Thursday, August 16, 2018

God is real, and he is a God of miracles


Many--too many--gospel discussions focus on the provenance of books of scripture. Anyone whose faith rests in the archeological or other textual "evidence" of scripture has weak religious principles. The truth of scripture is not manifest in the shaky wisdom of men, but in the fruits the principles it teaches brings forth.

If you believe in God merely because of what the Bible says, for instance, than your religion is not much worth having. A religion worth having ought to be able to reproduce the fruits of the gospel documented in the Bible in your own life. If you do not have the fruits of the gospel in your life as recorded in the scriptures, either the scriptures or false or your understanding of the gospel is different than the gospel had by those who wrote it. Either way, you ought to change your beliefs.



The purpose of miracles is to help people have faith--to help people become willing to believe in what is purported to be the gospel sufficient to live what is taught and observe whether the promised fruits arrive.


There are many false positives. Organized religions will teach something, sure, but most teachings are unaccompanied by any fruits at all. Those that are tend to be diminutive compared to what we find in the scriptures. Others hide behind the promise that though their religion does not bear the fruits promised by Jesus in this life, it will magically become capable of saving you in the next!

I like what Joseph Smith said about testing what is offered:
If you will obey the Gospel with honest hearts, I promise you, in the name of the Lord, that the gifts as promised by our Saviour will follow you, and by this you may prove me to be a true servant of God. (Joseph Smith, Quoted in Hyrum Andrus, “Joseph Smith's Idea of the Gospel”.)
Before continuing, I strongly recommend you read these posts. I won't copy paste them here, but I should. Please go read them:

Purpose

There are a few people I interact with who are constantly telling me that God does not exist. This is a curious statement to hear, because I have met God. I have seen him, he has spoken to me, and he has touched me. These people tell me that my spiritual experiences are a figment of my imagination. I realize that because there are so many false positives--so many people who claim to believe in God (without actually doing what he says, of course) and yet have no experiences with him--these people have very little reason to believe that God exists.

None of these experiences are shared to boast. I wish others would share them so I would not have to.  I publish this account that you may know that God is real. This verse is true:
For thus saith the Lord—I, the Lord, am merciful and gracious unto those who fear me, and delight to honor those who serve me in righteousness and in truth unto the end. (D&C 76:5)
His power is sufficient to save any of us if we will merely turn to him, believe him, and obey him. Normal, common people have the duty and privilege to reach higher toward heaven, that through their testimony others might come closer to Christ (see Alma 13).

Jesus is the Christ, that he is real, and that there is no sweeter prize in this life that to associate with him. If you want to know more about how you can have more experiences with God, I recommend you read the book "Seek Ye This Jesus," which you can download as a free pdf, read on Kindle, buy on Amazon for print cost, or listen to in a free audiobook.

In no order:

Brain cancer healed

I knew a woman who worked selling candy on buses. She had five little kids and a deadbeat husband. She was a very kind, sweet lady who worried about others more than herself. She had been fainting on the bus, and she was very worried. I advised her to go to a doctor, where she found out she had multiple large tumors growing in her head. Because of the number and locations of the tumors, the doctors could not operate, and radiation and chemo were a longshot. She came to me with all the faith in the world and asked me to pray for her. I spent some time fasting and praying. I wrestled with the Lord as described in "Seek Ye This Jesus." The Holy Ghost fell on me, and I went to her house, laid my hands on her, and the Lord healed her. She was immediately and completely healed. Her symptoms ended and the next radiology imaging showed the tumors were completely gone.

Baptized by fire

I was baptized in water in a portable font in Ft. Jackson, South Carolina. As I sat on the steps of the font, still soaking wet, Elders laid their hands on me and said, "receive the Holy Ghost." At that moment, I felt a fire starting at the crown of my head that went down to my feet. I was not surprised at all, because I believed what I had been taught, and I was taught that when I was confirmed, this is what was supposed to happen. I began noticing the fruits of the companionship of the Holy Ghost right away. I was newly disinterested in sinful things, and my mind was frequently quickened with revelation about gospel principles (especially when I asked questions) and about life in general.

My first experience praying with real intent

Years ago, I learned my brother was going to Iraq, and the Spirit gave my a distinct impression that he would be killed in action. I spent several hours each night begging with the Lord to spare his life so that he might have the chance to hear the gospel as I did. I pleaded that it was not fair that I had the chance and he did not. I pleaded that God would take my life, if need be, to answer for his, that he might have a fair chance at the happiness that I had received. After over a month of praying late into the night each day, I heard a voice that told me to stop praying about it. This was the voice of God, and it was the first time I heard his voice. Accompanied with this voice was an outpouring of peace that I recognized could only come from the Spirit (not because I had been told so, but because I was coming to recognize what it felt like when the Lord was reaching out to me). Some weeks later, I was talking with my brother over the phone. He recounted to me that about that same time I heard God speak to me, he was involved in an intense firefight. He was the first man out of a building when several men opened fire on him and his squad. As he was running, he felt a hand push him to the ground with so much force that he broke his foot in the process. After the battle, he found bullet holes in the wall where his head had been before he was pushed. As he communicated this story to me he--an atheist--said that he knew that it was an angel who pushed him, and it was because of my prayers that his life had been spared. As he told me that, the Spirit witnessed to me that such was the case.

A word of comfort

My grandmother suffered for years in a nursing home after having several massive strokes. My mother, who worked full-time, spent many hours after work each day caring for her for years. It was an incredible emotional and physical burden to carry. Several times I prayed to God that he would let my grandmother die so that my mom could be released from that burden. Those prayers never went very long, because God told me that it wasn't expedient at that time and that he had a purpose in this. Early one morning, I was working out when the Lord spoke to me and told me to pray. I stopped what I was doing and immediately knelt down and began to pray. The Spirit told me what to say, and I was immersed in the Lord's mind and will. I thanked him for everything that had happened with my mom and grandmother, as he gave me to understand exactly what the purpose was for how things had happened. Then I asked him to free her spirit from her body, which request he granted. I was overwhelmed with his love for my grandmother and my mother, and also for his condescension in involving me in this process. I was given a message for my mom, and I called her and said what I was told. She was incredibly attached to my grandmother, and very much unwilling to see her die. Somehow, the Lord's words soothed her heart completely. That evening my grandmother died suddenly, and it happened in exactly the right way to help her children best deal with the situation.

Revelation of a podcast

Early one morning I was frying some eggs for my kids. Unexpectedly, the Lord spoke to me. He mentioned a friend who I had not spoken to in months. He said: "tell _____ that it is my will for him to start a podcast preaching the same things he does in his blog." I said, "but he will be afraid that he won't be able to maintain his anonymity." The Lord gave me a promise for him, and told me to tell him. I immediately stopped cooking eggs and wrote my friend an email. The friend wrote me back and explained that the Lord had just told him the same thing a few days prior, but that he wasn't sure about it and had in fact been worried about anonymity. He started the podcast, and has had many emails from people whose lives it has helped.

My first experience with the Book of Mormon

I was introduced to the Book of Mormon as an 18-yr old private in basic training. I thought the missionaries' story was plausible. At the time I was not a follower of Jesus, but I did not disbelieve that he existed. I was simply not worried about it. I had been introduced to the gospel according to several sects and had found gaping holes in their reasoning. It did not ring true to me. The missionaries' story seemed solid to me. I felt that it could be true.

After learning of the so-called plan of salvation, I decided that I had to pray and ask God about the gospel according to the Mormons. If it was true, I felt there was urgency in me being baptized and following God. If it wasn't, I was wasting my time. When I knelt to pray in the barracks after lights out, I realized that before I asked God if the book of Mormon was true, I would first need to know---not merely believe---if God existed. I always figured there was a God, but never had to make a decision based on that belief. I knew that if God existed, I wanted to do any and everything that he required of me. I had a desire to please him. It didn't make sense to make a commitment to a being when I did not know if the being was real or not.

Being in public, I prayed in my mind "God, are you real?" I felt a feeling of love that I had never in my life felt. It is impossible to describe, but it was exceedingly strong and impossible to dissociate with my question. God had just told me he was real. I thought, "thank you. Is the Book of Mormon your word?" The feeling came back over me, twice as strong as before. I thought, "thank you." I went to bed comforted.

A dream

My first revelatory dream came while I was on a full-time mission. I had left a girl I was very much in love with, and I had no doubt I would marry her when I got back. In the dream, I was shown that my choice to serve a mission meant that things would not work out with her. This was a big shock to me, and it is exactly what happened. She didn't want anything to do with me.

Revelatory dreams, for me, are very different than normal dreams.

The preexistence

The first waking vision I had was about the preexistence. One day I was sitting in the living room when all of the sudden, the room I was in disappeared and I saw myself in a large area with lot of people in small groups. Everyone was wearing white. I saw a cluster of people whose faces I did not recognize, but whose spirits I did. They were my loved ones. I saw myself in the center of this group, and I was promising them that if they agreed to come to earth, I would do everything in my power to help them accept the gospel and keep their estate here. Then I was back in my living room.

