Sunday, September 27, 2015

Step 2: Repent of your sins

The first step (in the 15-step climb to the church of the Firstborn) considered was faith in God and Jesus Christ. As Amulek taught, faith leads unto repentance (Alma 34:15). Below, I share a few thoughts on that topic. In the end, I've added some one-liners on repentance. Feel free to add your own in the comments section.

Repentance as an act of letting go to receive more

The final (as far as I can see from where I’m at right now) stage of repentance is to face God being willing to empty your heart, mind and soul from anything that takes up the space that God wants to fill with his love, light and truth. The traditions of our fathers, the philosophies of men mingled with scripture, the precepts of men, it all needs to go. But that’s not a work that’s done by you and me. We aren’t necessarily aware of the falsehoods we espouse and perhaps cherish. We don’t empty us, but show a willingness to let it all go, a willingness to be shown what’s false and what’s true, and then God will make the exchange. He will give us beauty for ashes, oil of gladness instead of mourning and the mantle of praise instead of a spirit of fainting (Isa. 61:3). 

”May the Lord grant unto you repentance.” (Alma 13:30) The chance to repent is a gift, just like the change that’s wrought in us when we receive this gift. Repentance isn’t so much about God’s willingness or timing (D&C 88:67-68), but about us. God is always willing to give us what is already ours (Christ has finished his preperations unto us, and invites/commands us to repent and receive – D&C 19:15-20), but he can't unless we ask for it, with enough space in our arms and hearts to receive.

As these concepts have started to fill my heart and mind, I understand that it’s not about all that I can do, but rather what He can do. Repentance is about our hunger for his nearness, his words, his truths, his light, and his love and desire to fill us with what we lack, when we are ready to receive.

I like these lines from the LDS Seminary song “Firm in the faith”:
When the story of heroes is told.This mystery begins to unfoldThe life with the greatest rewardIs the life turned over to the Lord.A hero achieves his greatest good.When he seeks to know the will of God.He can make more of a man than any man without him ever can.He’ll deepen your joys.Strengthen your arms.Comfort your soul.Keep you from harm.Fill you with power through his loving grace. 
I believe that He truly ”can make more of [me than I can] without him.” The task at hand is to let that belief develop into a desire and a hunger to experience the mighty change offered me.

Preparatory and saving repentance

I believe it’s possible to distinguish between two types of repentance–preparatory and saving repentance. Preparatory repentance means that we stop doing things we ought to avoid, thus helping us get rid of the need to put effort into responding to the effects of bad choices. saving repentance is something entirely different. It’s about changing the thoughts and intents of our hearts, realigning our will with God’s and focusing our efforts and eye of faith on the things that matter most. In essence, this is what king Benjamin taught his people.

King Benjamin taught that ”the natural man is an enemy to God, and has been from the fall of Adam, and will be, forever and ever, unless he yields to the enticings of the Holy Spirit, and putteth off the natural man and becometh a saint through the atonement of Christ the Lord, and becometh as a child, submissive, meek, humble, patient, full of love, willing to submit to all things which the Lord seeth fit to inflict upon him, even as a child doth submit to his father.” (Mosiah 3:19) This is a dualistic process. First off, the natural man is to be put of. Doing that might entail subtracting things from your life. Secondly, you need to put on Christ. That’s all about adding to the divine that’s already within you. You go from minus to zero, then from zero to plus.

Alma the younger is a great example of this. He went about ”with the sons of Mosiah, seeking to destroy the church of God” and murdering ”many of his children, or rather [leading] them away unto destruction.” (Alma 36:6, 14) After experiencing a brutal awakening to his awful situation, Alma turned to the Lord for mercy. The Lord answered hi sprayer, with the following effects.
  • Alma remembered “his pains no more; yea, [he] was harrowed up by the memory of [his] sins no more” (v. 19)
  • “Joy, and what marvelous light [he] did behold; yea, [his] soul was filled with joy” (v. 20)
  • His soul did long to be singing and praising [h] God (v. 22)
  • He had been born of God (v. 23)
  • He “labored without ceasing, that [he] might bring souls unto repentance; that [he] might bring them to taste of the exceeding joy of which [he] did taste; that they might also be born of God, and be filled with the Holy Ghost.” (v. 24)
  • The Lord imparted words unto him. (v. 26)
  • He had tasted, and had seen eye to eye; the knowledge which he had was of God. (v. 26)
  • He has “been supported under trials and troubles of every kind, yea, and in all manner of afflictions.” (v. 27)
  • He knows that the Lord “will raise [him] up at the last day, to dwell with [the Lord] in glory.” (v. 28)
Alma’s experience is edifying. We are taught about the state we are brought to before we, from the depth of humility, can cry out for God’s saving grace (less than the dust of the earth, as another group felt – Mosiah 4:2), we are taught what we should ask for (not for the strength to undo, repair or carry our anguish, but rather for mercy and forgiveness), and the consequences that follow a rebirth by God. There is much here that will help us experience our own change of heart and rebirth.

