Thursday, December 17, 2015

"Purify your hearts"

James 4:8 Draw nigh to God, and he will draw nigh to you. Cleanse your hands, ye sinners; and purify your hearts, ye double minded.

D&C 112: 28 But purify your hearts before me; and then go ye into all the world, and preach my gospel unto every creature who has not received it;

What does it mean to purify your heart? How does one even begin such a thing? What practical ways exist to purify your heart? We know from the Sermon on the Mount the pure in heart shall see God. So how does one do this? Is it going to happen automatically? Should we investigate this? I would say so.
I hope to help answer or at least discuss some of these questions.  This post is not perfect, and I myself am a work in progress, but I've felt I needed to post it.

To Begin:

What are some examples of "impurities" inside the heart that explains why God would instruct us to purify our hearts?

The early Saints in 1833 were suffering afflictions and persecutions. The Lord said he allowed these things to come up on them. It's part of the chastening process. In D&C section 101 the Lord tells the saints what was wrong and is a good starting point to answer the question about impurities the Lord wants us to overcome and leave behind. D&C 101:6 Behold, I say unto you, there were jarrings, and contentions, and envyings, and strifes, and lustful and covetous desires among them; therefore by these things they polluted their inheritances.

We know the early saints as a group did not see or produce Zion. Above are some of the reasons. They are not unique to early Saints. They exist just as much now as probably in any day. Perhaps worse in our day due to the sheer quantity of communication happening with social media and such. Offense, jarring, contention, strife are perhaps and the opportunity to participate in it is in our face.

A few other scriptures identify some of the examples of what impurities exist within the heart.  Here is another sampling.

Mark 7: 15-20 (Inspired Version of the Bible) There is nothing from without, that entering into a man, can defile him, which is food; but the things which come out of him; those are they that defile the man, that proceedeth forth out of the heart. If any man have ears to hear, let him hear. And when he was entered into the house from among the people, his disciples asked him concerning the parable. And he said unto them, Are ye without understanding also? Do ye not perceive, that whatsoever thing from without entereth into the man, cannot defile him; because it entereth not into his heart, but into the belly, and goeth out into the draught, purging all meats? And he said, That which cometh out of a man, defileth the man. For from within, out of the hearts of men, proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, murders, thefts, covetousness, wickedness, deceit, lasciviousness, an evil eye, blasphemy, pride, foolishness; All these evil things come from within, and defile the man.

I used to think thoughts came only from the mind. But here, Christ says from the heart proceed evil thoughts.  But that's an aside.

Mosiah 3:6 And he shall cast out devils, or the evil spirits which dwell in the hearts of the children of men.

Jarings, contentions, envying, strife, lustful and covetous desires are what to avoid.  Some of these stem from the heart of each of us.  They are the result of  emotional reactions.  This is another compelling reason we should strongly consider the doctrine of Christ, and the teaching to "become as a little child", and go back to the mind of a child to find the way out of these patterns.

We all want clean water, and we all want uncontaminated food.  But yet we so often (at least speaking from a mainstream LDS culture) consume spiritually contaminated teachings without a second thought.  We do not apply the same standards to our spiritual food as we do our physical food. I see what gets taught in traditional LDS meetings.  It's often so polluted that it's a wonder people seem to drink it up.  The effects on our spirit are probably similar to the effects on our body when we consume high levels of contaminants.  Our hearts can become impure due to the things we are taught.  When we believe falsehoods or flattery or incorrect traditions we suffer from unbelief.

So how do we purify the heart? What practical steps can one take?  How do we become as a little child?

First, we need to not deceive ourselves that strife, jarring and contention (or the potential for) exist within our own heart, not just people of the past or people of other religions.  We are fallen but being asked by God to become something much better.  We need to awaken to realities which are visible to God, but not typically things that we enjoy seeing in ourselves.  You can't fix something you do not see.  King Benjamin's people are one of the great examples in the Book of Mormon of a people who had a reaction to a message from God which caused them to "see" themselves in their lost and fallen state (Mosiah 4:2).  Until you "see" that in yourself, you won't have the same kind of motivation to embrace the Lord and the Gospel as you would if you do see it.  So we need to be humble and willing to see things we'd rather not see.   A message from God can do this.

The Heart:

As we grow up, bad things happen to all of us.  We get hurt, disappointed, mistreated, left out, and sometimes far worse things.  These experiences during formative years leave a trail, and or wounds to the heart.  Even those with seemingly perfect upbringings will likely be able to recall times when they were, or perceived to have been, mistreated or harmed in some way.  Even what other would call small events for the individual involved can leave lasting and deep wounds.  Some have experienced things so tragic it is difficult to speak of.  But no matter who we are, our lives have experienced let down, disappointment, feeling abandoned, not feeling good enough, or the like.    

These wounds hurt, and as we grow up we all want to guard against people causing us repeat trouble. So we often develop beliefs and walls around these early experiences.  We believe that life is "hard" or that men are "jerks" that women are "naggy" or that "money = fighting" or that "I"m not worthy or worth anything" "Things don't work out for me", "God speaks to others but not me".  These beliefs about ourselves and life form and color our experience and dramatically impact how we interact with the world.  They get buried, and covered up until we don't tend to think about them, or draw any connections between such things and adult problems. But they are startlingly relevant to our adult lives.  The thoughtless reactions we have to things people say and do are often reactions due to pain and hurt within our own heart.  We cannot even hear or listen to or discuss important topics when our hearts are so triggered with strong feelings. 

We're all probably familiar with the "cream-stripping" incident in August or September of 1838, involving Thomas B. Marsh’s wife, Elizabeth, and Lucinda Harris, wife of George W. Harris.  A whole mass of trouble that arose from the milk fiasco for him and those involved. The issue made it's way to the first presidency.  Just one notable example, but we could probably all identify similar types of trouble where peoples reactions, strife and jarring are more intense than the physical circumstances or topic would seem to merit.  I believe this is due to pain and hurt and insecurity inside the heart.  

When two people with wounded hearts try to discuss something with as high of stakes as the Gospel and eternal concepts it's an environment ripe for jarrings and contentions. Trying to discuss such topics while at the same time carrying a heart full of wounds and pain prevent us from hearing what another person is saying, without reacting.  We peer through our own insecurities onto the outer world and will misinterpret things almost all the time.  We take offense when it had more to do with the glass we were looking through rather than what the other person was saying.  So we fight back.  We get upset.  We criticize and judge and sometimes condemn others for their beliefs and behavior.  Often these things come out of us due to our own personal inner wounds.

I wonder if these are the doors through which the adversary can pass.  The bitterness, the anger, the wounds, the hurt, or the pain, or feeling worthless, hopeless.  These may offer passage to the adversary.  They can also humble us thought, and bring us to God.  Personal inner pain will often trigger someone else's inner pain, and that will trigger other peoples reactions and we end up fighting and contending.  On the surface it's about politics or religion, but underneath, it's about issues of the heart.

Attempting to become one in heart will naturally bring to the surface all those impurities which prevent the unity.  Just like heating up gold brings the impurities to the surface.  We often respond to these things in very immature and manipulative ways. We take offense due to our inner wounds, we resort to adult tantrums, emotional blackmail, avoidance, or intentionally putting distance between ourselves and others to prove a point.  We do this thinking it will bring a positive outcome or guard us against feelings we don't like.  We sometimes conclude, for example, that our anger is somehow going to "get results" by being violent.  But even if it gets temporary results, it doesn't last, and usually has collateral damage.  We sometimes play "poor me" or do self pity type behaviors thinking we will get needed love and attention from others.  We have learned stuff like this in childhood and we perpetuate the behavior whenever certain situations arise, usually without thinking.  But these types of things almost always backfire because they comes from an immature place inside.  We are sometimes abrasive to others because we fail to perceive their heart and needs.  We're too busy proving our own point and proving how justified our feelings are.  Again, something we wouldn't be motivated to do, if our own heart was content.  

We all know that "one" person who irritates us to the core.  Whether a coworker, sibling or whomever.  There are people who get under our skin in ways that we all dislike.  These people show us ourselves in the mirror.  If you want to purify your heart, find that person, and pray for them, take the time to understand them. Realize that they are triggering something inside of YOU, that needs fixing.  Blaming them accomplishes nothing.  

Our spouses and kids are typically very good at "pushing our buttons".  They know these buttons well, and how far they can push them.  We ourselves tend to know what our buttons are but will usually pretend we don't have them. Or we become defensive about them.  And we come up with really sophisticated ways of justifying our reactions, using reasoning and debate.  This is why debate rarely opens hearts, and doesn't convert anyone.  Hammers work good for lots of things, but if your uncovering a fossil for example, a brush and finer tools will work better.  Same applies to people.  In a calm moment we don't perceive any of the wounds and hurts and bitterness inside our own hearts.  They've often been buried so long they might as well be fossils.  However someone can come along and say just the right thing and BAM! you discover your heart had a lesion on it that you had become very good at covering up.  We build walls as we grow up.  We put up doors.  And we think this keeps us safe.    

