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Monday, December 22, 2014

03. The Characteristics of Spiritual Ascension

Note: This is one of a series of posts devoted to the study of D&C 93:1, and the third examining the phrase "keepeth my commandments".

The (Apparent) Arrogance of Thinking We Can Keep God's Commandments

"What manner of men ought ye to be? Verily I say unto you, even as I am" (3 Nephi 27:27 also see 3 Nephi 12:48).
That's a bold statement -- and one we often tend to discredit. After all, success is often not what we envision it to be. The path that we imperfect, error-prone, sinful, spiritually dirty, condemned, telestial beings take to God is littered with pitfalls, trials and challenges.

Fortunately, God doesn't look at you in terms of just one frame in the motion picture of your life. He who sees all things past, present and future before Him knows that
"It will take us ages to accomplish this end, for there will be greater progress beyond the grave, and it will be there that the faithful will overcome all things, and receive all things, even the fulness of the Father's glory. I believe the Lord meant just what he said: that we should be perfect, as our Father in heaven is perfect. That will not come all at once, but line upon line, and precept upon precept, example upon example, and even then not as long as we live in this mortal life, for we will have to go even beyond the grave before we reach that perfection and shall be like God. 
But here we lay the foundation. Here is where we are taught these simple truths of the gospel of Jesus Christ, in this probationary state, to prepare us for that perfection. It is our duty to be better today than we were yesterday, and better tomorrow than we are today. Why? Because we are on that road, if we are keeping the commandments of the Lord, we are on that road to perfection, and that can only come through obedience and the desire in our hearts to overcome the world." (Joseph Fielding Smith, Doctrines of Salvation, Vol.2, pp.18-19)

The Ingredients for Perfectly Keeping God's Commandments

Throughout the scriptures, the Lord describes the process of achieving perfection in different ways.
  • It's line upon line, precept upon precept, here a little, there a little (2 Nephi 28:30; also see D&C 98:12).  In fact, in keeping with what I explained in my previous post, 2 Nephi 28:30 goes on to say that
"blessed are those who hearken unto my precepts, and lend an ear unto my counsel, for they shall learn wisdom; for unto him that receiveth I will give more; and from them that shall say, We have enough, from them shall be taken away even that which they have."
  • It's "grace to grace" and "grace for grace"
"And of his fulness have all we received, and grace for grace." (John 1:16
"And I, John, bear record that I beheld his glory, as the glory of the Only Begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth, even the Spirit of truth, which came and dwelt in the flesh, and dwelt among us.
And I, John, saw that he received not of the fulness at the first, but received grace for grace;
And he received not of the fulness at first, but continued from grace to grace, until he received a fulness;
For if you keep my commandments you shall receive of his fulness, and be glorified in me as I am in the Father; therefore, I say unto you, you shall receive grace for grace." (D&C 93:11-13, 20)
"Yea, come unto Christ, and be perfected in him, and deny yourselves of all ungodliness; and if ye shall deny yourselves of all ungodliness, and love God with all your might, mind and strength, then is his grace sufficient for you, that by his grace ye may be perfect in Christ; and if by the grace of God ye are perfect in Christ, ye can in nowise deny the power of God." (Moroni 10:32
Now, let's combine those two concepts for a minute. Could it be that when you recognize and gratefully receive (2 Nephi 28:30) the grace (divine goodness and power) God has bestowed on you in your life, you're more motivated to give grace (perhaps via kindness and forgiveness) to others? And because you have freely done so, God blesses you with a greater abundance of His divine grace?

Is that what is means to go "from grace to grace" (D&C 93:11-13, 20) until you receive "a fulness"?

