Friday, May 26, 2017

My Awakening, Part 5 - Conclusion

I started this series of posts to put down in writing some of my beliefs and the understanding that I've arrived at while studying the Gospel and praying for further light and knowledge. It began when I read Moroni 7:33-38 and realized that the course of my life was not manifesting the abundant miracles and blessings promised to believers in the scriptures. Moroni's words sunk deep into my heart and I knew that something was amiss. Moroni equates the presence of signs and miracles with faith and redemption, and the lack of these signs and miracles with a lack of faith and redemption. In Moroni's own words, the lack of these things means "awful is the state of [that] man". Over time, as I continued to interact with others at Church, it became apparent to me that I was not the only one who lacked these blessings. This is a problem that has become pervasive among members of the LDS Church, not to mention all of Christianity.

In my quest to understand why these things were missing from my life, I found Moroni's explanation in Mormon 9:15-21, which bears repeating here:
15 And now, O all ye that have imagined up unto yourselves a god who can do no miracles, I would ask of you, have all these things passed, of which I have spoken? Has the end come yet? Behold I say unto you, Nay; and God has not ceased to be a God of miracles.
16 Behold, are not the things that God hath wrought marvelous in our eyes? Yea, and who can comprehend the marvelous works of God?
17 Who shall say that it was not a miracle that by his word the heaven and the earth should be; and by the power of his word man was created of the dust of the earth; and by the power of his word have miracles been wrought?
18 And who shall say that Jesus Christ did not do many mighty miracles? And there were many mighty miracles wrought by the hands of the apostles.
19 And if there were miracles wrought then, why has God ceased to be a God of miracles and yet be an unchangeable Being? And behold, I say unto you he changeth not; if so he would cease to be God; and he ceaseth not to be God, and is a God of miracles.
20 And the reason why he ceaseth to do miracles among the children of men is because that they dwindle in unbelief, and depart from the right way, and know not the God in whom they should trust.
21 Behold, I say unto you that whoso believeth in Christ, doubting nothing, whatsoever he shall ask the Father in the name of Christ it shall be granted him; and this promise is unto all, even unto the ends of the earth.
Moroni wrote plainly that there are 3 reasons why God ceases to do miracles among a people, because:
  1. they dwindle in unbelief
  2. they depart from the right way
  3. they know not the God in whom they should trust
I decided to take Moroni's explanation to heart and see if these three things could be found among us. In this series of posts, I've tried to present evidence to make the case for Moroni. The evidence was by no means comprehensive. However, it was sufficient for me to accept what Moroni wrote. I believe he was correct in what he said and it has manifested itself today in myself and among the Latter-day Saints in general.

You must judge for yourself whether you accept Moroni's diagnosis. Do you see a lack of frequent miracles in your life and the lives of members of the Church you live among? Is your life full of signs such as inspired dreams and visions, angelic ministrations, hearing the voice of God, prophecy, revelation, miraculous healings, etc.? These blessings were common among the saints in the days of the early apostles as well as in the days of Joseph Smith. If they are not common now, then that should give us pause. We should be asking God why they are missing. If God does not favor us like He did them, why is that?

Our relationship with God is not a binary state. In other words, I expect none of us are perfect, nor are we inheritors of perdition. Therefore, our state and standing before God must fall somewhere along a spectrum between those two extremes. However, the Lord has provided markers or milestones along the way that can be used to give us an idea of how well He favors us. The scriptures are clear that there are some that are highly favored of Him, because of their righteousness, whereas there are others who, because of wickedness, inherit curses, wrath, and destruction. How can we know how He views us? I would never want to assume that I'm favored with Him when that is not the case.

In the sixth Lecture on Faith, we learn that one of the principle elements of faith is to obtain a knowledge that the course of your life is according to God's will.
11 All the saints of whom we have account in all the revelations of God which are extant, obtained the knowledge which they had of their acceptance in his sight, through the sacrifice which they offered unto him: and through the knowledge thus obtained, their faith became sufficiently strong to lay hold upon the promise of eternal life, and to endure us seeing him who is invisible; and were enabled, through faith, to combat the powers of darkness, contend against the wiles of the adversary, overcome the world, and obtain the end of their faith, even the salvation of their souls.
12 But those who have not made this sacrifice to God, do not know that the course which they pursue is well pleasing in his sight; for whatever may be their belief or their opinion, it is a matter of doubt and uncertainty in their mind; and where doubt and uncertainty is, there faith is not, nor can it be. For doubt and faith do not exist in the same person at the same time. So that persons whose minds are under doubts and fears cannot have unshaken confidence, and where unshaken confidence is not, there faith is weak, and where faith is weak, the persons will not be able to contend against all the opposition, tribulations and afflictions which they will have to encounter in order to be heirs of God, and joint heirs with Christ Jesus; and they will grow weary in their minds, and the adversary will have power over them and destroy them. (LoF 6:11-12)
Can you say that you know, with a perfect knowledge, that the course of your life is "well pleasing in [God's] sight"? If not, then your faith is imperfect, and will not be sufficient for you to obtain eternal life.
8 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. (LoF 6:8)
It would be presumptuous of me to expect to inherit the blessings of Abraham without doing the works of Abraham and offering a sacrifice similar in scope to Abraham's sacrifice. Should I expect to inherit the blessings of Lehi or Nephi without being as faithful through trials as they were? If God is "no respecter of persons", then why would he bless them so abundantly with visions, ministering angels, and His own voice, and not me if I live to the same degree of faithfulness that they did?
26 For what man among you having twelve sons, and is no respecter of them, and they serve him obediently, and he saith unto the one: Be thou clothed in robes and sit thou here; and to the other: Be thou clothed in rags and sit thou there—and looketh upon his sons and saith I am just? (D&C 38:26)
God is just. Therefore, any difference in blessings between myself (or yourself) and Nephi or any other blessed individual in scripture must be a difference in the degree of faithfulness (i.e. how full of faith someone is).
...this is the reason that the Former Day Saints knew more, and understood more of heaven, and of heavenly things than all others beside, because this information is the effect of faith-to be obtained by no other means. And this is the reason, that men, as soon as they lose their faith, run into strifes, contentions, darkness and difficulties; for the knowledge which tends to life disappears with faith, but returns when faith returns; for when faith comes, it brings its train of attendants with it—apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, teachers, gifts, wisdom, knowledge, miracles, healings, tongues, interpretation of tongues, etc. All these appear when faith appears on the earth, and disappear when it disappears from the earth. For these are the effects of faith and always have, and always will attend it. For where faith is, there will the knowledge of God be also, with all things which pertain thereto—revelations, visions, and dreams, as well as every other necessary thing in order that the possessors of faith may be perfected and obtain salvation; for God must change, otherwise faith will prevail with him. (LoF 7:20)
Moroni wrote that a lack of signs and miracles means a lack of faith and "without faith it is impossible to please [God]". Therefore, what should we do? If there is unbelief among us, how do we cast it off? If we have departed from the right way, how do we get back on the strait and narrow? If we know not the God in whom we should trust, how do we begin to know Him?

The first step is to recognize that there is a problem. If you don't believe anything is wrong, then you will never take the next step to begin to fix it. The scriptures are full of examples of people who believed they were righteous even while they were ripening for destruction.

Laman & Lemuel were convinced that the people in Jerusalem were righteous, even after God had already decreed destruction for that wicked city. The Zoramites believed themselves to be a "chosen and holy people", even while Alma knew that they were a wicked and perverse people. Perhaps the point is that it is dangerous to trust in your own estimation of yourself.

