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Developing Your Faith

I’ve been thinking on the different kinds of questions I get, and what those questions reflect about the one asking. There are two conditions that cannot be overcome by me or any other person by answering your question.  The first one is your insecurities. The other is your curiosity. Your insecurities about whatever is going on in your life will not go away because you received an answer to a question.  Your curiosity will not be satisfied by hearing a spiritual experience recounted by another person.

Insecurities are a result of a lack of faith. You deserve them. You have not acquired knowledge yet. You have them as a gift, as a warning that you have not yet received what you need. Nor have you developed faith yet.  I’ve given you a post that repeats very important and true doctrine from the Lectures on Faith.  It is a blueprint for how you develop faith.  I cannot do it for you.  Neither can Joseph or Jesus Christ. Faith comes from within you, developed by the same process through which every man who has ever had faith developed it. There are no shortcuts, no independent conferral by sprinkling something on you, and no method different than what has always been required. To the extent I am able to explain the process, I have done so in The Second Comforter.  If you are still insecure, then you have not done what that book teaches you to do.  Getting an answer from me, or from any other man, will not replace the hollow feeling inside you springing from the absence of saving faith.

The scriptures are filled with spiritual experiences and doctrine. Adding another account to those already there will not benefit you nor bring you closer to developing faith.  It will not fill you. That is why my experiences have never been told. (Only in my testimony of the truthfulness of what I teach have I touched briefly upon my experiences.) The focus of all I have done is doctrine. Teaching correct principles will allow you to both govern and develop yourself.

Asking for details from my experiences will add absolutely nothing to you.  Those experiences will only weaken you.  It will also weaken me.  It will make me seem more than I am. It will cause you to surrender to another the responsibility devolving upon yourself.  You will only err in thinking that having another “spiritual story” to retell has made you closer to the Lord.  It doesn’t happen that way.  Get your own spiritual experiences. Then, if you want more, keep them sacred. That is what I do. I teach principles. I do not reveal experiences.

I read many years ago about Abraham being the “friend of God.”  I read also in the D&C about the Lord calling some early Saints His “friends.”  As I reflected upon that word (“friend”) I thought about what it meant (“friendship”).  After pondering the word for many days, and observing the people around me, thinking about what I saw in society, and considered the sermons I heard in church, I reached the conclusion that there wasn’t a “friend” of God upon the earth any longer.

As I considered the conclusion, I thought about it from God’s perspective. What must it mean to a Heavenly Father who has no friend upon the earth. How must He sorrow over His children who have departed from friendship. The thought grew in me until I determined I would become the “friend” of God; not for my sake, nor for any benefit which may come to me because of it.  I thought of it only as a way to honor Him; to show Him that despite earth and hell there would yet be another “friend” of His upon the earth.

I have remained true to that determination from that time till now. It defines the choices I have made, the opportunities I have forfeited, the places I have been, and the doors which have opened.  I may not be much of anything in this world, but I do have a Friend whose love I value and whose companionship I cherish.  If I were to tell you all the details of that it would do you no good and would betray trust.

Asking about it is the clearest indication that you have misunderstood both the process and what I am trying to do to help others.

Answers to prayers

I was asked why it seems there are seasons when a person can’t get an answer from God. Even when they have previously had wonderful contact, revelation, insights and blessings, there are times when nothing is coming from God. It appears to be unrelated to faithfulness or activity. Why, then, does God remain silent from time to time?
 
There are multiple reasons why this happens. It IS unrelated to God’s love for the person.

The first and most common reason I have discovered is that you are already in possession of the answer. It was given to you by God and you have it, but you don’t recognize it. It would be better to stop asking for an answer and instead ask to be able to see what you have already been given.

The second reason is that you need to struggle and make your own decision first, then to petition to know if the decision is right.  It is not always appropriate to defer all decisions to the Lord. You must develop the capacity to make sound decisions on your own.  The Lord will, of course, ratify the correct decision and warn you about the wrong one.  But you need to develop the ability to decide first.  (D&C 9: 7-9.)
 
Another reason, and perhaps the least common, is that the Lord knows that in your struggle you will eventually reach the correct decision. He must let you proceed on your own because the process of important.  Even Abraham endured this process.  (Abr. 2: 21.)  After he made the decision and traveled to the border, just prior to his entry into Egypt the Lord returned to him and prepared him for what he would encounter there.
 
