Category: light and truth

Guidance from the Spirit

I’ve been reflecting on a commonly held belief concerning the Holy Ghost. Among Latter-day Saints the assertion is widely believed that the Holy Ghost will always leave a “good feeling” as the evidence of a message coming from God.  This is in contrast with Joseph Smith’s correct description of the Holy Ghost as delivering “intelligence” or “sudden insight” or, to use scriptural language, “light and truth.”  The feelings which follow an authentic encounter with the Holy Ghost can be anything from fear and dread to joy and rejoicing.  Our emotional reaction to the message can vary depending upon the information we’ve been given.  But “feeling good” about something is separate from the Holy Ghost.

When the message from God calls to repentance, the reaction can be best described as anger, or distress, or fear; but is not likely to be described as leaving a “good feeling.”  The message of repentance always requires change.  It will always confront the error and require you to alter what you are doing. 

I have noticed some reactions to what I’ve written measure what has been written against the standard of a “good feeling” and, as a result, some have concluded I’m not worth reading.  I suppose against that standard Abinadi would have been rejected.  Samuel the Lamanite, too.  John the Baptist, Elijah, Christ, Peter, Paul, Joseph Smith, Noah, Enoch, John the Beloved, as well.  Certainly Nephi, Jacob, Alma, Mormon and Moroni. In fact, I can’t think of a single authentic message which did not include as its most important content information which violates the “feeling good” standard.  I think care should be taken when a standard gets employed.  Use a false standard and you risk reaching a false result.

This is one of the criticisms made by Grant Palmer in his Insider’s book. He took aim at a false notion (“feeling good” means the Holy Ghost) and then leveled criticism against the false notion.  Though a lifelong employee of the Church Education System, he was ignorant of the correct standard and lost his faith in the Holy Ghost’s ability to enlighten because of it.  His criticism was justified, but not the standard.  He, like many Latter-day Saints, confuses something which inspires with a witness from the Spirit.  You can be inspired by music, movies, plays and thrilling speeches coming from unenlightened sources which bring no light and truth.  You may be entertained, but you are not given greater light and truth or intelligence from such thrilling encounters.

The one thing I do know, and the truth I can proclaim is this:  Truth will come through and confirm itself when measured against the standard of: 1) imparting truth and light, which is intelligence; and 2) whether the message leads to greater belief in, understanding of and testimony of Christ.  These standards do not involve “feeling good.”  They do, however, involve enlightenment and edification.  Even if the result of gaining more light is to see yourself in a new way, requiring repentance, confession of sin, re-baptism, breaking your heart and becoming contrite in spirit.  Anyone who can teach a message which will pass this standard, whether they are high or low, rich or poor, great or obscure, has given something of value.

Restoration and Apostasy

There really is no static position in nature.  The full moon of two nights ago is now replaced by the waning gibbous immediately as the light begins to be lost.  Nor does the half-moon last longer than a single night, followed by the waning crescent. When the moon’s light is altogether stricken, the new moon phase begins with the waxing crescent which is, at first, only a sliver. But it follows nightly through the waxing crescent, to the half moon, to the waxing gibbous, to the full moon.  Always in motion.  Always either growing or receding in light.

So also with the sun.  From solstice to equinox, to solstice to equinox, it grows, then dims.  Never static.  It is impossible to freeze the light.  It will grow or it will fade.

All things in nature testify of the truth.  This includes things in the “heavens” or sky above, as well as things on, in and under the earth. (Moses 6: 63.)

It is not possible for an individual, nor a collection of individuals, to remain static.  They are either involved with restoring truth or in apostasy from it; never merely “preserving” it.  Those who claim to merely preserve the truth given them are concealing the fact of their apostasy.  They are soothing their conscience.  Caretakers simply cannot exist.

All great truths are simple, and they are testified of in nature as well as in scripture.

