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Thursday, February 27, 2014

20. Spiritual Land Mine #7: Believing -- and not just believing in -- Jesus Christ (Part 2 of 3)

Note: This is one of a series of posts devoted to the study of D&C 93:1, and the 20th examining the phrase "calleth on my name".

A little background: When I first researched this topic (on believing Christ) in my special gospel study software, I found 1,611 references to believing in Christ.  Unfortunately, there were only 118 references to "believing Christ" (and most of them came from Stephen E. Robinson's terrific book, "Believing Christ"). Interesting, huh.

Now that we understand the difference between the two phrases, let's move from the theoretical to the applied...

Take the First Step in a Whole Higher Relationship with Him

Let's watch this clip from the movie, "Son of God":

Imagine yourself in this situation, in the boat.  You see Christ literally walking on water maybe 20 yards or so from the boat.  He beckons Peter,

"Don't be afraid. Come!"

Peter lifts one leg, then another leg, off the boat and onto -- not into -- the water.  Isn't that incredible?  What other human has ever done that?  But in an instant, the distracting flash of lightning pulls Peter's focus off of the Savior.  In an instant, he's under water.

" of little faith.  Why did you doubt?  You need to be strong."

Yet most of us -- and quite likely, all of us -- have a difficult time doing so.

Don't Look Up Or Down, But Straight Ahead

Several years ago, I attended a work-related convention in Las Vegas.  To get to the convention center from where I was staying, I needed to walk a few blocks down the sidewalk.

There, I discovered that if I looked down, I'd see pornographic picture cards strewn across the sidewalks.  To the left and right where those handing out the cards.  If I looked up, pornographic posters were visible.  I had to stare straight ahead.

So it is in life.  It may not be lightning as Peter encountered, but inevitably, those who want to focus on the Lord will be tempted to look down or look up.  Here's why either direction is fraught with peril:

Don't Focus Downwards
"To have faith in Jesus Christ is not merely to believe that he is who he says he is. It is not merely to believe in Christ; we must also believe Christ. Both as a bishop and as a teacher, I have heard several variations on a theme of doubt. Some have said, 'Bishop, I've sinned too horribly. I'll be active in the Church, and I hope for some reward. But I couldn't ever hope to be exalted after what I've done.' Others have said, 'I'm weak and imperfect. I don't have all the talents that Brother Jones (or Sister Smith) does. I'll never be the bishop (or the Relief Society president). I'm just average. I expect my reward in eternity will be a little lower than theirs.' … Many of us are trying to save ourselves, holding the atonement of Jesus Christ at arm's distance and saying, 'When I've perfected myself, then I'll be worthy of the Atonement.' But that's not how it works. That's like saying, 'I won't take the medicine until I'm well. I'll be worthy of it then.'" (Stephen E. Robinson, "Believing Christ," Ensign, April 1992, pp. 6, 7, 9).
I believe we really do tend to complicate the Atonement in our lives.  It's already been taken care of; hence the Lord's declaration on the cross, "It is finished" (John 19:30).  It is our acceptance and receiving of that Atonement He made for us 2,000 years ago which is the only question.  Thus, believing Christ means you receive His Atonement and the reality of the remission of your sins. Yet
"Unfortunately, there are many members of the Church who simply do not believe this. Though they claim to have testimonies of Christ and of his gospel, they reject the witness of the scriptures and of the prophets about the good news of Christ's atonement. Often these people naively hold on to mutually contradictory propositions without even realizing the nature of the contradiction. For example, they may believe that the Church is true, that Jesus is the Christ, and that Joseph Smith was a prophet of God, while at the same time refusing to accept the possibility of their own complete forgiveness and eventual exaltation in the kingdom of God. They believe in Christ, but they do not believe Christ. He says, 'Though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow. I can make you pure and worthy and celestial,' and they answer back, 'No, you can't. The gospel only works for other people; it won't work for me.'"  (Stephen E. Robinson, "Believing Christ" [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1992], p. 8-9; also see here).
Another way you can avoid "looking downwards" from Christ is by shedding your ego and seeking the Holy Ghost's constant companionship in understanding and implementing Father's will.  For example, you can counter irritation not with a scowl, but a smile.  You can give warm praise instead of icy indifference.  You can choose to be understanding instead of abrupt.  You can replace rudeness and crudeness with love, patience and meekness.

