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Monday, August 22, 2016

Balancing Act: Fully leveraged and fully tethered

Fully leveraged on the one hand...

We are told very clearly that the Lord expects us to exert tremendous effort in living the gospel.
And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength: this is the first commandment. (Mark 12:30)
...it is by grace that we are saved, after all we can do. (2 Nephi 25:23)

This effort is meant to pervade every aspect of our lives.

Verily I say, men should be anxiously engaged in a good cause, and do many things of their own free will, and bring to pass much righteousness; (D&C 58:27)
Most people I know are not fully leveraged. They see their situations as unavoidable, and ignore the many things they could do to put themselves in a place where they could more fully study the gospel, seek the Lord, and help others. In the United States, we are drowning on opportunity, and an unfortunate number of people lack the faith to construct a situation for themselves that will allow them to meet the Lord's expectations for them. I wrote a book on this subject. If you are looking for guidance, you might find it helpful.

But fully tethered on the other hand...

When you are operating full throttle, it is easy to forget the weightier matters. Our success in the gospel is wholly dependent on our connection to Jesus.

I am the vine, ye are the branches: He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without me ye can do nothing. (John 15:5)

When we focus on outward actions--even righteous ones--while forgetting the inward vessel, we disconnect ourselves from Jesus. We have to prevent our hearts from focusing on the things of this world, even when our focus on the things of this world is solely to do God's will:

Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him. (1 John  2:15)

"The world" goes far beyond the things we regularly associate with it (riches, comfort, sex, etc.). It includes everything we do here. "The world" can include earning an honest living, giving food to the homeless, Sunday worship services, etc. None of these things are internal. They are all external. While these things can help us develop our "treasure in heaven" they themselves are not the treasure--our character is. Building that character requires godly actions, but godly actions can be and are done by those with wicked hearts. When we focus so much on the what that we forget the why, our hearts become unconnected from God, and that is a monumentally bad thing.

While God expects us to be fully leveraged in how we use our time, talents, and energy, he expects us to always keep ourselves spiritually tethered to him. This manifests itself in how we treat others, particularly others who interfere with our external actions.

How do we stay tethered? We must remember him always. If he is the focus, we can't go wrong.
“Be careful for nothing; but in every thing by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God. And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:6, 7)
When we are focused on Jesus, how can we be frustrated when things do not turn out the way we want them to? Frustration comes when we put our expectations above his will. When others prevent our expected outcomes, we can still have the peace of God, because we are focused on pleasing him, achieving internal and not external outcomes.

But the Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you. Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid. (John 14:26, 27)

Jesus' peace is not of this world, and his kingdom is not of this world.  His kingdom is not of this world because it doesn't look like what the world calls a kingdom. There is no power-by-force. There is only power-by-submission and persuasion. God's peace is not like what the world calls peace. It is not an externally induced calm or comfort. You can have his peace even when everything in this world goes wrong. Jesus had peace even when he was surrounded by fools, cowards, betrayers, and those who wanted to kill him. He did not get frustrated when his mission was complicated by the actions (or inactions) of others. He knew that if he was doing what he could in the framework provided, he would please the father, and that's all that mattered.

And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose. (Romans 8:28)

His peace has nothing to do with what positive things might be happening in your life, or what others are doing. It has everything to do with your inner peace and disconnection from the temporal outcome of your actions, no matter how leveraged you might be.

Examples of balance

Nephi is a wonderful example of the balance we are describing here. There is no question that he leveraged his life to the hilt to do God's work, yet he was always tethered to God's commandments. One example of this is the return to Jerusalem for the plates. Nephi did not lose it when his brothers' lack of faith resulted in a failed mission. He simply tried again, realizing that God's purposes could not be frustrated by man. The effort exerted on this trip was exceptional. Despite that leverage, Nephi still instantly unplugged it all and acted consistently with godly character. Another example is given when Nephi's bow breaks. Here they are, a large group dealing with brutal survival conditions. In the thick of all the strain that such a situation brings, their prime tool--Nephi's bow--breaks. The rest of the crew, including Nephi's otherwise stalwart father--lose their minds. Nephi simply goes and makes another bow. This is a time consuming and effort-intensive activity. Despite hunger, stress, and the hostility of others, he displays a godly character. In token of his connection to Jesus, he then prays before going to hunt so that the Lord will lead him to food. Nephi was both fully leveraged and fully tethered.