3 Nephi 11: 28-30

3 Nephi 11: 28-30:

“And according as I have commanded you thus shall ye baptize. And there shall be no disputations among you, as there have hitherto been; neither shall there be disputations among you concerning the points of my doctrine, as there have hitherto been.  For verily, verily I say unto you, he that hath the spirit of contention is not of me, but is of the devil, who is the father of contention, and he stirreth up the hearts of men to contend with anger, one with another.  Behold, this is not my doctrine, to stir up the hearts of men with anger, one against another; but this is my doctrine, that such things should be done away.”
The Lord’s elaboration on “disputations” and “contentions” is important and consistent enough that all 3 verses should be considered together.
First, He clarifies that baptism must be done as He “commanded you.” Deviations are not permitted and should not be asked for, or entertained. That is the thing about ordinances. When given, they are to be kept in exactly the manner they come from Him. When we change them we risk breaking the covenant between Him and ourselves. (Isa. 24: 5.)
The Book of Mormon is silent about the “disputations” which existed among them over baptism. However, when Christ says there has “hitherto been” disputes, we know they existed. It becomes apparent from later passages that one practice which caused some of the argument was the issue of baptizing infants. There were likely others, as well. The Lord wants that to end. Perform the ordinances as He sets them out, and stop arguing about the manner.

The reason arguments arise is because men stop gathering light by righteous behavior. When they lose light they cease to understand the truth. They stray from the correct practice of the ordinance because they are unable to understand its importance. They see no reason to continue the ordinance in one form when another seems to work just as well. The result is a change to the ordinance. It is ever the same. By the time the change is made, the ones making it are unaware of any importance associated with the ordinance they change. They discard what they view is meaningless. It would require a good deal more light and truth for them to understand the importance of what was given them. But that light and truth has passed away from them because of their conduct.

Into the darkness the devil enters with arguments over the ordinances: Why do it that way? It really doesn’t mean anything. It is arcane and outdated. It doesn’t really matter as long as you still have faith in Christ. [That particular lie is very effective because it allows the person to presume they have faith, when in fact they haven’t the faith sufficient to obey Christ.] People will get more out of the changes if we make them. People will have greater peace of mind if we baptize their infants. We’ll save more souls, because by baptizing them when they’re infants we include everyone who would die before getting baptized. Our numbers will increase. We’ll look more successful by getting more followers by adding their numbers into the group. What we change isn’t important, anyway. If it were important, we would know that, and since it doesn’t seem important to us, it must, in fact, not be important. Those who rebel at change are not really faithful. This shows inspiration; it’s faith affirming. Change is proof that God is still leading us. …And other such arguments and persuasions from our adversary.

On the other hand, Christ is saying to keep the ordinances unchanged. And further, don’t even begin to dispute them. They are off limits for argument, dispute and discussion. When you open the opportunity to dispute over the ordinances, you are allowing the devil an opportunity to influence the discussion and change the ordinances.

Disputes lead to contention, contention leads to anger, and anger is the devil’s tool. So don’t start down that road. Accept and understand the ordinances. If you are perplexed by them, then let those who understand speak, exhort, expound and teach concerning them. As they do, you will come into the unity of faith and become one. Perplexity cannot exist when there is light and truth. Light and truth comes from understanding the ordinances, not changing them. So do not begin the process through dispute. The purpose of discussion is not to dispute, which leads to contention, which leads to anger.
When the Gospel and its ordinances turn into something angry and contentious, then the Spirit has fled, and souls are lost. It is the devil’s objective to prevent you from practicing the ordinances in the correct manner. But, more importantly, it is his objective to prevent you from becoming one. When he uses arguments over ordinances to cause disunity, he is playing with two tools at the same time. First, changing the ordinances brings about cursings, and second, encouraging contention and anger grieves the Spirit, and prevents the Saints from becoming one.

As a result, disputes or discussions over ordinances, which could lead to changing them, should not be entertained. As soon as the ordinances are open to dispute, reconsideration, alteration or to being changed, then you are opening the door to this whole process. It culminates in the souls of men being lost through apostasy. Once the ordinances are changed, the earth is cursed (Isa. 24: 5) and Israel is scattered rather than gathered (Jere. 31: 36).

The devil knows this, even if men do not. Men are urged to take steps they presume have little effect, all the while being lied to by the enemy of their souls.
When men arrive at the point they are angry in their hearts with one another, they are not united by love as they are intended to be. These are the end results of the two paths. One leading to love and joy (Hel. 5: 44), and the other to anger and wrath (D&C 76: 33).
Disputes over ordinances are caused by the devil. Ordinances that preserve symbolic truths and have the power to save are turned into tools for the devil by disputations. It is a complete victory when discussions about changing ordinances are allowed to take place. Even good men are taken in by such disputes.

