Sunday, June 12, 2016

Strange Incense

God's commandments are scoped. Some pertain to a specific time and place (example: Limhi fleeing the Lamanites). Some pertain to a specific group of people (example: Levites carrying the ark of the covenant). Some pertain to everyone, always (example: baptism). For some reason, we neglect to respect this pattern in scripture.

God has given many commandments. Here are some:
-The keeping of Hebrew holy days.
-The circumcision of children.
-Offering animal sacrifice according to specific instructions.
-Special grooming and dress rules for men and women.

While I know of no one who reads the story of Limhi and decides that they should move away from any proximate American Indians, I know a surprising number of people who take it upon themselves to live the above listed commandments, which were given either for a specific time and place or to a specific group of people.

Does the Lord care?

Let's start our answer to that question with the topic of strange incense.

Strange Incense

The Lord said:
Ye shall offer no strange incense thereon, nor burnt sacrifice, nor meat offering; neither shall ye pour drink offering thereon. (Exodus 30:9)

Lest we be confused about what God meant by strange incense, we are given two examples of people who broke this commandment.

The first example were the sons of Aaron. They offered strange incense and were killed by God for doing so:

And Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron, took either of them his censer, and put fire therein, and put incense thereon, and offered strange fire before the Lord, which he commanded them not. And there went out fire from the Lord, and devoured them, and they died before the Lord. (Leviticus 10:1-2)

What did Nadab and Abihu actually do? Sometimes the website is incredibly informative for verses where a more clear translation is needed. If you google biblehub Leviticus 10:1 (or any other verse), it will land you a page that lists all Bible translations for that verse on one page. You can quickly scan through to see the similarities and differences between different translations. In this case, they almost all say something much clearer than the King James.

Here is the International Standard translation:
Aaron's sons Nadab and Abihu each took his own censer, placed fire in it, covered it with incense, and brought it into the LORD's presence as unauthorized fire that he had never prescribed for them. (Leviticus 10:1, ISV.)

Nadab and Abihu conducted a practice that was a) unauthorized and b) not prescribed for them. This was not a one time event. The Lord said: stranger, which is not of the seed of Aaron, [should] come near to offer incense before the Lord; that he be not as Korah, and as his company: as the Lord said to him by the hand of Moses. (Leviticus 16:40)
You can go to read chapter 16 for the full story. In a nutshell, Korah and others decided that it was not right that only a few of the Israelites be appointed to offer sacrifices to God. Korah prepared his offering and God made the earth split right where he stood, causing him to fall to his death. The censors used by Korah were made into plates and fastened to the altar by God's command as a permanent reminder of how grave a sin it is to assume unto yourself ordinances prescribed to another by God.

Other Examples

Sons of Eli. Eli was the high priest at the time of the prophet Samuel's childhood. His two sons were priests. Their sin was that the form of priesthood duty that they practiced was different than that prescribed. Certain meat sacrifices became food for the people. These priests modified the practice so that they could have a greater portion of what was prescribed for them as well as certain portions that were never prescribed for them (see 1 Samuel 2:12-17). The Lord killed both of Eli's sons by the hand of the Philistines for this crime.

Ironically, while Eli's sons were punished for misappropriating God's ordinances as given to someone else, Eli himself was punished for not heeding a commandment given for everyone under the Law of Moses. This was the law that stated that all disobedient children ought to be publicly stoned to death (Deuteronomy 21:18-21). Eli's refusal to keep this commandment resulted in reduced faith in God in the congregation through the continued abuse of his sons, and eventually his own death.

Saul. In 1 Samuel 13 we read how Saul's encamped army waited seven days for the prophet Samuel to come and offer sacrifices to appoint their army for victory. When Samuel didn't show, the soldiers got anxious. To prevent desertion, Saul decided to offer the sacrifice himself. He was unauthorized to do so, and when Samuel came, he chastised Saul and told him that the Lord would take away his kingdom and give it to another (David) because of his sin.