The desolation

Another waking vision I had was about an apocalyptic time. I was going up the steps to tell my kids something, when all of the sudden I was outside. There had been a plague, and I was with a group of men. We were armed. We were looking for houses to spread out into after having been cramped up in one small area for some time. We came to a house and had to decide who was going to go into it to see if there were any bodies. We drew straws and I drew the shortest. I opened the door to the house and as I went inside, saw the corpse of a man who had died from the plague. I then came out of the vision. I had been in the vision for what seemed like hours, but no time had passed here. I was very distressed and physically tired. This vision happened shortly after we moved into our present house, and before I was able to drive around the neighborhood. I found out later that the house I saw exists, exactly where I saw it.

Deployment

I was once minding my own business when the voice of the Lord came to me and told me my National Guard unit was going to be deployed to a certain country, and that I shouldn't put in any more offers on houses (at the time, I was house hunting). My commander called me a few days later and said "have you heard our unit is getting deployed?" I told him I had. He didn't ask from whom. 

The gift of tongues

When I first arrived to Chile on a mission, I knew what the people were saying even though I did not yet understand the Spanish they spoke. My companion would attempt to interpret during lessons, but I would interrupt him and say, "it's okay. I know what he said. How do I say ____?" Many times, I would notice his translation wasn't correct.

The gift of discernment

At times I have experienced the gift of discernment. On one occasion on my mission as we taught a man with a good heart but plenty of struggles, the Spirit opened the window of his soul to me, and I saw plainly what the truth was, in comparison with what he was saying. I told him what the Lord had revealed to me. His response was very much like what we find in Alma 12:7.

Comfort on a cold day

One day in Chile, while in the street in the rainy winter, I found myself exhausted, cold, and hungry, a common occurrence on that mission. I paused and looked to the sky in prayer. I asked God why he didn't stop the rain, even just for a moment? I was given to feel why he didn't stop the rain, which isn't important right now, but more importantly, he made it very clear to me that he was with me and was quite aware of my situation. It was a very special experience.

A promised land

One day I was driving home from work. As I crested the mountain pass that opens to the valley I live in, the Lord spoke to me and said, "this is a promised land to you and those I will give to you."

A house

I was invited to interview for my job. My wife hopped on Zillow to see what houses were like in the area. When she came to a certain house she said the Lord had shown her that this would be our house. I said, "isn't this a bit premature? I haven't even interviewed yet, and the odds are low that I'll get this job." She said, "you will get this job, and we will get this house." The house was $220,000 out of our price range. She made me promise to get a realtor and see the house while there. We had our offer for the house ready when the offer for the job came, and we got the house for $220,000 less than the list price.

The Lord's hands

I was once agonizing in prayer over some things external to me that were very troubling. All the sudden, I was filled with peace as I saw the Lord's hands held out in front of me, together with palms up. I saw the nails in his hands. He said, "Behold, I have graven thee upon the palms of my hands; thy walls are continually before me." (Isaiah 49:16). Then he disappeared. I was absolutely overwhelmed that he--the creator of the universe--had stooped before me (I was kneeling) to show me his hands.

The Lord is whipped

One morning, as I was praising God, he opened the eyes of my understanding and I saw a brief glimpse of his scourging. I only saw the scene for enough time to see one stroke land across his back. I saw the flesh of his back split open as the whip landed. I had never imagined it the way I saw it. Just as the flesh burst open, my heart burst open, and I praised his condescension, patience, mercy, and goodness through my tears.

A comforting touch

One morning, I was pouring out my heart to the Lord. He touched my right shoulder with his hand to comfort me. I was not dreaming, and it was not a vision.

The Lord chastened me

The first time I saw the Lord was after I spent about two years in consistent prayer and focus on seeing the Lord. It was all I thought about. One night, I had a night vision of the Lord. That experience is very hard to describe because of the contradictory nature of the feelings I experienced. On the one hand, the intensity of love that I felt in his presence was indescribable. On the other, my own awareness of my nothingness was beyond description. His presence is so empowering--you feel like you can get up and run into your potential faster than you ever have before. He explained some things to me, correcting my understanding of some things he wanted me to do in my life.

The tree of life

For a period of time I was pondering how Nephi was shown his father's dream after praying about it. I, too, wanted to see the tree of life. I prayed in absolute focus about this, and a vision opened. I was very close to the tree, and could see the color and texture of its bark. It was incredibly white, and the texture of the bark had deep grooves.

A sparrow

Once, through my carelessness, I accidentally killed a small bird while I was working in my yard. My heart broke into a thousand pieces. I picked up the bird and walked to a quiet place. I prayed and explained to the Lord that it was not fair that this innocent bird suffer the penalty of my carelessness. I quoted his words from the sermon on the mount about caring for the sparrow, and I asked him to bring the bird back to life. The whole time, I had the small bird in my hand. I opened my hand, and the bird flew away.

An answer to prayer

One evening after a long, hard day, I prayed a quick prayer before jumping into bed. Just as I was as my head hit the pillow, the Lord told me to get a pen, and he gave me about a paragraph of a revelation to a man in my neighborhood. I wrote every word, and then he told me to go tell that man what he said. I said, "if I do that, he will think I'm crazy!" God said, "if you don't, I won't speak to you anymore." The next morning, first thing, I went to see this man. I knocked on his door, and as soon as he answered I said, "thus saith the Lord:" and said what he said, and was anxious to get out of there. Instead of telling me I was crazy, this man stood in silence for what seemed like forever. Then he started crying. After he got control of himself, he told me about the prayer he had offered. The Lord had given me a very detailed answer to the very prayer he had offered.

Timing

One day I was rushing out of the house, late to work. As I got into my car, the Spirit told me to go grab my Bon Jovi CD. In spite of how odd that may seem, I have grown used to obeying strange promptings. I went and got the CD. When the song "Keep the Faith" came on, it pulled in my attention from what I had been thinking about. About a minute into the song, a clear prompting came to contact a friend of mine, which I did. It turned out, unbeknownst to me, that the friend had miscarried a baby she had named Faith, and that day was the anniversary of the day the baby was stillborn.

At the cross

One time I found myself at the foot of the cross. It was taller than I imagined. The scene was awful beyond description.

A better kind of miracle

Temporal miracles are wonderful. They show us that God does indeed have all power to save mankind. They frequently alleviate suffering or support us in tough times. However, the greatest miracles, in my opinion, are miracles of the heart. The ultimate purpose of temporal miracles are to give us a reason to believe and live God's word. Temporal miracles do not save us. They do not necessarily change who we are. But God's power manifested in our hearts makes us a new person. Miracles of the heart happen as we willingly take in his will and word, and make it our own. 

These miracles are the sweetest fruit of the gospel: when we notice the change in our hearts that reconciles us to the teachings in the Sermon on the Mount. 

The Spirit of God has caused me to intercede for those who seek to destroy me, who have bitterly used me, or who have selfishly mistreated me. I've cried long, intense prayers begging the Lord to forgive them. I've invested great deals of time, money, and trouble trying to give them another chance. 

God has given me a framework of knowledge that supports me in the greatest trials, helping me maintain godly character through times of torturous pain, profound sorrow, and abject loneliness.

God has given me an unquenchable thirst for more light and truth.

He has made me ceaseless in my efforts to help others.

He has given me unlimited courage to do his will in spite of what men will do.

These have been wonderful opportunities to follow the light that comes from above, and it is miraculously different than what the natural man wants. Temporal miracles come from time to time as an outward witness, but gifts of character are always present in those that love God, and yours to keep as long as you are faithful. To me, these gifts of character are much more significant than the other miracles he has manifested in my life. 

Conclusion


This list is not exhaustive. There are events that would reveal personal details about other people, events that I forget, and events I don't feel comfortable sharing right now. 

The magical thing about the gospel is that no matter what experiences you have had, and what principles you currently believe, there is always something greater available. I know that there are much greater experiences in my future, because I know that there is more and better to know that what I currently believe. 


The point is this: God is still a God of miracles, and he seeks to be intimately involved in the lives of everyone who will seek him.

Sunday, August 12, 2018

Seeking Correction

God called Moses the meekest man. We don't have his full story, but we do know that this man was accomplished in whatever he did. In the first 40 years of his life, he managed to become the greatest hero of the world's most powerful nation. He was a military and civic leader. We don't know much about his spiritual growth in that period, but he knew something both of the Hebrew religion and the purpose God had for him. After his exile from Egypt, Moses took up a career as a shepard--a vocation that was considered an abomination in the Egyptian culture in which he was raised. And he was an undershepard at that--in the service of a man who was no doubt many times the inferior of his previous socioeconomic position as prince of Egypt. Then Moses met God, went to Egypt, and worked many great miracles.

This man who had dwelt in heaven for 40 days, parted the sea, etc., was approached by his father in law--who had had none of these experiences as far as we know--with advice. What was Moses' response? "So Moses hearkened to the voice of his father in law, and did all that he had said." (Exodus 18:24)

What would your response be? It turns out that our response to correction is perhaps the most important factor in how close to God we grow in this life. If salvation is a function of knowledge (and it is), and if correction from others is the primary mechanism for conveying light and truth (and it is), then how we respond to criticism is the key upon which salvation hinges.

