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My Friend – Jesus the Christ

This is the text of a talk I will deliver at the Highland Care Center tomorrow, September 21, 2014:

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Brethren and Sisters, I love you.

Today, I want to introduce you to my friend.  I asked him to join us today.  He promised to be here. Perhaps you can see him, perhaps not, but I assure you he is here with us today because He always keeps His promises.  His name is Jesus.  He loves you, too.  He wanted me to be sure and tell you that.annunciation-to-shepherds-949488-gallery

To many, my friend is known as the Christ, the savior of the world.  While he is those things, to me he is even more than that.   He is my confidante, my teacher, my example.

How do I know He is my friend?  Well, He told me – just last week.  You see, sometimes when I pray, I find myself talking to Him.  I’ve learned to cherish those times, because the things He tells me are always so comforting.  It’s like he truly wants me to know how much He loves me and how wonderful He thinks I am.  It’s like He wants me to know Him.

Yes, just last week He told me that I was His friend.  But I think I knew it even before He told me.  I knew it because:

  • Although I kind of knew Him when I was young, I went away for many years. I was being very selfish.  Perhaps I was looking for new friends.  I found some, but none like Him.  Nevertheless, when I realized again how much I needed Him, he was there.  He didn’t really even ask any questions.  He just said, “It’s so nice to see you again.  I missed you!”
  • He has always kept every one of his promises. He likes making promises – and they’re always 2-way promises.  I do my part, and He does His.  It never fails.  He’s so reliable that way.  Keeping promises together always make the bond – the bond between friends – stronger.  He’s really smart that way.
  • He’s very quick to tell me He loves me. He does that in many ways – through the scriptures, through blessings that are showered upon me, sometimes even by talking to me.  He never hesitates to take an opportunity, any time I will listen, to tell me how much He loves me.
  • Every time I go to the temple, He goes with me.
  • He’s always helping me learn how to be a better person – to become more like Him, and He’s so gentle. He never shouts – His voice is always quiet and piercing – and somehow he always knows how it is that I learn best.

Yes, Jesus – the Christ – the Creator and Savior of the world, is my friend.  How amazing is that?!!!

I mentioned the promises He makes.  There are many of them.  There are promises that apply to all of us – because, of course, He is your friend, too.  These particular promises are given in the scriptures, and we need only to read and study them to understand all that He offers us, and what we need to do to receive the blessings that He wants to give.

There are also promises that He makes to us as individuals.  These promises are usually made during those quiet moments when we are on our knees in prayer – when we pray, metaphorically, in our closets.  These promises are just as sure and real as the ones in the scriptures.  Of all of these promises, the one I look forward to the most is one of the scriptural promises He has made to all of us.  This one also qualifies as one of those personal promises, because He has told me personally that it is my promise.

This promise is given in the scriptures, in D&C section 93, verse 1.  In this verse, the Lord tells us:

Verily, thus saith the Lord: It shall come to pass that every soul who forsaketh his sins and cometh unto me, and calleth on my name, and obeyeth my voice, and keepeth my commandments, shall see my face and know that I am;

What a glorious promise this is!  I so look forward to the day when I am able to see His face.  I already know that He is, but I want to feel the fullness of His love.  I want to receive a huge hug.  I want to look upon His face and see the love in His eyes.  I want to hear Him say, “Well done, thou good and faithful servant”.

Jesus is my friend.  He is your friend, too.  He always keeps his promises – all of them.  This promise is no different.  For some, this may not happen until we pass to the other side.  For others, perhaps even for some in this room, it will be fulfilled, or has already been fulfilled, before we pass.  Either way, the promise is sure.  The temple testifies of it.  The scriptures testify of it.  Hopefully, our lives testify of it.  It is my prayer that we will, each and every one of us, experience that moment when we stand before the Savior, look into His eyes, receive a huge hug, and hear Him say the words, “Well done, thou good and faithful servant”.

I testify that these things are true, and I do so in the name of my Lord, my Savior…my friend, Jesus Christ.  Amen.

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Same Sex Marriage – Perspectives

s-COLORADO-GAY-WEDDING-CAKE-smallKnow ye not, my son, that these things are an abomination in the sight of the Lord; yea, most abominable above all sins save it be the shedding of innocent blood or denying the Holy Ghost?  Alma 39:5

Even the most casual student of the Book of Mormon is familiar with the story of Alma’s son, Corianton, who “didst forsake the ministry” among the Zoramites and did go “after the harlot Isabel”.  This story also serves as a reminder of how sexual desires can so easily overpower even the most righteous.  Sex is one of the most powerful physical and emotional forces that define the human experience.  Very few have escaped its influences completely unscathed. Kept within the bounds the Lord has set, these God-given desires bond a man and a woman, physically, emotionally and spiritually into a family unit that is ideal for the raising up of God’s spirit children in an environment where they will be most likely to experience the fullness of eternal joy for which they were created. Unharnessed, however, these desires and cravings lead daily to everything from lustful thoughts to pre-marital sex, accidental children, pornography, adultery, rape, child abuse, abortion, STD’s, and other forms of violence and social tragedy.  I have become convinced that sexual sin is poison to the soul – a destructive force that leaves a trail of broken lives in its wake.  This is not news, but it is necessary to establish a baseline for the rest of my thoughts.

In this post, I wish to discuss the topic of same sex marriage from an LDS perspective. I know it’s been done before, but I believe that I can offer a body of thought on the topic that will increase our understanding of why it is such a difficult topic for people – even in the relatively homogenous Latter-day Saint community – to agree on.  I would like to begin by listing two things that I will not discuss:

  • Whether homosexuality is a choice or an accident of birth
  • Prejudices concerning the overall morality of the gay community as a whole

In the first case, I am not really qualified to offer an opinion and, to the person who is gay, it doesn’t matter.  Whether it is a choice or not doesn’t change their situation.  It is what it is.  Discussion of the second item would be totally based on anecdotal evidence, and although I have had the opportunity to make some direct observations, I do not feel that it qualifies me to authoritatively discuss the topic.  Besides, it is decidedly prejudicial, judgmental and unfair to saddle any individual with a stereotype that has been ascribed to a minority of millions by the majority of billions who obviously know very little about what it is truly like to be gay in the first place.  That said, I believe there are a number of aspects of this topic that I can discuss, if not authoritatively, at least thoughtfully.

Definition of Marriage

It’s been a couple of years since I posted a blog entitled “Perspectives on Marriage”.  In that post, I made the point that marriage, in my opinion, has been undergoing a gradual redefinition for more than a hundred years.  Prior to that, marriage was more of a religious, procreative, and economic arrangement.  At its glorious best, it represented a 3-way covenant relationship between a man, a woman and God.  From a more worldly perspective, it was at least a proven arrangement that facilitated the survival of the species by having children.  It provided the best structure for raising children to adulthood, in the process forming a social and economic cornerstone for survival and growth of the species.  Marriages, no matter how unfulfilling or even miserable, were typically for life, simply because the man was dominant and the woman could scarcely leave, especially once there were children in the picture.  Of course, there were exceptions, but, for better or worse, that was the overwhelming trend.

Beginning in the 20th century, though, marriages began to be granted unique privileges, or rights, that were denied to unmarried people.  Details are provided in the blog post above, but in general they include tax breaks, inheritance rights, health insurance discounts, hospital visitation rights, living will authority, etc.  The government began to license marriage.  It became a legal and civil institution rather than a religious one.  Divorce laws were developed and varied from state to state, although they have largely become generic over the last few decades.  This is why it has become so difficult to deny same-sex couples the same civil rights that are granted to participants in traditional marriage.  It’s not so much the right to marriage, it’s the right to all the privileges that come with being married which arguably cannot be legally, or even morally, denied.  Society and government “subsidized” marriage for many years  with these “rights” in an attempt to encourage couples to form and maintain family units.  There may well have been good justification for the direction marriage took during that time, but in this day of 50+% divorce rates, single parent house-holds, children born to un-wed mothers and, yes, abortion…this social and legal subsidization has lost its focus as well as the power to really make a difference.  What was, ironically, once marriage’s best friend, has now become its greatest threat.  Over the past decade, the justification for withholding these civil “rights” from certain groups in society has been rapidly eroding, and as we well know court after court has decided that such civil issues override any traditional, religious or cultural definition of whatever arrangement it is that carries with it those rights.  In short, “marriage” has been redefined to be nothing more than a social contract, and thus can scarcely be denied to any two individuals who desire to enter into such a contract.

The Law of Chastity

As mentioned above, one of the Lord’s most significant commandments, according to LDS doctrine, is the Law of Chastity, which all faithful saints, endowed or not, are commanded to obey.  Simply put, it is that any sexual relations outside of the bonds of marriage are forbidden.  In addition, the Proclamation on the Family states:

THE FIRST COMMANDMENT that God gave to Adam and Eve pertained to their potential for parenthood as husband and wife. We declare that God’s commandment for His children to multiply and replenish the earth remains in force. We further declare that God has commanded that the sacred powers of procreation are to be employed only between man and woman, lawfully wedded as husband and wife.

