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.

Monday, September 7, 2015

These Signs Shall Follow Them That Believe

Consider these verses as if they were given directly to you by the Lord:
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.
And these signs shall follow them that believe
In my name they shall do many wonderful works;
In my name they shall cast out devils;
In my name they shall heal the sick;
In my name they shall open the eyes of the blind, and unstop the ears of the deaf;
And the tongue of the dumb shall speak;
And if any man shall administer poison unto them it shall not hurt them;
And the poison of a serpent shall not have power to harm them.
But a commandment I give unto them, that they shall not boast themselves of these things, neither speak them before the world; for these things are given unto you for your profit and for salvation. (D&C 84:64-73)
And it shall come to pass that there shall be a great work in the land, even among the Gentiles, for their folly and their abominations shall be made manifest in the eyes of all people.
For I am God, and mine arm is not shortened; and I will show miracles, signs, and wonders, unto all those who believe on my name.
And whoso shall ask it in my name in faith, they shall cast out devils; they shall heal the sick; they shall cause the blind to receive their sight, and the deaf to hear, and the dumb to speak, and the lame to walk.
And the time speedily cometh that great things are to be shown forth unto the children of men;
But without faith shall not anything be shown forth except desolations upon Babylon, the same which has made all nations drink of the wine of the wrath of her fornication.
And there are none that doeth good except those who are ready to receive the fulness of my gospel, which I have sent forth unto this generation.
Wherefore, I call upon the weak things of the world, those who are unlearned and despised, to thresh the nations by the power of my Spirit;
And their arm shall be my arm, and I will be their shield and their buckler; and I will gird up their loins, and they shall fight manfully for me; and their enemies shall be under their feet; and I will let fall the sword in their behalf, and by the fire of mine indignation will I preserve them.
And the poor and the meek shall have the gospel preached unto them, and they shall be looking forth for the time of my coming, for it is nigh at hand— (D&C 35:7-15)
And at all times, and in all places, he shall open his mouth and declare my gospel as with the voice of a trump, both day and night. And I will give unto him strength such as is not known among men.
Require not miracles, except I shall command you, except casting out devils, healing the sick, and against poisonous serpents, and against deadly poisons; (D&C 24:12-13)
Do you believe these verses? Do you see these signs following you and those you teach? The last verse I quoted is especially interesting to me. The Lord says we should not require miracles of Him, unless He commands us to. However, there are exceptions to that rule. We should require the casting out of devils and healing the sick. He does not need to command us to do those things. Why not?

Pay attention to what Christ did when he visited the Nephites.
And he said unto them: Behold, my bowels are filled with compassion towards you.
Have ye any that are sick among you? Bring them hither. Have ye any that are lame, or blind, or halt, or maimed, or leprous, or that are withered, or that are deaf, or that are afflicted in any manner? Bring them hither and I will heal them, for I have compassion upon you; my bowels are filled with mercy.
For I perceive that ye desire that I should show unto you what I have done unto your brethren at Jerusalem, for I see that your faith is sufficient that I should heal you.
And it came to pass that when he had thus spoken, all the multitude, with one accord, did go forth with their sick and their afflicted, and their lame, and with their blind, and with their dumb, and with all them that were afflicted in any manner; and he did heal them every one as they were brought forth unto him. (3 Nephi 17:6-9)
Take a look at Matthew 12:15 
But when Jesus knew it, he withdrew himself from thence: and great multitudes followed him, and he healed them all
Here is another instance in Luke 6:17-19
And he came down with them, and stood in the plain, and the company of his disciples, and a great multitude of people out of all Judæa and Jerusalem, and from the sea coast of Tyre and Sidon, which came to hear him, and to be healed of their diseases;
And they that were vexed with unclean spirits: and they were healed.
And the whole multitude sought to touch him: for there went virtue out of him, and healed them all.
There is a definite pattern here. Jesus heals everyone. There are no exceptions. The only requirement is belief. Is God any less powerful today than he was then? Is He any less willing to heal now than He was then?

Yet, the following verse in D&C 24 gives this warning:
And these things ye shall not do, except it be required of you by them who desire it, that the scriptures might be fulfilled; for ye shall do according to that which is written. (D&C 24:14)
Why?
For what doth it profit a man if a gift is bestowed upon him, and he receive not the gift? Behold, he rejoices not in that which is given unto him, neither rejoices in him who is the giver of the gift. (D&C 88:33)
Continuing with the idea that Christ will heal anyone that asks, I have found a couple of instances in scripture that may counter this pattern.

The first is the instance where Paul talks about a thorn in his flesh. I've quoted it below, from the New International Version (NIV) translation:

I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven. Whether it was in the body or out of the body I do not know—God knows.
And I know that this man—whether in the body or apart from the body I do not know, but God knows—
was caught up to paradise and heard inexpressible things, things that no one is permitted to tell.
I will boast about a man like that, but I will not boast about myself, except about my weaknesses.
Even if I should choose to boast, I would not be a fool, because I would be speaking the truth. But I refrain, so no one will think more of me than is warranted by what I do or say,
or because of these surpassingly great revelations. Therefore, in order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me.
Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me.
But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.
That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong. (2 Corinthians 12:2-10 NIV)
Paul seems to categorize this "thorn" as a weakness. Indeed, we know that the Lord does give us weakness.
 I give unto men weakness that they may be humble; and my grace is sufficient for all men that humble themselves before me; for if they humble themselves before me, and have faith in me, then will I make weak things become strong unto them. (Ether 12:27)
Weakness is not the same thing as sickness or disease. The Greek word translated as weakness here is ἀσθένεια or astheneia which means the following:

  1. want of strength, weakness, infirmity
    1. of the body
      1. its native weakness and frailty

      2. feebleness of health or sickness

  2. of the soul
    1. want of strength and capacity requisite
      1. to understand a thing

      2. to do things great and glorious

      3. to restrain corrupt desires

      4. to bear trials and troubles


So, really, Paul's "thorn" could be anything (such as spiritual weakness). It could easily be a sensitivity or weakness to certain temptations/sins (as alluded to by his reference to a "messenger of Satan".

The second instance is D&C 42:48:
And again, it shall come to pass that he that hath faith in me to be healed, and is not appointed unto death, shall be healed. (D&C 42:48
So, some are appointed unto death. This is because "thy days are known" unto God. None of us will live beyond our appointed time. However, if we continue faithful to God, neither will we die before our time (because our enemies' "bounds are set").

