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Sunday, April 22, 2018

The Gift of Discernment Part 7: Discerning Self-Centered Spirituality

Remember the Past?

From 1964 to 1989, Elder Paul H. Dunn was one of the top-selling authors in LDS bookstores. In my opinion, he was up there with Bruce R. McConkie and Hugh Nibley in terms of how much space he commanded in LDS bookstores. During that time span, he produced 28 books, 23 cassette tapes (ask your parents if you've never heard of those) and a bajillion church talks.

Yet on February 16, 1991, The Arizona Republic reported that many of Elder Dunn's stories were untrue:
  • He never did wrestle a dynamite pack off a World War II child kamikaze infiltrator, saving himself and the child. 
  • He never was run over by an enemy tank, while others were crushed.
  • Harold Brown did not die in Dunn's arms during a World War II battle (he was still living in Odessa, MO, and had been exchanging Christmas cards with Dunn for years). 
  • Enemy machine-gun bullets never had ripped away his clothing, gear and helmet without ever touching his skin (only the heel of Dunn's boot caught a bullet).
  • Dunn never played professional baseball for five years. He was never on the field with baseball greats Stan Musial, Joe Dimaggio, Ted Williams, Lou Gehrig, Babe Ruth or Bob Feller. 
Immediately after the story was published, the Church announced that Dunn had been made an emeritus general authority for health reasons. Reporters contacted Dunn, who expressed sorrow over the pain the revelations had caused the Church.

Dunn also said his stories were created simply to illustrate moral points. He told the Republic that he didn't consider it deceitful to exaggerate or alter facts. He said his technique was to combine elements of several true stories to create a single story that would better convey a message and capture an audience's interest:

"The combining of stories seems justifiable in terms of illustrating a point. My motives are pure and innocent."

I mention this situation not to provoke, indict or find fault with the church, its leaders or even Elder Dunn.

The fact is, hundreds of thousands of church members (including myself) found Elder Dunn's stories tremendously inspiring. I - we - believed him. And it was a long time until somebody came along, easily researched Dunn's claims and confronted some inconvenient truths.

Primarily, I mention this because of one overriding concern:
"Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it."
(Writer and philosopher George Santayana)

Zeal with Knowledge

It's like kissing a monkey…blindfolded.

Many see the "truth" through their own lenses of experience and beliefs and consider them as absolute truths, when, in fact, they aren't.

All good disinformation has some real, true information contained within it. The mixing of truth with lies makes the lies believable.

But when we consistently fail to separate the fact from the false, we subtly align ourselves with a counterfeit, not true, wavelength of information. When this becomes a habit, the false wavelength can become the norm. Then, as we teach concepts based on that false wavelength, we unwittingly align ourselves with the very spirits who exist only to deceive mankind.
"for he [Satan] is the founder of all these things; yea, the founder of murder, and works of darkness; yea, and he leadeth them by the neck with a flaxen cord, until he bindeth them with his strong cords forever." (2 Nephi 26:22)
Today, many are being fooled by testimonies borne not only over pulpits and paperback bookstores, but also far more populated and powerful mediums: LDS-related blogs, podcasts, forums, Facebook groups and more.

These are good, humble latter-day saints who are well-meaning, but oblivious to the fact that they have let a false wavelength influence their spirituality. Consequently, they fall short of the mark, all the while thinking believing they are blessedly enlightened.

Here are a few examples of what some people believe today:
  • They believe - and get others to believe - that it's OK to prioritize your own wants (like parting the veil, "ascending" and having a one-on-one encounter with God) over and above the importance of God's priorities (to lose oneself and feed God's sheep).
  • They believe in acquiring priesthood authority in a manner not even remotely mentioned in our scriptures nor church history.
  • They teach that spiritual encounters experienced in the imagination are the same as experiencing them in the physical plane.
  • They tell people to dictate to the Lord that He should speed up their timetable of spiritual progression.
  • They honor, to near "rock star" status, mortals who claim profound spiritual gifts, yet have never manifest the fruits of them. Ever.
  • They esteem and follow false prophets/prophetesses (who are known to have given more than one false prophecy in the past).
  • They believe the words of self-declared angels, translated beings or even mortal messengers of God who then go on to contradict latter-day scripture.
  • They partake of mind-altering drugs, view pornography, abuse loved ones or carry on extramarital emotional or physical affairs, while saying God (or one of His angels) approves of it.
  • They believe they are a past/present/future significant spiritual leader.
  • They provide a blanket forgiveness of people's sins (as in, all of them).
  • They receive personal revelation, then trumpet it far and wide, assuming their personal revelation is also intended for others.
  • They encourage others to take their minds off the present, and to instead focus on the future.
The interesting thing isn't necessarily the wackiness of their claims; it's this:

Some of the best and brightest among us - those who know the
doctrines, scriptures, history and more better than most others -
are continually and increasingly believing these teachings.

