Thursday, June 30, 2016

The Unfinished Restoration

The first dispensation: Adam
After Adam was placed on the earth, he was given commandments, ordinances (including baptism and sacrifice), and the priesthood (Moses 5:4-8; 6:64-68). He taught his posterity the gospel and the Lord similarly gave priesthood power to the righteous men who followed: Seth, Enos, Cainan, Mahalaleel, Jared, Enoch, Methuselah, and so on. These men possessed the fulness of the priesthood and together with their families lived the gospel. This priesthood was sufficient to enter into the presence of the Lord. At the end of Adam's life he gathered these men together in the valley of Adam-ondi- Ahman. Doctrine and Covenants 107 states:
53 Three years previous to the death of Adam, he called Seth, Enos, Cainan, Mahalaleel, Jared, Enoch, and Methuselah, who were all high priests, with the residue of his posterity who were righteous, into the valley of Adam-ondi- Ahman, and there bestowed upon them his last blessing.
54 And the Lord appeared unto them, and they rose up and blessed Adam, and called him Michael, the prince, the archangel.
55 And the Lord administered comfort unto Adam, and said unto him: I have set thee to be at
the head; a multitude of nations shall come of thee, and thou art a prince over them forever.
56 And Adam stood up in the midst of the congregation; and, notwithstanding he was bowed down with age, being full of the Holy Ghost, predicted whatsoever should befall his posterity unto the latest generation.
57 These things were all written in the book of Enoch, and are to be testified of in due time.
The second dispensation: Enoch
Moses 6 gives a good indication of what happened after this. Verse 15 states: 
And the children of men were numerous upon all the face of the land. And in those days Satan had great dominion among men, and raged in their hearts; and from thenceforth came wars and bloodshed; and a man’s hand was against his own brother, in administering death, because of secret works, seeking for power.
The people (Adam's posterity, other than the line through Seth) became wicked. But, the Lord called men to preach repentance. Verse 23 says: 
And they were preachers of righteousness, and spake and prophesied, and called upon all men, everywhere, to repent; and faith was taught unto the children of men.
Enoch was one of them. In Verses 27-28 we read of Enoch's call to preach. This call was given directly by the Lord. It didn't come from his father or Adam. It came from the Lord, himself: 
And he heard a voice from heaven, saying: Enoch, my son, prophesy unto this people, and say unto them—Repent, for thus saith the Lord: I am angry with this people, and my fierce anger is kindled against them; for their hearts have waxed hard, and their ears are dull of hearing, and their eyes cannot see afar off; And for these many generations, ever since the day that I created them, have they gone astray, and have denied me, and have sought their own counsels in the dark; and in their own abominations have they devised murder, and have not kept the commandments, which I gave unto their father, Adam.
As the Lord spoke with Enoch and gave him commandments to preach repentance, another dispensation began. So, what did Enoch do? Verse 37 states: 
And it came to pass that Enoch went forth in the land, among the people, standing upon the hills and the high places, and cried with a loud voice, testifying against their works; and all men were offended because of him.
I think it is typical that people will be offended when we're teaching truth that is new or higher than what is being lived by those hearing the message.

Well, we know what happened. Moses 7 describes this. Enoch was able to preach in such a way that many people repented and they were able to establish Zion. This city was then removed from the earth and taken up into heaven (Moses 7:21). Noah and his family were left on the earth and so began another dispensation as Noah pleaded that the people repent so that they would not die by flood.

The purpose of any dispensation
After examining just these two dispensations it becomes evident that the purpose of any dispensation is (1) the calling of preachers of righteousness, (2) the restoring of the fulness of the priesthood and ordinances in an effort to assist the people to repent and come back into the presence of the Lord. As a group of people are able to live in the presence of the Lord, Zion is established.

So, in fact, the purpose of any dispensation is to establish Zion, where all of one heart and one mind, dwelling in righteousness, and there is no poor among them (Moses 7:18). Each have come to the Lord and He has manifested himself to each of them, while in the flesh. Without that, there is no Zion.

Jeremiah 33:33-34 is a prophecy about Zion in the last days:
33 But this shall be the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel; After those days, saith the Lord, I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts; and will be their God, and they shall be my people.
34 And they shall teach no more every man his neighbour, and every man his brother, saying, Know the Lord: for they shall all know me, from the least of them unto the greatest of them, saith the Lord: for I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.
In Zion there will not be people going around inviting others to know the Lord, because each will know the Lord personally. You can't get there by relying on the spirituality of a leader, even if the leader is the meekest of all men, as Moses was described. That model will not work and cannot work as history has shown. Each has to have a personal relationship with Christ. Each need to have received the sealing power from God.

