Monday, May 28, 2018

Expectation, Hope, Needs, Wants

Needs vs. Wants

Jesus said: "Be not ye therefore like unto them: for your Father knoweth what things ye have need of, before ye ask him." (Matthew 6:8)

In colloquial speech, we often say "need" when we really mean "want." What do you really need? An adult human needs water at least every 3 days. Most of us have enough fat storage to not need food for up to a month. We might need some clothing if we live in a cold or very sunny place, but far less than what we would need to be comfortable.

Need is not not what is required for comfort. Need is what is required for survival.

Paul understood how little we actually need. He said:
7 For we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out.
8 And having food and raiment let us be therewith content. (1 Timothy 6)
He elaborated:
11 Not that I speak in respect of want: for I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content.
12 I know both how to be abased, and I know how to abound: every where and in all things I am instructed both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need.
13 I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me. (Philippians 4)
No matter what we think we need, we need very little. No matter how much we appreciate what we have in the moment, it is not guaranteed for tomorrow.

These are difficult truths to comprehend and absorb. To the degree we do not do both, we will needlessly suffer time after time as this world takes away everything we treasure, until our desires are wholly focused on what little endures eternally.

Expectation vs. Hope

The dictionary does not discriminate between the meanings of expect and hope. I will use them to describe different but related ideas. With both hope and expectation, you desire something. Both hope and desire can influence your actions. With both, you will act to improve the odds of your desire being fulfilled. In fact, you might do the same exact things in both cases.

To me, the difference lies in how you react if and when your desire is not fulfilled. When I hope for something and my desire is not fulfilled, then I go along my merry way, rejoicing that I tried my best. When I expect something and my desire is not fulfilled, I may be angry, despondent, regretful, etc.

Joy in the Journey

It turns out that most negative feelings occur when, after setting a goal, we observe or experience situations that detract from that goal. Some of these negative feelings are beneficial, because they can teach us about ourselves, others, and the world. Some of these negative feelings are not beneficial. For example, if I have set a positive goal and worked expediently towards it, but failed because of the choice of another person, should I really be upset about that?

One way to avoid these negative feelings is to avoid setting goals. Those without goals will never live as fulfilled a life as those with goals. They will merely float through life with a good deal of eventual regret for having wasted their resources.

A better way to avoid these negative feelings is to add context to your goals. While it is good to have ambitions, these must always be tempered with the understanding that, ultimately, very little is fully within your control. Therefore, everything you aim to do ought to be understood to be subject to almost infinite detours and potential roadblocks, and none of these things ought to bother you in the least when they present themselves. On the contrary, being detoured or blocked in your ambitions ought to be interpreted as just as successful an outcome as obtaining what you actually desired.

The point of your goal is not the acquisition of your goal, but your consistent exercise of godly character along the way.

Saturday, May 12, 2018

The Kingdom of God is Within You

20 And when he was demanded of the Pharisees, when the kingdom of God should come, he answered them and said, The kingdom of God cometh not with observation:
21 Neither shall they say, Lo here! or, lo there! for, behold, the kingdom of God is within you. (Luke 17)
What does it mean that the kingdom of God is within you? What does it mean that the kingdom of God doesn't come with observation?

Far too many people, like the Pharisees, think that they access heaven by going to a place. What makes heaven heavenly isn't its location, but the internal qualities of those who inhabit it.

The kingdom of God is not a kingdom in the earthly sense. Jesus said his kingdom--the kingdom of God--is not of this world.

33 Then Pilate entered into the judgment hall again, and called Jesus, and said unto him, Art thou the King of the Jews?
 34 Jesus answered him, Sayest thou this thing of thyself, or did others tell it thee of me?
 35 Pilate answered, Am I a Jew? Thine own nation and the chief priests have delivered thee unto me: what hast thou done?
 36 Jesus answered, My kingdom is not of this world: if my kingdom were of this world, then would my servants fight, that I should not be delivered to the Jews: but now is my kingdom not from hence. (John 18)

There are two possible meanings to Jesus' comment that his kingdom is not of this world. The first is the most popular. It suggests what Jesus meant was that his kingdom is not currently on the earth, because if it were, then as a king he would have his servants fight. Since that was not happening, it meant his kingdom wasn't there yet. I reject this meaning.

Jesus meant "my kingdom is not after the type of the kingdoms of the world. If it were, I would naturally use the methods used by earthly kings to establish control, namely coercion via military might. However, my kingdom is not after the type of this world, but is after a heavenly type. Therefore, my methods are to do exactly what I am doing."

How does his kingdom work? What is God's power, really?

The Lord is the embodiment of love. He puts all things under his feet by maintaining the consistency of his character in the face of all obstacles. There is nothing in creation that can cause him to break character.

On this earth, God has given the individual the option of retreating to the island of illusion. I have the option of hiding my imperfections behind the cloak of normal life. The cracks in my character will be evident on a nearly daily basis, but I can hold the curtains pretty tightly over them most of the time. But this is no way to live.

The gospel gives us a framework to deal with the chaos that surrounds us. This is absolutely essential to keep us from going mad when the curtains are pulled back, and we suddenly realize that chaos is not a subset of our existence, but rather the order we perceive as foundational is really a small island on an infinite sea of chaos.

Jesus tried to teach his disciples how the kingdom of God works:
34 But they held their peace: for by the way they had disputed among themselves, who should be the greatest.
35 And he sat down, and called the twelve, and saith unto them, If any man desire to be first, the same shall be last of all, and servant of all. (Mark 9)
42 But Jesus called them to him, and saith unto them, Ye know that they which are accounted to rule over the Gentiles exercise lordship over them; and their great ones exercise authority upon them.
43 But so shall it not be among you: but whosoever will be great among you, shall be your minister:
44 And whosoever of you will be the chiefest, shall be servant of all.
45 For even the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many. (Mark 10)
31 When the Son of man shall come in his glory, and all the holy angels with him, then shall he sit upon the throne of his glory:
 32 And before him shall be gathered all nations: and he shall separate them one from another, as a shepherd divideth his sheep from the goats:
 33 And he shall set the sheep on his right hand, but the goats on the left.
 34 Then shall the King say unto them on his right hand, Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world:
 35 For I was an hungred, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in:
 36 Naked, and ye clothed me: I was sick, and ye visited me: I was in prison, and ye came unto me.
 37 Then shall the righteous answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, and fed thee? or thirsty, and gave thee drink?
 38 When saw we thee a stranger, and took thee in? or naked, and clothed thee?
 39 Or when saw we thee sick, or in prison, and came unto thee?
 40 And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.
 41 Then shall he say also unto them on the left hand, Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels:
 42 For I was an hungred, and ye gave me no meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me no drink:
 43 I was a stranger, and ye took me not in: naked, and ye clothed me not: sick, and in prison, and ye visited me not.
 44 Then shall they also answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, or athirst, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not minister unto thee?
 45 Then shall he answer them, saying, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye did it not to one of the least of these, ye did it not to me.
 46 And these shall go away into everlasting punishment: but the righteous into life eternal. (Matthew 25)
These are not descriptions of some pre-exaltation piety, some stooping fawning servitude prior to gaining some worldly-powerful kingdom as a reward. This IS the kingdom.

Where is the battle to obtain this kingdom? It is totally within you. Everything around you is just a means to help you see what you still have to change in yourself. The Lord says that when he appears to us, we shall be like him. This means that before that can happen, you have to change. You aren't magically changed when you die. You have to acquire his character before he comes to you. He can only reveal himself to you inasmuch as you have become like him.

Every moment of every day is a new opportunity to obtain and maintain pure love in the face of all obstacles.

When you truly believe God, you let go of all the false supports in your life. You embrace your own limitations by letting go of all pretense. You find immeasurable strength in first recognizing and then facing the darkness within yourself.

