Thursday, May 18, 2017

Seeing My Leprous Arm

by Nicky Smith

Imagine having an arm that is leprous. But you don't know it is diseased, because you have found ways to still use the arm. One day someone points out that your arm has something wrong with it. When someone points out something wrong with us, usually one of two things happens. [1] Either we ignore what that person said because we don't believe them, saying, "I use my arm and it works fine. There's nothing wrong with it. What an insulting suggestion." [2] Or, we look down at our arm and we see that our arm does actually have leprosy. Coming to the realization that we have something wrong with us is often incredibly painful, and at times shocking. It's not pleasant finding out our arm is leprous when we had no idea previously. We thought we were healthy. We thought that the arm worked well. 

Knowing that we have leprosy on our arm means that we can now choose to get rid of the leprosy or choose to live with it. When we choose to get rid of it, we can only do so with God's help.
A major part of progression involves coming to know the truth about yourself. Simply put, truth is knowledge of things as they really are. 
24 And truth is knowledge of things as they are, and as they were, and as they are to come;
25 And whatsoever is more or less than this is the spirit of that wicked one who was a liar from the beginning. (Doctrine and Covenants 93)
If we don't yet see ourselves as we really are, we are spiritually blind. All of us are blind to some extent. Some are more blind than others though. Some are blind by choice (we choose not to believe our arm has leprosy or we choose to ignore the leprosy), while others seek to find out as much truth about themselves as possible (we choose to acknowledge the leprosy). Satan wants us to remain spiritually blind though because without seeing the truth about ourselves, we cannot progress. For instance, if you do not see a particular weakness or sin you have, you are not going to work on overcoming it and in order to progress, we have to see and accept truth about ourselves. And, then work on becoming like Jesus, pure and sinless. 

A couple years ago I was praying to God about something and He told me some truths about myself that were not pleasant to recognize. I was shown how far from God I am and how I am nowhere near being like Christ. I was shown my telestial nature. It was extremely painful to hear. I felt like a worm. It felt like being told by God I have a leprous arm and upon examination knowing that was true. Similarly, King Benjamin's people "viewed themselves in their own carnal state, even less than the dust of the earth." (Mosiah 4:2) Coming to know such truth is humbling. It helps us get off our pedestals we have put ourselves on and acknowledge that we are indeed nothing, compared to the greatness of God. 

I was reminded of that experience (and various others) when God recently showed me some of my deeply entrenched weaknesses and sins in a few dreams I have had. It was painful to know those things. But, I am incredibly grateful for that truth too because without it I am just staggering around in the dark trying to find my way back to God. When we are given truth (either through revelation, the scriptures, or another person) it can be like a light to our soul. It can give us direction. It can show us what to repent of and help us be humble. 

Without truth showing us our true state before God, it is difficult to remain humble. Humility is a characteristic of Christ (Philippians 2:8) and we have been commanded to be humble (Romans 12:3). In fact, it is a necessary attribute to having a pure heart and seeing Christ (Doctrine and Covenants 67:10).

I am learning to be grateful for the painful truths. I am learning to always be open to them, instead of getting defensive. I am learning to ask for them to be revealed to me in some way. I know that without this, I cannot overcome all my sins and become pure. I want to stand confidently in the presence of the Lord and without knowing all the things wrong with me, I cannot do that. And that blessing is worth any pain I may endure! 

All of us have at least some "leprosy." Ask God to reveal to you your leprosy. Plead to Him to help you see yourself as you really are. He will show you! Then, be open to any truth you may receive from any source. Just because something is painful or uncomfortable to hear does not mean it is not true. The Holy Ghost can show you what is true and what is not if you truly desire to know truth. 

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Dream: The Food Thief

by Nicky Smith

A few days ago I had a dream in which I was given a large amount of food for free. I had done nothing to deserve the food, nor did I really need it. I thanked the girl who gave me the food and I left. I kept the food in a large tote bag and carried it around with me. At some point, I left the bag on a table, but stood nearby to keep an eye on it. I noticed a girl trying to sneak some of the food out of the bag. I then moved closer to the bag and she backed off. This happened twice and finally, I realized that she must really want the food. So I opened my bag and offered the food to her, telling her she can have whatever she wants. It turned out she was starving. She then gratefully took out enough food to make a sandwich and we sat at the table while she ate. I felt a lot of love for her as we sat at the table. 