(As we are already discussing Alma 36, I’d like to point out something that became clear to me. Alma said to Helaman that ”inasmuch as ye shall keep the commandments of God ye shall prosper in the land; and ye ought to know also, that inasmuch as ye will not keep the commandments of God ye shall be cut off from his presence.” (v. 30) This teaches me that real ’success and prospering in the Land’ is enjoying the presence of the Lord. No other success can compensate for failure in this regard.)
The “steps of repentance” reconsidered

The “doctrine of the steps of repentance” has taken its hold on the Church. I’m not sure it’s doctrinally correct or even spiritually helpful. Checklists are for chores and things needed to be done, whether or not the person performing the tasks want to do it, enjoy, do it well or even thinks it needs to be done. This is especially true if handed a checklist written by someone else.

When we repent by checking of a list, something spritiual, mental and psychological is reduced to mere mechanics. We say and do the right things and then go on with our lives. And we often end up in the same mess, needing to go through the steps once more. This procedure gives the concept of repentance a bad reputation. For many, repentance is the neighborhood thug who’s always around and makes everyone else nervous, for you never know where he’s going to cause mischief next.

Repentance is more than just a few steps. It’s a concept and principle of inclusion and addition that permeates pretty much everything else (at least the steps to the church of the Firstborn).

Receiving the prophets – a characteristic of the penitent

Helaman, the son of Helaman (the son of Alma the younger), taught his sons Nephi (the third) and Lehi that Jesus Christ has “power given unto him from the Father to redeem [his people] from their sins because of repentance; therefore he hath sent his angels to declare the tidings of the conditions of repentance, which bringeth unto the power of the Redeemer, unto the salvation of their souls.” (Hel. 5:11)

The conditions of repentance bringeth unto the power of the Redeemer. What are the “conditions of repentance”? This question might be answered best if we first try to understand what the power of the Redeemer is.

Abinadi taught (in Mosiah 15:7-12) that “he shall be led, crucified, and slain, the flesh becoming subject even unto death, the will of the Son being swallowed up in the will of the Father.
 8 And thus God breaketh the bands of death, having gained the victory over death; giving the Son power to make intercession for the children of men—
 9 Having ascended into heaven, having the bowels of mercy; being filled with compassion towards the children of men; standing betwixt them and justice; having broken the bands of death, taken upon himself their iniquity and their transgressions, having redeemed them, and satisfied the demands of justice.
 10 And now I say unto you, who shall declare his generation? Behold, I say unto you, that when his soul has been made an offering for sin he shall see his seed. And now what say ye? And who shall be his seed?
 11 Behold I say unto you, that whosoever has heard the words of the prophets, yea, all the holy prophets who have prophesied concerning the coming of the Lord—I say unto you, that all those who have hearkened unto their words, and believed that the Lord would redeem his people, and have looked forward to that day for a remission of their sins, I say unto you, that these are his seed, or they are the heirs of the kingdom of God.
 12 For these are they whose sins he has borne; these are they for whom he has died, to redeem them from their transgressions.”

This teaching about who the seed of the Lord are, is echoed by the description (given by Mormon) of the Nephites who survived the upheavals and calamities caused at the time of Jesus’ death at Golgatha.

“And it was the more righteous part of the people who were saved, and it was they who received the prophets and stoned them not; and it was they who had not shed the blood of the saints, who were spared.” (3 Ne. 10:12)

This might seem like an easy task–"Not stone the prophets and not shed the blood of the saints? I can handle that!"

I believe most of us would think that we pass that threshold. But how about receiving the prophets. Which prophets? The quorum of the twelve and the first presidency? I would suggest, for anyone interested in the question “What is a prophet?” to read the 48-page answer from Robert Sonntag

For me, the role of prophet has never been about position in a hierarchy or being viewed as a prophet by other people. It’s more a question about whether the person acts like a prophet or not. Joseph said that “a prophet was a prophet only when he was acting as such.” (TPJS p. 278) This pretty much sums it all up – if a man, or a woman, never acts as a prophet (conveys messages from God),  that person cannot be a prophet.

Back to repentance. Receiving the prophets is the same as repenting, for with almost no exception, all the holy prophets have preached ”naught but repentance,” just as we are commanded to. (D&C 19:21).

Preach naught but repentance, and Repentance = the Gospel

In D&C 19 the Lord commanded ”that you preach naught but repentance” (v. 21). Later in the same chapter (v. 31) he explained what the preaching of repentance encompasses–”thou shalt declare repentance and faith on the Savior, and remission of sins by baptism, and by fire, yea, even the Holy Ghost.”