We've probably all seen two people having a disagreement and neither can see the other persons point of view.  They are both battling each others wounds.  Neither can see clearly.  These tend to escalate and even more hurt feelings and bitterness result since neither feels understood. Logic and arguments about facts don't often speak to the heart.  The heart has it's own sort of language and it speaks more with the tone of your voice, and the attitude you carry, rather than the logical aspects or words you are using.  

Christ says he stands at the door and knocks. We are the one who put up the barrier.  We created these throughout our life.  Often to protect our heart, or maybe sometimes to "get back at the world" so we shut it out by building walls.  Since we are the ones that locked the heart, we are the ones who
hold the key to opening it. The doors can be opened from the inside.

Christ knocks, but we must open the door of our hearts. Opportunities to do this are more common than we may first think.

The Mistake:

We so often will attribute the source of our pain or our reactions to someone else and something outside of ourselves. The other driver in front of us, the people on the news, or the inconsiderate neighbor, that obnoxious person on social media, or the sibling who is so damn irritating....  We think THEY are the source of the inner turbulence we feel.  "If they would only stop that", the problem would go away we often think.

When in reality the problem that should most concerns us is the one inside the person experiencing the irritation.  That same driver or sibling may not irritate other people.  The wounds people push on, or prick, or trigger inside us belong to us.  They are soft spots, or sticky points inside ourselves.  As we move through life, things stick to or push these buttons.  It "zings" us.  They will be unique to each person.    

The truth is, its our heart, our reaction, our feelings, our insecurities that life tends to prod and poke.  We miss the point when we blame others or attribute our internal reactions to something outside of us.  I'm not addressing situations of real abuse, that is a bit of a different topic than I'm writing about.  The focus of this post is about purifying our own hearts since that is what we are fully responsible for. Turning the looking glass inward, and in some instances healing from abusive events or situations from our past causes us to react very differently to the world.  The more we do heal and clean up our hearts, I think the more likely we are to be able to respond better, more directly, and more intelligently to others. Jesus taught to remove the beam from our own eye first, then we will see clearly to help remove the beam from our "brothers" eye.  Notice the familial term brother.  Those close to us, family, and fellowships.  Beams and motes come up often in such places.

There are a thousand justifications for not doing addressing the wounds in our own hearts.  We deny we need it.  The mind will instantly identify some other person who is the one who needs to look inward.  Some personalities will feel it's selfish to focus on themselves and their wounds, but this can be an excuse to not take responsibility for your own heart.  Some traditions say that if we would just stop thinking about ourselves, or hum a hymn, or just act cheery our deep trouble would magically heal.... or something like that. I find those types of traditions shallow and unhelpful at best.   

Christ in section 112 of the D&C says "Purify your hearts before me, and THEN, go ye unto all the world..."  (caps mine).  Seems there is a sequence.  Preaching the Gospel is after purifying your heart.  You put the oxygen mask in your own face when you are in an airplane, then you assist others.  Gasping for air while trying to help others put their oxygen mask on is not noble, and usually not helpful, and often they won't be as receptive to your help when you are in such a desperate state.            

The Healing   

Love heals.  Love changes things.  When people lash out, or are unkind, or perceive others to be unkind, chances are they both carry deep hurt.  The saying goes that healed people heal people, hurt people hurt people.  It's the inner pain of all of us that often fuels our disputes and contentions.  We all need healing.   

So what's the answer?  How do you purify and heal your heart of the impurities?  How do we sow up the wounds?  Christ taught that we are to offer a broken heart and a contrite spirit. When we are broken hearted, we are typically willing to accept or see things we would not receive or consider under other circumstances.      

A New Heart:  

Mosiah 27: 25-26 And the Lord said unto me: Marvel not that all mankind, yea, men and women, all nations, kindreds, tongues and people, must be born again; yea, born of God,changed from their carnal and fallen state, to a state of righteousness, being redeemed of God, becoming his sons and daughters; And thus they become new creatures; and unless they do this, they can in nowise inherit the kingdom of God.

This is more than controlling your anger. Or resisting the urge to snap at people.  This is more than controlling your outward behavior.  Controlling your outward behavior (or not acting on certain things) may get you an LDS temple recommend, but, as you can read in Mosiah, the Gospel and the kingdom of God has much loftier goals and standards.  King Benjamin witnessed his people have a mighty change of heart, in so much that they lost their disposition to do evil.  This happens through faith, by hearing an authentic message from God. It happens through faith on Jesus Christ. He changes our inner fallen nature.

How does He do this?  I don't have all the answers, but I know it involves His knowledge, and His love.  The light and truth within Him, the overwhelming love of Christ alters what it comes in contact with.  He is a being of perfect love.  

Moroni 7:47 "But charity is the pure love of Christ, and it endureth forever; and whoso is found possessed of it at the last day, it shall be well with him".

Alma 26 And now behold, I say unto you, my brethren, if ye have experienced a change of heart, and if ye have felt to sing the song of redeeming love, I would ask, can ye feel so now?

Moroni's wording "whoso is found possessed of it" oddly leaves the interpretation open as to who is doing the possessing. Either you are possessed by charity. Or you posses charity. Moroni's words can mean either.  Both are worth thinking about.

Imagine for a second what "possessing" or "being possessed by" the pure love of Christ does for you personally. If Charity was dwelling inside your heart what would it do?  If you let it, would it not heal things?  Would it not (if you let it) eventually permeate your being?  Were you to open yourself to this, you would then begin to interact with the world from a fundamentally different place.

We are all fallen. And I suspect we all got hurt from falling that far, not to mention the wounds and problems we experience as we grow up here.  Christ's love heals those effects and literally causes changes inside the heart. It alters the disposition. Following some man, repeating mantra's, platitudes, and reading endless meme's does not do this. The door to your heart is unique to you.  You know the walls you've built.  You know the locks you've placed.  Only you know where you need to return, in order to unlock the door.  I've seen many a heart open, and heal. Often through what appears to be silly or childlike or very simple means.  One of the best is simply taking accountability.  It diffuses negative emotion about as fast as anything.  Just take accountability for what you did, said, or failed to do, sincerely, and people will generally soften. and sometimes genuine taking of accountability will prompt the other party to do the same.  And when that happens, friends meet.  

Using crayons to color out what you are feeling.  Feelings relate very well to colors.  Talking to trusted friends. Meditating. Forgiving those who have wronged you.  Taking the time to truly understand the inner pain or crap of an upbringing that may be part of why a person acts in ways that appear crazy, rude, or hostile to you.  Being vulnerable and admitting when you err.  Standing up for yourself calmly, and firmly from a place of love.  Setting firm boundaries.  Following that first prompting of your conscience when it nudges you to act, or pick up a book, or let go of a burden you have been carrying.  Keeping a private journal, in which you express the innermost feelings of your heart, your deepest fears, frustrations, disappointments, desires, and wishes.

How each person does this will be unique to them.  But it works.  I've watched it hundreds of times.  People are generally just unaware of how to really begin.  Life is really good at showing us what issues we carry.  Proverbs 4:23: "Keep thy heart with all diligence; for out of it are the issues of life."

As a side note perhaps after the above it's more clear why the scriptures say knowing all mysteries is nothing if the person doesn't have charity. It's nothing because mysteries in the hands of a fallen person filled with the effects and hurts of the fall would do no good. The hurt and pain and walls within them would either cause pride, or cause them to misuse the mysteries to harm or inflict pain and or fear upon others. So perhaps God isn't being  "exclusive" with mysteries, maybe he's more being incredibly practical.

Our heats are often full of gunk, which makes them doubt, disbelieve, and get hard and become closed off to (deny) the Spirit.  Not to mention closed off to our fellow man.  We are so often blind.  Too much of the wrong religious garbage has given us a nasty case of spiritual heart disease.  Our hearts are full of unbelief and we typically don't see it.  But yet Christ asks us to purify our hearts.  

God doesn't ask us to do things without preparing a way to accomplish it.  

Friday, October 30, 2015

Used with permission

The LDS Church has released more essays on troubling historical issues or contemporary concerns. Link here.

I think the LDS church is having a truth crisis. There are facts and figures being exposed which show, in many instances, the church has lied about it's history and told a story that makes them look good, rather than just telling what happened. And sometimes the historical documents themselves have been altered in the Church's history. This is causing what they call "a faith crisis".  Seemingly turning the object of the crisis onto the members. But what's also occurring is a truth crisis on their part . If you have paid attention much to the news and recent events what we can all probably agree on is the institution is having to come to terms with the truth which, until the internet, was much less accessible.

At the end of the recently released articles the church put out they say this:

The Church acknowledges the contribution of scholars to the historical content presented in this article; their work is used with permission

I don't know who "The Church" is.  Is this the President?  The Official Newsroom?  The PR Department?  The History Department?  Is it me?  Anyway "The Church" is citing and acknowledging the scholars for their contributions to the Church's essays.  The news article made it very clear the first presidency had approved these essays.  They "approved" them, but it was clear they did not author or write them.

