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Sunday, May 29, 2016

Lectures on Faith 1, Part 2: Develop The Power To Move Mountains

Clowns to the Left of Me, Jokers to the Right. Here I Am, Stuck in the Middle With You.


They're looking like fools...and I'm actually kind of enjoying watching them squirm.

I'm speaking of the political pundits who consistently cough up their "expert" commentaries on the national TV news networks. Last year, they laughed when two men declared their candidacies for President of the United States. Six months ago, they weren't chuckling anymore, but still, they boldly predicted the two men would self-destruct by spring.

Well, here we are. One of the men has clinched enough delegates for his party's nomination, and the other probably won't, but will at least be an ideological tour de force at his party's nomination convention.

And the pundits? Whatever credibility they had with me before has evaporated, because their expert insights and predictions had all the legitimacy of a three dollar bill.

Yet in other quarters, I'm seeing similar things happen:
  • I see groups of people who are hinged on every word, practically every syllable, of mortal "teachers" -- even to the extent that they ascribe a certain degree of infallibility to these "teachers".
  • I see groups of people expounding and preaching the words of these "teachers" alongside canonized scripture, as if they are scripture.
  • I see people making bold predictions of calamitous events which never materialize, then backtracking on their public statements.
  • I see people prioritizing the study of, and devotion to, the words of these predictors above those in the scriptures.
Unlike my "enjoying watching them squirm" response re: the political commentators, I'm not entertained, but saddened, by what I see in the spiritual landscape.

And it's only getting worse.

The Greatest Power in the Universe


Lecture on Faith 1 reminds us that faith "is the assurance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen: Hebrews 11:1. That is, it is the assurance we have of the existence of unseen things. And being the assurance which we have of the existence of unseen things, must be the principle of action in all intelligent beings. Hebrews 11:3: Through faith we understand the worlds were framed by the word of God. (1:8-9)" (Lecture 1 Question 5).

This "assurance" is also a "principle of power" "by which the worlds were framed" (Lecture 1:17). In fact, "all created things exist" -- "all things in heaven, on earth, or under the earth, exist by reason of faith". (Lecture 1:14-15). Faith "is the principle by which Jehovah works, and through which he exercises power over all temporal, as well as eternal things. Take this principle or attribute, (for it is an attribute) from the Deity and he would cease to exist" (Lecture 1:16).

Faith (in God) "is the first great governing principle which has power, dominion, and authority over all things: by it they exist, by it they are upheld, by it they are changed, or by it they remain, agreeably to the will of God. Without it, there is no power, and without power there could be no creation, nor existence!" (Lecture 1:24).

The Power of Words


Interestingly, there's a direct correlation between faith and the words we speak. There is tremendous power in our words. They can either be used to create, or to destroy. Thus we're told, "Out of the same mouth proceedeth blessing and cursing" (James 3:10).

In the case of the latter, a certain fig tree found that out the hard way when the Savior cursed it with words ("No man eat fruit of thee hereafter for ever"; Mark 11:12-14). The next morning, the tree showed the effects of that cursing (Mark 11:20-25).

What did it take to curse that fig tree? A big ceremony? A five-minute long pronouncement? A Hollywood production company? Nope, just nine words. That's because only a particle of faith is enough to move a mountain. "The Savior says, (Matthew 17:19-20), in explaining the reason why the disciples could not cast out the devil, that it was because of their unbelief: 'For verily, I say unto you,' said he, '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.'" (Lecture 1:18).

Look at this long list of example after example where someone used words to create or curse:

  • "...it was the faith of Alma and Amulek which caused the walls of the prison to be wrent, as recorded in Alma 14:23-29" (Lecture 1:19)
  • "...it was the faith of Nephi and Lehi which caused a change to be wrought upon the hearts of the Lamanites, when they were immersed with the Holy Spirit, and with fire, as seen in Helaman 5:37-50" (Lecture 1:19)
  • "...it was by faith that the mountain Zerin was removed, when the brother of Jared spake in the name of the Lord. See also Ether 12:30" (Lecture 1:19)
  • "Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, David, Samuel, and the prophets, through faith subdued kingdoms, wrought righteousness, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, quenched the violence of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, out of weakness were made strong, waxed valiant in fight, turned to flight the armies of the aliens; and that women received their dead raised to life again, etc" (Lecture 1:20)
  • "Joshua, in the sight of all Israel, bade the sun and moon to stand still, and it was done. (Joshua 10:12)" (Lecture 1:21)

The interrelation of faith and words is crystal clear. Look at how Lecture 1 ties them together:
"We here understand, that the sacred writers say, that all these things were done by faith—It was by faith that the worlds were framed—God spake, chaos heard, and worlds came into order, by reason of the faith there was in HIM. So with man also—he spake by faith in the name of God, and the sun stood still, the moon obeyed, mountains removed, prisons fell, lions' mouths were closed, the human heart lost its enmity, fire its violence, armies their power, the sword its terror, and death its dominion; and all this by reason of the faith which was in them." (Lecture 1:22)
One important point that hopefully didn't escape you: that these words weren't based on the words of another mortal. They weren't based on some book that you could buy on Amazon. They weren't based on a broadcast interview, a podcast or blog post.

Nope. They were based on one thing, and one thing alone: the personally revealed words of God to that particular individual. And when that individual spoke, they did so with divine investiture of authority. They understood God. They believed God. They trusted God. So when God told them to speak certain words, they spoke, and the cosmos obeyed.

