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Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Lectures on Faith 4, Part 4: The Hidden Spiritual Development Strategy Embedded in Lecture on Faith 4


In Lecture on Faith 4, we learned that God is Omniscient (LofF 4:5), Omnipotent (LofF 4:6), Just (LofF 4:7), Judgmental (LofF 4:8), Merciful (LofF 4:9) and True (LofF 4:10). He's more than deserving of your unqualified trust.
"By a little reflection it will be seen, that the idea of the existence of these attributes in the Deity, is necessary to enable any rational being to exercise faith in him. For without the idea of the existence of these attributes in the Deity, men could not exercise faith in him for life and salvation; seeing that without the knowledge of all things, God would not be able to save any portion of his creatures; for it is by reason of the knowledge which he has of all things, from the beginning to the end, that enables him to give that understanding to his creatures, by which they are made partakers of eternal life; and if it were not for the idea existing in the minds of men, that God had all knowledge, it would be impossible for them to exercise faith in him." (LofF 4:11).
Yet we mortals (often eagerly) put our trust in another, no matter if it's a teacher, book author or leader.

When you trust another person, when you prioritize their words over those of God Himself, to any degree, you are actually distancing yourself from Him:
"Each renewed person knows the Lord for himself. You cannot know God except for yourself. . . . No second-hand knowledge can be admitted here. You cannot know God through other people. . . . You cannot see God with another man’s eyes; you cannot know God through another man’s knowledge.” (Charles Spurgeon, 1834–1892)
I'm not sure if you've noticed, but in these blog posts regarding Lecture on Faith 4, we've focused and discussed learning these attributes which God -- and no one else -- has. In other words, our ability to know these facts isn't based theoretical constructs. It's experiential. It's learning through reflection on doing, which only comes through experience...not with a mortal, but a God.

You see, it's one thing to read about baseball. It's something else to discuss baseball or maybe even play it with some friends. Yet it truly is something higher when we actually work with a coach and play competitively on a team.

That's what God invites you to do. Invite Him into your life. Ask Him to demonstrate these attributes to you, in your life.

As one friend once stated,
"Jesus wants very much to interact with you, and will be as present and involved with your life, your family, and your home as you want Him to.
He doesn't impose or come where He's not invited, nor does He dominate you with His infinitely superior knowledge.
But if you'll have Him, He'll engage with you right where you are, today."
Being a perfect gentleman, He will not come where He is not invited. He WILL enter where He IS invited.

Have the Heavens Unfolded to You


Make no mistake: God is anxious to display His attributes to you. The scriptures inform us that

"This is life eternal that they might know thee, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom thou hast sent." (John 17:3)

And as Brother Joseph said,
"If any man does not know God, and inquires what kind of a being He is,—if he will search diligently his own heart—if the declaration of Jesus and the apostles be true, he will realize that he has not eternal life; for there can be eternal life on no other principle.
My first object is to find out the character of the only wise and true God, and what kind of a being He is...
Having a knowledge of God, we begin to know how to approach Him, and how to ask so as to receive an answer. When we understand the character of God, and know how to come to Him, He begins to unfold the heavens to us, and to tell us all about it. When we are ready to come to Him, He is ready to come to us." (History of the Church, 6:303–5, 308; capitalization modernized; paragraph divisions altered; from a discourse given by Joseph Smith on Apr. 7, 1844, in Nauvoo, Illinois; reported by Wilford Woodruff, Willard Richards, Thomas Bullock, and William Clayton; see also the appendix in this book, page 562, item 3).

In The Silence...I Hear Your Voice


Some may ask, "OK, that sounds great. How do I have him come to me?"

My response:

Be still.

The warnings have been spoken, dreams have been shared, and visions have been revealed.

Now be still and listen.

Don't focus on those who do not believe; let them be. Don't argue with fools. Don't join in with mockers. Don't take the advice of the wicked.

While the world trembles under its traditions, the rumbling of its own rockets and the fanfare of its glorified falsehoods, go the opposite direction.

Just...be still.

Await your next assignment. Listen for your new instructions.

In the quietness, seek Him. You'll find Him.

In the quietness, invite Him. He'll come.

In the quietness, expect Him. He'll provide you plenty of experiences...with Him.
"Seek ye the Lord while he may be found, call ye upon him while he is near: Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts: and let him return unto the Lord, and he will have mercy upon him; and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon." (Isaiah 55:6-7)  
Also read:

Lectures on Faith 4, Part 1: Experience the God Who Far Exceeds Expectations!
Lectures on Faith 3, Part 4: Get to Know Jesus Christ on a Whole New Level
Lectures on Faith 3, Part 2: Why You Don't Hear (Let Alone Experience) God
Lectures on Faith 2, Part 1: Why Its Absolutely Essential For You to Hearken to God
YOUR Enos Experience
Don't Just Know About Christ…EXPERIENCE Him!
Alignment, Part 6 of 6: When One Becomes the Compass and the Square

Proto-Zions: A Follow-Up


In a previous post, I discussed "The Proto-Zions Among Us...Where We Least Expect Them". I highlighted efforts made in Ciudad Juárez, Mexico, which helped transform it from "The City of Death" into a city of disciples.

