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Sunday, December 31, 2017

MAJOR ANNOUNCEMENT: The Perfect Day Facebook Group

When You Don't Feel the Spirit

I've received six emails in the last four days where the sender essentially asked me the following:
"I have a tough time feeling or hearing the Spirit. What recommendations do you have that might help me?"
First, it's important to know that I'm no spiritual guru or mentor. Never have been, never will be. In my steadfast opinion, you should have only one mentor, and He has nailprints.

Second, when I ask them what the Lord has said, the response is pretty consistent: The Lord has said nothing. That's incredible to me because I'm convinced the Lord wants us to enjoy as much of the Spirit as possible, as often as possible.

So, I start wondering, "Is there are chance, a possibility, that we're asking the wrong question here?"

Ask the Question that Elicits an Automatic, Consistent Answer from the Lord

Do you love the Lord?

"Of course, Mr. Perfect Day" you say?

Terrific. If that's the case, let's see what the Lord would say if He asked you the same exact question.

The last chapter of John tells of an especially tender exchange between Peter and the resurrected Christ. Three times, the Lord asked Peter if he loved Him. The answer was immediate and consistent: Of course I do! You know I do! The Lord's response was equally immediate and consistent (three times!): "feed my sheep" or "feed my lambs" (John 21:15-17)

In 1837, it seems that Quorum of the 12 President Thomas B. Marsh had a similar question. The Lord's answer hasn't changed: "feed my sheep" (D&C 112:14).
"When thou art converted, strengthen thy brethren." (Luke 22:32)
But was the Savior just talking to the Apostles? No.
"He was also talking to every person who has been blessed to hear the gospel and is a member of His Church. In revelation to the Prophet Joseph Smith, the Lord puts it in very simple terms: 'It becometh every man who hath been warned to warn his neighbor' (D&C 88:81)" (Elder M. Russell Ballard, "The Essential Role of Member Missionary Work", April 2003 General Conference).
And as Elder Robert D. Hales stated in 2012,
"This is the call of Christ to every Christian today: 'Feed my lambs...Feed my sheep' —- share my gospel with young and old, lifting, blessing, comforting, encouraging, and building them, especially those who think and believe differently than we do." ("Being a More Christian Christian", 2012 General Conference) 
Imagine the paradigm shift, where we go from asking about how WE can feel the Spirit to how we can help OTHERS to feel the Spirit!

No matter if it's in the valleys of Judea or modern-day Babylon, the Lord's answer to "What do I need to do?" appears pretty consistent to me. Feed others spiritual "living water" (John 4:10–14) and spiritual "bread of life" (John 6:48).

In so doing, I have no doubt that as others feel and hear the Spirit, you will, too.

"I sought my God
My God I could not see.
I sought my soul,
my soul eluded me. 
I sought my brother
and I found all three."
-- Ancient Celtic prayer of hospitality

Here's a New, Easy Way to Feed His Sheep...At Home, In Your Pajamas!

Effective today, LDS Perfect Day has a Facebook group (click here).

Click here to join it today!

So now, if you have time to hop online (which you do), to email someone (which you do) or interact online (which you do), you have the opportunity to feed other sheep, and to be fed as well.

Imagine interacting with others who are themselves passionate about growing closer to the Lord.

Imagine learning from others about hearing and feeling the Spirit, pursuing and exercising spiritual gifts, mighty prayer, calling and election, faith that moves mountains and parts veils, Zion and more.

Imagine asking the Lord for experiences which will feed you -- and other -- sheep, no matter if they're on the Facebook group or not. Don't you think He'll jump at the chance?

I invite you today to join this new, exciting Facebook group.

It's a place where you'll find others who have the same desires and wishes you do, maybe in your same area.

It's a place where you'll find opportunities to share to the Lord's sheep, and to be fed by others who share as well.

It's a place where -- hopefully -- you'll find answers to your questions about how to grow closer to, and enjoy a greater relationship with, the Lord.

Monday, December 18, 2017

A Christmas Present and a Potential New Years Resolution for You

Behind the Scenes of "LDS Perfect Day"

This is our 200th post. This blog began on February 5, 2012 with a meek story of a master pianist who overlaid his hands atop a young boy's hands so they could together render a touching version of "Chopsticks".

Since that post, the response to LDS Perfect Day has been far and beyond anything I could have imagined. Amidst a lot of struggles, anguish and heartbreaks these last (almost) six years, I've made new friends, discovered new truths and grown closer to God in ways I never thought possible. He has taught me, shown me and told me things I dare not reveal to many others, if anyone.

Every new post on this blog is a surprise to me in one way or another. Take this post, for example. I thought I'd be spending a few hours today researching the next in a series of posts on discernment. Instead, ever since waking up this morning, I've felt almost compelled to side track and write this instead.

Many of the things that happen on this blog are surprising and even miraculous.

Thursday, November 17, 2016

I was in my car and had just pulled into a drive-up window to grab some lunch. I was listening to some podcast (which I can't remember). Right after I grabbed my lunch, I pulled into the parking lot to eat. As I was listening to the podcast, the thought hit me that I should participate in a podcast, perhaps as an existing podcast's guest. I quickly repelled from the thought because I like spotlights to be directed to the Savior, not me. But the thought of the podcast persisted. Maybe there would be a way to maintain my anonymity while doing the podcast. "Oh well," I thought. "If it's to be, God will let me know." I mentally discarded the concept, then started thinking about other things.

I told no one about the podcast concept.

Two days later (Sat, Nov 19, 2016 at 7:54 AM), I received an email from a friend. The subject line of "A word for you" intrigued me. In it, he said he was feeling strongly impressed to tell me that I should begin producing podcasts of my blog posts, and that if I did so, I would be blessed. He ended the email with a question: "Maybe this is something you've considered?"

Here's my reply (Sat, Nov 19, 2016 at 8:05 AM):
Wow. Amazing. 
Confirms some thoughts that popped in my head 2 days ago. 
Wow wow wow. 
Lets talk soon, k?
The first podcast was posted the next day.

Since then, I've heard from numerous people about how this podcast or that podcast touched them, changed them, uplifted them. And with every one of those testimonials I receive, I'm reminded of how the Lord has pulled this off, despite my misgivings and shortcomings, fears and faithlessness.

"Have a Very Merry Christmas"

The Holy Ghost is one of God's greatest gifts to us. Through it, God guides us through life and ultimately back to Him.

In the above example, the word "podcast" was strongly (and privately) impressed upon me. The purpose became much clearer two days later, and only amplified in many, many comments and emails to me since then.

I don't believe I'm unique in this respect. I believe the Holy Ghost speaks to you, too, just the same way He spoke to me a year ago.

The Prophet Joseph Smith explained,
“A person may profit by noticing the first intimation of the spirit of revelation; for instance, when you feel pure intelligence flowing into you, it may give you sudden strokes of ideas, so that by noticing it, you may find it fulfilled the same day or soon; … those things that were presented unto your minds by the Spirit of God, will come to pass; and thus by learning the Spirit of God and understanding it, you may grow into the principle of revelation, until you become perfect in Christ Jesus.” (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 151)
These intimations often come in words or sentences:
"Another manifestation of revelation is the unspoken word, a good illustration of which is given us by Enos. He says: ". . . while I was thus struggling in the spirit, behold, the voice of the Lord came into my mind again, saying" (Enos 1:10). Then he tells us what the voice of the Lord put in his mind. This is a very common means of revelation. It comes into one's mind in words and sentences. With this medium of revelation I am personally well acquainted." (Marion G. Romney, "Revelation", April 1964, p. 122-126).
Usually, these words and sentences aren't necessarily audible, but felt:
“Ye were past feeling, that ye could not feel his words.” (1 Ne. 17:45)
Elsewhere, we're told, “I will tell you in your mind and in your heart,” (D&C 8:2) or “I did enlighten thy mind,” (D&C 6:15) or “Speak the thoughts that I shall put into your hearts.” (D&C 100:5).

So, I think we can safely conclude that the Holy Ghost can and will speak to us in words and sentences which we feel.

Which brings me to my Christmas present to you.

I often hear from folks saying, "There's so much stuff on your blog! How can I make sense of it" which I interpret as, "How can I make the most of my time on your blog?"

Fair question.

