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Sunday, September 24, 2017

The Gift of Discernment Part 1: Are You Sure You're Truly Aligned With Christ?

We live in an era when wrong is right, down is up, evil is good, dark is light.

To discover the truth, we turn to our best informational resource: the internet. There, the truth is most often elusive, as falsehoods are guised as authoritative fact. It's not unusual to have to wade through a hundred false, fake "facts" to find a possible nugget of golden information.

We also find:
  • Traditional sources of truth, the media, evading their responsibilities to investigate the truth and report it objectively. Our response: We keep listening to and watching them.
  • Long-time, trusted sources of truth having to recant and retract their widely-promulgated stories and statements. Our response: We ignore their missteps, only to see them arise again at another time and place.
  • Even those we love, our friends and family, are prone to forward emails with stories which seem true, but aren't. Our response: We don't ask the sender to correct their mistake; we just delete the emails.
  • Common idols which have unabashedly eroded spirituality for millennia.  Our response: We openly, enthusiastically promote them at nearly every turn, while we simultaneously condemn others who extol other idols.
  • Teachings passed off as doctrinal "truths", having no scriptural basis whatsoever. Our response: We believe them, and proselytize them as God's own words.
  • We create excuses to ignore and minimize some our most important latter-day scriptures, for which we stand condemned by God. Our response: We ignore said condemnation, and consider ourselves blessed, enlightened and true.
"For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears;
And they shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables." (2 Timothy 4:3-4)
Inevitably, as we either embrace untruths or don't stand up for the truth, we unknowingly merrily march through the morass of muddied misinformation. We degrade our discernment. We acclimate our spirits to the normalcy of mediocrity at best, and falsehood at worst. We get used to the static, and not the Spirit, signaling our souls.

And even in those times when we've strayed off-course, we ask God to "Lead me, guide me, walk beside me. Help me find the way." Then we wonder why God isn't answering our prayers because -- in our heart of hearts -- "we've done nothing wrong".

I believe that in a lot of cases, the cruddy, frustrating, even heartbreaking circumstances we often find ourselves in -- and begging God to help us out of -- are due to our own persistent, consistent, tireless stupidity.

This brings up an interesting point: Could God command you to do one thing, and command another to do something else -- perhaps even the complete opposite?

Yes and no.

The Unchanging Changeableness of God

For generations, we've been taught that God doesn't change, and that what was truth to Him long ago remains truth today.

"For do we not read that God is the same yesterday, today, and forever, and in him there is no variableness neither shadow of changing?" (Mormon 9:9-10)

If this is the case, then why do we read:

  • In Exodus 35:2 that we should kill anyone -- including doctors, nurses, firemen, policemen, military, air traffic controllers, pilots -- who works on the Sabbath?
  • In Leviticus 11:7-8 that we shouldn't touch the flesh of dead pigs? Does this invalidate football? Does this mean Cougar Football -- not to mention all those little league and community football games for kids -- are an abomination in the sight of God? Is wearing gloves the solution?
  • In Leviticus 25:44 that I may buy slaves from the nations that are around us? Does this apply to both Canada and Mexico?
  • In Leviticus 21:18-19 that I should avoid anyone with a mole, birthmark, blindness, disability, a flat nose, dwarfism, or cataracts?
  • In Leviticus 19:27 that men who cut their hair are condemned before God? Does this mean that bald men are spiritually beautiful?
  • In Leviticus 19:19 -- and Deuteronomy 22:11 -- that my wife is condemned for wearing a garment mingled of linen and wool? Does Leviticus 24:14 mean that my ward should stone her? 
  • In Leviticus 20:13, that we should put to death all homosexuals?

On top of all of that, in Matthew 5:17, we understand that the Law of Moses was neither revoked nor repealed, but fulfilled.

Because it's doubtful the Lord would be pleased with any of the above laws being enforced today, how do we make sense of these scriptural differences? (Keep reading for an explanation).

What's Right for You May Not Be Right for Me

You and I are at different levels and places in our spiritual progression. We differ in our spiritual gifts, the trials we face, the experiences we have and the knowledge we obtain. We also differ in the personal commandments God gives to us.
"God does love each of you, He is aware of you, and each of you has a customized curriculum in life. There is divine design in your life, better appreciated perhaps even you look back than when looking forward." (Neal A. Maxwell, "The Challenge of Selfishness", University of Utah)
This means that you and I may be tasked with different responsibilities and expectations at any given time. For example, God may prompt you to work on family history, whereas He may prompt me to work on this blog. You bake cookies for the invalid woman in the ward, and I'm prompted to visit a good brother in the ward who's in the hospital. You're prompted to pursue the Gift of Charity, and I'm prompted to pursue the Gift of Faith. In such a scenario, are you doing the wrong thing? Am I? I don't think so, because both of us are hearkening to the Spirit.