A friend recently turned me on to a 60 Minutes story which, ironically, was broadcast a few hours after I published my post (I promise I didn't collaborate with 60 Minutes).

Viewed here, it's a story about Medellin, Colombia. Once considered the murder capital of the world, it's undergone a transformation similar to Juárez. Only in this instance, the catalyzing agent wasn't churches, but Colombia's military. They hired a top advertising firm which encouraged rebel leaders to turn their backs on violence, return to their families and choose peace instead. The weapons of peace were soccer balls, Christmas trees, banners and posters lovingly inviting FARC rebels to demobilize and come home.

The ad campaign was so effective, it led to peace talks between FARC and the government -- ending a 52-year war that left 220,000 dead and millions displaced -- without firing a shot.

Simultaneously, Medellin's mayor instituted a bold initiative to turn the slums and depressed areas into the best, most beautiful places to visit. Today, those slums are now thriving, and home to an amazing cultural center, science museum, botanical garden, new schools and libraries.

When FARC rebels returned, they saw first-hand that hope could be built and things could be changed. In the words of that mayor, Sergio Fajardo, "There is no sense of community. So we have to put the pieces together of our society. And we have to connect physically and mentally."

Connecting physically and mentally...a concept which, I believe, is very parallel with another:
"And the Lord called his people Zion, because they were of one heart and one mind, and dwelt in righteousness; and there was no poor among them.
And Enoch continued his preaching in righteousness unto the people of God. And it came to pass in his days, that he built a city that was called the City of Holiness, even Zion." (Moses 7:18-19)
This is yet another example that there is no force in this universe -- none -- greater, stronger, tougher, more durable than love. And it's influences can often be found in the places we least expect it.




Friday, December 23, 2016

Four Gifts From Father to You...And One Gift From You to Father

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This Christmas season, I'd like to highlight four gifts Father has already given you.

While most choose to minimize and walk away from them, I'd like to challenge you to take them seriously. Receive them. Use them. Often.

I have no doubt that as you cherish these gifts, our overly-generous Father will be more inclined to bless you with more.
"Watch therefore; for ye know neither the day nor the hour wherein the Son of Man cometh.
Now I will liken these things unto a parable.
For it is like as a man traveling into a far country, who called his own servants, and delivered unto them his goods.
And unto one he gave five talents, to another two, and to another one; to every man according to his several ability; and straightway went on his journey.
Then he that had received the five talents, went and traded with the same; and gained other five talents.
And likewise he who received two talents, he also gained other two.
But he who had received one, went and digged in the earth and hid his lord's money.
After a long time the lord of those servants cometh, and reckoneth with them.
And so he that had received the five talents came, and brought other five talents, saying, Lord, thou deliveredst unto me five talents; behold, I have gained besides them five talents more.
His lord said unto him, Well done, good and faithful servant; thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things; enter thou into the joy of thy lord.
He also that had received two talents came and said, Lord, thou deliveredst unto me two talents; behold, I have gained two talents besides them.
His lord said unto him, Will done, good and faithful servant; thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things; enter thou into the joy of thy lord.
Then he who had received the one talent came, and said, Lord, I knew thee that thou art a hard man, reaping where thou hast not sown, and gathering where thou hast not scattered.
And I was afraid, and went and hid thy talent in the earth; and lo, here is thy talent; take it from me as thou hast from thine other servants, for it is thine.
His lord answered and said unto him, O wicked and slothful servant, thou knewest that I reap where I sowed not, and gather where I have not scattered.
Having known this, therefore, thou oughtest to have put my money to the exchangers, and at my coming I should have received mine own with usury.
I will take, therefore, the talent from you, and give it unto him who hath ten talents.
For unto every one who hath obtained other talents, shall be given, and he shall have an abundance.
But from him that hath not obtained other talents, shall be taken away even that which he hath received.
And his lord shall say unto his servants, Cast ye the unprofitable servant into outer darkness; there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth." (JST Matthew 25:12-31

The Gift of Gratitude


As one friend said, "May we put things into perspective and be grateful for the simple 'gifts' in our life that we take for granted...like our spouse, our children, clean water, electricity, food, jobs, transportation...and yes (for some)...coffee. For me, just being alive is an amazing gift."




