Saturday, July 16, 2016

What Are Your Sacred Cows?

by Nicky Smith

Necessity for sacrifice
If we want to become like Jesus, we need to develop faith. In order to develop faith, God will ask us to sacrifice. Faith and sacrifice are opposite sides of the same coin. Without faith, it is difficult to sacrifice. Without sacrifice, your faith cannot increase. Joseph Smith said,
Let us here observe, that a religion that does not require the sacrifice of all things, never has power sufficient to produce the faith necessary unto life and salvation; for from the first existence of man, the faith necessary unto the enjoyment of life and salvation never could be obtained without the sacrifice of all earthly things: it was through this sacrifice, and this only, that God has ordained that men should enjoy eternal life; and it is through the medium of the sacrifice of all earthly things, that men do actually know that they are doing the things that are well pleasing in the sight of God. (Lectures on Faith 6:7)
Faith necessary unto life and salvation is the type of faith where we are confident in the presence of God. Here he is declaring that such faith can only be developed when one is willing to sacrifice all earthly things. When you are willing to sacrifice everything for God, then you can feel confident before him.

Many of us think we are willing to sacrifice EVERY thing for the Lord. However, I think it is necessary to examine ourselves from time to time because most of us have a sacred cow or two....or three. 

Sacred cows
In Hinduism cows are considered sacred. A sacred cow is an idiomatic expression for a belief that is held onto very strongly, even though it is not a correct principle and has no basis or solid foundation. It is immune to questioning and criticism and so it is difficult to eradicate (and often difficult to identify). 

Many of us have false traditions or beliefs which we vehemently cling to, but if we want to progress we have to rid ourselves of these things and seek only for those things that are true. Anytime we adhere to a false principle, it leads to us not being willing to sacrifice something. This means we damn ourselves, being unwilling to progress because we prefer to hold onto our sacred cow.

Let's consider an example. Let's say you live in Ohio and you love it there. You weren't told by the Lord to live there, but you have a strong belief that that is where you're meant to be. The reasons are various. Your parents are older and you don't want to leave them. In fact, you don't believe God would ever ask you to leave them. You enjoy the climate and the safety of your town. You have a calling in your ward which you believe is inspired. And so on. Now, what if God asked you to leave and move to Alaska or another country? Would you be open to that? Would you be willing to make that sacrifice? Or have you already said in your mind that God would never ask you to do this (for whatever reason)? In this case, you're likely holding tightly to a sacred cow that you are meant to be there, but it is not based on truth and revelation. And so you close yourself to truth and to God asking you to sacrifice. 

Anytime we possess a sacred cow, we don't believe that God would ask us to go against that thing. Joseph Smith called it setting up stakes for God. As a result, we come short of the blessings he has in store for us.

Here are some quotes by Joseph on the matter:
"I say to all those who are disposed to set up stakes for the Almighty, you will come short of the glory of God. It is the constitutional disposition of mankind to set up stakes and set bounds to the works and ways of the Almighty." (DHC 5:529)
We cannot become as God if we set up stakes (or possess sacred cows). The natural man does this and we need to overcome that.
To all those who are disposed to say to set up stakes for the almighty— will come short of the glory of god. To become a joint heir of the heirship of the son he must put away all his traditions. (History of the Church, 5:554)
Again, we cannot become like God if we set up stakes for him. We need to identify all false traditions and beliefs if we are to become an heir with Christ. 
Men will set up stakes and say thus far will we go and no farther, did Abraham when called upon to offer his son, did the Saviour, no, view him fulfilling all righteousness again on the banks of Jordon, also on the Mount transfigured before Peter and John there receiving the fulness of priesthood or the law of God, setting up no stake but coming right up to the mark in all things here him after he returned from the Mount, did ever language of such magnitude fall from the lips of any man, hearken him. (The Words of Joseph Smith, p.243-248)
Abraham, Christ, Peter and John are examples of men who did not have sacred cows. 

Now, think of people in the scriptures and the things God asked them to do. Many were asked to do ridiculously hard things. Lehi was told to move into the desert with his family. Isaiah was told to walk around naked for three years. Hosea was told to marry a prostitute. Abraham was told to sacrifice his son. There are so many examples like these. When Nephi was asked to kill Laban he really didn't want to do it. Nephi said in his heart: "Never at any time have I shed the blood of man. And I shrunk and would that I might not slay him" (1 Nephi 4:10). He could have said, "There is no way God would ever ask me to do this. This must not be from him." He would then have ignored the command and done things his way. Instead, he knew that God could give him any commandment and even though this was a sacrifice for him, he was willing to do it.

Although there were many people who had no apparent sacred cows, there were some who did. For example, the rich young man who came to Jesus and asked what he needed to do to get into the Kingdom of Heaven. After Jesus said to keep the commandments and he said he had always done that, Jesus told him to sell everything and give it to the poor and follow Jesus. But, for this young man, his possessions were his sacred cow he was unwilling to sacrifice (see Mark 10:17-27). He couldn't progress further as a result. The Pharisees were a great example too of people possessing sacred cows. Their oral law was untouchable. It was beyond questioning. Those who questioned it were seen as heretics. As a result, they were never able to see their law for what it was: commandments of God mixed with commandments of men. They then weren't able to abandon the false aspects of the law in order only to cling to truth.

If a sacred cow is a strong belief in something false, you can imagine that one cannot list all possible sacred cows. But, let's just list a few examples and you can think of others: Modern feminism, the idea that a knowledge of church history is irrelevant to one's salvation, false beliefs about the purpose of the temple and ordinances, the idea that a temple sealing automatically seals a couple together forever, the notion that people who look or dress differently are less righteous, the belief that church leaders are infallible, the idea that all church callings are inspired, thinking that simply trying to be good is sufficient for exaltation, the idea that the Lord will never ask you to turn down a calling or skip church, false beliefs about the nature of Christ, the idea that man (instead of God) gives men the power of the priesthood, the belief that an office in the priesthood automatically gives men power, thinking that a man can give you the Holy Ghost, and so on.