11 The Lord knoweth the thoughts of man, that they are vanity.
12 Blessed is the man whom thou chastenest, O Lord, and teachest him out of thy law;
(Psalm 94)

What is the role of correction in the gospel?

5 Trust in the Lord with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding.
6 In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths.
7 Be not wise in thine own eyes: fear the Lord, and depart from evil.
...
11 My son, despise not the chastening of the Lord; neither be weary of his correction:
12 For whom the Lord loveth he correcteth; even as a father the son in whom he delighteth.
(Proverbs 3)
Every second of life is an opportunity to test the accuracy of your models. Every experience will either support or refute your principles--your way of simplifying and making sense of the world. Your simplifying model is how you operate without engaging your active brain. As an example of this, have you ever driven to work without consciously thinking about what you are doing? You turn the key, back out, pull into the road, and so on, until you get to work. This is what you've done every day, and since you've never encountered an exception where your behavior proved to be insufficient, you don't have to think about it. Compare this to the first time you drove to your job. You were thinking the whole time. Even with a GPS, you had to actively map the GPS instructions to your visual experience.

When your model is supported, you feel great. You don't have to use your active brain. When your model is refuted, you are robbed from the comfort of passive thinking. There is a hole in your model: either you are missing something or something is wrong. The pain of being wrong is magnified beyond the direct application. Were you to drive to work one day and find that the main road does not exist, you would not only be very confused about how to get to work, you would wonder how you could be so sure about this and be wrong and still be confident in the passive models that make up the majority of your life. This is why those who are going through a faith transition get so much negative response from their spouses. Their spouses are thinking, "if they are willing to change this fundamental, never-changing thing, what else might they change?" Suddenly, all of these things they took for granted--your vocational stability, your living condition, maybe even your marriage--are no longer passive guarantees.

Correction is the discovery of weakness in your model. These are opportunities to discover how to have a more accurate view of reality. Whatever is more accurate is better, without exception. Illusions can bring pleasure or comfort, but always with interest. The bill always comes due, and when it does, it will always cost far more than acting according to a more accurate estimate of reality would have.

Here is an example to illustrate my point. My kids are scared of heights. Maybe all kids are. There is a fire escape staircase outside of the building I work in. I always leave via those steps. The steps are made out of metal grates, and my office is a few floors up. The kids always freeze when they go outside, and I have to hold their hands and show them it is safe to walk on the grates, even though they can see the ground. If somehow I could put cardboard over the floor, they wouldn't be scared. But the reality is they are high up from the ground, and they ought to be more careful. Closing your eyes on a tightrope might ease your fear, but it won't make you safer, and might be the last decision you make.


Humility as the measurement of how much we seek to be corrected

Most adults get excited at the idea of going to a party, a baseball game, or some other social event. How excited do you get when you are corrected? We ought to love correction.

There is a famous experiment where rats' affinity for wrestling each other was measured. Rats have a good variation of strength, and strong rats tend to always win wrestling matches. Scientists expected the strong rats to win every time. Yet, what they found was that, as long as the big rats let the little rats win about 30% of the time, the little rats would continue to enthusiastically initiate wrestling.

Humans are much the same way. We have a ratio of wins to loses that has to be maintained before we quit. I know people who have to be right 100% of the time. I know people who need to be right 90% of the time. What is your ratio of willingness of being wrong? Marriage scientists John Gottman says that humans require 5 positive interactions for every correction, so maybe that is the average. By this account, humans are far worse than rats at seeking further light and truth...

But what difference does it make? Who cares if we need to be right 95% or 70% of the time, right?Wrong. "And if a person gains more knowledge and intelligence in this life through his diligence and obedience than another, he will have so much the advantage in the world to come. (D&C 130:19) What difference does 10 or 20% make? All the difference in the world, and in the next. 

Correction is always a good thing. "Behold, happy is the man whom God correcteth: therefore despise not thou the chastening of the Almighty." (Job 5:17) Every time anyone accepts correction, they are better off than they were before.
Now no chastening for the present seemeth to be joyous, but grievous: nevertheless afterward it yieldeth the peaceable fruit of righteousness unto them which are exercised thereby. (Hebrews 12:11)
What does it mean to reject correction? It means that we would rather trust in ourselves than God. It means we think we know better than God. It means that we prefer to wallow in our own ignorance than accept a higher path provided by a God who loves us perfectly and knows better than we do what will lead to our greatest happiness.
31 The ear that heareth the reproof of life abideth among the wise.
32 He that refuseth instruction despiseth his own soul: but he that heareth reproof getteth understanding.
33 The fear of the Lord is the instruction of wisdom; and before honour is humility. (Proverbs 15)
Humility is a word thrown around a lot. What is real humility? It is how much correction you can take before you quit!

How much correction can you take before you quit? We should love correction, and get as much of it as we can. Jacob is a great example of humility. He didn't quit at 0% (see this post). Jeremiah was a good example of humility. In spite of his awful life, he said:
23 O Lord, I know that the way of man is not in himself: it is not in man that walketh to direct his steps.
24 O Lord, correct me, but with judgment; not in thine anger, lest thou bring me to nothing. (Jeremiah 10)
We ought to seek 100%, no holds barred correction. Those who are not at this state cannot achieve Zion:

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)

We ought to beg and plead with God to correct us, and be diligent in seeking every interaction with others as a potential correction. "Whoso loveth instruction loveth knowledge: but he that hateth reproof is brutish. (Proverbs 12:1)" We ought to feast on the scriptures and other materials that could expose our weaknesses.

I have previously taught that as an individual grows in light and truth, they become less capable of reaching those lower on the truth spectrum. One reason for this is that the more spiritually intelligent a person is, the more often their interactions with someone will be correcting in nature. It is easy to imagine a situation where one person has something to teach another person more than 70% of the time, let alone more than 10% of the time. Most humans are less willing to learn than most rats, so that is a problem, and why those who are close to God spend their time as outcasts from society. People don't want to learn, they want to be left alone. That is, until the bill comes due, at which point they seek a consequence mule to take up the burden they were unwilling to anticipate.

When is it good to correct others?


Salvation is an individual affair. While this means that the righteousness of another cannot save you, it does not mean that you have no responsibility to others. In fact, if you don't also teach others what you God has taught you, even perfect obedience to those instructions will not save you:
Whosoever therefore shall break one of these least commandments, and shall teach men so, he shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven: but whosoever shall do and teach them, the same shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 5:19)
Part of having light is letting that light shine, which requires sharing it with others.
14 Ye are the light of the world. A city that is set on an hill cannot be hid.
15 Neither do men light a candle, and put it under a bushel, but on a candlestick; and it giveth light unto all that are in the house.
16 Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven. (Matthew 5)
You are responsible for the consequences of another's actions until and unless you ensure that they are aware of them.
When I say unto the wicked, Thou shalt surely die; and thou givest him not warning, nor speakest to warn the wicked from his wicked way, to save his life; the same wicked man shall die in his iniquity; but his blood will I require at thine hand. (Ezekiel 3:18)
The only exception to this rule is when you have already given that person a lesser invitation and they have rejected it:
7 He that reproveth a scorner getteth to himself shame: and he that rebuketh a wicked man getteth himself a blot.
8 Reprove not a scorner, lest he hate thee: rebuke a wise man, and he will love thee.
9 Give instruction to a wise man, and he will be yet wiser: teach a just man, and he will increase in learning. (Proverbs 9:7-9)
But is it kind to correct others? How is it kind not to correct someone? If a principle is true, and someone doesn't have it, and you withhold it from them, you are exposing them to all the negative consequences of not having it. Is that kind? No, it is selfish. Kindness is doing what would lead to the greatest good with the person. Giving them what they want is not kindness, when you know better.

Paul taught that one way God shows his love is through correction.
5 And ye have forgotten the exhortation which speaketh unto you as unto children, My son, despise not thou the chastening of the Lord, nor faint when thou art rebuked of him:
6 For whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom he receiveth.
7 If ye endure chastening, God dealeth with you as with sons; for what son is he whom the father chasteneth not?
8 But if ye be without chastisement, whereof all are partakers, then are ye bastards, and not sons.
(Hebrews 12)
Anyone can give a person what they want. Only a real friend will give you what you need, whether or not they are wise enough to know it.

A lot of times, they don't know it, and correcting them is going to offend them. They will say that you are wrong, that you are judging them, or that what you ask is impossible.

Maybe you are wrong. An honest introspection should produce a great rebuttal, and maybe you will learn something.

You are certainly judging them. This isn't a bad thing, as long as you are right.

As far as impossibility goes, God never commands what we cannot do. When it comes to self-improvement, awareness is a guarantee that it is possible:
And it came to pass that I, Nephi, said unto my father: I will go and do the things which the Lord hath commanded, for I know that 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)

It seems that everyone seems to have a line in the sand. Should they? No. But they will. Sometimes, even that small correction will make the person so offended that they will cut you off. Jesus said that laying down your life for your friends is the highest sign of love. Is losing your friend easier or harder than giving your life for them?

