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Monday, November 28, 2016

Happiness

Over the last few days I had a conversation with a family member about the topic of happiness. It opened my eyes to a difference in my viewpoint compared to the world that I hadn't really thought about before.

If someone were to ask you to define happiness, how would you do it? Chances are your definition would be based upon pleasure. The problem with that is that it is based on your experiences here in the Telestial kingdom.

This world is a kingdom of lies (read this). Those that find joy in those lies, by definition, "love a lie." They can't have real happiness. Anything positive they experience is fleeting--it is merely the front loaded payout of a cost that much exceeds the benefit. That is how the devil deceives you: he hides the cost of something and flaunts the benefits, distorting your ability to make a rational choice (see his conversation with Eve in the garden).

My definition of happiness is probably different. In my opinion, the only true happiness that can be experienced here is sacrificing yourself for people beyond what they will appreciate. Most people here would not see this as happiness at all. As I wrote previously:

"...think about what it is like to be God for [a] minute. God knows us perfectly. He knows we do not deserve his kindness. He knows that what he goes and went through to provide what we ask far exceeds the benefit we will receive from his granting our desires. He knows we will never appreciate what he does enough to justify his doing it. He is the creator of the universe and all things in it. He always has something infinitely more important to do than what he will give up on our behalf. Yet, he does it anyway."

If you do not accept this definition of happiness, that is fine. Here is the wonderful news of the gospel: You will get exactly what you want out of it...sort of.

But behold, the Jews were a stiffnecked people; and they despised the words of plainness, and killed the prophets, and sought for things that they could not understand. Wherefore, because of their blindness, which blindness came by looking beyond the mark, they must needs fall; for God hath taken away his plainness from them, and delivered unto them many things which they cannot understand, because they desired it. And because they desired it God hath done it, that they may stumble. (Jacob 4:14).
While the Jews got what they wanted, they probably didn't fully understand what they wanted. When you desire something, you don't just get the part of it you understand. You get the residual consequences--you know, the ones Satan hid/minimized in order to convince you to want something other than God's will.

Most people, if asked, would say what they desire most is to be in their family forever, or to have enough to eat, or to be free from their pain, or to see their children succeed, or to have a nice house, or to have a boat, etc.

Guess what? If they really want it, they will probably get it:

I ought not to harrow up in my desires the firm decree of a just God, for I know that he granteth unto men according to their desire, whether it be unto death or unto life; yea, I know that he allotteth unto men, yea, decreeth unto them decrees which are unalterable, according to their wills, whether they be unto salvation or unto destruction. (Alma 29:4).
The problem is that they will also get what comes with it. And everything that is not God's will is limiting and/or fleeting. Those who are with their family forever, for example, will never be able to progress beyond the limitations their family has.

Lots of LDS like to quote Joseph Smith in saying:

“Happiness is the object and design of our existence; and will be the end thereof, if we pursue the path that leads to it; and this path is virtue, uprightness, faithfulness, holiness, and keeping all the commandments of God.”
This is a true statement. However, the definition of happiness is the one I used, not the one most understand. This ought to give you a new outlook on the phrase: "...wickedness never was happiness." (Alma 41:10).

Those who seek Telestial "happiness" will find it--and they will never know the joy of the Saints:
But, behold, the righteous, the saints of the Holy One of Israel, they who have believed in the Holy One of Israel, they who have endured the crosses of the world, and despised the shame of it, they shall inherit the kingdom of God, which was prepared for them from the foundation of the world, and their joy shall be full forever. (2 Nephi 9:18).
What is it that you desire? This is what the Lord asks--both explicitly to those who he redeems from the fall, and implicitly to every man through the agency he has granted. "And it came to pass when Jesus had said these words, he spake unto his disciples, one by one, saying unto them: What is it that ye desire of me, after that I am gone to the Father?" (3 Nephi 28:1).

How would you answer?

I would advise that you study the scriptures and prayerfully analyze your desires, remembering that the natural man is an enemy to God, and your only hope is to connect to a higher wisdom than what you natively possess:

 28 O that cunning plan of the evil one! O the vainness, and the frailties, and the foolishness of men! When they are learned they think they are wise, and they hearken not unto the counsel of God, for they set it aside, supposing they know of themselves, wherefore, their wisdom is foolishness and it profiteth them not. And they shall perish.
 29 But to be learned is good if they hearken unto the counsels of God. (2 Nephi 9).
Here is a great vignette demonstrating a higher-than-telestial desire:

 1 And the Lord said unto me: John, my beloved, what desirest thou? For if you shall ask what you will, it shall be granted unto you.
 2 And I said unto him: Lord, give unto me power over death, that I may live and bring souls unto thee.
 3 And the Lord said unto me: Verily, verily, I say unto thee, because thou desirest this thou shalt tarry until I come in my glory, and shalt prophesy before nations, kindreds, tongues and people.
 4 And for this cause the Lord said unto Peter: If I will that he tarry till I come, what is that to thee? For he desired of me that he might bring souls unto me, but thou desiredst that thou mightest speedily come unto me in my kingdom.
 5 I say unto thee, Peter, this was a good desire; but my beloved has desired that he might do more, or a greater work yet among men than what he has before done.
 6 Yea, he has undertaken a greater work; therefore I will make him as flaming fire and a ministering angel; he shall minister for those who shall be heirs of salvation who dwell on the earth.
 7 And I will make thee to minister for him and for thy brother James; and unto you three I will give this power and the keys of this ministry until I come.
 8 Verily I say unto you, ye shall both have according to your desires, for ye both joy in that which ye have desired. (D&C 7)
The desire of John and the 3 Nephites received high praise from Jesus because these people did not seek their own well-being, but only the will of God and the benefit of their fellowman. Recall that this was also the criteria for Nephi receiving the fullness of the priesthood. It is non-negotiable. God was serious when he said: "For whosoever will save his life, shall lose it; or whosoever will save his life, shall be willing to lay it down for my sake; and if he is not willing to lay it down for my sake, he shall lose it." (JST, Mark 8:37).