A distinction

I want to make the distinction between mimicry and individual commandment. I am a very firm believer in the adage, "whatever God commands is right." I could list many examples of individuals I know who have received specific revelation to do all sorts of things (or not do all sorts of things) that I never would have supposed.

My base case assumption with all of them is that God has indeed commanded them as they said. Meanwhile, I realize that a person's receipt of a revelation does not imply that revelation applies to me. Although I always take it to God just in case, the default position is that it is not for me.

The situation of these folks is very different from the strange incense offerers. When God speaks to a person, that person is then operating on direct revelation from God. This is not the same as operating on a meta-understanding of something said to someone else. Meta-understandings are always incomplete and frequently incorrect.


If doing things that are a) unauthorized to you or b) not prescribed for you is serious enough to God that he has sent down fire, opened the earth, caused invasions of armies, and rescinded kingship to destroy those who do so in the past, we should take extreme caution not to repeat these sins.

How do you know if you are offering strange incense? Here is the test:

  • Is the source of this commandment something God said to you, or is it something God said to someone else? If the latter, it is possible that you are unauthorized to live that commandment.
  • If the latter, is there something somewhere where God said this applies to you specifically? If not, it is doubtful you are authorized to live that commandment.
  • If you suppose the commandment to apply to all people, was there ever a case of someone who we know to be exalted that did not have that commandment? If so, it is doubtful that your understanding of the commandment being general is correct.

Sunday, June 5, 2016

Do unto others?

Give to him that asketh thee, and from him that would borrow of thee turn thou not away. (3 Nephi 12:42)
Does this mean that Jesus wants us to limitlessly give to all that ask?

In context:

 38 And behold, it is written, an eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth;

 39 But I say unto you, that ye shall not resist evil, but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also;
 40 And if any man will sue thee at the law and take away thy coat, let him have thy cloak also;
 41 And whosoever shall compel thee to go a mile, go with him twain.
 42 Give to him that asketh thee, and from him that would borrow of thee turn thou not away.
 43 And behold it is written also, that thou shalt love thy neighbor and hate thine enemy;
 44 But behold I say unto you, love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them who despitefully use you and persecute you;
 45 That ye may be the children of your Father who is in heaven; for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good.
 46 Therefore those things which were of old time, which were under the law, in me are all fulfilled.
 47 Old things are done away, and all things have become new.
 48 Therefore I would that ye should be perfect even as I, or your Father who is in heaven is perfect. (3 Nephi 12)

Joseph Smith taught that sometimes the key to unlocking the meaning of a passage of scripture is to discover the question that prompted it. Here, the question is not "should I always give people what they ask for?" Verse 38 gives the preamble for this passage.  The question is "should I live the law of revenge?" Jesus' answer is "absolutely not." Do not seek for retribution from those who sue you. Do not hate the occupying soldiers who oppress you by making you walk a mile in their service. Do not abstain from lending because you fear the debtor will not repay/the year of Jubilee is coming soon (a sin common to Israelites from the days of Moses). Then he ties it back to revenge by saying we should love our enemies. He is teaching a higher law than the law of Moses. That law is not to wantonly do whatever anyone asks you to do.

Is giving everything anyone asks of you love? Can that ever hurt the recipient? Of course. If a crack head asks you for drugs, you will hurt them by complying with their request. Would a loving action cause long term harm? Some would say you are helping them by accelerating their consequences. I sure am glad God doesn't do that to us. Can you imagine if a parent responded to a child's playing with an electric socket by handing him some matches? "Let's accelerate the consequences, he'll learn faster!" We pray for God to not lead us into temptation, but to deliver us from evil. We do not pray for him to make the temptation greater so that we get what is coming to us.

In the same flavor of wanton giving, we find that superficial Christianity suggests that we do unto others what we would like them to do to us. Again, the basis is a poorly interpreted scripture.