Seems a little ironic that those sustained as prophets seers and revelators are "using" and asking for "permission" to use the work of scholars.  Not just citing historical documents, but acknowledge the work of paid scholars to provide entire essays for members to answer troubling questions.  It just struck me as interesting and somewhat ironic.  You'd think it would be the other way around.  Scholars looking to prophets and revelators and asking them for permission to use their stuff, but no....  it's the Prophets Seers and Revelators who are dependent on the Scholars to answer the questions. 

The scholarly voice is outweighing the prophetic voice in modern LDS Mormonism.  I think people no longer even know what the prophetic voice sounds like.  It would sound so foreign that it would probably be rejected. When historians and scholars are hired to present arguments, "important context" and essays yet those we sustain as living oracles defer to the historians then that is a curious situation.

Joseph Smith did not depend on scholars for his understanding of truth and the Gospel, and history.  Scholars are great.  Don't get me wrong.  I mean no disrespect towards the scholars.  They have made great contributions.  However Joseph stated you would learn more by gazing into heaven for 5 minutes than reading everything that had ever been written on the subject.  To me that is why God sends messengers who have been in his presence.  They rely on Him, vs relying on the tools developed by man to study Him.  

Thursday, October 29, 2015

One heart parable

A short parable. It's not perfect and doesn't cover everything to do with the topic but it's a small attempt at some things.

Two people came to the town square asking for help with their needs. One was lazy and entitled but still asked for help. The other hard working, down on their luck, and willing to accept any available help.  Various passerby's saw the two petitioners. Some as they passed thought that instead of sitting asking for help they ought to go get jobs. Others didn't notice them at all having previously concluded not to pay beggars any attention. Still others thought that it was the governments responsibility or may be even a church's responsibility to help the less fortunate.  And they passed by.

One day a giver passing by heard the two petitions for aid and looked upon them. To the first the giver rebuked, having known a mutual friend who had often related to him how lazy the person was. The second was helped with ease and and joy and the giver felt no advantage had been taken of him.  He felt good that he wasn't supporting laziness.  The first giver went on his way.

 A second giver passing by saw the first petitioner still asking for help. The second giver gave without thought of reward or the petitioners merit; but while giving felt impressed that an additional level of aid ought to also be given. The second giver cast his eyes upon the petitioner and glimpsed a hidden, and unfulfilled and broken soul who yearned for a better and more fulfilling future.  The second giver shared the impression received while giving.  In a spirit of charity, and compassion, the giver relayed a few other impressions he had and then paused for a response. The two exchanged heartfelt perspectives about life's struggles, difficulties, failures, hopes and desires for the future. By the end they both felt uplifted and as they parted ways they both noted that for a moment their hearts had become one.

Moses 7:18
18 And the Lord called his people Zion, because they were of one heart and one mind, and dwelt in righteousness; and there was no poor among them.

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Difficulty distinguishing

Stumbled upon this gem below from a BYU speech in June 1981. "Reason and Revelation".  -Noel B. Reynolds then Academic vice Pres.  

"We are observing a widespread difficulty in distinguishing between sentimentalism and true spiritual experience. Too much of the literature used, seen, and quoted in the Church today is just sentimental trash which is designed to pull our heartstrings or moisten our eyes, but it is not born of true spiritual experience. The tendency of our youth to use sentimental stories in Church talks creates a culture of spiritual misunderstanding in which thinking and learning are discouraged. When I was bishop years ago in an Orem ward, I strongly counseled the youth not to use the compilations of sentimental stories which are available. I feel that our failure to immerse these young people in the scriptures and other high quality literature makes them vulnerable to the cheap tactics of every moralistic movement which they encounter. Because our youth often respond positively to sentimentalism, there is a danger that we might cater to that in Church instruction generally"

Monday, September 21, 2015

"all gone astray"

If your "Christian" religion isn't bringing you into frequent contact with the poor in heart, poor in spirit, physically poor, the naked or imprisoned, then you should question the corruptness and apostate situation of your religion.  Matthew 25:34-40, James 1:27

And on the other hand, if you do not see your naked state before God, your imprisoned soul in this fallen world but are instead assured you are glorious, chosen, superior to others and that all is well if you remain in some boat and follow men, then again, you should question the corruptness and apostate nature of your situation.  Mosiah 4:1-2.

If you are sick or afflicted, burdened or heavy laden, and you do not (or are not taught to) come directly to Christ, and develop a personal living relationship with your Savior, but instead look to some institution, with some leader who fares "sumptuously" (Luke 16:19) then again, you should question the corrupt and apostate nature of your situation.

There are save two churches only.  One is the Church of the Lamb of God, the other is the church of the devil.  1 Nephi 14:10.  You know which you belong to by your own fruits.

Friday, September 11, 2015

Try the Spirits

1 John 4:1: Beloved, believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God: because many false prophets are gone out into the world.

Discernment has been on my mind a lot lately.  I've noticed people have varying ways of interpreting what it means to discern a matter, teaching, or spirit.  One version of discernment is to follow the prophet.  For some that philosophy and set of belief constitutes discernment. Others in practice show that going with whatever the "official position of the LDS Church" is on a topic constitutes discernment.  I disagree with both of those.  Neither are discernment.  Relying on another person, due to their church calling, and depending on them (or organization) to distinguish truth from error for you is not only not discernment, it's headed in the opposite direction.  It's shifting what is your responsibility onto another. And then trusting things to that person which ought not to be.  

Of course experienced others can be of great value.  They can offer wisdom and can point out things, and help clarify confusing matters. That's all great.  I'm not discounting any of that.  What I believe is that you can't (well, you can, and many do) delegate the need to distinguish and discern onto another person.  Unless that person is God, it's doomed.  More on this in just a minute taken from what Joseph Smith taught.  Underlining is mine.    

President Joseph Smith read the 14th chapter of Ezekiel--said the Lord had declared by the Prophet, that the people should each one stand for himself, and depend on no man or men in that state of corruption of the Jewish church--that righteous persons could only deliver their own souls--applied it to the present state of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints--said if the people departed from the Lord, they must fall--that they were depending on the Prophet, hence were darkened in their minds, in consequence of neglecting the duties devolving upon themselves, (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith pp. 237-38)

It's so much easier to delegate the discerning of spirits and the distinguishing of truth from error to an organization or high church leader. But that is a mistake.  The Gospel does not teach us to do that.  The Gospel teaches we are to discern, take the Holy Spirit as our guide, and seek earnestly for spiritual gifts which come from God.  One of which is discernment.  

Joseph Smith had this to say regarding this topic. TPJS P205-207.  Also found here:

It is evident from the Apostles’ writings, that many false spirits existed in their day, and had “gone forth into the world,” and that it needed intelligence which God alone could impart to detect false spirits, and to prove what spirits were of God. The world in general have been grossly ignorant in regard to this one thing, and why should they be otherwise—for “the things of God knoweth no man, but the Spirit of God.” The Egyptians were not able to discover the difference between the miracles of Moses and those of the magicians until they came to be tested together; and if Moses had not appeared in their midst, they would unquestionably have thought that the miracles of the magicians were performed through the mighty power of God, for they were great miracles that were performed by them—a supernatural agency was developed, and great power manifested.

If we go among the pagans, they have their spirits; the Mohammedans, the Jews, the Christians, the Indians—all have their spirits, all have a supernatural agency, and all contend that their spirits are of God. Who shall solve the mystery? “Try the spirits,” says John, but who is to do it? The learned, the eloquent, the philosopher, the sage, the divine—all are ignorant. The heathens will boast of their gods, and of the great things that have been unfolded by their oracles. The Mussulman will boast of his Koran, and of the divine communications that his progenitors have received. The Jews have had numerous instances, both ancient and modern, among them of men who have professed to be inspired, and sent to bring about great events, and the Christian world has not been slow in making up the number.

Every one of these professes to be competent to try his neighbor's spirit, but no one can try his own, and what is the reason? Because they have not a key to unlock, no rule wherewith to measure, and no criterion whereby they can test it. Could any one tell the length, breadth or height of a building without a rule? Test the quality of metals without a criterion, or point out the movements of the planetary systems, without a knowledge of astronomy? Certainly not; and if such ignorance as this is manifested about a spirit of this kind, who can describe an angel of light?

If Satan should appear as one in glory, who can tell his color, his signs, his appearance, his glory, or what is the manner of his manifestation? Who can detect the spirit of the French prophets with their revelations and their visions, and power of manifestations? Or who can point out the spirit of the Irvingites, with their apostles and prophets, and visions and tongues, and interpretations etc.? Or who can drag into daylight and develop he hidden mysteries of the false spirits that so frequently are made manifest among the Latter-day Saints? We answer that no man can do this without the Priesthood, and having a knowledge of the laws by which spirits are governed; for as no man knows the things of God, but by the Spirit of God, so no man knows the spirit of the devil, and his power and influence, by by possessing intelligence which is more than human, and having unfolded through the medium of the Priesthood the mysterious operations of this device; without knowing the angelic form, the sanctified look and gesture, and the zeal that is frequently manifested by him for the glory of God, together with the prophetic spirit, the gracious influence, the godly appearance, and the holy garb, which are so characteristic of his proceedings and his mysterious windings.

