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Saturday, August 19, 2017

Spiritual experiences claimed by others are not a litmus test for truth

What is the relationship between us and those who claim close association with God? Well, what others claim doesn't actually matter much. What matters is what happens when we follow their teachings. If you hear someone claiming truth, and you apply that putative truth, and you experience God to a greater degree, congratulations, you've acquired further light and truth. If, on the other hand, you hear someone claiming truth, you apply it, and you do not experience God to a greater degree, you can set that putative truth aside as falsehood. Evaluation of potential truth is a message-level process, not a messenger-level process. 

How do you test their claims? The Lord said,

16 Jesus answered them, and said, 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)

You test their claims by doing what they teach and seeing if you get the same results they claim to have experienced. I know perhaps a dozen people who claim a close association with God. I have tested what they teach, and found that only 3 of them have provided putative truth that has proven to be real light and truth. This does not mean that the experiential claims of the 3 are authentic (though they probably are) or that the 9 are false (though this is possible). I actually don't care a lick if they are or are not authentic. What matters to me is not the experiences others claim, but the experiences I attain myself.

Anyone claiming experiences with God ought to be able to instruct others on how to obtain those same experiences. If they are unable to bring others who apply their ideas to the same experiences they claim, you can set them down as imposters. Their experiences either never happened, came from the devil, or happened long ago and they have sense lost that light and replaced it with darkness through sin.

Some people have had authentic experiences in the past, but have lost that light to the point where they cannot reproduce equal experiences in themselves, let alone instruct others on how to do so. This happens more frequently than I think people realize. If God visited you years ago, and never since, you really ought to humble yourself to the dust and ask him why. Spiritual experiences are meant to happen more frequently over time as one draws closer to God, not less frequently.

We seem to forget that Satan--the master counterfeiter--is always chomping at the bit to derail people. He is especially interested in derailing those who have been most successful in obtaining God. God only allows him to deceive to the degree that a person has the capacity to detect and withstand his deception. What this means is that those who have experienced the most are also the most likely to be deceived, because they are subjected to the greatest deceptive tactics.

Let me give you an example. After Moses saw God for the first time, Satan came to him claiming to be God. Suppose Satan came in all that light and glory before Moses had seen God. Would he have had any ability to detect that it was Satan and not God? I think he would have struggled quite a bit. Some, not learning this lesson from the scriptures, assume that every spiritual experience comes from God.

Of particular vulnerability are those that haven't had an experience with God in a long time. Perhaps they slip into sin, or idleness, or pride, and have offended God but are unaware. Perhaps they are aware, but want both the fleeting pleasure of their sin and the peace that comes from a relationship with God. Of course, those can't co-exist. In any case, Satan is more than willing to answer their pleas for spiritual experiences, and most are all too willing to give it to them.

Walking the straight and narrow is a continuous experience. You have to consistently unlearn what you thought you knew and walk away from others who you thought were interested in knowing God the same way you were. Having one or many spiritual encounters in the past means nothing about your present standing with God. Like a fish, the only disciple that stays still is a dead one.

I've written many things on this topic, and they are worthwhile to read. I can't reduce these posts, but here are some quotes to entice you to read them:

You test a message by experimenting upon it. If you live it, receive the promised fruits, become more like and experience more of God, it is right. If you do not, it is false. What a true messenger offers is the opportunity to experience what they claim to have experienced. If you have done what they have taught and not received what they have claimed to receive, one or both of you is a liar. Either you have not done what they have done, they have not experienced what they claim, or both. Anyone who follows a man is a fool. Anyone who follows a fool they have disproven through their lack of experiences is something worse.
True messengers are able to instruct others in how to achieve the experiences they have achieved. Their principle value is describing the path they themselves have walked. This of necessity includes only the tools available to them--if it requires some new thing they themselves did not have, they have strayed from the task of describing their own path and are describing a path they themselves have not tested.
If a new path is offered in lieu of the original experiences, it can only be as a curse--something lesser given instead of something greater. Moses gave a new path to the Israelites, and it was indeed a curse. However, he only did so (rather, God only did so) after Moses first offered for them to have the same experiences and status with God as he had. Moses had obtained his visitation and status with God without the law of Moses. The Israelites rejected that offer, and were given a brutal covenant instead.
Always remember that a person can convey both truth and falsehood. Satan himself sometimes teaches truth in spite of it being surrounded by falsehood. When he told Adam and Eve that eating the fruit of knowledge would not kill them (a lie), he also told them it would give them understanding of good and evil, which was true. Men can likewise teach both true things and false things. A man's having taught truth in the past does not certify that whatever he teaches in the future will be true, and a man's having taught falsehood in the past does not certify that whatever he teaches in the future will be false.
Mortality is a dangerous place. A principle purpose of our being here is to learn to discern between good and evil. If it were as simple as identifying a person to whom we can attach ourselves to be saved, many more people would be saved. Instead, we are adrift and constantly bump up against putative truth. Most of it will be false, some of it will be true. Most messengers will be completely false, and some few only a little false.
When we encounter anyone who has more light and truth than we do, our objective is to obtain all they have, become as close to God as they are, and then go find more light and truth elsewhere.
Unfortunately, this rarely happens. Most people are incredibly naive and will fall for any schmuck claiming spiritual experiences. Others are more discerning, but make a man their connection to God when they have validated some of his experiences and/or teachings. This latter case is common in the Bible, where on various occasions men would attach themselves to some prophet. These "schools of the prophets" are interesting. Can you recall the name of even one member of them, or one work they did? You can't, despite the fact that you can name the prophets: Isaiah, Jeremiah, etc. You see, content with making a man their idol, these people never ascended to connecting directly to God. Exceptions include Joshua, who created his own connection with God independent of Moses, and Elisha, who did the same independent of Elijah.
If you make a man your connection with God, you are telestial, which means eternally limited in how much you experience God. You certainly will never surpass your idol's experiences with God, because at best the light and truth you receive is limited to what he has already received. More likely, you will never attain even that, as those who trust in the arm of the flesh do so in lieu of repenting, and God cannot tolerate sin in the least degree.

When we believe that men's authority is required to save us, we set up certain individuals with dominion over us. We trust that whatever they tell us is God's word, and whatever they tell us to do is God's will. They become the source of truth for us. This is abominable idolatry. No matter what stature the idols have achieved with God, it can never bring you more than the glory of angels in the best case. In the worst case, it will lead you straight to hell.

People from the LDS tradition love the idea of having a "dispensation head." They love being able to put their faith in a man. They love the idea of outsourcing their relationship with God. It doesn't work like that. Salvation can only come through your personal relationship with God. You don't have the option of being saved in some other way. When we find ourselves operating through a mortal mediator, we can rest assured that this is a relationship of cursing rather than blessing.

The people wanted a king. Samuel told them that was a bad idea. They persisted. God gave them a warning. They persisted. God told Samuel to give them a king. And we know the rest of the story. They diverted themselves from God's intended path of blessing by desiring not what God wanted, but what they in their own foolish hearts thought was right.
We do the same exact things today. One of the ways we do this is in our idea of what a prophet is. We (especially we from and LDS background) like the idea of a strongman-prophet. We like the idea of reducing the complexities of the gospel into betting on the right horse. We like thinking that salvation is all about finding and then following someone who has had spiritual experiences. It simply does not work like that.
The Lord answers us according to the desires of our heart. If we believe in salvation-through-prophet, God will give us a man who thinks he can save us. He will produce a man who promises us all the blessings we desire in the packaging that we expect it to be offered in. As God told Ezekiel:
4 Therefore speak unto them, and say unto them, Thus saith the Lord God; Every man of the house of Israel that setteth up his idols in his heart, and putteth the stumblingblock of his iniquity before his face, and cometh to the prophet; I the Lord will answer him that cometh according to the multitude of his idols;
 5 That I may take the house of Israel in their own heart, because they are all estranged from me through their idols. (Ezekiel 14:4-5)
Those who believe this false doctrine are just like the Israelites who wanted a king: they aren't interested in what God thinks or says. They simply want someone that fulfills the pattern they are looking for.

