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Sunday, June 18, 2017

Lectures on Faith 5, Part 1: The Prodigal Mormon

Are you the same person you were 15 years ago?

I mean, do you see important doctrines the exact same way you did 15 years ago? Or, would you say that through further study, maturity, prayer and time, your understanding of certain doctrines has evolved?

That's true for me. And I'm fairly certain it can be true for you, too.

It's been my experience that serious students of the gospel tend to evolve in their insights over time. I don't think any of us see all truths, in all their clarity and completeness, right off the bat.

So, how about Joseph Smith? Do you think he "knew it all" in 1820, when he experienced the First Vision?

Nope. I think we can safely assume Joseph never had a complete understanding of the gospel in 1820. Nor did he when Moroni, John the Baptist, Peter, James and John or other heavenly messengers visited him. Like me, like you, and dare I say like a lot of us, Joseph grew in his understanding of the gospel of Jesus Christ as his life unfolded.

Let's return to the spring of 1820 for a minute. Although we believe that Joseph saw Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ in the Sacred Grove, it's an assumption that Joseph KNEW God had a body of flesh and bone from his First Vision. Look -- according to Joseph, Father appeared, then said, “This is my beloved son, hear him”. As far as we know, that was the extent of the Father/Joseph interaction. When you examine all the First Vision versions, there's no evidence Father explained himself to Joseph. Nor do we see any evidence that Joseph physically interacted with Father as the apostles did with a resurrected Christ.

Fast forward to 1834, when the Lectures on Faith were written. On August 17, 1835, "a unanimous vote" of the church's membership accepted the compilation as "the doctrine and covenants of their faith" (History of the Church 2: 243–46). We read in Lecture 5:2 that
"The Father being a personage of spirit, glory and power: possessing all perfection and fulness: The Son, who was in the bosom of the Father, a personage of tabernacle, made, or fashioned like unto man, or being in the form and likeness of man, or, rather, man was formed after his likeness, and in his image;"
The Father is a personage of what? Spirit? Yep, that's what it says.

Fast forward again to 1841. All of a sudden, we see an explosion of statements from Joseph discussing the corporeal nature of God's body.

  • On January 1841, he said, "That which is without body or parts is nothing. There is no other God in heaven but that God who has flesh and bones" (Ehat and Cook, Words of Joseph Smith, p.60).  
  • Six weeks later, "Joseph said concerning the Godhead [that] it was not as many imagined—three heads and but one body; he said the three were separate bodies" (Words, p.63). 
  • Then on March 9, 1841, he declared that "the Son had a Tabernacle and so had the Father" (Words, p.64). 
  • In early 1841, he taught, "the Son [has] a tabernacle and so [does] the Father, but the Holy Ghost is a personage of spirit without tabernacle" (Quoted by William P. McIntire, reporting a discourse given by Joseph Smith in Nauvoo, Illinois; William Patterson McIntire, Notebook 1840–45, Church Archives). 

And on April 2, 1843, Joseph delivered the basis for D&C 130:22–23:

"The Father has a body of flesh and bones as tangible as man’s; the Son also; but the Holy Ghost has not a body of flesh and bones, but is a personage of Spirit. Were it not so, the Holy Ghost could not dwell in us." (D&C 130:22)
So, we see two different descriptions of Father by Joseph: one (circa 1835) that He's "a personage of spirit", and others (six, then eight, years later) that He has a body of flesh and bones.

Many anti-Mormons believe that Joseph "made up" his knowledge of God, because his statements do, in fact, contradict each other over time. Joseph never explained the discrepancies. Some believe that this supposed contradiction was a catalyst for the Lectures on Faith being yanked from our compilation of scriptures.

A question for you: Have you ever heard of "Occam's Razor"? It's the scientific principle that, all things being equal, the simplest answer is usually the right one.

To me, the simplest explanation of this difference is this: Joseph's knowledge of Father's physical characteristics evolved over time.

Line upon line. Precept upon precept.

After all, as we agreed above, many people's knowledge of gospel doctrines evolve over time. We don't "know it all" right off the bat. Why would Joseph be any different?

Missing the point...big time.
Why Debates About Lecture on Faith 5 Miss The Point 

Please click here for my "About" page -- it has a compilation of quotes from prophets and apostles old and new who all say the same thing: It's your privilege to seek God and to know Him, speak with Him, and even see Him, face to this mortal life!

Yet instead, many people would rather argue and debate whether Joseph screwed up or made up the corporeal nature of God. Such find it easier to look down, than up. To find fault, not faith. To debase, instead of divinely seek. It's no wonder that Brother Brigham declared,
"There is no doubt, if a person lives according to the revelations given to God's people, he may have the Spirit of God to signify to him His will, and to guide him and direct him in the discharge of his duties, in his temporal as well as his spiritual exercises. I am satisfied however, that in this respect, we live far beneath our privileges" (Discourses of Brigham Young, p. 75). 
Translation: We are all entitled to revelation. Unfortunately, in most cases, we live far beneath our potential.

OK, OK, maybe Brigham was talking about the pioneer saints. But in this quote, Elder Neal A. Maxwell was talking about US:
"The gift of the Holy Ghost truly is one of the greatest blessings available to members of the Church. Actually, many gifts can come from the Holy Ghost. These are needed in every age and dispensation but certainly no less in the commotion-filled last days of the last dispensation. They are likewise needed at every stage and in every situation of life. ... Yet, for different reasons, many of us live far below, or are unaware of, our privileges!" (Neal A. Maxwell, The Promise of Discipleship, pp. 92-93).
In fact, for some -- even those who are members of the Lord's church -- the Gift of the Holy Ghost lies dormant.

"The overall gift of the Holy Ghost truly is one of the greatest blessings available to members of the Church. We all need to stress-for ourselves and for those whom we teach-the vital connection with the gifts of the Holy Ghost. These gifts are vital at every stage of an individual's life and in every situation of life. Members of the Church have received the gift of the Holy Ghost, but in many it lies dormant-somewhat like the ancients who had received the gift but knew it not (see 3 Ne. 9:20)." (Neal A. Maxwell, "The Holy Ghost: Glorifying Christ," Ensign, July 2002, p. 56).

The Hard Core Truth Regarding Your Status Before God 

The Joseph Smith Translation alters the Sermon on the Mount slightly:
"Wherefore, seek not the things of this world but seek ye first to build up the kingdom of God, and to establish his righteousness, and all these things shall he added unto you" (JST, Matthew 6:38).
Instead, what do we seek? In his June, 1976 First Presidency Message, "The False Gods We Worship", Pres. Spencer W. Kimball addressed the Saints by saying:
"The Lord gave us a choice world and expects righteousness and obedience to his commandments in return.  But when I review the performance of this people in comparison with what is expected, I am appalled and frightened. Iniquity seems to abound.  The Destroyer seems to be taking full advantage of the time remaining to him in this, the great day of his power.  Evil seems about to engulf us like a great wave, and we feel that truly we are living in conditions similar to those in the days of Noah before the Flood."
President Kimball said that 41 years ago. What do you think he'd say now?

The fact is, like ancient Israel, we have gone whoring after false idols:

  • We idolize images (movies, TV, videos) above God. 
  • We legitimize carnality in our culture to such an extent, that we kick the poor away, replace their areas with Babylon (and its images) and call it "beautification". 
  • We devote more time and money to organized sports, more lavish homes, more lavish business headquarters, more lavish cars, more lavish clothes, than to the poor. 
  • We not only trust in the arm of flesh, but also make up excuses why we should. We literally bet our lives - and the lives of our families - that it's totally fine with the Lord entrust their lives in the arm of flesh.
  • We do not receive truth (see D&C 45:57). Instead, we deprioritize seeking spiritual knowledge, spiritual gifts and meaningful prayer. Anyone conducting a dialogue with God is considered whacked.
  • We do not take the Holy Spirit for our guide (see D&C 45:57). We instead idolize celebrities and leaders, even church leaders, and passionately encourage others to do the same. 
  • We are deceived (see D&C 45:57) into worshipping nature, Babylon and mammon. We call those things which are abominations before God "acceptable", "tolerable" or "none of my business".
  • We make the institutions of mammon respectable by using the beautiful name of Zion. Zion Investments, Zion Used Cars, Zion Construction, Zion Development, Zion Bank, Zion Leasing, Zion Insurance, Zion Securities, Zion Trust, Zion Assisted Living, Zion Brewery, Zion Computer Consulting, Zion's Cooperative Mercantile Institution, and so on (total businesses in Utah with "Zion" in their name: 1,175).