A man must have the discerning of spirits before he can drag into daylight this hellish influence and unfold it unto the world in all its soul-destroying, diabolical, and horrid colors; for nothing is a greater injury to the children of men than to be under the influence of a false spirit when they think they have the Spirit of God. Thousands have felt the influence if its terrible power and baneful effects. Long pilgrimages have been undertaken, penances endured, and pain, misery and ruin have followed in their train; nations have been convulsed, kingdoms overthrown, provinces laid waste, and blood, carnage and desolation are habiliments in which it has been clothed.

The world always mistook false prophets for true ones, and those that were sent of God, they considered to be false prophets, and hence they killed, stoned, punished and imprisoned the true prophets and these had to hide themselves "in deserts and dens, and caves of the earth," and though the most honorable men of the earth, they banished them from their society as vagabonds, whilst they cherished, honored and supported knaves, vagabonds, hypocrites, impostors and the basest of men. A man must have the discerning of spirits, as we before stated, to understand these things."

This part deserves a repeat: "Nothing is a greater injury to the children of men than to be under the influence of a false spirit when they think they have the Spirit of God".

I believe God's hand is moving again in the affairs of men involving the restoration.  Thus I think we should expect to see efforts by the adversary as well to mislead people.  Just as the early saints did.  I think we should be prepared to discern false spirits, soothsaying, and other attempts to lure, or displace our focus from the Lord and remembering the restoration.  If/when we encounter such things I personally believe we should try not to condemn but show compassion towards the person or people involved.  Compassion towards the individual will speak well of you and the path you follow, even if it turns out you erred.  As a side note, I've noticed humor is also something that has a certain discerning capacity to it.  The Lord has a good sense of humor.

A few final thoughts from the piece by Joseph.  The story he retells about Mr. Irving and Mr. Baxter shows that more than one person can be under the influence of the same false spirit.  This is on page 4/5 of the link: But it may be asked how Mr. Baxter could get a sign from a second person? To this we would answer, that Mr. Baxter’s brother was under the influence of the same spirit as himself, and being subject to that spirit he could be easily made to speak to Mr. Baxter whatever the spirit should dictate; 

Both can receive the same message from that spirit, and when the two meet up, and concur, they both are lead to believe it therefore must be of God. So someone else also having the same spiritual phenomena or experience isn't necessarily a reason to let your guard down and drop the need to discern whether the communication or phenomena came from God. Not all spiritual things are from God.

Hence revelation is so important, as opposed to trusting in man or the arm of the flesh.  Profound words.  Prophetic words from Joseph.  Thank you Joseph, thank you for saying what needs to be said rather than what pacifies us and assures us that all is well and all we have to do is rely on a man.  I'm grateful he pointed the way.  He didn't point to himself.  He taught that people depended too much on the prophet, and hence were darkened in their minds.

When John says to "Try the spirits",  and Joseph Smith expounds on it, I want to appreciate and receive the counsel offered to us by those who we know communed with God.  Discerning of Spirits is one of the scriptural Gifts of the Spirit, and human intellect, rationalization, and committees can never substitute for it.  

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Sacrifice that produces faith, vs sacrifice which doesn't

We traveled to Sun Valley Idaho last weekend and on the way spotted something really interesting.  What you see in the picture is the concrete gutter corner of a very busy food and grocery parking lot of Twin Falls Idaho.  You can see the typical leaves built up in the corner due to wind and some accumulated dust and dirt.  Somehow this tomato plant got it's seeds in there, and is now growing in the decomposing leaves and bits of dirt that accumulated in the corner. An unlikely spot for a tomato plant of all things.  The plant won't last long, but I admire it for growing in such difficult and unlikely place.

As I looked at this plant and pondered the difficulties of it's life I had a passage from a book came to mind about sacrifice.  It's from the Book "The Second Comforter" by Denver Snuffer.  The chapter deals with the Lectures on Faith and how faith is a result of sacrifice.  That is how faith is produced.

I need to include a fair amount of the material to give context, but the part in particular I wanted to focus on for this post was about how sacrifice doesn't always produce faith. Sometimes sacrifice accomplishes nothing in terms of increasing your faith.  For sacrifice to produce faith it has to be directed towards the proper end.  See bold below.  The bolding is mine.  There were people in scripture for whom their sacrifices HAD NO faith producing effects

How do we avoid that?  As long as life is going to require and offer us opportunity to sacrifice how do we proceed in a way that ensures our sacrifices actually produce faith?


Joseph saw no great mystery in the process of receiving grace. What kept most of mankind from great spiritual blessings was not unwillingness but ignorance. Joseph realized mankind needed to be brought out of ignorance. In explaining this need, Joseph taught, “A man is saved no faster than he gets knowledge, for if he does not get knowledge, he will be brought into captivity by some evil power in the other world, as evil spirits will have more knowledge, and consequently more power than many men who are on the earth. Hence it needs revelation to assist us, and give us knowledge of the things of God.” DHC 4: 588. If mankind is to be saved, it will be through their acquisition of knowledge. Put otherwise, it is stupidity which damns us; it is knowledge which saves us.

What Joseph didn’t say in the quote, but is self-evident, is you can sacrifice without obtaining faith. When sacrifice is an end in itself, it produces nothing. Sacrifice must be directed toward the correct end, or it fails to produce faith. If sacrifice were in itself an end, then self-denial, and self-abuse, even the most extreme practices of asceticism, would be noble. They are not. They are instead self-centered and selfish. There is nothing noble about these extremes. None of them ever produced great faith. 

From Moses to Jesus Christ there was sacrifice performed daily as a rite in Jerusalem (excepting only temporary interludes including the Babylonian captivity). Despite the daily sacrifices, the people most directly involved had no visitations from angels, had no revelations, received no audience with God and performed no miracles. When Christ came to fulfill the law of sacrifice, the ones performing the sacrifices were the least willing to accept Him. The sacrifices they had and were performing, had no faith-producing effects for them. 

Sacrifice must, therefore, be connected with a proper understanding of how it relates to something higher. Sacrifices are not intended to teach you to sacrifice; they are trying to teach you another underlying truth. If there is no understanding of the underlying truth, then the act of sacrifice can become a meaningless end in itself. Almost any principle of the Gospel can become a misleading end in itself. The Gospel is a harmony of principles correctly weighed and measured. It is a symphony, and not a single bloated and distorted note. 

The underlying truth sacrifice teaches is simple. All great truths are simple. If they were not, then they could not be obtained by the weak, simple, and childlike among us. And, of course, it was and is to such persons the Gospel has always been primarily directed. 

What is that underlying truth sacrifice teaches, and which can be obtained through no other means? Christ addressed that underlying truth in simple statements about the heart and treasures. He said: Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal: But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal: For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also. The light of the body is the eye: if therefore thine eye be single, thy whole body shall be full of light. But if thine eye be evil, thy whole body shall be full of darkness. If therefore the light that is in thee be darkness, how great is that darkness! No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon. (Matt. 6: 19–24, emphasis added.) 

You cannot be both spiritual and materialistic. What do you treasure? Sacrifice is a means of proving to yourself and to God that you treasure Him and His above all the things of this world. It is a way of changing your heart from things here on earth to the greater things in heaven. Eventually, if you are materialistic and you begin to sacrifice, you will begin to change. Sacrifice is a tool given to us to change our hearts and realign them to being less materialistic and more spiritual.

You have only “one light” you can let in. We are so constituted we are able to focus on only one thing at a time. We necessarily choose between all other things and that one thing. Christ is teaching us we have to choose God above all else. Sacrifice allows us to show by our choice whatever we lay upon the altar is not more treasured to us than God’s will for us. 

By laying ourselves and our emotional needs on the altar and sacrificing the things this world values, we are saying and proving we choose the other world to this one. We value the things of the Spirit above the material things of this existence. It is another affirmation that we would prefer to have our existence filled with things of the Spirit, rather than filled with the materialism of this world

It was as a result of this relationship that Christ taught: “And he that taketh not his cross, and followeth after me, is not worthy of me. He that findeth his life shall lose it: and he that loseth his life for my sake shall find it. He that receiveth you receiveth me, and he that receiveth me receiveth him that sent me.” (Matt. 10: 38–40, emphasis added.) If you want to find life, lose it. If you lose your life, i.e. you give your time, talents, and everything which God has given to you to His service and will, then you find a new life. That new life is connected with God, because it is lived in conformity with His will. 

You will recall that Christ utterly lost His life in obedience to the Father. His explanation of how He lived His life was summarized briefly by Him: “And behold, I am the light and the life of the world; and I have drunk out of that bitter cup which the Father hath given me, and have glorified the Father in taking upon me the sins of the world, in the which I have suffered the will of the Father in all things from the beginning.” (3 Ne. 11: 11, emphasis added.) Christ was the most fulfilled, most intelligent, and most obedient person who ever lived. He was all these things because He obeyed the Father. Anyone who will obey Him will receive light and truth as a result. 169 Light and truth are “intelligence.” 170 Christ was the most intelligent 171 because He was the most obedient. This is a simple concept, yet it holds profound implications. It suggests obedience is something much greater than might first be expected. Obedience brings intelligence, and unlocks mysteries. Far from being oppressive or confining, it turns out obedience is liberating and enlightening. How false have been the criticisms directed at obedience! 