Should a person's line in the sand prevent you from correcting them? No, but start with the smallest possible correction. If a person can't accept a small invitation, they will reject a larger one as sure as the sun rises each morning, because light cleaves to light and those who turn away from a little light will always turn away from more.

How should you correct others?

Here is a question to contemplate: How did you come to the knowledge you are about to share? Chances are, you acquired it at a great price, with much time and effort. It takes an immense amount of skill, or at least deliberation, to package what required a great deal of time and effort to acquire into a bite-sized package that will be instantly digestible to someone else. An analogy: suppose it took you 15 years of education to get to the point where you learned the ins and outs of integral calculus. Suppose you come across a young teenager who has a problem calculus can solve. Can you get him to the point where he understands enough about calculus to get the job done in, say, 15 minutes? Of all those who know calculus, what percentage could simplify it to practicality instantaneously? This is the meaning of the verse: "Preach the word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine." (2 Timothy 4:2)

The mission of the army special forces is to train indigenous rabble into functional soldiers. Each member of the unit is capable of training and leading a platoon of indigenous pseudo soldiers. The level of skill they impart is not overly sophisticated, and yet the Green Berets are recognized as the most highly trained soldiers of all. It takes a great deal more knowledge to masterfully impart a well-constructed invitation to advance than it does to actually make that advancement. This is a case of the tip of the iceberg vs. the underwater mass.

You don't just dump what you know on someone. You learned these things slowly, over time. God gave these things to you not so that you could vomit them onto someone else, but so that you can exercise your faculties to construct a suitably controlled experience crafted to ensure the highest likelihood of acceptance in the person you are correcting.

Conclusion

Jesus gave the disciples an out. He asked them whether they would cloak themselves in willful ignorance, saving themselves from the ever more apparent difficulty of their discipleship in the illusion that he was not who he claimed to be. He asked them who they thought he was. Peter's reply must be our own: he is the Christ, and no matter how difficult his path may be, what other path is there? He alone gives the words of eternal life. And what are those words? They are the corrections we receive.

In this life, we can hide from the truth. We can shield our ignorance with illusion and thereby avoid correction. But 1) this does not shield us from the consequences of ignorance, and 2) when we die, we are fully exposed to things as they are, with no shield of ignorance. In a sense, we are in a pit, and no amount of wishing is going to get us out. The path out is long and brutal, but staying is far worse.

One day soon, you are going to die. You didn't come to this world to be comforted in illusion. You came here to acquire greater light and truth. The sand is running through the hourglass. Your satisfaction here and hereafter will be determined by one thing: how hard did you try to acquire further light and truth? You control the flow, 100%. Realize that the more you constrain that flow, the less joy you will have in this life and after this life.

Tuesday, August 7, 2018

Prove all things; hold fast that which is good

Paul wrote: "Prove all things; hold fast that which is good." (1 Thessalonians 5:21)

The ability to investigate the value of a principle is perhaps the most critical skill a person can possess.

You shouldn't fear putative truth. If it turns out false, you can be that much surer of your current views. If it turns out true, you have advanced in your knowledge and will reap the advanced benefits.

Modern first world people seem to test things by asking "Does this new principle conform to my preconceived notions?" If yes, accept. If no, reject. If this is your disposition, you can never progress beyond where you are, because you will reject all truth that is higher than what you already possess.

It is difficult to give a fair shake to "all things," as this would require all of your time and a great deal of your money. There are far more claims to truth than actual truth, like mining flecks of gold from a mountain of dross.

If you want to maximize your intake of new truth, you have to become efficient at the process of testing it.

Think of the last time someone recommended a book to you that you chose not to read. Why didn't you read it? Because, in spite of their pitch, you didn't believe that you would be better off with what the book contained than you would with spending your time and money on something else. The purpose of a book recommendation is to help the person get to the point where they are willing to consider the possibility that reading the book might help them. It is not to reproduce what is in the book.

A willingness to believe must precede any test of a new principle. It is the job of the preacher to provide enough arguments to give the person enough for a willingness to believe, then leave them to decide whether or not to test it. It is not the job of the preacher to test the principle by proxy. Only the hearer can do that.

It is also not the job of the hearer to simply accept what the preacher is saying. Testing doesn't mean deciding whether or not to adopt the preacher's point. It means living the principle and seeing what happens.

Unbelief is not a lack of willingness to believe a preacher's message, it is an unwillingness to test a preacher's message.

Perhaps the greatest example of unbelief is rejecting a principle for where it came from. Most people mistakenly think they are testing a principle when in fact they are merely testing where it came from. The truthfulness of a principle has nothing to do with where it came from. It is by their fruits that ye shall know them. Not the trunk of the tree.


A preacher's credibility can establish believability, but caution must be taken because a) truth can come from anywhere and b) our facilities to judge those that possess more truth than we do are flawed, because we tend to reject higher truth as morally wrong. Jesus vs. the Pharisees is one but not the only clear case of both principles. He came as a man of lowly birth and no earthly office, with no formal training, and the established moral guides rejected his teachings as so blasphemous that they killed him.

How do you test a principle? Jesus said: "If any man will do his will, he shall know of the doctrine, whether it be of God, or whether I speak of myself." (John 7:17) How will we know whether it is of God? The best proof is who you become:

And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God. (Romans 12:2)
Light and truth transform you. They renew your mind, and provide a wider lens on what is good. They show you a more accurate and expansive view of God and God's character. How does this principle affect your kindness, generosity, patience, endurance, meekness, humility, knowledge, wisdom, etc.?

Another test is resilience. To a greater extent than most realize, God's grace shields us from the full spectrum of the awfulness of this life. One goal of the gospel is to build up our knowledge to the point where we can maintain a godly character in the face of the full scope of reality. Any true principle ought to assist us in this pursuit. True principles are powerful, they enable us to do things and endure things we could not otherwise do or endure. By living this principle, are you more capable, less capable, or equally capable of dealing with the seen and unseen vicissitudes of life?

Wednesday, August 1, 2018

What is the iron rod?

I read this series, and made the following comment:

The word of God cannot be "altered," only misrepresented.

The iron rod is, indeed, the word of God:

"And it came to pass that I beheld that the rod of iron, which my father had seen, was the word of God, which led to the fountain of living waters, or to the tree of life; which waters are a representation of the love of God; and I also beheld that the tree of life was a representation of the love of God." (1 Nephi 11:25)

You are absolutely right that all channels are subject to misinterpretation or counterfeit. But shifting the goalpost to some abstract entity of "Christ" that is divorced from these other channels is at least as big of a challenge. What is the point of trying to seek Jesus if the testimony of others (including those in the scriptures) cannot be trusted sufficiently to test them?

God bombards us with light and truth as quickly as we are willing to seek and obey it. There is opposition in all things, but we are told that we can tell the difference between what is good and what is not as clearly as we can tell the difference between day and night. Rather than meaning that we can easily and instantly tell the difference, this phrase shows that it takes practice to learn what eventually becomes obvious. An infant does not know the difference between day and night. What changes? The infant is told by people that have more experience what these things mean, and through repetition in their own experience, these things become second nature. So it is in our journey for more light and truth.

Holding fast to the rod means to completely reconcile yourself to God's commandments as you sincerely understand them. If you do that--which requires complete, unrestricted submission--for long enough, you will find yourself at the tree. What is the tree? It is another process, the process of obtaining the character of God. That is a subject that is too big for this space.

Coming back to scriptures and other messengers: we have a duty to test the teachings of those who claim more light and truth than we hold. We will be held responsible for what they teach. There is no shortcut, and mistakes will be made.

Monday, July 23, 2018

Easy obedience and hard obedience

The covenant of baptism is not only a promise to obey the commandments of God as you currently understand them, but also a promise to obey anything that God commands you in the future.

Reconciling yourself to what you already know is, in the scheme of things, the easy part. Most people are still getting to the point where they can do that, but that is the easy part in the scheme of things.

Earnestly committing to what is yet unknown to you requires measurably more trust in God.

Jesus once had this exchange regarding two of the apostles:
21 And he said unto her, What wilt thou? She saith unto him, Grant that these my two sons may sit, the one on thy right hand, and the other on the left, in thy kingdom.
22 But Jesus answered and said, Ye know not what ye ask. Are ye able to drink of the cup that I shall drink of, and to be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with? They say unto him, We are able.
23 And he saith unto them, Ye shall drink indeed of my cup, and be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with: but to sit on my right hand, and on my left, is not mine to give, but it shall be given to them for whom it is prepared of my Father. (Matthew 20)
This is a very interesting story. Here, like us, the two disciples were vaguely aware that something more was available from God than their current experience. Jesus said they had not yet done what was necessary to attain those experiences. They asked Jesus to provide a path to obtaining them, and claimed they were ready. Jesus said, in effect, you have no idea what you are asking, and you are going to be surprised by just how hard it is.