When you reconcile yourself fully to God, there is nothing left to sacrifice. It is all on the table. In becoming nothing, you discover everything. Like fossilization, everything weak and perishable within you is replaced with something strong and permanent. Your character is replaced with his. When this happens, you truly do have the kingdom of God within you. You will not overcome the entropy in this world by converting it to you, but by converting yourself to him. No matter where you are and what you are going through, your inward strength will be unconquerable, because what is inside you is he who has overcome all things. You will be one with him and he will be in you.

Monday, February 19, 2018

Motive

Recently, I watched a business consultant explain how visionary companies focus on why, not what, but most normal companies focus on what, not why.

Most religious people find themselves no closer to God in spite of all their efforts because they mistake the hamster wheel of tradition for progress towards God.

Tradition is static. It is a list of whats. Truth is dynamic. It is about the why. The why will inform whats, but those whats will be dynamic--they will depend on the individual, the situation, and the time.

Any religion that consists of a list of static rules must, by definition, be tradition and not truth. It doesn't actually matter if those traditions actually come from God's word at some point. Like a snapshot of a flowing river, a static recording of a dynamic system is only correct at one moment in time.

When you focus on the why, you can't get caught in the tradition trap like those who focus on the what. Those who focus on the what don't realize that their source of "God's" commandments is always a man (either someone else or themselves) and not God.

Contrast this perspective to that of Jesus during his mortal ministry. He said:

28 ...I do nothing of myself; but as my Father hath taught me, I speak these things.
29 And he that sent me is with me: the Father hath not left me alone; for I do always those things that please him. (John 8)

Jesus' why was to please the Father. And how do we do that?

Most people rely on a list of whats because it is simple. Although a newcomer might struggle to get used to the rules, once you are there (or if you are born into that tradition), it is a piece of cake. All you have to do is coast your way into heaven. Keep the boxes checked, and you never have to think. You never have to change. You never have to rely on God, because your tradition provides all the security you ever need. You thank God that you are not one of those sinners over there instead of realizing that your lack of perception of custom commandments is a sign of your distance from God.

When you focus on the why, you can't ever rest on your laurels. You never know when God is going to ask you to sacrifice your son, marry a harlot, go live in a cave, threaten the irate king, be sawn in half, get stoned to death, cut off someone's head, or any other number of unexpected adventures lived by righteous men and women focused on the why.

Joseph Smith said "Every Man were st stimulated by a certain Motive, to act motive preceeds action & if we want to know ourselves this is the Key to Examin the motive what it is, & the fact will be manifest." (Words of Joseph Smith, 16 February 1841, McIntire Minute Book)

What is the motive of those who focus on the whats? Deep down inside, they do not trust God. They fear that he will ask them to do something that is not in their best interest. They would rather trust in a laundry list of commandments. They do not like the idea that they are in need of continual, progressive repentance. They do not have broken hearts and contrite spirits. They rely on their pride and their inflated self image instead of God. They trust in the carnal pleasures they enjoy that lie between the cracks of their static commandments. They do not want to put everything on the altar. They hold back what their hearts are focused on.

There are two principles that should form your motive if you are a disciple of Jesus Christ. They are:
1. "Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind." (Matthew 22:37)
2. "Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself." (Matthew 22:39)

Moroni 7 is a fascinating chapter. Have you ever wondered why he uses the word "good" instead of giving a list of things that are good? Or "evil" instead of listing the things that are evil? If you consider the idea of why, it will unlock the meaning of Moroni 7.

4 And now my brethren, I judge these things of you because of your peaceable walk with the children of men.
5 For I remember the word of God which saith by their works ye shall know them; for if their works be good, then they are good also.
6 For behold, God hath said a man being evil cannot do that which is good; for if he offereth a gift, or prayeth unto God, except he shall do it with real intent it profiteth him nothing.
7 For behold, it is not counted unto him for righteousness.
8 For behold, if a man being evil giveth a gift, he doeth it grudgingly; wherefore it is counted unto him the same as if he had retained the gift; wherefore he is counted evil before God.
9 And likewise also is it counted evil unto a man, if he shall pray and not with real intent of heart; yea, and it profiteth him nothing, for God receiveth none such.
10 Wherefore, a man being evil cannot do that which is good; neither will he give a good gift.
11 For behold, a bitter fountain cannot bring forth good water; neither can a good fountain bring forth bitter water; wherefore, a man being a servant of the devil cannot follow Christ; and if he follow Christ he cannot be a servant of the devil.
12 Wherefore, all things which are good cometh of God; and that which is evil cometh of the devil; for the devil is an enemy unto God, and fighteth against him continually, and inviteth and enticeth to sin, and to do that which is evil continually.
13 But behold, that which is of God inviteth and enticeth to do good continually; wherefore, every thing which inviteth and enticeth to do good, and to love God, and to serve him, is inspired of God.
14 Wherefore, take heed, my beloved brethren, that ye do not judge that which is evil to be of God, or that which is good and of God to be of the devil.
15 For behold, my brethren, it is given unto you to judge, that ye may know good from evil; and the way to judge is as plain, that ye may know with a perfect knowledge, as the daylight is from the dark night.
16 For behold, the Spirit of Christ is given to every man, that he may know good from evil; wherefore, I show unto you the way to judge; for every thing which inviteth to do good, and to persuade to believe in Christ, is sent forth by the power and gift of Christ; wherefore ye may know with a perfect knowledge it is of God.
17 But whatsoever thing persuadeth men to do evil, and believe not in Christ, and deny him, and serve not God, then ye may know with a perfect knowledge it is of the devil; for after this manner doth the devil work, for he persuadeth no man to do good, no, not one; neither do his angels; neither do they who subject themselves unto him.
18 And now, my brethren, seeing that ye know the light by which ye may judge, which light is the light of Christ, see that ye do not judge wrongfully; for with that same judgment which ye judge ye shall also be judged.
19 Wherefore, I beseech of you, brethren, that ye should search diligently in the light of Christ that ye may know good from evil; and if ye will lay hold upon every good thing, and condemn it not, ye certainly will be a child of Christ.

Sunday, February 4, 2018

Seek Ye This Jesus - Free audiobook download

MP3 recordings of "Seek Ye This Jesus" are now available, free of charge, at this link.

Permission is granted for the no cost distribution of these MP3s. Please share them with friends.

I very large thank you to a friend for lending an incredible amount of time and her lovely voice to this recording. I can't thank you enough.

Affliction, Temptation and Knowledge

It is a common misconception that the gospel inculcates peace into the life of anyone who will live it to any degree. In fact, quite the opposite is true. This should not be surprising: an individual who knows nothing about construction, engineering, metallurgy, or the like will find himself much more at peace drooling along under a tree than he will enduring the study and practice necessary to come to the point where he is functional in the above-mentioned arts. However, once functional, he will find that he can leverage his knowledge to produce a much more peaceful habitation than his previous shade tree. The gospel is a lot like this simple analogy. As we undertake to acquire gospel knowledge, we will find that not only are we exposed to the same rain that falls on the just and the unjust, but that the hoards of hell in every fashion are after us in proportion to increasing knowledge of God's mind and will.

Peace can come from time to time when we experience an outpouring of the Spirit. However, the peace Jesus promises is rest in the Lord, which refers to the state one attains when their calling and election is made sure.

Now for the secret and grand key. Though they might hear the voice of God and know
that Jesus was the Son of God, this would be no evidence that their election and calling was made sure, that they had part with Christ, and were joint heir with him. They then would want that more sure word of prophecy, that they were sealed in the heavens and had the promise of eternal life in the kingdom of God. Then, having this promise sealed unto them, it was an anchor to the soul, sure and steadfast. Though the thunders might roll and lightnings flash, and earthquakes bellow, and war gather thick around, yet this hope and knowledge would support the soul in every hour of trial, trouble and tribulation. Then knowledge through our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ is the grand key that unlocks the glories and mysteries of the kingdom of heaven. (TPJS p.298)

Jesus even goes out of his way to tell us that this peace is "not as the world giveth" so as to clue us in to expect the unexpected. And thus we see how Jeremiah could be at peace though he was neck high in a septic tank; how Peter could be at peace though he was being crucified; how Moroni could be at peace though he was hunted by every survivor in the land; how various others could be at peace though sawn asunder, burned at the stake, tried on spurious charges, etc.