Letting go of sacred cows
If we really want to progress, we need to rid ourselves of all our sacred cows. Sacred cows are based on false traditions or beliefs. If we were continually to search for truth, seeking to learn more about the things we currently believe, we will begin to understand what is false among the things we believe. It is essential for us to examine all our beliefs and determine which are founded on the word of God and which are not. 

Another thing we can do is determine that we will never set up stakes for God and that we would do whatever he asked, even if it went against what we believe to be right. For example, if God asked you not to go to church but instead help your neighbor, would you consider it? Or is going to church more important than that?

These sacred cows are very hard to detect. In fact, a majority of the time we are completely unaware they exist because we have accepted these things as truth. Otherwise, these beliefs would not be sacred cows. They are so pervasive that they influence our actions and we don't even realize it. And, when we encounter anything that threatens our sacred cows, we automatically explain it away. We do an excellent job in coming up with reasons why our beliefs in them are valid. One way to determine if we have any sacred cows is to consider if there are things we do not believe God would reveal to us or ask us to do. It takes humility to ask God to reveal them to you and then to accept what he tells us.

Each of us have sacred cows which stop our progression towards becoming like Christ. If we are open, God will reveal them to us. A few years ago I asked the Lord to show me my unbelief (or sacred cows) and over time I have been shown these things. Because I was clinging to them so strongly, it was difficult to be open to considering that these things might not consist of truth. Coming to a realization of the truth is mostly painful and uncomfortable, but it is the only way to progress. 

Obedient Rebellion

by Kimber Albrechtsen

What do all of the following people have in common?
  • Lehi
  • Nephi
  • Abraham
  • Rahab
  • Alma and those baptized at the waters of Mormon
  • King Lamoni and his wife, father, and people
  • Repentant Zoramites
  • Joseph Smith and those who believed his message
  • John the Baptist and those he baptized
  • Paul
  • Christ's followers during His mortal ministry, including:
  • Christ's original 12 apostles
  • Mary, Martha, Mary Magdalene
All were willing to abandon their religious loyalties and false beliefs when offered something greater. All were willing to open their minds and hearts to new light from God, even though I'm sure that light was overwhelming and even painful as it revealed the truth about treasured false traditions and comfortably-held beliefs. It is painful to realize your awful state before God, but it is also a blessing because you can't correct your course until you know you've strayed. 

Lehi had to accept that the majority of his nation (probably including dear friends and family) had become wicked and apostate, and then he endured being accused of those things himself! Anyone who followed Christ during his mortal ministry would have been acting in direct opposition to the teachings of their religious leaders, those who had inherited Moses' position of authority (Matthew 23:2). Alma forsook a cushy job as a priest of King Noah and risked his life to spread the Lord's message of repentance (imagine an apostle going rogue and starting a new church--that's how bold Alma was). King Lamoni was willing to accept truth from an enemy and forsake the false religious traditions of his fathers (note: tradition should never be the basis for religious decisions). Rahab recognized the power of the Lord and aided the Israelites in taking Jericho and subsequently slaughtering her countrymen(!). 

I think Alma is the priest to the left of King Noah--the one who is super pale, perhaps because he's realizing his whole life is about to change. 
We don't often associate rebelliousness with righteousness, but the faithful men and women above would have been considered rebels, traitors, apostates, and dissenters by their contemporaries. They were probably accused of spiritual presumption, prideful insubordination, or cultural or familial disloyalty. 

If you aren't willing to endure the same social and familial rejection and ostracism for the sake of knowing and obeying God, what makes you think you warrant the same eternal reward as those who have displayed such loyalty? Joseph Smith taught: 
"It is in vain for persons to fancy to themselves that they are heirs with those, or can be heirs with them, who have offered their all in sacrifice, and by this means obtained faith in God and favor with him so as to obtain eternal life, unless they in like manner offer unto him the same sacrifice and through that offering obtain the knowledge that they are accepted of him" (Lectures on Faith, sixth lecture, v.8).
The followers of truth are usually small in numbers, and always outside the norm. You must exhibit the same bravery and willingness to walk a lonely path lit only by faith, without legions of examples before you. In fact, if you are among a crowd, you should reject any comfort that there is "strength in numbers" and should instead question your direction, as Christ taught:
Enter ye in at the strait gate; for wide is the gate, and broad is the way, which leadeth to destruction, and many there be who go in thereat; 
14 Because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it (3 Nephi 14:13-14).

Sometimes the Lord's message comes from Him directly, as in the cases of Joseph Smith, Moses, and Lehi. Other times, the message comes through His prophets, as in the cases of Alma, the early Latter-day Saints, and the followers of John the Baptist. It should be noted that in the latter type of cases, the role of a prophet is to lead others to their own divine connection, and not to replace it.

If you are quick to dismiss those offering truth and calling you to repentance because they aren't within your religious hierarchy, what makes you think you would have hearkened to Abinadi? Listened to Joseph Smith? Followed Christ? None of these prophets bore any accepted authority, position, or office. Institutional or priestly rank should never be the basis upon which you determine whose message to heed. The only standard that should matter is truth, as confirmed by the Holy Ghost. You must be willing to entertain the validity of any message, regardless of the messenger; this takes humility, an appetite for truth, and courage.

If you aren't willing to consider the fallibility of your mortal leaders, owing to their prestigious religious authority or standing, then what makes you think you would have been among those Jews who did that very thing when they rejected the false prejudices of their religious leaders and followed Christ? Are you rejecting the Savior right now, in any way, because of stakes set up by your religious leaders? Joseph Smith taught against limiting God in this way:

"I say to all those who are disposed to set up stakes for the Almighty, you will come short of the glory of God. It is the constitutional disposition of mankind to set up stakes and set bounds to the works and ways of the Almighty." (DHC 5:529)
If you aren't willing to hold your own religious authorities to exacting standards of truth and godliness, what makes you think you would have been different from the saints who stood by as the church founded by Christ drifted into apostasy? Or do you have the courage and humility of the repentant Zoramites who rejected the false teachings of their leaders despite societal and religious rejection? Do you instead follow your leaders without hesitation, even if some of their doctrines, policies, and decisions should give you pause? Do you listen to authority, or truth? 

