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Thursday, August 25, 2016

Lectures on Faith 3, Part 2: Why You Don't Hear (Let Alone Experience) God

This section is about your favorite topic...you!


There comes a time in our lives when we first realize we're not the center of the universe. It's part of growing up.

Instead, other things vie for our attention. School, dates, work, marriage, kids, finances, health concerns and more begin to take precedence. Other things may, too, like spending time on the internet, chatting with friends online, traveling and sports.

What do all those things (above) have in common? You!

In fact, when you go about your day, you subconsciously tell yourself a story about what’s happening...and at the center of that narrative is a single person. You guessed it: You!

When you talk to yourself about how so-and-so is inconsiderate or treated you badly, or when you tell yourself that it’s OK to procrastinate because you're tired and not in the mood, you're the star of this movie. It’s an ongoing story about your life and everything around you, with you at the center.

Invariably, challenges arise from this self-centered view of the world:
  • You may interpret other people’s actions as they relate to you, so that you perceive others are either helping or harming you...giving you what you want or getting in the way of what you want. But their actions aren’t really about you; instead, their actions may stem from their being in the center of their own stories. When we interpret their self-centered actions through the lenses of our own self-centered views, the actions often make no sense, and frustrate, hurt or infuriate us.
  • When someone makes a comment that you take as an attack on something about yourself, you may then feel the need to defend yourself. “I’m a good person,” you think, “and they shouldn’t imply that I’m not.” But this interpretation is just a self-centered way of looking at it. You could also see it as saying something about the other person. And if you try to understand where they’re coming from, instead of seeing what it says about you, then you may find yourself less defensive or offended.
  • You interpret everything else around you — from bad traffic to internet comments to how your spouse asks you a question — by thinking about how it affects you. You may think, “This sucks (for me).” But you could also remove yourself from this story, and just see that there are things happening in the world, and be curious about them, try to understand them, and see that they are not about you at all.
It’s perfectly natural and normal to interpret everything this way. Heck, I do.

But even you must admit that these paradigms can cause problems, inhibit understanding and empathy, and make us unhappy at times.
"For the natural man is an enemy to God, and has been from the fall of Adam, and will be, forever and ever, unless he yields to the enticings of the Holy Spirit, and putteth off the natural man and becometh a saint through the atonement of Christ the Lord, and becometh as a child, submissive, meek, humble, patient, full of love, willing to submit to all things which the Lord seeth fit to inflict upon him, even as a child doth submit to his father." (Mosiah 3:19)

Let's see if you're a Zion person!


The ramifications, the consequences, of staying in this "me-centered" state are profound:
"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." (Moses 7:18)
Look: we don't have very long -- just a few years -- until the Lord pulls the trigger and accelerates the transformation to a Terrestial Kingdom (no, I don't know when everything will happen. But God has been very generous in giving us ample signs in the heavens, the earth and in the scriptures). If you think you can just wait until the crud starts hitting the fan, and then *bing!* you're a saintly, generous person who qualifies for Zion...you're a fool who's only fooling yourself.

You can't be a Zion person by just flipping a switch. You just don't spontaneously prioritize others more than yourself...in your thoughts, your heart and your actions. Not when you haven't been tried and tested over years.
"Thou art weighed in the balances, and art found wanting." (Daniel 5:27)
You can't be a Zion person, expecting to dwell in righteousness, when you haven't made seeking after righteousness a top priority in your life (see my previous post for more on this).

You can't be a Zion person when you grudgingly help the poor, the homeless, the motherless or fatherless, the widow or widower...or haven't been interested in, or just flatly discredit, them. Your "self" is very likely the thing that stands in the way of expressing true compassion with others.

"That man may last, but never lives
Who much receives, but nothing gives;
Whom none can love, whom none can thank;
Creation's blot, creation's blank."
Thomas Gibbons (1720 - 1785)
"Nevertheless, in your temporal things you shall be equal, and this not grudgingly, otherwise the abundance of the manifestations of the Spirit shall be withheld." (D&C 70:14)
It just makes sense: if we aren’t equal in temporal things, we won’t experience an abundance of the manifestations of the Spirit. Sometimes I wonder if this isn't the reason why someday there will be "an end of all nations" (D&C 87:2; Jeremiah 30:11) and likely their economies, too; when all of us will be equal in (i.e., have little or no) temporal things, we CAN experience an "abundance of the manifestations of the Spirit" which will, in turn, be necessary to help bring about Zion.

We Gentiles -- you, me, all of us -- are unbelievably proud and haughty. After all we've been given by God -- all the information, all the resources, all the opportunities to ascend -- we choose to make Pokemon a higher priority than Isaiah, Cougar Football a higher priority than seeking spiritual gifts, Game of Thrones a higher priority than actually approaching the Throne of Thrones. Even worse, we justify these behaviors, fully believing that despite our deliberate deviations from God, we're still on good terms with God.

