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Friday, June 28, 2019

Casting Out Evil, Part 1: The Truth


Throughout His ministry, Jesus constantly cast evil from His presence. No matter if it was an individual demon or legions of them, He was quick, decisive and tremendously confident at telling Beelzebub to beat it. And every time, it worked.

Since the first endowments were given over 175 years ago, what little faithful members have learned about casting out evil has been gleaned in bits and pieces of the endowment. Even then, the information has been scant at best.

To make matters more difficult, there’s nothing written in the General Handbook of Instructions, no General Conference talks and in fact no scriptures about who should cast out evil and how it should be done. So, it’s reasonable to conclude that much of what we church members have done in terms of casting out has been based on nothing more than oral tradition.

One tradition: only faithful priesthood holders can cast out evil from their presence. Yet as I review the scriptures, I can find nothing -- absolutely nothing -- that says it’s the case.

Bring on the Believers 


If you’re looking for scriptures about casting out, you’re in luck; there’s not too many. Here are all the scriptures regarding casting out evil (minus those which are duplicated roughly word-for-word elsewhere):
Matthew 7:20-23
Matthew 8:16
Matthew 9:33
Matthew 10:8
Matthew 12:20-23, 26-28
Mark 1:34, 39
Mark 16:17
Luke 9:49-50
Revelation 12:9
1 Nephi 11:31
Mosiah 3:6
Alma 50:13
3 Nephi 7:19
3 Nephi 7:21-22
3 Nephi 14:20-23
Mormon 9:24
D&C 35:8-9
D&C 84:65-67
D&C 124:97-98

Amazingly, none of these 19 passages mention the word “priesthood” once. They don’t even mention “men”.

(Paul admonished that we “Be not overcome of evil, but overcome evil with good.” (Romans 12:21). No gender is mentioned in that scripture, either).

So who are the lucky ones (besides Jesus and his 12 apostles) who get to cast out devils and demons? Four scriptures (in red above) have our answer:
“And these signs shall follow them that believe; In my name shall they cast out devils; they shall speak with new tongues” (Mark 16:17; emphasis mine) 
“And these signs shall follow them that believe—in my name shall they cast out devils; they shall speak with new tongues; they shall take up serpents; and if they drink any deadly thing it shall not hurt them; they shall lay hands on the sick and they shall recover;” (Mormon 9:24; emphasis mine) 
“For I am God, and mine arm is not shortened; and I will show miracles, signs, and wonders, unto all those who believe on my name. And whoso shall ask it in my name in faith, they shall cast out devils; they shall heal the sick; they shall cause the blind to receive their sight, and the deaf to hear, and the dumb to speak, and the lame to walk.” (D&C 35:8-9; emphasis mine) 
“And these signs shall follow them that believe
In my name they shall do many wonderful works;
In my name they shall cast out devils;” (D&C 84:65-67; emphasis mine)
These four scriptures are the only ones which definitively identify who can cast out devils. All four say the same thing: believers.

Now, my next question is, are believers in Jesus only limited to men? Of course not. The scriptures, the church and even your local fast and testimony meeting definitively proves one undeniable truth:

Believers know no gender... 


Lest I be considered “off” on my analysis, here are some latter-day leaders who agree with this truth:

Joseph Smith's private journal, called the Book of the Law of the Lord, specified the priesthood promise in his instructions to the women on April 28, 1842: “April 28 At two o’clock P.M. I met the members of the “Female Relief Society” and after presiding at the admission of many new members gave a lecture on the Priesthood shewing how the Sisters would come in possession of the privileges, blessings, and gifts of the Priesthood, and that the signs should follow them, such as healing the sick, casting our devils &c and that they might attain unto these blessings by a virtuous life and conversation and diligence in keeping all the commandments. A synopsis of which was reported by Miss Eliza R. Snow.” (Book of the Law of the Lord, 28 Apr. 1842, in Dean C. Jessee, ed., The Papers of Joseph Smith, Vol. 2 (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1992), 378-79; https://www.josephsmithpapers.org/paper-summary/history-1838-1856-volume-c-1-2-november-1838-31-july-1842/500)