It is interesting that one of the scriptures cited about says "deceived prophet" instead of "false prophet." Can you see how there is a difference? A false prophet never came from God. A false prophet is a total phony. They are liars, and they know they are liars. A deceived prophet is different. A deceived prophet may have accessed the heavens. He may have had many interactions with God. He may have worked true, mighty wonders from heaven. Yet, none of these things prevents a man from teaching false doctrine. All men are capable of being mistaken. Prophets only know what God has shown them, and no prophet has seen everything. Like anyone else, prophets must synthesize what God has shown them with their understanding of everything else. Everything else could come from their understanding of the scriptures, studies of human behavior, cultural biases, and what they have heard from others.

Salvation is an awfully individual affair. No one can seek Jesus for you, and no one can know him for you. Nevertheless, the Christian world spends all or nearly all of their religious effort trying to get to know Jesus through someone else. For most Christians, the time they spend in the audience of a pastor, priest, pope, elder, friend, or anyone else far exceeds the time they spend in the audience of God himself, in prayer or in solitary scripture study.
There are several ways we can misunderstand the way this works. God makes use of vessels to do his work. Sometimes these are righteous vessels (like Isaiah), and sometimes these are wicked vessels (like Nebuchadnezzar). Most times, however, they are a little righteous and a little wicked (like Gideon, who did some things right and some things wrong). The righteousness of a man does not indicate that anything he says is true. The Bible is full of examples of true messages from God being delivered by men who were not worthy of emulation. On the other hand, the wickedness of a man does not indicate that a particular belief he has is not from God. The high priest who killed Jesus delivered a true prophecy (see John 11:49-51)!

Segmentations within "the Remnant"

When it comes to those who have left organized churches looking for something more, they seem to fit into one of several segments. There are those who were offended by their internal sensibilities ("I don't like what my church says about _____"). There are those who find corruption in their church sect ("My church teaches _____, which contradicts God's word on the subject). There are also those who find corruption in themselves ("I realize there is more to Christianity than what I have experienced by following these teachings. I need more/better instruction to rise higher").

The first group do not trust God, but trust in the arm of the flesh. They want a religion that conforms to the fickle moral standards of the world. They want a religion that pleases the flesh. These will never know God unless they learn to trust him and repent.

The second group are interested in God's will. They focus this externally. They want another church, one that conforms to God's word. Unfortunately, all institutions will invariable become corrupted. Religion was never meant to be an institution, but an individual experience. In order to become an institution, the continuous gospel has to be unplugged from God and reduced to a fixed set of rituals. Those that take this path will eventually find all the same problems with their new church that they had with their old church.

The third group are inwardly focused. They want to fix themselves, not erect another institution. They want to conform themselves to the word of God. They tend to see the corruption in any earthly institution, not just their own church sect, and are far less likely to get sucked into another man-made religion.

Sunday, August 6, 2017

Scripture Study: Mark 8 22-26

When I study the scriptures, I find that questions engender revelation. Questions could be about seeming contradictions, or why something was included. Here is an example.

Mark 8 reads:
22 And he cometh to Bethsaida; and they bring a blind man unto him, and besought him to touch him.
23 And he took the blind man by the hand, and led him out of the town; and when he had spit on his eyes, and put his hands upon him, he asked him if he saw ought.
24 And he looked up, and said, I see men as trees, walking.
25 After that he put his hands again upon his eyes, and made him look up: and he was restored, and saw every man clearly.
26 And he sent him away to his house, saying, Neither go into the town, nor tell it to any in the town.

Here are some questions I would ask about this passage:
Who was "they" (v22)?
Why did Jesus bring the blind man out of the town?
Why did Jesus spit on his eyes?
After spitting on his eyes, why did he put his hands on him?
Why did he ask if he saw anything?
What did the man mean when he said "I see men as trees, walking"? How could the man know what trees or men looked like if he was blind?
Why did Jesus put his hands on his eyes a second time?
Why did Jesus make the man look up?
Why did he send the man back to his house?
Why did he charge the man not to go into the town again?
Why did he charge the man not to tell it to any man in the town?

You can learn so much more from the answers to the questions than you can from the text that generated them.

Zion and gathering

The apostle John taught that we obtain fellowship with one another not through our desire or actions to gather together, but through our desire and actions to align ourselves to God:

6 If we say that we have fellowship with him, and walk in darkness, we lie, and do not the truth:
7 But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin. (1 John 1)

As we approach God, we become capable of fellowshipping with one another in the love of God. If we gather together without first obtaining the love of God in our hearts, our gathering will unavoidable be a fruitless failure.