And for this, we call ourselves "The Lord's Chosen People", "A Righteous Generation" with "Noble Birthright". "The Elect of God". Even "The Anointed".

Another kind of self-congratulatory word we jokingly use to describe ourselves is "gentiles". That's OK, because Brother Joseph did, too, when he said (in his dedicatory prayer of the Kirtland temple),
"Now these words, O Lord, we have spoken before thee, concerning the revelations and commandments which thou hast given unto us, who are identified with the Gentiles." (D&C 109:60)
"almost without exception, of those who come into the Church in this dispensation have the blood of two or more of the tribes of Israel as well as the blood of the Gentiles." (President Joseph Fielding Smith. Answers to Gospel Questions, 5 vols., Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1957–66, 3:63)
I'll be blunt: We are lying to ourselves if we think we are any of these chosen, righteous, noble, elect statuses. Because the truth of the matter is, I mean, the thing most people won't tell you because it's an inconvenient truth, is that
  • "there is none that doeth good" (Psalm 14:1; 53:1-3)
  • "It is written, There is none righteous, no, not one: there is none that understandeth, there is none that seeketh after God. They are all gone out of the way, they are together become unprofitable; there is none that doeth good, no, not one. Their throat is an open sepulchre; with their tongues they have used deceit; the poison of asps is under their lips: whose mouth is full of cursing and bitterness: their feet are swift to shed blood: destruction and misery are in their ways: and the way of peace have they not known: there is no fear of God before their eyes." (Romans 3:10-18
  • O how great is the nothingness of the children of men; yea, even they are less than the dust of the earth." (Helaman 12:7)
  • "Now, for this cause I know that man is nothing, which thing I never had supposed." (Moses 1:10)

Oh, and that Gentile status of ours? Nephi said to us (Gentiles):
"Hearken, O ye Gentiles, and hear the words of Jesus Christ, the Son of the living God, which he hath commanded me that I should speak concerning you, for, behold he commandeth me that I should write, saying:
Turn, all ye Gentiles, from your wicked ways; and repent of your evil doings, of your lyings and deceivings, and of your whoredoms, and of your secret abominations, and your idolatries, and of your murders, and your priestcrafts, and your envyings, and your strifes, and from all your wickedness and abominations, and come unto me, and be baptized in my name, that ye may receive a remission of your sins, and be filled with the Holy Ghost, that ye may be numbered with my people who are of the house of Israel." (3 Nephi 30:1-2)
Moroni perfectly described this state of affairs around 1,600 years ago:
"O ye wicked and perverse and stiffnecked people, why have ye built up churches unto yourselves to get gain? Why have ye transfigured the holy word of God, that ye might bring damnation upon your souls? Behold, look ye unto the revelations of God; for behold, the time cometh at that day when all these things must be fulfilled.
Behold, the Lord hath shown unto me great and marvelous things concerning that which must shortly come, at that day when these things shall come forth among you.
Behold, I speak unto you as if ye were present, and yet ye are not. But behold, Jesus Christ hath shown you unto me, and I know your doing.
And I know that ye do walk in the pride of your hearts; and there are none save a few only who do not lift themselves up in the pride of their hearts, unto the wearing of very fine apparel, unto envying, and strifes, and malice, and persecutions, and all manner of iniquities; and your churches, yea, even every one, have become polluted because of the pride of your hearts.
For behold, ye do love money, and your substance, and your fine apparel, and the adorning of your churches, more than ye love the poor and the needy, the sick and the afflicted.
O ye pollutions, ye hypocrites, ye teachers, who sell yourselves for that which will canker, why have ye polluted the holy church of God? Why are ye ashamed to take upon you the name of Christ? Why do ye not think that greater is the value of an endless happiness than that misery which never dies—because of the praise of the world?
Why do ye adorn yourselves with that which hath no life, and yet suffer the hungry, and the needy, and the naked, and the sick and the afflicted to pass by you, and notice them not?" (Mormon 8:33–39)
Guess who these last verses were written to:
"Moroni’s last words to the members of the Church are written as a voice of warning. He writes as one who sees the history of his people repeating itself in the future. [Elder Perry then read Mormon 8:34-38]]. I guess one of the greatest mysteries of mortality is why mankind fails to learn from history. Why do those who profess to be true followers of Christ so often become victims of the enticements of the world?" (Elder L. Tom Perry, October 1992 General Conference).
Elder Perry gave his talk 25 years ago.

How do YOU think we gentiles -- especially us chosen, righteous, noble, elect, anointed ones -- have done since then?

Let's get real for a minute: With all these facts in mind, we can narrow down a description of our (your and my) true status before God to just one word:

1. spending money or resources freely and recklessly; wastefully extravagant.
2. having or giving something on a lavish scale.

Which Brings Us to the Parable of the Prodigal Son

Jesus' Parable of the Prodigal Son appears in Luke 15:11–32.

"And he said, A certain man had two sons:
And the younger of them said to his father, Father, give me the portion of goods that falleth to me. And he divided unto them his living.
And not many days after the younger son gathered all together, and took his journey into a far country, and there wasted his substance with riotous living.
And when he had spent all, there arose a mighty famine in that land; and he began to be in want.
And he went and joined himself to a citizen of that country; and he sent him into his fields to feed swine.
And he would fain have filled his belly with the husks that the swine did eat: and no man gave unto him.
And when he came to himself, he said, How many hired servants of my father’s have bread enough and to spare, and I perish with hunger!
I will arise and go to my father, and will say unto him, Father, I have sinned against heaven, and before thee,
And am no more worthy to be called thy son: make me as one of thy hired servants.
And he arose, and came to his father. But when he was yet a great way off, his father saw him, and had compassion, and ran, and fell on his neck, and kissed him.
And the son said unto him, Father, I have sinned against heaven, and in thy sight, and am no more worthy to be called thy son.
But the father said to his servants, Bring forth the best robe, and put it on him; and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet:
And bring hither the fatted calf, and kill it; and let us eat, and be merry:
For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found. And they began to be merry.
Now his elder son was in the field: and as he came and drew nigh to the house, he heard musick and dancing.
And he called one of the servants, and asked what these things meant.
And he said unto him, Thy brother is come; and thy father hath killed the fatted calf, because he hath received him safe and sound.
And he was angry, and would not go in: therefore came his father out, and entreated him.
And he answering said to his father, Lo, these many years do I serve thee, neither transgressed I at any time thy commandment: and yet thou never gavest me a kid, that I might make merry with my friends:
But as soon as this thy son was come, which hath devoured thy living with harlots, thou hast killed for him the fatted calf.
And he said unto him, Son, thou art ever with me, and all that I have is thine.
It was meet that we should make merry, and be glad: for this thy brother was dead, and is alive again; and was lost, and is found."
What do you think was the turning point in this story? What changed it all around?

Having experienced the misery of his prodigal status, we now observe his recovery from it. In a spiritual sense,
  1. He came to himself. He was humbled. 
  2. He actually envisioned returning to his father and repenting.
  3. As a repenting sinner, and notwithstanding fears and discouragements, he resolutely threw off the shackles of Satan and then literally returned to his father. 
Now look at how his father reciprocated:
  1. He saw his son "when he was yet a great way off".
  2. He had compassion on his son.
  3. He ran to his son, fell on his neck and kissed him.

"Make This a New Beginning of Another Life"

What's especially noteworthy is what the father then did. He clothed his son in:

The robe: This may be the robe of righteousness, which we read about in Isaiah 61:10:
"I will greatly rejoice in the LORD, my soul shall be joyful in my God; for he hath clothed me with the garments of salvation, he hath covered me with the robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom decketh himself with ornaments, and as a bride adorneth herself with her jewels."
The ring: Speaking of ornaments and jewels, the ring is an emblem of wealth, position and honor. It hearkens back to when Joseph was declared second in power to Egypt's Pharaoh, and Pharaoh himself placed a signet ring upon Joseph's finger.