First, it's important that you live your life so that you're in tune with the Spirit. Listen for those words, phrases and sentences which the Holy Ghost is constantly broadcasting to you (of this, Pres. Kimball once said, "Expecting the spectacular, one may not be fully alerted to the constant flow of revealed communication").

Second, it's incumbent upon you to study these promptings out in your mind (see D&C 9:7-9). We're told time and again to turn to the scriptures for further enlightenment. I believe that the Lord is under no obligation whatsoever to give us further enlightenment until we have received the words He's already given us in the scriptures.

Third, once you have thoroughly received God's words to you on a particular topic, seek out words of wisdom among the best books.
"And as all have not faith, seek ye diligently and teach one another words of wisdom; yea, seek ye out of the best books words of wisdom, seek learning even by study and also by faith;" (D&C 109:7; D&C 88:118).
"And set in order the churches, and study and learn, and become acquainted with all good books, and with languages, tongues, and people." (D&C 90:15)
These days, "books" are practically synonymous with "websites". Thus, we can learn from the "book" of General Conference talks which are available online, to see what else has been said about an inspired keyword. God has also inspired other mortals from time to time. Their words, which are congruent with the truths you have learned in the scriptures, should be given serious consideration.

Which brings me to this blog.

It's my hope you find this blog useful, and that it has some utility, in helping you make sense of the keywords and phrases the Spirit speaks to you. There are three ways you can do that:

  • Use this blog's search engine. In the right-hand sidebar, you'll find a search field with "Search The Perfect Day" above it. Just type in the keyword, and voila, all the blog posts which contain that word will pop up.
  • By clicking here, you can take advantage of the blog's "Posts by Topic" page. In the blue, left-hand column are keywords. Click on a word, and a blog post concerning that word will be shown.
  • You can also browse past blog posts by date here. This is especially useful to see the various mini-series which have been posted.

So, even though I can't physically give you a present, I can at least point you in the direction of something that will help make this blog more meaningful to you, and help you better understand the intimations which God is constantly blessing you with.

"...and a Happy New Year"

I'm constantly amazed by the caliber of people I've met because of this blog. Although imperfect, they're good, meek and doing everything they can think of to draw closer to the Savior.

This is constantly reinforced by those seeking their Second Comforter and/or having their calling and election made sure -- two supernal blessings.

Yet I think that in the tremendous online discourse about these two doctrines, we've kind of lost our way in how to effectively, correctly seek after these blessings.

If you're seeking either -- or both -- of those blessings, then I invite you to read "Rend the Veil of Unbelief, Part 1: Why Your Efforts to Part the Veil May Be Failing", published July, 23 2017. I also invite you to read "Do You Have Spiritual AIDS? Part 2 of 2: Rise Above the Selfishness of Seeking the Second Comforter."

The common denominator in both these posts?

People often encounter futility in hearing, feeling or even seeing God because they're mainly focused on themselves. They want these blessings for THEM. And they want them without having first developed a deep, constant, daily relationship with Him.

So, how do we develop a relationship with Christ? As I've stated a lot of times here, we should be reading about Christ constantly, and seeking to emulate His life in our lives. In my opinion, one of the best things we could do to emulate the Savior is to quit pointing the metaphorical arrows at ourselves, and instead, point them outwards, towards others (see here).
"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 10:32–4116:24–28Mark 8:34–38Luke 9:23–2617:33).
Within the last two days, I've been privileged to have learned a lot from two of this blog's visitors about how to do just that. One shared a page from her personal journal, which said:
"Today I reread the beginning Perfect Day posts.  It was really motivating in some ways.  As I looked at the list of post titles, one of the more recent posts had a title about what to do if you don’t hear God’s voice.  The remedy is to stop being so selfish and self-centered.  That made me kind of sad, because I’m really self-centered and know it’s hard to change.  I’m more selfish than I realize.  I focus a lot on what I want to get done during the day, and what I want to spend my money on, and how I want to spend my free time.  I feel like if I give up all my desires, I won’t get to do anything I want to do anymore.  But that’s what Jesus’ life was like - His life was constant service, except when He retreated to the mountains to pray.  Obviously I can’t dedicate my entire day to service, since I have to work.  And I would still need time to do other must-do items.  It’s just so hard to think of changing my life so much.  I think about Aunt ______ and my dad and how they live lives of service.  My dad spent a lot of time Saturday fixing _______ for someone in their ward.  He could have done something else with that time.  ... 
To be like Jesus means to devote myself to service.  If I want to live with Him again, I have to be like Him.  I do like doing some forms of service.  Anonymously delivering flowers to ______ felt really good.  I liked sending my thank you cards last year.  I guess I need to pray for the desire to devote myself to a life of service, and to recognize the promptings to serve."
Here's another message to me, sent by an anonymous reader:
"In my last ward I had a gospel doctrine teacher who was a police officer, and he pleaded with our class not to give panhandlers anything because so many of them were drug addicts and we were just enabling them. I think I felt a little cognitive dissonance sitting in class listening to him and looking at the verse in Mosiah, but I wasn't sure how to resolve the contradiction. I have occasionally given something to panhandlers, but usually when we drive by, I avert my eyes and refuse to make eye contact while feeling horribly guilty. 
When I first read your blog post where you stated, "I am not aware of any instances where God said it's OK to turn away a beggar, and not seek to help him or her. Ever," it really made me think. It took a couple of months, but I decided you were right. 
I didn't do anything about it till last month. I bought the supplies for a number of care packages to give out - socks, gloves, snacks, water, bus token, list of homeless services in the area, hand warmers. Then I loaded a few in my car to hand out. Now when I drive around town, I'm on the lookout for panhandlers. I WANT to see panhandlers so I can give them a care package! It has completely changed my attitude. I know some of them are drug addicts, and some of them may just throw everything I give them in the trash since it's not money. But I also have been volunteering with an organization that helps drug addicts get sober, and I figure maybe if someone shows a panhandler some love and compassion, he won't think he's too far gone and will seek out help. 
Thanks for telling it straight."
(To the person who sent me this -- thanks! You've inspired not only myself, but my family, to action).

It's messages like these which prove some people get it. They don't focus on themselves, but others -- just like the Savior. They live lives (or want to live lives) not of selfishness, but service -- just like the Savior.

And although they may not be aware of it, I have no doubt that they are drawing closer to the Savior faster, and more solidly, than those who are solely focused on their own Christmas wish list for Father:
"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." (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p.241)
(Note that in that last quote, Joseph says they're getting nearer "to our heavenly Father". Think about it).
"A man filled with the love of God is not content with blessing his family alone, but ranges through the whole world, anxious to bless the whole human race." (History of the Church, 4:227; from a letter from Joseph Smith to the Twelve, Dec. 15, 1840, Nauvoo, Illinois, published in Times and Seasons, Jan. 1, 1841, p. 258; this letter is incorrectly dated Oct. 19, 1840, in History of the Church)
And what of those who are filled with the love of God?
"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)
(Note that here, we read that those who are filled with this love are considered "true followers of his Son". They may eventually become "sons of God" and it's "when" -- not if -- Jesus Christ will appear to them).

So here's my invitation:

In 2018, make your New Years resolution to quit focusing on you. Just...stop it. Resolve not to focus on your 2nd Comforter nor on your calling and election. Don't focus on the end destination, because -- rest assured -- He who is omniscient already knows the desires of your heart, and will grant them (Alma 29:4; also see here).

Instead, focus on the thing that's a little more demanding, and requires more effort. It's your journey, which should have, as a key cornerstone, your desire to L-O-S-E  Y-O-U-R-S-E-L-F in the work of the Son, which is to feed His sheep. Feed them with love. With hope. With mercy. With forgiveness. With non-judgmentalism. With Him.

It's my prayer that this holiday season, you'll give my invitation serious consideration. As you do so, be on the lookout for words or phrases which come at you from out of nowhere, when you least expect them, which will help you accomplish that worthy task.

My blog is here to help. And know that at least one person (me) is in your corner and is praying for you.

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year
from LDS Perfect Day

P.S. Here's the song that got this ball rolling this morning...

Sunday, December 10, 2017

The Gift of Discernment Part 5: Discerning the Half-Truths of Which We Proudly (and Regularly and Publicly) Testify

Salt Lake Tribune columnist Robert Kirby once said that a "Mormon fast and testimony meeting is like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re gonna get."