God turns up the affliction and temptation knobs as fast as we can handle them. As we increase in favor with God, so he allows us to experience more and greater affliction. Consider the patriarchs and other exalted persons. Without fail, those who were promised eternal life by God were exposed to miserable hardships. These men lived out lonely lives filled with suffering. Yet, Jesus approached near unto them in accordance with their sufferings.

Pause for a moment and consider the last time you were in a great deal of pain. The pain need not be physical--emotional pain is just as effective. How close were you to God before the onset of that pain? And during? There are those who can cry out to God with just as much earnestness outside of suffering as in, but for most of us, this is beyond our current capability. Even Jesus learned obedience by the things he suffered: "Though he were a Son, yet learned he obedience by the things which he suffered;" (Hebrews 5:8)

The only way to approach God is through great suffering. Instead of rejoicing when times are easy, we ought to take careful stock of our lives. God only withholds trials from those who have demonstrated their inability to deal with them.

Salvation is nothing more nor less than to triumph over all our enemies and put them under our feet. And when we have power to put all enemies under our feet in this world, and  a knowledge to triumph over all evil spirits in the world to come, then we are saved, as in the case of Jesus, who was to reign until He had put all enemies under His feet, and the last enemy was death. (TPJS p297)

The ideal way to move through life is to be continually increasing the number of situations we have put under our feet. As we do, God will continue to send us as much hardship as we can bear, with temporary breaks as we need them. As he increases the heat, there will likely come a point in a day, week, month, or matter of years, where we hit a situation where we refuse to listen to his voice (mostly represented in our conscience). Note that it is our choice to fail, as he has promised to never send us more than we can handle. We lose some level of light and truth at this point, but if we mount up and take courage, we will eventually be given another opportunity to succeed where we have failed. This process does not have to take much time. If we completely turn over our will to God, as Jesus did, it can be very short indeed. It was a short period for Jesus, as he never withheld his will from God. Jacob and Mormon were both redeemed from the fall in their youth. It need not take a lifetime.

We should not pray to have God remove trials from us. Instead, we should reconcile ourselves to God's will and ask him to bless us with the knowledge we need to overcome our trials.

How does knowledge assist us in overcoming our trials? Temptations and trials have no power over us to the degree that we know and see things as they really are. The more we obey God's word to us on an individual level, the more he can reveal to us. The more he reveals to us, the more truth we comprehend. The more truth we comprehend, the less influence the flesh, money, armies, navies, false priests who oppress, and all other tools of evil are able to entice us. One who knows the end from the beginning cannot be enticed to walk down the wrong path.

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Evidenced-based Thomas

The Apostle Thomas is sometimes called "doubting Thomas" because of the following episode. After the Lord's resurrection, he appeared to a group of believers who had gathered to worship him. "But Thomas, one of the twelve, called Didymus, was not with them when Jesus came." (John 20:24)

Though the witnesses described what had happened to them, Thomas said "...Except I shall see in his hands the print of the nails, and put my finger into the print of the nails, and thrust my hand into his side, I will not believe." (John 20:25)

Soon enough, Thomas got his chance.

26 And after eight days again his disciples were within, and Thomas with them: then came Jesus, the doors being shut, and stood in the midst, and said, Peace be unto you.
27 Then saith he to Thomas, Reach hither thy finger, and behold my hands; and reach hither thy hand, and thrust it into my side: and be not faithless, but believing.
28 And Thomas answered and said unto him, My Lord and my God.
29 Jesus saith unto him, Thomas, because thou hast seen me, thou hast believed: blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed. (John 20)

I have heard this story told again and again with the same perspective and conclusion. Thomas had less faith than his companions, and we are more righteous than he is if we believe in God without having seen him.

These ideas are both false and harmful.

If you read this chapter, you will notice something surprising. At the original meeting, something special happened:
19 Then the same day at evening, being the first day of the week, when the doors were shut where the disciples were assembled for fear of the Jews, came Jesus and stood in the midst, and saith unto them, Peace be unto you.
20 And when he had so said, he shewed unto them his hands and his side. Then were the disciples glad, when they saw the Lord. (John 20:19-20)
Every single person there had the opportunity to touch the Lord's hand and side, just as Thomas would later. When Thomas replied to his companions' account, he was not saying "I require more evidence than you to believe what you believe." He was saying, "I too desire the evidence you have received, so that I may believe as you believe." These are two very different statements. It is likely that many of his companions--if not all--would have said the same thing as Thomas were they in his position.

Now, what about Jesus' comment, "because thou hast seen me, thou hast believed: blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed"? Did Jesus say you are more blessed if you believe in God without having seen him? No he did not. He said those who believe but who have not seen are blessed. More blessed? He didn't say that. How are they blessed?

This story does not support the false idea that those who have not seen the Lord have more faith than those who do not. Those who truly believe in God will see him. God appears to those who love him and believe in him. Those who have not seen God do not yet really believe in him. They don't do what he says, and they don't seek him--not completely, not yet.

The gospel is not wish-based. God does not expect you to live your whole life hoping that what you believe is true, awaiting confirmation after you die. Jesus said, "If any man will do his will, he shall know of the doctrine, whether it be of God, or whether I speak of myself." (John 7:17). He dares anyone to live his teachings and not obtain the promised result.

God does not lie. If you find yourself doing what he said and not obtaining the result, there are only three possibilities. Either you are not actually doing what he said because he did not say what you think he said, you are not actually doing what he said because you have not yet heard (the rest of) what he said, or God does not exist. Those are the only three possibilities, and really there are only two. I can tell you that the third possibility is not right, because I have met Jesus Christ, and he is as real as you or me.

The gospel is evidence-based. If you are not experiencing a life as filled with the same magnitude and quantity of miracles as the scriptures, you should diligently search for what you are doing wrong. You are either willfully disobeying God, or slack in your seeking of his word.

Sunday, January 7, 2018

Recognizing further light and truth

The Samaritan woman recognized Jesus as a source of light because of his supernatural knowledge of details from her past: "Come, see a man, which told me all things that ever I did: is not this the Christ?" (John 4:29)

The Lord described his ministry by saying:
18 The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he hath anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor; he hath sent me to heal the brokenhearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised,
19 To preach the acceptable year of the Lord. (Luke 4:18-19)

The Savior provided the following evidence to John the Baptist when asked if he was the Christ:
Go your way, and tell John what things ye have seen and heard; how that the blind see, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, to the poor the gospel is preached. (Luke 7:22)

Some believed John's witness that Jesus was the son of God:
35 Again the next day after John stood, and two of his disciples;
36 And looking upon Jesus as he walked, he saith, Behold the Lamb of God!
37 And the two disciples heard him speak, and they followed Jesus.
41 He first findeth his own brother Simon, and saith unto him, We have found the Messias, which is, being interpreted, the Christ. (John 1)

Some disciples recognized his command over the elements:
And he said unto them, Where is your faith? And they being afraid wondered, saying one to another, What manner of man is this! for he commandeth even the winds and water, and they obey him. (Luke 8:25)

In summary, the Lord displayed the Father's glory by:

  • Preaching the gospel to the poor
  • Healing broken hearts
  • Healing broken bodies
  • Forgiving people of sin
  • Loving those who do not deserve love
  • Commanding the elements



What Good People Have to Gain in Jesus

Introduction

There are many good people in this world. These people expend a great deal of effort and introspection in attempts to have a positive impact on the world. Religious people tend to claim that one cannot be good without being religious. For those who are, this claim is both untrue and incredibly off-putting.