This proclamation, which I personally consider as scripture for my life, makes it quite clear that marriage is defined as “between man and woman…husband and wife”.  (It is interesting that it does not say “…A man and woman” – I had never noticed that before).  Whether or not you consider this proclamation to be scripture for your own personal life, there is no room for interpretation that it includes same sex marriage or any form of marriage that does not involve man and woman.  There is also no room for interpretation, when combined with the Law of Chastity, that it leaves any room for heterosexual relations outside the bonds of marriage.  The commandments are quite clear.

Chastity outside of marriage, and complete fidelity within marriage, are essential to maintaining the marriage bond and thus the family unit.  When a husband and wife commit themselves to each other physically, emotionally and spiritually, and when they engage no other outlet for this powerful physical desire – even need – for sexual fulfillment, the bond that is formed is very powerful.  When these boundaries are broken, through any form of stimulation or fulfillment that does not involve one’s spouse and only one’s spouse, the bond is compromised and the marriage, and thus the family, are threatened.  God’s precious children suffer.  We see it every day – most likely even in our own families.

I firmly declare, and I can quote no authority other than the fact that I have lived many years on this earth, that I have been on both sides of this battle, and that I have the gift of the Holy Ghost to testify to me of truth, that the disregard for the Law of Chastity that has been steadily increasing over the past 50 years is one of the primary causes of the degradation of society that we all are witnessing today.  This disregard is much more manifest, just through sheer numbers, in the heterosexual community than it is in the homosexual community (are they really different communities?), but both are an abomination before the Lord, and will only lead to more of the symptoms I described in the first paragraph above.

“And the second is like unto it”

Then one of them, which was a lawyer, asked him a question,tempting him, and saying,

Master, which is the great commandment in the law?

Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind.

This is the first and great commandment.

And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.

On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets. (Matthew 22:35-40)

And now the counterpoint to any discussion about same sex marriage – the need for love and compassion.  This cannot be denied.  The Lord is clear.  One can argue that “Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself” suggests that one could perhaps condemn and judge behavior in another just as one would condemn it is oneself.  In other words, if I am willing to condemn extra-marital sexual activity in myself, I have the right to condemn it in others.  I don’t think so.  People regularly invoke the conveniently modified edict “Thou shalt not judge”, which is actually said nowhere in the scriptures, but reads more like:

Judge not, and ye shall not be judged: condemn not, and ye shall not be condemned: forgive, and ye shall be forgiven (Luke 6:37)

Or:

Ye shall do no unrighteousness in judgment: thou shalt not respect the person of the poor, nor honour the person of the mighty: but in righteousness shalt thou judge thy neighbour. (Leviticus 19:15).

However, I don’t believe this gives us the right as individuals to condemn others for their actions.  We do not know their challenges…do not live in their body…in short, we have not walked in their shoes. Only Christ’s judgment is perfect – only He has the knowledge, the understanding, and the compassion to judge perfectly, and for us to impose our imperfect judgment on others is not loving them.

Consider with me what it must be like for a child who is raised up in today’s world, seeing all around them examples of the promise of marriage and family with the accompanying emotional and sexual love.  They are told by their parents that, when they grow up, they can be just like them.  Media, relatives, churches; the vast majority of society’s influences all reinforce this promised dream.  Then, at some point, probably during puberty, things go horribly wrong.  The attraction they’re supposed to feel for the opposite sex doesn’t develop as it does with their friends.  Worse, they find themselves physically attracted to those very friends.  Can you imagine the confusion?  Just as these promised dreams should be materializing and coming true, the rug is pulled out from under them.  They are banished into the fringe of society, with no acceptable outlet for these powerful sexual urges and unfulfilled emotional desires that typically spin out of control even for heterosexual teens. The tension that is set up here is pretty obvious.  Throw in the fact that, for most heterosexuals, there is a deep, psychological, perhaps even physical, revulsion for same-sex activities.  It’s just as hard-wired into our make-up as same-sex attraction is for the gay person.  Imagine being told that, in order to be part of society you must either overcome those visceral feelings or abstain from sex altogether. Imagine being told, as a heterosexual, that you had to engage in homosexual relations.  How can one not have compassion – true compassion – for such unfortunates?

There is no Easy Solution

The forces mentioned above, all of them very real, are in insidious opposition to each other.  Marriage today simply is what it has evolved into.  The civil rights, once given, will never be taken away.  Society and Government are not going to do that without huge social upheaval which would result in casualties far beyond so-called marriage benefits.  The Law of Chasity, among the LDS faithful, is not something on which we can or should compromise.  The welfare of society, not to mention the building of God’s Kingdom on the earth, demands its strict observance.  Yet, there are millions of people who find themselves, for whatever reasons, trapped in the interplay between these two forces.  The commandment to “love thy neighbor as thyself” encourages us to tolerate, if not condone the actions of others even though we know them to be wrong.  It’s like a perfect storm designed to wreak havoc on our society – on the Kingdom of God.  As a matter of fact – it probably is exactly that – insidiously designed by the enemy of the Kingdom of God.

Government will almost certainly, in the next few years, alleviate the civil rights aspect of this dilemma.  Although I remain convinced personally that same-sex marriage, as a symptom of the larger disease of sexual immorality overall, will further the destruction of society that has already been aggressively advanced by the widespread disregard for the Law of Chastity, I do not see any other moral or legal route for the state and federal government to take. Unfortunately, this course will result in even greater erosion of the family, making more and more people dependent on the government, which, of course, transfers power, both political and economic, right into their hands.  In other words, the whole thing is very much in the interest of the government.

The Law of Chastity itself can never be compromised – it is of the Lord.  The fact that all those who participate in extra-marital sexual relations will ultimately be judged by the Lord for their choices is indisputable.  There is nothing any of us can do about that.  However, that judgment will also be “of the Lord”, and it is not our place to circumvent His perfect, fair, compassionate justice by replacing it with our own.

Perhaps the greatest tragedy in all of this would be for us to disobey the second great commandment which is “like unto” the first and forget our responsibility to love our neighbor as ourselves.  The sin is then on our head.  We suffer, they suffer, everybody suffers.  The world, which is already descending into a pit of immorality that includes pornography, promiscuity, rape, and abortion, would be made even darker by the removal of what precious little light is left.  Let us not hasten its decline by adding our own hatred to the veil of darkness that threatens to engulf us.  This, our ability to love, is the only thing that is truly variable in this drama. We must each resolve to love our fellow man as we love ourselves.  This is really the only “weapon” we have to battle the evil one, and make no mistake – this IS his assault.

The Future – a prediction

What I am about to say is a personal prediction, most definitely not in any form a prophecy.  It is not particularly inspired of the Holy Ghost, although that doesn’t mean it is not true.

In Europe, the church no longer performs weddings – that is reserved for the state.  The church only performs sealings.  I predict that, once gay marriage is legalized, the church will stop performing marriages, and only sealings will be performed in the temple.

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Lessons From the Jail #6 – Faith – The Cycle of Becoming

Faithimage3For the past 6 years, interrupted by an 18 month mission abroad, I have been involved in the LDS ministry at my local county jail.  This has been a unique and rewarding experience for me personally, and I have probably learned more than any of the students – hence the title of this series: “Lessons from the Jail”.   (Read lesson 5 here) I hope and pray that you, readers, will find in them a perspective and an honesty that will brighten your own understanding of the miracle of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. 

Lessons From the Jail #6 – Faith- The Cycle of Becoming

For the past few months, every time I start a lesson, I write on the white board the word “Dogma”.  I then draw a circle with a line through it.  I then define “dogma” as something that you are told to believe simply because someone else said it was true.  A perusal of the dictionary.com definition confirms that this is a valid summary of the various definitions. I then say something like the following:

“It does no good for you to believe something because I or anyone else says it is true.  I encourage you to listen to others, but you can only put it in your tool chest if you properly think about it, and make it your own truth.  It is intellectually and spiritually lazy to do anything else.  So – in my classes – we have 2 rules: 1) No Dogma, which means you must think for yourselves and 2) only one profanity allowed per class.”

I know from my own life experience that there are a few giant words that we use frequently, which we “throw around” as if we understand them, but which we really don’t understand as well as we think we do. Such words include “Judgment, God, Heaven, Hell, Repentance, etc.”   I think it helps remove some of the “mystery” from religion, and thus lend greater reality and clarity to our relationship with God, if we better understand these giant words.  The giant word to be discussed in this lesson is “faith”.

I have delivered this lesson several times now, and, after delivering the above prelude, it typically goes something like this:

…So, I want to talk about the giant word “Faith”.  Few of us really understand what it means, although many will say, “It means to believe” and they are happy with that.  Faith, however, is much more than belief. It is common to believe something without having faith; people do it every day.  We often speak of believing in Christ, but there are many, including satan himself, who believe in Christ, but who do not exercise faith in Him.  Probably the first thing I want to share with you about faith is that I can tell by your actions what you have faith in.  If you are quiet, you have developed faith that being quiet typically keeps you out of trouble. If you are loud and brash, you have developed faith that your brashness keeps people at bay and prevents them from getting close.  Am I right?  Don’t you know people like that?  I sure do.  If you are violent or quick tempered, it is because you have developed faith that this protects you from being hurt by others.  If you take drugs, you have developed faith that the drugs bring you comfort and protect you, no matter how temporary and ultimately costly that comfort and protection might be.  These are just some examples.  I’m sure your minds are racing with other examples from your own experience.