The dream has many meanings, but the meaning that applies to most people is that God gives us so much. And, frankly, most of the time we don't deserve all He gives us. He also often blesses us without our asking. 

Unfortunately, this dream does not depict how I naturally am. Instead, the dream shows me what I ought to be. I have come to realize that I am not inherently a generous person, and I tend to give more when I know and love a person. Because I am picky about who I am generous with, the Lord has shown me that this makes me a respecter of persons. 

God, on the other hand, is not a respecter of persons (Acts 10:34) and consequently, He is incredibly generous with all of us. If we are to be like God, we need to generous with everyone, not just those we love or those who treat us well. So, just as we try to emulate His long suffering, His mercy, His patience, and so on, we also ought to emulate His generosity. 

King Benjamin explained that even if we serve God all our lives, we will never be able to repay Him. When we obey Him, He immediately blesses us. For this reason alone, we ought to feel incredibly humble. 
21 I say unto you that if ye should serve him who has created you from the beginning, and is preserving you from day to day, by lending you breath, that ye may live and move and do according to your own will, and even supporting you from one moment to another—I say, if ye should serve him with all your whole souls yet ye would be unprofitable servants.
24 ... he doth require that ye should do as he hath commanded you; for which if ye do, he doth immediately bless you; and therefore he hath paid you. And ye are still indebted unto him, and are, and will be, forever and ever; therefore, of what have ye to boast?
25 And now I ask, can ye say aught of yourselves? I answer you, Nay. Ye cannot say that ye are even as much as the dust of the earth; yet ye were created of the dust of the earth; but behold, it belongeth to him who created you. (Mosiah 2)
King Benjamin also states that since God gives us so much it should be natural to be generous with others:
And now, if God, who has created you, on whom you are dependent for your lives and for all that ye have and are, doth grant unto you whatsoever ye ask that is right, in faith, believing that ye shall receive, O then, how ye ought to impart of the substance that ye have one to another. (Mosiah 4:21).
He goes on to list various ways in which we can love others (or, in other words, extend that generosity to others): 
13 And ye will not have a mind to injure one another
[e.g. don't gossip, lie about another or try pull someone down] but to live peaceably, and to render to every man according to that which is his due.  [express gratitude; give back things that don't belong to us]
14 And ye will not suffer your children that they go hungry, or naked; neither will ye suffer that they transgress the laws of God, and fight and quarrel one with another, and serve the devil, who is the master of sin, or who is the evil spirit which hath been spoken of by our fathers, he being an enemy to all righteousness. [e.g. do not neglect the needs of your children because you're distracted by social media]
15 But ye will teach them to walk in the ways of truth and soberness; ye will teach them to love one another, and to serve one another.
16 And also, ye yourselves will succor those that stand in need of your succor; [e.g. comfort those who need comfort, mourn with those who mourn] ye will administer of your substance unto him that standeth in need; and ye will not suffer that the beggar putteth up his petition to you in vain, and turn him out to perish. [e.g. give to those who ask for something]
17 Perhaps thou shalt say: The man has brought upon himself his misery; therefore I will stay my hand, and will not give unto him of my food, nor impart unto him of my substance that he may not suffer, for his punishments are just—
18 But I say unto you, O man, whosoever doeth this the same hath great cause to repent; and except he repenteth of that which he hath done he perisheth forever, and hath no interest in the kingdom of God.
19 For behold, are we not all beggars? Do we not all depend upon the same Being, even God, for all the substance which we have, for both food and raiment, and for gold, and for silver, and for all the riches which we have of every kind? (Mosiah 4)
Essentially, because God loves us and blesses us so much, we ought to love and bless every one else, without restriction and without hesitation. In my dream, God was showing me that He has blessed me and so why would I not bless others around me, especially those in need (the girl in my dream was starving) even if they don't ask me (the girl never once asked me for food) and even those who treat us badly (the girl was trying to steal from me). God doesn't care how people treat us--He simply wants us to love them and bless their lives. 

Jesus said in His Sermon on the Mount, "But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you" (Matthew 5:44). Blessing the lives of those who treat us badly is the essence of charity. It is the fundamental way we become sinless and pure. It is how we become perfect (Matthew 5:48).  