When God Speaks From An Unexpected Direction


There's a common belief among LDS that unless you have some kind of ecclesiastical or familial authority over someone, you have no right to say anything to them that's from God. I don't believe that. I believe that if God indeed prompts you to say something, you do it. Examples:

  • Galatians 2: Paul (a general authority, but not one of the Twelve) publicly calls out Peter (President of the Church) as a hypocrite. Paul assumed not ecclesiastical, but moral, authority ("I withstood him to the face, because he was to be blamed" and "I said unto Peter before them all").
  • 1 Nephi 16:18-20: Amidst inadequate food for the exhausted desert travelers, Nephi breaks his bow. Laman and Lemuel and the sons of Ishmael murmured "exceedingly". Even Lehi, surprisingly, joined them and "began to murmur against the Lord his God." Then they all "were exceedingly sorrowful" and murmured against the Lord together. Nephi assumed moral leadership; he denounced his brothers (who were above him in family status, if not in religious hierarchy) for hardening their hearts and murmuring against God. Instead of denouncing his father, Nephi asked Lehi for guidance, asking "Whither shall I go to obtain food?" Lehi was later strongly rebuked and chastened by the Lord.
  • D&C 6:19: Here, the Lord instructs Oliver Cowdery to reprove Joseph on occasion: "Admonish him in his faults, and also receive admonition of him". Yet in a previous verse, Oliver is instructed to "stand by my servant Joseph, faithfully, in whatsoever difficult circumstances he may be..." So, it appears that "standing by" a leader and reproving his faults are acceptable to the Lord, if it's done with God's express permission.
  • The Word of Wisdom: In February 1833, the School of the Prophets met in a room above the kitchen of Joseph's his house. According to Brigham Young,
"the first thing they did was to light their pipes, and, while smoking, talk about the great things of the kingdom, and spit all over the room, and as soon as the pipe was out of their mouths a large chew of tobacco would then be taken. Often when the Prophet entered the room to give the school instructions he would find himself in a cloud of tobacco smoke." (Journal of Discourses 12:158)
Emma complained at "having to clean so filthy a floor," which "made the Prophet think upon the matter, and he inquired of the Lord relating to the conduct of the elders in using Tobacco, and the revelation known as Word of Wisdom was the result of his inquiry." David Whitmer suggests that Emma actually desired a revelation on the subject:
"Some of the men were excessive chewers of the filthy weed, and their disgusting slobbering and spitting caused Mrs. Smith... to make the ironical remark that 'It would be a good thing if a revelation could be had declaring the use of tobacco a sin, and commanding its suppression." (David Whitmer, in Des Moines Daily News, 16 October 1886, 20; Paul H. Peterson, "An Historical Analysis of the Word of Wisdom" (Master’s Thesis, BYU, 1972), p. 19-20; Linda King Newell and Valeen Tippetts Avery, "Mormon Enigma" (New York: Doubleday, 1984), p. 47)
In this case, too, moral inspiration came first to a technically non-hierarchical person, then moved upward to the head of the Church. Also important: the impetus for the revelation came from the wife, not the husband.

It is interesting that in each of these cases, the recipient of the information didn't attack hierarchical structure or try to place himself/herself above another. They heard or sensed a stronger moral truth, and promoted it with courage and conviction.

All of us are morally and intellectually fallible. We should have the courage to admit our weaknesses and mistakes and get back on track (like Lehi, Peter and Joseph) instead of selfishly pursuing a wrong course, and thinking that everything we do is rubber-stamped by God. History has shown time and again that leaders should take seriously the ideas, insights, counsel, suggestions and even rebukes of those hierarchically beneath them.

The Doctrine of Just Helping Others


I hope you can see, as I do, that when a person speaks the words that God truly puts into their hearts, the effects are obvious, their source is undeniable and their approval by God is rock solid. No equivocating or backtracking is required. Conversely, if their words or actions aren't from God, it'll be painfully obvious to all...and hopefully, the person who has put himself/herself out there.

Have you ever had an experience where someone said something to you, and you knew it wasn't just that person speaking to you? The specific words they said, and perhaps even how they said them, had such a profound effect on you, that you knew right then and there that God just spoke to you?

I know a man who prays everyday that the words he speaks will help draw people to Christ. I mean, this is a fervent prayer. And when an experience happens that he believes answers his prayer, he prays for another experience. And after that one, another, and so on and so on.

Is he perfect at it? Heavens no! He's just as imperfect as the next person.

But the fact that he has a particle of faith in God, that God can work miracles through someone so imperfect as my friend, is remarkable to me. It's daily proof positive that the Lord just wasn't whistling Dixie; He really meant it when He said that we could move mountains with the words we speak which have, as their foundation, belief and trust in God.

Now It's Your Turn to Speak With Faith!


How about you?

Do you have such a prayer?

Would you like similar experiences as my friend, where you, too, can speak the words of God to an individual?

Now, imagine if you could do so with someone who's really struggling. Maybe it's your husband or wife, son or daughter, mom or dad, a coworker, friend or someone from church. Is that something you desire?

Perhaps that's what lies at the heart of Lecture 1: When you believe God, when you trust God, He can and will use you for the betterment of others. No authority is required to help another! And in most (if not all) cases, that betterment will be accompanied by the words He will place in your heart.

Maybe, through you, He will move mountains. Not literal ones (although that's always a possibility), but instead, metaphorical ones. Maybe the words you speak will help another make it just another day...to find a ray of hope amidst a black and dismal life...to discover amidst the helplessness and hopelessness, there really is a God out there who is aware of every tear they shed and every prayer of desperation they offer.

I invite you to reach the heavens. Touch the sky. Develop this faith, the faith that is accompanied with words from the Almighty. Pray for it. Search for it. Expect it.

Because you -- yes, you -- have the Kingdom of God within you. And with God, there is no doubt whatsoever that -- with faith, trust and love -- you can move mountains.



God Can Move Mountains


Faith. Trust. Love.
Love can...love can move mountains.