So, what is faith?  The scriptures provide some pretty specific definitions, don’t they?  Paul, in Hebrews 11:1, says:

 “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen”. 

Moroni, likewise, says in Ether 12:6:

And now, I, Moroni, would speak somewhat concerning these things; I would show unto the world that faith is things which are hoped for and not seen; wherefore, dispute not because ye see not, for ye receive no witness until after the trial of your faith.

The Bible Dictionary describes faith in the following terms:

Faith is a principle of action and of power, and by it one can command the elements, heal the sick, and influence any number of circumstances when occasion warrants (Jacob 4:4–7). Even more important, by faith one obtains a remission of sins and eventually can stand in the presence of God.

I don’t know about you, but that all still sounds pretty cryptic to me.  … “substance of things hoped for”?  What is that?  One thing that is clear to me, though.  There is no power in believing.  Only faith can be converted into power.

So, if you’re still a little confused, like I was, let me offer an original definition which makes sense to me:

“Faith is believing that something is true, even though you cannot prove it empirically or to the satisfaction of others, and believing it to the point that you are willing to take action as if it were true”.

Notice how, in order for belief to become faith, we have to act on it.  Let’s turn now to Alma, Chapter 32.  How many of you are familiar with this chapter?  (3-4 hands go up).  Great!  Will someone begin reading then with verse 27:

But behold, if ye will awake and arouse your faculties, even to an experiment upon my words, and exercise a particle of faith, yea, even if ye can no more than desire to believe, let this desire work in you, even until ye believe in a manner that ye can give place for a portion of my words.

Notice the emphasis on the word “desire”.  You must first have a desire to believe.  Now, on to verse 28:faithimage1

Now, we will compare the word unto a seed. Now, if ye give place, that a seed may be planted in your heart, behold, if it be a true seed, or a good seed, if ye do not cast it out by your unbelief, that ye will resist the Spirit of the Lord, behold, it will begin to swell within your breasts; and when you feel these swelling motions, ye will begin to say within yourselves—It must needs be that this is a good seed, or that the word is good, for it beginneth to enlarge my soul; yea, it beginneth to enlighten my understanding, yea, it beginneth to be delicious to me.

Alma here, and in the next 6 verses, tells us that the seed must be a good seed.  In other words, our desire must be a righteous desire, and we have to recognize it as such so that we do not reject it.  We must be humble, we must be willing to listen, and we must be willing to accept new possibilities. As a side note: it is very difficult to do all this in fear. We must have courage, and we must trust.  In this example, we have taken the action to at least not reject this belief.  We have taken the action to plant the seed.

Now, Alma switches gears on us.  He starts talking in verses 35-37 about what comes next:

O then, is not this real? I say unto you, Yea, because it is light; and whatsoever is light, is good, because it is discernible, therefore ye must know that it is good; and now behold, after ye have tasted this light is your knowledge perfect?

Behold I say unto you, Nay; neither must ye lay aside your faith, for ye have only exercised your faith to plant the seed that ye might try the experiment to know if the seed was good.

And behold, as the tree beginneth to grow, ye will say: Let us nourish it with great care, that it may get root, that it may grow up, and bring forth fruit unto us. And now behold, if ye nourish it with much care it will get root, and grow up, and bring forth fruit

Clearly, more action is required of us, isn’t it?  Alma is telling us that we must nourish this seed. We need to get excited! If we do not, it may yet die out, even though we know it is a good seed (verse 34).

Have any of you ever tried to grow an avocado in a glass of water?  (3 or 4 hands go up again – not necessarily the same ones as before).  Well, I remember – oh, probably about the 3rd grade – my teacher told me to get my mother to take me to the store and buy one of those nice, big California avocadoes.  Then, with my mother’s help of course (3rd graders do not play with knives, right?), I was to cut it open, remove the seed, stick 4 toothpicks into it, and place it over a glass of water.  So – what have we done here?

  • We had a righteous desire to please our teacher
  • We believed our teacher enough to ask Mom to take us to the store, etc. (Mom, of course, was thrilled, having performed the same experiment when she was in the 3rd grade and because…well, moms are like that).
  • We took action to plant the seed (well, we sort of planted it)
  • Then, if you were like me, you checked it every day! You got excited! Every morning before school, and every afternoon when you got home – maybe even at night before bed – you would check to see if it had sprouted.  At first, you might have been disappointed, but you didn’t give up.  You had hope and you had faith.  Then, one day – after what seemed like an eternity – there was a little cream-colored sprout on the top of the seed.  It had sprouted!!!!  Now your faith had been converted into knowledge.  You believed, you took action and you gained knowledge that the seed was good (the avocado was even delicious – if you like avocadoes.) because it grew – it swelled.  Likewise, lest we forget the teacher, you learned to trust her (or him), because now you know she told the truth.  Do you see where this is taking us?  Who does the teacher represent?  Right – she represents the Savior.

There’s one more factor in this process we’re describing though.  The action needs to be a correct action.  If we put the seed in upside down, it wouldn’t grow.  If we let the water evaporate away, it won’t grow.  Plus, what if we get really excited and decide we’re going to plant the tree in the back yard?  What if your knowledge simply fueled the desire for greater knowledge?  Well, if you live in Utah, the seed might grow for a few months, but it won’t survive the winter.  Does that mean the seed wasn’t good?  No, it just means you took it too far – you took incorrect action.  You might need to try the experiment again, only next time plant it in a greenhouse (a very tall one) with heaters during the winter.  Was your knowledge false? Should you abandon your faith?  No – you just need to adjust your actions.

So, our picture of how faith works is almost complete. We have:

  • Righteous desire (unrighteous desires will only yield unrighteous results)Faithimage2
  • Belief that our desire can come true
  • We apply action
  • Appropriate action applied to belief becomes faith
  • Faith fulfilled becomes knowledge
  • Knowledge fuels desire for more knowledge

You might call this the “Cycle of Faith”.  I prefer to call it the “Cycle of Becoming”.  It is through this cycle that we seek to become more and more righteous; that we learn to discern between righteous and no-so-righteous desires; that we act on our desires; that we learn to fail and to succeed.  It is through this cycle that we become the sum of our choices. 

There is a relatively famous, and to me at least, mystifying story told in Matthew, Chapter 17:14-21:

And when they were come to the multitude, there came to him a certain man, kneeling down to him, and saying,

 Lord, have mercy on my son: for he is lunatic, and sore vexed: for ofttimes he falleth into the fire, and oft into the water.

And I brought him to thy disciples, and they could not cure him.

Then Jesus answered and said, O faithless and perverse generation, how long shall I be with you? how long shall I suffer you? bring him hither to me.

And Jesus rebuked the devil; and he departed out of him: and the child was cured from that very hour.

Then came the disciples to Jesus apart, and said, Why could not we cast him out?

And Jesus said unto them, Because of your unbelief: for verily I say unto you, If ye have faith as a grain of mustard seed, ye shall say unto this mountain, Remove hence to yonder place; and it shall remove; and nothing shall be impossible unto you.

Howbeit this kind goeth not out but by prayer and fasting.

I’ve often pondered how one can have faith no greater than a mustard seed – the tiniest of seeds (Mark 4:31) and still move mountains.  I’m sure most of you who recall this scripture have wondered the same thing.  Well, I believe this concept of the cycle of becoming explains it.  Christ is not saying that if you have a tiny amount of faith, you can move a mountain right now.  He is saying, instead, that if you have the tiniest amount of true faith, it can grow (like the mustard seed) into faith strong enough to move mountains or, if you take appropriate action by prayer and fasting, cast out even the most stubborn of devils.  He is telling us that we can become even as He is.

So, guys, here’s the deal:

  • We all have to have faith. Without faith in something, there is no basis for action.  We are nothing.  Heck, when God created the universe, He first had to believe He could do it, right?  Then He had to try.  He had to turn His belief into faith.
  • What you have faith in very much defines who you are, and ultimately who you will become.
  • Faith is not a great mystery, as you can now see, but it is a great power – a giant word if there ever was one.
  • To have faith in Jesus Christ is to believe in Him, to believe in His teachings – even though you cannot prove anything about Him – and to believe in Him and His teachings to the point that you take action on them as if they were proven truth.
  • The key, as you can see, to turning belief into faith is action.
  • This is why James said in James 2:26, For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also. Belief, then, is faith without action – it is dead faith.

I encourage you from now on to ask yourself regularly, humbly, without fear, what it is that you believe in, and whether or not your actions reflect that belief, that it might be converted into faith and power. 

I testify in great love for each of you that these things are true, and I do so in the name of Jesus Christ.  Amen.

Brethren and Sisters,

I never understood the principle of the mustard see until one of the inmates asked about it while I was teaching this particular lesson.  It was then that this interpretation fell into place for me.  Similarly, it was while teaching an impromptu lesson on judgment (link above) that I came to understand the glory and overriding power of God’s love at a whole new level; that His ultimate judgment will be summed up with the question, “How much can I bless you?”  I am often left to wonder – was the spirit helping me to teach them, or to be taught myself? 