The Gift of Faith: The Lectures on Faith 


In speaking about the Lectures on Faith, Elder Bruce R. McConkie said:
"In my judgment, it is the most comprehensive, intelligent, inspired utterance that now exists in the English language-that exists in one place defining, interpreting, expounding, announcing, and testifying what kind of being God is. It is written by the power of the Holy Ghost, by the spirit of inspiration. It is, in effect, eternal scripture; it is true. I will only read part of it, and even then, because of the deep content that is involved in the words, we cannot measure or fathom their full intent. We need to study and ponder and analyze the expressions that are made." (Elder Bruce R. McConkie, lecture at Brigham Young University, Jan. 4, 1972)

Regarding the Lectures' status as scripture, the entire church membership agreed with Joseph, sustaining the lectures as scripture on August 17, 1835. Per D&C 26:2 and 28:13,
"Voting on the book proceeded by quorums and groups, with the leader of each group bearing witness of the truth of the volume before his group voted to accept it. After the voting by quorums, the entire church membership present, both male and female, voted to accept the book as 'the doctrine and covenants of their faith.'" (Joseph Smith Papers, Revelations and Translations, Volume 2, p. 307; http://josephsmithpapers.org/paperSummary/doctrine-and-covenants-1835)
Even though the Lectures on Faith are no longer included in our canon of scripture, the general church membership has never reversed its sustaining vote for them as scripture. They are still scriptural and scripture.

The History of the Lectures on Faith
Summary

Purchase/Download

The Gift of Knowledge: The Joseph Smith Translation (JST)


I believe one of the most underrated resources we have in learning of the Lord and His gospel is the Joseph Smith Translation of the Bible. With knowledge obtained from it, you can better avoid deception. Without it, you are likely to misunderstand the gospel. Three examples:
"Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works?
And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity." (Matthew 7:22-23)
Now, here's the JST version:
"And many will say unto me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name; and in thy name cast out devils; and in thy name done many wonderful works?
And then will I say, Ye never knew me; depart from me ye that work iniquity." (JST Matthew 7:32-33; also quoted by Elder David A. Bednar, “If Ye Had Known Me”, October 2016 General Conference)
Another example:
“And while they went to buy, the bridegroom came; and they that were ready went in with him to the marriage: and the door was shut.
Afterward came also the [five foolish] virgins, saying, Lord, Lord, open to us.
But he answered and said, Verily I say unto you, I know you not.” (Matthew 25:10–12)
And the JST...
"The implications of this parable for each of us are expanded by another inspired revision. Importantly, the phrase “I know you not,” as reported in the King James Version of the Bible, was clarified in the Joseph Smith Translation to 'Ye know me not.'" (Elder David A. Bednar, “If Ye Had Known Me”, October 2016 General Conference)
Finally, here's a JST insight into Melchizedek and Abram:
"And this Melchizedek, having thus established righteousness, was called the king of heaven by his people, or, in other words, the King of peace.
And he lifted up his voice, and he blessed Abram, being the high priest, and the keeper of the storehouse of God;
Him whom God had appointed to receive tithes for the poor.
Wherefore, Abram paid unto him tithes of all that he had, of all the riches which he possessed, which God had given him more than that which he had need." (JST Genesis 14:36-39)
And the King James Version:
[Doesn't exist]
These are just three of many deficiencies you'd never know about if you kept on reading the non-JST Bible.

The Gift of Preparedness: The Book of Isaiah


When Christ visited the Nephites, He said,
"And now, behold, I say unto you, that ye ought to search these things. Yea, a commandment I give unto you that ye search these things diligently; for great are the words of Isaiah.
For surely he spake as touching all things concerning my people which are of the house of Israel; therefore it must needs be that he must speak also to the Gentiles." (3 Nephi 23:1-2)
Please note:
  • These verses were spoken by the Lord immediately after prophesying events which are extremely likely to be imminent in our lifetimes (see 3 Nephi 21 and 22).
  • They were included in the Book of Mormon, for which we are still under condemnation for not taking seriously.
  • The Lord would have us not just search Isaiah's words, but search them diligently.
"Isaiah is the most quoted of all the prophets, being more frequently quoted by Jesus, Paul, Peter, and John (in his Revelation) than any other Old Testament prophet. Likewise the Book of Mormon and the Doctrine and Covenants quote from Isaiah more than from any other prophet." ("Isaiah", LDS Bible Dictionary, https://www.lds.org/scriptures/bd/isaiah)
Despite Isaiah's scriptural importance, I'm constantly astounded by many online who claim to be serious students of prophecy and the end times, or have a deep interest in it, yet have never taken the Lord, His words, the Book of Mormon nor the Book of Isaiah seriously. It is amazing to see the discussions and even outright predictions made by some when it's very obvious they haven't read this most-quoted prophet.