The shoes: This may symbolize the fact that God prepares us with all the equipment we need for future service, and for every step along the way. It's undeniable that in life's journeys, we are bound to encounter foul places in all our paths. When we must pass through them, if we are wearing something else than our own naked selves, we have a better chance of avoiding defilement. God gives the penitent, if he or she will have it, that which will keep their feet from soil, even when they walk amidst filth.

The three items the father clothed his son in pertained to the past (his overcoming sin with righteousness), the present (position of power and honor) and the future (or preparation for it).

Please remember this:

God's giving always follows His forgiving. 


God forgives...and then gives some more.

God's giving far, far exceeds anything we prodigal sons and daughters had even remotely envisioned. As proof, I'm reminded of the Brother of Jared:
  • In Ether 2:14, the Brother of Jared returns and (in verse 15) repents for not remembering to call upon the name of the Lord.
  • In Ether 2:16-Ether 3:5, the Brother of Jared approaches the Lord and asks Him to touch the 16 stones for light.
  • Then, through the remainder of Ether 3, we read of the Lord surpassing any and all expectations the Brother of Jared had by unveiling Himself -- and "all the inhabitants of the earth which had been, and also all that would be; and he withheld them not from his sight, even unto the ends of the earth" (verse 25) -- to the Brother of Jared.
This is because God "is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that worketh in us" (Ephesians 3:20).

The prodigal and the Brother of Jared. Both were humbled. Both repented. Both returned to God. Both were not only forgiven, but also given, far beyond their expectations.

Sometime, if you have the chance, I'd like you to see a form, a variation, of this in action.

The TV series "Undercover Boss" is available on Hulu. Season 6 Episode 1 is really cool -- you need to watch it. It's about John Hartmann, True Value Hardware's President and CEO, going undercover to investigate the True Value of his employees. At the 23:15 mark, we see "Lewis" meeting store clerk "Lexi". Later, we learn that Lexi can't see her dreams of becoming an aesthetician become a reality, because she was expected by her mother to become a nurse, and because nursing school was so expensive, she had to live with her grandparents -- a very humble place to be. Towards the end of the episode, John gave Lexi $5,000 for her housing needs and $10,000 to enter into and complete aesthetician school. Then he paid off the $50,000 in student loans Lexi had accumulated. Lexi walked into that closing interview expecting practically nothing from John, and came out utterly and completely overwhelmed by what John described as "A Fresh Start".

My fellow prodigal, you have two choices:

  • On one hand, you can hang with the swine. Maybe you'll doubt God, His nature, maybe his very existence. In any event, you'll live your life so you're far away from Him.
  • On the other hand, you can integrate what you learned from the prodigal son and the Brother of Jared. Envision God. Approach Him in humility, with a broken heart. Then ask for His forgiveness.

I can promise you that, in time, He will more than meet you halfway. And in so doing, you will be utterly, completely overwhelmed with the blessings He will shower upon you.

Sunday, April 30, 2017

The Best Books

When I'm in church, I'm taken by two things: First, how much time and effort some teachers invest in preparing their lessons. Second, just how little we uber-blessed, uber-smart Gentiles know Jesus Christ.

Sure, we have mountains of information about Jesus. James E. Talmage's landmark book, Jesus the Christ, is one of four non-scriptural books in the Missionary Reference LibraryElder Bruce R. McConkie's Messiah Series went into tremendous depth about the life of the Savior before, during and after His mortal ministry. In fact, we can access all these facts about Jesus -- and much, much more -- in the palm of our hands, without ever having to leave our beds.

Yet, as I have found through personal experience, it's one thing to know about the Savior, and quite another thing to actually know Him.

Many of those who are really learned, yet do not personally know Christ (not just "know about Christ"), are like a mouse on a wheel -- busily running like the dickens, but never really moving forward spiritually.

That's what I think Brother Joseph was trying to tell us when he said,
"It is the first principle of the Gospel to know for a certainty the character of God and to know that we may converse with him as one man converses with another" (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, page 345; see also Ether 12:39; emphasis mine).
"I am going to enquire after God; for I want you all to know him, and to be familiar with him" (History of the Church, 6:305; from a discourse given by Joseph Smith on Apr. 7, 1844, in Nauvoo, Illinois; reported by Wilford Woodruff, Willard Richards, Thomas Bullock, and William Clayton; emphasis mine).
"We must have 'a correct idea of his … perfections, and attributes' and an admiration for 'the excellency of [His] character.'” (Lectures on Faith (1985), p. 38, 42; emphasis mine).
Even Jesus declared, 
“And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God.”(John 17:3; emphasis mine)
Now, go re-read these quotes carefully. Do you see the word "about" in any of them? No. Instead, I see:
  • "know for a certainty the character of God"
  • "know that we may converse with him as one man converses with another"
  • "I want you all to know him"
  • "[His] character"
  • "know thee the only true God.”
What point is both Jesus and Joseph trying to drive home? 

Know The Only True God

So, how do we know God's character? What should we be seeking, studying and doing if we ever want to converse with God as one man converses with another?

My advice: First, get informed.

Naturally, if we want to be better acquainted with God, we should turn to the scriptures! However, there are some nuances, some aspects of God which we may not be able to pick up on our own. Others' insights might be necessary. Perhaps that's why Christ told us,
"And as all have not faith, seek ye diligently and teach one another words of wisdom; yea, seek ye out of the best books words of wisdom; seek learning, even by study and also by faith." (D&C 88:118)
What would you consider to be "the best books"?

Would such books have to written by General Authorities, BYU faculty and Seminaries and Institute employees? Must they be Mormon?

For the life of me, I can't see anywhere in that verse where the Lord gave specific, narrowing parameters as to what qualifies as "the best books."

But I'll bet you one thing: Whatever those books are, they'd almost assuredly help enhance your standing in the eternities. They would involve learning -- I mean, real studying -- and faith...stepping out into the darkness, with a hope that you're also taking a step closer to the Light.

In my last post, I mentioned studying books -- outside the official church curriculum -- which would help bring you closer to Christ. After reading the post, one astute reader emailed me and asked what I would consider to be some good non-curriculum books to read.

Fair question.

Last December, I posted here about three books most people don't read, but should: "The Lectures on Faith", "The Joseph Smith Translation (JST)" and the Book of Isaiah. You're smart -- and definitely blessed -- if you do read them. You're likely spiritually asleep and perhaps even condemned if you don't. Because they've been approved by Jesus Christ Himself, I recommend making these three books a higher priority than anything a mortal has written.

Still, I know some seek books which could help them develop a deeper, far more meaningful relationship with Christ.

So, below are some picks. My recommendations. No one has influenced these selections. No one has told me that it'd be good to promote them.

Instead, these books are about Christ's character. His personality. Once you know those aspects, it becomes much easier to know what to listen for, so that you may converse with Him as one man converses with another.

They have changed me, and will likely change you -- no matter what your faith is. They have inspired me to center my life on God, helped me better understand God and to have a more fulfilling relationship with Him.

Words of wisdom? Check. Learning? Check. Encourage you to study? Check. Help stimulate faith in God? Big time check. In fact, as I've asked God for opportunities to experentially learn what I've read in these books, He's over-delivered results, which have been far beyond my wildest dreams and anything I remotely deserve.

So, here are "The best [mortal-written] books", according to Mr. LDS Perfect Day...

Center Your Life on God
"The Divine Center" (Stephen R. Covey)

A personal story:

Many years ago (in what my kids would call "the prehistoric era"), I was attending college. It was the first day of Christmas break. All my roommates had gone home, and I stayed behind (my dorm apartment was a mile or two from my family). I was alone.

One late night, I walked from my work to my dorm apartment. When I arrived, I noticed a package in front of the front door. When I got inside and turned on the light, I noticed the package was for me. I hurriedly opened it. Inside was a book: "The Divine Center" by Covey. Inside the front book cover was a card. It said, "This book will change your life and your perspective of the Gospel. You'll take it around the world with you. Love, Dad"

The next morning, I thanked my dad for the book. He was genuinely confused about the book, and said he didn't buy it -- in fact, he'd never buy me a "Mormon Book" (he was pretty anti-Mormon at the time). He was practically insulted that I had insinuated that he would.

To this day, I have no proof as to who "Dad" was. But I can tell you this: That book did travel across the world with me -- a fact I couldn't have foretold when I received it. And no other book, save the scriptures themselves, has had as much an impact on my life, and my perspective of Christ's gospel, than The Divine Center.

