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Sunday, August 9, 2020

The Best Friend You Never Knew Part 11: YOUR Great “I AM”

Filling Up with the Wrong Gas

Since 1830, over 100 splinter groups have developed on the foundation of the Prophet Joseph Smith and the Book of Mormon. In that time, many offshoots have been formed with a “strong man”: a single, solitary,  charismatic leader who displays uncommonly advanced understanding of the scriptures. 

In one offshoot (which is now forming), the leader (who would quickly deny such a title) holds near-daily video meetings with adherents for an hour or two, then a half-hour Q&A. 

Its leader professes humility and weakness. Their command of the scriptures and doctrine is second to none. This combination can be intimidating, appealing and even inspiring to those desperately thirsting for further light and knowledge about doctrines like the baptism of fire and second comforter. Still, the leader maintains that their interpretation and/or experience with God’s words -- their way -- is the only one that’s legitimate. Thus, heed their words and their way, and you’ll be saved; neglect them, and you’re damned.

You’d think that such a theology could be easily spotted and rejected, but think again. This group has multiple dozens or maybe a hundred followers, and it’s gaining more every day. After witnessing another, larger movement within the last decade, this one may just succeed in breaking past the “gathering” phase of existence into a genuine, bona-fide movement.

These followers are neglecting, minimizing or considering themselves exceptions to two essential directives from the Lord:

They are trusting in the arm of flesh. Followers believe that the “strong man’s” way is more educated, more experienced and therefore wiser than their own, and therefore, should be trusted. 

In so believing, the follower is encouraged to recount their spiritual experiences to the leader, who then judges whether the experience was valid or not. This can be quite disruptive for someone who has actually had a true spiritual experience with God, but is later told (by the leader) that it wasn’t, because it didn’t exactly align with the leader’s paradigm. This essentially positions the leader as the follower’s judge / intermediary / intercessor.

For example, this leader totally discounted another’s very sacred experience because there was no accompanying burning with fire (in their heart). Yet a burning in one’s bosom isn’t the only way divinity can testify of an event’s truthfulness. It can also send forth peace:

"Did I not speak peace to your mind concerning the matter? What greater witness can you have than from God?" (D&C 6:23)

Since when is one mortal’s way of experiencing divinity the only way? Saul of Tarsus persecuted beyond measure the church of God, and consented to the death of Stephen (Acts 8:1). Later, Yeshua appeared to him (1 Corinthians 15:8). Does that mean that you need to persecute Christians, send them to jail and consent to an apostle’s death in order to see Yeshua? Do you need to grow up in upper state New York and be a 14 year-old boy, or perhaps even traverse the Sinai Desert, in order to see God, too? 

You see, there’s no set way to experience God. No two baptisms of fire are alike. No two second comforter experiences are alike. If so, then the gospel of Jesus Christ would all be formulaic -- a condition which Yeshua himself found repugnant and emphatically condemned.

"Thus saith the Lord; Cursed be the man that trusteth in man, and maketh flesh his arm, and whose heart departeth from the Lord. " (Jeremiah 17:5

"O Lord, I have trusted in thee, and I will trust in thee forever. I will not put my trust in the arm of flesh; for I know that cursed is he that putteth his trust in the arm of flesh. Yea, cursed is he that putteth his trust in man or maketh flesh his arm." (2 Nephi 4:34

"Cursed is he that putteth his trust in man, or maketh flesh his arm, or shall hearken unto the precepts of men, save their precepts shall be given by the power of the Holy Ghost." (2 Nephi 28:31)

So, who IS directing your paths these days?

"Trust in the Lord with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths." (Proverbs 3:5-6)

Followers end up focusing on themselves, not others. The leader’s preoccupation with doctrines like baptism of fire and second comforter legitimizes doing the same among their followers. Yeshua said, 

"He that findeth his life shall lose it: and he that loseth his life for my sake shall find it" (Matthew 10:39; see also Matthew 10:32–41; 16:24–28; Mark 8:34–38; Luke 9:23–26; 17:33). 