In D&C 39:5-6 we read the following:
”To as many as received me, gave I power to become my sons; and even so will I give unto as many as will receive me, power to become my sons. And verily, verily, I say unto you, he that receiveth my gospel receiveth me; and he that receiveth not my gospel receiveth not me. And this is my gospel—repentance and baptism by water, and then cometh the baptism of fire and the Holy Ghost, even the Comforter, which showeth all things, and teacheth the peaceable things of the kingdom.”
Repentance brings us unto the power of the Redeemer. Repentance could, and maybe should, encompass every other part of receiving the Lord and coming to Jesus. Since our repentance isn’t complete before we’ve attained unto the resurrection of the dead (see TPJS p. 346-347; this is somehting other than being resurrected), repentance might be considered synonymous with the Gospel, the plan of salvation and redemption. But that’s just semantics.

The above quoted scriptures make abundantly clear that the power to become His sons and daughters are ours only after we have received Him, and we receive him by repenting, being baptized in water and the receive the baptism of fire and the Holy Ghost. Unless we’ve come this far, we’ve not received Jesus.

Random one-liners on repentance

Repentance is no checklist. It’s a way of life

Repentance is initially about subtraction, and if it doesn’t turn into a process of addition, it has only taken you half way.

Repentance isn’t about putting us back into the innocence of the Garden, but rather to make us gardeners.

Friday, September 18, 2015

Step 1: Faith in God and Jesus Christ

A few days ago, I read a few verses from Ether 12 to my children (6 and 4 yrs old). I asked them what faith was. “It is to have faith.” Correct, I responded, and then went on to tell them about the time they jumped from a ledge into my arms. I explained that at first, they hesitated because they only believed that I would catch them (and I fervently tried to convince them that I would) and that that belief grew stronger by every jump they made into my open arms. By the end, they knew that I would catch them and the doubts they did have in the beginning had subsided. And that is faith, I concluded, and that’s how faith turns into knowledge–by the exercise of it. The initial belief is riddled with doubt, but doubt soon gives way to faith. Enough jumps in faith is the basis for a deep sense of trust and security.

As I’ve searched the scriptures, I’ve come to understand that faith is a principle with more power than we might give it credit for. Still, I’m not sure how the faith I described to my childen will become such that you can command the trees, the mountains and the sea. I do believe it’s about a qualitative difference instead of a difference in kind.

How do I grow (or have the Lord to grow) my faith into a principle of power?

In Hebrews 11, Paul (or whoever wrote the letter) mentions faith as a power in the lives of Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Sara, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses and the harlot Rahab. He then continues with these words:

32 And what shall I more say? for the time would fail me to tell of Gedeon, and of Barak, and of Samson, and of Jephthae; of David also, and Samuel, and of the prophets:
33 Who through faith subdued kingdoms, wrought righteousness, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions,
34 Quenched the violence of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, out of weakness were made strong, waxed valiant in fight, turned to flight the armies of the aliens.
35 Women received their dead raised to life again: and others were tortured, not accepting deliverance; that they might obtain a better resurrection:
36 And others had trial of cruel mockings and scourgings, yea, moreover of bonds and imprisonment:
37 They were stoned, they were sawn asunder, were tempted, were slain with the sword: they wandered about in sheepskins and goatskins; being destitute, afflicted, tormented;
38 (Of whom the world was not worthy:) they wandered in deserts, and in mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth.
39 And these all, having obtained a good report through faith, received not the promise:
40 God having provided some better thing for us, that they without us should not be made perfect.
A similar list is of miracles following faith is compiled by Moroni. In Ether 12, he states the following.
7 For it was by faith that Christ showed himself unto our fathers, after he had risen from the dead; and he showed not himself unto them until after they had faith in him; wherefore, it must needs be that some had faith in him, for he showed himself not unto the world.
8 But because of the faith of men he has shown himself unto the world, and glorified the name of the Father, and prepared a way that thereby others might be partakers of the heavenly gift, that they might hope for those things which they have not seen.
9 Wherefore, ye may also have hope, and be partakers of the gift, if ye will but have faith.
10 Behold it was by faith that they of old were called after the holy order of God.
11 Wherefore, by faith was the law of Moses given. But in the gift of his Son hath God prepared a more excellent way; and it is by faith that it hath been fulfilled.
12 For if there be no faith among the children of men God can do no miracle among them; wherefore, he showed not himself until after their faith.
13 Behold, it was the faith of Alma and Amulek that caused the prison to tumble to the earth.
14 Behold, it was the faith of Nephi and Lehi that wrought the change upon the Lamanites, that they were baptized with fire and with the Holy Ghost.
15 Behold, it was the faith of Ammon and his brethren which wrought so great a miracle among the Lamanites.
16 Yea, and even all they who wrought miracles wrought them by faith, even those who were before Christ and also those who were after.
17 And it was by faith that the three disciples obtained a promise that they should not taste of death; and they obtained not the promise until after their faith.
18 And neither at any time hath any wrought miracles until after their faith; wherefore they first believed in the Son of God.
19 And there were many whose faith was so exceedingly strong, even before Christ came, who could not be kept from within the veil, but truly saw with their eyes the things which they had beheld with an eye of faith, and they were glad.
20 And behold, we have seen in this record that one of these was the brother of Jared; for so great was his faith in God, that when God put forth his finger he could not hide it from the sight of the brother of Jared, because of his word which he had spoken unto him, which word he had obtained by faith.
21 And after the brother of Jared had beheld the finger of the Lord, because of the promise which the brother of Jared had obtained by faith, the Lord could not withhold anything from his sight; wherefore he showed him all things, for he could no longer be kept without the veil.
22 And it is by faith that my fathers have obtained the promise that these things should come unto their brethren through the Gentiles; therefore the Lord hath commanded me, yea, even Jesus Christ.
How was all this possible? How could Abinadi stand bravely before a king and priests with murderous intentions? How could king Benjamin address his people while his whole frame was trembling exceedingly? How did the Samuel the lamanite find courage to return to the Nephites, who had already cast him out, with the only instruction that he was to speak what the Lord would put into his heart? How was Nephi able to defy the risk of being killed by Laban and his fifty men when going after the plates? How can we stand up in the face of opposition, both from without and within, as we press forward in the journey of faith?