There ain't a dream that don't have the chance to come true now
It just takes a little faith, baby
Anything that we want to do, we can do now
There ain't nothing in our way, baby

Nothing our love couldn't rise above
We can get through the night, we can get to the light
Long as we got our love to light the way

With a little faith, just a little trust
If you believe in love, love can move mountains
Believe in your heart and feel, feel it in your soul and love
Love can, love can move mountains
Oh, yeah, baby

Oceans deep and mountains high, they can't stop us
Because love is on our side, baby
We can reach the heavens and touch the sky
Just believe it, believe in you and I, baby

If we got love that is strong enough
We can do anything, we'd get through anything
'Coz through it all love will always find a way

Just a little faith, just a little trust
If you believe in love, love can move mountains
Believe in your heart and feel, feel it in your soul and love, baby
Love can, love can move mountains
You got to feel it, baby, oh, yeah

You believe in me, I believe in you
If we believe in each other, nothing we can't do
If we got love that is strong enough, then we'll find a way

With a little faith, just a little trust
If you believe in love, love can move mountains
Believe in your heart and feel, feel it in your soul and love
Love can move mountains

Love will find a way, love will find a way, baby
Believe in each other, oh, baby
Believe in love, love can move mountains

Believe if your feeling love, love
You got to feel it, baby
You gotta, you gotta, you gotta, you gotta, you gotta
You gotta feel it baby, baby

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Lectures on Faith 1, Part 1: When God -- And Hope -- Eludes You

"The author of the epistle to the Hebrews, in the eleventh chapter of that epistle, and first verse, gives the following definition of the word faith:
Now faith is the substance [assurance] of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.
From this we learn, that faith is the assurance which men have of the existence of things which they have not seen; and the principle of action in all intelligent beings." (Lecture on Faith 1:7-9)
"Faith Crisis" is a pretty popular term these days in the media and on the internet. In most cases, it refers to one's struggle with particular church doctrines, teachings, policies, procedures or how a church is led or managed.

But go look at the comments of one of my previous posts. As you can see, there are some good, humble, God-fearing people struggling with a different kind of faith crisis. They struggle with having faith in Jesus Christ.

Maybe it's the infertile couple who sits through a multitude of baby blessings at church. Or the family coping with a family member's incurable medical or psychological condition. Or holding your head up high despite knowing your spouse wants nothing to do with church or God. Or struggling to just get out of bed after having a miscarriage or lost a job. Or moving one foot in front of the other after the death of a loved one. Or trying to live life with memories of abuse still lingering in the back of your head. Maybe it's just feeling, or even being, alone.

Maybe you asked for a priesthood blessing, and all you got was that generic "God is aware of you. God loves you" statement (Really? Is that the best, most personalized reassurance a God can give their child?). Maybe you turned to God for answers or relief. You may have even begged Him, pleaded Him, for help. But all you got in return was silence and solitude.

Perhaps you surmised that the silence meant that you were unworthy of His response, so you either tried (in vain) to be the perfect person (in order to gain His favor), or you sunk further into hopelessness, helplessness, despair and depression, hoping your brokenness might just grab His attention.
"How long, Lord? Will you forget me forever?
How long will you hide your face from me?
How long must I wrestle with my thoughts and day after day have sorrow in my heart?
How long will my enemy triumph over me?" (Psalm 13:1-2)

When I Ascended From Hell


In April, 2014, I felt a lot of those emotions I described above. At the time, I had been experiencing some pretty bad clinical depression. That month, one of my children received a very bad medical diagnosis. In the second week of May, the entire section at my work was eliminated, and I was laid off of my job. Two weeks after that, a trusted friend of mine betrayed my trust in a very unjustified, hurtful, malicious way. A week after that, my sister passed away. The day after that, my extended family disowned me (part of the price I pay for being LDS).

The physical, emotional and spiritual pain was unbearable. Even though my closest friends were aware of some of what was going on, they didn't know the whole story. It felt like I was being sent through one of those old-time washing machines (the kind that would squeeze water out of the clothes).

Then one morning, it happened. I saw the coolest looking sunrise ever. I mean, this one was the sunrise to beat all sunrises. And as I saw it, I felt blessed. I told others about the sunrise, and said I felt blessed. Later, I saw one of my children excel at something, and told my wife I felt blessed for seeing it. I would awake and feel blessed that I could see and hear and walk and talk and not have pain. I would tell people I felt blessed when I started making an income again. I would feel blessed when the perfect song with the perfect lyrics would play on the radio at the perfect time. I would tell people I was blessed when they would call and say they felt motivated to tell me to "keep moving forward" (really cool -- when 7 people who don't know each other called within 4 days, all with the same message).

And then, one night, as I was alone, an even greater blessing came -- one that I hadn't expected. Amidst the tears and a lifetime of guilt and inadequacy, I asked Him why I just went through hell.

His reply: "I needed you to descend lower, and still keep your eyes on me, so you could qualify for the blessing I'm giving you now."

My life has NEVER been the same since that night in June, 2014.

"the substance [assurance] of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen"


We often look at our lives as a snapshot in time. And sometimes, that picture isn't very pretty. I know it can be downright ugly and unfair.

Yet God looks at your life differently. He sees the entire motion picture of your life -- not just the here and now, but from waaaay back (when  you were an intelligence) to the far-flung future (when you're on a spiritual plane far higher than this one), and all points in between.

God has said that He'll always have your best interests at heart. He's said that His work and glory is to bring about your immortality and eternal life. He's also said that He'll never leave you, and that He'll always be with you...every step of the way. If that's true, then He'd ought to be out there, somewhere. Find-able. Discoverable. Discernable.