While religious leaders should be allowed their humanity and certainly should not be lauded as perfect, where is the line that, if crossed, would make you reevaluate your loyalties? Is that line determined by your culture? Your political values? The Spirit? The scriptures? Or, most tellingly, is there no line at all?

Do you consider yourself as valiant as Abraham, who destroyed his father's idols, even as you idolize the "faith of your fathers"? 

Do you think you are so different from the Pharisees despite your own subscription to rules upon rules governing appearance, religious traditions, food, and programs, with little attention paid to your heart? 

Are you certain you would have followed Christ 2,000 years ago, yet today you are comfortable in your warmongering, your "I'm not racist" racism, and your rampant consumerism? 

Samuel the Lamanite (another prophet outside the religious hierarchy, later specifically vouched for by Christ) preached against this presumption:
"And now when ye talk, ye say: If our days had been in the days of our fathers of old, we would not have slain the prophets; we would not have stoned them, and cast them out.
26 Behold ye are worse than they; for as the Lord liveth, if a prophet come among you and declareth unto you the word of the Lord, which testifieth of your sins and iniquities, ye are angry with him, and cast him out and seek all manner of ways to destroy him; yea, you will say that he is a false prophet, and that he is a sinner, and of the devil, because he testifieth that your deeds are evil.  
27 But behold, if a man shall come among you and shall say: Do this, and there is no iniquity; do that and ye shall not suffer; yea, he will say: Walk after the pride of your own hearts; yea, walk after the pride of your eyes, and do whatsoever your heart desireth—and if a man shall come among you and say this, ye will receive him, and say that he is a prophet. 
28 Yea, ye will lift him up, and ye will give unto him of your substance; ye will give unto him of your gold, and of your silver, and ye will clothe him with costly apparel; and because he speaketh flattering words unto you, and he saith that all is well, then ye will not find fault with him. 
29 O ye wicked and ye perverse generation; ye hardened and ye stiffnecked people, how long will ye suppose that the Lord will suffer you? Yea, 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 13:25-29)
If you listen to (and pay) leaders who tell you how incredible, chosen, and holy you are, you will be led to a damning contentment in your dark and filthy state. Listen to prophets who urge you to take a scouring pad to your pride and climb from the dark pit you are so comfortable inside. Don't listen to anyone who tells you that you don't really need to get up out of the mud.

God wants us to be loyal and submissive, to Him. That submission will involve rebellion against the things of this world: false prophets, false traditions, earthly appetites, cultural values, philosophies of men, and sometimes even your friends and family. The Lord taught:
Think not that I am come to send peace on earth: I came not to send peace, but a sword.  
35 For I am come to set a man at variance against his father, and the daughter against her mother, and the daughter in law against her mother in law.  
36 And a man’s foes shall be they of his own household.  
37 He that loveth father or mother more than me is not worthy of me: and he that loveth son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.  
38 And he that taketh not his cross, and followeth after me, is not worthy of me. 
39 He that findeth his life shall lose it: and he that loseth his life for my sake shall find it. (Matthew 10:34-39)
While it may seem antithetical to be both obedient and rebellious, I believe the Lord prizes both, when they are exercised with discernment. Obedience to God oftentimes requires rebellion against earthly forces, whether familial, political, cultural, or religious. The opposite of this obedient rebellion is the fearful cowering before unworthy authorities, the idolatrous loyalty to blind leaders, and the sloth of "go-with-the-flow" spirituality. You have to be open-minded, brave, and full of the faith needed to sacrifice everything for God.

Friday, July 15, 2016

"Remember What This is For"

by Erin West
If thou art called to pass through tribulation…know thou, my son, that these things shall give thee experience, and shall be for thy good. (D&C 122:5,7)
While these words were given to Joseph Smith during his imprisonment at Liberty Jail, the principle is the same for all. If we are called to pass through tribulation (I believe we all are), know that all of these things give us experience and benefit us. The call, and the truth that trials bring about good things are like the covers of a book. Between those covers is page after page of tribulations. In section 122, God listed a few of Joseph’s trials. Our list isn’t going to look exactly like his.

I can already tell my book of tribulations differs from Joseph’s. In mine, God points out that the occasional poor behavior of my children will give me experience, and help me develop patience.

Now, don’t get me wrong. In general, my kids are wonderful. And I wouldn’t trade raising them for anything else. Watching them grow and develop always leaves me in awe….and occasionally feeling old. But, like a lot of moms out there, I’d like my kids to be good all the time. This doesn’t happen, and too often I become authoritarian when I don’t get my way.

I asked God one day why it was that my kids were particularly difficult to deal with. We had gone through so much hardship, and I wondered when it would end. I was ready for things to straighten out so I could be happy. I was told this:

“Your kids listen to you about as well as you listen to Me.”


I realize now that the Lord was using my kids as a tool of chastisement. He was providing a physical symbol of my spiritual deafness towards Him. Demanding my kids listen to me perfectly when I couldn’t do the same with God was hypocritical. I wasn’t keeping God’s commandments. I was being taught that I needed to be more patient, and love them despite disobedience. He was helping me understand that I need to love my neighbor (in this case my kids) and by doing so, I would love Him and actually obey His two great commandments.

However, quite a bit of time went by before the lesson really started to sink in. Recently, my desire to see Christ personally while in the flesh has grown a great deal. I asked God to go ahead and send me the challenges that would break me and shift my heart so that He could come. What did He do? He called me to endure my kids when they behaved poorly. I actually recognized a purpose in the chaos. Some very interesting things began to happen as a result.