If there is even a chance that what you believe and have faith in is accounted as unbelief to God, wouldn't you want to know about it? If there is a chance that your church is adrift and no longer able to help you draw nearer to God, wouldn't that be important to understand?

There are generally two ways to respond to a message like this. The most common response, unfortunately, is to harden one's heart and refuse to believe it. When the wandering Israelites were being plagued by the bites of fiery flying serpents, Moses crafted a serpent of brass and fastened it to a pole. The Lord said that any who looked upon the serpent of brass would be healed. Speaking of this, Alma taught:
19 ...and behold a type was raised up in the wilderness, that whosoever would look upon it might live. And many did look and live.
20 But few understood the meaning of those things, and this because of the hardness of their hearts. But there were many who were so hardened that they would not look, therefore they perished. Now the reason they would not look is because they did not believe that it would heal them.
21 O my brethren, if ye could be healed by merely casting about your eyes that ye might be healed, would ye not behold quickly, or would ye rather harden your hearts in unbelief, and be slothful, that ye would not cast about your eyes, that ye might perish? (Alma 33:19-21)
The other way to respond is to do as Nephi did. When Lehi decided to take his family on a permanent camping trip, at first his kids all thought he was crazy. Yet, they responded in different ways.
11 Now this he spake because of the stiffneckedness of Laman and Lemuel; for behold they did murmur in many things against their father, because he was a visionary man, and had led them out of the land of Jerusalem, to leave the land of their inheritance, and their gold, and their silver, and their precious things, to perish in the wilderness. And this they said he had done because of the foolish imaginations of his heart. (1 Nephi 2:11)
Nephi also had trouble believing what his father said, but instead of murmuring and disbelieving, he took it to the Lord.
16 And it came to pass that I, Nephi, being exceedingly young, nevertheless being large in stature, and also having great desires to know of the mysteries of God, wherefore, I did cry unto the Lord; and behold he did visit me, and did soften my heart that I did believe all the words which had been spoken by my father; wherefore, I did not rebel against him like unto my brothers. (1 Nephi 2:16)
The Lord wouldn't have needed to soften his heart (so that he could believe) if he already believed it. Thus, he must have been skeptical at first. But, because of his faith in God and his desire to know more about God, he asked in faith and received an answer. He allowed the possibility that what his father said could be true and cried unto the Lord for wisdom.

Alma taught:
10 And therefore, he that will harden his heart, the same receiveth the lesser portion of the word; and he that will not harden his heart, to him is given the greater portion of the word, until it is given unto him to know the mysteries of God until he know them in full.
11 And they that will harden their hearts, to them is given the lesser portion of the word until they know nothing concerning his mysteries; and then they are taken captive by the devil, and led by his will down to destruction. Now this is what is meant by the chains of hell. (Alma 12:10-11)
I believe the symptoms given in Mormon 9:20 are manifest today; not only in myself, but also generally among the members of the LDS Church. I have delivered this message in good faith, not because I want to, or because I'm anyone special (I'm not), but because I believe the Lord wants me to raise a warning voice. "...it becometh every man who hath been warned to warn his neighbor." (D&C 88:81)

I invite you to ponder and pray about these things. Ask the Lord if the course of your life is pleasing before Him. Ask him to remove whatever unbelief you may have. Ask for faith in Him. "for God must change, otherwise faith will prevail with him" (LoF 7:20)

When Moroni visited Joseph on that fateful night of September 21, 1823, one of the scriptures he quoted was the following:
28 ¶ And it shall come to pass afterward, that I will pour out my spirit upon all flesh; and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, your young men shall see visions:
29 And also upon the servants and upon the handmaids in those days will I pour out my spirit.
30 And I will shew wonders in the heavens and in the earth, blood, and fire, and pillars of smoke.
31 The sun shall be turned into darkness, and the moon into blood, before the great and the terrible day of the Lord come.
32 And it shall come to pass, that whosoever shall call on the name of the Lord shall be delivered: for in mount Zion and in Jerusalem shall be deliverance, as the Lord hath said, and in the remnant whom the Lord shall call. (Joel 2:28-32)
After quoting the above, Moroni said "that this was not yet fulfilled, but was soon to be." (JS-H 1:41) 194 years later, this prophecy has still not been fulfilled. Therefore, it must be very soon to come. Perhaps the Lord is just waiting for some to rise up, cast off their unbelief, and put their trust fully in Him again.

Friday, April 28, 2017

My Awakening, Part 4 - Knowing Not the God in Whom We Should Trust


Misconceptions About God


Growing up in the church gave me a certain idea of what God was like. I imagined God as a cold and distant executive, delegating authority to others to carry out His work, but never personally interacting with the weak, poor, or unremarkable members of His kingdom. I imagined interaction with God being something like a personal priesthood interview or temple recommend interview, except more stressful.

It was natural for me to think of God this way because that is how things functioned within the Church. Even as a child, going to see the Bishop with my parents was an intimidating thing. He would be imposing in his dark suit, sitting in an plush, leather chair, separated from us by a large wood desk. Despite how charming and pleasant some bishops can be, the whole setup seems designed to make sure you know who is in charge.

This always left me confused, as the scriptures describe a very different kind of God. Consider this example,
13 And behold, two of them went that same day to a village called Emmaus, which was from Jerusalem threescore furlongs.
14 And they talked together of all these things which had happened.
15 And it came to pass that while they communed together and reasoned, Jesus himself drew near and went with them.
16 But their eyes were holden or covered, that they could not know him.
17 And he said unto them, What manner of communications are these which ye have one with another as ye walk and are sad?
18 And one of them, whose name was Cleopas, answering said unto him, Art thou a stranger in Jerusalem and hast not known the things which are come to pass there in these days?
19 And he said unto them, What things? And they said unto him, Concerning Jesus of Nazareth, who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people;
20 And how the chief priests and our rulers delivered him to be condemned to death and have crucified him.
21 But we trusted that it had been he who should have redeemed Israel. And besides all this, today is the third day since these things were done.
22 Yea, and certain women also of our company made us astonished, who were early at the sepulcher,
23 And when they found not his body they came saying that they had also seen a vision of angels who said that he was alive.
24 And certain of them who were with us went to the sepulcher and found it even so as the women had said, but him they saw not.
25 Then he said unto them, O fools, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken.
26 Ought not Christ to have suffered these things and to enter into his glory?
27 And beginning at Moses and all the prophets he expounded unto them in all the scriptures the things concerning himself.
28 And they drew nigh unto the village whither they went and he made as though he would have gone farther.
29 But they constrained him, saying, Abide with us for it is toward evening and the day is far spent. And he went in to tarry with them.
30 And it came to pass, as he sat at meat with them, he took bread, and blessed, and brake, and gave to them.
31 And their eyes were opened and they knew him and he was taken up out of their sight.
32 And they said one to another, Did not our hearts burn within us while he talked with us by the way and while he opened to us the scriptures? (JST Luke 24:13-32)
Think of the beautiful irony in this story! Christ, the Lord of Creation, had just successfully completed the most difficult task in human history! He had worked out the atonement and the resurrection. There could be no other being in the universe with greater cause to celebrate or to boast than Him. Yet, here he was, unassuming, unpretentious, appearing to his disciples in disguise as a lowly traveler.. He didn't impress them with power and glory or with a show of great authority. He taught them simply by opening the scriptures. If it had not been for the disciple's persistence, he would have continued on his way and they never would have known his true identity. But, He took the time with two of his disciples to open the scriptures and explain what it all meant. Doesn't this story say something about the personality of Christ?