But instead of losing their lives, they are hyperfocusing on it. They have replaced the pronouns “she / he / they” or “we / us / our” with “I / me / my”. 

In all actuality, your focusing on YOUR baptism of fire and YOUR second comforter -- or a group leader’s / discussion leader’s / whatever they are’s teachings which focuses on such -- is an indication that you’re moving away, not towards, God. Now, don’t assume that I’m diminishing or disparaging these doctrines, because I’m not. They ARE important. However, God knows your desires. He knows what you want and actually need. But He cannot and will not force you to do the right things. And the right things begin when you start pointing the arrows away from, and not towards, yourself:

"It is a time-honored adage that love begets love. Let us pour forth love—show forth our kindness unto all mankind, and the Lord will reward us with everlasting increase; cast our bread upon the waters and we shall receive it after many days, increased to a hundredfold" (Joseph Smith, History of the Church, 5:517).

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)

"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)

You see, when you’re focused on others -- not yourself -- and developing and expanding love for them, it's not a matter of “if,” but “when” these transcendent experiences (like the second comforter) will happen:

"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; emphasis mine)

[NOTE: “this love” is referring to “charity,” which Moroni is elaborating upon in Moroni 7:44-47. One of the ingredients for “this love” is when one “seeketh not her own.” (1 Corinthians 13:5)]

Just to reiterate: Just because a person had a particular spiritual experience in a certain way doesn’t mean you’re obligated to repeat the same pattern. As far as I can tell, there are no step-by-step instructions in the scriptures. However, there are characteristics, attributes and qualities we must have, such as those found in the ten commandments and D&C 93:1

YOUR One and Only

Instead of spending hours on a video chat or listening to a lecture by a self-regarded “expert” who only validates others’ spiritual experiences which match his, why not cast him aside and have a one-on-one relationship with THE way, THE truth and THE life?

I mean, no matter how knowledgeable another person is, and no matter how well they can spin their own interpretation of God’s words, and no matter how awesome their past spiritual experiences may have been, they are not Yeshua:

"O then, my beloved brethren, come unto the Lord, the Holy One. Remember that his paths are righteous. Behold, the way for man is narrow, but it lieth in a straight course before him, and the keeper of the gate is the Holy One of Israel; and he employeth no servant there; and there is none other way save it be by the gate; for he cannot be deceived, for the Lord God is his name." (2 Nephi 9:41; emphasis mine)

The scriptures make it abundantly clear that you must seek Yeshua daily. Matthew 6:34 tells us not to be focused on tomorrow (and perhaps not even the past), but instead focus on the now. The present. The current, for “Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof.”  That’s because if you want to find Yeshua, you must be focused on Him in the here and now. He’s not the god of “I was” or “I will be.” 

Who was Yeshua in the Old Testament? “I AM” (Exodus 3:14). Who was Yeshua in the New Testament? “I AM” (John 8:58). Who was Yeshua in the Doctrine and Covenants? “I AM” (D&C 38:1).

As we read about Yeshua’s interactions with mortals in the scriptures, it becomes abundantly clear that to the meek and lowly, it makes no difference who you have been in your past. What matters is who you are, right now, before Him. You could have totally messed up your life, and He’ll still tell you not to focus on that, but who you ARE. When “I AM” comes into your life, the deadness and darkness of your life is transformed, and everything’s new and beautiful.

Here, let’s try an experiment. I want you to say “I AM”, and then your name. Maybe “I AM Sharon” or ‘I am Chris.” See? Before you say your name, you must first say His name. So it’s two names, always. That’s pretty cool.

Even when you say “I AM a mother” or “I AM a dad” or “I AM a grocery store clerk” or “I AM a secretary,” it always starts with His name. Are you going to the store? You say “I AM going to the store.” Going to the park? You say “I AM going to the park.”

Whoever you are, I AM is with you. Wherever you go, I AM is going before you.

All that you are comes from I AM. Your identity begins with I AM. You were created in the image of I AM. You’re redeemed by the blood of I AM. You only exist because of I AM. 