Zion does not come about through the gathering of sinners who together become saints. Rather, it comes about when individuals become sinless, then are gathered by God.

If people gather prematurely (read: if non-repentant people gather themselves instead of repenting and waiting for God to gather them), the only end will be sorrow. Why? Because any public gathering will result in people showing up who are not prepared. Like a rotten apple in a harvest barrel, it will ruin everything else. Worse would be a man-made gathering with a man-made filtering. Then you not only still have rotten apples, you raise even more ire with God for your respect of persons. God's way of gathering prevents both these problems. His gathering focuses on the poor and meek, not the rich and likable. It also includes only those who would benefit from the experience. Heaven is hell to those who are not prepared to receive it.

One of the reasons unrepentant people want Zion is because they are scared of what is coming. The righteous do not fear what is coming because they trust God, even unto death. It would not help if they did fear, anyway, because protection comes from righteousness, not gathering.

16 For the time soon cometh that the fulness of the wrath of God shall be poured out upon all the children of men; for he will not suffer that the wicked shall destroy the righteous.
17 Wherefore, he will preserve the righteous by his power, even if it so be that the fulness of his wrath must come, and the righteous be preserved, even unto the destruction of their enemies by fire. Wherefore, the righteous need not fear; for thus saith the prophet, they shall be saved, even if it so be as by fire.  (1 Nephi 22)
Zion is not a community. Zion is a condition. Zion cannot happen as a community until it has happened as individuals repenting and obtaining a habitation with God. Does this mean that you cannot seek Zion until you have repented? No, it meets you cannot seek Zion without repenting, and that you seek Zion by repenting.

Just as the cure for obesity, type 2 diabetes, and a host of other diseases is fasting, the cure for not having Zion is repenting. Like the example, a Zion condition is the simple result of stopping what prevents it. When you stop sinning, you have Zion, and you cannot have Zion without cessation of sin.

Sound extreme? It isn't. It turns out that the scriptures are rich and consistent in calling men to stop sinning, whether it's called reconciliation to God, repentance, or something else. It's all over the place. It is required. It is fundamental. Why, then, does it seem so extreme? Because we have been raised in both a spiritual and physical environment that teaches that you can get the outcomes through some other means than what is required.

When people are sick, they do not look for the cause of that sickness to reverse it. Instead, they look for a pill to take away the symptoms. Got cancer from smoking? Look for a pill to reverse it. Got fat from eating too much? Look for a pill to reverse it. And so on. That's not the answer. Likewise, if your life is full of sin, there is no pill that is going to bring Zion. The only way you will be a part of it is if you repent. There is no other way. There will be no pill that makes your repentance easier. There is no magic bullet, no withheld secret, that will be revealed in some community of sinners that is going to make your repentance easier. On the contrary, when you are gathered prematurely you will find it much harder to repent, because your response to the imperfections of your peers will be fear, greed, mistrust, and unrighteous judgment.

The blessings of Zion are obtainable by individuals. What do you hope to obtain through Zion? Some say that Zion is defined by people relieving the poor and living in harmony with each other. You can do both of those things at anytime and in anyplace, even if you are alone in doing it. So these cannot be the defining characteristics of Zion. How will it be different for you in Zion than it is now? That is the key question.

In Zion, you will:

  • Abide in the presence of God
  • Be surrounded by mortals who do the same
  • Have access to the church of the Firstborn (the cloud of witnesses/just men made perfect who inhabit Enoch's city)
  • Live in a land which God has blessed, sanctified and promised to protect from those who would harm you


What if I told you that you can do all these things right here, right now?

What are the conditions for obtaining those blessings? You have to repent and learn to walk with God. It just so happens God has told us exactly how to do that. I just finished a book that I believe is the clearest collection of scriptures on the topic (Seek Ye This Jesus). You should read it and do everything the scriptures it contains tell you to do.

God is directly accessible

When you look at the sun with your naked eye, you see something like this:


You see an intense surge of light so bright that it is hard to pin down the exact shape of the sun. Of course, you can't look too long, because it is so bright that your eyes hurt. You have to turn away very quickly. 

