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Sunday, October 21, 2018

The Gift of Discernment Part 9: Why Your Judgmentalism Blocks You from Discerning God and His Voice

While many church members were engaging in speculation and odds-making regarding big General Conference announcements, a fascinating news article about church members was published, which received hardly any mention nor discussion by members.

In the article (here), Dr. Jana Reiss summarizes survey results of Early Returning Missionaries (ERMs). In one study, “a third of millennial Mormons who went out on a mission came home before their assigned time.” With 67,049 full-time LDS missionaries serving as of today, that would mean we’re talking about 22,126 ERMs.

Why did they return home? A second study conducted by the University of Utah (U of U) found that among ERMs, 36% returned for mental health reasons, 34% for physical health reasons, 12% for previously undisclosed transgressions and 11% for disobeying mission rules.

Upon returning home, most ERMs felt that people assumed they were returning for issues related to transgressions. “They feel stigmatized and ashamed, whether or not there was sin involved.” The U of U study found:
  • Nearly six in 10 respondents said their wards were unfriendly or indifferent about their ERM status.
  • Nearly half said their local church leaders treated them poorly. 
  • Fewer than a third reported a chilly reception in their own families.
But that’s not even close to the worst of the situation:
  • 73% said they had feelings of failure. In fact, the majority of ERMs had feelings of failure regardless of the reason they returned, regardless of whether their early return was related to personal conduct.
  • 66% felt uncomfortable in social settings.
  • 44% felt uncomfortable answering questions about their missions. 
The long-term effects for ERMs is particularly disturbing. 34% had a period of inactivity. Of those, 33% have never returned to the church. 47% of the survey respondents reported they are not as active in the Church as they were before they went on their mission. (Conversely, ERMs who felt their ward members received them well upon their early return were less likely to experience a period of inactivity).
“Because a mission is voluntary service, the phenomenon of being culturally stigmatized and feeling like a failure for returning early is incongruent with the principles of the gospel of Jesus Christ.” (U of U study)


Over the decades, I've personally observed:
  • A commonly-held belief that if you're nice to a sinner, you're perceived as tacitly accepting of the sin. So conversely, we are expected to disdain the sin and withhold love and support to the sinner as a demonstration of our doctrinal or lifestyle disagreement. 
  • Many members fly like pieces whenever they’re faced with some circumstance they've never personally encountered. And because it’s new, different or “is contrary to their traditions,” we automatically consider it uninspired at best and evil at worst.
  • To avoid judging, many instead “offer their opinion” while still insinuating, “I’m right and that's it, no compromise.”
  • Many shun the different, the outcast, the people who smell like smoke, have bloodshot eyes, maybe haven’t bathed in two days, the mentally ill, as well as those who haven’t been to church in half a year or don’t have a temple recommend. And heaven forbid they've ever had church discipline! That’s spiritual leprosy!
As Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf stated,
“We can so clearly and easily see the harmful results that come when others judge and hold grudges. And we certainly don’t like it when people judge us. 
But when it comes to our own prejudices and grievances, we too often justify our anger as righteous and our judgment as reliable and only appropriate. Though we cannot look into another’s heart, we assume that we know a bad motive or even a bad person when we see one. We make exceptions when it comes to our own bitterness because we feel that, in our case, we have all the information we need to hold someone else in contempt. 
The Apostle Paul, in his letter to the Romans, said that those who pass judgment on others are “inexcusable.” The moment we judge someone else, he explained, we condemn ourselves, for none is without sin. Refusing to forgive is a grievous sin—one the Savior warned against. Jesus’s own disciples had “sought occasion against [each other] and forgave not one another in their hearts; and for this evil they were afflicted and sorely chastened.” (“The Merciful Obtain Mercy”, April 2012 General Conference)
The aforementioned statistics and statements are a harsh reality that we have become a people who cut down others in God’s name, despite the fact that the sword was never ours to swing.

Are these behaviors -- by church members -- truly indicative of "The Lord's Chosen People?" "A Righteous Generation" with "Noble Birthright?" "The Elect of God?" A “Royal Priesthood?” A “Chosen Generation?” Even "The Anointed?"

How can we, collectively, consider ourselves God’s people when our collective judgmentalism ruins and destroys those who are generationally destined to help lead the church and the families that comprise it?

Is “eating our young” something we are proud of?

It’s no wonder that "there is none that doeth good" (Psalm 14:1; 53:1-3). It’s because “man is nothing” (Moses 1:10) to the extent that we “are less than the dust of the earth." (Helaman 12:7). Additionally,
"It is written, There is none righteous, no, not one: there is none that understandeth, there is none that seeketh after God. They are all gone out of the way, they are together become unprofitable; there is none that doeth good, no, not one. Their throat is an open sepulchre; with their tongues they have used deceit; the poison of asps is under their lips: whose mouth is full of cursing and bitterness: their feet are swift to shed blood: destruction and misery are in their ways: and the way of peace have they not known: there is no fear of God before their eyes." (Romans 3:10-18
When you judge another, you only deepen the spiritual depths in which you live. It increases your disharmony with the Lord, His characteristics, His attributes, His personality and His doctrines. The Lord has told us members of the church what will happen to such members very soon:
“Behold, vengeance cometh speedily upon the inhabitants of the earth, a day of wrath, a day of burning, a day of desolation, of weeping, of mourning, and of lamentation; and as a whirlwind it shall come upon all the face of the earth, saith the Lord. 
And upon my house shall it begin, and from my house shall it go forth, saith the Lord; 
First among those among you, saith the Lord, who have professed to know my name and have not known me, and have blasphemed against me in the midst of my house, saith the Lord.” (D&C 112:24-26; emphasis mine)


I believe there is only one way to rise above the spiritual death and decay of judgmentalism: Jesus Christ. I can tell you by direct, personal experience that He, the greatest of all of us, is also the least judgmental of all of us. The amount of love He has for us is incomprehensible.

1.  You must quit fooling yourself by believing that you are somehow better, and more righteous, more chosen than you really are. 
“Though the Lord be high, yet hath he respect unto the lowly: but the proud he knoweth afar off.” (Psalm 138:6)
“Surely he scorneth the scorners: but he giveth grace unto the lowly.” (Proverbs 3:34)
2. You must acknowledge that there is a direct correlation between your judging others, and how you are (and will continue to be) judged. In other words, you never let a problem to be solved become more important than a person to be loved.
“Judge not, that ye be not judged. For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again. And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother’s eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye? Or how wilt thou say to thy brother, Let me pull out the mote out of thine eye; and, behold, a beam is in thine own eye? Thou hypocrite, first cast out the beam out of thine own eye; and then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the mote out of thy brother’s eye.” (Matthew 7:1–5


Perhaps the most important thing you can do to dig yourself out of the pit of judgmentalism is to passionately study the Savior. I mean, make not just knowing about Him, but knowing Him, a primary focus of your life. Then emulate what you read about Him.

Jesus’ counsel to the Nephite Twelve illuminates this concept:
“Ye shall be judges of this people, according to the judgment which I shall give unto you, which shall be just. Therefore, what manner of men ought ye to be? Verily I say unto you, even as I am” (3 Nephi 27:27). 
Once you come to really know Jesus -- His characteristics, His personality, His overwhelming love for all of us and His mercy, you discover something beautiful about Him. For example, when the apostles James and John were infuriated when the people of a Samaritan village treated the Savior disrespectfully (Luke 9:51–54), Jesus’ response effectively put them in their place:
“For the Son of man is not come to destroy men’s lives, but to save them” (verses 54–56).
Wow, what a concept. Look at that again. Jesus came not to destroy others. Not to tear them down. Not to demean them. Not to guilt trip them. Not to prove that He was somehow smarter and better than the rest of us.

No. He came to save us. And He beautifully, magnificently did so with just four little letters.



In a previous post, I asked, “Pop quiz: During His mortal life, who did Jesus hang out with?"

His disciples? Yes, of course. But if you go back and read your scriptures, you'll see that
"as Jesus sat at meat in his house, many publicans and sinners sat also together with Jesus and his disciples: for there were many, and they followed him. 
And when the scribes and Pharisees saw him eat with publicans and sinners, they said unto his disciples, How is it that he eateth and drinketh with publicans and sinners? 
When Jesus heard it, he saith unto them, They that are whole have no need of the physician, but they that are sick: I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance." (Mark 2:15-17)
Jesus not only hung out with, but actually sought out the company of and invited into His house, the publicans (tax collectors -- the most despised people in society) as well as the sinners (the prostitute, the adulterer). I can only surmise the list of invitees could have included the formerly blind/lame/leper, the Samaritan, the poor, the sick, as well as other outcast/despised/dejected/rejected classes. In other words, the lowest of the low in society. THAT is where you’d find Jesus.

Who would Christ be dining with tonight?

Not only that, but when He encountered these outcasts, He didn't walk up to them and immediately start chewing them out because of their sins. Instead, you see Him start a conversation.

For example, in John 4, when Jesus met the Samaritan woman at the well, He didn't open with, "Hi there, you sexually immoral person! Do you know that sleeping with that man who is not your husband is sin? And because you’re not a Christian, you’re eternally damned?" There was no “Hey, if you didn't like your first husband, then you could only have left him if X, Y or Z happened. And if they didn't, then you're a sinner. Ewww, go away!”

