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Friday, December 23, 2016

Four Gifts From Father to You...And One Gift From You to Father

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This Christmas season, I'd like to highlight four gifts Father has already given you.

While most choose to minimize and walk away from them, I'd like to challenge you to take them seriously. Receive them. Use them. Often.

I have no doubt that as you cherish these gifts, our overly-generous Father will be more inclined to bless you with more.
"Watch therefore; for ye know neither the day nor the hour wherein the Son of Man cometh.
Now I will liken these things unto a parable.
For it is like as a man traveling into a far country, who called his own servants, and delivered unto them his goods.
And unto one he gave five talents, to another two, and to another one; to every man according to his several ability; and straightway went on his journey.
Then he that had received the five talents, went and traded with the same; and gained other five talents.
And likewise he who received two talents, he also gained other two.
But he who had received one, went and digged in the earth and hid his lord's money.
After a long time the lord of those servants cometh, and reckoneth with them.
And so he that had received the five talents came, and brought other five talents, saying, Lord, thou deliveredst unto me five talents; behold, I have gained besides them five talents more.
His lord said unto him, Well done, good and faithful servant; thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things; enter thou into the joy of thy lord.
He also that had received two talents came and said, Lord, thou deliveredst unto me two talents; behold, I have gained two talents besides them.
His lord said unto him, Will done, good and faithful servant; thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things; enter thou into the joy of thy lord.
Then he who had received the one talent came, and said, Lord, I knew thee that thou art a hard man, reaping where thou hast not sown, and gathering where thou hast not scattered.
And I was afraid, and went and hid thy talent in the earth; and lo, here is thy talent; take it from me as thou hast from thine other servants, for it is thine.
His lord answered and said unto him, O wicked and slothful servant, thou knewest that I reap where I sowed not, and gather where I have not scattered.
Having known this, therefore, thou oughtest to have put my money to the exchangers, and at my coming I should have received mine own with usury.
I will take, therefore, the talent from you, and give it unto him who hath ten talents.
For unto every one who hath obtained other talents, shall be given, and he shall have an abundance.
But from him that hath not obtained other talents, shall be taken away even that which he hath received.
And his lord shall say unto his servants, Cast ye the unprofitable servant into outer darkness; there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth." (JST Matthew 25:12-31

The Gift of Gratitude

As one friend said, "May we put things into perspective and be grateful for the simple 'gifts' in our life that we take for our spouse, our children, clean water, electricity, food, jobs, transportation...and yes (for some) For me, just being alive is an amazing gift."

The Gift of Faith: The Lectures on Faith 

In speaking about the Lectures on Faith, Elder Bruce R. McConkie said:
"In my judgment, it is the most comprehensive, intelligent, inspired utterance that now exists in the English language-that exists in one place defining, interpreting, expounding, announcing, and testifying what kind of being God is. It is written by the power of the Holy Ghost, by the spirit of inspiration. It is, in effect, eternal scripture; it is true. I will only read part of it, and even then, because of the deep content that is involved in the words, we cannot measure or fathom their full intent. We need to study and ponder and analyze the expressions that are made." (Elder Bruce R. McConkie, lecture at Brigham Young University, Jan. 4, 1972)

Regarding the Lectures' status as scripture, the entire church membership agreed with Joseph, sustaining the lectures as scripture on August 17, 1835. Per D&C 26:2 and 28:13,
"Voting on the book proceeded by quorums and groups, with the leader of each group bearing witness of the truth of the volume before his group voted to accept it. After the voting by quorums, the entire church membership present, both male and female, voted to accept the book as 'the doctrine and covenants of their faith.'" (Joseph Smith Papers, Revelations and Translations, Volume 2, p. 307;
Even though the Lectures on Faith are no longer included in our canon of scripture, the general church membership has never reversed its sustaining vote for them as scripture. They are still scriptural and scripture.

The History of the Lectures on Faith


The Gift of Knowledge: The Joseph Smith Translation (JST)

I believe one of the most underrated resources we have in learning of the Lord and His gospel is the Joseph Smith Translation of the Bible. With knowledge obtained from it, you can better avoid deception. Without it, you are likely to misunderstand the gospel. Three examples:
"Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works?
And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity." (Matthew 7:22-23)
Now, here's the JST version:
"And many will say unto me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name; and in thy name cast out devils; and in thy name done many wonderful works?
And then will I say, Ye never knew me; depart from me ye that work iniquity." (JST Matthew 7:32-33; also quoted by Elder David A. Bednar, “If Ye Had Known Me”, October 2016 General Conference)
Another example:
“And while they went to buy, the bridegroom came; and they that were ready went in with him to the marriage: and the door was shut.
Afterward came also the [five foolish] virgins, saying, Lord, Lord, open to us.
But he answered and said, Verily I say unto you, I know you not.” (Matthew 25:10–12)
And the JST...
"The implications of this parable for each of us are expanded by another inspired revision. Importantly, the phrase “I know you not,” as reported in the King James Version of the Bible, was clarified in the Joseph Smith Translation to 'Ye know me not.'" (Elder David A. Bednar, “If Ye Had Known Me”, October 2016 General Conference)
Finally, here's a JST insight into Melchizedek and Abram:
"And this Melchizedek, having thus established righteousness, was called the king of heaven by his people, or, in other words, the King of peace.
And he lifted up his voice, and he blessed Abram, being the high priest, and the keeper of the storehouse of God;
Him whom God had appointed to receive tithes for the poor.
Wherefore, Abram paid unto him tithes of all that he had, of all the riches which he possessed, which God had given him more than that which he had need." (JST Genesis 14:36-39)
And the King James Version:
[Doesn't exist]
These are just three of many deficiencies you'd never know about if you kept on reading the non-JST Bible.

The Gift of Preparedness: The Book of Isaiah

When Christ visited the Nephites, He said,
"And now, behold, I say unto you, that ye ought to search these things. Yea, a commandment I give unto you that ye search these things diligently; for great are the words of Isaiah.
For surely he spake as touching all things concerning my people which are of the house of Israel; therefore it must needs be that he must speak also to the Gentiles." (3 Nephi 23:1-2)
Please note:
  • These verses were spoken by the Lord immediately after prophesying events which are extremely likely to be imminent in our lifetimes (see 3 Nephi 21 and 22).
  • They were included in the Book of Mormon, for which we are still under condemnation for not taking seriously.
  • The Lord would have us not just search Isaiah's words, but search them diligently.
"Isaiah is the most quoted of all the prophets, being more frequently quoted by Jesus, Paul, Peter, and John (in his Revelation) than any other Old Testament prophet. Likewise the Book of Mormon and the Doctrine and Covenants quote from Isaiah more than from any other prophet." ("Isaiah", LDS Bible Dictionary,
Despite Isaiah's scriptural importance, I'm constantly astounded by many online who claim to be serious students of prophecy and the end times, or have a deep interest in it, yet have never taken the Lord, His words, the Book of Mormon nor the Book of Isaiah seriously. It is amazing to see the discussions and even outright predictions made by some when it's very obvious they haven't read this most-quoted prophet.

Please ask yourself:
  • If you aren't reading Isaiah, just how long do you plan to disregard the Lord's commandment to diligently search it?
  • What forms of entertainment rank higher in priority than diligently studying the Lord's words as He has directed (simple metric: # of hours spent surfing online/watching TV/movies/sports vs studying Isaiah)?
  • What other prophecy-related book authors have received more of your time than Isaiah?
  • Do you give in to Satan's statements that Isaiah's too hard to understand?
  • Have you taken advantage of the many resources (here's one) to diligently study Isaiah in an easy-to-understand format? 
"The reader today has no greater written commentary and guide to understanding Isaiah than the Book of Mormon and the Doctrine and Covenants. As one understands these works better he will understand Isaiah better, and as one understands Isaiah better, he more fully comprehends the mission of the Savior and the meaning of the covenant that was placed upon Abraham and his seed by which all the families of the earth would be blessed." ("Isaiah", LDS Bible Dictionary,
As mentioned above, there's a free resource to help you better understand Isaiah: Here's how I would navigate this website:

1. Start with the video vignettes. Each of the 7 vignettes (listed on the right-hand side of the page) are less than 20 minutes long. Watch those 7 videos, and I'd seriously bet you know more about Isaiah than the average Christian, and are ready for a little more depth.

2. Read the Isaiah Resources. Also on the right-hand side, you'll become more familiar with the "Key Features of the Prophecy of Isaiah", "Isaiah's Layered Literary Structures", "Isaiah's Seven Spiritual Levels of Humanity", "Isaiah's Ancient Types of End-Time Events", "Overviews of the Prophecy of Isaiah" and "Glossary of Terms Relating to Isaiah".

3. Diligently search the Book of Isaiah. At the top of the page, horizontally, you'll see four links:
  • Isaiah Institute Translation
  • Comparative (King James Version vs Isaiah Institute) Translation
  • Apocalyptic Commentary (of every verse, in every chapter, of Isaiah)
  • Interactive Concordance (of nearly every word in Isaiah).
4. Need audio? No problem! Go here, scroll to the bottom of the page and grab either the online or 2-Disc mp3s of the "Analytical Commentary of the Book of Isaiah", which is an in-depth examination of every verse of Isaiah. I can testify that they're far more interesting, informative and enlightening than what's on your radio today.