In my journey of April-June 2014, I learned a few things:

1. If you're going through a really tough time (aka a "descent"), chances are, it's the prelude to an ascent. Rabbi Nachman put it best:
"Spiritual descent is necessary for spiritual ascent: When a man has to rise from one level to the next, prior to his ascent, he must first undergo a descent. The paradox is that the very purpose of the descent is the ascent. From this you can see how much strength is required in the service of God. Even when you fall or descend in any way, you must never allow yourself to be thrown off balance to the extent that you come to look down upon yourself or to hold yourself in contempt." (Rabbi Nachman, trans. Avraham Greenbaum, Likutey Moharan, "Restore My Soul" [Monsey & Jerusalem: Breslov Research Institute, 1980], p. 16-17; here; read more here).
The ultimate exemplar of this is Jesus Christ, who descended below all things.  He was born in the lowliest of circumstances.  He went among the sinners, was despised, betrayed and ultimately killed.
"He comprehended all things" by suffering every individual act of frustration, sadness and pain ever experienced in the history of earth so He could know how to help us rise above our daily difficulties (D&C 88:6; see also D&C 122:8).
In so doing, a magnificent outcome emerged: he ascended above all things...to the right hand of the Father.
"Therefore, let us not resent those tutoring experiences which can develop our own empathy further (see Alma 7:11-12).  So being admitted fully to 'the fellowship of his sufferings' requires the full dues of discipleship (Philip. 3:10; see also 1 Cor. 1:9)." (Elder Neal A. Maxwell, "Plow in Hope", April 2001 General Conference)
2. Persist in asking for your ascent. Luke 18:1-8's story of the persistent widow is a lesson about persevering in prayer. Actually, most scriptural prayer stories are. How many times did it take Elijah to call down the promised rain? Not once; not twice; eight rounds of all-of-your-heart-soul-mind-and-strength prayer. In Acts 12, Herod seized James and executed him. He then arrested Peter and put him in jail. The outcome looked the same. But the story shifted with the phrase, “But the church was praying very earnestly for him” (v. 5). The Greek for “very earnestly” is the same description of Jesus' serious prayers in Gethsemane. The text also indicates that the church prayed for Peter all night long. It worked; Peter was rescued. Then we have Enos' prayer:
"And my soul hungered; and I kneeled down before my Maker, and I cried unto him in mighty prayer and supplication for mine own soul; and all the day long did I cry unto him; yea, and when the night came I did still raise my voice high that it reached the heavens." (Enos 1:4)
No wonder Joseph advised that we "Come to God weary him until he blesses you" ([recorded in Willard Richards Pocket Companion, 78–79] cited in The Words of Joseph Smith: The Contemporary Accounts of the Nauvoo Discourses of the Prophet Joseph, comp. Andrew F. Ehat and Lyndon W. Cook [1980], 15; https://www.lds.org/manual/book-of-mormon-student-manual/chapter-50-ether-1-5?lang=eng)

3. Keep an eye out for the ascent. Get out of your own comfort zone or pity party and look for the blessings He's constantly sending you. It's like learning a new language. Maybe you've become so accustomed to hearing God on a lower wavelength, that when He increases the wavelength to a higher one, you don't hear Him anymore. But the harder you look, the more you'll find those highs and lows, the peaks and valleys, of his increased frequency. Then before you know it, you're ON that higher wavelength.

Sometimes you're going to find His responses in the Temple. Sometimes, it'll be in your bedroom or living room, or out in the middle of nowhere, away from Babylon. Sometimes it'll be in a dream, sometimes it'll be in the scriptures.

But can I give you some free, unsolicited advice? I believe one of God's favorite ways to help us is by inspiring another to help us. Sometimes, the most effective angels are those with flesh.
"Wherefore, he that preacheth and he that receiveth, understand one another, and both are edified and rejoice together." (D&C 50:22)
4. Then, once you've found that blessing, acknowledge it to others. You actually breathe new life into that blessing, and try to extend it to others. My friend, Vincent, is on a level of coolness that's really, really high. When people ask how he's doing, his response is both accurate and electrifying: "I am blessed."

You just never know where God's answers are going to come from. Sometimes we look for solutions which are seemingly elusive, but in reality, they're right under our noses. The answer to Joseph Smith's question of which church to join was embedded in James 1:5. A sunrise started my ascension from a type of hell in 2014. And, I have no doubt, the people who are experiencing problems (as mentioned in the comments of this blog post) found some answers that'll help them.

Those are some substantive, active strategies. They're reassuring of things hoped for, and evidence of things not seen, but very, very real.
"Were this class to go back and reflect upon the history of their lives, from the period of their first recollection, and ask themselves, what principle excited them to action, or what gave them energy and activity, in all their lawful avocations, callings and pursuits, what would be the answer? Would it not be that it was the assurance which we had of the existence of things which we had not seen, as yet?—Was it not the hope which you had, in consequence of your belief in the existence of unseen things, which stimulated you to action and exertion, in order to obtain them? Are you not dependent on your faith, or belief, for the acquisition of all knowledge, wisdom and intelligence? Would you exert yourselves to obtain wisdom and intelligence, unless you did believe that you could obtain them? Would you have ever sown if you had not believed that you would reap? Would you have ever planted if you had not believed that you would gather? Would you have ever asked unless you had believed that you would receive? Would you have ever sought unless you had believed that you would have found? Or would you have ever knocked unless you had believed that it would have been opened unto you? In a word, is there any thing that you would have done, either physical or mental, if you had not previously believed? Are not all your exertions, of every kind, dependent on your faith? Or may we not ask, what have you, or what do you possess, which you have not obtained by reason of your faith? Your food, your raiment, your lodgings, are they not all by reason of your faith? Reflect, and ask yourselves, if these things are not so. Turn your thoughts on your own minds, and see if faith is not the moving cause of all action in yourselves; and if the moving cause in you, is it not in all other intelligent beings?
And as faith is the moving cause of all action in temporal concerns, so it is in spiritual; for the Savior has said, and that truly, that he that believeth and is baptized, shall be saved. (Mark 16:16)
As we receive by faith, all temporal blessings that we do receive, so we, in like manner, receive by faith all spiritual blessings, that we do receive. But faith is not only the principle of action, but of power, also, in all intelligent beings, whether in heaven, or on earth. Thus says the author of the epistle to the Hebrews. (11:3)" (Lecture on Faith 1:11-13)

A Real-Life Example of Descent to Ascent


My descent story pales in comparison to Lucy Kay's. When growing up, Lucy was bullied for over a decade, picked on due to -- believe it or not -- her love of classical music. The bullying was so intense, that it forced her family to move. Lucy confessed, "I wondered what it would be like if I was dead. I felt worthless, like I couldn’t go on and I hated seeing how worried I was making my mum. I did question my right to be on this earth, I couldn’t understand why they thought it was so wrong I should like different music."

