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Sunday, October 15, 2017

The Gift of Discernment Part 2: The Gift of Discernment 101

Taken in, taken in again. Wrapped around the finger of some fair-weather friend.

Many people tend to consider Adam and Eve as kind of dazed, confused, bewildered, maybe even air-heady while they were in the Garden of Eden. I've seen some presentations which portray them as pretty close to that.

I disagree. Before they got us all into this mess, they had not yet sinned nor even transgressed. They walked and talked with God, face-to-face, and were worthy of our admiration as a man and woman in their glory. I think they were quite likely literally and figuratively head-and-shoulders better than us.

And yet, they were deceived.

That fact alone ought to give us all a healthy respect for what our common enemy is capable of. Satan is a liar, “the father of lies” (John 8:44). He is so utterly convincing, that he deceived a glorious man and woman -- the physical father and mother of our world -- to betray God, with whom they walked every day.

Even the best of us can be taken in.

In this regard, Satan's operations haven't changed very much in 6,000 years. He tells many truths to put across a lie. And the moment you're enticed to examine the lie, to contemplate it, and maybe just tolerate it just a little, you believe the spin, and you accept as reality the deception he's presenting.

Once you buy into his lie, you make an agreement, and come under his spell and the influence of his interpretation of events. Then it pretty much plays itself out; it becomes self-fulfilling. These agreements define your relationships with Satan, God and everybody else. And it can be devastating to just let this stuff roll on unchecked and unchallenged. I mean, look what happened to Adam and Eve.

Under all of heaven and earth, there is but one name which stops all of Satan's efforts dead in their tracks: Jesus Christ. It is in and through His power and authority that our world was created, unclean spirits are cast out, that darkness becomes light, decay becomes life, and sadness becomes joy. Jesus' name IS power...including and especially the power to detect and discern Satan far quicker than we're accustomed to.

The Gift of Discernment in All its Potential

When you truly wish for greater discernment, you're seeking far more than just knowing what's right and what's wrong, what's evil and what's holy, what's light and what's dark. In its purest, highest form, discernment is the ability to see as He sees, to hear as He hears, to feel as He feels, to forgive as He forgives, to know what He knows and to love as He loves.
"Discernment is so much more than recognizing right from wrong. It helps us distinguish the relevant from the irrelevant, the important from the unimportant, and the necessary from that which is merely nice. The gift of discernment opens to us vistas that stretch far beyond what can be seen with natural eyes or heard with natural ears. Discerning is seeing with spiritual eyes and feeling with the heart—seeing and feeling the falsehood of an idea or the goodness in another person. Discerning is hearing with spiritual ears and feeling with the heart—hearing and feeling the unspoken concern in a statement or the truthfulness of a testimony or doctrine." (Elder David A. Bednar, "Quick to Observe", devotional address given at Brigham Young University on May 10, 2005)
With the Gift of Discernment active in your life, God will show you all the grandeur and wonderment of His greatest creations -- the human soul. Not only yours, but also those you may or may not walk among everyday. It will bring you to tears as you pray for that cashier you spent only 30 seconds with at Walmart, as well as the orphaned child in Kosovo whom you will likely will never meet in your life. As your heart sinks to the lowest depths possible, God will also raise it so that you can discern those vistas Elder Bednar mentioned -- vistas that transcend time, space and the multi-dimensionality of God's Kingdom. You will be awed at His magnificence, and the intricacies of the planning and caring He invests in His trillions of children individually, almost as if each is His only child.

Continuing with Elder Bednar's address, he says that "we learn that the gift of discernment operates basically in four major ways.
  • First, as we “read under the surface,” discernment helps us detect hidden error and evil in others.
  • Second, and more important, it helps us detect hidden errors and evil in ourselves. Thus the spiritual gift of discernment is not exclusively about discerning other people and situations, but, as President Cannon taught, it is also about discerning things as they really are within us.
  • Third, it helps us find and bring forth the good that may be concealed in others.
  • And fourth, it helps us find and bring forth the good that may be concealed in us. Oh, what a blessing and a source of protection and direction is the spiritual gift of discernment!"

The Three Signals: God, Satan and You

"But ye are commanded in all things to ask of God, who giveth liberally; and that which the Spirit testifies unto you even so I would that ye should do in all holiness of heart, walking uprightly before me, considering the end of your salvation, doing all things with prayer and thanksgiving, that ye may not be seduced by evil spirits, or doctrines of devils, or the commandments of men; for some are of men, and others of devils.
Wherefore, beware lest ye are deceived; and that ye may not be deceived seek ye earnestly the best gifts, always remembering for what they are given;" (D&C 46:7-8)

One of this blog's most frequently-asked questions is, "How can I know if a prompting is from God, Satan or just myself?" or "How do you know when you've heard the voice of the Spirit?"

I've posted some insights in these following past posts (prime recommendations have asterisks):

* Rend the Veil of Unbelief, Part 5: Hearing Him

* Pondering the Word of God, Part 1 - The Divine Tuning Fork

* A Spiritual Call to Arms, Part 3 (The Invitation)

01. "Calleth On My Name"

01. Are You Truly Awake?

02. Walking and Talking with God, Part 1

03. Walking and Talking with God, Part 2

04. Walking and Talking with God, Part 3: Trust

* 05. Walking and Talking with God, Part 4: Fearlessness

* 06. Walking and Talking with God, Part 5: The Perfect Start

14. Spiritual Land Mine #3: Encouraging or Accepting Adulation

* 18. Spiritual Land Mine #6: Conquer "The D Word"

22. Spiritual Land Mine #8: The Missing Link to Seeing the Lord

* Lectures on Faith 2, Part 1: Why Its Absolutely Essential For You to Hearken to God

* Lectures on Faith 2, Part 2: Recognize and Avoid Satan's Pick Up Lines

Step Out of the Darkness and Into the Light

Every moment demands that we choose, over and over again, between that which comes from the Lord and that which comes from the devil. As tiny drops of water shape a landscape, so also do our minute-by-minute choices shape our character. (This is why I believe that living the eternal gospel every day is in many ways harder than dying for the Lord).

Thankfully, the Lord, in His wisdom, has provided some insights which we can employ to the effectiveness of our spiritual pursuits.