In another place He taught; “Then said Jesus unto his disciples, If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me. For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it. For what is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul?” (Matt. 16: 24–26, emphasis added.) The trade-off is again put succinctly. If you want life, real life, alive in God, then you need to obey Him. Lose yourself, your pride, self-will and meaningless individuality in something much greater. Become connected to the Father by obedience to His ordained laws, and follow His commandments and find yourself growing in light, truth and intelligence. It is a simple formula which anyone can follow. But for some reason only the humble are willing to submit to the process. The proud and vain will never climb that mountain and, therefore, will never receive a view of the things on the other side. 

All these things go together. They are all the same subject. If we want to obtain the kind of faith needed to draw aside the veil and behold the things of God, then we must draw aside that veil by our sacrifice of this world for that world. We have to lose the connection here to gain the connection there. Without doing that through our sacrifices, we cannot develop the necessary faith. This was what Joseph was telling us with the quote from the Lectures on Faith, earlier. It is an indisputable truth that “a religion that does not require the sacrifice of all things never has power sufficient to produce the faith necessary unto life and salvation; for, from the first existence of man, the faith necessary unto the enjoyment of life and salvation never could be obtained without the sacrifice of all earthly things.” So if we want to develop this faith, we must be willing to sacrifice all earthly things. 

How is this possible? We don’t die for religion in most cultures of the world today. Living in an affluent, Western society, as many Saints do today, how is the sacrifice of all earthly things even possible? How, in particular, can you be like those who have offered their all in sacrifice to obtain approval from God? If you can have only a hope to receive a like portion of faith by doing a like form of sacrifice, how is this to be done? 

All great truths are simple. Nephi assured us (as we covered earlier), God gives us no commandments unless He prepares a way for us to obey them. So, God must have provided a way for us to accomplish what He commands of us. 

The answer may seem at first superficial. It is not. This process is not a single giant step. It is many small steps. When explaining the process of exaltation, Joseph stated you grow into exaltation: “from one small degree to another, and from a small capacity to a great one; from grace to grace, from exaltation to exaltation, until you attain to the resurrection of the dead and are able to dwell in everlasting burnings, and to sit in glory.” (DHC 6: 306.) In that same talk he said, “When you climb up a ladder, you must begin at the bottom, and ascend step by step, until you arrive at the top; and so it is with the principles of the gospel—you must begin with the first, and go on until you learn all the principles of exaltation.” (Id., p. 306–307.) Here again, Joseph is connecting growth to knowledge and obedience. Again he is making this process openly democratic and universally applicable. And he is telling us this is a gradual process of increasing obedience in conformity to increasing knowledge.

To be most meaningful, sacrifice by one person should bless and benefit another person. When Isaiah taught the highest principles and aspirations of the law of the fast, he linked it to blessing others.

Helping and blessing others is the highest form of sacrifice. When you act to relieve the burdens of others, you are acting as Christ would. You are rising to another level of living where angels themselves dwell. You are becoming a “type” of Christ. It is not merely asking yourself “what would Jesus do?” but rather it is doing what Jesus did and commanded you to do. Action in conformity to commandments brings light into your life. You follow His path and you will be walking up that same mountain in which you, too, will be transfigured. 

What is needed, however, is not just a change in perception, but a change of heart. You can’t change the heart without then changing the perception. In the Sermon on the Mount, Christ set out standards which should transform a person. The standards there ask us to change from merely avoiding physically harming others, as was required in the Law of Moses, to loving them instead. He even asks you to love them when they despitefully use and abuse you. Apparently impossible standards are being asked of us by the Lord...

Praying for the unlikable and unworthy is a part of the Christ-like attributes which both Nephi and Lehi display in the First Book of Nephi. Lehi makes intercession for the condemned residents of Jerusalem. 173 Nephi makes intercession for his unbelieving older brothers. 174 Both are showing the kind of charity that makes you like Christ. Christ was the Great Intercessor. In like measure, you must make intercession for those who fall short in your life. You should thank God for the opportunity which they give to you to show that charity. It may seem odd to do this when you start. But prayer and grace go together. You will find you are able to pray with sincerity for those in your life after you have spent time on your knees on their behalf. Grace begets grace. 175 Do it, and you will grow as a result. 176 The Saints and your calling in the Church is the place where you begin this process. The offensive and failing Saint has not been given to you to judge, condemn or belittle. They are given to you as a gift from God, to allow you to serve, uplift, pray for and show love to as God’s own son or daughter. They are your greatest opportunities. You should love them for this. 

It does not end, of course, with service and kindness to your fellow Saint. You must also learn to serve the “Samaritan,” and to heal and care for them. If it ends with mere Church service, you have not yet overcome xenophobia. It is the “other,” the “outsider,” and the “stranger and foreigner” through whom sacrifice is perfected. The unlovely and even the persecutor is where Christ’s commandments lead us at last. We must develop love for those who persecute us, or despitefully use and abuse us to reach what Christ taught. He really meant it. And He really wants us to get there. When we do, we find ourselves standing on holy ground. For that ground was sanctified by His own blood, shed in His own sacrifice, when He poured out the last full measure of devotion to His Father’s will. When you hear His words echoing in your own voice, “forgive them for they know not what they do,” then you will begin to see the Master in the mirror. His image will appear to you there first. Your countenance will look more like His: more humble, more contrite, more obedient and filled with more light than you are right now.

This may seem daunting. Perhaps it is when viewed as a single undertaking. Try viewing it as a state of being rather than as a list of things to accomplish. Whatever it is you do, do it for the sake of others. If you baby-sit, approach it as a servant serving the welfare of the children. Love them and care for them, and recall Christ taking the children and blessing them. 179 If you repair plumbing, do it to serve and bless others. Take time to show them the individual attention and care that you would show them if you were their elder brother. If you wait on tables, do it with the goal of showing compassion and care for those you serve. There is not a trade, profession or calling which cannot be viewed as an opportunity to care for and bless others. Western societies tend to reduce all business to its starkest fiscal terms. Don’t do that. Remember the people who you serve. 

Christ was a carpenter until He began His ministry. He undoubtedly developed His attributes during the season in which He served others as their carpenter. As JST-Matt. 3: 24–26 reports: “And it came to pass that Jesus grew up with his brethren, and waxed strong, and waited upon the Lord for the time of his ministry to come. And he served under his father, and he spake not as other men, neither could he be taught; for he needed not that any man should teach him. And after many years, the hour of his ministry drew nigh.” Christ “waited” while fully prepared to act in His ministry as the Messiah. And while doing so, He “needed not that any man should teach him” because He was already fully prepared. This persisted for “many years” before His ministry began. While waiting in this fully prepared state, “he served under his father,” as a carpenter. Just how do you imagine He would serve under Joseph as a carpenter? When you have decided how He would do that, you go and do likewise in whatever trade or profession you serve. 

Whatever pains you have to bear, or difficulties you have to overcome, or burdens you have to put up with in helping others, do it as a sacrifice to God. There are infinite opportunities to do so. They are all around us. If you elect to treat these sacrifices as opportunities to grow and develop, and show compassion to others while subordinating your own self-interests in the bargain, you are doing what Joseph instructed in the Lectures on Faith. You are becoming like the ancients who gave their lives to God. But you are doing so in small, daily increments. That is how such sacrifices are best made. After all, the daily sacrifices in the Temple were designed to teach a principle. That principle of daily effort and on-going devotion to God through continual sacrifices over a lifetime is how Christ became the Only Begotten. He suffered His Father’s will in all things from the beginning. It was not just a single, heroic act in Gethsemane and on the cross. It was devotion paid daily. He is our great example. 

Don’t drive by the man in need. Take the few minutes to stop and help. Such is the stuff from which faith to move mountains is made. Whether you move a mountain, or move yourself to climb over a mountain, the movement is the same. On the other side, everything will have been transfigured. Because you will have to be transfigured in order to move to that place. 

These things are simple. But they are true and indispensable. Christ taught them to simple people living simple lives. They can be lived by anyone. 

You have to be willing to obey and to sacrifice if you want to get there. But this sacrifice and obedience should not be performed in a hollow, rigid and meaningless way. The sacrifices you offer should be to bless others and undertaken with a sense of joy. They should be the same “type” which Christ offered, and intended to serve, bless and benefit others.

Monday, August 31, 2015

Who's declaration is it?

My wife and I attended tithing settlement last December, 2014.  Some things were definitely settled. Before going into that here is what the Church teaches (or taught at one point) regarding tithing.  This is from

On March 19, 1970, the First Presidency sent the following letter to presidents of stakes and missions, bishops of wards, and presidents of branches in answer to the question, “What is a proper tithe?”