Take note, however, what the verses immediately following this one say:
 He who hath faith to see shall see.
 He who hath faith to hear shall hear.
 The lame who hath faith to leap shall leap.
 And they who have not faith to do these things, but believe in me, have power to become my sons; and inasmuch as they break not my laws thou shalt bear their infirmities. (D&C 42:49-52)
Let’s look at some more examples of healing.
And when they were come to the multitude, there came to him a certain man, kneeling down to him, and saying,
Lord, have mercy on my son: for he is lunatic, and sore vexed: for ofttimes he falleth into the fire, and oft into the water.
And I brought him to thy disciples, and they could not cure him.
Then Jesus answered and said, O faithless and perverse generation, how long shall I be with you? how long shall I suffer you? bring him hither to me.
And Jesus rebuked the devil; and he departed out of him: and the child was cured from that very hour.
Then came the disciples to Jesus apart, and said, Why could not we cast him out?
And Jesus said unto them, Because of your unbelief: for verily I say unto you, If ye have faith as a grain of mustard seed, ye shall say unto this mountain, Remove hence to yonder place; and it shall remove; and nothing shall be impossible unto you.
Howbeit this kind goeth not out but by prayer and fasting. (Matthew 17:14-21)
 What effect does prayer and fasting (if done correctly) have on unbelief? Is the veil thinned? Does revelation come more easily? Perhaps the issue with their unbelief is that they didn't first seek revelation to know how the devil should be cast out?
And when he was come into his own country, he taught them in their synagogue, insomuch that they were astonished, and said, Whence hath this man this wisdom, and these mighty works?
Is not this the carpenter’s son? is not his mother called Mary? and his brethren, James, and Joses, and Simon, and Judas?
And his sisters, are they not all with us? Whence then hath this man all these things?
And they were offended in him. But Jesus said unto them, A prophet is not without honour, save in his own country, and in his own house.
And he did not many mighty works there because of their unbelief. (Matthew 13:54-58
Mark says of the same incident:
 5 And he could there do no mighty work, save that he laid his hands upon a few sick folk, and healed them.
 6 And he marvelled because of their unbelief. And he went round about the villages, teaching. (Mark 6:5-6)
Christ told the Nephites:
...So great faith have I never seen among all the Jews; wherefore I could not show unto them so great miracles, because of their unbelief. (3 Nephi 19:35
Christ was prevented from doing mighty works because they didn't believe (or, more correctly, they believed something which is not true. This is the true meaning of unbelief). There is a degree of faith required before someone can be healed. Yet, as revealed by this verse in Mark, it doesn’t take much faith to be healed. You can have faith to be healed and yet still be full of unbelief.

Awhile back I read about a man named Eric.
He once was a broken, drug addict, porn addict, trouble maker, jail sitter who felt no meaning to his life. He was raised a Mormon in his youth but didn't relate to church (in his words he was always stoned when he attended church). His family moved from Utah to San Diego when he was an older teenager, where he kept having problems. He attended the 12-step addiction classes but still would find himself in trouble and wasted. Finally six years ago at the age of 26, in a very low hour he decided to trust the words in the Bible (he never had read the BofM) and gave his sins to Jesus. In an instant, the pain and depression and addictions were taken from him. He decided to trust in Christ from that day forward and has dedicated his life to the Lord as a Born-Again type Christian. He has set up a healing center in the red- light district area of Tijuana. He travels between San Diego and Tijuana ministering in both cities to the very least among them. He has the gift of healing. He says that he simply took Jesus at his word and did the works of Jesus without looking for permission because Christ’s words in the Bible already instructed him to heal if he believed. He does his work 24/7 without asking for money to bless and heal people. His whole message is about Christ and believing in his words and works.
Reading this story really affected me. I don't know about you, but I don't believe I've ever witnessed a healing in a Sacrament meeting. I've seen lots of blessings. They are usually blessings of comfort. I've never seen an Elder or High Priest lay hands on another and command them to be healed (as Christ did). Yet, here is a punk kid in California, who's not even LDS anymore, and he has the gift of healing. Why? Because he believed what the Bible says.
Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that believeth on me, the works that I do shall he do also; and greater works than these shall he do; because I go unto my Father. (John 14:12
Therefore I say unto you, What things soever ye desire, when ye pray, believe that ye receive them, and ye shall have them. (Mark 11:24)
Any woman reading this may be thinking, “This doesn’t apply to me. I don't hold the priesthood". It is worth pointing out that when Eric heals, he doesn't invoke the power of the priesthood. In fact, I doubt he was ever even ordained to the priesthood. You don't need to hold priesthood in order to heal. Anyone can do it (men, women and children), provided they have sufficient faith. It is the power of Christ that heals people anyway. If you believe, and you say you are doing it by the power of Christ, then you have all you need. Where in all of scripture can you find a verse that says women have not the power to heal or cast out devils? It's not there. 

In the History of the Church, there is a record of remarks that Joseph Smith gave to the Relief Society. It says this.
President Smith continued the subject, by quoting the commission given to the ancient Apostles in Mark, 16th chapter, 15th, 16th, 17th, 18th verses, "Go ye into all the world, and preach the Gospel to every creature. He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned. And these signs shall follow them that believe: In my name shall they cast out devils; they shall speak with new tongues; they shall take up serpents; and if they drink any deadly thing, it shall not hurt them; they shall lay hands on the sick, and they shall recover."No matter who believeth, these signs, such as healing the sick, casting our devils, etc., should follow all that believe, whether male or female. He asked the Society if they could not see by this sweeping promise, that wherein they are ordained, if it is the privilege of those set apart to administer in that authority, which is conferred on them; and if the sisters should have faith to heal the sick, let all hold their tongues, and let everything roll on....Respecting females administering for the healing of the sick he further remarked, there could be no evil in it, if God gave His sanction by healing; that there could be no more sin in any female laying hands on and praying for the sick, than in wetting the face with water; it is no sin for anybody to administer that has faith, or if the sick have faith to be healed by their administration. (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 224.)
These words were given by Joseph in relation to the fact that in the early days of the Relief Society, there were women who were set apart to go lay hands on the sick and heal them. It is only the foolish traditions of men that teach that women ought not do these things. No priesthood is required for someone to heal the sick. Only faith. It's time to cast off foolish traditions. See D&C 93:39