The basic premise of it: All of us seek balance between family, friends, career, church, spirituality, activities and more. "The Divine Center" addresses the need, not just for balance, but for putting all of life into proper perspective by centering our thoughts, desires and actions on Jesus Christ. When you make Christ #1, everything else works out, leaving you with a greater amount of peace, inspiration and God's influence. Here's the official write-up:
"All of us at some point search for an organizing principle in life, one that is simple without being simplistic, that offers enduring direction. The book introduces, explains, and illuminates such a principle – centering one’s life on Christ. It examines twelve other "centers" and their effect on key dimensions of our lives: our security, guidance, wisdom, and power. Although those other perspectives offer some value, only the "divine center" meets all the tests. This powerful principle is given life by an inspiring presentation of "how-tos" –imaginative, thought-provoking explanations of the divine-centering process and steps necessary to achieve the goal."
Here are some "Divine Center" quotes I've used in my blog:
"We each see not with the eye but with the soul. Each person sees the world not as it is but as he or she is."
"Spirituality impels one to conquer difficulties, a leaning into life not away from it."
"Once a person is true to the light he has received, he is then capable of receiving more light and obeying it. Until he is true to the light already given, additional light would only condemn him, for he is capable neither of understanding it nor appreciating it. Observing our covenants may not always be easy, and it may require sacrifice. The Lord said, '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)"
"This means to see in your mind’s eye the characters and events portrayed in the scriptures. Such an empathetic effort will help you understand the situation that produced the teaching. Then you can relate that situation to yours and distill the universal principle that may apply in both.
When you visualize, you’re exercising faith. Visualizing is a powerful mental process, one of man’s unique endowments. Most of us neglect this power. Realize it or not, control it or not, the spiritual creation precedes the physical creation in all things. Most of life’s battles are lost in this private phase."
"I believe that most of us horribly neglect this creative power within us. We live too much out of our memories, too little out of our imaginations. Realize it or not, control it or not, the spiritual (mental) creation precedes the physical creation in all things. Always begin with the end in mind. Most of life’s battles are really lost in private, not in public."
"Obedience to General Commandments schools and prepares us to discern and obey the 'Personal Commandments' given us by the spirit."
"Personal commandments are given by God through His Holy Spirit to His individual children. They are individualized, tailor-made to each individual in his or her particular situation. Personal commandments come in the form of practices or specific things to do, which are largely based upon general commandments."

Better Understand Christ's Personality
"Beautiful Outlaw: Experiencing the Playful, Disruptive, Extravagant Personality of Jesus" (John Eldredge)

It's been my experience that quite a few people know about Christ, yet very few actually know Him.

As I stated on January 7, 2016,
"If you do not know Jesus as a person and His remarkable personality - His playful, irreverent, bold, forgiving, giving, anti-establishment, tender, fierce, witty, funny, sublimely confident personality - you have been cheated.
If you do not experience Jesus regularly, intimately, in any of these ways mentioned above - if you don't experience His comfort, His sense of humor, His eagerness to heal your brokenness, His over-enthusiasm to forgive you - you have been robbed."
You see, knowing about Christ -- yet not knowing Him (and His personality) -- is like trying to understand someone's vocal inflections via an e-mail. It's like trying to love a get-well card. It's like extrapolating color from a black-and-white movie or TV show.

It's that whole higher dimension that is one of the most important truths of the restoration: You can know Jesus Christ for yourself, independent of any other person. Just ask the Brother of Jared, Nephi or Joseph Smith what they were trying to get across in their writings.
"...God hath not revealed anything to Joseph, but what He will make known unto the Twelve, and even the least Saint may know all things as fast as he is able to bear them" (Elder Bruce R. McConkie, October 1969 General Conference; emphasis mine; Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 149).
Out of everything I have ever read, the one resource that effectively addresses Christ's personality is John Eldredge's book (or watch his YouTubes of) "Beautiful Outlaw". Here are the videos, in order:

Beautiful Outlaw

Chapter 1: The Playfulness of God
Chapter 2: The Missing Essential -- His Personality
Chapter 3: Is Jesus Really Playful?
Chapter 4: Fierce Intention
Chapter 5: The Most Human Face of All
Chapter 6: Extravagant Generosity
Chapter 7: Disruptive Honesty
Chapter 8: A Scandalous Freedom
Chapter 9: Cunning
Chapter 10: Humility
Chapter 11: Trueness
Chapter 12: Beautiful
Chapter 13: Loving Jesus
Chapter 14: Letting Jesus Be Himself -- With You
Chapter 15: Clearing Away the Religious Fog
Chapter 16: Letting Jesus Be Himself -- Encounters
Chapter 17: Letting His Life Fill Yours
Epilogue: One Last Thought

(Note: In Chapter 1, I understand how some might develop the perception that Eldredge disdains organized religion. I don't want to focus on that. It's clear that in the final analysis, we -- ourselves -- are the ones who allow false paradigms of Christ to take root within our souls. I do agree with him, though, that Satan has done a bang-up job of diverting mankind from knowing Christ in a far more meaningful way).

For more details, click here.

Better Understand the Beautiful Simplicity of Christ's Gospel
"Following the Light of Christ into His Presence" (John Pontius)

I think one person's review (who said this book is "the handbook we didn't get to bring to earth with us") put it best:

"All spiritual development rests on understanding the Light of Christ, our conscience, and then being deeply obedient to that light so that we gain more and more light and grow to have increased capacity to have greater spiritual experiences. If I could only have one book besides the scriptures, it would be this book."

I second almost all the Amazon reviews of this book.

Originally written in 2002, "Following the Light of Christ into His Presence" is the owner's manual we were sent to earth without.

Have you ever longed for a clear, precise, unambiguous description of the way to powerful righteousness? Have you ever wished an angel would appear beside your bed, as he did beside Joseph's and just plainly, sweetly describe the path, and what you need to do?

Revealed within "Following the Light of Christ into His Presence" is a mystery unveiled, a door opened. It reveals the key to receiving answers to your prayers, daily guidance, personal revelation, prophetic understanding, power in the priesthood, rebirth of the Spirit, calling and election, unspeakable joy, and much more.

When you've finished reading this book, you'll know much of what your soul has yearned for, and it will seem as if an angel truly did come and minister unto you.

Some may accuse me of being a little biased in my praise of this book, because John Pontius was -- and remains -- a dear, close friend of mine. But even if I didn't know him, I would still list this book on my list, because it brings to light simple ways to make personal revelation easy to recognize and implement it in your life.

With this book at your side, you'll be better prepared to prosper along your life's journey and accomplish the work the Lord has planned for you.

NOTE: John Pontius' Unblog website just posted a free download of the third book of his fictional Millennial Quest series. It's a great read!

Aim Higher. Reach Farther. Attain Greater
Various books and media by Avraham Gileadi, Ph.D.

"Isaiah is the most quoted of all the prophets, being more frequently quoted by Jesus, Paul, Peter, and John (in his Revelation) than any other Old Testament prophet. Likewise the Book of Mormon and the Doctrine and Covenants quote from Isaiah more than from any other prophet." ("Isaiah", LDS Bible Dictionary,

It's no wonder the Lord said,
"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." (3 Nephi 23:1-2)
Despite Isaiah's scriptural importance, I'm constantly astounded by many online who claim to be serious students of prophecy and the end times, or have a deep interest in it, yet they've never taken the Book of Isaiah seriously. It's amazing to see the discussions and even outright predictions made by some when it's very obvious they haven't read this most-quoted prophet.

I admit: Isaiah's deep and can't be read superficially. Searching it diligently requires uncommon dedication and focus.

To aid in this pursuit, you have the opportunity to read a lot of books about Isaiah, and what Isaiah says. While such books may be fascinating, their value is clearly subordinate to a clearer understanding of what Isaiah is actually saying.

Enter Avraham Gileadi.

Fluent in Hebrew, Gileadi worked with the Hebrew Masoretic Text, the Dead Sea Scroll of Isaiah, and the Septuagint Version to provide a translation of the Book of Isaiah intelligible in English that remains true to the Hebrew. He used lexical tools constantly in order to catch every nuance of meaning in the original language, finishing his translation of Isaiah during his Ph.D. program at BYU.