If the only benefit of the gospel was to turn bad people into good people, it would not be of value to those who are already good. This document presents a different perspective on religion, one that suggests the gospel is also a tool for good people to become better through providing a means to become aware of additional opportunities to improve and to procure a means for making those improvements.

The purpose of this document is not to convince you that God exists. Rather, under the supposition that he does, it explains what role he plays in how a good person becomes good, and how a good person becomes better.

It is difficult for someone who is invested in improvement to believe that belief in God will substantially increase their capability. Consider the following story.

When I entered high school I didn't need glasses. With each passing year, I found the chalkboards getting dustier. I had to keep moving closer, and it was annoying. At some point, after ~3 years, I complained. Someone suggested I needed glasses. One reason this had never crossed my mind was that I had eye checks as part of an annual physical that had not revealed degrading eyesight. The main reason I did not know I needed glasses was that I didn't comprehend what it would be like to not need glasses. I didn't know what perfect eyesight was like, so I couldn't realize what I was missing by wearing glasses.

Years later, I faced an alert order for deployment in the military. Knowing how hard it is to shoot accurately with glasses on, and knowing how pointless it is to try to shoot with a gas mask on when you require glasses, I thought it would be worthwhile to get laser eye surgery in spite of the cost and what I considered to be the cosmetic nature of the procedure. The procedure was very fast. The cover of my eyeball was opened, my vision got even blurrier than normal, some lights flashed, the doctor put an eye drop in my eye and put the flap back. Instantly, I saw perfectly clearly. Significantly more clearly than I ever had even with glasses. I actually cried because I was so astonished with how much better I could see. It was like being born again. I saw the world anew. Every morning I realized what it was like to be able to see right when I woke up. I had no idea how much clearer my perspective would be. I had no idea what I had been missing out on. If I did, I would have had the operation much sooner, and I would have been willing to pay a lot more than I did (at the time I think it cost me $8,000).

It is easy to preach Jesus to those who are broken and know it. It is very hard to preach Jesus to those who are already obeying that inner voice that tells them to do right. From their perspective, they can see the board fine. From their perspective, they already have their vision corrected.

What is the purpose of religion?

Happiness is the object of the existence of man. Happiness exists in proportion to the possession of and adherence to truth. The purpose of religion is to provide a framework to discover and adhere to truth. Certainly, the many people in this world who have successfully acquired truth without belief in God prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that the process is possible without belief in God. But is it optimal? In other words, the question is not whether truth can be acquired--and therefore happiness--without belief in God, but whether greater happiness is available through belief in God.

What does belief in God contribute to happiness? The differences over lack of belief include access to truth, rate of acceptance, and extent of truth.

Access to truth

God knows all things pertaining to our scope of existence, and therefore possesses all happiness pertaining to our scope. To the degree that we know God and are empowered to be like him, we can possess the happiness he possesses. God seeks to teach us everything he knows. He can do this to a great extent without us ever believing in him. All truth comes from God, whether the individual recognizes its source or not. However, by recognizing the source and learning the mechanism of seeking and receiving truth directly from God, one can access much more truth than is possible without belief in God.

Rate of acceptance of truth

Belief in God provides a framework for seeking and accepting truth at a greater rate than non-belief. The gospel of Jesus Christ provides an understanding of how God is--his character--as well as how we truly are--the base tendencies of human nature. It also provides tools to help us overcome our innate nature and become more like God is. Because believers understand their starting point and the end goal, they are enabled to seek and accept truth at a faster pace than non-believers. While a non-believer may be content with a more passive approach to self-refinement, a true believer will not rest until they have overcome the character traits, attitudes, and actions that prevent a fullness of happiness in this life and in the world to come.

Can you routinely go through a preconceived notion inventory, and totally dismantle everything you think you know, rebuilding with only those things that withstand the fire of inquiry and introspection? The prospect of such a life is unpalatable to most, including those who try to be good people.

Extent of truth accepted

Belief in God presupposes that God, being perfect, possesses truths that are sufficiently advanced that they would be repulsive to the natural man. Whereas non-believers might be tempted to only accept truths that are somehow tethered to their present position, believers in God ought to assume that even their most prized positions have the potential of being supplanted by higher truths, even if they cannot presently anticipate exactly what these might be.

The path to truth will undoubtedly intersects difficult experiences. The gospel does not remove these. If anything, more trials occur in a life of a believer than a non-believer. However, the gospel provides a framework where one can remain in a state of happiness and internal comfort in spite of great external turmoil. Those who know God can understand the truth and beautiful reality of Jesus’ promise that his teachings make burdens light.

Can you endure the endless trials that are required to refine you into the likeness of God? To do it, you need promises--assurances from God that what you are going through is for your good. Do promises exist for those merely trying to be good?

God provides promises to those who keeps his commandments. For example, consider this promise given to a man who gave his all to live in accordance with new truth God showed him:

And I will also be your light in the wilderness; and I will prepare the way before you, if it so be that ye shall keep my commandments; wherefore, inasmuch as ye shall keep my commandments ye shall be led towards the promised land; and ye shall know that it is by me that ye are led. (1 Nephi 17:13)

Those who follow the Lord will always be good, but those who try to be good may not succeed in their objective: "And see that ye have faith, hope, and charity, and then ye will always abound in good works."  (Alma 7:24) Sanctification, or becoming more perfect, will always happen as an individual yields their hearts to God:

Nevertheless they did fast and pray oft, and did wax stronger and stronger in their humility, and firmer and firmer in the faith of Christ, unto the filling their souls with joy and consolation, yea, even to the purifying and the sanctification of their hearts, which sanctification cometh because of their yielding their hearts unto God. (Helaman 3:35)

Peace within and peace without is completely possible. And a relationship with God makes it enduring no matter what may come, whereas an unbeliever may find themselves consistently or occasionally encountering situations that rob them of their peace.

What is the process of religion?

If God is the embodiment of all truth, to obtain truth is to get to know him. The process of religion, like other non-religious pursuits of self-improvement, is to gain truth by seeking and finding ideas that contradict or expand what you already believe, and attempt to prove them wrong by putting them into action.

Why do people hate religion?

For most, the purpose and process of religion are different than I have stated. To most, religion is the permanent and full acceptance of a set of traditions. This type of religion is not concerned with discovering truth because it believes it already has it. This type of religion does not openly seek something better, because it believes it is already perfect. Because this type of religion can never bring about the experiences promised in the scriptures, it always redefines and minimizes those experiences into something less. In far too many cases, religion is used as an excuse to do truly horrible things.

Many religions exist that can provide some benefit, but not anything more than one's own attempts at being good would provide. There are many people who claim to be believers of Jesus, for example, yet they demonstrate none of the capabilities promised to believers in the scriptures. They claim they believe in Jesus, but really they wish on Jesus. There is an important distinction. The difference is that when your beliefs are fixed and immutable, before encompassing all the truth God has to offer, you are prevented from actually getting to know the Lord, his will, and his character in full. The degree by which you fall short in knowing him is the degree to which you will fall short of experiencing his your greatest potential for happiness.

Most Christians' knowledge of God is sufficiently limited so as to prevent them from being more of a good person than any other non-religious good person. In fact, most Christians are so limited in their understanding and implementation of God's character that they are put to shame by many who are staunch atheists. It is like most Christians are beat at the races by racers on foot in spite of their possessing Ferraris, because their traditions prevent them from fueling, starting, and driving the car, so they resort to pushing it along the track.

The goodness of an anonymous God

All good and truth comes from God. He said: "...I am the light, and the life, and the truth of the world." (Ether 4:12)

God is so good that he radiates goodness to everyone, whether they have heard of or believe in him or not. Every breath you take and every ability you have is a gift from God, freely offered, without so much as a need to recognize him.