Now, these may seem like little things, but such moments are the molecules that make up eternity!  Years ago, Pres. Hinckley counseled:
"It is not so much the major events as the small day-to-day decisions that map the course of our living. … Our lives are, in reality, the sum total of our seemingly unimportant decisions and of our capacity to live by those decisions" ("Caesar, Circus, or Christ? Brigham Young University Speeches of the Year", Oct. 26, 1965, p. 3; only audio available).
To be perfect means you are doing the best you can do, under the circumstances you are in. As Brigham Young once explained:    
"We all occupy diversified stations in the world, and in the kingdom of God. Those who do right, and seek the glory of the Father in heaven, whether their knowledge be little or much, or whether they can do little, or much, if they do the very best they know how, they are perfect... 'Be ye as perfect as ye can," for that is all we can do, though it is written, 'Be ye perfect as your Father who is in heaven is perfect.' To be as perfect as we possibly can, according to our knowledge, is to be just as perfect as our Father in heaven is. He cannot be any more perfect than He knows how, any more than we. When we are doing as well as we know how in the sphere and station which we occupy here, we are justified." (Journal of Discourses 2:129-30; emphasis mine).
"Brigham Young can say that doing the best we know how is being perfect, because it fulfills our part of the covenant, and as we do this, Jesus Christ fulfills his part of the covenant and makes us perfect through his merit and mercy. The perfection we receive in this manner is perfection-in-Christ. This is also the perfection that allows us to enter the celestial kingdom. The other perfection, the actual, personal, "I-never-make-a-mistake" kind of perfection comes even later than that -- much later. 
It is reported that someone once challenged the work of Mother Teresa, the holy woman who ministers to the poorest outcasts in Calcutta, India, on the grounds that she could never succeed at what she was trying to do. No matter how hard she worked, her antagonist insisted, there would be more of the poor and sick tomorrow than there were today, and all her efforts could never even make a dent in the problem. Since she could never hope to succeed, why did she waste her efforts in a losing cause? Mother Teresa's answer was a classic. 'God does not require that I succeed,' she replied, 'only that I do what I can.' And that is the gospel truth"  (Stephen E. Robinson, Believing Christ: The Parable of the Bicycle and Other Good News, p. 99).
It really is true: the best -- and only -- way you can be made strong is through Jesus Christ.
"And his name through faith in his name hath made this man strong, whom ye see and know: yea, the faith which is by him hath given him this perfect soundness in the presence of you all." (Acts 3:16)

Sunday, February 23, 2014

19. Spiritual Land Mine #7: Believing -- and not just believing in -- Jesus Christ (Part 1 of 3)

Note: This is one of a series of posts devoted to the study of D&C 93:1, and the 19th examining the phrase "calleth on my name".

It's Simple.  Really.

His name was Naaman.

Naaman the Aramean was a commander of the armies of Ben-Hadad II, the king of Aram Damascus, in the time of Joram, king of Israel.

He was also a leper.

When Naaman came to the prophet Elisha desiring to be healed, he expected the cure to be both difficult and expensive.  Yet when Elisha told him to go bathe in the Jordan seven times, "he turned and went away in a rage" (1 Kings 5:12), feeling insulted and put off by so simple a prescription. Fortunately, his servants were able to convince him to give the "too easy" remedy a try.  Naaman humbled himself, did the simple thing he was asked to do, and was healed.

It's called the Nehushtan (or Nehustan, in Hebrew; נחושתן or נחש הנחושת)  -- a sacred object in the form of a snake of brass upon a pole.

The Bible informs us that when the Israelites set out from Mount Hor, they had to detour around the land of Edom (Numbers 20:21,25).  Frustrated and impatient, they complained against Yahweh and Moses (Num. 21:4-5).  Consequently, God sent "fiery serpents" among them.  For the sake of repentant ones, Moses was instructed by God to build a "serpent of bronze" that was used to heal those who looked upon it (Numbers 21:4-9).  The Jews themselves say it was not the brazen serpent that cured; but in looking up to it, they figuratively looked up to the Lord, who healed them.
"And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up: That whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have eternal life." (John 3:14-15)
Compare their disease and ours.  Sin bites like a serpent and stings like an adder.

Compare the application of their remedy and ours.  Just as they looked and lived (and often by means which human reason never would have devised), you also shall not perish...if you believe.

Looked at in a larger sense, you are to build your hopes upon Jesus Christ and His promises of eternal life (Mark 16:16).  For "he that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life" (John 3:36).  Jesus says again:
"Verily, I say unto you, he that heareth my words, and believeth on him that sent me, hath everlasting life, and shall not come into condemnation; but is passed from death unto life" (John 5:21). 
So, the real question is this:

Do You Believe Christ?