 7 ¶Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you:

 8 For every one that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened.
 9 Or what man is there of you, whom if his son ask bread, will he give him a stone?
 10 Or if he ask a fish, will he give him a serpent?
 11 If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children, how much more shall your Father which is in heaven give good things to them that ask him?
 12 Therefore all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them: for this is the law and the prophets. (Matthew 7)

Pay careful attention to what precedes verse 12. In verses 7-11, Jesus is describing what the Father does. In verses 9-10, Jesus uses peoples' familiarity with what a good father does to help them understand what the Father does. Why does this matter?

Have you ever asked something from God that he didn't give you? Ever?

In one line, I have just disproved the common understanding of verse 12. In order for it to mean what many say it means, God would have to act the same way he's supposedly telling us to act. Guess what? He doesn't.

Instead, we have a wonderful example here of Jesus' teaching of partial truth. Jesus was and is the master teacher. One of the traits that makes him the master teacher is his ability to effortlessly glide through layers of truth, delivering just the level of truth appropriate for his listeners. (This is one reason why he doesn't want us to live by what we think he taught, but by the Spirit. What we think he taught can limit us to our current understanding. The Spirit will always upgrade us as soon as we are ready for something beyond our current understanding). That is what he is doing here. If you want a really good example of this, check out Matthew 10.

16 ¶And, behold, one came and said unto him, Good Master, what good thing shall I do, that I may have eternal life?
 17 And he said unto him, Why callest thou me good? there is none good but one, that is, God: but if thou wilt enter into life, keep the commandments.
 18 He saith unto him, Which? Jesus said, Thou shalt do no murder, Thou shalt not commit adultery, Thou shalt not steal, Thou shalt not bear false witness,
 19 Honour thy father and thy mother: and, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.
 20 The young man saith unto him, All these things have I kept from my youth up: what lack I yet?
 21 Jesus said unto him, If thou wilt be perfect, go and sell that thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come and follow me.
 22 But when the young man heard that saying, he went away sorrowful: for he had great possessions.
 23 ¶Then said Jesus unto his disciples, Verily I say unto you, That a rich man shall hardly enter into the kingdom of heaven.
 24 And again I say unto you, It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God.
(Matthew 19)

Here, Jesus begins with the simplest of doctrine. At the insistence of the man, he proceeds to the next level. And so on.

Back to Matthew 7, what is he hiding with his simplistic teaching? He is hiding the fact that God not only doesn't grant every request, he denies the vast majority of them. Why? Because we ask what we want, and not what we ought to ask.

Likewise the Spirit also helpeth our infirmities: for we know not what we should pray for as we ought: but the Spirit itself maketh intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered. (Romans 8:23)
Here is the advanced version of this doctrine:
 64 Whatsoever ye ask the Father in my name it shall be given unto you, that is expedient for you;
 65 And if ye ask anything that is not expedient for you, it shall turn unto your condemnation. (D&C 88:64-65)

God tells us we should only ask for the things we believe to be God's will, or perhaps even know to be God's will:

10 Remember that without faith you can do nothing; therefore ask in faith. Trifle not with these things; do not ask for that which you ought not. (D&C 8:10)

So, back to what we should do when someone asks something of us. What should we do? We should do what God does. How does God decide which petitions to grant?

He doeth not anything save it be for the benefit of the world; for he loveth the world, even that he layeth down his own life that he may draw all men unto him. (2 Nephi 26:24)
Let's make this simple: Jesus doesn't do anything for a man unless it benefits the man, because he loves the man so much that he died for that man.

If you ask God for something that won't help you, will he give it to you? Do you likewise unto others.

What about more generally? Is it as simple as doing unto others as you would have them do to you? No, it isn't. Suppose we are sinful idiots (we are). Suppose our idea of what is right is completely perverse (it is).

9 For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts. (Isaiah 55:9)

19 For the natural man is an enemy to God, and has been from the fall of Adam, and will be, forever and ever, unless he yields to the enticings of the Holy Spirit, and putteth off the natural man...willing to submit to all things which the Lord seeth fit to inflict upon him, even as a child doth submit to his father. (Mosiah 3:19)
How are you going to treat others righteously by judging by your unrighteous desires? You can't.