Humans are not, by default, good people. This is due to our nature, which is selfish and carnal. All good things come from God: "...good cometh of none save it be of me." (Ether 4:12) God’s good influence is constantly broadcast to all mankind in the form of inspiration to rise above the norm. These ideas can lead to a great deal of change in a person. Many have mastered the ability to listen to this influence, and have affected a great deal of good in this world, and many of them have done so without attributing this influence to God, or even recognizing it as external.

So what do you have to lose by limiting yourself to an anonymous God? Consider an analogy. If your purpose is to gather water, you can do so to a great extent by collecting rain in pots and collecting the dew from flat objects. But if limited to these incidental events, you can never generate water on demand. You are always subject to the weather or time of day and whatever quantity of water that happens to fall. Now imagine that you discovered a spring. At any point of the day you can collect water without any limit on quantity.

God’s truth is all around you, all the time, and you have access to it. Not accidentally, he describes himself and is described as a fountain of truth. “Therefore, with joy shall ye draw water out of the wells of salvation.” (2 Nephi 22:3) In spite of the limitless nature of truth, those who do not recognize God as the source of it are limited by their perception. Truth is broadcast from God like radio waves from a tower. Someone who thought music came from a radio would not be different in experience than one who recognized that a radio was only receiving the music transmitted from a tower. However, if the radio was a 2-way radio, the experience of those who know this and those who do not would differ in that those who viewed the ability to communicate back to the tower could influence the messages that came in return. Instead of being limited to the default programming sent to everyone, they could seek and receive information that guided them specifically beyond the default. You can bypass the limitations of default truth by accessing God--the source of all truth--directly.

The gateway to greater goodness

The Lord Jesus Christ is the physical embodiment of all truth pertaining to our sphere. He said “I am the way, and the truth, and the life” (John 14:6) Although all the light and truth he contains is constantly accessible, we are limited in our access and even perception of it.
1 In the beginning [before all time] was the Word (Christ), and the Word was with God, and the Word was God Himself 
3 All things were made and came into existence through Him; and without Him not even one thing was made that has come into being.
4 In Him was life [and the power to bestow life], and the life was the Light of men. 
5 The Light shines on in the darkness, and the darkness did not understand it or overpower it or appropriate it or absorb it [and is unreceptive to it]. (John 1, AMP)

The Lord said that perception of his light is controlled by how well we listen to his words: “I will not show...my strength...save it be unto those who repent of their sins, and hearken unto my words….” (Helaman 7:23)

He said that those who come to him will be shown the things that they currently are unaware of: "...I am the light, and the life, and the truth of the world. Come unto me...and I will show unto you the greater things, the knowledge of which is hid up because of unbelief." (Ether 4:12-13)

By following the teachings of Jesus, you will gain a relationship with him. This is much more than what most people think of when they consider a relationship with him. I mean a physical, visual, talking, touching relationship with him.

Jesus is the gateway to greater goodness. To enter into the gateway, one must learn of him and come to a willingness to fully submit to his influence. This isn’t easy. You must do what you realize is right in order to become better (good human), even though it's almost always the harder choice, rather than what's easy (selfish, carnal, bad). Obedience to truth increases the access an individual has to truth, from what is generally available to everyone to greater access, as described with the dew vs. spring analogy.

One who sees no need for greater knowledge will never fully openly seek it. One who doesn't find themselves wrong or flawed (and own this) will have no motive (and dedication) to seek to improve. Encountering Jesus provides us with an awareness of a need for greater knowledge and a startling awareness of our flaws.

19 And this is the condemnation, that light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil.
20 For every one that doeth evil hateth the light, neither cometh to the light, lest his deeds should be reproved.
21 But he that doeth truth cometh to the light, that his deeds may be made manifest, that they are wrought in God. (John 3)

As we get to know the Lord, we find more and more of our flaws exposed--flaws we didn’t know existed. As we get to know the Lord, our motivation and dedication to seek to improve increases through the effects of the love he has for us, our knowledge of which increases as we get to know him better.

And if men come unto me I will show unto them their weakness. I give unto men weakness that they may be humble; and my grace is sufficient for all men that humble themselves before me; for if they humble themselves before me, and have faith in me, then will I make weak things become strong unto them. (Ether 12:27)

It is worth noting that submission to God is not the same as submission to an organized religion, set of traditions, or group of people.

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)

The effects of the Spirit of God on those who submit to God

The pathway of becoming better through Jesus is a process, not an event. Here, one learns more truth, implements it, and repeats. However, several effects happen immediately.

Increased happiness

Happiness is a subjective construct. However, as one obtains more truth, the depth of the experience and its independence from outward circumstances increases. Those who experience an outpouring of the Spirit of God experience a new depth and intensity of joy:

...he has poured out his Spirit upon you, and has caused that your hearts should be filled with joy, and has caused that your mouths should be stopped that ye could not find utterance, so exceedingly great was your joy. (Mosiah 4:20)

These feelings are a foretaste of the experience those who are reconciled to God experience after this life:

And moreover, I would desire that ye should consider on the blessed and happy state of those that keep the commandments of God. For behold, they are blessed in all things, both temporal and spiritual; and if they hold out faithful to the end they are received into heaven, that thereby they may dwell with God in a state of never-ending happiness. O remember, remember that these things are true; for the Lord God hath spoken it. (Mosiah 2:41)

A change in desire to do good continually

Those who desire to do good generally may find that they still have desires to act in opposition to some aspect of what they know is right. The Spirit of God actually changes your desires: “...the Spirit of the Lord Omnipotent...has wrought a mighty change in us, or in our hearts, that we have no more disposition to do evil, but to do good continually.” (Mosiah 5:2) This is a uniform experience of those who enter into the pathway offered by Jesus: “...[their] hearts are changed through faith on his name…” (Mosiah 5:7 “...and they did all declare unto the people the selfsame thing—that their hearts had been changed; that they had no more desire to do evil.” (Alma 19:33)

Filled with love for all people

Those who are filled with the Spirit of God are filled with love for all people: “...keep the commandments of God, that they might rejoice and be filled with love towards God and all men.” (Mosiah 2:4)

The capacity to improve every fault

The Spirit of God enables a person to have the strength to overcome every weakness that besets them. “...the Lord giveth no commandments unto the children of men, save he shall prepare a way for them that they may accomplish the thing which he commandeth them.” (1 Nephi 3:7) “...Yea, come unto Christ, and be perfected in him, and deny yourselves of all ungodliness…” (Moroni 10:32)

Now this is the commandment: Repent, all ye ends of the earth, and come unto me and be baptized in my name, that ye may be sanctified by the reception of the Holy Ghost, that ye may stand spotless before me at the last day. (3 Nephi 27:20)

The strength to overcome every situation that might compromise your principles

The Spirit of God strengthens our capacity to withstand the temptation to act against what we know is true.

And now, my sons, remember, remember that it is upon the rock of our Redeemer, who is Christ, the Son of God, that ye must build your foundation; that when the devil shall send forth his mighty winds, yea, his shafts in the whirlwind, yea, when all his hail and his mighty storm shall beat upon you, it shall have no power over you to drag you down to the gulf of misery and endless wo, because of the rock upon which ye are built, which is a sure foundation, a foundation whereon if men build they cannot fall. (Helaman 5:12)

Freedom from guilt over past mistakes.

The Spirit of God removes guilt from our hearts as we sincerely strive to be better. “And I also thank my God, yea, my great God, that he hath...taken away the guilt from our hearts, through the merits of his Son.” (Alma 24:10)

Will make sense of all things and prevent you from making huge mistakes

The Spirit communicates to us the truth we need to understand what is right and wrong in every situation and avoid being fooled.