Since you can't stare at the sun, you have to sense it indirectly: through ambient light, through heat that you feel on your skin, and through its effects on other objects.

The sun actually has a tremendous amount of detail to it. We can't see it with our eyes because there is so much light flowing from it that it overloads our sight. In order to see it, you have to filter out a great deal of the light coming from it. Here is what the light from the sun looks like when chopped into several bands of wavelengths:



True messengers are frequently considered to be sources of additional light and truth. Yet, all of us has constant, direct access to all the light and truth God possesses.

God's light and truth flows in and through all things, even those things that do not recognize him. "Everything that was created received its life from him, and his life gave light to everyone. The light keeps shining in the dark, and darkness has never put it out." (CEV John 3:3-5) Darkness truly does not comprehend (or recognize or acknowledge) God, and yet he still not only exists, but is the power behind the actuation of all things in the universe.

An analogy: A child does not realize their bodies are a collection of chemical reactions. Yet, their ignorance of that fact does not cause the reactions to cease. Their ignorance of the fact likewise does not prevent one who knows and understands chemistry to take advantage of that knowledge to induce favorable circumstances in the body.

Those who recognize and learn from God's light and truth are able to ascend to a greater degree of glory here and now, taking greater advantage of a universal channel that is available to all:

"And thus they have been called to this holy calling on account of their faith, while others would reject the Spirit of God on account of the hardness of their hearts and blindness of their minds, while, if it had not been for this they might have had as great privilege as their brethren. Or in fine, in the first place they were on the same standing with their brethren;" (Alma 13:4-5).

Instead of approaching God by accessing and applying this light, the world turns away from it. God's light shines everywhere, at full blast, all the time, and is therefore technically accessible to all, men turn away from it because they cannot stand the glory.

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)
The role of true messengers is to reduce that glory to something much easier to digest--a small chunk--and distribute it to the masses, in hopes that they can develop the capacity to recognize, comprehend, and endure God's glory directly.

You test a message by experimenting upon it. If you live it, receive the promised fruits, become more like and experience more of God, it is right. If you do not, it is false. What a true messenger offers is the opportunity to experience what they claim to have experienced. If you have done what they have taught and not received what they have claimed to receive, one or both of you is a liar. Either you have not done what they have done, they have not experienced what they claim, or both. Anyone who follows a man is a fool. Anyone who follows a fool they have disproven through their lack of experiences is something worse.

True messengers are able to instruct others in how to achieve the experiences they have achieved. Their principle value is describing the path they themselves have walked. This of necessity includes only the tools available to them--if it requires some new thing they themselves did not have, they have strayed from the task of describing their own path and are describing a path they themselves have not tested.

If a new path is offered in lieu of the original experiences, it can only be as a curse--something lesser given instead of something greater. Moses gave a new path to the Israelites, and it was indeed a curse. However, he only did so (rather, God only did so) after Moses first offered for them to have the same experiences and status with God as he had. Moses had obtained his visitation and status with God without the law of Moses. The Israelites rejected that offer, and were given a brutal covenant instead.

Always remember that a person can convey both truth and falsehood. Satan himself sometimes teaches truth in spite of it being surrounded by falsehood. When he told Adam and Eve that eating the fruit of knowledge would not kill them (a lie), he also told them it would give them understanding of good and evil, which was true. Men can likewise teach both true things and false things. A man's having taught truth in the past does not certify that whatever he teaches in the future will be true, and a man's having taught falsehood in the past does not certify that whatever he teaches in the future will be false.

Mortality is a dangerous place. A principle purpose of our being here is to learn to discern between good and evil. If it were as simple as identifying a person to whom we can attach ourselves to be saved, many more people would be saved. Instead, we are adrift and constantly bump up against putative truth. Most of it will be false, some of it will be true. Most messengers will be completely false, and some few only a little false.

When we encounter anyone who has more light and truth than we do, our objective is to obtain all they have, become as close to God as they are, and then go find more light and truth elsewhere.

