Sunday, April 30, 2017

Are You Seeking Eternal Life by Doing or Becoming?

by Nicky Smith

Jesus' parables of the Good Samaritan and the Prodigal Son have an interesting parallel. 

(1) The Good Samaritan (Luke 10:29-37)
In this parable, Jesus describes how the Priest and the Levite were too busy with their ecclesiastical duties to show charity, like the Samaritan, to the man who had been robbed. 

Jesus then said to those listening regarding the Samaritan, "Go, and do thou likewise." (Luke 10:37) As Paul said in 1 Corinthians 13:2, without charity we are nothing. When we are busy "doing" (whatever it might be we think will give us salvation), we cannot lay hold on eternal life without actually becoming as Christ is. We have to become sinless and pure. We have to become sanctified. 

(2) The Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11-32)
In this parable, the elder son always did what he was supposed to, while the younger enjoyed "riotous living" (Luke 15:13). After much affliction and humbling, the younger repented of his sins. When the younger returned home, hoping to obtain forgiveness, the elder was working in the fields (Luke 15:25). He was dutifully attending to his duties. But, just like the Levite and the Priest, the elder brother was not charitable. He was angry and jealous and would not go into the feast (Luke 15:28). 

In order to obtain celestial glory, we have to be sanctified by celestial laws. 
17 And the redemption of the soul is through him that quickeneth all things, in whose bosom it is decreed that the poor and the meek of the dearth shall inherit it. 18 Therefore, it must needs be sanctified from all unrighteousness, that it may be prepared for the celestial glory; 19 For after it hath filled the measure of its creation, it shall be crowned with glory, even with the presence of God the Father; 20 That bodies who are of the celestial kingdom may possess it forever and ever; for, for this intent was it made and created, and for this intent are they sanctified. 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. (Doctrine and Covenants 88)
This sanctification is obtained through knowing God and becoming like Him. Obtaining charity is key, after all God is love. Thus, the more we come to know God, the greater our capacity for love. 
7 Beloved, let us love one another: for love is of God; and every one that loveth is born of God, and knoweth God.8 He that loveth not knoweth not God; for God is love. (1 John 4)
Just as the Levite, the Priest, and the elder brother had not obtained charity, if we do not obtain charity and the other attributes of Christ, we will not obtain the blessings we seek. We cannot dwell where God is. 

We need to worry far more about becoming like Christ instead of completing a list of requirements that involve doing. Plead with the Father to help you understand how you can become charitable and pure as Christ is.  The doing will then follow, but they will be the things the Lord instructs you to do. In the process, you will begin to live celestial laws and enjoy the resulting blessings. 

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Are You Flying First Class?

by Nicky Smith

Many years ago I was flying from London Heathrow to San Francisco. I arrived late at the airport and was very worried I wasn't going to get a seat especially since they said the plane was full. Eventually the lady behind the desk said, "I'm so sorry, but we're going to have to put you in a seat in first class. Is this ok with you?" Of course I said "YES!" During the next 11 hours I got to experience all the amazing perks of being in first class without having paid for it.  

On international flights, as many of you probably know, there are three categories of seats: economy class, business class, and first class. The section with the largest number of seats is the economy class, while the fewest number of seats is in the first class. Of course, economy class is the cheapest, while first class is the most expensive. The more you pay, the more leg room, faster service, and at times better meals you receive. So as the cost increases, the better the perks and the closer one is to the pilot. 

In life most people are satisfied with where they are sitting in relation to the pilot (Jesus). Too often we consider ourselves already receiving all the blessings God has to offer, while sitting in economy class. For example, previously I had no idea all the things the airline would offered those sitting in first class. Similarly, often we do not realize that we are missing out (and will miss out) on great blessings the Lord has in store for us because we do not know it even exists or how to obtain it. Furthermore, there are many who would like to receive the perks of sitting in first class, but they are not willing to pay the price to be there. 

As we draw closer to the Savior, the cost incurred always increases (unlike my lucky experience flying to San Francisco). God will ask harder and harder sacrifices of us as we come closer to Him. He will ask us to be obedient to increasingly difficult commandments that require a lot of faith. But, the cost is always insignificant when compared to the incredible blessings God gives us as a result (unlike being on a plane in first class, where I don't think it is worth the cost)

As I consider my journey in seeking to be closer to Jesus, the costs are certainly more as I have progressed. But, what has been interesting is that my faith has grown along with the sacrifices and so the price required is not beyond what I am able to pay. Faith and sacrifice are directly related to one another. 