Could it be that going "from grace to grace" ensures that in the eternal scheme of things, there is no shortcut, no piecemeal approach, no faking or pretending genuine character growth?
  • It's "strength to strength"
"They go from strength to strength, every one of them in Zion appeareth before God." (Psalms 84:7)
  • It's "faith to faith"
"For therein is the righteousness of God revealed from faith to faith: as it is written, The just shall live by faith." (Romans 1:17)
  • It's "glory to glory"
"But we all, with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord." (2 Corinthians 3:18)
Let's examine these three bullet points. Could an organization or individual, who shares their strength (for example, financial strength) with those who have limited or no strength, be blessed with greater strength? When an individual or organization exhibits real faith in God on behalf of another, their own faith is strengthened? When you share the light (or glory) of the gospel of Jesus Christ, you are blessed with greater light?
  • "His paths are straight"
Even Dorothy stepped off the yellow brick road with the best of intentions; yet in doing so, her path to the Emerald City assumed predicted consequences. We're no different; all too often, our paths to God include precarious pit stops to wallow in our will, not God's. When we do so, we discover the still, small voice of the spirit is silent, and we're left alone to ponder the consequences of our divergent direction. Thus, staying on the path straight to God -- without any tangents -- is the safest and wisest course of action. 
"And it may suffice if I only say they are preserved for a wise purpose, which purpose is known unto God; for he doth counsel in wisdom over all his works, and his paths are straight, and his course is one eternal round." (Alma 37:12)\ 
"For God doth not walk in crooked paths, neither doth he turn to the right hand nor to the left, neither doth he vary from that which he hath said, therefore his paths are straight, and his course is one eternal round." (D&C 3:2
"For behold, it is as easy to give heed to the word of Christ, which will point to you a straight course to eternal bliss, as it was for our fathers to give heed to this compass, which would point unto them a straight course to the promised land." (Alma 37:44
"Lead me, O Lord, in thy righteousness because of mine enemies; make thy way straight before my face." (Psalms 5:8
"O then, my beloved brethren, come unto the Lord, the Holy One. Remember that his paths are righteous. Behold, the way for man is narrow, but it lieth in a straight course before him, and the keeper of the gate is the Holy One of Israel; and he employeth no servant there; and there is none other way save it be by the gate; for he cannot be deceived, for the Lord God is his name." (2 Nephi 9:41
  • His course is "one eternal round"
"For he that diligently seeketh shall find; and the mysteries of God shall be unfolded unto them, by the power of the Holy Ghost, as well in these times as in times of old, and as well in times of old as in times to come; wherefore, the course of the Lord is one eternal round." (1 Nephi 10:19
"Listen to the voice of the Lord your God, even Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end, whose course is one eternal round, the same today as yesterday, and forever." (D&C 35:1
  • It's ever-expanding
As mentioned above, the Lord says

"blessed are those who hearken unto my precepts, and lend an ear unto my counsel, for they shall learn wisdom; for unto him that receiveth I will give more..." (2 Nephi 28:30)

Thus, it stands to reason that if one has faithfully received a few things, then they shall be given more things. If this continues ad infinitum, then the Lord's statement, "Endless is my name" (D&C 19:4,10; see also Moses 1:37:35) is accurate. His glory, dominion and kingdom endlessly expands.

"Of the increase of government and peace there is no end, upon the throne of David, and upon his kingdom to order it, and to establish it with judgment and with justice from henceforth, even forever. The zeal of the Lord of Hosts will perform this." (2 Nephi 19:7

The Process of Ascension

Review those bullet points above for a minute.

Embedded within all these quotes is the process of ascension, and ultimately, achieving perfection.

Now, in 1982, author Stephen R. Covey published what I consider to be one of the most underrated, little-known LDS-aligned books ever: "The Divine Center." Aside from the Holy Scriptures, no other book has transformed my life as much as this book. I highly recommend you buy it.

Once you have it, skip ahead to chapters 7-9, which detail some interdependent actions which spiral us to God.

Personally, I've slightly modified Covey's diagram of these processes (found on pages 226-227 in Covey's first edition book). And in my next blog post, we'll examine how these interdependent actions mesh everything discussed in these posts on ascension -- as well as D&C 93 -- into one nice, neat pattern...

...a pattern which is replicated from the smallest to the grandest structures in the cosmos.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

02. Are You Truly Seeking Higher Truths?

Note: This is one of a series of posts devoted to the study of D&C 93:1, and the second examining the phrase "keepeth my commandments".

Realizing the fulfillment of D&C 93:1 hinges on our desire and ability to receive greater and greater truths from God.

Indeed, receiving truth is, in essence, receiving Christ.