Of course not! He simply asked, “Will you give me a drink?"

He opened a dialogue with her. He was nice! He was cool. He was friendly (or as missionaries are trained, He “established a relationship of trust”).

When He did go on to talk about her situation, He first listened to her. Then when He finally spoke with her, it was in truth, sensitivity and love...and not a molecule of judgmentalism. And because of that, her life was changed.

I love the story of the woman at the well, because to be perfectly frank, all of us could easily replace her. True, maybe you haven’t sinned like she did. In fact, maybe you’re a recommend-holding, scripture-reading, monthly-fasting, calling-magnifying latter-day saint. Terrific! But that still doesn't negate your mortal status (as the "Nothingness" section of this post above clearly summarized).

In reality, Jesus operates on a higher wavelength -- in forgiveness and grace. Just look at when He judged. More often than not, it was with hypocritical leaders or those defiling the temple. You’d be hard pressed to find Him being anything but loving and sensitive to all other sinners.


He knew -- and wishes you to know -- that if someone is doing something you know is wrong, the only way you'll reach them is through understanding and love.
“We draw people to Christ not by loudly discrediting what they believe, by telling them how wrong they are and how right we are, but by showing them a light that is so lovely that they want with all their hearts to know the source of it.” (Madeleine L'Engle)

How is this relevant to discernment? 
Because God reveals things not to inform you, 
but to enable you to intercede in a Godlike way. 

Additionally, God never reveals something 
for the purpose of judgment, but for healing. 
Not for defeat, but for victory.

As a Christian, it is not your duty to pass judgment on others, hold grudges because of your differences, gossip about those who disagree with you or blatantly shame someone for their beliefs. When you do so, you imperil your own salvation:

Above everything, we are to pour out God's love to others in the same way He does for us. Yes, constructive criticism is a part of loving someone and supporting God's Word in all circumstances, but quickly, summarily, loudly shaming those who disagree with us (or whom we find disagreeable) isn't the answer.

It is love that is going to transform ourselves, others and the world. Nothing more, nothing less. God has given us the tools to make it a reality throughout the world.

Ask God to open your eyes to the world at the end of your pointing fingers. This does NOT mean that you are seeking to sacrifice your beliefs or compromise your morals. You’ll never see an instance where Jesus endorsed prostitution or other sins. But He sure did let those sinners -- and everyone -- know He sincerely loved them.
“Why do any of us have to be so mean and unkind to others? Why can’t all of us reach out in friendship to everyone about us?” (Pres. Gordon B Hinckley, “The Need for Greater Kindness”, April 2006 General Conference)
Let’s take a test and see how well you’re able to do just that:
  • A person doesn't take the Sacrament. Do you wonder, “Is she excommunicated? Disfellowshipped? I wonder what she did. Ewwww, an apostate! I should avoid her. After all, I might be called into the Bishop’s office too if they see me talking to her.” Or do you think, “Wow, they could probably use a friend right now. I wonder who else I could introduce them to.”
  • A person confides that they’re divorcing. Do you ask, “Who filed?”, “Who’s fault is it?” How about the ever-popular “How can you do that to your kids?”, “What happened?” or you opine/preach about what are the justifiable grounds for divorce? Or do you ask, “How are you holding up?” “How is your support base?” or just spend an hour with them, listening? 
  • A person confides they are homosexual or lesbian. What would Jesus do -- Kick them out the door, ostracize them and let them discover what it feels like to be in disharmony with Church teachings?  Preach and condemn them? Or hug them and tell them that even though you disagree with their lifestyle, no matter what they do, you’ll always love them?
  • A priest sits with his family during sacrament meeting instead of blessing the sacrament because of his addiction to porn. How do you encourage this young man and build -- rather than destroy -- his faith? 
  • You minister to a person struggling with mental health or substance abuse problems. Do you conveniently ignore them? Just go in, give a brief lesson then bolt for the door, or spend an hour and listen to them? 
  • A co-worker is depressed. Is it best to just tell them to just “buck up”?
  • Oh, and that beggar on the street corner? Do you look the other way, leave it to someone else to consider them, or hand them something to benefit their lives?
Just don’t wait for these experiences to transform another just “happen”. Seek them out. Like Jesus and the Samaritan woman, listen to these people. Leave them with peace in their souls and love in their hearts:
“Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.” (John 14:27)
I’ll be honest with you. I have a long way to go to being truly non-judgmental. As I consider the times when I've been judgmental, I’m ashamed and embarrassed. I feel like I am the dirty, muddy prodigal son.

Yet I am one of those who can testify that I know the Savior. I have looked into His eyes, seen His smile, and have blessed with Him with treasures I’ll never be able to repay through all generations of time. In my opinion, He is far, far too eager to forgive and forget than I will ever be able to comprehend.

Please seek Him out. You’ll find him in your scriptures. You’ll find Him in your mind’s eye, as you visualize the events of His life. You’ll find Him as you seek Him, no matter if you’re at home, at work, or even in your car. You may soon discover that wherever you walk, He is there also...every step of the way...beckoning you to walk beside Him straight to the Father’s throne of power and grace.

It’s my prayer that you will rise above the bottomless pit of judgmentalism by heeding the words He speaks to you every day. As you do so, I have no doubt that He will transform your life, and others, with understanding and love.

When you cast that beam from your own eye, 
you’ll hear and see God a whole lot clearer.

Sunday, August 12, 2018

The Gift of Discernment Part 8: Undistracted

Sorry, but you probably won’t be bringing that giant stuffed animal home.

This time of year, many places across the U.S. are seeing the state fair coming to a town.

Every year when I approach the gaming area, I hear, "Step right up! Everybody's a winner!" all over the place. I mean, from 5-10 feet away, who couldn't shoot a target, throw a ring onto a bottle or make a basket? Well, the sad truth is, a lot of these games are technically rigged so the winning isn't as easy as it first appears. 

So it is with the gospel of Jesus Christ. Many members tend to gravitate to exhilarating prospects which:

  • Guarantee heightened spiritual development ("Step right up, and get your Calling & Election / Second Comforter")
  • Guarantee temporal salvation ("Here's where the future tent camps are going to be" or "You don’t need personal revelation about the future. Just wait 'til the prophet says to head to the hills!") or 
  • Promise a better way to worship, based on a foundation of dissatisfaction with the church and its leaders. 
So, hoping to score some successes, they step on right up, unwittingly start throwing overinflated basketballs into narrow, oval basketball hoops and walk away with their countenances definitely none the better.

It's not just those within the "Calling & Election Now" crowd* or the "It's Good to be an Apostate" group who are succumbing to the sensationalistic. It's sadly commonplace among we Saints to see those who prioritize the following over being good Christians:

  • Worshiping of Images (including images that "turn away" people's heart from God, such as images from television, movies, and videos).
  • Violence and Sex (the legitimizing of carnality in our culture...especially in our own homes via our choices of entertainment). This carnality now makes itself apparent -- and is legitimized -- in places where you'd least expect to find it.
  • Rock Music (how many forms of music corrupt our souls and encourages us to descend from the divine to the carnal).
  • Organized Sports (ancient Romans devoted so much exorbitant resources to sports, that charitable programs rated a poor second. Today, our devotion of time, money and fanfare to sports is a replay of ancient Rome).
  • Human Idols (when you revere, venerate, stand in awe of, extol, put on a pedestal or idolize anyone -- or those who don't dissuade/stop people from doing the same).
  • Imaginations of the Heart (studies or desires that draw us away from God).
  • Nature Cults (a preoccupation with parks or gardens to escape devotion toward God and humanity).
  • Babylon (the manufacture, promotion, and sale of the works of men's hands which constitute idolatry). Babylon also makes itself apparent -- and is legitimized -- in places where you'd least expect to find it.
  • The Arm of Flesh (trusting in any other mortal for temporal or spiritual salvation).
  • Elitism-Pharisaism (participation in, or legitimizing, a group which places itself above, instead of equal to, another group of people. Where authority is a badge of man-made superiority).
  • Pollution of the Temple (by entering it unworthily).
  • Mammon (the lure, promise or extolling of riches).
  • Not Keeping the Sabbath Day holy (we seek out and do many activities which do not bring us closer to God on this, the Lord's day).
  • Our Emotions (greed, envy, jealousy, selfishness, an unforgiving heart, magnifying small imperfections, unfavorably comparing ourselves with others, etc).
  • Busy-ness (being so preoccupied with the flurry of daily life and your church calling that you fail to immerse yourself in the gospel of Jesus Christ).
  • Not seeking spiritual knowledge (which will get you a lot further in the eternities than the NFL, NBA, NHL, NASCAR, MLB, Facebook or Instagram ever will; see Hosea 4:6).
Thus, we’re surrounded not by one carnival worker, but over a dozen, all vying for our attention. That may be why Elder Richard G. Scott observed, "Satan has a powerful tool to use against good people. It is distraction" ("First Things First," Ensign, May 2001, p. 7).
"Satan tempts us with alluring distractions, attitudes, and circumstances, which appear on the surface to be harmless; but as one partakes of them, the spirit slowly suffers, creating a weakened condition which can produce eventual alienation from God. Jesus told his disciples in ancient America to 'watch and pray always lest ye enter into temptation; for Satan desireth to have you, that he may sift you as wheat' (3 Nephi 18:18)."  (Monte S. Nyman and Charles D. Tate, Jr., eds., "Second Nephi: The Doctrinal Structure," p. 302).
The happy (and also the scary) part?
"For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also." (Matthew 6:21)

How We Make Sense of the Sounds

Amidst all this "signal noise", we seek to be more aware of "The Three Voices": the voice of God (goodness), Satan (evil) and ourselves (indecision/uncertainty, which is swayed by the previous two voices). 