Gileadi worked on the LDS edition of the Bible. He revised the Hebrew translation of the Book of Mormon for the Church's Translation Division. He completed his Ph.D. in Ancient Studies from Brigham Young University in 1981, under the supervision of Hugh Nibley.

In 2006, Analytical Commentary of Isaiah was published. It's an audio-based introduction to Isaiah's endtime prophecy as it analyzes the Book of Isaiah verse by verse, introducing the listener to Isaiah's endtime message embedded in a series of literary devices such as word links, keywords, and code names that reveal the deeper layers of Isaiah's prophecy. In 2013, Gileadi's Apocalyptic Commentary of the Book of Isaiah was published. It, too, contains a verse-by-verse literary analysis of the Book of Isaiah containing numerous cross references to other scriptural prophecies.

Again, I highly encourage you to not read about Isaiah, or what various well-meaning authors think Isaiah's talking about. Instead, better understand the Hebrew language which Isaiah used, the history and culture of Isaiah's time to better understand his words and accompanying context. Gileadi's devoted his life to this end. Is he perfect? Nope. But I have yet to see anybody with as much experience as he when it comes to understanding Isaiah.

You can:

  • Read his analysis of Isaiah, verse-by-verse, online for free here.
  • Order his books online here.
  • Download a FREE copy of the "The Book of Isaiah: New Translation" (as an e-book or downloadable MP3) here.

Better Understand the Interrelationship Between Our Behaviors with Others and God
"The Spiritual Roots of Human Relations" by Steven Covey

"For every thousand hacking at the leaves of evil there is one striking at the root." —Henry David Thoreau
What are the roots of the problems we face in the world...even your life and your relationships with others?

According to Covey, these roots are moral and spiritual. And since the problems are rooted spiritually, the solutions are, too.

Published in 1970, The Spiritual Roots of Human Relations sets forth a bold statement: the way we treat others is indicative of how we treat God, and visa versa. It helps you to achieve personal growth from the inside-out, empowering you to improve your relationships with family, neighbors, co-workers and, ultimately, God.

For example: Covey writes about winning our private battles (like unrighteous aspirations, selfishness, perverse inclinations, touchiness, impatience, anger, impurities, procrastinating tendencies, sheer irresponsibility, lack of discipline) in our minds and in our hearts. Once we've done that, we're better able to win our public public battles (like temptations, pressures and stresses, the storms that descend upon our lives). "When we do this, staying in the presence of God our Father, we will have the strength from the light and life of the world-the Savior- to resist and to overcome.  Our spiritual roots will have grown out of Him naturally."

This situation mirrors something found in the scriptures: the spiritual creation precedes the physical creation -- a concept which Elder Bednar also agrees:
"In a similar way, meaningful morning prayer is an important element in the spiritual creation of each day—and precedes the temporal creation or the actual execution of the day. Just as the temporal creation was linked to and a continuation of the spiritual creation, so meaningful morning and evening prayers are linked to and are a continuation of each other. … Morning and evening prayers—and all of the prayers in between—are not unrelated, discrete events; rather, they are linked together each day and across days, weeks, months, and even years." (“Pray Always,” Ensign, November 2008, p. 41–42)
I think all of us have relationships in our lives which need improving. If you can't think of one, then consider your relationship with God as in need of improvement. Grab this book, read it, and integrate Covey's concepts into your life. You'll be glad you did.

The Best Books You'll Ever Read

Still, the best books I've ever read contain the actual words spoken by our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

When I read His words in the New Testament, Book of Mormon and Doctrine and Covenants, I'm astounded by His sensitivity, His wisdom, His generosity, His non-judgmentalism, and of course His blatant defiance of Sadducees, Pharisees and Scribes. And through it all, He always deflects the praise towards Father.
"How sweet are thy words unto my taste! yea, sweeter than honey to my mouth!
Through thy precepts I get understanding: therefore I hate every false way.
Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path.
I have sworn, and I will perform it, that I will keep thy righteous judgments.
I am afflicted very much: quicken me, O Lord, according unto thy word.
Accept, I beseech thee, the freewill offerings of my mouth, O Lord, and teach me thy judgments.
My soul is continually in my hand: yet do I not forget thy law.
The wicked have laid a snare for me: yet I erred not from thy precepts.
Thy testimonies have I taken as an heritage for ever: for they are the rejoicing of my heart.
I have inclined mine heart to perform thy statutes alway, even unto the end." (Psalm 119:103-114)
And unlike the aforementioned authors, He makes an astounding promise to those who cherish His words:
"Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him." (1 Corinthians 2:9)
Sometimes God speaks to us through authors -- men and women with premortally-developed talents which God uses to bring about His purposes. Sometimes His words are heard and written by other mortals, which are later compiled and canonized as scripture. He also speaks words to you everyday.

Seek out His words. Cherish them. Live them.

We have no idea of the awesomeness of the blessings He holds in store for those who do.

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

The Background Behind "The Parable of the Advanced Placement Student"


[  ] Do you enjoy studying the gospel beyond an official curriculum?

[  ] Are you sometimes caught enjoying a book on doctrine/the scriptures rather than playing video games or watching sports events?

[  ] Are you sometimes bummed that you don't know very many people to share your passion for enjoying a deeper, more profound relationship with God?

[  ] Do you sometimes think, "Wow, this is SUCH a cool doctrine! Too bad I can't share it at church!"?

[  ] OK, let's call it like it is: Do you sometimes feel like a freak or wierdo because one of your hobbies is learning about the mysteries of godliness?

If any of the above may apply to you, I invite you to read (or even better, listen to) "Well-Informed, Unquestioned Desire (aka The Parable of the Advanced Placement Student)".

Some background: I've had a few dreams which I felt could be shared on this blog. Even fewer were the dreams which were were deliberately, unmistakably intended for sharing on this blog.

"The Parable of the Advanced Placement Student" was one of those dreams.

Originally posted on Thursday, November 22, 2012, it's a story not only about me, but many of my friends -- those I already knew, those I ended up meeting, and (I suppose) more I have yet to meet.

I was tremendously blessed to have witnessed this story with my own (unconscious) eyes. Even today, my memory retains all the vividness of the dream as it did many years ago.

This post, and especially its accompanying podcast, is a very accurate retelling of my dream, down to the smallest detail and the song at the end.

I hope to it's as meaningful to you as it is to me.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Do You Have Spiritual AIDS? Part 2 of 2: Rise Above the Selfishness of Seeking the Second Comforter

To the person wishing for their Second Comforter,

I'm thrilled that you're wanting this experience! It truly is a glorious doctrine. Words cannot express.

I'm grateful for all those, especially over the last decade or so, who've highlighted this supernal experience. I'm also grateful for those who've taken the gutsy move to share and testify -- often under great duress, which often happens when good is unleashed upon this world -- that it really can happen to those who feel like they're the least qualified to have this experience.

There's no doubt that the Lord counsels us to "seek his face" (D&C 101:37-38). The Lord reiterated this point in 2 Chronicles 7:14, Psalm 27:8, Psalm 69:32, D&C 67:10 and D&C 93:1.

There's also no doubt the Lord knows your heart. He knows you want to see Him. And I'm pretty confident He's more excited to see you than you are to see Him. That's just how He is. He is so full of life, and light, and exuberance, and energy, and positivity, that those who've been with Him just never want Him to leave. It's a feeling you'll never have with anybody else in this life.

Yet, I know how frustrating it can be to pray, day after day, for this experience to happen, yet it never does. It can leave you wondering why the heavens are as brass, when you're honestly, sincerely, passionately obeying His word and going for the gold. You seek divinity, and all you get is doubt, discouragement and disappointment. All because you wanted to see Him.

I get those feelings. I totally understand. I felt your pain. For years.

I've looked high and low, read countless books and watched or listened to hundreds of talks, to better understand how to see Him. Believe me: If there's a short cut, I'd have found it.

So, I can't tell you why you haven't seen God yet. Nobody can. That's a conversation between you and the Holy Ghost, whose job is to bring your to Christ.

But I believe there are some things which we can do, based on Christ's own words, to improve the chances of seeing Him in this life.

