Are you a first-timer to LDS Perfect Day! If so, welcome!
Click here to see what this blog is all about and how you can get the most out of it.

Sunday, September 24, 2017

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



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

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

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

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

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

Spiritual Exceptionalism


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

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

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

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

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

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

Yes and no.

The Unchanging Changeableness of God


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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

There Are No Easy Answers Here


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

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

The Beginning of Discernment


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

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

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

When There Are No Dots to Connect


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

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

You're a Citizen of Which Government?


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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