I'm sure that since you were a small child, you've believed in Christ.  You've seen pictures, paintings, drawings and sculptures of the Lord; you've read His words and maybe even felt His spirit as you've sung about Him.

But there's a vast difference between "Believing in Christ" and "Believing Christ."
"The first Article of Faith specifies that we must have faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.  We often think that having faith in Christ means believing in his identity as the Son of God and the Savior of the world.  But believing in Jesus' identity as the Christ is only the first half of it.  The other half is believing in his ability, in his power to cleanse and to save -- to make unworthy sons and daughters worthy." (Stephen E. Robinson, Believing Christ: The Parable of the Bicycle and Other Good News, p.10).
It is one thing to believe in Christ (in that He is the Son of God) and another to believe Him (that He yearns to be closer to you, for you to hear His voice, be cleansed every whit by Him and, ultimately, to see His face).
"How do we identify true believers? Amid the cries "Lo, here is Christ; Lo, there," can we sift out those who truly believe from those who use gospel language without envisioning what the words really mean? It is one thing to believe Christ is the Son of God in some figurative way and another to believe that his Father has a body of flesh and bones as tangible as man's." (Elder Bruce R. McConkie, "The Promised Messiah: The First Coming of Christ", p. 294)
Come follow (who?), the Savior said?
"If we believe only in Christ without believing Christ, then we are like people sitting in cold, dark houses surrounded by unused lamps and heaters, people who believe in electricity but who never throw the switch to turn on the power. People like this often pretend to themselves and to others that merely believing in electricity makes them warm and gives them light, but they still shiver in the dark unless they turn on the power. Though the appliances may all work and the wiring may be in good order, until we accept the power itself, beyond merely believing in the theory of power, we cannot enjoy the warmth and the light. This is why genuine faith in Christ-active acceptance of his power and not just passive belief in his identity-is and must be the very first principle of the gospel. No matter how much of the gospel one learns or even believes as a theory, until we accept the reality of our own salvation, we have not yet turned on the power." (Stephen E. Robinson, Believing Christ: The Parable of the Bicycle and Other Good News, p.12)
So how do we turn on the power of faith, and start believing Christ?

Stay tuned for Part 2 of Land Mine #7....

Monday, February 10, 2014

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

Note: This is one of a series of posts devoted to the study of D&C 93:1, and the 18th examining the phrase "calleth on my name".

I had to cry uncle.

For days, I contemplated what the next Land Mine in this series is.  I kept thinking it was _____________, which (as I now understand) is Land Mine #7.  Yet my search for Land Mine #6 seemed elusive.

Then one day, a friend mentioned "The D Word" (which does not rhyme with "dam") to me.  Then another friend.  Then I read an e-mail where "The D Word" seemed to lunge at me.  Then one of my kids mentioned it.

In a two day period, I heard "The D Word" 15 times.

So today, you read the thoughts and feelings on a topic I hadn't planned on writing about, but as it appears, somebody else did.

"Seek ye first the kingdom of God" 

The Joseph Smith Translation alters the Sermon on the Mount slightly:

"Wherefore, seek not the things of this world but seek ye first to build up the kingdom of God, and to establish his righteousness, and all these things shall he added unto you" (JST, Matthew 6:38).

One of the most challenging aspects of life is remaining focused on matters of everlasting consequence.  It's not easy living in a world where the mists of darkness reign supreme, and are composed of devil-inspired distractions.  It's no wonder Elder Richard G. Scott observed, "Satan has a powerful tool to use against good people. It is distraction" ("First Things First," Ensign, May 2001, 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).
Indeed, a disciple's duty always has and always will involve discerning and, when necessary, discarding the dross in favor of that which is of greatest worth.

I don't think I'm alone in thinking this.

In his June, 1976 First Presidency Message, "The False Gods We Worship", Pres. Spencer W. Kimball addressed the Saints by saying:
"The Lord gave us a choice world and expects righteousness and obedience to his commandments in return.  But when I review the performance of this people in comparison with what is expected, I am appalled and frightened. Iniquity seems to abound.  The Destroyer seems to be taking full advantage of the time remaining to him in this, the great day of his power.  Evil seems about to engulf us like a great wave, and we feel that truly we are living in conditions similar to those in the days of Noah before the Flood." (emphasis mine)
He went on to say that "we are, on the whole, an idolatrous people — a condition most repugnant to the Lord."