So Long, Self

So, I'd like to ask a favor from you. I'd like you to try an experiment. A few bullet points:
  • This is not intended to be an "end all/be all" definitive method by which we can see the Lord. This is just one way we may qualify to see Him face in this life. It's just...something to think about/highly consider.
  • I know it may run contrary to perhaps everything you know -- or think you know -- about seeking Him. It will require more trust in Him than perhaps you've exercised ever since you started praying for your Second Comforter. But please...consider giving it an honest, sincere, heartfelt try.
OK, here's my recommendation:

Just quit asking for it. Stop efforting this whole "seeing Him" mindset.

First, understand that you can't make a personal visitation happen. And any spiritually mature human being recognizes the fact that God's timetable likely doesn't match your timetable. God is not a cosmic vending machine where you plink in your months or years of obedience and out comes a Second Comforter. That's transactional. He's transformative! Think about it.

Second, check your motives. Why do you want this experience? Is it because, in the final analysis, it's all about good 'ol you? Maybe to claim some degree of respect or legitimacy? Come on -- why do you want this experience? Is it because the Lord told us to seek His face, and you want to be obedient? Is it because He commanded us to? So how is this self-centeredness congruent with the terrestrial principles of Zion (Moses 7:18)? Do you think He's inclined to reward intentions which aren't even terrestrial in nature? (Click here to see why obedience alone can't and won't cut it, and why another doctrine -- which is more transformative, for yourself and others -- stands a far better chance of helping you to be more obedient).

So right now, this very instant, I invite you to put a screeching halt to the selfishness which frequently arises among those wishing this -- and other -- transcendent experiences.

Get back on the Savior's wavelength:
"He that findeth his life shall lose it: and he that loseth his life for my sake shall find it" (Matthew 10:39; see also Matthew 10:32–4116:24–28Mark 8:34–38Luke 9:23–2617:33).
And don't think for a second that the potential (for you to see Christ) will go away because you've stopped thinking about seeing Him. LOL He knows what you want far better than you do. True?

The Missing Key Most Often Fail to Turn in Seeking the Second Comforter

I'd like to invite you to go to Father and beg Him, plead with Him. I mean, approach the throne of grace with boldness! Pour out your whole soul to Him with passion and meaning and depth in wanting something else.
"Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need." (Hebrews 4:16)
"For behold, God hath said a man being evil cannot do that which is good; for if he offereth a gift, or prayeth unto God, except he shall do it with real intent it profiteth him nothing. 
And likewise also is it counted evil unto a man, if he shall pray and not with real intent of heart; yea, and it profiteth him nothing, for God receiveth none such." (Moroni 7:6,9)
Ask Him for experiences to help matter if you're conscious or not when you're doing the helping. YOU be THE squeakiest wheel God ever encountered among those who wanted to help others.
"Wherefore, my beloved brethren, pray unto the Father with all the energy of heart, that ye may be filled with this love, which he hath bestowed upon all who are true followers of his Son, Jesus Christ; that ye may become the sons of God; that when he shall appear we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is; that we may have this hope; that we may be purified even as he is pure. Amen." (Moroni 7:48; emphasis mine)
[NOTE: That scripture doesn't say "if he shall appear" or "in the off-chance he appears". No! It says WHEN He shall appear.]

And to ensure you do the job right, ask Him to bless you with discernment (that you'll recognize the opportunity to help another when He gives it to you, no matter how seemingly small and insignificant it may be), charity (to do what He wants you to do or say), and the faith (to ask for more experiences).

Push the envelope. Have Him bless you with gifts you don't even know exist. Whatever arsenal of spiritual weapons He thinks you need, at any particular time, to be a walking, talking charity machine, demand it. Ask for it. Insist on it. In fact, expect it.
"If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him.
But let him ask in faith, nothing wavering. For he that wavereth is like a wave of the sea driven with the wind and tossed." (James 1:5-6)
Then be on the lookout. He may want you to smile and say hi to a stranger. Do it. He may want you to ask the gal at the supermarket checkout counter how her shift is going. Do it. He may want you to spend a few minutes cheering up a guy at work who seems just a bit...down. Do it. He may give you a name to pray for -- maybe even a name you've never heard. Do it ("intercessor" -- a person who intervenes on behalf of another, especially by prayer). Whatever He has you say or do at that particular moment -- do it.

Now, there will likely come a time when you need to balance this enthusiasm out. A friend of mine was once like this -- extremely focused on serving others. Not via a church calling, but because of his own desires to serve others. But at the same time, he was spending less and less time with his family. The Holy Ghost will not lead you into an unbalanced life.

There may also be an occasion when you failed to help someone when you should have. You blew an opportunity. That's OK. Look -- Moms and dads don't chastise their baby when she's taking her first steps and lands on her bum, right? No. They help her up and tell her she's such a big girl for trying, and that she can do it! And that look on their faces when she does get back up and takes another step? Yeah, your Heavenly Father and Mother are no different. So get back up off your bum, and take another step by asking for another opportunity.

And right after you've successfully helped another while on the Lord's errand, ask Him for another. Insist on it. Demand it.
"It is a time-honored adage that love begets love. Let us pour forth love—show forth our kindness unto all mankind, and the Lord will reward us with everlasting increase; cast our bread upon the waters and we shall receive it after many days, increased to a hundredfold" (Joseph Smith, History of the Church, 5:517).
Then, at the end of the day, thank Father for all the wonderful experiences He gave you. Thank Him for the failures. Thank Him for the successes. Tell Him you receive those experiences with whole heart and hand.

Repeat this process as frequently as in and day out.
"A man filled with the love of God is not content with blessing his family alone, but ranges through the whole world, anxious to bless the whole human race." (History of the Church, 4:227; from a letter from Joseph Smith to the Twelve, Dec. 15, 1840, Nauvoo, Illinois, published in Times and Seasons, Jan. 1, 1841, p. 258; this letter is incorrectly dated Oct. 19, 1840, in History of the Church)
"The nearer we get to our heavenly Father, the more we are disposed to look with compassion on perishing souls; we feel that we want to take them upon our shoulders, and cast their sins behind our backs." (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p.241)
After a while (for many weeks or perhaps months), ask Him if you're getting closer to Christ.

My bet: you won't need to ask, because you'll know, deep down inside, that you ARE growing closer to Him. You'll know it. You'll feel it. You'll feel the frequency of faith vibrating your soul, hope coursing through your veins and charity your soul's sweetest desire.
"Having faith on the Lord; having a hope that ye shall receive eternal life; having the love of God always in your hearts, that ye may be lifted up at the last day and enter into his rest." (Alma 13:29)
And because of that, you'll know that somehow, somewhere, He's growing closer to you.

Because you've become more like Him. And you're closer to Him in ways you never knew you could attain.

You sense that you and He are now working together as a partnership. You dialogue with Christ frequently about helping more and more people, and experimenting with and exercising new spiritual gifts that you didn't even know existed, so you can help these people (sometimes in miraculous ways).

You sense that you're not taking baby steps anymore.

And seeing Him?

Yeah, it'll happen. It. WILL. Happen.

Not because you tried forcing the issue with Father. Not because you felt you had to plead your case to Him every day. Not because you were the most eager student in the back of the classroom saying "Pick me! Pick me for the Second Comforter!"


It's because you let it happen. Naturally. Because you focused not on yourself, but on feeding His sheep.

And along the way, you discovered you've grown up and matured in His gospel. You've cast aside the I / me / my pronouns in favor of she / he / them, or even better, we / us / our -- the pronouns of a person prepared for Zion.

You've spiritually evolved to knowing that seeking the Second Comforter never has been, isn't, and never will be about what YOU want.

It's about HIS will. And HIS will is that you feed HIS sheep with even more passion and determination than YOUR will to see Him.
"Feed my sheep." (John 21:15-17; D&C 112:14)
And because you want what He wants, and do as He wants you to do, then someday, you'll discover that He's lifted you from the dirt and mud and filth of your prodigal status, into a son or daughter who is told, by Father Himself, with His celestially exalted hands on the top of your head, that you will inherit ALL that He has.
"Wherefore, seek not the things of this world but seek ye first to build up the kingdom of God, and to establish his righteousness, and all these things shall he added unto you" (JST, Matthew 6:38).
So tell me...

What are your favorite pronouns?

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Do You Have Spiritual AIDS? Part 1 of 2: Daily Spiritual Experiences

On August 16, 1987, Northwest Airlines Flight 255 crashed shortly after take-off at an airport in Romulus, Michigan en route to Phoenix, Arizona. 156 people died, including two on the ground, in what remains one of the deadliest air disasters in U.S. history.