Actually, there's a pretty safe chance that at least once during a Fast and Testimony meeting, you'll hear phrases like "I know the church is true", "I know the gospel is true" and even "I know that my Redeemer lives." Or perhaps the word "IknowthechurchistrueandjosephsmithisaprophetofGod".

Often, these phrases are punctuated with the time-tested "beyond a shadow of a doubt" and/or the ever-popular "with every fiber of my being."

Starting at age....five-ish.

Do we?

Do we really KNOW?

I've read several accounts of investigators who found such claims to be disingenuous, shocking and astounding. Maybe even arrogant or programmed. Wouldn't you think so, too, if you saw person after person arrive at the pulpit to say they KNOW that their Redeemer lives...beyond a shadow of a doubt? Now, what would that investigator think if they later discovered that many church members equate the words hope / belief / faith / trust / confidence with actual knowledge? Yes, some investigators have considered this tantamount to a testimonial "bait and switch". Here's one such (unverified) experience:
"So last fast and testimony meeting, I had a guy who was sitting behind me in sacrament meeting tap me on the shoulder and ask me how our members could say that ["I know the church is true"]...he is my neighbor and came to church at my daughters asking. I told him that it was because we know that it is. He again pressed me as a young child got up and said those words. He pointed to the child as he said. so your telling me that that little kid knows that this church is true?" (Source)
The more I study the Gift of Discernment, the more I discover it is an extremely, highly sensitive gift from Father. When we are even slightly less-than-honest with others, we inject imbalance not only into our own souls, but also those around us. You can't be seeking discernment and even be slightly dishonest at the same time, no matter how well-intentioned you are. Nooo way.
“We believe in being honest.” (13th Article of Faith)
“When thou art obliged to speak, be sure to speak the truth; for equivocation is half-way to lying, as lying the whole way to hell.” (William Penn, "Fruits of Solitude").
It's one thing if such conflation of words is mistaken. But when these absolute convictions of unquestioned certainty are used intentionally, consistently and ubiquitously, by many people -- when the truth is, they do not have a "knowledge" of these various doctrines --  what is one to think about our steadfast appreciation of unvarnished truth?

And in this age of faith crises (especially among our youth and young adults), what of those members who understand the distinction, but because they don't "know", they feel their "I believe" testimony is inadequate and inferior to the "I know" testimony...when in fact it's not? After all, the seedlings of faith are often deemed inferior when compared alongside the old oak trees of sure knowledge.

I have personally sat across or alongside people who've said (even tearfully), in one way or another, "When will I KNOW that my Redeemer lives? Everybody else does. Why not me?" Could such members start to wonder if there's a place in church for them, too?

When we conflate, mix, blend, fuse and unite "belief" to mean "know" (which implies sure knowledge), we do two things simultaneously: First, whether intended or not, we leave others with the impression that we have a sure knowledge of various doctrines. In my experience, very, very few people have a sure knowledge that their Redeemer lives. Second, they unintentionally dilute the specialness, the uniqueness of those rare, exceptional testimonies which have as their foundation a sure knowledge of the Savior's existence.

Last time I checked, the church was still a hospital for sinners, not a museum of saints. It's built on a foundation of "faith and works", not "knowledge and works". It should be perfectly fine and acceptable to be seen at church with a cast on your spiritual arm, a bump on your spiritual head and crutches under your spiritual arms. 

2,000 years ago, a father brought his possessed son to the Savior, to be healed. Although the Savior’s disciples thought “that they should cast him out; and they could not,” the Savior quickly rebuked His disciples. He then turned to the father and said, "If thou canst believe, all things are possible to him that believeth." (Mark 9:23)

The father’s response: “Lord, I believe; help thou mine unbelief.” (Mark 9:24)

Ponder THAT one for a while.

Members are often instructed to look at all the bad things they're doing -- or all the good things they're not doing -- and to repent accordingly, in order to enjoy a more profound degree of discernment in their lives. Yet in many cases, we continue to deceive -- yes, deceive -- people by saying we (emphatically / with every fiber of my being / beyond a shadow of a doubt) KNOW something is true, when, in fact, we do not.

Maybe it's high time for us to also evaluate what we say -- and don't say -- in addition to our actions.

This isn't a call for watered-down testimonies so we don't hurt anybody's feelings. Nor should we create a culture of doubt and encourage others to publicly share why they have doubts. And yes, it is possible to know some things, and believe in other things.

I think that now, more than ever, we need to be making bold statements and highlighting the many miracles God performs in our lives. And we should be doing so without the routine clich├ęs and with the utmost honesty and solemnity. When such testimonies are borne, we can rest assured the Spirit will deliver our message into the hearts of those ready to receive it.

Imagine if our pronouncements at our pulpits used the language of faith ("the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen" -- Hebrews 11:1). Imagine if it was perfectly fine to chuck those facades and masks, and say you hope in God, believe in God, have faith in God, trust God, are confident in God. After all, didn't the Savior once say, “blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed” (John 20:29; also see Alma 32:21, 2 Corinthians 5:7; Romans 1:17)?

Imagine if it were suddenly OK in our church to not be perfect. To not have a perfect knowledge of things. Imagine if it were normal and acceptable to incorporate more terms of faith into our vernacular. Do you think that by germinating and acknowledging faith more proudly and abundantly, the Gift of Faith would naturally flourish more abundantly among us?

Still, there are some who could and (privately) do testify that they know Jesus is the Christ. That He lives. Others may have a sure knowledge that Joseph Smith was and is a prophet of God. Such testimonies do not necessarily need to originate from actual, physical appearances of Jesus or Joseph. With all solemnity, I can state that individuals can see and interact with Christ, and even Heavenly Father, in their dreams. Such interactions are indelibly imprinted on your soul forever more.
“When a man has the manifestation from the Holy Ghost, it leaves an indelible impression on his soul, one that is not easily erased. It is Spirit speaking to spirit, and it comes with convincing force” (President Joseph Fielding Smith, "Answers to Gospel Questions", 1979, 2:151). 
In a future day, all will be able to unequivocally state that they know the Christ. I long for that day. I dream of that day.

Until that day comes, it's good -- very good -- to be a believer. There is nothing wrong with believing and not knowing (John 3:18). There is something wrong when we abandon the search for truth and even a sure testimony of God.
"A 14-year-old boy recently said to me a little hesitantly, 'Brother Holland, I can’t say yet that I know the Church is true, but I believe it is.' I hugged that boy until his eyes bulged out. I told him with all the fervor of my soul that belief is a precious word, an even more precious act, and he need never apologize for 'only believing.' I told him that Christ Himself said, 'Be not afraid, only believe,' a phrase which, by the way, carried young Gordon B. Hinckley into the mission field. I told this boy that belief was always the first step toward conviction and that the definitive articles of our collective faith forcefully reiterate the phrase 'We believe.' And I told him how very proud I was of him for the honesty of his quest." (Elder Jeffrey R. Holland, “Lord, I Believe”, April 2013 General Conference)
It is my prayer that from now on, we will also recommit ourselves to an honest quest.

Be an example of what? The believers (1 Timothy 4:12). 

How? "in word, in conversation, in charity, in spirit, in faith, in purity" (1 Timothy 4:12).

Why? Because "all things are possible to him that believeth" (Mark 9:23)

Saturday, November 25, 2017

The Gift of Discernment Part 4: The Universal Law of Opposites

The Opposition to the Gods

"'It must needs be,' Lehi taught, 'that there is an opposition in all things.' (2 Nephi 2:11)
In the very nature of things, this must be so. It is inherent in the whole scheme of life and being.
Life itself depends upon the existence of opposites. Without evil there could be no good; without misery, no happiness; without death, no life. (2 Nephi 2) Thus, if there are good gifts that come from God, there are also evil gifts that spring forth from Satan. Heaven is the source of all that is good; hell, of all that is evil.
Is there a gift of preaching by the power of the Holy Ghost that enlightens spiritual souls and leads them to eternal life? So also there is a gift of intellectual persuasion, a gift of sophistry and delusion, that pleases carnal men and lets them feel that they can believe what they will and live after the manner of the world, and yet be saved.
Is there a gift of charity, of enjoying and possessing the pure love of Christ, that leads men to peace in this present world and assures them of eternal life in that world which is to be? So also there is a gift of selfishness, of putting one's own interests first in all things, of spewing forth hatred and animosity upon others, all of which leads to war and desolation here and now and to everlasting destruction hereafter.
Are there gifts of purity, of chastity, of clean thoughts, of upright living, all of which cleanse and perfect the souls of men and prepare them to be at ease in the fellowship of angels and holy beings hereafter? So also there are gifts of lust, of lewdness, of profane and evil speaking, of filling one's mind with carnal and evil thoughts, all of which lead to vulgar and immoral acts that prepare men for the continuing association of evil spirits in the realms ahead." (Elder Bruce R. McConkie, "A New Witness For The Articles of Faith")

"All things."