Today, it's getting harder and harder - even among the very elect - to discern truth from error.


Why does it seem that these kinds of isolated instances aren't so isolated anymore?

For false Christs and false prophets shall rise, and shall shew signs and wonders, to seduce, if it were possible, even the elect. (Mark 13:22)

The Parable of the Cougareat Earthquake

A few weeks ago, I met a friend at the Cougareat Food Court, an indoor dining area on the BYU campus surrounded by various fast food restaurants. My friend and I were there pretty late into the evening, and were essentially the last ones there. One moment while we were sitting and talking, we felt a slight tremor. It lasted a few seconds, then ended.  About a minute later, the tremor started again. The light fixtures swayed, the windows vibrated and the building shuttered. It continued for some time.

I looked outside and see what was happening. There was no wind. People were walking outside like nothing was going on. My friend made a phone call to see if others nearby could feel it; they didn't. The USGS reported no seismic activity. But the lights, windows and floor continued to shake.

So, we decided to leave. Once outside, we noticed something we weren't aware of before: A dance was being held on the floor above us. The vibrations had been caused by people dancing to the music, which we never heard but definitely felt.

So it is with us. In this laboratory of mortality, we often experience and feel very real things which are, in reality, far from objective truth. This may be because, as Brother Joseph taught, "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). The same appears true for traditions as well.

Joseph Smith not only recognized this tendency to conflate all traditions with truth among the saints, but also openly tried to combat it. He said,
"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" (History of the Church, 3:391-92; from a discourse given by Joseph Smith about July 1839 in Commerce, Illinois; reported by Willard Richards). 
"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)
In this last quote, Joseph is telling us that if we want to receive the things of God, we need to part ways with the various traditions we stubbornly cling to. He also said,
"I never feel to force my doctrine upon any person; I rejoice to see prejudice give way to truth, and the traditions of men dispersed by the pure principles of the Gospel of Jesus Christ." (History of the Church, 6:213.)
So, how do you find out if you're clinging to false beliefs and traditions?

In my opinion, you must objectively [1] Prove all things and [2] hold fast to that which is good (1 Thessalonians 5:21; emphasis mine), with "good" defined as "the pure principles of the Gospel of Jesus Christ."

The Three Ingredients of a Testimony (and the Truth)

In September 1982, Elder Bruce C. Hafen gave a talk which I highly recommend: "If With All Your Hearts Ye Truly Seek Me". There, you'll see what I believe is the definitive definition about testimonies of truth. According to Hafen, there are not one, but three elements that make up a complete, properly-rooted testimony of the gospel-reason, feeling and experience.


The Lord expects us to use all the tools He has given us in the pursuit of truth. Although reasoning, by itself, is inadequate in discovering truth, it is extremely useful in identifying error.

There are many ways in which reason can be used to reveal erroneous or problematic claims to truth. One of the best - which is consistently testified of by the Lord, Joseph Smith and latter-day church presidents - involves identifying inconsistencies which might occur between our own beliefs or ideas and the beliefs of the prophets as recorded in scripture.

In my post, "The Gift of Discernment Part 4: The Universal Law of Opposites", I mentioned how - according to counterfeit and forgery experts - the best way to avoid being duped by a counterfeit lies not in studying the counterfeit, but the genuine thing. That way, when you see a counterfeit, you can immediately detect it.

I think the Lord agrees with that method of truth detection. He said,
"And at that day, when I shall come in my glory, shall the parable be fulfilled which I spake concerning the ten virgins.
For they that are wise and have received the truth, and have taken the Holy Spirit for their guide, and have not been deceived-verily I say unto you, they shall not be hewn down and cast into the fire, but shall abide the day." (D&C 45:56-57)
To me, there's a logical, linear order to the Lord's advice. You just can't take the Holy Spirit as your guide and avoid being deceived, if you haven't studied and treasured the truth (JST Matthew 1:37). You must first study God's word.