These are good men who have made mistakes – who have sinned against society (and most likely, of course, against God).  Still, they are not that different from you and me.  They desire goodness in their lives.  They want to be good husbands, fathers, son and brothers – they have just forgotten how.  They have been distracted by the events of life, and by the choices they have made.  They need someone to show them the way back.  I try very hard to teach them things that will help them remember the things that will strengthen and enlighten them, and especially to remember the love of Christ.  Why am I saying this? It is because we all need to be reminded, taught, and encouraged. We all need, at one time or another, to remember the love of Christ.  As my term(s) at the jail comes to an end in November, I realize that probably the greatest lesson I have learned is to genuinely love and care for those who have “strayed”.  Some of these people are in jail.  Some are on the streets.  Some sit next to us in Sacrament.  The Lord loves each of us equally and, if we are to become like Him, so must we. 

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The True Church – Part Duex

 Moroni statueThey wear stiff necks and high heads; yea, and because of pride, and wickedness, and abominations, and whoredoms, they have all gone astray save it be a few, who are the humble followers of Christ; nevertheless, they are led, that in many instances they do err because they are taught by the precepts of men. (2 Nephi 28:14)

Wherefore, I would speak unto you that are of the church, that are the peaceable followers of Christ, and that have obtained a sufficient hope by which ye can enter into the rest of the Lord, from this time henceforth until ye shall rest with him in heaven. (Moroni 7:30) 

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)

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. (Mormon 8:36-37)

These scriptures clearly lead the sincere reader to ask themselves if they are among the “few only”, or if they will be included, at the last day, among the “humble followers of Christ”.  There are many in the LDS church today who look around at what is happening in the world and in the church and who conclude that all is not well in Zion. 

I honestly count myself among them. 

The entirety of Mormon Chapter 8 is a dire prophecy indeed – filled with warnings that most in the church interpret as being addressed to those outside the true church:

Yea, it shall come in a day when there shall be churches built up that shall say: Come unto me, and for your money you shall be forgiven of your sins.

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. (Mormon 8:32-33)

There are many, however, who subscribe to the theory that these warnings are directed toward us – toward those who consider themselves faithful members of the LDS church.  These sincere students of the scriptures take these warnings as being directed toward them and their brethren in the church.

I count myself among them. 

Sadly, I have seen many who, as an extension of this sincere personal inquiry, begin questioning the church itself.  They begin questioning the brethren; they begin questioning whether the church is truly led by the Lord; they may even begin to question whether they can honestly sustain the brethren and remain members of the church.

I count myself among them.

Even more sadly, I have seen those who, as a result of this questioning, choose to leave or become so vocal with their criticisms that they are disciplined by the church to the point of excommunication.

I DO NOT count myself among them, and I have no intention of joining them.

My blog over the 20 months has contained many posts that document the result of my own sincere personal inquiry.  It has been a struggle – a struggle to reconcile my own observations, my own limited understanding with what I have been taught is the true order of things.  The documentation of this struggle began with the post “Behold the Spirit of Truth”, which I published in December of 2012.

So, why do I not count myself among those whose sincere personal inquiry has come between them and the Lord’s church?  That is the point of this post.  I offer it in hopes that it will help others who might be experiencing a similar struggle.

First, let me say that, if you are experiencing a similar struggle…good for you!  You may well be one of the sincere and humble followers of Christ seen by Nephi, Mormon, and Moroni in these latter days.  I have no doubt the Lord is pleased that you care enough to ask questions.  He, like you, cherishes your spiritual and intellectual integrity.  Such integrity is essential to us if we are to ever find ourselves in His presence.  However the path to greater light and knowledge is strewn with the bodies of those who were not able to avoid the deadly obstacles that will most certainly present themselves as you proceed.  Second, let me say that the vast majority of these obstacles are activated by the great enemy of all humble followers of Christ – Pride.  Therefore, please…beware of pride.

So, again, why do I not count myself among those who can no longer be at peace with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints?  There are several reasons:

I Love This Church

I do – I love this church.  I love the people in it.  I love my dear friends.  I love the brethren – they are good men who seek, sometimes in vain, to teach us all to become “humble followers of Christ”.  I love the doctrine – it is delicious to me.  I can get the doctrine nowhere else.  I simply cannot abide the feelings of contention that accompanied my inquiries.  As I mentioned in the “Behold the Spirit of Truth” post linked above, I began to feel slimy and contentious.  I did not like it.  It was at odds with who I have become, and I could not feel the spirit.  I recoiled.  I began seeking answers that others were not providing.  Honestly, one of my prayers today is for the Lord to help cleanse me of the “slime” that worked its way into my heart during this early period.  My prayers, obviously, are being answered.

The Lord’s Church

The Lord created this church.  There is no doubt about that.  He created it for a reason – well, for several reasons, actually.  These reasons are largely revealed through the 4-fold mission of the church:

- The church is charged with “perfecting the saints”.  It is not in His plan that we should seek the fullness of the gospel in a vacuum.  Yes, we each are responsible for working out our own salvation, but we are to lift each other, teach each other, even lead each other to become a Zion people.  I do not believe this can be done without the church – the organization – even if it is a temporal organization and can only take us so far.  I initially shared this concept in my post, “The True Church”.

- The church is charged with “spreading the gospel” to the 4 corners of the earth.  No other church on the earth, with the exception of the Jehovah’s witnesses (whom I respect greatly, by the way) proselytizes as we do.  This takes organization and resources (money).  Let us not forget that this is very much a temporal world, and that the charge must spread the gospel to this temporal world.

- The church is charged to “care for the poor and needy”.  It does so by distributing emergency supplies throughout the world with no strings attached.  However, the law of agency dictates that more personal support – that given to individuals or families but not related to a natural disaster – be given in such a way as to lift the individual, and not in such a way that their neediness is perpetuated.  In other words, people are encouraged to do their part.  As a result, the church’s support includes not only the essentials of food, clothing and shelter, but also a “hand up” in the form of training, jobs placement, actual jobs, etc.

- The church is responsible to “redeem the dead”.  The genealogy efforts supported by the church are unparalleled in the world today.  Temples are built the world over (currently 141 of them) to support this effort.  The fulfillment of this mission represents faith in a doctrine that brings hope and light to Christian doctrine where there was always darkness.  In other words, it answers the age-old question of “What happens to someone who lived in deepest, darkest Africa and never heard of Jesus Christ”.

The Church Must Adapt

I mentioned earlier that the church is responsible for fulfilling its mission in a temporal world.  One of the stumbling blocks that people come across is their belief that, if the Lord is the same today, yesterday and forever, so must the church be.   They bemoan the changes in interpretation of doctrine, changes in policy, changes in how ordinances are performed (especially temple ordinances), changes in the interpretation of tithing, etc.  They ridicule the words of past prophets that have apparently been proven wrong.  They question whether the words of past prophets outweigh the words of current prophets, or vice versa.  What they fail to realize, I think, is that the church must adapt to the world around it.  It must do what it must to survive and to thrive.  The church’s history is filled with examples which I will not detail here in order to avoid distracting from the focus of this post. 

However, I do want to say that this adaptation is, in my mind, consistent with the Lord’s plan for mankind.  I have often asked myself, “Why doesn’t He just protect the church?  Why doesn’t He force the world to adapt to the church, instead of the other way around?”  Ironically, if the Lord were to do so, He would basically be eliminating opposition.  Ironically, this would result in eliminating the need for faith.  It would eliminate struggle. Policies, ordinances (outward expressions of a sacred covenant), focus, even brick and mortar may very well need to change to enable the church to better fulfill its mission.

Revelation

Many complain that the church stopped receiving revelation when Joseph died.  I recently stumbled across a scripture that truly opened my eyes.  It is D&C 70:14, which says:

It is well documented that the early Saints did not succeed in building Zion, and that we today are not equal in temporal things.  Therefore, it follows that we should expect that the abundance of manifestations should be withheld.  However, this is our own fault.  We have no one to blame but ourselves.  We should be grateful that we have not simply been rejected as a church, and stop crying about the fact that revelation has ceased.

I don’t accept the fact that revelation has ceased.  I’m not even going to discuss the tired issues of polygamy and the priesthood ban.  What about the Proclamation on the Family, though, or “The Living Christ”?  I perceive these as manifestations – doctrinal statements – comparable to the best that Joseph Smith ever recorded.  They are especially pertinent to our day and the struggles that will surely face the church in the near future.  Many declare the recent change in the missionary age to be revelation.  Others say “No – it’s only policy”.  I believe both are right.  I believe the change in policy was brought about by revelation.  For years, the brethren have exhorted us to beware of debt and to prepare temporally for disasters, either economic or natural.  These types of warnings were pretty much unheard of in the scriptures.  Joseph certainly did not expound on such things that I remember.  Yet, we heard this for years and years before the pulpit finally fell silent a few years ago.  Was this not revelation?  Perhaps it was not doctrinal revelation, but that doesn’t mean the Brethren have not been receiving revelation to enable them to lead this church, and its members, to fulfill its mission.