When I look at this world and the desires of those in it--including professed Christians--I am left to lament:
O how marvelous are the works of the Lord, and how long doth he suffer with his people; yea, and how blind and impenetrable are the understandings of the children of men; for they will not seek wisdom, neither do they desire that she should rule over them! (Mosiah 8:20).
We would all do well to adopt a prayer attitude that goes something like this:

"Father in heaven, I am a fool before you. I know nothing. I submit fully to your perfect wisdom. Please, father, teach me to act according to your knowledge. Show me what I lack. Lead to me to your will."

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

News

Hi everyone,
Two things of note.

1 - I'm working on a new book called "Seek Ye This Jesus." I've actually been working on it for several years, but it is in the terminal stages. The subject is coming into the Lord's presence through repentance. This is a very important topic, and I hope I can say what needs to be said on it. Interestingly, my wife has been writing a book of her own, and we were drawn to the same topic, but are working independently. We have agreed not to read each other's book until we each finish. I'm quite excited to read hers. Mine is directed to Christians in general. Hers is directed towards the broader LDS community.

2 - I have set apart a few entire days to catch up on blog posts on my survival blog. Over the last year I've taken about 30 GB worth of video, and am editing it and posting it as we speak. So far, I have about one post scheduled per day until December. The videos contain knowledge that I've had to accumulate the hard way, and I hope it helps others save time and money.

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Revelation and discernment

Salvation requires knowledge. "Knowledge saves a man and in the world of spirits a man can't be exalted but by knowledge." (Joseph Smith, WOJS 7 Apr 1844). In fact, salvation is to possess a finite set of knowledge. Once a man obtains sufficient knowledge to overcome the lies of this world, he will by definition be living a higher set of laws, and thus possess a higher degree of glory.

How is knowledge obtained? By revelation.

“… A man is saved no faster than he gets knowledge, for if he does not get knowledge, he will be brought into captivity by some evil power in the other world, as evil spirits will have more knowledge, and consequently more power than many men who are on the earth. Hence it needs revelation to assist us, and give us knowledge of the things of God.” (Joseph Smiht, History of the Church, 4:588).
Knowledge comes in two increments: General knowledge/commandments, and individual knowledge/commandments.
9 ...It is given unto many to know the mysteries of God; nevertheless they are laid under a strict command that they shall not impart only according to the portion of his word which he doth grant unto the children of men, according to the heed and diligence which they give unto him.
10 And therefore, he that will harden his heart, the same receiveth the lesser portion of the word; and he that will not harden his heart, to him is given the greater portion of the word, until it is given unto him to know the mysteries of God until he know them in full.
11 And they that will harden their hearts, to them is given the lesser portion of the word until they know nothing concerning his mysteries; and then they are taken captive by the devil, and led by his will down to destruction. Now this is what is meant by the chains of hell. (Alma 12:9-11).
God separates knowledge into these two increments because of eternal law. God promises us that we will not receive a commandment that we are not capable of keeping.

...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).

Yet, we are hardly capable of living as God does, which is the standard for living where God does. God will not give you a commandment you are not capable of keeping, which means he will not give you the commandments you are not capable of keeping, even if these are required for eternal life.

Instead, he will patiently send you experiences to build your capacity for obedience until you are capable of keeping higher commandments. He will send them as fast as you are able to keep them, and you will be able to keep them commensurate with how faithful you are to God under all circumstances.

"The portion of his word which he doth grant unto the children of men" contains general knowledge/commandments. They are simple and obvious to extract from the scriptures. Every person who is capable of understanding them is also capable of living them.

Where do we get individual commandments/knowledge? Through revelation.

Thus we see why it is so important to understand the principle of revelation. "The principle of revelation" might seem like an odd way to talk about the topic. Receiving revelation is anything but simple, due to it being a noisy channel.

There is opposition in all things, and revelation is not excluded.
For it must needs be, that there is an opposition in all things. If not so, my firstborn in the wilderness, righteousness could not be brought to pass, neither wickedness, neither holiness nor misery, neither good nor bad. (2 Nephi 2:11).
Opposition in revelation comes from counterfeit revelation. Revelation comes from God. Counterfeit revelation comes from Satan or from our imagination.

Revelation comes in many forms: thoughts/impressions, dreams, voices, open visions, visitations. I used to think of things things as a ladder; the higher you go, the least likely the revelation is to be suspect. That isn't true. Actually, these forms are a continuum. The further along you are on the continuum, the easier it is to have faith in what you receive.

It is also incorrect to think that the more important the message, the more tangible the form of revelation. Consider dreams. All of Daniel's revelations came through dreams. Lehi's warning about Jerusalem came from a dream. That's all he got. If you had a single dream telling you to flee from your home to the desert, leaving everything you possess, would you do it? (If not, you have drawn a line in the sand beyond which the Lord cannot bless you.) God is very willing to give incredibly important instruction through impressions, voices, and dreams. If you receive them, take them seriously, because denying them may very well be the difference between blessing and cursing, life and death.

ANY of these revelatory forms can be counterfeited by Satan. With a little time, it would be easy to list out instances of counterfeit revelation through each of these channels documented in scripture. I theorize that anyone who has received true revelation through any of these channels has also received false revelation through them. It is the counterbalance to provide opposition.

How do we avoid being fooled? Joseph Smith spent a lot of time teaching the people how to discern true messages from God. I don't think this is a matter of memorizing which beings should shake your hand or what color their hair ought to be. Instead, I will give you a key that will not fail you. Joseph taught:
A person may profit by noticing the first intimation of the Spirit of Revelation for instance when you feel pure lnteligence flowing unto you it may give you sudden strokes of ideas that by noticeting it you may find it. fulfilled the same day or Soon. (I.E.) those things that were presented unto your minds by the Spirit of God will come to pass and thus by learning the Spirit of God. & understanding it you may grow into the principle of Revelation. until you become perfect in Christ Jesus. (Joseph Smith, WOJS 27 June 1839).
Revelation is a gift of the spirit. Joseph taught "No man can receive the Holy Ghost without receiving revelations. The Holy Ghost is a revelator." (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 328). If you are receiving revelation--even if it is on something pertaining to the past or the present--you will periodically receive prophecies about the future. Pay attention to the circumstances of that revelation. Pay attention to how you feel. Pay attention to what you feel, and what you desire. If what you were shown comes to pass, that revelation is from God, and you ought to ascribe the circumstances of that revelation to be an indication of coming from God. As you accumulate more and more of these, it will become very obvious to you which revelations come from God, which come from you, and which come from Satan.