In that case, then why do we see some who are prompted to abandon certain gospel truths and pursue other teachings, perhaps in another church or organization? How is it that they who are traveling a different path may be reading the scriptures, praying and repenting more than they did when they were aligned with the restored gospel of Jesus Christ? Why do they "feel the Spirit" when they listen to a leader or teacher whose teachings aren't congruent with the gospel, as well as the doctrines and teachings revealed through Brother Joseph?
"Nothing is a greater injury to the children of men than to be under the influence of a false spirit when they think they have the Spirit of God." (Joseph Smith, History of the Church, Vol. 4, Ch. 33, p. 573).

There Are No Easy Answers Here

So, what may be right for you might not be right for me, and visa-versa. In fact, what may be right and proper for one generation (like the Levitical) may be wrong for another (today) (see 3 Nephi 15; Alma 34:13-14 and here).

Judgmentalism often surfaces when people become aware of these differences in others, and oppose them as being incongruent with what God has taught them. To justify this judgmentalism, we often point to historical records (which are often unreliable), the scriptures (or shall I say, our own interpretation -- or misinterpretation -- of them), or our own personal revelation (which can also be misinterpreted). And, although I mean no disrespect whatsoever, even Pres. Uchtdorf admitted in General Conference an inconvenient truth most members would rather not contemplate: We are all fallible. We are all imperfect. Not every utterance, from every General Authority, is the mind and will of God.
"And, to be perfectly frank, there have been times when members or leaders in the Church have simply made mistakes. There may have been things said or done that were not in harmony with our values, principles, or doctrine. I suppose the Church would be perfect only if it were run by perfect beings. God is perfect, and His doctrine is pure. But He works through us-His imperfect children-and imperfect people make mistakes." (Pres. Dieter F. Uchtdorf, "Come, Join with Us", October 2013 General Conference)
"The leaders of the Church are honest but imperfect men. Remember the words of Moroni: 'Condemn me not because of mine imperfection, neither my father … ; but rather give thanks unto God that he hath made manifest unto you our imperfections, that ye may learn to be more wise than we have been' (Ether 12:6)." (Elder Neil L. Anderson, “Trial of Your Faith” October 2012 General Conference).
So if we can't ascribe infallibility to historical accounts, scriptural, revelatory or ecclesiastical interpretation, how do we avoid deception?

The Beginning of Discernment

Are there some truths which transcend our personal commandments, which are applicable to all mankind?

In searching for an answer to that question, I recently turned to a friend who used to be an investigative journalist. Last week, I asked him about discernment. His answer was illuminating. He said that on his first day of journalism school, his professor (who was a dead-ringer for Kenny Rogers) said something to the effect of, "As a journalist, you're going to hear a lot of falsehoods, and very few (if any) truths. You're going to have to work harder than anyone else to obtain those truths. You'll need to be more persistent, dig deeper, look broader and question more. In fact, you'll need to question everything. As you do this, the truth will begin to appear as dots of facts, which your investigations have begun to connect", the professor said. "To be blunt, if your mother says she loves you, check it out."

Likewise, when it comes to embracing doctrinal truths, we can't just passively sit there and think God's going to bestow us with profound insight just because we asked for it (see D&C 9:7). You need to work for it. You need to persistently dig deeper, look broader and question more so you force the dots of truth to emerge, thereby enabling you to better connect the dots. Maybe a dot will come from the scriptures. Maybe a leader or teacher. Maybe your own personal revelation. But the dots of truth will be congruent and synonymous. Here's what the Lord said about this strategy:
"Then said Jesus to those Jews which believed on him, If ye continue in my word, then are ye my disciples indeed;
And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free." (John 8:31-32)
"Search the scriptures -- search the revelations which we publish, and ask your Heavenly Father, in the name of His Son Jesus Christ, to manifest the truth unto you, and if you do it with an eye single to His glory nothing doubting, He will answer you by the power of His Holy Spirit. You will then know for yourselves and not for another. You will not then be dependent on man for the knowledge of God: nor will there be any room for speculation. No; for when men receive their instruction from Him that made them, they know how He will save them. Then again we say: Search the Scriptures, search the Prophets and learn what portion of them belongs to you." (Joseph Smith, Jr., Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 11)
"All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: That the man of God may be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works." (2 Timothy 3:16-17)
"And again, I will give unto you a pattern in all things, that ye may not be deceived; for Satan is abroad in the land, and he goeth forth deceiving the nations—
Wherefore he that prayeth, whose spirit is contrite, the same is accepted of me if he obey mine ordinances.
He that speaketh, whose spirit is contrite, whose language is meek and edifieth, the same is of God if he obey mine ordinances.
And again, he that trembleth under my power shall be made strong, and shall bring forth fruits of praise and wisdom, according to the revelations and truths which I have given you.
And again, he that is overcome and bringeth not forth fruits, even according to this pattern, is not of me.
Wherefore, by this pattern ye shall know the spirits in all cases under the whole heavens." (D&C 52:14-19)
In other words, when we prayerfully search the scriptures, we can learn truths straight from God, independent of anyone or anything else. We'll also know when others are aligned with the truth by the fruits they bring forth.