First, I believe that there are three voices which speak into our minds and hearts - the voice of God (goodness), Satan (evil) and ourselves (indecision, which is swayed by the previous two voices). God's voice is always broadcasting. So is Satan's. The voice of the Spirit is usually very quiet. Said Isaiah,
“And the work of righteousness shall be peace; and the effect of righteousness quietness and assurance for ever” (Isaiah 32:17)
Ironically, Satan's efforts can also begin very subtly, as soft as a baby's breath. Hence we read,
"for he is the founder of all these things; yea, the founder of murder, and works of darkness; yea, and he leadeth them by the neck with a flaxen cord, until he bindeth them with his strong cords forever." (2 Nephi 26:22)
It's natural for the third voice -- our own -- to come to the forefront in our decision-making processes, because the characteristics of these two signals can be very similar. Thus, we must look at their content. That, I believe, is where differences begin to appear:
“There is nothing which is good save it comes from the Lord: and that which is evil cometh from the devil” (Omni 1:25)
"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.
Wherefore, all things which are good cometh of God; and that which is evil cometh of the devil; for the devil is an enemy unto God, and fighteth against him continually, and inviteth and enticeth to sin, and to do that which is evil continually.
But behold, that which is of God inviteth and enticeth to do good continually; wherefore, every thing which inviteth and enticeth to do good, and to love God, and to serve him, is inspired of God.
Wherefore, take heed, my beloved brethren, that ye do not judge that which is evil to be of God, or that which is good and of God to be of the devil.
For behold, my brethren, it is given unto you to judge, that ye may know good from evil; and the way to judge is as plain, that ye may know with a perfect knowledge, as the daylight is from the dark night.
For behold, the Spirit of Christ is given to every man, that he may know good from evil; wherefore, I show unto you the way to judge; for every thing which inviteth to do good, and to persuade to believe in Christ, is sent forth by the power and gift of Christ; wherefore ye may know with a perfect knowledge it is of God.
But whatsoever thing persuadeth men to do evil, and believe not in Christ, and deny him, and serve not God, then ye may know with a perfect knowledge it is of the devil; for after this manner doth the devil work, for he persuadeth no man to do good, no, not one; neither do his angels; neither do they who subject themselves unto him.
And now, my brethren, seeing that ye know the light by which ye may judge, which light is the light of Christ, see that ye do not judge wrongfully; for with that same judgment which ye judge ye shall also be judged.
Wherefore, I beseech of you, brethren, that ye should search diligently in the light of Christ that ye may know good from evil; and if ye will lay hold upon every good thing, and condemn it not, ye certainly will be a child of Christ." (Moroni 7:11-19)

So how can you know good from evil?

You have to search for it. Search how? Search diligently. OK then, search what?

Here's what I found out when I searched "search" and "diligently" in the scripture search engine (here)

The scriptures

"Now these sons of Mosiah were with Alma at the time the angel first appeared unto him; therefore Alma did rejoice exceedingly to see his brethren; and what added more to his joy, they were still his brethren in the Lord; yea, and they had waxed strong in the knowledge of the truth; for they were men of a sound understanding and they had searched the scriptures diligently, that they might know the word of God.
But this is not all; they had given themselves to much prayer, and fasting; therefore they had the spirit of prophecy, and the spirit of revelation, and when they taught, they taught with power and authority of God." (Alma 17:2-3)

The Book of Mormon
"O my sons, I would that ye should remember that these sayings are true, and also that these records are true. And behold, also the plates of Nephi, which contain the records and the sayings of our fathers from the time they left Jerusalem until now, and they are true; and we can know of their surety because we have them before our eyes.
And now, my sons, I would that ye should remember to search them diligently, that ye may profit thereby; and I would that ye should keep the commandments of God, that ye may prosper in the land according to the promises which the Lord made unto our fathers." (Mosiah 1:6-7)
"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—
That they may bring forth fruit meet for their Father’s kingdom; otherwise there remaineth a scourge and judgment to be poured out upon the children of Zion." (D&C 84:54-58)
"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.
And all things that he spake have been and shall be, even according to the words which he spake.
Therefore give heed to my words; write the things which I have told you; and according to the time and the will of the Father they shall go forth unto the Gentiles.
And whosoever will hearken unto my words and repenteth and is baptized, the same shall be saved. Search the prophets, for many there be that testify of these things." (3 Nephi 23:1-5)
This last scripture is especially important in that the Lord said that although diligently studying His words is essential, we must also hearken to His words, repent and be baptized (which I believe could also mean that we should covenant with Him). Hence,
"But be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving your own selves." (James 1:22)

But what if the scriptures don't address the thing I need help with?

The Lord has done a terrific job of highlighting all the virtues and characteristics of a true Christian in the scriptures. His answers are true and timeless. But with all that's in them, we may still encounter some moments of confusion. We sometimes need more definite, definitive answers.

It's helpful in such instances to remember that the word of the Lord can come via the Holy Ghost, in personal prayer, in addition to the scriptures.
"Yea, behold, I will tell you in your mind and in your heart, by the Holy Ghost, which shall come upon you and which shall dwell in your heart. Now, behold, this is the spirit of revelation" (D&C 8:2-3).
Elder. Marion G. Romney described what it's like to actually receive a sentence from the Lord:
"Revelation is the means by which God communicates with men. Revelation is indispensable to an understanding of the gospel of Jesus Christ. The very nature of the gospel is such that without the active and constant operation of the principle of revelation, it could not be understood nor could it be had.
Another manifestation of revelation is the unspoken word, a good illustration of which is given us by Enos. He says: '...while I was thus struggling in the spirit, behold, the voice of the Lord came into my mind again, saying:...' (Enos 10.) Then he tells us what the voice of the Lord put in his mind.
This is a very common means of revelation. It comes into one's mind in words and sentences. With this medium of revelation I am personally well acquainted. Flashes of ideas that come into one's mind represent another type or manifestation of revelation. Listen to this statement of the Prophet Joseph:
'A person may profit by noticing the first intimation of the spirit of revelation; for instance, when you feel pure intelligence flowing into you, it may give you sudden strokes of ideas, so that by noticing it, you may find it fulfilled the same day or soon; (i.e.) those things that were presented unto your minds by the Spirit of God, will come to pass; and thus by learning the Spirit of God and understanding it, you may grow into the principle of revelation, until you become perfect in Christ Jesus.' (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 151.)" (April 1964 General Conference)
Still, the personal revelation you obtain should be congruent with already-revealed truths:
"General Commandments are given by God through prophets for the benefit of all His children. They are the natural laws of growth and happiness for individuals, of stability and freedom for nations."
Obedience to General Commandments schools and prepares us to discern and obey the "Personal Commandments" given us by the spirit." (Stephen R. Covey, "The Divine Center", p. 247)
This is congruent with what brother Joseph said:
" . . . we never inquire at the hand of God for special revelation only in case of there being no previous revelation to suit the case . . ." (History of the Church, Vol. 1, p. 339)
"We cannot keep all the commandments without first knowing them, and we cannot expect to know all, or more than we now know unless we comply with or keep those we have already received" (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 256).