I believe that the key to all of this is taught in the Lectures on Faith. In Lecture Third, § 2-5, we read:

2 Let us here observe, that three things are necessary, in order that any rational and intelligent being may exercise faith in God unto life and salvation.
3 First, The idea that he actually exists.
4 Secondly, A correct idea of his character, perfections and attributes. (Emphasis in the original).
5 Thirdly, An actual knowledge that the course of life which he is pursuing, is according to his will.—For without an acquaintance with these three important facts, the faith of every rational being must be imperfect and unproductive; but with this understanding, it can become perfect and fruitful, abounding in righteousness unto the praise and glory of God the Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ.
An example of how this teaching could be applied to each one of us is found in 1 Nephi. One of the most well known scriptures in all of the Book of Mormon is 1 Ne. 3:7. In it, Nephi says unto his father:
“I will go and do the things which the Lord hath commanded, for I know that the Lord giveth no commandments unto the children of men, save he shall prepare a way for them that they may accomplish the thing which he commandeth them.”
We usually tend to isolate this statement from what gave Nephi the faith he expressed. As we strive to emulate Nephi’s example, we often find that we can’t muster the same kind of faith he had and we get discouraged. Whenever we try to follow someone’s example, we need to look at where they started, for chances are that we will have to begin our journey from the same place. For Nephi, it all started with the teachings of his father Lehi. Nephi didn’t rebel against his father like his older brothers did. Instead, he held his questions and concerns for himself before taking them to the Lord. We read:
16 And it came to pass that I, Nephi, being exceedingly young, nevertheless being large in stature, and also having great desires to know of the mysteries of God, wherefore, I did cry unto the Lord; and behold he did visit me, and did soften my heart that I did believe all the words which had been spoken by my father; wherefore, I did not rebel against him like unto my brothers.
17 And I spake unto Sam, making known unto him the things which the Lord had manifested unto me by his Holy Spirit. And it came to pass that he believed in my words.
18 But, behold, Laman and Lemuel would not hearken unto my words; and being grieved because of the hardness of their hearts I cried unto the Lord for them.
19 And it came to pass that the Lord spake unto me, saying: Blessed art thou, Nephi, because of thy faith, for thou hast sought me diligently, with lowliness of heart.
20 And inasmuch as ye shall keep my commandments, ye shall prosper, and shall be led to a land of promise; yea, even a land which I have prepared for you; yea, a land which is choice above all other lands.
21 And inasmuch as thy brethren shall rebel against thee, they shall be cut off from the presence of the Lord.
22 And inasmuch as thou shalt keep my commandments, thou shalt be made a ruler and a teacher over thy brethren.
23 For behold, in that day that they shall rebel against me, I will curse them even with a sore curse, and they shall have no power over thy seed except they shall rebel against me also.
24 And if it so be that they rebel against me, they shall be a scourge unto thy seed, to stir them up in the ways of remembrance. (1 Ne. 2:16-24)
First, Nephi’s heart is softened enough to plant a seed of belief. He then tells his younger brother (who believes) and his older brothers (who wouldn’t hearken to his words). Nephi then shows what’s in his heart, when he cries to the Lord for his brothers. Nephi truly was a man after the Lord’s own heart (Acts 13:22; 1 Sam. 13:14). That’s why the Lord subsequently pronounced Nephi “blessed.” With this affirmation of his standing before the Lord, Nephi had so much confidence in the Lord that he was able to take on big challenges, and see them through to completion. Nephi had received faith which could be followed by miracles.