By age 11, the cruel jibes had turned into violent beatings. One of the most vicious attacks was at the hands of a girl gang outside the school gates. "I was punched and kicked and slammed into a lamppost. I was unconscious for a short amount of time and when I woke up people were burning cigarettes on me." They also ripped her coat off and stole her mobile phone to stop her calling for help. Other times groups of and girls and boys would lay in wait for her in an alleyway near her home. She revealed, "I couldn’t even go to the local shop. Mum would ask me to get her some milk and then I’d bump into them on the way there and they’d beat me up. I’d come back covered in bruises."

Fast forward to April 12, 2014. The nervous 24-year-old auditioned for "Britain's Got Talent", which you can see above (or here). The result: A well-deserved, 35-second standing ovation by the audience and judges, with Simon Cowell praising her performance of Puccini’s Vissi d’arte as "extraordinary". She finished second place in the final for her rendition of "Nessun Dorma". Within days, Lucy signed a multi-album deal with Sony Music. Her debut studio album Fantasia was released on September 24, 2014, debuting at #18 on the UK Albums Chart and #1 on the UK Classical Chart. Today, she is the Narrator in the 2016 UK touring production of Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice musical "Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat".

Lucy's story is a classic example of someone who pressed on, despite having numerous roadblocks placed before her. She descended and walked through hell. And today, she has ascended to unbelievable heights in her profession, and triumphed over her enemies. Lucy never gave up. She kept pressing forward, with the hope that things would get better. They did, and we are all beneficiaries.

Next up in this miniseries: Examining the kind of faith that moves mountains, shatters prison walls, subdues kingdoms, stops the mouths of lions, quenches the violence of fire, escapes the edge of the sword, raises the dead to life again, bids the sun and moon to stand still and, in fact, creates worlds.

Interested?

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Lectures on Faith Preface

The Worldwide Faith Gap Analysis


No matter if you're Mormon, Catholic, Lutheran, Methodist, Baptist or whatever Christian denomination, you likely believe that faith in God is a foundational doctrine of your religion.

"But without faith it is impossible to please him: for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him." (Hebrews 11:6)

Joseph Smith thought so, too. I believe he saw those in the embryonic LDS church struggling with their faith in God. Then, like today, they were by-and-large just good people trying to better understand what it meant to exercise the most basic of doctrines.

Joseph believed in the importance of faith so much, that he approved the inclusion of seven "Lectures on Faith" into Mormonism's canon. To Joseph, the Lectures on Faith contained, "in short, the leading items of the religion which we have professed to believe." He also taught that "faith [is] the first principle in revealed religion, and the foundation of all righteousness" and that it is also "the principle of action in all intelligent beings” (Lectures on Faith, 1).

Joseph wanted us to have faith with real power! The kind of faith that performs true miracles and shatters the veil between God and man. Of anyone in the modern era, he alone knew what it took. So he left you and I a roadmap, a treasure map of sorts, for us to discover this precious treasure.

Unfortunately, nearly a century ago, the Lectures were decanonized from the LDS scriptures. Today, their existence is almost forgotten, with (at most) a rare paragraph about or quoting from them in curriculum materials. They are largely unknown to the vast majority of church members, and mankind in general.
"I suppose that the rising generation knows little about the Lectures on Faith. In my own judgment, these Lectures are of great value and should be studied. I consider them to be of extreme value in the study of the gospel of Jesus Christ." (Joseph Fielding Smith, "Seek Ye Earnestly". Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1970).
Today's society frowns on having faith in God. Instead, how about having faith in a celebrity? Fine. A leader? Endorsed (by them). The spiritual experiences of others? Popular. "As it is written, There is none righteous, no, not one" (Romans 3:10)

Amidst the cacophony of diverse directions of faith, it's not surprising that some experience a "faith crisis" -- a fact now trumpeted in almost daily news articles. Here, too, is a "damned if you do and damned if you don't" conundrum: Those who seek comfort in their crisis are typically blasted with judgmentalism and ugly words lacking understanding and compassion (sometimes by those who are expected to be overflowing with such attributes). Those who don't express their feelings are often left to sort them out, invariably with those also undergoing their own faith crisis.

If ever there was a time mankind needed a greater understanding of faith, it's today. The gap between the amount of faith we have, and the amount of faith we truly need, isn't narrowing. It's widening.

How Deep Is Your Faith?


Now, how about your faith?

Is it meeting Father's expectations?

Could it be better? Could you stand to improve your one-star or three-star faith to five stars?

I believe the best way to develop your faith is to first get informed. Seek out the best sources and learn as much as you can from them.

In my opinion, when it comes to the topic of faith, there's no better source than the Lectures on Faith. And I'm not alone in this thinking:

Elder Bruce R. McConkie has appraised the lectures as "some of the best lesson material ever prepared on the Godhead; on the character, perfections, and attributes of God; on faith, miracles, and sacrifice. They can be studied with great profit by all gospel scholars." (Elder Bruce R. McConkie, Mormon Doctrine, p. 439)

In a discourse at Brigham Young University, Elder McConkie quoted certain portions of the lectures that dealt with the Deity and praised them as follows:
"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)
In 1835, the Prophet Joseph Smith was the senior publishing committee member. In January, 1835, Joseph was engaged in "preparing the lectures on theology for publication" (History of the Church 2:180). From these references and other circumstances it seems evident that the lectures were prepared and published with Joseph Smith's approval (Dahl, Larry E., and Charles D. Tate, eds. "The Lectures on Faith in Historical Perspective" Provo, UT, 1990, p. 7-10; 16).