That's a pretty big statement. Not "most things." Not "a lot of things." Not "a boatload of things." No. Go read it again. Lehi said, "ALL things." Think about it.

Father: Does Heavenly Father face opposition? Of course. Satan mounted an insurrection to supplant God the Father when he proposed in the pre-existence, "Behold, here am I, send me, I will be thy son, and I will redeem all mankind, that one soul shall not be lost, and surely I will do it; wherefore give me thine honor" (Moses 4:1).

Son: Likewise, when He was upon the earth, Jesus faced opposition at almost every turn. Pharisees, Sadducees, Scribes, Romans, even one of His own apostles opposed Him. He also had to contend against evil. Not being free from temptation, He was tempted in all things like unto us:
"For we have not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin." (Hebrews 4:15)

The Subtle, Almost Imperceptible, Opposition All Around You

As you and I both know, in this life, opposition to the truth is the norm, the default.
"Opposition in all things is part of the refiner’s fire to prepare us for an eternal celestial destiny." (Elder Quentin L. Cook, "Foundations of Faith", April 2017 General Conference)
So it is with us. Every day, we witness opposition in the grandest, and most subtle, scales in human history. Here's what Elder James. E. Faust said 30 years ago:
"I think we will witness increasing evidence of Satan’s power as the kingdom of God grows stronger. I believe Satan’s ever-expanding efforts are some proof of the truthfulness of this work. In the future, the opposition will be both more subtle and more open. It will be masked in greater sophistication and cunning, but it will also be more blatant. We will need greater spirituality to perceive all of the forms of evil and greater strength to resist it." (Elder James E. Faust, “The Great Imitator”, October 1987 General Conference).
So where does this opposition -- these sophisticated, cunning imitations of the truth -- exist? Here's a short summary. There are:

False gods: (aka "Idols" -- see here).

False Christs/Messiahs: Matthew 24:23 JST; Mark 13:22; 2 Nephi 25:18; Words of Mormon 1:15; JS-M 1:22.

False spirits: D&C 50:2.

False prophets: Matthew 7:15; Matthew 7:24, 24:9, 24:23 JST; Mark 13:12 JST; Mark 13:22; Acts 13:6; 2 Peter 2:1; 1 John 4:1; Revelation 16:13, 19:20, 20:10; Words of Mormon 1:16; Helaman 13:26; 3 Nephi 14:15; 4 Nephi 1:34; JS-M 1:9, 22.

False apostles: 2 Corinthians 11:13.

False brethren: Galatians 2:4; D&C 122:5.

False doctrines: 2 Nephi 3:12; 2 Nephi 28:9, 12, 15; Alma 1:16. Also, “If true principles are revealed from heaven to men, and if there are angels, and there is a possibility of their communicating to the human family, always look for an opposite power, an evil power, to give manifestations also; look out for the counterfeit” (Discourses of Brigham Young, p. 68-69).

False teachers: 2 Peter 2:1; 2 Nephi 28:12; Words of Mormon 1:16.

False witnesses: Psalms 35:11; Proverbs 6:19; Proverbs 14:5; Proverbs 19:5, 9; Matthew 15:18, 19:18, 26:58-60 JST; Mark 14:56; Acts 6:12-13; D&C 122:6.

False gifts: Proverbs 25:14; Moroni 10:30. Also, "For every spiritual gift or manifestation from the Lord, Satan has a counterfeit." (Elder Glenn R. Pace, "Spiritual Plateaus", p. 134).

False visions: Jeremiah 14:14.

False dreams: Jeremiah 23:32; Zechariah 10:2.

Joseph Smith cautioned about "the common error of considering all supernatural manifestations to be of God," warning that evil spirits as well as heavenly ones can, for example, speak in tongues and interpret them; and that in their deception they may even give recognition to the Savior and his authorized servants (TPJS, pp. 206-13, 229; also Luke 4:33-35; Acts 16:16-18). (H. George Bickerstaff, Encyclopedia of Mormonism/G/Gifts of the Spirit)

The Unreal Falsehoods

Three things I learned in compiling the above list:

1. The False Law of Witnesses

It's only natural that because there are opposites in all things, there can also be an imitation/counterfeit Law of Witnesses. After all, Moses' staff had its oppositeS.
"Then Pharaoh also called the wise men and the sorcerers: now the magicians of Egypt, they also did in like manner with their enchantments.
For they cast down every man his rod, and they became serpents: but Aaron’s rod swallowed up their rods." (Exodus 7:11-12; emphasis mine)
Christ had negative witnesses (aka false accusers; see scriptural citations above).

And Joseph Smith? I'd say he pretty much wrote the book on having to live with the false Law of Witnesses. He had dozens of them -- many of whom were once trusted founding members and top leaders of the church.

I remember many instances I saw in college where a female college student would tell her friends, "I know that guy is going to be my husband" or the male college student telling the girlfriend, "The Holy Ghost testified that you're to be my wife" -- and both instances would later prove wrong. Man oh man, if I had a nickel for every time there was a "burning in the bosom" about a supposed match made in heaven that was actually overexuberance, hyperhormonalism (is that a word?) or just plain old deception.

I'm also reminded of a good friend (a member of the LDS Church) who was recently deceived by a man who is actually a well-respected member of a breakaway Mormon belief. He persistently worked at her, trying to get her to succumb to his statements that what he was proposing to her was right and approved of God. He was so persuasive, that she began to see signs, little hints here and there, which persuaded her that she was on the right track. Here's what she said in an email to me (shared by permission):
"How many times did I get a second, third witness that I [later] found out came from Satan? I really have wiped a lot of my experience from my brain. There was 'odd coincidences' (even though I don't believe in coincidences) in his [another man's] life and [her husband's] life. [She then described how both the man and her husband once knew each other -- they attended the same schools, once lived in the same ward, had the same employer and professions and came from the same culture]. So thats a little odd, right? He thought this was a "sign" we were supposed to be together. If off the top of my head, I can count easily about 10. 10 things that witnessed that I was on the right path and God was in control and that the whole thing was true. All over a 12 week period... certain numbers popping up, odd animals appearing, friends calling and witnessing, songs and words, scriptures given as answers, names popping up on signs, life being coordinated, everything except peace in my heart and God's voice. I did not know at the time I was out of alignment with God. I was praying if I was to be corrected, but all these things kept happening. So the basic lesson was: Satan can use all of those things too as witnesses, down to angels, turning staffs into snakes etc. Just as God can/does. And how does he have power to do this? Because by your choices you have put yourself and your life under his power."
My interpretation:
  • Joseph Smith taught that "Some revelations are of God: some revelations are of man: and some revelations are of the devil." (B.H. Roberts, Comprehensive History of the Church, 1:163).
"Early in the second year of the Church, the Lord revealed that 'there are many spirits which are false spirits, which have gone forth in the earth, deceiving the world.' (D&C 50:2) The revelation on spiritual gifts tells the elders who were going forth on missions to be righteous and prayerful 'that ye may not be seduced by evil spirits, or doctrines of devils, or the commandments of men; for some are of men, and others of devils.' (D&C 46:7)" (Dallin H. Oaks, “Spiritual Gifts,” Ensign, Sept. 1986, p. 72)
  • When a person inquires of the Lord concerning a matter, if they harbor carnal desires, and is in error, they will receive an answer according to their erring heart. But it will not be a revelation from the Lord.
  • If your desires are in any way carnal, and you are in fact being deceived, the answer(s) will be revealed to you accordingly; and you will think it is the revealed will of God. Could this be the “strong delusion” addressed in 2 Thess. 2:10-12, Isa. 66:2-4, Ezek. 14:1-11; James 4:3; and Jacob 4:14?
  • As we learned with the lost 116 page manuscript, God will warn us. But if we persist in a course of action which is contrary to God's will, we step off the "yellow brick road" and, sans God's protection, we allow ourselves to be deceived by Satan.
"Be ever on guard lest you be deceived by inspiration from an unworthy source. You can be given false spiritual messages. There are counterfeit spirits just as there are counterfeit angels... The spiritual part of us and the emotional part of us are so closely linked that it is possible to mistake an emotional impulse for something spiritual. We occasionally find people who receive what they assume to be spiritual promptings from God, when those promptings are either centered in the emotions or are from the adversary." (Boyd K. Packer, "The Candle of the Lord", Ensign, Jan. 1983, p. 55-56).
2. False Peace

Jesus said, "Peace I leave with you; My peace I give to you; not as the world gives, do I give to you.  Let not your heart be troubled, nor let it be fearful." (John 14:27).