Jacob, Nephi’s younger brother, had some interesting things to say about the development of this kind of faith.

”Wherefore, we search the prophets, and we have many revelations and the spirit of prophecy; and having all these witnesses we obtain a hope, and our faith becometh unshaken, insomuch that we truly can command in the name of Jesus and the very trees obey us, or the mountains, or the waves of the sea.” (Jacob 4:6)
I often pray that I will be able to believe and repent enough so that I can have “[an] actual knowledge that the course of life which [I am] pursuing, is according to [God’s] will.” One day, I will have that assurance. This hope pushes me forward.

This praying of mine needs to continue, deepen and become more filled with the humblest yearnings of my soul. As Nephi and Lehi (the brothers in Helaman) was incarcerated, a dark cloud overshadowed their fellow inmates. One of them was a dissented Nephite. He, Aminadab, shared a profound insight when he said, “you must repent, and cry unto the voice, even until ye shall have faith in Christ, who was taught unto you by Alma, and Amulek, and Zeezrom; and when ye shall do this, the cloud of darkness shall be removed from overshadowing you.” (Hel. 5:41)

The cloud of darkness was removed, but the Lord had still greater things in store for these men.

42 And it came to pass that they all did begin to cry unto the voice of him who had shaken the earth; yea, they did cry even until the cloud of darkness was dispersed.
43 And it came to pass that when they cast their eyes about, and saw that the cloud of darkness was dispersed from overshadowing them, behold, they saw that they were encircled about, yea every soul, by a pillar of fire.
44 And Nephi and Lehi were in the midst of them; yea, they were encircled about; yea, they were as if in the midst of a flaming fire, yet it did harm them not, neither did it take hold upon the walls of the prison; and they were filled with that joy which is unspeakable and full of glory.
45 And behold, the Holy Spirit of God did come down from heaven, and did enter into their hearts, and they were filled as if with fire, and they could speak forth marvelous words.
46 And it came to pass that there came a voice unto them, yea, a pleasant voice, as if it were a whisper, saying:
47 Peace, peace be unto you, because of your faith in my Well Beloved, who was from the foundation of the world.
48 And now, when they heard this they cast up their eyes as if to behold from whence the voice came; and behold, they saw the heavens open; and angels came down out of heaven and ministered unto them.
49 And there were about three hundred souls who saw and heard these things; and they were bidden to go forth and marvel not, neither should they doubt.
50 And it came to pass that they did go forth, and did minister unto the people, declaring throughout all the regions round about all the things which they had heard and seen, insomuch that the more part of the Lamanites were convinced of them, because of the greatness of the evidences which they had received. (Hel. 5:42-50)
These Lamanites went from having hearts filled with murderous intentions (Hel. 5:22-23) to experiencing pillars of fire, the Holy Spirit of God entering their hearts, being filled with fire, speaking marvelous words, hearing the voice of the Father testifying of the Son and being ministered unto by angels. What caused the change? Their faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. Nothing more, nothing less. They hadn’t had time to do anything else than letting God change their hearts and their nature forever. This has to be the Gospel of Jesus Christ in its truest form.

This is a beautiful, beautiful text. I feel in my heart that it is true. As I write this, I feel that my heart is full and that God wanted these verses to come to your attention at this time. There’s something in this example that God wants you to learn and believe in.

As we’ve come this far, we have to ask ourselves the question of why miracles follow faith?

First and foremost, miracles are the creation of God. He performs the miracle, “and the reason why he ceaseth to do miracles among the children of men is because that they dwindle in unbelief, and depart from the right way, and know not the God in whom they should trust.” (Mormon 9:20) This verse mirrors the before mentioned prerequisites for faith unto life and salvation.

Faith, based on a belief that God exists, a correct idea of his character, perfections and attributes and an actual knowledge that the course of life which he is pursuing, is according to his will, is exercised by the inspiration from on high and it taps into the power of heaven. God acknowledges this and displays his power for the blessing and salvation of mankind.

We oftentimes think that priesthood is the force by which something is done. I believe this is an incorrect definition. The priesthood isn’t the force. The priesthood is a relationship between man and heaven, just like a brotherhood denotes a relationship between men. The active force is faith. In JST Genesis 14 we read the following.