Use each of those resources to better understand what Isaiah is saying -- especially those portions which are directly affecting us right now, yet almost all (especially latter-day saints) are unaware of them.

The Gift You Can Give to Father

Have you ever wanted to give Heavenly Father a present?

You can.

It's one thing to behold God's glory in the spirit world.

But it's something quite different when you're living in such darkness and difficulty, and you express your adoration for Him...pray and sing with real intent to Him...and show love to others.

Nothing -- absolutely nothing -- brings more joy to Father and Christ's hearts than when you truly worship Father, despite living in a dark, dreary, depressing, difficult, violent, immoral, embattled, struggling world.

When you worship without seeing His glory, in the midst of your trials, you worship in Spirit and in Truth. The Father seeks such to be His worshippers.

Worship the Father -- not for what you will get, but to bring Him joy. You will never be stronger than when you bring Him joy, "for the joy of the Lord is your strength." (Nehemiah 8:10)

Genuine adoration, expressed by even the most humble believer on earth, makes all of heaven rejoice. But even more than that, it actually touches Father.

It will touch Him more than you can comprehend.

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Lectures on Faith 4, Part 3: The Proto-Zions Among Us...Where We Least Expect Them

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So, admittedly, my last post was pretty sobering.

It's not easy to learn, and know, that Zion doesn't begin in a continent, or a country, or even an organization. You just can't pawn it off onto someone else and say it's their job. Instead, it begins IN you decide to look past yourself and towards others, develop a desire to help bring them unto Jesus Christ, obtain His word, power and authority to further your efforts, await your tongue to be loosed and teach, preach, expound and exhort all to come to Christ.

Fortunately, Christ balances all things. Just as His light instantly dispels darkness, He provides hope to what we'd rationally consider hopeless cases.

In fact, I'll go so far as to say that amidst all the darkness and despair, chaos and contention we see all around us, He is quietly, and very subtly, creating what I call "Proto-Zions".

That's right -- the very small, almost imperceptible, stirrings of Zion.

And it's happening in ways and places you'd never expect.

Because that's precisely how He rolls.

Keep reading.

Foundation #1: Good fruits follow the true believers of Jesus Christ

"Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them." (Matthew 7:20
"Ye shall know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles? Even so every good tree bringeth forth good fruit; but a corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit. A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit." (Matthew 7:16-18
"For every tree is known by his own fruit. For of thorns men do not gather figs, nor of a bramble bush gather they grapes." (Luke 6:44)
Christ was very specific about how one produces good fruit for the Kingdom of God:
"Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, except it abide in the vine; no more can ye, except ye abide in me. I am the vine, ye are the branches: He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without me ye can do nothing." (John 15:4-5; emphasis mine)
And just how do you abide in Christ?
"Jesus answered and said unto him, If a man love me, he will keep my words: and my Father will love him, and we will come unto him, and make our abode with him." (John 14:23
"But that on the good ground are they, which in an honest and good heart, having heard the word, keep it, and bring forth fruit with patience." (Luke 8:15
"If ye keep my commandments, ye shall abide in my love; even as I have kept my Father's commandments, and abide in his love." (John 15:10)
So the forumla is simple enough for a first grader to understand: The honest and good-hearted will love Christ and naturally want to "keep" (obey) His words. When you do this, the Father (1) will love you, (2) will come to you [with Christ] and (3) they will make their abode with you (for more on this concept, please click here).

You, not God, control the amount of fruit you produce:
"But other fell into good ground, and brought forth fruit, some an hundredfold, some sixtyfold, some thirtyfold." (Matthew 13:8)
Are you focused on the cares, riches and pleasures of this life? Then you're not bringing forth good fruit:
"And that which fell among thorns are they, which, when they have heard, go forth, and are choked with cares and riches and pleasures of this life, and bring no fruit to perfection." (Luke 8:14)
Those who don't bring forth good fruit are destroyed:
"Every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire." (Matthew 7:19
"And now also the axe is laid unto the root of the trees: therefore every tree which bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire." (Matthew 3:10)
Some people profess that God has blessed them with profound fruits, including and especially spiritual gifts. Yet over time, many end up manifesting fake fruits...or no fruits at all.

For example: Those who claim to have the gift of prophecy. They often foretell immminent doom and destruction on certain days. Yet invariably, we see those special days come and go without even a whisper of problems. Others claim the gift of prophecy, but never really seem to prophesy at all.

My question is, how can one claim to have a divinely-bestowed gift when they manifest fraudulent fruits, or no fruits at all?
"When a prophet speaketh in the name of the Lord, if the thing follow not, nor come to pass, that is the thing which the Lord hath not spoken, but the prophet hath spoken it presumptuously: thou shalt not be afraid of him." (Deuteronomy 18:22)
Where will we find true prophets? Brother Joseph had an interesting answer:
"The world always mistook false prophets for true ones, and those that were sent of God, they considered to be false prophets, and hence they killed, stoned, punished and imprisoned the true prophets, and these had to hide themselves ‘in deserts and dens, and caves of the earth,’ and though the most honorable men of the earth, they banished them from their society as vagabonds, whilst they cherished, honored and supported knaves, vagabonds, hypocrites, impostors, and the basest of men” (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 206).
Interesting indeed.

Foundation #2: The Predicable Unpredictability of Jesus Christ

This notice appeared in the window of a coat store in Nottingham, England:

"We have been established for over 100 years and have been pleasing and displeasing customers ever since. We have made money and lost money, suffered the effects of coal nationalization, coat rationing, government control, and bad payers. We have been cussed and discussed, messed about, lied to, held up, robbed, and swindled. The only reason we stay in business is to see what happens next."

Sometimes I wonder if this summarizes why so many people used to throng and surround Jesus. They quite likely wanted to see what He'd do next. After all, Christ's mortal ministry was filled with head-turners, double takes, unexpected and unanticipated tangents.

For example: Let's imagine you were a member of the early Christian church, and it's been a few months after the Lord's resurrection. How would you have responded to the news that Saul of Tarsus had personally encountered the resurrected Lord outside Damascus? (Acts 9:3)

Back then, I'm sure it wasn't unusual to hear that some fisherman was out in the middle of the sea, and nearly drowned during a freak storm. But a ha! The fact that he was rescued by a man standing on top of the water! OK, that would have been news. (see Matthew 14:28-31)

Or a story that some guy fed people with a few fishes and loaves of bread? No biggie. But feeding "about five thousand men, beside women and children" (Matthew 14:21) with that number of loaves and fishes? That'

Arriving late to a funeral? Yep, it happens even today. But arriving late **and then** raising the deceased from the dead? Three days after he died? Unbelievable!

I believe some of the finest moments in Jesus' mortal life were when He performed miracles which were not only awe-inspiring, but were also totally, undeniably, 100% unexpected.

Do you think the Lord changes? Do you honestly think He would abandon His very consistent pattern of doing the unexpected to further Father's work? I don't.

Foundation #3: Jesus, Friend of Sinners

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)
At almost every turn, Jesus went against the norm and did things that weren't politically correct. What mattered to Him? Walking in the will of Father, going where Father wanted Him to go, saying what Father wanted Him to say.

Time after time, we read how He hung out with the blind, the lame, the leper, the prostitute, the Samaritan, the tax collector, the poor, the sick, the outcast. He sought out, and spent sacred time with, those in pain.

You don’t often see Jesus walking up to sinners and immediately start chewing them out because of their sins. Instead, you see Him start a conversation. In John 4, when He 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?" He simply asked, “Will you give me a drink?" He opened a dialogue with her. He did go on to talk about her situation, but He spoke with her in truth, sensitivity and love.

I believe Christ spent His precious time with these societal outcasts so He, personally, could give these people what they (of all people) needed most: Love. Validation as children of their Father. Souls whose value is inestimable. As I stated above, I doubt Jesus' personality has changed or hardened in 2,000 years. He still seeks those who need His love most. as He once said to a dear friend,

"I Rescue Those Whom I Love"

If Jesus were to walk among us today, I don't think you'd find Him in the boardrooms, the high-rise executive suites nor the swanky, million-dollar mansions. You'd find Him in the fringes of society: on skid row, in the womens' and childrens' shelters, in hospitals and even more down-and-out places -- the places which need healing and light. He wouldn't go there to sin or encourage sinfulness; instead, He'd likely interact with people we wouldn't even look at, let alone speak with. He'd start conversations. He'd approach the people with love which was so personalized, genuine and divine, that people would really be conversationally disarmed.

If Jesus were to walk amongst us today, who would you find Him hanging out with? Would He make meetings with Pharisees, Scribes and Sadducees a top priority? Or would you find Him with sinners? Prostitutes? Convicts? Drug addicts? Alcoholics? The abused? The lonely? The unclean? Destitute? Neglected? Depressed? In other words, the undesirables -- the very ones who need love the most.