Can one feel a false sense of peace?

I believe so. While believers turn to God for peace, unbelievers look within. They foster and nurture self-assurance grounded in reachable expectations which, when attained, will result in confidence and peace.  The sad truth is that sometimes these things can bring about peace. But it is a false peace because it is not based on God nor the iron rod of His word.  It is based upon themselves, their desires, their perceptions and their possessions. This selfishness often leads to the abandonment of the inclination to pray, or adopting the belief that because one believes in Christ, they are automatically saved.

3. False Prophets/Christs

It is amazing to me that whenever God is about to send a true prophet or even Savior, Satan will move first with his own version. Judas Maccabee was hailed as the expected “Messiah of Judah” several generations before Christ's birth. We are also told about the rise of false prophets and anti-Christs immediately prior to the Second Coming. By having a false prophet/Christ precede the true one -- often quoting scripture, accompanied by overwhelming powers of persuasion and even the ability to work miracles -- the acceptance of the ministry of the true prophet/Christ is complicated.

Even today, I see people who assume all the characteristics of a prophet, but are quick to deny such a lofty responsibility. They are scriptorians of the highest order, but invariably, their deceptiveness is unveiled when they espouse teachings and doctrines not rooted in the Standard Works.

Opposition and the Best of the Best of Us

These opposites are alive and well among the Latter-day Saints:
  • False witnesses destroy the moral and even ethical fibers of truly good people.
  • False peace (self-assuredness) entices members to worship idols while believing they will still be spared from forthcoming calamities and even enjoy eternal life with God.
  • False prophets have ripped away many families from the truth -- a fact which weighs upon me to a significant extent (very few of my friends realize how crushed I have been as I have seen many, many friends rush to -- and embrace -- these false prophets and their non-scriptural teachings).
Not only do these opposites exist, but they so closely resemble the real deal,

"that, if possible, they shall deceive the very elect, who are the elect according to the covenant." (Matthew 24:23 JST)

Wow, not only the elect, but the "elect according to the covenant." Who is He talking about here?
"The term elect refers to 'those who love God with all their hearts and live lives that are pleasing to Him' (Guide to the Scriptures, “Elect”). In some instances, it refers more specifically to baptized members of the Church. President Harold B. Lee (1899–1973) taught that ''according to the covenant’ means members of the Church of Jesus Christ'' (The Teachings of Harold B. Lee, ed. Clyde J. Williams [1996], 401; see also D&C 29:7; 33:6)." (New Testament Student Manual, 2014, Chapter 8: Matthew 24–25; Joseph Smith—Matthew).
Now, I'd like you to stop for a second here and think about this. Who do you know who loves God? I mean, they love Him with all their hearts? These are the kinds of people whose lives are pleasing to God. And because they've covenanted with God, they are members of the Church of Christ.

Do you know who I think this is referring to?

The best of us. I mean, the best of the best of us.

As I sit here and type this, I shake my head because a part of me does not consider myself elect. But at the same time, it concerns me. After all, if these stellar saints have the potential to be deceived, where does that leave you and me?

Pretty sobering thought, isn't it.
"strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it." (3 Nephi 14:14)

Examples of the Best of Us Who Were Deceived

The Prophet Joseph Smith related from his own experience, “The nearer a person approaches the Lord, a greater power will be manifested by the adversary to prevent the accomplishment of His purposes” (in Orson F. Whitney, Life of Heber C. Kimball, Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1967, p. 132).

As the great deceiver, Lucifer has marvelous powers of deception. Shakespeare wrote, “The prince of darkness is a gentleman” (King Lear, act 3, sc. 4, line 143), and “the devil can cite Scripture for his purpose” (The Merchant of Venice, act 1, sc. 3, line 95).

Eve was deceived by such a gentleman, who -- as her self-declared brother -- supposedly had her best interests in mind.

In fact, as Paul said to the Corinthians, “And no marvel; for Satan himself is transformed into an angel of light” (2 Corinthians 11:14; 2 Nephi 9:9; D&C 129:8-9).

Lehi learned the truth of Paul's statement first-hand:
“...for behold, methought I saw in my dream, a dark and dreary wilderness. And it came to pass that I saw a man, and he was dressed in a white robe; and he came and stood before me. And it came to pass that he spake unto me, and bade me follow him. And it came to pass that as I followed him I beheld myself that I was in a dark and dreary waste. And after I had traveled for the space of many hours in darkness, I began to pray unto the Lord that he would have mercy on me, according to the multitude of his tender mercies. And it came to pass after I had prayed unto the Lord I beheld a large and spacious field. And it came to pass that I beheld a tree, whose fruit was desirable to make one happy” (1 Nephi 8:4-10).
What do Lehi and Eve's experiences both have in common?

Both trusted in the arm of flesh. Because we have more detail with Lehi’s vision of the Tree of Life, we know he began by agreeing to follow a “man” dressed in “white” -- a symbol that the man was pure and could be trusted. Yet invariably, Lehi was led into darkness. It took Lehi's praying to God for him to be removed from the darkness, after which he was shown the Tree of Life (1 Nephi 8:10).

How Imitations Gain Legitimacy

I don't believe iniquity is an immediate thing. It's incremental. Huge declines in spirituality (in general) and (more specifically) discernment don't happen all at once. They are subtly and carefully crafted and conducted, with no arousing jolts or jars:
“And others will he pacify, and lull them away into carnal security, that they will say: All is well in Zion; yea, Zion prospereth, all is well—and thus the devil cheateth their souls, and leadeth them away carefully down to hell.
And behold, others he flattereth away, and telleth them there is no hell; and he saith unto them: I am no devil, for there is none—and thus he whispereth in their ears, until he grasps them with his awful chains, from whence there is no deliverance” (2 Nephi 28:21–22).
"You will say that these are very small sins; and doubtless, like all young tempters, you are anxious to be able to report spectacular wickedness. … It does not matter how small the sins are, provided that their cumulative effect is to edge the man away from the Light and out into the Nothing. … Indeed, the safest road to Hell is the gradual one-the gentle slope, soft underfoot, without sudden turnings, without milestones, without signposts" (C.S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters, New York: Macmillan, 1962, p. 56).
Ironically, these gentle slopes can be found in the things that are taught both in and out of the church. Elder Bruce R. McConkie stated,
“I do not know all of the providences of the Lord, but I do know that he permits false doctrine to be taught in and out of the Church and that such teaching is part of the sifting process of mortality." (Letter from Elder Bruce R. McConkie to BYU professor Eugene England, Feb.19, 1981, p. 7).

Be Elect...and Undeceived

"False prophets always arise to oppose the true prophets and they will prophesy so very near the truth that they will deceive almost the very chosen ones." (Joseph Smith, History of the Church 6:364)

Satan's counterfeits are so convincing, and appear so close to the real thing, that it takes experts to recognize what is truly of God and what is really Satan trying to deceive us (D&C 28:11).

Take counterfeit money, for example.