I found the following accounts in an article about women in the early days of the Church.
Sarah Leavitt her husband and family lived outside of Kirtland. Their daughter Louisa had been ill for over a year. As Sarah grew more concerned about her daughter’s condition she pleaded with the Lord for help. An angel appeared and instructed her to get Louisa out of bed, “lay ... hands upon her head in the name of Jesus Christ and administer to her and she should recover”. Unsure of her authority, but emboldened by the experience, Sarah woke her husband and told him to prepare Louisa for the blessing. Though it was near midnight and Louisa was weak she arose from her bed and Sarah administered to her. Louisa was soon “up and about” (History of Sarah Studevant Leavitt, copied from her history by Juanita Leavitt n.p., 1919),pp. 7,9-10; Sweet counsel and seas of tribulation, Linda King Newell; http://contentdm.lib.byu.edu/cdm/compoundobject/collection/byustudies/id/659)
Here’s an account showing what Relief Society meetings were like in Emma’s day.
“With Joseph’s approval, Emma and her counselors laid hands on the sick and blessed them that they might be healed. The fifth time the Relief Society convened, Sarah Cleveland invited the sisters to speak freely, and women stood one at a time in this testimony meeting. Sister Durfee was among those who spoke. She "bore testimony to the great blessing she received when administered to after the last meeting by Emma Smith and [her] Counselors Cleveland and Whitney, she said she never realized more benefit through an administration." She added that she had been healed and "thought the sisters had more faith than the brethren." Following the meeting, Sarah Cleveland and Elizabeth Whitney administered to another Relief Society sister, Mrs. Abigail Leonard, "for the restoration of health." (https://www.sunstonemagazine.com/pdf/115-6-30-43.pdf )
Even Brigham Young had this to say:
“...speaking in the Tabernacle on 14 November 1869, [he] scolded both men and women for not improving, themselves. The example he cited was of a sick child. “Why do you not live so as to rebuke disease?" he demanded. "It is your privilege to do so without sending for the Elders." He laid down some practical advice; if the child is ill of a fever or of an upset stomach, treat those symptoms by all means, beware of too much medicine, and remember that prevention is better than cure. He ended by addressing himself specifically to mothers: "It is the privilege of a mother to have faith and to administer to her child; this she can do herself, as well as sending for the Elders to have the benefit of their faith."8 Having enough faith to heal was clearly, for Brother Brigham, "practical religion" like having enough food on hand.” (A Gift Given, A Gift Taken: Washing, Anointing, and Blessing the Sick Among Mormon Women; Linda King Newell. https://www.sunstonemagazine.com/pdf/029-16-25.pdf)
To be honest, I've recently felt rather disgusted with the unbelief I see among members of the church. Where is faith? Does anybody have it? Someone can bear testimony to me all day that they know Jesus is the Christ, but until I see the promised signs following them, it is all in vain.
Behold I say unto you, ...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. (Moroni 7:37)
Without signs, there is no faith.

Because faith is wanting, the fruits are. No man since the world was had faith without having something along with it. The ancients quenched the violence of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, women received their dead, etc. By faith the worlds were made. A man who has none of the gifts has no faith; and he deceives himself, if he supposes he has. Faith has been wanting, not only among the heathen, but in professed Christendom also, so that tongues, healings, prophecy, and prophets and apostles, and all the gifts and blessings have been wanting. (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 270)
Orson Pratt once wrote and distributed a pamphlet called “True Faith”. In it, he expounded upon what Joseph said in the above quote.
49. — Can any one show any reason, or present any evidence from the divine oracles, why obedience to the ancient Gospel will not give the same Faith now as in ancient times ? Will not Repentance, in all ages, have the same moral effect upon the mind ? Is not Gospel Baptism now the same as anciently ? Is not every step of obedience to the Gospel the same now as ever ? All Bible believers will, at once, answer, that every requirement of the Gospel is the same ; and that all can still yield the same acceptable obedience to each requirement ; this being the case, does it not necessarily follow, that the same obedience will impart the same Faith ; and still further, that the same Gospel Faith will bring the same Gospel blessings ? Nothing is more certain.
50. — The same Jesus that promised to the believer the Remission of Sins, as a Gospel blessing, also promised to the same believer Miraculous Signs, as Gospel blessings. What authority has the Gospel believer to claim one Gospel blessing, and reject the others? Would not this be indirectly rejecting the whole Gospel? He that offends in one point of the law, is, by our Saviour, represented as guilty of the transgression of the whole. He who has no faith to obtain Gospel signs, has no faith to obtain Gospel pardon. He who would thus pervert the Gospel is most woefully deceived, if he supposes himself in possession of any Gospel blessing. Jesus has made no Gospel promises to be trifled with, or to be rejected with impunity by professed believers.
51. — Faith in all ages, and under all dispensations, has always prevailed with God. By faith, signs, miracles, and manifestations of the power of God, were abundantly shown forth under the Patriarchal, Mosaic, and Christian dispensations. Jesus said, "All things are possible to him that believeth." — (Mark ix. 23.) Again he said, " Have faith in God. For verily I say unto you, That whosoever shall say unto this mountain, Be thou removed, and be thou cast into the sea ; and shall not doubt in his heart, but shall believe that those things which he saith shall come to pass; he shall have whatsoever he saith. Therefore I say unto you, what things soever ye desire, when ye pray, believe that ye receive them, and ye shall have them." — (Mark xi."22, 23, 24.) In another passage He said, " Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that believeth on me, the works that I do shall he do also ; and greater works than these shall he do ; because I go unto my Father.'' — 'John xiv. 12.)
52. — None of these passages limit the miraculous effects of Faith to the Apostles, or to any particular class of true believers, or to any particular age of the world. But on the contrary ; each of these promises was made on the broadest terms, general and unlimited as to time or place. The terms, "He that believeth; " " Whosoever shall say," &c, are applicable to all believers, in all ages, and in all the world, unto the latest generations, or to the end of time. No other Gospel blessings were more unlimited in their application. No other more positively and definitely expressed. No other that we have any more right to claim or seek after by Faith.
53. — Indeed, the miraculous gifts were to be the effects — the results — the signs of faith, by which the true believer could, by the most infallible evidence distinguish himself from an unbeliever. By these gifts he is confirmed; and he obtains the most satisfactory knowledge and absolute certainty of the divinity of the doctrine which he has embraced. By these tokens, he knows that he is in reality a true genuine Gospel believer, that his sins are surely forgiven, and that he has received the gift of the Holy Spirit, and is, indeed, -an heir of Salvation.
54. — While on the other hand, without these gifts, he knows that he is not a believer — that he has no genuine gospel faith — that he has no claim to any of the other Gospel blessings — that he is classified with unbelievers, and with them he must be damned.
55. — Jesus has made the contrast so great, and the distinguishing marks so apparent, between true and genuine Gospel believers and unbelievers, that it is impossible for any man who examines his own faith by the word of God, to be deceived.
Despite knowing this, I've had my own battles with unbelief. several months ago, my 3 year old daughter got an ear infection. She was crying in pain and I immediately had the thought come to me that I should heal her. I shied away from this thought because I was afraid. I said to myself, "What if I command her to be healed and nothing happens? I don't want to fail." I'm sorry to say that I gave in to my doubts on that particular occasion.