I remember in my youth being plagued with so many doubts and fears about what God thought of me. I feared He didn't care about me or that He was disappointed in me. I assumed He was busy and didn't have enough time for me.

Publishing the Revelations


The Lord often required of the saints to print and publish the revelations that had been given thus far. (See D&C 1:672:2184:104, and 104:58)

This was first attempted with the Book of Commandments in 1833. However, an anti-mormon mob destroyed the printing press and most of the printed pages. You've probably heard the story of Caroline and Mary Elizabeth Rollins who saved some of the pages by grabbing them and running into a cornfield to hide.

The next attempt was in 1835 when the first edition of the Doctrine & Covenants was presented to the Church. This was the only edition published while Joseph was still alive. You can see scans of an original copy here.

Lectures on Faith


The 1835 D&C is a remarkable book, and not only because it is so different from the D&C used in the present-day church. The most notable difference for me was the inclusion of the Lectures on Faith. The Lectures were originally presented to the elders in the school of the prophets. They were later edited by Joseph Smith and included in the D&C.

There can be no doubt to the importance that Joseph attributed to these lectures. The preface to the 1835 D&C reads, in part:

Dear Brethren:
We deem it to be unnecessary  to entertain you with a lengthy preface to the following volume, but merely to say, that it contains in short, the leading items of the religion which we have professed to believe.
The first part of the book will be found to contain a series of Lectures as delivered before a Theological class in this place, and in consequence of their embracing the important doctrine of salvation, we have arranged them into the following work.
The second part contains items or principles for the  regulation of the church, as taken from the revelations  which have been given since its organization, as well as from former ones.
...
We do not present this little volume with any other  expectation than that we are to be called to answer to every principle advanced, in that day when the secrets of all hearts will be revealed, and the reward of every man’s labor be given him.
With sentiments of esteem and sincere respect, we subscribe ourselves your brethren in the bonds of  the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ.
JOSEPH SMITH jr.
OLIVER COWDERY
SIDNEY RIGDON
F[rederick] G. WILLIAMS
Kirtland, Ohio, February 17, 1835. [p. iv]

In addition, the Lectures were placed first (before the revelations) and printed in a larger font. On the first page of the Lectures, they are presented to be: "On the doctrine of the church of the Latter-Day Saints". The second part of the D&C, which contains the revelations, are presented as "Covenants and commandments of the Lord to his servants of the church of the Latter-Day Saints". Thus, the Lectures were the doctrine of the church, and the revelations were the covenants.

The Historical Introduction on the Joseph Smith papers page linked to above includes the following history:
On 17 August 1835, a general assembly of the church met “for the purpose of Examining a book of commandments and covenants” that had been “compiled and written by” the publication committee. “This Committee having finished said Book according to the instructions given them,” the minutes read, “it was deemed necessary to call the general assembly of the Church to see whether the book be approved or not by the authorities of the church, that it may, if approved, become a law unto the church, and a rule of faith and practice unto the same...Voting on the book proceeded by quorums and groups, with the leader of each group bearing witness of the truth of the volume before his group voted to accept it. After the voting by quorums, the entire church membership present, both male and female, voted to accept the book as “the doctrine and covenants of their faith.

The Character of God


I remember reading the Lectures for the first time as a teenager, but the message was lost on me and I quickly forgot about them. I rediscovered them several years ago. However, this time, because of my experiences, they had a great impact upon me.

Lecture 3, in particular, which discusses the character of God, had a profound influence upon me. I remember as I read it that I could almost feel the darkness in my mind receding and my faith increasing. The doubts and fears that the devil had filled my head with for all those years lost their power over me. I realized they were all lies.

I was about to summarize Lecture 3 here, but I don't want to take away from the experience. Instead, I invite you, no, I implore you to go read the Lectures on Faith. You can find them online here: lecturesonfaith.com


Lost Doctrine


The Lectures on Faith remained a part of the D&C for 86 years. However, in 1921, the Lectures on Faith were dropped from the scriptures by a committee comprised of George F. Richards, Anthony W. Ivins, Melvin J. Ballard, James E. Talmage, John A. Widstoe, and Joseph Fielding Smith. The committee gave the explanation that they "were never presented to nor accepted by the Church as being otherwise than theological lectures or lessons."

As I've shown with the quotes above, that explanation is false. The Lectures on Faith, included with the revelations, was accepted and voted upon in a conference of the church as "a law unto the church and a rule of faith and practice unto the same". They were removed from the scriptures without a vote of consent by the body of the church but rather by fiat from a council of leading authorities. Today, what we call the Doctrine & Covenants, should actually just be called The Covenants, as the Doctrine was removed.


Eternal Scripture


I assume most members today probably haven't read or even heard of the Lectures on Faith. I remember once asking a ward librarian if they carried a copy. The librarian responded, "I'm not sure...Who wrote it?" At that, I knew there was no point in pursuing it any further.

Despite the ignorance of the membership, it has been praised by the leadership in years past. Bruce R. McConkie, in a BYU devotional said:
In my judgment it is the most comprehensive, intelligent, inspired utterance that now exists in the English language that exists in one place defining, interpreting, expounding, announcing, and testifying of what kind of being God is. It was written by the power of the Holy Ghost, by the Spirit of Inspiration. It is in effect, eternal scripture. It is true. ("The Lord God of Joseph Smith", Devotional on Jan. 4, 1972) 
I know for myself that if I had learned and understood the principles taught in the Lectures, that I would not have been prey to the fears and doubts that I am sure plague so many of the youth and adults in the church. I would have had greater confidence in approaching God.

Would there be so much unbelief among members of the Church today if we studied and directed our lives by these Lectures that Joseph called "the leading items of the religion which we have professed to believe" because they embrace "the important doctrine of salvation"? Many of the topics discussed by the lectures are never taught in Gospel doctrine and Sunday school lessons. It is apparent to me that the church suffered a loss when the Lectures on Faith were removed from our scriptures. Because of it, there seem to be few today who know the God in whom they should trust.

Saturday, April 15, 2017

My Awakening, Part 3 - Departing From the Right Way

Moroni tells us that one reason why God ceases to do miracles among us is because we "have departed from the right way" (Mormon 9:20).

What is the right way?
 29 And now behold, I say unto you that the right way is to believe in Christ, and deny him not; and Christ is the Holy One of Israel; wherefore ye must bow down before him, and worship him with all your might, mind, and strength, and your whole soul; and if ye do this ye shall in nowise be cast out. (2 Nephi 25:29)
In Joseph's day, belief was more than accepting something as true, it was to "To expect or hope with confidence; to trust." (Webster's 1828 dictionary, believe) Therefore, to believe in Christ is to put your hope and trust in Him. To deny Him is to contradict, gainsay, disown, refuse, neglect to acknowledge, reject, and not receive or embrace Him. (Webster's 1828 dictionary, deny)

Today, it is estimated that there are 40,000 different "Christian" denominations worldwide. Presumably, every one of those denominations professes belief in Jesus Christ. Yet, how many of them actually believe in Him and deny him not? When Joseph asked the Lord which church to join, the Lord described the state of the Christian world.
"...they were all wrong; and the Personage who addressed me said that all their creeds were an abomination in his sight; that those professors were all corrupt; that: “they draw near to me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me, they teach for doctrines the commandments of men, having a form of godliness, but they deny the power thereof." (JS-H 1:19)
Anyone who believes in the restoration can agree that all Christian sects have departed from the right way, but what about the Latter-day Saints? Do we draw near to Him with our hearts and not just our lips? Do we teach His commandments, or the commandments of men? Do we have the power of godliness, or only a form thereof?