You may be thinking, as I previously did, that it really doesn't matter how much or how little I am willing to sacrifice for the Lord in order to obtain the blessings He offers. But, it really does matter. If eternal life is based on knowing Jesus (John 17:3), how can we expect to know Him while sitting in economy class?

Joseph Smith said, 
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 6:8)
The blessings God has in store for us are based on what we are willing to sacrifice for Him. If we want to obtain the blessings of Abraham, for example, we have to sacrifice as Abraham sacrificed (and that does not mean putting your child on the altar--rather being willing to give up all for God and obediently doing whatever He asks, not matter the cost). 

Most of us are not yet willing to give up everything for the Lord. (For more on the topic of sacrifice, see this post I previously wrote.) This is why we have not yet obtained the blessings for doing so. The path to that point begins incrementally as we ask the Lord what His will is for us. Invariably, He will require some sacrifice of us, whether it is something pertaining to this telestial world or our favorite sins. Then, as we obey God, our faith increases and we are able to sacrifice more. 

Ask God to help you get to the point where you are willing to sacrifice all for Him. Jesus is the best teacher! He will guide you and lead you along. He will give you just the right experiences to help you. At times the experiences are painful, but His comfort is always there as we turn to Him. There is no other way to sit in a first class seat, close to the pilot.  

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Dream: A Class in Poland

by Nicky Smith

Last week I had a dream in which I was in Poland enrolled in a class. The class was in Russian, which few of those who were enrolled spoke. This made aspects of the course content really difficult to understand due to a having to learn Russian, while simultaneously gaining the required knowledge from the course. Fortunately what made it easier was the class was mostly experiential: we painted and baked and so on. 

It took me a while though to figure out that the purpose of the course was to learn about a specific man. One girl who was a recent participant in the class lamented over the fact that she had come early to Poland in order to go sight-seeing but now realized that that had been a waste of time. 

After one specific class where we had baked a meal (something that looked like lasagna), we each had to wash the bowl we used in baking. As we stood in a line outside the room in which to wash our bowls, I looked around and noticed that every person's bowl was unique. Then, when someone exited the wash room, the next person in line would enter. When I finally entered the wash room, there were individual stalls with sinks. Each person was individually washing their own bowl. When I exited, I noticed that there were many empty stalls and I told everyone waiting that they didn't need to wait for someone to exit as there were many free stalls inside. [End]

As I thought about the dream, the Spirit helped me understand that Poland represents the world. We have each come to earth to gain knowledge of the Savior (the man I was studying in my class). Many see earth life as an opportunity to be tested, but it is so much more than that. Knowing God is what gives us eternal life (John 17:3). 

What makes this difficult for many is that much of our initial understanding of God comes through the Holy Ghost. However, many do not have an adequate understanding of the language of the Spirit (Russian). A real connection to God, where revelation is frequently received is vital. Without it, we cannot progress. Many though have some connection to God and receive revelations ever now and again. This may lead to progression, but not at a rate that will allow us access to the blessings that God desires to give us. Too often we only experience "feelings" as opposed to allowing the Holy Ghost to teach us more and reveal the mind of God to us. Consider how often the Spirit speaks to your mind. Spending more time in prayer and pondering, listening for His voice, will allow us to come to know God. 

Further, this knowledge of God is much more than a knowledge that He exists or knowing specific aspects of His life. Even demons have that knowledge (Luke 4:41). This knowledge is an intimate, experiential knowledge that comes as we become pure and perfected like Him (experiential nature of the class, which included painting and cooking). Learning more about Jesus requires that we put this knowledge into practice. We have to actually become like Him: patient, long-suffering, forgiving, kind, compassionate, gracious, but also strong in the face of adversity, doing only the Father's will. 