I recently learned another tidbit about this man named Eric. He has told people that when he began healing, only about 20% of the people he laid hands on were healed. He didn't fret, though, and just kept trying. Now, he says, about 80% of the people he lays hands on are healed. Many of these healings are quite miraculous in nature. He also doesn't just give one blessing and then give up if it didn't work. Typically, he and a bunch of his friends will lay hands on a person that needs healing (and not necessarily on their head). For example, if someone has a cold, he'll ask: "How bad or painful is your cold on a scale of 1 to 10". The person might say "It's a 5". Then, he lays his hands on them and commands them, through the power of Jesus, to be healed. Afterwards, he'll ask them, "What number would you say it is now?" Often, it will be a lower number, like 3. Then, he'll do it again or one of his friends will do it and they'll keep doing it until that number is 0. In other words, there is no need to expect that it will always happen the first time. I suppose this may be because sometimes the faith of the person to be healed needs to be strengthened before they can be fully healed. This even happened with Christ:
And he cometh to Bethsaida; and they bring a blind man unto him, and besought him to touch him.
And he took the blind man by the hand, and led him out of the town; and when he had spit on his eyes, and put his hands upon him, he asked him if he saw ought.
And he looked up, and said, I see men as trees, walking.
After that he put his hands again upon his eyes, and made him look up: and he was restored, and saw  every man clearly. (Mark 8:22-25
So, here's my story. One Monday morning, before I left for work, my wife complained to me that she had a sore neck. She didn't know why but thought maybe she slept funny and made it sore. After work she complained about it again and I gave her a bit of a neck massage. The next morning, before work, she told me the pain had worsened. So, I led her over to a chair to sit, kneeled beside her, and asked, "Do you believe Christ can heal you?". She responded, "I believe He can heal, but would he heal something as unimportant as neck pain?". I replied, "Why wouldn't he? Believe he can heal you!". I then stood up, placed my hand on her neck and blessed her, saying something like "In the name of Jesus Christ, and through His power, I command you to be healed in your neck, such that you will no longer feel pain. In the name of Jesus Christ, amen." I then asked her how she felt. After a few seconds, she replied, "I can't feel any pain in my neck anymore". I said, "There you go" and I got up and went to work. That was it. No fireworks. No amazing manifestations. But, she was healed.

All you need to do is believe.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

True or False

A couple weeks ago, I was taking a catnap, and only half-awake.  Then, out of nowhere, a scripture popped into my head and left an impression upon me.  The scripture was this:
"Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves." (3 Nephi 14:15)
 I pondered over this verse and I decided to find out what the scriptures say about false prophets and true prophets.  Do the scriptures give us any guidance for how to distinguish the two.  Certainly, false prophets are going to seem like true prophets.  The adversary is subtle.  He knows how to fool people.

I was surprised to find out just how much the scriptures have to say about the qualities of true and false prophets.  Nephi prophesied that there would be false prophets in our day.  He even told us what those false prophets would say:

For it shall come to pass in that day that the churches which are built up, and not unto the Lord, when the one shall say unto the other: Behold, I, I am the Lord’s; and the others shall say: I, I am the Lord’s; and thus shall every one say that hath built up churches, and not unto the Lord—
And they shall contend one with another; and their priests shall contend one with another, and they shall teach with their learning, and deny the Holy Ghost, which giveth utterance. 
And they deny the power of God, the Holy One of Israel; and they say unto the people: Hearken unto us, and hear ye our precept; for behold there is no God today, for the Lord and the Redeemer hath done his work, and he hath given his power unto men; 
Behold, hearken ye unto my precept; if they shall say there is a miracle wrought by the hand of the Lord, believe it not; for this day he is not a God of miracles; he hath done his work. 
Yea, and there shall be many which shall say: Eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we die; and it shall be well with us. 
And there shall also be many which shall say: Eat, drink, and be merry; nevertheless, fear God—he will justify in committing a little sin; yea, lie a little, take the advantage of one because of his words, dig a pit for thy neighbor; there is no harm in this; and do all these things, for tomorrow we die; and if it so be that we are guilty, God will beat us with a few stripes, and at last we shall be saved in the kingdom of God. 
Yea, and there shall be many which shall teach after this manner, false and vain and foolish doctrines, and shall be puffed up in their hearts, and shall seek deep to hide their counsels from the Lord; and their works shall be in the dark. (2 Nephi 28:3-9)

So, here below I present the top 5 differences, as given by the scriptures:

1) A true prophet will prophesy or testify of Christ. (See JST Luke 16:17, 1 Nephi 10:5, 3 Nephi 20:24)

2) A true prophet will speak by the power of the Holy Ghost.  (See Acts 28:25D&C 20:26)

3) A true prophet won’t accept gifts, money, or rewards of any kind for serving the Lord.  (See 2 Kings 5:14-16Daniel 5:14-17, Alma 11:21-23)

4) A true prophet doesn't need a calling or office to be a prophet.  (See Numbers 11:25-29, Revelation 19:10)

5) A true prophet will speak boldly, and with authority.  (See Matthew 7:28-29, Ether 5:6)

Then went he down, and dipped himself seven times in Jordan, according to the saying of the man of God: and his flesh came again like unto the flesh of a little child, and he was clean.

And he returned to the man of God, he and all his company, and came, and stood before him: and he said, Behold, now I know that there is no God in all the earth, but in Israel: now therefore, I pray thee, take a blessing of thy servant.
But he said, As the Lord liveth, before whom I stand, I will receive none. And he urged him to take it; but he refused. (2 Kings 5:14-16)

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Of Faith And Fire

I gave a talk in Sacrament Meeting today.  I really wanted to share a message that was about God.  I wanted to speak with power, so that the Holy Ghost would "[carry] it unto the hearts of the " congregation (2 Nephi 33:1).  I also knew that "...the Spirit shall be given unto you by the prayer of faith; and if ye receive not the Spirit ye shall not teach." (D&C 42:14).  So, I prayed and fasted over this talk, and I asked others to pray for me.  Below, I have posted the end result.

“Their hearts are far from me”


Nearly 200 years ago, the Lord appeared to Joseph Smith and told him of the state of religion at that time.  The Lord said of the religious: “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)  While His response to Joseph’s question was a condemnation of the churches of that era, I believe it is also a warning to future generations.  It is a warning for us.

What is the power of godliness?  Do we have it?  Or, do we also deny it?  Have we become as other churches, having only a form of godliness?  What is it that separates us from other churches?  Are we more Christ-like than those in other Christian churches?  Do we serve more?  Are we less ensnared by the things of this world?  What is it about us that would convince an investigator of the Church that God is with us? Do you believe God is with you?  What are the evidences of that?  Why would someone want to follow our example?  I’ve struggled to find answers to questions like these.

The God of Abraham


One example the Lord has given us to follow is Abraham.  In D&C, the Lord tells us, “Go ye, therefore, and do the works of Abraham” (D&C 132:32).  It often speaks in the scriptures about the God of Abraham.  But why do we call him that?  Who was Abraham, that the scriptures would use his name to reference God?  What were the works of Abraham?

I recently began reading a book called The Blessings of Abraham.  In it, the author takes sources not only from the Bible and Pearl of Great Price, but also from apocryphal sources, as well as Jewish and Muslim sources, to piece together a biography of the man known as Abraham.