What you will find is that true revelations are always accompanied by the love of God, and the more dramatic the channel, the stronger the feeling. The only thing that can't be counterfeited is the love of God.

Now, here I have to make some comments. First, feelings are the easiest thing to make up/misinterpret. It is interesting that if you are teaching someone to break free from false tradition, the first thing you do is teach them not to trust their feelings. For example, slaughtering sacred cows always creates cognitive dissonance, which causes negative feelings, and these are erroneously interpreted as a signal that what you are doing is wrong. When you experience the love of God, there is no mistake about it. There is nothing in this world or in your head that can compare to it. That being said, those who have never felt it could easily attach that label to something far different, just as a subterranean dweller who has only heard descriptions of the sun might falsely assume that a flashlight is the sun.

This is why fulfilled prophecy is important. Prophecies act akin to tracer rounds in a magazine: every few bullets, you get one that glows and shows the trajectory of the other rounds that don't glow. If you continue in that path, you eventually get an experience that reveals to you the love of God. For me, these included when I prayed about the Book of Mormon, when Jesus visited me, and one other vision I had pertaining to the future. In fact, the way I was able to recognize Satan when he appeared to me as God was that his visit was not accompanied by the love of God, a feeling I had grown to become so familiar with during revelation that its absence jarred me out of what would otherwise been a very impressive demonstration.

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Two stories

Story 1

About 8 years ago, I moved to North Carolina for work. I was in the Maryland National Guard at the time. As part of the move, I had submitted a packet to be transferred into the North Carolina National Guard. Usually, this would be a quick transition. For some reason, the officer in charge of processing the paperwork happened to be amazingly slow at his job. I was enjoying my job, enjoying the change in dating scene, and contemplating buying a house. One day, out of the blue, the Lord told me in an audible voice "do not sign any house contracts, you are going to be deployed." I was shocked, but being familiar with that voice, I could not question the source. The next morning, my commander (I was second in command in the unit) called me. He said "This is pretty hush hush still but have you heard we are getting deployed?" I smiled and said, "I have!" He didn't ask how.

I grappled with this situation. For some time I had come to the conclusion that our foreign policy was out of alignment with the Lord's will. While I wasn't so worried about my own life, I had serious reservations about taking someone else's life or being responsible for putting my subordinates in danger for the reasons at hand. I immediately began to pray in earnest. The Lord replied, again with a voice (which is always a big deal and abnormal in my life), that I was not actually in the North Carolina National Guard. I was shocked at this comment, because although I was not legally in the North Carolina Guard, I had been attending meetings and training with that unit for months, and definitely felt an obligation to go with them. I continued to pray, telling God that I felt conflicted and didn't know what to do.

His response was very interesting. He replied with a question, again audible. He said: "What do you want more, to go to war with these men or to get married and have a family?" It was surprised to learn that this was an either or situation, and the Lord was not going to tell me what to do. He showed me the conflict and allowed me to choose what I desired.

I immediately decided, and less than 24 hours later I was on the road, headed west with everything I owned in my car. Less than a year later I had met and married my wife. I have been shown what my life would have been had I not moved. It would have been very bad.

There are a few takeaways from this story:

1. A very large ship can be steered by a very small rudder, and the largest of gates can turn on the smallest of hinges.
Now ye may suppose that this is foolishness in me; but behold I say unto you, that by small and simple things are great things brought to pass; and small means in many instances doth confound the wise. (Alma 37:6)
2. The Lord gives us according to our righteous desires in this life. However, he doesn't always put it on a silver platter for us. We have to ask, seek, and knock. Sometimes the blessing we seek is hidden behind life-as-usual. The status quo may stand between what we desire and what we have, and sometimes the only thing God will do is to wait for us to ask. If I had not prayed about my situation, I am sure that I would have chosen the wrong door--the default door.
But behold, I say unto you that ye must pray always, and not faint; that ye must not perform any thing unto the Lord save in the first place ye shall pray unto the Father in the name of Christ, that he will consecrate thy performance unto thee, that thy performance may be for the welfare of thy soul. (2 Nephi 32:9).


Story 2

I joined the LDS church at age 18. At age 20, I left on a mission. I had every reason in the world not to go. One significant reason was that I dreaded leaving my family. Not geographically speaking--I had been away to 3 years of college and various military training trips. I was very afraid for their spiritual welfare. I believed I was their lifeline, and without me they would be lost. In retrospect, it was a pretty silly thing to think. Nevertheless, I thought it. After much deliberation, I left. What I experienced in the next 2 years have planted a foundation that has blessed them spiritual in ways I never could had I stayed. Soon after returning home and finishing my first degree, I moved away from home. I was the first person in my family to go to college, and the first to leave the area my family had lived for generations. Although I always thought I would be returning soon, it hasn't worked out that way. In the years since my departure, I have taken countless opportunities to improve my situation. It has been tough having a family while being far from my parents and siblings. Still, it is ironic to me that all the reasons I had for not leaving have proven to be the very reasons I needed to leave. Specifically, I wanted to stay to take care of my grandparents, parents, and siblings. Yet, in leaving I have encountered opportunities to become far more capable of helping them than I ever could have had I stayed.

There are several lessons that I learned through this:

1. Sometimes honoring your mother and your father means having to disobey their wishes, as sometimes they don't have the foresight to know just how much of a blessing your actions will prove to be to them. I think of the story of Joseph of Egypt. Joseph's father surely did not want Joseph to be sold into slavery. Yet, it saved his life and the lives of his entire large household.

2. We can rarely know the end from the beginning. In fact, the Lord tells us not to assume we know what tomorrow will bring:
Take therefore no thought for the morrow, for the morrow shall take thought for the things of itself. Sufficient is the day unto the evil thereof. (3 Nephi 13:34).
We have to ask God, and when we receive revelation, trust that he knows better than we do. When we seek God's will and follow it, we should find ourselves frequently saying that it has all panned out in ways we never would have supposed (see Moses 1:10).

Monday, November 7, 2016

Zion: Zeal without knowledge

Whenever God sets forth additional light, there is an immediate winnowing of the chaff until only those who have a relationship with him are left. It's a cycle.