It's no wonder that throughout the scriptures, again and again, we're repeatedly described as being too full of ourselves, prideful, idolatrous, vain, unbelieving, lacking charity and seeking not the Lord nor his counsel (Helaman 12:6).

Therefore, in THE most direct and sober language found in canon, we're condemned as a people, often in ways we are just too prideful ("blind" or "asleep" -- take your pick) to see. We're condemned for not taking the Book of Mormon seriously. And, although I have no revelation to point to, I'd bet many are condemned for not taking their baptismal, sacramental, priesthood and temple covenants seriously. When those individual condemnations are added up, it's not too far a stretch to believe that the condemnations could likely be collective as well.

Whew. The ancient prophets' warnings are so loud and so consistent, in messages directed like laser beams at us, today, that we have almost become desensitized to one inescapable conclusion: we, collectively, ARE the salt that has lost its savour.
"Ye are the salt of the earth: but if the salt have lost his savour, wherewith shall it be salted? it is thenceforth good for nothing, but to be cast out, and to be trodden under foot of men." (Matthew 5:13)
THAT, I believe, is THE reason why we often do not, and cannot, hear Him.
"O how foolish, and how vain, and how evil, and devilish, and how quick to do iniquity, and how slow to do good, are the children of men; yea, how quick to hearken unto the words of the evil one, and to set their hearts upon the vain things of the world!
Yea, how quick to be lifted up in pride; yea, how quick to boast, and do all manner of that which is iniquity; and how slow are they to remember the Lord their God, and to give ear unto his counsels, yea, how slow to walk in wisdom’s paths!
Behold, they do not desire that the Lord their God, who hath created them, should rule and reign over them; notwithstanding his great goodness and his mercy towards them, they do set at naught his counsels, and they will not that he should be their guide.
O how great is the nothingness of the children of men; yea, even they are less than the dust of the earth." (Helaman 12:4-7)

"I'll Stand By You"


A story is told of a young man who was very blessed in his life. Although he lived away from his home (he had just graduated from college), he had a nice job, nice friends, a fiancee, a nice place to live, terrific health and was well respected in his church calling. He was very happy.

Then, unexpectedly, each of those blessings were taken away from him. Over the course of two weeks, he went from having it all to losing it all. Even more frustrating: it was of no fault of his own.

One night, he was laying down, contemplating how he was left with practically nothing. He felt like his life had hit rock bottom. Amidst streaming tears, he cried out into the darkness, "Oh God, I feel like I almost have nothing. All I have left is you. You're all I've got. You've said you won't leave me comfortless, and that you'll come to me (John 14:18). So, I trust you. I trust you'll deliver on your promise. So, I'll wait until you do."

Then came the test. The young man sensed no words popping into his mind. He fell asleep. He awoke the next morning, and still felt nothing. Another day, and another day passed -- same thing. Silence. Rock bottom was redefined.

Then, unexpectedly, when he awoke on the third day, two words were etched into his consciousness: "Go Home". Within an hour or two, he packed his car with clothes, a few books, snacks and sodas, and he was gone. He arrived back in his hometown to find not only his friends greeting him with open arms, but also the woman he would soon call his wife, a good job in his chosen career, his health regained and more. He was given more than tenfold what he had previously...all within a few weeks.

Not three days, but three years later, as the young man looked into the eyes of his newborn son, he contemplated this dramatic reversal of fortunes which far surpassed anything -- anything -- he had conceived. Just then, a song played on the radio.

Back to you -- Through every speck and scintilla of your decades of foolishness, vanity, unbelief, idolatry and more -- He is still there. He is still there!!! Reaching out His hand to you.

And He's not just holding His hand out. He's doing so enthusiastically, like a parent encouraging their newly-walking baby to take a step closer to their waiting, loving arms. His eyes are enthusiastic. His smile is enthusiastic. His body language is enthusiastic. In fact, the area around him sizzles like Pop RocksTM with enthusiasm...

...an enthusiasm for you to take a step beyond your own fears, insecurities, unbeliefs and just once -- JUST ONCE -- take Him up on His offer to do things His way.

Not just to approach Him on His terms. Not just to commune with Him. But in all likelihood, to pass through the most secret, most sacred doors and into His presence.

It's a sure-fire, guaranteed method which has been promised by no less than a genuine, bona fide, latter-day President of the Church, acting in his capacity as such, with doctrinal foundations rooted not only in Christ's very words across the millennia, but also across practically every culture and religion across the globe.