The Primacy of Scripture

Even then, the personal revelation -- the "personal commandments" -- we (and others) receive should not contradict what we find in the scriptures:
"If anyone, regardless of his position in the Church, were to advance a doctrine that is not substantiated by the standard Church works, meaning the Bible, the Book of Mormon, the Doctrine and Covenants, and the Pearl of Great Price, you may know that his statement is merely his private opinion. The only one authorized to bring forth any new doctrine is the President of the Church, who, when he does, will declare it as revelation from God, and it will be so accepted by the Council of the Twelve and sustained by the body of the Church. And if any man speak a doctrine which contradicts what is in the standard Church works, you may know by that same token that it is false and you are not bound to accept it as truth." (Pres. Harold B. Lee, The First Area General Conference for Germany, Austria, Holland, Italy, Switzerland, France, Belgium, and Spain of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, held in Munich Germany, August 24–26, 1973, Reports and Discourses, p.69)
"It is not to be thought that every word spoken by the General Authorities is inspired, or that they are moved upon by the Holy Ghost in everything they read and write. Now you keep that in mind. I don't care what his position is, if he writes something or speaks something that goes beyond anything that you can find in the standard church works, unless that one be the prophet, seer, and revelator -- please note that one exception -- you may immediately say, 'Well, that is his own idea.' And if he says something that contradicts what is found in the standard church works (I think that is why we call them 'standard' -- it is the standard measure of all that men teach), you may know by that same token that it is false, regardless of the position of the man who says it." (Pres. Harold B. Lee, "Place of the Living Prophet, Seer and Revelator," Stand in Holy Places, (1974), p.162-163; originally delivered July 8, 1964)
"When is a prophet a prophet? Whenever he speaks under the inspiration and influence of the Holy Ghost. Men frequently speak and express their own opinions. The Lord has not deprived men of individual opinions. Good men, men of faith, have divergent views on many things. There is no particular harm in this if these views are not in relation to the fundamentals. Some men are Democrats, some Republicans. Some believe in a particular political philosophy and some are bitterly opposed to it, and yet they are faithful men with a testimony of the gospel.
When prophets write and speak on the principles of the gospel, they should have the guidance of the Spirit. If they do, then all that they say will be in harmony with the revealed word. If they are in harmony then we know that they have not spoken presumptuously. Should a man speak or write, and what he says is in conflict with the standards which are accepted, with the revelations the Lord has given, then we may reject what he has said, no matter who he is. Paul declared that he, at times, gave his own opinion in his writing." (Joseph Fielding Smith, Doctrines of Salvation 1:187)
"It makes no difference what is written or what anyone has said, if what has been said is in conflict with what the Lord has revealed, we can set it aside. My words, and the teachings of any other member of the Church, high or low, if they do not square with the revelations, we need not accept them. Let us have this matter clear. We have accepted the four standard works as the measuring yardsticks, or balances, by which we measure every man's doctrine.
You cannot accept the books written by the authorities of the Church as standards in doctrine, only in so far as they accord with the revealed word in the standard works.
Every man who writes is responsible, not the Church, for what he writes. If Joseph Fielding Smith writes something which is out of harmony with the revelations, then every member of the Church is duty bound to reject it. If he writes that which is in perfect harmony with the revealed word of the Lord, then it should be accepted." (Joseph Fielding Smith, Doctrines of Salvation, 3:203-4)
"Prophets are men and they make mistakes. Sometimes they err in doctrine. This is one of the reasons the Lord has given us the Standard Works. They become the standards and rules that govern where doctrine and philosophy are concerned. If this were not so, we would believe one thing when one man was president of the Church and another thing in the days of his successors. Truth is eternal and does not vary. Sometimes even wise and good men fall short in the accurate presentation of what is truth. Sometimes a prophet gives personal views which are not endorsed and approved by the Lord....
Wise gospel students do not build their philosophies of life on quotations of individuals, even though those quotations come from presidents of the Church. Wise people anchor their doctrine on the Standard Works.... There is no need to attempt to harmonize conflicting views when some of the views are out of harmony with the Standard Works....
We do not solve our problems by getting a statement from the president of the Church or from someone else on a subject. We have been introduced to the gospel; we have the gift of the Holy Ghost; we have the Standards Works and it is our responsibility to get in tune and understand properly what the Lord has revealed and has had us canonize." (Elder Bruce R. McConkie, in a Letter to Eugene England, BYU Professor, February 19, 1981)
"The standard works are scripture. They are binding upon us. They are the mind and will and voice of the Lord. He never has, he does not now, and he never will reveal anything which is contrary to what is in them. No person, speaking by the spirit of inspiration, will ever teach doctrine that is out of harmony with the truths God has already revealed....
Men who wear the prophetic mantle are still men; they have their own views; and their understanding of gospel truths is dependent upon the study and inspiration that is theirs. Some prophets—I say it respectfully—know more and have greater inspiration than others. Thus, if Brigham Young, who was one of the greatest of the prophets, said something about Adam which is out of harmony with what is in the Book of Moses and in section 78, it is the scripture that prevails. This is one of the reasons we call our scriptures The Standard Works. They are the standard of judgment and the measuring rod against which all doctrines and views are weighed, and it does not make one particle of difference whose views are involved. The scriptures always take precedence." (Elder Bruce R. McConkie, "Finding Answers to Gospel Questions," Letter dated 1 July 1980. Published in Teaching Seminary Preservice Readings, Religion 370, 471, and 475 (2004))
“All that we teach in this Church ought to be couched in the scriptures. It ought to be found in the scriptures. We ought to choose our texts from the scriptures. If we want to measure truth, we should measure it by the four standard works, regardless of who writes it. If it is not in the standard works, we may well assume that it is speculation, man’s own personal opinion; and if it contradicts what is in the scriptures, it is not true. This is the standard by which we measure all truth” (“Using the Scriptures in Our Church Assignments,” Improvement Era, Jan. 1969, p. 13).”