But here's a really interesting question:

Knowing what you do about the Savior -- that He loves to perform miracles in totally unexpected ways, and that prioritizes places and people who needed His love and healing the most -- would you be surprised to hear that He's still doing so?

Believe it or not, He is.


The Miracle of Ciudad Juárez, Mexico

Ciudad Juárez, Mexico.

It's the seat of the municipality of Juárez, and home to an estimated population of 1.5 million people.

Not too long ago, it was not only considered Mexico's most dangerous city, it was ranked as the top -- #1 -- most violent city in the world. It was rightfully called, "The City of Death."

  • In 2010, Ciudad Juarez suffered 3,057 violent deaths. Last year there were 312 murders.
  • Once, there were eight kidnappings a day. Now, it's gone over two years without a single abduction.
  • Extortion is down 90%.
  • The 7,500 Mexican soldiers who were once deployed there to reinforce the police have returned to their barracks.
  • Strip clubs are now peaceful, wholesome teen hangouts.
  • An illicit drug distribution house is now instead packed with boxes of Bibles, and constantly being refreshed with more boxes because the Bibles are being distributed citywide.
  • A seedy hotel was transformed into a senior living center.
Why? What in the world happened here?

People voluntarily decided to demonstrate their Christianity outside the four walls of their churches. At first, a few prayed diligently over their neighborhoods. They begged God to unleash His mercy, His power, and asked that they could become agents of change and transformation.

It started with the local churches, as Christians relentlessly took God's transformative powers to the very gates of hell. This proved to be the leaven within the dough. Like leaven, the dough needs time to rise. It was no different in Ciudad Juárez:
  • At first, the changes were minor; for example, they turned their church pews around so instead of seeing the backs of peoples' heads, congregations faced each other at tables, talked, laughed, cried, prayed and strengthened each other.
  • As church attendance skyrocketed, the churches donated ALL -- 100% -- of their tithes to the poor in their communities. The elimination of systemic poverty became a top priority. Food went to the most needy, and jobs to the less fortunate.
  • Pastors and congregants looked for opportunities to worship God on the other six days a week (besides Sunday). They did this outside of their churches, as they were passionately interested and invested in human affairs all the time. Consequently, as they demonstrated truly Christlike characteristics, and asked God to exert His presence and bring His power to bear, first in their immediate spheres of influence, their neighborhoods and eventually their city.
As these neighborhoods enjoyed success after success, and saw life after life changed, others did the same, until the whole city had been reclaimed from the darkest of evils. Today, the economy in Ciudad Juárez is booming and thriving. Educational attainment is at an all-time high, and crime is at its lowest levels in modern history.

Even city leaders -- the Mayor and City Councilmen -- embraced the religiously-catalyzed transformation. People strengthened and prayed over each other, helping others recognize the true potential in using their circumstances and gifts to solidify God's kingdom and improve lives.

The community, from the top to the bottom, literally placed God at the center of their city, then re-took the city from the inside out. It's no wonder city residents consistently talk about "the light breaking forth" in Ciudad Juárez.

And at all times, people are giving thanks to God for the miraculous, citywide transformation they got to witness (and be part of) first-hand.

It All Started With a Taxi Driver

Joe was a Jeepney (taxi) driver in the Philippines. Strongly desiring to serve God, Joe felt prompted to serve right where he was. Because opportunities to help convert people to Christ are kind of difficult during a 10-minute taxi drive, he was drawn to serve in a bar called "Sweet Moments".

There, Joe used Luke 10 as his guide. He made peace with the lost, fellowshipped the owner and staff, took care of them and even announced the Kingdom of God had come to them.

Everyday, Joe would go to the bar, order a soft drink and pray peace over the bar, the employees and customers. After a few days, he befriended Brian -- the bar's manager, as well as a drug dealer, gambler, drug user and pimp to about 35 prostitutes. Even Brian admits that he was a certified, full-strength sinner.

The friendship grew. After just a few days, Joe led Brian to the Lord and baptized Brian in a nearby beach. As Brian emerged from the water, he experienced an instant transformation. He felt delivered from all his vices, and stopped being a pimp and drug dealer, which was his source of income.

But that's not all.

Brian's transformation became evident to those around him. In a short time, all 35 prostitutes also became Christians. The bar's owner, Teddy, joined the bar's study group and was also converted. Soon, the bar itself was converted into a church.

In less than a year, Joe -- the pastor of the bar-turned-church -- established 12 cell groups in the area. (Joe Silvoso, "Anointed for Business, p. 314-315).

The Once and Future Pattern of Geographic Transformation

2,000 years ago, Jesus told His disciples not to wait for nations to come to them, but for them to go to the nations. He specifically instructed them to:
  • Begin by discipling a city (Jerusalem). Incidentally, Acts 5:28 tells us that Jerusalem was "filled" with Christianity within a few weeks or months of the church's formation.
  • And then to a region (Judea). This was to provide them with some experience in establishing regional discipleship. Afterwards, they were to
  • Go on and tackle the first nation (Samaria).
  • After that, they were not to stop until they had reached the ends of the earth —- all nations (Acts 1:8). We understand that within two years' time, Christianity had spread to Asia (Acts 19:10).

Then, and now, these conversions aren't happening because someone started off casually talking about Christ. Instead, the power of God is unleashed first! God is given His opportunity to work miracles, often in ways our mortal minds hadn't considered. Then, over time, the miracles do occur. And when people see how awesome it is, just how loving, how kind, how redemptive the Lord is, they not only see it, but they also experience it. It's not long thereafter that they want to be part of it.

Some may question the validity of these contemporary examples -- for example, by saying, "But this was done by other churches, and not the LDS Church. So, hmmmm, I have my doubts."

As I've mentioned before, we LDS love our doctrinal boxes.

Have you already forgotten that good fruits follow the true believers of Jesus Christ? Are not the results in these examples good fruits? Haven't we already learned that "A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit" (3 Nephi 14:18)? Haven't we read that God often brings about His ends through unpredictable means? And aren't we told that Christ enthusiastically ministers among the outcasts and sinners, so He could help them enjoy spiritual transformation?
"For behold, a bitter fountain cannot bring forth good water; neither can a good fountain bring forth bitter water; wherefore, a man being a servant of the devil cannot follow Christ; and if he follow Christ he cannot be a servant of the devil." (Moroni 7:11)
"And if Satan cast out Satan, he is divided against himself; how shall then his kingdom stand? 
But if I cast out devils by the Spirit of God, then the kingdom of God is come unto you." (Matthew 12:26, 28).
The Future

Yet in the not-too-distant future, a similar effort will commence. It, too, will start small, being undertaken by mortals who will be directly ordained not by men, but angels:
"Q. What are we to understand by sealing the one hundred and forty-four thousand, out of all the tribes of Israel-twelve thousand out of every tribe?
A. We are to understand that those who are sealed are high priests, ordained unto the holy order of God, to administer the everlasting gospel; for they are they who are ordained out of every nation, kindred, tongue, and people, by the angels to whom is given power over the nations of the earth, to bring as many as will come to the church of the Firstborn." (D&C 77:11)
Unlike previous missionary efforts, though, these servants won't just preach the everlasting gospel; they'll administer it. In my opinion, [1] I don't think the word "administer" means they'll be filling out a lot of forms and going to a lot of meetings in conference rooms. [2] John Taylor's quote may be appropriate:
"And then when the time comes that these calmities we read of shall overtake the earth, those that are prepared will have the power of translation, as they had in former times, and the city will be translated."(John Taylor, Journal of Discourses, 21:253)
Still, in all three examples, the transformative work of God [1] begins small, via [2] tremendously dedicated disciples, [3] grows gradually and [4] achieves results beyond the expectations of many.
"For the earth shall be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea." (Habakkuk 2:14)

So, How Does This Apply to You?

If God can transform the "City of Death" into a city of disciples...if He can transform a bar owned by a drug-dealing pimp into a church wherein many die-hard sinners have converted to Christ...if He can transform a whole world from a telestial to a terrestrial state...

Then He can definitely transform whatever dark circumstances you're in into one of light.

You read about the results from 2,000 years ago, and the results he's bringing about literally at the gates of hell.

He can, and will, transform your life, too -- even if you're a drug dealing, gambling, pimp of 35 whores. I doubt you're in that ballpark.

You can start by renouncing evil and inviting Him into your life. Here's one example:
"Jesus, I’ve mishandled my brokenness. Jesus, I ask your Holy Spirit to help me now remember, confess, and renounce my sins."
Pause. Listen. Remember. Confess and renounce.
"Lord Jesus, I ask your forgiveness for sin. You promised that if we confess our sins, you are faithful and just to forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness (1 John 1:9)." 
"Forgive me for my pride, all my self-protection and self-redemption, and for all my false comforters. Cleanse my heart of every sin by your shed blood. I now break every agreement I have made with Satan and his lies. [Get specific here. What have you believed, bought into?] I renounce any claim I have given to my enemy, and in the name of Jesus, I command him to flee."
Then ask Jesus to do for you the very thing He said He came to do: to heal your brokenness.
"I invite Your light, Your love, Your healing. I will listen to whatever words you give me, and follow where You lead me. Please, Jesus, set me free and make me whole again."
Beg Him to transform your life to such an extent, that you -- and others -- will praise Father's name for exceeding your wildest expectations:
"Now unto him that is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that worketh in us" (Ephesians 3:20)
Then be patient (after all, bread doesn't rise in the blink of an eye). Listen for His voice, which is kind and gracious and loving and generous and enthusiastic and edifying and joyful. And most of all, it's peaceful. It'll be the voice that edifies you, the voice that makes you feel secure, the voice when -- even when you aren't doing well with God -- He's always doing well with you. It's the voice that will declare that He loves you beyond words, and will show and demonstrate that. It's the voice that's restful, that's joyful and maybe even has some humor attached to it (because God is wonderfully humorous).