...the word of God...divide[s] asunder all the cunning and the snares and the wiles of the devil, and lead[s] the man of Christ in a strait and narrow course across that everlasting gulf of misery which is prepared to engulf the wicked— (Helaman 3:29)

The process of getting there

There has never lived a man so good as Jesus Christ. As you get to know what he did and how he did it in his life, you will find that any other "good" person pales in comparison. The first step is believing that it is possible that God knows much more about being a good person than you do. The key to being shown just how good he is lies in remembering the limitations of your own goodness:

41 O then, my beloved brethren, come unto the Lord, the Holy One. Remember that his paths are righteous....
42 And whoso knocketh, to him will he open; and the wise, and the learned, and they that are rich, who are puffed up because of their learning, and their wisdom, and their riches—yea, they are they whom he despiseth; and save they shall cast these things away, and consider themselves fools before God, and come down in the depths of humility, he will not open unto them.
43 But the things of the wise and the prudent shall be hid from them forever—yea, that happiness which is prepared for the saints. (2 Nephi 9:41-43)

Those who recognize that God possesses all truth will humble themselves before him. They will “...Come with full purpose of heart, and cleave unto God as he cleaveth unto you.” (Jacob 6:5) They have the opportunity to agree to seek after and follow new truth as God reveals it to them in their lives, either directly through revelation or his written word, or indirectly through the experiences they observe.

Yea, I say unto you come and fear not, and lay aside every sin, which easily doth beset you, which doth bind you down to destruction, yea, come and go forth, and show unto your God that ye are willing to repent of your sins and enter into a covenant with him to keep his commandments, and witness it unto him this day by going into the waters of baptism. (Alma 7:15)

This agreement occurs in the covenant of baptism, and allows the Lord to pour out his spirit more abundantly upon you, resulting in greater access to positive change in your life.

Now I say unto you, if this be the desire of your hearts, what have you against being baptized in the name of the Lord, as a witness before him that ye have entered into a covenant with him, that ye will serve him and keep his commandments, that he may pour out his Spirit more abundantly upon you? (Mosiah 18:10)

At this point, you will experience the baptism of fire, which will change your heart and provide you a greater capacity to do good, recognize truth, and be a better person. You will receive increased connection to God through his spirit.

And ye shall offer for a sacrifice unto me a broken heart and a contrite spirit. And whoso cometh unto me with a broken heart and a contrite spirit, him will I baptize with fire and with the Holy Ghost... (3 Nephi 9:20)

You will find that God will “pour out his Spirit upon [you]...because of [your] easiness and willingness to believe in his words.” (Helaman 6:36) Then, “...by every word which proceeded forth out of the mouth of God, [you will] exercise faith in Christ; and thus by faith...lay hold upon every good thing…” (Moroni 7:25)

The outcome

Those who pursue this path will not simply become good people. They will become like God himself, that is, they will approach perfection and holiness:

6 And whatsoever thing is good is just and true; wherefore, nothing that is good denieth the Christ, but acknowledgeth that he is.
7 And ye may know that he is, by the power of the Holy Ghost; wherefore I would exhort you that ye deny not the power of God; for he worketh by power, according to the faith of the children of men, the same today and tomorrow, and forever.
32 Yea, come unto Christ, and be perfected in him, and deny yourselves of all ungodliness; and if ye shall deny yourselves of all ungodliness, and love God with all your might, mind and strength, then is his grace sufficient for you, that by his grace ye may be perfect in Christ; and if by the grace of God ye are perfect in Christ, ye can in nowise deny the power of God.
33 And again, if ye by the grace of God are perfect in Christ, and deny not his power, then are ye sanctified in Christ by the grace of God, through the shedding of the blood of Christ, which is in the covenant of the Father unto the remission of your sins, that ye become holy, without spot. (Moroni 10:6-7, 32-33)

The achievement of this level of character offers a greater deal of happiness than is otherwise available in this world.

Now they, after being sanctified by the Holy Ghost, having their garments made white, being pure and spotless before God, could not look upon sin save it were with abhorrence; and there were many, exceedingly great many, who were made pure and entered into the rest of the Lord their God. (Alma 13:12)

Timing

Most good people are continuing to become better. They would rightly assume that, left without belief in God, they will continue to improve. What they lose without belief in God is not the ability to become better, but the rate at which they can become better, and how much better they become. There is a saying that the best time to plant a tree is twenty years ago, and the second best time is today. Likewise, no matter where you stand in your life, considering the existence of God today will accelerate your journey towards greater happiness, strengthen you in challenging times to come, and help you acquire more light and truth than you had ever considered existed.

Sunday, December 17, 2017

Hid up from the foundation of the world

Seth lived one hundred and five years, and begat Enos, and prophesied in all his days, and taught his son Enos in the ways of God; wherefore Enos prophesied also. (Moses 6:13)

Can you imagine how well Adam knew God after having met with him face to face daily for perhaps hundreds of years before the fall? Can you imagine how much of this knowledge he conveyed to his son Seth? And how much Seth's son Enos learned from his father and grandfather? And not one word of what was handed down is written in Genesis.

Truly we live in a desert of knowledge of the character of God. In spite of a great deal about what God did provided by the scriptures, we have very very little about how he did it. They are written as a history, not a biography of God. When you read a good biography, you come away with a very clear understanding of not just what a person did in their lives, but why they did it.

It is absolutely critical to understand the character of God. To do God's work, you must know his will. Though he can reveal his will in specific situations to you through revelation, if you know his character, you can know his will a priori. He can only reveal himself to you in proportion to how much like him you have become. If you do not know what he is like, how can you become like he is?

It is interesting that in the Moses 6:13 (quoted above), it says that Enos prophesied because his father taught him "the ways of God." That gift was predicated, at least in that case, on Enos knowing "the ways of God."

We are at a tremendous disadvantage because, unlike Adam, Seth, Enos, ..., Isaac, Jacob, etc., we do not have a close personal connection that is intimately knowledgeable of God. In fact, our situation is even sadder than it seems, because our disconnection is both deliberate and immediately correctable.

The Lord said:

13 Come unto me, O ye Gentiles, and I will show unto you the greater things, the knowledge which is hid up because of unbelief.
14 Come unto me, O ye house of Israel, and it shall be made manifest unto you how great things the Father hath laid up for you, from the foundation of the world; and it hath not come unto you, because of unbelief.
15 Behold, when ye shall rend that veil of unbelief which doth cause you to remain in your awful state of wickedness, and hardness of heart, and blindness of mind, then shall the great and marvelous things which have been hid up from the foundation of the world from you—yea, when ye shall call upon the Father in my name, with a broken heart and a contrite spirit, then shall ye know that the Father hath remembered the covenant which he made unto your fathers, O house of Israel. (Ether 4)
A deep, empowering knowledge of God's character--among what was revealed to Adam at the foundation of the world--is immediately available to everyone who is not steeped in unbelief.

How will God deliver these things to you when you repent of your unbelief?

1. Direct revelation.
What we receive from God is limited only by our heed and diligence in seeking.
For he that diligently seeketh shall find; and the mysteries of God shall be unfolded unto them, by the power of the Holy Ghost, as well in these times as in times of old, and as well in times of old as in times to come; wherefore, the course of the Lord is one eternal round. (1 Nephi 10:19)

2. Through another person.
Joseph Smith was charged to obtain and reveal these things, but he did not fulfill that mission. The Lord will appoint another to do it.
And I have given unto him the keys of the mystery of those things which have been sealed, even things which were from the foundation of the world, and the things which shall come from this time until the time of my coming, if he abide in me, and if not, another will I plant in his stead. (D&C 35:18)
3. Through a book.
The sealed portion of the plates contain these things.
10 But the words which are sealed he shall not deliver, neither shall he deliver the book. For the book shall be sealed by the power of God, and the revelation which was sealed shall be kept in the book until the own due time of the Lord, that they may come forth; for behold, they reveal all things from the foundation of the world unto the end thereof.
11 And the day cometh that the words of the book which were sealed shall be read upon the house tops; and they shall be read by the power of Christ; and all things shall be revealed unto the children of men which ever have been among the children of men, and which ever will be even unto the end of the earth. (2 Nephi 27)




Monday, November 27, 2017

I'm a leaf in the wind

A wonderful friend of mine and I were in the woods recently. To get to our destination, we had to cross a fairly large river. Through poor planning, we only had one pair of waders to protect us from the freezing temperatures. On the journey out, I went without waders. Cold water makes your whole body feel like an ice cream headache. I was making funny noises and moving as fast as I could. After a day of hiking we returned, and he volunteered to go without the waders. He smiled, put his hands together, closed his eyes and said, "I'm a leaf in the wind!" He then walked across the river without any sign of discomfort. Though I know he was in massive pain, he didn't really seem to care.