To summarize the various ways we are distracted from celestial things in pursuit of that which is idolatrous, Pres. Kimball stated:
  1. An idolater is one who sets his or her heart or trust in something other than the God of Israel.
  2. An idolater cannot be saved in the kingdom of heaven.
  3. Telling parallels exist between ancient forms of idolatry and the behavioral patterns of the Latter-day Saints.
  4. We live today in conditions resembling the days of Noah before the Flood.
  5. "We are, on the whole, an idolatrous people".
  6. Idolatry forms a grave and singular contradiction in the lives of the Saints.
  7. We must forthwith leave off our idolatry, or be damned.
  8. We must serve the Lord at all costs and prepare for what is to come.
  9. Our modern life-style, tainted by idols, contrasts the rural ideal of a generation ago.
  10. If we live righteously, the Lord will protect us from all our enemies.
President Kimball said these things nearly 38 years ago.  What do you think he'd say about our condition today?

The Road to Idolatry is Paved with Many Distractions

Ecclesiastes 1:9 says:
"The thing that hath been, it is that which shall be; and that which is done is that which shall be done: and there is no new thing under the sun."
God is a god of patterns -- patterns which teach us not only of His grandeur and magnificence, but also how precise actions inevitably bring about certain outcomes.

In his paper "Twelve Diatribes of Modern Israel", Avraham Gileadi, PhD said that:
"Next to actual prophecy, scriptural types provide the most reliable guide to the future, particularly to the last days. Indeed, all true prophets prophesy, more or less, using types and shadows from Israel's ancient past to predict the future.  By familiarizing ourselves with the ancient types, we will know both a sickness and its cure; we will recognize our present condition and know what its outcome must be." (found in "By Study and Also By Faith, Vol 2: Essays in Honor of Hugh W. Nibley", p. 353-405)
A careful examination of these ancient patterns reveals a fascinating find: we (humanity) are repeating an ancient pattern of giving in to various telestial distractions:
  1. Worshiping of Images (including images that "turn away" people's heart from God, such as images from television, movies, and videos).
  2. 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.
  3. Rock Music (how many forms of music corrupt our souls and encourages us to descend from the divine to the carnal).
  4. 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).
  5. 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).
  6. Imaginations of the Heart (studies or desires that draw us away from God).
  7. Nature Cults (a preoccupation with parks or gardens to escape devotion toward God and humanity).
  8. 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.
  9. The Arm of Flesh (trusting in any other mortal for temporal or spiritual salvation).
  10. 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).
  11. Pollution of the Temple (by setting up man-made abominations in it).
  12. Mammon (the lure, promise or extolling of riches).
"The distraction that money causes can happen so naturally and so easily that it is hardly noticeable. One reason for this is that we do have to live in this world and we do have to take care of our finances. But the Book of Mormon prophets show us that the fine line between being industriously self-supporting and setting our hearts on riches is treacherously easy to cross. It is far too easy to begin spending most of our time thinking about money and the things it can buy. Joseph Smith taught that our concern for riches, as much as anything, will keep us from being exalted. Focusing our attention on the things of this world keeps us from focusing on God and from learning the lessons of righteousness that we have to know in order to be exalted (D&C 121:34-36). This focus generally leads to compromises of integrity that good people would not otherwise make. These compromises can be as large as fraud, but can also show up in smaller ways, such as infringing on a friendship in order to make money." (Monte S. Nyman and Charles D. Tate, Jr., eds., "Fourth Nephi through Moroni: From Zion to Destruction", p.100)
To that, I'd like to add four more distractions:
  1. 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).
  2. Our Emotions (greed, envy, jealousy, selfishness, an unforgiving heart, magnifying small imperfections, unfavorably comparing ourselves with others, etc).
  3. Busy-ness (being so preoccupied with the flurry of daily life that you fail to immerse yourself in the gospel of Jesus Christ).
  4. 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).
"My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge: because 
thou hast rejected knowledge, I will also reject thee, that thou
shalt be no priest to me: seeing thou hast forgotten the law
of thy God, I will also forget thy children." (Hosea 4:6)

An Invitation

If you hope to detour from the distractions and deceptions of the adversary; if you seek peace in the midst of life's storms; if you yearn for divine direction for your life, then it is vital that you learn to hear the voice of the Lord.

We inwardly chuckle at the ancient Israelites who failed to just look up at the serpent on Moses' staff and live, yet fail to do something as simple as look up to Jesus Christ and ask for His help.

Perhaps you don't know how.