Like children, whenever we get a little light and truth, the first thing we do is pretend that we are something special. We exaggerate what we've received, exaggerate our worthiness, and claim blessings that are not ours. We rush into things that we have no claim on in utter ignorance, filling in the blanks by making things up.

"For I bear them record that they have a zeal of God, but not according to knowledge." (Romans 10:2)

It's a real shame, because the only way to progress from where we are is to ask God how we can change to take the next step. Those who assume they already have never bother to ask God what is next.

I am no one special. I have no authority beyond the authority of God's word that I quote. Yet, seeing a discrepancy between truth and what is being preached, I have a duty to share the little that I know.

My goal is to give you something to pray about. Do your own research. Read Isaiah. Pray and ask God. Figure it out for yourself. Do not rely on me, or any other, for your relationship with God. This stuff matters. You ought not take these topics lightly. You ought to not assume that anyone talking about these things is right. You ought to have extreme skepticism. You ought to seek God on these topics until you have enough revelation to compare against.

The Gathering

There is a misconception that everyone who is gathered will be safe and isolated from the tribulations prophesied to come. That is false. Many, many people will be killed, even among the righteous. Joseph Smith said:
“It is a false idea that the Saints will escape all the judgments, whilst the wicked suffer; for all flesh is subject to suffer, and ‘the righteous shall hardly escape;’ still many of the Saints will escape, for the just shall live by faith; yet many of the righteous shall fall a prey to disease, to pestilence, etc., by reason of the weakness of the flesh, and yet be saved in the Kingdom of God. So that it is an unhallowed principle to say that such and such have transgressed because they have been preyed upon by disease or death, for all flesh is subject to death; and the Savior has said, ‘Judge not, lest ye be judged’” ( History of the Church, 4:11).
It is foolish to think of gathering as a finish line. It isn't. It would be more appropriate to think of it as the next rung on a ladder. As an example, think of David. He was called to be king of Israel as a youth. Despite a preliminary victory in slaying Goliath (an amazing demonstration of God's power), he had to live through a prolonged period of extreme hardship before actually realizing the blessing of being king. The gathering should not be seen as the acquisition of a blessing. Rather, it is the delivery of a new set of challenges. These challenges will vary for everyone.

The gathering will not occur as a finite, general event. What I mean is that you should not expect the one mighty and strong to announce himself, publicly announce a gathering, build a temple, and await the return of the city of Enoch. It is not going to happen that way. First, there will be a one might and strong, but his mission comes as a gradient. No one is going to know who this guy is when he starts his mission. It's not so hard to believe that if you imagine that it is very possible we will not have modern communication when his mission begins. Second, the gathering will begin as many small independent gatherings. This is something God showed me in vision, but I think I can persuade you with reason. What would happen if there was a public gathering? Suppose someone famous came on the scene with great fanfare and announced a gathering. Who would show up to that event? I imagine the composition would be much like the recent Boise conference. I know many if not most of the people there and consider them good friends. But would such a group of people qualify for higher law? Is that group, or one like it, living all of God's commandments? Certainly not. The light you receive is determined by your degree of obedience. A general group of people will not qualify for any greater light than they already possess. Now, if you could have God's discernment, it would be easy to select a subset of that group who would qualify for greater blessings. In the gathering, God will use angels to inspire groups to gather--groups that are clustered according to the strengths and weaknesses they need to progress. Each group will endure a custom set of trials designed to provide them with what they specifically lack. As these groups are refined, the Lord will instruct them to move and join with another group. People will be told "get up and take your family this way" until they reach groups, possibly of people they've never met before. This consolidation will mainly occur after there is no longer electricity, motor vehicles, or other modern technology. Each movement will be dangerous. It will require revelation to start and revelation to carry out: guidance, logistics, supply, etc. There will be plenty of hostile territory to pass, little food and water, etc. There will be plenty of opportunity to increase in faith, as well as ample opportunity to suffer. People will die, no doubt about it.

Once you enter into a gathered group, you become party to the collective state of the group. If a person in the group needs a certain trial to progress, the odds are good that everyone in that group will suffer through the same trial. For some, that trial will include pestilence. For some, hunger. For some, harsh conditions. For some, capture by occupying armies. For some, betrayal. And so on. People will suffer; People will die. It is only those who come through all of this that will make it to Zion, and many who merit Zion will nevertheless be numbered among those who die.

One of these coalescing groups will emerge as Zion. It is unlikely that many (if any) will know that such is the case at the beginning. If they did, hoards of unprepared people would show up, creating an environment where Zion would be impossible (this is what happened in Joseph's various gatherings). In order to have Zion, you have to have selective gathering. This can be accomplished in several ways, including great tribulation (so the wicked leave or die) or by withholding the actual location of Zion. If Zion were not established until after the lights go out, no one would know about it except those to whom God revealed it.

There is a notion that there will be no kings in Zion. That is only correct if you limit the definition of "king" to the world's definition. Jesus said his kingdom is not of this world. There will many kings (and queens) in Zion, and their kingship and queenship will have started long before that. A man's kingdom is his family, which ought to extend far beyond those he is genetically related to. A man's duty is to serve others. In Christ's system, you progress as you subject yourself to the good of others.

25 And he said unto them, The kings of the Gentiles exercise lordship over them; and they that exercise authority upon them are called benefactors.
26 But ye shall not be so: but he that is greatest among you, let him be as the younger; and he that is chief, as he that doth serve.
27 For whether is greater, he that sitteth at meat, or he that serveth? is not he that sitteth at meat? but I am among you as he that serveth. (Luke 22)
The pattern is given by Abraham. Abraham righteously led his family and then extended his service to those around him. Righteous men and women will purify themselves and become a ministering angel to those in the circles of influence. They will have constant opportunities to mediate for those they serve through willingly giving up comfort and resources that they have merited by their righteousness to those who do not deserve them. These will be instrumental in the conversion of the remnant (see 2 Nephi 10:9, 2 Nephi 6:7, and 1 Nephi 21:23). Though Zion is a community, it is established individually, as each person turns their heart to God and knows him more and more, until all know him equally. "And they shall not teach every man his neighbour, and every man his brother, saying, Know the Lord: for all shall know me, from the least to the greatest." (Hebrews 8:11)

The Temple

Some people are terminally stuck in the false LDS temple paradigm. A temple is not a shortcut to God's blessings. You cannot sidestep the law required to receive a blessing. It might be easier to build a temple than it is to keep all of God's commandments. He might even recognize your sacrifice, as he did with Moses and Joseph Smith (Kirtland). But this wouldn't mean that you have achieved your goal (the Zion temple and everything that goes with it). It would simply mean that you have achieved the blessings had by the children of Israel in the wilderness (not much) or the people of Kirtland (disaster).