Again, this simple adage is a great place to start. It's better than nothing. But it is elementary. It is not the celestial law. It's not even close.

So what are we supposed to do, then? We are supposed to do what is right.

Sometimes love means giving what is asked for. 
 12 ¶And it came to pass, when he was in a certain city, behold a man full of leprosy: who seeing Jesus fell on his face, and besought him, saying, Lord, if thou wilt, thou canst make me clean.
 13 And he put forth his hand, and touched him, saying, I will: be thou clean. And immediately the leprosy departed from him. (Luke 5)

Sometimes, though, it means giving before being asked.
5 And a certain man was there, which had an infirmity thirty and eight years.
 6 When Jesus saw him lie, and knew that he had been now a long time in that case, he saith unto him, Wilt thou be made whole?
 7 The impotent man answered him, Sir, I have no man, when the water is troubled, to put me into the pool: but while I am coming, another steppeth down before me.
 8 Jesus saith unto him, Rise, take up thy bed, and walk.
 9 And immediately the man was made whole, and took up his bed, and walked: and on the same day was the sabbath. (John 5)

Sometimes it means saying no.
Jesus refused to do great miracles in Nazareth.
22 And all bare him witness, and wondered at the gracious words which proceeded out of his mouth. And they said, Is not this Joseph’s son?
 23 And he said unto them, Ye will surely say unto me this proverb, Physician, heal thyself: whatsoever we have heard done in Capernaum, do also here in thy country.
 24 And he said, Verily I say unto you, No prophet is accepted in his own country.
 25 But I tell you of a truth, many widows were in Israel in the days of Elias, when the heaven was shut up three years and six months, when great famine was throughout all the land;
 26 But unto none of them was Elias sent, save unto Sarepta, a city of Sidon, unto a woman that was a widow.
 27 And many lepers were in Israel in the time of Eliseus the prophet; and none of them was cleansed, saving Naaman the Syrian.
 28 And all they in the synagogue, when they heard these things, were filled with wrath,
 29 And rose up, and thrust him out of the city, and led him unto the brow of the hill whereon their city was built, that they might cast him down headlong.Sometimes it means giving a swift kick to the pants of the asker. (Luke 4)

Sometimes love means giving the asker a swift kick in the pants.
15 ¶Then went the Pharisees, and took counsel how they might entangle him in his talk.
 16 And they sent out unto him their disciples with the Herodians, saying, Master, we know that thou art true, and teachest the way of God in truth, neither carest thou for any man: for thou regardest not the person of men.
 17 Tell us therefore, What thinkest thou? Is it lawful to give tribute unto C├Žsar, or not?
 18 But Jesus perceived their wickedness, and said, Why tempt ye me, ye hypocrites?
(Matthew 22)

Jesus did all four of these things. Surprisingly, he did the last most of all.

Do not judge by your mortal wisdom, or by what someone tells you. Judge righteous judgment.

My wife's testimony message

This is what my wife said in testimony meeting today:

"I have sure faith in Christ
I don't know yet because real knowledge requires experience
I have always desired to know the Lord
But as of recently I told the Lord I will do what he wants so I can see him. At the time I just didn't know what.
Every blessing is predicated on a set of laws. I ask him to reveal those laws to me.
He told me he wants essentially two things: 1 me to become sanctified. 2. A willingness to sacrifice all earthly things
I told him that I have such a strong desire for this experience that I want him to help get me there the fastest shortest route possible.
I came to understand that there are two ways to progress. We can take the stairs or the elevator.
We can either walk up slowly or we can go the direct fast route. The latter is the only way to ensure we will see the Lord in this life.
I told him I want to take the elevator.
So from that very moment I told him that, the Lord has revealed to me one weakness at a time that needs to be fixed. At first they were outward observable sins. Once I stopped doing those he told me about things of my heart.
These things are very very difficult to change. But I would then ask for light and truth so I can see situations as they really are. My heart doesn't automatically just change but through acting right in those situations over time my heart does change.
This is how one becomes sanctified. The experience is difficult and painful. There are a great many ascents and descents. I have trials daily. But I have been receiving revelation too daily.
But you cannot overcome a weakness only with the truth. Experience is essential too. You have to practice to actually overcome an action or condition of the heart.
So I pleaded for more trials so I can get over my weaknesses and I am grateful for them.
I have so much faith that the Lord will unveil his face when I am ready.
Each of us can be on this path. It is a decision each of us has to make: the stairs or the elevator."