There are also occasions wherein the Lord has determined to give you the answer, but you are not prepared for what is coming.  Therefore, you are put through experience to develop. During this time, you are moving toward the answer that you are being prepared to receive. Once the preparation is over, the answer follows.  It is possible that so much transpires between the request and the answer that you forget it was your petition to the Lord that set things in motion. Nevertheless the Lord was working to give you an answer all along.
 
There are occasions where the answer lies before you, and your path will intersect with the answer in the normal course.  The apparent silence from the Lord is really the answer – Stay true and you will find it as you move along.  These moments are what develop necessary patience. We are tempted to show ingratitude when these happen, thinking that it was our own ability which secured for us the answer, instead of the mercy of the Lord. That is a mistake. 
 
The final reason is that you are mistaken about your worthiness or standing before God and you need to alter what you are doing. In this instance it is likely that you get an answer, but the answer is that you are in need of repentance or change. The change needs to precede an answer. Never ignore a warning that you are out of the way; it may be the kindest response of all.  Get your life in order first, then the answer you seek will follow.  Ingratitude to the Lord is often the first reason for needed repentance.
 
These are the reasons I have found for those seasons in which an answer is not forthcoming from the Lord.

Personal Revelation

On the 13th of November, 1835, Joseph was instructing, and made the following comment (which has been often repeated:

“[I]f God gives you a manifestation, keep it to yourselves.”  (JS Papers; Journals Vol. 1, p. 98.)

This statement has been quoted as a basis to support the position that any person’s revelation should NEVER be shared with another person; other than of course a revelation given to the church president.  The statement needs to be understood, however, in light of later statements recorded by Joseph in the same volume of the JS Papers.


On page 170 Joseph recorded that “angels ministered unto them, as well as myself.”  A little further down on the same page:  “My scribe …saw in a vision the armies of heaven protecting the Saints in their return to Zion.”  Still on the same page: “The vision of heaven was opened to these also, some of them saw the face of the Savior; and others were ministered unto by holy angels, and the spirit of prophesy and revelation was poured out in mighty power.”


On page 171 Joseph recorded that those who were present “spent the time in rehearsing to each other the glorious scenes that transpired on the preceding evening, while attending to the ordinance of the holy anointing.”


On page 174 Joseph recorded that his brother, William, “saw the heavens opened and the Lord’s host protecting the Lord’s anointed.”


On page 182 Joseph recorded that Zebedee Coltrin “saw a vision of the Lord’s House– and others were filled with the spirit and spake in tongues and prophesied.”  Later on that same page, in footnote 361, this is included:  “Oliver Cowdery also recorded that ‘many saw visions, many prophesied, and many spake in tongues.'” citing to Oliver’s Diary for 6 Feb. 1836.


It is apparent that Joseph’s comment did not result in these early Saints not speaking of the manifestations they received.  Nor did Joseph exhibit any disapproval or concern about hearing of others speaking of their spiritual manifestations.  His comment, therefore, needs to be understood in the context of the overall manner in which spiritual experiences were experienced and shared among the early church, even within a couple of months of the statement used to justify criticism of any person saying anything about any manifestation they received.


Oddly, I do not think anyone should share anything with anyone else unless the Lord, who gives manifestations, directs.  When He does, then I think objections are made at the peril of disrespecting the Lord’s command.  (See e.g., Alma 8: 25; 3 Ne. 23: 9–where the Lord required some of what Samuel had said to be added to their scriptures which the Nephites had neglected to record.)