On board the flight was the Cichan family: the father (Michael), mother (Paula), a six-year-old (David) and four-year-old Cecelia, who emerged as the sole survivor of the crash. She survived because in her mother's final moments, Paula wrapped herself around Cecilia, preventing her from the shock of the crash. (You can read more about this fascinating story here).

A Breathtaking Promise the Lord Has Made to You

Jesus Christ is no different. He's told you (potentially hundreds of times) just how He intends to wrap Himself around you in a spiritual sense, and protect you from the destructive forces of a telestial earth (which is figuratively moments away from crashing):

"that they may always have his Spirit to be with them"...(D&C 20:77)

"that they may have his Spirit to be with them"...(D&C 20:79)

Just think about these promises for a minute! You have the very real potential to not only have the Lord's spirit with you, but to ALWAYS have it with you!

(Now, I know that "the Spirit of the Lord will not always strive with man" [2 Nephi 26:11]. Even though there are times when we don't deserve the Spirit [because of sin], there are times when we haven't done anything wrong and still can't feel the spirit. After all, the Savior trod "the wine-press alone, even the wine-press of the fierceness of the wrath of Almighty God" [D&C 76:107]. Yet our Father was still with Him [John 16:32]. So, I look at it this way: When a parent is training their baby to walk, the parent will hold out their finger, which the baby will grasp as she takes a step or two. But after a while, the parent will remove their finger for just a bit, so the baby can develop confidence that they can still stand upright and walk. Even though the parent's finger may be gone, the parent hasn't gone anywhere. In my opinion, the Lord is very much like that with us. You...YOU are NEVER far away from his thoughts).

Lorenzo Snow said that it is the “grand privilege of every Latter-day Saint … to have the manifestations of the spirit every day of our lives … [so] that we may know the light, and not be groveling continually in the dark” (in Conference Report, April 1899, 52).

Nephi taught this: “If ye will … receive the Holy Ghost, it will show unto you all things what ye should do” (2 Nephi 32:5)

I believe that the Lord's spirit isn't a passive; it's an active thing. It's extrovertive, giving, loving, enlightening, intelligent, witty, forgiving, funny, consoling, sensitive, polite and so much more.

Here's how Elder Parley P. Pratt described it:
“The gift of the Holy Ghost adapts itself to all these organs or attributes. It quickens all the intellectual faculties, increases, enlarges, expands and purifies all the natural passions and affections; and adapts them, by the gift of wisdom, to their lawful use. … It inspires virtue, kindness, goodness, tenderness, gentleness and charity. It develops beauty of person, form and features. It tends to health, vigor, animation and social feeling. It invigorates all the faculties of the physical and intellectual man. It strengthens, and gives tone to the nerves. In short, it is, as it were, marrow to the bone, joy to the heart, light to the eyes, music to the ears, and life to the whole being.” (Key to the Science of Theology, 10th ed., Deseret Book Co., 1965, pp. 100–101.)
So, how often do you enjoy this sweet communion with God? How's that "always having His spirit" status going for you?

Time for a Reality Check

The truth is, none of us are doing a terrific job of enjoying His spirit with us.
"There is no doubt, if a person lives according to the revelations given to God's people, he may have the Spirit of God to signify to him His will, and to guide him and direct him in the discharge of his duties, in his temporal as well as his spiritual exercises. I am satisfied however, that in this respect, we live far beneath our privileges" (Brigham Young, Discourses of Brigham Young, p. 75). 
"The gift of the Holy Ghost truly is one of the greatest blessings available to members of the Church. Actually, many gifts can come from the Holy Ghost. These are needed in every age and dispensation but certainly no less in the commotion-filled last days of the last dispensation. They are likewise needed at every stage and in every situation of life. ... Yet, for different reasons, many of us live far below, or are unaware of, our privileges!" (Elder Neal A. Maxwell, The Promise of Discipleship, pp. 92-93)
"Members of the Church have received the gift of the Holy Ghost, but in many it lies dormant-somewhat like the ancients who had received the gift but knew it not (see 3 Nephi 9:20). (Elder Neal A. Maxwell, "The Holy Ghost: Glorifying Christ", Ensign, July 2002, p. 56)
Now, although I may not know you, I'd be willing to bet that you don't deliberately live your live so you can't or don't enjoy His spirit with you always. I certainly could stand a lot of improvement in that respect.

So why are we so alienated from God that even the mere thought of always having His spirit to be with us is met with at least a little disbelief and incredulity?

What are we doing or not doing? What do we need to fix, correct or rectify so we can feel Him more profoundly, more often, in our lives?

I've made this a matter of prayer for the last several weeks. The answers have been sobering and humbling.

Here are three possibilities:

1. Apathy (AKA complacency, indifference, disinterest)

Are we a peculiar people, or, well, kinda sorta peculiar in a non-offensive way?

Just WHAT do we stand for?

In 2000, Pres. Hinckley published his book, "Standing for Something". In it, he discussed 10 neglected virtues -- Love, Honesty, Morality, Civility, Learning, Forgiveness, Thrift and Industry, Gratitude, Optimism and Faith.

To be honest, I wonder about how we saints (not all, but many, of us) are doing in these various virtues.

In the last decade or so, I've seen good, God-fearing people develop exceptions to these virtues. Many hesitate to, or no longer, take a stand on morality because our opinions may hurt others' feelings. Learning has taken a back seat to sports, video games, streaming tv/movies and playing on our gas-powered toys. Many go to sleep without thanking God for all the wonderful blessings of the day. Most have yet to develop (let alone understand) faith like the Brother of Jared. And many discussions in online groups, Facebook and text messages are unbecoming of Christ's followers.

I rarely see people jump whole hog into discounting these virtues. Instead, they start with small exceptions which grow bigger with each successive justification. It seems as though the phrase, "First you fight it. Then you tolerate it. Then you accept it. Then you embrace it" is definitely applicable.

I don't see this passivity, this apathy, in everybody. But it's inherent in enough people that it's obvious that Satan pacifies and lulls away unwary Saints into a state of apathy, which allows him to lead them "carefully down to hell" (2 Nephi 28:21).

Just look around you. Many are generally satisfied and pacified with today's pre-Zion status. There is little genuine zeal for the true Zion, which many look upon as little more than an abstract concept, with little relevance for our time.

It's been my observation that a general spiritual apathy prevails amid passive, stagnant activity in which people attend church regularly, but don't become committed to an in-depth knowledge of the gospel, or the principle of learning by faith and revelation. Instead, most rely almost totally on the tedious "line upon line" method of digging it all out of books and manuals. Most just continually ruminate and re-digest the first principles of the gospel without ever growing into the more mature principles essential to being born again, receiving the baptism of fire, the more sure word of prophecy, etc. This pervasive state never results in excommunication, but it most certainly prevents true, meaningful spiritual growth and (likely, in my opinion) one's membership in the Church of the Firstborn.

Want proof? How many members have an in-depth knowledge of the Church of the Firstborn?
"For how knoweth a man the master whom he has not served, and who is a stranger unto him, and is far from the thoughts and intents of his heart?" (Mosiah 5:13)
Want more proof? How many have -- or are -- studying Isaiah diligently (see 3 Nephi 23:1-2), which the Savior commanded the Nephites (and therefore, us) to do?

(It continually boggles my mind how some can be truly, sincerely dedicated to receiving further light and knowledge when they haven't even received what's already been given them, and thus, are unaware how severely they are doctrinally stumbling).

The Savior understood this situation well when He said,
"Therefore speak I to them in parables: because they seeing see not; and hearing they hear not, neither do they understand.  And in them is fulfilled the prophecy of Esaias, which saith, By hearing ye shall hear, and shall not understand; and seeing ye shall see, and shall not perceive: For this people's heart is waxed gross, and their ears are dull of hearing, and their eyes they have closed; lest at any time they should see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and should understand with their heart, and should be converted, and I should heal them.  But blessed are your eyes, for they see: and your ears, for they hear." (JST Matthew 13:13-18)
The consequence of this apathy?
"I know thy works, that thou art neither cold nor hot: I would thou wert cold or hot. So then because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spue thee out of my mouth." (Revelation 3:15-16)
Now, granted, I have no idea what it means to be spued out of the Lord's mouth. But I think I can say without too much argumentation that it isn't good. Surely,
"The peril of this century is spiritual apathy." (Elder David O. McKay, Conference Report, Oct. 1907, p. 62)
"The most dangerous threat of all comes from the disinterested-that great group of otherwise intelligent people who shrug off any responsibility for public affairs" (The Teachings of Ezra Taft Benson, p. 628).