Members today seem to have this image of revelation always being received in a flash, from a ministering angel in vision, or some other such heavenly manifestation.  I think many think of revelation as an authorized form of magic.  Any who have experienced personal revelation understand that revelation is not an exact science.  It requires years of practice, and must be mixed with a healthy prescription of faith and trust.  It can be manifested in various ways and interpreted according to the individual’s own desires, experiences, fears and prejudices.  Then, IF the revelation is shared with others, it is subject to their own interpretation.   Then, let us not forget that, according to the Lord’s own commandment as detailed in D&C 107 – the first presidency and the quorum of the twelve are required to be unanimous in all decisions of doctrine or policy.  The history of the revelation on the priesthood provides an excellent example of the impact this policy has on the workings of the church and how change or adaptation are brought to pass.  Even Joseph Smith’s revelations were almost exclusively given in response to inquiry.  My personal experience is the same.  I have no reason to doubt that this same pattern exists throughout the church today.  Not every revelation received by me, by the bishop or by the prophet is intended to be shared with the public.  In other words, I don’t understand how the issue of continuing revelation can even be a question, except that we are trying to fit the Lord’s interaction with His prophets into our paradigm of how it should be done.  Did I mention earlier that many of the pitfalls we run into are activated by pride?  Ah, yes – it seems I did.

The Lord Runs His Church

It is easy to say “the Lord runs His church” and leave it at that.  That may work for some, but not so much for me.  Do we ever ask ourselves “How” he runs His church.  “By revelation, of course” is ready answer,  but is that really it?  I believe that the Lord created this world, that He put the mechanics (the laws of the universe) in place, and that He pretty much leaves it alone.  I believe there are occasions when He actively intervenes, but I have no idea what the rules are for such interventions.  Is it possible that the same is true in His church?  Is it possible that He has largely set things in motion with the scriptures, with the organization, and with the policies, and that He largely leaves things in the hands of His stewards as long as they don’t lead HIS church “astray”?  Is it possible, then, that we, in our pride, are a little too quick to “steady the ark” when we seek to fit the “running of His church” into our own paradigm of how it should be done?  I suggest that any who would criticize should ask themselves with great objectivity the question, “What would I do differently if I were the prophet?”

On the Bus

I am on the bus.  I want to be part of the fulfilling the Lord’s plan for the church and for the world.  I want to help build Zion – if not with my hand, then with my heart, my mind, and my talents.  I do not believe I can do that effectively if I am on the fringes, if I alienate myself from His church and its members (remember, it is HIS church). 

The Temple

The temple is the House of the Lord.  The ordinances that are performed therein testify of the Love of God greater than anything I’ve ever experienced.  These ordinances point us toward exaltation, and they do it in a way that is uniquely “of the Lord”.  Furthermore, the feeling that I get when I walk into the temple is undeniable.  The simple fact that the church builds and maintains temples is a testimony to me that, in spite of any perceived imperfections, it IS the Lord’s church, HE is running it, and I am to remain loyal.

There is no Alternative

There is no other church that even approaches teaching correct doctrine as I understand it – the doctrine that, as I mentioned, has become delicious to me.  If I am not a member of this church – what is the alternative?  Would I form my own church – one that teaches things that I think should be taught, in the way I think they should be taught?  Well, that’s been tried, and the names of Ervil Lebaron and Warren Jeffs come to mind.  This church holds the priesthood keys that act as a safeguard against another great apostasy and descent into chaos. 

In Summary

I have thought, pondered, and prayed diligently upon the subject of the Church.  I have seen many things that made me go “Hmmmm”.  I have faced pressure from friends and family pulling me away.  I have navigated the minefield that has caused many to leave the church – either by choice or by excommunication.  I have had to do these things, because I have recognized that great reward comes only with great risk.  Our testimony, if not our own – if not built upon sincere questioning and searching – is useless to us, and is as a house built upon the sand.  There may be many who do not question.  There may be those who do not need to question.  Their lot is not for me to question.  I, like many others I know, when presented with the questions, found that I had to take them head on and seek answers from the Lord.  These are the answers I received.  They were given mercifully and received gratefully in a manner tailored specifically for me.  I hope and pray that, in sharing them, I can help others understand those who might be questioning, or – if you are questioning – that you might be able to benefit from the answers I received.  I hope that, as a result of my sharing, there might be a few more tools in your tool chest, with which you can build your own house – upon the rock.  I hope, above all, that you will find your way into the Lord’s presence, to be bathed in the light of His love forevermore.  I pray for this in the name of Jesus Christ.  Amen.

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Seeking Exaltation – Part 3 – The Second Comforter

This series was prompted by the following statement from a new friend:
“I’ve been endowed, I’ve been married in the temple. What now?……Enduring to the end sounds so…….grim!”
I think far too many of us – good, faithful members of the church – kind of go into a spiritual holding pattern after we’ve been sealed in the Temple. If we’re not careful, we can slip into a pattern of waiting for our exaltation. In doing so, I believe we are shutting ourselves off from the greatest blessings that the gospel offers.

Part 1 dealt with receiving the Holy Ghost.
Part 2 discussed seeking one’s Calling and Election
In part 3, I wish to discuss seeking the second comforter – even the face of the Lord Himself.

Seeking the Second Comforter

In John 14:16-18,21,23 during the Last Supper, after Judas had left, but before the great intercessory prayer, Christ is recorded as saying to His apostles:

And I will pray the Father, and he shall give you another Comforter, that he may abide with you forever;
Even the Spirit of truth; whom the world cannot receive, because it seeth him not, neither knoweth him: but ye know him; for he dwelleth with you, and shall be in you.
I will not leave you comfortless: I will come to you.
He that hath my commandments, and keepeth them, he it is that loveth me: and he that loveth me shall be loved of my Father, and I will love him, and will manifest myself to him.
Jesus answered and said unto him, If a man love me, he will keep my words: and my Father will love him, and we will come unto him, and make our abode with him.

The Prophet Joseph said in reference to these verses:

The other Comforter spoken of is a subject of great interest, and perhaps understood by few of this generation. After a person has faith in Christ, repents of his sins, and is baptized for the remission of his sins and receives the Holy Ghost, (by the laying on of hands), which is the first Comforter, then let him continue to humble himself before God, hungering and thirsting after righteousness, and living by every word of God, and the Lord will soon say unto him, Son, thou shalt be exalted. When the Lord has thoroughly proved him, and finds that the man is determined to serve Him at all hazards, then the man will find his calling and election made sure, then it will be his privilege to receive the other Comforter, which the Lord hath promised the Saints, as is recorded in the testimony of St. John, in the 14th chapter, from the 12th to the 27th verses.
Note the 16, 17, 18, 21, 23 verses: [quoted].
Now what is this other Comforter? It is no more nor less than the Lord Jesus Christ Himself; and this is the sum and substance of the whole matter; that when any man obtains this last Comforter, he will have the personage of Jesus Christ to attend him, or appear unto him from time to time, and even He will manifest the Father unto him, and they will take up their abode with him, and the visions of the heavens will be opened unto him, and the Lord will teach him face to face, and he may have a prefect knowledge of the mysteries of the Kingdom of God; and this is the state and place the ancient Saints arrived at when they had such glorious visions —Isaiah, Ezekiel, John upon the Isle of Patmos, St. Paul in the three heavens, and all the Saints who held communion with the general assembly and Church of the Firstborn. (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, Pgs 149-151)

Bruce R. McConkie, in answer to the question, “Is having one’s calling and election made sure the same as receiving the Second Comforter?” said:

It is the privilege of those who have their calling and election made sure, meaning those who are sealed up unto eternal life, meaning those who are “sealed with that holy Spirit of promise” (Eph 1:13), to receive the Second Comforter. “There are two Comforters spoken of,” says the Prophet in one of his most profound and enlightening discourses. “One of these is the Holy Ghost, the same as given on the day of Pentecost, and that all saints receive after faith, repentance, and baptism. The first Comforter or Holy Ghost has no other effect than pure intelligence. (Bruce R. McConkie , Doctrinal New Testament Commentary)

Elder McConkie further states in the chapter “Seek the Face of the Lord Always” of his book “The Promised Messiah” (pg 584):

It is the privilege of all those who have made their calling and election sure to see God; to talk with him face to face; to commune with him on a personal basis from time to time. These are the ones upon whom the Lord sends the Second Comforter. Their inheritance of exaltation and eternal life is assured, and so it becomes with them here and now in this life as it will be with all exalted beings in the life to come. They become the friends of God and converse with him on a friendly basis as one man speaks to another.

I was first introduced to the concept of the Second Comforter when I read the book, “The Second Comforter” by Denver Snuffer. I referred in part 2 of this series to the friend who told me to never ask for my calling and election to be made sure unless I was prepared to endure the trials. Denver Snuffer made a similar point – that the Lord will only grant the Second Comforter after your faith has been proven through trials:

You can’t get to heaven without passing through hell. (pg 80)

Because of these things the path to heaven runs through hell. You don’t get the epiphany without confronting Satan. There is always a balance, because agency and the right (or obligation) to choose is part of God’s plan. (pg 348)

Concerning the purpose of these trials:

In the end, Goliaths (trials) are merely opportunities for you to demonstrate your faith. They will be swept away when they no longer serve any purpose………
Take an inventory of your life. Look again at your challenges. Those Goliaths you face are opportunities and blessings, not difficulties. They are mere illusions; here to test your faith……
These things are not optional. They lie at the heart of this process. Faith and trust in God must precede development into the fully prepared man or woman of faith…..
Until your faith allows you to see things in this light, you are not prepared to see beyond the veil. (pgs 75-76)

The defining point for me was when, after reading this book, I decided that I wanted to receive this blessing so badly that I overcame the fears of any trials that may be required. I went before the Lord in prayer, and told Him, in effect, “I trust you. If I must undergo trials to come unto you, then so be it. I trust your judgment, wisdom, mercy and love”.