Joseph presented the finalized compilation of the Lectures on Faith as "doctrines of salvation." He attached his name to it. He vouched for it. He made himself accountable for it.
"We deem it to be unnecessary to entertain you with lengthy preface to the following volume, but merely to say that it contains in short the leading items of the religion which we have professed to believe. The first part of the book will be found to contain a series of lectures as delivered before a theological class in this place. And in consequence of their embracing the important doctrines of salvation, we have arranged them into the following work..." (Lectures on Faith, Preface)
"We do not present this little volume with any other expectation than that we are to be called to answer to every principle advanced, in that day when the secrets of all hearts will be revealed, and the reward of every man's labor be given him." (Lectures on Faith, Preface)
On August 17, 1835, the entire church membership agreed with Joseph, sustaining the lectures as scripture. 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.

How's that for a starting point in developing a deeper understanding of faith? Aside from canonized scripture, can you point to another concentrated, detailed set of scriptures focused entirely on faith? I can't.

About the Lectures on Faith


The Lectures on Faith were originally delivered to a class of the elders in Kirtland, Ohio, in the winter of 1834-35. They consist of seven doctrinal treatises, prepared chiefly by Joseph Smith, with perhaps some assistance from other brethren. Their intended purpose: "to unfold to the understanding the doctrine of Jesus Christ" (Lectures on Faith, 1)

The lectures are logically and systematically arranged and scripturally (primarily Biblically) based:

Lecture 1: What Faith Is -- Explains precisely what faith is. It is described as the first great governing principle, the foundation of all righteousness, without which there is no power.

Lecture 2: The Object of Faith -- Shows the object on which faith rests and demonstrates that it was by revelation that correct knowledge of the existence of God first came into the world so that men could have faith in Him.

Lecture 3: Attributes of God -- Details the character, perfections and attributes of God as given in the revelations and shows that these attributes have been the same in all ages. It is shown that three things are necessary for true faith: (1) an idea that God does exist, (2) a correct idea of His character, perfections and attributes, and (3) the assurance that one's course of life is according to and harmonious with God's mind and will.

Lecture 4: Character of God -- Explains why the exercise of true faith in God depends upon one's having correct ideas and knowledge about God's attributes. It provides examples showing that without the awareness that God is supreme and infinite in His character, the mind of man could not have unshaken confidence and trust in Him.

Lecture 5: The Godhead -- An inspired declaration of the nature of Deity --  the Father, Son and Holy Spirit -- showing the perfection, harmony and unity that exist between these personages. The lecture explains that God's purpose is to enable man to become like Him in fulness and perfection.

Lecture 6: Sacrifice -- Explains why it is necessary for a person to have knowledge that his course of life is acceptable to God so that he is able to exercise unwavering faith. It is further shown that the sacrifice of all things is required in order for the mind of man to lay hold on the faith needed for eternal life.

Lecture 7: Effects of Faith -- The capstone which crowns the foundation built in the first six lectures. It shows the fruits that grow from true faith. Possessors of faith described in these lectures will be able to obtain every necessary thing (including personal revelation) to become perfected in Jesus Christ. Jesus is spoken of as the prototype of all saved beings; to become like him is to be saved; to fail to become like him and the Father is to fail salvation. (source: http://emp.byui.edu/PyperL/MyFiles/CH%20341/Lectures%20on%20Faith.htm)
"Lectures 1 through 5 each sum up with a question and answer section, a kind of catechism pertaining to the principles stated in the lecture. These sections are often about as long as the lectures themselves. 
There are no questions and answers at the end of Lecture 6; rather, the following note appears:
'This lecture is so plain and the facts set forth so self-evident that it is deemed unnecessary to form a catechism upon it. The student is,  therefore, instructed to commit the whole to memory.'  
Lecture 7 ends with a simple 'Amen'". (http://www.cedarcitylodge.org/books/mormon-lectures_on_faith.pdf)
In my next post in this series, we'll dive right into Lecture 1!

Sunday, May 8, 2016

How Do YOU Change the Way You Change?

A friend of mine recently contacted me asking for some advice. Upon reading it, my immediate response was to post this to my blog and have you offer some advice.

So, if you're reading this, I'd like to humbly ask for your constructive, detailed (as possible) advice for this person mentioned below. To do so, just post a comment below. If you don't want to be identified, just comment anonymously. My friend will be monitoring this post's comments...

Here's what my friend sent me:
"I have something I want to throw at you.  It seems like you've had a lot of interesting experiences and have had a lot of people share their interesting experiences.  What do you make of this?

A person has struggled for a couple of decades with intense trials that have left them emotionally drained.  In the process of these trials they have adopted what can be called pernicious patterns of belief.  Despite all the truth and a strong testimony and an nature, etc. they have these pernicious beliefs, lies that masquerade as truth, within their heart (mostly regarding their self-worth and value as a human being).

The issue is most easily explained like this:  These pernicious belief patterns are like a virus or bacteria that has invaded their system and it's too much for them to overcome on their own, so they keep relapsing.  They need the help of the "Doctor", but all their efforts to get to him seem blocked or futile.  No matter what they do, the "bacteria" remains.

This person has not been healed and their health has declined from the great emotional burden.  I know several people with the same sort of issue, that despite doing everything they know how, and even breaking down layers of ignorance as to the reality of the Atonement and the Savior, they remain "sick".  I believe people can be healed quickly and powerfully, but something seems to be missing in these cases.

Any ideas?  Thoughts?  Impressions?  Experiences that might be helpful?"
OK you guys -- here's your big moment to demonstrate that you're committed to being of one heart, one mind, dwelling in righteousness and having no poor (in spirit) among us!  :)

I look forward to reading your advice soon.

Sunday, May 1, 2016

Superfaith

Don't Worry! Be Happy!


Every day, I grow more and more concerned. And you should, too.

Many Latter-day Saints forget, conveniently ignore or are tranquilized to the fact that we live in the last days preceding Christ's second coming.

It's easy to discount all that "future negative stuff" when the economy seems to be doing fine. My real estate friends say that sales are doing well, unemployment is (reportedly -- cough cough) hovering around 5% and the inflation rate is low.

So why worry, RIGHT?!