Even a casual reading of the Doctrine & Covenants will show that from the very beginning of the restoration, the Latter-day Saints had departed from the right way. Within two years of the organization of the Church, the Elders received a revelation that said:
54 And your minds in times past have been darkened because of unbelief, and because you have treated lightly the things you have received
55 Which vanity and unbelief have brought the whole church under condemnation.
56 And this condemnation resteth upon the children of Zion, even all.
57 And they shall remain under this condemnation until they repent and remember the new covenant, even the Book of Mormon and the former commandments which I have given them, not only to say, but to do according to that which I have written—
58 That they may bring forth fruit meet for their Father’s kingdom; otherwise there remaineth a scourge and judgment to be poured out upon the children of Zion. (D&C 84:54-58)
The saints in Jackson County, Missouri were commanded to build up Zion, but were suffering under great persecution. The Lord gave them this promise in August of 1833:
25 Nevertheless, Zion shall escape if she observe to do all things whatsoever I have commanded her.
26 But if she observe not to do whatsoever I have commanded her, I will visit her according to all her works, with sore affliction, with pestilence, with plague, with sword, with vengeance, with devouring fire. (D&C 97:25-26)
By December of that same year, the saints had been driven from their homes by mobs. The Lord explained why:
1 Verily I say unto you, concerning your brethren who have been afflicted, and persecuted, and cast out from the land of their inheritance—
2 I, the Lord, have suffered the affliction to come upon them, wherewith they have been afflicted, in consequence of their transgressions;
3 Yet I will own them, and they shall be mine in that day when I shall come to make up my jewels.
4 Therefore, they must needs be chastened and tried, even as Abraham, who was commanded to offer up his only son.
5 For all those who will not endure chastening, but deny me, cannot be sanctified.
6 Behold, I say unto you, there were jarrings, and contentions, and envyings, and strifes, and lustful and covetous desires among them; therefore by these things they polluted their inheritances.
7 They were slow to hearken unto the voice of the Lord their God; therefore, the Lord their God is slow to hearken unto their prayers, to answer them in the day of their trouble.
8 In the day of their peace they esteemed lightly my counsel; but, in the day of their trouble, of necessity they feel after me. (D&C 101:1-8)
The Lord also said the following concerning the saints in Kirtland:
19 Behold, I, the Lord, am not well pleased with many who are in the church at Kirtland;
20 For they do not forsake their sins, and their wicked ways, the pride of their hearts, and their covetousness, and all their detestable things, and observe the words of wisdom and eternal life which I have given unto them.
21 Verily I say unto you, that I, the Lord, will chasten them and will do whatsoever I list, if they do not repent and observe all things whatsoever I have said unto them.
22 And again I say unto you, if ye observe to do whatsoever I command you, I, the Lord, will turn away all wrath and indignation from you, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against you. (D&C 98:19-22)
God always promises to protect His people who keep His commandments, yet the saints were expelled from both Kirtland and Missouri because of their wickedness and hard hearts. The Lord gave them one more chance in Nauvoo. There, they were commanded to build a temple.
28 For there is not a place found on earth that he may come to and restore again that which was lost unto you, or which he hath taken away, even the fulness of the priesthood. (D&C 124:28)
It should be emphasized here that the Lord had taken away the fulness of the priesthood at some time previous to this, because the saints had not lived worthy of it. The Lord now required the temple to be built so that it could be restored.
31 But I command you, all ye my saints, to build a house unto me; and I grant unto you a sufficient time to build a house unto me; and during this time your baptisms shall be acceptable unto me.
32 But behold, at the end of this appointment your baptisms for your dead shall not be acceptable unto me; and if you do not these things at the end of the appointment ye shall be rejected as a church, with your dead, saith the Lord your God. (D&C 124:31-32)
The seriousness of the situation for the saints here cannot be overstated. The Lord gave them sufficient time to build a temple. If they did not build it in that time, then they would be rejected as a church, with all their dead. That means that no amount of family history and temple work will matter, because the Lord would reject it. The Lord even goes on to say:
43 And ye shall build it on the place where you have contemplated building it, for that is the spot which I have chosen for you to build it.
44 If ye labor with all your might, I will consecrate that spot that it shall be made holy.
45 And if my people will hearken unto my voice, and unto the voice of my servants whom I have appointed to lead my people, behold, verily I say unto you, they shall not be moved out of their place.
46 But if they will not hearken to my voice, nor unto the voice of these men whom I have appointed, they shall not be blest, because they pollute mine holy grounds, and mine holy ordinances, and charters, and my holy words which I give unto them.
47 And it shall come to pass that if you build a house unto my name, and do not do the things that I say, I will not perform the oath which I make unto you, neither fulfil the promises which ye expect at my hands, saith the Lord.
48 For instead of blessings, ye, by your own works, bring cursings, wrath, indignation, and judgments upon your own heads, by your follies, and by all your abominations, which you practice before me, saith the Lord. (D&C 124:43-48)
So, what happened? Did they build the temple in the time given them? Did the Lord come to that temple, as promised?

3.5 years after the revelation in D&C 124 was received, Joseph and his brother Hyrum were martyred. According to Wikipedia, by that time the Nauvoo Temple was only 50% complete. The walls were built up to the second floor. You can actually see how far it was completed because of the martyr line. Before the death of Joseph and Hyrum, they used small bricks, but after the martyrdom, they decided to hurry and finish, so they began to use larger bricks so as to complete the walls faster. The new Nauvoo Temple (dedicated in 2002), in order to stay authentic with the original, replicated the martyr line. You can see pictures of it here.

There were buildings that were completed in the 3.5 year time frame, including houses for the church leaders, a Seventies’ Hall, and a Masonic Lodge. Following is an excerpt from Wikipedia on what happened to the temple.
 As mob violence increased during the summer of 1845, [Brigham Young] encouraged the Latter Day Saints to complete the temple even as they prepared to abandon the city, so portions of it could be used for Latter Day Saint ordinance, such as baptisms for the dead in the basement font. During the winter of 1845-46, the temple began to be used for additional ordinances, including the Nauvoo-era endowment, sealings in marriage, and adoptions.
The Nauvoo Temple was in use for less than three months.
Most of the Latter Day Saints left Nauvoo, beginning in February 1846, but a small crew remained to finish the temple's first floor, so that it could be formally dedicated. Once the first floor was finished with pulpits and benches, the building was finally dedicated in private services on 30 April 1846, and in public services on 1 May. In September 1846 the remaining Latter Day Saints were driven from the city and vigilantes from the neighboring region, including Carthage, Illinois, entered the near-empty city and vandalized the temple.
...around midnight on 8–9 October 1848, the temple was set on fire by an unknown arsonist. Nauvoo's residents attempted to put out the fire, but the temple was gutted...
After the fire of 9 October 1848, only the four exterior walls remained standing.
...On 27 May 1850, Nauvoo was struck by a major tornado which toppled one of the walls of the temple. One source claimed the storm seemed to "single out the Temple", felling "the walls with a roar that was heard miles away" (from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nauvoo_Temple#History)
Here are some additional facts taken from historical sources:
  • The endowments performed in 1845-46 were performed in an unfinished attic. Canvas was used as temporary partitions in the attic to separate different areas used for the endowment.
  • On the February 9th, 1846, the roof caught fire and the attic was left badly damaged. It was never fully restored.
  • The public dedication of the temple occurred on May 1, 1846. By this time, most of the saints had already fled Nauvoo. "The Temple was dedicated in the presence of strangers and all who would pay one dollar for admittance."
  • On the third day of dedicatory services, "the Saints approved a resolution to sell the Temple and use the funds to help the poor in their move West."
Based on the above history, here are some questions to consider:

Did the saints build the temple in the sufficient time allotted by the Lord? (D&C 124:31)
Is there any record of the Lord coming to the temple and restoring that "which was lost unto you, or which he hath taken away, even the fulness of the priesthood"? (D&C 124:28)
Were the saints "moved out of their place"? (D&C 124:45)
Considering what you know of what followed for the saints in the following years, would it be easier to characterize what they lived through as "blessings" or "cursings, wrath, indignation, and judgments"? (D&C 124:48)

They say history repeats itself. Perhaps the Lord knew what was going to happen when he said:
23 Now this Moses plainly taught to the children of Israel in the wilderness, and sought diligently to sanctify his people that they might behold the face of God;
24 But they hardened their hearts and could not endure his presence; therefore, the Lord in his wrath, for his anger was kindled against them, swore that they should not enter into his rest while in the wilderness, which rest is the fulness of his glory.
25 Therefore, he took Moses out of their midst, and the Holy Priesthood also;
26 And the lesser priesthood continued, which priesthood holdeth the key of the ministering of angels and the preparatory gospel; (D&C 84:23-26)
The Lord wanted the saints to sanctify themselves, so that they could behold His face. They were commanded to build up Zion. Yet, the revelations show that they failed in Kirtland, they failed in Missouri, and they failed again in Nauvoo. Where are we today?

Joseph taught:
The building up of Zion is a cause that has interested the people of God in every age; it is a theme upon which prophets, priests and kings have dwelt with peculiar delight; they have looked forward with joyful anticipation to the day in which we live; and fired with heavenly and joyful anticipations they have sung and written and prophesied of this our day; but they died without the sight; we are the favored people that God has made choice of to bring about the Latter-day glory; it is left for us to see, participate in and help to roll forward the Latter-day glory. (History of the Church, 4:609–10; from “The Temple,” an editorial published in Times and Seasons, May 2, 1842, p. 776; Joseph Smith was the editor of the periodical.)
Are we establishing Zion? Are we any closer to Zion today than the saints in Joseph's day? They attempted to build up Zion but failed. Are we even attempting it anymore? If not, then have we not departed from the right way?

Sunday, April 9, 2017

My Awakening, Part 2 - Dwindling in Unbelief

Dwindle.  
1. To diminish; to become less; to shrink; to waste or consume away. The body dwindles by pining or consumption; an estate swindles by waste, by want of industry or economy; an object dwindles in size, as it recedes from view; an army dwindles by death or desertion. 
2. To degenerate; to sink; to fall away. (Webster's Dictionary 1828 - Online Edition)
In Helaman chapter 4, we find the Nephites in a precarious position. Dissenters from among them had gone over to the Lamanites and stirred them up to battle. These dissenters and the Lamanites then attacked the cities of the Nephites, even gaining possession of the capital city, Zarahemla. The Nephites were driven back, having lost many of their possessions and strongholds.

Why did this happen? Mormon tells us why.
  11 Now this great loss of the Nephites, and the great slaughter which was among them, would not have happened had it not been for their wickedness and their abomination which was among them; yea, and it was among those also who professed to belong to the church of God.
 12 And it was because of the pride of their hearts, because of their exceeding riches, yea, it was because of their oppression to the poor, withholding their food from the hungry, withholding their clothing from the naked, and smiting their humble brethren upon the cheek, making a mock of that which was sacred, denying the spirit of prophecy and of revelation, murdering, plundering, lying, stealing, committing adultery, rising up in great contentions, and deserting away into the land of Nephi, among the Lamanites—
 13 And because of this their great wickedness, and their boastings in their own strength, they were left in their own strength; therefore they did not prosper, but were afflicted and smitten, and driven before the Lamanites, until they had lost possession of almost all their lands. (Helaman 4:11-13)
Because of their wickedness and abominations, they had ceased to prosper and their enemies had gained power of them. The few godly men left among them preached repentance and told them what would happen if they did not repent. So...
 21 ...they saw that they had been a stiffnecked people, and that they had set at naught the commandments of God;
 22 And that they had altered and trampled under their feet the laws of Mosiah, or that which the Lord commanded him to give unto the people; and they saw that their laws had become corrupted, and that they had become a wicked people, insomuch that they were wicked even like unto the Lamanites.
 23 And because of their iniquity the church had begun to dwindle; and they began to disbelieve in the spirit of prophecy and in the spirit of revelation; and the judgments of God did stare them in the face.
 24 And they saw that they had become weak, like unto their brethren, the Lamanites, and that the Spirit of the Lord did no more preserve them; yea, it had withdrawn from them because the Spirit of the Lord doth not dwell in unholy temples
 25 Therefore the Lord did cease to preserve them by his miraculous and matchless power, for they had fallen into a state of unbelief and awful wickedness; and they saw that the Lamanites were exceedingly more numerous than they, and except they should cleave unto the Lord their God they must unavoidably perish.
 26 For behold, they saw that the strength of the Lamanites was as great as their strength, even man for man. And thus had they fallen into this great transgression; yea, thus had they become weak, because of their transgression, in the space of not many years. (Helaman 4:21-26)
Why does Mormon go to the trouble to tell us all of this. In the previous chapter he wrote:
14 But behold, a hundredth part of the proceedings of this people, yea, the account of the Lamanites and of the Nephites, and their wars, and contentions, and dissensions, and their preaching, and their prophecies, and their shipping and their building of ships, and their building of temples, and of synagogues and their sanctuaries, and their righteousness, and their wickedness, and their murders, and their robbings, and their plundering, and all manner of abominations and whoredoms, cannot be contained in this work. (Helaman 3:14) 
Not even a hundredth part! Yet, he told us that he was writing "the things which have been commanded me" (3 Nephi 26:12) "according to the knowledge and the understanding which God has given me" (Words of Mormon 1:9) So, is it significant that, after telling us he can't write even one out of a hundred things that happened among his people, that in the very next chapter he goes into great detail about the wickedness of the people and the dwindling of the church? Why would he do that? Who is this book written for anyway?

What is Mormon telling us? Is there iniquity and abomination in our day? What about among those who profess to belong to the church of God? Is there any pride in our hearts? Do we have exceeding riches? Have we oppressed the poor? Withheld food from the hungry? Is there murdering, or plundering, or lying, or stealing, or adultery among us? Do we rise up in great contentions?

Should we boast in our own strength and status before God? Is it really safe to say that "All is well in Zion; yea, Zion prospereth, all is well"? Or rather, is it not better to say:

4 O how foolish, and how vain, and how evil, and devilish, and how quick to do iniquity, and how slow to do good, are the children of men; yea, how quick to hearken unto the words of the evil one, and to set their hearts upon the vain things of the world!
5 Yea, how quick to be lifted up in pride; yea, how quick to boast, and do all manner of that which is iniquity; and how slow are they to remember the Lord their God, and to give ear unto his counsels, yea, how slow to walk in wisdom’s paths!
6 Behold, they do not desire that the Lord their God, who hath created them, should rule and reign over them; notwithstanding his great goodness and his mercy towards them, they do set at naught his counsels, and they will not that he should be their guide.
7 O how great is the nothingness of the children of men; yea, even they are less than the dust of the earth. (Helaman 12:4-7)
...yea, all are hardened; yea, all are fallen and are lost, and must perish except it be through the atonement which it is expedient should be made. (Alma 34:9)
Can there be any doubt that we as a people are dwindling in unbelief? Where are the fruits of conversion? I don't mean the expensive temples and meetinghouses. Any church can build those. I mean the fruits referenced in my first post. Are our lives filled with miracles? Are we seeing frequent healings, revelations, visions, dreams, visitations, new scripture, etc? The scriptures promise all these things to the people of God. They were common in the days of the apostles, until the falling away when they ceased.