For your guidance in this matter, please be advised that we have uniformly replied that the simplest statement we know of is that statement of the Lord himself that the members of the Church should pay one-tenth of all their interest annually, which is understood to mean income. No one is justified in making any other statement than this. We feel that every member of the Church should be entitled to make his own decision as to what he thinks he owes the Lord, and to make payment accordingly.

The Church's teachings on tithing form go on to say: 

"At the close of each year, each member of the Church has the responsibility of attending tithing settlement with his bishop. At this time, each member has the opportunity to declare whether he is a full, part, or non-tithe payer. The payment of tithing is a matter between the individual and the Lord. The bishop is merely the Lord’s servant who receives and accounts for the contribution."

The payment of tithing is between the individual and the Lord.  The member has the opportunity to declare their status.  The temple recommend question doesn't ask who you pay it to, because it's understood it's all to the Lord.  The First Presidency stated every Church member should be entitled to make his own decision as to what he thinks he owes the Lord, and make payment accordingly.  Some take issue with the quantity, whether gross or net.  That however was never an issue for me.

But nevertheless one thing that got settled during the settlement is that tithing is only "tithing" if the Corporation of the President is the sole recipient of all donations.  My wife and I both consider and declare ourselves full tithe payers, however upon discovery that 100% of our donations don't always go directly to the Corporate Church, but go directly to the poor, or those in need, the bishop overrode the declaration and recorded "partial".  What was supposed to be between us and the Lord, had an authority wedge inserted between the parties.  Which wedge delivered it's own overriding declaration.  The declaration, as I understand it was and is to be made by the giver.  

Christ at one point taught: "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." (Matthew 25:40).  King Benjamin taught "17 And behold, I tell you these things that ye may learn wisdom; that ye may learn that when ye are in the service of your fellow beings ye are only in the service of your God." (Mosiah 2:17).  Now days that is rendered: "In as much as ye have not paid tithing to the Corp of the Pres, ye have not done it unto me." That current rendering is found in real life policy.

We "made payment accordingly" as per the statement made by the First Presidency and made our declaration.  But that doesn't satisfy current policy, it's not enough.  It was then made clear that when tithing is not paid through "the proper channels" we are no longer in harmony with the requirements to enter the Temple. Giving to the poor mind you, takes you out of harmony with temple requirements.

The corporation takes full custody of all donations and uses them at it's sole discretion with a corporate charter relieving them of any obligation to provide financial transparency to the giver (see here).  The corporate charter is available online.  The lawyers made sure that the organization has no obligation to provide any transparency, and that everything is church property.  As a concept I get why tithing is paid to the Church.  I've done it my entire life.  I know where they claim the money goes.  And I'm sure a lot of the money does go to those things.  But the percentage of the total, and how it's used is upsetting.  Why don't they publish the revenue numbers?  No one knows exactly what is brought in, or where it goes. Why keep that hidden? Why require mission presidents, and high up church leaders to never reveal the revenue perks they receive?  There is zero transparency.  All is secret, and done in the dark.

D&C says all things are to be done by common consent of the Church.  This is not practiced in our day by any stretch of the imagination.  Instead it has become "if you support the leaders, then you by default give your consent and obedience to whatever they do".  And if you ask about it or question it you will be in danger and be viewed as on some sort of wayward path.  Which brings up some interesting current events.  Another of the temple recommend questions asks if the person affiliates with or agrees with any person or group who's teachings and practices are not in harmony with the Church's teachings.  Recently the LDS Church has announced that the Boy Scouts of America now have standards and practices which are contrary to church teachings and doctrine.  In spite of that, they have chosen to remain aligned and affiliated with that organization.  So they themselves no longer meet the temple recommend standards they have set for others.  I don't know how the Church itself would now answer that recommend question.  However thankfully I have no authority over anyone, and am not the judge.    

I think we'd all agree Christ did not come and present a Gospel that included building places of commerce as on the agenda. And warned against compromising ones standards, and becoming corrupt.  He came to serve, and redeem, and spent time with the poor, because they were willing to listen to him.  We not only build places of commerce like Citi Creek Shopping Center, we build the nicest ones money can buy.  And build them using interest gained from investing the members tithing money.  We not only align with groups and organizations who's practices and policies are contrary to those of the Church but we financially support them, and promote awards that recognize our current Church President.  

I could go on but won't.  The Lord defines "The Church" in D&C 10:67.   You could give your tithing to "the church" as the Lord defines it and yet be told, as we were, that your donation is not considered tithing.  But scripture is not used all that much anymore... so it's quite possible you have never heard how the Lord defines His church.  Even though it's right there, and the next verse has a warning about "declaring more or less".  

At the end of the tithing settlement, it became apparent how much the Church values money.  Faithfulness to the Corporation and the brethren has taken the church by storm, and has replaced faithfulness to the Lord.  Many cannot bear the idea that there might be a difference between the Lord's words, and the highest church leader's words or policies.  But there is a marked difference.  

I appealed the tithing declaration "overrule" to the stake president, saying that it's my declaration of tithing status, not the Bishop's.  He agreed.  But then said that a Bishop is a judge in Israel and has the authority to judge the matter.  And that he agreed with the judgement.  I tried to persuade him otherwise but wasn't successful, he told me to go back and express my concerns with the Bishop.  Which I did and was told that his hands are tied.  Odd that he who has authority to judge the matter also has his hands tied.  Tied by whom I often ask myself?  The corporate leaders of course.   

Today is the day my recommend ends.  It's a sad day for many reasons.  My heart has not been weighed, my motives not examined, God hasn't even been asked about the matter.  Policy has has been contradicted, and has replaced the Spirit.  I have acted consistently with what personal promptings and revelation I have received.  I pay and have always paid an honest tithe.  But yet I find myself no longer allowed to enter the Temple by those who control entrance.    

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Eh, someone else will do it

Motivated by D&C 68 25-28 I've reevaluated some behaviors and patterns I've seen all my life.

25 And again, inasmuch as parents have children in Zion, or in any of her stakes which are organized, that teach them not to understand the doctrine of repentance, faith in Christ the Son of the living God, and of baptism and the gift of the Holy Ghost by the laying on of the hands, when eight years old, the sin be upon the heads of the parents.  
26 For this shall be a law unto the inhabitants of Zion, or in any of her stakes which are organized. 27 And their children shall be baptized for the remission of their sins when eight years old, and receive the laying on of the hands.  
28 And they shall also teach their children to pray, and to walk uprightly before the Lord.

What percent of Gospel education would you say, among current Mormons, is done by the Church, vs the parents?  50/50?  70/30?   I've asked various people, and the numbers are consistently 80/20 or higher.  Meaning the church does 80% or more of a child's Gospel education.  Combined with Seminary, and that age group the number goes even higher.  

Consider what this may mean. The primary responsibility to teach the core of the Gospel to ones own children being shifted onto a Church organization. Perhaps it happens because we feel justified in letting the Church be responsible because it's the only true church. Perhaps the thinking goes that thanks to correlated manuals and First Presidency-prophet approved curriculum they are more qualified, and doing a better job than the parents could do.

Is taking a child to a church and dropping them off for their classes, or waking them up for seminary an acceptable discharge of the obligation taught in D&C to teach ones children?  Can you teach your offspring the doctrine of repentance, or to walk uprightly before the Lord if you do not know and do those things? The verse in D&C implies the parents also have an obligation toward their own level of Gospel knowledge.  Seeing as they are a "parent in zion".

The verses above state "and they (parents, plural, meaning both of them) shall also teach their children to pray, and to walk uprightly before the Lord. The verses include teaching them the Doctrine of repentance. Baptism, and the Gift of the Holy Ghost. It didn't say to trust that some organization will make sure they get taught the truth about those things, and trust the organization will take care of it, and parents can feel good about having other priorities because the Church has covered all the bases.

I think in many ways we are ashamed to talk of Christ, preach of Christ, and have Christ be part of our everyday discussions and life.  Out of fear of being viewed as an extremest, or being viewed as "that" family.   Or maybe it's just laziness.  I can't say.  

Speaking of the parents teaching their kids, or letting someone else do it as the case may be. I had a conversation with a co-worker about the Temple today. The question came up about a particular segment where the patrons are given the opportunity to excuse themselves from the room and ceremony if they do not wish to accept or take upon themselves the obligations about to be presented. The question came up as to why that question would be posed BEFORE telling them what the obligations even are. How do you know if you are comfortable accepting something not yet told to you? Sounds backwards. But it's not.  

Our discussion ended with us concluding if the person going through the temple for the first time knew nothing about the laws and nature of the obligations being referred to, then the preparation didn't accomplish it's purpose. The ball got dropped. In a significant way. Must have been the bad temple prep teacher right? It's so easy to put the responsibility onto someone else.       

Things like sacrifice, chastity, the law of the gospel, and consecration are all found in scripture. The prescribed wording even reminds the audience of this. ("As contained in the scriptures, as contained in the D&C") These are not anything anyone has agreed not to speak about. You can teach someone the laws, commandments, and importance of keeping covenants, as well as keeping sacred knowledge sacred without revealing anything you ought not to.  