While many spend their lives in vain pursuits, some will later lament that they have wasted much of their lives not seeking the knowledge that saves (the girl who had gone sight-seeing). There really is so little time. The path is long and arduous. We need to repent and seek to know God's will in all things today

An essential part of this life's journey is sanctifying ourselves (washing our bowls). Each of us have made choices and have weaknesses (unique bowlsthat have led to sin (dirty bowls). But, God does not tolerate even the least degree of sin (Alma 45:16). If we desire to be in His presence, we have to repent of all our sins and all our weaknesses.
31 For I the Lord cannot look upon sin with the least degree of allowance; 32 Nevertheless, he that repents and does the commandments of the Lord shall be forgiven. (Doctrine and Covenants 1)
This requires us becoming sinless. Repeating our sins over and over again is not true repentance. We have to change! This is sanctification. This process is an individual procedure and it is God who guides you through it (individual stalls). No man should ever tell you what you ought to do in order to become sanctified (waiting our turn outside the wash room). How God wants you to repent and to sacrifice and what He wants you to develop when, it entirely between you and Him. To often, we depend on what others think and say instead of turning to God and asking Him: "What is your will for me today?" 

Monday, April 24, 2017

My Spiritual Journey

by Nicky Smith

My greatest desire is to do what God wants me to do. However, as I look back on my spiritual journey I realize that in the past, I had boundaries and limitations on what I believed He would ask of me and as a result I was not open to hearing and doing anything the Lord could potentially ask of me.

A few years ago though I began asking God what He wanted me to work on to become a better person. I always received answers to those questions fairly quickly and I would then attempt to do what God had told me.

One evening as I was reading the scriptures and praying, I again asked God to give me revelation regarding what He wanted me to work on. He communicated to me that I needed to sanctify myself and He would unveil His face to me. Although I had always believed God has and does reveal Himself to people, I struggled to believe He would ever show Himself to me. I mean, "I'm just Nicky Smith. Why would God ever come to me? I'm nothing special!" But, now this was the first time that I began to believe I could one day receive the Second Comforter and see Jesus face to face.

Immediately, I started studying what it means to become sanctified. Over time the Lord revealed to me what this entailed and how I was to do it. I knew I needed to overcome my sins and weaknesses and that this would take great sacrifice. I began to see how sanctification and sacrifice are so intricately connected. 

I longed to see the Lord. However, I learned that if I wanted to have this experience in this life, I needed to ask God to help me get there the fastest route possible. I knew this would involve difficult experiences and sacrifices as I worked on overcoming my sins and weaknesses. The day I prayed for God to help me get there the quickest way possible, the trials came. However, I could see exactly what the Lord was doing and what I was to work on. Having this understanding as well as the hope that I would one day be sanctified, enabled me to persevere.

One night I had a dream in which I was sitting on my bed. The room was filled with sunlight. I then heard a voice which I knew to be Heavenly Father's voice. It is not that I recognized the voice, but rather I just knew whose voice it was. His voice came from above and permeated every bit of space in the room. I looked up and heard Him say, "This is Jesus Christ." He continued to speak but I could not understand the words He was saying, which I found frustrating. As I stood up, my room began to fill with light emanating from a space on the other side of the room. The light was much brighter than the light already in the room and I couldn't see much else. It was almost blinding. I knew Jesus was standing there. The Father had introduced the Son to me. At the same time, I felt the most incredible love I have ever felt. There is no way to describe this love. One has to experience it to know it. It was beyond any kind of love I have felt in this world. I then ran towards the light wanting to embrace Jesus, but as I got there He disappeared and in His place stood a representation of one of my biggest weaknesses. I then woke up. This dream provided even greater incentive for me to overcome all my weaknesses. I desired now more than ever to be in His presence, to feel His love and be taught by Him.

I began hungering and thirsting for more instruction on how I needed to repent. I desired the trials more than ever. I felt so much gratitude for them because I knew each one could help me get closer to my goal of seeing the Lord in this life. As the trials became more and more difficult, I observed that there were times that nothing anyone said or did could provide comfort. But, when I prayed for comfort from the Lord, His comfort was always sufficient to help me. One night as I felt overcome with grief due to a particular trial I found a quiet space and began to pray. As I prayed in the dark I cried out to the Lord for help. After about an hour of begging God to comfort me, I lay on my back staring up into the darkness. Suddenly lights flashed across the room and I felt very afraid. I then received revelation that Jesus was in the room but I couldn't see Him because I was not all clean.