It's said that Ruth Graham, wife of preacher Billy Graham, once attended a dinner party in London. At this event, she sat next to the former head of Scotland Yard. In conversation, she suggested,
"You must spend a lot of time handling counterfeit money to know what it looks like."
The man replied,
"On the contrary, Mrs. Graham, I spend all of my time studying the genuine thing. That way, when I saw a counterfeit, I could immediately detect it" (Dannah Gresh, "Pursuing the Pearl: The Quest for a Pure, Passionate Marriage"; emphasis mine).
In seeking confirmation of this fact, I found an experience recounted by blogger, author and book reviewer Tim Challies. In his article, "Counterfeit Detection", he details a visit he had to the Bank of Canada, where he learned from an expert how to detect counterfeit money. His conclusion:
"Training in identifying counterfeit currency begins with studying genuine money. I soon learned that identifying counterfeit currency is not a terribly difficult task. When a person knows what to look for, when he has been trained to examine the bill for particular identifying characteristics, identifying genuine from fraudulent can be done with great accuracy, even on the basis of only a small amount of training. I successfully identified each piece of counterfeit currency."
Yet Chailles, in likening his counterfeit training experience to discernment, took the implications of discernment -- and the lack thereof -- a step further. He said:
"I was surprised to learn that the Bank of Canada expects all Canadians to exercise discernment with their currency. We are expected to check each piece of currency that comes into our possession. Because once I accept a bill, that piece of money becomes my responsibility. Should I attempt to later deposit this bill in a bank and should the teller find that it is counterfeit, the bill will be confiscated and I will not be reimbursed. What I accept becomes my responsibility. Now there is a difference between taking a bill and accepting a bill. I have the right to inspect and refuse any piece of currency. But once I accept that money, I am responsible for it.
There is a clear parallel here to spiritual discernment. Just as I am responsible for money I accept and later attempt to spend, in the same way I am responsible for the teachings I accept and later attempt to share with others. Thus it is my responsibility before God to inspect every teaching that comes my way. I should test each teaching that is presented to me, refusing to accept any that go against the plain teaching of Scripture. There are tests the Bible provides which will help us discern truth from error. 1 Thessalonians 5:21-22 exhorts all Christians to “test everything; hold fast to what is good. Abstain from every form of evil.” We are first to test, then abstain, and finally hold fast. [LDSPD Note: It's interesting how Challies' advice to "hold fast" parallels "clinging to the rod of iron" in 1 Nephi 8:24].Christians, and even those with a particular gifting or interest in discernment, should focus more on truth than error. The more we understand what is true, the easier it will be to identify what is fraudulent. The more we know about God’s character, God’s ways, and God’s Word, the greater the contrast will be between truth and error."
So it is with knowing, and adhering to, eternal truths. Pres. Harold B. Lee said,
“I say we need to teach our people to find their answers in the scriptures. If only each of us would be wise enough to say that we aren't able to answer any question unless we can find a doctrinal answer in the scriptures! And if we hear someone teaching something that is contrary to what is in the scriptures, each of us may know whether the things spoken are false - it is as simple as that." (First Presidency Message, Ensign, December 1972).
He also said,
“We ought to choose our texts from the scriptures, and wherever you have an illustration in the scriptures or a revelation in the Book of Mormon, use it, and do not draw from other sources where you can find it here in these books. We call these the standard Church works because they are standard. If you want to measure truth, measure it by the four standard Church works. … If it is not in the standard works, you may well assume that it is speculation. It is man’s own personal opinion, to put it another way; and if it contradicts what is in the scriptures, you may know by that same token that it is not true. This is the standard by which you measure all truth. But if you do not know the standards, you have no adequate measure of truth.” (The Teachings of Harold B. Lee, 148–49; emphasis mine)
Pres. Lee's perspective decisively answers a common question asked by those visiting this blog: "How can I know if the promptings and even the personal revelations I have received are real?"

Answer: Promptings and revelations should be congruent with truths found in the scriptures. Also, as Moroni aptly stated,
"But behold, that which is of God inviteth and enticeth to do good continually; wherefore, every thing which inviteth and enticeth to do good, and to love God, and to serve him, is inspired of God." (Moroni 7:47)
A follow-up question: There has to be some limits to what Satan can tell us, doesn't there?

Answer: He's not going to tell you to do good things. Do you think he'll tell you to sincerely repent? Pray earnestly? Search the scriptures? Render service? To genuinely love another? Nope. (See Mark 3:25-26)

On a personal note: When I look at the length and breadth of LDS-related movements, faiths and organizations, I'm astounded by how many eagerly embrace teachings which have absolutely no precedent, and are not even remotely mentioned, in the Standard Works.

Opposition to God and His truths is an eternal reality. Today, we see people who consider themselves church members in good standing, but also unapologetically embrace idols (and teach their children, and others, to join them; see here for a good list of modern-day idols), place men in between them and God, and enthusiastically adopt teachings not found in the Standard Works.

As mentioned above, it's no mistake that those in Lehi's dream who pressed forward, and caught hold of and clinged to the iron rod -- even through the mist of darkness -- were able to come forth and partake of the fruit of the tree of life (1 Nephi 8:24).

How about you?

It's my hope that as you prayerfully ponder these concepts, you'll have a renewed, unshakable confidence -- rooted in Jesus Christ -- to seek, study and receive truths found in the scriptures. As you diligently do so, I have no doubt that you'll quickly discover and shed those aspects of your life that have left you deceived, and you'll be empowered with greater ability from God to avoid deception in the future.

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

The Gift of Discernment Part 3: Seek and Receive the Gift of Discernment

Hot Chocolate -- A Key to Obtaining the Gift of Discernment

It's been my experience that discernment is not something you can just turn on and off, like flipping a switch. No. It requires considerable faith, study, successes, failures, prayer, direct divine intervention chocolate.

Hot chocolate?!

Yep, that's what I said. Hot chocolate.

You see, for me, a nice, warm hot chocolate in the late fall/winter/early spring has a soothing, calming effect on me. I feel peaceful. Relaxed. Calm.

Maybe hot chocolate isn't your inner peacemaker. Maybe it's a nice warm bath or shower, taking a walk or spending time in nature. One person I know is at his calmest when he's mowing the lawn. Whatever works.

I don't believe you have a snowball's chance of discerning -- seeing what God sees, hearing what God hears and feeling what God feels -- while simultaneously listening to AC/DC's "Back in Black". Nor can you effectively discern if you give in to a little porn now and then, are idolatrous or just simply unrepentant (aka prideful). Sorry -- you can't have your primary residence in Zion while still hoping to keep a summer cottage in Babylon.

In my opinion, when you're aligned with God, and at peace, you're then close to (or on) the Lord's wavelength. After all, Elijah felt a great wind, an earthquake and a fire. The Lord wasn't in any of them; then came “a still small voice.” (1 Kings 19:12; D&C 85:6). Some of the still, small voice's characteristics are:
  • It's heard in your mind: “Behold, the voice of the Lord came into my mind” (Enos 1:10).
  • It's not simply a thought, but an impression or feeling: "While this spiritual communication comes into the mind, it comes more as a feeling, an impression, than simply as a thought." (Elder Boyd K. Packer, "Reverence Invites Revelation", October 1991 General Conference)
  • It's as gentle as a whisper: “It was not a voice of thunder, neither was it a voice of a great tumultuous noise, but behold, it was a still voice of perfect mildness, as if it had been a whisper, and it did pierce even to the very soul.” (Helaman 5:30). Nephi also reminded his brothers that an angel “hath spoken unto you in a still small voice, but ye were past feeling, that ye could not feel his words.”  (1 Nephi 17:45).
  • Most importantly, it will entice you to do good (Moroni 7:12-13) and speak peace to you (D&C 6:23)
  • Thus, the Spirit also speaks to your heart (D&C 8:2)
So, we see that
"Inspiration comes more easily in peaceful settings. Such words as quiet, still, peaceable, Comforter abound in the scriptures: 'Be still, and know that I am God.' (Ps. 46:10; emphasis mine). And the promise, 'You shall receive my Spirit, the Holy Ghost, even the Comforter, which shall teach you the peaceable things of the kingdom.'" (D&C 36:2). (Elder Boyd K. Packer, "Reverence Invites Revelation" October 1991 General Conference).
If I were to summarize all these concepts into one sentence, it'd be this:

Spiritual Warfare's Secret Weapon

There are three guarantees in life: Death, taxes, and Satan throwing every trick in the book at you when you're seeking the Gift of Discernment.

All of us have times when we find it difficult to seek greater communion with the Lord. We may be sad, upset, anxious and worse. And yes, even though we'd agree that prayer is certainly a spiritual weapon we can deploy in the blink of an eye to help us feel peace (as are scripture reading and fasting), there are times when we find it challenging to do those things, too.

It's at those times when we need all the help we can get -- especially when the hot chocolate or the warm shower just isn't the right solution. Being imperfect humans, we need a life line, assistance, a tool -- anything and everything that's divine and reliable which can help invite the Spirit and cast Satan from our midst.