Adam and many others were not able to create a community like this. Moses, like the others, understood this purpose, but the Israelites didn't want that. As each dispensation is examined, it is interesting that although there were individuals who entered into the presence of the Lord, only Enoch and Melchizedek were able to accomplish creating Zion. And, they were able to create this city of Zion because the people did not rely on them, but sought the Lord for themselves.

Zion will require a covenant. This will require the people to meet the requirements and honor the covenant. The Joseph Smith Translation of Genesis 9: 21-23 states: 
And the bow shall be in the cloud; and I will look upon it, that I may remember the everlasting covenant, which I made unto thy father Enoch; that, when men should keep all my commandments, Zion should again come on the earth, the city of Enoch which I have caught up unto myself. And this is mine everlasting covenant, that when thy posterity shall embrace the truth and look upward, then shall Zion look downward, and all the heavens shall shake with gladness and the earth shall tremble with joy. And the general assembly of the church of the first-born shall come down out of heaven, and possess the earth, and shall have place until the end come. And this is mine everlasting covenant, which I made with my father Enoch.
The covenant to bring about Zion was originally promised to Adam, then to Enoch, was made again by God with Noah.

The Restoration
Moving on to the latter days. After a long period of apostasy, Joseph Smith was born. After an inquiry about which church he should join, the Father and Christ and various angels appeared to him, telling Joseph his sins were forgiven and he was not to join any of the churches. Three years later Moroni visited his three times in a night, telling Joseph God had a work for him to do. He was told about the gold plates which he would translate using the Urim and Thummim. And, he talked a lot about preparing for the eventual return of the Lord, including the role that Elijah would play.

Why would Moroni talk about these specific things? Joseph Smith, like Adam, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Moses, Christ, and others would be the head of a new dispensation. The gospel would be preached anew with the end aim of having Zion established. Because the gospel along with the fulness of the priesthood had not been on the earth for centuries, a restoration needed to occur. It was a return to the earlier, forgotten truths. The same truths possessed by Adam, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, and so on.

Joseph understood that Zion needed to be established and he set out his whole life trying to establish Zion among the people, but he wasn't able to do it. The people were too hard-hearted and relied on Joseph too much, just like the ancient Israelites relied on Moses to provide them with revelation. Thus, the people weren't able to have the experiences they needed to have in order to bring them back into the presence of the Lord, thus creating Zion.

Doctrine and Covenants 101 states why. The people who were in Jackson County, Missouri were experiencing terrible afflictions and were being driven from their homes. Verse 6-7 state the reason they experienced these afflictions: 
6 Behold, I say unto you, there were jarrings, and contentions, and envyings, and strifes, and lustful and covetous desires among them; therefore by these things they polluted their inheritances. 7 They were slow to hearken unto the voice of the Lord their God; therefore, the Lord their God is slow to hearken unto their prayers, to answer them in the day of their trouble. They were not living even a Terrestial law and thus were unable to establish Zion.
The Restoration has not finished
Too often we think that Joseph Smith restored a fulness of truth and we have everything that will be restored and needed prior to Christ's Second Coming. Joseph aimed for the people to be ready for more to be restored, but they didn't do what was necessary and eventually Joseph died.

Frequently, we hear people say, "the gospel was restored through Joseph Smith" meaning we have everything that ever pertained to previous dispensations. But, do we have everything that was given before? Do we have everything that God has promised to give before the Second Coming? Joseph restored the foundation and one day more will be revealed.

Joseph stated that although the law of Moses would never return, the Gospel practiced before Moses would return. In Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, it states:
Thus we behold the keys of this Priesthood consisted in obtaining the voice of Jehovah that He talked with him [Noah] in a familiar and friendly manner, that He continued to him the keys, the covenants, the power and the glory, with which He blessed Adam at the beginning; and the offering of sacrifice, which also shall be continued at the last time; for all the ordinances and duties that ever have been required by the Priesthood, under the directions and commandments of the Almighty in any of the dispensations, shall all be had in the last dispensation, therefore all things had under the authority of the Priesthood at any former period, shall be had again, bringing to pass the restoration spoken of by the mouth of all the Holy Prophets; then shall the sons of Levi offer an acceptable offering to the Lord….
The offering of sacrifice has ever been connected and forms a part of the duties of the Priesthood. It began with the Priesthood, and will be continued until after the coming of Christ, from generation to generation. We frequently have mention made of the offering of sacrifice by the servants of the Most High in ancient days, prior to the law of Moses; which ordinances will be continued when the Priesthood is restored with all its authority, power and blessings.These sacrifices, as well as every ordinance belonging to the Priesthood, will, when the Temple of the Lord shall be built, and the sons of Levi be purified, be fully restored and attended to in all their powers, ramifications, and blessings. This ever did and ever will exist when the powers of theMelchizedek Priesthood are sufficiently manifest; else how can the restitution of all things spoken of by the Holy Prophets be brought to pass? (October 5, 1840.) DHC 4:207-212; TPJS pp. 172-173.
We can glean several things from this quote: (1) animal sacrifice will be practiced once again; (2) other ordinances might very well be restored; (3) the Levites will perform their duties in this temple; (4) these will be restored when the Temple is built and the question we need to ask ourselves is “which temple is being referred to here and if these things have not yet been restored, has this temple been built yet?”