How we balance

If we knew all hearts, I think we would find that everyone falls on one side of the balance. Each person is either too apathetic towards their works or too concerned about them. The secret to balance is to understand the phrase "within the bounds the Lord has set." It is good to be able to disconnect your spiritual well being from the works of your hands, but if it gets to the point where you are leaving things undone that God wills you to do, it becomes sin. On the other hand, it is good to be able to fully invest your time, talents, and energy into the Lord's work, but it becomes sin when you neglect the weightier matters: treating other people as God treats you. No success in this life is worth violating God's commandment to love another. It is ironic that some are violating that commandment by overfocusing on outward things that they believe they need to do to keep it.

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Eternal life is an acquired taste

God loves us and wants to bless us as much as we can receive it. The limit of God's blessing is usually understood to be our obedience. While that is true, it is not beneficial to think of this in the simplest sense, the sense that he blesses those that obey him and punishes those who disobey him, like a king who rules with an iron fist. This is not correct.

God does not benefit from punishing us. All that he does is for the good of the world.
He doeth not anything save it be for the benefit of the world; for he loveth the world, even that he layeth down his own life that he may draw all men unto him. Wherefore, he commandeth none that they shall not partake of his salvation. (2 Nephi 26:24)
God's punishments are better understood as the natural consequences of our disobedience to universal law. Instead of seeing them as the response of an angered dictator, we ought to see them as consequences that would have been avoided had we heeded God's instructions to do so.

It is a common thing for those who know something about the gospel to desire greater blessings than they possess. What we do not realize is that our sought-for blessings almost always come with situations that we would find repugnant in our current fallen state.

Here is a story from Jesus' life that will illustrate this point.

20 Then came to him the mother of Zebedee’s children with her sons, worshipping him, and desiring a certain thing of him.
 21 And he said unto her, What wilt thou? She saith unto him, Grant that these my two sons may sit, the one on thy right hand, and the other on the left, in thy kingdom.
 22 But Jesus answered and said, Ye know not what ye ask. Are ye able to drink of the cup that I shall drink of, and to be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with? They say unto him, We are able.
 23 And he saith unto them, Ye shall drink indeed of my cup, and be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with: but to sit on my right hand, and on my left, is not mine to give, but it shall be given to them for whom it is prepared of my Father. (Matthew 20:21-23)

The mother of the apostles James and John came to Jesus asking for her sons to receive a new blessing.  Jesus' response was to indicate that the blessing James and John were requesting would require suffering far beyond anything they had experienced.

For those whose hearts and minds are prepared, and whose spirits are stout enough to endure, further light and truth is a blessing. However, for those who are unprepared, new blessings are actually an onerous curse.

When the rich young man asked Jesus how he could have eternal life, Jesus told him to sell everything he had and give to the poor. The man thought he wanted eternal life, but it turns out his understanding of what that would be like was very wrong. "...he went away sorrowful: for he had great possessions." (Matthew 19:22)

What would happen if an unprepared soul came face-to-face with the Savior? There are references to this all over the place. Here is one:
...the demands of divine justice do awaken his immortal soul to a lively sense of his own guilt, which doth cause him to shrink from the presence of the Lord, and doth fill his breast with guilt, and pain, and anguish, which is like an unquenchable fire, whose flame ascendeth up forever and ever. (Mosiah 2:38)
No one desires that. Yet, the experiences bridging the gap between this experience and how we imagine an audience with the Lord are unpalatable for most. Turning our hearts to God means much more than simply wanting to draw closer to our preconceived notions of him. It means to adopt a childlike assumption that we know nothing with a willingness to submit to any affliction he might send our way, including uprooting the cherished traditions that make up our bedrock of belief.