Let's Say You Don't Want To Seek After Higher Truths

It's sad but true: There are many good people who have no desire whatsoever to seek higher truths, or the mysteries of God. They've hardened their hearts to the concept. Regarding such a state, the Book of Mormon tells us that
"It is given unto many to know the mysteries of God; nevertheless they are laid under a strict command that they shall not impart only according to the portion of his word which he doth grant unto the children of men, according to the heed and diligence which they give unto him. And therefore, he that will harden his heart, the same receiveth the lesser portion of the word; and he that will not harden his heart, to him is given the greater portion of the word, until it is given unto him to know the mysteries of God until he know them in full. And they that will harden their hearts, to them is given the lesser portion of the word until they know nothing concerning his mysteries; and then they are taken captive by the devil, and led by his will down to destruction. Now this is what is meant by the chains of hell." (Alma 12:9-11)
Now, if you're content with just receiving "the lesser portion of the word" of God, then it's simple: God says you have a hardened heart. How did this happen? Because you've chosen to follow Satan, who "was a liar from the beginning" (D&C 93:25) and seeks always to "turn...hearts away from the truth" (D&C 78:10), partly by enticing people to become liars and deceivers themselves (D&C 10:25). Your fate? Equally simple: You'll know nothing concerning God's mysteries. You'll be taken captive by the devil. You'll be led by Satan's will down to destruction, and you'll know all about the chains of hell.

As the Prophet Joseph Smith elaborated:
“When God offers a blessing or knowledge to a man, and he refuses to receive it, he will be damned. The Israelites prayed that God would speak to Moses and not to them; in consequence of which he cursed them with a carnal law.” (History of the Church, 5:555; from a discourse given by Joseph Smith on Aug. 27, 1843, in Nauvoo, Illinois; reported by Willard Richards and William Clayton
“Knowledge is necessary to life and godliness. Woe unto you priests and divines who preach that knowledge is not necessary unto life and salvation. Take away Apostles, etc., take away knowledge, and you will find yourselves worthy of the damnation of hell. Knowledge is revelation. Hear, all ye brethren, this grand key: knowledge is the power of God unto salvation.” (Quoted by Martha Jane Knowlton Coray, reporting a discourse given by Joseph Smith on May 21, 1843, in Nauvoo, Illinois; Martha Jane Knowlton Coray, Notebook, Church Archives; emphasis mine)

Passively Seeking Greater Truths

Now here's an interesting question: What if you have a "testimony of Jesus", yet aren't valiant ("possessing or showing courage or determination") with it?

We learn in D&C 76:79 that those who eventually obtain Terrestrial status
"...are they who are not valiant in the testimony of Jesus; wherefore, they obtain not the crown over the kingdom of our God."
Just being a good person (D&C 76:75), yet having a passive awareness of facts, doesn't mean you're seeking truth or that you have knowledge. Being valiant means that you are being active with the truths and knowledge you have already received. This is because
"For us, knowledge is understood to be an active, motivating force rather than simply a passive awareness of facts. Indeed, certain truths must be understood and applied because they are essential for salvation and eternal life (see John 17:3; 1 John 4:7–8). The Prophet Joseph Smith taught that 'a man is saved no faster than he gets knowledge, for if he does not get knowledge, he will be brought into captivity' (History of the Church, 4:588; from a discourse given by Joseph Smith on Apr. 10, 1842, in Nauvoo, Illinois; reported by Wilford Woodruff). His words build on the Savior’s commandment: 'Ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free' (John 8:32)." (Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf,
Now, if you ask me, being "brought into captivity" and experiencing "the chains of hell" sound a lot alike.

Harsh? Perhaps. But when it comes to seeking after greater truths, you can neither be hot nor cold:
"I know thy works, that thou art neither cold nor hot: I would thou wert cold or hot. So then because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spue thee out of my mouth." (Revelation 3:15-16)

Let's Say You Do Want To Seek After Higher Truths

Brother Joseph was a passionate champion of the truth. He said that
"One of the grand fundamental principles of Mormonism is to receive truth, let it come from whence it may." (Joseph Smith, Jr, Discourses of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 199) 
"Knowledge saves a man; and in the world of spirits no man can be exalted but by knowledge." (Joseph Smith, Jr, TPJS, p. 357; emphasis mine)
There it is, plain as day! Truth and knowledge are not only symbiotic, they're also salvific. When we embrace truth and knowledge, we are saved.

