipse had not been overrated.

As a follower of Jesus Christ, this experience has reminded me of three important lessons. First, heaven is not overhyped; eternal life will be worth every sacrifice we could possible make to partake of it.

In one of my otherwise favorite songs by Train, the singer asks of a friend returning from some kind of cosmic journey, 'Did you make it to the Milky Way to see the lights all faded and that heaven is overrated?' Just as my brother assumed a total eclipse had been oversold, much of the world today has come to believe heaven is not real or that it can't be all that. They doubt the reality of an eternal existence with God so exquisite that Peter described it as becoming 'partakers of the divine nature' (2 Peter 1:4). I believe that one day, everyone will be as convinced of the desirability of eternal life with God as those who witnessed the total eclipse today were of its stunning glory.

Second, I was reminded that there is a dramatic difference between the blessings that come from sort of following the gospel of Jesus Christ-being in the zone of partiality-and striving to following Him and His teachings with all our hearts-the zone of totality. One of the reasons my brother and I underestimated how rewarding the total eclipse would be is that we based our estimates on what we'd witnessed in prior partial eclipses. But a total eclipse isn't just twice as beautiful as an eclipse where the moon covers half the sun; it is exponentially better.

And so are the blessings that come from living in the zone of spiritual totality. I'm not talking about a place where we are perfect, and I'm certainly not talking about a condition we achieve through our own efforts alone. But I am referring to a state of mind and heart where we jump in with our whole souls, holding nothing back but relying on Christ to realize our divine potential. The blessings of spiritual coronas and diamond rings come not to those who merely go through the motions and occasional effort it takes to reach the zone of partiality; they come to those who yield their hearts and souls to God in the zone of spiritual totality.

Finally, now that I know what a rare and exquisite experience a total solar eclipse is, I regret terribly the fact that I didn't try to persuade my brother and his family and all my siblings and children who lived elsewhere to join us. What a terrible waste it was to have a home located in the heart of the zone of totality with only 5 guests. I wish I'd been more like some of our neighbors, who had family members and friends stuffed into every bed and couch and spilling over onto their lawns.

For those of us who have lived the gospel of Jesus Christ enough to know just how exquisite its blessings are, there is a special responsibility to find ways to help others come to understand or even consider the possibility that it will be eternally worth the sacrifice to come to the zone of spiritual totality.

For me, in some small way, glimpsing the silvery brilliance of the corona today felt like a symbolic foreshadowing of what it might be like to dwell eternally in the presence of God-in a place with 'no need of the sun, neither of the moon, to shine in it: for the glory of God did lighten it, and the Lamb is the light thereof' (Rev. 21:23). Even more than I will strive to persuade my loved ones and friends to go witness the next total solar eclipse visible in the United States in 2024, I feel inspired to do all I can to help others know that heaven is real and that moving to the zone of spiritual totality is eternally worth it. We cannot use enough superlatives to describe it."

(To the original author: Thanks for your insights. You just never know when the seeds we plant on our personal journeys end up helping others to find their way back home).

The little-known scripture which instructs us to memorize it.


Just about everybody I've spoken with who made it to the zone of totality didn't have the words to describe what they experienced. It didn't matter that they drove 5 hours, 10 hours or more. To them, it was a transcendent experience that was well worth the sacrifice of time (especially away from work), travel and money.

Yet like making the trek to somewhere within that 60-70-mile-wide zone of totality, eternal life will also be worth every sacrifice we could possibly make to partake of it.

One of the greatest passages ever written of, by and for church members regarding sacrifice is Lecture on Faith 6. As we know, Lecture on Faith 6 was accepted by the Church on August 17, 1835, as "the doctrine and covenants of their faith, by a unanimous vote" (History of the Church 2: 243-46; also see here). It's canon, and even though it's no longer included in our printed scriptures, its status as canon has never been annulled, revoked or rescinded.

Lecture on Faith 6 is the only scriptural passage I'm aware of which tells us to do the following:
"Note. This lecture is so plain, and the facts set forth so self-evident, that it is deemed unnecessary to form a catechism upon it: the student is therefore instructed to commit the whole to memory."
(Kind of interesting, huh! Officially accepted and voted on scriptural canon which tells us to memorize a section of it).

I wonder why.

Let's find out, shall we?

So, you think you're going to be gathered among the faithful, and eventually going to heaven?


In Lecture on Faith 6, we move away from examining God's character to addressing "the knowledge which persons must have, that the course of life which they pursue is according to the will of God, in order that they may be enabled to exercise faith in him unto life and salvation" (verse 1).