The purpose of the Zion temple is simple. It is to collectively reveal a new (higher) set of commandments. If you are not yet living the ones God gave previously, God is not going to reveal a higher law. It would violate divine law:
9 It is given unto many to know the mysteries of God; nevertheless they are laid under a strict command that they shall not impart only according to the portion of his word which he doth grant unto the children of men, according to the heed and diligence which they give unto him.
10 And therefore, he that will harden his heart, the same receiveth the lesser portion of the word; and he that will not harden his heart, to him is given the greater portion of the word, until it is given unto him to know the mysteries of God until he know them in full. (Alma 12:9-10)
If you want a dispensation of higher law, obey the law you have already! How many sinless people do you know? I know very, very few. Certainly not enough to build a temple. A temple will not magically change your heart. It is not a shortcut to the blessings reserved for those who actually obey God's commandments.

Remember, also, that if you have a publicly announced gathering, a trendy gathering if you will, you are going to gather all sorts of people. If you gather all sorts of people, you are ensuring that God has to winnow your group through trials before you are down to just the ones who have merited the blessing.

Finally, building a temple is not something you decide to do. It is something God commands you to do. It is folly in the extreme to save for a temple before receiving revelation to do so. God authorized David to do so, instructing him that Solomon would build the temple. If you need any extra reason not to engage in this folly, consider that there are plenty of poor people for whom you have responsibility, as God never said that your responsibility ends with your "fellowship." The only way you can save for a temple is by breaking that commandment. If God commands you to save for a temple, than by all means do it. If he has not, you ought to flee from that folly.

While we are reconciling prevailing opinions against scripture, we ought to also consider the role of the Gentiles in the construct of the Zion temple: it is the remnant and not the Gentiles who build that temple. If your plan to build a temple is not preceded by the gathering of the remnant, it is impossible that said temple could be the Zion temple. At best, it is another Kirtland temple: of use to the few who are ready to accept it in order to prepare them to go out and do missionary work. At worse, it is a Moses temple: of no use to the hoards of unrepentant people except as a stumbling block to distract them from what actually matters.

There will be a temple, but none of what has been discussed requires it. You don't need a temple while the people still aren't living what has already been revealed. Until there is a people who are keeping all of God's commandments that have already been revealed, why would God command anyone to build a temple?

What You Should Do


  1. Keep all the commandments. "And the bow shall be in the cloud; and I will look upon it, that I may remember the everlasting covenant, which I made unto thy father Enoch; that, when men should keep all my commandments, Zion should again come on the earth, the city of Enoch which I have caught up unto myself." (JST, Genesis 9:21). Zion cannot come except to a people who keep all of God's commandments. As long as you are in willful disobedience, you cannot be a part of Zion.
  2. Serve your family.
  3. Serve your fellowman. Zion cannot come to a people who have not cared for the poor. This is not limited to the poor in your family, or some select subgroup (read: in your "fellowships"). It is a general commandment. There are billions of poor people in this world.
  4. Pray and ask God what you should do. Only those who have an instructional connection with God will get to and through Zion. When you pray, everything ought to be on the table. Don't be surprised if he asks something extraordinary from you, whether it be public (visible to anyone else) or private (not visible to anyone else).

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Teaching God's Commandments

Teaching God’s Commandments in the Home
Sacrament Talk given by Bob Sonntag on 10.16.2016, posted with his permission


If the scriptures are adamant about one point, it is that all of us must come unto Christ and be saved. If they say a second thing, it is that there is only one very specific path back to Christ’s presence.
Romans 10 says that “faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God” as preached by a messenger sent by God. If someone is not sent by God, or if they deviate from God’s word, their message cannot produce faith, no matter how zealously it is believed.
In Mosiah 4 we find that the miraculous response to the repentance of King Benjamin’s people came “because of the exceeding faith which they had in Jesus Christ who should come, according to the words which King Benjamin had spoken unto them.”
Saving faith could only come “according to the words” given by God. Christ said of his commandments given in the Sermon on the Mount:
Whosoever, therefore, shall break one of these least commandments, and shall teach men so to  do, he shall in no wise be saved in the kingdom of heaven; but whosoever shall do and teach these commandments… the same shall be called great, and shall be saved in the kingdom of heaven. (JST Matthew 5:21)
A study of that sermon suggests why Christ is so particular: the commandments of God exalt you in the act of keeping them. They reveal God’s nature by causing you to emulate his mercy, integrity, and loving kindness.
It sounds simple enough. What goes wrong? A third core message of the scriptures is that we will be presented with “commandments of men” as a counterfeit of the commandments of God. Since most people are actually trying to be good, the best way to lead them astray is to give them a false standard of goodness.
These counterfeits are created when well-meaning teachers think they can improve on God’s commandments by addition, subtraction, or modification (3 Nephi 11:40; D&C 10:68).
In 3 Nephi 18:3, Christ says

But whoso among you shall do more or less than [my commandments] are not built upon my  rock, but are built upon a sandy foundation; and when the rain descends, and the floods come, and the winds blow, and beat upon them, they shall fall, and the gates of hell are ready open to receive them.
Therefore blessed are ye if ye shall keep my commandments, which the Father hath commanded me that I should give unto you.
He then warns us to be watchful and prayerful to make sure we are not led astray by falsehoods.