I am the Lord that smiteth

The people among whom Ezekiel lived were filled with sin; public and private.  The prophet was inspired to deliver a serious warning to them inasmuch as they could not learn by being taught correct precepts, but only by harsh judgment. His warning included this statement: 
“The morning is come unto thee, O thou that dwellest in the land: the time is come, the day of trouble is near, and not the sounding again of the mountains. Now will I shortly pour out my fury upon thee, and accomplish mine anger upon thee: and I will judge thee according to thy ways, and will recompense thee for all thine abominations. And mine eye shall not spare, neither will I have pity: I will recompense thee according to thy ways and thine abominations that are in the midst of thee; and ye shall know that I am the Lord that smiteth.” (Eze. 7: 7-9.)
I had a few thoughts about why and how such “judgments” could be easily be poured out upon us, as well.
From drug abuse to carnality, we are less civil and more dangerous as a population each year.  If you would like to see the Lord “pour out [His] fury upon [us]” you only need to shut off the electrical power in Detroit or Los Angeles at night.  We are filled with the savagery that will bring about our own punishment.  When the electrical grid fails in larger metropolitan areas of the United States, it will be Americans killing Americans, without any need for an invasion by an enemy.  God will not need to send a plague upon us. We become our own plague because of our wickedness.
In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, when the New Orleans Police Department was unable to keep order, and the National Guard had not arrived yet, there were days filled with violence, rape and murder.  It did not take anything more than a brief lack of police authority before the population was plagued with criminal misconduct, violence and killing.
What more fitting a way to “judge thee according to thy ways?”  What more apt a manner for “recompensing thee for all thine abominations?”  It is our own choice to become our own undoing.  Amazing, really. 
Are our sins any less than that generation to whom Ezekiel spoke?  Americans have killed 40 million unborn (innocent) children.  Hitler, the great genocidal monster of the last century, only killed 6 million in his perversity.  We have selected the most innocent, and ended 40 million of their lives.  As Christ put it:  Truly we deserve a millstone hung around our necks and to be drowned in the depth of the sea for this wanton shedding of innocent blood. (Matt. 18: 6.)  
This great perversity is what we call a “right to choose,” thereby clothing an atrocity in the words of virtue. We call evil good and good evil, and never take time to notice we fulfill prophecy as we do so. (2 Ne. 15: 20, using Isaiah 5: 20 to describe us and our time.) Freedom of choice, right to choose, tolerance, diversity, open and free are all words implying virtue. They justify suppression of truth, sexual misconduct, killing innocent unborn and curtailing freedom of thought and expression. We are hardly able to recognize good from evil, because everything destructive or debasing, advocated by those addicted to a perversity, is called by them good. And any who oppose these abuses are called evil, intolerant, oppressive, haters and ignorant.
It should not surprise any of us if the Lord should shortly pour out His judgments upon us.  All it would take is a prolonged failure of the power grid and we would unleash on ourselves our own direful judgments.

Catch hold or cling

There are two different words used by Nephi regarding contact with the “iron rod” or word of God.  Joseph Smith translated the two words as “cling” or “clinging” for one, and “hold” or “holding” as the other.
 
The different word use raises the question of meaning.  If they meant identical things, then the same word would have been translated.  Therefore, there must be a reason for the different words.
 
Below are examples of the different words in the context of the record:   
 
 
  24 And it came to pass that I beheld others pressing forward, and they came forth and caught hold of the end of the rod of iron; and they did press forward through the mist of darkness, clinging to the rod of iron, even until they did come forth and partake of the fruit of the tree.
      •  •  •
 
  30 But, to be short in writing, behold, he saw other multitudes pressing forward; and they came and caught hold of the end of the rod of iron; and they did press their way forward, continually holding fast to the rod of iron, until they came forth and fell down and partook of the fruit of the tree.

 
Some catch hold, then cling.
 
Some hold, then hold fast.
 
So the question becomes why the different description.  Both of these different approaches result in the persons reaching the destination, then partaking of the fruit.  But they are situated differently as they move along the process. Some are “clinging” and some are “holding” as they move toward their destination.
 
To “cling” implies something frantic, something charged with emotion, and something more desperate than to “hold.”  “Holding” seems calm, thoughtfully committed and more methodical than does “clinging.”  From this, I conclude that there are at least two kinds of people who will make their way to partake of the fruit of the tree of life in this world.
 
For one group, the process is unnerving, fearful and emotionally wrenching. They cling on despite earth and hell. They fight to retain their grip, and they make heroic efforts in the opposition they face. They cling because they cannot relent, cannot relax, and know they face peril as they live their lives daily. For them their hopes are kept despite all their fears. They cling because they desire more than the opposition can deter them.
For another group, the process is less emotional, but nonetheless filled with determination. They are not as charged with fear, but face what comes to them calmly and with the assurance that the Lord’s word is in their hands and will be a refuge that will bring them to eternal life.
 