Perhaps you haven't made it a priority.

Perhaps you're so aware of your personal failings, that you don't feel worthy.

Perhaps you don't really believe the Lord will talk to you, and therefore don't seek revelation.

Or perhaps you've allowed the distractions and pace of your life to crowd out the Spirit.

The Mormon pioneers faced similar physical obstacles: They battled heat, cold, hunger, pain and death.  Yet somehow, they were not deterred.  They did not let distractions on the trail or even deaths of loved ones keep them from reaching their destination.  They moved on with one focus in mind: a greater, more abundant communing with Jesus Christ.

And in reading the journals of many of those pioneers, they got their wish.  Promises were made, ordinances performed and even veils were parted to assure them that their eventual rests would be glorious in quality and eternal in duration.

So it is with you and me.
"The antidote to the distractions of the adversary is Jesus Christ.  The Savior illuminates our vision of who we are and why we are here and gives us courage to move forward in the journey toward our heavenly home. The potential reward is a Big Finish that makes Rachmaninoff pale by comparison." (Sherry L. Dew, "No Doubt About It").
Here are some things to consider in drawing closer to Him and inviting Him to direct you past the distractions:

1. Increase in your knowledge of God.
"Wisdom is in short supply in the world today because men do not know God, not even all those who preach a return to Him. Until we come to a knowledge of God, we will continue in our distraction, regardless of how much other knowledge we acquire." (Elder Marion G. Romney, February 11, 1964, BYU Speeches of the Year, 1964, p.8)
One way we can increase in our knowledge of God is reading not only the scriptures, but those who seem most important to Him.  Here's a pop quiz: Besides Jesus Christ, what prophet is quoted most often in the New Testament, Book of Mormon and Doctrine and Covenants?  And when was the last time you really immersed yourself in the writings of that prophet?

2.  Spend some time with the "General Commandments" -- the scriptures.
“People who study the scriptures get a dimension to their life that nobody else gets and that can't be gained in any way except by studying the scriptures. There's an increase in faith and a desire to do what's right and a feeling of inspiration and understanding that comes to people who study the gospel - and who ponder the principles, that can't come in any other way.” (Elder Bruce R. McConkie, Church News, Jan. 24, 1976, p. 4).
3.  Spend some time obtaining your "Personal Commandments" -- in prayer.
"We should find an appropriate place where we can meditate and pray. We are admonished that this should be 'in your closets and your secret places, and in your wilderness.' (Alma 34:26.) That is, it should be free from distraction, in 'secret.' (3 Ne. 13:5-6)" (Pres. Ezra Taft Benson, "Prayer", April 1977 General Conference)
4. Ask the Lord for His help in identifying your vulnerabilities in terms of [a] the characteristics of an idolater (see Pres. Kimball's speech here) and [2] the nature of telestial idols (see Dr. Gileadi's paper here).

5. Repent - All. The. Time.
"The disciple is called to proceed along the strait and narrow path without distraction. All have sinned. All have come short of the glory of God. All have need of repentance. Thus all of us, to some degree, have taken brief detours from the gospel path, detours that cost us time and opportunity." (Robert L. Millet, "An Eye Single to the Glory of God: Reflections on the Cost of Discipleship", p.79).
6. Spend some time communing with God in the temple - a sanctuary from the distractions of the world.
"Sometimes our minds are so beset with problems, and there are so many things clamoring for attention at once, that we just cannot think clearly and see clearly.  At the temple, the dust of distraction seems to settle out, the fog and the haze seem to lift, and we can 'see' things that we were not able to see before and find a way through our troubles that we had not previously known." (Boyd K. Packer, The Holy Temple, p.181)
7. Always remember the adage, "Put the Lord first, and He will show you what comes second."

In Conclusion

I know how incredibly hard it is to keep your eyes focused on eternal goals (as Dr. Gileadi stated, "true worship exists within an extremely narrow compass") while refusing to be derailed by the distractions of mortality.

I fail at it constantly.  Constantly.

Yet as you well know, the Lord gives no commandment unless he prepares a way to keep it (1 Nephi 3:7).

Even if you fail at deviating away from the devil, Christ will always be there offering you His nail-imprinted hand to help you up and out of the distractions.

Surely our seeking to obey the FIRST commandment -- to love the Lord with our whole heart, and soul, and with all our might -- will receive untold and even unanticipated amounts of aid so that you can prepare yourself to overcome Spiritual Land Mine #7...

...wherein you will be able to perform a miracle.