God's voice is always broadcasting and 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).

Yet sometimes, we categorically dismiss promptings and intimations because:
  • They don't fit our paradigms
  • We get tired of waiting for a response which should come on our timetables (not God's) and 
  • We put God in a box, or recreate Jesus in our own image. We dress Him up in the clothing of our own culture, knowledge, biases, preferences and prejudices, subjecting a limitless, omnipotent God to our mortal "omniscience" and even our expectations (which He regularly delights in far exceeding). We say we really want to be like Jesus, but in reality, we often want Him to be like us. We don’t give Jesus a chance to reveal Himself, as He really is. All. The. Time.
The apostle Paul admonished us to recognize Satan’s voice (which is also always broadcasting) and turn away from it -- that we "not [be] ignorant of his devices" lest "Satan should get an advantage of us" (2 Corinthians 2:11). That can be a rather tall order, for Satan’s voice can also be subtle.
"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)
"Who has not heard and felt the enticings of the devil? His voice often sounds so reasonable and his message so easy to justify. It is an enticing, intriguing voice with dulcet tones. It is neither hard nor discordant. No one would listen to Satan’s voice if it sounded harsh or mean. If the devil’s voice were unpleasant, it would not entice people to listen to it. Shakespeare wrote, “The prince of darkness is a gentleman” (King Lear, act 3, sc. 4, line 143), and “the devil can cite Scripture for his purpose” (The Merchant of Venice, act 1, sc. 3, line 95). As the great deceiver, Lucifer has marvelous powers of deception. As Paul said to the Corinthians, “And no marvel; for Satan himself is transformed into an angel of light” (2 Corinthians 11:14; see also 2 Nephi 9:9)." (Elder James E. Faust, "The Great Imitator," October 1987 General Conference)
Because the characteristics of these two signals can be very similar, a third voice -- our own -- often comes to the forefront as we weigh the validity of the two other signals. It’s no wonder that 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?" (Click here for links which help answer that question).

In fact, the more spiritual exertion we put forth in discerning the signals, the more resistance we receive from the adversary:
“The nearer a person approaches the Lord, a greater power will be manifested by the adversary to prevent the accomplishment of His purposes” (The Prophet Joseph Smith, in Orson F. Whitney, "Life of Heber C. Kimball", Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1967, p. 132).
Why is this? It’s because Satan knows that [1] if you can’t hear Christ’s voice, you’ll eventually be cut off, not gathered with the elect and will be overtaken by death, and [2] if you’re aligned with Satan’s voice, then there’s a better chance that you’ll negatively influence others as well.

So let’s put this all together:
  • Whether we’re aware of it or not, we’re influenced by a cacophony of spiritual sounds every minute of our lives.
  • Just the sheer diversity and attractiveness of these sounds makes it nearly impossible to focus on what’s right.
  • Further complicating the situation: Satan is highly motivated and extremely adept at drowning out these loud, colorful, enticing signals with his own counterfeit subtle signals.
  • Naturally, it’s difficult for us to make heads or tails out of what is right and what is wrong.
  • Some of the best and brightest among us have been led away by these sounds in hopes of better spiritual or temporal statuses for themselves.

When disengaging from everyone and everything is sometimes the best way to be anxiously engaged

We LDS are taught since we're babies that we should be busy as bees. In fact, that's where the word “deseret” comes from -- a beehive.

We're expected to be busy with our kids, our spouse, our extended families, our church callings, our work and our communities. And as for spirituality? Yep, we’d better be anxiously engaged! Read your scriptures. Pray. Fast. Eat and drink healthy. Be a member missionary. Do your family history. Go to the temple. Go to church meetings. And then go to more meetings.

Everything. Busy Busy Busy.

It's not just tradition. It's not just our culture. It's practically ingrained in us at the DNA level.

So what do we think or say when we see someone NOT being busy as a bee? For example, perhaps a woman sitting in the pews after sacrament meeting, praying. I mean, oh my gosh! She’s not beeing busy! She’s not where she’s supposed to bee! Something's gotta bee wrong!

This kind of reminds me of the Savior and His life.

During Jesus’ mortality, He didn’t have one mission companion. He gradually gathered 12 of them. And if you believe historical accounts, he had a 13th. Her name was Mariah, or as we call her, Mary.

As you well know, when you're a missionary, you stay by the side of your companion except when you're in the bathroom or with mission president, right? So what if you wander off from your companion? You’re in BIG trouble.

Yet during his 3½ year mission, Jesus often used to ditch his companions (sometimes, for hours)!

And what would he be found doing?

The same thing that person sitting in the pews after Sacrament Meeting (who should be in Sunday School!!!) was doing.


Pres. David O McKay said,
“Jesus set the example for us. As soon as he was baptized and received the Father's approval—"This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased" (Matt. 3:17). Jesus repaired to what is now known as the Mount of Temptation where, during forty days of fasting, he communed with himself and his Father and contemplated the responsibility of his own great mission. One result of this spiritual communion was such strength as enabled him to say to the tempter: "Get thee hence, Satan: for it is written, Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and him only shalt thou serve" (Matt. 4:10)

Before he gave the beautiful Sermon on the Mount, he was in solitude, in communion. He did the same thing after that busy Sabbath day, when he arose early in the morning after having been the guest of Peter. Peter undoubtedly found the guest chamber empty, and when he and others sought Jesus, they found him alone. It was on that morning that they said: "All men seek for thee" (Mark 1:35-37)

Again, after Jesus had fed the 5,000, he told the Twelve to dismiss the multitude. Then Jesus, the historian says, went to the mountain for solitude; and "when the evening was come, he was there alone" (Matt. 14:23) Meditation! Prayer!” (Pres. David O. McKay, “Consciousness of God: Supreme Goal of Life”, April 1967 General Conference).
Further examples are found in:
“And when it was day, he departed and went into a desert place: and the people sought him, and came unto him, and stayed him, that he should not depart from them.” (Luke 4:42)

“And he withdrew himself into the wilderness, and prayed.” (Luke 5:16)

“And it came to pass in those days, that he went out into a mountain to pray, and continued all night in prayer to God.” (Luke 6:12)

“And it came to pass, as he was alone praying, his disciples were with him: and he asked them, saying, Whom say the people that I am?” (Luke 9:18)

“And when he had sent them away, he departed into a mountain to pray.” (Mark 6:46)

“And when he was at the place, he said unto them, Pray that ye enter not into temptation.
And he was withdrawn from them about a stone’s cast, and kneeled down, and prayed” (Luke 22:40-41)

“One of the most secret, most sacred doors through which we pass into the presence of the Lord”

I find it fascinating that just before almost every major event of the Savior’s ministry, He broke away from the world and everybody in it and retired to a place of meditation and prayer. 

Why meditation?

Pres. McKay continues:
“I think we pay too little attention to the value of meditation, a principle of devotion. In our worship there are two elements: One is spiritual communion arising from our own meditation; the other, instruction from others, particularly from those who have authority to guide and instruct us. Of the two, the more profitable introspectively is meditation. 
Meditation is one of the most secret, most sacred doors through which we pass into the presence of the Lord.”
Even Pres. Monson asked,
"In this fast-paced life, do we ever pause for moments of meditation – even thoughts of timeless truths?" ("The Race of Life," April 2012 General Conference)
That’s a good question. With all this abundant evidence that the Savior of the World saw the need to just (literally and figuratively) get away from it all, meditate and pray, what about you?

If we are so anxious to enjoy communion with God -- to pass through the most secret, most sacred doors into His presence -- then why are we emphasizing busy-ness, and not meditation (as not one, but two, latter-day church presidents have asked us to do)?

The Sound of Silence

There’s a story about a Japanese Zen master who was once visited by a university professor, who came to inquire and learn from the master.

It was obvious to the master from the start of the conversation that the professor was not so much interested in learning as he was in impressing the master with his own opinions and knowledge. The master listened patiently and finally suggested they have tea. The master poured his visitor’s cup full and then kept on pouring.

The professor watched the cup overflowing until he could no longer restrain himself. “The cup is overfull, no more will go in,” he said.

The master said, “Like this cup, you are full of your own opinions and speculations. How can I show you Zen unless you first empty your cup?”

Like the university professor, our cups are overflowing with cares, concerns and worries about ourselves, our families, our jobs, our health, the world, as well as the past, present and future.

It’s no wonder that we find solutions to our problems so elusive at times.  Our cups are so overflowing, we are unable to tune in and receive wisdom from Our Master.

So what do we do?  We rely on OUR mortal abilities and OUR mortal wisdom and OUR mortal relationships to resolve those cares, concerns and worries. All done in OUR way and on OUR timescales.