In Alma 17:2, we read that
"[The sons of Mosiah] waxed strong in the knowledge of the truth; for they were men of a sound understanding and they had searched the scriptures diligently, that they might know the word of God."
Thus, we see the following spiritual equation:

Truth = Scriptures = Word of God

We have multiple statements by latter-day church presidents which highlight this equation here. They are synonymous with an April 1844 statement in Times and Seasons:
"If any man preaches to you, doctrines contrary to the Bible, the Book of Mormon, or the Book of Doctrine & Covenants, set him down as an imposter... Try them by the principles contained in the acknowledged word of God;" (Times & Seasons, 5:490-491, April, 1, 1844)
Likewise referring to a false angel that had appeared to a sister, Brother Joseph said that
"Many true things were spoken by this personage and many things that were false. How, it may be asked, was this known to be a bad angel? By his contradicting a former revelation." (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 214)
So, we see four things:
  1. We will always be in need of an omniscient friend to point out the way, to let light through the clouds and darkness, to open our understanding to truths and explanations we could never have thought of from our positions of ignorance.
  2. There is real power in searching the scriptures - not the words of men - diligently.
  3. The standard works (in so far as they are translated correctly) are the measuring yardsticks by which we measure the veracity of every doctrine which is taught.
  4. If a doctrine or teaching is incongruent with the scriptures, disregard it.
Now let's apply this truth to what we see today:
  • Does the Lord ever prioritize your wants (like parting the veil, "ascending" and having a one-on-one encounter with God) over and above the importance of God's priorities (to lose oneself and feed God's sheep)?
  • How grounded in truth are you when you believe in acquiring priesthood authority in a manner not even mentioned in our scriptures?
  • Do the scriptures teach that you can consider spiritual encounters experienced in the imagination the same as experiencing them in the physical plane?
  • Should we dictate timetables to the Lord?
  • What does the Lord say about trusting in the arm of flesh? What is the criteria given in Mosiah 23:14,17 and Isaiah 8:20 for determining the truthfulness of a teacher's or minister's teachings?
  • What is the test given in Deuteronomy 13:1-4 and 18:22 for determining the truthfulness of a prophet or prophetess?
  • Can you seriously consider the words of self-declared angels, translated beings or even mortal messengers of God who then go on to contradict latter-day scripture?
  • Could you go on taking your mind-altering drugs, viewing pornography, abusing loved ones or carrying on extramarital emotional or physical affairs with Christ in the same room?
  • How can you believe you're a past/present/future significant spiritual leader - or take your mind off the present, and to instead focus on the future - and still stay true to Matthew 6:34 and Philippians 2:3?
  • Who forgives sins?
  • What is "looking beyond the mark" indicative of?


Over 64,000 people in the U.S. died of drug overdoses in 2016.

Why? Why do people kill themselves for a drug? Because it's pleasurable and makes them feel good.

Still, as you well know, just because something makes you feel good does not mean it's good for you.

So it is with emotions and feelings. Just because you feel good does not mean you're in touch with the truth.

Let's test this hypothesis. Below are some testimonies. Try to identify which one is LDS:
  1. "I felt a burning in my heart, and a great burden seemed to have left me."
  2. "A feeling of peace and certitude would tell me when I had found the answers and often after people would help me by pointing in the right direction."
  3. "Every time I am there [at the church building], a feeling of peace overcomes me."
  4. "About 10 years ago, when Jenny and I decided to start a family, we began looking for a spiritual community for our kids. During my first service at [the church]. . . I was hooked. I recall the feeling of peace that I felt when I was attending [services]."
  5. "I felt a burning sensation in my heart."
  6. "I was praying . . . when I felt a burning shaft of . . . love come through my head and into my heart."

Here are the answers:

1.  Protestant.  2. Islam.  3. Buddhist.  4. Universalist Unitarian.  5. Protestant.  6. Catholic (source)

That's right. None of them are LDS.