Are you game?

Interested?

OK, my friend, let's examine this next step. Together.

Next post in this series.

Friday, August 5, 2016

Lectures on Faith 3, Part 1: Prepare to Hear God's Voice

Have you ever heard Christ's voice?

I'm not talking about the audible kind of hearing (although that's definitely one way to hear Him).

I'm talking about those times you heard His voice softly, gently resonate and vibrate in your heart and mind.

Maybe it was during a particular Fast and Testimony Meeting, or your mission, your marriage or the birth of a child. More than likely, it was probably as an answer to a prayer, when you sacrificed a broken heart and a contrite spirit on the altar of your life to Him, possibly punctuated with tears.

While it's true that you can find Him in the deepest, darkest moments of your life, that needn't always be the case:
"O God, the Eternal Father, we ask thee in the name of thy Son, Jesus Christ, to bless and sanctify this bread to the souls of all those who partake of it; that they may eat in remembrance of the body of thy Son, and witness unto thee, O God, the Eternal Father, that they are willing to take upon them the name of thy Son, and always remember him, and keep his commandments which he hath given them, that they may always have his Spirit to be with them. Amen." (Moroni 4:3; emphasis mine) 
"O God, the Eternal Father, we ask thee, in the name of thy Son, Jesus Christ, to bless and sanctify this wine to the souls of all those who drink of it, that they may do it in remembrance of the blood of thy Son, which was shed for them; that they may witness unto thee, O God, the Eternal Father, that they do always remember him, that they may have his Spirit to be with them. Amen." (Moroni 5:2)
How many times have you heard those prayers?

How often do you put them to the test?

Just how can you be willing to take upon yourself the name of the Son?

How do you "always remember him" and "keep his commandments which he hath given" you so can ALWAYS (my emphasis) "have his Spirit to be with" you?

Is it truly possible to ALWAYS have His spirit with you?

Is it truly possible to hear His voice even when you're not mired in the depths of despair?

YES.

Keep reading.

Before You Utter One Word


The path to clearly, undeniably hearing Christ's voice is rooted in some fundamental beliefs and behaviors (Note: I used the word "root" deliberately; for the deeper and wider these beliefs and actions are, the greater the clarity you will enjoy in your dialogues with Deity). Perhaps the highest priority is to take the Lord's words seriously:
"And why call ye me, Lord, Lord, and do not the things which I say?" (Luke 6:46
"Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven." (Matthew 7:21
"If ye love me, keep my commandments." (John 14:15
"He that hath my commandments, and keepeth them, he it is that loveth me: and he that loveth me shall be loved of my Father, and I will love him, and will manifest myself to him." (John 14:21)
Re: John 14, who do you think Jesus was talking to? Ironically, he wasn't speaking to the Pharisees, Scribes, Sadducees or the Chief Priests; instead, it was His Apostles and other disciples -- the very people who had been following him from village to village, listening to him teach and watching him heal the sick and open the eyes of the blind.

Note that He didn’t say "Those who follow the commands that suit their lifestyle love me." He didn’t say "Those who follow most of my commands love me." Nor did He say "Those who put man-made things at a higher priority than me love me" or "Those who follow the teachings of men, mingled with scripture, love me." No, not even close. If you truly love Christ, you could not live in direct opposition to a command that He has given you for your life. Instead, you would follow what He wants for your life.

The fact is, either He is Lord over all of your life, or He isn’t. Period.

The General Commandments


So, let's assume you are doing your level best to keep His commandments. You don't worship any other gods and don't take the Lord's name in vain. You keep the Sabbath Day holy and honor mom and dad. You haven't murdered, committed adultery or stolen anything. You don't bear false witness, nor do you covet.

But does that mean you've kept the commandments?

Nope. That's just the start. Let's dig a little deeper into your spirituality.

Go read the eight Beatitudes in Matthew 5:3–12 (as well as 3 Nephi 12), which Christ gave during the Sermon on the Mount.

Are you "poor in spirit"?
Who or what do you "mourn" for?
Are you "meek"?
Do you "hunger and thirst for righteousness"?
Are you "merciful"?
Are you "pure in heart"?
Are you a "peacemaker"?
Are you "persecuted for righteousness sake"?

Just imagine being a person who sincerely, enthusiastically tries to be poor in spirit, mourning for others. One who is meek, merciful and pure in heart, who hungers and thirsts for righteousness and is a peacemaker. It's at these times when you truly have demonstrated a willingness to take upon yourself the name of the Son.

Now, God doesn't expect you to be perfect in these characteristics. Only one ever has been. But He does expect you to do your best, and when you fall short, you repent, you're forgiven, and you head back onto the playing field of life and attempt to move the ball further down the field. Repeat the repentance process when necessary.