For the natural man is an enemy to God, and has been from the fall of Adam, and will be, forever and ever, unless he yields to the enticings of the Holy Spirit, and putteth off the natural man and becometh a saint through the atonement of Christ the Lord, and becometh as a child, submissive, meek, humble, patient, full of love, willing to submit to all things which the Lord seeth fit to inflict upon him, even as a child doth submit to his father. (Mosiah 3:19)

Joseph Smith expertly described that the blessing of entering heaven is no different than any of the others that we have not currently qualified for. Unreceived blessings must be prepared for. Before we are ready to find joy in godly things, we have to allow God to instruct us and change our hearts so that we can learn to recognize, value, and savor that which is good:

"Here, then, we have this part of our subject immediately before us for consideration: God has in reserve a time, or period appointed in His own bosom, when He will bring all His subjects, who have obeyed His voice and kept His commandments, into His celestial rest. This rest is of such perfection and glory, that man has need of a preparation before he can, according to the laws of that kingdom, enter it and enjoy its blessings. This being the fact, God has given certain laws to the human family, which, if observed, are sufficient to prepare them to inherit this rest. This, then, we conclude, was the purpose of God in giving His laws to us: If not, why, or for what were they given? If the whole family of man were as well off without them as they might be with them, for what purpose or intent were they ever given? Was it that God wanted to merely show that He could talk? It would be nonsense to suppose that He would condescend to talk in vain: for it would be in vain, and to no purpose whatever (if the law of God were of no benefit to man): because, all the commandments contained in the law of the Lord, have the sure promise annexed of a reward to all who obey, predicated upon the fact that they are really the promises of a Being who cannot lie, One who is abundantly able to fulfill every tittle of His word: and if man were as well prepared, or could be as well prepared, to meet God without their ever having been given in the first instance, why were they ever given? for certainly, in that case they can now do him no good." (Joseph Smith, TPJS, p. 54)

We live in a society where people love eating meat but are unwilling to raise, kill, and butcher an animal themselves. It turns out that eating select cuts of meat in a buffet is a very different experience than eating all parts of an animal you raised and butchered yourself. The gospel is not subject to the Babylonian illusion. You can't buy the "cream" of the gospel in neat, convenient containers sold at your local grocery store. You have to breed the cow. You have to milk it twice a day every day for two years. You have to consume the gallons of skim milk along with the little bit of cream you get every day.

It is in vain for persons to fancy to themselves that they are heirs with those, or can be heirs with them, who have offered their all in sacrifice, and by this means obtained faith in God and favor with him so as to obtain eternal life, unless they in like manner offer unto him the same sacrifice, and through that offering obtain the knowledge that they are accepted of him. (Lectures on Faith 6:8)

I know a lot of people who seek after the experiences of people in the scriptures. Yet, I don't know many people (any?) who would willingly take upon themselves the lives of those people. We covet the blessings of the gospel. We shape the glory of God into what our telestial minds find desirable. Instead, we ought to realize that God's glory is anything but desirable to a telestial mind.

In a post worthy of your attention, Matt Crocket recently reported that the Lord told him the following: “Those who seek for priesthood and power will have neither, but those who seek to do my will, the will of the Lord, shall have both priesthood and power to do that which I have asked of you.” Upon reading these words, the Lord certified to me that these came from him and were true.

If "priesthood" is nothing more than the permission and power from God to do his will, why do we so often make an artificial separation between those elements of his will that we lust after (such as healing the sick, raising the dead, baptizing, having visions and visitations, etc.) and those elements we ignore (such as humility, meekness, patience, abasement, suffering, disappointment, purity, self-denial, etc.)? We ought to seek the latter as much as the former. We ought to realize that these are two ends of the same stick. We ought to realize that if the latter are repugnant to us, than the former--when done according to God's will--will also be equally repugnant.

Friday, August 12, 2016

"For I will shew him how great things he must suffer for my name’s sake."

I would say that I've gone through a few phases of understanding about what the gospel is like.

In my first phase, I felt I had discovered a pearl of great price in the gospel of Jesus Christ. I sold everything I had to buy it. I thought the only thing keeping others from it was knowing about it, because that was all that had kept me from it. I was violently dismayed to learn that few, if any, recognize its value. Most do not recognize its value immediately, and few recognize its value even after a lifetime of living it, as they suppose.

 44 Again, the kingdom of heaven is like unto treasure hid in a field; the which when a man hath found, he hideth, and for joy thereof goeth and selleth all that he hath, and buyeth that field.
 45 Again, the kingdom of heaven is like unto a merchant man, seeking goodly pearls:
 46 Who, when he had found one pearl of great price, went and sold all that he had, and bought it. (Matthew 13)

In my second phase, I felt that God wanted to use to me to sift the wheat from the tares by going out and offering his gospel. Sure, I would be rejected by the majority of people, but there would surely be some (many?) out there who would see the priceless value of Jesus and his gospel. I was violently dismayed to learn that few, if any, recognize its value. Most do not recognize its value immediately, and few recognize its value even after a lifetime of living it, as they suppose. Even those who are interested drink shallowly from the waters that flow freely--holding on tightly to the dark corners of their heart that they will not give to God.