Friday, June 3, 2016

The Telestial Illusion

The truth is things as they really are.

24 And truth is knowledge of things as they are, and as they were, and as they are to come; (D&C 93:24)

The Spirit manifests the truth.

13 Behold, my brethren, he that prophesieth, let him prophesy to the understanding of men; for the Spirit speaketh the truth and lieth not. Wherefore, it speaketh of things as they really are, and of things as they really will be... (Jacob 4:13)

The truth, when lived, imbues the individual with light and glory.

34 And again, verily I say unto you, that which is governed by law is also preserved by law and perfected and sanctified by the same. (D&C 88:34)

Those who do not live the truth possess a lesser degree of glory.

21 And they who are not sanctified through the law which I have given unto you, even the law of Christ, must inherit another kingdom, even that of a terrestrial kingdom, or that of a telestial kingdom. (D&C 88:21)

Each kingdom has a both a degree of glory and a law, or degree of truth, associated with it.

36 All kingdoms have a law given;
 37 And there are many kingdoms; for there is no space in the which there is no kingdom; and there is no kingdom in which there is no space, either a greater or a lesser kingdom.
 38 And unto every kingdom is given a law; and unto every law there are certain bounds also and conditions. D&C 88:36-38

What is the law, or degree of truth, associated with the Telestial kingdom, or the world in which we now live? It is to lie.

103 These are they who are liars, and sorcerers, and adulterers, and whoremongers, and whosoever loves and makes a lie. (D&C 76:103)

The Telestial kingdom is a kingdom of lies. The Telestial kingdom is the opposite of truth--it is the opposite of things as they really are. It is things as they are not.

This world is populated by two kinds of people. The first kind, who make up the vast majority, are lightless souls who love and make lies. The second kind, which are the minority, are those who have condescended to dwell here for the benefit of the first through abdicating the right they had previously earned to live in a greater kingdom.

A simple but effective heuristic for success in this world--where most inhabitants love and make lies--is to look at what everyone is doing, and do the opposite. The gospel is called the strait and narrow because so few find it. It is always the minority of the minority who seek after, implement, and love truth. It is never a popular trajectory.

I felt impressed to make a brief high-level summary of the lies that we live by in a few areas. This sort of thing could be done for every category on this earth.

Spirit: Most people spend their lives in the hamster wheel of church life. They are ever learning, but never come to the knowledge of the truth (2 Tim. 3:7), or the revelation of Jesus (Gal. 1:2), otherwise known as God revealing himself to an individual (John 14:18), otherwise known as eternal life (John 17:3). They spend all their spiritual capacity on means that can never bring them to God. Despite having more discretionary time than any other generation in the history of the world, they are as far from God as any generation in history, despite thinking they are making great progress. The best thing they can do is operate under the assumption that everything they think they know about religion is actually wrong, and seek God with the meekness and teachability of a child to retrain themselves in the way, the truth, and the life. Our religious behavior is a lie.

Marriage: Most people spend their lives in the hamster wheel of finding a spouse who fulfills them. Their expectations of what marriage is supposed to be are complete rubbish. The spouse who meets their expectations does not exist, and the marriage they seek would not fulfill God's purpose in marriage. So, they spend their lives either ever seeking and never finding a spouse, or divorcing spouse after spouse, or cheating on their spouse, or being generally miserable with their spouse, because their perception of marriage is nothing but a lie.