Shortly thereafter, while in the process of internalizing the possibility that I (yes, ME) could actually see the face of the Lord, I was reading with new eyes the story of the brother of Jared seeing first the finger of the Lord (Ether 3:6), then seeing the Lord Himself as recorded in verses 9, 13, and 15:

And the Lord said unto him: Because of thy faith thou hast seen that I shall take upon me flesh and blood; and never has man come before me with such exceeding faith as thou hast; for were it not so ye could not have seen my finger. Sawest thou more than this? (verse 9)

And when he had said these words, behold, the Lord showed himself unto him, and said: Because thou knowest these things ye are redeemed from the fall; therefore ye are brought back into my presence; therefore I show myself unto you .(verse 13)

And never have I showed myself unto man whom I have created, for never has man believed in me as thou hast. (verse 15)

The faith of the brother of Jared was so great that the veil was rent! The record (verse 9) almost makes it seem that the Lord was surprised by the faith of the brother of Jared: ….”Sawest thou more than this?” Later scriptures confirm that the man’s faith was simply so great that he could not be kept from within the veil:

And because of the knowledge of this man he could not be kept from beholding within the veil; and he saw the finger of Jesus, which, when he saw, he fell with fear; for he knew that it was the finger of the Lord; and he had faith no longer, for he knew, nothing doubting. (Ether 3:19)

And there were many whose faith was so exceedingly strong, even before Christ came, who could not be kept from within the veil, but truly saw with their eyes the things which they had beheld with an eye of faith, and they were glad. (Ether 12:19)

And after the brother of Jared had beheld the finger of the Lord, because of the promise which the brother of Jared had obtained by faith, the Lord could not withhold anything from his sight; wherefore he showed him all things, for he could no longer be kept without the veil. (Ether 12:21)

I had begun praying daily to receive this blessing. It became clear to me that the Lord was hearing my prayers, and that I was being prepared. Other scriptures began to take on new and added significance:

When thou saidst, Seek ye my face; my heart said unto thee, Thy face, Lord, will I seek. (Psalm 27:8)

Verily, thus saith the Lord: It shall come to pass that every soul who forsaketh his sins and cometh unto me, and calleth on my name, and obeyeth my voice, and keepeth my commandments, shall see my face and know that I am; (D&C 93:1)

The light shineth in darkness, and the darkness comprehendeth it not; nevertheless, the day shall come when you shall comprehend even God, being quickened in him and by him.
Then shall ye know that ye have seen me, that I am, and that I am the true light that is in you, and that you are in me; otherwise ye could not abound. (D&C 88:49-50)

But there was one scripture that impacted me more than any other. D&C 67:10 says:

And again, verily I say unto you that it is your privilege, and a promise I give unto you that have been ordained unto this ministry, that inasmuch as you strip yourselves from jealousies and fears, and humble yourselves before me, for ye are not sufficiently humble, the veil shall be rent and you shall see me and know that I am—not with the carnal neither natural mind, but with the spiritual. (emphasis added)

“…strip yourselves from jealousies and fears…” As I have pondered this simple phrase, it has taken on a significance and depth rivaled only by D&C 121:34-46. It has become even more obvious that the Lord is leading me in His path. As a result, I have recently come to the following realizations:

1) I have no tolerance for contention. The spirit leaves and I feel empty….empty!

2) I have to lose the selfishness that forms the pavilion (read President Eyring’s talk here) that stands between me and the Lord. I understand that I cannot do this myself – I can only be cleansed through the power of the atonement.

3) If I can truly strip myself of jealousies and fears, if I can develop a consuming gratitude, charity, and trust in the Lord, I will, like the brother of Jared, develop faith unto knowledge, to the point that the Lord cannot withhold me from within the veil.

4) It is not from the attainment of these 3 blessings, but from the passionate pursuit of them, that my life will be truly blessed.

In summary, my life has changed forever. Having knowledge of these principles, I can never look back; I can never again settle for “waiting for my exaltation”. I must continue seeking the gifts of the spirit, including but not limited to the revelations of the Comforter. I must continue to ask the Lord what I must do to have my calling and election made sure. I must learn to be more obedient, more humble and to become sanctified to the will of my Lord, that I may be blessed to see the face of the Lord.  This is a life-long, completely fulfilling, and ultimately exalting endeavor;and I must be anxiously engaged in this good cause. “Waiting for exaltation” is no longer an option, and enduring to the end promises to be anything but “grim”.

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Seeking Exhaltation Part 1 – Receiving the Holy Ghost

My new friend, a delightful young mother from Lehi, said, “I found myself thinking, ‘Well, I’ve been endowed, I’ve been married in the temple.  What now?  I mean, enduring to the end sounds so….grim!

All around the table laughed, but not because it was funny – rather because it rang so true.  For example, when I was first baptized, the gospel was exciting – a whole new world of possibilities and promises lay ahead of me.  The Lord blessed me tremendously, making sure that I was able to recognize just often enough that He was keeping those promises and that I was being blessed with insight, knowledge, understanding and opportunities to serve and grow.

 

I cruised along for more than a decade, enduring spiritual highs and lows and the occasional plateau.  I read, I acted, and I learned.  I took out my endowments, and after a few years was able to be sealed.  My wife and I served a part time service mission.  I taught at a local jail, and truly learned to feel the spirit as I taught.  I learned to recognize the insidious influence of pride in my life; I learned the importance of humility, obedience, and unselfish service.  Then, when we stepped way out on a limb and volunteered for a full-time mission, even though I was not retired and had to quit my job during one of the worst recessions in decades, I learned that the two of us together had the faith to follow the Lord’s prompting in the face of worldly wisdom.  By most standards we were an ideal LDS couple, highly committed to the faith and to keeping the covenants that we had made to each other and to the Lord.

 

Life was good.  It still is.  We were progressing, although I didn’t realize how slowly, and I had no idea at the time how much more the Lord was offering us.

 

I return now to my new friend’s statement – “I’ve been endowed, I’ve been married in the temple.  What now?”  I think far too many of us – good, faithful members of the church – kind of go into a spiritual holding pattern after we’ve been sealed in the Temple.  If we’re not careful, we can slip into a pattern of waiting for our exaltation.  In doing so, I believe we are shutting ourselves off from the greatest blessings that the gospel offers. 

 

Let me offer a quote from George Q. Cannon, (Millennial Star, Apr. 1894, pp. 260–61.) courtesy of my dear friend, Kristine Marble:

 

This has come in our day. Yet we find, even among those who have embraced the Gospel, hearts of unbelief. How many of you, my brethren and sisters, are seeking for these gifts that God has promised to bestow? How many of you, when you bow before your Heavenly Father in your family circle or in your secret places, contend for these gifts to be bestowed upon you? How many of you ask the Father, in the name of Jesus, to manifest Himself to you through these powers and these gifts? Or do you go along day by day like a door turning on its hinges, without having any feeling upon the subject, without exercising any faith whatever; content to be baptized and be members of the Church, and to rest there, thinking that your salvation is secure because you have done this?

I say to you, in the name of the Lord, as one of His servants, that you have need to repent of this. You have need to repent of your hardness of heart, of your indifference, and of your carelessness. There is not that diligence, there is not that faith, there is not that seeking for the power of God that there should be among a people who have received the precious promises we have. Instead of the sick being healed, why, it is as much as you can do to get faith to believe that the administration of an elder will be attended with effect. There is not that seeking for the gift of healing and for the gift to be healed that there ought to be among the Saints. And so with other gifts and graces that God has placed in His Church for His people.

I say to you that it is our duty to avail ourselves of the privileges which God has placed within our reach. If we have done wrong, repent of our wrong and feel after God, and not be satisfied till we have found Him, and He hears and answers us, and He speaks by His divine power in our hearts, bearing testimony to us in such a manner as cannot be doubted that He hears us, that He is near to us, and that He is watching over us and ready to bestow upon us all the blessings that are necessary for our happiness here and hereafter.

 

Our Duty!!!!  That sounds an awful lot like a commandment!  

 

There are three things that I have learned of recently that serve as beacons, as goals, for my own spiritual progression.  I speak specifically of:

 

Receiving the Holy Ghost / Baptism by Fire

Seeking and receiving our Calling and Election

Seeking and receiving the Second Comforter

 

I propose to discuss these separately in 3 articles.  Since I began discovering the true depth of these doctrines, my spiritual progression has increased exponentially.   I have personally experienced things that I thought were reserved only for others, or for the next life.  I know the Lord is leading me step by step toward the realization of these blessings.  I hope they bring as much joy and wonder to your life as they are bringing to mine.