Abraham’s father was a high official in the court of Nimrod, the king.  The common religious practice of the people of Ur, where Abraham was raised, was to worship idols.  I would like to now share some passages from this book to show you some of the works of Abraham:
An ancient and widespread legend tells of bold action taken by the young Abraham.  The story is not found in the Bible, but it is the most oft-repeated Abrahamic narrative in the Qur’an, is found in numerous ancient Jewish sources, and was repeated by Brigham Young, John Taylor, and Wilford Woodruff.  As recounted by Jewish sources, it began when young Abraham found himself alone in a room full of idols.  But one important source… specifies that this was not just any occasion and not just any room full of idols.  The event was a major religious festival called by King Nimrod himself and was centered at Nimrod’s pagan temple.  Abraham had been urged to attend by his father but declined to go and was instructed to stay behind to guard the idols.  “And the king’s idols were also there.”...
When  Abraham was all alone, he acted boldly and decisively.  Some sources report that “the Spirit of God came upon [him].”  “He took an axe in his hand, and as he saw the idols of the king sitting, he said, “The Eternal, He is God,” and he “pushed them off their thrones to the ground, and he smote them mightily.  With the large ones he began, and with the small ones he finished.  He lopped off this one’s hands, he cut off this one’s head and blinded this one’s eyes, and he broke that one’s legs” until “all of them were broken.”  Then, placing “the axe in the hand of the largest idol,” Abraham left. 
When his father and the king returned and discovered the wreckage, they were wroth.  “The king commanded that Abraham be brought before him.  And they brought him.  The king and his ministers said to him, “Why did you shatter our gods?”  He said to them, “I didn’t break them, no.  Rather, the large one of them smashed them.  Don’t you see that the axe is in his hand?  And if you won’t believe it, ask him and he will tell.”
When President John Taylor gave an account of this story, he imagined that Abraham’s father said to him.
"My son, why do you tell me such a thing. My gods cannot fight; they have legs, but they cannot walk; they have arms, but they cannot use them; they have eyes and ears but they cannot see nor hear." "Why, father," said Abraham, "is it possible that you worship a god that cannot hear or see, walk or use himself at all?" (Journal of Discourses Vol. 22, p.307) 
Well, this action and others made Abraham an enemy of the king and the people.  Sources say he was “denounced and scorned”, “reviled and cursed”.  The people “rose against him, looted his property, [and] imprisoned him”.  He was in prison for a long time, perhaps even years. He continued to preach against idolatry, however.  Eventually, the king determined that Abraham should be sacrificed to the gods he preached against.
Abraham received no assistance from his father, whose worldly wealth and status depended directly on Nimrod’s favor...The Book of Abraham tells of an “altar…” where human sacrifices were offered.  “And it came to pass that the priests laid violence upon me, that they might slay me also.”  ...they took him from the place where they had kept him bound “with heavy fetters.”... Jewish tradition tells of a vast audience assembled: “all the king’s servants, princes, lords, governors, and judges, and all the inhabitants of the land... came “to see Abram.  And all the women and little ones crowded...together…; and there was not a man left that did not come on that day to behold the scene.”...
With Abraham lying bound on the altar, his death already seemed [determined], for the odds appeared overwhelming.  With the vast multitude gazing on, Abraham was apparently given a final opportunity to recant…Abraham refused...Even Abraham’s mother urged her son to “bow down to Nimrod and convert to his faith, and you will be saved.”  Again Abraham refused, whereupon his mother said to him: “May the God whom you serve, save you.”
As the solemn sacrificial ceremony proceeded to its climax, the priest of Pharaoh grasped the knife and raised it above Abraham….Abraham’s own prayer that he reported later [was]: “As they lifted up their hands upon me, that they might offer me up and take away my life, behold, I lifted up my voice unto the Lord my God” (Abr. 1:15).  According to Jewish tradition, Abraham “raised his eyes heavenward” with a “confidence in God [which] was unshakeable.”
As told in the Book of Abraham, “the Lord hearkened and heard, and he filled me with the vision of the Almighty, and the angel of his presence stood by me, and immediately unloosed my bands.” (Abr 1:15).  Abraham heard a heavenly voice call his name twice--”Abram, Abram”--while “the Lord broke down the altar of Elkenah, and of the gods of the land, and utterly destroyed them, and smote the priest that he died” (Abr. 1:20).  That the angel was visible to the onlookers is attested in Jewish and Muslim traditions, which also tell of a great earthquake and of a cataclysmic fire that consumed many thousands of onlookers.  Meanwhile, says a Turkish source, “in Abraham’s breast there was the fire of his love for the Lord.”  Abraham’s deliverance was an unprecedented miracle...and its fame would soon spread to the kings of the earth. 
When the angel of the presence intervened and called to Abraham, it was with a message from the Lord: “Behold, my name is Jehovah, and I have heard thee, and have come down to deliver thee, and...I have come down to visit them, and to destroy him who hath lifted up his hand against thee...to take away thy life” (Abr. 1:16-17)
Young Abraham had desired to change the world, and God honored that desire by rescuing him in a way that already began some dramatic changes.  So marvelous, in fact, was Abraham’s deliverance that many of the onlookers, including Nimrod’s own officials and ministers, believed in God and bore witness to others of God’s power and that Abraham was his servant.  In addition, “many followed Abraham home, and brought their children to him, and said, “Now we see that the God in whom thou trustest, is the only true God; teach our children the truth, that they may serve Him in righteousness.” (Clark, E. Douglas. The Blessings of Abraham: Becoming a Zion People. American Fork, UT: Covenant Communications, 2005. 47, 53-54, 56-58. Print.)
So, are we following the example of Abraham?  Are we casting down the idols in our lives?  Or, do we instead set up graven images in our living rooms and family rooms, spending hours before them, in the dark, worshipping the gods of this world?

Do we entrust our safety, security, and even salvation into the hands of men?  Or do we put our trust in Him only who can protect us, prosper us, and save us, the Lord God of Israel.  Whose example are we following?

The Most Correct Of Any Book


I’d like to speak of another example the Lord has given us.  We’ve been told that the Book of Mormon contains the fulness of the Gospel.  Joseph Smith stated that “a man would get nearer to God by abiding by its precepts, than by any other book.”  Do you believe that?  Do you have faith in that promise?  Are you interested in getting nearer to God?  If not, then why even come to Church?  I’ve heard some say that the Church is a country club for the righteous.  I’ve heard others say it is a hospital for the spiritually sick.  The truth is, it isn’t either of those things.  The Church is an invitation.  It is an invitation to Zion.  It is an invitation to know God.  Isn’t the very purpose of the Church and the Gospel to create a connection between God and man?

As Jesus said, “this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent.” (John 17:3)

If you’re only interested in fellowshipping with other people, you can join any club or association to that end.  In Church, while there is fellowship among the Saints, the real aim is to fellowship with the heavens.  I believe Joseph Smith when he says the Book of Mormon can teach us how to do that.  If anyone knew about fellowshipping with the heavens, Joseph Smith did.