When There Are No Dots to Connect

Yet often, the truths we seek may not be clearly delineated in sources we have before us. The words of God's true representatives may be silent on a subject. Historical accounts may be incomplete, or may not make much sense. We may find ourselves without many, perhaps any, dots to connect. Additionally, God told us that there would be times like these:
“For behold, it is not meet that I should command in all things; for he that is compelled in all things, the same is a slothful and not a wise servant; wherefore he receiveth no reward.” (D&C 58:26)
This is a particularly vulnerable time, because there are no easy answers, and likely no immediately forthcoming answers at all, no matter how hard you dig.

Additionally, Satan will do his level best to distract you. As an expert theologian, he'll teach you many truths. He'll show you signs, wonders and miracles, all in a concerted, well-planned and executed attack to fully justify your stepping off the yellow brick road of truth.

You're a Citizen of Which Government?

So, let's recap what we've examined so far:
  • Our society is overrun with untruths, for which we Latter-day Saints may deserve some measure of blame.
  • Many embrace exceptions to gospel truths, often in secret.
  • God's commandments are immovable and applicable to the whole of humanity, but His personal commandments (which are rooted in general commandments) may differ from person to person.
  • We justify participation -- or rejection -- of these personal commandments based on historical accounts, scriptural, revelatory or ecclesiastical interpretation -- all of which have the potential to be "off".
  • The Lord gave us a pattern that we may not be deceived.
  • Even so, Satan will throw every trick in the book at us to knock us off the divine course.
You see, today, there are two spiritual governments which function on the earth: One of light and one of darkness. One of salvation, the other of damnation. One presided by God, the other presided by Satan.

Both of these governments are vying for our souls, and both offer us three gifts. One offers faith, discernment and charity. The other offers fear, judgmentalism and self-sufficiency.

As I've already spent the last year and a half discussing the Gift of Faith, I'm now moving on to the Gift of Discernment. I think as we proceed, it'll become increasingly obvious that the fulcrum, the deciding factor that determines which government you're a citizen of, depends entirely upon your passion, your allegiance, to one of these two governments.

To be realistic, all of us, no matter who we are, from the least of us to the greatest, have one foot in one government's realm, and the other in the other government's realm. All of us are unprofitable servants, yet all of us are children of the Most High God.

Constantly and consistently exercising discernment is a real challenge. We probably fail at discernment more often than we succeed. Still, I know two things:

1. No matter how many times you fall, Christ will be there, right beside you, offering His hand -- NOT His judgment -- to help you back up and succeed.

2. If knowledge is power, then divine knowledge of discernment must be tremendously powerful.

That's why, in the coming weeks and months, you'll learn:

  • What the Gift of Discernment is, how to seek it and obtain it.
  • About true and false signs, of dreams and visions, which are dispensed by both governments and are designed to either uplift or deceive the very elect.
  • About gifts and anti-gifts (or curses), which can be used to enhance or hinder not only your life, but also the lives of others.
  • About how your everyday choices and behaviors may exhibit a deficiency in your discernment, and what you can do about it.
  • What gifts lie beyond the Gift of Discernment.

Have I written these blog posts yet? Nope. But I know they are coming up. And I'm just as excited to read and learn from them as I hope you are as well.

Strap in your seatbelt. Let's pursue the Gift of Discernment!
“… 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)


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

    1. Thanks, Necha! In an upcoming post, we'll really be diving into the Law of Opposites. For every positive gift, there's an opposite -- and equal -- negative gift. You'll read about a friend of mine who got multiple witnesses, but they ended up being deceptive ones. It was a tremendous eye-opener when she told me, because I'd never before considered multiple *negative* witnesses. Sobering.

    2. I am anxiously awaiting hearing about the multiple "negative" witnesses experience. I had certainly never considered this before and have been studying and praying about and for discernment. I really want to understand this side as well. I rarely comment, but am thoroughly appreciating your posts. They always seem to come on the days I need them most. Thank you!

    3. Shannon,

      Thanks so much for your kind words. All praise goes to the Lord for teaching us these wonderful things!

  2. Looking forward to the teachings with this topic! I am constantly praying for better discernment of His voice above all others, as I am sure, and we have been repeatedly encouraged by the Church Leadership, that this will become increasingly more important as things progress towards the Second Coming. I am forever grateful the Lord is merciful with our struggles and mistakes as I have made plenty throughout my lifetime. But when the clear connected moments happen, they are truly sweet and precious! Thanks for your insights on this important topic!