When we attempt to teach the gospel disconnected from the words God has caused to be written then the difference between God’s commandments and the commandments of men is obscured. The spirit cannot override our neglect of the scriptures and force truth out of our mouths (D&C 11:21-22; Mosiah 1:3-5). The less we ground our teachings in a careful and correct reading of the scriptures, the more our teaching will consist of stock phrases, trite platitudes, sentimental stories, clich├ęs, and folk traditions. Worse yet, we will develop guidelines; standards of dress, speech and behavior; and invented commandments that spring from those traditions rather than from God’s word. At best those things  simply distract us, waste our time, and turn the beautiful simple gospel of Christ into a soul crushing exercise in behavior control. At their worst they actually cause us to break true commandments. Just as  we come to know God through his true commandments, we gain a false and distorted view of him when those commandments are added to or diminished. Since eternal life means to know God, a false understanding of him will thwart our salvation until we abandon it for truth (John 17:3).
D&C 93 contrasts the commandments of God with the traditions of men:

36 The glory of God is intelligence, or, in other words, light and truth. Light and truth forsake that evil one.
27 And no man receiveth a fulness [of truth] unless he keepeth his commandments. He that keepeth his commandments receiveth truth and light, until he is glorified in truth and knoweth all things…
39…that wicked one cometh and taketh away light and truth, through disobedience, from the children of men, and because of the tradition of their fathers.
The most damaging false traditions are those which come to be seen as fundamental, indispensable, essential features of a religion, causing people to disobey God while thinking they are righteous.
[Paragraphs in red cut for time] Orthodox Jews at the time of Jesus were taught that the teachings of their leaders were more important than past prophets, including the head of their dispensation. They were taught that only the rabbis could provide authoritative interpretation of scripture. They were taught that they were to treat the teachings of the rabbis as if God had spoken it, and follow them and be blessed or reject them and suffer. The inevitable result of those beliefs was that they taught for doctrines the commandments of men, developing an invented set of laws they treated as though it were the Torah (Matthew 15:1-9). One such faux-commandment involved a ceremonial washing of the hands before a meal, wherein they recited the following prayer:
“Blessed art Thou, O Lord our God, King of the universe, who has sanctified us with Thy commandments and has commanded us concerning the washing of the hands.”
They knew that we are sanctified by keeping God’s commandments, but, as God’s people almost always do, they invented commandments which could not sanctify. They claimed God commanded them to wash their hands; ask them where God commanded that and they could only point to their traditions.
Latter-day Saint history provides us with numerous examples. I’ve chosen one from the 19thcentury, because if I chose one from the 21st  century we’re uncomfortably close to some steep gullies that are

perfect for an angry mob to throw a heretic into. This example will help us focus on the role of parents in teaching their children truth.
Here is an excerpt from a letter shared with me by a friend, from her ancestor Gilbert Belnap to his wife Adaline Knight, dated February 25,1856
"Instruct the children in the ways of the Lord and be not too severe in your chastisement of them. Kiss them all for me and teach the little boys to avenge the Blood of the Prophet."
I’m not the most careful reader, but even I noticed that this advice took a left turn somewhere in the middle. Where did Gilbert get this idea to teach his sons vengeance? Shortly after the deaths of Joseph and Hyrum Smith, it was thought to be appropriate to cause the saints to enter into a covenant to
promise that [they would] pray and never cease to pray to Almighty God to avenge the blood of the prophets upon this nation, and that [they would] teach the same to [their] children and to [their] children's children unto the third and fourth generation.1
This covenant was thought so important that it was administered in the Saints’ most sacred places, as part of their most sacred ceremonies.
While the wording of the covenant remained the same for 90 years, the saints’ understanding of it evolved, as traditions do. In the decade-or-so between Joseph’s death and Gilbert’s letter the saints came to believe that the covenant didn’t simply mean to pray for God to take vengeance on the nation, but that the saints themselves were responsible for taking vengeance. Gilbert was simply repeating to his sons the version of the gospel that was current among the saints. It was orthodox. It was a fundamental and essential feature of what Gilbert thought Mormonism was. So what could he have done differently?
When he heard over the pulpit that the saints were themselves responsible for vengeance could he have thought back to the wording of the covenant he had made and realize he was now hearing a misinterpretation of those words?
Going back further, when Gilbert was asked to covenant to pray for divine vengeance to rain down upon his enemies, could he have asked himself whether that was the right thing to do?
If he studied his scriptures, he might have read D&C 84, where God informs the saints that they are under condemnation for “treating lightly” the Book of Mormon and failing to do what it taught. Maybe that would have led him to read the book very carefully, where he would read of Lehi, Nephi, Jacob, Enos, and others praying with all their hearts for the salvation of people who wanted them dead. He would read in 3 Nephi 12:
behold I say unto you, love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them who despitefully use you and persecute you; That ye may be the children of your Father who is in heaven
“Pray for”. Not pray against. And certainly don’t seek vengeance (3 Nephi 12:39).


Gilbert would be faced with hard choices. Should he remain orthodox, and prize the words of his leaders over Christ’s own words, and keep the covenant he had made? Or should he instead follow Christ’s instructions, that he might be a Child of his Father in Heaven? Had the saints chosen that second path, D&C 84 says they would have brought forth fruit meet for the kingdom of God (vs. 58). Instead, the violent rhetoric about vengeance and bloodshed only grew more intense and elaborate in the months following Gilbert’s letter. Words were soon tragically matched by action in eruptions of violence so horrific we still haven’t fully processed them as a Church.As Gilbert should have examined his most precious beliefs before passing them on to his children, so we should ours.
We must not expect God to conform to our traditions, no matter how precious they are to us, how  popular, or how orthodox. If our obedience is to the commandments of men, we will only experience a tedious oppressive version of the gospel. Truly seeking God, and leading our children to him, will require setting aside our creeds and seeking truth as little children. As Joseph Smith said:
To all those who are disposed…to set up stakes for the almighty—[you] will come short of the glory of god. To become a joint heir of the heirship of the son [a man] must put away all his traditions. (Smith Diary, August 27, 1843)

Sunday, October 9, 2016

Unbelief

Repentance ought to apply to anyone who is not yet perfect. If it does not, such a person is by definition damned because they are not progressing toward perfection. Repentance does not apply only to unpopular sins.

Unbelief is a condition where an individual rejects or refuses to seek out a particular truth because it clashes with a tradition they hold. This is not the same as willful rebellion, which is disobeying what you know is true.

There are many doctrines taught in absolute plainness in the scriptures. Yet, many don't know about them, and most of those who are informed of them disbelieve.