As you search the writings of Joseph Smith and the scriptures it becomes evident that there are many other things that Joseph wanted to reveal but didn't get to reveal. It is important to bear in mind that the Gospel really is a search into the ancient order of things, not a jump forward into something new, which we have never heard before. 

What did Joseph reveal?
Apart from examining the things that Joseph was not able to reveal, it is vital to explore the things he did reveal. Reading his sermons (the book Words of Joseph Smith is a compilation of all of his Nauvoo sermons and is a good place to start) can aid us in this effort.

One thing Joseph taught was the necessity for people to physically gather. The people did this in his day as they moved together from city to city. Christ revealed to Joseph that this was a necessary thing to do in order to be prepared against the day of desolation preceding the Second Coming. Doctrine and Covenants 29:7-8 states: 
And ye are called to bring to pass the gathering of mine elect; for mine elect hear my voice and harden not their hearts; Wherefore the decree hath gone forth from the Father that they shall be gathered in unto one place upon the face of this land, to prepare their hearts and be prepared in all things against the day when tribulation and desolation are sent forth upon the wicked.
Joseph Smith said,
In speaking of the gathering, we mean to be understood as speaking of it according to scripture, the gathering of the elect of the Lord out of every nation on earth, and bringing them to the place of the Lord of Hosts, when the city of righteousness shall be built, and where the people shall be of one heart and one mind, when the Savior comes; yea, where the people shall walk with God like Enoch, and be free from sin. (TPJS p.93)
However, too often, when we think of gathering we only consider a “spiritual” gathering. But, there is more to the gathering than just accepting the gospel. This lack of understanding that has occurred over the generations will likely lead to people being unprepared when the desolation comes. If we neglect to understand the things Joseph taught, we will find ourselves unprepared when Zion is established.

There are many other doctrines that have changed or are now misunderstood by most Latter-day Saints. It is vital to see how and why they changed and what the Lord wants you to understand.

One day Zion will be established. The prophets of old prophesied over and over how it would be established in this dispensation. It will happen! But it requires us to awake and it requires us to arise. One way to begin preparing is to study the teachings of Joseph, the dispensation head, and the Lord will reveal those things to you that you lack.

Monday, June 27, 2016

Light [Part 2] - Overcoming Spiritual Blindness

In John 9:1-5 we read about Jesus encountering a blind man. 
1 And as Jesus passed by, he saw a man which was blind from his birth.2 And his disciples asked him, saying, Master, who did sin, this man, or his parents, that he was born blind?3 Jesus answered, Neither hath this man sinned, nor his parents: but that the works of God should be made manifest in him.4 I must work the works of him that sent me, while it is day: the night cometh, when no man can work.5 As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.
If you have read the post about Jesus being the light, you would realize that the purpose of miracles if to point to Christ being the light. Do you think it is important that some miracles be done in public? Why did Jesus do so many miracles in public? Why don't we see them being done in public today?

So, Jesus healed him by making clay through spit and dirt on the ground and anointing the man's eyes. He then had to wash in the pool of Siloam. People then came and asked how it was that he was no longer blind.
11 He answered and said, A man that is called Jesus made clay, and anointed mine eyes, and said unto me, Go to the pool of Siloam, and wash: and I went and washed, and I received sight.12 Then said they unto him, Where is he? He said, I know not.13 They brought to the Pharisees him that aforetime was blind.14 And it was the sabbath day when Jesus made the clay, and opened his eyes.15 Then again the Pharisees also asked him how he had received his sight. He said unto them, He put clay upon mine eyes, and I washed, and do see.16 Therefore said some of the Pharisees, This man is not of God, because he keepeth not the sabbath day. Others said, How can a man that is a sinner do such miracles? And there was a division among them. (John 9:11-16)
The people then took the now-seeing man to the Pharisees. He had been healed on the Sabbath and they were complaining to their church leaders that someone had violated the law. They were upset with Jesus and wanted to get him into trouble. This was not the first time he was healing someone on the Sabbath.