16 Behold, I will send for many fishers, saith the Lord, and they shall fish them; and after will I send for many hunters, and they shall hunt them from every mountain, and from every hill, and out of the holes of the rocks. (Jeremiah 16:16)

33 Behold, he sendeth an invitation unto all men, for the arms of mercy are extended towards them, and he saith: Repent, and I will receive you.
 34 Yea, he saith: Come unto me and ye shall partake of the fruit of the tree of life; yea, ye shall eat and drink of the bread and the waters of life freely; (Alma 5)

My third phase began one day when a church leader asked me to accept a leadership position. I was shocked because I figured my time had come and I would be kicked out of the LDS church. Instead, I was offered a leadership position. As I walked out of the building, I looked up to the sky and said, "really?!" The Lord spoke to me in an audible voice and said "I will show you how great things you must suffer for my name's sake," which is very similar to what he said to Ananias about Paul (see Acts 9:16). He gave me to understand what he meant: He was going to teach me how it is to be a god--not in a power sense, but in the sense of what godly suffering is like. In my third phase, I have come to realize that the gospel is not about other people--it is about us as individuals. I have come to realize that to become like God is to live like God. The way God lives is that he is surrounded by people who do not appreciate what he has to offer, and will not embrace it to the degree he has embraced it. Still, he loves them beyond comprehension, and readily sacrifices himself for them, even as they are in the very act of rejecting him. Jesus was spit on and murdered by the people he came to save. Even the most valiant spirits that surround God's throne day and night proclaiming his holiness occupy that position instead of one greater because they would not let go of their traditions and fully embrace what God had to offer. In a sense, God is still spat on day and night by those who most loudly proclaim his goodness. This is what it means to be like God: to sacrifice yourself day and night for eternity to people who reject what you offer them, and who are probably so blind as not to even realize you are offering it to them.

The lights shines in the darkness, but the darkness doesn't comprehend it. We don't use the word comprehend very often in modern English. It means to understand. The light shines in the darkness: God offers greater light and truth to everyone by sending teachings to them through revelation and personal ministry of others that surpass what they currently possess. The darkness comprehendeth it not: Most people do not recognize the teachings to be of God, or true, or of worth, or even to be teachings at all.

The light keeps shining, irrespective of how many listen or what it costs to the one shining.


Thursday, August 11, 2016

Two Parables on Testing


The Parable of the Weightlifter and the Toddler

There once was a man who enjoyed lifting weights. He had a young son who enjoyed being with his dad while he was lifting weights. Usually the boy stayed out of harms way while the father lifted weights. However, the risk was very high, as most things his father was doing would seriously injure him were he to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. Tremendous concentration and focus is needed to do weightlifting, but the father had to develop an ability to immediately switch out of this focus if his son entered into the lifting area at the wrong time.

The Parable of the Painter and the Carver

There once was an oil painter. Her paintings would follow her stream of conscious. If certain areas turned out other than she expected, she could surgically scrape off that area with her putty knife and repaint it. Sometimes the whole scene ended up different than she expected, and she could scrape the whole canvas clean.

Her brother was a carver. The carver had to be more careful with his strokes than his sister. Mistakes were irreversible. While minor mistakes could find use in a redesigned carving, all mistakes permanently altered the carving, and major ones ruined it.

Testing

We are here to be tested. Most of our lives have nothing to do with the tests. Instead, like a vitamin, the majority of the content is just filler. The filler is not passive. It takes an incredible amount of time, energy, and focus, and how you handle it has a dramatic effect on your life and the lives of others. The tests are few and far between, but they are what actually control your ascent to or decent from God.

And we will prove them herewith, to see if they will do all things whatsoever the Lord their God shall command them; (Abraham 3:25)
The son--my son--is much like God. He sometimes seems far away, but we cannot get complacent in our ability to hear and respond. The tests come according to his wisdom, not our timing or desire. They usually come when we are least ready for them. Our performance on each test determines where our character is, how much he can bless us, and how soon he can test us again.