Know that He'll likely show you places or behaviors to avoid and boxes to break out of.
"The mystery power and glory of the priesthood is so great and glorious that the angels desired to understand it and cannot: why, because of the tradition of them and their fathers in setting up stakes and not coming up to the mark in their probationary state." (Joseph Smith, 27 August 1843, Words of Joseph Smith, p. 244, Willard Richards Diary)
But transform you will...often in ways you hadn't anticipated, but definitely to an extent you'd never considered. Once that occurs, then
"Therefore let your light so shine before this people, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father who is in heaven." (3 Nephi 12:16)
It's at that moment, then and there, that you'll be doing what others are the unlikeliest of ways and in the most unexpected places:

Building a micro, proto-Zion.

Your Holiday Helping Hand

In a post published a few months ago, I mentioned a couple (husband and wife) that was in dire need of financial assistance.

The response to this post was overwhelmingly positive -- a fact for which I, and this couple, are profoundly grateful.

They still are in need of help with apartment rent, utilities and dental bills. Both are in their 60s and, because of their deteriorated medical conditions, neither can work. Government assistance for them is very (pitifully) small.

So I ask you to search within yourself and ask for you to ask the Spirit if you should help this family out. If so, then send me a message via my contact page (here), and I'll get back with you on how to help out.
"And also, ye yourselves will succor those that stand in need of your succor; ye will administer of your substance unto him that standeth in need; and ye will not suffer that the beggar putteth up his petition to you in vain, and turn him out to perish. 
And now, for the sake of these things which I have spoken unto you—that is, for the sake of retaining a remission of your sins from day to day, that ye may walk guiltless before God—I would that ye should impart of your substance to the poor, every man according to that which he hath, such as feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, visiting the sick and administering to their relief, both spiritually and temporally, according to their wants." (Mosiah 4:16-26)
Thanks. God bless you. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

Sunday, November 20, 2016

MAJOR ANNOUNCEMENT and Lectures on Faith 4, Part 2: Why you may not be going to Zion

Access Podcast

New: The LDS Perfect Day Podcast

Effective Nov. 20, 2016, I am recording and posting podcasts of my blog posts. Hopefully over time, I'll have the chance to convert many of my most recent (and favorite) blog posts into downloadable mp3s as well. We'll see.

For starters, please check out the new "Podcasts" page (by clicking here or clicking the "Podcasts" tab on the LDS Perfect Day's menu). It has all the instructions you need to listen to a podcast online, or to download it to your phone/tablet/computer.

All new posts will be simultaneously produced as podcasts. They'll be listed on the Podcasts page and have an "Access Podcast" link under the post's title.

It's my hope that you'll always place paramount importance on listening to the Lord's voice. But when you get a hankering to listen to something perhaps a little more uplifting than the news/talk radio, please give these podcasts a try and let me know what you think (you can contact me here)!

Happy Thanksgiving, Happy Hanukkah
and Merry Christmas from LDS Perfect Day

Why You May Not Be Going To Zion

We have become a people who won't admit it, but we do, in fact, elevate and exalt mortal leaders and teachers (be they LDS church members or not) to practical infallibility. We are silent if and when said leaders/teachers don't refute, and allow these beliefs in infallibility to become behaviors so the adoration, the praise, the deference and perhaps even the cash flow perpetuates unabated. Boy, do we love our rock stars.

We habitually justify mixing Babylon and Zion. We believe God smiles kindly on making a profit, while millions (even billions) live in abject poverty. We have become too engrossed in that which is temporal and fleeting. We prioritize sports above the scriptures and gold higher than gifts of the spirit. We proudly post Facebook pictures of our cruises and Diamond status in whatever organization while showing off our nice wardrobes, our gaudy homes, brand new cars and trucks. Yep, we are cool, successful saints! And as for that beggar in front of Walmart or other organizations (like the womens and childrens shelter)? "They probably deserve it. Somebody else will help them" (once heard in a Priesthood meeting lesson; it went unrefuted by past bishops/church leaders).

When we want something, we treat God as if He is a cosmic vending machine. We bargain with Him, saying, "If I do A, then can I get B? Please???? It's for ME, and I'VE been (or promise to be) so good!!!"

We exhibit blank stares when asked to explain the Isaiah passages in the Book of Mormon. Not only has the condemnation (regarding our taking the Book of Mormon lightly) remained, but we have likely added more condemnation upon ourselves as we take the priesthood lightly, our family responsibilities lightly, our work ethics lightly and even our covenants with the Lord lightly...often believing God's OK with it.

We steadfastly cling to our prideful interpretations of scripture (aka "doctrinal boxes"). Not only are we more than willing to destroy relationships in defense of our boxes, but we also say God has justified the destruction of said relationships. We are experts at mixing pride and arrogance with ignorance and feigned humility.

We prioritize, as high as possible, OUR Baptism of Fire, OUR spiritual gifts, OUR parted veil, OUR visions, OUR dreams, OUR conversations with angels, OUR Second Comforter and OUR Calling and Election. While these things are critically important, it's our prioritization of them -- our love affair with individualism -- which becomes the very reason why those blessings are often withheld from us.

We wonder, "When the crap starts hitting the fan, where will I go? What about MY tents and MY food/clean water supply? What about MY kids and MY loved ones?" We have become the poster children for the "I / MEMY" generation, and are baffled why successive generations which are even moreso.

And we've been this way for a very, very long time.


We honestly and sincerely believe that "When the crap starts hitting the fan", the Lord will pull it through for us, no matter what happens. Why? Because we've been baptized. We take the Sacrament. We go to church. We have the priesthood. And because we've checked off all the important stuff, by dangit, we're entitled to someday be part of a terrestrial society in which all are of one heart and one mind, dwell in righteousness, and have no poor among them (Moses 7:18).

So here's the truth:

If you think you can become eligible for Zion by focusing
on just little 'ol you, and your idols, think again.
"All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the Lord hath laid on him the iniquity of us all." (Isaiah 53:6; emphasis mine) 
"O house of Jacob, come ye and let us walk in the light of the Lord; yea, come, for ye have all gone astray, every one to his wicked ways." (2 Nephi 12:5; emphasis mine) 
"They seek not the Lord to establish his righteousness, but every man walketh in his own way, and after the image of his own god, whose image is in the likeness of the world, and whose substance is that of an idol, which waxeth old and shall perish in Babylon, even Babylon the great, which shall fall." (D&C 1:16; emphasis mine) 
"None is righteous, no, not one" (Romans 3:10; emphasis mine) 
"For there is not a just man upon earth, that doeth good, and sinneth not." (Ecclesiastes 7:20; emphasis mine) 
"They have all turned aside; together they have become corrupt; there is none who does good, not even one." (Psalms 14:3; emphasis mine) 
"We have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment. We all fade like a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away." (Isaiah 64:6; emphasis mine) 
"for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God" (Romans 3:23; emphasis mine) 
"And my vineyard has become corrupted every whit; and there is none which doeth good save it be a few; and they err in many instances because of priestcrafts, all having corrupt minds." (D&C 33:4; emphasis mine) 
"For all flesh is corrupted before me; and the powers of darkness prevail upon the earth, among the children of men, in the presence of all the hosts of heaven—" (D&C 38:11; emphasis mine)
If we find ourselves distanced from the love of God, He is not the one that has moved.

Orient Yourself To Zion

Despite these scripturally-substantiated facts, I refuse to believe Christ would have us remain in this state. I wish all of us could realize, first-hand, just how forgiving, just how eager He is for us to move onward and upward from the telestial to the terrestrial. I don't think we'll get there by trusting in the arm of flesh; He's condemned such justifications way too many times (see here and here). Instead, He wants us to turn to Him (see here).

1. Reorient yourself by losing yourself.

Did you ever see the movie "The Blind Side"? If you haven't, do it. Tonight.

It stars Sandra Bullock playing the real-life Leigh Anne Tuohy. Leigh Anne met, then adopted, a 6'4", 309 lb high school boy who ended up being picked up as a first-round 2009 draft choice of the Baltimore Ravens. Michael Oher helped Baltimore win the Super Bowl in 2013 as its starting left tackle.

Now, when you watch the movie, I want you to pay close attention to Leigh Anne Tuohy from the first minute she meets "Big Mike" until the end of the movie. Not once do you see her thinking of herself. The entire time, she was focused on Michael. At one point in the movie, a friend of her's said, "You're changing his life, Leigh Anne", to which she replied, "No, he's changing me."

