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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!


3 comments:

  1. Thank you for saying something about sharing spiritual experiences. As one who apparently still yearns to hear of others' divine experiences, despite trying not to be, I have come to feel pretty strongly about this. I believe Jesus was not advocating we practice judgement of others when he gave the pearl parable, sometimes I imagine others quoting this as though we should be deciding who is swine or not! Rather it was a suggestion that certain things belong in certain places. I am forever grateful Joseph told everyone he knew, contrarians included, that he saw God the Father and the Son.

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    1. Fantastic point!

      I (regrettably) see so many indications that it's now more culturally acceptable to NOT share spiritual experiences. We've diverged a long way from Pentecost and Kirtland. However, I'm glad there are still some today -- as well as others, as we find in the scriptures -- who saw/see the bigger picture in knowing that sometimes, the things we leave behind may help someone else find the way.

      Thanks again, Jenesse!

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    2. Btw I'm excited for your next post. You've piqued my curiosity.... 🙂

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