Luckily, the Lord has supplied such a tool to help us draw closer to Him, feel His spirit again and regain a measure of peace which naturally comes to those aligned with Him. In fact, I can narrow it down to a single, five-letter word:

"A man can get nearer to God by music than any other method except prayer." (Pres. J. Reuben Clark, Conference Report, Oct. 1936, p. 111)
Can music help you cast out evil and focus on God? Absolutely!
"And it came to pass, when the evil spirit from God was upon Saul, that David took an harp, and played with his hand: so Saul was refreshed, and was well, and the evil spirit departed from him." (1 Samuel 16:23)
"Thou art my hiding place; thou shalt preserve me from trouble; thou shalt compass me about with songs of deliverance. Selah." (Psalms 32:7)
If you go here, you can read a series of posts I wrote in 2013 about the effect music can have on your soul. It's no wonder that Beethoven said, "Music is a higher revelation than all wisdom and philosophy". Even the Lord acknowledged music's spiritual power when He said,
"For my soul delighteth in the song of the heart; yea, the song of the righteous is a prayer unto me, and it shall be answered with a blessing upon their heads." (D&C 25:12)
On a personal note: I have found music is everything Pres. Clark and the scriptures say it is: A powerful method, tool, even a gift to help us re-tune to the Divine (for more about "tuning in to God", click here).

And once you're tuned in, and accustomed to what it feels like (remember the characteristics of the still small voice above), you're in terrific shape to "Counsel with the Lord in all thy doings, and he will direct thee for good" (Alma 37:37)

In my opinion, now you're ready to seek the Gift of Discernment.

"By Study and Also By Faith"

NOTE: The following is just an example of how a person (in this case, it was me) can seek after and receive the Gift of Discernment. It was based on the inspiration I received at the time. Your journey to receiving the Gift of Discernment may be different.

The Lord expects humility and perspiration to precede inspiration. He also expects us to seek after knowledge and information before we seek inspiration (see here and here):
"Behold, you have not understood; you have supposed that I would give it unto you, when you took no thought save it was to ask me.
But, behold, I say unto you, that you must study it out in your mind; then you must ask me if it be right, and if it is right I will cause that your bosom shall burn within you; therefore, you shall feel that it is right.
But if it be not right you shall have no such feelings, but you shall have a stupor of thought that shall cause you to forget the thing which is wrong; therefore, you cannot write that which is sacred save it be given you from me." (D&C 9:7-9)
Thus, it just stands to reason that if you want to be blessed with the Gift of Discernment -- which we've been told is offered to all Saints -- you need to put in the requisite amount of perspiration, likely "by study and also by faith" (D&C 88:119-119; D&C 109:7-8)

This was the conclusion I reached many years ago. Only at that time, I felt prompted to first study spiritual gifts/gifts of the spirit. To "start at the 30,000 foot level", as they say.

So at that time, I studied every scripture every written about gifts. EVERY scripture. I read them in English, Hebrew or Greek, so I could clearly understand the original meaning of what was written. Then I read each scripture's cross-references. Next, I sought after and read every word ever uttered by Joseph Smith regarding gifts. Combined, I considered these sources as my "foundation level" of information.

Next, I read the biblical commentaries of each scripture. These helped me gain a new perspective on the social and historical circumstances of the biblical scriptures. I also read every conference talk and curriculum material mentioning gifts. In all cases, I gave preferential consideration to those statements which clearly aligned with the foundation layer (I'll describe a bit more of my "sifting and sorting process" later in this post).

As I read and studied and pondered, I asked Father to guide me to the concepts He wanted me to learn. Sometimes, I'd easily grasp and embrace a concept. Other times, He would give me experiences (what I call "Lab Courses") of concepts He wanted indelibly imprinted upon me. I succeeded with some of the experiences He'd give me. Other times, I failed. I'd repent, then try again. I'd fail, repent, repeat process. Over time, it seemed to me that the important thing to Father wasn't whether or not I failed; instead, it was whether or not I repented and turned to Christ to help me proceed. I had many, many impressions that as long as I was doing that, I wasn't failing.

During the course of my research, I would feel impressed to highlight or mentally note certain keywords. It would be just a word here, and a word there. Just occasionally.

Then, one day, it finally dawned on me. Father was pulling me in the direction of not just studying gifts in general, but one gift in particular: Discernment.

(I praise God for guiding me through this journey. In my case, He led me to Discernment. In another's case, it could easily be charity or faith or healing or any gift).

I was impressed to do all the things I had done up to that point, yet focus my efforts solely on Discernment. I started all over again and re-read the sources I'd previously read concerning gifts which also addressed discernment. I read other passages as well. From the foundation layer to the commentaries to the conference talks to the curriculum materials, every scripture or statement was plugged into a spreadsheet (No, you can't see it. Make your own!  : )  ) I studied spiritual gifts for four months, and discernment (including an incident described below) for eight months. One year total.

Like my lessons regarding gifts, I was given experiences regarding discernment. Some I easily accomplished. Some attempts were abject failures.

One attempt was tragic.

Three Things the Lord Taught Me About Discernment

1. The Inevitable Test

It's been my experience -- and the experience of others I know who have sought spiritual gifts -- that there will likely come a time that you've developed a healthy degree of confidence in the usage of your spiritual gift. You can use it again and again and again, and each time, it brings about a beneficial result (most often for another).

Then the inevitable happens.

You are given an opportunity to use the gift, and you do it. But in the rush of enthusiasm in using the gift, you fail to remember that it's Christ -- not a mortal -- who "will direct thee for good". You seize the initiative and use the gift on your terms, for your personal reasons.

That's what I did. Although I didn't use the gift for illegal or immoral reasons, it was nonetheless used without the Lord's consent and permission. Soon thereafter, usage of the gift was withheld from me for six months.

By the time my six months in the penalty box were over, I felt pretty broken. It was then that God once again made Himself evident and reinforced what, to this day, was a tremendously valuable lesson: When it comes to using gifts, it's "Thy will, not mine, be done." Even today, when I contemplate the usage of spiritual gifts, I imagine my finger on the switch of a gift. It never moves unless and until the Lord overlays His fingers on mine and gently nudges me to activate the gift.

Another blessing emerged from this experience: A story emerged in my mind about a boy who played chopsticks on a piano, only to be later joined by a master pianist, who overlaid His fingers on the boy's. This story, which I literally experienced first-hand (with respect to spiritual gifts), served as the basis for this blog's first post, posted on February 5, 2012: "Symphonies". Here's what I said back then, as the experiences of my "Time Out" were still fresh in my mind:
"These blog posts are of, by and for you -- that scared, lonely child who at one time or another may have felt like you didn't have the talent, the wisdom, the know-how, in fact the worthiness, to be worthy of the presence of the Master.
They're also about the what happens when your fingers combine with our Elder Brother's, and the exquisitely beautiful symphony that will chime in, at just the right times, that will leave you not only awestruck, but also able to personally testify that the Master indeed lives.
For your natural abilities, combined with his super abilities, can and will bring about supernatural wonders in our lives."
2. "Shelves"

One of the lessons I learned as I was studying discernment is that even when it comes to using spiritual gifts, "Timing is Everything".

At one point in my studies, I was given a test. I was given three doctrines to determine the truthfulness of.

At first, I considered it a no-brainer. I had several friends I considered older and wiser, and were far better versed in doctrines and scriptures than I was. I would just believe what they did, because heck, they'd walked the hot coals of experience and study to obtain their testimonies. In my prayers, and even within the walls of the temple, I begged and pleaded with God to help guide me regarding the conclusions on the doctrines presented to me.

Within about a week, a clear instruction was given to me: "By their fruits ye shall know them." Knowing that this was a scripturally-validated, divinely-endorsed commandment, I embraced it. I was also impressed to read Deuteronomy 4:30–31:
“But if from thence thou shalt seek the Lord thy God, thou shalt find him, if thou seek him with all thy heart and with all thy soul.
When thou art in tribulation, and all these things are come upon thee, even in the latter days, if thou turn to the Lord thy God, and shalt be obedient unto his voice; … He will not forsake thee.”
In the course of studying this verse, I was led to a talk given by Elder Bruce C. Hafen, “If with All Your Hearts Ye Truly Seek Me”. I was instantly drawn to the talk, because he gave it at a time when I personally knew the Hafens, and at least one of the anecdotes in it mentioned some personal friends. Reading this talk impressed a very crucial dimension to discernment: Sometimes, we need to give the Holy Ghost some time to weigh in. Sometimes it may take days, months, years, even decades.