Likewise, in Joseph's day these things were common among the Saints. Yet, I see no indication that they have continued to this day. Instead, I see wickedness, abomination, and dwindling in unbelief; just as Mormon saw, even among those who "[profess] to belong to the church of God".
35 Behold, I speak unto you as if ye were present, and yet ye are not. But behold, Jesus Christ hath shown you unto me, and I know your doing.
36 And I know that ye do walk in the pride of your hearts; and there are none save a few only who do not lift themselves up in the pride of their hearts, unto the wearing of very fine apparel, unto envying, and strifes, and malice, and persecutions, and all manner of iniquities; and your churches, yea, even every one, have become polluted because of the pride of your hearts.
37 For behold, ye do love money, and your substance, and your fine apparel, and the adorning of your churches, more than ye love the poor and the needy, the sick and the afflicted.
38 O ye pollutions, ye hypocrites, ye teachers, who sell yourselves for that which will canker, why have ye polluted the holy church of God? Why are ye ashamed to take upon you the name of Christ? Why do ye not think that greater is the value of an endless happiness than that misery which never dies—because of the praise of the world?
39 Why do ye adorn yourselves with that which hath no life, and yet suffer the hungry, and the needy, and the naked, and the sick and the afflicted to pass by you, and notice them not?
40 Yea, why do ye build up your secret abominations to get gain, and cause that widows should mourn before the Lord, and also orphans to mourn before the Lord, and also the blood of their fathers and their husbands to cry unto the Lord from the ground, for vengeance upon your heads?
41 Behold, the sword of vengeance hangeth over you; and the time soon cometh that he avengeth the blood of the saints upon you, for he will not suffer their cries any longer.
God is not trifling with us; we who are identified with the Gentiles. Indeed, the Lord has said "Yea, wo be unto the Gentiles except they repent". I don't know about you, but I want to repent and cast off my unbelief.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Cursed Is He That Putteth His Trust In Man

Joseph Smith taught that in order to exercise faith in God unto salvation, it was necessary to have a correct idea of his character, perfections, and attributes. (Lectures on Faith 3:2,4) In other words, we have to understand what kind of a being God is before we can exercise faith in Him. So, If the adversary can convince us of something God is not, our faith will be ineffective.

Here follow three examples that illustrate this principle: one from the scriptures, one from the past, and one from the present.

Example 1: What Shall We Do?

When Alma and his fellow missionaries went to preach to the Zoramites, they found them practicing a religion they had never seen before. In their synagogue or church building, they would gather on the same day each week and go up on a stand one by one and offer up the same prayer unto God. Then, they would go home and never speak of God again until the following week.

Mormon records this about Alma's missionary efforts there:
2 And it came to pass that after much labor among them, they began to have success among the poor class of people; for behold, they were cast out of the synagogues because of the coarseness of their apparel—
3 Therefore they were not permitted to enter into their synagogues to worship God, being esteemed as filthiness; therefore they were poor; yea, they were esteemed by their brethren as dross; therefore they were poor as to things of the world; and also they were poor in heart.
(Alma 32:2-3)
So, these poor Zoramites were unable to worship God like everyone else, because of their poor appearance. Consider the questions they asked of Alma:
5 And they came unto Alma; and the one who was the foremost among them said unto him: Behold, what shall these my brethren do, for they are despised of all men because of their poverty, yea, and more especially by our priests; for they have cast us out of our synagogues which we have labored abundantly to build with our own hands; and they have cast us out because of our exceeding poverty; and we have no place to worship our God; and behold, what shall we do? (Alma 32:5)
They were also believers in the Zoramite religion. They believed that in order to worship God, you had to go into a synagogue and offer up the prescribed prayer every week. But, they weren’t allowed to do so because of their apparel. So, what could they do?

Alma responded:
9 Behold thy brother hath said, What shall we do?—for we are cast out of our synagogues, that we cannot worship our God.
10 Behold I say unto you, do ye suppose that ye cannot worship God save it be in your synagogues only?
11 And moreover, I would ask, do ye suppose that ye must not worship God only once in a week?
(Alma 32:9-11)
These Zoramites had trusted what they were taught by the priests of this false religion. By trusting in their supposed authority, they were fooled into believing that God required them to worship only in a synagogue. Thus, they were led astray and were unable to exercise faith unto salvation. Perhaps this is why Alma then taught to them about faith by comparing it to a seed in Alma 32. Once Alma was done speaking, Amulek stood up (in Alma 34) and explained that the focus of their faith should be in Christ.

What was the falsehood that the poor Zoramites believed?

Who taught them this falsehood?

Example 2: Galileo’s Heresy

The world of Europe in the early 1600s was very different than our world today. The Catholic church was supreme, not only in religious matters, but in secular matters as well. For example, the Church held as it’s official position that the earth was literally the center of the universe. This was based, in part, upon a misinterpretation of certain Bible verses. All faithful Catholics believed the Pope to be the rightful successor of Saint Peter, and therefore, he holds “the keys of Heaven and the powers of "binding and loosing", naming him as the "rock" upon which the church would be built.” (from Wikipedia) Thus, if the Pope said the earth was the center of the universe, it must be true.

Then along came Galileo who began looking through a telescope and publishing evidence that the earth actually revolves around the sun. This directly contradicted the official position of the Pope and the Holy Catholic Church, therefore he was accused of heresy by the Inquisition, his publications were banned, and he was ordered to refrain from holding, teaching or defending his ideas. However, he continued to assert what he had discovered. He knew he was right, and it was being verified by other astronomers as well. Eventually, the Roman Inquisition tried Galileo in 1633 and found him "vehemently suspect of heresy", sentencing him to indefinite imprisonment. Galileo was kept under house arrest until his death in 1642.

Yet, today everyone knows that Galileo was right. Why was the Catholic Church unable to see it? What blinded them to the truth?

Example 3: Priesthood Keys

I recently heard the story of a family that lives in a polygamous community. They belong to a small break-off sect of the LDS church with only about 10,000 members. It broke off from the main body of the LDS Church in the days of John Taylor. It is taught in their sect that John Taylor received a revelation that plural marriage should not cease and that he gave the keys for sealing plural marriages to a man named John W. Wooley, among others.

The members of this family, who were raised in this community, were taught that the president of their church holds the priesthood keys for sealing plural marriages. Desiring to please God, they strove to follow the principles of their religion as it was taught to them, and to trust the men that were placed over them, believing them to be men of God.

At some point, however, the parents of this family discovered that the president of the church had been sexually molesting members of their community for many years. Their faith was shaken upon discovering this, to the point that they began asking questions and reading their scriptures more carefully. They soon discovered that what they practiced in their religion did not match very closely the principles taught in the Bible and Book of Mormon. They are now confused and unsure of what to do next.

What mistake did this family make?