Over time I learned that I needed to be sinless in order to see Jesus. I learned that this did not only pertain to outward sins, but the state of my heart too. I could see I was at times selfish, lacked compassion, felt jealous, was dishonest, gossiped, had malice, feared man more than God, had pride, lacked faith, and desired the things of this world. I want to overcome all these things. The Lord also showed me that love is the antithesis of all my sins. I knew the only way I can do so is by relying on the Lord, working with Him to become like Him.
Wherefore, my beloved brethren, pray unto the Father with all the energy of heart, that ye may be filled with this love, which he hath bestowed upon all who are true followers of his Son, Jesus Christ; that ye may become the sons of God; that when he shall appear we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is; that we may have this hope; that we may be purified even as he is pure. (Moroni 7:48)
About 6 months ago last year the Lord instructed me to write a book on this process of becoming sanctified. Writing this book has been key in helping me understand more regarding sanctification and sacrifice. Through writing it, the Lord gave me added insights into how I was to become more like Jesus and how knowing Him is the key to eternal life (John 17:3). The truths in that book are from Him, not from me. He even told me what to include in each chapter, what the title of the book was to be, and He will tell me when it is to be published. It is in the final stages of editing and then I will wait on Him to tell me when it should be published (a free pdf of the book will be available too). 

I have not seen Jesus yet, but the Lord is showing me constantly regarding the things I am to change. I am filled with gratitude for the truths He shares with me, even though at times these truths cause great pain to my heart. Through them, I am able to know how to change myself. Recently, the Lord has been giving me dreams showing me my weaknesses from His perspective. He gives me specific instructions on how to become the woman I am meant to become. For example, just last week I had a dream in which I was shown by the Lord how I lack compassion for others. I am working on developing that now. I know that as I continue on this path of sanctification I will receive the blessings He has promised me. The path involves much waiting and patience, but I have so much trust in Him leading me along.

I feel like I am such a different person than I was previously, when I was living in South Africa or on my mission or while at BYU. I am becoming a new creature (2 Corinthians 5:17). I am learning to see myself, the Lord, and others very differently than I had previously. Coming to know the Lord for myself is my ultimate goal. With it comes adversity, but it also beings the greatest joy and feeling of love I have previously experienced. I am excited for the trials and growth that await me. 

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

A Talk on Sacrifice

by Kimber Albrechtsen

Here's a talk I wrote. Unfortunately, I wasn't able to give it at church, but instead I will give it to the lovely congregation that is the internet.

I was asked to speak on the topic of sacrifice, specifically on a quote from President Benson stating, “We love what we sacrifice for and we sacrifice for what we love.”

This perfectly describes the work of our Savior, Jesus Christ. His great love for us was manifested in his sacrifice, as well as his perfect love for our Heavenly Father as he sacrificed to bring about God’s work in bringing about the immortality and eternal life of man, impossible without an atoning sacrifice. Even before Gethsemane, his entire life was sacrificed—or offered to God—in obedience, service to others, and preaching truth despite persecution and rejection.

Because the purpose of our lives here is to become like Jesus Christ, it makes sense that we have likewise been commanded to sacrifice.

Our first sacrifices are very easy to understand. We give 10% of our income, we sacrifice 3 hours each week to worship together, and we are also required to sacrifice our carnal selves, trusting that as we do so with a broken heart and a contrite spirit, Christ will enact a spiritual resurrection in each of us as we are reborn as a child of God, endowed with the gift of the Holy Ghost.

It is this connection to heaven, through the Holy Ghost, that allows us to receive more personalized revelation, and this revelation often includes directions to sacrifice. The sacrifices required of us will be more individualized, planned by a loving God whose only goal is to mold us into our best selves. What we are called upon to give up will refine us, test us, and force us to confront anything and everything that stands between us and God: earthly appetites, pride, wealth, reputation, power, well-laid plans—we must be willing to sacrifice anything that God asks in order to receive the faith and knowledge necessary to receive exaltation.

Joseph Smith said this about sacrifice: 

“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.” (Lectures on Faith, pp. 60.)

We must be willing to sacrifice all earthly things. Our possessions, our time, our social standing, our relationships, and anything the Lord asks.