Or we may also rely on others, like a spouse, mentor or church leader. You know, that whole “trust not in the arm of flesh” commandment which we conveniently create exceptions to?

Combine that with a propensity to categorically dismiss promptings and intimations, think in-the-box and consistently struggle to make sense of all the spiritual sounds and signals, and yes, discernment can be a pretty uphill battle. 

Luckily, D&C 52:14 says God will give us a pattern in all things.  And in this case, He definitely did.  Jacob, Moses, Elijah, Nephi, Enos, the Brother of Jared, Joseph Smith and more gave it a whirl, and God blessed them not only with discernment, but also a whole lot more (e.g., His presence).

What did they all do? We’ll cover that -- as I conclude this series of articles about the Gift of Discernment -- in my next post.

* This is not a condemnation of the doctrine, but instead, a concern over those who seek after their C&E for their own gratification and purposes, or have a simplistic view of its acquisition, without fully understanding the tremendous agony and sacrifices required of them.

Sunday, July 15, 2018

Commanded Blessings

From Descent to Ascent

“God never bestows upon his people, or upon an individual, 
superior blessings without a severe trial to prove them” 
(Discourses of Brigham Young, sel. John A. Widtsoe (1954), 338).

In my last post, I introduced you to Cheryl (not her real name) -- a married LDS housewife in her 40s with several kids and is deeply spiritual. Her story is one of astounding spiritual depths, as she suffered for many years with chronic pain combined with periodic, months-long severe chronic insomnia which left her body toxic (to put it in perspective, she once took 9 muscle relaxants at the same time. They had no effect). All of this, combined with blessings given by seasoned, experienced priesthood leaders without any results, led to her wishing to die. It was only when her 19 year-old son, soon to depart on a mission, gave her a blessing which started the ball an upward trajectory.

Here’s the rest of Cheryl’s story:
When I asked my son to give me a blessing, I received revelation on what he should say and do. (1) He needed to fast first, (2) He needed not to “bless”, but “command” my body to sleep and (3) He needed to understand that this was a life-and-death situation and that it required tremendous importance. The result: He later said he could feel the power of God rushing through his body, and was subsequently exhausted. For me, the blessing worked; I could sleep. Not a lot, but a little bit. 
But that was only the beginning of my ascent. 
At roughly the same time as my son’s commanded blessing, I met a faithful priesthood holder -- a mutual friend of a full-time missionary who once served in our area. Like the Savior, He took time to listen to me, thoroughly understand my condition and the degree of faith I had in the Savior. You can tell he has a deep, long-term relationship with Christ. He’s a tremendously humble man who wants zero acclimation. 
After several days of contemplating, I asked him for a priesthood blessing for my pain and insomnia. It was kind of intimidating because I knew this was a priesthood holder with incredible faith and a close relationship with God. He accepted my request. 
In the blessing he gave me, I once again heard that word: “Command” -- but this time, it wasn't at my suggestion. He addressed my body -- every organ, ever nerve, every artery, every vein, every fiber, every cell, every cellular nucleus and every atom in my body. Then, the commanded them to work as they were originally created to function. By inspiration, he commanded them to alleviate my pain and to allow me once again to sleep. He commanded my body to once again enjoy healthy sleep patterns. He commanded my body to heal itself. Then he sealed the blessing upon me in the name of Jesus Christ. 
It’s now been a month since that blessing. And after 14 years of chronic (every day) pain, the worst my pain has hit has been 8 instead of 10. I’m usually a 4, which is pretty functional for me. For several days after I got that blessing, I was a zero on the pain scale -- something I hadn't felt for over a decade. 
As for the insomnia? Well, I’m happy to report that it’s gone. As in, I have been healed. A few weeks ago, I took a nap -- something that’s been a foreign, distant concept to me for years. I now fall asleep in the late evenings, and awake in the early mornings, just like most people do. 6-8 hours of sleep? Yep. Trouble going to sleep? Not anymore. Nightmares? Yep, they’re gone too. Naps? Love them! 
But the story doesn't end there. 
I later received another blessing. It told me why I was blessed with pain in mortality, when it would be alleviated and by whom. I now have context, and context for me means a great deal. I was also given blessings which are the direct inverse of touching the depths of hell. Within the last month, God has pronounced me with blessings which are far and beyond anything I could have imagined qualifying for. He told me that because I had never turned my back on Him when I was in the depths of hell, He would not turn His back on me in the heights of heaven. He then pronounced the profound, eternal, weighty blessings I had been granted...because I had faith in and loved Him even in the depths of hell and near death. 
I am so unworthy of these blessings. I suppose no one ever is. But I’m also profoundly, profoundly grateful to Jesus Christ -- for His sensitivity, for His motivation, for His deep and thorough knowledge of me. 
I’m just an ordinary housewife with ordinary challenges, just like you. Yet my story is extraordinary because of my best friend, my Lord and my God. I hope someday I can have the opportunity to look into your eyes, and to testify to you personally my indisputable knowledge -- knowledge! -- that Jesus Christ lives and loves us far more than we realize, and that I will cherish and adore Him forevermore.”
“But behold, the Lord hath redeemed my soul from hell;
I have beheld his glory, and I am encircled about eternally
in the arms of his love.” (2 Nephi 1:15)

“The difference between a prayer and a priesthood blessing”

President Boyd K. Packer taught,

“Priesthood is the authority and the power which God has granted to men on earth to act for Him. When priesthood authority is exercised properly, priesthood bearers do what He would do if He were present.” (“The Power of the Priesthood”, April 2010 General Conference; emphasis mine)

Elder Packer spoke those words in April, 2010. A few paragraphs further in his Conference talk, he stated,
“We have done very well at distributing the authority of the priesthood. We have priesthood authority planted nearly everywhere. We have quorums of elders and high priests worldwide. But distributing the authority of the priesthood has raced, I think, ahead of distributing the power of the priesthood. The priesthood does not have the strength that it should have and will not have until the power of the priesthood is firmly fixed in the families as it should be.” (emphasis mine)
Here we are, a little over eight years later, and Pres. Russell M. Nelson stated,
“Not long ago, I attended a sacrament meeting in which a new baby was to be given a name and a father’s blessing. The young father held his precious infant in his arms, gave her a name, and then offered a beautiful prayer. But he did not give that child a blessing. That sweet baby girl got a name but no blessing! That dear elder did not know the difference between a prayer and a priesthood blessing. With his priesthood authority and power, he could have blessed his infant, but he did not. I thought, “What a missed opportunity!” 
Let me cite some other examples. We know of brethren who set sisters apart as Primary, Young Women, or Relief Society leaders and teachers but fail to bless them—to bless them with the power to fulfill their callings. They give only admonitions and instructions. We see a worthy father who fails to give his wife and his children priesthood blessings when that is exactly what they need. Priesthood power has been restored to this earth, and yet far too many brothers and sisters go through terrible trials in life without ever receiving a true priesthood blessing. What a tragedy! That’s a tragedy that we can eliminate.” (“Ministering with the Power and Authority of God”, April 2018 General Conference; emphasis mine).
I couldn't agree more with Pres. Nelson. All too often, I hear blessings which sound more like what he said -- “admonitions and instructions” as if someone were laying hands on someone’s head and citing paragraphs from the General Handbook of Instructions. Yes, Pres. Nelson, such “blessings” need to be eliminated from the habits of every priesthood holder on the earth.

Then there are those blessings which sound a lot like prayers. They include the phrases like “Your Heavenly Father wants you to know” and “If it is God’s will”.

I don’t think God refers to Himself in the third person. I can’t think of a single instance where a member of deity referred to themself in the third person. Can you? If you’re receiving a blessing where God is being referred to in the third person, then from whom is that blessing really from?
If we’re wondering what God’s will is in a blessing, then where’s the assertiveness we’ll be reading about here in a minute?

The fact is, prayers and blessings are as different as peanut butter and jelly:

  • Prayers are either a personal dialogue between an individual and Heavenly Father, or a beseeching, a request, on behalf of a group of people.
  • Blessings are neither dialogues nor requests, they are special favors and gifts bestowed by God (Genesis 1:22) or individual (Genesis 24:60; 27:28-29; 2 Nephi 4:5-7,9,11).

Blessings with REAL Power

“Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need.” (Hebrews 4:16)

So, if “priesthood bearers do what He would do if He were present”, What Would Jesus Do if He were invited to give a priesthood blessing? How much wishy-washiness would there be? Do you think He’d be saying “If the Father wills it” or “God loves you” (as if its a unique thing you already didn't know)?

I don’t think so. He -- and His true disciples -- would give inspired, personalized pronouncements which are tremendously confident, bold, decisive, assured, forthright, firm, emphatic, authoritative, determined and, most of all, commanding:
“The Lord shall command the blessing upon thee in thy storehouses, and in all that thou settest thine hand unto; and he shall bless thee in the land which the Lord thy God giveth thee.” (Deuteronomy 28:8
“Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity! As the dew of Hermon, and as the dew that descended upon the mountains of Zion: for there the Lord commanded the blessing, even life for evermore.” (Psalm 133:1,3)
Example 1

When Jesus saw the dead son of a widow, what did he do?
“Now when he came nigh to the gate of the city, behold, there was a dead man carried out, the only son of his mother, and she was a widow: and much people of the city was with her.
And when the Lord saw her, he had compassion on her, and said unto her, Weep not.
And he came and touched the bier: and they that bare him stood still. And he said, Young man, I say unto thee, Arise.And he that was dead sat up, and began to speak. And he delivered him to his mother.” (Luke 7:12-15; emphasis mine)
“Young man, I say unto thee, Arise.” isn't a prayer. It’s a command.