For weeks, I've been thinking about that profound statement.

God truly is found in our extremity.

It is our privilege to literally commune with God:
To have the privilege of receiving the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, to have the heavens opened unto them, to commune with the general assembly and church of the Firstborn, and to enjoy the communion and presence of God the Father, and Jesus the mediator of the new covenant. (D&C 107:19)
If our experience is anything less than this, we have not yet found true religion.

Why is this communion so far from our experience, given that most have experienced God to some (minor) degree? God is reticent to reveal our true standing with him. It would hurt us a great deal to know just how far from him we are.

How do we bridge the gap between where we are and true communion? We are like little children who, having been told to stay away from the hot stove, think we know everything our father has to teach us. While keeping his commandments is required, just as important is our belief that he has unfathomable knowledge, and a burning desire to obtain it by the sacrifice of all things--including what we think we know already.

The process of getting to know God is like walking into a fire. Before we commune with him, he must purge us. We would be foolish to think that we can come to know him in our present state.

The scriptures are replete with this pattern. Consider Melchizedek.

26 Now Melchizedek was a man of faith, who wrought righteousness; and when a child he feared God, and stopped the mouths of lions, and quenched the violence of fire.
27 And thus, having been approved of God, he was ordained an high priest after the order of the covenant which God made with Enoch,
28 It being after the order of the Son of God; which order came, not by man, nor the will of man; neither by father nor mother; neither by beginning of days nor end of years; but of God;
29 And it was delivered unto men by the calling of his own voice, according to his own will, unto as many as believed on his name.
30 For God having sworn unto Enoch and unto his seed with an oath by himself; that every one being ordained after this order and calling should have power, by faith, to break mountains, to divide the seas, to dry up waters, to turn them out of their course;
31 To put at defiance the armies of nations, to divide the earth, to break every band, to stand in the presence of God; to do all things according to his will, according to his command, subdue principalities and powers; and this by the will of the Son of God which was from before the foundation of the world.
32 And men having this faith, coming up unto this order of God, were translated and taken up into heaven. (JST Gen 14)
Did Melchizedek wake up one day and come face to face with God? No. This was a process, and the end was nothing more than the next step in a pronounced path. What was that path? Well long before he was called by God's own voice, he developed faith. How was that manifested? He developed "fear" (deep trust in, reverence for) God. He stopped the mouths of lions and quenched the violence of fire. Folks, these were not parlor tricks at a zoo or around a bonfire. Melchizedek was thrown to the lions and thrown into the fire! It was not until he increased his faith through these experiences that he was "approved by God" and heaven moved in his behalf.

Here is the pattern:
1. You develop belief in God.
2. You develop trust in God.
3. He brings you successively more dire circumstances where you can show your trust in him by obeying him, calling out to him, and trusting him despite the gravity of your situation.
4. He responds.

It happened with Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph. I can happen to you, too. But only if you don't quit. You can't cash out your chips. Our lives are like a bank account with compounded interest. We are far too willing to cash out our principle after the first interest payment.

He will produce fruit, but that is not where it ends. He takes the fruit and starts us over on the path to even greater fruit:
1 I am the true vine, and my Father is the husbandman.
2 Every branch in me that beareth not fruit he taketh away: and every branch that beareth fruit, he purgeth it, that it may bring forth more fruit. (John 15)
God routinely "purges" us. He either sends something on the Job scale our way, or he gives us the chance to abase ourselves willingly through to-the-dust humility. Every time he empties our cup, he gives us a bigger one and begins filling it.

If we haven't yet reached communion with him, it might be because we have not yet repented of our sins. But it is also possible that we cashed in our chips too soon.

You have to be a leaf in the wind. You have to be "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)

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Imagination and revelation

This doctrine is laid out on this blog. I won't attempt to restate it, because if I do people will come out of the woodwork stating that I have misrepresented what that person (who desires to remain anonymous) teaches.

Does God's word come from your imagination, or from God?

Jesus said that everything he taught came from the Father: "...as my Father hath taught me, I speak these things." (John 8:28). If Jesus, the Son of God, was limited in the worth he could provide by what he was given from the Father, who among us can think for a second that what we produce can be good? Jesus said, 
4 Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, except it abide in the vine; no more can ye, except ye abide in me.
5 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)
We are told plainly that our thoughts are different from God's:
8 For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the Lord.
9 For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts. (Isaiah 55)
Real experiences with God rarely confirm what we were already thinking. Instead, they almost always cause radical paradigm shifts from our thoughts to help us align with God's thoughts. They eviscerate our sacred cows and preconceived notions.

How can you, for a second, think that you can acquire God's word through exercising your imagination? To do so would require thinking that you can somehow organically produce what only God himself can provide.

Proponents of this doctrine describe one's imagination as training wheels to help along the process of accessing God. Some use hallucinogenics to "kick start" this process, describing how it is necessary to train yourself to come to the point where you can receive revelation in the standard way as described in the scriptures: From God to you. It is very odd that anyone would believe this, given that it is noticeably absent from and apparently contradicted by scripture. In response to this argument, one person told me that "the scriptures don't really teach you how to connect to God." This is exceedingly preposterous. First, connecting to God is the purpose of the gospel. If you had a calculus textbook that did not actually teach calculus, but only taught bits about addition, subtraction, and multiplication, it would be quite useless. Second, that this process is taught very plainly in the scriptures is evidenced by the contents of my book on the topic "Seek Ye This Jesus," which contains hundreds of scriptures that do exactly that.

God does not come from our conjuring him.

Now, proponents of this doctrine will say that they are not conjuring Jesus, but are giving him space to appear, etc. When you follow a list of steps and expect Jesus to appear in that moment, that is the definition of conjuring. God does not appear at the summons of man. Jesus said, "I proceeded forth and came from God; neither came I of myself, but he sent me." (John 8:42) If Jesus himself doesn't even dictate when and how he appears, how on earth can you think that your imagination can? 

Connection with heaven comes as a result of the will of God, not your imagination or desires. What you pray and how you are as a person can affect the will of God, but the idea that somehow you can dictate what experiences God gives you is not supported at all in the scriptures, and is actually contrary to what we see there.

Sometimes God or angels respond directly to prayers. However, prayer is more often the process of getting to that point than the terminal activity. Adam prayed for a very long time before an angel appeared to him. Daniel prayed for weeks before Gabriel came. These are not rare examples. If men as righteous as Adam and Daniel could not conjure God in instances much more important than your life, what makes you think that you can? 

Do imaginary experiences with God cause you to repent? 

The point of the gospel is to provide you with a pathway to attain God's character in your own. Those who know God have overcome sin in their lives.
6 ...whosoever sinneth hath not seen him, neither known him.
7 Little children, let no man deceive you: he that doeth righteousness is righteous, even as he is righteous.
8 He that committeth sin is of the devil...
9 Whosoever is born of God doth not commit sin; for his seed remaineth in him: and he cannot sin, because he is born of God. (1 John 3)
There is a tendency to redefine what it means to repent, to reconcile yourself to God. It means to live in a way that you are living up to all truth that God has revealed to you, constantly and without exception. Those who have not attained this state are not yet at the point where Jesus' sacrifice atones for their sins. They cannot endure his glory. They cannot dwell with him.