Indeed, knowing that the course you're pursuing in life is aligned with God's will is also what "enabled the ancient saints to endure all their afflictions and persecutions, and to take joyfully the spoiling of their goods, knowing, (not believing merely,) that they had a more enduring substance (Hebrews 10:34)" (verse 2). It also helped them obtain confidence that despite their sacrificing their character and reputation, everything important in life and even their own lives, they would be easily accepted into heaven (verse 3), obtain that crown of glory (verse 4) and not only experience, but also partake, of God's glory (verse 5).

To cut to the chase: It's ludicrous for you to think you can make it to the same degree of heaven (or exaltation) as those who made such sacrifices, when you yourself would not (verses 8, 10).

And lest you start thinking that all this doesn't apply to you, check out Lecture on Faith 6:9:
"and in the last days, before the Lord comes, he is to gather together his saints who have made a covenant with him by sacrifice. Psalms 50:3-5: Our God shall clime, and shall not keep silence: a fire shall devour before him, and it shall be very tempestuous round about him. He shall call to the heavens from above, and to the earth, that he may judge his people. Gather my saints together unto me; those that have made a covenant unto me by sacrifice." (emphasis mine)
And then we read elsewhere in verse 9 that this knowledge (that what you're doing is God's will, which is strong enough to give you hope through whatever trials you're expected to go through) "is obtained by offering sacrifice" (verse 9).

Last days? Check. Before He comes? Check. Wanting to be gathered (by Jesus)? Check. One of His saints? Check.

Made a covenant with, and obtained special knowledge by, Him...via sacrifice?

Ummm, what covenant? What sacrifice?

"You Can't Get Home Without It"


The Lord has given much to you. Conversely, He expects much in return.

You covenanted in the waters of baptism to love and serve Him, to keep His commandments, and to put His kingdom first in your life. In return, He has promised you eternal life in His Father's kingdom. In that status, you're in a position to receive and obey some of the higher laws which prepare you for that eternal life which you so sincerely seek.

We read that:
"He who is not able to abide the law of a celestial kingdom cannot abide a celestial glory" (D&C 88:22)
The Law of Sacrifice and the Law of Consecration are inseparably intertwined, celestial laws. If you want that celestial reward which you so devoutly desire, you must be able to live these two laws now, not after you die.

(The Law of Consecration is that we consecrate our time, our talents, and our money and property to the building up of the Kingdom of God. The Law of Sacrifice is that we are willing to sacrifice all that we have for the truth's sake-our character and reputation; our honor and applause; our good name among men; our houses, lands, and families: all things, even our very lives if need be; see here).

So, how can you have any hope of attaining the highest possible salvation for your soul, if you haven't been asked to make these sacrifices?

Chances are, God hasn't asked you to consecrate all your possessions, time, money etc -- and/or sacrifice your reputation and even your very life -- in building up His Kingdom.

However, He probably has asked you to make some other sacrifices...all of which (I believe) are rooted in at least some core, fundamental principles:

Sacrifice Principle #1: The Ultimate Aim of Divinely-Sanctioned Sacrifices


Ultimately, the most profound sacrifices -- those which resonate throughout the heavens -- are (again!) found individually, in you:
"The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit: a broken and a contrite heart, O God, thou wilt not despise." (Psalm 51:17
"Thou shalt offer a sacrifice unto the Lord thy God in righteousness, even that of a broken heart and a contrite spirit." (D&C 59:8)
"And ye shall offer for a sacrifice unto me a broken heart and a contrite spirit. And whoso cometh unto me with a broken heart and a contrite spirit, him will I baptize with fire and with the Holy Ghost, even as the Lamanites, because of their faith in me at the time of their conversion, were baptized with fire and with the Holy Ghost, and they knew it not." (3 Nephi 9:20)
So it is that real, personal sacrifice never was placing an animal on the altar. Instead, it is a willingness to put the animal in us upon the altar and letting it be consumed! Such is the "sacrifice unto the Lord … of a broken heart and a contrite spirit," (D&C 59:8), a prerequisite to taking up the cross, while giving "away all [our] sins" in order to "know God" Alma 22:18 for the denial of self precedes the full acceptance of Him." (Elder Neal A. Maxwell, "Deny Yourselves of All Ungodliness", April 1995 General Conference)

Sacrifice Principle #2. "Small moves, Ellie. Small moves."


The Lord is a God of gradualism. There's a reason He starts us on our spiritual journeys not in the 9-foot end of the pool, but in the kiddie pool. He then says "Together -- you and me -- we're going to confidently make our way down to the 9-foot end. And I promise that once you get down there, you'll never want to get out!" Unfortunately, there are some kids who will immediately jump out of the pool, run (when they're not supposed to run -- hey, you know the pool rules!) and cannonball into the spiritual deep end. It doesn't take them long to start struggling, choking and drowning in the spiritual deep end, because they chose to short-circuit the correct process.