Example 2

Peter’s blessings were pure commands. Here, read of this faith and assertiveness:
“And it came to pass, as Peter passed throughout all quarters, he came down also to the saints which dwelt at Lydda.
And there he found a certain man named Æneas, which had kept his bed eight years, and was sick of the palsy.
And Peter said unto him, Æneas, Jesus Christ maketh thee whole: arise, and make thy bed. And he arose immediately.
And all that dwelt at Lydda and Saron saw him, and turned to the Lord.” (Acts 9:32-35; emphasis mine)
“Æneas, Jesus Christ maketh thee whole: arise, and make thy bed” isn’t a prayer. It’s a command.

Example 3

In other instances, we read that a prayer is offered first, then the blessing is pronounced -- thus highlighting the differentiation between a prayer and a blessing. For example, we read of Peter praying, then commanding a woman who had died:
“But Peter put them all forth, and kneeled down, and prayed; and turning him to the body said, Tabitha, arise. And she opened her eyes: and when she saw Peter, she sat up.
And he gave her his hand, and lifted her up, and when he had called the saints and widows, presented her alive.” (Acts 9:40-41; emphasis mine)
“Tabitha, arise” isn’t a prayer. It’s a command.

Example 4

Here’s how Lazarus’ raising took place:
“Then they took away the stone from the place where the dead was laid. And Jesus lifted up his eyes, and said, Father, I thank thee that thou hast heard me.
And I knew that thou hearest me always: but because of the people which stand by I said it, that they may believe that thou hast sent me.
And when he thus had spoken, he cried with a loud voice, Lazarus, come forth.
And he that was dead came forth, bound hand and foot with graveclothes: and his face was bound about with a napkin. Jesus saith unto them, Loose him, and let him go.
Then many of the Jews which came to Mary, and had seen the things which Jesus did, believed on him.” (John 1:41-45; emphasis mine)
“Lazarus, come forth” isn’t a prayer. It’s a command.

I could cite many more examples of how Christ blessed people. In some cases, He prayed first. In others, He didn’t. Yet in all of them, when He gave blessings, they weren’t iffy or indecisive, uncertain or unsure.

They were commanded.

Moving Forward...And Upward

We have been told that “When priesthood authority is exercised properly, priesthood bearers do what He would do if He were present.”. We have also seen church leaders lament the lack of this power, both in 2010 and 2018.

What about you?

If this “tragedy” is to be “eliminated”, then who does it realistically start with?

If you have priesthood (“the authority and the power which God has granted to men on earth to act for Him”), do your blessings reflect “what He [Jesus] would do if He were present”?

Even before Jesus and Peter gave these blessings, they walked while connected with Father (“The music is all around us. All you have to do is listen”). When the time came to give the blessing, they already had direct word from the Father, and BOOM! Father’s words were spoken, and God’s grace instantly poured down like rain, washing people’s eyes to see His majesty.

Thus, we see two very important aspects with commanded blessings:
  • You can't give blessings from God if you don't know His voice in the first place. If you want some ideas on how to do that, click here. It’s the first in a series of posts I wrote over four years about how to walk and talk with God. Then, if you really want to learn more about the voices which influence us, please go here to review Posts by Topic. On the left-hand side, click “Voices”. The top of the page will then list all the blog posts written about voices. Have fun!
  • If you ever experience one of these wonderful moments when Father clearly commands you to do something, don’t flinch. Be ready to do what He says. Otherwise, you’ll miss a rare and incredible opportunity to cooperate with God and see a wonderful miracle.
If you’re the recipient of a blessing, are you going to be satisfied with a blessing that’s incongruent with “what He [Jesus] would do if He were present”?

How satisfied are you with generic, “cardboard-tasting” blessings? I certainly am not.

So, why not run a play from Cheryl’s playbook? Don’t settle for second best. Approach the throne of Grace with boldness. Ask God -- beg and plead with Him, weary Him with your importunings -- that a priesthood holder with true priesthood power will come and work a miracle in your life.
"God is not a respecter of persons, we all have the same privilege. Come to God weary him until he blesses you &c we are entitled to the same blessings" ([recorded in Willard Richards Pocket Companion, 78-79] cited in The Words of Joseph Smith: The Contemporary Accounts of the Nauvoo Discourses of the Prophet Joseph, comp. Andrew F. Ehat and Lyndon W. Cook [1980], p. 15).
I think it’s natural for us to believe that we're somehow unworthy to give or receive a commanded blessing. To be frank, none of us are worthy. But my experience is that despite our insecurities and imperfections, God still longs to bless us so we know for a surety how much He really does love us.

Look at it this way: If a 19 year-old pre-mission Elder can successfully give a commanded blessing, and the fruits are readily apparent for all to see, then any Melchizedek Priesthood holder who is keeping the commandments and able to heed God's commands should be able to give one too. And it seems like Pres. Nelson would love to see more of these, too, don't you think?

Perhaps a commanded blessing will calm the storms in your life. Or maybe the storms will be left to rage, and Jesus will comfort you, His child. After all, He’s the author of our hope, isn’t He?

So approach Father’s throne with reverence, but also boldness.

Invite Him to move the mountains in your life, or someone else’s. To show you hope, when there seemingly is none. To show you that He truly is what He says He is: A God of miracles.

Ask Him if He has one more miracle left in His pocket, then invite Him to show the world what He’s done in you.

Because THAT’S what faith can do.

Sunday, July 1, 2018

The Fallacy of “God Will Never Test You Beyond Your Known Limits”

Modern Day Davids and Goliaths

These days, we rarely witness a circumstance where a modern-day David beats a modern-day Goliath.

In my estimation, one of the greatest D&G stories in modern history is that of the medal-round game between the US and USSR during the 1980 Winter Olympics men's ice hockey tournament. The game is so significant in the annals of sports, that it acquired its own moniker: “The Miracle on Ice”.

Even of you aren’t much of a sports buff, I know that when you learn the story of the “Miracle on Ice” (as depicted in the 2004 movie, “Miracle”), and especially the tactics of Coach Herb Brooks, you’ll add a lot to your arsenal of spiritual strategies.

In case you’re not familiar with the backstory or movie of the “Miracle on Ice”, let me give you some back-story: In 1980, the US was living in a malaise: high inflation, gas shortages, 51 Iranian Embassy hostages, lack of confidence in the government, escalating international tensions and more. The US needed something hopeful to believe in. Unbeknownst to anybody, it was 20 kids who did the trick.

"I will try you and prove you herewith"

Brooks believed that for his team to win the gold medal, he would need to shove the Soviet’s game right back at them -- a truly unbelievable challenge. The USSR’s team was a heavy favorite to win again. Its primary weapon was intimidation: it consisted primarily of professional players with significant experience in international play and an unbelievably high degree of speed and execution. By contrast, the US's team consisted exclusively of amateur players, and was the youngest team in the tournament and in US national team history. So, there’s your Goliath and David.

Brooks’ strategy to beat Goliath was epic:
"This cannot be a team of common men because common men go nowhere. You have to be uncommon."
He implemented a grueling, rugged, six-month long pre-Olympic strategy where he worked his team harder and smarter than any other Olympic hockey team ever had. As one team member later said, “We thought, ‘He can do anything he wants to with us. But he’s not gonna break us.’” Then, just weeks before the Olympics, Brooks turned the screws even tighter by bringing in new players for tryouts. But the team never cracked; they bonded even stronger.

Immediately before the team met the Russians on the rink, Brooks told his team,
“Great moments are born from great opportunity. And that's what you have here tonight, boys. That's what you've earned here tonight. One game. If we played them ten times, they might win nine.
But not this game. Not tonight. Tonight we skate with them. Tonight we stay with them. And we shut them down because we can. Tonight, WE are the greatest hockey team in the world. You were born to be hockey players. Every one of you. And you were meant to be here tonight. This is your time. Their time is done. It's over. I'm sick and tired of hearing about what a great hockey team the Soviets have. This is your time. Now, go out there and take it.”

And they did. They beat the strongest, fastest, most skilled team in the world by a score of 4-3. The Americans then went on and steamrolled over the Finns 4-2 to grab the gold. And in so doing, America’s victory didn’t resolve any of the crises I mentioned above. But it did jump-start a new era of confidence, healthy pride, belief and conviction. The nation’s spirit was revitalized. All because of an event that was far greater than a hockey game.

The Real Reason for Your Personal Descent

This post isn’t necessarily about sports, hockey, the Olympics, the 1980 US Olympic Hockey team or Herb Brooks. It is, however, a classic example of one compelling, paradigm-busting concept:

God will test you beyond what you think is your limit.

This philosophy probably flies in the face of what you’ve been taught since you were a child -- that God will never test you beyond your known limits. But if God were to test you up to your self-appointed boundaries, then how would you ever experience true, meaningful spiritual growth?

