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 always 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, however feelings cloud information. They block information. The 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 actions.

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.

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 is below the mean of the Normal curve. 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 closely one's character is like 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. 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. In the Pareto, if you do the same thing, more than 50% of people are in the lowest bin. 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? 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 right you go on this curve, the rarer that person is, and the fewer people there are who are suitable matches for that person. 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 on difference between them. Women marry up, men marry down. Women are very focused on interpersonal production. There are good, biological and logical reasons for that. Men tend to be intimidated by women who are spiritually more intelligent than them, and 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--under monogamy.

In this scenario, the only way for these high quality women to find a man who is worthy marrying is through polygamy. In this case, though, polygamy makes no sense unless you are a much-better-than-average male, and there are very few of those. How few? At best, 1 or 2 in 100. And remember that, even if you are a male on the right side of the Pareto, this scenario still only makes sense with women who are also on the right side, and these are also quite rare. Under this scenario, the oft-repeated "polygamy can't be good because if we practiced it there wouldn't be enough women" is repudiated.

2. In the case of widowhood or divorce.

Some single moms succeed in finding a husband. Others struggle. It seems hard (but not impossible) for a single mother to find a man who is at least as spiritually intelligent as she is, harder than for a childless woman who has never married. The difficulty increases with the woman's spiritual intelligence. In this case, polygamy may be appropriate. Because the woman will have a harder time finding a husband at least as spiritually intelligent as her, it may be appropriate even if the woman is of lower spiritual intelligence.

In this case, it still requires that a man be on the right side of the Pareto to fulfill the needs of more than one wife, and in many ways this situation can require even more from a man than the first discussed. 

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, many people on this earth could not get 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.

=============================

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.

Monday, May 28, 2018

Expectation, Hope, Needs, Wants

Needs vs. Wants

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

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

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

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

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

Expectation vs. Hope

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

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

Joy in the Journey

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

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

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

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

Saturday, May 12, 2018

The Kingdom of God is Within You

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, February 19, 2018

Motive

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, February 4, 2018

Seek Ye This Jesus - Free audiobook download

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

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

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

Affliction, Temptation and Knowledge

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Evidenced-based Thomas

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

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

Soon enough, Thomas got his chance.

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

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

These ideas are both false and harmful.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, January 7, 2018

Recognizing further light and truth

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



What Good People Have to Gain in Jesus

Introduction

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What is the purpose of religion?

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

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

Access to truth

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

Rate of acceptance of truth

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

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

Extent of truth accepted

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What is the process of religion?

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

Why do people hate religion?

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

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

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

The goodness of an anonymous God

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

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

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

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

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

The gateway to greater goodness

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

O then, my beloved brethren, come unto the Lord, the Holy One. Remember that his paths are righteous. Behold, the way for man is narrow, but it lieth in a straight course before him, and the keeper of the gate is the Holy One of Israel; and he employeth no servant there; and there is none other way save it be by the gate; for he cannot be deceived, for the Lord God is his name. (2 Nephi 9:41)

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

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

Increased happiness

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

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

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

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

A change in desire to do good continually

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

Filled with love for all people

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

The capacity to improve every fault

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

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

The strength to overcome every situation that might compromise your principles

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

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

Freedom from guilt over past mistakes.

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

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

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

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

The process of getting there

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The outcome

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

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

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

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

Timing

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