Sunday, November 20, 2016

Cursed Is He That Putteth His Trust In Man

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

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

Example 1: What Shall We Do?

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

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

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

What was the falsehood that the poor Zoramites believed?

Who taught them this falsehood?

Example 2: Galileo’s Heresy

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

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

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

Example 3: Priesthood Keys

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

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

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

What mistake did this family make?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, May 13, 2016

My Awakening, Part 1 - A God of Miracles

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

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

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

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

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

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