Like Herb Brooks, the Lord will give the righteous uncommon lessons in our path of discipleship:
“God will deliberately give us further lessons and experience which take us beyond the curriculum common to man and on into uncommon graduate studies or even post-doctoral discipleship. These trials are often the most difficult to bear. Our Father is full of pressing, tutorial love: ‘The Lord seeth fit to chasten his people; yea, he trieth their patience and their faith’ (Mosiah 23:21). Nevertheless we are assured that "all these things shall give [us] experience, and shall be for [our] good," if we endure them well and learn from them (D&C 122:7; 121:8). For we are to learn much by our own experience." (Neal A. Maxwell, Not My Will, But Thine, p.5; emphasis mine)
“All intelligent beings who are crowned with crowns of glory, immortality, and eternal lives must pass through every ordeal appointed for intelligent beings to pass through, to gain their glory and exaltation. Every calamity that can come upon mortal beings will be suffered to come upon the few, to prepare them to enjoy the presence of the Lord.” (Discourses of Brigham Young, p. 345; emphasis mine)
In my interactions, I run across people all the time who are enrolled in the curriculum that’s common to man. They prioritize the temporal over the eternal, the telestial above the celestial. And all the while, they think that by virtue of being a member of the church, by having a temple recommend and not having done anything too bad, they have their ticket to paradise punched.

So you tell me: How can one expect to live in the company of the elect if they’re not on the same spiritual level as the elect? How can average, ordinary latter-day saint Jane or Joe possibly equate themselves to the likes of  the greatest righteous mortals to ever walk the planet?
"If we obtain the glory that Abraham obtained, we must do so by the same means that he did. If we are ever prepared to enjoy the society of Enoch, Noah, Melchizedek, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, or of their faithful children, and of the faithful Prophets and Apostles, we must pass through the same experience, and gain the knowledge, intelligence, and endowments that will prepare us to enter into the celestial kingdom of our Father and God. How many of the Latter-day Saints will endure all these things, and be prepared to enjoy the presence of the Father and the Son? You can answer that question at your leisure. Every trial and experience you have passed through is necessary for your salvation." (Discourses of Brigham Young, p.345; emphasis mine)
Many scriptures support Brother Brigham’s last sentence there. Afflictions are for our experience (D&C 122:5-7) and gain (2 Nephi 2:2), a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory (2 Corinthians 4:17; D&C 63:66) and ultimately, our exaltation (D&C 121:7–8).

Even our Lord himself demonstrated that He must descend below all things so that he could ascend above all things:
"He that ascended up on high, as also he descended below all things, in that he comprehended all things, that he might be in all and through all things, the light of truth; which truth shineth." (D&C 88:6-7)
Such experiences could very easily be described as “Abrahamic Tests”, where God tests you in a manner similar to that which Abraham faced when commanded to sacrifice Isaac. We read in D&C 101:4–5:
“Therefore, they must needs be chastened and tried, even as Abraham, who was commanded to offer up his only son. For all those who will not endure chastening, but deny me, cannot be sanctified”
(For more about Abrahamic Tests, I highly recommend you read two speeches:

Yet as we read in the story of Abraham, God provided a ram in the thicket -- a solution to the dilemma Abraham had to wrestle with.

But what if you’re asked to go through a test when there’s no immediate ram in the thicket?

Beyond Abrahamic Tests

I occasionally meet people who desire to have their calling and election made sure. While this is clearly a worthy desire, it seems at times that they lack a clear understanding of what they are asking for. They believe that they can obtain this blessing by praying, fasting, reading their scriptures, going to church, paying tithing, being charitable, learning the mysteries, etc.

I don’t think God hands out such supernal blessings just by us doing the ordinary. The US Olympic Hockey team didn’t get its gold -- and Abraham didn’t receive the Abrahamic Covenant -- just by doing the ordinary. They had to do the extraordinary, stretching themselves far beyond what they -- and others -- considered possible. This may have been what Brother Joseph was alluding to when he said:
“After a person has faith in Christ, repents of his sins, and is baptized for the remission of his sins and receives the Holy Ghost, (by the laying on of hands),which is the first Comforter, then let him continue to humble himself before God, hungering and thirsting after righteousness, and living by every word of God, and the Lord will soon say unto him, Son, thou shalt be exalted. When the Lord has thoroughly proved him, and finds that the man is determined to serve Him at all hazards, then the man will find his calling and his election made sure, then it will be his privilege to receive the other Comforter, which the Lord hath promised the Saints, as is recorded in the testimony of St. John, in the 14th chapter, from the 12th to the 27th verses. (History of the Church, 3:379-381; emphasis mine).
I’ve noticed that sometimes, people kind of gloss over that “at all hazards” section. Bad move. We need to be prepared for the fact that “all hazards” may at times mean that there will be no immediate ram in the thicket, no immediate angel to stop the knife, as there were with Abraham. You may be stuck in your Abrahamic Test for years...and maybe for the rest of your life.

Is such a thing even possible? Could God try and test us with no solution, maybe in this life?


Paul faced that reality. He said,
“And lest I should be exalted above measure through the abundance of the revelations, there was given to me a thorn in the flesh, the messenger of Satan to buffet me. . . . For this thing I besought the Lord thrice, that it might depart from me. And he said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:7–9).
Many suffer from a thorn in the flesh or a weakness that is excruciating, which God may see fit not to remove. Some endure debilitating addictions they wish they never had. Others live with mental illnesses for which there are no cures. And a few have survived -- and are frequently reminded daily -- of abuses so horrific, so heinous, that they could only be accurately described as “satanic”.

All of us know people, faithful people, who are afflicted with some debilitating illness that lasts and lasts, maybe for a lifetime. Neither prayers nor fasts nor tears nor blessings nor medicine relieves the condition. All that is left is to patiently endure.

On this note, I'd like to introduce you to my friend, Cheryl (not her real name). She's a married LDS housewife in her 40s, has several kids and is deeply spiritual. She’s the kind of person you could be sitting next to in Sacrament Meeting or Relief Society, yet you’d never know it. You need to read her story:

A Real-Life, Modern-Day Story of Extraordinary Spiritual Descent and Ascent

Touching the Depths of Hell

For 11 years, I suffered from severe, chronic pain. Four of those years were accompanied with periodic, months-long insomnia. If you’re unaware of chronic pain, click here for a handy pain scale chart. My pain was routinely (all hours, every day) between 4 and 10. As for the insomnia, without sleep, the body builds up toxins within your body and mind. Imagine what this can be like if you haven’t slept a couple of days. For me, I literally was awake the entire night, from sunset to sunrise, at all times of the day for days, weeks and months straight.

You’re probably thinking, “Where were the anesthesiologists, pain and sleep doctors?” They had no suggestions and no desire to help. I don’t even know if they believed me. Once, I was given sedation at the ER. They said it would knock me out. It didn’t. After all, so many people say things like, “I didn’t sleep last night.” What they usually mean is that they didn’t sleep well, or they woke up several times. That wasn’t me. Far from it.

I’m not sure if you can imagine what chronic pain + chronic insomnia can do to a person, but I can tell you through first-hand experience that you experience a living hell. In the darkness, depression and despair of my decrepit body, I can honestly say that I have experienced the depths of hell. I say that because I would be on my back, in the bathroom, stretching out my hands, begging God to either take away the pain or to take me home. Day after day, hour after hour, minute after minute, no relief came. I had to walk this path alone.

Yet through it, I never denied Christ, Heavenly Father or Mother. I couldn’t. I wouldn’t.


Naturally, one would seek a priesthood blessing through all of this. I had dozens of them. Dozens. They would say that I am a daughter of God, that God was aware of me and God loves me. I was told to keep praying, keep reading my scriptures, go to the temple -- all the basics. Yet to be honest, not one of them was a blessing. They were closer to prayers given by the person giving the blessing.

In my desperation, I asked God if there was one priesthood holder in my stake who could bless me. Give me at least temporary relief. Just give me a breather. Please, just one priesthood holder! I received a definite word in my mind:

No (including my husband).

The Spark of Life

Shortly thereafter, my 19 year-old son was about to go on a mission. He had recently received the Melchizedek Priesthood. He believed my pain was real. He saw the torment and torture his mom had experienced for years. His heart was moved to compassion, and wanted to help and make sure I didn’t suffer while he was away for two years.

The day I asked my son to give me a blessing, I received revelation on what he should say and do. When he gave the blessing, it was profound. He said he was shocked by the feeling that he had while giving the blessing. He could feel the power of God working through him.

On that day, for the first time in many months, I got relief. I could sleep. Not a lot, but a little bit. Enough for my mind and my emotions to start healing. Between that day and the day he left on his mission three weeks later, he grew in his confidence in the power of the priesthood. And I grew in confidence that somehow, some way, I was turning a corner in my life.

As I look back on it, I’m amazed that my 19 year-old son was the least - the youngest - of all the Melchizedek Priesthood holders in my stake. But his blessing had more results, more fruits, than all the others combined. It’s true: “out of small things proceedeth that which is great.” (D&C 64:33).

-  -  -

So that’s Part 1 of Cheryl’s story.

In my next post, I’ll pick up right where I left off. You’ll see how Cheryl was healed, and almost instantly released from the depths of hell by one person with extraordinary faith and priesthood power. You’ll also read about how far she has ascended, to heights that are just as high as the depths she experienced (and perhaps more).