2. Ignorance

These days, it seems as if many -- if not most -- Latter-day Saints are:
  • Ignorant of the principles of meditation, which Pres. David O. McKay said is a key to entering the presence of God.
  • Ignorant of the principles of (and Lectures on) Faith, and what it takes to develop "Superfaith" which rends the veil between man and God.
  • Ignorant of the Book of Isaiah's importance, especially in light of headlines which even today are on the front page of newspapers and internet news sites.
  • Ignorant of spiritual gifts -- not only how to develop them, but also to realize what their current and potential gifts are.
  • Ignorant of what we Gentiles idolize and prioritize above God.
  • Ignorant of what God's really like -- His personality, His character traits. What makes Him laugh, what makes Him cry, what makes Him angry...even what it's like to carry on a conversation with Him.
  • Ignorant of how much Heavenly Father, Mother and Jesus wish to be part of their every day lives.
What's especially frustrating: I often hear of people who have lightly read something. But because they don't understand it, don't relate to it or the information isn't written by a church authority, they place it on the shelf of mysticism, apostasy, heresy, the devil, a previous dispensation or a future age. Instead of diligently studying, investigating and pondering a concept -- making an informed decision -- they give in to their pride (that their perspective is, of course, 100% correct) or fears (of what they don't understand), summarily stamp it as evil, throw it in the trash and tell others to do so, too.
"One of the grand fundamental principles of ‘Mormonism’ is to receive truth, let it come from whence it may.” (Joseph Smith, quoted in History of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 2nded. (Salt Lake City: Deseret News Press, 1949), 5:499.).
Make no mistake: untruths do grow alongside truths (see "False Prophecy 101"). And you are duty bound to ascertain the truth of the things you read. But how often do you pray for discernment prior to reading things? How well do you understand the dynamics and nuances of discernment? What experiences has the Lord sent you through to better understand discernment? Is there a chance, a possibility, that you may have inadvertently trashed something that will eventually be found as true?
"And every man whose spirit receiveth not the light is under condemnation." (D&C 93:31-32)
"Therefore my people are gone into captivity, because they have no knowledge: and their honourable men are famished, and their multitude dried up with thirst" (Isaiah 5:13).
"My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge: because thou hast rejected knowledge, I will also reject thee, that thou shalt be no priest to me: seeing thou hast forgotten the law of thy God, I will also forget thy children." (Hosea 4:6)
What must we do to not be counted among the ignorant? I can't and won't give you specifics, because that's someone else's job:
"Revelation, light, and knowledge come through the power of the Holy Ghost. The words of the Master as recorded in John are expressive. 'But the Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you' (John 14:26). And again, '… he [the Holy Ghost] will guide you into all truth … and [shall show] you things to come' (John 16:13). In fact, we can neither teach nor learn gospel truths without the Holy Ghost." (Elder Hartman Rector, Jr., "Ignorance Is Expensive", April, 1971 General Conference)

3. Distraction

1 Kings 19:12 says that when God spoke to Elijah, it wasn’t in an earthquake, wind or or fire; it was in a gentle whisper.

Moral of the story: If you want to hear God, be quiet.

Contrast that with the average daily American routine: We wake up, stressfully rush to and from school or work, rush our chores, rush dinner, watch TV/surf the internet/play video games, then rush to bed so fast and late, that we're often too tired for prayers. And Sundays? We (again, stressfully) rush to church, then rush to Sunday School, then rush to Priesthood/Relief Society, then rush home.

And all the while, your mind is often crowded with thoughts, worries, fears and plans. You may always have the radio or TV on, or the phone constantly against your ear or in your hands.

With all this, how can God possibly get through to us?

This may be why Elder Richard G. Scott observed, "Satan has a powerful tool to use against good people. It is distraction." ("First Things First," Ensign, May 2001, p. 7).
"Satan tempts us with alluring distractions, attitudes, and circumstances, which appear on the surface to be harmless; but as one partakes of them, the spirit slowly suffers, creating a weakened condition which can produce eventual alienation from God. Jesus told his disciples in ancient America to 'watch and pray always lest ye enter into temptation; for Satan desireth to have you, that he may sift you as wheat' (3 Nephi 18:18)."  (Monte S. Nyman and Charles D. Tate, Jr., eds., "Second Nephi: The Doctrinal Structure," p. 302).
The key, of course, is to take some time out of your day, every day, and meditate. Most people think meditation is thinking about something, like the scriptures. Ummm, that'd be wrong. That's pondering. When you meditate, you empty your proverbial cup, and let the Lord pour His spirit into you.
"In this fast-paced life, do we ever pause for moments of meditation – even thoughts of timeless truths?" (Pres. Thomas S. Monson, "The Race of Life," April 2012 General Conference)
“I think we pay too little attention to the value of meditation, a principle of devotion.
In our worship there are two elements: one is spiritual communion rising from our own meditation; the other instruction from others, particularly from those who have authority to guide and instruct us. Of the two, the more profitable introspectively is meditation.
Meditation is one of the most secret, most sacred doors through which we pass into the presence of the Lord" (Pres. David O. McKay, “Consciousness of God: Supreme Goal of Life,” Improvement Era, June 1967, pp. 80–82).
"I will meditate in thy precepts, and have respect unto thy ways." (Psalm 119:15)

The Good News

When you place these three characteristics (Apathy, Ignorance and Distraction) side-by-side, you get an acronym: A I D.

I know discussing A I D is a downer. I get that. In fact, I personally relate with all of them. I, too, am frequently silent when I should be a passionate champion for these virtures. I am ignorant of so many important things. My time is too easily eroded by distractions which profit me little.

There is so much about the Savior I do not know. But I do know this: He is excited, overanxious, enthusiastic to forgive you of your sins. Are you apathetic? Ignorant? Distracted? He will literally and figuratively move heaven and earth so that those characteristics can be minimized and eventually eliminated.

Even then, with all that apathy, ignorance and distraction you have packed away within you, to any degree, Jesus Christ is still -- still! -- holding His hand out, pleading with you to invite Him into your life.

All you need to do is believe...and watch Him work magic in your life.

The Second Comforter: "Want To Take a Ride?"

Personally, I don't think anyone can be 100% non-apathetic, 100% non-ignorant and 100% undistracted.

Yet there are some who are passionate about seeking God and repenting often in order to stay close to Him. They "get" what a friend describes as "the stairway to becoming like Christ":
"And beside this, giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue; and to virtue knowledge;
And to knowledge temperance; and to temperance patience; and to patience godliness;
And to godliness brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness charity." (2 Peter 1:5-7)
Because they are on this path, they've been inspired to seek for, search for, yearn for, one of the greatest blessings one can have in this life: A personal audience with the Savior Himself. Although such a blessing is not unattainable, they experience frustration, discouragement, disappointment and even doubt when months and years of effort bear little or no fruit.


I'm sure every person's situation is different. Maybe they're not quite ready to pay the price that needs to be paid for such a blessing. Maybe they have some aspect of 2 Peter 1:5-7 or D&C 93:1 that needs to be addressed. Maybe they're still stuck within layers and layers of doctrinal boxes.

Personally, I think a huge reason why they haven't had their Second Comforter yet is because they still struggle with the fourth and last letter in the A I D acronym -- "S".

Now, I won't tell you what "S" is yet; I'll do that in my next blog post. But I can say that overcoming S takes considerable effort, but with the Savior's help, it's much easier. By casting aside S, you break free of the spiritual tricycle many (if not most) are accustomed to, and engage hyperdrive right smack dab into a collaborative, engaged, lively and definitely exciting partnership with the Master himself.

If you're one of those seeking the Second Comforter, or just want to hear His voice, and wondering why the heck the heavens are brass when you feel you're doing everything possible in going for the gold, there may be some light in the darkness.

In the immortal words of one of my favorite fictional characters, "Contact" (the movie's) S.R. Hadden, "Want to take a ride?"

Go find your hyperdrive seatbelt.

Stay tuned for Part 2.