Please ask yourself:
  • If you aren't reading Isaiah, just how long do you plan to disregard the Lord's commandment to diligently search it?
  • What forms of entertainment rank higher in priority than diligently studying the Lord's words as He has directed (simple metric: # of hours spent surfing online/watching TV/movies/sports vs studying Isaiah)?
  • What other prophecy-related book authors have received more of your time than Isaiah?
  • Do you give in to Satan's statements that Isaiah's too hard to understand?
  • Have you taken advantage of the many resources (here's one) to diligently study Isaiah in an easy-to-understand format? 
"The reader today has no greater written commentary and guide to understanding Isaiah than the Book of Mormon and the Doctrine and Covenants. As one understands these works better he will understand Isaiah better, and as one understands Isaiah better, he more fully comprehends the mission of the Savior and the meaning of the covenant that was placed upon Abraham and his seed by which all the families of the earth would be blessed." ("Isaiah", LDS Bible Dictionary, https://www.lds.org/scriptures/bd/isaiah)
As mentioned above, there's a free resource to help you better understand Isaiah: IsaiahExplained.com. Here's how I would navigate this website:

1. Start with the video vignettes. Each of the 7 vignettes (listed on the right-hand side of the page) are less than 20 minutes long. Watch those 7 videos, and I'd seriously bet you know more about Isaiah than the average Christian, and are ready for a little more depth.

2. Read the Isaiah Resources. Also on the right-hand side, you'll become more familiar with the "Key Features of the Prophecy of Isaiah", "Isaiah's Layered Literary Structures", "Isaiah's Seven Spiritual Levels of Humanity", "Isaiah's Ancient Types of End-Time Events", "Overviews of the Prophecy of Isaiah" and "Glossary of Terms Relating to Isaiah".

3. Diligently search the Book of Isaiah. At the top of the page, horizontally, you'll see four links:
  • Isaiah Institute Translation
  • Comparative (King James Version vs Isaiah Institute) Translation
  • Apocalyptic Commentary (of every verse, in every chapter, of Isaiah)
  • Interactive Concordance (of nearly every word in Isaiah).
4. Need audio? No problem! Go here, scroll to the bottom of the page and grab either the online or 2-Disc mp3s of the "Analytical Commentary of the Book of Isaiah", which is an in-depth examination of every verse of Isaiah. I can testify that they're far more interesting, informative and enlightening than what's on your radio today.

Use each of those resources to better understand what Isaiah is saying -- especially those portions which are directly affecting us right now, yet almost all (especially latter-day saints) are unaware of them.

The Gift You Can Give to Father


Have you ever wanted to give Heavenly Father a present?

You can.

It's one thing to behold God's glory in the spirit world.

But it's something quite different when you're living in such darkness and difficulty, and you express your adoration for Him...pray and sing with real intent to Him...and show love to others.

Nothing -- absolutely nothing -- brings more joy to Father and Christ's hearts than when you truly worship Father, despite living in a dark, dreary, depressing, difficult, violent, immoral, embattled, struggling world.

When you worship without seeing His glory, in the midst of your trials, you worship in Spirit and in Truth. The Father seeks such to be His worshippers.

Worship the Father -- not for what you will get, but to bring Him joy. You will never be stronger than when you bring Him joy, "for the joy of the Lord is your strength." (Nehemiah 8:10)

Genuine adoration, expressed by even the most humble believer on earth, makes all of heaven rejoice. But even more than that, it actually touches Father.

It will touch Him more than you can comprehend.


Sunday, December 11, 2016

Lectures on Faith 4, Part 3: The Proto-Zions Among Us...Where We Least Expect Them

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So, admittedly, my last post was pretty sobering.

It's not easy to learn, and know, that Zion doesn't begin in a continent, or a country, or even an organization. You just can't pawn it off onto someone else and say it's their job. Instead, it begins IN yourself...as you decide to look past yourself and towards others, develop a desire to help bring them unto Jesus Christ, obtain His word, power and authority to further your efforts, await your tongue to be loosed and teach, preach, expound and exhort all to come to Christ.

Fortunately, Christ balances all things. Just as His light instantly dispels darkness, He provides hope to what we'd rationally consider hopeless cases.

In fact, I'll go so far as to say that amidst all the darkness and despair, chaos and contention we see all around us, He is quietly, and very subtly, creating what I call "Proto-Zions".

That's right -- the very small, almost imperceptible, stirrings of Zion.

And it's happening in ways and places you'd never expect.

Because that's precisely how He rolls.

Keep reading.