When I started to flare up because the two year old had thrown one tantrum after another, I heard a Voice in my mind that said, “Remember what this is for.” Oh right! I’m trying to be more charitable and patient with my children! I dealt more calmly with the two year old, and the rest of the kids.

“Remember what this is for.” Sometimes I heard the Voice (let’s be clear, it’s God’s voice.) Sometimes it was me saying it to myself. It worked. I was reminded of the purpose, that this was for my good, more specifically to develop patience and love.

Just as a disclaimer, I didn’t get a 100% success rate, and I still don’t have one. Other times I’ve failed. I’ve been so exhausted, that I got iron-fisted with my kids, and I knew I wasn’t supposed to be that way.

Reminding myself wasn’t working well either. When I paused to ask God why He wasn’t reminding me about what these challenges with my kids were for, He informed me that He said nothing because He wanted me to understand that I cannot do this alone. Additional understanding showed that I began to trust myself. He was displeased that I began to make flesh my arm!

Humbling! So I cannot pat myself on the back here. I find what Paul said of Abraham to be applicable:
Then what should we say Avraham, our forefather, obtained by his own efforts? For if Avraham came to be considered righteous by God because of legalistic observances, then he has something to boast about. But this is not how it is before God! For what does the Tanakh say? ‘Avraham put his trust in God, and it was credited to his account as righteousness.' (Romans 4: 1-3; Complete Jewish Bible)
Trusting in my own arm when it comes to learning patience in my trials with my kids produces no fruit. The fruits of patience and love came as a gift from God, in whose arm I am to place my trust! I love Ammon’s response to his brother Aaron, after he rebukes Ammon out of concern for him sounding like he trusted in his own arm:
But Ammon said unto him: I do not boast in my own strength, nor in my own wisdom; but behold, my joy is full, yea, my heart is brim with joy, and I will rejoice in my God. Yea, I know that I am nothing; as to my strength I am weak; therefore I will not boast of myself, but I will boast of my God, for in his strength I can do all things; yea, behold, many mighty miracles we have wrought in this land, for which we will praise his name forever. (Alma 26:11-12)

Praise the Lord for the tribulations you’ve been called to go through! He is trying to teach you something, and has gifts to bestow through them. If you cannot find a purpose in the calamities of your life, fall on your knees and cry out to God for knowledge. He will give it to you, just as He gave it to me. (And I’m a stubborn mule at times. If He hasn’t given up on me, He won’t give up on you either.)

Acknowledge the hand of God in your life, place all confidence in Him, and be blessed by Him.

Monday, July 11, 2016

Overcoming Blasphemy

by Erin West

The biggest part of developing a pure heart is coming to an understanding of things as they really are. That understanding comes through sincere study, prayer and undergoing a variety of tests or trials. It’s important to connect all of these together and surrender our hearts to the Lord so that we can be changed and receive His own heart.

How many of us are familiar with verses from scripture that teach things along this line?
Wherefore I say unto you, All manner of sin and blasphemy shall be forgiven unto men who receive me and repent, but the blasphemy against the Holy Ghost shall not be forgiven unto men. (Matthew 12:31)
But now ye also put off all these; anger, wrath, malice, blasphemy, filthy communication out of your mouth. (Colossians 3:8)
Growing up I was one of those people who read scriptures and figured that I got the idea of what they were talking about. I didn’t really dive into them and feast on them as I do now. I have to consider myself a complete fool before God when it comes to studying His word. I spend a lot of time looking words up so I can understand what Jesus taught better. As I was studying a topic on talebearing, I came across the scripture from Matthew 12:31 and asked myself, “What does blasphemy really mean?”

To understand this, we need to go back to both Hebrew and Greek words that were translated as “blasphemy.” The root of the Hebrew word translated as “blasphemy” is naats, which means to spurn or treat with contempt. An example of this is given in 1 Nephi:
For the things which some men esteem to be of great worth, both to the body and soul, others set at naught and trample under their feet. Yea, even the very God of Israel do men trample under their feet; I say, trample under their feet but I would speak in other words—they set him at naught, and hearken not to the voice of his counsels. (1 Nephi 19:7)
O that cunning plan of the evil one! O the vainness, and the frailties, and the foolishness of men! When they are learned they think they are wise, and they hearken not unto the counsel of God, for they set it aside, supposing they know of themselves, wherefore, their wisdom is foolishness and it profiteth them not. And they shall perish. (2 Nephi 9:28)
How do we trample God underfoot and set at naught (declare worthless) the things of God which are of great worth to us? When we look at the proper and literal meanings of the Greek words blasphemia and blasphemeo, it becomes clear how we do this. Both words are a combination of blax (sluggish or slow) and pheme (fame/reputation). Considering their fullest meaning, when we blaspheme, we are sluggish to acknowledge a truly good thing as good, and we do not acknowledge a truly evil thing as evil. Instead, what we really do is we switch things around, putting our relationship with God in peril:
Wo to those who call evil good and good evil, who change darkness into light and light into darkness, who change bitter into sweet and sweet into bitter. Wo to those seeing themselves as wise, esteeming themselves as clever. (Isaiah 5:20-21)
This is what blasphemy really is. Thinking that we know better, we trample God’s commandments underfoot by turning around and saying His commandments are evil. We twist (or wrest) His word to justify our own sins. This is injurious to God and grieves Him.

Before I understood this, I didn’t consider myself as a blasphemous individual. However, as I studied, I was shown that I actually was a blasphemer of God. For me, that knowledge was solidified by what many would consider a small, insignificant experience. Recently, I was praying to know what it was Jesus wanted me to do so that I could hear His voice more often and see His face. That answer I got was pretty unexpected: “Get rid of your music.”

We have to backtrack a little bit here to understand my struggle with this command. I admit to being a music addict in the past. It’s not that I listened to anything horrendous (I’m pretty anti-lyric because of what people sing about.) I enjoyed various forms of electronica, classical, folksy Celtic music, and so on. In and of itself it wasn’t bad stuff. What was bad was that I had this playing all the time. It developed into idol worship. I can still remember the music playing, and my heart just aching one day, as if I was experiencing the sadness of someone close by. I was. The Lord was grieved because I had shut Him out through this idolatry. So, I cut back a lot. Admittedly, that was a positive improvement.