3 Nephi 11: 26

3 Nephi 11: 26:

“And then shall ye immerse them in the water, and come forth again out of the water.” 

 
The manner of baptism is clearly by immersion. To perform the ordinance, they must be put under the water and then “come forth again out of the water” to follow the instruction given by Christ.

The purpose of baptism is to follow Christ’s example. (John 10: 27, John 14: 15.) It symbolizes the death of the old man of sin, and the resurrection into a new life in Christ. (Romans 6: 4.) That symbol cannot be mirrored by sprinkling. It must involve immersion.

In immersion we are placed below the surface of the water, in the same way as the dead are buried below ground.

In immersion the breath of life is cut off while under the water, and restored anew when you “come forth again out of the water.”

In the case of the officiator, they are the one who immerses and then brings the recipient up out of the water. Performing this ordinance puts the officiator in the role of the Lord who holds the keys of death (Rev. 1: 18) and resurrection (2 Nephi 2: 8).

Those who are baptized, and those who officiate, enact, by symbol, some eternal truths regarding the plan of salvation. In the very moment the ordinance is performed there is a renewal in symbol of life, innocence, forgiveness and resurrection. The earth itself is blessed by such things as baptism and other ordinances. The earth itself is defiled when the ordinances are not kept exactly as prescribed. (Isa. 24: 5; Moses 7: 28.)

The earth knows that God ordained the ordinances of heaven and earth.  (Jeremiah 33: 25.) As regular and reliable as the movements of the sun and moon are, so too should the ordinances of the Lord be kept in their appointed ways. (Jeremiah 31: 35-36.)

The heavens and earth rejoice when the ordinances are kept. They symbolize eternal hope, man’s acceptance of God’s plan, and a presence of righteousness in a fallen world. Our own participation in ordinances are vital to our own renewal, and the renewal of all creation through redemption of each individual soul.

The baptism ordinance, like all those that follow after, is intended not merely to fulfill an initiation rite. It is intended to communicate light and truth into the mind of the individual who is performing and receiving the ordinance. It is meant to enlighten.

I have discussed previously the meaning of “come forth” used by Christ in restoring life to Lazarus (John 11: 43) and therefore won’t repeat it again here. It is no accident the Lord employs the same meaning here as there. We are rising from the tomb of sin which imprisons us into the new life awaiting us in Christ.

The Lord is more than brilliant. He is filled with light and truth. The closer you draw to Him, the more light and truth you begin to receive from Him.

2 Nephi 32: 3

2 Nephi 32: 3:

“Angels speak by the power of the Holy Ghost; wherefore, they speak the words of Christ. Wherefore, I said unto you, feast upon the words of Christ; for behold, the words of Christ will tell you all things what ye should do.” 

Nephi makes these three things equal:

1.  The power of the Holy Ghost to give words, which
2.  Are the same as what angels would speak, which in turn
3.  Are the same as the words of Christ.

Holy Ghost/words of angels/words of Christ.  They are all the same as “the words of Christ” which will “tell you all things what ye should do.”

If you will “feast upon the words of Christ” then you will know “all things what ye should do.”

How do you unlock this power that potentially exists inside you? What tools have been given to us to receive access to this great inner record of truth?

Why are we given ordinances? If we will follow them and receive them, what do ordinances allow the Lord to open up for us?

You know if you are doing as you should. You cannot lie to yourself. You cannot deceive yourself about whether you will follow God with full purpose of heart, acting no deception, repenting of your sins, and with real intent.  (2 Nephi 31: 13.) If you do these things there is a law irrevocably decreed which permits you to receive what is offered. (D&C 130: 20-21.) You actually know if you have offered the correct sacrifice. (Lecture 6, in Lectures on Faith discussed here.) Just as you know when you are unworthy before Him (Mormon 9: 4-5), you also know when your confidence before God grows naturally inside you and you follow the path to return to the light (D&C 121: 45-46.) It is extraordinary and even miraculous, but it is also absolutely natural.

The conditions were set before the foundation of the world and all you must do to obtain these blessings is to follow the path. You KNOW if you are in the right way. You cannot lie to God, and as we have seen in the discussion of the preceding verses, God is within you.

Do you keep the commandments? Why? Are you doing so with real intent, following the “doctrine of Christ” or just to be “seen of men?” (Matt. 6: 1, 5.) When you do these things in secret, your Father (and you) know it and then come the rewards of having your heart right with God. (Matt. 6: 4, 6.)