Nephi taught “Cursed is he that putteth his trust in man, or maketh flesh his arm, or shall hearken unto the precepts of men, save their precepts shall be given by the power of the Holy Ghost.” (2 Nephi 28:31)

Consider that statement for a minute. Have you ever been cursed before? Nephi is saying that if you put your trust in man, then you are cursed. Given the three examples stated above, I can see why. Whoever trusts in man will never have the required faith (because their faith will be in things that are false) to be saved.

Alma the Elder, after establishing a church among the people of King Noah, taught them: “trust no one to be your teacher nor your minister, except he be a man of God, walking in his ways and keeping his commandments.” (Mosiah 23:14)

How are we to know if someone is a man of God, walking in his ways, and keeping his commandments? Can we know that by virtue of the office they hold or the keys they possess? Unless you know them personally, it would be nearly impossible to correctly judge the matter.

However, even if you think you've found someone who is a man of God to teach you, it may still not help you. Even Joseph Smith warned the Saints about depending upon him too much, saying: “the Lord had declared by the Prophet, that the people should each one stand for himself, and depend on no man or men...--that righteous persons could only deliver their own souls--applied it to the present state of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints--said if the people departed from the Lord, they must fall--that they were depending on the Prophet, hence were darkened in their minds, in consequence of neglecting the duties devolving upon themselves.” (TPJS p. 237)
What are the duties devolving upon us, so that our minds will not be darkened? What should we be doing so that we will not be led astray like so many others?

Instead of putting trust in men, even those who claim keys, authority, and power from God, we should be discerning and only put our trust in God Himself. There is none else that can save us. There is none else that is guaranteed to not lead us astray, despite what they may say. Search the scriptures and seek for the guidance of the Holy Spirit in all things. Then, God will lead you in the right way. As the Proverbs state:
5 ¶Trust in the Lord with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding.
6 In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths.
(Proverbs 3:5-6)
Jesus taught, “I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.” (John 14:6). Furthermore, Nephi explained that the Lord, the Holy One of Israel, is the keeper of the gate to salvation, and he employs no servant there, and there is no other way to be saved than by the gate. (2 Nephi 9:41)

Therefore, there is no man on earth who holds the keys of salvation. There is no mediator between us and Christ. We must each come unto Christ, individually, to be saved. Put your trust in Him and Him alone.

Friday, May 13, 2016

My Awakening, Part 1 - A God of Miracles

I have noticed that strange things happen when I begin to take the Book of Mormon seriously. It causes me to want to repent.

Several years ago, I was reading the Book of Mormon early one morning when I came across this passage:
 33 And Christ hath said: If ye will have faith in me ye shall have power to do whatsoever thing is expedient in me.
 34 And he hath said: Repent all ye ends of the earth, and come unto me, and be baptized in my name, and have faith in me, that ye may be saved.
 35 And now, my beloved brethren, if this be the case that these things are true which I have spoken unto you, and God will show unto you, with power and great glory at the last day, that they are true, and if they are true has the day of miracles ceased?
 36 Or have angels ceased to appear unto the children of men? Or has he withheld the power of the Holy Ghost from them? Or will he, so long as time shall last, or the earth shall stand, or there shall be one man upon the face thereof to be saved?
 37 Behold I say unto you, Nay; for it is by faith that miracles are wrought; and it is by faith that angels appear and minister unto men; wherefore, if these things have ceased wo be unto the children of men, for it is because of unbelief, and all is vain.
 38 For no man can be saved, according to the words of Christ, save they shall have faith in his name; wherefore, if these things have ceased, then has faith ceased also; and awful is the state of man, for they are as though there had been no redemption made. (Moroni 7:33-38)
Though I had read this passage many times before, this time as I read my eyes were opened and I saw myself in my own awful state. I think I may have felt something like Joseph felt when he wrote about reading James 1:5,  "Never did any passage of scripture come with more power to the heart of man than this did at this time to mine. It seemed to enter with great force into every feeling of my heart." (JS-H 1:12)

I had been raised in the Church, and tried to be obedient to the principles that were taught me. I certainly had my flaws and struggles, but I had tried to be faithful to what I had been taught. Yet, it was forcefully driven home to me that I had never seen an angel, or witnessed a great miracle like those wrought by the ancient apostles. Even the Holy Ghost, from what I could tell, had only been a rare visitor in my life. The alarming thought that I remember very clearly was that something was wrong. I determined to find out what it was.

There are other scriptures that drive home the same point. For example:
 64 Therefore, as I said unto mine apostles I say unto you again, that every soul who believeth on your words, and is baptized by water for the remission of sins, shall receive the Holy Ghost.
 65 And these signs shall follow them that believe—
 66 In my name they shall do many wonderful works;
 67 In my name they shall cast out devils;
 68 In my name they shall heal the sick;
 69 In my name they shall open the eyes of the blind, and unstop the ears of the deaf;
 70 And the tongue of the dumb shall speak;
 71 And if any man shall administer poison unto them it shall not hurt them;
 72 And the poison of a serpent shall not have power to harm them. (D&C 84:64-72)
These same signs are promised to believers in many other places of scripture. (Mark 16:17-18; Mormon 9:24; Ether 4:18; D&C 68:10D&C 124:98-99). They are not limited to those in authority, but are promised to all who believe. (From a New Testament perspective, to believe and to have faith are the same thing, since they are translated from the same root word in Greek).

As shown by the scriptures, these signs have been promised to the saints in every dispensation of the Gospel and every age of the world. They are an integral part of the Gospel, showing God's approval upon his righteous children. If these signs were promised many times before, would God decide now that they are no longer necessary? Would He change His mind?
 18 For he is the same yesterday, today, and forever; and the way is prepared for all men from the foundation of the world, if it so be that they repent and come unto him. (1 Nephi 10:18)
As I look at my own life and listen to the testimonies and teachings of other members in my ward, I have to conclude that there is a great lack of these signs among us. God has not been showing forth His promised works among the Latter-day Saints.

I've heard some say that these miracles are happening among many, but they do not talk about them and so they remain hidden to the general membership. Given the nature of the signs listed above, I cannot believe that. If a blind man in your neighborhood had his sight restored through faith, who could keep that a secret for long? Consider this story from the book of Acts:
 1 Now Peter and John went up together into the temple at the hour of prayer, being the ninth hour.
 2 And a certain man lame from his mother’s womb was carried, whom they laid daily at the gate of the temple which is called Beautiful, to ask alms of them that entered into the temple;
 3 Who seeing Peter and John about to go into the temple asked an alms.
 4 And Peter, fastening his eyes upon him with John, said, Look on us.
 5 And he gave heed unto them, expecting to receive something of them.
 6 Then Peter said, Silver and gold have I none; but such as I have give I thee: In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth rise up and walk.
 7 And he took him by the right hand, and lifted him up: and immediately his feet and ankle bones received strength.
 8 And he leaping up stood, and walked, and entered with them into the temple, walking, and leaping, and praising God.
 9 And all the people saw him walking and praising God:
 10 And they knew that it was he which sat for alms at the Beautiful gate of the temple: and they were filled with wonder and amazement at that which had happened unto him.
 11 And as the lame man which was healed held Peter and John, all the people ran together unto them in the porch that is called Solomon’s, greatly wondering. (Acts 3:1-11)
Was there any attempt by Peter and John to keep the miracle a secret? How many witnessed this miracle? A casual reading of the book of Acts will reveal that such signs and miracles were commonplace among the Christians in the early days of the New Testament church. Likewise, there were many public instances of signs following Joseph Smith and other believers in the early days of the restored church. Here is one example:
The following account of a miraculous healing is to be found in Hayden' History of the Disciples (Campbellites); and is the statement of witnesses hostile to the prophet and the work in which he was engaged: 
"Ezra Booth, of Mantua, a Methodist preacher of much more than ordinary culture, and with strong natural abilities, in company with his wife, Mr. and Mrs. Johnson, and some other citizens of this place, visited Smith at his house in Kirtland, in 1831. Mrs. Johnson had been afflicted for some time with a lame arm, and was not at the time of the visit able to lift her hand to her head. The party visited Smith, partly out of curiosity, and partly to see for themselves what there might be in the new doctrine. During the interview the conversation turned upon the subject of supernatural gifts; such as were conferred in the days of the apostles. Some one said: 'Here is Mrs. Johnson with a lame arm; has God given any power to men on the earth to cure her?' A few moments later, when the conversation had turned in another direction, Smith rose, and walking across the room, taking Mrs. Johnson by the hand, said in the most solemn and impressive manner: "Woman, in the name of Jesus Christ, I command thee to be whole; and immediately left the room. The company were awestricken at the infinite presumption of the man, and the calm assurance with which he spoke. The sudden mental and moral shock—I know not how better to explain the well attested fact—electrified the rheumatic arm—Mrs. Johnson at once lifted it with ease, and on her return home the next day she was able to do her washing without difficulty or pain." (Joseph Smith/Healings and Miracles; http://en.fairmormon.org/Joseph_Smith/Healings_and_miracles)
Again consider, was there any attempt on Joseph's part to conceal his use of the power of God to heal Mrs. Johnson? How many witnessed the event?