As I have studied the books of Isaiah and Jeremiah, I was amazed at how often it says that a prevalent sin among God's people is not taking care of the needy as He desires us to. I think so often we do a little bit here and there for others (take a meal to a family, greet someone at church, and so on) but we are not developing the kind of generous heart that God requires from us. 
And remember in all things the poor and the needy, the sick and the afflicted, for he that doeth not these things, the same is not my disciple. (D&C 52:40)
There are several parables which describe the generosity we ought to develop. For example, when Jesus was asked what must we do to inherit eternal life, He gave the parable of the Good Samaritan. The Samaritan man was incredibly generous and Jesus was suggesting that this kind of love and generosity is requisite for eternal life. Consider if you were to encounter a stranger from a group of people your culture despises, would you help them in the same way the Samaritan man did? He not only stopped to help in the moment, but also took him to a place where he would be cared for (perhaps like taking him to the hospital) AND paid for all his needs AND said he would check up on him in the future. I know some might say, "But I don't have the resources to pay for all of someone's medical needs." However, if you did have those resources, would you pay for that? And once you have paid for his needs, would you continue to check on him to make sure he is healing? My point is, God knows our circumstances and what we are capable of. He also knows our hearts. And, what He wants is for our hearts to change. He wants our hearts to exude love and generosity. 

This is not me yet, but God is telling me to become like this. I want to be generous with people even when they take advantage of me and even when I perceive they don't deserve it. I want to be generous with those I know who will squander what I give them. Why? Because God does that with us! He is generous with us even though we don't deserve it. He is generous with us even though we squander what He gives us. Too often I have placed conditions on when and what to give, thinking this one deserves this and this one does not. 

Currently in my journey towards sanctification, I have been trying to focus all my attention on how best to love others. I am trying to consider each moment and what the most loving action is. I feel like this is an extra dimension to consider when I am contemplating how I can give love to others.

In the end, far greater blessings result from genuinely loving and serving others. A while ago I was struck by the differences in what the nine Nephite disciples asked for and received versus what the remaining three asked for and received. The nine disciples said they wanted to go to Jesus' kingdom when they died:
2 And they all spake, save it were three, saying: We desire that after we have lived unto the age of man, that our ministry, wherein thou hast called us, may have an end, that we may speedily come unto thee in thy kingdom.
3 And he said unto them: Blessed are ye because ye desired this thing of me; therefore, after that ye are seventy and two years old ye shall come unto me in my kingdom; and with me ye shall find rest. (3 Nephi 28)
The other three desired to serve other people until the Second Coming, just as John the Beloved desired. Jesus described these three as more blessed and that they would as a result one day "sit down in the kingdom of my Father." (3 Nephi 28:7,10)

There is a difference between being offered a place in Jesus' kingdom and a place in the Father's kingdom. Why were those three given a greater blessing? Because they possessed and displayed this generosity of heart that God requires of us. Likewise, as we develop the same level of charity, we too will be given the same eternal reward.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

God Showed Me My Biggest Idol

by Nicky Smith

For a long time now I have been working on trying to overcome my weaknesses and sins. But, there are several things I have really struggled to overcome. No matter how hard I have been trying, I seemed to get into situations where my heart felt a particular way and I could not figure out how to conquer it. 

Well, last week I had a dream that led me to tears. Although the content of the dream is irrelevant (simply because it wouldn't make sense to most people since it was about my life), the message the Lord was giving me is vital and also universal. In short, God showed me what my biggest idol is, and I was shocked! As I began to understand more and more what He was saying to me, I felt like my whole foundation was crumbling. All I could do was cry. 

The Lord showed me the greatest idol standing between Him and me is myself. It took me almost an entire week to figure out (through revelation) exactly how I am my own idol and how to rectify the situation. During this time, as I was praying for understanding, I saw myself climbing up a cliff. It was very hard work, but eventually I grabbed hold of a tree growing out of the cliff and I hung onto the tree. I could go no further. I didn't know how to continue climbing. The cliff was too steep and I had no where to go. I then heard Jesus who was standing at the bottom of the cliff saying, "Let go! Fall! I will catch you!" 

How scary it is to lose control! How frightening it is to let go and let yourself fall! Knowing Jesus will catch you requires faith and trust. 

As I have been on this path of sanctification, I have done everything I can to become a new creature (2 Corinthians 5:17). I have stopped various sins and tried to change my habitual behavior into something Christlike. But, through this dream I now understand even more that on my own, I will never become sanctified. I also get why I have not been able to entirely overcome some of my weaknesses.