I think there is another, more likely possibility, as well. There is not two groups, but only one. From time to time everyone faces moments of difficulty. The only way to stay with the rod is to cling. Then the seasons change, the storm relents, and calm returns. During those times when life improves, the person can continue to hold and move forward, but they have purchased the season of calm by the things they have endured in faith. Now they know it is only necessary to hold on, and all things will come to them.
 
I do not know of a life that gets lived without challenge, difficulty and seasons of despair. I believe all of us will at times be required to cling, and at others have the ability to hold the course. Whether it is the one season or the other, however, at the end of the journey you will lay hold on eternal life.  Press on.

O that I had repented

National debt is nearly the entire annual gross domestic product.
 
The banking crisis in Europe is threatening to spread, and the US has committed billions to help prop up the imbalanced European socialist-democracies.
 
The money supply is shrinking at a rate comparable only to the years leading into the Great Depression.
 
I am reminded of the Nephites when they were denounced with these words: 
 
“O ye wicked and ye perverse generation; ye hardened and ye stiffnecked people, how long will ye suppose that the Lord will suffer you? Yea, how long will ye suffer yourselves to be led by foolish and blind guides? Yea, how long will ye choose darkness rather than light?  Yea, behold, the anger of the Lord is already kindled against you; behold, he hath cursed the land because of your iniquity. And behold, the time cometh that he curseth your riches, that they become slippery, that ye cannot hold them; and in the days of your poverty ye cannot retain them.”  (Hel. 13: 29-31.)
 
As our own riches become “slippery” so that we cannot hold onto them, I think we get a taste of what the Nephites were allowed to experience because they could not distinguish between those who taught the truth and those who merely led them about while blind.
 
The prophecy continued with these additional words of wise, and still relevant counsel:
 
“And in the days of your poverty ye shall cry unto the Lord; and in vain shall ye cry, for your desolation is already come upon you, and your destruction is made sure; and then shall ye weep and howl in that day, saith the Lord of Hosts. And then shall ye lament, and say: O that I had repented, and had not killed the prophets, and stoned them, and cast them out. Yea, in that day ye shall say: O that we had remembered the Lord our God in the day that he gave us our riches, and then they would not have become slippery that we should lose them; for behold, our riches are gone from us.  Behold, we lay a tool here and on the morrow it is gone; and behold, our swords are taken from us in the day we have sought them for battle. Yea, we have hid up our treasures and they have slipped away from us, because of the curse of the land.  O that we had repented in the day that the word of the Lord came unto us; for behold the land is cursed, and all things are become slippery, and we cannot hold them.  Behold, we are surrounded by demons, yea, we are encircled about by the angels of him who hath sought to destroy our souls. Behold, our iniquities are great. O Lord, canst thou not turn away thine anger from us? And this shall be your language in those days. But behold, your days of probation are past; ye have procrastinated the day of your salvation until it is everlastingly too late, and your destruction is made sure; yea, for ye have sought all the days of your lives for that which ye could not obtain; and ye have sought for happiness in doing iniquity, which thing is contrary to the nature of that righteousness which is in our great and Eternal Head. O ye people of the land, that ye would hear my words!”  (Hel. 13: 32-39.)
 
As always, the Book of Mormon remains the keystone of our religion.  A person can get closer to God by abiding its precepts than through any other book.
 
I don’t think Joseph Smith wrote it.  I think he translated it.  I think it contains wisdom from an earlier, failed civilization that once inhabited this land.  I think their lessons should not be forgotten by us.  Because when we fail to learn them by precept, then we get to learn them by experience.  And some of their experiences were quite difficult.

The arm of flesh

When the church commissions an opinion poll and then, as a result of that poll, concludes that some program or position is popular, or would be accepted by the Saints without complaint – and then adopt that position in a public statement – has a “revelation” been received? I do not think so. I think an opinion has been obtained, and a policy or statement has been adopted.  Therefore, I do not think there is one thing wrong with disagreeing with the policy or statement.