Having been raised my entire life within the LDS church, however, I can honestly say that I have never seen such signs or the power of God manifested during church meetings. Instead, congregations have often been asked to fast for the sick and unwell. We are asked to pray for doctors and surgeons to be able to do their job effectively on behalf of those being attended to. At times, those prayed for recover. Other times they do not. Regardless, we put more trust in the medical establishment than in God.

In saying this, I do not mean to say that there are none among the members of the church who have faith and are able to work with the power of God. I sincerely hope there are some who can do these things. Yet, my lifelong experience tells me that such must be the very rare exception and not the rule among us. In general, the gifts of God are no longer being manifest among the Latter-day Saints. This recognition fills me with dread.

If you disagree, it may be because you have expanded upon the definition of miracle. Serendipity or "beating the odds" is not a miracle by the scriptural definition. Miracles have always been intended to be public displays of God's power "...for the benefit of those who love me and keep all my commandments, and him that seeketh so to do; that all may be benefited that seek or that ask of me, that ask and not for a sign that they may consume it upon their lusts." (D&C 46:9)

Why have the signs ceased? Has God ceased to be a God of miracles? I've heard some say that such miracles are no longer necessary in our day. God has blessed us with science and technology. Because of great advances in medicine, ailments that were once life-threatening are now quickly and cheaply treated or cured. Certainly, these things are blessings. Yet, these blessings have been given to the whole world, and not just to believers. Also, given that medical care is predicated upon ability to pay, it is the wealthy, instead of the poor, who receive the most benefit from these advances. How can these things be attributed as the signs that follow believers as detailed in D&C 84?

What, then, is the problem? Moroni, who saw our day, diagnosed our problem.
 7 And again I speak unto you who deny the revelations of God, and say that they are done away, that there are no revelations, nor prophecies, nor gifts, nor healing, nor speaking with tongues, and the interpretation of tongues;
 8 Behold I say unto you, he that denieth these things knoweth not the gospel of Christ; yea, he has not read the scriptures; if so, he does not understand them.
 9 For do we not read that God is the same yesterday, today, and forever, and in him there is no variableness neither shadow of changing?
 10 And now, if ye have imagined up unto yourselves a god who doth vary, and in whom there is shadow of changing, then have ye imagined up unto yourselves a god who is not a God of miracles.
 11 But behold, I will show unto you a God of miracles, even the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob; and it is that same God who created the heavens and the earth, and all things that in them are.

 17 Who shall say that it was not a miracle that by his word the heaven and the earth should be; and by the power of his word man was created of the dust of the earth; and by the power of his word have miracles been wrought?
 18 And who shall say that Jesus Christ did not do many mighty miracles? And there were many mighty miracles wrought by the hands of the apostles.
 19 And if there were miracles wrought then, why has God ceased to be a God of miracles and yet be an unchangeable Being? And behold, I say unto you he changeth not; if so he would cease to be God; and he ceaseth not to be God, and is a God of miracles.
 20 And the reason why he ceaseth to do miracles among the children of men is because that they dwindle in unbelief, and depart from the right way, and know not the God in whom they should trust.
 21 Behold, I say unto you that whoso believeth in Christ, doubting nothing, whatsoever he shall ask the Father in the name of Christ it shall be granted him; and this promise is unto all, even unto the ends of the earth. (Mormon 9:7-11, 17-21)
Here, then, are the reasons why miracles have ceased among the Latter-day Saints:
  1. We are dwindling in unbelief
  2. We have departed from the right way
  3. We know not the God in whom we should trust
Seeing all this, I feel like mourning for my own unbelief and that of my fellow LDS members. Speaking of His return, the Lord asked: "...when the Son of man cometh, shall he find faith on the earth?" (Luke 18:8)

Indeed. Will He?

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

What is Unbelief?

Several months ago, I was struggling with doubts and fears about myself and about God's view of me. One day, during my lunch hour, I felt so troubled by it that I determined to ask the Lord about unbelief (specifically, my unbelief). My question to Him was: What is it about unbelief that causes the veil to remain shut and the heavens to remain closed?

After praying and spending some time looking up scriptures on the topic, I felt moved to write. Below is a slightly refined version of what I wrote, in the chance that someone else could be benefitted by it:

What is unbelief? It is setting up stakes for the Lord. It is saying and believing, "The Lord cannot do that." or "The Lord won't do that for me." It is believing that there are other men more deserving and more righteous than you, who receive the blessings of the Lord, and the best you can hope for is to follow them. It is believing that God is a respecter of persons, and isn't really interested in you.

Unbelief shuts the heavens and covers the mind with gross darkness. Do you worship a God who is a distant, uncaring executive? Or, is He rather a personal, loving, affectionate, even doting Father? Is your God too busy to care about the details of your life, or does He instead (being uninhibited by the constraints of time) yearn to spend time with you and have a relationship with you? Is your God a stern judge, immediately doling out punishments for even the smallest infractions? Or, is He a God of mercy, quick to forgive sin at the first sign of your sorrow and repentance, and covering you with his robe, and putting a ring on your finger, and slaying the fatted calf to celebrate your return? When you cry out to Him, in your sorrow and guilt, does He turn away His face from you in shame, or does He run to you, and hug you, and cry with you?

Unbelief is misapprehending the character and nature of God Himself. It is placing a filter over your understanding of God, believing that He is as other men. Everyone in this world has had to suffer from the lies, selfishness, and abuses of others. It is all too easy to create for yourself a God after that image, instead of remembering that we were created after His image.

How long have the heavens mourned because of unbelief? How long have they been stayed because we have refused to believe that God is who He says He is in the scriptures. How He longs to reveal Himself to you!
Verily, thus saith the Lord: It shall come to pass that every soul who forsaketh his sins and cometh unto me, and calleth on my name, and obeyeth my voice, and keepeth my commandments, shall see my face and know that I am; (D&C 93:1)
Unbelief is dismissing this promise, leaving it for others to accomplish, because you do not believe you can be worthy enough, or deserving enough, or qualified enough to receive the Lord for yourself.