Leigh Anne Tuohy was (and still is) a tremendously successful person. In terms of the world, she's fully justified to point all her arrows to herself and say, "Look at how successful Sean (her husband) and I are! Look at how pretty I am! Look at how cool my kids are!" Nope. She got all those arrows and instead turned them to not only help another, but to also enlist others in helping another.

So, how about you? Where are all those metaphorical arrows (that are just outside your body) pointing? Are they all pointing inwards because, after all, it IS all about you, and what you need or want? Or are they all pointing outwards, and seeking to help uplift another soul?

It's fascinating that when you focus on others, you end up being benefitted in ways you could scarcely imagine. In my opinion, this is why the Lord says,
"He that findeth his life shall lose it: and he that loseth his life for my sake shall find it" (Matthew 10:39; see also Matthew 10:32–41; 16:24–28; Mark 8:34–38; Luke 9:23–26; 17:33).
And so it is with you: You can just keep plodding through life, focusing on your past, present and future self...or you can focus on others. It truly is a fact that when you have another's back, the Lord has yours.

The path back to God (the "means") begins with "end" in mind. Optimally, our "end" is God's, which is to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man (Moses 1:39). Logically, that should be your end, too. But I don't think God's work and glory is to save just one person. It's to save all of us.

So, if you want to qualify for Zion, then it's high time you show God that you deserve to live with those having one heart and one mind, dwelling in righteousness and no poor among them. (Moses 7:18)

You must quit focusing on yourself and start focusing on others.

Although this isn't scripture, this quote rings true to me:
"An individual has not started living until he can rise above the narrow confines of his individualistic concerns to the broader concerns of all humanity." (Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.)
Joseph Smith echoed Dr. King's sentiments:
"The nearer we get to our Heavenly Father, the more we are disposed to look with compassion on perishing souls; we feel that we want to take them upon our shoulders, and cast their sins behind our backs. … If you would have God have mercy on you, have mercy on one another." (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, sel. Joseph Fielding Smith, Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1977, p. 241).
This responsibility to lose yourself, your obligation to humankind, is an absolute. True, focusing on others isn't an easy choice. It means being willing to sacrifice individual wants. Sacrifices are almost always necessary for the larger good. Many of us resist this path.

But here's the payoff: As you do so, you'll see others as God sees them. As you seek to lift their burdens, Christ will lift yours.
"Blessed is he that considereth the poor: the Lord will deliver him in time of trouble.
The Lord will preserve him, and keep him alive; and he shall be blessed upon the earth: and thou wilt not deliver him unto the will of his enemies.
The Lord will strengthen him upon the bed of languishing: thou wilt make all his bed in his sickness." (Psalms 41:1-3)
Life takes on a whole new meaning as you spend it caring about others more than yourself. You become an active, enthusiastic partner with Christ in helping to build our Father's kingdom:
"And they went forth, and preached every where, the Lord working with them, and confirming the word with signs following. Amen." (Mark 16:20)
Dr. King again:
"The surest way to be happy is to seek happiness for others."
How do we apply this counsel? Here's what the Lord told Lyman Sherman in D&C 108:7:
"Therefore, strengthen your brethren in all your conversation, in all your prayers, in all your exhortations and in all your doings." (D&C 108:7)
The word "all" appears four times in that verse. It doesn’t leave much room for exceptions.

2. And be careful how you point those arrows towards others.

We love to say, "I know the Book of Mormon is true!" Yet in many cases, we fail to be
"...humble, and be submissive and gentle; easy to be entreated; full of patience and long-suffering; being temperate in all things; being diligent in keeping the commandments of God at all times; asking for whatsoever things ye stand in need, both spiritual and temporal; always returning thanks unto God for whatsoever things ye do receive." (Alma 7:23)
So, in our zeal to promote truth, we publicly "correct" those who aren't doing what we believe is correct. Instead of loving and healing and helping to save one another, we often spiritually (and often publicly) attack or mortally wound one another. And then have the gall to think/believe/say Jesus is just fine and dandy with our behavior.

How often do you hope for celestial ends by using telestal means? Online? At work? At church? In your family? With your spouse?

It amazes me how many people who focus on the future -- say, economic collapses, call-outs, earthquakes, floods, tent cities, mobs, invasions, plagues, pestilences and wars -- yet tend to neglect focusing on developing their "Zion muscles". We mortals are proficient at omitting "the weightier matters of the law, judgment, mercy, and faith" (Matthew 23:23)

So...what's your focus? If you aren't prioritizing, above all else, the development of Zionlike behaviors now (when things are relatively peaceful), what makes you think that -- bing! -- you'll suddenly have them when the heat is on?
"When we truly understand what it means to love as Jesus Christ loves us, the confusion clears and our priorities align. Our walk as disciples of Christ becomes more joyful. Our lives take on new meaning. Our relationship with our Heavenly Father becomes more profound. Obedience becomes a joy rather than a burden." (Pres. Dieter F. Uchtdorf, "The Love of God", October 2009 General Conference).
"And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge; and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not charity, I am nothing." (1 Corinthians 13:2)
"And if you have not faith, hope, and charity, you can do nothing." (D&C 18:19)
“to mourn with those who mourn, and comfort those who stand in need of comfort” (Mosiah 18:9)
Ironically, sometimes, we do our level best to express sympathy to others who are having a rough time. While sympathy is nice, empathy is better. This can be very hard, especially when it may be impossible to understand someone else’s struggles. It's OK to say, "I have no idea how that feels. I am so sorry."

3. Understand what would be the greatest worth to you right now.

Now, don't get me wrong -- having an awareness of the future is important, so we're not caught unaware and considered a foolish virgin.

But in terms of priorities, nothing -- absolutely nothing -- exceeds the worth of a human soul. Or, to be more specific, being part of God's work in helping to bring His children back to Him.
"Remember the worth of souls is great in the sight of God;
And how great is his joy in the soul that repenteth!
Wherefore, you are called to cry repentance unto this people.
And if it so be that you should labor all your days in crying repentance unto this people, and bring, save it be one soul unto me, how great shall be your joy with him in the kingdom of my Father!
And now, if your joy will be great with one soul that you have brought unto me into the kingdom of my Father, how great will be your joy if you should bring many souls unto me!" (D&C 18:10, 13-16)
So, I guess the question you need to definitively answer is, what are you doing to help bring souls unto Jesus Christ? Start with yourself. Your spouse (if you're married). Your family. Those you associate with. And, perhaps, those you don't even know. Could you be doing more? How? (Hint: That's an awesome question to ask Father -- the kind He loves to answer; see D&C 4)

When you get your definitive answer, and you're doing it, you're employed by God. You're no longer a believer. You're no longer a follower. You're no longer a disciple. In fact, you're even beyond just being a friend of Christ; instead, you're a partner with Him (Mark 16:20; also see here) in helping to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man (Moses 1:39).

4. Once you have the proper orientation, seek to obtain the word, power and authority of God to further your efforts.

"Now these sons of Mosiah were with Alma at the time the angel first appeared unto him; therefore Alma did rejoice exceedingly to see his brethren; and what added more to his joy, they were still his brethren in the Lord; yea, and they had waxed strong in the knowledge of the truth; for they were men of a sound understanding and they had searched the scriptures diligently, that they might know the word of God.
But this isn't all; they had given themselves to much prayer:" (Alma 17:2)
"Wherefore, my beloved brethren, pray unto the Father with all the energy of heart, that ye may be filled with this love, which he hath bestowed upon all who are true followers of his Son, Jesus Christ; that ye may become the sons of God; that when he shall appear we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is; that we may have this hope; that we may be purified even as he is pure. Amen." (Moroni 7:48)
They also gave themselves to much fasting.
"Therefore, they had the spirit of prophecy, and the spirit of revelation, and when they taught, they taught with power and authority of God.
And they had been teaching the word of God for the space of fourteen years among the Lamanites, having had much success in bringing many to the knowledge of the truth; yea, by the power of their words many were brought before the altar of God, to call on his name and confess their sins before him." (Alma 17:2-4)
I find this passage pretty fascinating. Note what the sons of Mosiah did. They didn't search internet forums or websites for the truth. They didn't turn to another flawed, imperfect mortal. They went to where? The scriptures! Also note they didn't just read the scriptures. They didn't just study them. They studied them diligently. And after all that, even then, it doesn't say that they knew the word of God. For that, they added prayer (and I'll bet you anything these just weren't ordinary, everyday prayers; they had heart and passion in them, too) and fasted. In other words,

They studied.
They sought.
They sacrificed.

And for that, they were blessed with "the spirit of prophecy" and "the spirit of revelation." "And when they taught, they taught with power and authority of God."

5. Then your tongue will be loosed.

Sometimes we start off with the best of intentions. We tend to declare God's word **before** we actually obtain it. We need to reverse that process:

"Seek not to declare my word, but first seek to obtain my word, and then shall your tongue be loosed; then, if you desire, you shall have my Spirit and my word, yea, the power of God unto the convincing of men." (D&C 11:21)

Again, the Lord says we shouldn't turn to the words of others. We should first seek to obtain HIS word. The sons of Mosiah got an A+ in this task. How about you?