However, the Lord was asking for complete abandonment of this idolatry by getting rid of all of my music. However, I fought on it for two days. I insisted that I had done enough as it was. I justified my position, to the point where I insisted that I doubted it was even God asking me to do it (even though I understood well enough it was Him.) I justified my stance before a friend and a family member. I was basically calling the command evil. I esteemed what was from God to be of the devil in a way, and prided myself on my own past works on stamping out my addiction. I figured I’d try a music fast to see if ditching all of my music would prove valuable.

The Lord, being merciful to me, fought back. His responses to my arrogant reasoning went something like this. “Weren’t you just encouraging your husband earlier to hearken quickly to My word? And here you are not doing that with Me now.” Regarding my “music fast” the impression I got was that it was akin to Cain’s sacrifice. It wasn’t what God asked for. Another time I was blog-surfing, I came across a post from The Perfect Day entitled, “Lectures on Faith 2, Part 1: Why Its Absolutely Essential For You to Hearken to God.” When talking to a friend, I was told if the Lord is going to tell me to do something, I needed to do it quickly and completely.

I don’t think you can make this kind of thing up. I realized I was wrong to do what I did. I had blasphemed God by twisting His commandment and saying it wasn’t from Him, or that it wasn’t even Him telling me to do it. So, I got rid of one album, and suddenly things got easier. Everything else of mine followed. I have to be specific here: we still have music in the house. There are things we all enjoy hearing together. At this point, getting rid of all of that would drag others into a sacrifice they weren’t asked to be a part of. What went was everything that only I would listen to. I prayed to God, and sought His forgiveness for what I’d done. The response I got was unforgettable, “You did the right thing, and I forgive you.”

Since then I don’t listen to music a whole lot, and have learned to replace listening time with more pondering and study. I don’t want to spurn God’s commandments, and call them evil. I know He’ll give me more practice with this in the days ahead. At the moment I think His objective is to teach me to judge appropriately, as outlined in Moroni 7, and to test me to see if I really meant what I said some time ago when I told Him I had laid everything on the altar for Him to choose.
For behold, thus saith the Lord God: I will give unto the children of men line upon line, precept upon precept, here a little and there a little; and blessed are those who hearken unto my precepts, and lend an ear unto my counsel, for they shall learn wisdom; for unto him that receiveth I will give more; and from them that shall say, We have enough, from them shall be taken away even that which they have. (2 Nephi 28:30)

Can I Just Try to Be Good?

by Nicky Smith

In Alma 40, it says:
But behold, an awful death cometh upon the wicked; for they die as to things pertaining to things of righteousness; for they are unclean, and no unclean thing can inherit the kingdom of God; but they are cast out, and consigned to partake of the fruits of their labors or their works, which have been evil; and they drink the dregs of a bitter cup. (Alma 40:26)
But, then in Alma 41, it says:
And it is requisite with the justice of God that men should be judged according to their works; and if their works were good in this life, and the desires of their hearts were good, that they should also, at the last day, be restored unto that which is good. (Alma 41:3)
So on the one hand, Alma says no unclean thing can inherit the kingdom of God, but on the other hand he says that if the desires of your heart are good, you will be restored to that which is good. Is it enough just to have good desires? What about good desires with some good works? And is it enough if you just try to be good? 

Consider your desires. Do you desire to see the Lord in this life? Do you desire to receive eternal life? What if the Lord told you that you would have to have a lot of trials in order to receive either? What if you had to make a huge Abrahamic sacrifice to receive those things? Would you still desire those blessings if the price demanded was really high? Would you be willing to do anything the Lord asks in order to receive these things? If not, then your desires might not be what you think they are.

When Alma speaks of being restored to that which is good, I propose that Alma means something more than what is commonly understood as just desiring good and more than just trying to be good. As he previously stated, "no unclean thing can enter the kingdom of God." These good desires and being completely clean must coexist. 

Alma then says,
And so it is on the other hand. If he hath repented of his sins, and desired righteousness until the end of his days, even so he shall be rewarded unto righteousness. (Alma 41:6)
Now Alma says if you have repented of your sins and desired righteousness, you will be rewarded with righteousness or eternal life. In the next verses he says these are those who are redeemed of the Lord. Ether 3:13 says that being redeemed from the Fall means coming back into the presence of the Lord. So if repenting of your sins and desiring righteousness brings you back into the presence of the Lord, why are most people who consider themselves repentant and desirous of righteousness not being visited by the Lord? Maybe these things mean something more than we are doing? 

Next Alma says that one cannot be restored from sin to happiness. So what about if you commit some sin, but you're still trying? Is that enough to be given eternal life? 
Do not suppose, because it has been spoken concerning restoration, that ye shall be restored from sin to happiness. Behold, I say unto you, wickedness never was happiness. (Alma 41:10)
This sounds a lot like: no unclean thing can be saved in the kingdom of God. But, couldn't the atonement just cover the rest if you are simply trying? Well, the atonement does cover our sins as we are repentant, but we still have to live the law pertaining to the kingdom we hope to achieve. The atonement won't make us something we are not. You can't get to heaven based on good intentions. More on that in a moment.