And the most important thing about you isn’t that you’re old or poor or fat or have wrinkles in places you didn’t have a year ago or that maybe you’re lonely or sick or in pain. No. The most important thing above all those aspects of your life is that I AM is with you, and literally and figuratively goes before you. Even when you feel the least bit worthy of His presence, or you’re going through your own personal crisis or your own wilderness, what do you say? “I AM going through this.” I AM never leaves you. 

Remember the sacrament prayers? What do you pray for? In the Book of Mormon, they prayed “that they may always have his Spirit to be with them.” (Moroni 4:3, 5:2)  In the sacrament prayers found in the Doctrine and Covenants, what do you pray for? “that they may always have his Spirit to be with them.” (D&C 20:77-79)

Ponder that for a minute. His spirit. I AM’s spirit. With you. How often? Not occasionally. Not every now and then, but ALWAYS.

Indeed, are you not commanded to “Pray without ceasing” (1 Thessalonians 5:17) and to “pray always” (3 Nephi 18:15, 18; 2 Thessalonians 1:11; D&C 31:12, 32:4; 93:49-50)? And isn’t prayer supposed to be a dialogue, not a monologue? “Draw near unto me and I will draw near unto you” (D&C 88:63) -- how often? Always!

Sure, Adam. Enoch and Noah walked and talked with God. And of course people naturally say, "Yeah, but those were ancient prophets, not me."

But you’re wrong! Brother Joseph said:

"There are certain characters that walked with God, saw him, conversed about heaven &c. God is not a respecter of persons [D&C 38:16], we all have the same privilege. Come to God weary him until he blesses you &c-we are entitled to the same blessings." (Joseph Smith, The Words of Joseph Smith: The Contemporary Accounts of the Nauvoo Discourses of the Prophet Joseph, compiled and edited by Andrew F. Ehat and Lyndon W. Cook, p. 13-15)

He also said:

"We trust that it will prove a stimulus, to the saints, to action, when they read of the great blessings enjoyed by the ancients and consider that they were men of like passions with ourselves, subject to all the evils and temptations with which we are surrounded; and that the same God, who conferred upon them such great privileges, 'is the same yesterday to day and forever,' and is 'no respecter of persons,' consequently is just as willing to hear and answer the prayers, and bestow as great blessings upon his children now, as in days gone by:" (The Prophecy of Enoch, Times and Seasons, vol. 2 (November 1840-October 1841), Vol. 2 No. 1 November 1, 1840, p.203 - 204)

But how do you do that? How do you walk and talk with God? In fact, CAN you even do that -- walk and talk with God? 

In my next post in this series, you’ll read about others who’ve done just that (including, as was promised earlier, some more about Brother Lawrence). You’ll read about real housewives, business owners, grandmas, store clerks and more who, in the middle of their busy, ordinary lives, put Yeshua to the test and reached out to Him. And what happened next was a breakthrough:

They heard, in their hearts and minds, a God who’s all-powerful yet has no ego. A god who’s not judgmental, and quick to forgive. A god who’s anxious to talk about your life, your pains, your sorrows and all those dark walks through the wilderness you’re going through, and with a flick of His pinky, gives you perspective and context. A god who never angers at you, but is instead light-hearted, playful and loves to make you smile and laugh and not be so weighted down with life.

I AM wants not only to be part of your life, but an active part of it as well. Wherever you go, I AM wants to go with you. Whatever you’re suffering, I AM wants to be with you. You draw close to Him, and He’ll draw close to you. 

“Without ceasing.”


They have heard his voice (John 10:27; D&C 29:7). 

Praying always? Yes, these people have done that. Walk and talk with God? Not ALL the time, but yes, they have. And there’s nothing mystical or magical about it. You don’t need to be “just male” or have an impressive pioneer pedigree or church title. Walking and talking with I AM is a privilege offered to every man, woman and child. Paul taught, “as the Lord hath called every one, so let him walk.” (1 Corinthians 7:17)

Next time, we’ll read how they did it...

...and how you can, too.