Sunday, June 3, 2018

Beautifully Misaligned

First, an announcement:

New Instagram Account!

Approximately six months ago, I announced the creation of a Facebook group (here) where we could discuss the concepts mentioned on this blog, as well as the works of a friend of mine, John Pontius. In those six months, almost 1,700 people have subscribed to the group, which steadfastly focuses on one topic and one topic only: developing a deeper, closer relationship with Jesus Christ.

Today, I’m proud to say that we’ve created an Instagram page, where these concepts can be shared in picture format. With 60% of Instagram users age 18 to 29, I see Instagram as a terrific means to instill in younger demographics a deeper understanding, love and relationship with Jesus. Please follow it today by clicking here, or the permanent Instagram icon on the LDS Perfect Day blog page.

Eternal Triads Gone Wrong

Of all the relationships that exist on the earth, none are more important in the eternities than the ones which connect Jesus Christ with husbands and wives. As a healthy, functioning triad (where Christ is at the top and the husband and wife are at the bottom, and all three are connected), families can be raised and reared in the gospel of Jesus Christ and, ultimately, ascend to lofty, exalted spheres. In fact, the theory is that the closer the wife and husband are to Christ, the smaller the triangle, and hence both grow closer to Christ.
"The Lord Jesus Christ is the focal point in a covenant marriage relationship. Please notice how the Savior is positioned at the apex of this triangle, with a woman at the base of one corner and a man at the base of the other corner. Now consider what happens in the relationship between the man and the woman as they individually and steadily “come unto Christ” and strive to be “perfected in Him” (Moroni 10:32). Because of, and through, the Redeemer the man and the woman come closer together." (Elder David A. Bednar, “Marriage Is Essential to His Eternal Plan”, Ensign, 2006).
Unfortunately, not everything on earth works out the way we planned. Our fairy tale endings can take unexpected twists and turns, sometimes tragically, and dash whatever hopes we had for eternal bliss. For example:
  1. A spouse is misaligned with their spouse in terms of interests, values and beliefs. You may prefer a spiritual development podcast, and they may prefer video games.
  2. Both spouses stay in the marriage, but one or both are not in love with another.
  3. One or both spouses are abusive, neglectful or have spiritually harmful habits which conflict with the values expected in a son or daughter of God.
  4. You are divorced or single.
Whatever the reason, one or both parties in the bottom of this triad may feel frustrated, hurt, betrayed as well as helpless and hopeless that, because of their misaligned (or unaligned) spousal status, they, too, will never attain the heavenly happiness they yearn and long for.

But is God content with one or both spouses living in eternal torment? For example, if one spouse is hell bent on being abusive, doing porn or drugs, does that mean you’re stuck with said spouse forever, even though you may have been sealed in a temple for time and eternity?

I don’t think so.

The Holy Spirit of Promise

Temple marriage is initially provisional, waiting for obedience to make it “more sure.” We read in D&C 132:7:
“And verily I say unto you, that the conditions of this law are these: All covenants, contracts, bonds, obligations, oaths, vows, performances, connections, associations, or expectations, that are not made and entered into and sealed by the Holy Spirit of promise, of him who is anointed, both as well for time and for all eternity, and that too most holy, by revelation and commandment through the medium of mine anointed, whom I have appointed on the earth to hold this power (and I have appointed unto my servant Joseph to hold this power in the last days, and there is never but one on the earth at a time on whom this power and the keys of this priesthood are conferred), are of no efficacy, virtue, or force in and after the resurrection from the dead; for all contracts that are not made unto this end have an end when men are dead.”
Pres. Joseph Fielding Smith stated,
“To seal is to ratify, to justify, or to approve. Thus an act which is sealed by the Holy Spirit of Promise is one which is ratified by the Holy Ghost; it is one which is approved by the Lord; and the person who has taken the obligation upon himself is justified by the Spirit in the thing he has done.
The ratifying seal of approval is put upon an act only if those entering the contract are worthy as a result of personal righteousness to receive the divine approbation. They ‘are sealed by the Holy Spirit of promise, which the Father sheds forth upon all those who are just and true.’ (D&C 76:53) If they are not just and true and worthy the ratifying seal is withheld.
When any ordinance or contract is sealed by the Spirit, it is approved with a promise of reward, provided unrighteousness does not thereafter break the seal, remove the ratifying approval, and cause loss of the promised blessing" (Doctrines of Salvation, vol. 1, p. 55; vol. 2, pp. 94–99).
And Elder Bruce R. McConkie:
“These principles also apply to every other ordinance and performance in the Church. Thus if both parties are ‘just and true,’ if they are worthy, a ratifying seal is placed on their temple marriage; if they are unworthy, they are not justified by the Spirit and the ratification of the Holy Ghost is withheld. Subsequent worthiness will put the seal in force, and unrighteousness will break any seal” (Mormon Doctrine, 361–62).
Note that Elder McConkie said “if both parties are ‘just and true’”. That’s because exaltation is predicated upon individual obedience. President Howard W. Hunter stated,
“… While it is true that worthy couples will obtain exaltation in the celestial kingdom, each man and each woman sealed in an eternal relationship must be individually worthy of that blessing” ("This Church is for All People”, Ensign, June 1989, p. 76).
The Holy Spirit of Promise cannot violate one’s agency. If one party refuses, or is uncomfortable, with the prospect of eternal sealing to another, no one is going to hold a spiritual gun to their head and say, “Sorry! You made your choice so you’re out of luck!” Here’s Pres. Smith again:
“The Lord does not desire that the people should suffer. He is pained when a man does wrong and needs to be punished and fails to receive the crown or reward that is offered to those who are faithful and true. The Lord would have every man receive a crown, every man become exalted, every man become a son, and every woman become a daughter unto him. But this cannot be done, except on principles of righteousness and free agency.
Therefore, every soul has the right to choose for himself that which he will do. This is the gospel of merit. Every man shall receive that which he is entitled to receive. Every soul shall be blessed according to the diligence, willingness, and integrity put forth in the service of the Lord. The man who will not keep his commandments, the Lord will not exalt. The woman who rejects the light and refuses to abide by the doctrines of our Redeemer shall not be exalted. Those who will be exalted shall be crowned with glory, immortality, and eternal life in the presence of our Father” (Doctrines of Salvation, p. 246).
And here’s Pres. Brigham Young:
"If a woman is sealed to me and she wants to be divorced, she has a right to and I am under no obligation. Is not that agency all around? We have the privilege of being sealed or released" (Discourse given March 12, 1848, in "Complete Discourses," 1:276).

The Destiny of the Misaligned

So, we have a choice -- “agency”.

It’s what we do with that agency that determines our eventual eternal fate.

In my opinion, if one is married and sealed in a temple of God, they should do all in their power to uphold the integrity of that marriage. This can be very challenging, because the Devil will exaggerate your mate’s failures and inadequacies, sow suspicion and jealousy, get you to indulge in self-pity, insist that you deserve something better, and hold out the hollow promise that things would be better with someone else. Luckily, God can change hearts and remove all hardness, if we will cast all our burdens upon Him (see here).

Yet God cannot violate one’s agency. Thus, in some cases, courses cannot be corrected. If one of the spouses refuses to try to make the marriage work, and would rather prioritize something else above the importance and sanctity of the marriage, then they have in effect turned their back on the covenants they made with God.

Pres. Smith addressed this scenario (when one yearns for salvation, and their spouse doesn’t):
“If a man and his wife are saved in separate kingdoms, for instance, the celestial and terrestrial, automatically the sealing is broken; it is broken because of the sins of one of the parties. No one can be deprived of exaltation who remains faithful. In other words, an undeserving husband cannot prevent a faithful wife from an exaltation and vice versa. In this case the faithful servant would be given to someone who is faithful” (Doctrines of Salvation, p. 260; emphasis mine).
Thus we see that, for example, if a husband is destined for terrestial glory, and the wife is destined for celestial glory, the wife is not automatically tied to their husband and “going terrestial”. This is because the seal (of righteousness) was broken by the husband. Yet the seal (of righteousness) is still in full force with the wife.

OK, so let’s say hypothetically, both former spouses are headed different eternal directions. What becomes of the righteous one?
“In the revelation that has come thru Joseph Smith, we learn that it is the eternal purpose of God that man and woman should be joined together by the power of God here on earth for time and eternity.
If a man and woman should be joined together who are incompatible to each other, it would be a mercy to them to be separated that they might have a chance to find other spirits that will be congenial to them. We may bind on earth and it will be bound in Heaven, and loose on earth and it will be loosed in Heaven" (President Joseph F. Smith, Box Elder Stake Conference. Dec. 20, 1914; James R. Clark, Messages of the First Presidency, 4:330-331; emphasis mine).

The Destiny of the Unaligned

I don't think God wants anyone to live this mortal life unhappy.

Yet in our society, (oh how do I put it?)...”stuff” happens”. People can be in marital bliss one year, and single the next. They can also remain single throughout adulthood.