 

 

Part 1 – Receiving the Holy Ghost / Baptism by Fire

 

Elder David A. Bednar offered the following in his 2010 Conference talk, which you can read here: http://www.lds.org/general-conference/2010/10/receive-the-holy-ghost?lang=eng

 

These four words—“Receive the Holy Ghost”—are not a passive pronouncement; rather, they constitute a priesthood injunction—an authoritative admonition to act and not simply to be acted upon (see 2 Nephi 2:26). The Holy Ghost does not become operative in our lives merely because hands are placed upon our heads and those four important words are spoken. As we receive this ordinance, each of us accepts a sacred and ongoing responsibility to desire, to seek, to work, and to so live that we indeed “receive the Holy Ghost” and its attendant spiritual gifts. “For what doth it profit a man if a gift is bestowed upon him, and he receive not the gift? Behold, he rejoices not in that which is given unto him, neither rejoices in him who is the giver of the gift” (D&C 88:33.

 

He goes on to counsel 3 things that must be part of our quest:

Sincerely Desire

Appropriately Invite

Faithfully Obey

 

Put simply, when we are confirmed into the church, we accept a life-long responsibility to actively seek the gifts of the Holy Ghost – the Lord’s teacher, comforter, protector, the source of all intelligence.  Moroni Chapter 10, the final chapter in the Book of Mormon, reads very much like a capstone, a summary, of the most important messages of this marvelous book of scripture.  We are all familiar with the standard of scripture mastery that is verse 4:

 

And when ye shall receive these things, I would exhort you that ye would ask God, the Eternal Father, in the name of Christ, if these things are not true; and if ye shall ask with a sincere heart, with real intent, having faith in Christ, he will manifest the truth of it unto you, by the power of the Holy Ghost.

 

Here we can easily detect the same pattern that Elder Bednar spoke of – Sincerely desire, appropriately invite, and faithfully obey.

 

The next verse, however, is potentially even more significant:

And by the power of the Holy Ghost ye may know the truth of all things.

 

Ye may know the truth of all things!!   To know the truth of all things sounds like omniscience, doesn’t it?  So, by the power of the Holy Ghost, ye may become omniscient?  I’ll let the reader figure out where that leads next.

 

I now quote Ether 3:19:

 

And because of the knowledge of this man he could not be kept from beholding within the veil; and he saw the finger of Jesus, which, when he saw, he fell with fear; for he knew that it was the finger of the Lord; and he had faith no longer, for he knew, doubting nothing.

 

The Bible Dictionary’s section on Faith includes the following:

 

Although faith is a gift, it must be cultured and sought after until it grows from a tiny seed to a great tree. The effects of true faith in Jesus Christ include (1) an actual knowledge that the course of life one is pursuing is acceptable to the Lord (see Heb. 11:4); (2) a reception of the blessings of the Lord that are available to man in this life; and (3) an assurance of personal salvation in the world to come. These things involve individual and personal testimony, guidance, revelation, and spiritual knowledge. Where there is true faith there are miracles, visions, dreams, healings, and all the gifts of God that he gives to his saints. Jesus pointed out some obstacles to faith in John 5:44 and 12:39–42 (cf. James 1:6–8).

 

Among the several distinct sections in Chapter 10 is one in which Moroni  further exhorts us that we “deny not the gifts of God, for they are many” (verse 8); after which he proceeds to list the gifts of the spirit (verses 9-16).  Moroni closes this section in verses 17-21:

 

And all these gifts come by the Spirit of Christ; and they come unto every man severally, according as he will.

And I would exhort you, my beloved brethren, that ye remember that every good gift cometh of Christ.

And I would exhort you, my beloved brethren, that ye remember that he is the same yesterday, today, and forever, and that all these gifts of which I have spoken, which are spiritual, never will be done away, even as long as the world shall stand, only according to the unbelief of the children of men.

Wherefore, there must be faith; and if there must be faith, there must also be hope; and if there must be hope there must also be charity.

And except ye have charity ye can in nowise be saved; neither can ye be saved in the kingdom of God if ye have not faith; neither can ye if ye have no hope.

 

From these quotes we learn that as a result of fully receiving the Holy Ghost, we may:

  • gain a knowledge of all things
  • exercise the myriad gifts of the spirit (a reception of the blessings of the Lord that are available to man in this life)
  • gain “an assurance of personal salvation” (Calling and Election)
  • see the Lord and be in His presence (receive the Second Comforter).

 

Furthermore, there are many scriptures that refer to baptism by fire, a.k.a. Baptism of the Holy Ghost (D&C 20:41, D&C 33:11, D&C 19:31, D&C 39:6, 2 Nephi 31:14, 15, 17), but what exactly is “Baptism by fire”?   3 Nephi  9:20 says:

 

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.

 

This is one of the greatest conversion stories in the Book of Mormon – that of the Lamanites in Helaman Chapter 5.  http://scottstover.wordpress.com/2012/09/18/as-current-as-the-morning-newspaper/  They received baptism by fire, yet they knew it not!  So, if they knew it not, after being surrounded by fire and taught by angels, how can we know if we have received the baptism by fire?

 

Bruce R. McConkie, in his Doctrinal New Testament Commentary, says, under the heading  “What is the relationship between baptism and having one’s calling and election made sure:

 

Baptism is the beginning of personal righteousness; it opens the door to celestial exaltation; it puts us on the path leading to eternal life. As Nephi expressed it, when we enter “the gate” of “repentance and baptism” and receive “a remission” of our sins “by fire and by the Holy Ghost,” we are then on the “straight and narrow path which leads to eternal life.”

 

This clearly implies that receiving a baptism by fire indicates that we have received a remission of our sins.  Is this remission an “event” that occurs when we are confirmed and are comanded to receive the gift of the Holy Ghost, or is this again a process as indicated by Elder Bednar?  I would suggest that it can be both.  The result, though, of baptism by fire, is a remission of sins, and a cleansing of the desire to do evil.  It also represents a stepping stone toward having one’s Calling and Election made sure…….Part 2 –  next week: “Seeking our Calling and Election”

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Of Ministering Angels 3 – Doug and Suzanne

Conifer_forestThis is part 3 of the story or our mini-vacation to Goodyear’s Bar in Sierra County, California. It is the story of 4 couples – 8 ministering angels – who live, each in their own way, by the light of Christ, and who touched each other’s hearts as only His angels can.

For I remember the word of God which saith by their works ye shall know them; for if their works be good, then they are good also. (Moroni 7:5)

Wherefore, all things which are good cometh of God…(Moroni 7:12)

In a way, it is the story of Kate Wolf, whose spirit and music continues to bring joy to the hearts of her “fans”, and whose ministry, I am convinced, is blessed by the Lord himself.  Songs like “Eyes of a Painter”, “Emma Rose”, and “Picture Puzzle” continue to portray the best and most beautiful of mankind and nature, as well as the trials, joys, and heartbreaks that we all must face in our attempt to return to God.

It is also the story of a unique guitar, one not quite like the rest, which was given loving birth by a kind “old soul” luthier in an out-of-the way place, and then adopted into a loving home by a kind, “old soul” artist.  Furthermore, it is the story of how this guitar became an instrument in the hands of a loving God to bring these couples together, to provide an evening filled with love, with hope, and with faith that no matter how dark things get, there are many things to be thankful for, and that, truly, “…men are, that they might have joy.” (2 Nephi 2:25)

In the first two posts in this series, I told about our friends Mark and Tammy, and Mike and Katie.  At the end of the last post, Mike had told Diana to take the guitar back to the St Charles Inn for the night to see if she liked it well enough to buy it, and that he would “makes us a deal”.  Diana and I did take the guitar with us as he offered.  We practiced a few of our old songs, and the bond grew between the girl and her guitar.  After breakfast and a walk with Tammy, we went over to Mike and Katie’s to pay them for the guitar.  We came across Mike and his friend, Doug, in the garden (along with a matched pair of Katie’s “Garden Folk”).  Doug immediately impressed me as a person with 75 years’ worth of stories to tell.  He was dressed in worn trousers, a t-shirt, suspenders, and an old ascot cap.  His eyes twinkled as he removed the pipe from his mouth, shook our hands, and introduced himself.  I could tell immediately that he was a good man, but, like me, had likely grown to be that way.  In other words, he had known a bit of mischief in his life, but had learned along the way the true value of love, fidelity and faith.Downieville2

Mike needed to put a truss rod plate and strap pins on Diana’s new guitar, so I asked Doug if he would like to go inside and chat.  He said, “Sure, let’s go”.  We moseyed into Mike’s living room and began to swap stories.  We learned that Doug had been a veterinarian in Half-Moon Bay – just south of San Francisco – before it had become “Half-Moon Bay” – the ritzy resort area.  He had never graduated from High School, but had worked his way through veterinarian school – a fact that he shared with a touch of pride.  We learned that he had promised his wife, Suzanne, to be with her for 45 years.  35 of that had passed, so he still had 10 years to go, and he was determined to keep his promise.  I muttered something about Diana and me working on eternity, but I don’t think he heard, and I didn’t belabor the point.  I was more interested in hearing more about him.