    1. Eric,

      I'm also excited! I have a fairly good idea what the next 3 posts are about, but I haven't a clue what they're going to say. This is as much an adventure for me as it is everybody else.

  3. I believe the word "Gratitude" is too simple and inefficient to describe the feelings I have for your blog. Having been pointed to this wonderful resource is one of the best things that have blessed my life in recent months. In my own journey to draw closer to my Father and Savior your posts have provided deeply meaningful insights. At they same time they challenge me to make sure and "check it out" as I consider, ponder, and ask for the truth. Although I offer what seems an inadequate thanks I express in my heart what words can never say. I look forward to your next posts even as I continue to re-read and treasure the suggestions and invitations from earlier gifts. I pray your days are filled with the kinds of rewards that your insightful sharing has brought to me.

    1. Bob,

      I'm grateful for (and totally unworthy of) such high praise. The real kudos go to the Lord. You can compliment me for my prolific typos and occasional grammatical mistakes.

      Re: My days -- The Lord has been overly, overly generous with me, by many exponents. For the life of me, I can't see what He sees in me; maybe that's a good thing. But this I know: He is tremendously pleased and grateful for all those who embrace His gospel, His truths and basically, Him -- blessings which I'm confident are afforded you as well.

      Thanks again!

  4. I'm new to your blog, and very interested in where this will develop. One thing I've personally been pondering that I would appreciate your thoughts on. (doesn't need to be soon.) The concept of the Abrahamic trial of faith being one that might be an exception to the "rule". For him it was to offer his son as a human sacrifice, for Nephi it may have been to kill Laban, for Joseph it may have been polygamy...but the idea that we need to get so good at hearing the voice of the Lord and discerning it correctly; so we know the correct voice even when it commands us to do something contrary to what we fundamentally think is right/true.

    Just something that has been on my mind lately and I would love to hear another's musings about it.

    1. Hey Daniel,

      Abrahamic Tests (AT) are a very real thing. I don't remember it off-hand, but something tells me Joseph said that we'll all have to undergo an AT if we want exaltation. That makes sense to me.

      You're correct that such instances are extremely rare. I know there are times when people use the concept of an AT to engage in sin. I don't think God's too keen on that idea.

      In addition to God telling you to do something that's an exception to the rules, it may be that a person receives little -- if any - guidance from the spirit during their AT. By its very nature, it's a test. To get to this point, I think a person will have long demonstrated their proficiency in hearkening to the Spirit; otherwise, they wouldn't be undergoing their AT. But passing your AT without any guidance? Left to your own devices? That's a true indication of a person's faith in God. At least, that's my opinion.


    2. I believe the absence of guidance could also be quite the trial for anyone, especially for one who has developed a love and dependence on that presence. Reminiscent of Christ himself crying out "Eli Eli lama sabachthani?"

    3. Precisely! Also see D&C 121:1.

  5. "One offers faith, discernment and charity. The other offers fear, judgmentalism and self-sufficiency." What do you mean by self-sufficiency? Do you mean not relying on God?

  6. You said "Both of these governments are vying for our souls, and both offer us three gifts. One offers faith, discernment and charity. The other offers fear, judgmentalism and self-sufficiency."

    I was thinking of adding the the government of God respects free agency, but the government want to take away free agency, but I can also see that it boils down to faith versus fear. Faith is a choice, but fear is a reaction.

  7. In an earlier post, you said that 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).

    A friend of my also said that Satan is also an expert lawyer. He can rationalize and justify anything.

  8. You referenced this scripture, so I looked it up. This is incredible to me. It reinforces the idea that we must obey the general commandments and the personal commandments the Lord gives us because: He is the law.

    3 Nephi 15

    8 For behold, the covenant which I have made with my people is not all fulfilled; but the law which was given unto Moses hath an end in me.

    9 Behold, I am the law, and the light. Look unto me, and endure to the end, and ye shall live; for unto him that endureth to the end will I give eternal life.

    10 Behold, I have given unto you the commandments; therefore keep my commandments. And this is the law and the prophets, for they truly testified of me.

  9. Will you clarify this, in case I don't understand... Are they"prompted" and uplifted by false spirit

    In that case, then why do we see some who are prompted to abandon certain gospel truths and pursue other teachings, perhaps in another church or organization? How is it that they who are traveling a different path may be reading the scriptures, praying and repenting more than they did when they were aligned with the restored gospel of Jesus Christ? Why do they "feel the Spirit" when they listen to a leader or teacher whose teachings aren't congruent with the gospel, as well as the doctrines and teachings revealed through Brother Joseph?”