Unfortunately, this rarely happens. Most people are incredibly naive and will fall for any schmuck claiming spiritual experiences. Others are more discerning, but make a man their connection to God when they have validated some of his experiences and/or teachings. This latter case is common in the Bible, where on various occasions men would attach themselves to some prophet. These "schools of the prophets" are interesting. Can you recall the name of even one member of them, or one work they did? You can't, despite the fact that you can name the prophets: Isaiah, Jeremiah, etc. You see, content with making a man their idol, these people never ascended to connecting directly to God. Exceptions include Joshua, who created his own connection with God independent of Moses, and Elisha, who did the same independent of Elijah.

If you make a man your connection with God, you are telestial, which means eternally limited in how much you experience God. You certainly will never surpass your idol's experiences with God, because at best the light and truth you receive is limited to what he has already received. More likely, you will never attain even that, as those who trust in the arm of the flesh do so in lieu of repenting, and God cannot tolerate sin in the least degree.




Sunday, July 30, 2017

What if God appeared to everyone tomorrow?

Yesterday I had a very interesting conversation with an atheist. At one point, he asked what would happen if God appeared to everyone tomorrow.

What would happen if God appeared to everyone tomorrow? Well, the short answer is that most if not all people who have not seen him would die. But let's set that aside for a moment.

How would your life change if you saw God tomorrow? Of course, you would believe in God if you don't already. The surprising answer is that it probably wouldn't change at all. 

As I argued in my book "Seek Ye This Jesus," belief in God does not necessarily change you. Believing in God is not the same as Believing God. This is because the existence of God is a totally different concept from correctly understanding God's character and commandments. You can believe in God--as billions do--without actually doing anything he says.

How do you get to know God's commandments and character? You rely on the intercession of those who know him better than you do. There are very many who claim to know God better than you do, but almost all of them are either incorrect or liars. One of the greatest challenges of this life is learning how to test purported messages of truth.

I wrote about this process here.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

I know whom I have believed, and am persuaded that he is able


In "Seek Ye This Jesus," I wrote the following:
The Lord wants you to know him. The way to do that is to accept his invitation: “Come, follow me….” (Matthew 4:19 NIV)
The Lord’s way is for you to live as his servant. The Lord described his way as a yoke—a rack placed on oxen that enables them to pull a connected cart or plow. He said that his yoke is easy and his burden light.
It may seem puzzling how living his commandments—which are not always easy—and serving him always—which is sometimes quite heavy—could be described as easy or light. The secret to his pregnant statement is to consider it in the context of the world.
If it were possible to avoid the deeply painful and negative aspects of living as the world does, what would you be willing to do for that kind of relief? How much effort would you be willing to exert to gain that relief for yourself?
It turns out that what God asks of us is far easier and far lighter than the burdens of normal, worldly life. When done properly, the benefits far, far outweigh the costs, not only in terms of the sorrow that you avoid, but in terms of the positive experiences you gain.

It is hard to trust the Lord. If you had to boil the gospel down to one thing, maybe this would be a good candidate. I have found that the Lord is trustworthy. Whenever I have found what I thought was a reason not to trust him, by giving him the benefit of the doubt, he has overwhelmingly persuaded me that he was in control and that he was guiding the situation for my benefit. I can say, with Paul, "I know whom I have believed, and am persuaded that he is able..." (Timothy 1:12) Truly, "all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose." (Romans 8:28)

A while back, I was struggling with a situation (I honestly can't remember what). I went to pray. I pleaded with the Lord for my situation. To my surprise, as I knelt I saw the Lord's outstretched hands before me. He said, "Behold, I have graven thee upon the palms of my hands; thy walls are continually before me." I was so shocked. My fear and anguish replaced by comfort and peace that exceeds all understanding. But what was more intense than this was my shock that the creator of the universe had not only responded in person to this prayer, but he--the King of Kings--had literally crouched down to my level to do so. What is more shocking still is that whatever my issue was was so minor in the big picture that I don't even remember what it was. Since then, I have concluded that God delights in condescending to our level and helping us from our perspective. It has changed my life.

Trust God. Don't just believe in him, cleave unto him. Do what he says, and seek his will in all things. When you find some corner of resistance in your heart, blow it to pieces. Crucify your flesh daily, and he will prove to you beyond doubt that he is trustworthy.