30 For God having sworn unto Enoch and unto his seed with an oath by himself; that every one being ordained after this order and calling should have power, by faith, to break mountains, to divide the seas, to dry up waters, to turn them out of their course;
31 To put at defiance the armies of nations, to divide the earth, to break every band, to stand in the presence of God; to do all things according to his will, according to his command, subdue principalities and powers; and this by the will of the Son of God which was from before the foundation of the world.
32 And men having this faith, coming up unto this order of God, were translated and taken up into heaven. (Emphasis added.)
As I’ve contemplated this topic, it’s been impressed on my mind that having this kind of faith is a forerunner to receiving actual power in the priesthood. Joseph explained “that the rights of the priesthood are inseparably connected with the powers of heaven, and that the powers of heaven cannot be controlled nor handled only upon the principles of righteousness.” Priesthood is a relationship, and having faith unto the performing of miracles is required for this to develop.

The priesthood seems to be the ability and opportunity of man to be charged with the responsibility to act strictly by the will of the Son of God by the power of faith.

Nephi (the third in the Book of Mormon) experiences this. In Helaman 10 we read:

[That as Nephi] was thus pondering in his heart, behold, a voice came unto him saying:
4 Blessed art thou, Nephi, [again, the Lord pronounces someone blessed] for those things which thou hast done; for I have beheld how thou hast with unwearyingness declared the word, which I have given unto thee, unto this people. And thou hast not feared them, and hast not sought thine own life, but hast sought my will, and to keep my commandments.
5 And now, because thou hast done this with such unwearyingness, behold, I will bless thee forever; and I will make thee mighty in word and in deed, in faith and in works; yea, even that all things shall be done unto thee according to thy word, for thou shalt not ask that which is contrary to my will.
6 Behold, thou art Nephi, and I am God. Behold, I declare it unto thee in the presence of mine angels, that ye shall have power over this people, and shall smite the earth with famine, and with pestilence, and destruction, according to the wickedness of this people.
7 Behold, I give unto you power, that whatsoever ye shall seal on earth shall be sealed in heaven; and whatsoever ye shall loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven; and thus shall ye have power among this people.
8 And thus, if ye shall say unto this temple it shall be rent in twain, it shall be done.
9 And if ye shall say unto this mountain, Be thou cast down and become smooth, it shall be done.
10 And behold, if ye shall say that God shall smite this people, it shall come to pass.
11 And now behold, I command you, that ye shall go and declare unto this people, that thus saith the Lord God, who is the Almighty: Except ye repent ye shall be smitten, even unto destruction. (Emphasis added.)
Although all these words are powerful, I chose to underline a few of them. Nephi was pronounced blessed by the Lord for having declared the word of the Lord, sought the Lord’s will above all else and kept his commandments, without becoming weary. Through his faithfulness, Nephi had built a relationship of trust with the Lord and shown himself worthy to be entrusted with the Lord’s power to seal. The fact that Nephi doesn’t use this power further attests to him being worthy of it.

From the film Gladiator we got this thought provoking dialogue.

Marcus Aurelius: Won't you accept this great honor that I have offered you?
Maximus: With all my heart, no.
Marcus Aurelius: Maximus, that is why it must be you.
The only one that can be entrusted with this kind of power is the one who’s the most aware of his inability. Quite a paradox.

This is something that Jacob, Nephi’s (the first) younger brother, also understood. He explained that “our faith becometh unshaken, insomuch that we truly can command in the name of Jesus and the very trees obey us, or the mountains, or the waves of the sea. Nevertheless, the Lord God showeth us our weakness that we may know that it is by his grace, and his great condescensions unto the children of men, that we have power to do these things.” (Jacob 4:6-7; emphasis added)

I’m nowhere close to having this kind of faith. I’ve only come to realize that I’ve mistaken belief for faith. It’s clear that when we draw closer to the Lord, He will show us what we lack (Eth. 12:27). When that happens, one of the first things that need to be taken care of is our faith, or our lack of it, for without us having faith, there’s not much Jesus can do (Eth. 12:9, 12).

What’s the result of true faith, doubting nothing?

”And whosoever shall believe in my name, doubting nothing, unto him will I confirm all my words, even unto the ends of the earth.” (Mormon 9:25)
” And in that day that they shall exercise faith in me, saith the Lord, even as the brother of Jared did, that they may become sanctified in me, then will I manifest unto them the things which the brother of Jared saw, even to the unfolding unto them all my revelations, saith Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the Father of the heavens and of the earth, and all things that in them are.” (Eth. 4:7)
I find this extraordinay. Jesus will confirm all his words. Wow. We will be shown everything. WOW! I believe that this is true. I testify that it is.

As I’ve pondered how the role of faith plays out in our lives, the concept of a spiral of faith came to me. It goes something like this.