Foundation #1: Good fruits follow the true believers of Jesus Christ

"Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them." (Matthew 7:20
"Ye shall know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles? Even so every good tree bringeth forth good fruit; but a corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit. A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit." (Matthew 7:16-18
"For every tree is known by his own fruit. For of thorns men do not gather figs, nor of a bramble bush gather they grapes." (Luke 6:44)
Christ was very specific about how one produces good fruit for the Kingdom of God:
"Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, except it abide in the vine; no more can ye, except ye abide in me. I am the vine, ye are the branches: He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without me ye can do nothing." (John 15:4-5; emphasis mine)
And just how do you abide in Christ?
"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." (John 14:23
"But that on the good ground are they, which in an honest and good heart, having heard the word, keep it, and bring forth fruit with patience." (Luke 8:15
"If ye keep my commandments, ye shall abide in my love; even as I have kept my Father's commandments, and abide in his love." (John 15:10)
So the forumla is simple enough for a first grader to understand: The honest and good-hearted will love Christ and naturally want to "keep" (obey) His words. When you do this, the Father (1) will love you, (2) will come to you [with Christ] and (3) they will make their abode with you (for more on this concept, please click here).

You, not God, control the amount of fruit you produce:
"But other fell into good ground, and brought forth fruit, some an hundredfold, some sixtyfold, some thirtyfold." (Matthew 13:8)
Are you focused on the cares, riches and pleasures of this life? Then you're not bringing forth good fruit:
"And that which fell among thorns are they, which, when they have heard, go forth, and are choked with cares and riches and pleasures of this life, and bring no fruit to perfection." (Luke 8:14)
Those who don't bring forth good fruit are destroyed:
"Every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire." (Matthew 7:19
"And now also the axe is laid unto the root of the trees: therefore every tree which bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire." (Matthew 3:10)
Some people profess that God has blessed them with profound fruits, including and especially spiritual gifts. Yet over time, many end up manifesting fake fruits...or no fruits at all.

For example: Those who claim to have the gift of prophecy. They often foretell immminent doom and destruction on certain days. Yet invariably, we see those special days come and go without even a whisper of problems. Others claim the gift of prophecy, but never really seem to prophesy at all.

My question is, how can one claim to have a divinely-bestowed gift when they manifest fraudulent fruits, or no fruits at all?
"When a prophet speaketh in the name of the Lord, if the thing follow not, nor come to pass, that is the thing which the Lord hath not spoken, but the prophet hath spoken it presumptuously: thou shalt not be afraid of him." (Deuteronomy 18:22)
Where will we find true prophets? Brother Joseph had an interesting answer:
"The world always mistook false prophets for true ones, and those that were sent of God, they considered to be false prophets, and hence they killed, stoned, punished and imprisoned the true prophets, and these had to hide themselves ‘in deserts and dens, and caves of the earth,’ and though the most honorable men of the earth, they banished them from their society as vagabonds, whilst they cherished, honored and supported knaves, vagabonds, hypocrites, impostors, and the basest of men” (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 206).
Interesting indeed.

Foundation #2: The Predicable Unpredictability of Jesus Christ


This notice appeared in the window of a coat store in Nottingham, England:

"We have been established for over 100 years and have been pleasing and displeasing customers ever since. We have made money and lost money, suffered the effects of coal nationalization, coat rationing, government control, and bad payers. We have been cussed and discussed, messed about, lied to, held up, robbed, and swindled. The only reason we stay in business is to see what happens next."

Sometimes I wonder if this summarizes why so many people used to throng and surround Jesus. They quite likely wanted to see what He'd do next. After all, Christ's mortal ministry was filled with head-turners, double takes, unexpected and unanticipated tangents.

For example: Let's imagine you were a member of the early Christian church, and it's been a few months after the Lord's resurrection. How would you have responded to the news that Saul of Tarsus had personally encountered the resurrected Lord outside Damascus? (Acts 9:3)

Back then, I'm sure it wasn't unusual to hear that some fisherman was out in the middle of the sea, and nearly drowned during a freak storm. But a ha! The fact that he was rescued by a man standing on top of the water! OK, that would have been news. (see Matthew 14:28-31)

Or a story that some guy fed people with a few fishes and loaves of bread? No biggie. But feeding "about five thousand men, beside women and children" (Matthew 14:21) with that number of loaves and fishes? That's...wow.

Arriving late to a funeral? Yep, it happens even today. But arriving late **and then** raising the deceased from the dead? Three days after he died? Unbelievable!

I believe some of the finest moments in Jesus' mortal life were when He performed miracles which were not only awe-inspiring, but were also totally, undeniably, 100% unexpected.

Do you think the Lord changes? Do you honestly think He would abandon His very consistent pattern of doing the unexpected to further Father's work? I don't.

Foundation #3: Jesus, Friend of Sinners


Pop quiz: During His mortal life, who did Jesus hang out with?

His disciples? Yes, of course.