We also learned that Doug was a gourmet cook, and that he and Suzanne divided their household duties accordingly – he cooks, she cleans.  His eyes, of course, were twinkling again.  He told us about their home – 20 acres or so with a 4 acre garden, a large, red classic barn, horses, goats, and 1500 foot forested peaks surrounding it.  Then we learned the rest of the story.  It seems that the resort whose property was between him and the river had sued him over a decades-old survey line, claiming two acres of Doug’s property as their own, and then driving him into bankruptcy when he lost the case and was forced to pay the resort’s attorney’s fees.  In other words, they were going to lose ALL of the property.  The more he told us about it, the clearer it became that he was putting up a brave front, because that’s what men do.  As he talked, I could feel that inside he was suppressing a cauldron of resentment, disbelief, and incredulity while nurturing a sincere desire not to let this experience ruin his life and happiness.  He was refusing to allow the cesspool of greed and materialism to pollute the values he had worked so hard all his life to develop.  I mentioned that obviously, in hind sight, he should have just surrendered the 2 acres, to which he responded, “Yeah, but I was in the right.  I couldn’t let them get away with it”.  Then he said, “I just take comfort knowing that, even though they can take away my property, there’s still one thing they can’t take away…”  He paused just long enough for me to know exactly what he was going to say: “…my integrity”.  I knew at that moment that we were going to become fast friends.

We had become well acquainted by the time Mike came back with the guitar.  He handed it to Diana and said, “Why don’t you play something for us?”  He handed me another of his guitars, and Diana and I played our signature song, the one we always open performances with, “Welcome Home”.  Despite our being a tad rusty, we managed a credible performance.   As Diana’s last harmonic chord faded away, Doug literally leapt off the couch, gleefully clapping his hands and yelling, “Wonderful!  That was wonderful!”  Diana and I had received our first ever standing ovation!  We played another song – this one a Kate Wolf tune, after which Doug suggested that the 6 of us – Mike and Katie, he and Suzanne, and Diana and I, come to their house for dinner.  We accepted his invitation, worked out the logistics, and parted until evening.

Oh – I almost forgot the guitar.  Yes, this little guitar that had captured Diana’s heart and was soon to capture mine, although in an entirely different way, was sold to us for half of what I would have paid for it!   I would remind my readers that this was a solid wood, hand-made, one-of-a-kind guitar, so it could have easily been worth twice as much.  Yet, as I’ve said, this was not the biggest bargain of the day.  Not yet.

Mike and Katie picked us up for our 6:00 dinner appointment.  We found the turnoff, crossed the bridge over the river, and wound our way up to their home.  There were several switchbacks and a gate that required one of us to get out and open it.  As we continued up the road, we passed out of the trees into a clearing, past the large red barn, a couple of corrals, some old mining equipment, and up to the house.   When we arrived, Suzanne was on the small landing outside the entrance to their home, and we were greeted simultaneously by her and “noodle-head” – the less intelligent, according to her, of their two border collies.  She welcomed us warmly and led us into a home already filled with the unmistakable smell of garlic sautéing in olive oil.  Doug was hard at work – in his element.

While Doug cooked, the rest of us, including the dogs, went onto the back deck where we could fully take in the scenery and majesty of this property that they were about to lose.  The view from the deck showed a pastoral view of the hollow, with the red barn, corrals, fields, etc. surrounded by the afore-mentioned peaks.  One could count the trees that had to be removed before the house could be built, because the stumps were still there.  Overlooking the property just made me feel even worse, even angry, about their plight, and about the mechanisms – legal, psychological, and temporal – that brought about such an unjust tragedy.

lure2After we had talked for about 45 minutes, dinner was ready – breaded & sautéed chicken over fettuccini with salad, steamed garden vegetables and fresh home-made sourdough.   Doug’s reputation as a gourmet cook suffered no damage as the result of his offering!  Dinner conversation was stimulating, gentle, and thoughtful, as you would expect from half a dozen people who had all lived good lives and had as many stories to tell, philosophies to share, and truths to expound as we did.

After about an hour, Suzanne suggested that we go listen to some music – meaning our music.  I need to share at this point something that is highly pertinent to this tale…Diana and I are “hams”.  We love playing in front of people – perhaps me more than Diana, but she is certainly not innocent of this charge.  So, it’s not like we felt we were performing some great service by playing for our new friends.  We love performing, and there was not an ounce of altruism involved.

We performed 6 songs that night in the very place where Kate Wolf herself had played some 30 years before.  It should be understood that, prior to the night before, Diana and I had not played together in almost 2 years.  We should have been sloppy, but we weren’t.  It was as if our fingers were guided.  Our second song was a Kate Wolf song, “Carolina Pines”, and when they all started singing the chorus along with us, I felt like Kate herself must have been there.  Then, on our fifth song, “Leavin’ Louisiana in the Broad Daylight” by Rodney Crowell and Donivan Cowart, Doug jumped up, grabbed Suzanne by the hand, and they began swing dancing.  Here was a 75-year-old man who had recently had heart surgery dancing with his wife of 35 years!  This was at least a temporary release of 2 years of legal, emotional and spiritual burdens.  For this short time, they were able to let go.  This, my friends, was a moment of pure joy for the little company sitting in Doug and Suzanne’s living room – a moment that will not soon be forgotten, at least not by Diana and me.

After we had finished, Doug thanked us and said, “You cannot possibly understand how much this has meant to us.  You have taken us back to that happier time, a time of good friends and good music; a time when Kate and her husband, Don, had sat here in this very room and played very much like you just did.  You have helped us forget our troubles, even if for just this short while.  Thank you so much”.

The next day, as we were driving home, we stopped in Sierra City to visit an art gallery where Katie’s paintings were featured.  We also hoped to see a quilt that was on display from the Mountain Harvest co-op, where we had met Peggy, whom I mentioned in the second post.  We spoke with Lynn, who was minding the gallery, for a few minutes and told her about our experience the night before.  When I told her that Doug and Suzanne were dancing together, she visibly “clouded up”.  Her eyes began to water, and she said, “You don’t have any idea how happy that makes me.  They have been under such a burden, and you gave them just one evening when they could forget this whole mess, and remember what life is all about”.

It probably wasn’t until that moment that I began to understand what had truly happened the night before.  Here was a complete stranger, who obviously hadn’t been at Doug and Suzanne’s home with us, repeating essentially what Doug himself had said.  It was then that I also realized how close-knit this community was, how good were the people we had met, and how they loved and cared about each other.  It was then that I realized that all of us, all 8 of us, had served as ministering angels in the Lord’s hands.  We were all just going about being ourselves, living the lives we had developed over the years – loving, enjoying and respecting each other for those very lives lived – yet the Lord, seeing us through His eyes, took the best in each of us and brought us together to create this magical moment of joy, Heaven-style.  Using us, He poured out His love and compassion as if to say, “This is the way it’s supposed to be.  This is how I want you to live.  This is what I meant when I said, “Love thy neighbor as thyself”.

Diana's GuitarSo, this little “red-headed step-child” of a guitar became an instrument in the Lord’s hands for doing His work – the work of love.  This inanimate object of wood, glue, bronze, and stainless steel, assembled with love by an old-soul artisan, and valued as priceless by an old-soul artist, came alive that Friday night in July, 2014.  It brought people together in a way that only the Lord Himself could have orchestrated.  It was the central prop in a 3-act play illustrating His unconditional love for his beloved children.  It will forever have a place in my heart.  It will forever remind me that perhaps, on occasion, love can be bought – in this case for the price of lovely little hand-made guitar.

Post Script:

I talked to Doug and Suzanne yesterday.  It took me a while, but I found their phone number through the internet.  We discussed how the community was changing – how people were coming into the area from the big cities of California with a “big fish in a small pond” attitude, looking for money, making life more difficult for the people around them, and basically missing the whole point of living in such a place. We discussed how, in a city, you can survive on the city – on the infrastructure, on the legal system, on the commerce, on the entertainment.  You can survive quite nicely while being totally alone.  You really don’t need relationships.  In a small community like this, though, people need each other.  It’s a different world, and it is the relationships that hold it together.  Mark and Tammy spent Friday manually unloading cement bags for a neighbor who needed to pour a concrete slab.  They got paid, yes – but there was no concrete contractor who was going to do it for them.  If they didn’t do it, it wouldn’t get done.  Doug said, “When the water supply goes out, we have to fix it.  There’s no water company to call.  We have to help each other – because we all depend on each other.  Our lives are all intertwined, and none of us can survive alone.”  Lynn cried when I told her about Doug and Suzanne’s dance.  The newcomers don’t get this, and it threatens to destroy what is so special about the community.Downieville2

I think this is an example of the tension that exists between Zion and babylon.  In Zion, people exist on relationships.  In babylon, people exist on the structure, and when that is gone, to whom will they turn – to the Lord?  No, they will turn to either greed and/or force – which is what the infrastructure is based on today.  The individual is unnecessary and of no value, except as the fuel on which the structure survives.  In Zion, the individual is everything.  The love and the experiences that we shared with the people of Goodyear’s Bar was a type for Zion – a place for the pure in heart.

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