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 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: 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.


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.

Monday, June 9, 2014

A Form Of Godliness

I recall reading about a religious people who built many fine churches.  They would all assemble at these churches once a week to worship.  Those attending would dress up for Church (they wanted to look their best).  They would have meetings where they would go up, one by one, and stand before the rest of the congregation and give thanks to God for their blessings.  They knew they were a chosen people and thanked God for it.  They were grateful for not being led away by the foolish, wicked ways of those not of their faith.  Everyone of them would go up and give thanks in the same way.  Afterwards, they would all go to their homes and live their lives, not speaking of God again until the next week.

Could you relate to these people at all?  Is this your experience when going to Church?  Does this sound like a typical Fast & Testimony meeting?

Nearly 200 years ago, a young boy entered a grove of trees one beautiful spring morning with a question in mind.  He wanted to know which Church to join.  The answer he received haunts me every time I read it.

He was told to join none of them, because “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)  This answer came from the Lord Jesus Christ himself.

I have to wonder if Christ's words were directed only to the churches present in the state of New York in 1820.  I wonder if those words could not also be applied to our day.  I wonder if perhaps they could be applied not just to religious institutions, but also to religious individuals.

What would it mean to draw near to God with your lips, but to keep your heart far from him?  What are the commandments of men, that have a form of godliness, but deny (or lack) the power thereof?

The people I referred to at the beginning of this post were called the Zoramites.  Alma, the prophet and high priest of God's church, attended one of their meetings.
Now when Alma saw this his heart was grieved; for he saw that they were a wicked and a perverse people; yea, he saw that their hearts were set upon gold, and upon silver, and upon all manner of fine goods.
Yea, and he also saw that their hearts were lifted up unto great boasting, in their pride.
And he lifted up his voice to heaven, and cried, saying: O, how long, O Lord, wilt thou suffer that thy servants shall dwell here below in the flesh, to behold such gross wickedness among the children of men?
Behold, O God, they cry unto thee, and yet their hearts are swallowed up in their pride. Behold, O God, they cry unto thee with their mouths, while they are puffed up, even to greatness, with the vain things of the world.
Behold, O my God, their costly apparel, and their ringlets, and their bracelets, and their ornaments of gold, and all their precious things which they are ornamented with; and behold, their hearts are set upon them, and yet they cry unto thee and say—We thank thee, O God, for we are a chosen people unto thee, while others shall perish...O Lord God, how long wilt thou suffer that such wickedness and infidelity shall be among this people? (Alma 31:24-28, 30)
Did the Zoramites have a form of godliness?  They certainly practiced a form of prayer and worship.  Yet, according to the prophet Alma, they were a wicked and a perverse people.  Their hearts were set upon their possessions and not upon God, nor upon the poor that they cast out of their synagogues (or churches).  The Zoramites easily fit the description of Nephi, who prophesied:
They rob the poor because of their fine sanctuaries; they rob the poor because of their fine clothing; and they persecute the meek and the poor in heart, because in their pride they are puffed up. 
They wear stiff necks and high heads; yea, and because of pride, and wickedness, and abominations, and whoredoms, they have all gone astray save it be a few, who are the humble followers of Christ; nevertheless, they are led, that in many instances they do err because they are taught by the precepts of men. 
O the wise, and the learned, and the rich, that are puffed up in the pride of their hearts, and all those who preach false doctrines, and all those who commit whoredoms, and pervert the right way of the Lord, wo, wo, wo be unto them, saith the Lord God Almighty, for they shall be thrust down to hell! (2 Nephi 28:13-15)
Three woes followed by the three-fold name of God is the most severe of condemnations. Here's the catch, though.  Nephi wasn't prophesying about the Zoramites. He was prophesying about the last days!  He was prophesying about us!

Nephi saw our day.  He saw our wickedness.  He nailed us.  Mormon also knew of our day.  I don't think it is a coincidence, after knowing that Mormon could not write even the hundredth part of the things of his people, that he left in a thorough description of the way in which the Zoramites worshipped.

What good is a form of godliness if it denies the power of God?  Can your form of godliness save you?  Can your heart draw nearer to God if it is "set upon gold, and upon silver, and upon all manner of fine goods" at the same time?  Can you serve God and Mammon?  Do we persecute the poor with our fine sanctuaries?  Do we rob the poor with our fine clothing?  Are we puffed up in the pride of our hearts?  Are we preaching false doctrines?  How can we know?  What should be done?

Nephi, speaking to us (the Gentile Church), paints a desperate picture, but also offers some hope:
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.
Wo be unto the Gentiles, saith the Lord God of Hosts! For notwithstanding I shall lengthen out mine arm unto them from day to day, they will deny me; nevertheless, I will be merciful unto them, saith the Lord God, if they will repent and come unto me; for mine arm is lengthened out all the day long, saith the Lord God of Hosts. (2 Nephi 28:31-32)
Don't deny Him or His power any longer.  

Repent, come unto Him, and find mercy!