We are quick to ask for that which we are not prepared for. However, in his mercy, the Lord will put us on the path to obtaining it. Most will quit far before what they seek is obtained. They will find that it was not as they expected, that the cost is too high, that it is too difficult, that it takes too much time, that it is too embarrassing.

When Moses saw God, he was surprised by how taxing the experience was:
9 And the presence of God withdrew from Moses, that his glory was not upon Moses; and Moses was left unto himself. And as he was left unto himself, he fell unto the earth.
10 And it came to pass that it was for the space of many hours before Moses did again receive his natural strength like unto man; and he said unto himself: Now, for this cause I know that man is nothing, which thing I never had supposed.
11 But now mine own eyes have beheld God; but not my natural, but my spiritual eyes, for my natural eyes could not have beheld; for I should have withered and died in his presence; but his glory was upon me; and I beheld his face, for I was transfigured before him. (Moses 1)
Those who are wise will regularly take time to imagine what God could ask of you. The scriptures are replete with examples of what he has asked of others. It is good to use these examples to prepare your heart for what might be coming. It is a wonderful way to accelerate your progress by revealing holes in your faith before the time of testing comes. Those who do not prepare themselves in this way are far more likely to fail when a test comes, and be forced to wait until God extends a second opportunity. There is always a penalty in time, and life is only so long. Those who are more prepared will accelerate in light and truth far beyond their peers who are not prepared.

Those who practice this exercise of preparing their heart will still face unexpected challenges. In fact, it absolutely amazes me just how surprised you can be by what God asks you to do even if you have dedicated yourself to preparing to obey anything he asks. It is so surprising to me that I consider it one of the greatest miracles of the gospel.

And yet, it makes total sense. Gospel progression is about learning what you had never before supposed. That is the whole point. While I lament at how few people get to the point of surprise, because they never reconcile themselves to what is commonly and openly available, I find this aspect of the gospel truly awesome in the literal sense. It causes me to awe and to look with trepidation at what God means when he says:
And we will prove them herewith, to see if they will do all things whatsoever the Lord their God shall command them; (Abraham 3:25)

Sunday, July 22, 2018

Some questions and some answers

Q: When is it good to charge ahead in spite of uncertainty, and when it is good to be slow to change? What is the ideal balance between being quick to observe and being careful?
A: As with all things, this issue tends to be oversimplified and insights can be had by injecting another dimension of consideration. That is, by chopping it into smaller bits.

First, on the question of the relationship between velocity and mistakes. Change comes as a function of velocity. Radical advancements require radical risk. Slowness doesn't reduce the proportion of wrong choices, it just reduces the quantity of choices.

Second, on the question of right vs. wrong choices. We are judged according to the light that we receive. Because the light we receive is a function of 1) our obedience to what has already been given to us and 2) our diligence in seeking more (which includes searching out what is generally available e.g. in books but unknown to us), we can minimize the proportion of errors we commit by ensuring that we are obedient to our current understanding of things and diligent in seeking more. However, assuming that it is possible to avoid all wrong choices is to assume that somehow we can go directly from knowing nothing (the default state) to knowing all that God knows (which none of us will reach in this life). This is orders of magnitude more ridiculous than assuming an infant can learn to walk by contemplating the idea (that is, without falling down many, many times). We too often conflate errors of ignorance with errors of will. That is a mistake.

It is much better to focus the energy we spend fearing what might result from our uncertain choices on noticing and recovering from less-optimal paths. One thing that helps is the understanding that almost everything is wrong. In other words, the path of God is a never-ending discovery of something better. It requires continuously letting go of what we thought was best for something better.

Q: What are we to do when we enter a "dark night of the soul," a time when the heavens seem like brass and we can't seem to get any response?
A: In my book "Seek Ye This Jesus," the topics of trusting God and asking and receiving are covered in two different chapters.

There are certainly designated times when the Father masks his closeness to the righteous, such as when Jesus was on the cross. I think these happen less often than we'd like to think. There are also times when this masking comes as a result of a prolonged period of disobedience. Those petitions take extra time and effort to be heard.

I think we frequently use the idea of periodic intentional distance as an excuse to cover our lack of trust in God. What I mean by trust in God is a willingness to come to him with everything on the table, a willingness to earnestly obey absolutely anything he asks.

"Ye ask, and receive not, because ye ask amiss, that ye may consume it upon your lusts." (James 4:3) In a nutshell, sometimes what we seek requires us to be open minded to what we do not currently consider and/or are unwilling to do. If we are being 100% obedient, and still have no answer, it is as simple as that.


Q: How much weight should a previous positive experience contribute to a principle we are considering abandoning?
A: In "Seek Ye This Jesus" I wrote that one type of new truth is that which replaces some currently held belief: "We tend to think that if we have a witness of a truth, or have seen positive fruits from it, there is no possibility that another perspective on the same issue could be more correct. Spiritual law, like natural law, is progressive. In science, a theory’s ability to explain past observations does not guarantee it can explain all future observations. This is just as much the case in spiritual matters."

How do we test currently believed truths to see if they are worth keeping when we have not received explicit commandment from God? The same way we test them in science: we try to find cases where they do not apply. Suppose, for example, you have received certain promises from a man that are associated with some object or experience. Have you seen examples that show that those promises are broken? If so, there is something better available.

In the case of a higher principle being manifest, what does this imply about our positive experiences with the lesser thing? Nothing. They were simply God's using our present, limited context to try to guide us in the best path. Jesus' revelation of turning the other cheek did not make his previous revelation of eye-for-an-eye any less divine. It was less correct, but that was the most correct truth that could be conveyed in the context of the early nation of Israel.

Thursday, July 19, 2018

Is one person better than another?

Recently, I saw this comment on Facebook:

"You cannot be one of the few, truly humble followers of Christ if you think you are, especially in the meaning of 'few,' because a truly humble follower of Christ will not think he is any better than anyone else."

This is a very common line of thinking. It seems that modern sensibilities are offended by the idea that one person could be better than another. It seems to trip some wire, causing the person to flee in haste from any line of thinking that involves this thought.

Should it?

What do we mean by better? Do we mean value as a person? Every soul is precious in the sight of God, because every soul has within it infinite potential. Since God sees our potential as clearly as he sees our actual progress, he values each person equally, no matter how well or poorly they are measuring up to their potential.

Is there, then, a difference in his perspective towards and interactions with some individuals compared to others? Absolutely. God himself said:

...These two facts do exist, that there are two spirits, one being more intelligent than the other; there shall be another more intelligent than they; I am the Lord thy God, I am more intelligent than they all. (Abraham 3:19)

So how does God distinguish between the intelligence of one vs. another? It comes down to how much light they seek, receive, and live.

Behold, the Lord esteemeth all flesh in one; he that is righteous is favored of God. But behold, this people had rejected every word of God, and they were ripe in iniquity; and the fulness of the wrath of God was upon them; and the Lord did curse the land against them, and bless it unto our fathers; yea, he did curse it against them unto their destruction, and he did bless it unto our fathers unto their obtaining power over it. (1 Nephi 17:35)

Just before this verse, Nephi was explaining that the Cananites would have been just as blessed as the Israelites had they kept the commandments of God like the Israelites, showing that God does treat those who keep his commandments differently to those who do not, and the former are preferred to the latter.

Mormon wrote the following, making a distinction between "chosen vessels" who are of a "strong faith and a firm mind in every form of godliness" and "the residue" of men:
30 [Angels show] themselves unto them of strong faith and a firm mind in every form of godliness.
31 And the office of their ministry is to call men unto repentance, and to fulfil and to do the work of the covenants of the Father, which he hath made unto the children of men, to prepare the way among the children of men, by declaring the word of Christ unto the chosen vessels of the Lord, that they may bear testimony of him.
32 And by so doing, the Lord God prepareth the way that the residue of men may have faith in Christ, that the Holy Ghost may have place in their hearts, according to the power thereof; and after this manner bringeth to pass the Father, the covenants which he hath made unto the children of men. (Moroni 7)
Nephi is a wonderful example of what it means to be better than your fellows. When he and his brothers were given an opportunity to accept new truth and rise up from average mediocrity, he was the only one that accepted the opportunity. He was faithful to every commandment he received. Because of this, he was appointed a ruler over his brethren by God.

The process of Nephi's ascension is a pattern that can be employed by anyone, and is employed by all who become better than their fellows. The pattern is laid out in Alma 13:

1 And again, my brethren, I would cite your minds forward to the time when the Lord God gave these commandments unto his children; and I would that ye should remember that the Lord God ordained priests, after his holy order, which was after the order of his Son, to teach these things unto the people.
2 And those priests were ordained after the order of his Son, in a manner that thereby the people might know in what manner to look forward to his Son for redemption.
3 And this is the manner after which they were ordained—being called and prepared from the foundation of the world according to the foreknowledge of God, on account of their exceeding faith and good works; in the first place being left to choose good or evil; therefore they having chosen good, and exercising exceedingly great faith, are called with a holy calling, yea, with that holy calling which was prepared with, and according to, a preparatory redemption for such.
4 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.
5 Or in fine, in the first place they were on the same standing with their brethren; thus this holy calling being prepared from the foundation of the world for such as would not harden their hearts, being in and through the atonement of the Only Begotten Son, who was prepared—(Alma 13)

God provides an equal opportunity to all people, but many do not accept his invitation at all, and very few accept it completely.