However, it’s apparent the saints in the early days of the restoration didn’t believe what Joseph said.  In a revelation to the Saints in Kirtland, Ohio in 1832 (only two years after the Church was organized), the Lord said:
your minds in times past have been darkened because of unbelief, and because you have treated lightly the things you have received— 
Which vanity and unbelief have brought the whole church under condemnation. 
And this condemnation resteth upon the children of Zion, even all. 
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— 
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)
Are we any better than the early Saints?  President Ezra Taft Benson reiterated that we are still under that condemnation.  It has never been lifted.  What might be the consequences of that condemnation?  How do we remove our vanity and unbelief with regards to the Book of Mormon and the former commandments, not only to say, but to do according to that which is written in their pages?

Well, what can the Book of Mormon teach us about connecting with heaven?  When you open up to the very first chapter, you find a man praying with all his heart on behalf of his people.  What happens next?
...there came a pillar of fire and dwelt upon a rock before him; and he saw and heard much; and because of the things which he saw and heard he did quake and tremble exceedingly.  
And it came to pass that he returned to his own house at Jerusalem; and he cast himself upon his bed, being overcome with the Spirit and the things which he had seen. 
 And being thus overcome with the Spirit, he was carried away in a vision, even that he saw the heavens open, and he thought he saw God sitting upon his throne, surrounded with numberless concourses of angels in the attitude of singing and praising their God. (1 Nephi 1:6-8)
From the very first verses of the Book of Mormon, we are shown a man who receives a theophany or a divine manifestation from God.  And notice, this came because he prayed on behalf of this people, after which he was overcome with the Spirit.

The rest of the Book of Mormon continues much the same way.  Lehi receives dreams, Nephi receives great visions of the future, Jacob has faith to command the trees, the mountains, and the waves of the sea, Enos receives his calling and election.  King Benjamin’s people are born again en masse, Alma the younger sees an angel, falls to the earth, and becomes unconscious for three days and three nights, but then he repents and sees God,  The sons of Mosiah take the Gospel to their enemies, those who would sooner kill them then listen to them.  Yet, they are preserved and baptize thousands.  Talk about changing the world.  That’s a missionary example worth emulating.  Nephi and Lehi, the sons of Helaman, receive many revelations daily.  The three Nephite disciples are translated and remain still upon this earth, and they may even be among us.  The brother of Jared sees the finger of the Lord, and because of his great faith, the Lord reveals himself and shows him all things, the record of which we have not yet received.

These are just some of the fantastic stories contained in the Book of Mormon.  These stories seem so far outside of our modern mortal experience that they are difficult to believe.  In the Bible, too, we find incredible stories like men parting seas, being taken up into heaven in a chariot of fire, being cast into a furnace or den of lions and coming out unscathed.  Walking on water, multiplying loaves and fishes, healing the sick, casting out devils, raising the dead.  Do you believe that any of this stuff happened?  Why doesn’t this kind of stuff happen anymore?

There are many, even within our church, who believe these stories are just allegories and parables.  They are not real, but are only intended to teach good principles.  Do you believe that?

Or, instead, do you believe Christ, who said, “Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that believeth on me, the works that I do shall he do also; and greater works than these shall he do; because I go unto my Father.” (John 14:12)

Do you believe Moroni who wrote:
...has the day of miracles ceased? 
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? 
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. 
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)
Moroni seems to be saying that there should be evidences of your faith.  There should be miracles and visitations.  If these things have ceased, then we have no faith, and all is vain, because, as Paul taught, without faith, it is impossible to please God. (Heb. 11:6)  If you don’t have faith, then it doesn’t matter how hard you worked on your mission, it doesn’t matter how many or which callings you’ve served in, and it doesn’t matter that you carry a temple recommend.  Without faith, you cannot please Him.  And if you have not pleased God, then awful is your state.  Please understand, I’m not saying any of those things are bad.  They are good things.  But, in the end, those things cannot save us in and of themselves.  The Church cannot save us.  Only God can save us.  We are nothing without Him.  So, look to God and have faith in Christ.  Dare to believe that the Book of Mormon is true.  Dare to believe that those great things that happened to people in ancient days could also happen to you.  Exercise faith and seek after those things.  Dare to believe that God is working in your life.

Nephi prophesied that in our day many would say:
Hearken unto us, and hear ye our precept; for behold there is no God today, for the Lord and the Redeemer hath done his work, and he hath given his power unto men; 
Behold, hearken ye unto my precept; if they shall say there is a miracle wrought by the hand of the Lord, believe it not; for this day he is not a God of miracles; he hath done his work. (2 Nephi 28:5-6)
Do you believe the day of miracles is passed?  Do you believe God’s work is done and he has given his power unto men?  Or, are you willing to believe that God does not change, that His power is His own, and it is as available to us as it was to those who lived in days past?  If you believe that Lehi, Nephi and the other prophets were extraordinary men, then you are dwindling in unbelief.  Believe instead that they were ordinary, like us.  Believe that God can bless us just as much as he blessed them.  The stories in the scriptures are not about exceptional men that we should put on a pedestal because they were so much better than we are.  Rather, the scriptures are full of examples for us to follow.  They were ordinary men, who made mistakes, and yet still connected with the divine.  We can too.  It all begins with faith.

The Prophet Joseph Smith said,
Because faith is wanting, the fruits are. No man since the world was had faith without having something along with it. The ancients quenched the violence of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, women received their dead, etc. By faith the worlds were made. A man who has none of the gifts has no faith; and he deceives himself, if he supposes he has. Faith has been wanting, not only among the heathen, but in professed Christendom also, so that tongues, healings, prophecies, and prophets and apostles, and all the gifts and blessings have been wanting. (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 278)
Miracles should happen today in your lives.  You should see angels.  Even the Aaronic priesthood holds the key of the ministering of angels.  It’s for the young men and women as well as the adults.

Alma, preaching on faith, said,
And now, he imparteth his word by angels unto men, yea, not only men but women also. Now this is not all; little children do have words given unto them many times, which confound the wise and the learned. (Alma 32:23)
So, even the little children are not exempt from receiving the blessings and gifts of God.  So, where are the angels?  Where are the miracles?  If you don’t see these things in your life, then you need to repent.  These are the evidences that you are leading a life that is pleasing to God.  The stories of the Book of Mormon and Bible should be our stories, or we are falling short of the glory of God.

A Miracle in the Philippines


I know great, life-changing miracles do still happen today.  Let me give you an example.  I have a friend where I work who served a mission in the Philippines.  He told me that when he heard about the typhoon that hit the islands last year, and the devastation it caused, he desired to help.  He has two children and a pregnant wife.  Yet, his wife allowed him to go.

He called up old mission companions and tried to find others to go with.  They all had good reasons they couldn't go at the time.  He said this further confirmed to him that he was meant to go help, because no one else could. So, he bought a plane ticket and made hotel reservations.  He really didn't want to go alone and prayed the whole time that he would find someone to go with.