I imagine circumstances weren't much different around 600BC Judaea. I mean, back then, Lehi and his family had a house, gold, silver and precious things (1 Nephi 2:4,11). Geopolitically, it was probably commonplace that people didn't believe that Jerusalem could be destroyed according to the words of the prophets (1 Nephi 1:19-20). No wonder Laman and Lemuel thought their dad was crazy; everything was fine!

Yet we know that on 2 Adar (March 16) 597 BC, Nebuchadnezzar conquered Jerusalem and took the king (Jehoiachin) prisoner. He installed in his place a new king (Zedekiah) of his own choice. Nebuchadnezzar pillaged the city and its Temple. Jehoiachin, his court, other prominent citizens, craftsmen, and much of the Jewish population of Judah were deported to Babylon. Biblical texts report that the treasures and furnishings of the Temple, including golden vessels dedicated by King Solomon, were also taken to Babylon. (2 Kings 24:13–14)

In warning Israel of its impending doom, Isaiah described a nation that:
  • Had forsaken the Lord and whose children were corrupters (Isaiah 1:4)
  • Had political leaders who were rebellious and companions of thieves (Isaiah 1:23)
  • Called evil good, and good evil; that put darkness for light, and light for darkness (Isaiah 5:20)
  • Justified the wicked for reward, and took away the righteousness of the righteous (Isaiah 5:23)
  • Decreed unrighteous decrees (Isaiah 10:1)
  • Was a hypocritical nation (Isaiah 10:6)
Are these characteristics not evident today? If the Book of Mormon was "written for our day" as of 1986 (President Ezra Taft Benson, October 1986 General Conference), how much more applicable is it to us today?

On the surface, by what the government and mass media tells us, our economy is just chugging along and doing just fine. Yet underneath lies a lot of facts neither dares to mention: that our country is economically insolvent, and "the inevitable collapse could usher in an economic catastrophe dwarfing the Great Depression."

A Preview of Coming Events


When will it hit? Who knows. We don't know when any of the last days calamities and troubles will fall upon any of us, personally or collectively. We have no guarantees that we'll be spared from personally witnessing these destructions.
"But we do say there is no promise of safety and no promise of security except for those who love the Lord and who are seeking to do all that he commands.
It may be, for instance, that nothing except the power of faith and the authority of the priesthood can save individuals and congregations from the atomic holocausts that surely shall be." (Elder Bruce R. McConkie, "Stand Independent above All Other Creatures", April 1979 General Conference)
These "atomic holocausts" may be what Isaiah is referring to as part of a twofold calamity: "famine, and the sword" (Isaiah 51:19; also see Isaiah 5:13). Indeed, "For by fire and by his sword will the Lord plead with all flesh: and the slain of the Lord shall be many." (Isaiah 66:16) Combined with the fact that "the stars of heaven and the constellations thereof shall not give their light: the sun shall be darkened in his going forth, and the moon shall not cause her light to shine" (Isaiah 13:10), it's no wonder the Lord said that He "will make a man more precious than fine gold" (Isaiah 13:12).

I'd like to return to something in Elder McConkie's talk we just read:
"It may be, for instance, that nothing except the power of faith and the authority of the priesthood can save individuals and congregations from the atomic holocausts that surely shall be."
I think Elder McConkie is doctrinally correct here. Scripture tells us that "the just shall live by his faith" (Habakkuk 2:4). Surviving these calamities may (likely) require the power of faith and the authority of the priesthood. That's an interesting combination of requirements, because (contrary to popular belief), not everyone with priesthood authority has power (Elder Boyd K. Packer, "Priesthood", April 2010 General Conference). And, in my opinion, not everyone with priesthood authority has the power of faith.

In my personal opinion, the degree of faith you'll need to even have a chance of surviving what's coming will need to surpass anything we have now. The survivors of tomorrow will not be those who today are self-absorbed, exhibiting apathy towards God, ignorance of His promises and denial of His gifts.

Again, this is my personal opinion, but I believe that in direct proportion to the ugliness and despair of these destructions, there will be a counterweight of goodness (perhaps not in the quantity of people exhibiting goodness, but definitely in quality). I can imagine these people who are armed with faith and authority easily implementing a variety of God-given gifts at any given time, including healing people of radiation sickness or biological/chemical agents, and even raising the dead. But again, this is my personal opinion.

Regardless of my opinions, one thing is for sure: It will definitely be a time of darkness. A time when common, ordinary, everyday faith will require something else -- "exceeding faith", or what I call "superfaith".
"Here is the patience of the saints: here are they that keep the commandments of God, and the faith of Jesus." (Revelation 14:12)

About Superfaith


I believe the Brother of Jared was a classic example of one who exhibited superfaith. In his experience with the Lord, the Lord made a very interesting admission about the usage of faith up until that point in world history:
"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" (Ether 3:9)
Was the Brother of Jared blessed with the Gift of Faith? Unquestionably so -- to such an extent that it was powerful enough to part the veil!

Because God is no respecter of persons, He affords you with the very same, exact blessings as was given to the Brother of Jared. In fact, He's so desirous that we have this kind of experience, that He gave us further light and knowledge on the subject of faith, and how to develop it into "exceeding faith" or "superfaith" -- the same kind of active (not passive, not reactive) faith that holds armies at bay, raises the dead, causes the sun to stand still, calls down fire from the heavens, parts a sea, changes the course of rivers and creates food in just-empty baskets.

Now here's the real interesting fact:
"Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that believeth on me, the works that I do shall he do also; and greater works than these shall he do; because I go unto my Father." (John 14:12)
Like I said in my previous post: Very few people have at best a very basic, fundamental level of understanding regarding spiritual gifts (and quite likely regarding faith, as a universal, spiritual force itself).

Still, I believe that the first step in truly understanding faith is to acquire God-given knowledge on the subject. Luckily, we latter-day saints have it.

The Greatest (Mortal) Expositions Ever Given on Faith


The Lectures on Faith are a series of seven theological presentations made to the School of the Prophets in the winter of 1834-35 in Kirtland, OH. (History of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, 2nd ed). 