Food: Most Americans are overweight. We Americans live in a time of unparalleled availability of food, and while we eat more than any generation in the history of the earth, we are actually malnourished. Why? First, we don't eat based on what we need to function (what feels good in the long run), we eat based on what feels good now. As a result, nutrition is an afterthought. Second, even when we eat things that look healthy, we are usually eating factory-farmed food that has been grown on depleted soil. Through these and other factors, while we have more food than ever before, it is less nutritious than ever before. Our food is a lie.

I recently began practicing a farming ideology that creates an optimal nutritional environment for the plants I create. Instead of doing things as others do them, I am doing things to maximize the nutrition and yield of my garden. What would happen if we did this sort of thing in every aspect of our lives? Everything, from the food we eat to how we work to how we handle our marriages to how we live our religion, and everything else. What if we lived, ate, and slept by truth?

The devil tempts us through carnal senses. What we hear, what we see, what we smell, what we taste, and what we feel. These are the categories where we are flooded with lies. None of these senses should be trusted. We should not choose the food we eat based on what it tastes like. We should not choose our spouse by the way they make us feel, and so on. Ideally, we would judge based on truth, and not the carnal senses:

And shall make him of quick understanding in the fear of the Lord: and he shall not judge after the sight of his eyes, neither reprove after the hearing of his ears: (Isaiah 3:11)

24 Judge not according to the appearance, but judge righteous judgment.The devil's greatest power is that of expectation. When our minds are full of lies, he has power over us through our expectations. (John 7:24)

We waste our lives in the counterfeit pursuit of things that cannot bring us the deep satisfaction that can only be won in toiling pursuit of the truth. We are fully occupied and divert our time, energy, and talents to that which is of no worth.

51 Wherefore, do not spend money for that which is of no worth, nor your labor for that which cannot satisfy. Hearken diligently unto me, and remember the words which I have spoken; and come unto the Holy One of Israel, and feast upon that which perisheth not, neither can be corrupted, and let your soul delight in fatness. (2 Nephi 9:51)

In the end, we deprive ourselves of what we need for spiritual, physical, and other sustenance, and end up malnourished in every sense.

39 O, my beloved brethren, remember the awfulness in transgressing against that Holy God, and also the awfulness of yielding to the enticings of that cunning one. Remember, to be carnally-minded is death, and to be spiritually-minded is life eternal. (2 Nephi 9:39)

Jesus is a warrior. Be like Jesus.

God appointed Gideon to be a savior to the Israelites. An angel said to Gideon, “The Lord is helping you, and you are a strong warrior.” (Judges 6:12). Yet, Gideon was anything but courageous. He requested sign after sign and trusted in the arm of the flesh.

In contrast to Gideon, Samson was a mighty warrior. Samson gets a bad reputation from those who misunderstand both his mission and the real character of Christ. Samson was a type of Christ in all he did and in all that was done to him, and he lived his life in accordance with God's will. Samson had sufficient faith in God that he was willing to be a warrior for God, even if that meant fighting alone. Samson had no allies: not his family, not his fellow Israelites, not even his wife. Like all holy men, he endured great temporal loss as he yielded to God's instructions to him. Like all holy men, he endured unjust treatment from others when he himself was perfectly just to them. He was betrayed by those who should have loved him most, despite his continual forgiveness and compassion for their repeated offenses. Samson was as much like Christ as anyone in the Bible. Sampson was a warrior for God.

This clip is a perfect allegory for what it is like to be a warrior for God. You are outgunned, alone, no one believes in you. You are fighting for everything. You fight alone. Everyone gathers around you in opposition. Your objective is to fight with everything you have, whether you think you stand a chance of winning or not. Your fight is not for survival, it is for principle. Whether you live or die does not matter. All that matters is what you do in the battle. Success is not winning. Success is leaving everything you have on the battlefield. Failure is leaving anything undone.

Jesus knew that his mortal ministry would not yield Zion. In the face of mortal defeat, he attained immortal glory. He left everything on the battlefield.

Jesus is a warrior. Be like Jesus.