Get "Inside Information" About Satan's Plans for You

As you immerse yourself in God's word throughout the day, you acclimate your spirit to the divine signal of truth and love.

And on that wavelength, the Lord can actually give you "inside information" about Satan's plans that will help you avoid deception and temptation ahead of time.

The Prophet Elisha got this concept. In 2 Kings 2, we read:
"Then the king of Syria warred against Israel, and took counsel with his servants, saying, In such and such a place shall be my camp.
And the man of God sent unto the king of Israel, saying, Beware that thou pass not such a place; for thither the Syrians are come down.
And the king of Israel sent to the place which the man of God told him and warned him of, and saved himself there, not once nor twice.
Therefore the heart of the king of Syria was sore troubled for this thing; and he called his servants, and said unto them, Will ye not shew me which of us is for the king of Israel?
And one of his servants said, None, my lord, O king: but Elisha, the prophet that is in Israel, telleth the king of Israel the words that thou speakest in thy bedchamber." (2 Kings 2:8-12)
The Nephites experienced something similar:
"And this was their faith, that by so doing God would prosper them in the land, or in other words, if they were faithful in keeping the commandments of God that he would prosper them in the land; yea, warn them to flee, or to prepare for war, according to their danger;
And also, that God would make it known unto them whither they should go to defend themselves against their enemies, and by so doing, the Lord would deliver them; and this was the faith of Moroni, and his heart did glory in it; not in the shedding of blood but in doing good, in preserving his people, yea, in keeping the commandments of God, yea, and resisting iniquity." (Alma 48:15-16)
When we are tuned in to the Lord, we can actively take Him up on His offer to help us avoid battles with our common enemy. He can and will give you promptings as to what Satan is planning for you. Indeed,
"We can monitor our own progress and discern the gains we make and the patterns in which we are vulnerable to temptation. I am indebted to a wise old friend (both in years and in association) of another faith who taught me to take an active interest in learning about the patterns in my life and how temptations occurred. He struggled a long time with some of his temptations and finally decided to take a proactive interest. He tried to anticipate where in his life he might encounter that 'old trickster devil' again. He became a good scout. He watched the terrain of his life and could tell where it looked like his own form of quicksand might be. He rerouted and gave up trying to see how close he could get to that quicksand without getting caught." (Marie Cornwall and Susan Howe, eds., Women of Wisdom and Knowledge: Talks Selected from the BYU Women's Conferences, p. 114)

Now what?

We've discussed the need to align with Christ -- and no one else -- in the discernment process. We've also discussed the paramount importance of obtaining the words of the Lord -- and sticking with them -- so that we can effectively and consistently avoid deception and temptation.

In my next post, we'll talk about the principles -- and a real-life example -- of how to effectively seek obtaining the Gift of Discernment.

On a personal note: I know how challenging discernment can be. As we proceed through this series of posts on discernment, it'll become (and I choose my words carefully) painfully clear to you how challenging it really is. We live in a time when there are "false Christs, and false prophets, and shall show great signs and wonders, insomuch, that, if possible, they shall deceive the very elect, who are the elect according to the covenant." (JS—M 1:22)

I pray with Paul “unto the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ … that he would grant you, according to the riches of his glory, to be strengthened with might by his Spirit in the inner man;
That Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith; that ye, being rooted and grounded in love, may...know the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge, that ye might be filled with all the fulness of God” (Eph. 3:14, 16–19).

Sunday, September 24, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

Spiritual Exceptionalism

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yes and no.

The Unchanging Changeableness of God

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

There Are No Easy Answers Here

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

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

The Beginning of Discernment

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

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

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

When There Are No Dots to Connect

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

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

You're a Citizen of Which Government?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Lectures on Faith 7: "By Their Fruits"

It's one of the most astounding events ever recorded in scripture. Shortly after Christ's post-resurrected ascension, 120 followers of Christ (including the Twelve Apostles) gathered in an upper room, or Cenacle, in Jerusalem (Acts 1:13-14).

"And suddenly there came a sound from heaven as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting. And there appeared unto them cloven tongues like as of fire, and it sat upon each of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance." (Acts 2:2-4) Peter also stood up, and prophesied (Acts 2:14-40). That day, about 3,000 people were converted to Christ (Acts 2:41).

Due in no small part to word-of-mouth marketing catalyzed at Pentecost, Jerusalem was "filled" with Christianity within a few weeks or months of the church's formation (Acts 5:28). Christianity then spread throughout the region of Judea, then the nation of Samaria, then the continent of Asia (Acts 19:10) -- all within two years' time.