"The Lord offers to his daughters every spiritual gift and blessing that can be obtained by his sons." (President Joseph Fielding Smith, “Magnifying Our Callings in the Priesthood,” Improvement Era, June 1970, p. 66). 
“Where spiritual things are concerned, as pertaining to all of the gifts of the Spirit, with reference to the receipt of revelation, the gaining of testimonies, and the seeing of visions, in all matters that pertain to godliness and holiness and which are brought to pass as a result of personal righteousness in all these things men and women stand in a position of absolute equality before the Lord. He is no respecter of persons nor of sexes, and he blesses those men and those women who seek him and serve him and keep his commandments.” (Elder Bruce R. McConkie, Ensign, Jan. 1979, p. 61; https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/liahona/1979/06/our-sisters-from-the-beginning
"Many of us already have spiritual gifts, but we sometimes fail to recognize them. We may think they are reserved for people with special needs or callings. For the same reason, we may neglect to earnestly seek spiritual gifts, even though they have been promised to us." (Relief Society General Presidency, “Seeking the Best Gifts,” Ensign, Jan. 1997, p. 55)

...nor age 


Not only women, but also children, can cast out evil if they but believe:

“Levi Hancock’s children heard the devil telling their mother that she would be healed from her six-year convalescence if she would but deny the work of God. The mother resisted, and in the interim “the children heard the Conversation reached upon the bed and laid hands on their mother & the Devill departed at an instant”; Utah Stake General Minutes, v. 10 [1855-], LDS archives.”

The name of Christ is a word - but with power when you believe in it. 


There are some who say that such healings, based on faith alone, have limitations, whereas those based on priesthood authority have no limitations. Their beliefs are not based on the word of God, for in the above scriptures and quotes, no such differentiation exists.

I personally know many people with great faith who have received priesthood blessings given by high-ranking local church leaders, and the blessings had zero effect. They were later ministered to by another with great faith, and the healing was immediate and permanent. Am I the only one on the planet who has witnessed this? I doubt it.

God is no respecter of persons. Would He deliberately keep people in countries which outlaw Christianity from His blessings just because there is no priesthood holder for thousands of miles? I think not. I worship a God who is inclusive, not exclusive...who is ever-expanding, not limiting...who loves more than we can conceive, not vindictive and vengeful.

We've been told that in this mortal life, Satan has the power to bruise our heels. However, we've also been told that through Jesus Christ, we have the power to crush Satan’s head. Don’t let Satan fool you into thinking that’s an impossible task. Don’t let him fool you into thinking that only men have that power. He knows -- and now, YOU know -- that both the scriptures and prophets testify that believers of Jesus can have a role in crushing Satan’s head...if you’ll just believe in Him who is mighty to save.

Next, in Part 2 of this series, you’ll hear from some men and women who've successfully cast evil -- and along with it, fear, intimidation, molestation and worse -- from their presence.

In the meantime, if you’d like to interact with a few who have experience casting out evil, you’re invited to subscribe to The Perfect Day Facebook group. Follow the instructions on this page, and in the subscription form, tell us you’re wanting to learn more about casting out. We look forward to meeting you online.



Sunday, June 9, 2019

The Gift of Charity, Part 5: A Parable of Ward Members -- Which Are You?


There once was a church ward with about 440 members. It was a considered a typical ward, with typical quorums, auxiliaries and programs. The names you’ll hear are made up; the scenarios are real.

Marshall


One of the ward members, Marshall, is very respected within the ward. This is because he had served in very significant church leadership callings since he was a full-time missionary 40 years earlier. His church resume is impressive: He had served as mission Assistant to the President, Elders Quorum President, Bishopric Counselor and Bishop. It goes without saying that Marshall attends all Sunday church meetings, pays a full tithe and fast offering and attends the temple regularly.

He wears very nice suits and watches, and is very successful in his business.

Yet under the veneer of success and church activity is something far more concerning: He ignores beggars on street corners, believing they are frauds and fakes. He ignores requests to help someone move into the ward. He places success above friendship, and breaks contracts with small business owners because he wants to, leaving them to financially struggle while he enjoys Caribbean cruises and European vacations.

Dave


Dave is well respected in various Facebook gospel-related groups. He is tremendously knowledgeable about doctrines. Combined with his nice, extrovert personality, what’s not to like about him! One of Dave’s best qualities is his loyalty to friends. Once you’re Dave’s friend, you’re assured he’ll support you anytime, anywhere.

This becomes a problem, though, when Dave likes and shares posts by those who espouse false and even destructive doctrines. So, online, here is what he has clicked “Like” and/or “Share” to:

  • We should seek out darkness so we can eventually rise above it.
  • It’s OK to ignore certain passages of scripture that make us feel uncomfortable.
  • Light is to be feared (so Jesus, being the light of the world, should be feared?).
  • Mystical designs can be a substitute to true spiritual experiences.
  • Polygamy is something a church member should believe in.
  • Someday, we should have the opportunity to hug Satan and offer him forgiveness for all his evil, vile, violent and abhorrent crimes against humanity.