So in order to help those who are single feel a little better, people often say one of at least three things:

  1. "You just gotta have faith, deary!" or "Just say your prayers, read your scriptures and keep your temple recommend active, and it'll get better" -- I think all too often, we Mormons adopt a formulaic response to unfortunate situations. "If you do A+B+C, then you'll be happy again!" I wish life were that easy, but for many, it's just not that simple. For some, they're doing all these things and more, and their situations are staying the same, if not worsening.
  2. "Oh well, the Lord will provide/straighten it out." While these are nice expressions, and are technically true, they are also perceived as abstract and, because they lack specificity, they do little to effectively assuage concerns.
  3. "God loves you/knows your heart". These are also perceived as givens. Of course God loves us. Of course God knows our hearts. Because these are facts most of us have known since childhood, they also lack the ability to effectively resolve their worries that they are forever trapped in these situations.

In my opinion, abstract niceties are nice, but they don’t provide the solidity, the sureness, which so many singles search for.

Luckily, the Lord does provide a ram in the thicket.

My best friend in high school went on a mission. Afterwards, he married a nice girl from a foreign country. Over the years, cracks formed in their marriage. Although he tried really hard to save the marriage and stayed true to his temple covenants, the marriage unfortunately ended in divorce. A few years later, he met a woman from a neighboring city. They dated and got married. He told me later, “It took me a while, but I finally found the woman I want to spend eternity with.” Sure enough, I occasionally check out their Facebook profiles and they are still acting like newlyweds. I asked him once if they’re really that happy. His response. “Nope. We’re happier!”

So sometimes, here on earth, we have to wade through the waters of darkness and despair so we can better appreciate the scenic shores of happiness. Others aren’t so fortunate, and must await happiness at a later date.

Thus, no righteous person will be denied any blessings which come from God. President Spencer W. Kimball said this most eloquently:
“I am aware of some … who seemingly have not been successful in total fulfillment. Some have been on missions; some have completed their education. And yet they have passed the period of their greatest opportunity for marriage. The time has passed, and while still attractive and desirable and efficient, they find themselves alone. 
To [the large group of young men and women in this category] we say this: You are making a great contribution to the world as you serve your families and the Church. … You must remember that the Lord loves you and the Church loves you. … We have no control over the heartbeats or the affections of men [or women], but pray that you may find fulfillment. And in the meantime, we promise you that insofar as eternity is concerned, no soul will be deprived of rich and high and eternal blessings for anything which that person could not help, that the Lord never fails in his promises, and that every righteous person will receive eventually all to which the person is entitled and which he or she has not forfeited through any fault of his or her own” (“The Importance of Celestial Marriage”, Ensign, Oct. 1979, p. 5).
President Lorenzo Snow:
“There is no Latter-day Saint who dies after having lived a faithful life who will lose anything because of having failed to do certain things when opportunities were not furnished him or her. In other words, if a young man or a young woman has no opportunity of getting married, and they live faithful lives up to the time of their death, they will have all the blessings, exaltation, and glory that any man or woman will have who had this opportunity and improved it. That is sure and positive” (Teachings of Lorenzo Snow, p. 138).
President Harold B. Lee:
"You young women advancing in years who have not yet accepted a proposal of marriage, if you make yourselves worthy and ready to go to the House of the Lord and have faith in this sacred principle, even though the privilege of marriage does not come to you now, the Lord will reward you in due time and no blessing will be denied you. You are not under obligation to accept a proposal from some one unworthy of you for fear you will fail of your blessings." ("Youth and the Church" (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company), 1955, p. 132)
President Joseph Fielding Smith:
"You good sisters, who are single and alone, do not fear that blessings are going to be withheld from you. You are not under any obligation or necessity of accepting some proposal that comes to you which is distasteful for fear you will come under condemnation. If in your hearts you feel the gospel is true and would under proper conditions receive these ordinances and sealing blessings in the temple of the Lord, and that is your faith and your hope and your desire, and that does not come to you now, the Lord will make it up, and you shall be blessed, for no blessing shall be withheld." ("Elijah the Prophet and His Mission" (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company), 1957, p. 51)
Elder Bruce R. McConkie:
"I am perfectly aware that there are people who did not have the opportunity [of celestial marriage] but who would have lived the law had the opportunity been afforded. Those individuals will be judged in the providences and mercy of a gracious God according to the intents and desires of their hearts. That is the principle of salvation and exaltation for the dead." ("Celestial Marriage," The New Era, June 1978, p. 17)
President Spencer W. Kimball:
“We appreciate the faithful and devoted single sisters who do not yet enjoy a fulness of family life. The Lord loves you, for you are some of the most noble spirits of our Father in Heaven. If you continue faithful and true, no eternal blessing will one day be denied you.” (“Learn—Then Teach,” Ensign, Nov. 1980, p. 102)
Elder Dallin H. Oaks:
"Through the merciful plan of our Father in Heaven, persons who desire to do what is right but through no fault of their own are unable to have an eternal marriage in mortal life will have an opportunity to qualify for eternal life in a period following mortality, if they keep the commandments of God and are true to their baptismal and other covenants."  (See Lorenzo Snow, Millennial Star, 31 August 1899, page 547; discussed in Dallin H. Oaks, Pure in Heart (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft), 1988, p. 61–62)
President Ezra Taft Benson:
"I also recognize that not all women in the Church will have an opportunity for marriage and motherhood in mortality.  But if those of you in this situation are worthy and endure faithfully, you can be assured of all blessings from a kind and loving Heavenly Father--and I emphasize all blessings.  I assure you that if you have to wait even until the next life to be blessed with a choice companion, God will surely compensate you.  Time is numbered only to man. God has your eternal perspective in mind." (“To The Single Sisters of the Church”, Ensign, November 1988, p. 96)
Elder Richard G. Scott:
“If you are single and haven’t identified a solid prospect for celestial marriage, live for it. Pray for it. Expect it in the timetable of the Lord. Do not compromise your standards in any way that would rule out that blessing on this or the other side of the veil. The Lord knows the intent of your heart. His prophets have stated that you will have that blessing as you consistently live to qualify for it” (“Receive the Temple Blessings” Ensign, May 1999, p. 27)
Elder James E. Faust:
"The prophets of the Lord have repeatedly promised that no blessing will be denied to the righteous single sisters of the Church if, through no fault of their own, they have not been married in this life and sealed to a worthy priesthood holder. They will be able to enjoy that blessing forever in the next world. On occasions when you ache for that acceptance and affection which belong to family life on earth, please know that our Father in Heaven is aware of your anguish, and that one day he will bless you beyond your capacity to express"  (“You Are All Heaven Sent,” Ensign, Nov 2002, p. 110).
Elder L. Tom Perry:
“… Everyone in the Church who is on the straight and narrow path, who is striving and struggling and desiring to do what is right, though [he] is far from perfect in this life; if he passes out of this life while he’s on the straight and narrow, he’s going to go on to eternal reward in his Father’s kingdom” (The Probationary Test of Mortality, devotional address, Salt Lake Institute of Religion, Jan. 10, 1982, p. 8–9).

Anticipating Ascension

As I interact with many on this blog’s Facebook page, I am awed by those I meet and become friends with who, of no fault of their own, are forced to walk life’s paths while being Beautifully Misaligned or Beautifully Unaligned. Yes, they absolutely cry a lot, are lonely and miss the companionship they rightfully deserve.

Yet these people are my mortal heroes. Not only because they have descended to depths I can’t comprehend, but also because they will one day ascend to heights I can’t comprehend as well.
"Spiritual descent is necessary for spiritual ascent: When a man has to rise from one level to the next, prior to his ascent, he must first undergo a descent. The paradox is that the very purpose of the descent is the ascent. From this you can see how much strength is required in the service of God. Even when you fall or descend in any way, you must never allow yourself to be thrown off balance to the extent that you come to look down upon yourself or to hold yourself in contempt." (Rabbi Nachman, trans. Avraham Greenbaum, Likutey Moharan, "Restore My Soul" [Monsey & Jerusalem: Breslov Research Institute, 1980], p. 16-17; also see here).
And even though they have been abandoned to a certain extent, and even though it’s difficult (if not impossible) to adequately understand why they’ve been placed in certain experiences here on earth, they do not abandon God.

Perhaps Elder Neal A. Maxwell gets us close to the actual reason why. As he eloquently opined, the trials you are expected to endure here on earth serve a far weightier purpose for you, as a future god or goddess, future heavenly father or mother, in the eternities:
“God seeks to give us tutoring experiences so that, if we are submissive, we will have our own first-hand experiences to refer to in the eternities to come. We will have authentic, personal knowledge upon which to rely, not merely accurate abstractions. Since experiential knowledge is etched deeply into our souls, it is not so easily forgotten” (Neal A. Maxwell, “Not My Will, But Thine”, p. 98).
Finally, I leave you with this poem…

My life is but a weaving,
Between my God and me.
I do not choose the colors,
He worketh steadily.
Oft times He weaveth sorrow,
And I in foolish pride;
Forget He sees the upper,
And I the underside.
Not 'til the loom is silent
And the shuttles cease to fly,
Will God unroll the canvas
And explain the reason why...
The dark threads are as needful
In the skillful Weaver's hand,
As the threads of gold and silver
In the pattern He has planned.
("The Weaver," in Book of Poetry, ed. Al Bryant 
[New York: Zondervan Publishing House, 1968])

...and a song.