I think there is a lot of fear, and ignorance due to trusting in men and organizations which causes people to neglect teaching things which are not only appropriate to teach, but which are supposed to be taught by the parents.

The primary Gospel educator even among active church attending and believing families is almost never the parents anymore. I can think of hundred reasons why, and none of them are any good.   

Friday, August 7, 2015

Craftiness of Honor

D&C 76:75 speaking about those inheriting the terrestrial glory has this to say:

75 These are they who are honorable men of the earth, who were blinded by the craftiness of men.

The honorable folks of the earth.  Folks who said, did, and practiced honorable things.  But they were blinded.  Not by cataracts.  Not by problems with their retina and optic nerves. Blinded by false beliefs, false religious notions, and false teachers claiming to be true ones.

What's wrong with being honorable?  Isn't that good?  Didn't these folks do things which they thought would make them worthy of "honor"?  Perhaps that is part of the problem, perhaps God knew what he was talking about when he warned that it's so tempting to seek after or aspire to the "honors" of men (D&C 121:35).

Which brings an interesting question to mind: So from who's point of view are these people "honorable"?  Does God view them as honorable? (Isaiah 64:6) Or is this telling us something about how these people viewed themselves?  Do they seem themselves as deserving honor?

Then the verse says blinded by the "craftiness" of men.  What craft is that?  Priestcraft of course.  The craftiness referred to is likely not some Ponzi scheme where you loose your money (although it may include that).  It's more like a religious profession full of sly and cunning deceits that cause losses to your soul, not just your bank account.  The craft has many perks, and comes with worldly praise and honor, perhaps wealth, or stipends, and may even have all the exterior of something admirable.  The artificial light blinds even honorable men.

Instead of being blinded by such craftiness, the scriptural antidote is to repent, and Come to the Lord.  Why not do whatever it takes to be in His presence and receive a fullness when such has been offered (D&C 93:1)?  Wouldn't you thereafter have a much easier time identifying the craftiness of men?  Scriptures teach the Lord worketh not in darkness. Doesn't do things that are dark, or hidden, or secretive in a deceptive cunning sly sense.  The craftiness of men would be seen for the darkness it is, when standing in the true light wouldn't it?  

Speaking of the same terrestrial state, this is verse 79 of the same section: 

79 These are they who are not valiant in the testimony of Jesus; wherefore, they obtain not the crown over the kingdom of our God.

Why were they not valiant in the testimony of Jesus?  Cowardice?  Weakness?  Perhaps they didn't have the testimony of Jesus?  What even is the Testimony of Jesus? (as opposed to a testimony OF Jesus)

Then the verse says they obtain not the crown over the kingdom of our God.  Perhaps they thought themselves honorable men of the earth and were too busy and too caught up in the affairs of men to realize what did, and did not matter.  And or perhaps they gave prominence to the testimony of some organization, or testimony of some man, or some tradition about staying true to the faith.  You can't serve two masters, much less serve two of them valiantly.   

I say, why bother being a Mormon, or a Christian for that matter, if you aren't going to be valiant in the Testimony of Jesus.  

Friday, July 31, 2015

Vexing Problems

Below is a screen shot from the Official Church Facebook page of President Monson this week.  (If the picture is blurry click on it for better quality)

Most members assume President Monson, as a prophet of God, physically sees, meets with, or has encounters with something more than a picture of Christ. But that's an assumption, not something President Monson has ever himself said or confirmed. It's quite common in scripture for this to occur, in fact it's everywhere if you look for it.  However in our day, it's too.... too much for the PR department I suppose.  Or it simply isn't happening.    

Referring to the message from Pres Monson.  When confronted with a problem the President of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints says he always looks at an image, and asks himself what would Christ have him do.  Call it a matter of "wording" but hopefully he asks Christ, not himself, what Christ would have him do.  I almost have to pose the question: Is there much of a difference between usage of this picture, and having a statue of a catholic saint on your desk?  I mean this about any of us, and with no disrespect.  Some people consider gazing on a statue or image and pondering to themselves "praying to a graven image".  Others of course would point to some other behavior like physically bowing your head as praying to a graven image, rather than an inclination to frequently gaze on a representation.  Interesting to consider both sides.  I make no conclusion, only offering something to consider.

After reading the Facebook post it did seem troubling that no mention is made of searching the scriptures, no mention is made of divine revelation.  He "always" gazes on an image.  Those are his words, not mine.  Perhaps revelation does happen, perhaps he does search the scriptures.  We are left to either assume, or to read between the lines. Of all the things to NOT mention, and of all the things a prophet would directly mention to the world.  The image itself and the question asked while gazing on it lead to clarity and direction.  That does somewhat contrast with Joseph Smith's comment about how a man would learn more by gazing into heaven for 5 minutes than reading all the books ever written on the subject.  He gazed into heaven and openly declared to the world that he saw Christ and and Father and spoke with them as one man speaks with another.  Political correctness was not his guiding principle.

What the prophet says, and what we presume about him, are often different.  I believe what he says, when confronted with a difficult decision or a vexing problem he always gazes at a picture.  I don't think he is lying.  The below picture by Carl Bloch to be specific.  I also believe what Joseph Smith said, that he did in fact see and converse directly with God.  I don't think he was lying.  He went so far as to teach and promote that others do the same.  I really like Joseph Smith's example (James 1:5).

Monday, July 27, 2015

So where is your Button? (Button Button part 2)

Last post I related how our ward was asked to wear little buttons each week to church that say "I choose" on them.  Read that post if you haven't already.  I thought I'd do a follow up.  The button wearing and promoting continues in the ward.  We were reminded about it from the pulpit last week.

Certain people wear these buttons consistently.  One member of the ward during fast and testimony became emotional about loosing her button.  Many do not wear it, especially the younger couples and families. If you were to guess who wears them, you'd probably be right.  Said people's kids also tend to wear them.  I try not to do foolish things if I can help it, so I have opted not to parade around a button on Sunday's indicating that I follow the leaders, and trust in the Church, and don't entertain alternate viewpoints in blogland, or intellectual historians which may in fact be accurate in the retelling of historical facts.

As new members have come into the ward, they are pulled aside and given buttons, and explained what their purpose is.  The kids usually seem to like it.  Based on the handful of adults I spoke with about the buttons they more put up with it. 

The Bishop has on occasion asked why some folks are not wearing the button.  One of the members of the ward who has a calling that takes them to ward council meetings has been asked twice why they do not wear it.  Another ward member upon being asked where there pin was responded "I'm wearing my garments and I have my temple recommend in my pocket and that's enough".   Which I thought put the matter squarely.

I've had a few months to reflect on these buttons, and the meeting where they were given out.  I'm not sure what the motive is to display such things outwardly.  It's a convenient way to quickly assess people, and how "in the boat" they are.  Whatever the secondary effects, the intent per the leaders was to unify the ward.  The intent was good.  What's odd though is we were divided by the leaders into different categories as it related to Lehi's vision depending on how we wore the button.  The object was for us to "choose" to follow the leaders, the church, and not doubt.  And, of course, avoid any of that online stuff.

Myself and a handful of other ward members were concerned by all of this.  Relating the button to the lambs blood on the door posts in Exodus was a little off putting to me.  A lamb had to be killed. The blood of the lamb pointing people to the blood of the great and last sacrifice of the Lamb of God, which would cause the destroying angel to pass by.  These are profound and sacred events and lessons.  It strikes me as a bit of malpractice to use them to promote wearing a button to show that you are not going to things like doubt your current church leaders.  The Gospel already has wearable symbols. I'm just not persuaded more outward symbols are what ward members in 2016 lack.  How can an outward symbol possibly bring unity of heart?

The original intent was not doubt good. A desire for unity for the ward is something I want to support.  Wearing a pin in an attempt to discourage doubts and create unity did however seem a little  silly to me.  Wearing a button doesn't solve anyone's doubts. Nor bring their hearts to unity.  How could it?  Knowledge and truth solve doubts.  I care about the truth, and I care about my ward.  I believe unity doesn't come from objects you wear, but from being of one heart, and one mind, and having no poor among you. (Moses 7:18).  None of those ideas were part of the presentation.  Just wearing a button.  Buttons easily create cliques, and club members and club non members inside the ward based on who wears it. Which I admit, could possibly be termed "unity".  I suppose like at a sporting event where you wear your team jersey or team colors. But we all know that isn't unity.  That unity evaporates into anger and hostility faster than spilled drinks in a sports stadium on hot day.

I do want to recognize the honest intent of the local leaders and their right to give the message they saw fit. I do not fault them, and if this has come across as criticism, I apologize.  I fault the contaminated teachings and darkened culture we are so often doused with that Nephi prophesied about in 2 Nephi 28.  We too often do not realize the situation we live in. We think Nephi was talking about some other religion who oddly doesn't even read nor accept Nephi's words.  We have to build unity around Christ, not Church leaders and wearable trinkets if we want to see Zion.