Not only has he publicly liked these posts by others, but because people know and respect Dave’s gospel knowledge, many follow his lead and like these false doctrines as well. Thus, Dave’s eagerness to be a true friend has also led to his other friends being deceived. And because they trust Dave’s gospel perspectives, they, too, share what he has liked, thus deceiving others as well.

Natalie


Natalie has constant, severe migraines which often interfere with her ability to go to church every Sunday. But because Natalie doesn't have 100% attendance at church, members judge her. They question her faithfulness, her righteousness and more. When her 14 year-old daughter invited a non-member boy to church, they didn’t praise her for her missionary spirit; instead, the Bishop fired up a special lesson on dating.

“She must be sinning. She must be an apostate” are prevalent beliefs which actually hurt, not help, the situation. She has yet to receive a simple phone call or a quick visit from a ward member. A friend? A hug? A smile? A piece of chocolate cake? Ummmm, nope. Instead, other ward members speak in hushed tones around her and her daughter. If they have any communication with ward members, they’re emails with links to conference talks and quotes from church leaders.

Yet what these ward members with 100% attendance, awesome church callings, “righteous judgment” and GA quotes galore don’t know is that Natalie spends much of her time with others across the globe. She prays for them and encourages hundreds more to pray for people, by name, who are suffering or in distress. She doesn’t judge others. She looks for ways to show she cares about others. She sees the hurt in others, and they see Jesus in the light of her eyes, the warmth of her touch and the peace of her words.

Mike (and Doofus)


Mike recently moved into the ward. He was baptized in his previous ward. Yet despite his status as a new, tender church member, ward members just can’t get past the tattoos which predominate his body. I don’t think Mike knows this, but the Relief Society Presidency recently met and discussed Mike’s tattoos. They were “concerned” about the safety and security of Relief Society meetings with a “tattooed man with a beard and moustache” in the ward. Thus, an informal consensus developed within the ward council that Mike isn’t temple worthy and, thus, should not be called upon to make comments in classes, let alone teach.

These ward members’ erroneous judgment clouds their ability to get to know Mike. Although he’s a pretty busy guy, Mike and his dog, Doofus, spend a lot of their time at local hospitals and senior centers. Together, they transform tears to laughs, frowns to smiles among the young and sick, the old and dying. I can’t tell you how many hundreds of lives have been brightened because this tattooed guy and his dog spend their hours together just doing what Christ would have done. That’s Mike’s simple faith for you.

Please help my scripture mastery!


As I read the scriptures, I’m perplexed by the lack of verses which say you’re unrighteous and unworthy if you’ve missed a church meeting here and there. I do see plenty saying “Judge not, lest ye be judged” (Matthew 7:1) or some variant of it.

I’m baffled as to where we are told that outward appearances are indicative of inner commitments. I did read 1 Samuel 16:7,
“But the Lord said unto Samuel, Look not on his countenance, or on the height of his stature; because I have refused him: for the Lord seeth not as man seeth; for man looketh on the outward appearance, but the Lord looketh on the heart.”
I’m still looking for scriptures saying we should embrace darkness and/or sustain those who do. I do see that Proverbs 4:19 says,
“The way of the wicked is as darkness: they know not at what they stumble.”
Ditto for those scriptures informing us that beggars on street corners are all frauds and fakes, we should pick and choose when we should be charitable. But I do recall King Benjamin saying
“And also, ye yourselves will succor those that stand in need of your succor; ye will administer of your substance unto him that standeth in need; and ye will not suffer that the beggar putteth up his petition to you in vain, and turn him out to perish. Perhaps thou shalt say: The man has brought upon himself his misery; therefore I will stay my hand, and will not give unto him of my food, nor impart unto him of my substance that he may not suffer, for his punishments are just— But I say unto you, O man, whosoever doeth this the same hath great cause to repent; and except he repenteth of that which he hath done he perisheth forever, and hath no interest in the kingdom of God.” (Mosiah 4:16-18
And I just can’t seem to find that scripture saying we can and should break promises when it suits us. If you find it, let me know.

Is it all about obedience?


A little over four years ago, I blogged about "Why Obedience Is Not The First Law of Heaven" (here).