I need to rely on Jesus more. I need to let go of trying to become pure on my own. 

Too often we like to maintain our image that we can handle everything and we have it all together. We are in control. But, God wants us to see that we really don't and He wants us to realize that we do need help. We can't do it alone! We need Him! 

My little boy, Nathan, is almost two and he is at the stage where most of the time he does not want help. He thinks he can do it alone. So, from a very young age, we tend to celebrate self-reliance and our ability to do things by ourselves. With many things in life, this is necessary. However, it seems to feed into our spiritual lives too, where we want to sort out our own salvation, with God just watching or giving us a little guidance here and there. 

Of course, I need to work on overcoming my sins, but God is desiring me to draw nearer to Him and allow Him to change my heart. No matter how hard I work at it, I cannot be made pure without Him. 

And so as I have begged for further understanding on how He wants me to lean on Him, I have come to understand that He wants me to forget myself and simply love others. All day every day I have been thinking about how to use a particular situation to become sinless. Instead, the Lord wants me to stop thinking about myself and focus on just loving others. 

As I love others, I am able to fulfill the greatest commandments: love God and love others (Matthew 22:36-39). As I do this, the Lord said He will help me overcome these weaknesses and sins I have not been able to eradicate on my own. He will help me become purified. 

As I have thought about ways in which I self-worship, I realize that every time I sin, I am choosing me over another person. I am choosing to give into my own carnal, fleshy desires instead of considering the needs and feelings of others. Sin is inherently selfish.

In the past I have struggled with malice. When I am treated unkindly, I have wanted them to know what it feels like to be treated in that way and I am tempted to do the same back to them. I am choosing to satisfy my own carnal nature if I am unkind to others. I have also struggled with jealousy. There are things others have that I have wished for myself, instead of rejoicing in the fact that they have something wonderful. Pride is another sin I have wrestled with. I have felt satisfaction from my own achievements and accomplishments. It makes me feel good about myself. This has led in the past to bragging, another sin. Then there is dishonesty, where I have deceived someone in viewing something in a particular way instead of allowing them access to the truth. These sins and every other you can think of revolve about "me" and what "I" want. We engage in them because we choose ourselves, rather than truly loving God and others.

When we focus on ourselves, this focus comes between us and God--we cannot draw closer to Him, unless we eliminate our selfish, carnal natures, because as we sin, we are showing God we love ourselves and our desires more than Him.

When we repent (and forsake our sins), we begin to let go of our selfish tendencies. Then, as we plead with God to fill us with charity for others, we focus solely on others and their needs. Sin and charity are opposites of each other. 

Of course, loving God means I choose to obey Him completely. I am then choosing to be sinless because committing sin shows my love for other things rather than Him. And, loving others means I choose to be patient with them. I choose to be long-suffering and kind. Having pure and perfect charity enables us to live all the other commandments God has given us. My desire is to do the Father's will because I love Him and I love others. This is what in the end will enable me to become pure and holy before Him. 

Furthermore, how much do we dictate what, when, how to worship God? How often do we determine what and how we will sacrifice for Him? When we determine what we will do with our time, when we will do things, how we will do things instead of asking God His will, we are placing our will and our desires ahead of Him: What does God want me to do today (or now)? How does God want me to use my time today? How does God want me to love people? What should I sacrifice today? 

The minute we deviate from God's will we show Him we want control and we know what we are doing, instead of being "fools before God," acknowledging that He knows all (2 Nephi 9:42). When we make decisions without consulting the Lord, we place our will and idol of self before God. 

Jesus lived his life in such a way that everything He said and did revealed His attitude of "Thy will be done" (Matthew 26:42; John 5:19; John 10:30; 12:49). Nothing was about Jesus. Everything was about the Father. As a result, He allowed people to feel the Father's love for them by every action and every word. 

Truly loving God and loving others can only be done as we eliminate ourselves from the picture. This requires overcoming our sins and loving as God would love. This demands that we seek to know and do the will of the Father in everything. We do things His way! Not our way!

When we metaphorically look in the mirror and see His image in our countenance, we no longer possess the idol of self. We can see Christ because everything we do and say reflects what He would do. 