The day for his flight arrived and he went to the Salt Lake airport.  He was sitting alone at the gate, worried about what he was going to do, when he heard someone nearby speaking Tagalog (the language of the Philippines).  He discovered a whole group of people, some return missionaries, others just people who loved the Philippines, who were all flying out there to help. So, he joined up with them.

He was there for six days, helping rebuild.  One of those days, a local church leader suggested that they help feed some children in a nearby village.  They put together a huge meal of noodles and meat.  It was enough to feed about 300 children.  They brought it to the ward building in huge buckets. The children were all in line with plates they had brought from home so they could get a meal (something not always easy to come by in the Philippines, even before the typhoon hit).  He said when the first child came up and held out a plate, he and everyone else in his group just broke down in tears.  He said there was just no way to hold it in after looking at the state of these children.  Not wanting to intimidate them, though, they all covered their faces to try to hide their crying.

They soon realized, after giving out food to quite a few, that they had underestimated the need.  They had prepared enough for 300 children, but there was somewhere around 600 children in line.  Also, they saw the parents of those children standing nearby, who also looked like they needed a meal.  He said he and his group started to feel fear.  They didn't want to turn anyone away.  At the same time, they didn't want to have to ration the food.  So, they decided to just keep doling out large portions to everyone and pray in their hearts.

As time went on, he began to notice something unusual.  (At this point, he stressed to me that he's wasn't exaggerating).  He noticed that they weren't even making a dent in the amount of food in the buckets.  They fed all the children and still had more food.  Then they fed the parents.  They still had more.  They invited everyone back for seconds.  After that, everyone was full and they still had more.  There were some onlookers behind a fence.  They likewise came over and were fed.  After everyone had eaten and was filled, they still had food left over.  They finally gave the rest to some of the villagers to take through the rest of the town and give it to whoever was hungry.

My friend told me he'd seen small miracles before, but he had never expected to see an amazing, jaw-dropping miracle like that.  He felt incredibly blessed for having been there.  Earlier, he had told me how, at the beginning of that year, he was pondering and asking himself why faithful members of the Church don't see more miracles.  His experience, I think, gives some powerful insight about that.

His trip to the Philippines was an act of faith (he didn't know beforehand what he was going to do and he was alone; like Nephi, who wrote “And I was led by the Spirit, not knowing beforehand the things which I should do.” (1 Nephi 4:6).

It was an act of sacrifice (he paid the costs of his trip out of his own pocket, he had to leave his wife and family and go into the unknown), this is much like Nephi and his brothers, who were willing to trade their gold, silver, and precious things in order to obtain the brass plates.

 It was an act of love (Just as the Lord commanded us to love our neighbor as ourselves.)

The fruits of his faith, sacrifice, and love are plain to see from the story.  The Lord sustained him, protected him, and, through him, worked miracles.  He exercised faith, hope, and charity on behalf of those in need and obtained a blessing because of it.  He helped people he didn't know, who lived thousands of miles away from his home.  In that act, he did something divine, something Jesus might have done.  Therefore, he merited divine help in his service.  I hope and pray that I will never let an opportunity like that pass me by.  For, as Christ taught: “...whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it.” (Matthew 16:25)

Where is the Holy Ghost?


If you would like to see evidences of your faith, if you would like to know that the way you are living your life is pleasing to God, then you need to do the things he did and walk the path he set before us.  Yet, I fear that the greatest gift he has promised us to guide us on that path is largely going unused.  Last week in Priesthood meeting, we talked about the Gift of the Holy Ghost.  Now, I must stress that I believe every man in our quorum is good, honest, hard-working, and sincerely striving to keep the commandments.  I’ve never lived among a group of men who were so willing to serve each other, the ward, and their neighbors.  Yet, when asked how many felt the constant companionship of the Holy Ghost, no one raised their hand.  I suspect if the same question was asked of this wider audience, there might be a similar response.  I, too, struggle with discerning the gift and power of the Holy Ghost.

How is it that one of the most basic, fundamental blessings of the Gospel is almost universally not received by the members of the Church?  We know that “when we obtain any blessing from God, it is by obedience to that law upon which it is predicated.” (D&C 130:21).  So, what is the law upon which the gift of the Holy Ghost, which includes its constant companionship, is predicated?

The Baptism of Fire and the Holy Ghost


Cast your mind back to the time when you were baptized.  You were immersed in the water and then brought out of it again.  This symbolized the death of who you were and the beginning of a new life.  A life directed by and consecrated to God.  Hands were then laid upon your head and you heard the words “Receive the Holy Ghost”.  This was an instruction meant for you.  Did you receive the Holy Ghost?  Or did you just assume that the laying on of hands was enough?

I said before that the Church is an invitation to Zion.  There is a path that leads to Zion, with a gate at the entrance of that path.  The gate to Zion is before us, but it seems that many of us are milling around in front of the gate, unclear of what to do, not sure yet where to go, thinking we are enduring to the end when we haven’t even entered through the gate, yet.

Listen closely to the words of Nephi:
Wherefore, do the things which I have told you I have seen that your Lord and your Redeemer should do; for, for this cause have they been shown unto me, that ye might know the gate by which ye should enter. For the gate by which ye should enter is repentance and baptism by water; and then cometh a remission of your sins by fire and by the Holy Ghost. 
And then are ye in this strait and narrow path which leads to eternal life; yea, ye have entered in by the gate; ye have done according to the commandments of the Father and the Son; and ye have received the Holy Ghost… (2 Nephi 31:17-18)
You see, unless we have received the remission of sins by fire and by the Holy Ghost, we have not yet entered in by the gate, we are not yet on the strait and narrow path which leads to eternal life.  So, how do we receive this great gift?

The voice of Christ was heard across this land many years ago, after a great destruction.  He mourned over the wicked who were destroyed.  But, then he taught the more righteous people who remained:
...ye shall offer for a sacrifice unto me a broken heart and a contrite spirit. And whoso cometh unto me with a broken heart and a contrite spirit, him will I baptize with fire and with the Holy Ghost.  (3 Nephi 9:20)
Later, after Christ had descended from heaven and visited the people, he taught them his doctrine:
And this is my doctrine, and it is the doctrine which the Father hath given unto me; 
...and I bear record that the Father commandeth all men, everywhere, to repent and believe in me. 
And whoso believeth in me, and is baptized, the same shall be saved; and they are they who shall inherit the kingdom of God. 
And whoso believeth not in me, and is not baptized, shall be damned. 
Verily, verily, I say unto you, that this is my doctrine, and I bear record of it from the Father; and whoso believeth in me believeth in the Father also; and unto him will the Father bear record of me, for he will visit him with fire and with the Holy Ghost… 
And again I say unto you, ye must repent, and become as a little child, and be baptized in my name, or ye can in nowise receive these things. 
And again I say unto you, ye must repent, and be baptized in my name, and become as a little child, or ye can in nowise inherit the kingdom of God. 
Verily, verily, I say unto you, that this is my doctrine, and whoso buildeth upon this buildeth upon my rock, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against them. (3 Nephi 11:32-35,37-39)
Then, as if to affirm His doctrine, Christ baptized their children with fire:
...he took their little children, one by one, and blessed them, and prayed unto the Father for them. 
And when he had done this he wept...; 
And he spake unto the multitude, and said unto them: Behold your little ones. 
And as they looked to behold they cast their eyes towards heaven, and they saw the heavens open, and they saw angels descending out of heaven as it were in the midst of fire; and they came down and encircled those little ones about, and they were encircled about with fire; and the angels did minister unto them. 
And the multitude did see and hear and bear record; and they know that their record is true for they all of them did see and hear, every man for himself; and they were in number about two thousand and five hundred souls; and they did consist of men, women, and children. (3 Nephi 17:21-25)