That Joseph Smith intended their inclusion in the D&C is clear:
"During the month of January, I was engaged in the school of the Elders, and in preparing the lectures on theology for publication in the Book of Doctrine and Covenants, which the committee appointed last September were now compiling" (History of the Church, 2:180).
The Lectures were published in 1835 as the Doctrine portion of the volume entitled "Doctrine and Covenants of the Church of the Latter Day Saints: Carefully Selected from the Revelations of God (better known simply as the Doctrine and Covenants)". The Lectures were selected for that volume by a committee appointed on September 24, 1834 by a general assembly of the church to arrange the doctrines and revelations of the church into a single volume. That committee of Presiding Elders (consisting of Joseph Smith, Jr., Oliver Cowdery, Sidney Rigdon, and Frederick G. Williams) stated that the Lectures were included "in consequence of their embracing the important doctrine of salvation," and that the Lectures, together with the church-regulatory sections that followed, represent "our belief, and when we say this, humbly trust, the faith and principles of this society as a body." (Preface, D&C, 1835 edition, p. iii)

The book was presented at the August 17, 1835 General Conference. Records indicate that "several priesthood leaders were apparently given unbound copies to read ahead of time. They were then able to testify at the conference to the truthfulness of the revelations. After hearing the testimonies, the whole conference voted, first as quorums, then as a congregation, to accept the book as arranged" (Robert J. Woodford, "The Story of the Doctrine and Covenants", Ensign, Dec. 1984).  The body of the church accepted the committee's compilation as "the doctrine and covenants of their faith, by a unanimous vote." (History of the Church, 2:243-6, emphasis mine).

The record is crystal clear: Joseph intended the Lectures' inclusion in the D&C, and they were properly sustained into the D&C by a valid, recorded and unanimous vote of the Church collectively (see D&C 28:13).

The Lectures on Faith were included in subsequent 1844 and 1876 editions (source).

44 years after their original publication, they were included in a new 1879 edition of the Doctrine and Covenants.  However, this time, Apostle Orson Pratt questioned the Lectures' inclusion in the new publication, which he was preparing.  Quorum of the Twelve President John Taylor responded:
"The Lectures on Faith were published with the sanction and approval of the Prophet Joseph Smith and we do not feel that it is desirable to make any alteration in that regard at any rate not at the present" (John Taylor to Orson Pratt, 25 April 1879, retained copy in John Taylor letter book, 16 August 1878 to 27 May 1879, pp. 710– 13, at the LDS Church Archives, cited in Robert J. Woodford, "Historical Development of the Doctrine and Covenants" (Ph.D. diss., Brigham Young University, 1974), 1:87–88).
(Wow, "published with the sanction and approval" of the head of this dispensation.  Talk about validation!)

Yet in late 1921, the Church printed the Doctrine and Covenants without the Lectures.  An interesting explanation was given: the Lectures "were never presented to nor accepted by the Church as being otherwise than theological lectures or lessons." (See Introduction, 1921 edition).

It's not my desire to scrutinize the debate regarding the canonization/decanonization of the Lectures.  Still, one fact remains untarnished: even modern-day theologians and church leaders find tremendous value in the Lectures on Faith.  In addition to Pres. Taylor's comment above, we learn that:
"They were considered to be very excellent expositions of the doctrines contained therein" (Pres. Charles W. Penrose, Member of the First Presidency, 1921; emphasis mine).

"In my own judgment these Lectures on Faith are of great value and should be studied...I consider them to be of extreme value in the study of the gospel of Jesus Christ" (Pres. Joseph Fielding Smith, "Seek Ye Earnestly", p 194; emphasis mine).

"In them is to be found some of the best lesson material ever prepared on the Godhead; on the character perfections and attributes of God; on faith, miracles and sacrifice.  They can be studied with great profit by all gospel scholars"  (Elder Bruce R. McConkie, Mormon Doctrine, p. 439; emphasis mine).

"In my judgment, it is the most comprehensive, 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 was written by the power of the Holy Ghost, by the spirit of inspiration. It is, in effect, eternal scripture; it is true." (Elder Bruce R. McConkie, lecture at Brigham Young University, Jan. 4, 1972; emphasis mine).
"Joseph Smith said that “faith [is] the principle of action and of power” (Lectures on Faith [1985], 72)" (Elder Richard G. Scott, "The Transforming Power of Faith and Character", October 2010 General Conference).
"The Prophet Joseph Smith taught that 'faith [is] the first principle in revealed religion, and the foundation of all righteousness' and that it is also 'the principle of action in all intelligent beings' (Lectures on Faith [1985], 1)" (Elder David A. Bednar, "Ask in Faith", April 2008 General Conference).

Read the Lectures on Faith...Today!


I believe no meaningful discussion regarding the Gift of Faith can occur without at least having invested time and deep, ponderous thought regarding faith...including the doctrines elaborated in the Lectures on Faith.

So, I invite you to read the Lectures on Faith.  What do you have to lose?  They're a fairly quick read, and you'll never look at the doctrine of faith the same way ever again (because you'll understand it better).

To facilitate this, I offer you the links below, and look forward to hearing your comments regarding the Lectures on Faith.

Free Download/View of the Lectures on Faith

HTML
HTML (Hint: This can easily be copied and pasted into a Word or Google doc)
The 1835 Doctrine & Covenants (which includes all the LoF) 
The 1835 Doctrine & Covenants
PDF (Based on original photos; 8.5 MB)

History of the Lectures on Faith


What of the Lectures on Faith?
The Lectures on Faith in Historical Perspective

In my next post, we'll dive into the Lectures on Faith and cast a magnifying glass on them.

We're going to examine, explore, scrutinize and discuss the contents of the Lectures with one objective in mind: knowing about, and implementing, the Gift of Faith in your life to such a degree, that you, too, will be able to match the Lord's expectations of you.