Next in Alma's sermon he states that we all seek after carnal things and we've gone contrary to the nature of God. That sounds pretty extreme and I think most would say: That's not me! I'm seeking Jesus! But, if we don't yet have a pure heart and if we're still giving into temptation, we're giving into our carnal natures and we're unlike God. 
11 And now, my son, all men that are in a state of nature, or I would say, in a carnal state, are in the gall of bitterness and in the bonds of iniquity; they are without God in the world, and they have gone contrary to the nature of God; therefore, they are in a state contrary to the nature of happiness. 12 And now behold, is the meaning of the word restoration to take a thing of a natural state and place it in an unnatural state, or to place it in a state opposite to its nature? 13 O, my son, this is not the case; but the meaning of the word restoration is to bring back again evil for evil, or carnal for carnal, or devilish for devilish—good for that which is good; righteous for that which is righteous; just for that which is just; merciful for that which is merciful. (Alma 41:11-13)
If there is any sin found in us or any impurity in our heart, we cannot be given eternal life. It would be the equivalent to restoring something carnal to something good and that isn't possible. This is Alma's whole argument. If we are carnal, we cannot obtain what we are seeking, which is eternal life. 

In the following verses he then gives encouragement to become righteous so that we can obtain those things we seek (Alma 41:14). Alma was teaching his son these things and his son understood what he meant and began to feel worry, seeing himself in his sins and knowing he would not receive eternal life while still in his current state (Alma 42:1). 

In this next chapter Alma explains himself more. After discussing the Fall of Adam and Eve and how this life is given as a time to overcome our carnal natures, he states that this is why we need the atonement and repentance (Alma 42:11-13). 

Here Alma clarifies it all by saying none but the truly penitent or repentant are saved. 
For behold, justice exerciseth all his demands, and also mercy claimeth all which is her own; and thus, none but the truly penitent are saved. (Alma 42:24)
So reading in context it seems clear that it is not enough simply to desire righteousness. But, what if you aren't perfect, but you're trying to be? What does it mean to be truly penitent? Can you be truly penitent, while still just trying to be good? I like what he says in verse 30. 
O my son, I desire that ye should deny the justice of God no more. Do not endeavor to excuse yourself in the least point because of your sins, by denying the justice of God; but do you let the justice of God, and his mercy, and his long-suffering have full sway in your heart; and let it bring you down to the dust in humility. (Ama 42:30)
You cannot excuse yourself in even the smallest of sins. Even the smallest sin will keep you out of the kingdom of God. Alma is saying you can't stand before God and say, "Well, I tried, even though I still did X and Y."

The Doctrine and Covenants makes it clear that we can only be sanctified by the law we are living. So, if we aren't living a Celestial law, we cannot be sanctified by that law (D&C 88:21-24). We need to repent and not excuse ourselves in the least. 
That which breaketh a law, and abideth not by law, but seeketh to become a law unto itself, and willeth to abide in sin, and altogether abideth in sin, cannot be sanctified by law, neither by mercy, justice, nor judgment. Therefore, they must remain filthy still. (D&C 88:35)
When we break a law and sin we will remain filthy, which is exactly what Alma was saying when he spoke about being restored to good or evil depending on what we chose. 

We have to repent! Repentance means never repeating that sin again. I may have a jealous heart at times, but I can't repent until I know I am not going to be jealous again. Otherwise, I am not truly penitent and I am excusing myself in my sin, even if it doesn't seem big and even if I am trying to overcome it. We cannot obtain eternal life until we have overcome all things (see D&C 76:60). 

Joseph Smith explains what it means to be saved in his final lecture on faith: 
In order to have this subject clearly set before the mind, let us ask what situation must a person be in, in order to be saved? or what is the difference between a saved man and one who is not saved? We answer from what we have before seen of the heavenly worlds, they must be persons who can work by faith, and who are able, by faith to be ministering spirits to them who shall be heirs of salvation. And they must have faith to enable them to act in the presence of the Lord, otherwise they cannot be saved. And what constitutes the real difference between a saved person and one not saved, is the difference in the degree of their faith: one's faith has become perfect enough to lay hold upon eternal life, and the other's has not. But to be a little more particular, let us ask, where shall we find a prototype into whose likeness we may be assimilated, in order that we may be made partakers of life and salvation? or in other words, where shall we find a saved being? for if we can find a saved being, we may ascertain, without much difficulty, what all others must be, in order to be saved—they must be like that individual or they cannot be saved: we think, that it will not be a matter of dispute, that two beings, who are unlike each other, cannot both be saved; for whatever constitutes the salvation of one, will constitute the salvation of every creature which will be saved: and if we find one saved being in all existence, we may see what all others must be, or else not be saved. We ask, then, where is the prototype? or where is the saved being? We conclude as to the answer of this question there will be no dispute among those who believe the bible, that it is Christ: all will agree in this that he is the prototype or standard of salvation, or in other words, that he is a saved being. And if we should continue our interrogation, and ask how it is that he is saved, the answer would be, because he is a just and holy being; and if he were any thing different from what he is he would not be saved; for his salvation depends on his being precisely what he is and nothing else; for if it were possible for him to change in the least degree, so sure he would fail of salvation and lose all his dominion, power, authority and glory, which constitutes salvation; for salvation consists in the glory, authority, majesty, power and dominion which Jehovah possesses, and in nothing else; and no being can possess it but himself or one like him: Thus says John, in his first epistle, 3:2 and 3: Behold, now we are the sons of God, and it doth not appear what we shall be; but we know, that when he shall appear we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is. And any man that has this hope in him purifies himself, even as he is pure.—Why purify himself as he is pure? because, if they do not they cannot be like him.
If Christ were anything different from what he were, he could not be saved. Joseph is suggesting that we need to be free from sin and pure as he is pure in order to obtain the same inheritance. It may seem like an impossible dream, but I do know that it is possible. The process involves obtaining a connection with heaven and being taught by the Lord how to get to that point. It is about learning higher laws and keeping them. Doing so brings various blessings to show you are on the right path, such as miracles, gifts of the spirit, the baptism by fire, the Second Comforter, making one's calling and election sure, and so on. Without these experiences one would need to assume one is not progressing on the right path or one is not doing exactly the things God wants them to do. In other words, we are deviating from him in some way.