And now I, Nephi, cannot say more; the Spirit stoppeth mine utterance, and I am left to mourn because of the unbelief, and the wickedness, and the ignorance, and the stiffneckedness of men; for they will not search knowledge, nor understand great knowledge, when it is given unto them in plainness, even as plain as word can be. (2 Nephi 32:7)
Knowledge is necessary for salvation. A man must come to a certain discrete level of knowledge before he can be saved. The reason men do not search for knowledge, or believe it when it is offered to them, is because of their unbelief.

The opposite of unbelief.

It is quite simple (though not easy) to be faithful. We are told to "Prove all things; hold fast that which is good." (1 Thessalonians 5:21). Like Paul, Alma understood the process of being faithful--it does not require some superhuman ability. Instead, you just have to believe something could be true.

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. (Alma 32:27)

Suspending disbelief long enough to experiment upon the word is all that is necessary to prove all things.

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)
A reflection upon the attitude of the Lamanites at one point in the Book of Mormon provides a concise description of the opposite of unbelief:

And thus we see that the Lord began to pour out his Spirit upon the Lamanites, because of their easiness and willingness to believe in his words. (Helaman 6:36)
An easiness and willingness to believe the Lord is the opposite of unbelief. You don't have to know all things or have perfect faith. You just need to recognize that you don't know everything (or much at all) and be willing to believe the Lord, no matter what he tells you.

The brother of Jared is the archetype of the opposite of unbelief. Consider his much-read but poorly-utilized story:

 4 And I know, O Lord, that thou hast all power, and can do whatsoever thou wilt for the benefit of man; therefore touch these stones, O Lord, with thy finger, and prepare them that they may shine forth in darkness; and they shall shine forth unto us in the vessels which we have prepared, that we may have light while we shall cross the sea.
5 Behold, O Lord, thou canst do this. We know that thou art able to show forth great power, which looks small unto the understanding of men.
 6 And it came to pass that when the brother of Jared had said these words, behold, the Lord stretched forth his hand and touched the stones one by one with his finger. And the veil was taken from off the eyes of the brother of Jared, and he saw the finger of the Lord; and it was as the finger of a man, like unto flesh and blood; and the brother of Jared fell down before the Lord, for he was struck with fear.
 7 And the Lord saw that the brother of Jared had fallen to the earth; and the Lord said unto him: Arise, why hast thou fallen?
 8 And he saith unto the Lord: I saw the finger of the Lord, and I feared lest he should smite me; for I knew not that the Lord had flesh and blood. 9 And the Lord said unto him: Because of thy faith thou hast seen that I shall take upon me flesh and blood; and never has man come before me with such exceeding faith as thou hast; for were it not so ye could not have seen my finger. Sawest thou more than this?
 10 And he answered: Nay; Lord, show thyself unto me.
 11 And the Lord said unto him: Believest thou the words which I shall speak? 12 And he answered: Yea, Lord, I know that thou speakest the truth, for thou art a God of truth, and canst not lie. 13 And when he had said these words, behold, the Lord showed himself unto him, and said: Because thou knowest these things ye are redeemed from the fall; therefore ye are brought back into my presence; therefore I show myself unto you.
 14 Behold, I am he who was prepared from the foundation of the world to redeem my people. Behold, I am Jesus Christ. I am the Father and the Son. In me shall all mankind have life, and that eternally, even they who shall believe on my name; and they shall become my sons and my daughters. (Ether 3)

Notice how the key to what the brother of Jared received was his willingness to believe what God would (future tense) speak? Yes, the brother of Jared believed the things he had been told before. However, the key was his willingness to believe what God had not yet told him. What is the difference between what God has told us and what he will tell us? If we are reconciled to God (not the case in willfull rebellion) we already believe what he has told us. We do not believe what he has not yet told us. If we did, we would already be doing it, and we would not need him to tell us about it. When we make the baptismal covenant, we promise God that we will obey both the commandments we know and the commandments we do not yet know. Few enough people keep that covenant that it is the gateway to redemption from the fall.

Once you sincerely transition to trusting God, there is nothing that can derail you from salvation. Redemption from the fall requires believing God. Believing God means to be willing to accept anything from God as true, without reservation. (See Ether 3:11-13).

The brother of Jared's decision to believe whatever God would reveal to him is magnificently simple. He was merely willing to believe things that contradicted his preconceived notions. That is all it takes.

A great example of this is given in the story of Nephi praying on the tower. When he stops praying, he notices that a large group had gathered. The account suggests that most (if not all) of these people were wicked. Nephi calls them to repentance, then gives them a prophetic sign as evidence of the validity of his message. He says that their governor had been murdered.

1 Behold, now it came to pass that when Nephi had spoken these words, certain men who were among them ran to the judgment-seat; yea, even there were five who went, and they said among themselves, as they went:
 2 Behold, now we will know of a surety whether this man be a prophet and God hath commanded him to prophesy such marvelous things unto us. Behold, we do not believe that he hath; yea, we do not believe that he is a prophet; nevertheless, if this thing which he has said concerning the chief judge be true, that he be dead, then will we believe that the other words which he has spoken are true.
 3 And it came to pass that they ran in their might, and came in unto the judgment-seat; and behold, the chief judge had fallen to the earth, and did lie in his blood.
 4 And now behold, when they saw this they were astonished exceedingly, insomuch that they fell to the earth; for they had not believed the words which Nephi had spoken concerning the chief judge.
 5 But now, when they saw they believed, and fear came upon them lest all the judgments which Nephi had spoken should come upon the people; therefore they did quake, and had fallen to the earth. (Helaman 9)
These men were the same that Helaman had just called to repentance. They were not reconciled to God. They did not recognize Nephi as a true messenger. And yet, at least five of them suspended their disbelief enough to experiment upon his word. They did not believe him, but they thought they would test his word just in case. Those five recognized that they were wrong, and they repented.


Unbelief occurs when we prefer our traditions over new truth. 


Traditions fuel unbelief.

For behold, had the mighty works been shown unto them which have been shown unto you, yea, unto them who have dwindled in unbelief because of the traditions of their fathers, ye can see of yourselves that they never would again have dwindled in unbelief.(Helaman 15:15) 
But how do we recognize traditions? No one intentionally accepts false tradition. If teachings came with a label defining them as tradition or truth, it would be much easier to navigate mortality. Sometimes new truth replaces false traditions, and sometimes it replaces lesser truth. In both cases, the individual must decide between what they had previously accepted as true, and what God wants them to have now.