A similar event happened on March 27, 1836, at the dedication of the Kirtland Temple:
"George A. Smith arose and began to prophesy, when a noise was heard like the sound of a rushing mighty wind, which filled the Temple, and all the congregation simultaneously arose, being moved upon by an invisible power; many began to speak in tongues and prophesy; others saw glorious visions; and I beheld the Temple was filled with angels, which fact I declared to the congregation. The people of the neighborhood came running together (hearing an unusual sound within, and seeing a bright light like a pillar of fire resting upon the Temple), and were astonished at what was taking place" (History of the Church 2:428).
Two years earlier, at the church's first meeting on Tuesday, April 6, 1830,
"The Holy Ghost was poured out upon the whole community . . . in a miraculous manner.... Some prophecied, [sic] many spoke with new tongues, and some . . . of our number were . . . completely overpowered for a time, that we were obliged to lay them upon beds &c &c, and when bodily sensibility was restored to them they shouted Hosanas to God and the Lamb—& declared that the Heavens had been opened unto them . . . that they had seen Jesus Christ sitting at the right hand of the Majesty on high, and many great and glorious things." (Joseph Smith, as quoted by Dean C. Jessee, "The Papers of Joseph Smith. Volume 1: Autobiographical and Historical Writings (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1989),  p. 243).
As Christians, we believe signs follow them that believe:
"And these signs shall follow them that believe—in my name shall they cast out devils; they shall speak with new tongues; they shall take up serpents; and if they drink any deadly thing it shall not hurt them; they shall lay hands on the sick and they shall recover;" (Mormon 9:24)
"And these signs shall follow them that believe; In my name shall they cast out devils; they shall speak with new tongues; They shall take up serpents; and if they drink any deadly thing, it shall not hurt them; they shall lay hands on the sick, and they shall recover." (Mark 16:17-18). 
In referencing this scripture, Elder Bruce R. McConkie stated,
"when men believe the true word of the gospel, then God begins to manifest his power in their lives. They begin to enjoy the gifts of the Spirit, to work miracles, and to have those spiritual experiences which always and everlastingly attend true believers." ("Our Gospel Came Not Unto You in Word Only...", October 1968 General Conference).
In also referencing Mark 16:17, Pres. John Taylor asked,
"What signs? Why, the sick were to be healed, the lame were to be made to walk, the blind to see, and the deaf to hear, and the poor were to have the Gospel preached to them (Matthew 11:5; Luke 7:22)" ("Pretensions of the Saints, JD 23:368).
Note that the Lord did not say these signs would precede, be a guide or testimony to us to prove in advance that this is the gospel of Jesus Christ. He said that they "follow" those that believe.
"But, behold, faith cometh not by signs, but signs follow those that believe" (D&C 63:9

Let's fast forward to today.

Do we see these signs in existence today? Are the lame walking? Are the blind seeing? Are the deaf hearing? Do we see the gift of tongues, and interpretation of tongues? Do we see prophesying? Do we see glorious visions? Do we see angels? Do we see the Heavens being opened? Do people see Jesus Christ sitting at the right hand of the Majesty on high?

If we're truly honest with ourselves, we must admit that collectively, as a people, we do not see these gifts evidenced as outwardly and conspicuously as they were on Pentecost AD 1 or AD 1836.

I believe God would be thrilled to see more Pentecosts in our lives, both individually and collectively. I'm sure He well remembers how rapidly the early Christian church grew immediately after the first Pentecost. Thus, because God is “the same yesterday, today, and forever” (Mormon 9:9), I don't think that it's God's fault that we don't see these signs anymore.
"And the reason why he ceaseth to do miracles among the children of men is because that they dwindle in unbelief, and depart from the right way, and know not the God in whom they should trust" (Mormon 9:20)
"...for it is by faith that miracles are wrought; and it is by faith that angels appear and minister unto men; wherefore, if these things have ceased wo be unto the children of men, for it is because of unbelief, and all is vain" (Moroni 7:37)
If we have faith, there will be signs. There will be the gifts of the Spirit. There will be the ministering of angels and the working of miracles. But if there are no signs, there is no faith.

So, not seeing any signs, what do many church members do to fill this gap, this deficiency of publicly-manifested gifts? They seek out those who have supposedly experienced them.

For example: Look at the ever-increasing number of false prophecies. Church members have publicly prophesied that -- by now, September, 2017 -- we should have seen massive earthquakes in Utah and California, call-outs, economic collapse, presidential assassination, civil war, plagues, wars and nuclear attacks. Instead of running away from these false prophets, hundreds -- even thousands -- of church members ignore their false prophecies by paying money to buy these false prophets' books, attend their lectures, workshops, seminars and conventions, and heartily applaud their keynote addresses.
"For there shall arise false Christs, and false prophets, and shall shew great signs and wonders; insomuch that, if it were possible, they shall deceive the very elect" (Matthew 24:24).
“When men come out and build upon other men’s foundations, they do it on their own responsibility, without authority from God; and when the floods come and the winds blow, their foundations will be found to be sand, and their whole fabric will crumble to dust." (Joseph Smith, History of the Church, 6:479; from a discourse given by Joseph Smith on June 16, 1844, in Nauvoo, Illinois; reported by Thomas Bullock; see also appendix, page 562, item 3)
"And many will say unto me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name; and in thy name cast out devils; and in thy name done many wonderful works?
And then will I say, Ye never knew me; depart from me, ye that work iniquity." (Matthew 32-33 JST)
Personally, I believe that God still grants true believers the opportunity to exercise these gifts on a limited basis. God will still interact with the believing, the faithful, the humble, the repentant who sincerely want to extend the borders of God's kingdom. Unfortunately, what do people say about who truly did experience these gifts? They condemn the righteous for even daring to mention the existence of these gifts to the world. They're considered deceived, misled, crazy and worse. They're condemned for sharing their experiences with others, believing that spiritual experiences only apply to the receiver. Although Alma 12:9 gives us some guidelines, we forget that D&C 46:13-14 also says that to some its given to know and to others it is given to believe on their words. I'm sure that those in the second category really hope to hear some experiences, otherwise, they won’t have words to believe on, to learn from and embrace. Imagine if Paul had considered his experience on the road to Damascus "too sacred to share"...

And thus, the downward swirling of unbelief not only continues, but accelerates and expands.
"Here is the way by which every person may find out whether he is a believer in Christ or not. The whole Christian world can test themselves, and find out whether they are believers in Christ or not. If these signs follow, they are believers; if these signs do not follow, they are not believers. None of us are believers unless these signs follow us; for Jesus promised them to every creature in all the world who believes; hence the promise includes people now alive, as well as those who lived in former ages. And woe be to all the inhabitants of the earth, because of their unbelief; (Moroni 7:35-38) because they have done away the power of godliness; because they have done away the power of the ancient Gospel, and have turned aside after the doctrines of men; and yet hypocritically -- perhaps some of them sincerely -- call themselves the Church of Christ, and believers. Shame on the world!" (Elder Orson Pratt, "Necessity of Miracles", JD 16:139b)

The Effects of faith

Lecture on Faith 7 is the last of the lectures. It directly spotlights "a man's working by faith" (verse 3). We read of miracles performed long ago, like Joshua speaking and making the great lights which God had created standing still. We read of Elijah commanding the heavens to be stayed for three and a half years so that it did not rain. Even the angels need faith in order to minister to us (verses 4 and 6).