The Pharisees now wanted to get to the bottom of this. 
17 They say unto the blind man again, What sayest thou of him, that he hath opened thine eyes? He said, He is a prophet. 18 But the Jews did not believe concerning him, that he had been blind, and received his sight, until they called the parents of him that had received his sight. 19 And they asked them, saying, Is this your son, who ye say was born blind? how then doth he now see? 20 His parents answered them and said, We know that this is our son, and that he was born blind: 21 But by what means he now seeth, we know not; or who hath opened his eyes, we know not: he is of age; ask him: he shall speak for himself. 22 These words spake his parents, because they feared the Jews: for the Jews had agreed already, that if any man did confess that he was Christ, he should be put out of the synagogue. 23 Therefore said his parents, He is of age; ask him. (John 9:17-23)
They asked the man what had happened to him. He responded that he was healed by a prophet. Why would he say prophet? He witnessed Christ's works and knew there was something special about him. But, the Jews didn't believe him and so they went to talk to the parents. They didn't want to say because they they were afraid of being kicked out of the synagogue (or excommunicated). Essentially, they were scared the leaders of the church would tell them they weren't allowed to attend church anymore.
24 Then again called they the man that was blind, and said unto him, Give God the praise: we know that this man is a sinner. 25 He answered and said, Whether he be a sinner or no, I know not: one thing I know, that, whereas I was blind, now I see. 26 Then said they to him again, What did he to thee? how opened he thine eyes? 27 He answered them, I have told you already, and ye did not hear: wherefore would ye hear it again? will ye also be his disciples? 28 Then they reviled him, and said, Thou art his disciple; but we are Moses’ disciples. 29 We know that God spake unto Moses: as for this fellow, we know not from whence he is. 30 The man answered and said unto them, Why herein is a marvellous thing, that ye know not from whence he is, and yet he hath opened mine eyes.31 Now we know that God heareth not sinners: but if any man be a worshipper of God, and doeth his will, him he heareth. 32 Since the world began was it not heard that any man opened the eyes of one that was born blind. 33 If this man were not of God, he could do nothing. 34 They answered and said unto him, Thou wast altogether born in sins, and dost thou teach us? And they cast him out. (John 9:24-34)
As a result of this man's blunt testimony that Jesus can't be a bad person if he is doing the works of God, he was kicked out of the synagogue, or excommunicated. How hard would that be? You state what you believe and you are told not to return to church anymore. These Pharisees really believed they were doing the right thing though.

Here is a crazy question: Is it more important to do or state what you believe is true and be kicked out of church or do whatever it takes to continue being able to attend church, no matter what?

Spiritual blindness
Jesus then comes on the scene because he hears that the man has been cast out (see verse 35). He now teaches the man and the pharisees who are there. Remember that the people genuinely believed that his blindness resulted from him being born in sin (see verse 34). Generally, it was believed it was a punishment due to the sin of the parents or the person themselves.

How do we know if we are spiritually blind? 

We are all spiritually blind to an extend. Some are more so than others. This blindness is equivalent to being in a deep sleep where one is not aware. We don't accept or believe truth (things as they really are) when it is presented to us.
O how marvelous are the works of the Lord, and how long doth he suffer with his people; yea, and how blind and impenetrable are the understandings of the children of men; for they will not seek wisdom, neither do they desire that she should rule over them! (Mosiah 8:20)
Two main things are spoken about in conjunction with blindness
(1) sin (see 3 Nephi 18:15,18; Alma 15:17; Mosiah 4:30 “watch yourselves”) 
(2) not understanding truth.

When we don't accept truth, it leads us into sin. Not only does sin lead to captivity and death, but choosing not to seek light and truth leads to the same place. Awaking, on the other hand, refers to repenting. So since we all sin and we don't understand all truth, we are all technically blind, but the point is for us to increase our sight and move from this state of blindness to a state of seeing. Paul said we are all looking through a glass darkly. For some the glass is darker than others (i.e. some are more blind than others). The point is to open ourselves up to light and truth and move towards seeing spiritually.

In my previous post on light, we discussed the metaphor of light and how light often refers to truth and works. Light is necessary for us to see. Not being blind and possessing light are directly related.

There are other metaphors which describe the same thing as blindness: deafness (2 Nephi 9:31-32), being asleep (Jacob 3:11), being dead (Ephesians 5:14), drunk (Joel 1:15). These themes are interwoven with the theme of captivity (2 Nephi 1:23; Alma 5:7).

These metaphors can be contrasted with the words: awake, arouse, watch listen, sight, and life.

We choose to be blind
This blindness and deafness is a choice. How do we choose to be blind? Consider these verses:
And wo unto the deaf that will not hear; for they shall perish. Wo unto the blind that will not see; for they shall perish also. (2 Nephi 9:31-32)
how long will ye suffer yourselves to be led by foolish and blind guides? Yea, how long will ye choose darkness rather than light? (Helaman 13:29)
O how marvelous are the works of the Lord, and how long doth he suffer with his people; yea, and how blind and impenetrable are the understandings of the children of men; for they will not seek wisdom, neither do they desire that she should rule over them! (Mosiah 8:20)
Those who choose not to seek further light and truth are considered blind. Those who will not hear the voice of God are deaf. So we are completely accountable for our state of blind- and deafness.