This might seem overwhelming to get to the point where we are like Jesus, but there is no other way. Doctrine and Covenants 130 explains that if we don't see Christ here, we won't just automatically see him when we die. Same with the Father. Things won't magically change just because we've died. 
1 When the Savior shall appear we shall see him as he is. We shall see that he is a man like ourselves. 2 And that same sociality which exists among us here will exist among us there, only it will be coupled with eternal glory, which glory we do not now enjoy. 3 John 14:23—The appearing of the Father and the Son, in that verse, is a personal appearance; and the idea that the Father and the Son dwell in a man’s heart is an old sectarian notion, and is false.
Verse 1 is referring to an interaction with Christ. Verse 3 refers to an interaction with the Father and Christ. Commonly verse 2 is believed to be about our connections with the people around us which will continue beyond the veil. But, that is not the case. It doesn't make sense, given the context of verses 1 and 3. It is referring to our interactions with Christ and the Father and if we don't have a relationship with them here, we won't when we die.

Begin today to plead with God to reveal to you the things you need to do to progress and change. Apply the truth you learn and then never give up. This is the essence of enduring to the end. 

Sunday, July 10, 2016

Abiding in Christ

by Nicky Smith

Christ's parable of the true vine
In John 15, Christ states that he is the true vine and we are the branches. Those branches that bear fruit are purged in order to produce more fruit and become clean, while those branches that do not produce fruit are burned in the fire. 
4 Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, except it abide in the vine; no more can ye, except ye abide in me. 5 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. 6 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.
Jesus says that the key to producing fruit and not being burned is abiding in Christ. Abide literally means "to accept" or "to remain with." Christ continues to explain what he means. 
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.
A person abiding in Christ possesses Christ's word (light and truth) and is obedient to it. These people are considered Christ's disciples, and can eventually become his friends when they are completely obedient to him.
8 Herein is my Father glorified, that ye bear much fruit; so shall ye be my disciples.
14 Ye are my friends, if ye do whatsoever I command you.
Anyone who receives Christ's word will be given difficult experiences. Obtaining light and truth is not sufficient to become like Christ. We need experience (or trials) in order to become purified. This is what Christ referred to as purging.
2 Every branch in me that beareth not fruit he taketh away: and every branch that beareth fruit, he purgeth it, that it may bring forth more fruit.
 3 Now ye are clean through the word which I have spoken unto you.
As we are given both the words of Christ (truth) and experiences, we can use them to sanctify ourselves. This is how we become "clean" and bear more fruit. Eventually our heart becomes pure and we can be in the presence of Christ. Without a pure heart, he cannot appear to us. 
2 Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is. 3 And every man that hath this hope in him purifieth himself, even as he is pure. (1 John 3)
As we move along this path, we grow in love for God and others (see 1 John 15:10-14). 

Jesus' parable of the vine explains the process of sanctification and what we need to do in order to be in his and the Father's presence. It begins with obeying the word of Christ through the Holy Ghost until we are purified, then being admitted into the presence of Christ and continuing to obey what we are taught until we are ready to enter the presence of the Father. At this point we have enough of Christ's word in us and we have shown through experience that we can be completely trusted. Then, we can be told,
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. 16 Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you, and ordained you, that ye should go and bring forth fruit, and that your fruit should remain: that whatsoever ye shall ask of the Father in my name, he may give it you.
The teachings of John
John further explores this idea of abiding in Christ in 1 John 2-3. 
1 My little children, these things write I unto you, that ye sin not. And if any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous: 2 And he is the propitiation for our sins: and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world. (1 John 2)
4 Whosoever committeth sin transgresseth also the law: for sin is the transgression of the law. 5 And ye know that he was manifested to take away our sins; and in him is no sin. 6 Whosoever abideth in him sinneth not: whosoever sinneth hath not seen him, neither known him. 9 Whosoever is born of God doth not commit sin; for his seed remaineth in him: and he cannot sin, because he is born of God. (1 John 3)
18 We know that whosoever is born of God sinneth not; but he that is begotten of God keepeth himself, and that wicked one toucheth him not. (1 John 5)
All blessings are predicated upon particular laws (D&C 130:20-21). Each kingdom (Celestial, Terrestrial, and Telestial) has a set of laws (D&C 88:36). If you live the Telestial law, you will be sanctified by that law and can obtain the blessings associated with that law. If you live the Terrestrial law, you will be sanctified by that law and obtain those blessings, and so on. The blessings of each kingdom are outlined in Doctrine and Covenants 76. It is worth studying, but simply put, those living the Telestial law can be ministered to by the Holy Ghost and angels (D&C 76:86, 88). Those living the Terrestrial law can be ministered to by Christ (D&C 76:77), while those living the Celestial law can be in the presence of and ministered to by the Father (D&C 76:62). 
 34 And again, verily I say unto you, that which is governed by law is also preserved by law and perfected and sanctified by the same. 35 That which breaketh a law, and abideth not by law, but seeketh to become a law unto itself, and willeth to abide in sin, and altogether abideth in sin, cannot be sanctified by law, neither by mercy, justice, nor judgment. Therefore, they must remain filthy still. (D&C 88) 
21 And they who are not sanctified through the law which I have given unto you, even the law of Christ, must inherit another kingdom, even that of a terrestrial kingdom, or that of a telestial kingdom. 22 For he who is not able to abide the law of a celestial kingdom cannot abide a celestial glory. 23 And he who cannot abide the law of a terrestrial kingdom cannot abide a terrestrial glory. 24 And he who cannot abide the law of a telestial kingdom cannot abide a telestial glory; therefore he is not meet for a kingdom of glory. Therefore he must abide a kingdom which is not a kingdom of glory. (D&C 88)
So if Christ is not appearing to me regularly, I would know that I am not living the Terrestrial law. But, if I am experiencing the ministration of the Holy Ghost regularly, then I know I am living the Telestial law. Our experiences will give us an indication of the laws we are living and not living.

When we obtain Christ's word (either from others, the scriptures, or the Holy Ghost), it will require repentance from us. We will be told the things that need to be changed in our lives and hearts. John says that we get to the point where we no longer sin. But, what this means is that we begin living a higher law and we are no longer breaking that higher law. Although this leads to greater blessings than previously experienced, we're still not living even higher laws. 