Gerald Lund once said,
"It is God who decides the who, what, when, where, and how of revelation. We seem to want to impose our will upon Him. Some of us seem to think that prayer is like a Sears catalogue! We take it out, pick what we want, order it, and ask it 'to be sent to us U.P.S. and A.S.A.P. (as soon as possible), if you please!' Sometimes we don't need to have an answer by a certain day or time. The Lord will say "yes" and give us an answer, or "no, you don't need an answer right now, and I'll PROVE it!" ("How Do I Discern Between True and Counterfeit Revelation?")
"It is not wise to wrestle with the revelations with such insistence as to demand immediate answers or blessings to your liking. You cannot force spiritual things. Such words as compel, coerce, constrain, pressure, demand, do not describe our privileges with the Spirit. You can no more force the Spirit to respond than you can force a bean to sprout, or an egg to hatch before it's time. You can create a climate to foster growth, nourish, and protect; but you cannot force or compel: you must await the growth. Do not be impatient to gain great spiritual knowledge. Let it grow, help it grow, but do not force it or you will open the way to be misled." (Elder Boyd K. Packer, "The Candle of the Lord," Ensign, Jan. 1983, p. 53)
As I waited upon the Lord, God soon blessed me with some disturbing yet enlightening insights into my "friends". He also taught me truths about the interconnectedness of reason, feeling and experience, or the test of time.

Through all of that, I learned about The Three Shelves:
  • On the lowest shelf, I place doctrines which the Spirit has testified to me are true. They meet the "reason, feeling and experience, or the test of time" test. This shelf is easily accessible.
  • On the middle shelf go those doctrines or teachings I'm uncertain about. In most cases, I put them there and let the test of time sort them in or out.
  • On the top shelf are those doctrines or teachings I feel disinclined to believe. Others may believe them, and that's their prerogative. But for me, they remain practically out of reach. If they are intended for a lower shelf, then I await the Master's action.

3. Flying to Pieces Like Glass

Lastly, as I studied discernment, I learned a great deal about myself. One of the foremost things I learned was how entrenched I was in the traditions of men, interpretations of men and the pride of men.

God says,
"For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the Lord.
For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts." (Isaiah 55:8-9)
If God's thoughts and ways are higher than our own, and we are at best prodigals, then there are bound to be conflicts between His thoughts/ways and our thoughts/ways. Joseph ran up against this fact continually among members of the church:
"There has been a great difficulty in getting anything into the heads of this generation. It has been like splitting hemlock knots with a corn-dodger [a piece of corn bread] for a wedge, and a pumpkin for a beetle [a wooden mallet]. Even the Saints are slow to understand.
I have tried for a number of years to get the minds of the Saints prepared to receive the things of God; but we frequently see some of them, after suffering all they have for the work of God, will fly to pieces like glass as soon as anything comes that is contrary to their traditions: they cannot stand the fire at all. How many will be able to abide a celestial law, and go through and receive their exaltation, I am unable to say, as many are called, but few are chosen [see D&C 121:40]." (History of the Church, 6:184-85; from a discourse given by Joseph Smith on Jan. 21, 1844, in Nauvoo, Illinois; reported by Wilford Woodruff; Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 331)
"There are a great many wise men and women too in our midst who are too wise to be taught; therefore they must die in their ignorance, and in the resurrection they will find their mistake. Many seal up the door of heaven by saying, So far God may reveal and I will believe." (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 309; History of the Church 5:424).
"I say to all those who are disposed to set up stakes for the Almighty, You will come short of the glory of God. To become a joint heir of the heirship of the son he must put away all his traditions." (History of the Church, 5:554; from a discourse given by Joseph Smith on Aug. 27, 1843, in Nauvoo, Illinois; reported by Willard Richards and William Clayton.)
"Men will set up stakes and say thus far will we go and no farther. Did Abraham when called upon to offer his son? Did the Savior? No." (Notes of James Burgess from a sermon in the Temple Grove 27 August 1843, The Words of Joseph Smith, p.243-248)
"It is the constitutional disposition of mankind to set up stakes and set bounds to the works and ways of the Almighty." (History of the Church, 5:529–30; from a discourse given by Joseph Smith on Aug. 13, 1843, in Nauvoo, Illinois; reported by Willard Richards.)
This predisposition to what I call "Doctrinal Boxes" is tremendously evident on the internet. In fact, just this morning, I was reading a post in a gospel-oriented Facebook group where a member explained how he believed something which was almost word-for-word the opposite of what Isaiah says. Then another extolled and praised a well-known person who is also famous for their propensity to produce false prophecies. In my humble opinion, both utterly failed the "reason, feeling and experience, or the test of time" test.

These aren't isolated incidents. I see them often; not only on the internet, but in church meetings as well.

The bottom line: If you truly seek discernment, be prepared for a greater awareness of (God's) truths which are incongruent with what you've been taught over the years by mortals.

Like Elder Maxwell masterfully articulated, you can't have one foot in Zion and another in Babylon. There's no middle ground, no "lukewarm" seeking after discernment (Revelation 3:16). You're either in 100%, or you aren't.

In Conclusion

The scriptures give us more than a casual invitation to obtain spiritual gifts.  We are told to desire spiritual gifts. Seek earnestly the best gifts. Lay hold upon every good gift. To apply ourselves to our own special gift (1 Corin. 14:1; D&C 46:8; Moroni 10:30; D&C 8:4).

God doesn't cast His gifts freely into the wind. They're reserved for those who love God and keep His commandments. And you must seek them, cultivate them and clearly understand (as I'll detail later) that they must be used to benefit others.

You may be one of the many who have wondered where you were when the gifts were handed out. Perhaps you even feel that you were completely overlooked. I get that. I felt that way, too. I've even envied the gifts evident in others' lives.

Could you have a gift lying dormant within you?  Perhaps (even probably). Consider mining the deepest recesses of your soul to discover the "gold" that's in you. I'm sure that if you read your Patriarchal Blessing, ask for and heed the clues the Spirit will send you, you'll discover them.

As I've studied the subject of spiritual gifts and my knowledge of gifts has increased, I've repented of past feelings. I've also come to know that "to every man (and woman) is given a gift by the Spirit of God" (D&C 46:1; also see 1 Corin. 7:7).  I also know that some may be given an abundance of gifts (D&C 46:29).

Discernment is one of those gifts you're entitled to:
“… Every member in the restored Church of Christ could have this gift if he willed to do so. He could not be deceived with the sophistries of the world. He could not be led astray by pseudo-prophets and subversive cults. Even the inexperienced would recognize false teachings, in a measure at least" (Stephen L. Richards, Conference Report, Apr. 1950, 162–63).
My experience seeking and receiving discernment was just that: mine. I offer my story only as an example of how one person did it -- nothing more, nothing less. Please don't assume you'll have the same lessons and experiences I had. And please don't assume I am (or that I'm trying to come across as) anything greater than "The Prodigal Mormon", which -- in all honesty -- was a blog post I felt was written for me.

Yet I'm simultaneously amazed by how eager the Lord is for us to seek greater discernment and to use it for others. I'm equally astounded by how anxious He is for us to investigate and grow in even higher levels of discernment, many of which are "hidden in plain sight" in the scriptures. I will always praise His name in all the eternities for the things He has unveiled to a soul so rebellious and proud as mine.

A homework assignment or two (sorry -- they're the kind your dog can't eat).

I invite you to humbly, meekly ask God if you should diligently study spiritual gifts. Wait for His answer. If and when He says yes, then do it. If it's His will that you study discernment, then great! If not, that's great too.

Regardless, part of me thinks you could use a little inspiration along the way. I know I could.

So, effective today, this blog now has a new Multimedia tab on its website menu. It features inspirational music, inspirational videos, insightful videos and more. I've started it, but I'd like to invite you to help complete it. Feel free to email me here and suggest whatever songs or videos you believe will help others draw closer to our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

For it is He -- the Bread of Life, the Prince of Peace -- who gives sight to the blind so they might see...and hope to those who did not believe.