Blindness results from false traditions

This blindness can also come as a result of the things we are taught causing us to rely on false traditions or the philosophies of men.
For there are many yet on the earth among all sects, parties, and denominations, who are blinded by the subtle craftiness of men, whereby they lie in wait to deceive, and who are only kept from the truth because they know not where to find it— (Doctrine and Covenants 123:12)
Can this verse also refer to Latter-day Saints?

When the philosophies of men and commandments of men are added to truth, it distorts people's understanding of what is from God and what is from man. Think about if you were living in Jesus' time and you were practicing the Mosaic Law. Why was it so hard for the people to distinguish between the commandments of men and the commandments of God?

Most people don't know that they are blind and think they know and understand the truth and nothing in their belief system is false. 

In Helaman, we read that the Lamanites dwindled in unbelief because of the traditions of their fathers (Helaman 15:15). The Book of Mormon frequently uses the term, “dwindling in unbelief.” Dwindle means to diminish gradually. Unbelief develops gradually because changes in God’s word occur gradually. This is, however, not limited to the Lamanites. Due to the imperfections of men and other reasons, changes occur in doctrine, practices, and ordinances. These changes get passed on through the generations until it is forgotten what and how changes were made. These changes constitute unbelief because they consist of either false or partially false beliefs. Because these things are so widely taught and believed, it is very difficult to determine what might not be completely correct. But, it is important to remember that additions to God's word and law need to come through revelation and should not be constructed due to societal pressure or what seems like a good idea.

In order to overcome blindness, one needs to identify false traditions. We as Latter-day Saints have our fair share of them. Can you think of some general false traditions? What about the idea that angels or Christ don't appear to regular people? Or that idea that participating in ordinances cement your place in heaven? Or all callings in the church are inspired? Or a couple is unconditionally sealed after a temple marriage? Or what it takes to create Zion and who will create Zion? And so on. 

How would you determine what the commandments of men were as opposed to the commandments of God? Think about if there are any false traditions or philosophies of men or even commandments of men that you believe in now. If you cannot think of any, how can you find out if you believe in any?
Beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ. (Colossians 2:8)
Wherefore he saith, Awake thou that sleepest, and arise from the dead, and Christ shall give thee light. (Ephesians 5:14)
An essential part of progressing towards Christ is asking God to reveal false traditions and beliefs that you possess. If we want to overcome spiritual blindness, we need to be willing to accept all light and truth that God has in mind for us and let go of false beliefs and traditions. There is no other way to move forward.

Saturday, June 25, 2016

Light [Part 1] - Christ is the Light

In both John 8 and 9, Jesus declares that he is the light of the world.
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)
Jesus gave this same declaration before Jesus appeared to the Nephites they heard his voice declaring this (3 Nephi 9:18) as well as when he appeared to the Nephites (3 Nephi 11:11).

The Metaphor of Light
I have always love the metaphor of light and have thought about it's meaning a lot. Light refers to truth and intelligence (see D&C 93:36). There are a lot of references to light being truth:

John 1:4-5
4 In him was life; and the life was the light of men.5 And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not.
Doctrine and Covenants 93:28
28 He that keepeth his commandments receiveth truth and light, until he is glorified in truth and knoweth all things.
Light not only refers to truth, but also represents works or deeds. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus, in speaking to his disciples, stated the following:
14 Ye are the light of the world. A city that is set on an hill cannot be hid. 15 Neither do men light a candle, and put it under a bushel, but on a candlestick; and it giveth light unto all that are in the house.16 Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven. (Matthew 5:14-16)
Here Jesus is using the word light to refer to works. The purpose of these works are to help others focus on Christ and glorify the Father.
Therefore, hold up your light that it may shine unto the world. Behold I am the light which ye shall hold up—that which ye have seen me do. Behold ye see that I have prayed unto the Father, and ye all have witnessed. (3 Nephi 18:24)
These two metaphors are inherently connected though since works need to be based on truth. Our works should be truth in action.

Christ is the Light
So, if light refers to truth and works, how is Christ the light?
6 He that ascended up on high, as also he descended below all things, in that he comprehended all things, that he might be in all and through all things, the light of truth; (Doctrine and Covenants 88:6)
Christ descended below what anyone else has descended, which enabled him to ascend beyond anyone else. Each time we ascend, we comprehend more truth. Because he has ascended higher than anyone else, he comprehends more truth than anyone else. This is why he can be called the light of truth.
7 Which truth shineth. This is the light of Christ. As also he is in the sun, and the light of the sun, and the power thereof by which it was made. 8 As also he is in the moon, and is the light of the moon, and the power thereof by which it was made; 9 As also the light of the stars, and the power thereof by which they were made; 10 And the earth also, and the power thereof, even the earth upon which you stand. 11 And the light which shineth, which giveth you light, is through him who enlighteneth your eyes, which is the same light that quickeneth your understandings; 12 Which light proceedeth forth from the presence of God to fill the immensity of space—13 The light which is in all things, which giveth life to all things, which is the law by which all things are governed, even the power of God who sitteth upon his throne, who is in the bosom of eternity, who is in the midst of all things. (Doctrine and Covenants 88:7-13)
If faith is belief combined with revelation (i.e. truth), then as one acts on this truth (i.e. performs works), power is given. (This is from Joseph Smith's lectures on faith. See this post for an explanation.)