A man's character is multidimensional. When we fail a test, that dimension of our character stalls until God retests it. We might progress (or retrograde) in other dimensions before the retest in the failed dimension. A retest could take hours, days, years, or decades to come. Truly, our whole life is a set of incredibly important tests, each one altering the path of the rest of our life.

Our decisions determine our outcome. There are many tests that control the maximum ascent we are capable in this life. Put another way, some mistakes we make limit just how much we can achieve in this life, and some mistakes are so egregious that they make it better that we hadn't been born because they lock us into a lower degree of glory than we enjoyed before this life. God is not obligated to continuously offer us a test that we continue to fail in this life. He will not be mocked. There are many examples in the scriptures where individuals and groups reached the end of their allotted chances. For example, the Israelites in the wilderness first lost their chance of seeing God face to face early on in the exodus. Then they lost their chance of coming to the promised land.
36 And now, my brethren, behold I say unto you, that if ye will harden your hearts ye shall not enter into the rest of the Lord; therefore your iniquity provoketh him that he sendeth down his wrath upon you as in the first provocation, yea, according to his word in the last provocation as well as the first, to the everlasting destruction of your souls; therefore, according to his word, unto the last death, as well as the first. (Alma 12:36)
Maybe we get ten chances, or maybe just 2, or maybe just 1. If we fail to pass it in the times allotted, we must wait until the next life to get another chance. Many if not most people have already lost their chances to gain all blessings God was willing to give them in this life.

Everyone but Christ fails in this life. Everyone but Christ comes to the point where they are taught a new truth that they are unwilling to embrace. If not, they would continuously qualify for and receive further light and truth until they were perfect, and earn redemption from the fall for themselves as did Christ. Everyone is willfully disobedient. Everyone has come short of the glory of God. To put it another way, no one will finish the race of mortality, so the question is not who won. The question, rather, is how far will you carry the baton before you collapse?

When Jesus forgives us of our sins, it erases the penalty for those sins, but not the consequence of those sins on our character. Our character is fixed only as we conquer our sins by passing the test they present. This is the difference between justification and sanctification. We are justified by asking. We are sanctified by the law we live.

Monday, August 8, 2016

Waiting on the Lord is Required for the Fullness of the Priesthood (Scripture Study Helaman 10:4-10)

The Book of Mormon contains the story of Nephi, one of several men in the scriptures who receive a special blessing from God.
4 Blessed art thou, Nephi, for those things which thou hast done; for I have beheld how thou hast with unwearyingness declared the word, which I have given unto thee, unto this people. And thou hast not feared them, and hast not sought thine own life, but hast sought my will, and to keep my commandments.
 5 And now, because thou hast done this with such unwearyingness, behold, I will bless thee forever; and I will make thee mighty in word and in deed, in faith and in works; yea, even that all things shall be done unto thee according to thy word, for thou shalt not ask that which is contrary to my will.
 6 Behold, thou art Nephi, and I am God. Behold, I declare it unto thee in the presence of mine angels, that ye shall have power over this people, and shall smite the earth with famine, and with pestilence, and destruction, according to the wickedness of this people.
 7 Behold, I give unto you power, that whatsoever ye shall seal on earth shall be sealed in heaven; and whatsoever ye shall loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven; and thus shall ye have power among this people.
 8 And thus, if ye shall say unto this temple it shall be rent in twain, it shall be done.
 9 And if ye shall say unto this mountain, Be thou cast down and become smooth, it shall be done.
 10 And behold, if ye shall say that God shall smite this people, it shall come to pass.
(Helaman 10)
The blessing Nephi received was the promise from God that he received the power to do all things according to God's will. This is referred to by several phrases, including the fullness of the priesthood or the receipt of the sealing power. Others in the scriptures received the same, such as Elijah, but this passage provides a more detailed description of why Nephi received it than any other of which I am aware.

This is one of my favorite passages of scripture, and it should be attentively studied for anyone who desires the capacity to do God's work on this earth without the inhibitions of mortality.