But if you go back and read your scriptures, you'll see that
"as Jesus sat at meat in his house, many publicans and sinners sat also together with Jesus and his disciples: for there were many, and they followed him.
And when the scribes and Pharisees saw him eat with publicans and sinners, they said unto his disciples, How is it that he eateth and drinketh with publicans and sinners?
When Jesus heard it, he saith unto them, They that are whole have no need of the physician, but they that are sick: I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance." (Mark 2:15-17)
At almost every turn, Jesus went against the norm and did things that weren't politically correct. What mattered to Him? Walking in the will of Father, going where Father wanted Him to go, saying what Father wanted Him to say.

Time after time, we read how He hung out with the blind, the lame, the leper, the prostitute, the Samaritan, the tax collector, the poor, the sick, the outcast. He sought out, and spent sacred time with, those in pain.

You don’t often see Jesus walking up to sinners and immediately start chewing them out because of their sins. Instead, you see Him start a conversation. In John 4, when He met the Samaritan woman at the well, He didn’t open with, "Hi there, you sexually immoral person! Do you know that sleeping with that man who is not your husband is sin? And because you’re not a Christian, you’re eternally damned?" He simply asked, “Will you give me a drink?" He opened a dialogue with her. He did go on to talk about her situation, but He spoke with her in truth, sensitivity and love.

I believe Christ spent His precious time with these societal outcasts so He, personally, could give these people what they (of all people) needed most: Love. Validation as children of their Father. Souls whose value is inestimable. As I stated above, I doubt Jesus' personality has changed or hardened in 2,000 years. He still seeks those who need His love most. as He once said to a dear friend,

"I Rescue Those Whom I Love"


If Jesus were to walk among us today, I don't think you'd find Him in the boardrooms, the high-rise executive suites nor the swanky, million-dollar mansions. You'd find Him in the fringes of society: on skid row, in the womens' and childrens' shelters, in hospitals and even more down-and-out places -- the places which need healing and light. He wouldn't go there to sin or encourage sinfulness; instead, He'd likely interact with people we wouldn't even look at, let alone speak with. He'd start conversations. He'd approach the people with love which was so personalized, genuine and divine, that people would really be conversationally disarmed.

If Jesus were to walk amongst us today, who would you find Him hanging out with? Would He make meetings with Pharisees, Scribes and Sadducees a top priority? Or would you find Him with sinners? Prostitutes? Convicts? Drug addicts? Alcoholics? The abused? The lonely? The unclean? Destitute? Neglected? Depressed? In other words, the undesirables -- the very ones who need love the most.

But here's a really interesting question:

Knowing what you do about the Savior -- that He loves to perform miracles in totally unexpected ways, and that prioritizes places and people who needed His love and healing the most -- would you be surprised to hear that He's still doing so?

Believe it or not, He is.

Today.

The Miracle of Ciudad Juárez, Mexico


Ciudad Juárez, Mexico.

It's the seat of the municipality of Juárez, and home to an estimated population of 1.5 million people.

Not too long ago, it was not only considered Mexico's most dangerous city, it was ranked as the top -- #1 -- most violent city in the world. It was rightfully called, "The City of Death."

  • In 2010, Ciudad Juarez suffered 3,057 violent deaths. Last year there were 312 murders.
  • Once, there were eight kidnappings a day. Now, it's gone over two years without a single abduction.
  • Extortion is down 90%.
  • The 7,500 Mexican soldiers who were once deployed there to reinforce the police have returned to their barracks.
  • Strip clubs are now peaceful, wholesome teen hangouts.
  • An illicit drug distribution house is now instead packed with boxes of Bibles, and constantly being refreshed with more boxes because the Bibles are being distributed citywide.
  • A seedy hotel was transformed into a senior living center.
Why? What in the world happened here?

People voluntarily decided to demonstrate their Christianity outside the four walls of their churches. At first, a few prayed diligently over their neighborhoods. They begged God to unleash His mercy, His power, and asked that they could become agents of change and transformation.

It started with the local churches, as Christians relentlessly took God's transformative powers to the very gates of hell. This proved to be the leaven within the dough. Like leaven, the dough needs time to rise. It was no different in Ciudad Juárez:
  • At first, the changes were minor; for example, they turned their church pews around so instead of seeing the backs of peoples' heads, congregations faced each other at tables, talked, laughed, cried, prayed and strengthened each other.
  • As church attendance skyrocketed, the churches donated ALL -- 100% -- of their tithes to the poor in their communities. The elimination of systemic poverty became a top priority. Food went to the most needy, and jobs to the less fortunate.
  • Pastors and congregants looked for opportunities to worship God on the other six days a week (besides Sunday). They did this outside of their churches, as they were passionately interested and invested in human affairs all the time. Consequently, as they demonstrated truly Christlike characteristics, and asked God to exert His presence and bring His power to bear, first in their immediate spheres of influence, their neighborhoods and eventually their city.
As these neighborhoods enjoyed success after success, and saw life after life changed, others did the same, until the whole city had been reclaimed from the darkest of evils. Today, the economy in Ciudad Juárez is booming and thriving. Educational attainment is at an all-time high, and crime is at its lowest levels in modern history.