Emotions are powerful things, and can generate truly peaceful, euphoric, even reverent feelings. I've watched many movies where the ending made me shed a tear or two. Music often has that effect on me, too. Then again, stepping onto the ground after riding a turbulent airflight can also bring about the same emotions!  : )

Yet also, as is the case with all things, inspired feelings can also have their counterfeits. These false feelings are often unintentionally or deliberately manipulative and are not spirit-inspired. As I study marketing and advertising methods, it's shocking to see who champions strategic emotional advertising that stimulates responses, often accompanied by sad, sentimental music intentionally designed to manipulate your heartstrings. Here's what BYU Associate Academic Vice-President Noel B. Reynolds stated in his June, 1981 devotional, "Reason and Revelation":
"We are observing a widespread difficulty in distinguishing between sentimentalism and true spiritual experience. Too much of the literature used, seen, and quoted in the Church today is just sentimental trash which is designed to pull our heartstrings or moisten our eyes, but it is not born of true spiritual experience. The tendency of our youth to use sentimental stories in Church talks creates a culture of spiritual misunderstanding in which thinking and learning are discouraged. When I was bishop years ago in an Orem ward, I strongly counseled the youth not to use the compilations of sentimental stories which are available. I feel that our failure to immerse these young people in the scriptures and other high-quality literature makes them vulnerable to the cheap tactics of every moralistic movement which they encounter. Because our youth often respond positively to sentimentalism, there is a danger that we might cater to that in Church instruction generally." (
I tend to get concerned whenever I see someone crying just about every time they're at the podium. I have no doubt they feel deeply about what they're saying, and I appreciate that. But when we automatically equate tears with the presence of the Spirit, we may not be making a rational conclusion. I think Pres. Howard W. Hunter observed the same:
"Let me offer a word of caution. … I think if we are not careful, we may begin to try to counterfeit the true influence of the Spirit of the Lord by unworthy and manipulative means. I get concerned when it appears that strong emotion or free-flowing tears are equated with the presence of the Spirit. Certainly the Spirit of the Lord can bring strong emotional feelings, including tears, but that outward manifestation ought not to be confused with the presence of the Spirit itself" (The Teachings of Howard W. Hunter, 184).
Make no mistake: some sentimentality is probably good and necessary. But we should never let it gain a measure of legitimacy which is on par with, and in place of, scriptural truths. The iron rod is the word of God, not tears and sniffles.

Do you tend to give greater weight to talks and testimonies which contain excessive amounts of emotion?

Do you consistently tend to equate the presence of the Spirit when you see someone crying?

Are you emotionally invested in doctrines or teachings which are not grounded in scriptural truths?

Do you fear feeling lost or ostracized by others - including close friends or relatives - if you parted ways from a movement or organization you knew was operating in direct opposition to scriptural truths?

Experience (aka "The Test of Time")

My wife loves crime dramas. I think she's watched so many of them, she's earned an unofficial bachelors degree in Criminology. It's no wonder I consult her before I walk into the voting booth on Election Day!  : )

Last week, she was watching the original CSI series, which is set in Las Vegas. I was impressed by a statement the lead character, Gil Grissom, said:
"I've been working this case for over a decade. and I take my time reaching conclusions."
So it is with us. Today - now, more than ever - we mortals must devote more time, more attention, more value in giving the Holy Ghost a chance to weigh in on the things we read and hear about.
"A fanciful and flowery and heated imagination beware of; because the things of God are of deep import; and time, and experience, and careful and ponderous and solemn thoughts can only find them out." (Joseph Smith, Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 137; emphasis mine)
As Brother Joseph so eloquently stated, the things of God require considerable contemplation. He uses words like "time", "experience", "careful", "ponderous" and "solemn" to punctuate his prose.

Unfortunately, our timetables are often a little faster than the Lord's. And it's just that incongruity between our timing and the Lord's timing that can get us into trouble.

For example, as I observe the online discussions, posts and podcasts from "The Calling and Election NOW Crowd", I'm amazed by peoples' eagerness to embrace new doctrines which have no scriptural basis in fact. Instead of disregarding the non-canonized teachings or simply placing them on a shelf, they encircle these mysteries with open hearts and outstretched hands.

Some of the most eager among us proudly display the fact that they are unprepared for the Kingdom of God, and have not given adequate attention to the weightier matters, by their self-centeredness, ambition and impatience. All the while, weightier matters - like losing oneself and developing lives of charity - go unmentioned or barely acknowledged at all.

21 times in the scriptures, the Lord places the words "heart" and "ponder" side-by-side.