6. Then you're ready to teach, preach, expound and exhort all to come to Christ.

At this point, when you're able to obtain God's word, you're clinging to the word of God, aka "the iron rod." When you're doing so, you ensure that you will not spiritually perish. Satan's temptations and fiery darts have no power over you (see 1 Nephi 15:23-24).

About Those Who May Make It

I'd like to say one thing about a different set of people: those who I believe will, indeed, be blessed to enter the gates of New Jerusalem, of Zion, in this lifetime. This is my opinion, and my opinion only:

These people have incredible weaknesses. They have fears which conflict with having a total, complete trust and confidence in the Savior. They are often unrefined, crass, tasteless, tactless. They're the poster child for "the least of these, my brethren (or sisters)". No one is more aware of their sins and flaws then they.

Still, despite the mountains of muck they often create for themselves and walk through, they have at least one deep-seated, immovable, genuine characteristic: their hearts are not set upon the things of this world. They ponder Jesus Christ, His Gospel and His Father constantly. They have, either knowingly or unknowingly, taken upon themselves His name as they implement the Beatitudes in their lives. They go to sleep pondering ways to help people, often those they haven't met. Their prayers begin not on thoughts about themselves, the powerful, the esteemed, the exalted. Instead, they plead, with time and tears, for the poor, the sick, the hopeless, the helpless. They voluntarily choose to have their hearts "swim in deep waters" so they can touch another life.

Because love can move mountains, I believe they will someday not only move mountains, but also subdue principalities and powers, defy powerful armies, divide the earth, move rivers out of their courses and break every band. Because they believe in God, and have the gifts of God as fruits of their devotion to Him, they will indeed stand in the presence of God....while in the flesh.

Isaiah mentions a "strange work" and a "strange act" to be performed by the Lord (Isaiah 28:21). We can only conjecture what those are. My bet: that the Lord will use these incredibly weak souls to help establish Zion. Earth's history is replete with stories of incredibly weak people who helped accomplish miraculous things because they were meek and cared more about others than themselves.

Look: We don't have a lot of time left. Please, please re-read the Beatitudes (Matt. 5:3–12; Luke 6:20–23), then live your life as one who takes them seriously. Elevate the Lord's sheep above TV, sports, internet forums and other temporally-based trivialities.

You control your own destiny. Now is your time to shine...because one of these days, the Lord's going to hit the reset button, and the days of your preparation will be everlastingly too late.

Sunday, October 30, 2016

Lectures on Faith 4, Part 1: Experience the God Who Far Exceeds Expectations!

The Parable of the 2005 Impala

(Quite possibly the only Impala parable you'll read in mortality)

In 2011, my friend, Rick, was driving his maroon, 2005 Impala car. At the time, it had around 160,000 miles on the odometer. Unexpectedly, the car died outside a small city. He spent the night there, and the next morning, the car was examined by two auto mechanics. Both confirmed the sad news: the car needed a new transmission. He hardly had any money, and certainly not enough to fix the car. Later, when he was alone with the car, Rick said a prayer: "Father, you know I don't have the money to get this car fixed. You're literally the only person who can make it work. Please, Father, make this car run." Rick was prompted to turn the car's key in the ignition. It started. It was driveable. In fact, so much so, that Rick's put an additional 40,000 miles on the Impala since then. That's right -- on a transmission which two auto mechanics had declared dead, 5 years and 40,000 miles ago.

The Parable of the DNA Test

A close family member, Molly, was adopted by a good family 46 years ago. Although she always knew she was adopted, and loved her family very much, she wondered about her birth father and birth mother. About eight weeks ago, she sent in a vial of saliva to Ancestry DNA. Three weeks ago, she got the results back, which gave her some partial pedigree charts of her birth parents. A few days later, after considerable research and deductive work, she contacted a woman she strongly identified her birth father's sister. The woman didn't understand Molly's explanation for her call, and said Molly shouldn't count on having her number forwarded to the man she believed was her birth father. Within 24 hours, he called her. Within a week, she also spoke with her birth mother, whom she just met two days ago. Molly has a terrific, growing relationship with both birth parents' extended families, and her adoptive parents have been kept fully informed and are happy for Molly.

(We'll examine the significance of these stories later in this post)

For The Love of God

The most transcendent thing anyone has ever done for you was accomplished by Jesus Christ. His infinite atoning sacrifice, the ransom -- for you (and the rest of humanity) -- took Him to the greatest depths anyone has or ever will experience. He did this knowing full well that many, if not most, people would never take advantage of His sacrifice. There were no conditions, no "I'll do it if XX% of people will repent", no "If people will do XYZ, then I'll go through with the atonement." Nope, not even close.
"For behold, I, God, have suffered these things for all, that they might not suffer if they would repent" (D&C 19:16)
He did it because He loves you. And no matter how often you neglect His atonement, no matter how often and how deeply you neglect Him, will never hide, erase or negate the fact that He accomplished the atonement.
"It [divine love] is infinite because the Atonement was an act of love for all who ever lived, who now live, and who will ever live. It is also infinite because it transcends time." (Elder Russell M. Nelson, "Divine Love", Ensign, Feb. 2003).
That supreme act of divine love has no conditions. It's offered freely to all -- saint and sinner, repentant and unrepentant alike. In fact, if God didn't love the wicked, He would never send true prophets to warn us that we will be destroyed for our wickedness if we don’t repent.
"Divine love is infinite and universal. The Savior loves both saints and sinners." (ibid)
"But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us." (Romans 5:8)
That's why Christ taught love, without any conditions, requirements or caveats, during His mortal ministry. He said,
"By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another." (John 13:35)
"Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you" (Matt. 5:44)
Although the phrase "unconditional love" isn't found in the scriptures, His disciples have clearly used it in teaching about God's love for you:
"In moments of quiet, we reflect upon His matchless life and His unconditional love for each of us." (President Gordon B. Hinckley, LDS Church News, Dec. 11, 1993, p. 4).
"Faith [in the Lord’s will] turns us toward the Savior, his life, and his unconditional love for us." (Elder Joseph B. Wirthlin, "Finding Peace in Our Lives", Deseret Book, 1995, p. 177).
"His grasp is galactic, yet he noticed the widow casting in her mite. I am stunned at his perfect, unconditional love of all. Indeed, 'I stand all amazed at the love Jesus offers me.'" (Elder Neal A. Maxwell, "Jesus of Nazareth, Savior and King," Ensign, May 1976, p. 26)
"That we may share His eternal, unconditional love with our brothers and sisters everywhere, is my humble prayer in the name of Jesus Christ, amen." (Elder Robert D. Hales, October 2008 General Conference)
"[God] demonstrated to us that His love was unconditional and sufficient to encircle every person." (Elder Marvin J. Ashton, April 1981 General Conference)
Christ's unconditional love for you has even been included in our Family Home Evening manuals. Indeed, as parents, are we taught that we must love our children conditionally? That we should tell our children that we won’t love them (or we won’t love them in love’s highest form) if they disobey us (or gospel principles)?
"Remind your family that Jesus' love is unconditional. That means he loves us no matter what we do and say. Explain to your family that if they are to truly love one another as Jesus commanded them, they need to love each other in this same way. Have family members define what is meant by unconditional love. They may wish to give examples, such as "I will go on loving you even if you do things I don't like," or "I will love you whether you love me or not." Discuss the examples given, and help them to refine and clarify their definition of unconditional love.
Have a scripture search for examples of unconditional love. As you find scriptural examples, draw parallels for your own family so that family members can see how divine unconditional love can be applied in their own lives. Emphasize that this doctrine is not vain and idealistic, that we can learn to love our enemies and have compassion and charity for all if we will exercise our faith in Jesus Christ and apply his teachings." (Family Home Evening Resource Book, Family Home Evening Lessons, 17: Love at Home, p. 74)
Thus, we, too, should have unconditional love for others, just as the Savior has for us:
"To love completely with a wholeness even as Christ loved, to manifest a mature and unconditional love in all human relations, would minimize many fears." (First Presidency Message: With an Eye Single to His Glory, Ensign, Dec. 1971)
"We cannot, my dear brethren, condition our love by a beard or beads or habits or strange viewpoints. There have to be standards and they must be enforced, but our love must be unconditional." (Elder Marion D. Hanks, "Love Unconditional," Ensign, Dec. 1971, p. 104)
Even science has validated the overwhelming benefits of unconditional love. Professor Mario Beauregard, of Montreal University’s Center for Research into Neurophysiology and Cognition, led a study about the effects of love on the brain. He said, "The rewarding nature of unconditional love facilitates the creation of strong emotional links. Such robust bonds may critically contribute to the survival of the human species” ("The Greatest Love of All,", Apr. 2009).

"How Deep Is Your Love"

But God's love doesn't start and end there. Nope. It's just the beginning.