- When someone hears about Jesus Christ and Him crucified and believes, they want to follow Him and His teachings.
- The new believer soon realizes that he can’t be perfect as Jesus commanded him. In faith, he admits his fallenness.
- We act out of faith and turn to Christ and admit that he has conquered justice through his perfect and exact obedience.
- We humble ourselves, our hearts breaks some more and our spiritual contrition deepens, and we are offered the chance to follow the Son empowered through his grace.
- Vi try to obey, but are reminded that we won’t be able to do it the way we know we have to, and we get a renewed chance to respond to our fallenness with faith.
- Jesus will receive us and let us grow in humility. Our ability to obey will grow because our weakness will turn into a strength.
- We obey, not by fighting against the tide, but through the power, love and grace of Jesus.
The alternative to this spiral of faith is the circle of no faith.
- We try to obey and fail, but this failure makes us turn against the commandments and their author. We feel defeated and that we won’t be able to win the game. We pull out, ‘knowing’ that the gospel doesn’t work.
The mistake in all of this is that the person lacking faith didn’t realize that the game wasn’t his to play (Jesus having already won it) and that that, the victory of Jesus, is the gospel.

What does faith in Jesus Christ mean? Nephi explains it well.

”My heart exclaimeth: O wretched man that I am! Yea, my heart sorroweth because of my flesh; my soul grieveth because of mine iniquities. I am encompassed about, because of the temptations and the sins which do so easily beset me. And when I desire to rejoice, my heart groaneth because of my sins; nevertheless, I know in whom I have trusted.” (2 Ne. 4:17-29)

Trust is at the heart of faith. This trust is the substance of godliness, since faith is the driving force in God. Without this faith we have a form of godliness but lack the power thereof.

There will be a part 2 to this post. I felt that I needed to post it right away. So I did.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Pulling weeds from the flowerbed of faith

A blog is a living thing. This blog will go where I’m going, for good and bad. Some of those who read will be questioning my motives, some will believe I am misled and some will accuse me of misleading others. 

Since I won't be able to change what other people believe about or perceive the reasons I have for writing, these questions will, just like beauty, have to be settled in the eye, or the mind, of the beholder. God won’t judge me according to the verdict passed by mere mortals. He will judge my heart, and God knows, God surely knows that I’m working on that part.

With this said, and before I proceed, I want to share a few words of caution.
Judge not, that ye be not judged. For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again. And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother’s eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye? Or how wilt thou say to thy brother, Let me pull out the mote out of thine eye; and, behold, a beam is in thine own eye? Thou hypocrite, first cast out the beam out of thine own eye; and then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the mote out of thy brother’s eye. (Matt. 7:1-5)
The flowerbed analogy

In this post, I will try to explain what I’ve been doing on this blog and also what I will be doing in the near future.

“What is the purpose of your blog?” This question has been posed to me quite a few times. As I’ve thought about it, the image of a flowerbed came to my mind.

Just like you and everyone around us, I have my own flowerbed of faith. I'm responsible for what I plant, grow and what I keep in it. If I want this flowerbed to be prodigious and full of colorful, fragrant and beautiful flowers, I have to keep weeds away.

Weeds come in all kinds of shapes and forms. Some are edible, some are easily mistaken as flowers and still some are obnoxious and won't give up their place in your flowerbed without a fight. Some need to be yanked out by the root while others need less aggressive treatment (just keeping the sun away is sometimes enough). The common denominator for all weeds is that they are not flowers and at one time or another, they will need our attention.

Knowledge and Moroni’s invitation

Joseph Smith said that, “three things are necessary, in order that any rational and intelligent being may exercise faith in God unto life and salvation. First, The idea that he actually exists. Secondly, A correct idea of his character, perfections and attributes. Thirdly, An actual knowledge that the course of life which he is pursuing, is according to his will.—For without an acquaintance with these three important facts, the faith of every rational being must be imperfect and unproductive; but with this understanding, it can become perfect and fruitful, abounding in righteousness unto the praise and glory of God the Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ.” (Emphasis in the original.)

Joseph also said that “knowledge saves a man” (TPJS p. 357) and “A man is saved no faster than he gets knowledge.” In D&C 131:6, we read that ”it is impossible for a man to be saved in ignorance.” Correct knowledge and correct ideas, and beliefs I would add, about God is necessary for faith in God unto life and salvation. I don’t know about you, but I want all of it–faith, life, salvation and knowledge.

Not everything we have been taught and believe is true. How can we know that something is true? Moroni wrote that “by the power of the Holy Ghost ye may know the truth of all things.” (Moroni 10:5) This isn’t just a one-time invitation, but a lifestyle. We should strive to have everything we believe and everything we claim to know verified by the Holy Ghost. I can honestly say that this is something that I have to repent to. I don’t do this. If you do, then please comment and share your experiences. This is a tough way to live, for it requires constant vigilance and a great and strong and firm connection with the heavens. It requires humility and faith and a non-judgmental frame of mind. All of which is hard for fallen man.

It’s a lot easier to take the all or nothing approach suggested by president Hinckley. It doesn’t require nearly as much effort, thought, prayer or humility. The problem is that this approach is false and it reduces the role of the Holy Ghost while it builds on assumptions and traditions. Moroni invited me to verify all truth, not because it's a great concept, but because I need to do it for otherwise I won’t receive knowledge. (Check out my post - "All or nothing - a false approach to the Church" for more on this strain of thought.)

Different kinds of weed

Untruths, incorrect ideas, faulty concepts, disobedience, traditions of our fathers are some of the weeds in my flowerbed. If I would’ve been born in the 1880’s, polygamy (a practice based on a lack of understanding; earlier a requirement for exaltation but now grounds for excommunication) and a racist priesthood ban for black med of African descent (a doctrine purportedly from God; now disavowed  and ”unequivocally condemned”) would have been two big pieces of weed. In hindsight, I guess most people can understand why I call these ’doctrines’ weed. Thankfully, you might say, this isn’t 1880. You’re right, it isn’t. But do you really believe things have changed that much? I mean, fallen man is still leading this work on earth and man's inability to preserve truth without contaminating it hasn’t improved dramatically.

There's nothing that proves that we're not being taught untruths for truths. The Book of Mormon suggest that it’s happening.
”They have all gone astray save it be a few, who are the humble followers of Christ; nevertheless, they are led, that in many instances they do err because they are taught by the precepts of men.” 2 Ne 28:14
This verse speaks of the gentile churches of our day, of which the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is one. This should cause us to “awaken to a sense of our awful situation” (Ether 8:24) and start working to recognize the precepts of men being taught us.

The weeds of untruth, incorrect ideas, faulty concepts, disobedience, precepts of men, scriptures mingled with the philosophies of men and traditions of our fathers hinder the flowers from growing and pose a constant threat to choke them, and they me from planting new flowers of truth. I need to pull them out. And that’s what this blog has been about.

Some might say I'm too negative, but anyone who has been involved in pulling weeds knows that this is necessary in order to give real flowers a better chance to grow, and also to plant new ones. Only a gardener without the slightest sense of gardening will cultivate the soil and plant flowers before removing hindering elements. For the flowers of faith and a divine character, this is especially true. If the Lord one day is going to separate the wheat from the tares, I guess that we must do it within ourselves as a preparation.

If you feel that I’m in the wrong on this one, it’s ok. I won’t bash your conviction. My problem (or, blessing perhaps) is that I don't have that conviction. And in my world, that’s the conviction compatible with the scriptures.

What will happen from now on?

This quote from the Prophet Joseph Smith (numbers added) will be my main focus.
"The other Comforter spoken of is a subject of great interest, and perhaps understood by few of this generation. After a person has faith in Christ (1), repents of his sins (2), and is baptized for the remission of his sins (3) and receives the Holy Ghost, (by the laying on of hands), which is the first Comforter (4), then let him continue to humble himself before God (5), hungering and thirsting after righteousness (6), and living by every word of God (7), and the Lord will soon say unto him, Son, thou shalt be exalted. When the Lord has thoroughly proved him, and finds that the man is determined to serve Him at all hazards (8), then the man will find his calling and his election made sure (9), then it will be his privilege to receive the other Comforter, which the Lord hath promised the Saints. [This other Comforter is no more nor less] than the Lord Jesus Christ Himself; and this is the sum and substance of the whole matter; that when any man obtains this last Comforter, he will have the personage of Jesus Christ to attend him, or appear unto him from time to time (10), and even He will manifest the Father unto him, and they will take up their abode with him (11), and the visions of the heavens will be opened unto him, (12) and the Lord will teach him face to face (13), and he may have a perfect knowledge of the mysteries of the Kingdom of God (14); and this is the state and place the ancient Saints arrived at when they had such glorious visions—Isaiah, Ezekiel, John upon the Isle of Patmos, St. Paul in the three heavens, and all the Saints who held communion with the general assembly and Church of the Firstborn (15)." (TPJS p. 150-151)
This is the fullness of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. It’s beautiful. It’s the essence of the restoration (which we all should be reclaiming). This encompasses the hopes I have for my spiritual journey and it outlines the steps on the ladder we all must climb.
“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. But it will be a great while after you have passed through the veil before you will have learned them. It is not all to be comprehended in this world; it will be a great work to learn our salvation and exaltation even beyond the grave.”

We need to climb this ladder, and I will dedicate the coming posts to, what I call, “15 steps to the Church of the Firstborn.” Next post – Faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.” Stay tuned.