In it, I presented some research regarding the origins of this teaching:


And while obedience -- the voluntary adherence to God's laws -- is essential for eternal salvation (Abraham 3:25–26; Helaman 14:30–31), the notion that it is "the first law of heaven, the cornerstone upon which all righteousness and progression rest" is problematic:

  1. I've known many who were flawlessly obedient (attended all church meetings, paid full tithes/fast offerings, 100% home/visiting teaching, worked in the cannery, went to the temple every week, did family history) but were full of pride -- They prided themselves on their wealth, their gospel knowledge, ignoring beggars and more. Do you mean to tell me that church members who perform all the outward appearances of righteousness, yet inwardly are darkness, get to the front of the line in heaven?
  2. If you tried to count how many commandments we are to obey -- including instructions to grow a garden, visit the sick, do your family history, learn the signs of the times as well as all the written commandments – you'd find thousands. And what do you think the chances are that you'll obey them all. Zero, right? There are just too many "commandments" to keep them all perfectly. With that being the case, then technically, none of us should make it into heaven.
  3. "Obedience" itself is never declared a "law". The Ten Commandments? The Law of Moses? Now, those are are laws! But obedience, as I understand it, denotes a voluntary compliance to laws (see D&C 130:20-21).
  4. Logically, even if obedience were a law, it would be impossible for it to be the first law of heaven. After all, unless another law existed first, there would be nothing for obedient souls to obey.

Just four little letters


If obedience isn’t the true cornerstone of salvation, then what is?

"But when the Pharisees had heard that he had put the Sadducees to silence, they were gathered together. Then one of them, which was a lawyer, asked him a question, tempting him, and saying, Master, which is the great commandment in the law? Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second [is] like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets." (Matthew 22:34-40)

In other words, all the revelations which God has made to man in every age, all the utterances of the prophets, all the voices of history, lead us to one common denominator: we must FIRST love God. Then, immediately after that, we must love our fellowman.

These are the two grand links that unite God to man, man to his fellows, and men again to God.

Paul expounded on this fact:
"Love worketh no ill to his neighbour: therefore love is the fulfilling of the law." (Romans 13:10; emphasis mine)
Thus, if we love God, and we love others, then we will naturally be obedient. These acts of obe­di­ence then become outward indica­tions of an inward change…
"For the nat­ural man is an enemy to God, and has been since the fall of Adam and will be for­ever and ever, unless he yields to the entic­ings of the Holy Spirit and putteth of the nat­ural man and becometh a saint through the atone­ment of Christ the Lord. And becometh as a child, sub­mis­sive, humble, meek, full of love, will­ing to sub­mit unto all things whatso­ever the Lord seeth fit to inflict upon him, even as a child doth sub­mit to his father." (Mosiah 3:19; emphasis mine).
...and eventually elevate us to a discipleship level:
"By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another." (John 13:35

What about you?


Are you judgmental of others because they aren’t what you think they should be, or don’t do things as you believe?

Do you self-justify liking thoughts which are incongruent with gospel truths because, after all, it’s a friend who’s saying them?

Is church attendance and church activity an accurate method to determine worthiness? Should we be contemplating others’ worthiness in the first place?

If you find yourself relating to Marshall, Dave or any of the members mentioned by Natalie or Mike, then repent. Change your heart. Be the example of love Christ created you to be.

I’ll make this real simple: Love is the answer.


Sunday, June 2, 2019

How Poor in Spirit Are You Really?



Music.

It's a spiritual shield which can infuse an area, even people, with the sweet, serene simplicity of the Spirit. It can elevate us to new spiritual heights. It can stop Satan dead in his tracks, even at times when we feel spiritually powerless.

You have known, and maybe have been inspired, by songs which stirred your soul to the Savior. Unfortunately, it can often be difficult or impossible to find songs which consistently keep your spirit elevated.

For these reasons, we have built a fourth and (for the time being, at least) final sister Facebook group: "Songs of the Heart".

"Songs of the Heart" will give you a place to find uplifting music which puts a smile on your face, elevates your emotions one minute, and tearfully thanking Jesus for His love for you the next minute.

This new Facebook group doesn't focus on the Tabernacle Choir (which has several other Facebook groups), but instead, other artists -- both LDS and not -- who enliven, motivate and inspire us to greater happiness and deeper spirituality. It's open to people of all Christian denominations as a place of gathering, of sharing, of mutually uplifting under the magnificent vibrations of love, holiness and a little bit of fun.

To join "Songs of the Heart" and engage in the discussions about the songs there, go to the group's homepage, here. There, read the group rules and click the red "Click Here to Join 'Songs of The Heart'" link at the bottom of the page. That takes you to the Facebook group. Click the blue "Join Group" button and answer some simple qualifying questions, and we'll clear your subscription request right away.