God invites you to share in a deeper, more fulfilling love with Him. On His end, He manifests it in different ways: closeness, clearer dialogue, trust, unity and blessings. On our end, we manifest our desire for this deeper love by obeying "every word that proceedeth forth from the mouth of God" (D&C 84:44). Some might categorize this as "conditional love".
"many verses [of scripture] affirm that the higher levels of love the Father and the Son feel for each of us — and certain divine blessings stemming from that love — are conditional." (Elder Russell M. Nelson, "Divine Love", Ensign, Feb. 2003).
This deeper love is articulated in Lehi and Nephi's vision of the Tree of Life, where they saw "other multitudes pressing forward" "continually holding fast to" "the rod of iron", which "was the word of God". They did this "until they came forth and fell down and partook of the fruit of the tree", in which the tree "was a representation of the love of God" (1 Nephi 8:30, 11:25).

A second example: In the parable of the prodigal son, the father still welcomed back and loved the prodigal son. But the other son, who was faithful and obedient, inherited all that is father had.

Finally, a third example: If your teenage son gets caught drinking and driving, that doesn't negate the fact that you love him as one of your children; that doesn't cease. However, the son likely forfeits experiencing deeper expressions of love (like trust) from you because of his choices.

As you obey "every word that proceedeth forth from the mouth of God", you are establishing and solidifying a loving relationship with God, which (naturally) requires reciprocity. As we do this, we "abide" in His love.
"If ye keep my commandments, ye shall abide in my love; even as I have kept my Father's commandments, and abide in his love." (John 15:10)
"If you keep not my commandments, the love of the Father shall not continue with you, therefore you shall walk in darkness." (D&C 95:12; emphasis mine)
"Jesus answered and said unto him, If a man love me, he will keep my words: and my Father will love him, and we will come unto him, and make our abode with him." (John 14:23)
Unfortunately, some believe that this deeper love of the Father and the Son is offered regardless of personal behavior. Here's how Nehor put it:
"And he [Nehor] also testified unto the people that all mankind should be saved at the last day, and that they need not fear nor tremble, but that they might lift up their heads and rejoice; for the Lord had created all men, and had also redeemed all men; and, in the end, all men should have eternal life." (Alma 1:4)
"Some seem to value God’s love because of their hope that His love is so great and so unconditional that it will mercifully excuse them from obeying His laws. The love of God does not supersede His laws and His commandments, and the effect of God’s laws and commandments does not diminish the purpose and effect of His love." (Elder Dallin H. Oakes, "Love and Law", October 2009 General Conference)
Knowing that God has unconditional love for you is no excuse to justify sin. Because God does not love evil unconditionally, mercy cannot and will not rob justice (Alma 42:25). Just because mom and dad love you doesn't mean they're eagerly giving you the car keys back after disobeying the rules.

So, in the final analysis, God loves all His children. He always feels compassion and concern even for the vilest, most unrepentant sinner. However, it's you who decides to abide in God's love or not, and to have a loving, ever-increasing relationship with Him.

And nowhere is your selfish refusal to abide in God's love more pronounced than your denial of a gift He's offered you, and your disbelief in a promise He's made to you. Repeatedly.

How's that "I can solve this problem myself" thing working out for you? 

As you read this, you -- or someone you love -- is hoping and praying for relief from grief, loneliness, fear, anxiety, abuse, neglect, helplessness or hopelessness.

So we wait and wait for God to make it all better. And when that resolution never comes, or at least not as quickly or thoroughly as we'd like, we begin to wonder how long God's going to take. Still no resolution? Then we decide to put on our big girl or big boy underpants and say, "I can do it myself!" Not being wanted, and being a perfect gentleman, God steps back. As things get harder and tougher, your reciprocal relationship with Him becomes strained, and indeed, you're left to solve the problem yourself. It seems to me that more often than not, such scenarios seldom have the happiest ending possible.

Or maybe we feel we don't want to burden the Lord; He's already done more than enough for us. Perhaps we just don't have faith in Him to begin with.

It's no wonder so many feel God is distant in their lives. But truth be told, it's more than likely not God's fault. It's ours.

This is why God, and His prophets, have repeatedly told us that we live far below our expectations. Because we refuse to let Christ far exceed our expectations.
"There is no doubt, if a person lives according to the revelations given to God's people, he may have the Spirit of God to signify to him His will, and to guide him and direct him in the discharge of his duties, in his temporal as well as his spiritual exercises. I am satisfied however, that in this respect, we live far beneath our privileges" (Discourses of Brigham Young, p. 75).
"The gift of the Holy Ghost truly is one of the greatest blessings available to members of the Church. Actually, many gifts can come from the Holy Ghost. These are needed in every age and dispensation but certainly no less in the commotion-filled last days of the last dispensation. They are likewise needed at every stage and in every situation of life. ... Yet, for different reasons, many of us live far below, or are unaware of, our privileges!" (Neal A. Maxwell, The Promise of Discipleship, pp. 92-93).
"The overall gift of the Holy Ghost truly is one of the greatest blessings available to members of the Church. We all need to stress -- for ourselves and for those whom we teach -- the vital connection with the gifts of the Holy Ghost. These gifts are vital at every stage of an individual's life and in every situation of life. Members of the Church have received the gift of the Holy Ghost, but in many it lies dormant -- somewhat like the ancients who had received the gift but knew it not (see 3 Ne. 9:20)." (Neal A. Maxwell, "The Holy Ghost: Glorifying Christ," Ensign, July 2002, p. 56).
This spiritual box we place around ourselves is taller, wider and stronger than any of the boxes mentioned in my previous post. Despite being very comfortable in this box, it's no cakewalk. In fact, it's horrible inside of it. And the longer you stay inside of it, the greater the chances your relationship with God deteriorates. And in the process, other things -- like other relationships, your sanity, your happiness, your health and maybe even your life -- may also deteriorate.

The Savior clearly understood our proclivity to want to do things ourselves, and to entomb ourselves in these self-made boxes. So, all throughout history, He's [1] promised that He solves our problems better than we can, [2] told us how to cast our burdens upon Him and [3] showed us what happens we do.

1. Get relief from the storms of life.

Throughout the Old Testament and New Testament, the Lord has repeatedly said to one and all, "As long as we all must bear some burden and shoulder some yoke, why not let it be mine? My promise to you is..."
"Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light." (Matthew 11:28-30)
"I will not leave you comfortless" (John 14:18)
"Cast thy burden upon the Lord, and he shall sustain thee: he shall never suffer the righteous to be moved." (Psalms 55:22)
"For thou hast been a strength to the poor, a strength to the needy in his distress, a refuge from the storm, a shadow from the heat, when the blast of the terrible ones is as a storm against the wall." (Isaiah 25:4)
Some might hesitate taking Christ up on this offer, perhaps believing that they can handle things just fine thankyouverymuch. Or they don't want to add to His burdens. Or that they've already burdened Christ enough. Yet as far as I can tell, He didn't place any conditions, limitations or boundaries on His invitation. It's open-ended, unconditional and freely available to all. To deny His gracious offer is to deny a gift He paid a heavy price to obtain.

Accepting this gracious gift doesn't mean your life will be burden-free; that's unrealistic. What it does mean is that (1) He'll resolve your burdens better than you can, and (2) through Him, your ability to withstand the burdens of life will be enhanced.

How? Quite likely through means unknown to you (either through divine intervention, the assistance of others, or both), giving you "strength beyond [our] own" ("Lord, I Would Follow Thee," Hymns, no. 220). After all, He says "my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts" (Isaiah 55:9).

Taking Him up on His offer/promise reaches out into the darkness and counts on His holding His hand out to you. It's a superlative act of faith and trust in Him, which God can -- and will -- reward.

So now, I'd like to invite you to take a quick inventory of your life:
  • What burdens are you're facing? Which could be cast upon the Lord?
  • What burdens are others facing? Could you encourage them to cast those burdens upon the Lord?
  • I mean, what do you have to lose?

2. Put God to the test.

Admittedly, it takes real courage to give your burdens to God. We naturally want to solve problems ourselves, and solve them now.