True superiority is not something to be envied in the lens of the world. As a godly king, Nephi's job was to a) acquire more light and truth than his fellows by applying more heed and diligence than they did, and b) sacrifice himself to a greater extent for their benefit than they themselves did. Though Nephi was indeed more advanced than his brothers, he suffered far more than they did. It was not a glamorous job. It wasn't something to be envied. This is the unavoidable experience of all who, like Nephi, listen to God's voice and do what he says. They will unavoidably receive more light and truth than their fellows, immediately be charged to impart what they can of what they have received to others, and consistently be rejected and persecuted because of their attempts to help others. "For of him unto whom much is given much is required..." (D&C 82:3)

Jesus is the chief example of what it means to be better than your fellows.
2 For he shall grow up before him as a tender plant, and as a root out of a dry ground: he hath no form nor comeliness; and when we shall see him, there is no beauty that we should desire him.
3 He is despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief: and we hid as it were our faces from him; he was despised, and we esteemed him not.
4 Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted.
5 But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed.
6 All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the Lord hath laid on him the iniquity of us all.
7 He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth: he is brought as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is dumb, so he openeth not his mouth.
8 He was taken from prison and from judgment: and who shall declare his generation? for he was cut off out of the land of the living: for the transgression of my people was he stricken.
9 And he made his grave with the wicked, and with the rich in his death; because he had done no violence, neither was any deceit in his mouth.
10 Yet it pleased the Lord to bruise him; he hath put him to grief: when thou shalt make his soul an offering for sin, he shall see his seed, he shall prolong his days, and the pleasure of the Lord shall prosper in his hand.
11 He shall see of the travail of his soul, and shall be satisfied: by his knowledge shall my righteous servant justify many; for he shall bear their iniquities.
12 Therefore will I divide him a portion with the great, and he shall divide the spoil with the strong; because he hath poured out his soul unto death: and he was numbered with the transgressors; and he bare the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors. (Isaiah 53:2-12)
Being better is not a joyful thing. It is a burden. It doesn't get you a sports car and a trophy wife. It gets you more opportunities to suffer without recognition for the benefit of others who do not appreciate you.

All who will be better will be undesirable to their fellowmen. They will be despised and rejected. They will be full of sorrow. They will suffer for the sins of others. They will be wounded by others. They will be oppressed and afflicted. In spite of all this, no one will listen to them, and they will be comforted only by the knowledge that they had done all they could.

To be "great" is to be "...stoned, sawn asunder, tempted, slain with the sword, and wandered about in sheep skins and goat skins, being destitute, afflicted, tormented...[To wander] in deserts and in mountains, and hid in dens, and caves of the earth;" (Joseph Smith, TPJS p. 32) The intensity of these experiences increases with how much better you are than the average, with Jesus at the obvious maximum.

To be better is to serve more:
42 But Jesus called them to him, and saith unto them, Ye know that they which are accounted to rule over the Gentiles exercise lordship over them; and their great ones exercise authority upon them.
43 But so shall it not be among you: but whosoever will be great among you, shall be your minister:
44 And whosoever of you will be the chiefest, shall be servant of all.
45 For even the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many. (Mark 10:42-45)
There is nothing about being better that is desirable to a carnal mind. From a carnal mindset, it is more enjoyable in every way to be mediocre. The only reason that motivates being better it is love of God and love of your fellowman.

Why this matters


So why does it matter whether or not we are comfortable with the idea of a person being better than another? This concept is unavoidably intertwined with our ability to perceive and heed truth, which in turn determines our relationship with God and, ultimately, salvation itself.

If we do not accept that one person can in fact be better than another, we must also believe that the most depraved individual is no different than Jesus Christ himself, who also lived once as a man. In such a blind state, we must suppose that anything goes, and there is no need for repentance or improvement. Even if we believe repentance is necessary, how could we identify the way forward if we believe all people are the same? The very process of repentance consists in a) recognizing some behavior that is more righteous than your own / some bit of light and truth more advanced than what you currently have, and b) implementing it in your life. If one person can't be better than another, you can't recognize superior light and truth to your own, and you can't advance towards God.

Because truth is many-dimensional, it is difficult if not impossible to produce an absolute ranking of people in terms of light and truth (though God can and does do this, see Abraham 3:19). For a simple example, consider that I might be less patient than you, but perhaps I am more willing to give of my substance to the poor. It turns out that where someone is in terms of truth is a complicated question, because that progress would need to be measured across every dimension (see the first picture in this post), and somehow compared. Luckily, we need not worry about that because our concern is in identifying specific truths along a specific dimension to recognize either an opportunity to impart or acquire something more advanced to others or ourselves, respectively.

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

The contradiction of charity: living the second great commandment

The kingdom of God is within you. It is there, waiting to be activated through your adoption of the behavior that does so. If one desires to have heaven within themselves, they must act at all times as if they were in heaven. This does not mean obedience to a static laundry list of commandments, though perfect, honest, earnest obedience to God as far as you understand him is required. This--incidentally--is the fulfillment of the first great commandment, to love God with all you heart, might, mind, and strength.

The second great commandment is to love your fellow man as yourself. There are at least two ways to gain insight into the meaning of this second commandment. The first is to treat everyone as you would like to be treated. This means, for example, that if you see a hungry man, you will imagine how you would feel if you were hungry, and then spend your resources as you would in that case. A perhaps more insightful interpretation is to recognize and embrace the contradiction of the fact that, if you live according to the kingdom of heaven, most people are in fact not like you. This means that as you spend your resources--your time, talent, and compassion--on others, you will find they almost never take advantage of them. You will find that your effort in recruiting and expending these resources far exceeds the benefit these people derive from it. Almost without exception, they will not use what you have given to improve their lot, nor will the appreciate what you have done to provide it, nor will they even recognize that you are doing anything at all.

To keep the second great commandment, and to fully embody the kingdom of God within you, you must act as if these people were also citizens of heaven. You must act as if the subjects of your kindness would react the same way you would to the resources offered, in spite of your knowledge that they will not.

To love your fellowman as yourself, you have to see their infinite potential, and treat them as if they had already become that person. You have to hope against all experience. Every time.

Monday, July 9, 2018

Polygamy: Almost always a bad idea, but not always

Polygamy is a divisive issue. Some people believe it is required to go to heaven, others believe it will take you straight to hell. I once wrote this post on the topic, which covers many relevant scriptures. At this point in my life, I feel it is necessary to write out my current understanding of this topic.

My own journey with the idea of polygamy began as a young Latter-day Saint, when I came across the stories of Joseph Smith practicing polygamy. The question of whether he did or didn't is its own divisive issue, and not important for our purposes here. Nevertheless, being a believing Latter-day Saint, I was faced with the narrative that he did, and it bothered me. At that time, like most people, I felt the idea of polygamy was reprehensible. Because I believed in the scriptures, I believed that the best way to resolve my angst on the issue was to ask God about it. Instead of resting in my own ideas on the topic, I suspended my preconceived notions and sought God out to instruct me. He did.

Over the subsequent years (that may have been as many as 10 years ago), I have been taught quite a bit on the topic. What I present here is not meant to be a guide on the topic. I don't pretend to have the answers you or others seek. Instead, what follows are merely the notes of things as I presently understand them.

I don't expect to convince anyone to move from their present position with this post. This is one topic where the strength of one's feelings on the topic is not typically proportional to the amount of knowledge on has on it. This is unfortunate because one's ability to receive revelation is usually inversely proportional to the strength of one's feelings on the issue about which they are asking. The Holy Ghost is informational, and strong feelings cloud the channels through which information flows. They can block information. Strong feelings preclude the fair consideration of undesirable possibilities.

Thus, if one does not believe what I am about to say already, I highly doubt that they would be convinced should a heavenly messenger appear and tell them the same. As Jesus taught with the parable of Lazarus and the rich man, if someone is unable to recognize the truth of an issue when it is told them plainly in the scriptures in multiple instances, they would not believe it even if an angel appeared to tell them.

As with anything of import, what others present to you is merely something that might be helpful in your own journey. Though, if true, you will be held accountable for what it teaches you, it doesn't absolve you of the full responsibility you bear for your own actions. You and you alone must figure out for yourself what is true, and live it knowing you will bear the full consequences of your own action or lack of action.

When is polygamy a good idea

Almost never. Polygamy is only a good idea when it is in the best interest of the women involved. This is rarely the case because almost all men are not where they need to be to make that the case, and most women are in a place where monogamy is the best relationship for them.

That said, here are some cases where it might be a good idea.

1. If the woman has high spiritual intelligence.

To understand this, it is necessary to understand the Pareto distribution. A distribution is a function that measures how a certain property is shared across a population. Most people are familiar with the Normal distribution, or Bell curve. IQ follows the Normal distribution, meaning most people are close to the average IQ, and those who have a lower or higher than normal IQ are both equally likely and less abundant.