Expect Revelations


We must do as Christ said, then we will receive the baptism of fire and the Holy Ghost.  Then, we can have the constant companionship of the Holy Ghost.  How will you know when you’ve received the baptism of fire?  You will know because you will then be on fire.  You will be filled with the love of God.  You will have partaken of the fruit of the tree of life that Lehi saw in his dream.  You will be on the path.

The Prophet Joseph Smith taught that "no man can receive the Holy Ghost without receiving revelations" (TPJS, p. 328).  You should expect them.  You should ask for them.  You should seek to know the will of God for you.

Then, perhaps, we may begin to fulfill the prophecy the Lord gave through Joel, saying:

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: (Joel 2:28)

Don’t Seek Signs


Would this be seeking a sign?  What is sign seeking?  Seeking signs is looking for some divine manifestation out of curiosity, or out of a sense of voyeurism, not intending to exercise faith until after you see a sign.  In the Lord’s words, it is seeking “to consume it upon your lusts”.  This is the opposite of how the Lord works, for as Moroni taught, “ye receive no witness until after the trial of your faith.” (Ether 12: 6).

The Lord told Joseph Smith how signs come:
But, behold, faith cometh not by signs, but signs follow those that believe. 
Yea, signs come by faith, not by the will of men, nor as they please, but by the will of God. 
Yea, signs come by faith, unto mighty works, for without faith no man pleaseth God;... 
Wherefore, I, the Lord, am not pleased with those among you who have sought after signs and wonders for faith, and not for the good of men unto my glory. (D&C 63:9-12)
So, you must first have faith.  You must do as the Lamanites did in Helaman chapter 5:
You must repent, and cry unto [God], even until ye shall have faith in Christ... and when ye shall do this, the cloud of darkness shall be removed from overshadowing you. (Helaman 5:41)
When the king of the Lamanites asked Aaron how he could receive the Spirit, Aaron answered:
If thou desirest this thing, if thou wilt bow down before God, yea, if thou wilt repent of all thy sins, and will bow down before God, and call on his name in faith, believing that ye shall receive, then shalt thou receive the hope which thou desirest. (Alma 22:16)
Otherwise, we will be like those Moroni speaks of when he wrote:
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. 
O then ye unbelieving, turn ye unto the Lord; cry mightily unto the Father in the name of Jesus, that perhaps ye may be found spotless, pure, fair, and white, having been cleansed by the blood of the Lamb, at that great and last day. (Mormon 9: 20, 6)
Through the baptism of water, we are called to be witnesses of Christ.  We are called to exercise faith unto repentance and unto the reception of the Spirit.  Then, we will have faith, hope, and charity.  Then we will have the power of godliness.  Then, signs and miracles will follow us.  Then, we will truly be disciples of Christ, because we can then do the things He did.  We will then truly be the “salt of the earth”, the “light of this people”, a city “set on a hill that cannot be hid”.  We can then let [our] light[s] so shine before this people, that they may see [our] good works and glorify [our] Father who is in heaven.  (3 Nephi 12:13-16).  What investigator would turn away from that example?

My Deliverance


In closing, I wish to bear my witness of God.  I know there is a God in heaven.  I don’t say the word “know” in the euphemistic way that we Latter-day Saints often mean when bearing our testimonies.  I don’t just believe there is a God or hope there is a God.  I know there is a God.

Several years ago, I was at a low point in my life.  I needed help.  So, I turned to God.  I prayed to Him with all my heart.  I promised to keep the commandments to the best of my ability if he would hear my prayer and help me.

Over the next few days, I did just that.  I kept the commandments, as I understood them, with all my might.  As I did, something miraculous happened.  I felt something inside my soul that wasn’t there before.  After years of pondering over it, the only word I can come up with to describe it is goodness.  From this goodness, I felt greater strength to keep the commandments and greater love for my family.  I knew it came from God.  I was given to know as a certainty that God was real, that he had indeed heard my prayer and he was answering me.

Over the course of the next few weeks, the goodness I felt changed me.  It may not have been immediately visible to those around me, but the desires of my heart, my deepest convictions changed.  I realized to myself, “If this is what God is like, then I want to know Him and I want to be like Him.”  All of a sudden, things that were so important to me before became meaningless.  In a very real sense, I was made new.  I was born again.

We teach in primary that God created the heavens and the earth in 6 days and rested on the seventh.  We often blindly assume that this is when the creation ended.  Yet, the Lord told Moses, “my works are without end, and also my words, for they never cease.” (Moses 1:4).  I can testify of that.  His works did not end with me when I was born, I know that he created me anew.  Though the goodness I felt gradually faded away after a few weeks, I know He is still recreating me even now.

Conclusion


It can be the same with you.  Don’t deny the power of God.  Cast away all the idols in your heart.  Give away all your sins.  Believe that He is working in your life.  Go to Him in prayer and seek him with all your heart.  Expect miracles.  He will manifest Himself unto you and you will never be the same again.  You will wonder why you were so foolish before, wasting your life on things of so little importance.

The stories in the scriptures are not there to entertain us, or to merely inspire us.  They are there to show us the way.  The Lord God is a personal God.  As Nephi closed his record he bore that witness to us.  He wrote, “I glory in plainness; I glory in truth; I glory in my Jesus, for he hath redeemed my soul from hell.” (2 Nephi 33:6)  My Jesus!  He is approachable by all of us.  He is not just the God of Abraham, or Joseph Smith, or Thomas S. Monson.  He is your God, too.  Will you have Him to be your God?  Will you put your trust in Him and Him only?  Will you set aside your idolatry, vanity, and unbelief, and set aside everything that stands between you and Him?  As members of the Church, having been baptized by water, it is our right and privilege to receive the Holy Ghost.  If you feel a lack of the Spirit in your life, then join with me and ask God, even cry mightily, in faith, to receive it and keep asking until it comes.  The Prophet Joseph Smith taught that we should “weary [the Lord] until He blesses [us].”  Come unto Christ, repenting of your sins.  He has promised, “...whoso cometh unto me with a broken heart and a contrite spirit, him will I baptize with fire and with the Holy Ghost” (3 Nephi 9:20).  In the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.