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Sunday, December 11, 2016

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

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So, admittedly, my last post was pretty sobering.

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

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

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

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

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

Because that's precisely how He rolls.

Keep reading.

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

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

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

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

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

Foundation #2: The Predicable Unpredictability of Jesus Christ


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Foundation #3: Jesus, Friend of Sinners


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

His disciples? Yes, of course.

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

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

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

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

"I Rescue Those Whom I Love"


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

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

But here's a really interesting question:

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

Believe it or not, He is.

Today.

The Miracle of Ciudad Juárez, Mexico


Ciudad Juárez, Mexico.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It All Started With a Taxi Driver


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

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

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

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

But that's not all.

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

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

The Once and Future Pattern of Geographic Transformation


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

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

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

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

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

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

So, How Does This Apply to You?


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

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

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

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

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

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

Building a micro, proto-Zion.




Your Holiday Helping Hand


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

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

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

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

5 comments:

  1. LDSPD:

    Though you do not call it "praying", here and in other posts you encourage dialogue directly with the Savior. The scriptures teach us to "pray to the Father in the name of the Son" (but do include an instance where the Nephites prayed to the Savior 3 Nephi 18)

    Is this a contradiction?

    Thanks for the blog and your insights.

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    Replies
    1. Please go to http://ldsperfectday.blogspot.com/2016/01/dont-just-know-about-christexperience.html and see my comment reply 1/17/16.

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    2. Thank you much. I'm still not clear though about having a conversation with the Savior, guess it won't be clear unless I ever get that privilege. In the meantime I am not "faithless, but believe"...and "continue in hope". I am left to assume that if it happens you do not need any further instructions regarding it, right?

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  2. I have to disagree with you over one of your points. It is true that Christ dined with publicans and sinners, but when people give this example and dont cite all the other statments of the Savior regarding the publicans and sinners (harlots), they aren't seeing the full picture with what was really going on. Here is something I wrote recently.

    Lots of people claim that Jesus was accepting of all lifestyles because he dined with publicans and sinners. This however is only part of the story and is an example of casual reading of the scriptures. Read this parable that Christ gave and pay close attention to the information he provides in verse 32

    Matt 21:28 ¶But what think ye? A certain man had two sons; and he came to the first, and said, Son, go work to day in my vineyard.
    29 He answered and said, I will not: but afterward he repented, and went.
    30 And he came to the second, and said likewise. And he answered and said, I go, sir: and went not.
    31 Whether of them twain did the will of his father? They say unto him, The first. Jesus saith unto them, Verily I say unto you, That the publicans and the harlots (sinners) go into the kingdom of God before you.
    32 For John came unto you in the way of righteousness, and ye believed him not: but the publicans and the harlots believed him: and ye, when ye had seen it, repented not afterward, that ye might believe him.
    What people dont realize is that yes, Christ ate with Publicans and Sinners, but it is clear that these people were embracing his teachings and repenting of their sins. Christ didn't spend time with people to get a "diverse" set of friends who didn't have any interest in embracing his message. Christ also didn't chase down those who chose to not walk anymore with him. He respected agency including to those who rejected him, however, he never tolerated sin, which is a violation of his law.

    If you notice, the church has never instructed us to proselyte in places that are not reputable, such as strip clubs and bars. Everytime the savior spoke of the publicans, he spoke of them in the light of being truly penitent.

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    Replies
    1. I couldn't agree more. As stated in the post, "He wouldn't go there to sin or encourage sinfulness". I don't believe I stated that Christ spent time with them to get a "diverse" set of friends, or to chase down those who chose to not walk anymore with him. I believe He interacted with them because they, of all people, needed His love, His sensitivity, His caring. He showed all of us that [1] we need to love the despised and outcast of society while maintaining our values and standards, and [2] no one is totally unloved.

      I agree that the Church wouldn't ask us to proselyte in disreputable places. I'm sure the church's Risk Management Division would have coronaries if we did! Yet 2,000 years ago, the Lord chose to go and walk among the lepers. He also sent the Sons of Mosiah into clearly dangerous geopolitical territory. Peter, Paul and more preached among the Romans, too. Different times, different circumstances.

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