Even city leaders -- the Mayor and City Councilmen -- embraced the religiously-catalyzed transformation. People strengthened and prayed over each other, helping others recognize the true potential in using their circumstances and gifts to solidify God's kingdom and improve lives.

The community, from the top to the bottom, literally placed God at the center of their city, then re-took the city from the inside out. It's no wonder city residents consistently talk about "the light breaking forth" in Ciudad Juárez.

And at all times, people are giving thanks to God for the miraculous, citywide transformation they got to witness (and be part of) first-hand.

It All Started With a Taxi Driver


Joe was a Jeepney (taxi) driver in the Philippines. Strongly desiring to serve God, Joe felt prompted to serve right where he was. Because opportunities to help convert people to Christ are kind of difficult during a 10-minute taxi drive, he was drawn to serve in a bar called "Sweet Moments".

There, Joe used Luke 10 as his guide. He made peace with the lost, fellowshipped the owner and staff, took care of them and even announced the Kingdom of God had come to them.

Everyday, Joe would go to the bar, order a soft drink and pray peace over the bar, the employees and customers. After a few days, he befriended Brian -- the bar's manager, as well as a drug dealer, gambler, drug user and pimp to about 35 prostitutes. Even Brian admits that he was a certified, full-strength sinner.

The friendship grew. After just a few days, Joe led Brian to the Lord and baptized Brian in a nearby beach. As Brian emerged from the water, he experienced an instant transformation. He felt delivered from all his vices, and stopped being a pimp and drug dealer, which was his source of income.

But that's not all.

Brian's transformation became evident to those around him. In a short time, all 35 prostitutes also became Christians. The bar's owner, Teddy, joined the bar's study group and was also converted. Soon, the bar itself was converted into a church.

In less than a year, Joe -- the pastor of the bar-turned-church -- established 12 cell groups in the area. (Joe Silvoso, "Anointed for Business, p. 314-315).

The Once and Future Pattern of Geographic Transformation


2,000 years ago, Jesus told His disciples not to wait for nations to come to them, but for them to go to the nations. He specifically instructed them to:
  • Begin by discipling a city (Jerusalem). Incidentally, Acts 5:28 tells us that Jerusalem was "filled" with Christianity within a few weeks or months of the church's formation.
  • And then to a region (Judea). This was to provide them with some experience in establishing regional discipleship. Afterwards, they were to
  • Go on and tackle the first nation (Samaria).
  • After that, they were not to stop until they had reached the ends of the earth —- all nations (Acts 1:8). We understand that within two years' time, Christianity had spread to Asia (Acts 19:10).
Today

Then, and now, these conversions aren't happening because someone started off casually talking about Christ. Instead, the power of God is unleashed first! God is given His opportunity to work miracles, often in ways our mortal minds hadn't considered. Then, over time, the miracles do occur. And when people see how awesome it is, just how loving, how kind, how redemptive the Lord is, they not only see it, but they also experience it. It's not long thereafter that they want to be part of it.

Some may question the validity of these contemporary examples -- for example, by saying, "But this was done by other churches, and not the LDS Church. So, hmmmm, I have my doubts."

As I've mentioned before, we LDS love our doctrinal boxes.

Have you already forgotten that good fruits follow the true believers of Jesus Christ? Are not the results in these examples good fruits? Haven't we already learned that "A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit" (3 Nephi 14:18)? Haven't we read that God often brings about His ends through unpredictable means? And aren't we told that Christ enthusiastically ministers among the outcasts and sinners, so He could help them enjoy spiritual transformation?
"For behold, a bitter fountain cannot bring forth good water; neither can a good fountain bring forth bitter water; wherefore, a man being a servant of the devil cannot follow Christ; and if he follow Christ he cannot be a servant of the devil." (Moroni 7:11)
"And if Satan cast out Satan, he is divided against himself; how shall then his kingdom stand? 
But if I cast out devils by the Spirit of God, then the kingdom of God is come unto you." (Matthew 12:26, 28).
The Future