It is highly suspect when people tell me that they have been promised eternal life and yet continue in willful sin. I have yet to meet any proponent of this doctrine that can tell me that they have repented of all their sins. God's real interactions with men cause them to change for the better. Meanwhile, his ability to reveal himself to you is bounded by how much you have come to be like him.

Satan and men can generate experiences that exalt the person without having paid the price of repentance. This is Satan's interest because it robs the individual of sufficient desire to actually repent, and freezes their spiritual progression before they actually reach the end of the road. 

Imaginary promises are vain.

Overcoming the world requires the sacrifice of all things. Do imaginary promises provide you the faith, hope, and security you require to sacrifice all things?

If your imaginary promises have not brought you to repent of all of your sins, the answer is no, since they could not even bring you to sacrifice what little you currently know you need to sacrifice, let alone all the things you will be asked to do/change in the future.

Not all spiritual experiences are from God. 

Because there is opposition in all things, we should expect that any experience we have could be from Satan. We have to test it. What is the test?

11 But he that believeth these things which I have spoken, him will I visit with the manifestations of my Spirit, and he shall know and bear record. For because of my Spirit he shall know that these things are true; for it persuadeth men to do good.
12 And whatsoever thing persuadeth men to do good is of me; for good cometh of none save it be of me. I am the same that leadeth men to all good; he that will not believe my words will not believe me—that I am; and he that will not believe me will not believe the Father who sent me. For behold, I am the Father, I am the light, and the life, and the truth of the world. (Ether 4)
If it leads you to repent--to adhere to what God has taught you in every way in all places and at all times--it is good. 

If your experiences merely flatter you, they are not from God. God does not exalt sinners. He humbles them. He shows them that they need to change. When you are abased and actually repent, he will exalt you with blessings and promises. That is the pattern laid out in scripture.
put your trust in that Spirit which leadeth to do good—yea, to do justly, to walk humbly, to judge righteously; and this is my Spirit. (D&C 11:12)\ 
Experiences can come from men, God, or Satan. Those that come from God are of worth. Those generated by men or Satan are not. 

So much more available.

Even if these imagination experiences are real, so what? Why stop there? Why settle for the crumbs that fall off the table? If you are really a son or daughter of God, keep repenting and strive for the greater experiences, the ones described in the scriptures. Do not assume that just because you have been invited to the banquet, you are assigned to the seats of honor. Keep striving and repenting until you literally stand in the real presence of God, and receive promises from him in ways that cannot be doubted.

Saturday, September 16, 2017

Thoughts on Light

1.
Imagine a satellite dish covered in a mirror and pointed at the sun, but getting larger and larger. The sun is God, the light is truth, the focal point if the dish is your understanding. The diameter of the dish is set by your willingness to seek, recognize, and apply truth.

2.
One who wishes to increase their interaction with light can do so by observing the effect of light on the objects around them, but they will achieve much more by looking directly at the sun.

3.
Sunflowers move their heads to follow the sun. Each morning, they face east awaiting the rising sun. As the day progresses, their heads move to follow the sun as it traverses from east to west. After the sun sets, the flowers move back to east facing to await the morning sun. This movement is actually caused by their growth. The part of the plant facing the sun grows faster than the non-sun-facing side. As they stop growing, their heads stop moving, and they simply face east.

Saturday, September 9, 2017

What Good People Have to Gain in Jesus

An expansion on this idea has been posted here.

When I entered high school I didn't need glasses. With each passing year, I found the chalkboards getting dustier. I had to keep moving closer, and it was annoying. At some point, after ~3 years, I complained. Someone suggested I needed glasses. One reason this had never crossed my mind was that I had eye checks as part of an annual physical that had not revealed degrading eyesight. The main reason I did not know I needed glasses was that I didn't comprehend what it would be like to not need glasses. I didn't know what perfect eyesight was like, so I couldn't realize what I was missing by wearing glasses.

Years later, I faced an alert order for deployment in the military. Knowing how hard it is to shoot accurately with glasses on, and knowing how pointless it is to try to shoot with a gas mask on when you require glasses, I thought it would be worthwhile to get laser eye surgery in spite of the cost and what I considered to be the cosmetic nature of the procedure. The procedure was very fast. The cover of my eyeball was opened, my vision got even blurrier than normal, some lights flashed, the doctor put an eye drop in my eye and put the flap back. Instantly, I saw perfectly clearly. Significantly more clearly than I ever had even with glasses. I actually cried because I was so astonished with how much better I could see. It was like being born again. I saw the world anew. Every morning I realized what it was like to be able to see right when I woke up. I had no idea how much clearer my perspective would be. I had no idea what I had been missing out on. If I did, I would have had the operation much sooner, and I would have been willing to pay a lot more than I did (at the time I think it cost me $8,000).

It is easy to preach Jesus to those who are broken and know it. It is very hard to preach Jesus to those who are already obeying that inner voice that tells them to do right. From their perspective, they can see the board fine. From their perspective, they already have their vision corrected.

Faith is to consider that there is something beyond your experience. It is to hear a description of it and believe sufficiently to experiment upon it.

26 Now, as I said concerning faith—that it was not a perfect knowledge—even so it is with my words. Ye cannot know of their surety at first, unto perfection, any more than faith is a perfect knowledge.
27 But behold, if ye will awake and arouse your faculties, even to an experiment upon my words, and exercise a particle of faith, yea, even if ye can no more than desire to believe, let this desire work in you, even until ye believe in a manner that ye can give place for a portion of my words.
28 Now, we will compare the word unto a seed. Now, if ye give place, that a seed may be planted in your heart, behold, if it be a true seed, or a good seed, if ye do not cast it out by your unbelief, that ye will resist the Spirit of the Lord, behold, it will begin to swell within your breasts; and when you feel these swelling motions, ye will begin to say within yourselves—It must needs be that this is a good seed, or that the word is good, for it beginneth to enlarge my soul; yea, it beginneth to enlighten my understanding, yea, it beginneth to be delicious to me.
29 Now behold, would not this increase your faith? I say unto you, Yea; nevertheless it hath not grown up to a perfect knowledge.
30 But behold, as the seed swelleth, and sprouteth, and beginneth to grow, then you must needs say that the seed is good; for behold it swelleth, and sprouteth, and beginneth to grow. And now, behold, will not this strengthen your faith? Yea, it will strengthen your faith: for ye will say I know that this is a good seed; for behold it sprouteth and beginneth to grow.
31 And now, behold, are ye sure that this is a good seed? I say unto you, Yea; for every seed bringeth forth unto its own likeness.
32 Therefore, if a seed groweth it is good, but if it groweth not, behold it is not good, therefore it is cast away.
33 And now, behold, because ye have tried the experiment, and planted the seed, and it swelleth and sprouteth, and beginneth to grow, ye must needs know that the seed is good.
34 And now, behold, is your knowledge perfect? Yea, your knowledge is perfect in that thing, and your faith is dormant; and this because you know, for ye know that the word hath swelled your souls, and ye also know that it hath sprouted up, that your understanding doth begin to be enlightened, and your mind doth begin to expand.
35 O then, is not this real? I say unto you, Yea, because it is light; and whatsoever is light, is good, because it is discernible, therefore ye must know that it is good... (Alma 32)

The Lord said:
16 ...My doctrine is not mine, but his that sent me.
17 If any man will do his will, he shall know of the doctrine, whether it be of God, or whether I speak of myself.  (John 7)
Those who experiment upon his word will find it is true, and they will wonder how it is that they had never heard it/experimented upon it before. They will marvel at their improved comprehension of all that is beautiful in this world. They will be born anew.