I offered feedback to the local leaders in an equally sincere way as they presented this plan.  I figured if I didn't speak up, and share the impressions I had, what good was I?  I can only hope what I said was understood, but, it wasn't.  This is what I was told in response to my concerns about the buttons:

"Wearing of the button has been a source of strength for personal devotion and unity for numerous ward members, to the point of when they misplace the button they ask for another. Youth, who in simple understanding of the principle being applied also continue to wear them. If there are cliques and separation happening they are formed in the hearts of individuals unwilling to accept the simple request and explanation. As the button says,,, "you choose".

Then they thanked me for the input and for sharing my feelings.  It was clear however that my input was not something they were thankful for.  It earned me a label. A label involving wolves and sheep and it wasn't the sheep.

Even though some ward members thought the program odd enough to be worth speaking up about, to my knowledge no one did.  That too was a little troubling to me.  Sometimes we have a collective lack of courage.  Lack of understanding of the scriptures and the Gospel leads to fear and weakness.  We just follow the leader.  We don't question, we don't think, we, like sheep, just baaa baaa along.  If we're not careful this just allows us to become like passive members of a heard, fearing to leave the safety of the mainstream belief or accepted cultural practice while assured we cannot fail.  Lulled carefully to sleep by false doctrines and foolish trinkets.

To quote the Stake Primary President of our Stake in a sacrament meeting: "We've done a piss poor job of teaching the Gospel..."   She used that phrase in a little different context, but the words fit really well here.  So I'm borrowing them.

When I compare what Joseph Smith started out restoring as part of the restoration, I have to admit it looks very different from what I see now.  There is growing number of awakening members and believers who are seeking Christ, seeking his face, living His doctrine, and seeking a return of the restoration that began with Joseph Smith. They are experiencing the scriptural promised results.  I'm one of them.  Yet meanwhile it seems there is an increase in the darkening consequences Joseph Smith spoke of when people rely too much on the prophet.  Unity can be built around pretty much anything, including following church leaders.  But unity in Christ is something unique.  So is Zion. 

Times are changing.  The LDS church is rapidly changing.  But the Doctrine of Christ remains the same. This is where I believe unity should begin.  Could you cite (or list the elements of) aforementioned doctrine if asked?  If we want the unity Christ offers, it seems beyond any argument that we should first understand and then follow the doctrine he taught.  There is a tendency to presume our enlightened version of modern Mormonism has moved well beyond any of that, and all we need to do is follow the current church leaders.  If we don't even know what the doctrine of Christ is, then haven't we gone seeking after some unknown God or idol?  Hoping to find unity on our own terms? 

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Button Button Who's Wearing Their Button?

Now, the button-vested Mormons had Sunday clothes with buttons.   
The plain-vested Mormons had none upon thars.
Those buttons weren't so big. They were really so small. 
You might think such a thing wouldn't matter at all.

Yesterday at Church there was going to be a "big" announcement. The whole ward was abuzz about if for a week or so prior. Lots of people wondered if there would be a ward boundary change or something of that nature. It didn't end up being that. 

Come Sunday during sacrament meeting we were told in 3rd hour there would be this big announcement. There would be no primary, no nursery, everyone would meet in the chapel for this special meeting. When the much anticipated meeting happened, the bishopric began by presenting this plan for unity for the ward. A giant purple box wrapped as a gift was brought to the front of the room.  We were told the color symbolized God, and inside was a gift.  It contained 2 chalices that contained buttons, pic of button below.  I was in the foyer so didn't see the box or chalices myself but two ward members described it for me. (I did get a button handed out to me).

Each member of the bishopric spoke, they based all their comments on an article from a recent ensign issue titled "When doubts arise" (link) written by an Adam Kotter.  It got emotional for each of the speakers as they spoke.  They were all sincere, and genuinely caring.

The Bishop first spoke about doubts, and how apparently there are many living my area who are full of them, and many with questions about churchy things which apparently caused enough concern that the bishopric called this special meeting to address it. The talks referenced internet threats such as online bloggers, apostate writers, and intellectuals that are causing people to doubt the Church.  He said they as a bishopric wanted to combat this. So they presented this plan for unity for the ward.

The idea was presented using the story from Exodus chapter 12 of putting the lamb's blood on the door posts of the ancient Israelite's homes.  The congregation was given little buttons or wearable pins which we were told needed to be an external sign (were were told was like the lamb's blood from exodus) of our commitment to "choose" to follow and trust the church leaders, follow the Prophet, to choose faith and not doubt, to choose for ourselves to stay strong in the Church regardless of what others are saying. We (the members of the ward) were told to wear the pin every Sunday for the rest of the year as an outward sign of these beliefs.  Indicating that we "choose" to do those things.

The meeting concluded by relating the wearing of the pin to the different groups of people from Lehi's vision of the tree of life in the Book of Mormon. If you are not familiar with that vision there were some people in the vision who didn't care to seek or follow the iron rod which led to the Tree of Life.  That group was related to those in the ward who wouldn't care about wearing the pin, and would never even consider wearing it. Then there were the other groups in Lehi's vision who caught hold of the iron rod but later fell away. That group was likened to those in the ward who would wear the pin for a week or two but would then forget and probably lose it. Then the group in Lehi's vision who held fast to the rod and endured to the end were likened to those who would wear the pin valiantly. Supporting this outward sign of .... what was it?  Oh yes, "choosing" to trust the leaders, retain faith and not give heed to doubters, the internet, or the big bad blogland.  Which I suppose would include me, oddly enough.  I am about as non dangerous a person as they come, but I suppose that depends on the amount of religious fear you carry.

The bishop encouraged the ward by quoting from the ensign article:
“When faced with a trial of faith—whatever you do, don’t step away from the Church! Distancing yourself from the kingdom of God during a trial of faith is like leaving the safety of a secure storm cellar just as the tornado comes into view.”

Much of this special meeting troubled me.  It's the trends, beliefs, teachings and cultural pollution that has substituted and replaced the Gospel that's really concerning.  People are often just innocently following what they are taught.  And when we are taught garbage the cultural blinders grow thicker and thicker rather than fall from our collective eyes.  I don't want to see that happen, but it's happening.

That statement from the Ensign article about leaving the storm cellar has an indirect message that stands out.  It implies that safety lies in your attachment to a corporate institution which has as one of it's arms, the religion called the LDS church.  That's false.  We should repent of such beliefs because they are false and not supported by scripture.

Just last month the primary children were taught there is safety in following the President of the Church who we call a prophet.  Repeated again by the stake presidency in this months newsletter, and repeated as often ore more than any other single doctrine in the Church (in my experience). The Church office building, the leaders, chapels, PR spokespeople, the magazines, the Mormon messages, trademarks, and corporate entity are not the same thing as the Gospel.  The distinction is being lost.  They are no storm shelter in my view.  And they are certainly not the same thing as the Kingdom of God.  Thank goodness the Kingdom of God is not a corporation that can be sued and is subject to all sorts of pressures of this fallen world.

The kingdom of God is not run by business men and does not have a "for profit" arm that builds billion dollar shopping malls and offers zero transparency to those who donate faithfully.  Frankly I think we should step away from those things.  The scriptures say as much because those things are Babylon, and scriptures teach to flee Babylon.  Zions bank in no way gets us closer to Zion does it?  Or is that bank more Zion-like due to it's name?  And why does the church have a PR spokesperson anyway?  Isn't a prophet a spokesman?  I never sustained a spokesmen for the spokesmen.  Would the PR spokesmen's words be considered God's word since he's speaking for God's church?  I digress....  

The official Guide to the Scriptures says "The LDS church is the Kingdom of God on the earth" and cites D&C 65 as it's source.  The last century of Church leaders were raised with this idea as true beyond question.  So it just gets repeated, and repeated enough that now it's accepted as common sense.  The next generation of leaders is also carrying this tradition on in all the manuals.  Although the idea has spread far and wide, the scriptural evidence for it is non existent. Read D&C 65 yourself and see if you think the scripture equates the LDS church with the Kingdom of God.  It simply doesn't.  The only other evidence for the belief is, well, tradition.  Stuff like that, and "the prophet/Church can't lead you astray" and dwindling educational material are forming a machine churning out members who are scripturally illiterate, who do not even claim to understand any Church's history, and who are taught by their leaders to make an oath like covenant to sustain (follow) the current Church's President (Elder Nelson Oct Conference 2014).  Dr. Seuss had a fitting story that I'm reminded of:

Then, quickly, Sylvester McMonkey McBean
Put together a very peculiar machine.

And he said, “You want stars like a Star-Belly Sneetch? 

My friends, you can have them for three dollars each!”  

“Just pay me your money and hop right aboard!”

So they clambered inside. Then the big machine roared.

And it klonked. And it bonked. And it jerked. And it berked.

And it bopped them about. But the thing really worked!

When the Plain-Belly Sneetches popped out, they had stars!

They actually did. They had stars upon thars! Then they yelled at the ones who had stars at the start,
“We’re still the best Sneetches and they are the worst.

Is unity really unity if it only exists as a result of the corporate religious structure?  That has the appearance of unity, but is it?

continued in part 2...