After my dream last week and what the Lord showed me regarding me hanging onto the side of cliff, I have decided to eliminate my self-worship and aim to love others more fully. So, instead of constantly trying to figure out ways I am sinning or not sinning, I focussing my attention and energy on simply loving others and following everything God tells me to do. I know that as I plead to feel God's love for others, He will help me do so (Moroni 7:48). Love is the great purifier! Through loving others, I can become purified and overcome all my sins. 

Monday, May 1, 2017

God Wants Your Heart

by Nicky Smith

The other day I was praying about something I had been struggling with. After I had prayed, I cleared my mind and waited for the Lord to speak. The eyes of my understanding were then opened and I saw myself holding my heart and placing it on a stone altar. I took a mallet and smashed the heart. I then saw Christ's hands holding a new heart which He gave to me. 

Later as I reflected on what God had shown me, this scripture came to mind:
A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you: and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you an heart of flesh. (Ezekiel 36:26)

Above all, God wants our heart. He wants our hearts to be broken, pure, and willingly obedient to Him. 

Sanctification is the means whereby we obtain the heart God desires. Sanctification requires repentance. Sanctification involves becoming holy, without spot or sin (Moroni 10:33). In fact, sin is no longer appealing to us. Instead it is repulsive and abhorrent (Alma 13:12). If we still sin, we are not yet pure and holy. We are not yet sanctified. 

Sanctification always entails turning ourselves to God and living by every worth that proceeds from His mouth (John 17:17,19). His word to us most often comes through revelation, where God tells us the things we need to change and give up. 
7 Sanctify yourselves therefore, and be ye holy: for I am the Lord your God. 8 And ye shall keep my statutes, and do them: I am the Lord which sanctify you. (Leviticus 20:7-8)
In these verses in Leviticus, sanctification involves both us and the Lord. It is a combination of our giving up our unclean, impure hearts full of sin, after which the Lord gives us back a new heart, which is pure and sinless. This parallels what the Lord showed me as I was giving up my impure heart in return for a pure one.

An interesting example is that of King Benjamin's people. After King Benjamin had spoken, he looked around the crowd of people:
And they had viewed themselves in their own carnal state, even less than the dust of the earth. And they all cried aloud with one voice, saying: O have mercy, and apply the atoning blood of Christ that we may receive forgiveness of our sins, and our hearts may be purified; for we believe in Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who created heaven and earth, and all things; who shall come down among the children of men. (Mosiah 4:2)
King Benjamin's words had led this people to give up their sins. They desired to repent. They then begged the Lord to purify their hearts. Later, after King Benjamin had spoken more, he asked the people what they thought of his words. 
And they all cried with one voice, saying: Yea, we believe all the words which thou hast spoken unto us; and also, we know of their surety and truth, because of the Spirit of the Lord Omnipotent, which has wrought a mighty change in us, or in our hearts, that we have no more disposition to do evil, but to do good continually. (Mosiah 5:2)
The Holy Ghost had given them a new heart which no longer desired evil. They were sanctified to a degree, based on their repentance and the laws they now committed to live. 

As we forsake our sins and turn our hearts to the Lord, we can become pure. We no longer feel envy, jealous, spiteful, pride, unforgiveness, unbelief, and so on. We simply love others, despite their flaws and how they may treat us. 

In other words, we put everything on the altar: our sins, our impure hearts, our pride, our worldly desires, and our idols. We give it all up because these things stand between us and the Lord. They prevent us from becoming like Him and knowing Him. As we put these things on the altar, God gives us a new heart, filled with charity and compassion.  

This "crucifying" of the flesh (Galatians 5:24), however, takes a lot of time and patience. It takes much seeking the Lord. My journey to become sanctified and have a pure heart has taken a long time. I still have sins and weaknesses to overcome. But, due to the difficulty of the experience, I have turned more to God. My prayers are more sincere. My faith has grown and I feel greater love for the Lord. I feel a greater connection to Him than ever before. In addition, the gifts God has given me as a result of my repentance to this point far outweigh my experience as a result of passively living the Gospel without sanctifying myself.

When we have removed all the things that stand between us and God and we have received a new heart, we may see Jesus face to face, an experience worth every agony and pain that results in putting our heart on the altar. I know that one day as I continue on this path, I will see the Lord. 
Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God. (Matthew 5:8)
This experience of seeing the Lord enables us to know Him far more intimately. This knowledge then helps us become even more like Him. This is then the knowledge that leads to eternal life (John 17:3). But, it all begins with giving up our impure hearts.