I see evidences of this all over the place. There are many very knowledgeable doctrinal swimmers -- far, far more knowledgeable about "swimming" (so to speak) than I. I mean, I'm a dog paddler compared to their triple-Lindy high dives. Yet, these other swimmers are a little different. Not only do they jump out of the three-foot end, they get their other friends to do so as well. Then they all go do cannonballs in not the 9-foot end, but the 12-foot end. Only a couple "kids" are just now starting to realize where they are; they are hurt, scared and ashamed. Others are confused and bewildered when they see other kids (who may themselves be unaware that they are) doctrinally drowning.
"For he will give unto the faithful line upon line, precept upon precept; and I will try you and prove you herewith." (D&C 98:12)
"Whom shall he teach knowledge? and whom shall he make to understand doctrine? them that are weaned from the milk, and drawn from the breasts.
For precept must be upon precept, precept upon precept; line upon line, line upon line; here a little, and there a little:" (Isaiah 28:9-10)
The Lord's instruction to us is so gentle and so merciful. Instead of throwing us in the 9-foot end of the pool (then teaching us how to get there), He starts us off in the shallower end. And as we listen to him teach us how to dog paddle, and breast stroke and other progressively-more-difficult swimming moves, we're transformed into skillful, confident swimmers way before -- not while -- we're in the deep end.

And as for those kids struggling in the deep end? Our Eternal Lifeguard throws His life preserver rings to them, too. All they need to do is grab hold of it (that's the hard part; see Alma 34:15). Once they do, He'll instruct them to get out of the pool, get their bearings, and re-start where they left off...this time, under His personal, expert tutelage.
"But to Israel he saith, All day long I have stretched forth my hands unto a disobedient and gainsaying people." (Romans 10:21)

Sacrifice Principle #3: Individuality


Are all of us on the same level of spiritual development? Are all of us on the exact same path back to God? Are all of us being taught the same lessons, at the same time, in the same way? Are the personal commandments God gives you the same ones He's giving me, at this time?

I'm sure you'd agree with me that the answers are no, no, no and no.

Our individual sacrifices, covenants and required consecrations are as varied as snowflakes.

I'm amazed at how beautiful the Lord's curriculum is for us. I mean, really, really amazed.

It is so individualized, personalized, customized. Your whole mortal education -- from pre-school to post-doctorate work -- is based on textbooks and lab courses with your name and birthdate on them.

It's no wonder that the sacrifices the Lord requires of us, and are acceptable to Him, are given directly by Him:
"Verily I say unto you, all among them who know their hearts are honest, and are broken, and their spirits contrite, and are willing to observe their covenants by sacrifice-yea, every sacrifice which I, the Lord, shall command-they are accepted of me." (D&C 97:8)
Salvation always has been, is and always will be an individual, not collective, effort. Is the covenant of baptism offered as a group? No, people are baptized individually. How about the covenants you make when receiving your endowments? Nope, that's individual, too. And the covenants you make when being sealed to your spouse? Each partner in the marriage agrees to their covenants individually.
"Behold, the days come, saith the Lord, that I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel, and with the house of Judah:
Not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day that I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt; which my covenant they brake, although I was an husband unto them, saith the Lord:
But this shall be the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel; After those days, saith the Lord, I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts; and will be their God, and they shall be my people.And they shall teach no more every man his neighbour, and every man his brother, saying, Know the Lord: for they shall all know me, from the least of them unto the greatest of them, saith the Lord: for I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more." (Jeremiah 31: 31-34; emphasis mine)

Sacrifice Principle #4: Sometimes It'll Be Painless (AKA The Parable of the Broccoli Lover)


There's a belief that for a sacrifice to be valid, it must hurt. I don't believe that's true in every circumstance.

For example: Eight years ago, a friend of mine and their spouse felt prompted to quit consuming processed food and refined sugar (Disclaimer: I'm in awe)! They also gave up eating other types of food. Both have tried, tempered and tremendous testimonies of the Word of Wisdom. You know that part in the Word of Wisdom about those who receive it "shall find wisdom and great treasures of knowledge, even hidden treasures" (D&C 89:19)? Yep, they'll tell you the Lord's been fulfilling that promise way, way more than they expected. (They even learned to love broccoli, which is just...astounding).

Sacrifice Principle #5: Sometimes It'll Hurt


Yet then again, no one ever promised us that discipleship in the last days would be a picnic in the park.

If you want to make it to the Celestial Kingdom, you'll have to prove yourself worthy of it. And if you think you can just skate by without proving your valiance, think again. God repeatedly tells us that mortality is a proving and testing experience (See Abr. 3:25; Mosiah 23:21).