God provides an explanation of why Nephi received this blessing. First, he unhesitatingly and consistently delivered every word to the people that God delivered to him. I have met many who have divulged to me that they are very reluctant to share the knowledge that God has given them with others. What holds them back? They have enumerated many reasons: lack of self-confidence, fear of persecution, fear of loss of friends, fear of loss of job, etc. These reasons are not special. A search of the scriptures will yield examples of people who shared each of these fears. For example, Enoch and Moses both questioned why they should be the ones to preach the word they were given (though they both handled it very differently--reread the accounts and note that Enoch's response merited a special blessing of seership, while Moses' resulted in God's anger and a curse of sorts with the assignment of Aaron as his spokesman). These reasons do not excuse any of us from doing what we are meant to do. I am not sure God ever reveals anything to anyone for just their own use. In my experience, the best revelations I ever received were primarily given because God knew I would be willing to share them with others who needed them. A brief caution: While most people err on the side of not sharing, it is possible to share too much. Alma 12 contains an admonition not to share information with others that they have not merited through heed and diligence to what they have already received. Of course, when God tells you something and tells you to share it with others, Alma 12 does not apply.

Those who do not faithfully discharge our duty to share the word he gives with others will never receive the fullness of the priesthood.

How did God know that Nephi would never ask something contrary to his will? There are only two ways for a man not to ask something contrary to God's will. The first way is if the man knows everything that God knows, and therefore will never make a decision differently than God would. I do not believe that anyone on this planet knows what God knows. I do not believe that is possible in our imperfect fleshy state. The second way is if the man refuses to act in God's name without explicit revelation from God instructing him in what to do. If you believe that a man cannot know everything that God knows, you must conclude that the reason Nephi would never ask anything contrary to God's will is that he would never act in God's name without explicit revelation from God instructing him in what to do.

The second thing God tells Nephi is that Nephi has not sought his own wellbeing, but only God's will. This description is far more profound than its small textual footprint suggests. Do you know what it means to seek only God's will and not your own wellbeing? If you are ever searching for your next area of repentance, enumerate what this means in every facet of your life. In my case, I would ask what this means as a father, as a husband, as a son, as an employee, as a preacher, in my prayers, in my service, as a farmer, in fitness, etc. This, folks, is consecration. The fact that God tells Nephi he has achieved this status is no small thing. It is incredible.

Nephi is also told that he keeps the commandments. God himself tells Nephi that he has been true and faithful in all things.

Now, interestingly, Nephi is not really any different for having done all these things. Despite the fact that he has built a highway of character, there aren't really cars of power driving on it. God says that because of all of this he will MAKE him mighty. He isn't mighty at this point. How will he do so? The Lord says he will be able to make him mighty because ("for") he will "not ask that which is contrary to my will." In other words, he will become mighty in faith and works because God will be able to instruct him knowing that he will only do what God tells him to do.

Some have this notion that someone with the fullness of the priesthood walks around doing wall to wall miracles; that they are endowed with some special power and they go around using it everywhere. Is there anything in the scriptures that supports this view?

What about Elijah? If you make a list of all the times Elijah exercised the power of God, you would have an impressive list. And yet, how long did Elijah live? Averaged over his entire ministry, how many miracles did Elijah exercise per year? All the sudden, the illusion of someone walking around like a wizard doing tricks evaporates. Even for men with the fullness of the priesthood, miracles are not a constant event.

But what about Jesus? Even though nearly everything about Jesus' life is a story about a miracle he did, he had a three year long mission. You still get gaps, and lots of them.

The truth is, and this is important, God does not want to heal everyone who is sick. He doesn't want to raise everyone from the dead. He doesn't want to make all the blind see. He doesn't want to rescue all men from all suffering. Suffering and death are intentional parts of the mortal experience. They are necessary tools for achieving his purpose, which purpose is to provide a way for men to achieve eternal life.

If the fullness of the priesthood meant that the man would be empowered to do whatever he wanted to do, it would frustrate the purposes of God, both outwardly and inwardly. Outwardly, people would be alleviated from suffering that was necessary to bring about their eternal progression. Inwardly, the man would find it impossibly difficult to maintain obedience to God. Though the gospel of blessings is false doctrine, it is true that our desire to encounter God is a tremendous motivator for repentance. If we suddenly had every spiritual desire fulfilled, would we be able to maintain a broken heart and contrite spirit? Jesus was certainly able to maintain a broken heart and contrite spirit despite the unbridled ability to exercise godly power. I am not so sure that we would be as successful.