At the end of the long search into all the universe to find God, you will discover the search leads you back to what was inside you all along. You came from Him, and He is with you. But to find Him you must return. The scriptures and teachings of Christ are filled with this journey and the battleground has always been within you. You need to remember.  The Holy Ghost, the third member of the godhead, dwells inside you, provided you will receive it.

The laws irrevocably decreed are the very principles which permeate life itself. You are not separate from this “doctrine of Christ” but a living embodiment of it. If you live it, you will prove it. You are here to be proven.  (Abraham 3: 25.) What have you determined to prove with your life?

Nephi spoke in plainness to us. He could not find simpler language to describe this process. I have tried to be plain using other scriptures and language. But the great lesson can be reduced to this: Do what you have been taught. When you do it, the light will increase within you. That light is truth. It is intelligence, or light and truth, or the power of God. (D&C 93: 36.) All you must do to activate that light, gain that intelligence, and behold the glory of God is to keep His commandments. (D&C 93: 28.) If you want to receive a “fullness” then the immediate door through which you pass is to keep the commandments. (D&C 93: 20.) 

Most importantly, you must “follow the Son, with full purpose of heart, acting no hypocrisy and no deception before God, but with real intent, repenting of your sins, witnessing unto the Father that ye are willing to take upon you the name of Christ.” (2 Ne. 31: 13.) You alone will know if you have done this. Or rather, you and the Lord will know. When you are satisfied that there is no hypocrisy and no deception between you and God, that you have come to Him with real intent and repenting of your sins, witnessing through the ordinances (baptism and sacrament) that you will take upon you the name of Christ, then you qualify. If you do not, then you are not qualified.

I am completely satisfied that the people who gain such access, receive the blessings, or obtain a hope in Christ are ordinary people. They are not distinguished by their great intellect or powerful positions. They are typified only by the singleness of their heart and true devotion. There is not a whit of difference between what they believe and how they live. They do not excuse themselves from doing what they know to be right, even if it is painful, uncomfortable, or something they would never do on their own. They invariably do what the “words of Christ” bid them to do. No matter the price, they will follow Him; not a leader. Indeed, almost all of His servants are at odds with leadership. You know how completely He was at odds if you have read Come, Let Us Adore Him. To follow Him is to have that same contention between you and the larger religious community of any age or dispensation. Stop trying to please men and start following Christ.

I do not know what more can be said than Nephi has been saying. Let’s press on.

2 Nephi 31: 13

“Wherefore, my beloved brethren, I know that if ye shall  follow the Son, with full purpose of heart, acting no hypocrisy and no deception before God, but with real intent, repenting of your sins, witnessing unto the Father that ye are willing to take upon you the name of Christ, by baptism—yea, by following your Lord and your Savior down into the water, according to his word, behold, then shall ye receive the Holy Ghost; yea, then cometh the baptism of fire and of the Holy Ghost; and then can ye speak with the tongue of angels, and shout praises unto the Holy One of Israel.” 

Now we get the explanation of what it means to “follow Christ.” It is not merely the act itself, but the underlying intent of the act.  To follow Him requires:

-Full purpose of heart. What does that imply or require?

-Acting no hypocrisy. How so?
-No deception before God. Can a man deceive God?
-Real intent. What does “real intent” include?
-Repenting of your sins. How does one repent of their sins?
-Witnessing unto the Father: How do you witness to Him?
-Willing to take upon you the name of Christ. How?

The only way I can think to touch upon Nephi’s meaning is to get personal about this process. It is by how I have lived that I have come to understand Nephi’s meaning.

I remember as the missionaries were teaching me that I came to the conviction that the restoration of the Gospel had indeed happened. It was not a happy thought. I did NOT want to become a Mormon. It seemed like a terrible change to attempt to make, in what was an otherwise content life at the time. As a lifestyle some of it seemed to have merit.  Not drinking, smoking and living a higher moral standard certainly made some sense to me. But the association with Mormons had no appeal to me at the time. I thought them shallow and artificial in many ways, and did not want to become immersed in a society that seemed to be either a pretense, or if not, then living a standard I could never attain.