If you seek to know -- and receive -- the mysteries of God (or, you do not harden your heart), and you "impart only according to the portion of his word which he doth grant unto the children of men, according to the heed and diligence which they give unto him", you'll be given the greater portion of the word, until you'll know the mysteries of God "in full."

Wow! Did you read that?

Seek the mysteries! Be responsible with what you've received! Then keep seeking! The result? You'll eventually know them "in full"!

(And lest you believe that's a blessing that's reserved for the faithful in the afterlife, please note that neither Alma 12:9-11 nor D&C 93:1 say anything about such blessings being reserved until after we die.)

Knowing the mysteries of God "in full"..."see my face and know that I am"...

Two doctrines -- two truths -- that co-exist very nicely next to each other.

A Process Emerges

If we can come to "know the truth of all things" by the power of the Holy Ghost (Moroni 10:5), then isn't it natural to conclude that we can come to a first-hand knowledge of Jesus Christ the same way?

How did Christ obtain a fulness of truth? Was He just born with it? No.
"And he received not of the fulness at first, but continued from grace to grace, until he received a fulness; And thus he was called the Son of God, because he received not of the fulness at the first." (D&C 93:13-14).
If Jesus Christ is the way, then the processes He went through should be our way, too. If He went from grace to grace, then so should we.

And how is THIS done?

In my next post, we'll discuss the process of ascension, 
where we continually receive grace to grace until we receive the fulness.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

01. Are You Truly a Truth Seeker?

Note: This is one of a series of posts devoted to the study of D&C 93:1, and the first examining the phrase "keepeth my commandments".

In the last three posts, we've discussed the concept of a "Spiritual Joystick" which each of us has:
  • Move forward too much, and you're overzealous. 
  • To move backwards is, well, it's sin. 
  • Excessive movement to the left is to have an unhealthy preoccupation with your past, and 
  • To the right may mean that you have an unhealthy preoccupation with the future.
By maintaining a divine center in your life, you'll find yourself grounded in non-zealous, righteous, present-oriented truth -- right where God has told us we should be.  Stay divinely centered, and you'll find it easier to keep God's commandments -- D&C 93:1's last requirement to knowing God lives.  Do more or less than that, and you're in Satan's power.

The Key To Understanding D&C 93:1 -- Context!

It's interesting to me how many people read D&C 93:1, but never read the rest of the section.

So, I'm going to pause my blog post here so you can read it -- all of D&C 93. In fact, I'll make it easy for you -- here's the text link. And in case you're not in a reading mood, no problem! Here's the audio file.

D&C 93:1 gives us kind of a formula so we can see His face and know Him -- I mean REALLY know Him.

But the remaining 52 verses tell us more.

Below is a Wordle chart of D&C 93 in its entirety. What words stand out to you?

Painful Truths

Let's focus on the most frequently mentioned word (18 times) in D&C 93 -- "truth" ("fulness" = 15 times).

We learn in D&C 93:24-25 that
"truth is knowledge of things as they are, and as they were, and as they are to come; And whatsoever is more or less than this is the spirit of that wicked one who was a liar from the beginning."
Some time ago, I asked God about the truth of some things. I felt prompted to really seek for the answers. I did. Over time, the answers came and were confirmed and reconfirmed in truly divine ways.

Yet, in receiving those answers, in coming to a knowledge of the truth, paradigms were shattered. Relationships with others (who were entrenched in their belief of non-truths) crumbled. I found myself more alone than I was before I sought the truths. Yet one relationship actually strengthened and amplified -- my one with Jesus Christ.

I can remember several times when, in the stillness and silence of the night, I would cry as I reflected upon the pains I endured as I learned the truths of many things. Without fail, He has always -- always -- been there to listen to me, comfort me and love me.

Jesus Christ is love. When we seek the way, the truth, and the life (John 14:6), we are in essence seeking Him. And in the course of our journey, we not only discover greater truths, but also greater manifestations of His love for us. 

Is "embracing truth" synonymous with (or tantamount to) embracing Christ?

If so, then how badly do you want to embrace truth -- especially truths which may make you feel a little uncomfortable at first, or which may estrange you from others?