When the church endorses something or some position, I do not think it is right to simply “fall in line” behind the statement without also thinking the same issue through and reaching my own conclusion.  The first question I ask myself is what the statement is, and does it imply a revelation from the Lord. 
I can think of two examples.  One was a public announcement that was heralded in the press. The other was the subject of a letter from the First Presidency read in sacrament meetings.  
The public announcement was regarding the housing and employment of homosexuals in Salt Lake City, using the force of government sanction to prevent an employer or owner of property from refusing to grant equal access or rights to homosexuals.  I’ve previously commented here in a critical way about that announcement.  This is an example of how I view things. 
Since the church’s position on the matter had absolutely nothing to do with revelation, and the church did not make any attempt to claim the position came through revelation, I do not believe it is immune from question or criticism.  Indeed, the defense of the policy to the press involved a public relations/opinion poll driven justification.  It was expected to “resonate on the basis of fairness” with all those in the middle, and only offend those at the two ends of the spectrum.  This is opinion gathering to inform a position, then announcing the position because of the results of opinion gathering.  It is what a politician or a marketing firm would do.  It is not at all akin to a revelation, and should not command my respect.  I am under no obligation to alter my view based on what the church’s opinion gathering has concluded.  If that were the case, then the church’s ability to control everyone’s thinking would be based only upon prevailing opinion at the moment.  This is the “tossed about by every wind” concern which Paul addressed in one of his letters.  (Eph. 4: 14.)  Shifting opinion is not revelation.  I am free to point it out, disagree with it, and explain my contrary view.
Another example is the letter from the First Presidency asking speakers in sacrament meetings to no longer ask those in attendance to open their scriptures.  No explanation was provided in the letter.  It was just an instruction to the Saints to no longer let sacrament meeting speakers tell those in the meeting to open their scriptures and read along. Perhaps it was as a result of someone being irritated by the noise of rustling scriptures.  Perhaps it was someone with a hearing aid, whose aid frequency was tuned to pick up the rustling so well that it drowned out the rest of the speaker’s voice.  Perhaps it was because the meeting got delayed and disrupted by the folks struggling to find their scriptures, and open them up to the relevant page.  I can’t say for certain.  But I did raise my eyebrows when the letter was read in advance to the High Council. 
My candid reaction to that letter was that it diminished the office of those who signed the letter by the petty micro-managing of opening the scriptures during a sacrament gathering.  I wondered in amazement that someone in the Church Office Building got the First Presidency to sign such a letter.  I wondered at how, with all that threatens us today, opening scriptures in order to read along in sacrament meetings managed to become so important that the First Presidency would write and send a letter worldwide to be read in the stakes and wards.  It was perplexity on stilts.
Beyond that my approach has been twofold:  First, I have NEVER asked anyone to open their scriptures in a sacrament meeting since then.  However, I have said in talks during sacrament that “I cannot ask you to open your scriptures and read along” in order to call attention to the policy.  I have also said, when teaching outside of sacrament meetings, that I was free to ask them to read along in their scriptures “because we are not in a sacrament meeting.”  I do this to call attention to the policy.  I think to call attention to it is to cause people to wonder at the pettiness and inconsequential nature of a letter from the First Presidency addressing the opening of scriptures in sacrament meeting.
These are just two examples.  There are many.  As I have said before, I pay very close attention to the church, what is said and done, and how relevant or irrelevant some position, letter, emphasis or program is in an absolute sense.  I try to take it all in and reach my own conclusions.  Looking at it all, I am quite concerned.  Faithful, tithe paying and active, nevertheless quite concerned. 
I believe if enough people were similarly concerned that eventually the “opinion polling” might obtain reasonable results.  That is, the top would hear about reasonable concerns and learn of reasonable opinions, and then promulgate policies and send out statements accordingly.  That, however, will require a great effort to call attention to the things that matter most, and clarity in pointing out the things that do not matter at all. We fret over trifles while things are burning down all around us.  I wonder how long it will take for the polling to inform the Saints of the fire burning around them.