As Christ comprehends all truth (in his sphere), he possesses all power. So, as he speaks, things are able to be organized and governed, such as the earth and sun. So, another dimension to this light is power, as verse 13 states. If you want to understand this more, study Doctrine and Covenants 93.

Obtaining light
As we understand more truth and perform the works the Lord wants us to do, we obtain more light.
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 50:24-25)
The perfect day is when we are able to stand in the presence of the Lord and obtain knowledge. The way to get there is to obtain truth and to perform works based on that truth (which usually involves lots of repentance).
28 He that keepeth his commandments receiveth truth and light, until he is glorified in truth and knoweth all things. (Doctrine and Covenants 93:28)
Using the light to point to Christ
When we obtain light, we can use it to point to ourselves and how wonderful we are, or we can reflect this light onto Christ, giving him the glory, thus pointing others to him.

True messengers and true messages conform to a pattern mentioned in 3 Nephi 18:24 which we read earlier, which stated “I am the light which ye shall hold up.” They help the people focus on Christ rather than on themselves or another man:
Every thing which inviteth to do good, and to persuade to believe in Christ, is sent forth by the power and gift of Christ; wherefore ye may know with a perfect knowledge it is of God. But whatsoever thing persuadeth man to do evil, and believe not in Christ, and deny him, and serve not God, then ye may know with a perfect knowledge it is of the devil. (Moroni 7:16)
The opposite of this is priestcraft.
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 welfare of Zion. (2 Nephi 26: 29)
Priestcraft is where someone wants to be in charge and have control over other people, setting themselves up as that person at the head, saying, “Follow me” instead of pointing to Christ. Someone who is engaging in priestcraft doesn't have to explicitly say "Don't follow Christ; Follow me!" But, anytime someone points to another man or woman to follow, instead of Christ, they are are taking the attention (or the light) off Christ. This really is the essence of idolatry, because this an indirect invitation that says: Don't look at Christ; look at me! 

What works should be performed?
Further on in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus talks more about these works that his disciples needed to display in order to bring people to Christ. Read Matthew 7:15-23 where fruit is used as a metaphor for these works.
15 Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves.16 Ye shall know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles?17 Even so every good tree bringeth forth good fruit; but a corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit.18 A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit.19 Every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire.20 Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them.21 Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven.22 Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works?23 And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity.
Jesus says to beware of false prophets. What would a prophet's fruit be? Think in terms of light being truth and works (bring forth new revelation/scripture/visions/prophecy – truth; perform mighty miracles in public, such as heal the sick, raise the dead – works; etc)

Here we have a group of men called to be Christ's first apostles. Jesus was teaching them about the necessary fruit or works they needed to produce if they were to be considered prophets. He was teaching them not to be false prophets. Throughout the Old Testament we learn of prophets who didn't prophesy. There were no works. This led the people to err or go astray (see Isaiah 9:15-16). Jesus wanted them to make sure they obtained these gifts and led others to Him through their truth and works. 

Those who try to lead without truth and works are essentially blind guides (see Helaman 5:29). And those who follow them have set those leaders up as a light, instead of Christ. We need to examine anyone carefully who desires to lead us and determine is they are setting themselves up as a light or have not truth and works. The point is to always focus on Christ, who is the true Light. Then, as we obtain truth and perform the associated works, we obtain light, but we then use this light to point others to Christ. 

Friday, June 24, 2016

Baptism by Fire [Part 2]

by Nicky Smith

The first post in this set on baptism by fire explored the experiences people have had in being baptized by fire. It is worth reading that first in order to more fully understand what the experience is. 