I reluctantly accepted baptism, not because I wanted to become Mormon, but because I truly believed it was the restored Gospel of Jesus Christ. However humiliating it may be to associate with a social group I had practically nothing in common, it was the right thing to do before God. I told God that I was doing this because of Him, and that I doubted I could live these standards, doubted I could be happy among these odd people, that I did not know if they were really sincere, but that I was. I intended to try to leave such sins behind as I understood I was committing, and to attempt to become part of the artificial life-form known as “Mormon.” But I doubted my capacity to continue on to the end. In all this I was absolutely sincere, but completely hopeless about what it would result in over the long run.

I was, in fact, willing to take upon me these obligations as a matter between me and God.  However badly it may turn out between me and other Mormons, I expected that as between me and God it would be better than alright. I thought it would please Him.

So I was baptized.

Oddly, upon baptism things changed. A great deal, in fact. What seemed unlikely for me to be able to do under my own capacity, became almost second-nature. These people who I feared I could never fit in with became my brothers and sisters. It took a surprisingly short time and I found that what I feared most was the lightest of burdens to carry. Associating with other Mormons was delightful. I found that I loved the Mormons and I loved being one of them. It ceased to be “them” and “me” but turned into “us” and “we.”

And, by damn, we are a peculiar lot. We’re the oddest people on the planet. Peculiar doesn’t even begin to capture our quirkiness, phobias, longings, hopes, aspirations, misunderstandings, convictions, genius mixed with stupidity, juxtapositions of truth and error, traditions and deep doctrines. We’re a cacophony, really. But underlying it all is a hope that we are on the right track and a conviction that we’re going to please God even if it requires us to offend Him.

I appreciate the faith restored through Joseph at a whole different level than the one which brought me into the fold. It IS true.  Abidingly and without any failing, the faith restored through Joseph is the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

The sad truth is, however, that faith has not been preserved as Joseph brought it back.  Even from the time I was baptized in the waning four months of President Lee’s administration until today, the faith has undergone a radical revisionism. Today it isn’t even what President Kimball presided over. It is becoming increasingly altered, bureaucratized, regimented and turning into a religious product managed by an increasingly menacing middle-management which prefers rules and regulations to the Spirit and truth. They manage it as if it is another Fortune 500 company whose product line is religion and religious paraphernalia. The Spirit increasingly withdraws from our councils, our conferences, our private as well as public conversations, because it is grieved, and not many people seem to notice as it does so.

The faith I joined still exists. But it is covered by layers of sediment making it progressively more difficult to breathe life into it. That original faith, the one that attracted me, was always meant to connect the believer to Christ. Directly, and without intermediaries. Each Saint was to be a prophet, because the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy, according to John the Beloved. 

But I began this process “acting no hypocrisy” and I will finish it remaining so. My “real intent” is before God, and the resistance, opposition and criticism of men will not alter that. Indeed, it cannot. As soon as I respect the opinions of men more than the “full purpose of heart” required of me, I cease to be “willing to take upon me the name of Christ.”

I understand Nephi’s words. I live them. I cannot do otherwise at this point. It is for that reason, therefore, that I have been privileged to receive “the baptism of fire and of the Holy Ghost;” which has permitted me from time to time to “speak with the tongue of angels, and shout praises unto the Holy One of Israel.”  It has not been easy. It is certainly not what I wanted when missionaries interrupted a content life, and introduced this inconvenient faith to a reluctant 19-year old. It was not what I expected when the journey began before baptism, nor what I thought would then follow immediately after I was baptized. I find now, as I survey the altered and altering faith practiced by the Church I belong to, there are increasingly more troubles in living and acting with:

-Full purpose of heart

-Acting no hypocrisy
-No deception before God
-Real intent
-Repenting of my sins
-Witnessing unto the Father
-Willing to take upon me the name of Christ

But that will always remain a matter between the Father, the Lord and myself. Nephi lived these things, too. It was for that reason he understood them and was able to set them out with clarity in writing. Light and truth, which is intelligence, only come as a consequence of living it.

I will never stop being Mormon, nor forsake the faith I have accepted. I love associating with the Saints. I’m also glad to not be a part of leadership. I wouldn’t want the condemnation that accompanies leading these people in the course that we are currently set. It is better to practice the faith as I understand it, explain it to those who care to listen, support those who try to keep my ward family at peace with one another, and raise my children to respect the light and truth.

I am content. More than content, I am filled with joy and hope for what lies ahead for myself and all those who have the testimony of Jesus.