In other words, imagine you are living the Telestial law. Not living the Terrestrial law means you are breaking that law. Your sins prevent you from living the Terrestrial law and you need to repent. As you stop committing those sins, you now begin to live the Terrestrial law and reap the blessings from doing so. But are you perfect even though you have repented of your sins? No! You learn through revelation of higher laws (Celestial laws) and you realize you are not keeping them (it should be clear since you are not enjoying the presence of the Father). So, as you progress, it's not that you necessarily stop sinning altogether, but you stop breaking Telestial laws and then Terrestrial laws and so on. The more you progress the more you will see where you are still sinning. Eventually you get to the point where you are like Christ and you are perfect.

Right now, I am living in such a way that the Holy Ghost can teach me (I am living the Telestial law, but not the Terrestrial one). As I have asked what I need to do in order to see Christ, I have been told what I need to repent of. First, I was told what outward sins I needed to quit doing and then as I was obedient to those commands, I was told about things in my heart that I needed to remove, which were mostly just observable to myself. The Spirit has taught me that if I want to see Christ, he demands a pure heart. So, as I have been shown the aspects of my heart that aren't pure, I have been changing those things and I am getting to the point where I no longer do those things. I have begged and pleaded for truth and experiences to help me overcome them and it has been incredibly painful. One day, I hope to be pure and I know when I reach that point, Christ will unveil his face to me. This is the point where I am keeping the Terrestrial law and no longer committing Telestial sins. I then will continue on the path of sanctification until I am able to be introduced to the Father. This means that I have moved to a place where I am living a Celestial law and no longer breaking it. Each time I ascend, I am no longer sinning according to the lower law. As John says, "sin in the transgression of the law" (1 John 3:4). 
9 Whosoever transgresseth, and abideth not in the doctrine of Christ, hath not God. He that abideth in the doctrine of Christ, he hath both the Father and the Son. (2 John 1)
As we overcome our weaknesses and purify our hearts, we will learn why loving God and loving others are the first two commandments. As I have been told to overcome malice, selfishness, pride, jealousy, and so on, I have seen that the only way to do so is to learn to truly love others. We cannot commit Telestial sins and love others as Christ does. They are opposites of each other. As we repent, we eventually will get to the point where we can love like Christ. This is part of the process of becoming Celestial and we can be in the presence of the Father.
3 And hereby we do know that we know him, if we keep his commandments. 4 He that saith, I know him, and keepeth not his commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him. 5 But whoso keepeth his word, in him verily is the love of God perfected: hereby know we that we are in him. (1 John 2)
20 For if our heart condemn us, God is greater than our heart, and knoweth all things. 21 Beloved, if our heart condemn us not, then have we confidence toward God. (1 John 3)
This is the path that Christ walked to get to where he is. There is no other way but to do exactly as Christ has done. As Paul said, he learned obedience by the things which he suffered (see Hebrews 5:8).
6 He that saith he abideth in him ought himself also so to walk, even as he walked. (1 John 2) 
John then explains that this process involves learning not to love the things of this world and our flesh. What this Telestial world has to offer is only temporary and in fact, is just an illusion. 
15 Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him. 16 For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world. 17 And the world passeth away, and the lust thereof: but he that doeth the will of God abideth for ever. (1 John 2)
The Holy Ghost (John refers to this as an unction or anointing from the Holy One) will teach us all things. The more we continue down this path, the less others can teach us and the more we are required to learn straight from heaven itself, until we get to the point where no one can really teach us anything we didn't already know. This could refer to the mysteries of God, which few know about, or the things that we need to change in our hearts that few know about. The point is for us to rely more and more on God and less and less on others, although receiving truth from others is essential and necessary at first.
20 But ye have an unction from the Holy One, and ye know all things.27 But the anointing which ye have received of him abideth in you, and ye need not that any man teach you: but as the same anointing teacheth you of all things, and is truth, and is no lie, and even as it hath taught you, ye shall abide in him. (1 John 2)
Eventually we have been tried sufficiently that we know and God knows that we are currently willing and always will be willing to sacrifice all things for him. This is the point at which we are told that our calling and election is made sure. Overcoming sin and proving ourselves to him enables ourselves to have confidence when Christ appears (although having one's calling and election made sure is not a prerequisite for seeing Christ).
24 Let that therefore abide in you, which ye have heard from the beginning. If that which ye have heard from the beginning shall remain in you, ye also shall continue in the Son, and in the Father. 25 And this is the promise that he hath promised us, even eternal life. 28 And now, little children, abide in him; that, when he shall appear, we may have confidence, and not be ashamed before him at his coming. (1 John 2)
John reiterates what Christ said when he says that we can get to the point where whatever we ask, we will receive. 
 22 And whatsoever we ask, we receive of him, because we keep his commandments, and do those things that are pleasing in his sight. 23 And this is his commandment, That we should believe on the name of his Son Jesus Christ, and love one another, as he gave us commandment. 24 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)
All these teachings describe how we abide in Christ. It requires real endurance. Eventually Christ abides in us and later, the Father can too. As both John and Christ stated, it begins with the reception and application of truth. We need a real connection with God. Otherwise, we're not branches attached to the vine. We use what we learn and the experiences given to us to overcome all our sins and weaknesses. We learn to love God and others as a result, and we get to the point where we are repulsed by the things of this world. This process is punctuated with significant experiences, such as receiving the Second Comforter, being introduced to the Father, having our calling and election made sure, and so on. Those who reject truth and the experiences he has for us, choose not to produce fruit and to be "cast into the fire" (John 15:6). I know this path of sanctification which John describes is correct because the Spirit has taught me these things and I recognize my experiences in his teachings. I have a long way to go, but I know that God's promises are sure and that I will receive the promised blessings as I am true and faithful to the things he commands me to do.