Nicodemus was a Pharisee and a member of the Sanhedrin. He appears three times in the Gospel of John. He first visits Jesus one night to discuss his teachings. (John 3:1–21) The second time Nicodemus is mentioned, he reminds his colleagues in the Sanhedrin that the law requires that a person be heard before being judged. (John 7:50–51) Finally, Nicodemus appears after the Crucifixion to provide the customary embalming spices, and assists Joseph of Arimathea in preparing the body of Jesus for burial. (John 19:39–42)
1 There was a man of the Pharisees, named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews:2 The same came to Jesus by night, and said unto him, Rabbi, we know that thou art a teacher come from God: for no man can do these miracles that thou doest, except God be with him.3 Jesus answered and said unto him, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.4 Nicodemus saith unto him, How can a man be born when he is old? can he enter the second time into his mother’s womb, and be born?5 Jesus answered, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.6 That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.7 Marvel not that I said unto thee, Ye must be born again.8 The wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh, and whither it goeth: so is every one that is born of the Spirit.9 Nicodemus answered and said unto him, How can these things be?10 Jesus answered and said unto him, Art thou a master of Israel, and knowest not these things?11 Verily, verily, I say unto thee, We speak that we do know, and testify that we have seen; and ye receive not our witness. (John 3:1-11)
I love verse 8. The workings of the Spirit are a mystery, but we can feel of its effects on us, just like the wind. We can't control it, but we can experience it. Verses 9-11 are interesting. They imply that Nicodemus had not had this experience of being born again, although given his religious position, he should have had it. 

Two things stand out to me as I read these verses: 
(1) The Lord will ask us to do hard things to help us progress; 
(2) Ordinances are invitations for interactions with God.

The Lord will ask us to do hard things
Why would being “born again” be a hard thing for Nicodemus? What would it entail in terms of his standing in the community and among the Sanhedrin? This reminds me of the time the rich young ruler came to Jesus asking what he needed to do in order to enter the Kingdom of God. Jesus told him to sell all his things and give it to the poor. He wasn't willing to make the sacrifice. 

When you go to the Lord seeking light and truth, He will require something of you. This is absolutely necessary for your progression. It is part of the cycle of descent and ascent. You can't just ascend to higher truth. You have descend first, by giving up something (such as a sin or a weakness, etc). As you seek for light and truth, be prepared to be asked to sacrifice. It is a requirement for progression and exaltation. The opposite is damnation.

Ordinances are an invitation
What happened to Adam when he was baptized by water?
And thus he was baptized, and the Spirit of God descended upon him, and thus he was born of the Spirit, and became quickened in the inner man. And he heard a voice out of heaven, saying: Thou art baptized with fire, and with the Holy Ghost. This is the record of the Father, and the Son, from henceforth and forever; (Moses 6:65-66)
Adam was baptized by water and by fire as was spoken about by Jesus in John 3:5. Baptism by water and baptism by fire are inseparable. Joseph Smith said this very thing: 
You might as well baptize a bag of sand as a man, if not done in view of the remission of sins and getting of the Holy Ghost. Baptism by water is but half a baptism, and is good for nothing without the other half that is, the baptism of the Holy Ghost. (HC, 5:499)
When Joseph Smith spoke of the baptism of the Holy Ghost, he was not referring to confirmation. It is a false belief that confirmation completes the baptism. Being confirmed and being baptized by fire are different events, although it is possible for them to occur simultaneously. So many people assume they have been baptized by fire simply because they have been confirmed. Rather, confirmation is just another invitation for the baptism by fire. 

All ordinances are invitations for further interactions with the Lord. Think of the ordinances performed in the church (baptism by water, sacrament, initiatory, endowment, sealing, etc). None of these ordinances assure us of anything. Without the experience they invite us to have, they are worthless. In other words, without the baptism by fire, the baptism by water is incomplete. Without seeing Christ, an endowment doesn't mean what we think it means. We are required to obtain what they invite us to obtain.

What do the ordinances invite us to obtain?
Take a look at these ordinances. I have linked them with the experience they invite you to obtain:

Baptism by water – Baptism by fire 
Sacrament – An endowment of the Spirit
Initiatory – Cleansed from the blood and sins of this generation; anointed to be kings/queens and priests/priestesses.
Endowment – To receive the Second Comforter and be brought back into the presence of the Lord
Sealing – To obtain the sealing power and have the ability to seal our families to ourselves

The ordinances without the interaction with God are incomplete and do not lead to the what you seek without the experiences that follow. We need to seek to have these further experiences if we are to be exalted.

Getting back to Nicodemus. The Lord was teaching and inviting him to be born again or experience the baptism by fire. Have you been baptized by fire? I think a lot of people think they have when in reality they have not yet had that experience. 

How do I know if I have been baptized by fire (born again)?
[1] Our sins are forgiven
A word that is often used in the scriptures which means forgiveness of sins is justification. It simply means being declared blameless, free of guilt in the sight of the Lord. Another word that is often spoken in conjunction with justification is sanctification. What is the difference between justification and sanctification?

Justification: forgiveness of all our sins; being declared blameless
Sanctification: “after being sanctified by the Holy Ghost, high priests could not look upon sin without abhorrence” (Alma 13:12); no longer sin willingly

Nephi spoke about how a complete baptism is the gate to the path towards Christ. If we have not had the experience or we are not sure we have had the experience, we are not yet on the path (2 Nephi 31:17-18). Once we are on the path, staying on the path means living by every word which proceeds out of the mouth of God or following the Spirit (2 Nephi 31:19-20). This leads us to become sanctified because the Spirit will lead us to do those things that overcome our weaknesses. Sanctification then leads to being able to be in the presence of Jesus Christ in this life. It sounds simple, but it is a difficult and painful process, but well worth it.