A message of warning

The Jews thought themselves favored of God.  They trusted that the land they occupied had been promised to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.  They were the descendants of these patriarchs. The land had been promised to them. They had the priesthood, the temple, God’s promise and a true religion.  They knew nothing could molest their peace.
The Lord commissioned Zechariah to deliver this warning to them:
“Thus speaketh the Lord of hosts, saying, Execute true judgment, and shew mercy and compassions every man to his brother: And oppress not the widow, nor the fatherless, the stranger, nor the poor; and let none of you imagine evil against his brother in your heart. But they refused to hearken, and pulled away the shoulder, and stopped their ears, that they should not hear. Yea, they made their hearts as an adamant stone, lest they should hear the law, and the words which the Lord of hosts hath sent in his spirit by the former prophets: therefore came a great wrath from the Lord of hosts.  Therefore it is come to pass, that as he cried, and they would not hear; so they cried, and I would not hear, saith the Lord of hosts: But I scattered them with a whirlwind among all the nations whom they knew not. Thus the land was desolate after them, that no man passed through nor returned: for they laid the pleasant land desolate.”  (Zech. 7: 9-14.) 
We can look at the Jews to whom this prophecy was delivered and see with clarity how they failed.  We can see through their false presumptions, foolish beliefs and evil ways.  We know how to correctly weigh them in the balance.
Imagine, however, if you lived among those people and shared their false presumptions.  Imagine that you believed, as they did, that they were chosen, promised that nothing would molest them.  Imagine you possessed a temple of God, true priesthood, and descended from prophets.  How would you react when a prophet came among you crying that you were wicked, oppressed the poor, the fatherless and the stranger?  Wouldn’t you think Zechariah was wrong while all of you were right?  How can a message from a single person hold an entire nation of people accountable for how they respond?
I suspect it wouldn’t be any easier for us to see our plight as it was for the Jews to see theirs.  I suspect our own harsh assessment of the failure of the Jews will be the very standard against which we will be measured in how we react to truth when it is declared among us.  I doubt we can distinguish between truth and error any better than they did.  But we pride ourselves on condemning them, and justifying ourselves.
The irony in all this is so thick you can hardly move.
How grateful I am to live at a time when there are messages received again from the Lord which can lead us to salvation, despite earth and hell, false messengers and fools, pretenders and charlatans.  Yet will the Lord keep His promise that before He does anything, He will commission a message of warning.  (Amos 3: 7.)

Why the occasional reminder (and she will probably do it again)

I can see my wife put up another reminder about the stuff I’ve written previously.  I can tell you why she did that.
Some folks presume that a brief post contains all of an idea that I have spent many pages setting out a full explanation for elsewhere.  They comment, challenge, criticize or contradict in a reply comment as if the whole of what I have to say about some topic is contained in the briefest of posts.  It is apparent that if the person had read what I’ve written elsewhere they wouldn’t be making the comment they make here.

An example is the plural marriage notion.  I’ve spent pages and given both history and scripture to explain what my explanation is for the position I take in the book Beloved Enos.  There are persons who are obsessed with the whole plural marriage subject, and very well may be practicing plural marriage.  My comments and views probably threaten them, because I do not believe it appropriate to practice plural marriage now that it has been banned by both the law of Utah, law of the United States, confirmed by the United States to be prohibited, and abandoned by the church as a practice.
The keys which allowed the practice are addressed at length in Beloved Enos, and it would be too long a discussion to take the subject up here.  I anticipated that there would be those who practice plural marriage who would read what I have to say, and so I addressed their concerns in that book.  So when they want to have a discussion about the topic, this isn’t the forum for that.  I’ve written my understanding before and it becomes apparent that the person(s) replying do not understand my position because they haven’t read it.
I think my wife as Moderator gets somewhat exasperated with these comments, because they are something which she necessarily has to read before putting up and seem so contrary to the intent of doing this blog.  I get vicariously frustrated as well as we discuss it.
I worry that some very good folks, with great comments, are thinking that their comments are not welcomed.  That isn’t true, of course.  What is true is that it is unfair and inaccurate to reach a conclusion about what I think or understand based upon the briefest of comments made on this blog.  The comments would need to be read in light of lengthy explanations provided elsewhere and fit into the context of what I’ve already explained, before it is fair to react as if you understand my position.  Some of you have taken the trouble to read what I’ve written and do understand a comment made here.  Some clearly have not.  Everyone is welcome to put a comment up in response to a post, but I’m not going to respond to all of them when the explanation is already provided elsewhere.
I hope that clarifies again the reasons behind the periodic reminders put up here.