Jesus said,

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)
When I was about ten years old, the movie Titanic had just come out, and the Celine Dion song My Heart Will Go On was extremely popular. I had been taking piano lessons for a few years by then, and I was eager to learn the song. I asked my mom to buy me the sheet music, and I took it to my piano teacher, excited for her to help me learn to play the best. song. ever.

When I asked her if she would teach me, she laughed in my face. My piano teacher was very serious about the piano; she was brilliant. She told me that she didn’t teach that kind of music. She was more concerned with my learning Baroque pieces, Mozart, and Beethoven. And of course endless scales. The music she wanted to teach me was technical, sophisticated, and foundational to more progression.

While I was disappointed that I would be playing Bach instead of impersonating Celine Dion, my teacher knew what her job was: to help me develop as a pianist. She knew which pieces would stretch me to my potential, and although they took a lot more sacrifice to learn, these songs were the ones truly worth my time and effort.

God is like my piano teacher. Our life is like a song. If we want our song to be an easy-to-enjoy pop song, then that is our prerogative. We can play that on our own. But if we are willing to play the song that God wants us to, by living a life rich with faith, obedience, repentance, humility, miracles, testimony, and qualification for eternal blessings---he will guide us through the sacrifices needed to help us reach the level of spiritual mastery required to live with Him in glory.

Sometimes, the reason for a sacrifice is not immediately clear. It is obvious why we might be called to serve a mission or give money to the poor, but we will often be asked to sacrifice things for reasons that are not yet apparent. These sacrifices require that we trust the Lord completely, having faith that His ways are higher than our ways. In Moses 5:6-7, we read about Adam, who had been offering sacrifices:

"6 And after many days an angel of the Lord appeared unto Adam, saying: Why dost thou offer sacrifices unto the Lord? And Adam said unto him: I know not, save the Lord commanded me.

7 And then the angel spake, saying: This thing is a similitude of the sacrifice of the Only Begotten of the Father, which is full of grace and truth."
Just as Adam’s obedient sacrifice was eventually rewarded with knowledge, all of our faithful sacrifices will likewise be met with greater knowledge, until we ultimately qualify for the most precious knowledge we can attain in this life: that we have secured exaltation.

Joseph Smith explained the concept this way,

“Those then who make the sacrifice will have the testimony that their course is pleasing in the sight of God, and those who have this testimony will have faith to lay hold on eternal life, and will be enabled through faith to endure unto the end, and receive the crown that is laid up for them that love the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ. But those who do not make the sacrifice cannot enjoy this faith, because men are dependent upon this sacrifice in order to obtain this faith;” (Lectures on Faith 6, v.10).
Joseph Smith received such knowledge, as recorded in D&C 132:49-50:
"49 For I am the Lord thy God, and will be with thee even unto the end of the world, and through all eternity; for verily I seal upon you your exaltation, and prepare a throne for you in the kingdom of my Father, with Abraham your father.
50 Behold, I have seen your sacrifices, and will forgive all your sins; I have seen your sacrifices in obedience to that which I have told you. Go, therefore, and I make a way for your escape, as I accepted the offering of Abraham of his son Isaac."
The comparison to Abraham is important. Abraham is often used in the scriptures as an example of a man who has secured amazing eternal blessings. When anyone is likened or connected to Abraham in the scriptures, God is signifying that that person has likewise proved themselves unfailingly obedient. If we desire the same blessing as Abraham, we also have to display the same willingness to sacrifice.

Joseph Smith said,

"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).
Have you qualified for eternal life? Ask God. If the answer is, “not yet,” then ask the Lord to tell you what you need to do. I promise you He will. He will probably ask you to sacrifice something—it starts with your sins, your pride, the things you waste time on, the vices you’re reluctant to give up. Then it will progress to your possessions, your reputation, other things you cherish, until finally you are asked to sacrifice something that might make no sense, something that will test you to your absolute limit. The question is whether you will obey and trust God, or not.

I pray I can sacrifice whatever God asks me to. I pray you can do the same.

I'll finish with the words of Christ, who said in D&C 97:8,

"8 Verily I say unto you, all among them who know their hearts are honest, and are broken, and their spirits contrite, and are willing to observe their covenants by sacrifice —yea, every sacrifice which I, the Lord, shall command—they are accepted of me."