When you're serious about aligning yourself -- in experiencing "totality" with Jesus -- you're eventually admitted into what Paul called the "fellowship of [Christ's] sufferings" (Philip. 3:10). Accompanying that admission may be illness or loneliness, injustice or rejection, abuse or neglect. It's whatever the Lord deems necessary to burn the spiritual impurities out of you.
"Did you ever know it is necessary that we should be tried in all things? If you do not you will find it out before you get through, and we are not through yet quite. In this connection, I am reminded of what I heard the Prophet Joseph say, speaking more particularly with reference to the Twelve, "The Lord will feel after your heart-strings, and will wrench them and twist them around, and you will have to learn to rely upon God and upon God alone." (John Taylor, Journal of Discourses, Vol. 20, p. 259 -260, March 2, 1879)
"I heard the Prophet Joseph Smith say to the Twelve, 'You will have all kinds of troubles and trials to pass through. And it is quite as necessary for you to be tried, even as Abraham and other men of God.' And said he, 'God will feel after you and he will take hold of you and wrench your very heart strings. And if you cannot stand it, you will not be fit for an inheritance in the Celestial Kingdom of God.'" (John Taylor, Journal of Discourses, Vol. 24, p. 197; Church News, October 7, 1972, p. 14)
Yet for those who turn to the Lord, reassurances will come. Remember the story of Elisha's young servant? When he was encircled by an overwhelming enemy, he sought reassurance from the prophet and seer, who told him, "Fear not: for they that be with us are more than they that be with them." (2 Kings 6:16) It didn't seem that way to the young man until after the prophet's prayer. Then, when the young man's eyes were opened, he saw the mountain filled with horses and chariots of fire. (See 2 Kings 6:17).

When You Fear the Pain


Sometimes the sacrifices the Lord asks of us can be painless. We can give up our processed foods and sugars, and move on with life.

Yet sometimes He asks more of us. And on this subject, I know what you're probably thinking: That you're all for qualifying for the Celestial Kingdom, but man, why do these sacrifices often have to hurt so much? It's kind of like knowing you need to climb this hill, and a part of you even wants to, but you don't look forward to it. Sometimes it even feels like you're a tennis ball being sucked through a garden hose.

I get that. Several years ago, I myself grappled with a number of serious setbacks and tragedies, all occurring within one month. None of the incidents were related to the other, and none were my fault. They were heart-wrenching, painful and depressing.

Yet through it all, I begged and pleaded with the Lord that He would forgive me of my weaknesses and sins, that despite my shortcomings, that He would draw closer to me as I was endeavoring to do as well. I also asked for increased knowledge and discernment about the nature of the trials and tests I was having to endure. I wanted to know what I was supposed to learn from it all.

At first, the answers came almost imperceptibly. Yet over time, I grew more and more convinced that God really did love me, care for me, and desired that I enjoy greater happiness in Him. All of these good things, and much, much more, I attribute to a Father who is not only overly-anxious to shower us, but to also immerse us in gifts beyond anything we could expect. And He keeps giving and giving and giving, in so many unexpected and amazing ways.

I am nobody special. I have no significant importance or responsibilities. I don't want or seek acclamation, praise or followers. I cherish anonymity. I consider myself just as ordinary as any person sitting down the row from you in church. Yet this one thing I do have a testimony of: that God delights in exceeding our expectations of Him every chance He gets.
"Now unto him that is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that worketh in us, Unto him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus throughout all ages, world without end. Amen." (Ephesians 3:20-21)

Taking the Leap of Faith


"The great task of life is to learn the will of the Lord and then do it." (Pres. Ezra Taft Benson, April 1988 General Conference; or Ensign, May 1988, p. 4)

Is it hard to know the Lord, and still trust Him?  Yes, sometimes it is.

For example: In six weeks, I'm going to be required to do something I really don't want to do. For years, I've avoided doing -- I mean, adamantly, profoundly refused to do -- this one thing which may very well lead to disastrous consequences. Yet I'm moving forward with it. As I've told my friends, "The Lord's never let me down yet. Why would He do so now?"

So here's my personal invitation to you: What's your sacrifice? What is the Lord requiring you to do that may likely be very uncomfortable, even dangerous?

I invite you to ask the Lord. If you're feeling your spirituality stalling, then there's nothing that'll un-stall it faster than asking God to help turn you away from the telestial straight to the celestial.

I also invite you to join me in consecrating your heart, mind and body. Put your hand on your heart, put one foot in front of the other, and step onto what appears to be thin air.

Sometimes it's tough deciding to stand where the Lord wants you. He'll invite you to take that multi-hour trip and turn your back on what many would consider a pretty good thing.

But when you take Him up on that offer...when you stand exactly where He wants you, when you seek that totality, and spend even just a couple of minutes in it...

You'll be amazed at how far the Lord will lift you and how much He will show you. And in the process, your life will never, ever be the same.