Baptism by Fire / Justified → Live by the Spirit → Sanctification by the Spirit → Second Comforter

Have you had an experience where you have been told that all your sins have been forgiven you? 

[2] Gifts of the Spirit are given
If you examine the scriptural accounts of those who have been baptized by fire, it is apparent that they spiritual gifts were manifest. For example, among the Nephites there were some who had been baptized by fire. They experienced various gifts of the spirit and miracles as a result of this experience.
And it came to pass that the thirty and first year did pass away, and there were but few who were converted unto the Lord; but as many as were converted did truly signify unto the people that they had been visited by the power and Spirit of God, which was in Jesus Christ, in whom they believed. And as many as had devils cast out from them, and were healed of their sicknesses and their infirmities, did truly manifest unto the people that they had been wrought upon by the Spirit of God, and had been healed; and they did show forth signs also and did do some miracles among the people. (3 Nephi 7:21-22)
Orson Pratt said: 
Now then, if I receive the gift of the Holy Ghost, or if my brethren receive it, I should expect that we would receive the manifestations of these gifts, one receiving one gift and another another, according to the Bible pattern. If we did not receive these gifts, then we might doubt that we had received the Holy Spirit. We are commanded in the Scriptures to try the spirits, for there are many spirits who are gone abroad into the world who are false spirits. Try them: by what rule? Try them by the written word, and see if we have the gifts as recorded in the New Testament. If we have them, we may be assured that the Holy Ghost has been given to us. For instance, if a person receives the baptism of fire and the Holy Ghost, and the heavens are opened to him he is not mistaken. If the Lord inspires him to lay hands upon a sick child or a sick person, and he commands the disease to be removed, he knows that God is with him, and that he hearkens to the supplications and prayers which he offers in the name of Jesus in behalf of the sick. If a person has the vision of his mind opened to behold the future and to know that which will shortly come to pass, and he sees these things fulfilled, from time to time, he has every reason to believe that he has really received the Holy Ghost. So in regard to speaking in tongues. If an illiterate, uneducated man, who never understood any language but his mother tongue, is inspired at the very moment to rise and testify in an unknown tongue and to proclaim the wonderful works of God, he knows whether his tongue has been used by a supernatural power, or whether it is merely gibberish out of his own heart. He knows it very well for himself; and so we might continue throughout all the gifts mentioned in the Bible. If he beholds angels, and they descend before him in their glory, and he hears the sound of their voices, beholds the light of their countenances and the glory that radiates from their personages, he knows for himself, consequently this constitutes him a witness as well as those who proclaimed this Gospel before him. (Journal of Discourses, Vol.16, p.216, Orson Pratt, September 28, 1873)
So one way we know that we have been baptized by fire is if we possess spiritual gifts. Alma 9:21 states this too. Are we conversing with angels? Are we receiving revelations regularly?Are we hearing the voice of the Lord? Do we prophesy? And so on. And as we know from the New Testament (1 Corinthians 12), and The Doctrine and Covenants (section 46), and the Book of Mormon (Moroni 10), there are many gifts. These should be manifest in our lives. If you have been baptized by fire, think about what spiritual gifts you were given.

Too many people though assume that talents, such as an artistic or musical ability or an interpersonal ability (e.g. listening well), are spiritual gifts. That is not the case. Spiritual gifts are God-given abilities through an endowment of his power. You cannot possess that gift without faith in Christ and access to his power. The minute you willingly sin or lose faith in Christ, his power and spiritual gifts are gone. Think about how the gift of prophecy cannot be done using one's own abilities. This is the same with the gift of tongues, visions, healings, discernment, and so on. 

[3] Change of Heart
With the baptism by fire, you become a "new creature," possessing a new heart (2 Corinthians 5:17; Mosiah 27:25-26). King Benjamin spoke of retaining the remission of your sins (Mosiah 4:11-12). Paul spoke about becoming dead to sin (Romans 6:1-12). This can only be done by living a different life to the one lived before.  You no longer desire to live the same life as before (Mosiah 5:2). 

[4] Immersion of the Spirit
Those who have been baptized by fire also experience a full immersion of the Spirit, as tangible as being immersed in water. See the first post on this topic to read more about this.

You can now think about the experiences of those in scripture who have had this experience and compare your experience of the baptism by fire. If you do not think you have had this experience, seek it now. All he requires is a broken heart and contrite spirit (3 Nephi 9:20). Ask the Lord what you lack and he will provide the experiences and the truth so that you can change and be prepared for what he has in store for you.