The Pareto is a way of visualizing human outputs. It is extremely different than the Normal curve. As you can see from the image below, the vast majority of the Pareto distribution (gray) is below the mean of the Normal curve (black). Also, the "tail," or thin part of the Pareto distribution's upper end, goes on much further than the Normal curve.
Related image
While IQ is Normally distributed, spiritual intelligence is Pareto distributed. What is spiritual intelligence? It is what explains and drives personal output. It is how much alike one's character is to God's. If you want a really "good" husband or wife, you want someone who falls on the right side of the Pareto distribution.

Now, it is important to understand how improbable it is to find someone in that tail (a really "good" person). In the Normal distribution, if you split the whole x axis into 10 equally spaced bins, you will find that half the people are in the bottom half of bins, half the top, most in the middle, and very few in the tails. This means your average person, on the normal distribution, will be in the middle. If you are thinking of height, which is distributed on a Normal curve, the average person is not 8 ft tall or 4 ft tall, but (if a man) around 5'8".

In the Pareto, if you do the same thing, more than 50% of people are in the lowest bin. If height were Pareto distributed, something like 80% of people would be 4 ft tall! In the Pareto,  bins 1 and 2 together contain 80% of people. Think about that. There is only a 20% chance of a randomly selected person being in bins 3-10, ~10% for bins 4-10, ~5% for bins 5-10, ~2% for bins 6-10 (remember, in a Normal curve, 50% would be in bins 6-10, but in Pareto it is only 2% in bins 6-10).

What does this mean for male/female matching? If spiritual intelligence is Pareto distributed as I claim (and as your experience probably validates), the better the catch you are, the smaller the pool (by far) of potential mates who are similar to you in spiritual intelligence.

Why does this matter? It comes down to ideal matches. The fact is that the more you to the right a person is, the rarer they are, and the fewer suitable matches there will be for that person.

Why will there be fewer suitable matches? Wherever someone is on the spiritual intelligence curve, you could draw a window around that point to show the types of people they can help. I explained this idea of truth windows (with pictures!) here. They won't contribute much if anything to those above them, and they could help anyone below them. However, their unique contribution would be to those who are only slightly less spiritually intelligent than themselves. Those below the window will not be able to recognize that they are much different than their peers.

Our discussion thus far has addressed men and women equally. Now we will introduce one difference between them. Women tend to marry up, men tend to marry down. Women are very focused on interpersonal production. There are good, biological and logical reasons for that. They prefer to find men who are better than they are. Men tend to marry down because a) men tend to be intimidated by women who are spiritually more intelligent than them, b) women prefer to marry up, leaving them with what is left, and c) they are more focused on physical qualities (which are Normal distributed).

Putting all of this into the mix, you develop a model for marriage matching. Men who are at the bottom of the spiritual curve are not going to get married, or at least they shouldn't. They will lack the character and other attributes necessary to provide an environment for women that is better than being single. They cost more than they are worth to a woman. Meanwhile, because many men end up with women of lower level of spiritual intelligence, the women at the top end of the curve are more likely to end up without a match--at least under monogamy.

In this scenario, it is likely that for any given woman of high spiritual intelligence, the only way to marry up is through polygamy: the high quality men will already be taken.

Most women and some men bristle at the idea that it is better for a woman to share a very high quality husband than have a low-quality man to herself. And, in fact, history bears out this analysis. A study of DNA shows that, over the history of the human race, twice as many women had children as men. On the scale of human history, polygamy is the norm, not the exception.

However, I'm not making a case that it should be the norm. According to what we've discussed, polygamy makes no sense unless you are (or are considering partnering with) a much-better-than-average male, and there are very few of those. How few? At best, 1 or 2 in 100. In my personal opinion, far less than that.

A man's spiritual intelligence being higher than a set of women is insufficient to motivate polygamy. To truly be in the best interest of the women involved, a man must have the resources (godly character, temporal, emotional, spiritual) necessary to provide two women with a situation better than what they could have without him. These resources are much greater than what is needed in monogamy (more than 2x). If a man has these resources, he is rare indeed.

Under these constraints--which are factual not hypothetical--the oft-repeated "polygamy can't be good because if we practiced it there wouldn't be enough women" is repudiated.

Even in the rare case of a male on the right side of the Pareto, this scenario still only makes sense under a few limited situations regarding the woman. One we've discussed here is with women on who are also on the right side of the Pareto. Now we turn to one other case.

2. In the case of widowhood or divorce.

There are two cases that make it even harder for a woman to marry up. These are widowhood and divorce. The difficulty seems to increase with the woman's spiritual intelligence, which makes sense in the context of the Pareto distribution.

In this case, polygamy may be appropriate. Because the baseline experience of the woman is lower than a never-married and/or childless woman, it may be appropriate even if the man is not on the rightmost side of the Pareto. At the same time, in many ways this situation can require even more from a man than the first discussed, and therefore may require an even better man than the previously discussed case.

Why does any of this matter

Some people think that polygamy is necessary to go to heaven. With some simple math, you can quickly figure out that were this the case, and if everyone kept that commandment, many people could not go to heaven. God does not give commandments that are not livable. It would be unjust for God to require someone to be a polygamist to go to heaven, because the obedience of others to this commandment would rob them of the opportunity to do the same.

More importantly, as I've shown above, the overwhelming majority of men and women are unsuited for living under this arrangement.

So why does this matter? Well for two reasons.

1. If you think polygamy is a good idea, you should probably think again. Suppose you are a man considering entering into a polygamous relationship. Think of the Pareto curve. What is the probability that you have the resources (godly character, temporal, emotional, spiritual) necessary to provide two women with a situation better than what they could have without you? The answer is near zero. The odds are that you are not only not that kind of man, but that you have never even met that kind of man. If what you are considering is not motivated by what would be ideal for your potential wife/wives, you ought to realize that your motivation is from the flesh, and not the spirit. Not only is this a sin, but were you to be successful in your wish, I can guarantee you would consign yourself to living hell. Those who are not prepared to endure the fire will be consumed by it. Marriage to even one woman is a task that most men can't handle well. Adding another woman to that mix is not going to fulfill your unanswered desires. Instead, it will more than double the "cost" you currently feel in a monogamous marriage. Polygamy is not for the man. It is a net cost for him. It is for the women.

2. If you think polygamy is a bad idea, you should investigate your heart. If you feel that this is something you would never do, ask yourself why. Keep asking yourself why until you get to the root of the issue. If you are honest, you will find that this line of thinking will uncover some deep seated sin that you manage to keep well hidden under the "normal" demands of life. This could include covetousness ("I can't stand the idea of sharing my husband"), weakness ("I don't think I could be strong enough to have two wives"), selfishness ("Why would I ever want more than one wife, one is hard enough"), unbelief ("God would never tell me to do this"), and, the biggest one, distrust in God ("Why would God ever want me to do something so 'bad'"). The point of this exercise is not to convince you to come to the point where you practice polygamy. As I've shown, this is a very bad idea for almost everyone. The point is to use this as a vehicle to help you uncover sins that will keep you from heaven, independent of whether or not you practice polygamy. To be plain in what I am saying, neither a man who would not sacrifice himself for a second wife nor a woman who can't imagine God asking her to be a polygamous wife is worthy of heaven. Whether they end up monogamous or polygamous does not matter, but the topic can uncover a multitude of sins.

Wednesday, July 4, 2018

Lamentations

This morning I could not begin my morning routine because I have been overcome with sorrow as I reflect upon the evil nature of mankind.

There is so much light and truth accessible to us. Due to technology, I believe that we have greater access to light and truth than any other generation. What are you doing with it?

One way we have greater access is through greater access to people. Light and truth work a lot like nutrients in the soil. There is a good deal available on the surface, but there is even more available deep in the ground. While most of us, as tender plants, have to make due with what we can access in the shallow dirt, God has blessed us with tall trees whose deep roots pull up the otherwise unreachable nutrients and make them accessible on the surface through dropping leaves. These people, who possess more light and truth than most, are rare but can provide access to light and truth that would take most people many lifetimes to acquire. How do you access these people and what they know? Technology has made their words almost and in many cases altogether free to access. How much time and effort do you spend reading books and watching videos from the great (whether popular or not) minds, testing their principles against what the Spirit tells you?

One way we have greater access is through time. Subsistence farming requires consummate effort. Even the abject poor among us have immeasurably more discretionary time than all but the independently wealthy in history. What are you doing with it?

Men and women today do not seek out light and truth, and when it is presented to them, they hate the person who has brought it.

The default state of man is condemnation:

"He that believeth on him is not condemned: but he that believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God." (John 3:18)

The condemnation occurs because the default state of man is to flee from the light:

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)
If you had a terminal disease, would you rather know about it or persist in ignorance? What if it were curable? We are all spiritually terminally ill, and there is a cure.