Perhaps this is indicative of a process: First, we immerse ourselves, and really study, the word of God as found in the scriptures. As certain doctrines resonate with us, we put those on a "lower shelf" and ponder them. Over time, the Holy Ghost bears witness of that doctrine, and now we have two divine witnesses: the scriptures and the Holy Ghost.
"Behold, I would exhort you that when ye shall read these things, if it be wisdom in God that ye should read them, that ye would remember how merciful the Lord hath been unto the children of men, from the creation of Adam even down until the time that ye shall receive these things, and ponder it in your hearts.
And when ye shall receive these things, I would exhort you that ye would ask God, the Eternal Father, in the name of Christ, if these things are not true; and if ye shall ask with a sincere heart, with real intent, having faith in Christ, he will manifest the truth of it unto you, by the power of the Holy Ghost.
And by the power of the Holy Ghost ye may know the truth of all things." (Moroni 10:3-5; emphasis mine)

Say Goodbye to the First-Person Pronouns of Self-Centered Spirituality

I hope that in this post, you've seen the extent to which "Self-Centered Spirituality" has permeated our thinking, our purchases, our spirituality, even our way of life. It is not the way of Christ, who focused on His Father and others - not Himself.

Do you want a real key to determine who's truly been in God's presence? Try this key on for size:

When you have truly been in His presence, you will do anything -- anything -- to be back in that feeling of love, understanding, non-judgmentalism, happiness and joy that is so overwhelming, we just don't have the words for it.

And when you feel that, in His presence, you will know exactly what you need to do:

"Your sins are forgiven you. Now, go lose yourself. Feed my sheep. Love them as I have loved you."

The Father revealed His priorities in the mission and victory of Jesus Christ. His priority is a relationship with us. Jesus asked Peter first, "Lovest thou me?" Then, once that was established, he was commissioned to feed Jesus' sheep. The same was true for Enos (Enos 1:8-19).

Without an intimate relationship with the Son and Father, you cannot feed their sheep. You only poison and neglect them.

Once you have that relationship, Christ gets all those first-person pronouns and effortlessly turns them into second and third person pronouns. "I", "Me" "My" is replaced with "You" and "Your" so that inevitably, both will use the pronouns of Zion - "We", "Us" and "Our" - while being rooted in Jesus Christ and His truths, which we find in His words -- not words as interpreted by another.
"Without meekness, the conversational points we insist on making often take the form of "I"-that spearlike, vertical pronoun. 
So, in matters little or large, if our emulation of the Lord is to be serious, we must do more than note and passively admire Jesus' meekness. We must simulate his meekness." (Elder Neal A. Maxwell, "Meekly Drenched in Destiny", BYU Speech, Sept 5, 1982)
So, when you invariably see or interact with someone who's deceived, what do you do?

Do you focus on "I'm right / you're wrong"? Do you focus on how hurt you feel? Or maybe you're tempted to respond with a salvo of your own doctrinal missiles (thus engaging in your own private little doctrinal missile exchange)?

No. You don't live by reacting to the enemy or to those used by the enemy or by that which is of the enemy. You don't live by reacting to all the negative things. And although it's good to be aware of it, you don't dwell on the evil (even Christ told us to be as wise as serpents, but as harmless as doves).

Instead, you focus on the truth. The good. And you move forward in God and in the good.

You go on serving God. You go on ministering for God. You go on bearing fruit for God.

You see, you fight spiritual things with the Spirit. And the spirit of God is love. Love unites. Fear divides.

Instead of metaphorically flogging that person, you love the hell out of them -- literally.

How is this done? In my opinion, every scenario, every instance, every situation is different. God may have you pray for the misled individual. He may have you submit their name for temple prayer rolls. He may have you post some thoughts on a public forum, even your own blog, which hyperfocuses on, explains and promotes true principles, then -- unknown to you -- the Spirit will steer that misled person in the direction of your divinely-inspired post, where they will read it, be touched and change.

There are thousands of ways the Lord will help you appropriately combat evil and the subtle untruths which are so rampantly shredding testimonies of the truth.

But first, you must lose yourself…and develop that relationship with Jesus Christ.

Once you've done that, you may just find yourself in prime position to experience and utilize what I call "Discernment Turbothrusters".

That's my next post (and last in this series) on Discernment.