Nephi said, "And I said unto them: If God had commanded me to do all things I could do them. If he should command me that I should say unto this water, be thou earth, it should be earth; and if I should say it, it would be done." (1 Nephi 17:50) Perhaps we can learn a bit from this verse by considering what Nephi did not say. He did not say "I can do all things if I just believe that I can," or "I can do all things if I believe that God can do all things." The critical factor was God commanding him to do it. He understood this lesson because he had seen the power manifest when he did/said what God told him to do/say: "And it came to pass that I stretched forth my hand unto my brethren, and they did not wither before me; but the Lord did shake them, even according to the word which he had spoken." (1 Nephi 17:54) What would happen if you or I stretched forth our hand to another to shock them? Go ahead, try it. There was nothing special about Nephi that made his action effectual, except for the fact that God had told him to do it.

There is an incredible burden to obtain the word of God. Nephi taught, "For behold, again I say unto you that if ye will enter in by the way, and receive the Holy Ghost, it will show unto you all things what ye should do." (2 Nephi 32:5) and "Angels speak by the power of the Holy Ghost; wherefore, they speak the words of Christ. Wherefore, I said unto you, feast upon the words of Christ; for behold, the words of Christ will tell you all things what ye should do." (2 Nephi 32:3) Shouldn't "all things" include the Lord's works which he wills us to do? Without the word, you can do nothing. "Seek not to declare my word, but first seek to obtain my word, and then shall your tongue be loosed; then, if you desire, you shall have my Spirit and my word, yea, the power of God unto the convincing of men." (D&C 11:21) "Yea, behold, I will tell you in your mind and in your heart, by the Holy Ghost, which shall come upon you and which shall dwell in your heart. Now, behold, this is the spirit of revelation; behold, this is the spirit by which Moses brought the children of Israel through the Red Sea on dry ground." (D&C 8:2-3) The Old Testament Balaam tried to explain to his petitioner that he could not simply speak arbitrary words and have the Lord fulfill them: "And Balaam said unto Balak, Lo, I am come unto thee: have I now any power at all to say any thing? the word that God putteth in my mouth, that shall I speak." (Numbers 22:38) Isaiah, John, Ezekiel, Abinadi, Samuel the Lamanite, Nephi, and others were given words they should speak. We believe Jesus when he said that he is the gate to the true fold, and the only one who can open it. If I assume power in God which he has not given me, my action will not be efficacious and I am guilty of using the Lord's name in vain.

The Lord knew this principle. He taught it to us through his life. How often in the New Testament does he explain that he only has power to do what the Father told him (empowered him) to do? Christs' authority came only inasmuch as he was commanded to do what he did of the Father (John 14:24). Any exception to that rule came as a result of a blanket permission he was given from the Father (for example, power over his own death). He did not assume any power that was not given explicitly to him from God.

The word of God is a lot like diamonds. You can find a diamond every once in a while on the surface of the earth. It's just sitting there, waiting to be picked up. But there are a lot more diamonds buried in rare, hard to find and hard to mine underground deposits. If you are a diamond miner and you assume that the surface type are the only extant diamonds since it is the only way you've found diamonds, you are out a fortune of more numerous and higher quality stones.

"And they shall also be crowned with blessings from above, yea, and with commandments not a few, and with revelations in their time—they that are faithful and diligent before me." (D&C 59:4)

The Lord can direct a miracle to occur seemingly at random, and he does, but he also invites us over and over to obtain his word by knocking, asking, seeking. Of course, many supposed gemstone experts don't understand a thing about diamonds, and so they don't even bother looking at the ground, let alone discovering the underground geology.

Sunday, August 7, 2016

Inquiring of the Lord

After Lehi's account of his vision of the tree of life, Laman and Lemuel express their lack of understanding of the meaning of the vision. Nephi replied, "Have ye inquired of the Lord?" (1 Nephi 15:8). The gospel, as it turns out, is full of mysteries. These lessons can only be learned through interaction between and individual and heaven---through the Holy Ghost, visions, voices, visitations, etc. Inquiring of the Lord is the process of earnestly seeking knowledge from God. Although this process can be applied to temporal questions, we see over and over and over again in the scriptures that it can also (and is most often) used for spiritual (i.e. doctrinal) questions.