The Two Oft-Neglected Commandments


Still, there are two commandments which are firmly within our grasp to fulfill, yet most constantly and consistently fail at them:

The Book of Mormon

The Lord has warned us to not trifle with sacred things (see D&C 6:12). Although the Book of Mormon is a sacred thing, many trifle with it. We take it lightly, and treat it as though it is of little importance.
"And your minds in times past have been darkened because of unbelief, and because you have treated lightly the things you have received—
Which vanity and unbelief have brought the whole church under condemnation.
And this condemnation resteth upon the children of Zion, even all.
And they shall remain under this condemnation until they repent and remember the new covenant, even the Book of Mormon and the former commandments which I have given them, not only to say, but to do according to that which I have written—" (D&C 84:54–57)
In October 1986, President Ezra Taft Benson reaffirmed this condemnation, which has never been rescinded.

So, how about you? Are you taking the Book of Mormon seriously? How? Is it enough to remove this condemnation from you? If so, have you asked God to remove it from you? Or do you think God would be thrilled to carry on a dialogue with you when you have neglected, and trifled, with this sacred thing which He has given you?

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)
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)

To me the equation is simple: If you're alive, and consider yourself to be (or are) of the house of Israel and/or a Gentile, then you'd better start searching the words of Isaiah. And not just search them, but search them diligently!

So, how about you? Are you taking the Book of Isaiah seriously? How? Have you availed yourself of the many resources (here's one) to diligently study Isaiah -- quite possibly more resources than have ever existed in the history of history? Or do you think God would be thrilled to carry on a dialogue with you when you have neglected, and trifled, with this sacred thing which He has given you?

"Receive"


This post began with a discussion about hearing Christ's voice.

Christ has said that you have the capability to ALWAYS have His spirit, provided you are willing to take upon yourself His name, and always remember Him, and keep His commandments which He has given you.

Christ has given you a means whereby you can eliminate the condemnation which rests upon mankind for not taking the Book of Mormon seriously.

Christ has also said that you'd "ought to" diligently search the great words of Isaiah.

This post is one of many examining the three most basic, fundamental gifts of the Spirit which we can ask for and receive. The first of those three is faith. One of the best expositions ever written on faith is the Lectures on Faith. This post is the first of a series exploring Lecture 3, which concerns the characteristics of God.

In my book, there is one, and only one, way to effectively and satisfactorily understand and know the characteristics of God, and that's by experiential learning -- the process of learning through experience. Or, in other words, by personally experiencing God's characteristics.

And to do that, it makes sense that you can best demonstrate your seriousness to God by receiving what He's already given you so far.

"Hope"


If you feel you've failed all or part of what I've mentioned above, then welcome to the club. I fail at them every day -- and in some cases, spectacularly so. This post is as much for me as it is for you.

Yet still, I know -- firsthand -- how exuberant, how enthusiastic, Christ is to forgive us...even if we screw up again and again and again. He went through untold suffering and agony in the Garden of Gethsemane for you. And it would thrill Him to no end to see that all that pain and agony wasn't in vain and wasn't wasted.

Please. Please go to Him. Today. Tonight. Ask for His forgiveness. I can guarantee you that He will be thrilled to do so. In fact, because He overflows with mercy and charity, He may just forgive you of more things than you can recall.

That's just how He is.

Always.


Ask for His help in better obeying the commandments. Ask that He replace your pride with meekness and humility. Ask for His help in smashing down the barriers between you and Him. Ask Him to destroy the idols in your life. Ask Him to obliterate the teachings of men mingled with scripture which directly or indirectly influence you. Ask Him for opportunities to be charitable to others, and to have the discernment to recognize them. Then watch what He does, and how He does it. Be prepared to praise His name for the many, many miracles He will work in your life.

Then ask for His help in taking the Book of Mormon seriously, and diligently searching the Book of Isaiah. Don't do it superficially, either. No half-hearted attempts. Don't let Him hear you say or even think "Well, this other book is cool and was written by a fellow Mormon" or "Well, I'm on this forum for X hours a day helping people better understand the last days/spirituality." NO! FIRST seek to obtain His word! THEN shall your tongue be loosed! THEN, if you desire, you'll have His Spirit AND His word AND the power of God unto the convincing of men! (D&C 11:21)

Let your devotion to seeking His revealed words shine so brightly, that heaven has no choice but to reveal more to you.

“Why call me Lord, Lord, and do not the things which I say?”

That the Lord may never, ever have need to say this to you, is my prayer, in the holy and sacred name of Yeshua -- His name, the root of which (yasha) is also the Hebrew word for deliverance, salvation, rescue and safety. Amen.