Whenever new truth comes from God, the recipient must decide whether they will consider the possibility that the new teaching is correct. Most people will reject it. It is human nature to be closed-minded.

Jesus' ministry provides a typical example of the process. At one point in the gospels, Jesus "marvelled because of their unbelief" (Mark 6:6) What was the dialogue that preceded his marveling?

And he went out from thence, and came into his own country; and his disciples follow him. And when the sabbath day was come, he began to teach in the synagogue: and many hearing him were astonished, saying, From whence hath this man these things? and what wisdom is this which is given unto him, that even such mighty works are wrought by his hands? Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary, the brother of James, and Joses, and of Juda, and Simon? and are not his sisters here with us? And they were offended at him. But Jesus said unto them, A prophet is not without honour, but in his own country, and among his own kin, and in his own house. And he could there do no mighty work, save that he laid his hands upon a few sick folk, and healed them. (Mark 6:1-5)

The crowds were offended at what Jesus was teaching. It seemed wrong to them because it contradicted what they held to be true. Instead of considering the possibility that what they were hearing was true--a process that would unlock their minds to rationally consider the abundant evidence--they dismissed Jesus out of hand. They lightly treated the things they received (see D&C 84:54-56). Condemnation was and is the result of unbelief, because you can't progress to the point you could had you received the new truth.

How do you know if you are an unbeliever?

Is there anything off limits? Is there anything that would be impossible for God to ask you to do? Is there anything that, if God commanded you to do it, you would reject out of hand? If so, you are in unbelief.

We cannot put anything off limits to God. He can command anything he wishes of us, and we must be prepared to be true and faithful to everything he teaches us, no matter how offensive it may be to our carnal minds.

Here are three quotes from Joseph Smith on the topic of limiting what we will accept from God (setting up stakes):

  1. "To all those who are disposed to say to set up stakes for the almighty— will come short of the glory of god. To become a joint heir of the heirship of the son he must put away all his traditions. Men will set up stakes and say thus far will we go and no farther, did Abraham when called upon to offer his son, did the Saviour, no..." 
  2. "The mystery power and glory of the preisthood is so great and glorious that the angels desired to understand it and cannot: why, because of the tradition of them and their fathers in setting up stakes and not coming up to the mark in their probationary state."
  3. "I cannot believe in any of the creeds of the different denominations, because they all have some things in them I cannot subscribe to though all of them have some thruth. but I want to come up into the presence of God & learn all things but the creeds set up stakes, & say hitherto shalt thou come, & no further.—which I cannot subscribe to."

Sometimes it is hard to be honest with ourselves. Sometimes, we like to think that we would do anything God would command us to do.

One way to detect unbelief even when we are good at deceiving ourselves is to look at our works, or rather God's work in and through us.

Have you been baptized by fire? Do you do works of righteousness? Do you see the miracles of the scriptures in your own life in undiluted form?

If not, there are only two possible reasons: Willful rebellion and unbelief. If the former, you will recognize things in your life that contradict what God has revealed to you. If the latter, you might not notice the problem except by the lack of God's power in your life. (Note: it is not unusual to be in both at the same time).


  • "And I would exhort you, my beloved brethren, that ye remember that he is the same yesterday, today, and forever, and that all these gifts of which I have spoken, which are spiritual, never will be done away, even as long as the world shall stand, only according to the unbelief of the children of men." (Moroni 10:19)
  • "And there were no gifts from the Lord, and the Holy Ghost did not come upon any, because of their wickedness and unbelief." (Mormon 1:14)
  • "And the reason why he ceaseth to do miracles among the children of men is because that they dwindle in unbelief, and depart from the right way, and know not the God in whom they should trust." (Mormon 9:20)
  • "Behold I say unto you, Nay; for it is by faith that miracles are wrought; and it is by faith that angels appear and minister unto men; wherefore, if these things have ceased wo be unto the children of men, for it is because of unbelief, and all is vain." (Moroni 7:37)


Unbelief is far more prevalent than we'd like to think. How many people have experienced what the brother of Jared did? Yet, we are told plainly that if we have not, it is because of unbelief!

And in that day that they shall exercise faith in me, saith the Lord, even as the brother of Jared did, that they may become sanctified in me, then will I manifest unto them the things which the brother of Jared saw, even to the unfolding unto them all my revelations, saith Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the Father of the heavens and of the earth, and all things that in them are.....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 4:7,15)

How do you repent of unbelief?

Jesus taught that "If thou canst believe, all things are possible to him that believeth." (Mark 9:23). If you find yourself setting up stakes for God, setting aside certain things as not possible, then you are in unbelief. The solution to this problem is to cry out to God, who will help your unbelief (see Mark 9:24).

Fundamentally, unbelief is a manifestation of distrust in God. If you trusted God absolutely, you would not have reason to doubt anything that comes from him, or to consider certain things as off limits to him.

6 Behold, they do not desire that the Lord their God, who hath created them, should rule and reign over them; notwithstanding his great goodness and his mercy towards them, they do set at naught his counsels, and they will not that he should be their guide.
7 O how great is the nothingness of the children of men; yea, even they are less than the dust of the earth. (Helaman 12)

God's character can be learned by our own experiences with him and by the experiences of others, either that we know personally or that we can learn of in the scriptures. Experience with God is the cure for distrust in God. Those who pay attention to his hand in their lives cannot deny his goodness, mercy, and wisdom. God is love. Anything he does with you is motivated by love for you. Because of his absolute knowledge (and in contrast to anyone else), you can trust that anything he does with you is in your best interest.

As we come to know God, we also come to recognize our own nothingness, ignorance, insufficiency, and instability. Coming to recognize this is a key in breaking through the veil of unbelief (see Ether 4:15). You have to have a tenacity in keeping God's commandments: both what he has revealed and what he will reveal. That sounds deceivingly simple. Really, it is to come to the a seemingly contradictory point where you are resolute in clinging to your understanding of what is right in the face of sin while easily letting go of your deepest convictions when God presents you with something better. In short, you have to be willing to replace tradition with revelation.