What person do you know that runs to the light, that prefers to understand that they have flaws that they must fix and misunderstandings that they must correct in order to experience happiness? Instead, mankind prefers to persist in the way things are because they erroneously believe that it is more comfortable than seeking, discovering, and applying all truth, wherever it is found, and no matter the implications. While intentional ignorance will allow vacuous comfort to persist for a time, it will always be ripped away from you, causing far more pain, suffering, and insecurity than you would have had by embracing the truth. A person who chooses to ignore the alarms signaling a sinking ship may avoid the discomfort of finding a life boat, but they will suffer more than those who listened when they find themselves forced to confront the rising water, and may be condemned to drowning if the water has made it impossible to escape their cabin.

My heart is broken by the suffering that I see. It is not possible to avoid all suffering in life, but it is possible to limit suffering to that which causes growth. Those who live their lives in this way are so few that they are rarer than diamonds.

Instead, I find myself lamenting to God: "Those who are honest and open-minded that would listen to light and truth do not need anyone to give it to them, because they already have it from you. Those who are not honest and open-minded desperately need the help of others to bring them light and truth, but they won't hear it."

Lose yourself, and you will truly find yourself. You will find that everything about you is but dross in the light of Christ, and he will give you his own heart and character to replace what is broken and missing inside of you--which is everything inside of you.

Then you will have another problem. When you give yourself completely to God, your heart turns completely to your fellowmen, and it will break into a thousand pieces as you truly comprehend their depraved state and realize that you are absolutely powerless to help them.

You will give everything you have to help them. You will intercede with God on their behalf, with intense and repeated prayers. You will study and pray to know how to help persuade them. You will set aside all the comforts of life that you have earned to instead focus on their needs. And, in spite of all of this, you will fail to make a difference, almost (and perhaps altogether) every single time.

Those that most need the light God has given you are those who are least likely to receive it. The negative consequences of their refusal to turn to the light wash upon them like the lapping waves of the sea, and you are powerless to stop them.

Then, you will realize what Jeremiah felt like when he weighed the outcome of all his suffering in behalf of others. You will realize why Isaiah had second thoughts about his mission. You will realize what Solomon felt like after spending a lifetime acquiring wisdom, only to realize that he could not impart it to others. You will understand why Abraham was a spiritual stranger in a strange land, and was indescribably lonely his whole life. You will understand how nothing in this world made Jesus' life worth living--that only his love of the Father could have motivated him to come and complete his mission on this earth. And it will be the same with you.

How I wish those around me would repent. How much I wish they would adopt radical truthfulness and self-honesty. How much I wish they would cultivate a willingness to believe in what they hadn't before considered. How much I wish they could see the value of light, and run into it, rather than running from it.

Saturday, June 23, 2018

Pondering my principles

I've spent some time compiling some thoughts about my place in the world. I am sure my thoughts will move from this snapshot in time. This is personal, but I hope that in sharing it you are inspired to take some time and ponder your place in the world, and write down and then live the principles that come to you.

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I have a higher purpose in life, one that transcends the daily. My mission in life is to 1) discover further light and truth, 2) assimilate it into my life, and 3) disseminate it to others inasmuch as they desire and are capable of receiving it. To do this, I 1) believe there is something greater than what I know/have/am, 2) seek and cherish experiences that reveal limitations to my understanding/capability, and 3) discover better and/or new principles that order more/deeper chaos than previously possible. My mission in life will require me to advance further into the darkness than those around me, so I do not expect anyone but God to be my companion or my support. Leaning on those around me requires them to step into chaos that exceeds their capabilities, and will always result in their retreat from me and their cutting themselves off from the light I could deliver if I handled the burden alone and distributed truth in packets small and organized enough for them to handle. I am a coherent person. My goals align with and derive from my values. My daily actions cohere with my goals and my values. I do not act contrary to my values, and I do not spend my resources in ways that detract from my goals. I distinguish the symptoms from the disease. Problems manifest at the action level, but they are solved at the goal and values level. I change my actions not by deviating from my goals and values, but by changing them.

I am a king. I put all things under my feet by maintaining my center no matter what happens. I overcome all things through Christ Jesus who strengthens me. He has already conquered all things, and all it takes to do the same is to submit fully to him. I don't have to understand his ways to submit to him. I trust God and truly believe that as long as I love him and obey him, everything in my life happens only because he wills it to. I bless the lives of others by imparting of my resources to them, including my praise and affection. I am successful, meaning I produce more than I need to survive. I am not exceptional--anyone can do what I do if they want to--but few do. I give more to the world than I take. I am responsible for all the good that I can do. I know that if I do not do the best I can, the world will be worse for it. I am a light shining in the darkness. Darkness does not comprehend the light, so I do not expect anyone to notice. I view mankind from a higher level. Those who spend time with me see the glory of God in me because they recognize what transcends this world in me. I emit light for the sake of bringing light into the world, not for the sake of recognition or pleasure. I emit light when I refuse to allow anything to cause me to act, think, or feel contrary to my character as a son of God. I emit light when I prefer helping those around me over any and all other objectives. My life is a masterpiece. I hone my mind, my body, my spirit every day. Every day I take time to explicitly think about my life and the world. I pray, I read, I listen, I think, I write, I exercise.

I am a warrior. I am audacious and ambitious. I never give up. I stand up to anyone and anything that contradicts my values yet I am strong enough to be persuaded to change my mind on anything. I always speak the truth, big or small, no matter what the consequences. I courageously charge daily into the battle of the soul, willingly giving myself for the transcendent good. I am never alarmed by danger, never affected by craving, happy in adversity, and calm in the midst of storm. I set outcomes based goals, but I execute them and measure my success only by my input, not outcomes. I don't care what happens, I care what I do about what happens--how I react. The things I can affect, I act on. The things I cannot affect, I do not worry about. I have zero anxiety. I never complain. I take full responsibility for every aspect of my life, including those things I cannot control. If I don't like something, I change it. If I can't change it, I accept it and do not allow it to bother me. I do not allow others to disrespect me. I respectfully and graciously establish boundaries, and I exit situations where people choose not to interact with me as I deserve. I never get emotional during discussions. I stay calm. Truth is my power, not volume or emotion. Nothing brings the world into a better state than to state the truth. I stand for what I believe, no matter what. I don't care what other people think of me. I do what I think is right, and I don't change that based on what other people think. I am open minded and I can be persuaded, but I will not yield to emotion, peer pressure, or any other inferior reasoning. I am self-sufficient. I do not rely on others. I accept full responsibility for all I can do in my life, but I have no expectations that are not fully within my control. I realize that I am truly alone, and I don't need anyone for support. Expectations of others yields only sadness and temptation to act outside of my center. Any emotional reliance I have on others is merely a convenience, not a need, and it can be removed at any time without causing any distress to me whatsoever. God is my rock, and he only is worthy of that role.

I am a magician. I see the ideal in everyone I meet by treating them as if they were already that way. I inspire others to improve by helping them believe they are capable of more. I do this in regular everyday contacts and in intentional, larger efforts. I patiently help people see things as they really are, with kindness whenever possible, for their benefit and never to make myself feel better. I walk the fine line between imagining the world as I would like it to be and interacting with it the way it really is. Every connection I have is a chance to learn and a chance to share what I have learned and become. I actively seek out truth and wisdom from others. I learn something new every day. I know that learning requires making mistakes. Whether I make the mistake or someone else does, the only way to expose the limits of a principle is to identify situations where it does not work. Without reflection, mistakes are suffering devoid of meaning. My suffering is unavoidable, but I will extract maximal value from it through living and learning intentionally and extracting and refining principles. I will never make the same mistake twice. Truth is discovered, not created. I listen to every idea everyone shares with me that has value to them, and I evaluate it according to my experiences and test everything for myself. How much time and effort I spend in discovering and reconciling my life to truth is what determines how much of it I accumulate in life. This is both a measure of quantity and quality, because since truth is progressive, accumulation of it is not just about acquiring new truth, but about replacing shallower/weaker truths with deeper/stronger truths. I see everything I think I know as a temporary useful heuristic that will one day be exposed as limited or wrong, and replaced with something better. I lean hard on what I have learned, not as granite bedrock, but as a wearing tool, like a chisel; I expect that one day it will break, but until then I use it with the intent of wearing it down.

I am a lover. I am spontaneous. I am playful. I am funny. I am able to create a bubble in the chaos and create fun experiences for my wife, children, and friends. I am able to bring humor and light-heartedness into any heavy situation, and create a buffer to chaos in my strength of character. I routinely pause the work of life to enjoy time with and have fun with those I love. I can completely set aside any and all work to enjoy complete peace of mind at anytime and in any place. I am able to work hard and also put down work to play hard because my value comes from who I am, not what I do. I am happy, and this happiness radiates from me into the lives of all those I encounter. I do not get down. Negative feelings come through discovery of obstacles precluding our goals. Every goal I set is both free from expectation (by focusing on input not outcome) and also constrained because people are always my main goal, not the goal itself. No situation, no person, no event can ever move me off of my center. I am happy, I have joy, I am fulfilled, no matter what happens. No matter what happens, I am full of gratitude for all the good I have received. All things are truly done in the wisdom of an all-knowing, all-loving Father. In him I trust, and from him comes my strength and my joy.