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Friday, November 24, 2017

Fear God, Not Man

by Nicky Smith

A long time ago I came to realize I have a problem with fearing man instead of fearing God. The word "fear" to which I am referring has an archaic meaning; it entails respect and reverence. There have often been moments in my life where the Spirit has whispered to my mind that I sometimes have more respect for the words and thoughts of certain people than God's. In other words, I place some people above God. When we use the opinions of others to define who we are, what we believe, or what we ought to do, we give those people authority and they become gods (or idols) to us.
13 Thou shalt fear the Lord thy God, and serve him, and shalt swear by his name.
14 Ye shall not go after other gods, of the gods of the people which are round about you. (Deuteronomy 6; emphasis added)
It is easy to make the assumption that I only fear God. However, the Lord has shown me that fearing others is far more subtle than often assumed.

Fear is About Approval

As I have examined the root of my struggle of fearing man more than God, I can see that often it is because I desire particular people to approve of my actions and decisions. Everyone desires to be loved and accepted by others. However, there are times when this desire to be accepted can conflict with our desire to do the Lord's will. 

Sometimes His will for us involves doing things that may seem crazy to other people. It seems natural to worry about what others may think, however the Lord wants us to worry only about what He thinks about us and whether He approves of us. When others persecute, falsely accuse, or criticize (revile) us angrily because we are doing God's will, that is something to rejoice over. Jesus said,
10 Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness’ sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
11 Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake.
12 Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven: for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you. (Matthew 5)
Often we expect that our spouse, family, and friends will accept us and our decisions as we try to follow God's will, but the reality is that God cares more about us doing His will than our feeling accepted and loved by others. In fact, I have come to realize that God cares more about our progress than our happiness. Of course He wants us to experience joy (Psalm 5:11; 2 Nephi 2:5), but that doesn't mean that He will make our lives stress-free just so we can experience happiness. Progress almost always involves pain. Rejection, ridicule, and disapproval from others have far less value in God's eyes than we often place on them. The only thing that matters is doing the Lord's will and that will at times lead to conflict. Jesus said,
32 Whosoever therefore shall confess me before men, him will I confess also before my Father which is in heaven.
33 But whosoever shall deny me before men, him will I also deny before my Father which is in heaven.
34 Think not that I am come to send peace on earth: I came not to send peace, but a sword.
35 For I am come to set a man at variance against his father, and the daughter against her mother, and the daughter in law against her mother in law.
36 And a man’s foes shall be they of his own household.
37 He that loveth father or mother more than me is not worthy of me: and he that loveth son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. (Matthew 10)
As I have experienced the criticism of others from doing what I understand the will of God to be (such as how many children I have, how I mother them, or how I homeschool), it has at times caused me to feel confused about what I ought to be doing. This cognitive dissonance can result from hearing opposing views, especially when they make a lot of sense and seem true. This confusion is a product of fearing man and respecting their thoughts and opinions rather than what I have been told to do by God. It is especially hard for me because I want to please others and avoid conflict. It is something I am working on overcoming. As I continue to pray to know God's will, He reminds me of the promptings I have previously received and what His will is. This helps me to increase my faith in what I know I ought to be doing. But, I want to get to the point where I feel confident in what the Lord's will is for me and can quickly (if not instantly) recognize things that aren't true or are in opposition to God's will for me and then stand firm in what I know I am supposed to be doing, while remaining open to further truth from the Lord. 

In Jesus' day, some believed that Jesus was the Son of God, but due to their desire for the approval of the Pharisees and their fear that they would be cast out of their faith, they weren't able to follow God's will. They damned themselves. 

42 Nevertheless among the chief rulers also many believed on him; but because of the Pharisees they did not confess him, lest they should be put out of the synagogue:
43 For they loved the praise of men more than the praise of God. (John 12)
Instead of worrying about whether the Pharisees approved of them, they should have been worried about whether God approved of them. Consider whether there are things the Lord could ask of you that you would struggle to do due to other's disapproval, rejection, or ridicule. If you can't think of anything, ask the Lord to show you where you may desire man's approval more than God's. If you sincerely desire to know this, He will show you if that is the case. 

Fear is About Trust

Fearing man not only shows we desire approval, but also shows a lack of faith in God. It shows we lack trust in Him. It shows we have greater trust in specific people than God. 

When Jesus was being tried the night before He was crucified, Peter denied Jesus three times. In these instances, Peter feared man more than God (John 18:15-27). He lacked trust that God would protect him in dangerous situations. Interestingly enough, Jesus had previously taught Peter:

And fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul: but rather fear him which is able to destroy both soul and body in hell. (Matthew 10:28)
Proverbs also states:
The fear of man bringeth a snare: but whoso putteth his trust in the Lord shall be safe. (Proverbs 29:25)
Furthermore, God said through Isaiah:
I, even I, am he that comforteth you: who art thou, that thou shouldest be afraid of a man that shall die, and of the son of man which shall be made as grass. (Isaiah 51:12)
Most (if not all) of our experiences will not involve a possible threat of death, but they will likely be unpleasant. Fearing God is about having faith in His will for us and being willing to do it no matter the cost. Joseph Smith stated that for faith to exist one necessary element is: "An actual knowledge that the course of life which he is pursuing, is according to his will." (Lectures on Faith 3:5) Without knowing the God approves of the course you have taken, you cannot exercise faith in Him, since faith involves knowing His will. When we fear God we seek to know and do His will rather than the things that please others. We seek to please God above all others. Paul said, "Without faith it is impossible to please God." (Hebrews 11:6) The greater our faith, the more we trust God and the more we fear Him over others. When I fear others, I don't trust that God is going to come through on His promises or I have forgotten about the promises He has given me. 

Recently a friend told me I should not be writing on this blog in order to spend more time on my knees praying. Although I do try to spend time praying each morning and night and as often as I can during the day, I could see that there would be wonderful benefits from even more time in prayer. This friend has much truth to offer and has taught me many things and since this made sense, I put the blog aside and aimed to pray more. Soon after that I felt reprimanded by the Lord because He has told me to write on here. My knowledge of His will for me had wavered and I was no longer pleasing God. I immediately repented and realized my faith and trust in His words given to me previously to write on here was weak. I respected this friend's words more than the Lord's words to blog because that person has offered so much truth previously. I trusted that that friend was telling me God's will for me, instead of going to the Lord for His will. I feared man and not God. 


Fear is About Obedience

Not only does our fear or respect show whose approval we want and whom we trust, but we tend to obey those we fear. I recently noticed a link that exists in the scriptures between fearing God and obeying Him (contrasted with fearing man and obeying him). 

And the Lord commanded us to do all these statutes, to fear the Lord our God, for our good always, that he might preserve us alive, as it is at this day. (Deuteronomy 6:24; emphasis added)
And now, Israel, what doth the Lord thy God require of thee, but to fear the Lord thy God, to walk in all his ways, and to love him, and to serve the Lord thy God with all thy heart and with all thy soul. (Deuteronomy 10:12; emphasis added) 
Gather the people together, men, and women, and children, and thy stranger that is within thy gates, that they may hear, and that they may learn, and fear the Lord your God, and observe to do all the words of this law. (Deuteronomy 31:12; emphasis added)
Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God, and keep his commandments: for this is the whole duty of man. (Ecclesiastes 12:13; emphasis added)
In 1 Kings we read of a man who spoke true prophecies and healed the hand of the king using the power of God. The king was very grateful and wanted him to feed him as a reward. 
8 And the man of God said unto the king, If thou wilt give me half thine house, I will not go in with thee, neither will I eat bread nor drink water in this place:
9 For so was it charged me by the word of the Lord, saying, Eat no bread, nor drink water, nor turn again by the same way that thou camest. (1 Kings 13)
It seems evident that this man wanted to be obedient to the Lord no matter what. Now, there was another older prophet who heard about the prophecies and works of this younger prophet and went on a journey to find him. He then found the young prophet sitting under an oak tree and he invited him to return to his house to eat and drink. The young prophet similarly replied:
16 And he said, I may not return with thee, nor go in with thee: neither will I eat bread nor drink water with thee in this place:
17 For it was said to me by the word of the Lord, Thou shalt eat no bread nor drink water there, nor turn again to go by the way that thou camest. (1 Kings 13)
The older prophet told him that he was also a prophet and then lied, saying that an angel came to him telling him the word of the Lord, saying "Bring him back with thee into thine house, that he may eat bread and drink water." The young prophet believed him and went with him to his house to eat and drink. The word of the Lord then came to the older prophet saying to the young man that as a result of disobeying the word of the Lord, his "carcase shall not come unto the sepulchre of thy fathers." Then, when he left on his donkey a lion came and killed him. The older prophet felt really sad for this young prophet who had disobeyed the Lord.  


This young prophet had received a commandment from the Lord but upon finding out that the other man was a prophet, believed that he had received the will of God for him. He trusted the older prophet, when he should have asked God if what this man was saying was true. He feared and obeyed the words of a man who claimed to be prophet more than the words of God. Believing someone's words because they have some calling or some authority means we have made them an idol and we fear man more than God. God is the only one whom we should obey. Any deviation from this points to our fear of man. 


Learning to Fear God

In learning to fear God, I first had to recognize that this was an issue. It was the Spirit who whispered to me that there are times where I respect certain people's words and opinions above God's words. I want their approval and I trust their thoughts and opinions. Self-observation and asking the Lord to enlighten your mind can help you recognize those whom fear more than God. It doesn't have to mean that you do it all the time or you do it with everyone, but if there are times when you place certain people before God, you need to repent. Here are a few questions you can ask yourself to examine whether you may fear someone more than God:
1. Do you worry what others think of you? 
2. Are you a people pleaser? Do you try to make people happy with your actions and decisions in life?
3. Do you believe people because of their position of authority?
4. Do you believe people because they seem to have a lot of truth or have had more experiences than you with the Lord?
5. Are you hiding a belief or a decision you made from others? Do you feel embarrassed about it or seek to cover it because you fear being rejected or ridiculed?
6. Do you worry about losing friends or family relationships? Do you worry about losing a job or social standing? Does this fear mean you don't do what God has commanded you?
7. Do you do what another says just because it makes a lot of sense? Do you do what another suggests because they seem to have their life together? 
8. Do you make choices based on the views or choices of others? 
9. Do you define your righteousness on the standards set by others? 
10. Are you satisfied with approval from authority figures in the absence of evidence of approval from God?
11. Do you seek the council of man to help you decide right from wrong?
12. Do you accept practices and truths that contradict scripture?
13. Do you want others to approve of your decisions before you follow through? 
As I have discerned whose thoughts and opinions I place too much respect on, I have done a few things to help me change.  

1. I beg God to help me strengthen my faith in the things He has told me. I ask Him to give me further light and truth and help me increase in confidence in those things He has revealed.
2. I question why I fear rejection and why I believe certain people without question. I examine my desire to be accepted and determine that I ought to really only worry about whether God accepts me. 
3. I consider an eternal perspective. I think about how pain and difficult experiences are for my growth and I consider their temporary nature.
4. I remember my experiences from the past in which God came through for you and how I can trust Him and His promises to me. 
5. I decide to only fear God and seek only His approval no matter the cost (see Acts 5:29 & Hebrews 13:6)

Fearing God instead of man begins with a decision to do so, remembering that deciding to fear only God will possibly lead to upsetting someone at some point. It may seem scary being willing to cause conflict for what you know to be true, but as you develop faith and trust in God, you can get to the point where you no longer feel afraid of the possible consequences. I love this verse, "Be strong and of a good courage, fear not, nor be afraid of them: for the Lord thy God, he it is that doth go with thee; he will not fail thee, nor forsake thee." (Deuteronomy 31:6) The more we trust in him, the more He comes through for us. God wants to be the one from whom we seek approval. He wants to be the one we trust. He wants to be the one we obey. He wants us to fear Him alone. I know that as I seek to fear only Him, my faith will grow and my love for Him will increase. This is worth everything! 

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

How to Survive on a Paycheck from Heaven

by Kimber Albrechtsen
"Elijah in the Desert" by Washington Allston
Many people claim that their religious leaders need to be paid because supporting themselves would be impossible otherwise. I disagree.

I believe the truth taught by Nephi applies to this issue: "...the Lord giveth no commandments unto the children of men, save he shall prepare a way for them that they may accomplish the thing which he commandeth them" (1 Nephi 3:7).

God has repeatedly established that His servants should labor with their own hands in order to support themselves (or, in the case of apostles and missionaries, make no provisions for their support, instead relying upon God), and that they should not receive any money for their ecclesiastical labors.  See Alma 1:26, Alma 1:20, Mosiah 18:26, 3 Nephi 13:25, 3 Nephi 13:31-34, Matthew 20:26, Alma 30:32-34, Mosiah 6:7, 2 Nephi 26:29, Alma 1:16, Alma 1:3, Helaman 13:28, Mosiah 11:4-6, 1 Nephi 22:23, D&C 84:86-91, D&C 84:81, D&C 24:18, Matthew 10:9-10, Matthew 6:19-34, and more I'm sure.

If the Lord has commanded His servants to not seek payment for ecclesiastical services, then what is the way prepared for them to obey this commandment? There must be a way for God's servants to do His will while not receiving a paycheck, living allowance, modest stipend, or whatever you want to call it from the church.

In fact, there are at least four ways for God's servants to accomplish their duties in the church while also surviving on resources not extracted from church coffers or constrained church members.

1. Labor with their own hands

Heaven forbid? Just the opposite; heaven commands!
"Let the residue of the elders watch over the churches, and declare the word in the regions round about them; and let them labor with their own hands that there be no idolatry nor wickedness practiced" (D&C 52:39).
The concept of religious authorities working outside the church to support themselves and their families occurs frequently in the Book of Mormon, and not just in regards to those serving in "local congregations." Alma the Younger received no pay for his service as High Priest of the entire Nephite church, instead relying on the salary he received from his secular employment as Chief Judge (Alma 30:32-33). There are many others specifically mentioned in the Book of Mormon as men who labored with their own hands to support themselves: King Benjamin (who didn't even receive money for his labors as king!), King Mosiah, Alma the Elder (after his time living off the labors of the people of King Noah he specifically rejected the practice of receiving pay for ecclesiastical service), the priests of the church of the people of Alma, and Alma the Younger.

There are also several mentions of men who did receive pay for their religious services: Nehor, the priests of King Noah, the priests and teachers of the people of Ammonihah, and Zoramite priests.
"And the priests were not to depend upon the people for their support; but for their labor they were to receive the grace of God, that they might wax strong in the Spirit, having the knowledge of God, that they might teach with power and authority from God" (Mosiah 18:26).
What if a man's religious duties leave him no time to have a job? God certainly has a right to ask His servants for as much of their time as He likes, but tasks that have not been specifically commissioned by God should not interfere with the mandate that spiritual leaders are to "labor with their own hands." If heading a church project prompted by a good idea or a committee's mandate rather than revelation would jeopardize a man's ability to support his family, he should not pursue it. Bloated programs and sprawling bureaucracy that consume too much time of church leaders should be eliminated if not based on a specific mandate from God. Aversion to priestcraft should outweigh the desire to please the Lord with unasked-for sacrifices. Nephi didn't decide to kill Laban because he thought it was the best way to get the job done, Abraham didn't come up with the idea of sacrificing Isaac because he thought God would be impressed by his devotion, and church leaders shouldn't feel justified in breaking God's commandments against idolatry and priestcraft just because they've come up with well-intentioned church busy work to occupy their time.
"Neither did we eat any man’s bread for nought; but wrought with labour and travail night and day, that we might not be chargeable to any of you: 
9 Not because we have not power, but to make ourselves an ensample unto you to follow us. 
10 For even when we were with you, this we commanded you, that if any would not work, neither should he eat. 
11 For we hear that there are some which walk among you disorderly, working not at all, but are busybodies. 
12 Now them that are such we command and exhort by our Lord Jesus Christ, that with quietness they work, and eat their own bread" (2 Thessalonians 3:8-12).
If a man's God-ordained duties legitimately interfere with his ability to support himself, the Lord has provided the remaining three methods to make sure his servants are provided for.

2. Duty of the church to support the poor

"Christ Healing the Sick at Bethesda" by Carl Bloch

There are at least three instances in scripture where the ideal of clergy laboring for their own support is directly followed by the teaching that the poor and the needy, the sick and the afflicted, should be cared for by the members of the church (2 Nephi 26:29-31, Alma 1:27-26 and D&C 52:39-40). I don't think this juxtaposition was by accident.
"He commandeth that there shall be no priestcrafts; for, behold, priestcrafts are that men preach and set themselves up for a light unto the world, that they may get gain and praise of the world; but they seek not the welfareof Zion. 
30 Behold, the Lord hath forbidden this thing; wherefore, the Lord God hath given a commandment that all men should have charity, which charity is love. And except they should have charity they were nothing. Wherefore, if they should have charity they would not suffer the laborer in Zion to perish. 
31 But the laborer in Zion shall labor for Zion; for if they labor for money they shall perish" (2 Nephi 26:29-31).
If someone's duty to God truly interferes with their ability to feed and clothe themselves and their family, then it is the duty of church members to aid them. This is no different from the obligation church members have to provide for any who are poor for other reasons.

In February 1831, Joseph Smith and his pregnant wife, Emma, were homeless and living with friends, having recently arrived in Kirtland, Ohio. The following are excerpts from revelations Joseph received just a few weeks apart, directed to the church:
"And again, it is meet that my servant Joseph Smith, Jun., should have a house built, in which to live and translate" (D&C 41:7).
"And if ye desire the glories of the kingdom, appoint ye my servant Joseph Smith, Jun., and uphold him before me by the prayer of faith. 
13 And again, I say unto you, that if ye desire the mysteries of the kingdom, provide for him food and raiment, and whatsoever thing he needeth to accomplish the work wherewith I have commanded him;" (D&C 43:12-13).
Joseph had been commanded to translate the Bible, a task which would occupy enough of his time that the Lord specifically called upon the members of church to provide him with shelter, food, clothing, and anything else necessary to complete his work (I imagine this is referring more to office supplies and printing costs than to luxury carriages, a 90th percentile salary, and college tuition for his children). 

Did Joseph take these revelations as permission to use his authority to set up a recurring paycheck drawn from church coffers? No. Instead, he and his wife moved into a small cabin Isaac Morley built for them on his farm, and for a time were presumably fed and clothed through the charity of others.

The difference between a paycheck from the church and charity from church members is one of agency. In the case of a paycheck, the church authority is the one who decides when and how much he will be paid (conflict of interest much?). In the case of charity, the church members are in control; their funds are not extracted as a condition of church membership or temple worthiness, but freely given out of a willingness to support those in need, regardless of the recipient's rank in church hierarchy. The paycheck model breeds entitlement, pride, idolatry, and vain teachings. The charity model encourages humility, faith, generosity, and accountability.

Any notion that a man's call to the Lord's ministry comes with a guarantee that his comfortable lifestyle should be preserved is not supported by scripture. A church leader's past or current earning potential should have no bearing on how church members perceive their duty to provide food, clothing, and shelter for the poor.
"For we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out. 
8 And having food and raiment let us be therewith content. 
9 But they that will be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and hurtful lusts, which drown men in destruction and perdition. 
10 For the love of money is the root of all evil: which while some coveted after, they have erred from the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows" (1 Timothy 6:7-10).
3. Charity of those ready to hear the gospel

The duty of an apostle (or any missionary) is "to go into all the world to preach my gospel unto every creature" (D&C 18:28). It is understandable that the itinerant lifestyle required by such duties would likely preclude holding down a steady job. Oliver Cowdery was called on a mission, and the Lord commanded:
"And thou shalt take no purse nor scrip, neither staves, neither two coats, for the church shall give unto thee in the very hour what thou needest for food and for raiment, and for shoes and for money, and for scrip" (D&C 24:18).
Note that the Lord did not say the the church would provide for Oliver's needs beforehand or reimburse his expenses after the fact; rather, Oliver was to operate on faith, trusting that his needs would be met "in the very hour."

The Lord's call might also put apostles into areas where there is little or no church membership to administer to their needs. The Lord has a wonderful system in place for these servants; he presented it to his apostles in Israel, the twelve chosen among the Nephites, and again to the apostles of the Latter-day Church in a revelation in 1832. Don't be lazy, read it all below:
"And again I say unto you, my friends, for from henceforth I shall call you friends, it is expedient that I give unto you this commandment, that ye become even as my friends in days when I was with them, traveling to preach the gospel in my power; 
78 For I suffered them not to have purse or scrip, neither two coats. 
79 Behold, I send you out to prove the world, and the laborer is worthy of his hire. 
80 And any man that shall go and preach this gospel of the kingdom, and fail not to continue faithful in all things, shall not be weary in mind, neither darkened, neither in body, limb, nor joint; and a hair of his head shall not fall to the ground unnoticed. And they shall not go hungry, neither athirst. 
81 Therefore, take ye no thought for the morrow, for what ye shall eat, or what ye shall drink, or wherewithal ye shall be clothed. 
82 For, consider the lilies of the field, how they grow, they toil not, neither do they spin; and the kingdoms of the world, in all their glory, are not arrayed like one of these. 
83 For your Father, who is in heaven, knoweth that you have need of all these things. 
84 Therefore, let the morrow take thought for the things of itself. 
85 Neither take ye thought beforehand what ye shall say; but treasure up in your minds continually the words of life, and it shall be given you in the very hour that portion that shall be meted unto every man. 
86 Therefore, let no man among you, for this commandment is unto all the faithful who are called of God in the church unto the ministry, from this hour take purse or scrip, that goeth forth to proclaim this gospel of the kingdom. 
87 Behold, I send you out to reprove the world of all their unrighteous deeds, and to teach them of a judgment which is to come. 
88 And whoso receiveth you, there I will be also, for I will go before your face. I will be on your right hand and on your left, and my Spirit shall be in your hearts, and mine angels round about you, to bear you up. 
89 Whoso receiveth you receiveth me; and the same will feed you, and clothe you, and give you money. 
90 And he who feeds you, or clothes you, or gives you money, shall in nowise lose his reward. 
91 And he that doeth not these things is not my disciple; by this you may know my disciples" (D&C 84:77-91).
In summary (for those bums like me who skim scripture quotes in blog posts): the Lord is commanding His apostles to go on their missions without money, extraneous clothing, or even prepared sermons. Instead, He wants them to trust that God will provide for His servants. He also provides a way for them to identify those whose hearts are already turned to Christ and who are ready to hear their message: those who feed them, clothe them, and give them money.

I love this system! Apostles aren't supposed to parade around in first-class accommodations provided for by the widow's mite to deliver prepared sermons that flatter their listeners. They're supposed to travel not on a corporate credit card, but on trust in God and a reliance on the charity of strangers. Imagine the faith and humility that would be fostered in those servants, and the integrity that would shine through their message when listeners knew they were motivated only by the grace of God and willing to sacrifice all for the sake of their mission.

It's okay for servants of God to sleep on couches, wear secondhand clothing, and eat leftover chili.
"And a certain scribe came, and said unto him, Master, I will follow thee whithersoever thou goest.
19 And Jesus saith unto him, The foxes have holes, and the birds of the air have nests; but the Son of man hath not where to lay his head" (Matthew 18:19-20).
4. Miracles and suffering
"Miracle of the Manna" by Tintoretto
What happens if apostles or missionaries are sent to an area where none are inclined to offer them aid? Let's look to Alma 8 to find the answer (this example also overlaps with #3). Alma's first efforts to convince the people of the city of Ammonihah to repent did not go well. He was cast out of the city, and as he dejectedly travelled to another town, an angel appeared and told him to go back to Ammonihah. This is what happened next:
"And as he entered the city he was an hungered, and he said to a man: Will ye give to an humble servant of God something to eat? 
20 And the man said unto him: I am a Nephite, and I know that thou art a holy prophet of God, for thou art the man whom an angel said in a vision: Thou shalt receive. Therefore, go with me into my house and I will impart unto thee of my food; and I know that thou wilt be a blessing unto me and my house. 
21 And it came to pass that the man received him into his house; and the man was called Amulek; and he brought forth bread and meat and set before Alma. 
22 And it came to pass that Alma ate bread and was filled; and he blessed Amulek and his house, and he gave thanks unto God. 
23 And after he had eaten and was filled he said unto Amulek: I am Alma, and am the high priest over the church of God throughout the land. 
24 And behold, I have been called to preach the word of God among all this people, according to the spirit of revelation and prophecy; and I was in this land and they would not receive me, but they cast me out and I was about to set my back towards this land forever. 
25 But behold, I have been commanded that I should turn again and prophesy unto this people, yea, and to testify against them concerning their iniquities. 
26 And now, Amulek, because thou hast fed me and taken me in, thou art blessed; for I was an hungered, for I had fasted many days" (Alma 8:19-26).
First, Alma's initial rejection and subsequent traveling presumably prevented him from having access to sufficient food. I'm persuaded that he didn't have money to purchase provisions, either, because the first thing he did upon reentering Ammonihah was to ask a stranger for food. Alma used the lack of food as an opportunity to fast, even for "many days" and while traveling! Sometimes God's servants have to endure suffering (Luke 6:22); this suffering works for the ultimate good of the righteous (D&C 98:3). Those who do not experience suffering and persecution while doing the Lord's work may not actually be doing the Lord's work.

Though suffering and death is sometimes required, God will often perform miracles to preserve His servants and further His work. As Alma's mission was not finished, the Lord sent an angel to Amulek, setting off a chain of events that would not only provide Alma with food, but also with a mission companion whose second witness would help in convincing many of the people of Ammonihah to repent. Amulek also accompanied Alma on subsequent preaching missions, and was instrumental in bringing many souls to Christ. Would this story have played out differently if Alma had been a Marriott Platinum Elite Rewards member with a per diem?
"And now behold, we have come, and been forth amongst them; and we have been patient in our sufferings, and we have suffered every privation; yea, we have traveled from house to house, relying upon the mercies of the world—not upon the mercies of the world alone but upon the mercies of God" (Alma 26:28).
 Besides angels, God has also provided the following through miraculous means:
  • manna for the Israelites (Deuteronomy 8:3)
  • quail for the Israelites (Numbers 11:31-32)
  • ravens to feed Elijah during a drought (1 Kings 17:4-6)
  • a never-empty barrel of meal and cruce of oil for Elijah and the widow who fed him (and also the widow's son, whom Elijah later raised from the dead) (1 Kings 17:9-24)
  • strength for Nephi's family in the wilderness as they lived off of raw meat; women able to breastfeed their babies despite this diet (1 Nephi 17:2)
People claim that "it's different these days," or "these methods just wouldn't work in today's world." Really? Moroni wrote,
"For do we not read that God is the same yesterday, today, and forever, and in him there is no variablenessneither shadow of changing? 
10 And now, if ye have imagined up unto yourselves a god who doth vary, and in whom there is shadow of changing, then have ye imagined up unto yourselves a god who is not a God of miracles. 
11 But behold, I will show unto you a God of miracles, even the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob; and it is that same God who created the heavens and the earth, and all things that in them are" (Mormon 9:9-11).
Mormon said, "...has the day of miracles ceased? ...it is by faith that miracles are wrought; ...wherefore, if these things have ceased wo be unto the children of men, for it is because of unbelief, and all is vain" (Moroni 7:35,37). If we aren't willing to take the Lord at His word when He says He will provide for His servants, we have unbelief. Wo unto us. 

Jesus said, "If thou canst believe, all things are possible to him that believeth" (Mark 9:23). All things! If we believe that God can have ravens bring food to His servants or cause food to literally fall from the sky, why don't we even trust Him to inspire someone to buy a burger for a hungry apostle?

Check out this book for a collection of amazing modern-day miracles.

Conclusion

Ultimately, this issue is about faith. Do we have the faith to trust that God will provide a way to be obedient to His commandments? Are we willing to endure hunger, discomfort, and second-hand shoes for the sake of obedience to the Lord? Or will we insist that God's miracles have ceased, that we are an exception to the rule, or that we've thought of a better way?
"Wherefore, if God so clothe the grass of the field, which today is, and tomorrow is cast into the oven, even so will he clothe you, if ye are not of little faith" (3 Nephi 13:30).
____________________
*Note: Could the Lord have since revealed another, completely contradictory system in which His apostles are entitled to a regular paycheck drawn from the church's investment income? Sure. I'd be interested to see such a revelation, which should be published in accordance with the Lord's instructions in D&C 104:58.

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Walk in the Light

by Nicky Smith

Recently as I read these verses I thought about what it means to walk in the light as opposed to walking in darkness. 

But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin. (1 John 1; emphasis added)
I wondered how many people think they are walking in the light but in fact are walking in darkness, because often people are spiritually blind and cannot see that they are walking in darkness. Think about yourself. Do you see yourself as walking in the light? How much light are you walking in? How do you know this is really the case? 

Walking in the Light
The word of God (which includes both the scriptures and revelation to us) is referred to as a light to our path:
Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path. (Psalm 119:105)
Just as physical light shows us things as they are (we can see color, texture, size, etc.), God's word or truth shows us things as they are. 1. Coming to know more and more the way God sees us, others, our experiences, and the world around us illuminates our mind. 2. Furthermore, His word to us are commandments. I always used to think that when the scriptures referred to the commandments, they were those things contained only in the scriptures, but I have come to know that it includes anything He tells us to do through revelation. When God gives me a commandment, this commandment reveals His will to me. It gives me direction, showing me what I am to do and where I am going. It gives me light to see. Knowing His will enables me to stay on the strait and narrow path. It also helps me avoid stumbling or falling. 3. God can also enlighten our minds regarding future trials and stumbling blocks and show us how to navigate them. When I see things as they are and obey His will, I am walking in His light.
But he that doeth truth cometh to the light, that his deeds may be made manifest, that they are wrought in God. (John 3:21)
Jesus similarly stated that He is the light and as we follow Him, we do not walk in darkness. This requires strict obedience to Him (and not obedience to others or ourselves).
Then spake Jesus again unto them, saying, I am the light of the world: he that followeth me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life. (John 8:12)
Lately I have been going running three times a week in the dark. We live in an area where there is little artificial light outside so it is pretty dark out there at night. I love these runs because the stars on most nights are magnificent and I use that time to commune with God. I talk to Him and I receive revelation and insights in return. On the first few runs I used the light of the moon to show me where I was going, but then as the days passed the moon was no longer there to provide me with light and I needed a flashlight. On my most recent runs, I have thought about how life is a lot like running in the dark. Often we can't see the potholes or the road ahead very clearly because we don't have the light to discern them.  

Many of us use a flashlight to guide our way. This flashlight is our own wisdom on how to navigate our experiences and trials. We use our own intelligence to make decisions and discern how to live our lives. Our wisdom is sometimes right and sometimes wrong. Just like when we use a flashlight, it is easy to misjudge or not notice the things we see on the road ahead of us, such as the depth of a pothole or something that could trip us. This morning, for instance, the overcast skies made the road ahead of me very dark and my little flashlight was performing dismally. I caught myself about to step in animal excrement when my foot was only about a couple inches above it. I was lucky today but I know that when it is so dark out there, I am very likely to trip or step in something I would prefer to avoid. Jesus said, "For he that walketh in darkness knoweth not whither he goeth." (John 12:35) Jesus also said, "But if a man walk in the night, he stumbleth." (John 11:10) Only using a flashlight makes it is hard to figure out what the road looks like more than a few steps ahead. When we use our own wisdom, we are using our best judgments to make decisions and figure out what to do and sometimes it works and other times it doesn't. In essence, those who use their own understanding are simply getting through life without seeing the end from the beginning and what the Lord's designs are for their lives. 

Others desire God's wisdom and truth to guide them but they only know how to obtain small amounts of that light. They are still walking in the night, but trying to use the light of the moon or the stars to guide them. The light is from God and gives some details regarding their path and the things they ought to do, but they still don't see the big picture. While they may be shown some things that lie ahead, it is still possible to misjudge things and make mistakes and fall. They need more light than this to avoid the pitfalls ahead of them. 

The more we walk in His light and the greater our hunger for His direction and guidance, the greater the amount of light we can have to help us (see Alma 12:9-10). While some are walking in the amount of light available at dawn, it is possible for us to get to the point where we are walking in the equivalent of the sun's light at noonday. Those walking in the light of the sun obtain the mind of God and see their experiences, themselves, and others with God's understanding. This doesn't mean that they see every detail of their entire future ahead of them, but they can clearly understand many of the experiences and trials coming because God has shown them. They can see much of the road ahead and know to avoid things that can cause them to trip and fall. Jesus said, "If any man walk in the day, he stumbleth not, because he seeth the light of this world." (John 11:9; emphasis added) They obtain direction from God and do His will continually. Due to seeing ahead, they are better able to use their experiences for sanctification. 

However, occasionally even those who are walking in the light of the sun have the light temporarily removed from them. Through this God allows them to use the light they have previously obtained from Him. Jesus experienced this on the cross, when he said, "My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?" (Matthew 27:46) When we prove faithful during these times, God gives us greater access to His light than previously available. 

A Fellowship With Christ
Referring to the scripture quoted earlier, Jesus said, "If any man walk in the day, he stumbleth not, because he seeth the light of this world." (John 11:9; emphasis added) Jesus is the light of the world. Walking in the light of noonday entails seeing Christ face to face. It means he comes to us regularly to teach and guide us. 


Walking in the light of the day does not mean meeting with Christ once, just like we don't have the Holy Ghost teach us just once. It means he comes to us frequently. 
Just as we are to obtain the mind of God through the Spirit continually, we ought to get to the point where Jesus physically ministers to us face to face frequently. We have a relationship with him. This is what John called a "fellowship" with Jesus (1 John 1:3,6). Those who walk in the light of noonday obtain a such a fellowship. Several people in the scriptures obtained a fellowship with Christ, including David. 
For David speaketh concerning him, I foresaw the Lord always before my face, for he is on my right hand, that I should not be moved. (Acts 2:25; see also Psalm 16:8) 
Evaluate Your Walk
Anytime we deviate from His word to us, we are walking away from the light, towards the darkness. Doctrine and Covenants 95:12 says, "If you keep not my commandments, the love of the Father shall not continue with you, therefore you shall walk in darkness." Think about the things God has instructed you to do, either through the scriptures or revelation. Are you obeying everything He has asked you to do? Or are there some things that you ignore or feel justified doing? Perhaps there are some things you feel guilty about doing, but you don't feel like you can help it. If you are not obeying everything God has instructed you to do, know you are not walking in as much light as you could be and you are prohibiting yourself from walking in more light that God has in store for you due to your disobedience. 

All of us can increase the amount of light we walk in. Many either don't want to increase in light or don't know how to, but it requires asking God to uncover our false beliefs and replacing them with truth. If we are sinning in even the smallest way, it requires repenting and forsaking. The more truth we know and obey, the greater the amount of light we have available to us. Some are satisfied with a small amount of truth, while others keep striving to learn more of God's will for them. This latter group constantly increase in light and are less likely to stumble. 
24 That which is of God is light; and he that receiveth light, and continueth in God, receiveth more light; and that light groweth brighter and brighter until the perfect day.
25 And again, verily I say unto you, and I say it that you may know the truth, that you may chase darkness from among you. (Doctrine and Covenants 50)
On my current journey, as I have sought to be completely obedient to God and get rid of my false beliefs, the Lord has given me much understanding regarding my path. He has shown me more about myself, including how far I am from having Jesus' attributes. He has shown me many weaknesses and sins I wasn't aware of before. As I repent and become more like Jesus, I am shown more. God also warns me through revelation and dreams regarding the nature of the trials that are ahead of me. He shows me how to act during these times and what these trials are meant to teach me. He shows me possible traps and stumbling blocks. I have found that the more I obey Him, the more I am told. In other words, I know as I continue to walk in the light, God will continue to give me more and more light. One day I can walk in the light of noonday because Christ will minister to me. As Jesus said, "he that followeth me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life." (John 8:12; emphasis added) 

I am not at the point yet where I have a fellowship with Christ, but God does enlighten my mind regarding myself, others, and my future so I can prepare for the things that are coming. It doesn't make the experience less painful but it is easier to use them to develop various attributes of Jesus and become clean and pure before Him. One day I know I can have such a fellowship and walk in his light at noonday. Each of us can as we uncover our false beliefs and repent of our weaknesses and sins. The joy and love we feel that comes from such a fellowship will be immense and worth every pain and heartache we have to endure on our way.  Using the words of Isaiah, my invitation is: "O house of Jacob, come ye and let us walk in the light of the Lord." (Isaiah 2:5)

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

The Second Great Commandment

by Nicky Smith

I have been thinking a lot about love and what it means to love others. Recently during our morning scripture reading, we read this verse that stuck out to me:

Thus did Alma teach his people, that every man should love his neighbor as himself, that there should be no contention among them. (Mosiah 23:15)
I then found some other references that said the same thing. Alma taught his people that when there is contention, we love ourselves more than others. Paul wrote the same thing to the Philippians:
Let nothing be done through strife or vainglory; but in lowliness of mind let each esteem other better than themselves. (Philippians 2:3)
Similarly, after Jesus visited the Nephites, they had no contention because of the love they had for each other:
15 And it came to pass that there was no contention in the land, because of the love of God which did dwell in the hearts of the people.
16 And there were no envyings, nor strifes, nor tumults, nor whoredoms, nor lyings, nor murders, nor any manner of lasciviousness; and surely there could not be a happier people among all the people who had been created by the hand of God. (4 Nephi 1; emphasis added)
We Are Commanded to Love Others As Much As We Love Ourselves
When Jesus was asked what was the greatest commandment, he declared that there were two commandments which were the greatest. First, love God and then he said, "And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself." (Matthew 22:39) We are to love others as much as we love ourselves. Sounds easy to do, but it isn't. Our actions and thoughts are a good indication though of how much we love ourselves compared to others. 

When we are impatient, offended, lose our temper, lie, or contend with others for example, we are demonstrating that we love ourselves more than others. When we negatively react to people's behavior not meeting our expectations, we show we love ourselves more than them. Even when we subtly try to control others through the use of various defense mechanisms, we are showing we love ourselves more than others. In fact, anytime we sin, we are showing that we love ourselves more than others (and more than God). We are choosing our own will. We are choosing what we think is best. However, when we choose to demonstrate charity, we are longsuffering, humble, and we do not seek our own desires/will/needs above another's. Paul lists several other attributes that encompass acting charitably (see this blogpost for more on charity):

4 Charity suffereth long, and is kind; charity envieth not; charity vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up,
5 Doth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil;
6 Rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth;
7 Beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things. (1 Corinthians 13)
We cannot sin against others and still love them as much as (or more than) ourselves. This is why Alma and Paul taught (in the references listed above) that there is no contention when we love others as we love ourselves. Loving others can only be done through keeping God's commandments. When the scriptures say "keep the commandments," they never mean keep some of the commandments or we simply do your best. Read this phrase literally. It means obey all the commandments all of the time, and when we don't, repent and change, forsaking our sins, by not repeating our error. Charity is only possible when we keep all the commandments all of the time. The greater our obedience, the greater our love.
5 ... I wrote a new commandment unto thee, but that which we had from the beginning, that we love one another.
6 And this is love, that we walk after his commandments.
  (2 John 1)
Jesus said that the greatest love we can have for others is the willingness to lay down our lives for them (John 15:13). Many think they would be willing to die for another (Consider how many songs have the lyrics about being willing to die for another), but until they are willing to love them as much as themselves and not sin against them, they are in denial about how much love they have for those individuals. 
16 Hereby perceive we the love of God, because he laid down his life for us: and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren.17 But whoso hath this world’s good, and seeth his brother have need, and shutteth up his bowels of compassion from him, how dwelleth the love of God in him? (1 John 3)
As I look back on my life I can see that I have loved myself more than others, including my husband and my children. When I noticed something my husband did that I didn't like, I would become silent and emotionally retreat or I would make a snarky comment. I was trying to control him! I loved myself more than him. When my kids were driving me crazy, I yelled and screamed to get them to calm down or obey. I was giving into my building frustration inside and chose my own will to release that frustration by yelling. This showed I loved myself more. When I could see that my actions demonstrated that I loved myself more, I instantly made the choice to change. Some patterns of behavior take time to change, but currently, every time I am tempted to act in unChristlike ways (such as feeling frustrated with the kids), I am trying to consider that I want to love others at least as much as I love myself. Practicing this love is the first step to obtaining it. 

We Are Commanded to Love Unconditionally

As I am learning to love others like myself, I am also learning to love others unconditionally. We know God loves us unconditionally (Romans 8:35, 38-39). No matter what we do, God will love us. He cannot always bless us (since blessings are based on obedience to law/truth), but He will always love us more than we can fathom. Those who have felt of His love have only an inkling of what this love is like. It is indescribable. 


At the last supper before Jesus was crucified, He said,

9 As the Father hath loved me, so have I loved you: continue ye in my love.
12 This is my commandment, That ye love one another, as I have loved you. (John 15; emphasis added)
Jesus told His disciples that we ought to have this same unconditional love. (see this blogpost on treating others the same way God treats us)

Many of us "love" others conditionally. We want others to look, act, speak, and think in ways that fit our expectations and the way we see the world. We hold them accountable to our expectations and our behavior towards them results from how we view their actions. Perhaps we retreat emotionally or withhold affection. We usually show them in some subtle way that we don't approve of their behavior. However, if we approve of their behavior, we show that we accept them and approve of them. This makes us a respecter of persons. (Read this post on being a respecter of persons.) This isn't real love.


Love by its very definition is unconditional. When we love unconditionally, whether or not we agree with others, we don't withhold our love from them. Our behavior towards them is not based on how they act or think or look. Instead, we show love, compassion, patience, and so on no matter how they behave or how they treat us. When we do this, it makes sense that we could and would love everyone, even our enemies: "Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you." (Matthew 5:44)

32 For if ye love them which love you, what thank have ye? for sinners also love those that love them.
33 And if ye do good to them which do good to you, what thank have ye? for sinners
also do even the same.
34 And if ye lend to them of whom ye hope to receive, what thank have ye? for sinners also lend to sinners, to receive as much again.
35 But love ye your enemies, and do good, and lend, hoping for nothing again; and your reward shall be great, and ye shall be the children of the Highest: for he is kind unto the unthankful and to the evil. (Luke 6)
Consider those whom you love. Is your acceptance or behavior towards them conditional on things they do or say? Do you act hurt and offended at times? Do you act out in anger because of another's behavior? Do you feel more kinship with someone who lives up to your expectations? Does another's actions cause you to become defensive? If you answered yes to any of these, your love is not yet unconditional and you have some work to do to change. 

Ramifications of This Commandment
Moroni (writing the words of his father) discusses charity and then said that he ought to pray for this kind of love:

Wherefore, my beloved brethren, pray unto the Father with all the energy of heart, that ye may be filled with this love, which he hath bestowed upon all who are true followers of his Son, Jesus Christ; that ye may become the sons of God; that when he shall appear we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is; that we may have this hope; that we may be purified even as he is pure. (Moroni 7:48)
Charity is unconditional. Charity is never loving ourselves more than another. Charity is a gift bestowed on us when we have become pure, keeping all the commandments we have been given. It is then that we can stand before Jesus with confidence, seeing Him as He is, knowing that He sees us as we are. Love is the key though. We cannot have Jesus physically appear to us and feel confident in His presence until we have become love and we are obeying not only the first great commandment of loving God, but also the second of loving others as ourselves. John wrote:
7 Beloved, let us love one another: for love is of God; and every one that loveth is born of God, and knoweth God.
8 He that loveth not knoweth not God; for God is love.
9 In this was manifested the love of God toward us, because that God sent his only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through him.
10 Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.
11 Beloved, if God so loved us, we ought also to love one another.
12 No man hath seen God at any time. If we love one another, God dwelleth in us, and his love is perfected in us.
(1 John 4)
If we do not develop this kind of love, we will never come to know God, since we can only know Him as much as we have become like Him. Love is such an intrinsic part of God's character. When we developed His type of love, then we can come to truly know Him. 

Examine your actions and determine which are self-serving and loving yourself more than others. Beg God to open your eyes to see yourself as you truly are. Repent and begin to act in loving ways. Slowly over time, you will become love. Through this you will come to know God more and be filled with His love for you and others. You will be given the gift of charity.