Wherefore, I must tell you the truth according to the plainness of the word of God. For behold, as I inquired of the Lord, thus came the word unto me, saying: Jacob, get thou up into the temple on the morrow, and declare the word which I shall give thee unto this people. (Jacob 2:11)

Inquiring of the Lord is a big deal. When Ammon was trying to convince the Lamanite converts to move in with the Nephites, he "said: I will go and inquire of the Lord, and if he say unto us, go down unto our brethren, will ye go?" (Alma 27:7) You'll remember that Alma inquired of the Lord to know the military plans of the Lamanites. It was a big deal.

Joseph Smith taught that it was a big deal:
It is a great thing to inquire at the hands of God, or to come into His presence; and we feel fearful to approach Him on subjects that are of little or no consequence, to satisfy the queries of individuals, especially about things the knowledge of which men ought to obtain in all sincerity, before God, for themselves, in humility by the prayer of faith; (DHC 1:338-339)

Is inquiring of the Lord a simple prayer? It can be, but usually requires far more time, pondering, study, and focus. Inquiring of the Lord connotes that you are seeking God until he answers you. In other words, inquiries to God result in revelation. They result in the receipt of the word of God. Observe how Mormon describes the process of inquiring of the Lord:

For immediately after I had learned these things of you I inquired of the Lord concerning the matter. And the word of the Lord came to me by the power of the Holy Ghost, saying: (Moroni 8:7)

He says the word of the Lord came to him. Mormon didn't get feelings in response to his inquiry. Read on to see exactly what God said to him. God spoke to him like one man speaks to another, through the Holy Ghost. Mormon was able to write out the information that was conveyed. He was able to quote God.

Alma chapter 40 is an amazing example of the type of knowledge that can be revealed through inquiring of the Lord. What's more, it is also an exceptional example of how those who teach others have a duty to clearly communicate to their hearers what of their message comes explicitly from God, what is their opinion, and what still remains unknown to them. You should read it.

In conclusion, there are a lot of things that I don't know and you don't know about the gospel--a lot. They are "hard to be understood, save a man should inquire of the Lord;" (1 Nephi 15:3) Let us inquire of the Lord, find out which questions matter, and get the answers.

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Matthew 8:28-34; Christ Offends Us

 28 And when he was come to the other side into the country of the Gergesenes, there met him two possessed with devils, coming out of the tombs, exceeding fierce, so that no man might pass by that way.

 29 And, behold, they cried out, saying, What have we to do with thee, Jesus, thou Son of God? art thou come hither to torment us before the time?

 30 And there was a good way off from them an herd of many swine feeding.

 31 So the devils besought him, saying, If thou cast us out, suffer us to go away into the herd of swine.

 32 And he said unto them, Go. And when they were come out, they went into the herd of swine: and, behold, the whole herd of swine ran violently down a steep place into the sea, and perished in the waters.

 33 And they that kept them fled, and went their ways into the city, and told every thing, and what was befallen to the possessed of the devils.

 34 And, behold, the whole city came out to meet Jesus: and when they saw him, they besought him that he would depart out of their coasts. (Matthew 8)

What do we have in this story? We have two men possessed with devils who are cause such problems that they inhibit anyone from using the road near where they resided. Upon seeing Jesus, the devils immediately recognize Jesus and set about in a plan to use Jesus' inevitable reaction to them to their own advantage, as they suppose. They suggest he sends them off to a nearby herd of pigs, knowing full well that they will kill the pigs in hopes to cause a negative reaction toward Jesus in the townspeople.

Here is the interesting thing. Jews weren't supposed to eat pigs under the law of Moses. What could be misinterpreted as an oversight by Jesus was actually a service to the townspeople. Did they appreciate the fact that this sin had been alleviated from them? No, they told him to leave. They obviously did not care that their main thoroughfare was now open to travel. They did not recognize the good done in destroying the swine.

What principles does this story illusrate?
1. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness does not comprehend it. Jesus was rejected by the very people he was helping. They did not recognize his works as helpful. They asked him to leave. We ought to trust God and assume that what he is doing is right and in our best interest. If we are ever in doubt, we should ask him why he is doing what he is doing.

2. The devil stirs up men against that which is good. Instead of recognizing these events for what they were, these townspeople instead saw things carnally. Instead of seeing themselves as freed from a temporal and spiritual burden, they only saw a loss of property. They could not recognize that the property inhibited their relationship with God. God never takes anything away from the righteous that does not benefit them more than the loss. Ever.

3. The devil and his minions can't outsmart God. God is more intelligent than them all. His plans cannot be frustrated by devils or men possessed with devils.