Fortunately, God has buttressed his request with an encouraging point: You don't need to start with huge, gargantuan problems. He's perfectly content with our casting our little problems to Him. In other words, put Him to the test (see Alma 32:26-43).
"Prove all things; hold fast that which is good." (1 Thessalonians 5:21)
Or, as Amulek put it, "try the experiment of its [the word's] goodness." (Alma 34:4)

As mortals, we've learned through sad experience that it's irrational, harmful and even physically and spiritually deadly to put our trust in another. Yet because God is Omniscient (LofF 4:5), Omnipotent (LofF 4:6), Just (LofF 4:7), Judgmental (LofF 4:8), Merciful (LofF 4:9) and True (LofF 4:10), He's more than deserving of your unqualified trust.
"By a little reflection it will be seen, that the idea of the existence of these attributes in the Deity, is necessary to enable any rational being to exercise faith in him. For without the idea of the existence of these attributes in the Deity, men could not exercise faith in him for life and salvation; seeing that without the knowledge of all things, God would not be able to save any portion of his creatures; for it is by reason of the knowledge which he has of all things, from the beginning to the end, that enables him to give that understanding to his creatures, by which they are made partakers of eternal life; and if it were not for the idea existing in the minds of men, that God had all knowledge, it would be impossible for them to exercise faith in him." (LofF 4:11).
Not only do His attributes engender trust in Him, but His eagerness, enthusiasm and liberality in granting you greater wisdom practically begs you to put Him to the test:
"If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him." (James 1:5)
"Trust in the Lord with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths. Be not wise in thine own eyes: fear the Lord, and depart from evil. It shall be health to thy navel, and marrow to thy bones." (Proverbs 3:5-8)
3. Watch what happens when you give it all to God.
"But what does trust mean? It does not mean carelessness or indifference. Just to let things go and say, 'Oh, I guess it will come out all right,' is not trusting. Just drifting heedlessly with the tide is not trust. Neglect is not trust. Trust is something positive. It is a real something, not a mere happen-so or maybe-so. It is a definite attitude of soul and mind, a realization of our own need and of God's sufficiency. It is the reaching out and anchoring of ourselves in God. 
The soul who really trusts is not driven about by every wind. The waves beat against him as they beat against the anchored ship, but they can not dash him upon the rocks; for he who trusts in God is strong, because he has the strength of God. 
Trust does not mean shutting our eyes to facts. There is no such thing as 'blind faith.' Trust looks at things as they are. It sees the dangers that threaten, and assesses them at their true value. It sees the need, and does not try to disguise it. It sees the difficulties, and does not discount them. But seeing all this, it looks beyond and sees God, its all-sufficient help. It sees him greater than the needs or the dangers or the difficulties, and it does not shrink before them. 
There is no fear in trust: the two are opposites. When we really fear, we are not fully trusting. When we trust, fear gives way to assurance. Fear is tormenting. How many there are who are constantly agitated by fear! They fear the devil, trials, temptations, the wind, lightning, burglars, and a thousand other things. Their days are haunted by fear of this thing or that. Their peace is marred and their hearts are troubled. For all this, trust is the cure. I do not mean to say that if you trust, nothing will ever startle you or frighten you, or that you will never feel physical fear in time of danger; but in such times trust will bring to us a consciousness that the Lord knows and cares, and that his helping presence is with us. 
When John Wesley was crossing the Atlantic from England to America to become a missionary to the Indians, the ship on which he was sailing encountered a terrible storm. It seemed that those on board would be lost. Many were much alarmed and were in deep distress. Wesley himself was one of this number. In the midst of the storm his attention was attracted to some Moravians who sat calm and undisturbed by the dangers about them. Wesley greatly wondered at their untroubled appearance. He inquired why it was. Their reply was that they were trusting in the Lord and that they had in their souls the consciousness of his protecting presence and care. They felt no fear because there was nothing threatening that a Christian had need to fear. Mr. Wesley did not have such an experience, but what he learned from those simple-hearted people caused him to seek a similar experience. 
There is no worry in trust. When we worry about anything, we have not committed it to God. Trust takes away the anxiety. So many people use up a large portion of their energy in worry. There is always something troubling them. Their days and nights are full of anxiety. Worrying becomes a fixed habit with them. Peace and calmness and assurance find but little room in their lives. The cure for all this is trust. Trust brings confidence. Trust whispers to our souls that there is no cause to worry. It tells us that God holds the helm of our vessel. It bids us to be of good courage, assuring us that God is our refuge and strength, that our lives and all are in his hands, and that he will work out for us the things that are best. 
In trust there is peace, the peace of God which passeth understanding. There is calm in the soul of him who trusts. There is no doubt in trust, for doubt is swallowed up in assurance, and assurance brings calmness and peace. 
It is safe to trust in the Lord. Isaiah says, 'I will trust and not be afraid' (Isa.12: 2). That is the way God wants us to trust. He would have us be confident in him. But sometimes we get to looking at circumstances, and they loom up so threateningly before us that in spite of ourselves we tremble and shrink before them. We believe that God will take care of us and help us, but we can not quiet our fears. Our feelings are very much as they are when we stand just outside the bars of the cage of a ferocious wild beast. We know it can not reach us; we know we are safe from those powerful teeth and claws; but still we can not help having a feeling that we should not have were we somewhere else. When he comes to our side of the cage, we shrink involuntarily, but still we trust the iron bars and do not run away. 
The Psalmist tells us what to do when we have such fears. 'What time I am afraid, I will trust in thee' (Psalms 56:3). Still keep trusting. God will not chide you for the fears you can not help, but only for those that come from unbelief. Trust in God. It is the safest thing you have ever done; and he will never fail you." (Charles Wesley Naylor, "Heart Talks",

Put it all together, and you see a God who far exceeds expectations

Years ago, I learned something that has forever imprinted itself on my soul. I believe it's the Lord's favorite characteristic.

I call it "Far Exceeding Expectations." God gets an absolute thrill, and is truly overjoyed, to have opportunities to demonstrate how eager and willing and anxious He is to far exceed our puny, mortal expectations.

These scriptures put it into context:
"Now unto him that is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that worketh in us, Unto him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus throughout all ages, world without end. Amen." (Ephesians 3:20-21)
"I have also given you what you have not asked, both riches and honor, so that there will not be any among the kings like you all your days." (1 Kings 3:13)
"And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that in all things, at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work." (2 Corinthians 9:8)
Make a broken Impala transmission run for an extra 40,000 miles over five years? Ha! Piece of cake.

Reunite a woman with her birth father and birth mother within two weeks, with the relationships far exceeding her own expectations, after 46 years of waiting and wondering? No problem.

I look at history, and see how He turned "but a lad" who was "slow of speech" and hated by "all the people" (Moses 6:31) into a man who made people and even the earth tremble at his words, who made the mountains flee, could change the course of rivers and, in summary, made "all nations" fear him (Moses 7:13).

I think of the Brother of Jared, who climbed Mount Shelem and moltened out of a rock sixteen small stones, carried them to the top of the mount, and expected the Lord to light them. Not only did that happen, but through his exceeding faith ("for never has man believed in me as thou hast"), he also was brought into the presence of the Lord, and was ministered by Him (Ether 3)

I think of a man with a barren wife, who -- because of his faith -- became the Father of Nations, with his ancestry multiplied as the stars of heaven (Exodus 32:13).

I think of Rahab, a prostitute, who -- risking her life -- saved two spies who had been sent by Joshua to gauge the defences of Jericho (Joshua 2:1-7). When Joshua attacked Jericho and the walls came tumbling down, Rahab and her family were saved (Joshua 6:12-25). But that's not the end of her story. It is said that Rahab ended up marrying Salmon, and through their union sprang David, Solomon and ultimately, Jesus Christ. Thus poor, muddy, defiled Rahab became a fountainhead of the River of the Water of Life which flows out of the throne of God.

I think of a simple fisherman who straightway forsook his nets, and followed Christ...and the millions, perhaps billions, who were forever influenced by his steadfast love for the Savior (Mark 1:18).

I think of Jairus and his wife, who asked the Lord to heal their terminally-ill daughter. More than a granting a cure, Jesus restored the young girl’s life (Mark 5:35-42).

I think of a man, lame from birth, laying every day next to the temple gate, begging for whatever he could get. Then one day, he asked for help as Peter and John passed by him. The man expected a few coins. Instead, Peter blessed him with sound legs and ankles through the healing power of Jesus Christ (Acts 3:2-11).

I think of a simple teenager who went out into a grove not far from his home to ask God which church he should join...and how the world's history changed with just that single prayer.

All these instances -- and many more which I didn't mention -- started with someone making an outrageous request. In response, God reciprocated by pronouncing an unexpectedly huge blessing.

Take some time to imagine what God's intervention into your situation could result in.

Then take time to ask Him for it.

Rest in the truth that God's power exceeds your expectations.

Brand New

This is the Jesus I know.

A God who sees above our spiritual despair and decay, and bids us to follow Him. To cast our burdens upon Him. To let Him transform us into a totally brand new being in a way, and to an extent, we didn't even realize was possible.

Throughout history, He has delighted in lifting those with absolutely no skills, no hope, no significance and no vision into the brightest lights in the history of our world.

Yes, none of us are worthy. None of us are righteous. We all say and do stupid things which divert us from Him. But in classic Jesus fashion, He's quick to say, "Yeah, but I already took care of those things. Let's look and move forward. Together!"

He longs for your request to have Him clear the barnacles of stupidity and sin off of you, and elevate you to new, and even greater, spiritual heights. He who is the author of resurrection longs to resurrect your heart and soul everyday, so they can burst forth from your self-built telestial caves, without obstruction and with unparalleled luminosity and life.

I've seen dreams that move the mountains
Hope that doesn't ever end
Even when the sky is falling
I've seen miracles just happen
Silent prayers get answered
Broken hearts become brand new
That's what faith can do.

It doesn't matter what you've heard
Impossible is not a word
It's just a reason for someone not to try
Everybody's scared to death
When they decide to take that step
Out on the water
It'll be alright
Life is so much more
Than what your eyes are seeing
You will find your way
If you keep believing...

...believing in He who absolutely delights in frequently demonstrating His favorite characteristic:

The God Who Far Exceeds Expectations.

(What about you? What are some examples in your life, or the life of another, which clearly demonstrate God's love of exceeding our expectations?)