Faith is the reason we are able to:
  • Move mountains (verse 3), 
  • "Obtain heavenly visions, the ministering of angels, have knowledge of the spirits of just men made perfect, of the general assembly and church of the first born, whose names are written in heaven, of God the judge of all, of Jesus the Mediator of the new covenant, and become familiar with the third heavens, see and hear things which were not only unutterable, but were unlawful to utter" (verse 17)
  • Have "revelations, visions, and dreams" (verse 20)
  • Experience "miracles, healings, tongues, interpretation of tongues, etc." (verse 20)
  • Do greater works than Jesus did (verse 12)
  • Form planets and hold them in their orbits (verse 5). 
  • See God (verse 8)
Signs not only follow true believers, but they also give us easily-discernable fruits which can be spiritually delicious to us:
"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.
Every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire.
Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them." (Matthew 7:16-20)
Still, there are some signs that leave us confused. If I had a nickel for every BYU student who had a "burning in their bosom" (believing their boyfriend or girlfriend was "the one", only to be later proven wrong), I'd be rich. Many "feel the spirit" while testifying against Joseph Smith. And today, I know plenty of people who believe their particular sect of Mormonism is right, and all the others are wrong, despite their divergence from scriptural patterns and truths (more on that in a minute). All of these people display real, sincere emotions backed by logical reasoning and scripturally-based facts.

So, what are we supposed to do in these cases?

"Obtain divine teaching"

"The best way to obtain truth and wisdom is not to ask from books, but to go to God in prayer, and obtain divine teaching." (Joseph Smith, History of the Church, 4:425)

I believe that the darkened minds and unbelief we witness -- or even experience -- is a symptom of our treating lightly the things we've already been given by God:
"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—
That they may bring forth fruit meet for their Father’s kingdom; otherwise there remaineth a scourge and judgment to be poured out upon the children of Zion." (D&C 84:54-58)
Thus, conversely, by turning to and hearkening to God's word, we can rid ourselves of this condemnation, darkness and unbelief.

However, if you think that merely reading the scriptures will reverse this negative course, think again.
"Behold, you have not understood; you have supposed that I would give it unto you, when you took no thought save it was to ask me.
But, behold, I say unto you, that you must study it out in your mind; then you must ask me if it be right, and if it is right I will cause that your bosom shall burn within you; therefore, you shall feel that it is right.
But if it be not right you shall have no such feelings, but you shall have a stupor of thought that shall cause you to forget the thing which is wrong; therefore, you cannot write that which is sacred save it be given you from me.
Now, if you had known this you could have translated..." (D&C 9:7-10)
So, to exercise true faith, you need to expend real mental, emotional and spiritual effort to know truth and not be deceived. You need to do more than just read the scriptures:

Not only that, but we are to look for patterns in the scriptures:
"And again, I will give unto you a pattern in all things, that ye may not be deceived; for Satan is abroad in the land, and he goeth forth deceiving the nations—
Wherefore he that prayeth, whose spirit is contrite, the same is accepted of me if he obey mine ordinances.
He that speaketh, whose spirit is contrite, whose language is meek and edifieth, the same is of God if he obey mine ordinances.
And again, he that trembleth under my power shall be made strong, and shall bring forth fruits of praise and wisdom, according to the revelations and truths which I have given you.
And again, he that is overcome and bringeth not forth fruits, even according to this pattern, is not of me.
Wherefore, by this pattern ye shall know the spirits in all cases under the whole heavens." (D&C 52:14-19)
By knowing the patterns God has embedded in the scriptures, you'll have a positive "template" to work off of. Moses had a positive template -- a true knowledge of God -- which enabled him to clearly and easily differentiate between God and God's counterfeit, Satan (Moses 1:14).

By really digging into God's word directly -- not through any mortal intermediary -- you, too, will better understand how God truly interacts with mankind. You'll acquire this "positive" template which Moses had. So, for example, if someone told you that you can use eggnog as a sacramental drink, you'll know that's off. If someone says the ordinance of baptism can be performed by just sprinkling, you'll know that's off, too. And even if a messenger straight from God says it's OK for someone to cover their sins, gratify their pride, their vain ambition, or exercise control or dominion or compulsion upon anyone in any degree of unrighteousness -- and still keep their priesthood authority -- yep, you'll know that's definitely off.

Like Christ, you'll know the truth. And the truth will set you free.

A final word about gifts

If you're not seeing gifts, seriously consider two things:

First, be VERY concerned. As we now well know, where there are no gifts, unbelief abounds.

Second, ask God about, develop and share your gifts with others. You may not be able to control the quantity and quality of gifts manifest all around you, but you can control what's in your sphere of influence. So, if you don't see them, then be that light on top of the hill. Be that example of the believers. Let your gifts so shine for the building up of the kingdom of God.

The End...and the Beginning

In April 2016, I published three posts about spiritual gifts, which I highly encourage you to check out:

A Spiritual Call to Arms, Part 1 (When You Have the Spirit, You Experience Spiritual Gifts)

A Spiritual Call to Arms, Part 2 (Why Don't We See Spiritual Gifts Very Often)

A Spiritual Call to Arms, Part 3 (The Invitation)

In Part 3, I asked, "So Many Gifts...Where Do You Begin?" There, I mentioned what I consider a "three-legged stool", a bedrock foundation, which I believe must be in place before any other gifts can be sought after and exercised:
  1. The Gift of Faith
  2. The Gift of Discernment
  3. The Gift of Charity
A year and a half later, this post finishes up my examination of the first of those three legs -- the Gift of Faith -- which was examined in the Lectures on Faith.

Effective with (what I think will be) my next post, we'll dive into what I think may be the most comprehensive, detailed examination of the Gift of Discernment ever conducted online. It will open your eyes, fascinate you, humble you and hopefully inspire you. I'm astounded by the wonderful things Jesus has manifested to us about discernment, many of which we saints are barely (or not) aware of.