We look forward to seeing you in "Songs of the Heart" today!

How Poor in Spirit Are You Really?


Recently, it was my privilege to spend time with two separate friends in separate discussions. I say "privilege" because I learned a lot, and I say "discussion" because the main topic was -- you guessed it -- themselves.

Actually, in one case, it wasn't really a discussion. It was more of a monologue, which I was "blessed" to partake of. In the other case, the "discussion" was a book, which focused on how awesomely fantabulous the person was despite frequent "hardships."

In both the monologue and the book author, the personal pronouns of "I," "Me" and "My" were flowing as fast, frequent and free as a kid in Willy Wonka's Chocolate Factory. Unfortunately, the mentions about God? Ummmm, not so much.

I admit: it's always kind of interesting to hear about others' personal spiritual experiences. But when such "humble" self-absorption and self-importance goes on page after page, minute after minute, on and on and on, I start to wonder...

Poor in Spirit?


In the opening stanza of His Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said, "Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven" (Matthew 5:3). It's the first of nine statements of who is blessed. This is parallel with Psalm 34:18, "The Lord is nigh unto them that are of a broken heart; and saveth such as be of a contrite spirit."

Just what did He mean?

Most New Testament scholars agree that "poor in spirit" does not mean lacking in spirit, be it courage, the Holy Ghost or religious awareness. Instead, it is that poverty is not only a physical condition, but also a spiritual one. Such true, undefiled humility is absolutely genuine and unlike it's identical counterfeit, "spiritual pride."

How can you tell the difference? The personal pronouns of "I," "Me" and "My" are absent or rare. And the attribution of anything good, wholesome or worthwhile is genuinely, sincerely and solemnly redirected to another source. They recognize that they are utterly and completely nothing.

In my opinion, the Savior was saying, "Blessed are they, who in spirit, recognize that they possess nothing" or "Blessed are those who, in their spirit, are conscious of the fact that they do not possess one thing."

It all belongs to the Father.

  • If the car has their name on the title, it does not belong to them.
  • If the house has their name on the mortgage, it does not belong to them.
  • If the checking account is in their name, it does not belong to them.

These are all physical things, which I believe all of us readily admit belong to the Father.

But in Matthew 5:3, we're talking about the poor "in spirit." That's not a physical paradigm, but a spiritual one.

  • If true humility is demonstrated through their lives, it does not belong to them. It belongs to the Father.
  • If righteousness is manifested in them, it does not belong to them. It belongs to the Father.
  • If goodness is exerting its influence through their lives, it does not belong to them. It belongs to the Father.
  • If power flows through them to the needs about them, it does not belong to them. It belongs to the Father.

Anything spiritually valuable that they possess is not their own.

They are conscious that a person does not really possess any righteousness. Any he thinks he possesses is self-righteousness. He does not possess any humility or goodness. He does not possess any power, for all things belong to God (D&C 104: 14-18) and, naturally, all things bow in humble reverence before God’s throne (D&C 76:93).

Until you are truly poor in spirit, you are not in the Kingdom.
Anyone who thinks he or she has righteousness is far from the Kingdom.
Anyone who thinks he has humility, goodness or power is far from the Kingdom.


If Jesus gave all glory and honor to the Father, why not you as well?


Jesus never boasted of his own humility, goodness, righteousness or power. Yet you never saw Him with anything less!

"Why callest thou me good? there is none good but one, that is, God" (Matthew 19:17)

Jesus declared that even the very words that He spoke belonged to the Father; they were the Father’s words.
"For I have not spoken of myself; but the Father which sent me, he gave me a commandment, what I should say, and what I should speak." (John 12:49)
Jesus said that the works that He did were not His own works, they were the works of the Father.
"Believest thou not that I am in the Father, and the Father in me? the words that I speak unto you I speak not of myself: but the Father that dwelleth in me, he doeth the works." (John 14:10)
What He heard from His Father He spoke, and what He saw of His Father, He did. And He NEVER took the credit. Ever. He gave it ALL to Father.

As a son or daughter of God, you must be brought to the place where you know the words which you write (to inspire or uplift others) are not yours. Your inspirational works are not yours. The results are not yours. Your humility is not yours, your gifts are not yours, your calling is not yours, your ministry is not yours, your car is not yours, your house is not yours, your family is not yours, your children are not yours, your parents are not yours.

Everything belongs to Him.

"Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven"