Tuesday, October 17, 2017

How Connected Are You?

In this day and age we are very concerned with how connected we are. We have smartphones and laptops to keep us connected with others and the world. We want news and information in an instant and those devices help us stay connected. While we are so well connected with the world around us, few of us focus on our connection with God. 

In John 15 Jesus compared Himself to the vine and us to the branches of the vine. When we are connected to God it is like being a living, growing branch. While those who are not connected to God are like withered branches that aren't growing. Jesus said:
I am the vine, ye are the branches: He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without me ye can do nothing. If a man abide not in me, he is cast forth as a branch, and is withered; and men gather them, and cast them into the fire, and they are burned. (John 15:5-6)

Being connected to God entails having a relationship with Him. It means we speak to Him and He speaks back to us. We can ask questions and He answers. We express our thoughts and feelings to Him and He responds. Many of us think we are have such a relationship with God, but our connection is weak. In other words, the branches are still alive, but only barely. 

Being connected to God is essential to spiritual progression. Although, being connected does not automatically mean we are progressing. That is to say, a connection to God is necessary for progression, but not sufficient for progression. 

Many of us may look like this vine, with little growth and life. This is equivalent to someone who receives infrequent revelation and the content of that revelation has little to with progress. How often do you hear God's voice? How often do you obtain His mind? Does God tell you how you can repent and develop His attributes? 

Instead we need to look like this, where there is a lot of life and we bear fruit. This represents someone who is deeply connected to God, receiving frequent daily revelation, enabling them to progress to become just like Jesus.

If you desire to be like the flourishing, fruitful vine, consider what your current connection to God is like and how you can improve that connection. Revelation is the key to a strong connection with GodWhen I am receiving the mind and will of God directly from Him, I feel connected to God (as opposed to receiving the mind of God through another person). One way of evaluating your current relationship with God is to examine both the frequency and the content of the revelation God gives you. 

Content of God's Revelations to Me
Too often the revelation we focus on receiving has little to do with spiritual progression. Having the Spirit tell us where our lost keys are or what we suppose are the mysteries of God is wonderful, but that kind of revelation is not helping us become more like Jesus. If you recognize that you are not receiving the kind of revelation that will help you progress, plead with God for it. 

When God is speaking to me, giving me instructions on how to repent, how I can develop more love for others, how He wants me spend my time, how to increase my faith, and so on, God is helping me become more like Jesus. Yesterday as I was pondering all day on some of my struggles, the Spirit said to me that I need to have more trust in the promises God has made to me. This instruction filled my soul with joy, even though it was God's way of saying I have not been trusting Him as I should. This revelation will help me become more like Jesus. It is key to my progress.

Now consider, is God teaching you new things or is He simply reminding you of things you know already? For example, you were told to read the scriptures daily but you haven't been doing it consistently and so the Spirit keeps reminding you to do so. This is not new truth which you are receiving. We cannot receive new truth unless we are obeying the previous truth. If you are receiving new truth regularly, you can know that you are progressing (whether fast or slow). God isn't just rehashing stuff you have been told before. How can you be progressing unless God is revealing new light and truth to your mind and heart? I feel connected to God when he tells me of my sins and weaknesses and how to repent and much of the time He tells me things I was completely unaware of in myself.

If you know of a sin that you need to repent of, that God has been prodding you about for years and that you have been procrastinating, realize that it is unlikely that you will receive more revelation until you act on what you have already been given. It is sobering to consider the years I have lost in receiving new light and truth because of my slothfulness in obeying God's commandments to me. We can only receive more truth based on our heed and diligence to what we have previously received. 
9 And now Alma began to expound these things unto him, saying: It is given unto many to know the mysteries of God; nevertheless they are laid under a strict command that they shall not impart only according to the portion of his word which he doth grant unto the children of men, according to the heed and diligence which they give unto him.
10 And therefore, he that will harden his heart, the same receiveth the lesser portion of the word; and he that will not harden his heart, to him is given the greater portion of the word, until it is given unto him to know the mysteries of God until he know them in full.
11 And they that will harden their hearts, to them is given the lesser portion of the word until they know nothing concerning his mysteries; and then they are taken captive by the devil, and led by his will down to destruction. Now this is what is meant by the chains of hell. (Alma 12; emphasis added)
Frequency of God's Revelation to Me
How often do you receive revelation? If you are receiving revelation infrequently, you have work to do in order to create a stronger connection with the Lord. We ought to be receiving revelation about our spiritual progression daily. We should be open enough and know His voice enough to be able to understand His will for us daily. If all of Jesus' words and actions were the Father's will, consider how connected He was to the Father. We cannot perfectly do the Father's will without knowing His will continually. That is what we are striving for! 

While the content of your revelation gives an indication if you are progressing, the frequency of your revelation determines your rate of progression. Those who are not being told of new ways in which they ought to repent and become more like Jesus may not be progressing. Those who are being shown ways to repent, but obtain that revelation slowly, are likely to be progressing slowly. Your hunger and thirst for repentance and your obedience to the revelation you receive are a large determining factor in what  and how often you are receiving revelation from God.

As I reflect on my connection with God, I can see how there have been large spans of time where my connection with Him was almost non-existent. However, as I began to desire to become sanctified, I sought more to understand the mind of God and tried to obey it immediately, I found that God spoke more often to me, giving me new understanding on both myself, my journey, and the scriptures. I know as I continue to seek truth and obey what I receive, my connection to God will continue to grow. John wrote,
And he that keepeth his commandments dwelleth in him, and he in him. And hereby we know that he abideth in us, by the Spirit which he hath given us. (1 John 3:24)
As you obey the revelation you have previously received and continue begging for more, you will receive more and eventually become a thriving, fruitful vine. Those who do the Father's will bear fruit. Jesus said that those who bear much fruit are His disciples and obtain the power of God. 
7 If ye abide in me, and my words abide in you, ye shall ask what ye will, and it shall be done unto you.
8 Herein is my Father glorified, that ye bear much fruit; so shall ye be my disciples. (John 15)

Complete Surrender

by Nicky Smith

A year and a half ago when I first began to have faith that I could see Jesus while in this life, I began to learn more about some of the things required of me so that I could have that experience. In essence, God requires that I become pure and holy. Over the following few weeks and months my desires for becoming pure turned into hungering and thirsting and I desired it more than anything else. One morning I prayed, saying, "Please help me get to that point the fastest, shortest way possible. I am willing to give up everything for you to help me!" Little did I know that that was exactly what would be required. God really requires us to surrender everything to become pure and stand confidently in Jesus' presence.

Lately I have been thinking about the concept of surrendering and I have learned that sanctification requires three main kinds of surrendering (although I am not suggesting this is an exhaustive list). 

Surrender to the Path

When we want to walk the path back into the presence of Jesus, it requires us getting to the point where we are willing to surrender and sacrifice everything to have that experience. After I began hungering to become pure and surrender all, I found that traveling on this path is very different to what I had previously envisioned. It has been filled with more discomfort, anxiety, and pain than I could ever have imagined, but at the same time I have never felt so loved by God. I have never felt so much comfort from Him. I have never felt so much joy and so much peace. I have never felt closer to Him. Even though when I desired to give up everything to be in Jesus' presence, I had no idea what lay ahead, I simply knew that regardless of what it entailed, I would be willing to do it. In some ways that felt like jumping off a cliff, knowing that Christ would be at the bottom, ready to catch me. 

Over time I came to feel immense gratitude for the heartache and the discomfort, because I knew that this is the only way I could become pure. Is it fun or easy? Certainly not, but the blessings are immense. 

You may feel like you want to become pure and you really want Jesus to appear to you, but it's scary. Or, you know the path is painful and you'd rather do it without the pain. It may feel like standing at the top of the cliff and looking down. You may wonder, what if I tell God I will surrender everything but it is too hard or I know there are things I don't want to lose? Jumping off a cliff can seem really scary and requires faith. 

It is hard to desire the pain when we don't yet have faith that God will reward us for our sacrifices. Obtaining that faith requires revelation from God that help us on the path and will reward us. Without obtaining that revelation for myself, I wonder how far I would continue on the path. Yet, the further I travel on the path, the greater my faith that God will deliver on His promises He has made to me.

Surrender Every Affection and Lust of the Heart

As I started on the path of sanctification, God showed me my biggest weakness. I knew it was a problem but I would never have anticipated that it was greatest downfall. As I have begged and pleaded with God for greater understanding and more experiences to help me get rid of it, I have been shown how intertwined it is with other weaknesses I have. At the same time, God has shown me a myriad of other weaknesses which I have to overcome in order to become pure. Each time a new weakness is revealed, it is painful to recognize. And, then as I have experiences to help me overcome it, it hurts. It hurts because I have to let go of my beliefs and my desires. Even though I said to God I would surrender everything, I find God asking me to sacrifice this or that and it is harder than I imagined. It hurts to sacrifice the beliefs I have about myself, others, relationships, parenting, what is required for celestial glory, and just life in general, which I cling to. Letting go of these feels dangerous and scary. In many ways I feel like I am hanging onto a dead tree branch on the edge of a cliff. Knowing my belief is false is like realizing I'm hanging onto a dead branch that could break at any second, but it is still frightening letting go. Through my previous experiences though, I have come to know that Jesus will always be there to catch me. I am learning to trust the Lord more fully through these experiences.  

Those who are pure have crucified all their desires, all the things they have set their heart on, all their false beliefs, and all the things they cling to in order to feel safe. Paul said, "And they that are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with the affections and lusts." (Galatians 5:24)

I have come to see the thing I have set my heart on and that the Lord is asking me to surrender that thing. I can see how he has given me several trials and tests in the past to help me and I can discern I have several more to come. As I was thinking about this yesterday, the Lord brought to mind the experiences of Abraham and how Abraham had set his heart on having a son. Throughout his life he had many, increasingly harder trials in order to help him be willing to surrender his greatest earthly desire. 

Through Sarah's infertility, Abraham had to learn to let go of this desire and learn to accept God's will above his own. Then, one day he was given a son through Hagar (Genesis 16:15). I imagine he must have felt great joy at now having a son. Sometime after he was told he would have a son through Sarah and Abraham felt so much joy he laughed (Genesis 17:17). Abraham's faith was again tried when Sarah was taken by Abimelech (Genesis 20). He had to surrender his desires to the Lord's will. Finally when Isaac was born, Abraham's joy must have been very great (Genesis 21:2). Soon after that, however, Sarah wanted Hagar and Ishmael gone and "And the thing was very grievous in Abraham’s sight because of his son" (Genesis 21:11). The Lord told Abraham again to surrender his will and let them go. I cannot even imagine the pain in Abraham's heart as he sent Hagar and his son away, but this experience was part of Abraham learning to surrender his desires to those of the Lord's (Genesis 21:14). Then, Abraham's biggest test of surrendering came when he was told to sacrifice Isaac (Genesis 22:2). All the experiences he had had previously had prepared him for giving up what he had set his heart on: having a son! He had received promises from the Lord and Abraham had to trust that the Lord would deliver on his promises. As we know Abraham showed that he was willing to surrender every affection of his heart for the Lord, even that which was most precious to him. Although Abraham already had a pure heart and had seen Jesus many times, through his surrender he was able to obtain greater blessings than previously available to him. 

In the end, we have to learn to give up all that we set our heart on, whether it be the things of this world, our false beliefs, our desires, and the things we love. God wants to know if we love Him more and if we are willing to surrender all for Him. 

Surrender Your Will 
Everything Christ did in His life was the Father's will. When we follow the Father's will perfectly we will not and cannot get angry, lie, gossip, feel impatient or frustrated with others, and commit various other sins. The Father's will is always for us to love others in every thought, word, and action. When we sin it is because we are choosing our own will. Only as we surrender our own will to that of the Father's, can we become sanctified. 

Many in the scriptures have had significant experiences, including seeing Jesus and being taken up into heaven. Others had visions and received great prophecies. You may at times examine your life and see how hard you are trying to do what you believe is right, yet you aren't having these same experiences. You may see yourself as trying harder than anyone else around you. Not seeing much fruit as a result of your efforts may lead you to feel confused or despondent. 

Think back to when you were in school. Imagine being given an assignment and immediately you begin to work at it. You get up early and stay up late in order to work at it all day. You make many sacrifices to get this assignment completed. Eventually you are done and you hand over your finished work to your teacher. She then returns it giving you a failing grade. "But how is that possible?" you ask. "I worked so hard, giving up everything to get this done." As you question the teacher why you did not obtain the promised results for completing the assignment, she shows you how you did not do what what was required and instead did what you wanted to do. You had been distracted by what you thought was best. 

Each of us desire the rewards promised in scripture, including returning to the presence of God. Many of us desire to have the experiences spoken on in scripture, such as hearing the clear voice of God, being in Jesus' presence, being taken up to heaven, seeing visions, and so on. Each of these blessings are based on laws (Doctrine and Covenants 82:10). If you keep the laws, you will obtain the blessings. Any deviation from keeping those laws will result in missing out on the blessings. When we aren't entertaining angels or hearing God's voice more clearly, it is because we have deviated from His path and we need to repent. Beg God to show you how you have erred.

Jesus understood this principle and all His words, actions, desires, and thoughts were the Father's will. He never once deviated from God's will because He thought it best. He only ever did exactly what the Father wanted--nothing more, nothing less. In other words, He never did something that what not the Father's will. As a result He obtained all the Father could give Him. This was true surrender!

Surrendering is Only Possible Knowing God's Will
Surrendering is a key part of sanctification. We have to be willing to surrender both the things of this world which we have set our hearts on as well as ourselves and our own wills. Surrendering is also needed to start walking on the path of sanctification. As we seek to become like Jesus and be in the Father's presence, we have to surrender ourselves to taking the shortest, fastest, most painful way, knowing that heartache is a necessary part of achieving the blessings we are after. Surrendering to God always involves a deep hungering and thirsting for truth. This is not truth about whatever interests us. This is truth about our impure hearts. It is truth about our fallen natures. There are so many things in our hearts that we aren't currently aware of, but as we surrender to God, we become open to whatever He might tell us in whatever way. He will instruct us on how to repent and what to sacrifice. 

Jeremiah compared us to clay in the Lord's hands (Jeremiah 18:1-6). Those who surrender to God can be made into vessels. Those who don't are destroyed. Isaiah then wrote,
But now, O Lord, thou art our father; we are the clay, and thou our potter; and we all are the work of thy hand. (Isaiah 64:8)
Eventually we will get to the point where we are receiving regular revelations regarding things we did not know about ourselves. As we work on repenting of these things, God reveals more. Before you are at the point where God is giving you this sort of revelation consistently, be careful about doing those things you think are best and what you think God probably approves of. 

The only way to be filled with greater amounts of God's will is to rid ourselves of our self-will. If we find we are lacking understanding of God's will, it is possible that we are blind to how much of our self-will is in us. We can only have as much of his will as we have eliminated our own desires.

Surrender Daily
Recently the Lord revealed to me the root of several of my weaknesses. It encompasses a series of false beliefs I possess. God revealed the truth and it is now up to me to let go of the false and embrace the truth. But it is hard! My heart aches. Yet I know that as I let go and assimilate the truth into my way of thinking and acting, I will overcome the related weaknesses. I have come to learn though that letting go of these beliefs take time. As I pray and am filled with the mind of God, I feel filled with love and I lose my desire for those false beliefs and weaknesses. Then as I go about my day I find my heart returning to where it feels safe and clinging to my false beliefs. Again, I have to pray and change my heart. 

One day recently I felt a bit despondent because I felt like I was making no progress with these weaknesses. I could see clearly that they were still there. As I asked God what I needed to do to make progress, the Spirit told me to surrender daily. I was reminded of Paul declaring, "I die daily." (1 Corinthians 15:31) My heart felt hope and I am continuing to surrender my false beliefs daily. I know that over time they will be less ingrained in me and one day I will no longer have those as part of my belief system. 

And [Jesus] said to all, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it...." (Luke 9:23-24; ESV)

Throughout this process I have felt God's help the entire time. I have never learned more about myself and about God's divine nature. I have never felt more loved. 

In the end, each of us have to surrender everything to God if we are to receive the Lord's blessings spoken of in scripture. Examine your life and determine what you have yet to surrender. Ask the Lord to enlighten your mind. Know that this is a necessary part before becoming pure in heart. If you desire to receive greater blessings than you currently enjoy, ask God to help you surrender all the things you have set your heart on as well as your self-will. Ask Him to give you faith in His promised rewards. Hunger to know His will and be willing to endure every heart ache to become pure. In time, through your diligence you will find your faith increased and closer to God than you have ever felt before. 

Friday, October 13, 2017

Be Thou Humble

by Nicky Smith

A few years ago as I was asking the Lord what he wanted to me to improve and He said: "Humility!" I didn't know how to become humble. I desired it, but decided to leave it in the Lord's hands, while simultaneously asking God to lead me to be humble. Soon after that the Lord enabled me to understand my situation before Him and I felt crushed, but seeing myself as I truly am enabled me to overcome some of my pride and have some humility. Looking back on that experience, I could have chosen to remain prideful, despite what the Lord was telling me, but I wanted to change. I wanted to be humble.

I have come to realize that humility is multifaceted and that there is pride in other areas of my life. Several times, the Lord has given me truth which helps me tackle my pride in those specific areas. I have come to see that while we can be humble in some areas, great pride can exist in others and it takes a long time to conquer these things. 

Pride is Self-seeking, While Humility is Submission 
Humility is simply acknowledging the truth of and yielding to our position before GodWhen we don't see our position before Him accurately, this is an indication that we probably have pride. However, most believe they already have a correct perception of their position before God. Without seeking humility, it is not an attribute that will develop by itself, since we have to learn, accept, and live truth to be humble.

Pride is the root of every sin. When you sin, know that you are still prideful. Our sins are a manifestation of desiring our own will rather than God's, which is pride. It is a manifestation of our lack of understanding of our position before God. It means we love ourselves more than others. Pride involves any kind of self-seeking, self-praise, and self-will. In other words, when we do our own will instead of God's will alone, we are manifesting our pride. 

You may think to yourself: I am doing God's will in my life. Yet, consider all your actions, thoughts, feelings, and words. These are the test of your humility or your pride. Are all of these aligned with God's will? If not, you have pride in you. Any form of gossip, backbiting, lack of forgiveness, jealousy, envy, impatience, taking offense, dishonesty (even if seemingly harmless), hard thoughts, sharp words (unless the Spirit instructs), temper, unkindness, hasty judgments, irritation, indifference to others needs and feelings, and so on shows our pride. We are seeking our own. 

I have always been impressed with one Canaanite woman. One day she approached Jesus and begged him to heal her daughter. Jesus ignored her and his disciples begged Him to send her away. Think about how you would respond in that situation? Would you walk away in a prideful huff? Jesus then said he was only sent to the lost sheep of Israel. She continued begging Him and He referred to her as a dog, saying, "It is not meet to take the children’s bread, and to cast it to dogs." Consider how you would feel if you were treated like this by Jesus. What about being treated like this by some other person? Would your pride lead you to get offended, angry, or despondent? Not this woman! Whether she struggled with pride in the past or not, she responded to Jesus testing her, "Truth, Lord: yet the dogs eat of the crumbs which fall from their masters’ table." This is humility!!! Jesus then exclaimed that due to her great faith her daughter was healed. (Matthew 15:22-28) You cannot have great faith without great humility.

Humility is always demonstrated by complete submission to God. When you see yourself accurately before God, you will trust Him enough to obey everything He asks you, as opposed to trusting in your own wisdom and your own desires. You will trust Him enough to wait for revelation from Him before doing what you believe is best. Humility means seeing yourself as nothing in comparison to God. Your own will diminishes to nothing and God's will is everything. Jesus truly was the most humble man on earth:
26 I speak to the world those things which I have heard of him.
28 ... I do nothing of myself; but as my Father hath taught me, I speak these things.
29 And he that sent me is with me: the Father hath not left me alone; for I do always those things that please him. (John 8)
Pride is the Root of All Your Weaknesses
Nephi equated pride with vain imaginations (1 Nephi 12:18) and "the world and the wisdom thereof" (1 Nephi 11:35). If truth is knowing things as they are (Doctrine and Covenants 93:24), when we have false or partially false beliefs, we do not see things as they are. While humility is accurately and truthfully seeing ourselves, our sins, and others before God, pride is having false beliefs regarding these things. 

These false beliefs are what feeds our weaknesses and sins. For example, if I have a weakness of feeling frustrated with my children, it is because I have some false belief regarding my role as a mother, I am not seeing them as God sees them, or any other false belief. Or, if I am jealous, I may have false beliefs about the way my marriage ought to be or about myself needing to control others. Until I rid myself of those false beliefs, I will never rid myself of those weaknesses. 

Our false beliefs are like the roots of a tree. Just as roots are underground, often not much is known about our false beliefs (and sometimes we are unaware of their existence). Yet, more often our weaknesses and sins are visible to ourselves and others. Our false beliefs are generally tangled and intertwined with each other and in order to replace our wisdom and understanding with God's truth, it takes much time, patience, perseverance, and work to uncover and untangle them. They rarely uncover themselves. Furthermore, some are deeper than others and are harder to remove. We have to constantly be trying to seek them out and replacing them with truth. Without great desire to uncover our false beliefs, we will never be open enough to recognize that some of the truths we cling to so vehemently are actually not all true. As we identify our underlying beliefs, discern what is false, and learn and assimilate what is true, our root system will no longer be a tangled knot that gives little life to the tree. However, the minute we stop seeking to know our false beliefs, our progression slows and we are left at Satan's mercy. In effect, we become damned in our progression.

I have several weaknesses which I thought were independent of each other. Recently as I was praying about it, the Lord helped me understand how despite them seeming independent, they all shared a common false belief and if I eradicated that false belief and replaced it with truth, each of these weaknesses would be eradicated. I felt some relief upon learning this, but at the same time I knew that changing this false belief was not a trivial matter. It is going to be painful and take a lot of work. 

While some weaknesses are easy to eradicate, others just take longer. With the weaknesses that are more ingrained in you, consider that you have false or partially false beliefs regarding yourself and/or others and the only way to overcome those weaknesses is to determine the underlying false beliefs and correct those. While we are sometimes completely unaware of our false beliefs, God can help us see the truth. Correcting false beliefs is difficult though. Often it is painful seeing ourselves and others as we really are. Other times we lack faith to let go of the way we see things and it feels scary and dangerous. But without accepting the truth, we cannot overcome those weaknesses. 

Humility, the Root of Every Virtue
As we slowly untangle the roots and determine what our false beliefs are and replace them with truth, we are able to develop humility. We see ourselves and others more from God's perspective. It is our humility that enables us to develop Christlike attributes and characteristics. 

While your false beliefs will always lead you into sin at some point, whether it be an outward action or an inward feeling of the heart, once you see yourself, others, and situations more accurately, it becomes easier to be patient and selfless and kind with others. Then over time, you will be enabled to develop patience, or mercy, or kindness, and so on and not just practice it. It will become part of your nature. As a result of possessing these attributes, God will bestow charity on you and you will come to know Him as He is.  

There is a certain situation in which I've struggled to act in Christlike ways. As I have been begging God to help me overcome this weakness, He gave me some truth. In that moment, I saw myself and the other people involved in a very different way. For days I kept pondering on these things. My aim was to incorporate this truth into my belief system. I then had that same type of experience that I so often have struggled with in the past. Knowing truth did not make the experience easy. Instead, it was still difficult and painful, but due to what I understood, I was able to act in accordance with God's will. I know that through having many such experiences I can become a changed person so that those Christlike characteristics of love and mercy are a natural part of who I am. It is then that I can truly come to know Jesus.

Holiness and Humility
Humility is the foundation of holiness. When your thoughts, words, feelings, and actions towards others are pure and align perfectly with God's will, your humility is demonstrated. Humility will always lead you to let go of every outward sin and every impure condition of the heart, until you become pure and holy and are able to to stand confidently in the presence of God. 

On the other hand, there is nothing quite so dangerous as the pride that leads us to consider ourselves pure and holy before God. We may not explicitly think: "I am better/holier/closer to God than so and so." But, inside we compare and we notice how advanced we are in a specific ways compared to others. Any self-recognition or self-praise is pride. This kind of pride is difficult to overcome because it is either something we are not consciously aware of or we believe it to be legitimately true and justified. Self-hate is another aspect of pride. When we self-hate or self-pity, we focus on ourselves and until we let go of that, we will never be humble. 

Knowing the truth of our position before God and accurately seeing the position of others before God will always lead us to feel love for ourselves, God, and others. If the fruit of our understanding is not love, there is likely something wrong with our understanding. 

Hungering and Thirsting After Humility
If we want to be humble, we have to hunger and thirst for it. Seek after it. When God has shown me my true sinful state, it is incredibly painful in my heart until I embrace the truth. Even though I know that He shows me these things because He loves me, the pain comes because I struggle to let go of my false beliefs. Often we run and hide from the truth because we don't want painful and heart-wrenching experiences, but it is the only way. When you hunger and thirst for the truth and for sanctifying experiences, you no longer simply endure those trials. Instead you look at them with joy and gladness, despite the pain. Those experiences are no longer a burden and you feel gratitude for them. 

Obtaining greater and greater humility is the secret to a greater degree of joy and peace. Hunger for humility, knowing you cannot be sanctified without it. Learn to see yourself as you are in relation to God. Rejoice and accept the experiences that come that can teach you humility. Use every opportunity to act in humble ways. Seek God's will constantly in every thought, word, and action. Then, in time you will find that you are becoming humble. You will begin to develop the attributes of Jesus and you will be filled with love for yourself, others, and God. 

Thursday, September 28, 2017

Adoring Idolatry

by Kimber Albrechtsen

We often think of idolatry as something like praying to a stone carving or being overly interested in sports cars, but modern-day idolatry can involve more subtle and nefarious "false gods": religious leaders.

While dumb-idol-idolatry was easier for Satan to promote in ancient times (perhaps because most people were still humble enough to seek and accept some kind of higher power), today he works more subtly. We can be enticed to be idolatrous while still believing that we only serve and worship God. How does this confusion work? Satan does this by encouraging us to conflate things, ideas, or people with God. For example:

"I am justified in wanting this expensive dress because it is important to wear my Sunday best to church to show respect to God. Also, I worked hard to earn the money for this dress, and hard work and self-reliance are important to God. My money is also a blessing from God because I pay my tithing, so this dress is a blessing."

"God is love, so restrictions on when/who/how we romantically love are not of God."

"God speaks through prophets, so I should obey and trust everything the prophet says. God also deserves my respect, reverence, and gratitude, so I will show that by being respectful, reverent, and grateful to his prophet."

The problem with this way of thinking is that it uses God and His priorities to justify our own desires. We use God to rationalize our idolatry, making Him in our own image.
"They seek not the Lord to establish his righteousness, but every man walketh in his own way, and after the image of his own god, whose image is in the likeness of the world, and whose substance is that of an idol, which waxeth old and shall perish in Babylon, even Babylon the great, which shall fall." (D&C 1:16)
"How is obeying and reverencing our church leaders idolatrous?"

This behavior becomes idolatrous when the object of obedience and reverence is a mortal person instead of God. We should obey the commandments of God and reverence God, not His servants. Of course God's commandments often come through His servants, but it is important to understand that God is the one we are obeying. His servant is merely the messenger; the message and commandments should not originate with the servant, therefore the obedience is not directed toward the servant.

The chasm between men and God is vast; putting church leaders on the same plane of deference and adoration is blasphemous and a violation of the first of the Ten Commandments: Thou shalt have no other Gods before me. We cannot bring God down to us by designating earthly substitutes for our worship. We must ascend to God on His terms. God did not say, "If ye love me, adore my prophets and lavish them with honors." He said, "If ye love me, keep my commandments" (John 14:15).

Idolatry is when we substitute something telestial, fallen, and carnal, for God.

The Lord says in Exodus 20:
4 Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth: 
5 Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them: for I the Lord thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me;
Are we expected and encouraged to participate in excessive physical displays of reverence and admiration for our leaders? Standing when the prophet enters the room, singing hymns for him, and even dancing for him? While I can't think of any instances of members literally bowing down to church leaders, we often use the symbolic and sacred phrase "at the feet of" when referencing the "honor" of being taught by general authorities, especially in person.

We're just showing respect! you might say. Really? Do you stand when your Bishop enters the room? Do you sing for your boss? Dance in costume for your favorite professor? Common respect looks very different from the adoration and worship we Latter-day Saints reserve for our favored religious authorities.

The Lord taught this poignant lesson during the last supper:
24 And there was also a strife among them, which of them should be accounted the greatest.
25 And he said unto them, The kings of the Gentiles exercise lordship over them; and they that exercise authority upon them are called benefactors.
26 But ye shall not be so: but he that is greatest among you, let him be as the younger; and he that is chief, as he that doth serve.
27 For whether is greater, he that sitteth at meat, or he that serveth? is not he that sitteth at meat? but I am among you as he that serveth.
(Luke 22)
In this passage Jesus highlights the tendency of the Gentiles (among whom Joseph Smith identified the Saints in D&C 109:60) to idolize those "that exercise authority upon them," and then completely rejects that tradition. The Lord's apostles are to be humble servants, not oligarchical, authority-wielding celebrities endlessly praised for their service (and is it really service if they are paid?).

When you receive a gift in the mail, do you send a thank-you note to your mailman? No, you send one to the person who is actually responsible for the gift. Prophets are basically mailmen. Do you treat your mailman with basic respect and civility, and perhaps a simple expression of gratitude when you happen to see him at the mailbox? Sure. Do you throw him celebrity-hosted birthday parties? Do you keep a framed photo of him on your wall? Do you encourage your children to write in their journals about him? No, because that would be weird and completely disproportionate to their personal importance in your life. When we rationalize the same honors for our church leaders, that's a strong sign that we have come to prize the messenger more than the message, and that such adoration has become a dangerous distraction from God.

If you aren't faithful enough to get the initial message from God Himself (eventually you should be), then God will utilize someone else to pass on His truth. This method is merciful and loving, but we should never lose sight of the fact that the real value we receive from prophets exists completely independent of them; God's truth and work depend on no specific, mortal man. If one prophet dies, fails, or rebels, God can use another. Prophets are replaceable and interchangeable. Their worth is not in their heart-warming anecdotes, their sophisticated speech and accomplishments, or their likable personalities; their worth to us depends solely on their ability to receive and transmit God's word.

Why should we care if the prophet "sends his love"? Why should we care when his birthday is or what he likes to eat? Why should we learn anecdotes about the General Authorities' righteousness, rather than hear stories of their witnesses of God's power? Why should we place extra value on their examples, when we have Jesus Christ as our example?

"But loving, celebrating, and learning about our leaders aren't harmful!"

The fact is that life is generally a zero-sum game when it comes to time and resources. The time and energy you spend learning the GA's birth places and hobbies with printable flashcards could have been put towards studying the scriptures or serving someone in need. Of course the same could be said for each moment you spend on Facebook, pursuing a hobby, or exercising, but what's especially problematic about more subtle idolatries is that you give yourself credit for doing "something spiritual." Because "honoring the prophet" is equivalent to "honoring God" in your mind, you are okay spending an hour at church learning about all the great stuff a former church president did, feeling no alarm that the name "Jesus" was only mentioned during the opening and closing prayers. You feel like a good Mormon if you read a prophet's biography on Sunday afternoon, even if it means you didn't crack open your scriptures. You feel like you have "taught the gospel" to your kids when they've memorized the names of the Quorum of the Twelve or can sing the latest verse of "Follow the Prophet" (the anthem of Mormon idolatry). The fact is that living the gospel has nothing to do with following or adoring or learning trivia about our leaders. Living the gospel is about following CHRIST and obeying GOD.

Beyond the expenditure of time and resources, what can be most nefarious about idolizing our leaders is that it leads to outsourcing our relationship with God while also dulling our ability to discern truth from fiction in what they say. When you idolize your leaders and put them on a pedestal, questioning the veracity of their teachings becomes taboo. Questioning a man becomes as offensive to you as questioning God, a sentiment that is in direct conflict with the Lord's declaration that, "Cursed is he that putteth his trust in man, or maketh flesh his arm, or shall hearken unto the precepts of men, save their precepts shall be given by the power of the Holy Ghost" (2 Nephi 28:31). I wrote more here about our duty to verify everything by virtue of the Holy Ghost, and not by our level of admiration for the messenger. If you can't wrap your head around the idea of our leaders teaching us anything but pure truth, read this to see how the teaching that "the prophet can never lead us astray" is a false precept.

Why was this picture staged this way? Why wasn't a simple headshot used to announce a devotional?

When your evaluation of a leader's message is clouded (or completely prevented) by your emotional connection to the leader, you can know you're guilty of idolatry. When your loyalty to a church office is greater than your loyalty to truth, you can know you're guilty of idolatry. The Lord said in D&C 50:17-21:
17 Verily I say unto you, he that is ordained of me and sent forth to preach the word of truth by the Comforter, in the Spirit of truth, doth he preach it by the Spirit of truth or some other way? 
18 And if it be by some other way it is not of God. 
19 And again, he that receiveth the word of truth, doth he receive it by the Spirit of truth or some other way? 
20 If it be some other way it is not of God. 
21 Therefore, why is it that ye cannot understand and know, that he that receiveth the word by the Spirit of truth receiveth it as it is preached by the Spirit of truth?
In these verses the Lord is 1) establishing that it is possible for one of his ordained servants to deliver a message that is not of God, and 2) explaining that it is necessary to receive a message through the Spirit of truth (as opposed to "the Spirit of loyalty to your leaders" or "the Spirit of admiration for nice elderly men" or "the Spirit of warm-fuzzy groupthink"). Carefully examine your standards for evaluating the truth of the messages you receive from your leaders; it is telling if you have no such standards.

"Even if these things are idolatry, what the members do is not the fault of the leaders!"

Maybe not, but I wonder why they don't denounce such behavior and adoration as idolatrous. What would you do if President Monson walked into the conference center and said, "Sit down! I'm no one special. All your reverence should be reserved for God. In fact, why am I sitting in a chair comfier than yours? Why is anyone who isn't speaking in this meeting sitting behind the pulpit? And why all the memes praising me and other general authorities or the vapid things we say? They are vain and trifling, offensive to a jealous God. Stop acting like I'm a superhero, stop thinking it's an honor to be in my presence, stop putting my picture on your wall, and stop caring about anything I say or do unless I say I have a message specifically from God and that's confirmed to you by the Spirit. Oh, and don't read my biography, To The Rescue. You'd be much better off reading the New Testament--now there's a biography worth your time! Now for my talk, the content of which was provided me by an angel who visited me last night..."

Do church leaders encourage and enjoy the adoration they receive from members?

Does the church foster idolatry by promoting a cult of personality surrounding leaders? A cult of personality is the deliberate curation of an individual's public image through flattery and praise; positive traits and stories are emphasized while potentially negative traits and events are erased or minimized in the authorized narrative. The church certainly created an idolized mythology around Joseph Smith ... is the same true for current leadership?

What emotional reaction were the producers of this photograph aiming for?

General Conference is this weekend. If you're watching, I hope you'll evaluate each message on its own merits, and not based on your feelings for the speaker.

Listen for these phrases:

-"God instructed me to say ..."
-"An angel revealed to me ..."
-"In a vision I saw..."
-"Thus saith the Lord ..."
-"The Lord said to me ..."
-"The word of the Lord ..."

Watch out for:

-Flattery, especially directed at women.
-Boasting about the accomplishments of the church, missionary force, or leadership.
-Rationalization of disobedience.
-Anecdotes that highlight the righteousness of an individual rather than the power and mercy of God.
-The philosophies of men, mingled with scripture.

Follow Jesus Christ alone. Only He can save you.

Saturday, September 23, 2017

Knowing Christ in His Fulness

by Erin West

Lately more people are coming out and sharing their experiences with the Savior. At first I found this to be comforting. I enjoy hearing about these kinds of experiences, because it encourages me to seek Christ and obtain my own experiences with Him. However, every now and then I’ve noticed something happening that is concerning.

I’ve seen some people insisting their experience with the Savior is superior to another’s, and claim the Jesus they met is better than the Jesus someone else met. To paraphrase, your Jesus might chew out someone and rip into them harshly, but my Jesus would never do that, because He is loving and merciful. Or, your Jesus oozes with too much love, but my Jesus is just and lets the hammer drop, etc.

It was getting to the point where I felt like Joseph Smith when it came to trying to decide which church to join. Except in my case, it was, “Which Jesus do I follow? People’s perspectives seem so different at times, and the result is that they are at odds with each other. What’s the deal?” I posed this question to my husband. He grew very thoughtful and then told a story about six blind men and an elephant. It may be a familiar one to some; it is an old fable from India.

“Once upon a time, there lived six blind men in a village. One day the villagers told them, ‘Hey, there is an elephant in the village today.’They had no idea what an elephant was. They decided, ‘Even though we would not be able to see it, let us go and feel it anyway.’ All of them went where the elephant was. Every one of them touched the elephant.’Hey, the elephant is a pillar,’ said the first man who touched his leg.’Oh, no! it is like a rope,’ said the second man who touched the tail.’Oh, no! it is like a thick branch of a tree,’ said the third man who touched the trunk of the elephant.’It is like a big hand fan,’ said the fourth man who touched the ear of the elephant.’It is like a huge wall,’ said the fifth man who touched the belly of the elephant.’It is like a solid pipe,’ Said the sixth man who touched the tusk of the elephant.”

My husband ended the story there, looked at me and asked, “Who of the six is right?” I thought about it for a moment, and thinking about it in the context of our discussion about the numerous perspectives of Jesus, I replied, “All of them are right.” I then told my husband the problem is that they are all arguing and insisting their perspective is correct while the other’s is wrong.

An impression quickly came to my mind, one that I had heard before when pondering this issue. “You need to experience and know ALL of my characteristics and attributes.” This old story proved the impression to be true. What if, instead of the blind men arguing, they moved around the elephant to a new spot, and the one who touched the tail got to touch the elephant’s belly? He would gain added perspective to what he already knows from touching the tail. He knows the elephant a little more fully.

So it is with our experiences with Jesus. The other guy who met a Jesus who is the Almighty Judge, may actually be correct. But we won’t know until we seek Jesus and ask Him to help us understand that attribute in Him, just as we won’t know Jesus is merciful unless we seek to know. If we do that faithfully, Jesus will not only reveal those characteristics and attributes, but He will teach us how to obtain them ourselves.

I’ve always believed Jesus to be a just judge, who will let the punishment drop when it is needed. I also believe He is longsuffering and merciful. I also believe that two characteristics that seem to be at odds with each other actually work together. In short, I believe the Lectures on Faith to be correct in its description of Christ’s characteristics and attributes.
“And again, the idea that he is a God of truth and cannot lie, is equally as necessary to the exercise of faith in him, as the idea of his unchangeableness….” (Lecture 3:22; emphasis added)
“And lastly, but not less important to the exercise of faith in God, is the idea that he is love…” (Lecture 3:24; emphasis added)
“And it is not less necessary that men should have the idea of the existence of the attribute of power in the Deity.” (Lecture 4:12; emphasis added)
“It is of equal importance that men should have the idea of the existence of attribute of judgment in God…” (Lecture 4:14; emphasis added)
All of Christ’s characteristics are equally important and are harmonious, even if we don’t see that right away. Seek Christ and ask Him to help you understand how His characteristics work together. Ask Him to help you obtain the same characteristics with the same balance and harmony. Do the same with His attributes. Take time to consider another’s experience with Jesus, as they may have encountered an aspect of Him that you didn’t.

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Treating Others the Way God Treats Us

by Nicky Smith

Recently in our morning scripture study I was reading with the kids about the people of King Limhi. They had been slow to hear and obey the word of God and as a result, when they began pleading with God to help lighten their burdens, God was slow to hear their prayers:
And now the Lord was slow to hear their cry because of their iniquities.... (Mosiah 21:15)
I reflected on how the scriptures say that the degree to which we are merciful to others, God will be merciful to us.
14 For, if ye forgive men their trespasses your heavenly Father will also forgive you;15 But if ye forgive not men their trespasses neither will your Father forgive your trespasses. (3 Nephi 13)
Jesus also said:
1 Judge not, that ye be not judged.
2 For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again. (Matthew 7)
I thought about my relationship with my children. (Although this post focuses on the parent-child relationship, the concepts apply to all our relationships with others.) What if I feel impatient when they keep asking me questions or if I feel frustrated when they talk to me non-stop? What if I am distracted and I don't even hear them talking to me? What if I am harsh or unkind to them in my discipline? Our behavior towards others is often based on how we judge them. For example, if a child is going on about something we find boring, we may ask them to be quiet or tell them we are too busy to listen to them. If we treat our children as boring, irritating, or needy, for example, how will God judge us? The way we deal with others will be reflected in God's attitude and behavior towards us. We may legitimately have more important things to do than listen patiently to our children, but think about how God feels about us. Somehow, despite being God of the universe He listens to our cries and answers our prayers. 

My kids regularly wake up several times in the night and they often come and wake me. One particular night I had been woken several times by my daughter and I couldn't fall back to sleep, despite being so tired. I knew the next day was going to be difficult. Then, my daughter came into my room yet again and I was really upset. I yelled at her to go back to bed. The Lord then rebuked me, asking me if He had every yelled at me when I come to Him over and over again. I knew my behavior towards my daughter was not Christlike and I needed to repent. I apologized to her and I determined to be longsuffering when they wake me. Ever since that experience, my aim is to remember how God treats me and reflect that in how I behave towards my children. If I continued my impatient behavior towards my children when they need me in the middle of the night, can I expect that God would be quick to answer my prayers at all hours of the day and night? I know how I desire God to treat me and so I know I need to mirror that behavior towards my children. 

As I interacted with my children in various ways, I have tried to reflect on how God deals with me. At times He rebukes me when I have sinned, but somehow I am able to feel so loved by Him simultaneously. I want my children to feel loved as I discipline and teach them. Is your love for your children reflected in the manner in which you discipline them? God never tries to control me. He teaches me truth and does not rescue me from the consequences of my rebellion. In raising children it is easy to slip into a routine of trying to control our children's behavior. Does your discipline aim at teaching your children truth and consequences, rather than controlling them? God is so patient and longsuffering with me. He is slow to anger and quick to forgive. Are we patient and slow to anger with our children? I know I need to treat my children in the way God has treated me, else I cannot expect to receive this treatment from the Lord. Remember, "with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again." (Matthew 7:2)

God loves us. His love is unconditional. However, every blessing we receive is based on law (Doctrine and Covenants 82:10). Manifestations from God (such as greater or more frequent revelations and quicker answers to prayers) are based (in part) on the degree to which you have become like Him. If you desire greater interactions with God, you need to become more like Him. Study His characteristics. Learn about His attributes. (Of course, having an incorrect or limited understanding of His characteristics impedes our progression.) It will be evident that everything He does stems from love. Be willing to critically examine your behavior and your heart. Seek to know the Lord's perspective on the way you treat others. Be open to being corrected. Then, begin to align your thoughts, desires, and actions with those of the Lord's. As you incorporate His attributes into your life and treat others as He treats you, you will become more like Him. Over time, you will become love too. At some point, when you have become pure and more like Him, Jesus will manifest Himself to you. 
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)