I invite you to join me in developing greater faith so that we can not only move mountains in our own lives, but also in the lives of others. I'm excited to see what "greater things" than Jesus we can do with faith.

I also invite you to join me in better understanding discernment, so we can help ourselves -- and hopefully others -- avoid or escape deception.

Praise be to our Lord, and our Father, for these wonderful opportunities we have!

Monday, September 4, 2017


In my immediate past post, "Lectures on Faith 6: A Sacrifice That Means Something", I mentioned two movies with concepts we would be wise to remember:

  • "Small moves, Ellie. Small moves" comes from the movie Contact. It reinforces the fact that God is a god of gradualism, who gives unto the faithful line upon line, precept upon precept, here a little, and there a little (D&C 98:12; Isaiah 28:9-10)
  • "Taking the Leap of Faith" is accompanied by a scene from "Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade", where Indy must take a literal step into thin air in order to retrieve the Holy Grail and save his father's life.
When I posted these segments to this blog, I was unaware that I wasn't the only one who held these scenes in special significance. Others did as well. In fact, they had been taught identical concepts using these movie clips as teaching tools...sometimes, within the temple.

I'm grateful for these blog readers coming forward to share their parallel stories, which witness each other -- as well as my previous blog post -- that when we learn the will of the Lord and then do it, we are empowered to become


"I need you to hold my hand and leap with me."

I need to tell you a story. In fact, I felt prompted to tell you this story a couple of weeks ago but I felt like the time wasn't right to tell you and that I needed to wait for some unknown reason. And now I know why. It's because I needed to tell you now, after your last blog post.

Last year I made a goal to go through the temple every week. I live in ___________________ and the closest temple is _________ which is about an hour and a half away. My job is such that I have free days during the week, and while my kids are in school, I have just enough time to rush down to the temple do a session and rush back.

During the year while serving in the temple, I started to learn about the law of sacrifice. I started to wonder about it. I started researching it and praying about it. I was terrified of the law of sacrifice. Something about it brought fear straight through me. I read lecture on faith number 6 and really tried to overcome this fear. One day while I was sitting in the celestial room, I was praying about the law of sacrifice. I knew that it was something the Lord was asking me to do and I didn't even quite understand it. I was shocked at myself because I was sitting in the celestial room, terrified. I'm actually quite afraid of heights and I felt the same amount of fear as if I was standing on a cliff, "glued to the wall." I sat there for a long time talking to God and the conversation went something like this, "God I can't do it. I'll do it but I'm just not ready. I need more time. Help me to learn and understand this principle and not be afraid of it. But I'm just not ready to live the law sacrifice right now. I know you're asking me to give this to you but I am so afraid, that I can't right now." I was afraid that if I gave in and agreed to live the law of sacrifice that I get a phone call on the way home from the temple that my husband had been killed at work or my children would be kidnapped or something horrible like that. I just knew that if I gave in I was killing off my family.

So, I sat there terrified in the celestial room begging with God not to ask this of me. And then he showed me, while I was sitting in the celestial room, the clip from the Indiana Jones movie the Last Crusade where he's standing on that ledge and he has to take the leap of faith from Lions head and hope that there is something solid to land on. Even through my fear I had to giggle that the Lord was showing me an Indiana Jones movie in the Celestial room. (I asked him why he was showing me that video and he said it was because it was a reference I knew.)

And then something happened. I was begging to not do this and then something changed in my heart. It was like a switch had been turned. And all the sudden I Let Go. I surrendered and my conversation with God turned to, "Okay. Okay, I'll do it. I'm Yours. Whatever you ask me to do, I'll do it. Whatever you ask me to go through, I'll do it. If it means my husband is going to be dead when I get home, I'll do it for you. I'm going to leap off this cliff, but I need you to hold my hand and give me something solid to land on. I can't leap from this cliff without you. I need you to hold my hand and leap with me." 

And then the Lord's response to me was, "__________, I will never ask anything of you that you will not later consider a blessing." 

I lept. And when I got home, my family was all still alive. Nothing horrible happened and no huge unbearable trials have come my way. 

On the drive home that day the Lord said to me, "Is coming to the temple every week a sacrifice to you or a blessing?" I told him that it was a blessing and that it was the best part of my week. He said, "Is your house any messier since you started coming to the temple once a week instead of having a day at home to do all the housework?" 

"Well, yeah." 

"And you're spending more money on gas to get down here once a week than if you didn't come?" 

"Well, yes, but it's worth it." 

"Coming to the temple is a sacrifice for you and your family. But you see it as a blessing. That is how every sacrifice I will ask you to make will be. Some will be very difficult, but in the end you will see them as blessings. I'm not trying to hurt you and punish you. I'm trying to help you to grow. I want to give you more." 

I know that I'm not "done" with the law of sacrifice. I know there is much more that will be asked of me. But now, I can feel confident that no matter how hard it is to bear, it will be worth it, and there will come a day when I will call those trials of my faith blessings from the Lord. 

I'm happy that He's using the Indiana Jones reference on more than just me. : ) That clip will always be special to me now."


"It'll be OK"

Back in the latter part of 2008, I felt that I was ready to assume a greater and more profound relationship with the Lord. So, in 2008, the Lord pretty much pulled out a megaphone and said YOU ARE READY FOR THIS! THE ONLY PERSON HOLDING THIS UP IS...YOU!" I remember that moment like it was yesterday.

Unfortunately, it took me four years to pull my head out. Four years of living every day knowing that I was ready for something bigger. And the only thing holding me back was my fears.

Then came the first part of 2012. I started getting this inkling of "It'll be OK". Then a couple of weeks later, another subtle "It'll be OK". First part of March 2012, seven different friends called me up within about five days. None knew each other. Each called me up and said something to the effect of "I don't know why I'm calling you to say this, and I don't know what this is about, but I just had this feeling I needed to tell you that it'll be OK".

One friend. And another. And another. Another and another and another and another.

So, I proceeded forward. I won't exactly detail what I did, other than to say Joseph Smith had the right idea in the Grove.