Yet in the not-too-distant future, a similar effort will commence. It, too, will start small, being undertaken by mortals who will be directly ordained not by men, but angels:
"Q. What are we to understand by sealing the one hundred and forty-four thousand, out of all the tribes of Israel-twelve thousand out of every tribe?
A. We are to understand that those who are sealed are high priests, ordained unto the holy order of God, to administer the everlasting gospel; for they are they who are ordained out of every nation, kindred, tongue, and people, by the angels to whom is given power over the nations of the earth, to bring as many as will come to the church of the Firstborn." (D&C 77:11)
Unlike previous missionary efforts, though, these servants won't just preach the everlasting gospel; they'll administer it. In my opinion, [1] I don't think the word "administer" means they'll be filling out a lot of forms and going to a lot of meetings in conference rooms. [2] John Taylor's quote may be appropriate:
"And then when the time comes that these calmities we read of shall overtake the earth, those that are prepared will have the power of translation, as they had in former times, and the city will be translated."(John Taylor, Journal of Discourses, 21:253)
Still, in all three examples, the transformative work of God [1] begins small, via [2] tremendously dedicated disciples, [3] grows gradually and [4] achieves results beyond the expectations of many.
"For the earth shall be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea." (Habakkuk 2:14)

So, How Does This Apply to You?


If God can transform the "City of Death" into a city of disciples...if He can transform a bar owned by a drug-dealing pimp into a church wherein many die-hard sinners have converted to Christ...if He can transform a whole world from a telestial to a terrestrial state...

Then He can definitely transform whatever dark circumstances you're in into one of light.

You read about the results from 2,000 years ago, and the results he's bringing about literally at the gates of hell.

He can, and will, transform your life, too -- even if you're a drug dealing, gambling, pimp of 35 whores. I doubt you're in that ballpark.

You can start by renouncing evil and inviting Him into your life. Here's one example:
"Jesus, I’ve mishandled my brokenness. Jesus, I ask your Holy Spirit to help me now remember, confess, and renounce my sins."
Pause. Listen. Remember. Confess and renounce.
"Lord Jesus, I ask your forgiveness for sin. You promised that if we confess our sins, you are faithful and just to forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness (1 John 1:9)." 
"Forgive me for my pride, all my self-protection and self-redemption, and for all my false comforters. Cleanse my heart of every sin by your shed blood. I now break every agreement I have made with Satan and his lies. [Get specific here. What have you believed, bought into?] I renounce any claim I have given to my enemy, and in the name of Jesus, I command him to flee."
Then ask Jesus to do for you the very thing He said He came to do: to heal your brokenness.
"I invite Your light, Your love, Your healing. I will listen to whatever words you give me, and follow where You lead me. Please, Jesus, set me free and make me whole again."
Beg Him to transform your life to such an extent, that you -- and others -- will praise Father's name for exceeding your wildest expectations:
"Now unto him that is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that worketh in us" (Ephesians 3:20)
Then be patient (after all, bread doesn't rise in the blink of an eye). Listen for His voice, which is kind and gracious and loving and generous and enthusiastic and edifying and joyful. And most of all, it's peaceful. It'll be the voice that edifies you, the voice that makes you feel secure, the voice when -- even when you aren't doing well with God -- He's always doing well with you. It's the voice that will declare that He loves you beyond words, and will show and demonstrate that. It's the voice that's restful, that's joyful and maybe even has some humor attached to it (because God is wonderfully humorous).

Know that He'll likely show you places or behaviors to avoid and boxes to break out of.
"The mystery power and glory of the priesthood is so great and glorious that the angels desired to understand it and cannot: why, because of the tradition of them and their fathers in setting up stakes and not coming up to the mark in their probationary state." (Joseph Smith, 27 August 1843, Words of Joseph Smith, p. 244, Willard Richards Diary)
But transform you will...often in ways you hadn't anticipated, but definitely to an extent you'd never considered. Once that occurs, then
"Therefore let your light so shine before this people, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father who is in heaven." (3 Nephi 12:16)
It's at that moment, then and there, that you'll be doing what others are doing...today...in the unlikeliest of ways and in the most unexpected places:

Building a micro, proto-Zion.




Your Holiday Helping Hand


In a post published a few months ago, I mentioned a couple (husband and wife) that was in dire need of financial assistance.

The response to this post was overwhelmingly positive -- a fact for which I, and this couple, are profoundly grateful.

They still are in need of help with apartment rent, utilities and dental bills. Both are in their 60s and, because of their deteriorated medical conditions, neither can work. Government assistance for them is very (pitifully) small.

So I ask you to search within yourself and ask for you to ask the Spirit if you should help this family out. If so, then send me a message via my contact page (here), and I'll get back with you on how to help out.
"And also, ye yourselves will succor those that stand in need of your succor; ye will administer of your substance unto him that standeth in need; and ye will not suffer that the beggar putteth up his petition to you in vain, and turn him out to perish. 
And now, for the sake of these things which I have spoken unto you—that is, for the sake of retaining a remission of your sins from day to day, that ye may walk guiltless before God—I would that ye should impart of your substance to the poor, every man according to that which he hath, such as feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, visiting the sick and administering to their relief, both spiritually and temporally, according to their wants." (Mosiah 4:16-26)
Thanks. God bless you. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!