I like what you said the other week about being an ordinary person. I can relate. I could be a primary worker, a Sunday School secretary, a Webelos Den Leader. You don't know what ward I'm in, but suffice it to say I have no significant calling, no significant Mormon pedigree and definitely no significant home, car or income!

I also like your one page where you say God is no respecter of persons. 

For three plus years, my fears held me back from enjoying a greater fulness of Jesus Christ in my life. But in the end, I, too, remembered that "Leap of Faith" Indiana Jones video. I tried it. And thanks to God, I landed on solid ground, not air.

Has life been all rainbows, unicorns and puppy dogs since then? Nope. But I do feel profoundly closer to the Lord in my life. I laid everything in my life on the line for Him, and because of that, I enjoy a closeness with Him that I never thought I'd ever have in my life.

My Leap of Faith was one of the greatest moments of my life so far. I now have a testimony that the last thing the Lord wants is for us to fall. He wants to raise us to higher heights.


"You’re My Ellie”

What you shared in your last blog post was a real second witness for me.

First, that what God is teaching me is so similar to what He’s teaching others, which is a witness in itself.

Second, that He tends to use the same or similar means to do it. I’ve always loved movies, and tend to find myself seeing spiritual connections in them that mirror what we experience in this life. However, the movie Contact has absolutely been the most used overall theme the Lord has used to teach me who I am, how He sees me and what my potential really is.

One day, I was really grappling with a tough experience in my life where I felt the Lord was telling me something beyond my ability to understand and trust. This led me to realize I needed His guidance and direction to discern more clearly, but what that experience actually revealed to me was just how inexperienced I was in discerning His voice and trusting in His plan. In my own mind, I needed guidance and direction and I needed it now. But these things cant be learned in an instant. It’s just not possible for us to grow that quick spiritually. (“Small moves, Ellie”).

So this particular day, I found myself in the temple, praying and pondering and crying in my heart that I wanted and needed to know His voice beyond anything I had ever wanted in my life. Just then, the movie Contact was brought forcefully to my mind. I saw and literally felt the part in the movie where the main character, Ellie, is being put in the device that will take her on a wonderful journey to another place beyond her comprehension.

As I sat there, I could feel the vibration of the machine, the stress and fear of not knowing what was going to happen, but willing to move forward. The words she kept saying in her head at this point in the movie “I’m OK to go” repeated in my mind again and again. I felt like the Lord was saying this was me. He was taking me on this fantastic journey to find Him. And even though it was scary, I was “OK to go” and He was immensely pleased.

I then heard and felt these words in my mind. “____________, you’re my Ellie.” And I realized that any and all of God’s children who seek to hear Him and see Him as intensely as she did in the movie was so precious to Him. He actually valued and found joy in that seeking and couldn’t and wouldn’t move forward until we make the first steps of actually listening for His voice. Just as the character Ellie spent years searching the heavens for any kind of contact outside of our world, we, too must listen and seek for His voice.

I wish I could say after that wonderful experience that I got it all together and moved forward with faith, but that was just the beginning. There was still so much more to learn. Over and over again the Lord showed me my fears were overwhelming my faith, and He would quietly and patiently give me more and more reassurances that He was with me and talking to me. I knew I didn’t deserve it, but He was so eternally patient with me. I am still in awe of it! But the adversary is real and he would come in next and do all that he could to make me doubt those experiences and second guess myself, which then left me devoid of faith once again until the Lord would build me back up.

This rollercoaster of faith and fear repeated itself for several years because I could not see how to just believe and move forward in faith. It was one of the most wonderful, heart wrenching experiences I’ve ever had in my life. It was truly a season of stretching and growing! I can see what the Prophet Joseph meant when he said the Lord would wrench our very heart strings because mine were being wrenched, and hard! So many times I wanted to just give up, give in, and take the easy road of mediocrity but God wouldn’t let me. I knew in the core of my heart it would be wrong and I couldn’t bring myself to do it so I held on, like a cat on a ledge at times.

Then the Lord finally brought it into my heart that I needed to just decide what I was going to believe and move forward. This is where the second movie you mentioned, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, fits in. Over the years, the Lord has used this visual of Indy stepping off that ledge to show me what that leap of faith looks like, but this time I realized it was time I actually practice it. Again and again, this visual and a visual of myself stepping forward off that cliff kept coming to my mind. I would hear phrases like “what if you just took that leap” coming into my mind randomly, out of the blue with this visual in my mind. Finally, I knew it was time to eradicate the doubts and step forward in faith. And so I did, and after three and a half years of vacillating between doubt and faith, I was finally willing to make that step/leap of faith for good. It took a lot of courage (more than I thought I possessed), but because the Lord had showed me over and over again that I could trust Him in many other ways, and because He had helped me develop my spiritual hearing, I was finally ready to step forward.

I am still in the free fall mode between the step and moving all your body weight into the forward motion, knowing there is no turning back, but I’m perfectly at peace about it. Something I have wrestled with for years and now, in an instant, fear is gone, faith is present and joy has filled my heart. The next day I felt so light, so joyful, that I could hardly contain myself! I finally trust He’s got my back and I’m excited to see how this all turns out.

It has been such an eye-opening experience for me. Despite all the emotional turmoil it created, I’m grateful for every moment of it. I know the timing was perfectly suited for MY needs and not everyone will take as long as me to “get it”, but I am left with a perfect faith that it was exactly what I needed. In the end, I realized the thing I hadn’t truly given the Lord, and which kept me from full faith, was trust in His everlasting care. I hadn’t been willing to sacrifice what He was asking me to sacrifice (namely my plan, my timing and my will) versus His perfect plan for my life. I thought, erroneously, He somehow wouldn’t deliver on His promises and I would be left with a shattered heart. I thought I was willing, but throughout this experience, I learned that I needed to give my whole heart, my life and the direction it flows all to Him and that He would make more of it than I ever could. And I really believe that!

Image suggestion courtesy
of my sister. Love ya, sis!

In Conclusion

A friend of mine recently said,

"We suggest what we know. We become so entrenched in our own familiar thinking that it becomes the 'go to' for all problems. We are admonished to trust in the LORD with all thine heart and LEAN not to your own understanding. When we lean, we become off-balanced, no longer centered! We must trust in him with all our hearts. ALL."